While the House continues to be in crisis from the fall of Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Conference’s inability to unite around a new candidate, the 2024 Congressional races are well underway. Daily Kos Elections’ own Jeff Singer joins us to run through some of the notable developments in the most competitive races, including George Santos’s ongoing legal drama and Nancy Mace’s strange theatrics.
Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also preview the first round of the Louisiana governor’s race, taking place this Saturday, October 14. They then discuss the new voting restrictions that North Carolina Republicans passed into law over Governor Cooper’s veto and review the new Alabama congressional map that a three judge panel decided will be used for the rest of the decade.
Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Eelections.
Joe Sudbay: I'm Joe Sudbay, guest hosting again for the third week in a row. I usually can be found on SiriusXM Progress, but what a treat to be here with you one more time.
Beard: Yes, thank you once again for joining us, Joe. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency from Senate to city council. If you haven't already, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.
But this week we've got a really interesting episode. We're going to be previewing the Louisiana governor's race, which of course the first round is this Saturday, strangely enough. Then we're going to talk about the North Carolina election changes that the legislative Republicans just passed, overriding Governor Cooper's veto, and then we're going to talk about the new Alabama map that has finally been implemented that will allow a second district where black Alabamians can elect a Representative of their choice. Good news in a story we've been following for a long time.
Then after the break, we're going to talk with Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. We're going to run through some key House races, events that have been going on over the past few months, announcements, dropouts — all sorts of interesting stories that have been going on under the radar. We know the House is going to be super important for 2024. We've seen what's been going on with this house and the speakers race and all of that. So we want to get up-to-date information on these key House races as they continue to develop this fall. So stick with us and we'll be right back after the break.
Well, for this week we do have a preview of some elections in one state, but it's a bit of a weird one. It's Louisiana where, of course, they love to have elections on strange days and times. So this time it's of course the first round of their elections, which is taking place on a Saturday as it always does in these odd years.
It's taking place this Saturday, October 14th in the first round, where then anybody who doesn't get 50% or higher will go to a runoff with a second round, taking place on another Saturday, November 18th. So hopefully the people of Louisiana know that those are the dates because it's not like the rest of the country.
Sudbay: It's not like the rest of the country. It's Louisiana, they have to do things their way and they do. And this is of course an open seat, for Governor John Bel Edwards, who's been the Democratic governor for the past eight years, is term limited. And man, it's been quite a race and a lot of money spent on this one, David.
Beard: Yeah, so there's probably three key candidates here. The first is probably the favorite, far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has been looking at this governor's race for a long time, and has long been seen as the favorite. The polling all puts him as the leader. The most recent poll from Mason-Dixon, which was in late September, had him at 40% well clear of the rest of the field. So he'll almost certainly make it to the second round.
There's even an outside chance he could maybe make 50% and avoid the runoff, though I don't think that's what people generally expect. I think people expect there to be a runoff. And then the most likely opponent for him in that second round is former state Secretary of Transportation Sean Wilson, who's the only serious Democrat running. In that Mason-Dixon poll he had 24% and I would guess he probably doesn't have the best name recognition, so I would expect him to do a little better than that as Democrats right before the election will be like, "Oh, who's the Democrat in the race? I'll go vote for him," who haven't really been paying attention otherwise.
So I wouldn't be surprised if he gets close to or north of 30% something as the only main Democrat that everybody's pushing there. And so I'd really expect those two candidates to be the ones to make it to the runoff. There is a third candidate who's had a fair amount of money spent on his behalf, and that's former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack.
He's a more establishment Republican. He was really recruited by Republicans who don't really like Landry, but the money spent attacking Landry hasn't really gone anywhere in the Mason-Dixon poll. He's at 9%. He's well behind Wilson for second place. So I don't think we're going to see a lot of surprises on Saturday. Of course you never know, but I think we're heading towards a Landry-Wilson runoff.
Sudbay: Yeah, Landry. I mean it's interesting trying to find a more establishment Republican because the establishment Republicans are the Landry types now, that's who the party is. I followed his career mostly through a legal lens. Louisiana's in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And so often Landry has teamed up with the very, very, very, very corrupt attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, to challenge any kind of progressive policy pushed by the Biden administration and bring it into court, bring it up to the Fifth Circuit so that will be blocked. So he is a hardcore MAGA extremist Republican and obviously, he's the front-runner in the GOP, for the GOP, at least right now.
Beard: Yeah, it's going to be a pretty big shift from Edwards who obviously has governed in a pretty centrist manner, being a Democrat in Louisiana, but has done a lot of good things where he's been able to... Unfortunately, yeah, as you said, the Fifth Circuit is really where anything Republican attorney generals can imagine is possible.
If you want to block a Biden administration rule, you don't need a good reason. You just need to file a lawsuit. If you want to overturn FDA requirements for birth control, go for it, they'll let you do it. So it's probably the worst circuit court in the country and Landry has taken full advantage of that as Attorney General and I would expect some very bad policies to come out of Louisiana if he does end up winning the governor's race in November.
Sudbay: Yeah, it's Paxton, Landry, and then over in Mississippi, Lynn Fitch, the right-wing attorney general of that state too. They have been trouble for every possible progressive policy that they can get there little legal hands on.
Beard: Absolutely. Now I've got some good news and I've got some bad news. Which one do you want to talk about first, Joe?
Sudbay: Well, let's get the bad news out of the way.
Beard: Okay. Bad news out of the way. So of course we're going to my home state of North Carolina for the bad news, as it seems like we so often do. So North Carolina republicans in the state legislature have used their, of course, gerrymandered districts and their turncoat Democrat- turned- Republican to get a supermajority to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's vetoes of two bills about voting rights and election integrity ahead of the very competitive races we're going to be seeing next year.
So the first new law is all about the state Board of Elections. Right now, the state Board of Elections and all of the county Boards of Elections are all appointed by the governor. He appoints a majority of his party. So there are three Democrats and two Republicans, of course, like all of these setups, he gets the nominees for the Republicans from the Republican Party.
So it's not like he's appointing fake Republicans or anything, but the governor's office has historically gotten the majority on all of these boards. Of course, Democrats have taken this opportunity to do things like expand voting rights, make it easier to vote, and of course Republicans don't like that. So they have changed these Boards of Elections to have a split.
So there's an even number of Democrats and Republicans, so the Democrats can no longer pass new rules to make it easier to vote. Instead, what you'll end up is with a bunch of deadlocks, anytime the two parties disagree — and thanks to a previously passed law back in 2018 that Republicans did, if there's a disagreement and a deadlock on an early voting plan, then any county that can't agree reverts to having just one early voting location per county, regardless of population with relatively limited operating hours.
And of course that's going to be a much bigger deal for the big urban counties where there are a lot of Democratic votes like Mecklenburg, which is where Charlotte is, and Wake County where Raleigh is. Those having a single voting location would be absolutely terrible. You would see those hours and hours and hours-long lines that we've come to know in other states. So hopefully that won't happen. But that of course is what Republicans can hold over as a threat to make sure they get whatever limitations or restrictions they want in these counties to make it harder to vote.
The other law does a lot of smaller restrictions around the edges. It makes it harder to register same day and vote that day like North Carolina has during early voting. It requires that mail-in ballots be received by election day instead of just postmarked by election day. And it also makes it harder to fix problems with mail ballots that are missing witness information.
All of these things Republicans claim it's for election integrity that's all made up. It's really just to make it harder for people to vote in the hopes that they can cancel out some democratic votes who make a mistake.
Sudbay: Exactly right. And the thing is, even those measures you mentioned that eat around the edges, there's an estimate that the voting, having the ballots due on election day as opposed to a couple days later could disenfranchise around 10,000 people. And this is a state where every vote matters. We've had incredibly close elections there.
We had a state Supreme Court raised a couple years ago that the Democrat lost by 400 votes, and it's just a further example to me, David, when Republicans get power. And you mentioned they got power in this state because of a turncoat Democrat who switched to Republican, Tricia Cotham; it was just a treacherous thing to do and has endangered the lives of people in that state, including the LGBTQ community.
They do everything they can to prevent people from participating in the electoral process. It is like just such a main part of the GOP's DNA these days: prevent people from voting, and they've been at it in North Carolina in a big way,
Beard: And many of these changes had been passed previously and struck down by the previously progressive-controlled North Carolina Supreme Court. But unfortunately, as you mentioned with recent losses, the GOP now controls the North Carolina Supreme Court and they're widely expected to let these changes go through, which of course will make it harder for Democrats to win back control of the court in the future. As we've often seen in other states where this has happened, like Wisconsin, where it's this cycle of make it harder to vote, make it harder to elect Democrats once Republicans have power. So it's very disappointing.
That being said, obviously there's still a lot of energy in North Carolina. They're going to have a governor's race next year. They're going to have a lot of really important state legislative races and important congressional races. Obviously, the gerrymandered maps which are going to be coming later this fall is going to make everything much harder, but I still think there's going to be a lot of energy there and a lot of work there to elect as many Democrats as possible.
Sudbay: I completely agree, and I think that the groups on the ground know the challenge that's ahead of them and know what they're up against and are furious about it. And let's just say the North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton is terrific and has infused so much energy into the party. And that I've been able to interview her and I just think she's terrific, and I think it shows a kind of a new direction for the party and a new energy and they are in it to fight and they're in it to win.
Beard: Yeah. So obviously since I'm here, we'll definitely be returning to North Carolina throughout the next year looking towards 2024. But now onto the good news, one of the topics that we've been covering for a number of months here on “The Downballot” is the Alabama redistricting cases. And finally, finally, Alabama has a new fair map that will allow black voters to elect two congresspeople of their choice. A federal court just this past Thursday chose the new congressional map that Alabama will be using in 2024. It was one of the three maps that we talked about that the special master recommended. It was map three, for those of you keeping track at home.
Compared with the previous map this new map significantly reconfigures the 1st and 2nd districts in southern Alabama. It turns the 2nd district from a majority-white, safely Republican constituency into one that is 49% black and just 44% white. It does that just by connecting the cities of Montgomery and Mobile in southern Alabama. Doesn't do anything crazy as Republicans like to complain about, but it's two cities that have large Black populations, which allows a second district to be created. It keeps the previously-created district centered around Birmingham and the northern part of the Black Belt. And so we're going to see two Democrats presumably elected in 2024. Black voters in Alabama are going to have their voices heard. And it's going to be a good benefit to the state and of course to Democrats nationally to have one more safe seat in their column.
Sudbay: Absolutely right. And it is one of those — just to remind everyone, and I think listeners of “The Downballot” know this is because of a very surprising Supreme Court decision in June, the Milligan case — the Alabama Republican legislature, and the Alabama Republican governor and Alabama Republican Attorney General tried so hard to thwart what the Supreme Court told them to do. So seeing it come to fruition is really important and a big step forward for democracy as well as for the Democratic Party.
Beard: And of course, we're still waiting on cases in Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida on similar claims. Some are slightly different, but all in the general sense of making sure Black voters have the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice, so there is potential for other seats to be reconfigured as well. Looking to the future of these two southern Alabama seats, right now of course they're represented by two Republicans. The current 2nd district Rep., Barry Moore, he's the one now in the Democratic seat.
He's saying he might bail on the second district and instead run against fellow GOP representative Jerry Carl in a primary for the 1st seat, which is now very Republican because obviously it took the whiter, more Republican parts of both of those districts, but it would probably be at a disadvantage for him. Carl represents about 60% of this new reconfigured district while Moore currently represents about 40%. That being said, it could be a big fight. I don't really care who wins, as long as there's one less Republican from southern Alabama at the end of it.
Sudbay: I couldn't agree with you more on that one, David Beard.
Beard: Well, that's it for our weekly hits, but after the break, we're going to be talking with Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. He's going to run us through a lot of the most interesting and notable House announcements and other events that have been going on in House races over the past couple of months. There's been a lot of change going on. Obviously, the House has been all shaken up with the speaker race and the ongoing drama there. So the 2024 races for the house are going to be incredibly important. And so we're going to talk to Singer about the most important ones as they continue to develop this fall.
Joining us once again is Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. Welcome back, Jeff.
Jeff Singer: Thank you, Beard. It's great to be back.
Beard: So yeah, so we are talking about the House races. Of course, there's a ton of House races. It's very, very difficult to keep track of all of them. Jeff does an incredible job going through and keeping us updated on all the various events and all of the competitive House races across the country. So we wanted to check in with him and go through a lot of the key events, announcements, and other things that have been going on in these races in the past couple of months as we start to turn our attention to the 2024 race for the house.
So to start off though, we wanted to just check in briefly on redistricting. We talked about the Alabama case, the new seat there during the weekly hits, and we know there are a couple of maps where there are still some big questions outstanding. So give us just a brief overview of that.
Singer: Yeah. So the biggest states that we're really looking at are New York and North Carolina. New York, last year the Democrats drew an aggressive map, courts threw it out, they crafted their own. Democrats are hoping things will be different this year. There could be a different map, more friendly to Democrats, but that's still to be decided. North Carolina, no question. The current map is done. There's going to be a Republican gerrymander. It's supposed to be unveiled next week, probably enacted the following week.
It's going to be bad. The question is how bad and exactly who it impacts? But it's going to be bad. Right now there are seven Democrats and seven Republicans in the 14 members of the North Carolina delegation. It's going to be very lopsided very soon in favor of the Republicans and we're just seeing who's going to be impacted and how badly. There are a few other states we're looking at. Georgia, Louisiana, they might have to draw a second Black-access district like Alabama just did, but their various court maneuvers things we're waiting on might not happen in 2024 or ever, we're seeing. So those are the big ones we're waiting on.
Sudbay: So those are obviously important and well, the house is so close right now. I mean, it's a 222 to 213 margin, every seat matters. And last year we were all very excited when the Alaska at-large seat which was open for the first time in a long time was won by Democrat Mary Peltola. What's that shaping up for? We know it's going to be competitive next year. What's it looking like?
Singer: Yeah. So it's definitely going to be a Republican target, but we're not really sure who Republicans are going to run. It's Alaska; it's a state that, except for a 1964 during LBJ's landslide, has voted Republican in every presidential election where it's been a state. Trump won 53% of the vote to Biden's 43%. It's not friendly turf for Democrats, but Peltola ran a great campaign, had some very bad opponents, and one of them is back, Nick Begich III. He's from a very Democratic dynasty in the state, but he's a Republican. He ran in both last year's special election and regular election, and he made some enemies, especially among allies of former Republican congressman Don Young, whose death set off the special election.
Begich was a young ally, but he started planning his run against Young while he was working for Young. That went over very, very, very badly with people who remember the congressman and are not fond of that. Begich ran in the special, got overshadowed by Sarah Palin and the rest is history. Begich ran again, also got overshadowed by Sarah Palin. And because of how Alaska does its rank-choice calculations, we know that if Begich instead of Palin had been the second-place finisher instead of the third, he would've still lost to Peltola by about 11 points, about as badly as Palin, actually a little worse.
So he's damaged goods, but who else will run? That's the big question. Alaska, if nothing else, has a very, very deep Republican bench. And it's going to be a question of who, not if, somebody strong runs. And Alaska has an unusual electoral system. The top-four primary, everyone runs on one ballot, no partisan primaries; the four candidates with the most votes advanced to a ranked-choice general election. So there could be a few strong Republicans if they go after each other instead of Peltola. Good news for her. If one strong person breaks through and focuses their energies on Peltola could be different than what we've seen, but she's a very strong incumbent. She's going to put up a huge fight, no question.
Beard: Yeah, and of course we know that Alaska like many small states, they are a little bit more incumbent-friendly than some of the bigger states where there's not much of an incumbent advantage anymore. So that could also boost Peltola and now that she's there, she's established herself that there'll be some people who were maybe unsure about her before she was a congresswoman that are now willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
So I want to turn to California. One of the seats that has been competitive year after year at this point; Democrats did win a former version of it in 2018 only to lose it again in 2020. And that's California 22. So tell us how that race is shaping up yet again this year.
Singer: Yeah. So this is in the Central Valley that Republican congressman David Valadao — he's mostly been a political survivor, like you said — he lost in 2018, came back in 2020. He's very used to running ahead of his party's ticket. And last year he had a very close election with Democratic Assemblymen Rudy Salas. People have been anticipating a rematch for some time. They're getting it, but not maybe quite the way we all expected. Salas is running again, but it's not just going to be those two. There's another Democrat, state Senator Melissa Hurtado. She unexpectedly announced she was running in August. She represents most of this territory in the state senate already, so she's very familiar.
There is also another Republican who's a very familiar name to Valadao, Chris Mathys. Mathys he's a perennial candidate. He's running in New Mexico, he's running back in California. In 2022, he got close to taking out David Valadao, he really actually. California, like Alaska, doesn't do party primaries. It's the top two primary. Everyone runs on one ballot, two candidates with the most votes regardless of party advance of the general election. Democrats really wanted that to be Mathys. And Democratic outside groups spent a lot to try to make that happen, Republicans saw what was happening; they intervened. Valadao narrowly beat off Mathys before beating Salas. Mathys is back again.
So instead of the probably two-person race that a lot of us were expecting a few months ago, now there's four candidates running in the top-two primary, and it makes things unpredictable. There's always a possibility two Republicans or two Democrats will advance and lock the other party out. And even if it's one Democrat or one Republican, this could be another close general election. Joe Biden won 55% of the vote here, but like I was saying earlier, Valadao has a long history of running ahead of the ticket. He's not going to be easy to dislodge unless somehow Mathys does it for us this time.
Yeah. The thing about, you mentioned state Senator Melissa Hurtado — I always remind people about California, a state Senate District is bigger than a Congressional District. There are 40 State Senators and 52 members of Congress. So that's quite a base to build from. And Valadao is someone who has survived, but also this past year, he's now part of a very extreme caucus and I wonder how that will impact things. Jeff, let's head south in California to the 45th Congressional District. That one I think is another one that could be competitive this year and got a new entrant recently.
Singer: Yeah, so this is in western Orange County. It's held by Republican Michelle Steel. This is one of those areas in Orange County that was Republican for a very, very, very long time and became more Democratic in the Trump era, but is still pretty Republican down the ballot. Joe Biden won 52 to 46 in 2020, but Governor Gavin Newsom lost it 51 to 49 two years later. So still a lot of voters who like the Republicans down the ballot.
Michelle Steel, she's a former Orange County Supervisor. She's been around a long time. She won races when Orange County was very red. She's held on when it's been more purple and blue. Last year, she won a close race by going after her opponent who was an army veteran, by tying him to China. Some red-baiting tactics that are very, very familiar to the Orange County electorate.
A few Democrats announced over the last few months, but they've all been struggling to raise money. That's a big problem in a district like this because it's very expensive to air TV time around here. Last week, Democrats did get an interesting candidate, Derek Tran. He's an attorney. He's well-connected. He announced he'd raised a quarter of a million dollars on his first day. Good start. Tran's Vietnamese-American. There's a large Vietnamese-American electorate here. He's also a veteran. Maybe that'll help him fight back against the inevitable red-baiting tactics we're going to see from Steel.
Sudbay: Now, there's a whole list of California races we could go through. We know there's a lot of competitive races in that state, but I want to take us to the Northeast where there's also a lot of competitive races, and to Connecticut, which is maybe not a state that people think of when they think of Congress because it's entirely represented by Democrats. It has been for over a decade. But Connecticut's 5th District is still pretty competitive. It had a really, really close race in 2022. And we're looking at another close race again, right?
Singer: That very well could be. The Democratic incumbent up in the 5th District, which is the northwestern part of the state that's Jahana Hayes. She won last year by turning back Republican George Logan by about 2,000 votes. Very close, very expensive race. Rare close congressional race in Connecticut. Logan's back. He's hoping he can get the job done this time. But there's a few complications. First of all, this is a pretty Democratic district. Hillary Clinton, she won it by about three points in 2016. Joe Biden expanded his margin of victory to about 11. So it's a region that has been open to Trump appeals, but still fairly Democratic, and Biden's 2020 win is a good sign. Also, Logan might not have the Republican primary to himself this time.
There are reports that former ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele is thinking of running. She's gotten a lot of attention, not all of it good in the last few years. She was in this big fight with her employer over COVID vaccine mandates. She's against them. She's said some very unpopular things about former President Obama and his decision to identify himself as Black. So not exactly the dream recruit you'd think for a district that's probably going to vote Democratic again for President. But some people like her. She is famous.
And as we saw with Kari Lake, having broadcast experience, no matter what's coming out of your mouth, could be very, very formidable in a general election. So we'll see if she runs, but either way, this is something Democrats are going to be looking at closely. But it could be harder for Logan or whoever the Republican nominee is to get the job done this time with the Presidency on the line.
Sudbay: Right. And Connecticut is, like you said, a very Democratic state and the lines have changed in that district so this'll be a chance for Representative Jahana Hayes to run on a ticket with Biden in a Presidential year. While we're in the Northeast, let's head up to my home state of Maine and the 2nd Congressional District. Jeff, what's going on up there?
Singer: So this is one of the five districts in the whole country where Donald Trump won in 2020, but a Democrat won in 2022. Alaska's one of them. And this one is home to Jared Golden. He's one of the more prominent moderates in the House. He's won three terms in the state, even as it's gotten pretty Republican. Trump won it 52 to 46. Republicans really want to take him down this time and the Republican leadership, or maybe the former Republican leadership, they got an interesting candidate recently, a state Representative. His name is Austin Theriault. He's a former NASCAR driver. He's competed in some big races. He's placed in the 30s, so not exactly someone who most NASCAR fans probably know, but he has the local boy made good image.
He's running, but he's not even the only state Representative running in the Republican Primary. There's Mike Soboleski. He decided to get in. He's a former actor. He had some bit parts on cop shows like Law and Order. He was a 9/11 responder. Like Golden, he served in the military. So we could have a big Republican primary that the GOP leadership really would prefer not to have. And Golden, he's pissed off a lot of Democrats by just bashing the party's progressive wing. But he's a smart campaigner. He's won crossover votes before and he's looking to do it again. And I should mention, along with Nebraska, Maine's the only state where if you win a Congressional District, you get an electoral vote. So this one, we're not really sure if both parties are going to target Maine's 2nd district for its electoral vote after Trump won it twice, but maybe. So this could be extra interesting,
Right. And a couple other things to know about Maine is, there was some redistricting that brought parts of Augusta and some blue areas into the Second Congressional District because the First District was far more populated. And the other thing is, Maine uses ranked-choice voting like Alaska does, and Jared Golden has won using that process I think all three times so far. And it will be a factor again in 2024.
Singer: Yeah. And if enough Republicans run and no one gets 50%, they're going to have to use ranked-choice in their own Primary, which will blow their minds. They hate that.
Sudbay: Nothing would be better for me. I so hope now that nobody gets 50% and Republicans are forced to use ranked-choice voting in their primary to decide their nominee. That would be incredible.
Singer: I love it.
Sudbay: So now, of course, the race that everyone's heard about, the race that we could probably do a whole episode about, is New York's 3rd congressional District and George Santos. He's probably the freshman congressman who's gotten more press than anybody else. Tell us what's going on.
Singer: So one day before we recorded this, on Tuesday, he got indicted again for allegedly using stolen credit card information to make fake donations to make national Republicans think he had a lot more money than he did. And Santos, he's insisting he's running again, he's insisting, "I'm not going to take a plea deal." I don't think anyone on earth, up to and maybe including George Santos, thinks he's going to be the nominee next year. So there are a few Republicans running to take him on the primary if he even gets that far. And Democrats really, really want the seat back. It takes up about half of Nassau County and a small part of Queens. If you've ever visited Teddy Roosevelt's grave site, you've been to this district.
And just before Santos got indicted again, a very familiar Democratic candidate from yesteryear came back, Tom Suozzi. He's the former congressman. He's a Nassau County institution. Could do a whole podcast on him. He's been there forever. But the highlights: in 2001, he becomes the first Nassau County Democratic executive in 30 years. That represented a huge moment in this longtime Republican bastion. In 2016, he revives his career, gets elected to the House, runs for Governor again in 2022, and loses badly in the primary to Kathy Hochul for Governor. And then Santos flips this district. A lot of Democrats are pretty mad about Suozzi giving up the seat to wage a very long-shot bid for Governor that just flamed out, and giving Santos the opportunity.
And some of his Democratic opponents in the Primary have already highlighted that. They've said, "Look, you abandoned us. You can't just come back here." But he is. And there's a decent chance that primary voters aren't going to be picking whether Suozzi is their nominee in the next election though because, if Santos resigns or he gets expelled from the House, there's a special election. And under New York law, primary voters don't pick the nominees, the parties do. And party officials could go with whomever they want. And it could be Suozzi. It could be someone else. We'll see.
In any case, though, this is a top Democratic pickup opportunity even if George Santos was the most upright guy in the world. This is a district that Joe Biden won 54% of the vote in. This would be a target no matter what. And George Santos is not the most upright guy in the world.
Sudbay: That would be an understatement. And, also, as you mentioned at the top, Jeff, there may be some redistricting. We don't know. I was struck by Santos' comment when he was talking to reporters this week. He said, "I think I've made it clear I'll fight this to prove my innocence. So yeah, I'm pretty much denying every last bit of charges." That pretty much is... I don't know. And he has an arraignment on October 27th so we shall see. We shall see what happens there. Oh my goodness.
There is also another New York race. New York, of course, was a major disappointment for Democrats in November of 2022. But there was a bright spot for Democrats in August of 2022: the Special Election that was won by Pat Ryan. Talk about his race this go around.
Singer: Yeah. So, Pat Ryan was a rare success. He won the special election in the Hudson Valley. He won a full term under a different map in the 18th district. This is the Hudson Valley. If you've been to FDR's grave site, you've been here. Sorry, I'm not just going to keep mentioning where every president's buried, but-
Beard: That's a different podcast. We'll go through all of them.
Singer: Pat Ryan... Republicans really want the seat. Joe Biden won 53% of the vote here, but the Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, won 51% last year against Kathy Hochul, so this could be a battleground. And there's a familiar name who's running: the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor last year, Alison Esposito. In New York, candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, they run on the same ticket in the general election. So, Esposito has a claim to say that she won this district, even though most of the people there were voting for Zeldin over her. She's a Hudson Valley native, but she spent the last 25 years in New York as an NYPD officer well to the south. She just re-registered to vote up here. And Republicans like her. She'd be the first lesbian in the Republican House caucus, and they were impressed by her race for lieutenant governor. But Democrats have Pat Ryan. He is a military veteran. He proved twice last year that he's capable of winning very tough races.
Beard: Yeah, and I think it's important to remember that Democrats, they have some good targets to get to 218 in 2024, but they've got a bunch of districts that they're going to need to defend. We've talked about a few here. New York 18 is definitely one of them. They've got good candidates, incumbents that are fundraising strongly, but they're still going to need to hold on to seats like this, seats like Maine's 2nd, like Connecticut's 5th, to have the chance to then take the majority with these other offensive targets we've been talking about.
So, let's turn to a little bit of a messy Republican primary over in South Carolina. Now, this is a district that has been facing redistricting lawsuits. A court did have it ordered redrawn, but it went up to the Supreme Court. It was actually just argued this week. It sounds like the current Supreme Court is going to likely leave the current map in place. Obviously, we don't know until there's a ruling, but let's proceed under the assumption that the current map is going to stay in place, as we think that's the most likely. But tell us about SC-01 and the potential Republican primary there.
Singer: So, the Republican congresswoman is Nancy Mace, and she's made a bit of news over the last few weeks. She's sort of been all over the place ideologically in the last few years. She was an early Trump supporter in 2016. Gets elected to the House, really goes after him after January 6th. Doesn't vote for impeachment, but Trump, in 2022, targeted her. He backed a former state Representative, Katie Arrington, in the primary. It was an expensive primary. Mace highlighted that Arrington had actually lost the previous version of the seat in 2018 to the Democrats, Joe Cunningham. So, Mace portrayed her as a surefire loser and won 53% to 45%. Mace is now sort of reinventing herself as a Republican rebel. Maybe her politics makes sense to someone. A lot of people are just wondering, "What?" And her little scarlet A stunt a few days ago didn't exactly help things.
Arrington recently expressed interest in running again, but not only is redistricting a bit of a factor, it's just not really clear if Mace is really that vulnerable. She's pissed off a lot of people, but you could make the argument that she's also appealed to a lot of people with these stunts. Trump, who tried to go after her, there was a political report saying he now likes her because she's gone on TV to defend him. And I think Trump really does actually like people who beat his candidates and then turn around and say how great he is. I think he kind of respects that in a way.
I think Mace could actually be someone he endorses, but even if he doesn't, Arrington's a two-time loser, maybe somebody else will run, maybe not. But Mace is sort of... It's hard to know what's going on with her. Who knows what Nancy Mace will get tomorrow? Who knows what Nancy Mace will get in 2024? But unless there's a big redistricting change, this district is probably going to stay in Republican hands. Trump won 54% of the vote in this very gerrymandered seat, a place along South Carolina's coast that the Post and Courier just described as a rhino doing a face plant.
Beard: Now, for context, for anybody who missed this, Mace was of course one of the Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy. She obviously got a lot of blowback from that, as did the other Republican rebels. So, she showed up to a House Republican conference meeting wearing a giant red A, I guess in reference to The Scarlet Letter, and somehow her oppression as somebody who voted against Kevin McCarthy. It was all very strange, very theatrical, attention-grabbing, which Mace is becoming known for. So, who knows what her next little theatrical step will be? But at least she's got her gerrymandered district to keep her safe.
Sudbay: Yeah, she's one of the members of Congress who is so featured on cable news, and not Fox, but CNN, MSNBC. And a lot of reporters, they flock to her. And she always makes it sound like she's going to, "I'll defend abortion rights," or... There are a couple of other Republicans who do this. They whine about how extreme their colleagues are, but if you look at their voting records, they vote the same way as the rest of the caucus. It just drives me crazy.
Anyways, let's head down to Texas. Always a very interesting state. And hopefully, at some point in our lifetimes it'll get a lot more interesting in a good way. But there's a battle in TX-23, an intra-GOP battle shaping up. Talk about that one for us, Jeff.
Singer: Yeah, so this is west Texas. It's a very sprawling seat along the Mexican border stretches from the San Antonio suburbs to a little bit of the city of El Paso. Republicans gerrymandered it as much as they could. It used to be a swing seat. Trump won 53% of the vote here though. The Republican is Tony Gonzalez, and he's an interesting guy. He voted to recognize Biden's win, and he supported gun safety legislation after the Uvalde massacre happened in his district. Republicans don't like that. The state party censured him in March and Gonzalez responded by saying a quote in Spanish that the Houston Chronicle called, "Something probably too coarse for a family newspaper." So, interesting guy. And Republicans really want to take him down. A bunch of candidates have popped up. The far-right Freedom Caucus in the House has talked to a bunch of them, but they haven't consolidated behind anyone yet. So, going to see if anyone emerges as the front-runner here.
Some very hard-right candidates. Just to give one example, there's a gunmaker named Brandon Herrera, who has a big YouTube channel called The AK Guy. So, not exactly Mr. Gun Safety. But there are a few big questions here. For one thing, Texas is a state where if you don't get a majority of the vote in the primary, there's a runoff. So, it's not necessarily a problem for Gonzalez's opponents if there are too many of them because as long as he doesn't get a majority, one of them is going to go through and they can consolidate behind him. But it's really unclear if the electorate here shares the party's hatred for Gonzalez. And it still remains to be seen if anyone's really going to have resources to put up a fight against him because he's a very well-funded guy.
Sudbay: Right. If anyone isn't sure who Tony Gonzalez is, he's the guy who recently brought Elon Musk down to the border. And you might've seen some of the pictures of Musk wearing a cowboy hat backward. He was there with Tony Gonzalez.
Beard: So, then lastly, I want to wrap up with one more race to talk about up in Wisconsin. Haven't gone up to the Midwest yet, so I want to make sure and hit there. We had an open Democratic seat in 2022 that Democrats sort of gave up on a little bit, and it ended up being a lot closer than I think people expected. So, it looks like this is going to be a tougher race, a more challenging race the Democrats are really going to put up a fight in for 2024, right?
Singer: That's what we're hoping. This is southwestern Wisconsin. It used to be a very Democratic area, but it moved hard to Trump. He won 51% to 47% here in 2020. It's still very competitive turf. And the Republican congressman is an interesting guy, Derrick Van Orden. He was at the Trump rally just before the January 6th riot. He says he left before the violence. He's also a guy who's made national news multiple times for allegedly yelling at Senate interns. The day we're recording this, Wednesday, multiple House members say they went to the White House today to talk about the situation in the Middle East, and then Orden yelled at White House briefers and swore. And they were just not happy with this kind of behavior. Not exactly Wisconsin civility, but in this day and age, who knows if that's really a disqualifier?
There are some Democrats already running against him. One who just got in the race last week is state Representative Katrina Shankland. There were a few who are already running. Businesswoman Rebecca Cooke, she took second in the 2022 primary. And former La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson. And like you said, Beard, this is a seat that Democrats really were not feeling good about last time. They stopped spending a lot of money here. It was unexpectedly close. Don't think they're going to want to make that same mistake again. And since Wisconsin's going to be a battleground, this area's going to get a lot of money no matter what. How much of it's directed at this district in particular and this race in particular? We'll see. But this is going to be an interesting one again.
Beard: And one factor to keep in mind is that Wisconsin has a later-ish primary. Their primary takes place in August, so this Democratic primary will probably go on for a while, and we will have to consolidate quickly. The party will be really important in making sure whoever wins the primary has the funds and the setup to be able to run a good race after that primary is over.
Jeff, thank you so much for joining us. This was a great rundown. We'll definitely be keeping track of all of these races. We'll definitely be talking to you again throughout the rest of this year and into 2024 as we follow the very, very close race for the House that we're anticipating to see next year. So, thank you for joining us.
Singer: Well, thank you for having me.
Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Jeff Singer for joining us. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Trever Jones, and our guest host, Joe Sudbay. We'll be back next week with a new episode.