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.
● Philadelphia, PA District Attorney: Larry Krasner's 2017 victory in the race for Philadelphia district attorney gave criminal justice reformers an early high-profile win, but he faces a competitive May 18 Democratic primary fight to hold onto his office. Krasner's opponent is former prosecutor Carlos Vega, who has argued that the incumbent has been running "an experiment that is costing the lives of our children." The eventual nominee should have no trouble in the November general election in this heavily blue city.
Politico's Holly Otterbein writes that Vega, who was one of the 31 prosecutors whom Krasner fired shortly into his tenure, has avoided "campaigning as a tough-on-crime politician." Vega instead has argued he can deliver "real progressive reform" and insisted that "we don't have to choose between safety and reform." Vega has also blamed the city's spike in homicides on the district attorney's policies.
Krasner has responded by pointing out that murders have increased nationwide for reasons far beyond his control, saying, "What has happened, and essentially every criminologist agrees on this, is that the pandemic, closing of society and closing of so many different aspects of what protects and surrounds especially young men have disappeared." Krasner has further defended himself by arguing, as Otterbein writes, that he's "delivered on his campaign promises by lowering the jail population, exonerating the innocent and reducing the amount of time people are on probation and parole."Campaign Action
The incumbent, in turn, is framing his contest as a choice between criminal justice reform and "past that echoes with names like [Frank] Rizzo," the city's racist late mayor. Krasner is also trying to turn the local Fraternal Order of Police's support for Vega into a liability by pointing out that the national organization backed Donald Trump last year. Vela, who was the first Latino homicide prosecutor in Pennsylvania, has pushed back, saying it was "really rich" for Krasner to compare him to Trump "when this is coming from a person who's white, elite, from an Ivy League school."
Krasner outraised his opponent by hauling in $420,000 during the first three months of 2021, but Vega still brought in a credible $340,000. Krasner also has to deal with a well-funded group called Protect Our Police PAC, which has mostly been financed by pro-Trump megadonor Timothy Mellon. The PAC, though, generated plenty of negative attention in early April when it sent out a fundraising email falsely blaming George Floyd for his own death.
Vela quickly disavowed the group, which blamed the message on a marketing firm, and said he didn't want its backing. Protect Our Police, in turn, responded by saying that it wasn't endorsing Vela but was "laser-focused" on unseating Krasner.
One major question looming over the race is whether billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has in the past donated heavily to groups supporting Krasner and likeminded candidates, will help him again. Otterbein also notes that there have been no public polls here, and insiders disagree on how vulnerable Krasner is next month.
● AK-Sen: The prominent GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund has backed Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who already faces an intra-party challenge from former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski, who has not yet announced if she'll seek re-election, had suggested she might run as an independent back in January, but SLF's endorsement indicates that party leaders doubt she'll abandon the party label.
As we've noted before, Alaska will not hold a conventional party primary next year thanks to a new ballot measure Alaska voters passed in November that radically reforms how elections are conducted in the state. Under Measure 2, all candidates from all parties will now run together on a single primary ballot, with the top four vote-getters advancing to a November general election. Voters would then choose a winner from that quartet by means of an instant runoff.
● AZ-Sen: The far-right anti-tax Club for Growth has released a survey from its usual pollster WPA Intelligence showing its ally, extremist Rep. Andy Biggs, edging out Gov. Doug Ducey 46-45 in a hypothetical Republican primary.
Biggs said a few weeks ago that he'd decide by the end of March if he'd challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but the month concluded without any public comment from the congressman about his plans. Ducey, by contrast, took his name out of consideration in January, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly has been trying to get him to reconsider.
● GA-Sen: While Donald Trump generated plenty of chatter about former NFL running back Herschel Walker's interest in this race last month when he not-tweeted "Run Herschel, run!", the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Walker himself has remained "silent" about a possible campaign against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. The paper says that Walker, who remains a Texas resident, also "hasn't returned the calls of even some senior Republican officials trying to ascertain his next move."
Meanwhile another Republican, banking executive Latham Saddler, filed paperwork with the FEC on Friday for a potential campaign.
● NC-Sen: On Thursday, a consultant for far-right Rep. Ted Budd named Michael Luethy told the News & Observer that his boss would make his decision whether to run for the state's open Senate seat "sooner than later." Luethy also said of the Budd's deliberations, "It's fair to say he's leading towards it."
That same day, the conservative Carolina Journal published a piece by Dallas Woodhouse, the infamous former executive director of the state GOP, who wrote that multiple unnamed sources believed that Budd "will enter the U.S. Senate race in the coming weeks." Luethy, though, insisted that, while Budd is putting together a "formidable team," the congressman had not yet made a final decision.
The only notable Republican in the running right now is Budd's former colleague, ex-Rep. Mark Walker, though others are eyeing this contest. The potential candidate who continues to generate the most attention is former Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, while former Gov. Pat McCrory has been flirting with a bid for years. One Republican who will not be running, though, is state party chair Michael Whatley, who took his name out of contention on Thursday.
● NV-Sen: On Thursday, former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval unambiguously ruled out running against Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto. "I have no interest in running and I will not be a candidate" said Sandoval, who now serves as president of the University of Nevada, Reno.
● MD-Gov: Former Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Baker's decision came as a surprise, as his name had not been mentioned much before he kicked off his second campaign for this office.
Baker, who would be Maryland's first Black governor, competed in the 2018 primary to take on Hogan, and he attracted the support of almost the entire state party establishment. However, Baker lost by a surprisingly wide 40-29 margin to former NAACP president Ben Jealous, whom Hogan went on to defeat in the general election.
The Washington Post's Arelis Hernandez took a close look at what went wrong for Baker right after the primary and pointed to a number of factors that led to his downfall. These included his refusal to heed advice that he campaign more visibly, Jealous' aggressive courting of unions and stronger fundraising, and the fact that Baker didn't jump on developments coming out of the Trump White House in the way that Jealous did. On Friday, fellow Post writer Rachel Chason noted that Baker was also held back by "political enemies he made in Prince George's, including labor unions and opponents of his controversial efforts to improve county public schools."
In an interview Thursday with Maryland Matters, Baker acknowledged that his underwhelming fundraising had played a big role in his defeat last time. Baker argued, though, that he was limited at the time by his responsibilities as county executive and local ethics rules restricting how much officeholders could take from developers, which will not be factors for him now.
Baker joins a primary field that already includes state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has been running for over a year, and former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, while more could be in before long. Maryland Matters' Bruce DePuyt writes that former Attorney General Doug Gansler, who badly lost the 2014 primary for governor, is "expected to announce that he's running later this month." DePuyt also relays that Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski "is expected" to decide next month after the county council acts on his proposed budget.
Several other Democrats could also join the field, but it looks like Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks will not be one of them. Alsobrooks, who was elected in 2018 to succeed Baker as leader of the state's second-largest county, said last month that "in this moment I'm running for re-election."
While Alsobrooks' statement didn't quite close the door on a campaign for higher office, Baker said Thursday that he'd only made his decision after talking with her the day before. Baker said he'd spoken to her about the gubernatorial race and added that "[w]e're genuinely friends" and "our supporters are the same."
● NV-Gov: Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo acknowledged to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Thursday that he was thinking about seeking the Republican nomination to face Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Rep. Mark Amodei also recently reaffirmed his interest, while former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson has reportedly been considering as well. The paper writes of this group, "The consensus among local Republican political operatives is that the trio is working to reach an agreement on a single candidate to support by the beginning of summer.
● NY-Gov: Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik's team on Thursday put out their first statement directly addressing the possibility that she could run for governor, which came hours after her colleague, Lee Zeldin, kicked off his own bid. "Congresswoman Stefanik continues to receive encouragement from all corners of the state as she would immediately be the strongest Republican candidate in both a primary and general gubernatorial election," said senior advisor Alex DeGrasse, who added that she "is not ruling anything out - nor will she make her decision based on others' timetables."
● FL-01, NY-23: The House Ethics Committee on Friday announced that it had opened investigations into two Republicans embroiled in separate scandals, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and New York Rep. Tom Reed.
The committee says it is "aware of public allegations" that Gaetz "may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct." Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking, has rejected calls for his resignation.
The Ethics Committee, meanwhile, is probing allegations that Reed "may have engaged in sexual misconduct." Last month, a woman named Nicolette Davis accused Reed of sexually harassing her at a Minneapolis restaurant in 2017. While Reed initially denied Davis' account as "not accurate," he published a statement two days later apologizing to her and announcing that he would not be on the ballot for anything next year.
● FL-20: The Sun Sentinel writes that, while Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness hasn't yet launched a campaign to succeed the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, Holness has "been informally running for months" for this safely blue South Florida seat. The paper also name-drops Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard as another possible Democratic contender for the unscheduled special election.
● NY-01: Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who took third in last year's Democratic primary, filed paperwork with the FEC on Friday for a potential bid to succeed Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor. Fleming did not immediately announce a bid, though she responded to a tweet the previous day urging her to run by writing, "Stay tuned."