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, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● Election Night 2017: In an astoundingly enormous night, Democrats utterly crushed Republicans in just about every major race across the country, but the exclamation point came, without any doubt, in Virginia. There, despite much fretting, Democrat Ralph Northam obliterated Republican Ed Gillespie by a dominant 54-45 margin, far exceeding the polls, which averaged out to just a 3-point Northam lead. Not only was this the biggest Democratic win in a governor’s race in the Old Dominion since 1985, it showed just how toxic Donald Trump is to suburban voters—and just how badly Gillespie’s openly racist message failed.
But the victories hardly stopped there. Democrats also held Virginia’s two other statewide posts, as Justin Fairfax won the open lieutenant governorship and Mark Herring was re-elected as attorney general, both by 53-47 margins.
Downballot, though, was the scene of an even bigger, historic, and downright epic bloodbath, and perhaps the biggest harbinger for 2018. Republicans entered the night with an enormous 66-34 advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates, but Democrats smashed all expectations and had picked up a monster 15 seats by the time we put the Digest to bed—the biggest Democratic year since 1899. That shrunk the GOP’s edge to just 51-49, and some late-breaking races could yet go the Democrats’ way (though some recounts may also be in store), potentially setting the party up to take over the chamber—an outcome no one could have imagined or dared to predict. Republicans in the U.S. House should be very worried.
Oh, but we’re not done yet—not at all. Democrats also picked up New Jersey’s governorship, with Democrat Phil Murphy socking it to Republican Kim Guadagno by a hefty 56-42 margin, and held both chambers of the state legislature, even picking up a few seats. That once again gives Democrats complete control of state government, the so-called “trifecta,” and the chance to enact progressive policies long thwarted by outgoing Gov. Chris Christie. Enjoy the beach!
On the mayoral front, Democrats did very well, too. In Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, Democrat Joyce Craig unseated Republican Ted Gatsas, a longtime incumbent, by a 53-47 spread, giving Democrats the mayoralty for the first time since 2003. Two years ago, Gatsas beat Joyce by 85 votes to win re-election. In St. Petersburg, Florida, meanwhile, Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman held off Republican Rick Baker, a popular former mayor, winning a second term 52-48. And in Charlotte, North Carolina, Democrat Vi Lyles trounced Republican Kenny Smith 59-41, making her the city’s first African-American woman mayor. Finally, in Maine, progressives successfully expanded Medicaid at the ballot box, which had been vetoed five times by GOP Gov. Paul LePage, winning by a wide 59-41 margin.
All in all, it was an extraordinary election for Democrats, and there was nary a bright spot for Republicans. And we’re not done yet: There were several races still in play by the time we put the Digest to bed, but we’ll dive into them in our next edition. But while the GOP may freak out a bit, they’ll soon regroup and hunker down for next year’s midterm elections, so Democrats will have to stay on the attack and fight harder than ever.
● AZ-Sen, AZ-02: Rep. Martha McSally is almost certainly the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate in this open Senate race, and she sounds ready to do them a solid. McSally reportedly has told her House colleagues that she’ll seek a promotion, though she didn’t say when she’ll announce. McSally is a very strong fundraiser, and she decisively won her second term last year in a swingy House seat. However, the anti-establishment group the Club for Growth has made it clear they’d oppose her in the primary. If McSally runs for the Senate, Democrats should have a better shot at her Tucson-area district, which went from 50-48 Romney to 50-45 Clinton.
● CA-Gov: This week, ex-Rep. Doug Ose, a Republican, told the Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago that he’s considering running for governor. Ose represented a Sacramento-area seat for three terms and voluntarily bowed to term limits in 2004, though not before exploring a Senate bid. Ose launched a comeback bid in a neighboring seat in 2008 and lost the primary to eventual winner Tom McClintock 53-39. Ose ran again in 2014 against Democratic Rep. Ami Bera for a swing seat and lost the most expensive House contest of the year 50.4-49.6.
A few other Republicans are already running to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, but no one is exactly standing out here. The GOP has very little chance to actually win this race, but Team Red is afraid that two Democrats will advance through top-two primary and leave Republicans with no gubernatorial nominee in November, which could tank conservative turnout for races they actually can win. While Ose hasn’t held elected office in over a decade, he could be a strong enough candidate for the GOP establishment to consolidate behind. Ose is also wealthy, though he probably doesn’t have enough personal resources to self-fund a campaign in this very expensive state. And while Ose had a reputation as a moderate in Congress, he’s since reinvented himself as a Trump ally.
● ME-Gov: Alan Caron, an entrepreneur who founded a nonprofit that works on ways to improve Maine’s economy, has joined the race for governor as an independent. The Portland Press-Herald writes that a report charting Maine’s economic future that Caron’s nonprofit worked on with the prominent Brookings Institution think tank was “widely cited” at the time back in 2006, though it’s unclear just how well-known Caron is in business and economic-development circles. Caron is the second independent to enter the race after state Treasurer Terry Hayes previously did so.
● RI-Gov: While there were some rumors that Lt. Gov. Dan McKee was interested in challenging Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo in next year’s primary, McKee announced on Tuesday that he would seek re-election.
● TX-Gov: Democrats still lack a prominent candidate to face Republican Gov. Greg Abbott next year, but Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said on Monday that she is considering a gubernatorial campaign and is “in the exploratory process.” Valdez was first elected in 2004 and won a 59-37 landslide to secure a fourth term last year, which would make her a relatively high-profile candidate in a state where Democrats have a weak bench among current officeholders for a statewide race. However, Valdez or any other Democrat considering joining the race won’t have that much longer to decide, since the filing deadline is Dec. 11.
● FL-05: First-term Democratic Rep. Al Lawson drew his first primary challenger after Rontel Batie joined the race. Batie is an ex-lobbyist and former policy director for ex-Rep. Corrine Brown, whom Lawson ousted in a primary challenge of his own in 2016. Batie conspicuously claimed to have no knowledge of the details of the legal case against Brown that saw her convicted for fraud and tax evasion earlier this year. Batie, who is 29, made a strong case for a new generation of leadership against the 69-year-old Lawson, but it’s unclear if he has the chops to run a serious race.
One other Democrat presumably won’t be joining the race. State Sen. Audrey Gibson, an ally of Brown, had been mentioned as a potential primary challenger, but her colleagues recently selected her to lead the state Senate’s Democratic caucus for the next legislative term, making it unlikely that she’d turn around and run for House this cycle. The 5th District stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and is safely Democratic.
● IA-01: Former Labor Department staffer Thomas Heckroth is out with a survey from the Democratic firm PPP, which gives Democrats good news in their bid to oust Republican Rep. Rod Blum. PPP finds Heckroth defeating Blum by 42-41, while their poll also has state Rep. Abby Finkenauer with a 43-42 advantage over Blum. Neither of the two Democrats has much name recognition, but Blum’s horrific 33 percent approval rating and 52 percent disapproval rating would make him incredibly vulnerable, if accurate. However, there’s been very limited polling available to compare with this survey.
Blum has been no pushover, though, after he comfortably dispatched a well-funded Democratic challenger last year as this northeastern Iowa seat lurched from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump. It’s still the sort of light-red district that Democrats likely need to put into play in their quest to retake the House next year, however, and national Democrats have shown interest in targeting Blum once again.
● KS-02: On Tuesday, former state Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave dropped his bid for the GOP nod for this Topeka-area seat. Soave began attracting bad headlines almost from the beginning of his campaign less than two months ago, and the last straw came days after Gov. Sam Brownback reversed course and admitted he had fired Soave this year over “several consulting contracts that reflected a lack of judgment and that the Governor felt were inappropriate.” Brownback’s belated admission came after The Kansas City Star identified several Soave business associates who had received state contracts during his tenure. But at least Soave will always have that time he starred in a commercial that also featured Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, Ann Cusack, and Elliott Gould that called for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
● NJ-02: This is the sort of retirement that makes Republicans queasy and Democrats salivate—and would have been our lead item any other day: GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who has represented southern New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District for over two decades, announced that he will retire at the end of this term. Had LoBiondo, one of the more pragmatic members of the Republican caucus, opted to run once more, Democrats would have been hard-pressed to unseat him: He’s never won re-election by less than double digits and has almost always prevailed by 20 points or more.
But with LoBiondo gone, everything will change. The 2nd District voted for Donald Trump by a 51-46 margin, but four years earlier, it went for Barack Obama by an even wider 54-45 spread. Now that it’s open, that swinginess makes this seat a prime target for Democrats. And one name we’re sure to hear about is state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who has been the focus of recruiters’ ardor every cycle since 2006. He’s never gone for it, but with incumbency no longer an obstacle, a congressional bid will look a lot more appealing now. Whatever Van Drew decides, though, this will be a top-tier race next year.
And there are almost assuredly more retirements to come. Indeed, an unnamed “Republican campaign official” told Politico on Tuesday not to be “surprised” if “several” more House GOP members announce their departures this week; the rest may be waiting until after Election Day. And food for thought: The rate of Republican departures is already higher than it was back in 2006. That year, Democrats netted 30 seats. They need 24 to retake the House in 2018.
● TX-02: For the third time in the span of eight days, a Texas Republican congressman announced his retirement. On Tuesday night, minutes before polls closed in Virginia, GOP Rep. Ted Poe announced that he would not seek an eighth term. Poe’s seat, which awkwardly loops around the Houston area from Atascocita in the northeast to Northwest Houston, went from a very rough 63-36 Romney to a less-rough 52-43 Trump. This is going to be a very uphill battle for Team Blue even with Poe gone, but it may be winnable in a wave year. Democrat Todd Litton, a non-profit executive, had been running against Poe for several months, and he had a notable $230,000 in the bank at the end of September. We’ll have much more on Poe’s potential GOP successors very soon.
● TX-05: On Monday, ex-state Rep. Kenneth Sheets became the first noteworthy Republican to announce a bid to succeed retiring Rep. Jeb Hensarling. Sheets won three terms representing a Dallas County seat, but he narrowly lost re-election to Democrat Victoria Neave last year. Sheets’ defeat gives him an unwelcome distinction: While 11 state House seats swung from Romney to Clinton, Sheets was the only Republican to lose any of them.
This seat, which stretches from Dallas into rural East Texas, backed Trump 63-34, and the GOP nominee is unlikely to have any trouble in the general election. A number of other Republicans, most notably notorious ex-Florida Rep. Allen West, have made noises about running here. The candidate filing deadline is Dec. 11. We can cross one name off the list, however: State Sen. Bryan Hughes announced on Tuesday that he would stay in the legislature.
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