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.
● AR-Gov: State Sen. Jim Hendren expressed interest only weeks ago in seeking the Republican nomination to succeed his uncle, termed-out GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson, but he instead shocked politicos on Thursday by announcing that he was leaving the party to become an independent. Hendren, who recently finished a stint leading the chamber, called the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol "the final straw," continuing, "I asked myself what in the world I would tell my grandchildren when they asked one day what happened and what did I do about it?"
Hendren said that he would form an organization to fund moderate candidates, and he also did not rule out running for governor himself without a party affiliation. "Right now, I've pushed that decision to the backburner because before anybody can win any serious race as an independent there has to be some sort of platform, some sort of foundation," he said, though he added that he might instead back a different independent contender.
● AL-Sen: Wealthy businesswoman Lynda Blanchard entered the race for Alabama's open Senate seat on Thursday, seeding her campaign with what she described as "an initial $5 million deposit." In launching her bid, Blanchard made sure to emphasize that she "served as U.S. ambassador to First Lady Melania Trump's home country of Slovenia." Blanchard is the first notable Republican to join the contest, but many, many others are eyeing the race.Campaign Action
● FL-Sen: The New York Times reports that Ivanka Trump will not primary Republican Sen. Marco Rubio next year, according to unnamed "people close to her," and Rubio's office says that Trump herself has told the senator the same thing. In a statement, Trump didn't directly address the race but praised Rubio and called him "a good personal friend."
Timken joins former state Treasurer Josh Mandel in the primary, and he immediately tried to out-Trump his new opponent by tweeting out a picture of her embracing former Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who dynamited his last bridges with the party last year by endorsing Joe Biden. Kasich though, got into the trolling game by quickly sharing a photo of a smiling Mandel looking on as Kasich stumped for him during the former treasurer's failed 2012 Senate campaign. (The only commentary that accompanied Kasich's tweet was an eye-roll emoji.)
Timken herself emerged on the political scene in 2017 by unseating a Kasich ally as state party chair. Donald Trump publicly backed Timken in that contest and called about a dozen central committee members on her behalf. Timken is also part of a prominent donor family in state party politics, and the wealthy candidate already seems to have money available for her bid: Politico reports that Timken is launching a $263,000 buy on Fox.
● PA-Sen: Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean recently attracted national attention as one of the managers of Donald Trump's second impeachment, and several of her allies are now publicly encouraging her to enter the race to succeed retiring Republican incumbent Pat Toomey. A spokesperson for Dean only told Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman in response that the congresswoman hasn't had time to consider, which very much isn't a no.
The most prominent Democrat to announce before this week was Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, but others may make their move no matter what Dean ends up doing. Bowman relays that two unnamed Democrats say that Montgomery County Commission chair Val Arkoosh "is expected to announce a Senate bid soon." Dean's 4th Congressional District includes just over 85% of this populous suburban Philadelphia community, so she and Arkoosh might end up competing over the same geographic base if they both ran.
Party strategist Mark Nevins also tells Bowman that for every "whisper you hear about Congresswoman Dean running for Senate, you also hear one about" other Democratic House members including Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, whom we hadn't previously heard mentioned for this race.
● CA-Gov: A new poll from WPA Intelligence for Republican Kevin Faulconer, who recently left office as mayor of San Diego, says that California voters support recalling Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom by a 47-43 margin, with 10% undecided. A recent poll for UC Berkley found just the opposite, with voters opposing the idea 45-36. Faulconer's survey also included numbers for a horserace matchup pitting himself against several other potential candidates, but his proposed field is so deep into the realm of the hypothetical that the data isn't in any way useful.
● OH-Gov: While Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor expressed interest in seeking the Democratic nod for the Senate last month, he also opened the door this week to a possible campaign against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine or for another statewide office. O'Connor, who lost two competitive 2018 races for the 12th Congressional District, said, "An executive office in a state like Ohio is always going to have more of an impact than legislative offices ... I love the thought of running across this state … and having conversations about the type of Democrat that I am."
O'Connor didn't give a timeline for when he'd decide, though the Columbus Dispatch noted that his wife is expected to give birth in May and "family matters are taking precedence over political aspirations for the moment."
● VA-Gov: A new Global Strategy Group poll of Virginia's Democratic primary for governor conducted on behalf of former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy finds former Gov. Terry McAuliffe far out in front with 42% of the vote, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax at 14%, Carroll Foy at 7%, and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan at 6% while 30% are undecided.
GSG argues, however, that Carroll Foy is best poised to grow, saying that she trails McAuliffe by a narrower 37-27 after respondents were read "evenhanded profiles and images of the four core candidates," with the other two Democrats still well behind. The memo did not include the text of the profiles.
● CO-03: State Rep. Donald Valdez announced Thursday that he'd seek the Democratic nod to take on the 3rd District's extremist incumbent, freshman Republican Lauren Boebert. Valdez, a moderate who has often voted against his party in the legislature, ran for this western Colorado seat last cycle, but he dropped out after raising little money.
● IL State House: Democratic state Rep. Mike Madigan announced Thursday that he was resigning from the state House, a move that concludes his 50-year career in the legislature one month after his record-breaking tenure as speaker came to an involuntary end. The still-powerful Madigan will remain state party chair, though, so he's far from done with Prairie State politics. Madigan is also the head of his local Chicago ward party, which allows him to pick his replacement in the House. (There are no special elections to the Illinois legislature.)
● Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 House seats nationwide nears its end with Louisiana, which will host not one but two special elections on March 20. You can find our detailed calculations here, a large-size map of the results here, and our permanent, bookmarkable link for all 435 districts here.
Donald Trump's 58-40 victory in the Pelican State over Joe Biden was little different from his 58-38 showing against Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Trump once again easily won five of Louisiana's six congressional districts. Trump scored at least 62% of the vote in each of these constituencies, all of which are held by Republicans.
The one blue seat is the 2nd District, which stretches from the New Orleans area west to Baton Rouge. Republican mapmakers drew this constituency to take in as many African American voters as possible to make the surrounding districts whiter, and Biden's 75-23 win was almost identical to Clinton's 75-22 performance. Several candidates are competing in next month's all-party primary to succeed former Rep. Cedric Richmond, who resigned in January to take a post in the Biden White House, and there's no question that the eventual winner will be a Democrat.
Louisiana has always had a district anchored by New Orleans, and Democrats have held it since the 1890 election—with one very unusual exception a little more than a decade ago. In 2008, Democratic Rep. Bill Jefferson lost re-election to Republican Joseph Cao in a huge upset thanks to a confluence of scandal, a major change in election law, and a hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast.
Perhaps most importantly, Jefferson was under indictment on corruption charges after he was filmed allegedly taking $100,000 in marked cash from a government informant, $90,000 of which was later discovered in his freezer. For a time, though, it seemed like Jefferson's electoral career would continue despite the scandal. The state temporarily abandoned its all-party primaries for congressional races in 2008 and 2010 and switched to the type of partisan primary-plus-runoff system that's used in neighboring Southern states. Jefferson won the first round of the primary with a 25% plurality, and he prevailed in the runoff 57-43.
But timing is everything in politics, and events outside of Jefferson's control dramatically altered the political calendar in Cao's favor. The primary was originally set for early September, but the state postponed the contest for a month when Hurricane Gustav threatened the Gulf Coast at the end of August. (The storm also led to the cancelation of the first night of the Republican National Convention.) Primary runoffs instead took place on Election Day in November, with the general election for those races pushed off until December.
Unfortunately for Jefferson, his contest was one of those affected. The congressman won the runoff as Barack Obama was carrying his seat 74-25, but he still needed to fend off Cao in December. Turnout would have almost certainly dropped no matter what, but the state's new election rules likely led many Democratic voters to mistakenly believe that they'd already re-elected Jefferson in November when they'd only renominated him. Other voters who might otherwise have voted Democratic also stayed home, or even backed Cao, out of disgust for the incumbent.
Still, it was a massive surprise when Cao defeated Jefferson 50-47, a victory that made him the first Vietnamese American to ever serve in Congress. Republicans were thrilled about their pickup after a second brutal cycle in a row, with Minority Leader John Boehner memorably putting out a memo afterwards proclaiming, "The future is Cao." Jefferson himself was convicted the next year and began serving a 13-year sentence in 2012, though he ended up leaving prison in late 2017.
Cao, meanwhile, struggled to repeat his shock win against a stronger opponent. While Republicans enjoyed a very strong election cycle in 2010, the 2nd reverted to form when state Rep. Cedric Richmond, who had unsuccessfully challenged Jefferson in the 2008 primary, unseated Cao 65-33. That victory restored the 2nd District's status as a safely blue seat, and even with Richmond's departure for a job in the Biden White House, that's not going to change in next month's special.
The other March 20 special will take place in the 5th District to succeed Republican Luke Letlow, who died from complications from the coronavirus just weeks after he won an open seat race against a fellow Republican but before he could be sworn in. This seat, which includes Monroe and Alexandria in the central part of the state, backed Trump 64-34, and Republicans should have little trouble keeping it.
This area, though, did send a Democrat to the House under the state's previous congressional map in 2002, but Team Blue's hold proved to be very brief. State Rep. Rodney Alexander won an open seat race 50.3-49.7 that year, and he looked like he'd be one of the most vulnerable members of the Democratic caucus in 2004. Alexander filed to run for re-election as a Democrat that year, but he refiled as a Republican two days later―on the final day of the candidate qualifying period.
The congressman's former party was infuriated, but Democrats were never able to take revenge. The incumbent won his 2004 race, as well as his next four campaigns, without any trouble. Alexander resigned in 2013 to take a position in Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, and, despite a high-profile scandal surrounding his immediate successor, Team Red has always easily held the seat.
Louisiana Republicans had control of the redistricting process in 2011 for the first time in living memory, but Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards may be able to block them from passing another gerrymander. The legislature has only ever overridden two gubernatorial vetoes in more than two centuries of statehood (the last was in 1993), and while Republicans have the two-thirds majority necessary to defy Edwards in the state Senate, they don't have quite the numbers on their own in the House.
That's because, while Republicans outnumber Democrats 68-35 in the lower chamber, the House crucially also contains two independents who often vote with the minority party. This means that, if no seats change hands before redistricting takes place, and no Democrats vote for a Republican map, GOP legislators would need to win over both independents to pass their own boundaries again.
P.S. Because Louisiana does not assign pre-Election Day votes to precincts, we have relied on the same method to estimate congressional district vote totals that we recently used in Alabama.
● Israel: Israel will hold a general election on March 23 because the results of the 2020 election were inconclusive. That election was held because the results of the September 2019 election were inconclusive. And that election was held because the results of the April 2019 election were inconclusive. We'll give you one guess as to the likely result of this next election.
Through all of this turmoil one constant has remained: radical-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some parliamentary systems have a tradition of deploying a caretaker prime minister, who takes over if the current officeholder loses a no-confidence vote or resigns. The caretaker PM leads the government for a short time until elections are held or the crisis at hand has abated. This is common in Italy, and in fact just happened. There is no such tradition in Israel, however, and so Netanyahu sticks around not because a majority of any of these Knessets (the Israeli parliament) want him to, but because there's no majority for anyone else to take over.
In the April 2019 election, the pro-Netanyahu coalition won 60 of the chamber's 120 seats. In September of that year, it won just 56 seats, and in 2020 it won 58. For both the second and third elections in question, if a vote of confidence in Netanyahu had been taken, he would have lost. But the anti-Netanyahu side ranges from left-wing Arab-majority parties to right-wing secular nationalists, a disunified confederation at the best of times.
After the 2020 elections, the anti-Netanyahu faction managed to get 61 members of Parliament to recommend that Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party form the next government, but Gantz was unable to hold this disparate group together long enough to actually form a working coalition. He instead made a deal with Netanyahu in which each man would supposedly serve as prime minister for 18 months. Netanyahu went first, of course, and another election was scheduled before Gantz got his turn. This surprised exactly no one who has spent more than five minutes following Netanyahu's career.
So far, the upcoming election has largely followed the pattern of its recent predecessors. The new center-right hope to unseat Netanyahu is former fellow Likud MP Gideon Sa'ar, who left Likud as new elections were being called and has largely picked up the center-right anti-Netanyahu vote that had been going to Gantz's Blue and White Party. Also arrayed against Netanyahu are the right-wing secular nationalists, the centrists, the center-left, and the Arab-majority parties. On the pro-Netanyahu side, you've got his Likud Party, of course, as well as the Orthodox Haredi parties and the far-right extremists. You will be shocked to learn that recent polling puts each side at about 60 seats.
If Netanyahu's side wins a majority, however, he'll remain prime minister. If not, he'll probably remain in charge anyway while the opposition fails to unite behind a replacement. There is one entity that might prevent this outcome and end this stalemate, but it lies far outside the Knesset: the Israeli justice system. Netanyahu has been under investigation for corruption since 2016 and was indicted in 2019 for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. His trial has been ongoing since May of last year, prolonged by many COVID-related delays. Prosecutors are finally slated to start providing evidence for their case within weeks, though that too could be delayed until after the election.
Even if Netanyahu were convicted, appeals would likely string the process along for years, though he could conceivably be forced to step down. However, barring significant voting shifts one way or another, there's no obvious alternative path out of this perpetual deadlock.
● Kosovo: As in Israel, voters in Kosovo were just sent back to the ballot box earlier than normal, though with a very different outcome. The left-wing Vetevendosje (Albanian for "Self-Determination'') turned a small 2019 plurality victory into a landslide mandate to govern the country, skyrocketing from 26% of the vote to 48%, with the counting of overseas votes still ongoing.
The major leftist party in Kosovo, Vetevendosje had grown out of an anti-corruption protest movement in the 2000s and first contested parliamentary elections in 2010. The party is also the main proponent of ethnic Albanian nationalism, pushing for a referendum to unify Albanian-majority Kosovo with neighboring Albania itself. While the party placed first two years ago, its relatively small share of seats pushed it into an unstable coalition with the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (DLK), which had narrowly finished second.
That coalition lasted less than four months as the DLK bolted over the handling of the pandemic and formed a new government with just 61 votes in the 120-seat chamber. However, the Constitutional Court of Kosovo later ruled that because one of the 61 members voting for the new government had been convicted of fraud, the vote creating the new government did not actually pass with the needed majority, leading to new elections on Feb. 14.
Vetevendosje had long campaigned as an anti-establishment and anti-corruption party, and years of problems came to a head as the pandemic caused a sharp downturn in the country's economic fortunes. The party was also boosted by acting President Vjosa Osmani, who took over after the previous president, Hashim Thaci, was indicted at The Hague for war crimes. Osmani was a DLK MP and was elevated to the position of speaker last year, which in turn led to her assuming the powers of the presidency after Thaci's departure. But Osmani soon left the DLK and campaigned with Vetevendosje during the election.
The party will likely fall just short of an outright majority but should be able to form a stable coalition with some of the smaller parties and the seats set aside for minority groups. Leaders have said that they will prioritize curbing corruption and tackling unemployment rather than negotiations with Serbia, from whom Kosovo declared independence back in 2008. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo's independence, and their disputed diplomatic relations have often been the focus of other countries, but the issue repeatedly rates as a low priority both in polls and for the incoming Vetevendosje government itself.
● Where Are They Now?, NJ State Senate: Michael Pappas, a Republican who represented New Jersey in the U.S. House for a single term from 1997 to 1999, announced this week that he would run this year for an open seat in the state Senate in the west-central part of the state being vacated by retiring GOP incumbent Kip Bateman.
Pappas earned his brief moment in the political spotlight in 1998 when he took to the House floor to deliver an ode to the special prosecutor probing the Clinton White House that began, "Twinkle, twinkle, Kenneth Starr/ Now we see how brave you are." Politicos would later blame that bit of awful poetry for Pappas' 50-47 defeat against Democrat Rush Holt that fall.
Pappas, who quickly earned the support of influential party leaders for his new campaign, also scared off former Rep. Dick Zimmer, who had competed with Pappas in a 2000 primary that occurred when both of them were out of Congress. While Zimmer, who gave up this seat back in 1996 to unsuccessfully run for the Senate, decisively won that intra-party engagement, he went on to lose a very tight contest to Holt. Zimmer, though, endorsed Joe Biden last year, so he was very unlikely to pull off another victory against Pappas.
Pappas, however, is no sure bet to return to elected office. While we don't yet have the 2020 presidential results calculated for the New Jersey legislature, Hillary Clinton carried the 16th Legislative District 55-41 four years before.