The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from Daniel Donner, David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert and David Beard.
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● NJ-07: Former Rep. Tom Malinowski told the New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein on Tuesday that he won't run to regain his old House seat from Republican Rep. Tom Kean Jr., but another well-connected figure may be interested in campaigning for North Jersey's 7th Congressional District.
Wildstein reported in March that Sue Altman, who runs the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, was considering seeking the Democratic nod for this competitive district, which Joe Biden took by a narrow 51-47 spread, and he now writes she "could emerge as a leading candidate" with Malinowski taking his name out of contention. Altman is a one-time Republican who emerged as a prominent force in state politics by challenging the power of longtime party boss George Norcross. (Her organization is the state affiliate of the national Working Families Party, which usually backs progressive Democrats rather than run its own general election candidates.)
Altman, Politico wrote last year, has been a crucial backer of Gov. Phil Murphy, especially during his first term when he worked to pass his agenda over Norcross supporters in the legislature. She doesn't appear to have publicly expressed interest in taking on Kean, though she drew attention last month by organizing a protest against the congressman for failing to hold a single in-person town meeting.
It's quite possible that others will also consider running for the 7th, which is based in the southwestern New York City suburbs and exurbs, now that they know they won't face Malinowski. Few names, however, have emerged so far. Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who would be 78 on Election Day, didn't rule out the idea in February, but we haven't heard anything from him since. Wildstein, meanwhile, says three other Democrats have decided not to run: Assemblyman Roy Freiman; former Treasury official Jim Johnson; and Matt Klapper, the chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Anyone who wants to defeat Kean in the 7th District, which is entirely located in the ultra-expensive New York City media market, will be in for a difficult battle, but it's one Democrats will want to engage in after the Republican's surprisingly underwhelming win last year. Kean, who is the son and namesake of the popular former governor from the 1980s, first challenged Malinowski in 2020 under the old map and held him to a 51-49 victory even as Biden was prevailing here 54-44.
Kean quickly made it clear he would run again after that close loss, while the incumbent's standing took a hit after news broke that he'd failed to disclose millions in stock trades during the beginning of the pandemic. Malinowski's broker claimed the trades were made without the congressman's "input or prior knowledge," but that did little to quiet intra-party fears that his political career would soon come to an end.
Malinowski's future only grew more dire when his own party decided to target him in redistricting. New Jersey Democrats preferred to sacrifice one of their own to ensure the rest of the state's delegation could enjoy friendlier districts, and it was Malinowski who drew the short straw: Democratic power brokers convinced the state's bipartisan redistricting commission to adopt a map that slashed Biden's margin of victory in the 7th from 10 points to just 4 while shoring up vulnerable members elsewhere.
Malinowski decided to run again anyway despite all the obstacles arrayed against him, but while he received some help from national Democrats, they did not make his contest a priority: Though the two largest outside groups on the GOP side ended up deploying $5.7 million to help Kean, their counterparts on the left spent just $1.4 million.
The intense Democratic pessimism may, however, have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy: Kean, who had been expected to walk over Malinowski, prevailed by just a 51-49 margin. While a win is a win, Kean's squeaker—despite everything else seemingly going his way—will likely ensure that Democrats take a much bigger interest in this race in 2024.
● How can Democrats win the messaging war? It turns out there's actually a science to it, as strategic communications consultant Anat Shenker-Osorio tells us on this week's episode of "The Downballot." Shenker-Osorio explains how her research shows the importance of treating voters as protagonists; how Democrats can avoid ceding "freedom" to Republicans by emphasizing "freedoms," plural; and why it actually makes sense to call out "MAGA Republicans" (even though, yes, it's all Republicans).
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also break down a major retirement in Delaware, which paves the way for the state to elect its first Black senator, and discuss how the entrance of a prominent candidate in Michigan's Senate race likely means that Democrats will in fact host a genuinely contested primary. It all adds up to the possibility that more Black women will join the Senate in 2025 alone than in all of American history. Finally, the Davids lay out the five-year plan for Democrats to win back the North Carolina Supreme Court and drive a stake into GOP gerrymandering—again.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● CA-Sen: Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee has released an internal of next year’s top-two primary from a trio of firms―FM3, EVITARUS, and HIT Strategies―that shows her deep in fourth place before respondents learn more about her:
- 2022 attorney general candidate Eric Early (R): 27
- Rep. Katie Porter (D): 24
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D): 21
- Rep. Barbara Lee (D): 11
The memo argues that Lee’s deficit comes from her relatively low name recognition, and it shows her doing better once positive bios are read about all three Democrats. (The text of those statements is included.)
This is the very first poll we've seen testing a field that includes Early, who grabs one of the two general election spots here. However, Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin notes that Early almost certainly won't be the only Republican on next year's ballot (ten Republicans ran in last year's top-two for California's other Senate seat) and thus won't be able to monopolize the GOP vote the way he does here.
● MT-Sen: While Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke still hasn't quite closed the door on running against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, he sounded unlikely to go for it in a recent interview with the Flathead Beacon. The congressman instead talked up retired Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, whom NRSC chair Steve Daines is trying to land.
"We're looking at the [potential] field," Zinke added, "but honest to God I am also concentrated on Appropriations, because I was elected to this job and [it] needs full attention." After citing his other committee assignments, he also declared that "as far as Montana goes I'm in a good position to make sure our interests in the state are well served."
● TX-Sen: UT Tyler finds Republican incumbent Ted Cruz leading Democratic Rep. Colin Allred 42-37 in the very first poll we've seen testing this matchup. Allred is currently the only serious Democrat running, though state Sen. Roland Gutierrez reportedly is preparing to jump in after the legislative session ends May 29.
● AZ-01: Former TV news anchor Marlene Galan Woods on Wednesday joined the busy Democratic primary to take on Republican Rep. David Schweikert for a seat in the Phoenix area that Biden narrowly carried. Woods is the widow of Grant Woods, who served as Arizona's Republican attorney general in the 1990s, and she also identified as a "lifelong Republican" before joining the Democrats during the Trump era. The new candidate, who identified herself as a "moderate" in January, herself hasn't run for office before, though she chaired Democrat Adrian Fontes' victorious campaign for secretary of state last year.
Woods is competing in a crowded nomination contest where there's no obvious early frontrunner. The field includes businessman Andrei Cherny; orthodontist Andrew Horne; former Arizona regional Red Cross CEO Kurt Kroemer; and state Rep. Amish Shah.
● AZ-06: Businessman Jack O'Donnell, a former Trump casino executive who has spent decades denouncing his former boss, on Wednesday declared he'd seek the Democratic nod to take on freshman Republican Rep. Juan Ciscomani. He joins a primary that includes 2022 nominee Kirsten Engel, who lost to Ciscomani 51-49 two years after Biden carried this Tucson area constituency by a bare 49.3-49.2.
O'Donnell back in 1987 became a vice president of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey, an experience he followed up four years later with a book titled "Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump—His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall." O'Donnell went on to lead a development company and work in what azcentral.com characterizes as the "addiction-recovery industry," but most of his national exposure came during the 2016 election when he made several TV appearances talking about his time with Trump. "When he used the word Mexicans and rapists, together, I went, this is his bigotry at its finest," he told "Frontline" in one interview, "This is really Donald Trump. Because in 26 years, it hasn't changed."
O'Donnell launched his bid by pitching himself as a centrist, arguing, "I think if we continue—and the Democrats can be just as guilty as the Republicans—if you continue to elect people who are far right and far left, it will continue to be more polarized than what it is today." The candidate, by contrast, said, "I really do feel like I am somebody that is in the middle."
● CA-14: The House Ethics Committee on Monday informed Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell that it had closed its two-year probe into allegations that he had ties to a person suspected of being a spy for China and would not take any action. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy cited the allegations earlier this year when he prevented Swalwell, who had served as a manager during Donald Trump's first impeachment, from serving on the House Intelligence Committee.
"Nearly 10 years ago I assisted the FBI in their counterintelligence investigation of a campaign volunteer," the congressman said in statement Tuesday, which he followed up with a tweet declaring, "For years MAGA GOP has falsely smeared me to silence me."
● CA-40: Allyson Damikolas, who serves as a trustee on the Tustin Unified School District, announced Wednesday she'd campaign as a Democrat in next year's top-two primary against Republican Rep. Young Kim. Biden carried this constituency in eastern Orange County 50-48, but it's remained friendly to Republicans like Kim down the ballot. Damikolas is the first notable candidate to challenge Kim this cycle, though retired Orange County Fire Capt. Joe Kerr filed FEC paperwork weeks ago.
Conservatives last year tried to recall Damikolas and two of her colleagues for ostensibly promoting critical race theory. Damikolas responded, "The racial subtext seemed obvious given that I'm only the second school board member of Hispanic heritage elected to the Tustin school board in our 50-year history." While the head of the county GOP issued an apocalyptic warning that a failed recall "will only embolden the uber-left," no one turned in signatures to force a vote against any of the three members before the deadline passed.
● NY-02: Businessman Rob Lubin declared Tuesday that he'd seek the Democratic nomination to face GOP Rep. Andrew Garbarino, and he said the next day that he'd brought in $220,000 during the first 24 hours of the campaign. Lubin's team tells us that only $6,600 of this came from the candidate, who is the founder of a company he describes as "an industry-leading online marketplace for fashion and apparel."
Donald Trump carried this constituency, which includes the south shore of Suffolk County, just 50-49, but this is another Long Island district where Democrats badly struggled last year. Republican Lee Zeldin, who represented a portion of this seat under the last map, beat Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul here in a 61-39 landslide, according to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, while Garbarino won his second term by that very same margin.
● OH-09: Former state Rep. Craig Riedel has once again earned the backing of 4th District Rep. Jim Jordan, the prominent far-right extremist who represents a seat to the south, in the GOP contest to take on Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur, though that endorsement proved to be of limited value last time. Riedel ran commercials during his 2022 effort touting Jordan's support, but primary voters ultimately favored QAnon ally J.R. Majewski 36-31. Majewski, despite his disastrous general election campaign, is once again competing with Riedel for the right to take on Kaptur.
● Alberta: One of the most compelling elections this year is taking place on Monday in our neighbor to the north. Though Alberta is a contender for the title of Canada's most conservative province, polls show the center-left New Democratic Party could dethrone the governing United Conservative Party in the race for the province's Legislative Assembly.
- An eight-decade conservative reign: From 1935 until 2015, right-of-center parties ran Alberta without a break. That finally ended when a far-right splinter party split the vote with the incumbents, allowing the NDP to score a historic victory, but after conservatives reunited under the UCP banner, they easily reclaimed power in 2019.
- Sound familiar? This time, there's no disunity on the right thanks to the UCP's new leader, an extremist, media-savvy demagogue with a penchant for conspiracy theories that have alienated moderate suburban voters. The UCP's rightward march is a key reason the election is as close as it is.
- The critical races: As in the race for any state legislature in the U.S., Canadian elections are decided on a district-by-district basis. The key battleground is Alberta's largest city, Calgary, where conservatives have kept a stubborn grip despite the city's growing diversity. The NDP will need to make inroads here if it's to flip enough seats for a majority.
Will the NDP do it? Read more about how this contest has taken shape and find a list of key districts to watch on election night.