Morning Digest: New districts in Alabama and North Carolina mean new data from Daily Kos Elections

The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.

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Leading Off

● Redistricting: At Daily Kos Elections, mid-decade redistricting means new data, and we’ve got that for you in spades.

Two states have brought us new congressional maps for entirely opposite reasons: Alabama, to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and North Carolina, so that Republicans can gerrymander at least three Democratic seats out of existence. To keep up with these changes, we’ve updated three key resources.

The first is our gold-standard database of the 2020 presidential election results for every congressional district. There’s also our unique hexmap, which solves the problem of urban erasure—and giant red stretches of empty land—by rendering each House district the same size. Finally, we’ve worked up new geographic descriptions of the new districts and also calculated the largest cities in each one.

Find links to all of these resources, along with full explanations of each one, in our new post.

The Downballot

● Every political junkie consumes polls, but how much do you know about focus groups? We wanted to learn more—much more—about this critical campaign tool, so we invited Margie Omero of GBAO Strategies to join us on this week’s episode of The Downballot. Omero gets into the nitty-gritty to tell us how focus groups are actually convened, the best ways to moderate them, and what participants have been saying about abortion ever since the Dobbs decision. Those views were key to understanding why last year’s red wave narrative was flawed and shed light on what we can expect in 2024.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also dissect the big new redistricting decision from New York’s top court, which just ordered the state to use a new congressional map next year. The Davids explain why the court ruled as it did and game out what might happen next. As with so much in New York politics, the picture is cloudy, but Democrats stand to benefit—though don’t expect an extreme gerrymander like the infamous “baconmander.”

Subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You’ll find a transcript of this week’s episode right here by noon Eastern time.

Senate

AZ-Sen: The Democratic pollster Tulchin Research’s survey for Stand for Children Arizona, a group that describes itself as “a unique catalyst for education equity and racial justice,” finds Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego with the lead in a three-way general election. Gallego posts a 39-34 edge over election denier Kari Lake, who is the favorite to claim the GOP nod, with Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema at 17%. The poll, which also finds Joe Biden and Donald Trump deadlocked 42-42, does not test a one-on-one contest between Gallego and Lake.

WI-Sen: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling finds former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke far ahead in its survey of a hypothetical August GOP primary to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. (PPP tells us this was not done for a client.) The poll has the far-right Clarke dwarfing the NRSC’s recruit, rich guy Eric Hovde, 52-7, with businessman Scott Mayer taking 6%. The former sheriff beats Hovde 51-10 in a one-on-one matchup, while he leads Mayer 52-6.

PPP shows that Clarke, who was still a very nominal Democrat when he resigned as sheriff in 2017, posts a strong 52-13 favorable rating with GOP primary voters. Hovde, by contrast, is comparatively anonymous with an 11-11 score over a decade after he narrowly lost the 2012 Senate primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson; Mayer, who has never run for office, barely registers at 5-7. Both Hovde and Mayer, though, would have the money to get their names out, and national Republicans would likely spend plenty to ensure that Clarke is not their nominee.

None of these three men are currently running, though they’ve all said they’ll decide early next year. NRSC chair Steve Daines even said last week that Hovde “is gonna get in,” though the would-be candidate wouldn’t publicly commit to running himself.

House

NC-13: Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel says he’ll announce Thursday morning if he’ll seek reelection in a seat where Republicans gerrymandered him for defeat. The state’s filing deadline is Friday.

NY-??: Former Rep. Carolyn Maloney told NBC 4 New York on Tuesday that she’d like to return to the House, a declaration that came hours after New York’s highest court ordered the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission to draw a new congressional map to be used in next year’s elections.

Maloney, who lost last year’s Democratic primary to fellow Manhattan Rep. Jerry Nadler in a 55-24 landslide, told reporter Melissa Russo, “If they draw a district I could win in, of course I’d run.” The two 30-year incumbents faced off last year after a court crafted a new safely blue seat that placed Maloney’s Upper East Side base and Nadler’s Upper West Side turf in the same district for the first time since World War I. For Maloney to have a shot at a comeback, a new map would almost certainly have to once again separate the two neighborhoods.

However, it’s anyone’s guess whether the former congresswoman will get any sort of “district I could win in,” or whether the new boundaries will ensure that Maloney’s forced retirement from the House is permanent. As Daily Kos’ Stephen Wolf explained earlier this week, several steps remain before a new map can be finalized, and there’s no telling how things might unfold.

Maloney isn’t the only politician in the Empire State who will be watching to see if they have a winnable district to run for once a final map is in place. Last month, one notable Democrat, New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, declined to rule out challenging GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis in the 11th District. The current version of that seat, which includes all of Staten Island and a portion of Brannan’s Brooklyn base, backed Donald Trump 53-46 in 2020, but Brannan and other Democrats are hoping that the new map will leave Malliotakis more vulnerable.

But for now, Maloney, Brannan, and numerous other would-be contenders across New York can only plan out runs for a Schrödinger’s Seat, a term we coined more than a decade ago at the Swing State Project to refer to a constituency that may or may not come into being after redistricting. (The “NY-??” header leading off this item is our shorthand for expressing this uncertainty.)

Candidates who have already announced bids for office under the old map are also in a similar situation, as the new maps may entice them to run in a district that looks quite different from the one they’re currently seeking—or even convince them to end their campaigns.

The calendar also adds to the confusion. The candidate filing deadline for the state’s June 25 primary will take place sometime around late March (the exact date has not been set), which is only about a month after the redistricting commission’s court-ordered Feb. 28 deadline to submit a new map to the legislature.

Last year, though, the courts drew new maps for both the U.S. House and state Senate so close to the regularly scheduled June primary that a second August primary was held just for those offices. The Empire State is already set to host its presidential primary on April 2, so it’s possible more delays in redistricting could result in three different primary dates next year.

OH-06: Former state Rep. Christina Hagan tells The Vindicator’s David Skolnick she’s ruled out a run to succeed her fellow Republican, outgoing Rep. Bill Johnson. Skolnick adds that Johnson says he “plans to resign in February or early March” to take over as president of Youngstown State University, though there’s no direct quote from the soon-to-be-former congressman.

Prosecutors and Sheriffs

Bolts Magazine’s Daniel Nichanian takes a look at the big prosecutor and sheriff elections to watch in 2024, including a list of which jurisdictions are up next year.

One major Democratic primary coming up soon takes place on March 19 in Ohio, where Nichanian writes that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley is “known for the frequency with which he seeks death sentences.” O’Malley is trying to fend off an intraparty challenge from law professor Matthew Ahn, who has pledged not to seek capital punishment, in a reliably blue county that’s home to Cleveland.

There’s also plenty to see in the November general election. Over in Kansas, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden serves a large suburban Kansas City community that swung hard to the left during the Trump era. However, Nichanian writes that the two-term Republican incumbent “is just one of the many sheriffs who have linked up with election deniers and other far-right organizations, using the power of the badge to push their agenda.”

Hayden won both his campaigns without opposition, but things will be quite different in 2024. Former undersheriff Doug Bedford announced in October that he would oppose his old boss in the Aug. 6 Republican primary, telling the Kansas City Star, “I would do my best to stay out of partisan politics. The sheriff―you need to be everybody’s sheriff and that’s how I lead.” Prairie Village Police Chief Byron Roberson, who was the first Black person to lead any police department in the county, has the Democratic field to himself.

Check out Nichanian’s story for a whole lot more on 2024’s crucial criminal justice contests. We’ll also be taking a look at the latest developments in a trio of district attorney races below.

Harris County, TX District Attorney: The leadership of the Harris County Democratic Party voted 129-61 on Tuesday night to pass a resolution condemning District Attorney Kim Ogg for failing to represent the party’s values. The vote comes less than three months before Ogg faces her one-time subordinate, former prosecutor Sean Teare, in the March 5 Democratic primary. The winner will take on Republican Dan Simons, who served as a prosecutor when the GOP ran this office and has no opposition for the Republican nomination.

The measure, among other things, declares that Ogg “abused the power of her office to pursue personal vendettas against her political opponents, sided with Republicans to advance their extremist agenda, and stood in the way of fixing the broken criminal justice system.” Those allegations are similar to the ones leveled by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who holds the county’s top executive post, against her fellow Democrat.

Last year, after Ogg indicted three of the judge’s top aides for allegedly directing an $11 million contract for a COVID vaccine outreach project to a preferred political consultant, Hidalgo’s legal team claimed this was political and personal “retaliation.” The judge last month endorsed Teare, who has blasted the ongoing investigation into Hidalgo’s office as “politically motivated.”

The resolution also criticizes Ogg for not joining five of her counterparts last year in signing a letter declaring they would “refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.” Ogg, for her part, supported Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner when he said his city “will not prioritize utilizing resources” to enforce Texas’ draconian anti-abortion laws. She also dismissed the party’s condemnation as the result of a “misinformation campaign” from precinct chairs who “seek to create dysfunction.”

Teare outraised Ogg by a gigantic $748,000 to $56,000 during the first six months of 2023 thanks mostly to two major donors, and he ended June with a $608,000 to $275,000 cash on hand advantage.

Teare launched his bid in late May, but as we wrote in the spring, there were already signs of tensions between him and his former superior. In March, Ogg’s office faulted him for a plea deal he’d reached on his last day as a prosecutor with a driver charged in a fatal hit-and-run. The deal was revoked, with Ogg’s top deputy saying the district attorney “has to approve a matter like this, and she would not have approved it.” Teare, though, defended his decision to Houston Public Media as he kicked off his campaign and said of the criticism, “It goes directly to how this administration likes to bully people.”

Ogg made history in 2016 when she became the first gay person elected to this post, as well as the first Democrat to serve as district attorney in nearly four decades. Ogg secured renomination four years later 55-24 against former prosecutors who went after her for opposing a plan to end cash bail and for continuing to charge people for marijuana possession. The district attorney won reelection 54-46 as Joe Biden was carrying Harris County 56-43, but the GOP is hoping to have an opening here next year.

Los Angeles County, CA District Attorney: Candidate filing closed last week for the March 5 nonpartisan primary, and the Los Angeles Daily News writes that 11 different contenders are challenging incumbent George Gascón to become district attorney for America’s most populous county:

  • county Judge Debra Archuleta
  • former federal prosecutor Jeff Chemerinsky
  • county prosecutor Jonathan Hatami
  • 2022 attorney general candidate Nathan Hochman
  • defense attorney Dan Kapelovitz
  • county prosecutor Lloyd Masson
  • county prosecutor John McKinney
  • former county Judge David Milton
  • county Judge Craig Mitchell
  • county prosecutor Maria Ramirez
  • county prosecutor Eric Siddall

The top two candidates would advance to the Nov. 5 general election unless someone takes a majority in the first round.

Gascón, who’s called himself the “godfather of progressive prosecutors,” unseated incumbent Jackie Lacey in 2020, and he’s been a favorite target of conservatives ever since that win. The new district attorney took over at a time when crime was on the rise nationally, but opponents of his reforms, including some of his own subordinates, didn’t hesitate to blame him for the spike and even tried to recall him from office early.

No one has emerged as Gascón’s main foe yet. The most familiar opponent may be Hochman, who challenged Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta last year as a Republican and lost 59-41. Hochman, who lost reliably blue Los Angeles County 67-33, now identifies as an independent.

Westchester County, NY District Attorney: News 12 writes that four candidates are already competing in the June Democratic primary to succeed retiring District Attorney Mimi Rocah as the top prosecutor for this large and reliably blue county. The newest contender is Susan Cacace, who announced Monday one week after retiring as a county judge. “I think Westchester needs someone who can make it safer,” argued Cacace. “I know the office. I know the players in the office.”

Another name to watch is civil rights lawyer William Wagstaff, who would be Westchester County’s first Black district attorney. Wagstaff, who pled guilty to a credit card scam in 2004, debuted a video Wednesday describing how he went to law school almost two decades ago while under federal house arrest but got a second chance. “The role of a prosecutor should be more like the role of a parent,” he tells the audience. “Parents disciple their children, but they do it from a space of compassion.” Politico writes that Wagstaff “says he’s not a progressive,” while quoting the candidate calling himself “somebody who wants to be smart on crime.”

The field also includes defense attorney Adeel Mirza, who left the district attorney’s office in 2021 after Rocah didn’t reappoint him. Mirza told the Rockland/Westchester Journal News last month that the district attorney should focus more on combatting hate crimes and less on “prosecuting poverty,” adding that he believes the office has seen too much turnover under Rocah.

The final declared candidate is Sheralyn Pulver Goodman, a public defender who leads the county’s Independent Office of Assigned Counsel. Goodman lost a 2019 contest for the Yorktown Town Board, and she’s currently an official in the county Democratic Party. “I have been there through every point of evolution in the criminal justice system responding to issues of the day,” she told the paper. “So I well understand who the people who come into it are, what drives them into it, the need for opportunity in some cases and the need for certain accountability in others.”

PayPal executive Dave Szuchman also informed News 12 last week that he’s considering joining the Democratic contest. Szuchman, who previously served as a Manhattan assistant district attorney and as a federal prosecutor, stressed his “over 20 years of experience learning how to do cyber crime cases.” No Republicans have stepped forward yet in a county that Joe Biden carried 68-31.

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