Morning Digest: Wisconsin court picks Democratic House map, but it still heavily favors Republicans

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Check out our new podcast, The Downballot!

Leading Off

WI Redistricting: In a surprising turn of events, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the adoption of congressional and legislative maps proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday after he and the Republican-run legislature deadlocked last year. The move was unexpected because, in a 4-3 ruling handed down in late November, the court's conservative majority decreed that it would adopt "least-change" maps that would, in effect, enshrine the GOP's existing gerrymanders.

However, one of those conservative justices, Brian Hagedorn, sided with the court's three liberals in Thursday's decision. The outcome doesn't favor Democrats, though, since the new congressional map looks very similar to the extremely tilted one it's replacing: The new lines would continue to feature six districts won by Donald Trump and just two carried by Joe Biden, despite the fact that Biden carried Wisconsin in 2020.

But in the future, one of those Trump districts could be winnable for Democrats. The 1st, in southeastern Wisconsin, was one of just two districts whose partisan makeup changed by more than a negligible amount: It would have gone for Trump by just a 50-48 margin, compared to Trump's 54-45 margin under the old map. (The neighboring 5th, a safely Republican seat, grew correspondingly redder).

This shift is the result of the district gaining a larger slice of the Milwaukee suburbs and shedding its portion of conservative Waukesha County. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil, who succeeded former House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2018. Given the difficult midterm environment Democrats face, it's unlikely Steil will be seriously threatened this year, but he could be down the line.

It also bears noting that thanks to the constraints imposed by the court—constraints Republicans advocated for—the plan preferred by the GOP does not differ all that much from the Evers map. The Republican proposal, which was the same one passed by GOP lawmakers and vetoed by Evers, would also have featured a 6-2 split in Trump's favor. The 1st, however, would have remained unchanged on a partisan basis, while the 3rd, held by retiring Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, would have gotten several points redder, shifting from a 51-47 win for Trump to a 53-45 Trump margin.

The court said it chose Evers' approach because his map moved the fewest number of people to new districts: 324,000, or 5.5% of the state's total population. The GOP's map would have moved 60,000 more people, or 6.5% in total.

Redistricting

FL Redistricting: The Florida Supreme Court has approved the new legislative districts passed by lawmakers last month as part of a mandatory review under the state constitution. As the justices noted in their ruling, however, no party opposed the maps in this proceeding, and a traditional lawsuit challenging the lines could yet be forthcoming.

Senate

AR-Sen: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Arkansas' May 24 primary, and Arkansas Online has a list of contenders. A runoff would take place June 21 for any contests where no one earns a majority of the vote.

We'll start with the Senate race, where Republican incumbent John Boozman, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, faces three intra-party opponents. The only high-profile challenger is Army veteran Jake Bequette, a former football player who had a successful stint as a defensive end with the University of Arkansas in the 2011 season but didn't do nearly so well in a brief career with the New England Patriots. Boozman has enjoyed a huge fundraising advantage, but Arkansas Patriots Fund, a super PAC that received $1 million from conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, has been running commercials promoting Bequette. The winner should have no trouble in the general election in this very red state.

NM-Sen: Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján returned to the Senate on Thursday, one month after he suffered a stroke. In a statement, Lujan did not comment directly on his health but said, "I am back in the Senate and eager to get the job done for New Mexicans."

AZ-Sen: Gov. Doug Ducey once again said Thursday that he would not enter the Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but this time, everyone seems to be accepting his latest "no" as final. The governor made his declaration in a letter to donors, which is about the last group any politician would want to play games with. Arizona's April 4 filing deadline is also rapidly approaching, so this declaration carries more weight than those in the past.

A crowded field took shape after Ducey first said no all the way back in January of last year, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and NRSC chair Rick Scott refused to give up trying to get him to change his mind because of what the Arizona Republic characterized as "the perceived weakness of the existing GOP field." They had some big-named backup, as the New York Times now reports that George W. Bush, among others, tried to appeal to the governor. An about-face would have put Ducey on the receiving end of more abuse from Donald Trump, who has never forgiven him for accepting Joe Biden's victory, but the paper writes that recruiters tried to woo him with polling that found Trump's "declining influence in primaries."

The story says that anti-Trump Republicans hoped that a Ducey nomination "would also send a message about what they believe is Mr. Trump's diminishing clout." McConnell, the Times said last month, wanted to land Ducey for non-electoral reasons as well in order to stop the GOP caucus from filling up with even more Trump minions. The minority leader had unsuccessfully tried to convince two other governors, Maryland's Larry Hogan and New Hampshire's Chris Sununu, to run for the Senate, but he still hoped to get his man in Arizona.

That didn't happen. Ducey, in his letter to his donors, wrote, "If you're going to run for public office, you have to really want the job," adding that "by nature and by training I'm an executive." South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who flirted with leaving the upper chamber earlier this year, responded to the governor's refusal to join him there by telling NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell, "That's a sad story." When she followed up by asking if Ducey's refusal was a sign that the GOP had had a tough time recruiting electable candidates, Thune responded, "That is the existential question." It's also a question that McConnell and his allies will have plenty of time to mull over as the August primary draws ever closer.

Governors

AR-Gov: While state politicos originally expected a very competitive Republican primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially cleared the field last year and now faces just one unheralded opponent. Five Democrats are campaigning in this conservative state, including physicist Chris Jones, who generated national attention over the summer with an announcement video that went viral. A new poll from the GOP firm Remington Research finds Sanders leading Jones 58-28 in a hypothetical general election.

CO-Gov: The Democratic pollster Global Strategy Group's newest general election numbers for ProgressNow Colorado show Democratic incumbent Jared Polis beating University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl 53-37, which is similar to his 52-35 advantage in October.

The firm also tested real estate broker Danielle Neuschwanger for the first time and found her trailing Polis 51-40, which, surprisingly, is better than Ganahl's performance. Neuschwanger, a far-right activist who has been running a longshot bid for the Republican nod, made news in December when, among many other things, she absurdly accused the governor of being "not gay" and being in "a sham" marriage after previously being "married to a woman, who he used to abuse the heck out of." As Advocate put it of these looney tunes claims, "There is absolutely no evidence that Polis was ever married to a woman or that he ever sexually assaulted anyone."

GA-Gov: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gov. Brian Kemp has booked $4.2 million in TV time from March 30 until the May 24 Republican primary. That reservation is more than four times the amount that his intra-party foe, former Sen. David Perdue, had on hand at the end of January.

IL-Gov: State Sen. Darren Bailey, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, earned an endorsement this week from former state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a far-right politician who almost wrested the Republican nomination from then-Gov. Bruce Rauner four years ago. Politico says of this news, "Ives' support in the governor's race gives Bailey an edge that could only be upped if Donald Trump were to endorse."

NE-Gov: Tuesday was also the second and final filing deadline for Nebraska candidates looking to compete in the May 10 primary (any sitting office holders had to turn in their paperwork two weeks earlier on Feb. 15, regardless of whether they were seeking re-election or another office), and the state has a list of contenders here.

Nine Republicans are competing to succeed termed-out Gov. Pete Ricketts, though only three of them appear to be running serious campaigns. Donald Trump is supporting agribusinessman Charles Herbster, a self-funder who attended the infamous Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, though the candidate claims he left before insurrectionists began their violent assault. Ricketts, however, has long had an ugly relationship with Herbster, and the outgoing governor is backing one of his rivals, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who has parted with conservative orthodoxy at times, has also brought in a credible amount of money, but he doesn't have much big-name support so far. The field also includes former state Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, who was briefly Herbster's candidate for lieutenant governor, but she hasn't raised much. The only notable candidate on the Democratic side is state Sen. Carol Blood, who is trying to win an office the GOP has held since the 1998 elections.

House

AR-01: Rep. Rick Crawford faces opposition in the Republican primary from state Rep. Brandt Smith and attorney Jody Shackelford, but neither of them look like they'll give him a tough time in this eastern Arkansas seat. Smith launched his campaign in August but ended the year with just over $7,000 on hand, while Shackelford didn't start fundraising until this year. The only Democrat is state Rep. Monte Hodges, who faces a very tough task in a district Trump would have carried 69-28.

AZ-02: Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer announced this week that he was joining the August Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran, who is defending a sprawling constituency in northeastern Arizona that would have backed Trump 53-45. Lizer was elected to his current post as the running mate of Jonathan Nez, who identifies as a Democrat, but the VP was an ardent Trump supporter in 2020. Last week, he also defied the Navajo Nation's strict masking requirements when he appeared maskless to greet the so-called "People's Convoy" and told them, "The People are rising up. The People are dissatisfied."

CO-05: State Rep. Dave Williams, who is challenging Rep. Doug Lamborn in the June Republican primary for this safely red seat, has announced that he'll try to make the ballot by competing at the April 8 party convention. U.S. House candidates in Colorado can advance to the primary either by turning in 1,500 valid signatures or by winning at least 30% of the delegates' support at their party gatherings, which are also known locally as assemblies.

While Lamborn has struggled in the past to reach the primary, state officials say he's already turned in the requisite number of petitions. The incumbent, though, says he'll still take part in the convention. Candidates are allowed to try both routes, and while anyone who takes less than 10% of the vote at the assembly is automatically disqualified no matter how many signatures they've gathered, there's probably little chance Lamborn fails to clear this very low bar.

CO-08: State Rep. Yadira Caraveo has earned a Democratic primary endorsement from 1st District Rep. Diana DeGette in her bid for the all-new 8th District in the northern Denver suburbs. Caraveo faces Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco and former Commerce City Councilman Steve Douglas in the June nomination contest. All three say they'll both collect signatures and take part in their party conventions in order to make the ballot.

FL-10: Democrat Aramis Ayala, who is the former state's attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, announced Wednesday that she was ending her congressional campaign and would instead challenge Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody.

FL-22: Two more local Democrats say they're considering running to succeed retiring Rep. Ted Deutch: state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who served as mayor of Parkland when the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre occurred in 2018, and attorney Chad Klitzman, who lost a tight 2020 primary for Broward County supervisor of elections. On the Republican side, Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer has taken his name out of contention.

MS-04: Mississippi's filing deadline for its June 7 primary passed Tuesday, and the state has a list of candidates here. Candidates must win a majority of the vote in order to avoid a June 28 runoff.

The only major race this year is the Republican primary for the safely red 4th Congressional District along the Gulf Coast. The holder of that seat, Rep. Steven Palazzo, is facing an ethics investigation into charges that he illegally used campaign funds for personal purposes. The incumbent has six intra-party opponents, and no candidate has emerged as his chief challenger at this point. The only poll we've seen was a December Palazzo internal from Public Opinion Strategies that showed him in strong shape with 65% of the vote.

Four of the congressman's rivals, though, have the resources to make their case against him. The candidate who ended 2021 with the most money is self-funder Carl Boyanton, who had $525,000 to spend; Boyanton, however, ran in 2020 as well and took fourth with a mere 9%. Banker Clay Wagner, who has also poured his own money into his campaign, had $305,000 to spend while two elected officials, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell and state Sen. Brice Wiggins, had $155,000 and $123,000 on hand, respectively, while the remaining two had less than $5,000. Palazzo himself had $385,000 available to defend himself.

NC-04: Singer Clay Aiken has filed to seek the Democratic nomination for this open seat, which puts an end to what reporter Colin Campbell said was "speculation about whether he'd still run" after state courts ordered the adoption of a map that differed considerably from the one in place when Aiken first announced his campaign. North Carolina's filing deadline is Friday at noon local time, so we'll have a full candidate list soon.

NC-13: Law student Bo Hines and Army veteran Kent Keirsey have each announced that they'll seek the Republican nomination for this competitive open seat. We hadn't previously mentioned Keirsey, who ended 2021 with $323,000 on hand thanks in part to self-funding.

NE-01: Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry seemed to be on track for another easy win until he was indicted in October. The congressman was charged with allegedly lying to federal investigators as part of a probe into a foreign billionaire who used straw donors to illegally funnel $180,000 to four different GOP candidates, including $30,000 to his own campaign, and his trial is currently set to start March 15. Four candidates are competing against him in the primary, but the only notable contender is state Sen. Mike Flood, a former speaker of the state's unicameral legislature who has endorsements from Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman.

Fortenberry began running commercials in late January attacking his rival on immigration, and he's arguing his efforts have worked. The congressman recently publicized a Moore Information internal, which is the only poll we've seen here so far, showing him leading Flood 36-25; 36% of the vote, however, is still a dangerous place for any incumbent to find themselves. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks faces only one little-known opponent in an eastern Nebraska seat that would have favored Trump 54-43.

NE-02: Rep. Don Bacon, who is one of nine House Republicans who won election in 2020 in a district Joe Biden carried, is defending a redrawn Omaha-area seat that, just like his existing constituency, would have favored Biden 52-46. (It's still very much a gerrymander, though, as the GOP mapmakers grafted on rural Saunders County, a piece of deep-red turf that has little in common with Omaha, to keep the seat from getting bluer.) His lone intra-party foe is roofer Steve Kuehl, who only jumped in on Friday.

It remains to be seen if Kuehl can run a serious campaign with just over two months to go before the primary, but one prominent Republican may end up rooting for him: Donald Trump responded to Bacon's vote last year for the Biden administration's infrastructure bill by not-tweeting, "Anyone want to run for Congress against Don Bacon in Nebraska?" Bacon concluded last year with $978,000 to spend to protect himself.

Two Democrats are also campaigning to take on the incumbent. State Sen. Tony Vargas ended 2021 with a $440,000 to $89,000 cash-on-hand lead over mental health counselor Alisha Shelton, who lost the 2020 Senate primary but now has EMILY's List in her corner. Vargas would be the state's first Latino member of Congress, while Shelton would be Nebraska's first Black representative.

NY-11, NY-12: The Working Families Party has endorsed Army veteran Brittany Ramos DeBarros in the June Democratic primary for the Staten Island-based (but now much bluer) 11th District and nonprofit founder Rana Abdelhamid for Team Blue's nod in the safely blue 12th in Manhattan.

NY-16: Westchester County Legislator Vedat Gashi has confirmed to Jewish Insider's Matthew Kassel that he'll challenge freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the June Democratic primary for the safely blue 16th District, which includes part of Westchester County and the Bronx. Gashi took issue with Bowman for casting a vote on the left against the Biden administration's infrastructure bill, saying, "I've been frustrated that the Democrats control the House, the Senate and the presidency, and we're not able to get as much done as we can because of two senators and a handful of congresspeople who are furthering a more extremist agenda."

Kassel also reports that pastor Michael Gerald, who is a deputy commissioner at the Westchester County Department of Correction, is gathering signatures to appear on the primary ballot.

NY-22: Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, whom The Ithaca Voice identifies as a "moderate Republican," announced last week that he would campaign for the open 22nd District, which Joe Biden would have won 58-40. Another new GOP candidate is Navy veteran Brandon Williams, who has the backing of several county-level Conservative Parties. Williams, unsurprisingly, is campaigning as anything but a moderate, baselessly claiming that Democrats used the pandemic to "drive through mandates that were meant to reinforce the fear."

NY-23: While Republican state Sen. George Borrello last month declined to rule out running for Congress based on an extremely slender hope that the GOP will successfully challenge the new map in court, he seems to have since committed to running for re-election. Earlier this week, the Chautauqua County Republican Committee endorsed Borrello's bid for another term in the legislature at the same time it was backing Rep. Claudia Tenney in the redrawn 23rd Congressional District.

TX-08: The Associated Press on Thursday called the March 1 Republican primary for Navy SEAL veteran Morgan Luttrell, who secured an outright win by taking 52% of the vote in an expensive 11-way contest. Political operative Christian Collins, who is a former campaign manager for retiring Rep. Kevin Brady, was a distant second with 22%. This seat, which includes the northern Houston area and nearby rural counties, is safely red.

The frontrunners, who both stressed their conservative credentials and loyalty to Trump, disagreed on little, but they had the support of very different factions within the party. Luttrell had in his corner House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which aired ads for him, as well as former Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Collins, meanwhile, had the support of Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies in the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus, while a Cruz buddy, banker Robert Marling, financed several super PACs that have spent heavily here. Luttrell far outspent Collins, and while Collins' outside allies deployed $1.4 million compared to $1 million for Luttrell's side, it wasn't enough to even force a second round of voting.

Mayors

San Jose, CA Mayor: City Councilmember Raul Peralez has dropped a Tulchin Research poll of the June nonpartisan primary for San Jose mayor that shows Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez leading with 28% while Peralez edges out fellow Councilmember Matt Mahan 13-7 for the second spot in a likely November general election; a third councilmember, Dev Davis, takes 6%. The poll was released one day before the influential South Bay Labor Council, which Chavez used to lead, backed the county supervisor. That was unwelcome news for Peralez, who was hoping the organization would issue a dual endorsement or an open endorsement that would have allowed individual unions to choose whom to support.

In San Jose, local elections for decades have been skirmishes between labor and business: Both Chavez and Peralez fall in the former camp, while termed-out Mayor Sam Liccardo, Mahan, and Davis are business allies. Liccardo's team has made it clear that they very much prefer Mahan over Davis, though the incumbent hasn't yet made an endorsement. Liccardo's official backing could mean quite a lot if it eventually materializes, though: He recently formed a super PAC that reportedly raised $400,000 in just a day.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: Michael Madigan, a Democrat whose nearly four decades as the powerful speaker of the Illinois state House came to an involuntary end last year, was indicted Wednesday on 22 counts of racketeering and bribery. Federal prosecutors allege that Madigan, who also gave up his post as state party chair after he was ousted as speaker, illegally used his many influential positions "to preserve and to enhance [his] political power and financial well-being" and "reward [his] political allies." Madigan responded by proclaiming his innocence.

Morning Digest: Facing Trump venom and GOP censure, Murkowski goes wobbly on seeking re-election

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Matt Booker, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

AK-Sen: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski unequivocally said back in January that she was running for re-election, but she's sounding a lot less certain now. When reporters recently asked her when she would decide, the 18-year incumbent noncommittally responded, "Well, I have to do it before 2022, right?" If Murkowski does choose to retire, it would mark the first time that an incumbent senator has not sought re-election in Alaska since it became a state in 1959.

One person who would be incredibly happy if Murkowski decided to call it a career is Donald Trump, who talked about trying to unseat her even before she voted to remove him from office in January. Trump has continued to make it clear he'd try to help defeat Murkowski if she ran again, though the Washington Post reported in March that some members of his inner circle are skeptical "that he will be as much of a potent force in the race because traveling to campaign against her would require such a long flight, which Trump generally avoids." The Alaska Republican Party's central committee, which has a much shorter commute, also piled on Saturday when it voted to censure the senator over her vote.

If Murkowski did seek a fourth full term, she would compete under very different electoral rules that could actually make it easier for her to fend off a hard-right challenger regardless of whether Trump actually schlepps out to Anchorage. Last year, Alaska voters approved a referendum that would require all parties to now run together on a single primary ballot, with the top four vote-getters advancing to November. Such a system would make it all but impossible to block Murkowski from the general election, when voters would then choose a winner by means of an instant runoff.

Campaign Action

Senate

AZ-Sen: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said back in January that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but CNN reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still hasn't given up trying to recruit him. There's no word whether the termed-out governor is listening to McConnell's entreaties, though, and some very loud voices closer to home would prefer he just leave the political scene altogether. The Arizona Republican Party censured Ducey over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic around the same time that the governor took his name out of contention, vividly demonstrating the kind of primary he'd have been in for.

GA-Sen: Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan said over the weekend that he would not seek the Republican nomination to face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

KY-Sen: Former state Rep. Charles Booker said Sunday that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to face Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Booker campaigned for Kentucky's other U.S. Senate seat last year and lost a surprisingly close primary to national party favorite Amy McGrath, who in turn went on to lose badly to Sen. Mitch McConnell.

MO-Sen: Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that major GOP outside groups are open to spending in Missouri’s open seat primary to stop disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens if he runs. Isenstadt says that Senate Leadership Fund, a major super PAC close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, "has been engaged in talks about how to keep the former governor from endangering their hold on what should be a safe seat," though no one has settled on anything yet.

Isenstadt adds that GOP operatives in the Show Me State are aware that a crowded field could make it easier for Greitens to win the nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt, though unnamed "top Republicans" acknowledge that they haven't come up with a plan to stop him at this early point in the cycle.

NV-Sen: CNN says that former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who was Team Red's 2018 nominee for governor, is considering challenging Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto next year. The incumbent will be a top GOP target as she seeks re-election in a state that backed Joe Biden by a close 50-48 margin, but a bit surprisingly, we've heard very little about the prospective field to face her until now.

Laxalt, who unsuccessfully sued to overturn Biden's victory in the state, has not yet said anything publicly about his interest, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly sees him as a Republican who "could bring together the warring wings of the party." Back in December, the Las Vegas Review-Journal also relayed "rumors" that Laxalt was thinking about seeking a rematch with Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who beat him 49-45, but we've heard nothing new since then.

OH-Sen: While "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance hasn't publicly expressed interest in seeking the Republican nomination for Ohio’s open seat, that hasn't stopped a group of far-right billionaires from pouring massive sums into a super PAC set up to aid him if he does. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Peter Thiel has given $10 million to a group called Protect Ohio Values, while the PAC’s spokesperson says that Robert Mercer's family has also made a "significant contribution."

On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan recently told CNN he would decide "in the next few weeks" if he'll campaign to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

UT-Sen: Former state Rep. Becky Edwards recently told Utah Policy that she was "all in" for a Republican primary campaign against Sen. Mike Lee, but she'll be in for an exceedingly difficult race: Edwards, who retired from the legislature in 2018, spent last year encouraging fellow Mormon women to vote against Donald Trump.  

Governors

CT-Gov: New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said Sunday that she would not seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a move that the Hartford Courant writes "appeared to take both parties by surprise."

MD-Gov: Nonprofit executive Jon Baron told the Baltimore Sun's Bryn Stole that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s open governorship. Stole writes that Baron, who is a former official in the Clinton-era Department of Defense, currently serves as vice president of Arnold Ventures, a group supported by a billionaire couple that describes its mission as "invest[ing] in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice."

MN-Gov: Republican Rep. Pete Stauber said Sunday that he would not challenge Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. KSTP’s Ricky Campbell reports that some GOP operatives “had considered Stauber a favorite,” while one top Republican, former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, was openly dismayed. “I'm a little shocked and, honestly, disappointed," said Zellers. "I would have loved to see Congressman Stauber run. I don't know if there's a clear path right now for any candidate."

NE-Gov, NE-02: In a development that will almost certainly be a relief to House Republicans, Rep. Don Bacon announced Monday that he would run for re-election rather than campaign for governor. While Republicans are the heavy favorites to keep the governor's office in deep red Nebraska no matter whom they nominate next year, holding Bacon’s Omaha-based 2nd District would be a much more difficult task without him. In its current form, the seat swung from 48-46 Trump to 52-46 Biden last year, but the congressman ran far ahead of the ticket and won his third term 51-46.

 NY-Gov: On Friday, reporter Jessica Bakeman became the seventh woman to accuse Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Bakeman wrote that she attended a 2014 holiday party at the executive mansion where Cuomo had held her in place without her consent and refused to let go of her after taking a picture with her even as she “practically squirmed to get away from him.” She further described how Cuomo went on to make a joke about what had just happened in front of her colleagues, which Bakeman said left her in “stunned silence, shocked and humiliated.”

Two days after Bakeman’s allegations became public, the New York Times and Washington Post both reported that Larry Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo adviser tasked with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, had been contacting county executives over the last two weeks to assess their loyalty to the governor.

One unnamed Democratic executive reportedly filed an ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s office because, as the Post wrote, they “feared the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if Schwartz was not pleased with the executive’s response to his questions about support of the governor.” On Monday, Cuomo’s attorney put out a statement insisting that Schwartz “would never link political support to public health decisions,” though she didn’t deny the calls had taken place.

Both stories attracted attention days after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Thursday that state lawmakers would open an impeachment investigation into Cuomo, a development that came after a majority of legislators called for his resignation. Notably, if a majority of the Assembly votes to impeach Cuomo, his powers would temporarily be transferred to a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The governor would regain his powers if he manages to avoid conviction.

Cuomo has repeatedly said that he won’t step down, but now one of his longtime allies is reportedly considering running to replace him. The New York Daily News writes that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a moderate Democrat, has been talking to donors and fundraisers about a possible bid, though he has not yet said anything publicly. There’s no word if Bellone would be willing to challenge Cuomo if the governor is in a position to seek re-election next year.

VA-Gov: On Friday evening, the Virginia Republican Party's State Central Committee opted to allow convention delegates who will be choosing the party's statewide nominees on May 8 to vote at one of roughly 37 locations across the state. The decision came weeks after the party originally opted to hold its gathering at Liberty University in Lynchburg, only for the school to announce the next day that it hadn’t in fact agreed to host the event at all.

But if you thought the intra-party bloodletting over this convention is finally over, think again. The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Patrick Wilson writes that, even after the party reached its decision, "the meeting veered into a bitter debate related to minutia over how people will file to become delegates." The GOP also won't finalize its list of voting locations until April 24, about two weeks before the event itself.

Democrats, meanwhile, will pick their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in a traditional June primary―an event that will be open to any eligible voter and feature far more than 37 voting locations.

House

 NM-01: The U.S. Senate confirmed Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior on Monday, making Haaland, who is a member of the federally recognized Laguna Pueblo tribe, the first Native American to ever run a cabinet-level department. The congresswoman's departure from the House will also set off a special election in New Mexico’s 1st District in the Albuquerque area, which supported Joe Biden 60-37 last year.

In anticipation of a vacancy, several candidates from both parties have been running here for some time, but there won't be any primaries. Instead, state law requires each party's central committee to pick their candidate: The Democrats’ body is made up of about 180 members, while Republicans put their own membership at 119. Lawmakers introduced a bill this year to institute traditional primaries instead, but it looks unlikely to win the support of the necessary two-thirds of each chamber before the legislature's session ends on Saturday.

We’ll have a look at both parties’ fields in a future Digest, but there was one notable development on the GOP side shortly before Haaland was confirmed when state Sen. Mark Moores announced he would run. Political observer Joe Monahan writes that while Moores, who is the only Republican in the chamber who represents any part of the city of Albuquerque, would have a tough time flipping this seat, even an unsuccessful House campaign could help raise his profile for a bid against Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham next year.

Haaland’s confirmation also ends, at least for now, her brief but historic time in elective office. Haaland, who was a longtime Democratic activist, first appeared on the ballot in 2014, when she was then-Attorney General Gary King’s running mate in that year's election for governor. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s strong poll numbers and the terrible political climate for Democrats made the race very challenging, though, and the King-Haaland ticket lost 57-43.

Haaland soon won the race to chair the state party during the 2016 cycle, an election that saw Democrats retake the state House after two years of GOP control. Haaland got a chance to run for the 1st District to succeed Lujan Grisham when the congresswoman ran for governor, but she had to get through an expensive primary. The contest effectively turned into a three-way race between Haaland, who earned the top place on the ballot by winning the state party convention; retired University of New Mexico law school professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez; and former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez.

Haaland ran commercials talking about how she'd put herself through college and law school as a single mom, noting that she “doesn't look like most people in Congress.” She also received outside help from a new group called 7Gen Leaders that ran ads that promoted her chance to make history as the first Native American woman elected to Congress. (The group's name refers to the philosophy, attributed to the Iroquois, that those living today should strive to work for the benefit of those who will live seven generations from now.)

Still, while Haaland looked like she had a real chance to win, there didn’t seem to be an obvious frontrunner heading into the primary. Sedillo Lopez spent more than any other candidate, while Martinez received considerable outside help. EMILY’s List, meanwhile, aired ads attacking Martinez even though it didn’t endorse either Sedillo Lopez or Haaland.

Ultimately, though, Haaland beat Martinez by a surprisingly wide 41-26, and she had no trouble in November. In January of 2019, Haaland and a fellow Democrat, Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, together made history when they were sworn in as the first American Indian women to serve in Congress, which Haaland did while wearing traditional Native dress.

Mayors

New York City, NY Mayor: Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales have both announced that they've raised enough money from small donors to qualify for the city's matching funds program. The city's Campaign Finance Board, though, will need to verify that they've met all of the requirements before they can receive public money.

Other Races

King County, WA Executive: It's been over a decade since there was a competitive race for the top elected position in Washington's most populous county, but that could change this year. Incumbent Dow Constantine has had no trouble winning since he was first elected in 2009, but state Sen. Joe Nguyen, a fellow Democrat who has represented West Seattle in the legislature since 2018, is now saying he's seriously considering a run against him this fall. The filing deadline is in late May.

Constantine may be in for a tough race because the backlog at the very top of Washington's political pyramid—where Democrat Jay Inslee took the unusual step of running for and winning a third term as governor last year—is starting to have some trickle-down effects on the next tier of political positions. Constantine had looked like a probable candidate for governor in 2020, but he backed Inslee once it became clear the governor wasn’t going anywhere. (As it happens, fully one-third of all elected King County executives have gone on to the governorship, so it's a good stepping stone.) That’s left Nguyen, in turn, stuck in line behind Constantine.

With King County's Republican bench currently consisting of blowing tumbleweeds, it's likely that if Nguyen does run, he and Constantine would face each other in this November’s general election thanks to Washington’s top-two primary system. Nguyen would presumably stake out terrain to the left of the already-progressive Constantine, though note that this race is officially nonpartisan.

Morning Digest: A blue House district in Nebraska could open up if this Republican runs for governor

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.

Leading Off

NE-Gov, NE-02: Rep. Don Bacon, who is one of just nine House Republicans to represent a Biden district, confirmed to the Omaha World-Herald over the weekend that he was considering running to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts. Bacon, who previously served in the Air Force as a brigadier general, said he would "be very cautious" as he mulls whether to run statewide, but he did not give a timeline for when he'd decide.

Republicans have held Nebraska's governorship since the 1998 elections, and that streak is likely to continue no matter who wins next year's primary. The bigger consequence of a Bacon gubernatorial campaign, though, would likely be in the battle for the House. The Omaha-based 2nd District swung from 48-46 Trump to 52-46 Biden last year, but Bacon ran far ahead of the ticket and won his third term 51-46.

It also remains to be seen if Republican mapmakers will get the chance to gerrymander Nebraska's congressional map to ensure that they can easily hold the 2nd District with or without Bacon. That's because Nebraska's unicameral legislature, which is formally nonpartisan but run by the GOP, offers lawmakers an uncommonly strong filibuster. Republicans weren't able to win the two-thirds majority it would need to overcome a Democratic filibuster aimed at stopping new maps (a job that would then likely fall to the courts), but the GOP retains the ability to end the filibuster rule with a simple majority.

Campaign Action

Senate

AL-Sen: Politico reports that former Trump administration official Clint Sims has "told the former president's inner circle recently he's not running" for the Republican nomination for this open seat.

IA-Sen: CNN mentions a few Democrats as possible candidates for the Senate seat currently held by Chuck Grassley, who has not yet said if he'll seek an eighth term next year:

  • Former Gov. Chet Culver
  • 2020 candidate Mike Franken
  • Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart
  • State Sen. Liz Mathis
  • State Auditor Rob Sand
  • State Rep. Ras Smith

There is no word yet if any of these people are interested.

The only notable Democrat who has publicly talked about a Senate run is Rep. Cindy Axne, who said in January that she wasn't ruling out a bid for the upper chamber or for governor.

MO-Sen: Several more Republicans have expressed interest in running to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt, who surprised observers Monday when he announced he would not seek a third term in this conservative seat. Former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018, had been talking about challenging the incumbent for renomination before this week, and a spokesperson said Tuesday that Greitens was mulling a bid for this now-open seat.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Reps. Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler additionally confirmed they were thinking about entering the contest. Former U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison also did not rule it out, saying, "I think I'm going to keep my powder dry for the moment. I may have more to say a little bit later."

No notable Republicans have announced yet, but one might make the first move soon. Scott Charton, a former reporter who now runs a communications firm, tweeted that party sources have relayed that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft "will run." Ashcroft is the son of John Ashcroft, a former governor and senator who was George W. Bush's first attorney general.

On the Democratic side, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce announced his bid Tuesday. The Huffington Post's Kevin Robillard writes that Kunce "now works at a think tank dedicated to battling corporate monopolies." Kunce joins former state Sen. Scott Sifton, who was already running before Blunt made his plans known.

Meanwhile, a prominent Democrat also is showing some interest in another campaign. Rep. Cori Bush tweeted Monday, "I was surprised to learn of Sen. Blunt's retirement. I'm grateful to everyone reaching out. As always, I'm focused on how best to deliver for St. Louis." Bush actually ran in the 2016 primary for this seat but brought in little money or outside attention and lost to establishment favorite Jason Kander 70-13. Bush went on to run an unexpectedly strong 2018 primary campaign against Rep. Lacy Clay before defeating him two years later.

Jeff Bernthal of St. Louis' Fox affiliate also writes that state Sen. Brian Williams is one of the Democrats who “shared messages indicating they will examine how they can best serve the state," though there's no quote from Williams.

Governors

KS-Gov: On Tuesday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced that he would seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Schmidt is the first major Republican to say he's in, though former Gov. Jeff Colyer began raising money last week for a very likely campaign.

Schmidt, who was elected to his third term 59-41 in 2018, entered the campaign with Trumpian rhetoric claiming, "The intolerant left with its cancel culture and big tech censorship is trying to shame and silence conservative voices." Schmidt has also spent the last year shoring up his far-right credentials with more than just words. As the pandemic worsened last spring, Schmidt told police not to enforce Kelly's executive order limiting the size of indoor religious services. In December, Schmidt also supported a lawsuit to overturn Joe Biden's victory.

However, Colyer already began working to portray his would-be foe as too close to moderates with a statement reading, "I started my public service working for President Reagan, a conservative hero. Derek Schmidt worked for two US Senators – one of whom served in the Obama Cabinet and the other endorsed Barbara Bollier last year and Laura Kelly before that."

As the Kansas City Star notes, those are references to former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, who did indeed support Democrat Barbara Bollier's unsuccessful 2020 campaign for her old Senate seat, and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who went on to serve as Barack Obama's secretary of defense and backed Biden over Donald Trump. Schmidt, for his part, responded to Colyer's jabs by saying that "it's time to move forward, not backwards."

P.S. Despite the common joke that "A.G." actually stands for "aspiring governor" (we didn't say the joke was funny), the last Kansas attorney general to successfully make the jump to the top office was Republican John Anderson in 1960.

MN-Gov: Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, who made a name for himself last year by suggesting that medical authorities were exaggerating the threat of COVID-19, revealed Tuesday that he would campaign for the Republican nomination to face Democratic incumbent Tim Walz.

That declaration came a bit sooner than he planned, though: The Star Tribune's Briana Bierschbach wrote, "Jensen announced his campaign for governor in a news release embargoed for next week, but the Star Tribune did not agree to the embargo. His campaign said he will not be commenting at this time." The only other declared contender is Mike Murphy, the mayor of the small community of Lexington, though a number of other Republicans are considering.

Jensen, who worked as a family physician, attracted the wrong kind of attention last year even before COVID-19 became serious in the United States when he came out in opposition to mandatory vaccinations for children. Jensen went on to national infamy in April when he argued that health officials were inflating the death toll of the pandemic: When a radio host asked him why they would "skew" mortality figures, Jensen responded, "Well, fear is a great way to control people."

Jensen revealed months later that his comments had prompted an investigation by the Minnesota State Board of Medical Practice for spreading misinformation and providing "reckless advice," but he later said the complaints against him were dismissed. That hardly stopped Jensen from spreading more conspiracy theories, though: Jensen has released TikTok videos captioned, "Family doctor EXPOSES double masking craziness," and "You are being played (by the CDC and WHO)."

What Republicans may care more about, though, is Jensen's past support for gun safety measures. In 2018, Jensen joined his Democratic colleagues to support bills to increase background checks and require any firearm owners to report lost or stolen weapons.

NY-Gov: A sixth woman has accused Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, saying he inappropriately touched her last year. According to the Albany Times Union's Brendan Lyons, the woman, whose name the paper is currently withholding, is a state government employee and alleges the incident took place at the governor's mansion in Albany, where she'd been "summoned to do work." Other staffers also reported the matter to Cuomo's counsel, says Lyons. Cuomo denied the allegations, saying at a Tuesday press conference, "I never touched anyone inappropriately."

At the same press event, when PBS reporter Dan Clark asked Cuomo if he would still run for a fourth term next year, Cuomo dodged the question. "Today is not a day for politics. I'm focusing on my job—my job is vaccines, getting a budget done,” he said. "You know allegations. You don't know facts. Let's operate on facts." That stands in contrast with remarks he made in 2019 when he said simply, "I plan to run for a fourth term."    

TX-Gov: Former state Sen. Don Huffines recently told the Houston Chronicle that he is considering challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in next year's Republican primary. Huffines has spent the past year attacking the pandemic restrictions from the man he's labeled "King Abbott," and he was hardly appeased by Abbott's decision last week to end Texas' mask mandate and business capacity limits. "It'll be great to have our freedoms back next week," Huffines tweeted before adding, "Unfortunately, we still live in a dictatorship where @GregAbbott_TX can yank those the next time it's politically convenient to him."

The wealthy Huffines, though, has flirted with running for higher office a few times in the past but never gone for it. In 2015, Huffines didn't rule out a primary bid against Rep. Pete Sessions in the 32nd Congressional District in the Dallas suburbs. Huffines decided instead to remain in the legislature, but his constituents weren't so willing to keep him around: Huffines ran for re-election in 2018 in a seat that had swung from 57-42 Romney to 50-45 Clinton, and he lost 54-46. (His identical twin brother, Phillip Huffines, was defeated in a primary that same year for another state Senate seat.)

Sessions also lost re-election after the 32nd District made a similar lurch to the left, but Huffines still mulled a 2020 bid against the new incumbent, Democrat Colin Allred. Huffines sat this contest out, though, while Sessions successfully returned to Congress by winning the far more conservative 17th District.

The Houston Chronicle, meanwhile, also mentions another vocal Abbott critic, 2020 state Senate candidate Shelley Luther, as a possible primary contender, but there's no word if she's interested.

House

LA-02: Campaign finance reports are in for the time from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 for the March 20 all-party primary to succeed former Rep. Cedric Richmond, and Democratic state Sen. Troy Carter had a modest financial advantage over his colleague and main intra-party foe, Karen Carter Peterson.

Carter, who is backed by Richmond, outraised Peterson about $500,000 to $450,000 while outspending her $585,000 to $515,000; Carter also enjoyed a $290,000 to $210,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of February. A third Democratic candidate, activist Gary Chambers, hauled in $305,000, spent $265,000, and had $115,000 left. In the very likely event that no one wins a majority of the vote later this month, a runoff would take place April 24 between the top two contenders.

Clancy DuBos of the New Orleans weekly The Gambit also recently took a look at the divisions between the main Democratic candidates in this safely blue seat. DuBos wrote that Peterson, Chambers, and businesswoman Desiree Ontiveros, who has brought in little money so far, have been campaigning as ardent progressives, while Carter "offers general but nuanced support — depending on the issue."

Notably, while the other contenders have called for a Green New Deal, Carter called it "a good blueprint" that won't be in place for a long time. Peterson has also run commercials pledging to "make Medicare for all a reality," though she and Carter used similar language when talking about healthcare in interviews with the Gambit: Peterson acknowledged that she was "okay with it being phased in," while Carter said, "I'm for a public option and healthcare for all."

DuBos also notes that, while both Carter and Peterson are veteran New Orleans elected officials (Chambers hails from Baton Rouge at the other side of the district), they represent conflicting factions in local Democratic politics. Peterson is a leader in the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), a longtime power player in the Crescent City that has clashed with Richmond and his allies. Each side scored some big wins and losses in the 2019 legislative elections, and DuBos writes, "Many see this contest as the latest bout between BOLD and Richmond."

LA-05: University of Louisiana Monroe official Julia Letlow has always looked like the heavy favorite to succeed her late husband, Republican Luke Letlow, in this very red seat, and new campaign finance reports only underscore her advantage in the March 20 all-party primary. Letlow brought in $680,000 during the first two months of 2021, while Democrat Candy Christophe was a distant second with $70,000.

There are a total of 12 candidates on the ballot, though, so it's still very possible that Letlow won't be able to win the majority she'd need to avert an April runoff.

MD-05, MD-Sen: Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd announced Monday that he was ending his Democratic primary campaign against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and would instead try to deny renomination to Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

NY-19, NY-Gov: Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said this week that he was mulling over a bid for Congress in addition to a second campaign for governor. House Republicans, though, may not be content to wait for him to make up his mind after the debacle they experienced last year when they tried to recruit him to take on Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado.

Molinaro was the 2018 Republican nominee against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a race he lost by a brutal 60-36 margin statewide. Molinaro, though, did carry the Hudson Valley-based 19th District by a wide 53-42 even as Delgado was unseating Republican Rep. John Faso, which made the county executive an attractive prospect for the NRCC.

The committee hoped that Molinaro would launch a House campaign after he was re-elected in November of 2019 as leader of Dutchess County, but it didn't have a viable backup candidate when he announced two months later that he would stay put. The nominee the GOP ended up with, Kyle Van De Water, raised very little money, and major outside groups on both sides ended up focusing their efforts elsewhere instead. Delgado ultimately won by a solid 54-43 as Joe Biden was carrying his seat by a much smaller 50-48 spread.

OH-12: 2020 Democratic nominee Alaina Shearer said Monday that she would run for Congress again. Last year, Shearer lost to Republican Rep. Troy Balderson 55-42 as Donald Trump was carrying this suburban Columbus seat 52-46.

TX-06: This week, Republican state Rep. Jake Ellzey earned an endorsement from his old ally, former Gov. Rick Perry, ahead of the May 1 all-party primary. Perry backed Ellzey during each of his previous campaigns, including his 2018 run for this seat.

Mayors

New York City, NY Mayor: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Monday publicized an endorsement from former Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, a longtime power player in Harlem who served in Congress from 1971 until his retirement in 2017.

Other Races

New York City, NY Comptroller: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced Tuesday that he was joining the crowded June Democratic primary for this open seat, which will be conducted using instant runoff voting.

Johnson, who is the first gay man to lead the New York City Council, was universally expected to run for mayor until he announced in September that he'd skip the contest in order to focus on his mental health. Johnson, though, began showing interest this year in campaigning for comptroller, a post that also has plenty of influence over the nation's largest city. Johnson said Tuesday, "I feel great. I feel better … Where I was in September is not where I am today."

Johnson raised $859,000 ahead of his anticipated mayoral bid, money that he can now use for the comptroller's race. WNYC's Gwynne Hogan reports that this puts him ahead of City Councilman Brad Lander, whose $816,000 haul had made him the fundraising leader in the contest.

SD-AG: On Monday, the state House overwhelmingly passed a resolution pausing impeachment proceedings against Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg as the criminal case against him proceeds. Ravnsborg was charged last month for striking and killing a man with his car in September.

Data

House: David Jarman takes a look at the last three cycles of Daily Kos Elections’ presidential results by congressional district, and finds that only 47 House districts flipped parties at least once in the last decade. That leaves 388 districts that stayed either Romney/Trump/Trump or Obama/Clinton/Biden.

Twelve districts went Romney/Clinton/Biden and 12 more went Romney/Trump/Biden; these, for the most part, are well-educated suburban districts. There are another 16 Obama/Trump/Trump districts, all in the Midwest or Northeast, many of which have below-median levels of college education.

There are also five perpetually swingy districts that went Obama/Trump/Biden. Finally, there are two interesting outliers: Florida's 26th went Obama/Clinton/Trump while Texas's 23rd went Romney/Clinton/Trump. These two seats are mostly-Latino districts where 2020's pro-Trump trend among Latino voters narrowly made the difference. You can find more on these seats, as well as some great maps, in Jarman’s post.

Morning Digest: This race could give Texas Democrats their first statewide win in 26 years

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.

Leading Off

TX Railroad Commission: As Lone Star Democrats seek their first statewide victory in more than a quarter century, their best hope may be Chrysta Castañeda, who's running for a spot on an agency many people haven't heard of: the Texas Railroad Commission.

Campaign Action

Despite the name, the commission doesn't actually oversee trains, but it does have jurisdiction over something even more important in Texas: the state's energy industry (oversight of the rails was handed to the state's Department of Transportation in 2005). The panel, often known as the "RRC," is made up of three members, each elected statewide for six-year terms.

The last time a Democrat won a seat on the board was in 1990, when former Rep. Bob Krueger beat a Republican opponent by 56-40 margin. Krueger wound up resigning to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate when Lloyd Bentsen became Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, and Republicans comfortably beat his appointed successor in 1994.

Ever since, the GOP has held all three seats, but Republicans were already preparing for a serious battle this year—which, ironically, might have made their situation even worse. Republican Ryan Sitton, who first won a slot on the RRC in 2014, had stockpiled $2 million in his war chest for the general election, but in March, he lost his primary in an absolute shocker to an unknown named Jim Wright, the owner of an oilfield waste disposal company who had raised less than $13,000.

The 55-45 loss was so inexplicable that some political observers wondered if Wright benefited from sharing a name with the one-time speaker of the House who hailed from Fort Worth, the late Democrat Jim Wright, who died in 2015. It's not such a crazy theory: Perennial candidate Gene Kelly won multiple Texas primaries in the previous decade because voters had him confused with the beloved dancer.

Whatever the explanation, though, Wright's victory has left Republicans with a suddenly open seat and a badly flawed candidate. The RRC—the very body that Wright wants to join—fined him $182,000 for improper storage of hazardous waste in 2017, and he's been sued by his former business partners for fraud stemming from the mess.

Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney, took aim at Wright for his record in her first ad of the race, which went up last month, but the main topic she's focusing on is the issue of "flaring." That refers to the practice of oil producers burning off unwanted natural gas from their wells rather than capturing it for later use, a process that is both environmentally harmful and economically wasteful.

It's also against the law—unless a driller is granted a special permit, of which 7,000 were handed out last year. As Castañeda notes, such permits can only be granted if all three members of the commission agree, meaning she could single-handedly put an end to flaring even if Republicans still hold a nominal 2-1 majority on the board next year.

With this backdrop, The New Republic recently called this race "this year’s most important election for American climate policy." It could also finally put an end to the longest statewide losing streak for Democrats anywhere in the nation, as Texas last voted Democratic for any statewide race in 1994.

3Q Fundraising

IA-Sen: Theresa Greenfield (D): $28.7 million raised

WV-Gov: Jim Justice (R-inc): $890,000 raised, $263,000 cash-on-hand; Ben Salango (D): $564,000 raised, $153,000 cash-on-hand

CA-25: Mike Garcia (R-inc): $3.2 million raised, $2 million cash-on-hand

CA-48: Michelle Steel (R): $1.8 million raised

MN-03: Kendall Qualls (R): $873,000 raised, $538,000 cash-on-hand

MN-08: Quinn Nystrom (D): $650,000 raised

NH-01: Chris Pappas (D-inc): $700,000 raised, $1.35 million cash-on-hand

NY-02: Andrew Garbarino (R): $771,000 raised

TX-10: Michael McCaul (R-inc): $870,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand

Senate

GA-Sen-A: A pro-Republican group called Georgia Action Fund says it is spending $5 million on digital ads supposedly aimed at swaying undecided voters in the race between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

LA-Sen: Democrat Adrian Perkins narrates much of his first TV ad, which focuses on his biography, including his graduation from West Point and his service in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in an award of the Bronze Star. A voiceover notes that after he fought overseas, "Harvard Law and big job offers came." But, says Perkins, "I chose to come home. To serve my community. Now I'm taking our mission to Washington to get things done for you."

At the end, text appears on-screen noting that Perkins has been endorsed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and Barack Obama, an effort to consolidate Democratic voters to ensure Perkins makes a December runoff against Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.

NC-Sen: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' new ad, unsurprisingly, goes after Democrat Cal Cunningham over the intimate text messages he shared with a woman who is not his wife. The spot mostly features clips of newscasters discussing various angles to the story, and during the "I approve this message" segment—not a section we discuss often—Tillis is shown hand-in-hand with his wife. Tillis' allies at the Senate Leadership Fund also recently went up with a similar ad.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the DSCC is adding $3 million to their existing TV ad reservations for the last two weeks of the race.

Polls: If you click each race tag below, such as "MT-Sen," you'll be taken to the Daily Kos Elections poll aggregator for that race, which displays a trendline for all available public polls and the current polling average.

  • MT-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Steve Bullock (D): 48, Steve Daines (R-inc): 46 (49-43 Trump)
  • NC-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Cal Cunningham (D): 50, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 39 (51-44 Biden) (Aug.: 49-41 Cunningham)
  • SC-Sen: GBAO (D) for the DSCC: Jaime Harrison (D): 48, Lindsey Graham: (R-inc): 47, Bill Bledsoe (C): 3 (49-44 Trump)
  • TX-Sen: Crosswind Media (R) and Pulse Opinion Research: John Cornyn (R-inc): 48, MJ Hegar (D): 39 (51-44 Trump)
  • TX-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Cornyn (R-inc): 45, Hegar (D): 42 (47-45 Biden) (Sept.: 40-38 Cornyn)

MT-Sen: While there hasn't been a ton of polling in Montana—and what we have seen has almost all been very tight—Data for Progress' survey is the first to show Steve Bullock with a lead since an early July poll from PPP that had Bullock ahead 46-44.

NC-Sen: A number of polls taken since Labor Day have shown Cal Cunningham up by double digits, but what's notable about about this Data for Progress poll is that it was in the field from Weds, Sept. 30 through Monday, Oct. 5. That means half of it was conducted after news about Cunningham's affair broke on Friday night, Oct. 2.

SC-Sen: The DSCC's poll included Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Lindsey Graham a few days after the survey concluded. However, Bledsoe's name will still appear on ballots.

Gubernatorial

NC-Gov: Dan Forest is just the latest Republican trying to scare voters with ads showing footage of unrest, even starting his latest spot by saying, "Seems like the only people you see in downtown Asheville these days are rioters." Seems like he should try harder: According multiple local office-holders, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, Forest's clips don't show the city at all but instead were shot in other locales. When asked for comment, the Forest campaign didn't dispute the charge.

Polls:

  • WV-Gov: Strategies Unlimited (D) for WV First: Jim Justice (R-inc): 46, Ben Salango (D): 40, Daniel Lutz Jr. (Mountain Party): 5

This is the closest poll of the three we've seen to date in this race. According to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, WV First is a group opposing Jim Justice's re-election bid, though it does not appear to have any presence the web. The same is true of the pollster, Strategies Unlimited.

House

IN-05: Indiana schools chief Jennifer McCormick has once again stuck her thumb in the eye of her own party by endorsing another Democrat, Christina Hale, who is seeking to flip the open 5th Congressional District. Though elected superintendent of public instruction as a Republican in 2016, McCormick has regularly feuded with the GOP and previously backed Democrat Woody Myers in his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, as well as Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel, who is running for state attorney general. McCormick is not seeking re-election this year after Republicans turned her position into an appointed one starting after 2020.

MI-08: Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin's latest ad features footage from a recent debate that went viral after she shredded her Republican opponent, Paul Junge, on healthcare. Junge had sought to make an issue of a lapse in insurance coverage that befell Slotkin's mother, blaming "undue burdens and regulations." Slotkin's scathing response occupies the bulk of the ad:

"Please don't speak about my mother as if you understand what made her health care unaffordable to her. And I think it's crazy that every time we ask you specific details about the thing that really helps people know that they're going to be protected—their kids are going to be protected—you deflect and start attacking me. And raising my mother? Come on, Paul."

NE-02: Former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford has endorsed vulnerable Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who narrowly booted him after one term in the House in 2016. Ashford sought to reclaim his seat in 2018 but lost a tight the Democratic primary that year to nonprofit executive Kara Eastman, who herself lost a close contest with Bacon later that year—a race in which Ashford supported her.

Eastman sought the Democratic nomination again this year and this time handily defeated Ashford's wife, attorney Ann Ferlic Ashford. Ann Ashford angrily refused to endorse Eastman following the May primary, citing comments Eastman had made blaming Ashford's campaign-trail criticisms of her on "bad blood" stemming from her defeat of Ashford's husband two years earlier.

Bacon's past statements about Brad Ashford, however, have been far harsher. Among other things, Bacon accused Ashford of being soft on the Islamic State during their 2016 race, claiming in an ad, "If Brad Ashford doesn't know ISIS is targeting Nebraska, how can we trust him to keep us safe?"

VA-02: Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria's newest ad stars a COVID survivor named Fred Herrmann who excoriates Republican Scott Taylor for hosting a campaign event over the summer where attendees were maskless and greeted each other—including Taylor—with intimate hugs. Footage of the disturbing gathering rolls as Herrmann pours out his criticism. "Scott Taylor even compared coronavirus to the flu. It's not the flu," he says. "Mr. Taylor, I couldn't see my family while I thought I was going to die, because this virus is dangerous—and sending you back to Congress would be, too."

Polls:

CA-25: Smith's memo didn't include exact figures for the presidential race, but it did say that Joe Biden "is currently beating Trump by 4 points." That would represent the rare district-level poll where Biden's margin is narrower than Hillary Clinton's was in 2016 (she carried the 25th 50-44).

NY-22: Believe it or not, Siena's poll is the very first we've seen of this race, and the findings are a serious whoa-mama-joe moment for the GOP, particularly as regards the presidential race. Upstate New York's 22nd District was one of those rural white areas where the bottom really fell out for Democrats in 2016: While Barack Obama had lost to Mitt Romney by less than a point here, Trump crushed Clinton 55-39.

There's good reason to believe Siena, too. In 2016, the school's polling accurately forecast the district's big shift to Trump, both in late September and just before Election Day, when it had Trump up 14. If Republicans can't beat Brindisi, who exactly can they beat?

Mayoral

Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: The Democratic firm Bendixen & Amandi International's new poll for the Miami Herald gives Democrat Daniella Levine Cava a 45-35 lead over Republican Steve Bovo in next month's officially nonpartisan race, which is an improvement from the 39-32 edge it found last month. Levine Cava also released a Change Research survey in late September that showed her up 45-32, while Bovo's side has yet to publicize its own numbers.

Levine Cava would be the first Democrat to serve as the chief executive of Florida's largest county since Alex Penelas left office in 2004. Penelas himself waged a comeback campaign this year, but he took third in August's nonpartisan primary.

New York City, NY Mayor: Civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, a former counsel to term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio, entered next year's Democratic primary to succeed her old boss on Thursday. Wiley, who is Black, would be the first woman mayor in the city's history. In her kickoff, she took several jabs at the unpopular incumbent. "If I am mayor, you will never have to wonder who's in charge," she said. "You will never have to question ... whether the mayor even wants the job." She also ridiculed de Blasio's hapless presidential bid, saying, "You will never have to wonder whether I'm in Iowa."

Ad Roundup