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.
● OH-Sen: In a big surprise, Republican Sen. Rob Portman announced Monday that he would not seek a third term next year in Ohio. Portman, who is 65, had not shown any obvious interest in retirement, and he had a large $4.6 million war chest at the end of September of 2020. The senator, though, explained his decision by saying, "I don't think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision."
Portman's departure will likely give Democrats a better shot at his Senate seat, but Ohio's rightward drift over the last few years will still make it difficult for Team Blue to score a win in this traditional swing state. Joe Biden targeted the Buckeye State hard in 2020, but Donald Trump still defeated him 53-45. However, Ohio isn't a place that Republicans can take victory for granted: Portman's Democratic colleague, Sen. Sherrod Brown, earned re-election 53-47 in 2018, and last year, Democrats won an officially nonpartisan race for the state Supreme Court.
Republicans, though, have the far larger bench in this state, and a number of them have publicly or privately expressed interest already. The following politicians have confirmed that they're looking at running to succeed Portman:
The only one of these politicians who laid out a timeline for when he expected to decide was Obhof, who said that "one who is considering it ought to take a deep breath and consider it over the course of days or a week or two."
A few other Republicans are also reportedly thinking about getting in, though we haven't heard anything directly from them yet:
Several more Republicans declined to rule out a bid when asked:
Several media outlets have mentioned a few others as possibilities:
One person who quickly took his name out of contention, though, was former Gov. John Kasich.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan quickly said he was thinking about a Senate run. Ryan is infamous for flirting with campaigns for higher office in Ohio but always running for re-election, though his calculations could change if Republicans leave him with a hostile House seat in the upcoming round of redistricting.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley hadn't ruled out a Senate bid before Portman retired, and she reiterated Monday that she wasn't closing the door. Whaley, who also has been eyeing bids for governor or the U.S. House, said after Portman's announcement that she'd be keeping an open mind about her future plans and would be "making a decision in the coming weeks."
Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor, who lost two tight races in the conservative 12th Congressional District in 2018, also didn't reject the idea of a Senate campaign when asked.
Other Democrats mentioned include:
In the no column are former state Sen. Nina Turner, who is running in the anticipated special election for the 11th Congressional District, and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, who is campaigning for mayor of Cincinnati.
Portman's retirement also ends a long career in state and national politics. Portman got his start interning for his local GOP congressman, Cincinnati-area Rep. Bill Gradison, and working on George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign, and he went on to serve as a White House associate legal counsel in 1989 after Bush won on his second try. Portman, who became close to the president, quickly rose to become head of the Office of Legislative Affairs, and he returned home in 1991 a year ahead of Bush's defeat.
Portman soon got his own chance to run for office in 1993 when Gradison resigned to lead the Health Insurance Association of America and asked his former intern to run in the special election to succeed him. Portman also benefited from support from former First Lady Barbara Bush, who, as Politico would recount in 2012, "recorded a radio ad name-dropping Cincinnati's Skyline Chili and Portman in the same sentence." Portman won the primary by beating former Rep. Bob McEwen, who had lost re-election in 1992 largely due to redistricting, 36-30, and he had no trouble in the general election for the conservative 2nd District.
Portman quickly became entrenched in the House, but he resigned in 2005 to become United States Trade Representative under George W. Bush. (Portman's departure set off an unexpectedly competitive special election between Republican Jean Schmidt and Democrat Paul Hackett that Schmidt ended up winning just 52-48.) Portman later served as head of the White House's powerful Office of Management and Budget from 2006 to 2007, and he played Barack Obama in 2008 during John McCain's debate practice sessions.
Portman got another chance to run for office in early 2009 when Republican Sen. George Voinovich announced his retirement. Portman quickly launched his campaign and proved to be a very strong fundraiser from the jump, something that helped the political insider avoid any primary opposition even as the emerging tea party declared war on other party establishment figures.
Ohio had backed Obama 51-47 in 2008 and this looked like it would be a top tier Senate target for much of the cycle, but that's not how things turned out. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher won the Democratic nomination after a costly primary campaign, and he never was able to come close to matching Portman's financial resources. The Republican took a lead during the summer as the political climate got worse and worse nationally for Team Blue, and Democratic outside groups ended up concentrating on other races. Ultimately, Portman beat Fisher 57-39.
Portman's wide win in this battleground state made him an attractive vice presidential prospect in 2012, and Mitt Romney seriously considered him before opting instead for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan; while the senator wasn't on the ticket, he did reprise his role as Obama as Romney prepared to debate the real president. Portman later considered his own White House bid, but he announced in late 2014 that he'd instead seek re-election to the Senate.
National Democrats soon recruited former Gov. Ted Strickland, who had narrowly lost re-election during the 2010 wave, to take on Portman, and this again looked like it would be one of the most competitive races of the cycle. Unfortunately for Strickland, though, he suffered a similar fate in 2016 as Fisher had six years ago.
Portman and his allies spent heavily during the summer on ads blaming Strickland for job losses that took place during the Great Recession, when every state experienced painful job losses that had nothing to do with who was governor, and Strickland didn't have the resources to fight back in time. Portman once again built up a clear lead in the polls months before Election Day, and national Democrats pulled out of the state in mid-October. Portman ended up winning his final term 58-37 as Trump was carrying the state 51-43.
● AZ-Sen: Term-limited Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who was NRSC chair Rick Scott's top choice to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly next year, unambiguously told the New York Times that he will not run. Ducey visited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week and even tweeted a photo of their meeting, but over the weekend, the Arizona Republican Party censured him over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, vividly demonstrating the kind of primary he'd have been in for had he decided to make a bid for the Senate.
● CO-Sen: Former state Rep. Joe Salazar says he's weighing a primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, complaining that Bennet is "so wishy-washy and so middle-of-the-road that we don't know which road he walks on." Salazar, a prominent Bernie Sanders surrogate in Colorado, specifically criticized Bennet for what he views as insufficiently progressive stances on healthcare and the environment.
Salazar served three terms in the state House before running for attorney general in 2018, losing the primary 50.4 to 49.6 to Phil Weiser, who went on to win the general election. He does not appear to be related to former Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, Bennet's immediate predecessor in the Senate.
● GA-Sen: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests that both former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Rep. Doug Collins could run against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year, though so far, the evidence for any sort of rematch is sketchy. The paper reports that backers of the two Republicans, who both ran in Georgia's recent special election, have "rumbled about a 2022 campaign," but mostly the rumbling seems confined to dueling statements issued by prominent supporters, each trying to blame the other side for the GOP's humiliating loss of a crucial Senate seat.
● PA-Sen, PA-Gov: The Philadelphia Inquirer says that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who'd previously been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor, is also considering a bid for Senate, according to an unnamed source "with direct knowledge" of the mayor's thinking. A spokesman for Kenney wouldn't directly confirm the report but did acknowledge that a campaign for governor or the Senate "may be future considerations." One difficulty for Kenney, however, is that his city's charter would require him to give up his current post, to which he was just re-elected for another four years in 2019, if he were to seek another office.
The same article also reports that State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who'd also been mentioned before, is "said to be eyeing" the Senate race. Meanwhile, the paper suggests that former Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, who previously said he was considering a Senate bid, may instead be more interested in a bid for governor.
● AR-Gov: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump's second press secretary and the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, kicked off a long-anticipated bid for governor on Monday. She joins a heavyweight Republican primary that, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson term-limited, has been underway for quite some time: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge entered the race in the middle of last year while Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin has been running since 2019.
Sanders' bid will be a test of just how Trump-loving the Arkansas GOP remains, though Griffin also suggested that his new opponent's time spent out of state might be an issue as well. In her announcement video, Sanders said she would "prohibit" so-called "sanctuary cities"—something state lawmakers already did two years ago. "Her pledge to ban sanctuary cities would have been a great line in a speech back in 2019, but not in 2021," snarked Griffin. "It sounds like she needs to catch up on what's been going on in Arkansas."
● NJ-Gov: Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari, who just last week announced a weird "favorite son" bid for governor, has already yanked the plug on his effort. It appeared that Vicari, who said he wouldn't campaign elsewhere in the state, was hoping to secure Ocean County's powerful "organization line" in the June GOP primary, then trade his endorsement (likely to Republican frontrunner Jack Ciattarelli) in exchange for some sort of promise to focus on Vicari's pet issues. Evidently, Vicari quickly thought better of trying to press forward with his old-school brand of transactional politics in 2021.
● NY-Gov: The New York Times reports that former Rep. Pete King "floated the idea" of Rep. John Katko running for governor in a recent interview on the GOP infighting that's crescendoed after Katko and nine other House Republicans voted to impeach Donald Trump. There's no word, however, about Katko's interest. One Republican who is looking at a possible bid against Gov. Andrew Cuomo is Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. If Molinaro, who passed on what turned out to be a potentially winnable House race last year, were to go for it, that could set up a rematch of New York's contest for governor three years ago, which Cuomo won 60-36.
● SC-Gov: Wealthy businessman John Warren, who last year wouldn't rule out a second primary challenge to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, is once again saying the same thing. "I'm clearly not ruling it out," he said recently, though he declined to provide any sort of timetable except to note that he waited until just four months before the primary before launching his 2018 bid.
● VA-Gov: A meeting of the Virginia GOP's governing body descended into acrimony for the second week in a row, with Republicans leaving in place a December decision to select nominees for statewide races through a party convention but failing to actually come up with a plan for conducting one during the pandemic.
Convention backers, per the Virginia Mercury, want to host "a remote event in which ballots would be collected at polling sites around the state" for the sake of safety, rather than the large, single convocation that a convention normally would involve. But such a move would require a 75% supermajority on the GOP's central committee, and it appears that supporters of a traditional state-run primary voted down the proposal for a distributed convention in the hopes of pushing party leaders toward their preferred option—to no avail.
Republicans have therefore put themselves in an impossible position: They're on track to hold a classic convention, but gatherings of such a size are forbidden by state rules aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus. One option could be a drive-through convention, but when Republicans in the 5th Congressional District used exactly that method last year, vote-counting lasted deep into the night after an all-day convention, and the whole affair ended in bitter accusations that the vote had been rigged.
● CO-03: State Rep. Donald Valdez is reportedly considering a bid against freshman Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, one of several Democrats who've surfaced as possible challengers. Last year, Valdez briefly sought the 3rd Congressional District (at the time represented by Republican Scott Tipton, whom Boebert upset in the GOP primary), but he dropped out after raising little money.
● GA-01: In a recent interview, former Chatham County Commissioner Al Scott hinted he might challenge Republican Rep. Buddy Carter, a possibility that would give Democrats their most prominent candidate in southeastern Georgia's 1st District in quite some time. Scott launched his political career in the 1970s, serving 16 years in the state legislature, but after a long layoff following a couple of unsuccessful bids for statewide office, he was elected to the commission in Chatham County in 2012 and became known as a "political giant" in Savannah.
Facing term limits last year, Scott ran for county tax commissioner but lost the Democratic primary in an upset. At 73, most observers concluded that the defeat signaled the end of Scott's time in office, but on a local podcast earlier this month, he said, "The only thing I haven't done in my political life that I used to daydream about is go to Congress."
It's a dream that would be difficult to realize, though. Though the blue outpost of Savannah is by far the largest population center in the 1st District, it's surrounded by a sea of red: According to Daily Kos Elections' new calculations, it went 56-43 for Donald Trump in November, not much different from Trump's 56-41 showing four years earlier. While redistricting will scramble Georgia's map, Republican mapmakers will likely ensure Carter remains in a friendly district.
● Louisiana: Candidate filing closed Friday for the March 20 special elections for Louisiana's 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts, and the secretary of state has a list of contenders for each contest available here. Under state law, all the candidates will face off in the all-party primary. If no one wins a majority of the vote, an April 24 runoff would take place between the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party.
● LA-02: A total of eight Democrats, four Republicans, and three others are competing to succeed former Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat who resigned earlier this month to take a post as head of the Biden White House's Office of Public Engagement.
GOP legislators gerrymandered this seat, which stretches from the New Orleans area west to Baton Rouge, to be safely blue turf in order to protect Republicans elsewhere, and there's little question that Richmond's replacement will take his place as the state's only Democratic member of Congress. It's also almost a certainty that the district's new representative will be only the fourth African American to represent Louisiana in D.C. since the end of Reconstruction.
The two frontrunners appear to be a pair of Democratic state senators from New Orleans, Karen Carter Peterson and Troy Carter. Peterson, who would be the first Black woman to represent the state, served as state party chair from 2012 through 2020, and she has the support of EMILY's List. Carter, for his part, has Richmond's backing.
Another Democratic candidate worth watching is activist Gary Chambers, who said last week that he'd already raised $250,000. Chambers ran for the state Senate in 2019 in a Baton Rouge-area seat but lost 74-26 to Democratic incumbent Regina Ashford Barrow.
Chambers attracted national attention the following year, though, when he gave a speech at an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting where he advocated for a school named for the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to be renamed. (It was shortly afterwards.) Chambers then used his address to decry a school board member he said had been shopping online instead of listening to "Black folks speaking up passionately about what they feel."
However, as we've mentioned before, it will be difficult for a Baton Rouge-area candidate like Chambers to have an opening here. Orleans Parish, which is coterminous with the city of New Orleans, makes up 40% of the district, while another 26% lives in neighboring Jefferson Parish. East Baton Rouge Parish, by contrast, makes up only 14% of the seat, with the balance coming from the seven smaller parishes, which are known collectively as the River Parishes.
P.S. This will be the second time that Peterson and Carter have run against each other for this post. Back in 2006 under the previous version of the map, both Crescent City politicos challenged Democratic incumbent Bill Jefferson, who was under federal investigation for corruption: Jefferson led Peterson 30-22, while Carter finished in fifth place with 12%. Peterson looked like the favorite for the runoff, but Jefferson prevailed 57-43 after he tapped into voter resentment with the federal government that had failed them during and after Hurricane Katrina struck the previous year.
Louisiana briefly switched to a partisan primary system for the 2008 and 2010 cycles, and Carter sought a rematch with Jefferson. Richmond also competed in the Democratic primary and took third place with 17%, while Carter took sixth with 8%. Jefferson would go on to lose the general election to Republican Joe Cao, whom Richmond defeated two years later.
● LA-05: Nine Republicans, two Democrats, and two others are running to succeed Luke Letlow, a Republican who was elected in December but died weeks later from complications of COVID-19 before he could take office. This northeast Louisiana seat, which includes Monroe and Alexandria in the central part of the state, is heavily Republican turf, and it's likely to remain red without much trouble.
The clear frontrunner appears to be the congressman-elect's widow, University of Louisiana Monroe official Julia Letlow. Letlow has the backing of Rep. Steve Scalise, the no. 2 House Republican and one of the most powerful GOP officials in Louisiana, and a number of other Republicans decided to defer to her rather than run themselves. None of Letlow's intra-party foes appears to have the name recognition or connections needed to put up a strong fight, but it's always possible one of them will turn out to be a surprisingly strong contender.
The Democratic field consists of Candy Christophe, who took third in last year's contest with 17%, and Jessica Honsinger Hollister.
● TX-15: Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, who held Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez to a shockingly close 51-48 win last year, launched a rematch late last month just before Christmas, which might explain why her kickoff did not earn much in the way of local media attention at the time. Though Gonzales outspent his little-known opponent two-to-one, De La Cruz-Hernandez's strong performance came as a result of a dramatic Democratic collapse at the top of the ticket in southern Texas: According to new calculations from Daily Kos Elections, Joe Biden carried the heavily Latino 15th District just 50-49, a steep drop from Hillary Clinton's 57-40 win four years earlier.
The picture for 2022, however, is quite muddled. While Texas Republicans were ecstatic about their gains with Latino voters, they saw an even broader disintegration in their former suburban strongholds across the state that’s left many of their incumbents on the brink. While the GOP will have full control over redistricting for the coming decade once again, Republicans in the legislature will have to make many hard choices about which districts to prop up and which to cut loose. As a result, a Democrat like Gonzalez might find himself inheriting some favorable turf that a Republican colleague would rather not have to represent.
Alternately, however, Politico’s Ally Mutnick notes that GOP lawmakers could re-use a tactic they effectively deployed in the 23rd District a decade ago. There, Republicans maintained the district’s overall majority-Latino character to avoid running afoul of the Voting Rights Act but replaced higher-propensity Latino voters with those less likely (or even unable) to vote. Democrats sought to litigate this maneuver but met with no success, so if Republicans try it again, they could gerrymander another winnable South Texas district for themselves.
● WA-03, WA-04: The Seattle Times' Jim Brunner mentions former state Rep. Liz Pike as a potential primary challenger to 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who made Republicans hopping mad as a result of her vote to impeach Donald Trump. He also caught up with Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier, who lost in both 2014 and 2016 to another pro-impeachment Republican, 4th District Rep. Dan Newhouse, and called his vote a "betrayal" while not saying anything that would rule out another bid.
● Special Elections: We take a look at a special election happening Tuesday in Iowa, and recap a special election from Saturday in Texas:
IA-SD-41: Southeastern Iowa will be the site of one of the first big legislative special elections of the Biden era, where Democrat Mary Stewart will take on Republican Adrian Dickey. We had a preview of this race earlier this month, which you can find here.
TX-HD-68: The race to replace former Rep. Drew Springer is heading to a runoff after no candidate captured a majority of the vote. Republican David Spiller was far and away the leading vote-getter, taking 44%. Fellow Republican Craig Carter led a close race for second place, taking 18%, just ahead of John Berry and Jason Brinkley, who took 17% and 16%, respectively. Charles Gregory, the lone Democrat in the running, finished with 4%. Overall, Republican candidates outpaced Democrats 96-4, an astounding margin even for one of the reddest districts in Texas.
A date for the runoff between Spiller and Carter has not been selected yet, but Gov. Greg Abbott will make that decision in February. The all-GOP runoff assures that this chamber will return to 83-67 GOP control after the election.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: On Monday, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore filed paperwork for a possible bid this November against Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Moore did not comment on her plans, much less say why the incumbent should be fired. However, local political observer Maria Saporta wrote that Bottoms could be vulnerable because of the city's "recent uptick in crime."
It will be difficult for anyone to oust Bottoms, who is one of the more prominent Democrats in Georgia, in the November nonpartisan primary. An Atlanta mayor hasn't lost re-election since 1973, when Maynard Jackson's victory over Sam Massell made him the city's first Black leader.
Moore herself was first elected to the City Council in 1997, and she was elected citywide in 2017 by beating an establishment-backed candidate by a 55-45 margin. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bill Torpy wrote early this month that, while five Council presidents have unsuccessfully run for mayor over the last 25 years, Moore herself is "liked on both sides of town." He also noted that Moore did considerably better at the ballot box that year than Bottoms, who won an open seat race by beating former City Councilwoman Mary Norwood 50.4-49.6.
The filing deadline for the Nov. 2 nonpartisan primary does not appear to have been set yet, and it's quite possible that other candidates will get in. A runoff would take place the following month if no one won a majority in the first round.
One of the prospective contenders may be Norwood herself, who told Torpy, "Stay tuned" when he asked about her plans a few weeks ago. Norwood, who identifies as an independent, would be the city's first white or non-Democratic mayor in decades; she previously ran for this office in 2009 only to lose to Democrat Kasim Reed by that same 50.4-49.6 margin.
Despite those two very close defeats, though, Torpy points out that Norwood may have utterly torpedoed her future prospects in this heavily Democratic city by signing an affidavit for the Trump campaign's attempt to overturn Joe Biden's win in Georgia. Norwood herself didn't allege that she'd seen any fraud last year, but instead insisted that her own supporters had found evidence of wrongdoing in her 2017 race. Norwood previously accused Reed and his allies of using fraud to beat her in 2009 without offering a shred of proof.