Morning Digest: Ongoing lawsuit over new North Carolina House map leaves Congress members in limbo

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

NC Redistricting: North Carolina Republican legislators passed a new congressional map on Friday, but plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit over the lines are challenging it in state court. That's created an awkward situation in the Tar Heel State where the state's U.S. House members, as well as potential congressional candidates, are looking at running for what Daily Kos Elections calls Schrödinger's seats: No one knows if they will exist in November, or if there will be completely different districts in their place.

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Still, for now at least, candidates are making noises about running under the legislature's new congressional map, which you can see here. Below is a rundown of developments for several seats. Note that we use the congressional district numbers for the new (and possibly) temporary map.

NC-02: The new 2nd District in the Raleigh area backed Hillary Clinton 60-36, and GOP Rep. George Holding doesn't sound like he's looking to try to fight for another seat. Holding said last week, "I never came here to make a career out of being in Congress. There are plenty of other things to do."

NC-06: Democrat Kathy Manning, who lost an expensive 2018 contest against GOP Rep. Ted Budd 54-46, said Friday she was considering seeking the new 6th District in the Greensboro area. This seat backed Clinton 59-38.

NC-10, NC-13: The new map makes the aforementioned 6th District an extremely tough seat for the GOP, so it's exceedingly unlikely that Republican Rep. Mark Walker would run there. However, he's not ruling out taking on two GOP colleagues, Reps. Patrick McHenry in the 10th District or Ted Budd in the 13th District, in order to stay in Congress. The new 10th District in the Winston-Salem area backed Donald Trump 68-30, while the new 13th District south of Greensboro supported him by a similar 67-31.

Election Result Recaps

Aurora, CO Mayor: Democrat Omar Montgomery conceded defeat in the five-way Nov. 5 mayoral race on Monday after final results showed him losing to Republican Mike Coffman by 215 votes. Coffman, who lost re-election in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District last year, initially led by 38-33 on election night, but the gap narrowed to 35.7-35.5 as more ballots were counted. Unfortunately, there still weren’t quite enough votes left to put Montgomery over the top.

However, the late-counted ballots did give progressives some surprisingly good news in races for what was a GOP-dominated City Council. While on election night it appeared that the body’s ideological composition would not change, progressives ended up unseating two conservative incumbents. The new Council will be made up of five Democrats, four Republicans, and one independent who often votes with the Democrats, though Coffman will be able to break any ties.

Senate

MS-Sen: Businessman Gerard Gibert recently told the Clarion-Ledger that it was "highly unlikely" that he would challenge Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in the GOP primary, though he declined to rule it out. However, state Sen. and 2018 candidate Chris McDaniel and 2019 gubernatorial candidate Bill Waller Jr. said no to running against the incumbent. No notable Republicans have announced bids against Hyde-Smith, though former Miss America Organization president Josh Randle recently formed an exploratory committee.

Gubernatorial

UT-Gov: Utah Policy reports the businessman Spence Eccles has told his friends and family that he will stay out of the GOP primary, though there’s no quote from Eccles.

House

CA-22, CA-53, CA-25: The California Democratic Party held its convention over the weekend and made a few notable endorsements.

In the contest to take on GOP Rep. Devin Nunes in the 22nd District, the party supported former healthcare administrator Bobby Bliatout over financial advisor Phil Arballo. The party also endorsed San Diego City Council president Georgette Gómez in the crowded contest to succeed retiring Rep. Susan Davis in the safely blue 53rd District. The party did delay on taking sides in the special election to replace former Rep. Katie Hill, though, and said it would begin the process by calling for local endorsing caucuses in the 25th District soon.

And what exactly does the party's seal of approval actually mean? Endorsees are listed by name on the sample ballot that gets sent out to all voters in the March top-two primary, which, for the lucky beneficiaries, is almost like having someone else pay for a mailer to every voter in their district. (These same candidates can, of course, also include information about their endorsement in their own literature and advertisements.)

In expensive contests this can be a real boon, though candidates who fail to earn the party's endorsement certainly can and do win primaries regardless. Last year, for instance, the state party endorsed law professor Dave Min in the 45th District and neuroscientist Hans Keirstead in the 48th District, respectively. Min and Keirstead lost the top-two primary to fellow Democrat Katie Porter and Harley Rouda, who went on to unseat Republican incumbents that fall.

IN-01: State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon said Thursday that she expects to announce this week whether she'll seek the Democratic nod for this open seat.

KS-02: Democrats currently don't have a candidate against freshman Rep. Steve Watkins in this 56-37 Trump seat, and only one local politician is currently showing any interest in running. Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla told the Wichita Eagle, "Let's put it this way, I am being approached with the issue. I haven't made a decision yet." The filing deadline is at the start of June.

Right now, though, Watkins has much more to worry about in the August GOP primary. State Treasurer Jake LaTurner announced during the fall that he would drop out of the Senate race and run here instead, and he ended September with a $527,000 to $384,000 cash-on-hand lead over Watkins. LaTurner has pointed to Watkins' narrow 48-47 win in last year's general election and his weak fundraising to argue that the incumbent is jeopardizing Team Red's hold over what should be a safe seat.

MD-07: Del. Terri Hill announced Monday that she was joining the February special Democratic primary. While most of the Democratic field is from Baltimore City, Hill lives in Howard County. Hill's seat in the legislature also includes some of Baltimore and Howard Counties, but none of Baltimore City. (Baltimore City is not part of Baltimore County.) Baltimore City makes up 52% of this district while Baltimore County is 26% and the balance is in Howard County.

NY-02: 2018 Democratic nominee Liuba Grechen Shirley said Monday that she would not run for this competitive open seat. Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon joined the race months before longtime GOP Rep. Peter King announced his retirement last week, and she's still the only notable Democratic primary candidate.

NY-17: Democrat Evelyn Farkas, who served in the Department of Defense during the Obama administration, announced Monday that she would run for this reliably blue open seat in the Westchester County area. Farkas left the DoD in late 2015, and she went on to become a National Security Contributor on NBC and MSNBC.

Farkas used one of her TV appearances in 2017 to relay that she'd told her former colleagues and Capitol Hill staffers to "get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration," explaining, "I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left."

Farkas had continued by saying she was worried that, if Donald Trump's new team "found out how we knew what we knew about the Trump staff, dealing with Russians," they would "try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence." Prominent conservatives, including Sean Hannity, then mendaciously argued that Farkas had somehow admitted that the Obama White House had spied on Trump's campaign.

Farkas joins what has become a crowded Democratic primary to succeed retiring Rep. Nita Lowey. Also in the running are Assemblyman David Buchwald, state Sen. David Carlucci, former NARAL board chair Allison Fine, and attorney Mondaire Jones.

NY-21: GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik infuriated progressives nationwide with her antics during last week's impeachment hearings, but while she successfully curried favor with Donald Trump, she also gave a massive fundraising boost to her opponent.

Stefanik sought to violate House Intelligence Committee rules by asking questions during time reserved for the committee's chair, Democrat Adam Schiff, and its top-ranking Republican, Devin Nunes. She then hopped on Twitter to lie about why she'd been cut off, falsely claiming that Schiff "REFUSES to let duly elected Members of Congress ask questions to the witness, simply because we are Republicans."

Progressives responded by opening their wallets in a big way for Democrat Tedra Cobb, who announced Sunday that she'd raised $1 million in just three days. The congresswoman's campaign, by contrast, has declined to say how much it brought in over the weekend. Stefanik had a $1.3 million to $508,000 cash-on-hand lead over Cobb at the end of September, though that gap may have tightened.

This is the second consecutive matchup between Cobb and Stefanik, who won last year's race 56-42. While Cobb raised a credible $1.5 million for that contest, Stefanik's rural district in the farthest upstate reaches of New York insulated her: New York's 21st swung from 52-46 for Barack Obama to 54-40 Trump, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro also defeated Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo by a wide 59-35 margin there in 2018.

VA-07: On Monday, two weeks after he won re-election in his reliably red seat, GOP Del. John McGuire announced that he would challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. McGuire is a retired Navy SEAL who first won a spot in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017.

House: The conservative American Action Network is spending a total of $7 million on TV and digital ads in 37 House seats attacking Democrats over impeachment. Politico has the total size-of-the-buy for several of those seats, including the number of gross ratings points (a term we explain here). You can also find one of those ads, which goes after Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham in South Carolina's 1st District, here.

Legislative

TX State House: Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled Jan. 28 runoffs for three special elections for the state House, including in HD-28. This suburban Houston seat, which was vacated by Republican John Zerwas, backed Donald Trump 53-43 and supported GOP Sen. Ted Cruz by a smaller 51-48 spread last year.

The district hosted an all-party primary on Nov. 5 and Eliz Markowitz, the lone Democrat in the race, took first with 39%, while Republican Gary Gates earned second with 28%. Overall, the six Republican candidates outpaced Markowitz 61-39. That's a tough deficit for Markowitz to overcome, but January turnout could be more favorable to her than it was this month.

Markowitz may also benefit from increased scrutiny of Gates now that he's the one Republican competing here. Back in 2016, when he was seeking the GOP nod for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, elements of Gates' checkered past were brought to the surface. In 2000, Child Protective Services removed his 13 children from his home, saying they were in "immediate danger."

Soon after, a judge returned the kids and the case was dropped, but not before serious accusations were levied against Gates, including allegations that he made his children miss meals as a form of punishment. Gates went on to lose his primary by a narrow 51-49.

VA State House: Republican Del. Chris Stolle formally requested a recount on Monday after Virginia's Board of Elections certified the results of this month's elections, which left him trailing Democrat Nancy Guy by 27 votes in the 83rd State House District. It may be a while before we have final results, though: In 2017, a similar recount did not conclude until late December.

If Guy holds on to her lead, that would give Democrats a net gain of six seats and a 55-45 majority in the lower chamber, along with their 21-19 advantage in the Senate.

Other Races

Orange County, CA Board of Supervisors: Former Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez announced on Saturday that she would end her campaign against Republican incumbent Don Wagner, who defeated her 42-37 for this seat in the March special election. Democrats may already have another candidate soon, though, since Orange County Fairgrounds board member Ashleigh Aitken said Friday that she'd run for this office if Sanchez didn't. Aitken campaigned for mayor of Anaheim last year and lost to Republican Harry Sidhu in a tight 32.5-31.9 contest.

Orange County has rapidly been moving to the left in recent years, and last year, Democrats won their first seat on the five-member Board of Supervisors since 2006. Both Wagner and fellow GOP Supervisor Andrew Do are up for re-election next year, and Democrats need to defeat them both to take their first majority on the body in living memory.

Grab Bag

International Digest: We regret to inform you that, after nearly four years and 42 issues, this is the final edition of the Daily Kos International Elections Digest. We will continue to cover major overseas elections in our flagship newsletter, the Morning Digest.

After nearly a year of uncertainty over Brexit and an exodus of 21 Conservative MPs from the party that caused hardline Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lose his parliamentary majority, the U.K. will finally hold an election on Dec. 12 that could seal the fate of how the country leaves the European Union. Meanwhile, Canada's Liberals defeated the Conservatives to win another term in government, Spain's left failed to gain a majority in early elections and will still have to form a potentially unwieldy coalition, and Tunisia has chosen its second democratically elected president. Read about these stories and more in the November edition of the International Digest.

Radio host says he was fired mid-show from conservative station after criticizing Donald Trump

Craig Silverman, the host of “The Craig Silverman Show,” which aired on a conservative radio station in Denver, Colorado, says he was fired in the middle of a show. Why? According to Silverman, he was fired suddenly after he criticized Donald Trump during his Saturday morning 710 KNUS talk show. Just how suddenly? As Silverman tells it, the station’s program director, Kelly Michaels, literally came through the door and said, “You’re done,” as first reported by the Denver Post.

Here’s what reportedly happened right before that. Silverman had been playing parts of an old interview, from 2015, between himself and Roger Stone. Stone, as previously covered at Daily Kos, was convicted on Friday of witness tampering and lying to Congress and faces a sentence of 20 years or more. The clip Silverman replayed involved the radio host telling Stone that he was upset by Trump’s relationship with Roy Cohn, Trump’s former attorney. After that aired, as Silverman explains it, the station suddenly cut to network news.

Silverman, who said he’d been increasingly critical of Trump lately, has felt that Democrats have made a solid case for impeachment hearings. In a recent show, a listener called in and stated that Trump hadn’t committed any impeachable offenses and thus the impeachment inquiry was unfair. 

“You like Donald Trump’s policies and I like many of them, as well. Right now, we have peace and prosperity, and that’s great,” Silverman answered as reported by The Washington Post. “But the question becomes, ‘Is it okay to cheat to win?' Because the allegation is that Donald Trump is using that money and the power of the presidency to cheat to win in 2020.”

Here’s what Silverman tweeted about the reported firing:

x

Silverman, a former prosecutor, said he voted for Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012. As reported byThe Washington Post, Silverman calls himself an independent who possesses both liberal and conservative views. He also said he’s voted Republican more than Democrat. 

“I submit that Donald J. Trump is deeply unpopular in lots of America,” Silverman said, as reported by the Post, during his Nov. 2 show in reference to Trump being booed at Game 5 of the World Series in Washington, D.C. “And our country is at a crisis point. And I think a lot of people in America are coming to the realization that something is just not quite right with President Donald Trump.”

“Not quite right” puts it lightly.

Morning Digest: Democrat John Bel Edwards wins a second term as governor of Louisiana

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

LA-Gov: Louisiana held its runoff elections on Saturday, and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards won re-election by defeating wealthy Republican Eddie Rispone 51-49. Pelican State Democrats also got some more good news when they prevented the GOP from taking the two-thirds supermajority in the state House that Team Red needed to override Edwards’ vetoes (see our LA State House item below).

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Edwards is the first Democratic chief executive to claim a second consecutive term since Edwin Edwards in 1975, as well as the first incumbent governor to ever compete in, much less win, a runoff. With his victory, Democrats also will maintain control of the one statewide office they still hold in the entire Deep South aside from Doug Jones’ Senate seat in Alabama.

Edwards won his first term in this very red state back in 2015 by defeating scandal-tarred Republican Sen. David Vitter by a wide 56-44 margin in an extraordinary campaign. Edwards was generally popular during his tenure, but he always faced a difficult task winning re-election this year in a state that backed Donald Trump 58-38 and where no other Democrats have won statewide in over a decade. Both parties poured millions into ads, and Trump campaigned in the state just before the Oct. 12 all-party primary and twice during the runoff.

While Edwards hoped he could avoid a runoff by winning a majority of the vote in the all-party primary, he fell a bit short. Edwards took 47% of the vote while Rispone edged GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham 27-24 for the second runoff spot. Altogether Rispone, Abraham, and Some Dude Republican Patrick "Live Wire" Landry racked up a combined 52% of the vote while Edwards and underfunded Democrat Omar Dantzler took 47%. (The balance went to independent Gary Landrieu.) Edwards was still very much in the fight following the first round of voting, but he looked like at least the slight underdog going into the five-week runoff campaign.

Edwards spent the next month connecting Rispone to former GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, who left office with horrific approval ratings at the start of 2016, and arguing that the challenger would undo the Medicaid expansion that Edwards had secured for hundreds of thousands of people. Rispone, meanwhile tried to link himself to Trump as closely as possible, and Trump was only too happy to oblige.

Trump held his final rally for Rispone on Thursday and, just like he had for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin earlier this month, sought to make the election all about himself. Trump noted Bevin’s defeat saying, “So, Trump took a loss,” and he implored his Louisiana audience, “So you got to give me a big win, please. OK? OK.”

However, voters did not give Trump or Rispone a big win. Instead, Edwards got to proclaim during his victory speech, “And as for the president: God bless his heart.” ("Bless your heart" is a seemingly sweet-sounding Southernism that actually means "oh, you poor, benighted bastard.")

There are a few important reasons why Edwards won his majority on Saturday after falling a few points short last month. While Abraham endorsed Rispone immediately after losing their nasty contest, Democrats hoped that lingering bad feelings would convince some of Abraham’s supporters to cross party lines for Edwards or at least stay home for round two. Edwards worked to fan the flames of intra-party animosity by running a commercial in Abraham’s 5th Congressional District, which is located in northeast Louisiana, that reminded viewers about the attacks Rispone leveled at their congressman.

Republicans seemed quite aware that unhappy Abraham constituents could hamper Rispone, and one of Trump’s two runoff rallies took place in Monroe in the heart of the 5th District. However, it was Edwards’ strategy that paid off on Saturday. According to the University of Virginia’s J. Miles Coleman, the Republican gubernatorial candidates outpaced the Democrats 60-40 in the 5th District last month, but Rispone only beat Edwards 55-45 there in the runoff. While Edwards made gains in the state’s other five congressional seats, no other district shifted towards him this much compared to one month ago.

Turnout also spiked in the big blue parishes that are home to large black communities and where Democrats need to run up the score to win statewide. According to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, while statewide turnout was up 12% from last month’s all-party primary, it increased by 15% in East Baton Rouge (the state’s largest parish), 25% in Caddo Parish, and 29% in Orleans Parish.

Edwards also made gains over the last month in Jefferson Parish, which is the second largest in the state. The Democratic candidates outpaced the Republicans 54-46 in this suburban New Orleans community on Oct. 12, and the governor almost doubled his margin of victory there on Saturday by taking it 57-43.

Edwards’ big win in Jefferson Parish seems to have been due in part to GOP collapse in the well-educated suburbs that has hurt Team Red across the nation during the Trump era. The Economist’s G. Elliott Morris writes that, in the parishes “where a higher share of the population has a bachelor's degree or higher,” Edwards actually did better on Saturday than he did during his decisive 2015 statewide win. By contrast, Rispone improved on Vitter’s poor performance four years ago almost everywhere in the state, especially in the rural southwest corner of Louisiana (roughly the area that makes up the 3rd Congressional District).

Jefferson Parish very much reflects this suburban swing to the left. Back in 2015, Edwards outpaced Vitter, who got his start in parish politics, by a narrow 51-49 margin here, which is considerably smaller than the double-digit win the governor racked up on Saturday. While Jefferson Parish was an early source of GOP strength back when Democrats still dominated the state, any Democrats looking replicate Edwards’ win in a future statewide election will almost certainly need to run the table here.

Election Result Recaps

Hempstead, NY Town Supervisor: Republican Donald Clavin has held a 1,392-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Laura Gillen since election night, and local election officials say that they'll soon count close to 6,000 absentee and affidavit ballots cast in this race. Democratic Party officials tell Newsday that they expect the process to start on Monday and take a couple of days to complete. Clavin declared victory on Nov. 5, but Gillen has not conceded.

LA State House: Republicans unsuccessfully tried to win a two-thirds state House supermajority in Saturday’s runoffs that would allow them to override Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoes. Instead, though, Team Red ended the night with 68 seats, which is two short of the 70 they needed.

Democrat Mack Cormier unseated GOP incumbent Chris Leopold in a seat in the New Orleans area, which gives Democrats a total of 35 seats in the new legislature. The other two seats are held by independents Joe Marino and Roy Daryl Adams. Republicans won a supermajority last month in the state Senate, but Democrats will still be able to maintain Edwards’ vetoes as long as they can maintain party unity and win the support of at least one of the chamber’s two independents.

There’s reasons to be optimistic that Marino and Adams will vote with Team Blue more than they’ll support the GOP majority: Marino says he voted for Edwards in 2015 and supported his criminal justice reforms, while Adams has an F-rating from the NRA because he supports banning bump stocks. Adams also was a Democrat until he filed to run for office this year, and he says he switched because he wanted to show voters he wouldn’t be beholden to any party. However, Marino does identify as a fiscal conservative while Adams says he opposes abortion, so they may still back the GOP on some issues.

Members of both chambers of the Louisiana legislature serve four-year terms, so the legislature won’t be up again until after new congressional and legislative maps are due following the 2020 Census. However, both parties have very little room for error going into the redistricting cycle, and they’ll want to be ready for any special elections that might arise over the next few years.

Senate

KY-Sen: On Friday, Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones said that he would not seek the Democratic nod to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Jones had spent over a year publicly considering a bid, and he even formed an exploratory committee a few months ago for a possible bid. Jones' decision leaves 2018 House nominee Amy McGrath as the only notable declared Democratic candidate, though state Rep. Charles Booker recently created an exploratory committee.

ME-Sen: Former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse has launched what his campaign says is a $50,000 TV buy well ahead of the June Democratic primary. LaJeunesse tells the audience about his parents struggles while he was growing up, and he goes after GOP Sen. Susan Collins for voting for the Republican tax bill "that benefited the rich and big corporations."  

NC-Sen: Fox News is out with a poll from Braun Research that takes a look at both parties' March Senate primaries. On the GOP side, Sen. Thom Tillis posts a big 54-11 lead over wealthy businessman Garland Tucker, while farmer Sandy Smith takes just 4%. The last primary poll we saw here was in August from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, and they gave Tillis just a 38-31 lead over Tucker.

Braun's Democratic primary survey, which is the first poll we've seen of this contest, finds state Sen. Erica Smith leading former state Sen. Cal Cunningham 18-13, while Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller takes 10%. While Cunningham, who has the DSCC's endorsement, is in second this survey, he'll likely have an easier time getting his message out to the many undecided voters than either of his two rivals. Cunningham ended September with a huge $1.1 million to $56,000 cash-on-hand lead over Smith, while Fuller had less than $500 to spend.

House

CA-25: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the special election primary for California's vacant 25th Congressional District will take place on March 3, with a runoff on May 21 if necessary. The timing should benefit Democrats, as the state's Super Tuesday presidential primary is also taking place on the same day, meaning turnout among Democratic voters is likely to be higher than usual.

That could allow Assemblywoman Christy Smith, the frontrunner to hold this seat for Democrats, to win a majority outright in the first round and avoid a runoff. That possibility, however, became more complicated on Thursday, when left-wing political commentator Cenk Uygur confirmed he'd join the race, with an endorsement from San Jose-area Rep. Ro Khanna.

Smith greeted the possibility of an Uygur candidacy (as well as one by Pizzagate conspiracy theory promoter Mike Cernovich) acerbically, tweeting, "Here's an idea. How about all of you man spread in your own damn districts?!" That's a reference to the fact that Uygur lives in Los Angeles and Cernovich in Orange County, neither of which are in the 25th.

Smith's use of the term "manspreading" also hints at a topic that will likely be a focus in this race: gender. Former Rep. Katie Hill, of course, felt compelled to leave office after she became the victim of a revenge porn plot and said on Thursday of Smith, "A local gal is the only one who can keep it blue and the only one the community deserves."

It's an area that could prove troublesome for Uygur, who two years ago was ousted from the board of the Justice Democrats and apologized after misogynist blog posts he wrote in the late 1990s and early 2000s came to light. One such post read, "Obviously, the genes of women are flawed. They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully." Uygur also tweeted in 2013, "The improbable breasts in Miami are only matched by the improbable butts. This place makes LA look real."

And more candidates could still join the race: While the special is timed to coincide with the state's regularly scheduled primaries, the filing deadline is not until Jan. 9, a month after the regular deadline of Dec. 6.

FL-15: The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday that the Justice Department was investigating whether freshman GOP Rep. Ross Spano violated campaign finance laws during his 2018 primary for Florida's 15th District. Because the DOJ is looking into Spano, the Ethics Committee says they'll defer their own probe.

Late last year, before he was even sworn in as a member of Congress, Spano admitted he might have broken federal election law by taking personal loans worth $180,000 from two friends and then loaning his campaign $170,000. That's a serious problem, because if you loan money to a congressional candidate with the intent of helping their campaign, you have to adhere to the same laws that limit direction contributions, which in 2018 capped donations at just $2,700 per person.

Spano responded to Thursday's news with a statement declaring, "As I've said before, we acknowledged that mistakes were made with respect to the campaign loans, but those mistakes were completely inadvertent and unintentional. We were the ones who self-reported this to the FEC." However, while Spano insisted he's "confident that upon review, the Justice Department will see it that way, too," he immediately began lobbing conspiracy theories at the DOJ.

"I continue to have doubts about the timing and motive behind this inquiry," Spano said, "as the impeachment proceedings this week have shown me how far the left will go to destroy their opponents." The Justice Department of course is run by Attorney General Bill Barr, who shall we say is not known for being a member of the left.

Spano's seat, which includes Lakeland and the exurbs of Tampa and Orlando, went for Donald Trump by a 53-43 margin, but the congressman won by a smaller 53-47 spread last year. Two Democrats, state Rep. Adam Hattersley and former local TV news anchor Alan Cole, are currently competing in next year's primary to take on the incumbent.

FL-20, MI-13, MI-02: Thursday was a very busy day for the House Ethics Committee, which announced action on probes involving four different members. The most serious concerns Florida GOP Rep. Ross Spano, which we discuss in our FL-15 item above. The other three involve two Democrats, Florida's Alcee Hastings and Michigan's Rashida Tlaib, and one Republican, Michigan's Bill Huizenga.

The Ethics Committee said it's investigating whether Hastings violated House rules by having a relationship with a staffer and whether he had "received any improper gifts" from this aide. The congressman has been in a relationship for decades with an aide named Patricia Williams, whom he's employed since 2000. The two also purchased a home together in 2017.

Since 2018, House rules have prohibited members from "engag[ing] in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision" of the member in question. Hastings said earlier this year of his relationship with Williams, "However it looks, it's been looking like that for 25 years." The congressman responded to the investigation with a short statement saying he would cooperate with the probe.

Of Tlaib, the committee said that there was "substantial reason to believe" she had improperly used campaign funds by paying herself after her election last year had concluded. Federal law allows candidates to use campaign money to pay themselves a salary, but they have to stop after they win or lose. However, the Ethics Committee says that Tlaib's campaign paid her a total of $17,500 in 2018 after Election Day.

Tlaib's attorneys responded by saying that these payments were permitted because they were for work she did before Election Day that she was not paid for at the time. Tlaib represents a safely blue seat in the Detroit area, though there was already speculation that she could face a primary challenge before this news broke.

Finally, there's Huizenga, a Republican who was first elected to his seat in western Michigan in 2010. The Ethics Committee said it examined several trips paid for by Huizenga's congressional committee, including a trip to Disney World. The report said, "While these trips were generally described as campaign fund-raisers, the high cost and the attendance of staff's families on these trips raised concerns that campaign funds were being converted for personal use to pay for vacations for Rep. Huizenga, his staff and their families."

Huizenga's office responded by saying, "This matter has already been resolved and dismissed by the Federal Election Commission." Huizenga was by no means exonerated by the FEC, though. In June, commission deadlocked 2-2 as to whether there was reason to believe the congressman had violated federal campaign finance law, and that tie meant that it closed down its inquiry. Huizenga's seat isn't as safe for his party as Hastings and Tlaib's are for Democrats, but it's still very red at 56-38 Trump.

GA-06: State Sen. Brandon Beach announced Thursday that he was dropping out of the GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath and running for re-election.

Beach told supporters that Gov. Brian Kemp had convinced him that he could "help more Georgians in the positions I currently hold," but unnamed sources close to the senator told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Beach was deterred in part by the Democratic gains in the Nov. 5 local elections in the Atlanta suburbs. One Beach ally told the paper that the results led Beach to decide that, while he's willing to run in an uphill contest, he's not interested in a "suicide mission."

A few other Republicans are still campaigning in the May primary for a suburban Atlanta seat that has been moving sharply to the left in recent years. The best-known and best-funded contender remains former Rep. Karen Handel, who narrowly lost re-election against McBath last year. Handel raised $252,000 during the third quarter of 2019, and she ended September with $631,000 in the bank.

Construction company owner Marjorie Greene, who has a habit of sharing far-right conspiracy theories, took in just $102,000 during the last quarter. However, thanks to some previous self-funding, she had $498,000 to spend. A third Republican, Merchant Marine veteran Nicole Rodden, had only $31,000 in the bank.

McBath has been a strong fundraiser since she got to D.C., and that didn't change during the last quarter. McBath hauled in $614,000, and she ended September with $1.3 million in the bank.

MD-07: Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Thursday that she would not enter the February special Democratic primary for this safely blue seat.

MI-08: Republican Paul Junge, who worked as an external affairs official at ICE, announced Thursday that he would join the primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin. Junge was the lead anchor at the Lansing Fox affiliate until he was laid off several years ago, which led him to get involved in politics. Junge worked for Terri Lynn Land's failed 2014 Senate campaign before getting a job on Capitol Hill, and he later spent eight months handling media relations for ICE.

Attorney Kristina Lyke recently kicked off a bid for the GOP nod as well. Junge and Lyke join car salesman Mike Detmer and state Board of Education member Nikki Snyder in the August primary.

NC Redistricting, NC-02, NC-06: North Carolina Republican legislators passed a new congressional map (shown here) along party lines on Friday, over objections from Democrats. Because Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper lacks the constitutional authority to veto congressional redistricting, this new map is now law, but plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit over the lines are challenging the new map in court.

A state court issued a preliminary injunction late last month blocking election officials from preparing to administer the 2020 election using Republicans' existing gerrymander, but the court didn’t actually strike down the map as unconstitutional, and that case is still proceeding on the merits. However, the court strongly suggested that lawmakers should pass a new map. Now that Republicans have done so, the plaintiffs are focusing their challenge on this new map. Should they prevail, the court could draw its own map.

Knowing that they risk losing on the merits, Republicans are likely to continue arguing that it's too late to replace the map they just enacted, since the candidate filing period for the March 2020 primary will begin on Dec. 2. (Republicans filed a separate federal lawsuit to argue this precise claim.) However, when their original congressional gerrymander was struck down for racial discrimination against black voters in 2016, it was redrawn in February of that year, and officials simply delayed the primary, meaning there is likely still sufficient time for the court to impose a fairer alternative.

As for each of the GOP's districts themselves, we've calculated the results of all statewide elections from 2004-2018, 2016 primary turnout by race and party, racial demographics of adult citizens, and educational attainment rates for adults for every district.

Analyzing these statistics, we find that the map likely locks in an 8-to-5 Republican majority, with five districts that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and eight that supported Trump, few of which give Democrats any chance at an upset. Democrats would be heavy favorites to flip two GOP seats: Rep. George Holding's 2nd District in Raleigh and Rep. Mark Walker's 6th District in the Piedmont Triad, both of which voted for Clinton by more than 20 points.

Confirming that the map is a gerrymander, GOP state Sen. Jerry Tillman spoke on the record and claimed that the process is "set up to be partisan. Do you think we're going to draw Democrat maps? ... We're doing exactly what you all did for 140 years." That admission of partisan intent could aid the plaintiffs in their case.

For more analysis of how this map remains gerrymandered and how an alternative map drawn by Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf could be fairer, please click through to this post.

NY-02: On Thursday, Islip Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt became the first Republican to announce a bid for this competitive open seat, telling Newsday, "This is what I was born to do." Before she was elected to her current post in 2009, Bergin Weichbrodt worked as a TV reporter for News 12 Long Island. Bergin Weichbrodt also dated the famed singer and Long Island icon Billy Joel until the early 2000s, and he enthusiastically backed her during her first run for office a decade ago.

Last year, Bergin Weichbrodt earned bipartisan condemnation for what she later called a "sarcastic" Facebook post written after the news broke that Donald Trump had asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Bergin Weichbrodt herself wrote, "I'm looking at warm getaways for kids February break. I'm wondering about El Salvador, Haiti or Somalia #recommendations?" Bergin Weichbrodt ended up taking down the post and offering a non-apology, saying, "I have learned that my Facebook post yesterday offended some of you. Please accept my sincere apology."

NY-17: Democrat Allison Fine resigned as chairwoman of the national board for the prominent pro-choice nonprofit group NARAL earlier this month to prepare to run to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, and she announced she was in on Thursday. Fine previously served as a member of the board of trustees for the village of Sleepy Hollow (back then, it was still called North Tarrytown), and she went on to found a group focused on improving grassroots organizations.

TX-12: GOP Rep. Kay Granger has never had trouble winning renomination in her more than two decades representing this safely red suburban Fort Worth seat, but the March primary is shaping up to be an expensive contest. Businessman Chris Putnam entered the primary during the final week of September and quickly raised $206,000 and self-funded another $250,000. Granger, who took in $283,000 during the quarter, ended September with a modest $563,000 to $448,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Several Republicans also told the Texas Tribune that they're not sure if Granger is ready for a serious opponent. They drew attention to the fact that she didn't have a full roster of political consultants on her payroll by the end of September, and that she still didn't have much of a social media presence.

Putnam is arguing that Granger should be doing more as the top Republican on the powerful House Appropriations Committee to deliver funds for Trump's border wall, even though her party is in the minority. And while Granger has consistently voted with the Trump administration, Putnam is arguing that she hasn't been loyal enough to the White House. The challenger noted that Granger called for Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race after the Access Hollywood tape was released where he was heard bragging about sexually assaulting women.

However, Trump himself doesn't seem to have it out for Granger. Earlier this month, he told a rally that Granger was "a woman who's fantastic who's been a fan of ours right from the beginning." She was one of about a dozen members of Congress who joined him at a World Series game in October.

Granger also may benefit from her stronger ties to the district. While she served as mayor of Fort Worth before she was elected to Congress in 1996, Putnam is a former member of the Colleyville City Council, a community that is entirely located in the neighboring 24th District. Putnam has moved into the 12th District and is touting his degree from the local Texas Christian University.

TX-23: While state Sen. Pete Flores was initially mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for this open swing seat, he filed to run for re-election on Friday.

Legislative

NC Redistricting, NC State Senate, NC State House: Meanwhile, on the legislative redistricting front, the North Carolina's Supreme Court refused to expedite an appeal brought by plaintiffs who were seeking to block a handful of districts in the GOP's new state House map that was passed in September. Plaintiffs could instead have filed a traditional appeal with the state's intermediate Court of Appeals, but they announced they would not.

Consequently, North Carolina now has new legislative districts for the 2020 elections after a state court struck down Republicans' 2017 gerrymanders back in September. However, as we've previously demonstrated, these new districts are still gerrymandered effectively enough that they could prevent Democrats from winning majorities next year even if they win a majority of votes—which is exactly what happened in 2018.

This outcome is due in large part to the fact that most Democratic state senators voted for the GOP's Senate map and praised the process even though it gave little real opportunity for public input. The lower court explicitly cited these developments among its reasons for upholding the new maps in October. It's a bitter reminder of why Democrats should never facilitate Republican gerrymandering just because it happens to protect their own districts, since doing so can undermine the legal case for fairer elections.

Mayoral

Honolulu, HI Mayor: Former Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa emailed supporters on Thursday to tell them, "I am ready to lead the City and County of Honolulu and I hope you'll join me." While Hanabusa didn't outright announce that she would run to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Civil Beat notes that she has another campaign fundraiser set for Monday.