The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● CA-AG: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday that he was nominating Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta to serve as state attorney general to replace Xavier Becerra, who recently resigned to become U.S. secretary of health and human services.
Bonta, who emigrated from the Philippines to escape the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, became the first Filipino American to serve in the Assembly in 2012, and he would also make history as attorney general. Bonta would also be California's second Asian American attorney general after Kamala Harris, who held this post when she was elected to the Senate in 2016.
Bonta, who has made a name for himself as a criminal justice reformer, still needs to be confirmed by his colleagues in both chambers of the legislature before he can take office, but it would be a huge surprise if he had any trouble in the heavily Democratic body. Bonta would then be up for a full term in 2022 along with California's other statewide office holders.
Bonta would be guaranteed to attract national attention as attorney general of America's largest state, and the job has also set up many of its occupants for larger things. Harris' predecessor was Jerry Brown, the state's once-and-future Democratic governor; Brown's father, Pat Brown, also held this office when he was elected governor himself back in 1958.
Meanwhile on the Democratic side, former Gov. Jay Nixon didn't rule out a Senate bid when asked, instead merely saying, "That's not what I'm focused on right now." Unnamed sources close to Nixon told the Missouri Independent about two weeks ago that he was giving some "serious thought" to a bid, but they still believed it was "highly unlikely he'll give up life in the private sector."
● SD-Sen: Politico's Burgess Everett writes that, while Sen. John Thune's Republican colleagues are "certain" that he'll seek a fourth term next year in this very red state, the incumbent is continuing to publicly refrain from talking about his plans. Thune, who is the number-two Republican in the chamber, noted that he usually announces his campaigns in the fall, saying, "In this day and age, these campaigns are so long. And I think they start way too early."
Thune did add, "We're moving forward doing all the things that you do. And at some point, we'll make everything official." However, Everett points out that his statement "sounds a little like two GOP senators, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio, who sent all the right signals about running again — until they bowed out." Thune himself also admitted that serving in the Senate is "probably as challenging today as it's ever been, given the political environment."
One Republican who would like to see someone other than Thune holding that seat is Donald Trump. In December, during what turned out to be his last weeks on Twitter, Trump wrote, "RINO John Thune, 'Mitch's boy', should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn't like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!" Trump then went on to call for Gov. Kristi Noem to take on the senator, but she quickly said no. We haven't heard any notable politicians so much as mentioned as possible Thune primary foes since then.
● FL-Gov: On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls has released a survey showing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis deadlocked 45-45 in a hypothetical general election matchup against Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. That's a very different result than the 51-42 DeSantis lead that Mason-Dixon poll found last month against Fried, who is currently considering running but has not yet announced a gubernatorial bid.
● NY-Gov: Fox meteorologist Janice Dean has attracted plenty of attention over the last year as a vocal critic of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but for now at least, she doesn't seem to be looking to challenge the scandal-ridden incumbent. City & State recently wrote of Dean, "Thus far, she has resisted calls by some Republicans for her to run." The Associated Press also said that she "waves off thoughts of a political future," though it notes that this hasn't stopped others from speculating.
● PA-Gov: Pennsylvania politicos have long anticipated that Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro will run for governor next year, and Shapiro himself told Philadelphia Magazine' Robert Huber last month, "I expect to be a candidate." Shapiro stopped short of announcing a campaign, though, adding, "And if you tweet that tomorrow, I'm going to be very upset."
Shapiro, as Huber notes in his detailed profile of the attorney general, has been a very big name in Pennsylvania politics for a long time. In 2015, national Democrats tried to recruit Shapiro, who was serving as chair of the Montgomery County Commission at the time, to take on Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, but he ended up successfully campaigning for attorney general instead.
Major Pennsylvania Democrats talked openly about Shapiro running for governor even before he was re-elected last year. In 2019, when Gov. Tom Wolf was asked about the contest to succeed him, he notably pointed at Shapiro and said, "That's my guy right there." Republicans looking to unseat Shapiro in 2020 tried to portray him as "a career politician already looking to run for governor," but he won his second term 51-46 as Joe Biden was carrying the Keystone State by a smaller 50-49 spread, which also made Shapiro the only one of the three Democrats running for statewide executive office to win last year.
So far at least, Shapiro appears to have deterred any major Democrats from running for governor. While Team Blue could end up with a crowded primary next year for the state's open Senate seat, we've barely heard anyone else so much as mentioned as a prospective gubernatorial opponent all year. The one exception is Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who didn't rule out running for governor or Senate back in January.
● AL-05: Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong filed FEC paperwork this week for a potential bid to succeed Rep. Mo Brooks, a fellow Republican who is running for the Senate, but Strong may not have an open seat race to run for when redistricting is over.
That's because the state is likely to lose one of its seven congressional districts, and Brooks' departure could make it easy for map makers to eliminate his northern Alabama seat. The only Alabama seat that borders Brooks' seat is the 4th District to the south, which is held by longtime Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt. (The 4th District happens to also be the Trumpiest seat in all of America.)
● AZ-02: State Rep. Randy Friese announced Thursday that he would run to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Friese joins state Sen. Kirsten Engel in the primary for a Tucson-area seat that backed Joe Biden 55-44.
Friese was a trauma surgeon who operated on then-Rep. Gabby Giffords and others after a gunman sought to assassinate the congresswoman in 2011. Friese got into politics soon after and narrowly unseated a GOP incumbent to win a Tucson-area state House seat in 2014, convincingly winning re-election ever since.
Friese's new campaign quickly earned the praise of 314 Action, a group that seeks to recruit candidates with backgrounds in science to compete in Democratic primaries; while 314 said it wasn't formerly endorsing, an unnamed source tells Politico that it plans to spend $1 million to help Friese win the nomination.
The legislation attracted national attention earlier this month when it was championed by Donald Trump Jr., who argued that its passage would make it easier to defeat Rep. Liz Cheney in next year's Republican primary. However, a committee ended up amending the bill to only take effect in 2023, which would be too late to be used against Cheney this cycle.
This week, several state senators also expressed skepticism that there was any need for a runoff, especially given the cost of holding another election, and they voted 15-14 to kill it.
● New York City, NY Mayor: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Wednesday accepted the endorsement of District Council 37, a union that the New York Daily News says represents 150,000 current city municipal workers and 60,000 retirees, in the June Democratic primary.
● Deaths: Bill Brock, whose 1970 victory made him second Republican ever elected to represent Tennessee in the Senate, died Thursday at the age of 90. Brock, who lost re-election six years later, went on to serve as chair of the Republican National Committee and in the Reagan cabinet as U.S. trade representative and secretary of labor before he mounted one last Senate bid in 1994 in Maryland.
Brock grew up in a Democratic family; his grandfather and namesake had even briefly served in the Senate from 1929 to 1931. The younger Brock, though, got active in Republican politics in the 1950s before deciding to run for the House in 1962 in a Chattanooga-based seat that was the home of his family's candy manufacturing company.
While other parts of East Tennessee had been heavily Republican turf since the Civil War, Democrats had controlled the 3rd District for generations. However, Democratic Rep. J.B. Frazier had just lost renomination to Wilkes Thrasher, an attorney that Republicans successfully tied to a Kennedy administration that was becoming unpopular in the region. Brock won 51-49, and he decisively held the seat over the following three campaigns.
Brock then sought a promotion in 1970 by taking on Democratic Sen. Al Gore Sr., the father of the future vice president, at a time when Tennessee was rapidly veering towards the Republicans. Howard Baker had won the state's other Senate seat in 1966, the GOP had taken control of the state House two years later as Richard Nixon edged out segregationist George Wallace, and Winfield Dunn was waging a strong and ultimately campaign for governor in 1970.
Gore, who had a reputation as a civil rights supporter, was in a tough position where he had to win over Wallace voters to prevail, and it didn't help that he'd barely won a majority of the vote in the primary. Brock, meanwhile, targeted Gore's opposition to the Vietnam War and opposition to Nixon's Supreme Court nominees and portrayed him as an opponent of school prayer. Brock, who also attacked "the disgraceful forced busing of our school students" went on to win 51-47 after a campaign that writer David Halberstam soon dubbed "the most disreputable and scurrilous race I have ever covered in Tennessee."
Brock faced a very different climate in 1976, though. Watergate had badly damaged the GOP brand nationally, and the senator's Democratic opponent, former state party chair Jim Sasser, attacked Brock as "a special interest senator who represents exclusively money interests." Brock also attracted bad headlines less than a month before Election Day when he acknowledged he'd paid only a very small amount of his large income in taxes; The senator's foes soon created buttons reading, "I Paid More Taxes Than Brock." Sasser, who had been Gore's campaign manager six years before, avenged that loss by unseating Brock 52-47 as Jimmy Carter was carrying Tennessee 56-43.
Sasser would go on to be defeated for re-election in the 1994 wave, but ironically, Brock was also losing a Senate race that year in his new home in Maryland. Brock, who had completed a stint in the Reagan administration a few years before, took on Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who portrayed the Republican as an outsider. Brock gave Sarbanes the closest fight in his five re-election campaigns, but he still lost by a wide 59-41.