The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.
● Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 congressional districts nationwide heads to Michigan, which returned to the Democratic column after another competitive race. You can find our complete data set here, which we're updating continuously as the precinct-level election returns we need for our calculations become available.
After supporting Donald Trump 47.6-47.4 four years ago, Michigan went for Joe Biden by a wider 51-48 margin, and he improved on Hillary Clinton's performance in 12 of 14 districts, with the only exceptions coming in the two bluest seats. Biden carried the same five districts that had supported Clinton plus Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens' 11th District in the northwestern Detroit suburbs. Trump, meanwhile, carried the other eight constituencies he'd taken in 2016. You can find a larger version of our map here.
Since it's the lone flip, we'll start with the 11th District, which shifted from 50-45 Trump to 52-47 Biden. This seat also went for Mitt Romney 52-47 back in 2012, which makes it the first Romney/Trump/Biden district we've found anywhere in the country. Major outside groups on both sides spent a serious amount of money late in the campaign in the race between Stevens and Republican Eric Esshaki, but Biden's victory helped Stevens prevail 50-48.Campaign Action
While Democrats had no trouble holding the other five Biden seats, Rep. Dan Kildee's 5th District was once again competitive at the presidential level. This constituency, which is home to Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City, shrunk from 61-38 Obama to 49.8 to 45.5 Clinton, but while Democrats hoped that it would snap back in 2020, Biden won by an almost identical 4.3-point margin (51.4 to 47.1) this time. Congressional Republicans, though, were unable to take advantage of the area's drift to the right. Former state Rep. Tim Kelly raised very little, and Kildee handily beat him 54-42.
A different district that had trended the wrong way for Democrats between 2012 and 2016, however, did return to form this year. The 9th District in the northern Detroit suburbs had narrowed from 57-42 Obama to 51-44 Clinton, but Biden carried it by an Obama-esque 56-43 margin; Rep. Andy Levin, meanwhile, won his second term 58-38. Biden also won Rep. Debbie Dingell's 12th District in the Ann Arbor area 64-34, while he took close to 80% of the vote in both the 13th and 14th Districts in the Detroit area, which are respectively held by Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Brenda Lawrence.
We'll move on to the eight Trump seats, starting with the only one to elect a Democrat to the House this year. The 8th District in the Lansing region did support Trump again, but his tight 50-49 win was a considerable drop from his 51-44 showing in 2016. Democrat Elissa Slotkin flipped this seat two years ago 51-47 after a very expensive race, and she won by that very same margin this year, albeit in a contest that attracted far less outside money.
Biden narrowed the gap in a few other districts, but his improved performance wasn't enough to cost Team Red control of any of their seats. The 3rd District in the Grand Rapids area went for Trump 51-47 after backing him by a stronger 52-42 margin; Republican Peter Meijer, though, won the race to succeed retiring Republican-turned-Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash by beating Democrat Hillary Scholten 53-47 after a costly race.
The 6th District in southwestern Michigan, meanwhile, supported Trump 51-47, which was also a drop from his 51-43 victory in 2016. Veteran Republican Rep. Fred Upton, however, again ran well ahead of the ticket and won his 18th term 56-40.
Trump carried the remaining five GOP-held seats by double digits, though notably, his margin of victory was weaker in all of them than it was in 2016. Rep. Jack Bergman's 1st District in the northern part of the state went for Trump 58-41 four years after backing him 58-37. Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Huizenga's 2nd District along the western Michigan coast backed the top of the ticket 55-43 compared to Trump's 56-38 spread last time. Things were more stable in the 4th, 7th, and 10th Districts, but Biden's improved share of the vote across the board was key to his victory.
Republicans have enjoyed complete control over the redistricting process in Michigan the last three rounds, but this time will be different. In 2018, voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that creates an independent commission to craft new congressional and legislative boundaries.
● GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: The New York Times' Shane Goldmacher has shared some new data that vividly illustrates just how big the gap can be in the prices paid for advertising by federal campaigns versus outside groups.
While the specifics are a bit technical, federal law guarantees something called the "lowest unit charge" to candidates, ensuring that they pay the lowest possible rates to air ads on TV and radio. These rules do not apply to third parties, however, so super PACs and the like have to pay full freight.
Goldmacher's data shows Jon Ossoff's campaign paying just $6,000 to run a spot on Jeopardy! on the Atlanta-based station WXIA. For the same program during the same time period, however, a Democratic super PAC called Georgia Honor (run by the Senate Majority PAC) has to shell out $25,000 per ad. As Goldmacher notes, a 4-to-1 gulf like this isn't necessarily the norm, but this example starkly shows how all ad dollars are not equal.
For this reason, advertising professionals instead prefer to look at a metric known as "gross ratings points," which again are technical but, in broad terms, describe how often an advertiser can expect a particular ad to be seen by its intended audience. Another useful concept is "share of voice," which refers to the proportion of total advertising run by one side or the other.
Of course, all of this is a prelude to … even more ads! Here are the latest:
- An NRSC spot says that a victory for Ossoff and Raphael Warnock would empower "Nancy Pelosi, AOC, and Bernie Sanders." The focus on both candidates is a bit unusual, as most attack ads so far from both sides have devoted themselves to hitting just one target.
- Warnock features a man who lost his wife to COVID. Heartbreakingly, he says, "It shoulda been me, instead of her. That's just how much I cared about her." He blasts Sen. Kelly Loeffler: "Kelly Loeffler sold her stock and told us not to worry."
- A woman praises Loeffler for helping her make sure her unemployment benefits got extended. Loeffler has opposed legislation in Congress to extend unemployment benefits for all Americans during the pandemic.
- A different woman, identified as a small business owner, thanks Loeffler for offering unspecified help to keep her business open.
- A Spanish-language ad from Ossoff attacks Sen. David Perdue for supporting Trump's policies to separate migrant children from their parents.
- A Spanish ad from Warnock emphasizes his religious faith, including the fact that he's now pastor at the same church MLK once presided over.
● AZ-Sen: If you had an enormous high school filled with warring cliques that all hated each other, only instead of students it was filled with GOP politicians, and instead of lunchroom supremacy actual lives were at stake, that would go a long way toward explaining the embarrassing explosion of infighting among Arizona Republicans. Beyond that, we don't dare summarize the Arizona Republic's masterful explication of this absurd food fight, but there are a couple of tidbits about prospective 2022 candidates who could take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly that we can yank out of the mess.
Most notably, reporters Ronald Hansen and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez say that state GOP chair Kelli Ward, an extreme lunatic who has already lost two Senate bids, could potentially run once more. Ward, a former state senator who achieved infamy in 2014 for hosting a town hall to air conspiracy theories about so-called "chemtrails," ran against Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary in 2016 and held him to a surprisingly soft 51-40 margin.
Soon thereafter, she issued a challenge to Arizona's other senator at the time, Jeff Flake, ahead of the 2018 midterms. But Flake, under constant assault from Donald Trump, opted to retire after just a single term, and Republicans rallied around then-Rep. Martha McSally, who beat Ward 55-28 (Ward may have split the crazytown vote with the notorious Joe Arpaio, who took 18%).
It turns out, though, that losing two Senate races is not the end of the line for an Arizona Republican (McSally, take heart!). The following year, Ward was selected to run the state Republican Party and quickly brought the organization into disrepute. Fundraising nosedived while Ward made headlines for fomenting resistance to pandemic safety measures, even encouraging protesters to pretend to be frontline healthcare workers by donning medical scrubs. 2020 ended, of course, with Arizona going blue at the presidential level for the first time since 1996—and sending two Democrats to the Senate for the first time since 1953.
Hansen and Wingett Sanchez also mention another, more recent Senate loser as a potential GOP candidate, businessman Daniel McCarthy, who was treated to a 75-25 thumpin' by McSally in this year's primary. McCarthy, at the time 34 years old, compared himself to Jesus on the campaign trail ("I am qualified for the job. Jesus was 33 when he saved the world") and called Maricopa County's mask mandate "a communist insurrection." Like Ward, McCarthy's also been involved in the recent cafeteria antics of the Arizona GOP—but again, for that, you'll need to read the Republic.
● FL-Sen, FL-Gov: Former Rep. David Jolly, a Republican-turned-independent who's been a vocal Trump critic for years, says he's considering a bid for Senate or governor as an independent. Jolly seems at least somewhat realistic about his chances, saying, "I do think we could mount a viable campaign. But viable and winning look very different and require a lot of money."
At the same time, he seems to think that the one recent Florida election that featured a strong third-party candidate somehow bolsters his case. The Tampa Bay Times' Steve Contorno reports that as "evidence of his path, Jolly points to the 2010 U.S. Senate race," an open-seat contest in which Republican Marco Rubio defeated another Republican-cum-independent, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, 49-30, with Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek taking just 20%. With Democrats certain to run a credible challenger of their own in 2022, it's hard to understand why Jolly believes he could do any better against Rubio than Crist did.
● GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: The Republican pollster Trafalgar Group has released a new survey of Georgia's runoffs, but after much deliberation, we've decided that we aren't going to write about it or include it in our database due to its founder's public embrace of conspiracy theories. Barring further developments, we will maintain this policy for all future Trafalgar polling.
Trafalgar has earned headlines over the past few years for its unorthodox methodology, which seeks to compensate for what the firm's principal, Robert Cahaly, has referred to as "social desirability bias"—the alleged propensity of so-called "shy Trump voters" to tell pollsters whom they really support. While Trafalgar's approach made it one of the few firms to forecast a Trump win in 2016, it performed poorly in 2018, and its final polls also predicted a Trump victory this year (by carrying Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona).
Other pollsters have sharply questioned Trafalgar's methods, with one political science professor telling the New York Times, "If somebody's not transparent you can generally assume they're crap." That same article reported that Trafalgar is "considered far too shadowy by other pollsters to be taken seriously" and noted that Cahaly's bare-bones methodology page "reads like a vague advertisement of its services and explains that its polls actively confront social desirability bias, without giving specifics as to how."
These issues have concerned us for some time, but ultimately, our decision is motivated by Cahaly's acceptance and amplification of election conspiracy theories. Cahaly baselessly claimed to Sean Hannity before the election that Trump would have to win Pennsylvania "by 4 or 5 to overtake the voter fraud that will happen there."
More recently, he tweeted that his new Georgia poll is "based on All votes we anticipate to be counted in GA Senate Runoff (both above and below the table)." That's a reference to a soundly debunked conspiracy theory that election workers in Fulton County somehow rigged the election by counting fake ballots taken out of "suitcases" they'd placed under a table—one that Republican officials with the secretary of state's office blasted as "ridiculous."
We take a heterodox approach to polling—there are many ways to get it right, and no one has a monopoly on the truth. But the truth is what we all must seek. Excluding polls is not something we do lightly, but when a pollster espouses beliefs about elections that are demonstrably false, we are unable to conclude that such a person does in fact believe in seeking the truth.
● IL-Sen, IL-Gov: Regarding possible bids against either of the two top Illinois Democrats up for election in 2022, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger tells Politico, "I never rule anything out." Not only would Kinzinger be an underdog in either race, however, given the state's heavily Democratic lean, he'd also likely face a difficult primary, on account of his outspoken criticism of Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the election—criticism that already has fellow Republicans gunning for him.
● GA-Gov: At a Saturday rally for the Georgia runoffs in which he predictably focused almost entirely on his grievances about his own election, Donald Trump managed to cram in another unrelated race when he touted outgoing Rep. Doug Collins as a candidate for governor in 2022. "Doug, you want to run for governor in two years?" Trump asked after noting Collins was in attendance. "He'd be a good-looking governor."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently floated Collins as a potential primary challenger to Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump has excoriated for not seeking to overturn the results of Georgia's presidential contest. That line of attack continued on Saturday, with Trump repeatedly attacking Kemp during a meandering 100-minute speech. "Your governor should be ashamed of himself," said Trump at one point, and at another claiming Kemp is "afraid of Stacey Abrams.”
● IL-Gov: Politico's Shia Kapos reports that ultra-wealthy Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts is not "ruling out a run" for governor, per a "source close to" Ricketts. It's not clear exactly how rich Ricketts himself is, but Forbes estimates the Ricketts family's net worth at $3 billion. That fortune was built by patriarch Joe Ricketts, Todd's father, who built the online trading powerhouse now known as TD Ameritrade.
Most of the family has been heavily involved in Republican politics. The elder Ricketts has long been a major GOP donor and conservative activist, in particular through his super PAC, the anti-earmarks Ending Spending Fund. Todd Ricketts became the RNC's finance chair in 2018 and his oldest brother, Pete, is governor of Nebraska. His sister, Laura, however, is an LGBTQ rights activist and a top giver to Democratic campaigns.
● KS-Gov: Soon-to-be former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is refusing to rule out a bid against Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in 2022, telling the Wall Street Journal, "I haven't given half a second's thought to the political races in the state of Kansas." Last cycle, Pompeo played a long, drawn-out game of "will he or won't he?" when Mitch McConnell tried to recruit him to run for the Senate, a race Pompeo now claims he "was never seriously considering."
Pompeo's unparalleled stature in Kansas GOP politics would probably lead the field to clear for him should he choose to run: State party chair Mike Kuckelman said to the Journal, "From the perspective of what I'm hearing within the party, he can do whatever he wants." But that cuts both ways. As in in 2020, a lengthy but unconsummated dalliance could undermine other potential candidates. Ultimately, Pompeo's dithering didn't prevent Republicans from holding the state's open Senate seat last month, but they'd probably rather not go through the same rigmarole again.
● MA-Gov: Joe Battenfeld of the conservative Boston Herald reports that Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone is considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022. Curtatone has roundly criticized Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for not taking enough action to combat the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts, and while the mayor has been tightlipped when talking about his own electoral plans, he very much hasn't ruled anything out. "That has not crossed my mind at all," Curtatone told Battenfeld about a potential gubernatorial run, adding, "This isn't the time to take political shots at anyone."
Curtatone was first elected mayor of Somerville, which is located just north of Boston and includes part of Tufts University, in 2003, and he's been mentioned as a prospective candidate for higher office for years. Curtatone himself notably spent months in 2013 thinking about a gubernatorial run but decided to stay put, while Baker ended up winning the office the following year. Curtatone is up for re-election next year, and while he could run for governor afterwards, Battenfeld writes that the mayor probably wouldn't seek a sixth term if he decides to take on Baker.
Baker himself has not yet announced if he'll run for a third term, though he began making preparations all the way back in 2019. A recent MassInc poll for the nonprofit The Barr Foundation found Baker with a strong 68-22 favorable rating in what is usually a very blue state, but there was one potential warning sign for the governor just below the surface: While Baker received an 81-13 score from Democrats, Republicans only gave Baker the thumbs up by a 54-40 margin.
● NM-Gov: New Mexico GOP chair Steve Pearce is reportedly considering a 2022 rematch against Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who crushed him by a 57-43 margin in their first face-off two years ago.
Pearce represented southern New Mexico's conservative 2nd Congressional District for many years, but his two stints were bookended by statewide failures: He lost a Senate primary in 2000 after serving four years in the legislature, won a seat in Congress in 2002, then got destroyed in a 2008 Senate bid before returning to the House in the 2010 GOP wave, only to give it all up for his hopeless gubernatorial run in 2018.
As for Grisham, she'd reportedly been under consideration for a post in Joe Biden's cabinet, but both she and the Biden transition team announced on Sunday that she would not be joining the next administration.
● PA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has soared to prominence of late thanks to his bellicose support for Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the results of Pennsylvania's presidential election, gets mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2022 in a new profile from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Andrew Seidman.
While Mastriano wouldn't speak to Seidman, when asked recently by conservative radio host Charlie Kirk if he'd run, he said, "If we get the call from God, we're not gonna stand away from our Esther moment"—exploiting the biblical story of Queen Esther, who is credited with putting her life at risk to save the Jews of Persia from destruction, to describe his own interest in seeking a political promotion.
Mastriano's arrival as a latter-day Jewish heroine is a relatively recent thing: A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he first ran for Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional District in 2018, shortly after retiring from the Army as a colonel. He badly lost the primary to now-Rep. David Joyce, but he fared better the following year when he won a special election to the legislature.
He also made news in bizarre fashion late last month when he had to bolt from an Oval Office meeting with Trump after learning he'd tested positive for the coronavirus. (There are so many things weird with this story.)
While his loving embrace of Trump ought to be a boon in a primary, Mastriano could spell danger for the GOP in the general election. "We had a super Trumpy older white guy state senator from central Pennsylvania as our 2018 gubernatorial nominee," said one local GOP operative to Seidman, referring to former state Sen. Scott Wagner, who ran against term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf two years ago. "And he got 40% of the vote." In total fairness, Wagner won 40.7%, which rounds up to 41.
● RI-Gov: WPRI's Ted Nesi reports that outgoing Cranston Mayor Alan Fung, who was the GOP's nominee for governor in both 2014 and 2018, is considering a third try, though there's no quote from Fung or anyone connected to him. Fung lost a three-way open-seat race to Democrat Gina Raimondo 41-36 in 2014 (a third-party candidate took 21%), then got smoked 53-37 in a more traditional rematch four years later. Raimondo is term-limited in 2022 (as Fung himself was this year), and a whole host of top-shelf Democrats could try to succeed her.
● SC-Gov: Outgoing Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham, who unexpectedly lost a difficult re-election bid for South Carolina's 1st Congressional District last month, declined to rule out a bid for governor in 2022, telling the Post & Courier of his future plans, "It's good to take some time and assess things. That's not a decision I can make right now." Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has said he will seek a second full term.
● VA-Gov: Despite the pandemic, Virginia Republicans opted over the weekend to choose nominees for statewide office via a convention rather than a state-run primary, prompting one GOP candidate to make good on a threat to bolt the party and announce a bid for governor as an independent.
State Sen. Amanda Chase, known for her far-right views, had long opposed a convention and attacked the "Republican establishment elite" for favoring one, apparently in the belief that it would benefit the only other declared contender, former state House Speaker Kirk Cox. If that sounds surprising, to an extent, it is: As the Virginia Mercury's Ned Oliver put it, the decision "turned conventional wisdom about the benefits of primaries versus conventions on its head," since GOP conventions typically favor the most extreme candidates.
But as Oliver alludes, Chase is so deeply on the outs with fellow Republicans that her ability to muster the necessary support among convention delegates, with whom personal relationships are often crucial, is extremely weak. Chase was booted by her county GOP organization last year after she supported an independent candidate for sheriff who ran against the Republican incumbent, and a couple of months later, she actually quit the GOP caucus in the Senate.
It's not clear whether Republicans will try to host an in-person gathering despite the massive danger—it's possible they could instead choose an "unassembled" convention, which might more closely resemble a so-called "firehouse" (or party-run) primary. But whatever unfolds, the electorate will be far smaller than had they chosen a traditional primary, where Chase could have won with a plurality, as opposed to the majority required at a convention.
The decision to forego a primary prompted some heated words from one potential candidate, outgoing Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman, who himself lost renomination at a convention earlier this year. The Virginia GOP "is a raging dumpster fire," tweeted Riggleman, who late last month said that his interest in a bid had "diminished." Presumably, his desire to seek the Republican nod is even lower now, though he's also held out the possibility of running as an independent.
● CA-08: Republican Rep. Paul Cook resigned Monday to take his spot on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. Cook's congressional seat will remain vacant until January, when fellow Republican Jay Obernolte is sworn in along with the rest of the new Congress.
And while it may seem strange that Cook decided to give up his seat in D.C. to run for local office, this isn't a step down for him. San Bernardino County supervisors earn a salary comparable to U.S. House members, and they also enjoy a much shorter commute. Supervisors are limited to four four-year terms, though that may not be a drawback for Cook, who is 77. And perhaps most importantly, while Obernolte will be in the minority, Cook and his fellow Republicans will hold a 4-1 edge on the Board of Supervisors even though San Bernardino County favored Joe Biden 54-44.
● CA-25: Outgoing Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who recently lost a very close rematch with Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, says she might run for California's 25th Congressional District a third time. In a new statement, Smith said, "This was such a close election, and having earned over 36,000 more votes than any prior Democrat in CA-25, I'm keeping all options open."
Last month, Smith filed paperwork with the FEC that would allow her to fundraise for another bid, though as we always caution, many candidates submit FEC paperwork but never run. And this cycle, the vagaries of redistricting add yet another element of uncertainty, so expect to see lots of folks float their names early on who wind up staying put once maps are finalized.
● Seattle, WA Mayor: Incumbent Jenny Durkan announced Monday that she would not seek a second term. Durkan, whose year was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, widespread protests against police violence, and conflict with several members of the Seattle City Council, said she believed she needed to spend the rest of her term focusing on the city's challenges rather than running for re-election.
Durkan, whose 2017 win made her the first lesbian to be elected mayor, is the latest city leader to leave after one term. Greg Nickels' 2005 win marked the last time that a Seattle mayor was re-elected, though Nickels' quest for a third term four years later ended when he failed to advance past the top-two primary.
All the candidates in next year's contest will run on one nonpartisan ballot, and the top-two vote-getters will advance to the November general election. Durkan's successor in this very blue city will almost certainly be a fellow Democrat, though it's far too early to know who would be the frontrunner. We'll take a look at the potential field to succeed Durkan in a future Digest.
● CA-AG: Joe Biden announced Monday that he was nominating California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Becerra, who is a former Democratic congressman from Los Angeles, would be the first Latino to hold this post.
If the Senate confirms Becerra, it would be up to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, to pick his replacement as the attorney general for the nation's largest state. Newsom is already tasked with filling Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, and Becerra had been mentioned as a prospect. The new attorney general would need to be confirmed by both chambers of the state legislature, though it would be a surprise if the overwhelmingly Democratic body rejected Newsom's choice.
It was only four years ago that Becerra himself was appointed attorney general. In 2016, then-Gov. Jerry Brown shocked state and national politicos when he selected Becerra, who was the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House, to succeed Harris after she was elected to the Senate. One Democrat who wasn't chosen, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, decided to challenge Becerra in 2018, but Jones ended up taking a distant third in the top-two primary; Becerra himself had no trouble turning back his Republican foe that November.
● CO 18th District DA: Democrat Amy Padden conceded on Saturday after an automatic recount confirmed that Republican John Kellner had prevailed 50.1-49.9 in this open seat race. Kellner's win means that his party will hold this district attorney's office, which has jurisdiction over Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties.
Election Results Recaps
● LA-05: Luke Letlow decisively beat state Rep. Lance Harris 62-38 in Saturday's all-GOP runoff to succeed his old boss, retiring Rep. Ralph Abraham, in this conservative northeast Louisiana seat. Letlow, who served as Abraham's chief of staff before entering the race, had the congressman's endorsement, as well as a big financial edge over Harris.
● East Baton Rouge Parish, LA Mayor-President: Democratic incumbent Sharon Weston Broome won a second term as leader of this populous parish, which is home to Baton Rouge and several of its suburbs, by beating former Republican state Rep. Steve Carter 57-43.
● Orleans Parish, LA District Attorney: Criminal justice reformers scored a big win in New Orleans on Saturday when City Councilman Jason Williams won a six-year term by defeating former judge Keva Landrum 57-43 in the all-Democratic runoff. (Orleans Parish is coterminous with the city of New Orleans). Williams will succeed retiring incumbent Leon Cannizzaro, who leaves office with a reputation as one of the most punitive prosecutors in the entire country.
Both Williams and Landrum, who served as interim district attorney in 2007 and 2008, promised never to seek the death penalty and pledged to bring other changes to the office, but Williams consistently adopted far more progressive stances than his opponent. Notably, Williams alone ruled out charging defendants as habitual offenders, a tactic that Louisiana prosecutors like Cannizzaro have frequently used to secure longer sentences. Williams notably also said he won't seek to try underage suspects—97% of whom are Black—in adult courts, and he's also pledged to drop all marijuana possession charges.
Williams, though, did look like at least the slight underdog going into Saturday's contest. Perhaps most seriously, he was indicted by federal prosecutors in June for tax fraud, charges he's argued resulted from "an old-school political tactic" to damage his chances. The councilman has pleaded not guilty, claiming his tax preparer had misrepresented his credentials and filed error-filled forms with the IRS without Williams' knowledge, and his trial is currently set for January.
Landrum, who led Williams 34-29 in the first round of voting last month, also had the support of Mayor Latoya Cantrell and Rep. Cedric Richmond, as well as five of Williams' six colleagues on the City Council. None of this was enough, though, to stop Williams from decisively winning this powerful post.
● Deaths: Maryland Democrat Paul Sarbanes, who served in the House and the Senate, died Sunday at the age of 87. Sarbanes, who was the first Greek American elected to the upper chamber, was a generally low-key senator who is best known for co-sponsoring the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley act in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, a law that the New York Times writes "strengthened corporate governance and created a federal oversight board for the accounting industry." Sarbanes is also the father of Rep. John Sarbanes, who has represented part of the Baltimore region since 2007, the same year that the elder Sarbanes retired from the Senate.
Sarbanes got his start in politics in 1966 when he was elected to the state House, and he launched a primary challenge against Rep. George Fallon four years later. Fallon, who was chair of the powerful House Committee on Public Works, initially looked secure in this Baltimore-area seat.
However, as Theo Lippman would write in the Baltimore Sun in 1991, "Some of Paul's best arguments against the chairman were that he was too old (he was 68) and too ailing and too remote to represent the district anymore. And too close to big, rich campaign contributors who depended on pork from the committee chairman's big barrel." Sarbanes won 51-46, and he easily prevailed in the general. Sarbanes seemed to be in for another tough primary in 1972 when redistricting put him in the same seat as fellow Rep. Edward Garmatz, but Garmatz decided to retire.
Sarbanes attracted national attention in 1974 when, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he introduced and defended the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Sarbanes then set his sights on a promotion in 1976 when he sought the nomination to take on Republican Sen. Glenn Beall. Sarbanes' main opponent in the primary was former Sen. Joseph Tydings, who had lost the seat to Beall in 1970, thanks to an effort by the NRA and its allies. The well-funded Sarbanes, who benefited from support from Greek American donors and labor groups, won the nomination 55-35.
Sarbanes then went after Beall for his connections to the disgraced Nixon, including the $250,000 in campaign funds he'd received six years ago from a White House-controlled account known as the "Townhouse Operation." Beall insisted that, while he'd made a "mistake" by accepting the donations, he was being unfairly judged by post-Watergate standards of morality. That argument didn’t go over well with voters, and Sarbanes unseated Beall 57-39 as Jimmy Carter was carrying the state by a smaller 53-47.
Sarbanes never came close to losing in any of his subsequent campaigns, though he did attract some notable GOP opponents. Sarbanes's foe in 1982 was Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan, a former House colleague and the father of current Gov. Larry Hogan, while his 1988 adversary was Alan Keyes, who would go on to lose the 2004 Senate race in Illinois to Barack Obama. Sarbanes' smallest win was in 1994 against former U.S. Secretary of Labor Bill Brock, who had been elected to the Senate from Tennessee in 1970 and lost re-election six years later; Sarbanes prevailed 59-41.