The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from Daniel Donner, David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert and David Beard.
● MD-Sen: Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin announced Monday that he would not seek a fourth term next year in Maryland, a decision that marks the beginning of the end for a political career that started in 1966 when he was still in law school. There's little question that Cardin's party will hold his seat in a state that favored Joe Biden 64-32 and where Republicans last won a Senate race in 1980, but there's already a great deal of interest among Old Line State Democrats in succeeding him.
Politico reported back in February that Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who would be the first Black woman to represent Maryland in the upper chamber, was already hiring people for a campaign, and she said that same month she would consider running if Cardin didn’t. The chatter only intensified Monday after the incumbent revealed his plans: Politico says she’d “almost certain” to jump in, while Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz anticipates she’ll launch “before the end of the month.” Alsobrooks was elected in 2018 to lead her populous and very blue community in the D.C. suburbs, and observers have credited her support for now-Gov. Wes Moore as an important factor in his close primary victory last year.
Another contender that Politico writes is all but assured to compete is Rep. David Trone, the Total Wine & More co-founder whom Insider ranked as the 17th wealthiest member of Congress in 2021. The moderate congressman, says the story, already knows who would likely be his campaign manager, and while Trone declined to answer Monday when asked if he intends to seek a promotion, Kurtz adds that his launch could come as soon as this week. Trone self-funded what was a record $13 million in his failed 2016 primary bid for the 8th Congressional District before pumping in a total of $33 million during his subsequent three victorious campaigns for the 6th, and Time Magazine reports he’s told allies he intends to deploy as much as $50 million of his own money to succeed Cardin.
Another name to watch is Rep. Jamie Raskin, a progressive favorite who defeated Trone in that 2016 primary. Raskin, who recently finished a successful treatment for diffuse large B cell lymphoma, said through his aides he was considering a statewide campaign. Kurtz, though, believes it’s more likely the congressman will stay in the lower chamber.
Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, meanwhile, said two weeks ago he was thinking about a Senate bid, and Maryland Matters now writes he’s “preparing to run.” The councilmember, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, would be Maryland’s first Black senator. Jawando also competed in that 2016 primary for the 8th District and finished with just 5%, but he won his current countywide seat two years later; Kurtz predicts that, should Raskin go for Senate after all, Jawando would instead run for the 8th again.
But wait, there’s more! Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s team also says their boss is interested, and unlike the aforementioned four officeholders, his geographic base of support comes from the Baltimore suburbs rather than the D.C. area. (Baltimore County is a separate jurisdiction from the neighboring city of Baltimore.) The executive, though, has also been eyeing a campaign for the 2nd District should veteran Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger retire; a spokesperson for the 77-year-old congressman said Ruppersberger “has not made any decisions about the next term, nor does he have a timeline to do so.”
Kurtz additionally names Rep. John Sarbanes as another person who is “expected to consider,” though there’s no word from the congressman. Sarbanes is the son of Cardin’s predecessor, the late Paul Sarbanes, and he mulled a bid for the state’s other Senate seat in 2015 before opting to stay put. The congressman, though, doesn’t appear to have been getting ready for a campaign for his father’s old seat, though, as he raised just $10,000 during the first three months of 2023.
FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley also offers former DNC chair Tom Perez, who narrowly lost this primary to Moore last year, as a possibility, though Perez doesn’t appear to have said anything about a bid. There’s additionally talk that Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous, who badly lost the 2018 race for governor to Republican incumbent Larry Hogan, could go for it, though a former Jealous aide tells Politico “he has made clear to them that his preference is for Jamie Raskin to run.”
The GOP wish list, by contrast, pretty much starts and ends with Hogan, who left office earlier this year, but he once again doesn’t sound at all likely to go for it. The party unsuccessfully recruited the outgoing governor to take on Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen last year, and a source told Politico that his response to their new charm offensive was to again say that “he has never been interested in the Senate.” On Monday, the head of Hogan’s political organization forwarded Maryland Matters that article when asked if the former governor was now thinking about making the race.
Whoever eventually wins will succeed a senator who, despite one tough race in 2006, never lost an election in a career that began when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. Cardin grew up in a notable Baltimore political family that included his father, Meyer Cardin, who was elected to his sole four-year term state House in 1934 and later became a judge. An uncle, Maurice Cardin, enjoyed a 20-year career in the lower chamber, but he made it clear to his nephew that he wanted him as his successor when he retired.
That day came in 1966 when Ben Cardin was 23 and still a University of Maryland law student: Maurice Cardin himself recounted in 1982 that as the pair stood outside a polling place on Election Day voters went up to him rather than the soon-to-be-victorious candidate and said, "I voted for you again." The younger Cardin himself would say in 2006, "I worked hard in that [first] election, but I think it's fair to say that without the name, I wouldn't have won." But Cardin, with his uncle's encouragement, successfully sought a post on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and quickly became a respected member, and he went on to chair the body.
The delegate rose further in the state House by securing enough support to become speaker even before Election Day 1978, and the 35-year-old became the youngest person in state history up until that point to lead the chamber. Cardin, the Washington Post would write four years later, enjoyed "power [that] is almost absolute," and while there was talk he'd run as Gov. Harry Hughes running mate in 1982 to set himself up for a future bid for the top job, the speaker unsurprisingly opted to stay put. However, while Cardin said, "I would like to be governor some day," the paper noted that his name recognition was so low outside political circles that he'd had a tough time prevailing statewide.
While the speaker did eye a 1986 bid for governor, he instead ran that year to replace Rep. Barbara Mikulski when she left the safely Democratic 3rd District behind to wage a victorious Senate bid. Cardin easily claimed the nomination to replace her ahead of an overwhelming win, and he never had trouble holding his seat. The congressman, just like he did in the legislature, went on to become a member of the Ways & Means Committee and respected policy wonk, though essentially everyone agreed he was anything but a compelling orator. Cardin did spend much of 1997 mulling a primary campaign against Gov. Parris Glendening, who suffered from low approval ratings, but the governor successfully maneuvered to keep him out.
Cardin finally got the chance to campaign statewide in the 2006 cycle when Maryland's other Democratic senator, Paul Sarbanes, retired, and what followed were the only seriously contested primary and general election campaigns he’d ever go through. His most prominent intra-party foe was former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman who would have been the state's first Black senator.
Cardin enjoyed a big financial advantage and considerably more support from powerful state Democrats, but Mfume's charisma and deep ties with the state's large African American population made him a formidable opponent. Cardin won by a tight 44-41 margin but immediately had to prepare for an expensive showdown with Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who was Maryland’s first Black statewide elected official.
Democrats feared that, despite George W. Bush's horrible approval ratings, Steele could win enough African American support to pose a serious threat to Cardin. "The challenge of the opportunity is to build a bridge to communities the Democratic Party has taken for granted and has, by its choice of nominee," Steele declared on the campaign trail, while Mfume himself warned his party it wasn't doing enough to appeal to Black voters. This was another contest where Cardin, who joked in his own campaign ads, "Who says I'm not flashy?" faced a far more charismatic opponent, but he and his allies pushed back by tying Steele to Bush.
Cardin aired a spot late in the campaign where actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, told the audience that Steele wanted to "put limits on the most promising stem cell research." The Republican responded with his own commercial featuring his sister, a pediatrician who has multiple sclerosis, pushing back and condemning Cardin, but it wasn't enough. The Democrat prevailed 54-44, though Steele's losing effort helped launch him to a high-profile and turbulent career helming the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011; Mfume, for his part, returned to the House in a 2020 special election.
Cardin had a far easier time in 2012 when he turned back a primary challenge from state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, who had made a name for himself as a prominent opponent of same-sex marriage, 74-16. The incumbent went on to win a low-profile general election 56-26 against Republican Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who would almost win a House race two years later before reinventing himself as a Trumpian commentator.
The Cardin family suffered a political setback in the 2014 primary for attorney general when the senator's nephew, Del. Jon Cardin, took a distant second to eventual winner Brian Frosh, but Ben Cardin himself remained entrenched at home. In 2018 he won renomination in an 80-6 landslide over Chelsea Manning, the former Army soldier who was convicted of giving hundreds of thousands of classified military reports to the site Wikileaks, and he secured his final term with ease months later.
● Lincoln, NE Mayor: Republicans on Tuesday are hoping to oust Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, who is one of the few prominent Democrats who holds elected office in Nebraska, and the Flatwater Free Press' Ryan Hoffman reports that one family is spending huge to do it.
The Peed family, which owns the Lincoln-based information processing giant Sandhills Global, and their company together donated $1.1 million through April 17 to former Republican state Sen. Suzanne Geist's campaign, which Hoffman says represents about two-thirds of all the money that the candidate has received, and another $535,000 to her allied PAC. The Peeds have not revealed why they're hoping to unseat Gaylor Baird in the officially nonpartisan race, though they've become prolific GOP donors since 2020. Gaylor Baird, for her part, is hoping to portray Geist as "beholden" to her contributors.
● MI-Sen: John Tuttle, who serves as vice chair of the New York Stock Exchange, is the newest Republican name to surface as a possible contender in a race where the party doesn't currently have any viable options. Politico's Ally Mutnick writes that Tuttle, who "splits his time" between New York and Michigan, is mulling over the idea, and NRSC chair Steve Daines praised him as "a strong potential recruit."
● NJ-Sen: The New Jersey Globe writes that no notable Republicans appear interested in taking on Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez even as he's under federal investigation for corruption, though the article mentioned state Sen. Mike Testa, Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, and Warren County Commissioner Lori Ciesla as possible just-in-case contenders.
● NY-Sen: A spokesperson for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played down talk that her boss could challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for renomination, telling Politico, "She is not planning to run for Senate in 2024. She is not planning to primary Gillibrand." That answer, as the story notes, isn't quite a no, but fellow Rep. Jamaal Bowman adds that he hasn't heard any discussion of AOC running "for months or weeks."
Politico adds that, while former Rep. Mondaire Jones mulled his own campaign against Gillibrand a while back, he's now decided not to go for it and is focusing on his likely bid to regain the 17th Congressional District from Republican incumbent Mike Lawler. Disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's camp, though, characteristically didn't comment when asked about his own interest in a Senate run, which at least keeps this bit of chatter alive.
● TX-Sen: Rep. Colin Allred, reports Politico, plans to announce "as soon as this week" that he'll challenge Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a development that would give Democrats a prominent candidate in a tough state.
● WI-Sen: An unnamed source tells The Dispatch that businessman Kevin Nicholson is "keeping a close eye on" getting into the GOP primary to face Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin, a contest where the party is waiting for its first viable contender to step up. Nicholson is a former College Democrats of America president who lost the 2018 primary to face Baldwin and dropped out of last year's nomination contest for governor.
● WV-Sen: The far-right Club for Growth has launched its first TV ad against Gov. Jim Justice ahead of next year's GOP primary for $10,000, which is about how much money its endorsed candidate, Rep. Alex Mooney, devoted to his first anti-Justice broadside. This minute-long spot, which like Mooney's offering seemed to be aimed more at attracting media attention than getting seen on TV, excoriates the governor as a greedy coal billionaire who "got filthy rich by stiffing working people and small businesses out of millions, leaving a trail of tears and broken promises on his way to the Fortune 400 list."
● NH-Gov: Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig on Monday formed an exploratory committee, a step no other Democrats have taken yet as they wait to see if GOP Gov. Chris Sununu will seek another term next year. Craig, who didn't say how she'd be affected by the incumbent's deliberations, kicked off her effort with support from former Gov. John Lynch, who left office in 2013 after completing his fourth two-year term.
Later in the day 2022 nominee Tom Sherman said he would not be running again, but another Democrat isn't dismissing chatter she could campaign for governor. Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, who has reportedly been thinking about running, responded to Craig's announcement by saying, "There will be plenty of time for politics later."
● WA-Gov: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared Monday that he wouldn't seek what would have been a historic fourth term as chief executive of the Evergreen State, a move that will set off a battle to succeed him next year. Under state election law all the candidates will run on one ballot rather than in separate party primaries, and the top two contenders, regardless of party, will advance to the general election. Republicans haven't won this office since the late John Spellman prevailed in 1980, though Inslee himself only narrowly prevailed the last time this post was open in 2012.
Two of Inslee's fellow Democrats, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, have long said they'd be interested in running whenever he retired, and the Seattle Times relays that each of them are "expected to quickly announce" their bids. King County Executive Dow Constantine, though, said in March he'd be staying put.
The GOP has a small bench in this longtime Democratic bastion, and it remains to be seen if the party will be able to mount a strong effort at a time when it has no statewide elected officials to turn to. The Dispatch reported in February that former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was interested, though we haven't heard anything new since. Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, however, took his name out of contention over a month ago.
Inslee's departure marks the conclusion of a career that that's seen both plenty of triumphs and some big setbacks. The Democrat first won office in 1988 when he pulled off a close victory for the state House, and he sought a promotion four years later by running for the open 4th Congressional District in the rural central part of the state.
Inslee managed to advance to the general election by edging out Democratic state Sen. Jim Jesernig 23-22 in the blanket primary, a precursor to the modern top-two primary, but he faced a tough fight in the fall against Republican colleague Doc Hastings. Inslee won 51-49 at the same time that, according to analyst Kiernan Park-Egan, George H.W. Bush was carrying the seat 43-35 over Bill Clinton (independent Ross Perot secured another 22%), but he had little time to rest up.
Hastings came back for a rematch in 1994 and emphasized the incumbent's support for the Clinton administration's assault weapons ban, a vote the Democrat would acknowledge hurt him at home. The GOP wave hit Washington hard and Hastings unseated Inslee 53-47 at the same time that Speaker Tom Foley was losing re-election to George Nethercutt in the neighboring 5th District, and both constituencies have remained in GOP hands ever since. Another victor that year was Republican Rick White, who denied then-Rep. Maria Cantwell a second term in the 1st District near Seattle.
But while that disastrous cycle ended plenty of Democratic careers (though not Cantwell’s), Inslee was determined that his would not be one of them. The ousted congressman, who soon moved to the Puget Sound community of Bainbridge Island, announced a 1996 campaign for governor and said of his recent defeat, "What it showed was when you vote your convictions over political expediency, on occasion it's not good for your career." Inslee, though, struggled to gain traction in a field that included the eventual winner, Democratic King County Executive Gary Locke, as well as Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, and he finished fifth in the blanket primary with just 10%.
Inslee then set his sights on a 1998 House comeback bid against White in a constituency that, per Park-Egan, had supported Clinton 51-37 two years before. Inslee, who had no intra-party opposition this time, was in for a difficult fight in a seat both parties identified as a major battleground, and White's 50-44 lead in the blanket primary seemed to foreshadow another uphill race for the Democrat.
The incumbent, though, wasn't as strong as he appeared to be. White had just gone through a high-profile divorce, and he feared that the third-party candidacy of social conservative Bruce Craswell would cost him some much-needed support. Inslee, meanwhile, ran ads blasting the Republicans for waging a long impeachment battle against Clinton, which proved to be a compelling argument that year. Inslee got back to the House by winning 49.8-44.1, with Craswell taking the balance.
Inslee's second stint in Washington, D.C., went far better for him than his first, and he never failed to win re-election by double digits. The Democrat, however, decided to give up his secure seat in 2012 for another campaign for governor even though retiring incumbent Christine Gregoire's weak approval ratings presented a big opening for the GOP. Republicans quickly consolidated around Attorney General Rob McKenna, who had scored a 59-41 victory in 2008 during an awful year for his party, while Inslee also had no serious intra-party opposition.
Most polls through July showed McKenna in the lead but Inslee, who resigned his seat to focus on his statewide bid, worked hard to tie his opponent to unpopular national Republicans. The Democrat, in one debate, responded to the attorney general's declaration that he didn't want Washington to be a place where a third of residents were on Medicare by saying, "Remember when Mitt Romney talked about the 47% that just weren't sort of part of our family in a sense? And now my opponent says that this one out of three somehow should not have insurance." McKenna worked to win over enough Obama voters to prevail, but he wasn't able to take quite enough: Inslee instead scored a 52-48 victory at a time when the president was carrying Washington 56-41.
The new governor got a big setback before he took office when two renegade Democrats in the state Senate, Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom, put the GOP minority in charge of the chamber even though Democrats nominally held a 26-23 edge. Inslee himself appeared to be a tempting target for 2016 after several polls showed him with an unimpressive approval rating, but potentially strong GOP foes like McKenna and Rep. Dave Reichert sat the race out. The Republican who eventually stepped forward, Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, struggled with fundraising, and the governor beat him 54-46 as Hillary Clinton was scoring a 53-37 victory here.
Inslee had a better second term, especially after a 2017 special election put his party in control of the state Senate at long last, and in 2019 he joined a crowded presidential field. The governor's would-be successors, though, found themselves waiting for months to see if he'd turn around and seek a third term at home, which is exactly what happened when Inslee ended his White House quest in the face of poor polling. Inslee went on to become the first three-term governor since Dan Evans secured re-election in 1972 after he scored an easy 57-43 victory over far-right foe Loren Culp, a former small-town police chief who refused to recognize his landslide loss.
Kaplan, a Jewish refugee from Iran who came to the United States as a child, was a North Hempstead town councilwoman when she took fourth place in the 2016 nomination fight for a previous version of this seat. She had far more success two years later when she decisively unseated Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips, but Kaplan went on to lose her 2022 general election to former state Sen. Jack Martins 53-47. Martins himself didn't rule out a campaign of his own against Santos in January, though he didn't sound likely to go for it.
● WA-03: Camas City Councilor Leslie Lewallen announced last week that she'd run as a Republican in next year's top-two primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. Lewallen, whose city has a population of just over 27,000, argued, "We already have a plan to raise more than the $5 million it will take to win this seat." This southwestern Washington constituency favored Donald Trump 51-47.
Lewallen joins a field that already includes Joe Kent, the far-right Republican who announced in December that he'd run to avenge his 50.1-49.9 upset loss against Gluesenkamp Perez from the month before. The incumbent, though, massively outraised Kent $820,000 to $200,000 during the first quarter of 2023, and she finished March with a $660,000 to $210,000 cash-on-edge advantage.