The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● WI State Senate: Though Wisconsin Republicans just captured a supermajority in the state Senate earlier this month, they could soon give it back: Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, longtime GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling announced she'd resign effective Dec. 1, a move that will require Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to call a special election.
Republicans made Darling's 8th District a few points redder under the tilted map they convinced the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court to adopt in April: Under the old lines, Donald Trump carried the 8th by a hair, 49.4 to 49.3, but the current iteration would have backed Trump 52-47, according to Dave's Redistricting App. In the just-concluded midterms, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson won the district 54-46, according to our calculations, while GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels prevailed by a smaller 52-48 spread.
Darling won re-election for a four-year term in 2020 in the old district, but since the new map is now in effect, state constitutional law expert Quinn Yeargain concludes that the new lines will likely be used. But despite the seat's GOP lean, Democrats will contest this seat to the utmost.
Republicans were able to take a two-thirds majority this year by flipping the open 25th District in the northwestern part of the state—another seat they gerrymandered—giving them 22 seats in the 33-member Senate. As a result, if Republicans in the Assembly impeach any state officials, their counterparts in the upper chamber can now remove them from office without a single Democratic vote. And if they were to impeach Evers, he'd be suspended from office until the end of a trial in the Senate, which Republicans could try to drag out even if they lack the votes to convict.
Rolling back this supermajority will therefore be critical for Democrats. One thing working in the party's favor is the fact that the suburbs and exurbs north of Milwaukee where Darling's district is based have been moving to the left in recent years—a key reason Republicans tried to gerrymander this seat further. One potentially strong option, however, has already said no: state Rep. Deb Andraca, who represents a third of the district, took herself out of the running on Monday.
Since Wisconsin "nests" three Assembly districts in each Senate district, there are two other seats that make up the 8th, both held by Republicans. One, Dan Knodl, says he's "seriously considering" a campaign; the other, Janel Brandtjen, doesn't appear to have said anything yet. (Brandtjen, an election denier, was recently barred from private meetings of the Assembly GOP caucus after supporting a primary challenge to Speaker Robin Vos.)
It's not clear when exactly the special will be held, but in her statement declining a bid, Andraca suggested it would take place "this spring." Wisconsin is set to hold its annual "spring election" for state and local offices on April 4, so this race could potentially be consolidated with those contests.
● AK-Sen, AK-AL, AK-Gov: Alaska conducted instant-runoff tabulations one day before Thanksgiving, and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola each won re-election after their respective opponents failed to consolidate enough support to pull ahead. Hardline GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy, meanwhile, claimed a bare majority of the first-choice preferences, so election officials did not do the ranked choice process for his race.
Murkowski held a tiny 43.4-42.6 edge over intra-party rival Kelly Tshibaka, a former state cabinet official backed by Donald Trump, with Democrat Pat Chesbro and Republican Buzz Kelley taking 10% and 3%, respectively. But Murkowski, who has crossed party lines on some high-profile votes, always looked likely to take the bulk of Chesbro's support, and she emerged with a clear 54-46 win when tabulations were complete.
Tshibaka responded to her defeat by blasting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's allies at the Senate Leadership Fund for deploying "millions of dollars in this race on deceptive ads to secure what he wanted—a Senate minority that he can control, as opposed to a majority he could not." Trump weeks before the election also ranted that "[t]he Old Broken Crow, Mitchell McConnell, is authorizing $9 Million Dollars to be spent in order to beat a great Republican" rather than target Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona, though SLF itself only ended up spending $6.1 million in Alaska.
Peltola, meanwhile, began Wednesday with 49% of the vote while two Republican rivals, former reality TV star Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III, clocked in at 26% and 23%; the balance went to Libertarian Chris Bye. While Palin had announced her chief of staff the day after the election, reality made his services unnecessary: Peltola ended up beating Palin by a staggering 55-45 after the instant-runoff process was finished, a big shift from her 51.5-48.5 upset win in their August special election contest. Peltola will be one of five House Democrats in a Trump seat in the 118th Congress, and hers will be the reddest of the bunch.
Dunleavy, finally, claimed an outright win with 50.3%. His two main rivals, former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara and former independent Gov. Bill Walker, took 24% and 21%, respectively, while the remainder went to Republican Charlie Pierce, who was challenging the already staunchly conservative Dunleavy from the right. Gara and Walker both said they'd be ranking the other as their second choice, but we don't know how many of their respective supporters followed their lead.
● Seattle, WA Ballot: Seattle has narrowly voted to replace its municipal top-two primaries with a ranked choice system by 2027, though voters will still need to go to the polls in two different elections even after the switch takes place.
Candidates for mayor, city attorney, and the City Council will continue to compete on one nonpartisan primary ballot, but voters will be able to rank their preferred choices instead of selecting just one option. The two contenders who emerge with the most support after the ranked choice tabulations are completed will advance to the general election, where voters would select just one choice. This is different from several other American cities like Minneapolis, Oakland, and San Francisco where all the contenders compete in a single election decided through instant-runoff voting.
It's not clear yet if the new ranked choice system will be in place in time for Seattle's next mayoral race in 2025. A spokesperson for King County's elections department explained that software and ballot updates, as well as tests and voter education, will be needed, saying, "It is possible that we may be able to roll it out before 2027, but until we're able to dive into the details with the city and state, we won't know." Officials also will need to decide how many candidates a voter can rank.
Seattleites earlier this month were presented with a two-part ballot measure called Proposition 1. The first asked voters whether they wanted to replace the top-two primary for city offices, and voters answered in the affirmative by a 51-49 margin. They were then asked if they wanted to adopt ranked choice voting or approval voting if voters on part one favor changing the status quo, and ranked choice won 76-24.
This contest took place because backers of approval voting collected enough signatures for a referendum to bring it to the Emerald City: The approval voting system, which is used in St. Louis, allows voters to cast as many votes as there are candidates, with up to one vote per contender and each vote counting equally. The City Council, though, responded by also placing a ranked choice question on the ballot as a rival option.
The group supporting approval voting enjoyed a huge financial edge thanks to enormous contributions from the Center for Election Science, a pro-approval voting organization funded by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, as well as now-former cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried: The dramatic failure of Bankman-Fried's preferred option, though, turned out to be far from the worst news he got in mid-November.
● GA-Sen: AdImpact tells Politico that Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his outside group allies have outspent Republican Herschel Walker’s side by a lopsided $31 million to $12 million from Nov. 9 to Nov. 28 on TV, radio, and digital ads. The GOP has a $7 million to $5 million advantage in ad time for the remaining week of the contest, though this number can change if new spots are purchased.
Warnock’s campaign alone has outpaced Walker $15 million to $5 million through Monday, an important advantage since FCC regulations give candidates—but not outside groups—discounted rates on TV and radio. The senator was able to amass this sort of spending lead because he’s also continued to overwhelm Walker in the fundraising department: Warnock outraised his foe $51 million to $20 million from Oct. 20 to Nov. 16 and concluded that period with a $30 million to $10 million cash-on-hand lead.
Warnock’s supporters at the Senate Majority PAC affiliate Georgia Honor also outspent their GOP counterparts at the Senate Leadership Fund $13 million to $5 million, though SLF is hoping one prominent surrogate will help them overcome that disadvantage. Just before Thanksgiving the group debuted a spot starring Gov. Brian Kemp, who won re-election outright 53-46 on Nov. 8 as Walker lagged Warnock 49.4-48.5: While Kemp didn’t campaign with the Senate nominee during the first round, he now pledges to the audience, “Herschel Walker will vote for Georgia, not be another rubber stamp for Joe Biden.”
● OH-Sen: Axios published a profile of venture capitalist Mark Kvamme last week where it briefly noted the Republican "also acknowledges that he's had informal talks about running for public office, possibly as a challenger to Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2024."
● NV-Sen: Army veteran Sam Brown, who lost this year's Senate primary 56-34 after running an unexpectedly well-funded campaign against frontrunner Adam Laxalt, is being mentioned as a prospective foe against Democratic incumbent Jacky Rosen. A Brown advisor didn't rule anything out, saying, "He has committed to his supporters that he will never stop fighting for their issues, but he has not made any decisions as to whether that involves a future run for office."
● PA-Sen: Neither former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick nor Big Lie spreader Kathy Barnette, who both lost this year's Senate primary to Mehmet Oz, would respond to Price's inquiries about a campaign against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. An unnamed person close to McCormick told Politico all the way back in June that he was considering the idea.
● UT-Sen: An advisor for Attorney General Sean Reyes said of a possible GOP primary challenge to incumbent Mitt Romney, "He's certainly set up to run, but it does not mean he's considering it." The Deseret News wrote earlier this month that Reyes was "actively pursuing a campaign" against Romney, who has not announced if he'll seek a second term.
● WI-Sen: GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher deflected Price's questions about his interest in taking on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, merely saying, "Any talk of the next election, especially since we just had an election, distracts from the serious work we need to do."
● KY-Gov: Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, who just months ago expressed interest in running for governor of Kentucky, has very firmly taken himself out of the running by accepting the post of health commissioner of Tennessee.
● LA-Gov: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser's Greg Hilburn on Sunday that it "will absolutely make a difference in my decision" whether or not his fellow Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, runs in next year's all-party primary. Nungesser, though, seems to think that Kennedy will make his plans known in the next month-and-a-half, because he says his own announcement will come Jan. 10.
Hilburn also relays that another Republican, Rep. Garret Graves, "will also likely wait on Kennedy to make a final decision." However, he notes that Graves may opt to stay put no matter what due to his rising status in the House leadership.
● NM-02: Outgoing GOP incumbent Yvette Herrell last week filed FEC paperwork for a potential 2024 rematch against Democratic Rep.-elect Gabe Vasquez, who unseated her 50.3-49.7. These super-early filings from defeated candidates, as we recently noted, often have more to do with resolving financial matters from their last campaign than they do about the future, though the Republican hasn't said anything publicly over the last week about her plans.
Herrell may also be hoping for a favorable ruling from the state Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in January in a case brought by Republicans alleging that the congressional map violates the state constitution as a partisan gerrymander. Herrell lost this month's contest to Vasquez in a constituency that favored Biden 52-46.
● VA-04: Democratic Rep. Don McEachin, who has represented Virginia’s 4th Congressional District since 2017, died on Monday night at the age of 61 due to colorectal cancer. We will have a detailed look at his career in the next Digest.
● AK State Senate, AK State House: Following Wednesday's tabulation of ranked-choice votes in races where no candidate won a majority on Nov. 8, nine Democrats and eight Republicans in Alaska's state Senate announced the formation of a bipartisan majority coalition, similar to one that held sway in the chamber from 2007 to 2012. The situation in the House, however, remains uncertain.
The alliance ends a decade of Republican control over the Senate, though GOP Sen. Gary Stevens will hold the top role of president, a position he served in during the last bipartisan coalition. That leaves just three far-right Republicans out in the cold; Stevens said they've been "difficult to work with" and specifically cited the fact that they've voted against state budgets their own party had crafted. (Members of the majority are required to vote for the budget, a system known as a "binding caucus" whose enforcement is evidently now being given effect.)
The House has likewise been governed by a shifting consortium of Democrats, independents, and Republicans since 2017, but it's not clear whether such an arrangement will continue. While Republicans lost two seats in the Senate, they retained nominal control of 21 seats in the House—theoretically enough for a bare majority. One of those, however, belongs to House Speaker Louise Stutes, a member of the current coalition, while another is represented by David Eastman, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers who is disliked by many fellow Republicans for his obstructionism.
There are many possible permutations that could result in either side winding up in charge. One big question mark is state Rep. Josiah Patkotak, a conservative independent and coalition member who could potentially join forces with the GOP. Another is the 15th District, where Republican Rep. Tom McKay leads Democrat Denny Wells by just four votes after ranked-choice tabulations; Wells says he will likely seek a recount after results are certified on Tuesday.
Whatever happens, we could be in for a long wait: Following both the 2018 and 2020 elections, alliances in the House weren't finalized until February, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar delay this time.
● NH State House: Control of the New Hampshire state House remains up in the air after a wild election night and even wilder post-election period that saw Democrats make big gains and left Republicans with just a 201-198 advantage—plus one tied race that could get resolved in a special election.
Even though the GOP will hold a bare majority no matter what happens, that may not be enough to elect a Republican speaker when the chamber—the largest state legislative body in the nation—is sworn in on Dec. 7. Absences are frequent in this part-time legislature, where lawmakers are paid just $100 a year and receive no per diem. Given that reality, a different majority could show up every time the House convenes, a truly chaotic situation that could result in a new speaker every time unless the parties hammer out a power-sharing agreement.
Members will also have to decide what to do in Strafford District 8 (known locally as Rochester Ward 4), which ended in a tie following a recount after election night results put Republican challenger David Walker up just a single vote on Democratic state Rep. Chuck Grassie. The House could simply vote to seat whichever candidate it likes in a raw display of partisan power, or it could order a special election, as was done on at least three prior occasions. In one bizarre case in 1964, however, legislators opted to seat both candidates in a tied race—and gave them half a vote each.
In the event of a special election, though, expect both sides to go all out, especially given the swingy nature of this district, which would've voted 51-47 for Joe Biden. And expect more specials in the near future either way, as resignations are also a regular occurrence in the New Hampshire House.
● VA State House, Where Are They Now?: Former Rep. Tom Garrett, a Republican who dropped out of his 2018 bid for a second term in bizarre fashion after winning renomination, has announced that he'll run in next year's race for a safely red open seat in the state House. Garrett, who previously served in the state Senate, kicked off his campaign at the Virginia Civil Rights Monument on the state Capitol grounds in Richmond rather than in the rural 56th District to what the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Charlotte Rene Woods calls a "crowd of five."
Garrett said he was choosing that monument both because he admires Barbara Johns, one of the Civil Rights heroes depicted, and because this was the very place he ended his 2018 re-election campaign. The Republican back then disclosed he was leaving Congress to focus on his fight with alcoholism, and he now says, "I haven't had to drink in four-and-a-half years. As soon as I start declaring victory over anything, it will come back and tap me on the shoulder."
Garrett, though, doesn't appear to have mentioned how the House Ethics Committee issued a lengthy report on his final day in office determining that he'd violated House rules by directing his staff to run personal errands for him. Staffers also told the committee that the congressman's wife "would berate staff, often using profanity and other harsh language, for failing to prioritize her needs over their regular official duties." The report additionally accused the Garretts of deliberately dragging their feet during the investigation so that they could run out the clock and avoid censure before the congressman's term expired.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Allegheny County, PA Executive: Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb announced Monday that he would compete in what could be a busy May 2023 Democratic primary to succeed incumbent Rich Fitzgerald, who cannot seek a fourth term as head of this populous and reliably blue county. Lamb, who is the uncle of outgoing Rep. Conor Lamb, carried Allegheny County 77-12 in his 2020 primary for state auditor general even as he was losing statewide 36-27 to Nina Ahmad. (Ahmad in turn lost to Republican Timothy DeFoor.)
WESA reporter Chris Potter describes the city comptroller as "the rare politician who travels easily in Democratic Party circles while also having been an outspoken government reformer," noting that, while he's "not necessarily a political firebrand," Lamb "seems likely to incorporate some progressive concerns with county government, especially on matters of criminal justice." Lamb previously won renomination in 2015 by beating back a Fitzgerald-endorsed foe, and Potter says the two have a "wary relationship."
Lamb's only announced intra-party opponent is Erin McClelland, who came nowhere close to unseating GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus in her 2014 and 2016 campaigns for the old and dark red 12th Congressional District. McClelland, who has worked as a project manager for the county's social-services department, kicked off her bid in August by saying she expected to face both the "old-boys network" and opponents who "dive into performative propaganda on a social media post."
Potter also relays that observers anticipate that former County Councilor David Fawcett and state Rep. Sara Innamorato will compete in the Democratic primary. Fawcett, whom Potter calls a "celebrated attorney," served on the Council as a Republican from 2000 to 2007 before waging an aborted 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
Innamorato, for her part, rose to prominence in 2018 when the Democratic Socialists of America member defeated incumbent Dom Costa for renomination; that victory came the same night that her ally Summer Lee, who was also backed by DSA, scored an upset of her own against another Costa brother, state Rep. Paul Costa. Innamorato went on to support now-Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Lee in her own successful 2022 campaign for the new 12th District.
We unsurprisingly haven't seen any notable Republicans mentioned for the race to lead a county that Biden took 59-39 and where Team Blue did even better in this year's Senate and governor races. Republican James Roddey actually did win the 1999 contest for what was a newly created office, but he badly lost re-election four years later to Democrat Dan Onorato. The GOP hasn't come anywhere close to retaking the post since then, and Fitzgerald won his final term in 2019 in a 68-32 landslide.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former Municipal Court Judge Jimmy DeLeon, who recently retired after 34 years on the bench, announced shortly before Thanksgiving that he was joining the May 2023 Democratic primary, promising to be a "no-shenanigans-let's-follow-the-law-there-will-be-order-in-the-courtroom" mayor. Billy Penn says that there was little chatter about DeLeon running until he jumped in last week.
DeLeon, who unsuccessfully ran for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and state Superior Court during the 2000s, was sanctioned by the Court of Judicial Discipline in 2008 for issuing "a bogus 'stay away order' on behalf of a social acquaintance." DeLeon says of that incident, "I made a mistake, and I was given a second chance … That's why I believe in second chances."