Morning Digest: Our new guide has the scoop on every major Senate race

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

Senate: Daily Kos Elections is proud to unveil contributing editor Steve Singiser’s guide to the huge 2024 Senate battlefield. Democrats face a tough map as they defend their 51-49 edge, but, as Singiser argues, there is a very real chance the party could maintain control by holding their losses to just a single seat and keeping the vice presidency.

  • The Big Seven. Democrats hold the seven most competitive seats in the nation, but they have formidable incumbents on the ballot in most of these states. There’s still plenty of drama, though, over whether Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema will run again even as polls show her lagging in third place.
  • Ugly Republican primaries. Republicans must sort through expensive nomination contests in Michigan and Ohio before they can turn their focus toward flipping those seats. Montana Sen. Jon Tester is also eagerly watching to see if Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale actually goes through with his threats to take on NRSC favorite Tim Sheehy.
  • Democratic Reaches. Democrats have familiar candidates in Florida and Texas, two huge states where even a single Democratic pickup could dramatically alter the Senate math.

Check out Singiser’s piece for more on each of these races, and many others, as we get ready for the calendar to flip to 2024!

Election Recaps

● Houston, TX Mayor & TX-18: State Sen. John Whitmire defeated his fellow Houston Democrat, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, 64-36 in Saturday’s nonpartisan runoff for mayor. The victorious Whitmire cultivated a moderate image and a strong relationship with several prominent conservative donors, and he massively outspent his opponent. Jackson Lee also drew bad headlines in October when an anonymous person posted what they claimed was audio of the congresswoman berating her employees.

Jackson Lee has not yet announced if she’ll turn around and seek reelection to the safely blue 18th District she first won in 1994, but she notability used her concession speech to declare, “I hope you’ll allow me to continue to work and serve you as I have done in the past because that is what I will do.” The candidate filing deadline for the March 5 primary is today at 7 PM ET/6 PM local time; a May 28 runoff would take place if no one won a majority of the vote.

Two notable Democrats, former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards and aerospace industry consultant Isaiah Martin, launched campaigns months ago to replace Jackson Lee in Congress. Edwards, who finished September with $829,000 in the bank, supported Jackson Lee’s mayoral campaign, but she reiterated Sunday she would continue to run no matter what the incumbent does. Martin, who had $284,000 on hand, has praised Jackson Lee as a mentor, and he does not appear to have said if he’d be willing to face her.

Senate

IN-Sen: Wealthy egg farmer John Rust’s uphill campaign for the GOP nod got a new lease on life Thursday when a state judge blocked a law that would have prevented him from appearing on the May primary ballot. The secretary of state’s office did not immediately say if it would appeal the decision. Rep. Jim Banks, who is the frontrunner to claim the nod, himself snarked, “If Democrat John Rust gets his name on the ballot, then I look forward to comparing his liberal background and criminal price-gouging scheme with my conservative record.”

The law in question only allows candidates to run with the party they belong to, and the easiest way for Hoosiers to establish party affiliation is to cast their two most recent primary votes in that side’s nomination contests. (There is no party registration in Indiana.) But while Rust most recently participated in the 2016 GOP primary, his prior vote was in the 2012 Democratic race. Candidates can get an exemption if their local party chair certifies that they belong to the party, but Jackson County party head Amanda Lowery said in August she wouldn’t do this.

“It’s clear to me that this law is in place to protect the power and control that political parties have over elected offices,” Rust said when he filed his lawsuit in September, and Judge Patrick Dietrick agreed with him. He wrote the law “protects incumbents and other party insiders, and disqualifies candidates like Rust, who are constitutionally qualified to run but precluded due to the statute.”

Rust’s legal victory came weeks after his family business suffered a huge court loss in a different matter. A federal jury determined just before Thanksgiving that Rose Acre Farms and two other companies were liable for price-fixing, and it soon ordered them to pay $17.7 million in damages. Rust, who chaired Ross’ board until September, said the decision “will be appealed.”

NJ-Sen: Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who had been weighing a bid for Senate, announced on Friday that he would instead run for reelection. On the Democratic side, the New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein reports that former Rep. Tom Malinowski is still considering jumping into the race. The Star-Ledger said the same thing in September, but we still have yet to hear from Malinowski directly. If he does get in, he’d be joining a primary that already features two heavyweight candidates, former financier Tammy Murphy and Rep. Andy Kim.

WI-Sen: Rich guy Eric Hovde tells the conservative site Wisconsin Right Now that he’s still deciding whether to enter the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, comments that came shortly after NRSC chair Steve Daines proclaimed, “Eric Hovde is going to get in that race.” Hovde himself said, “I’m flattered by people’s support for Wisconsin and the NRSC. And I’m seriously looking at the race, but right now my focus is on wrapping up the year-end with my companies and the holidays with my family.”

Governors

NC-Gov: Sen. Thom Tillis on Friday became the first major North Carolina Republican to endorse wealthy businessman Bill Graham over Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is the frontrunner in the March primary. “Mark Robinson’s a good enough guy. I don’t know him that well,” the senator told the conservative National Review. “But he has virtually no legislative experience, very little business experience.”

Robinson’s intra-party critics have fretted that his past antisemitic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic screeds, as well as his ardent opposition to reproductive rights, could cost them next year’s general election, but Tillis did not mention any of this.

House

CA-20: Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis says he won’t run in the expected special election to replace Kevin McCarthy, thus depriving us of a potential Devon vs. Devin matchup should former GOP Rep. Devin Nunes decide to make a go of it.

CO-04: Former state Sen. Ted Harvey declared Wednesday that he was entering the crowded June GOP primary to replace the retiring incumbent, Republican Rep. Ken Buck.

Harvey, who chaired the pro-Trump super PAC once known as the “Committee to Defend the President,” (it’s now the “Committee to Defeat the President”) signaled he’d represent a return to the type of far-right politics that Buck once represented. “Like Trump, I have the battle scars and a proven conservative record so that voters will never question if I will keep fighting for our conservative, limited-government values against the corruption in both parties,” he declared.

One of those battle scars is from 2008 when Harvey, who had won a promotion from the state House to the upper chamber two years before, campaigned for a previous version of the 6th Congressional District. “There certainly isn’t anyone in this race that is more conservative than I am,” he claimed, but primary voters didn’t agree. Secretary of State Mike Coffman beat his nearest foe, Wil Armstrong, 40-33, while Harvey was a distant third with 15%. The state senator secured one more term in the legislature in 2010, and he was termed out at the start of 2015.

IA-01: RMG Research’s internal for U.S. Term Limits shows GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading 2022 Democratic nominee Christina Bohannan 38-35 in their rematch. The poll goes on to tell respondents that Bohannan “signed the U.S. Term Limits Pledge and supports term limits, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks has not signed.”

NC-08, NC-10: Republican state Rep. John Bradford declared Friday that he was ending his campaign for state treasurer so he could run for the U.S. House, though he said he’d seek the 8th District rather than the 10th. WBT Radio also says that Bradford is willing to self-fund up to $2 million to replace far-right Rep. Dan Bishop, who is leaving this dark red constituency to run for attorney general.

Bradford told The Assembly days before that he was mulling a bid to succeed retiring Rep. Patrick McHenry in the latter seat, though it’s the 8th that’s home to part of his home county of Mecklenburg. The March GOP primary field for Bishop’s seat already included former Union County Commissioner Allan Baucom; attorney Don Brown; and pastor Mark Harris, whose 2018 House campaign was responsible for one the most ignominious election fraud scandals in recent memory.

NC-10, NC-14: The Assembly’s Jim Morrill writes that an unnamed member of former state Court of Appeals Judge Eric Levinson’s team says the Republican could switch from running from the 14th District to the 10th.

Wealthy firearms manufacturer Pat Harrigan made this very move Tuesday when GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry unexpectedly announced he would not seek reelection to the 10th. State House Speaker Tim Moore is the favorite to claim the newly gerrymandered 14th, while there’s no obvious frontrunner to replace McHenry days ahead of the Dec. 15 filing deadline.

NY-03: Former state Sen. Anna Kaplan dropped out of the race for New York’s 3rd District on Thursday and endorsed former Rep. Tom Suozzi. The move follows a decision by local Democratic leaders to tap Suozzi as the party’s nominee for the Feb. 13 special election to replace George Santos.

However, that election is just for the final year of Santos’ term. There will also be a November election for a full two-year term, with a primary on June 25. Should Suozzi lose the special, Kaplan, who has a $419,000 campaign war chest, would be well-positioned to run in the regularly scheduled election. A third Democrat in the race, Army veteran Austin Cheng, does not appear to have announced his plans in the wake of Suozzi’s selection.

OH-06: The large field of Republicans hoping to succeed Rep. Bill Johnson continues to grow, with both state Sen. Michael Rulli​ and state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus​​ confirming their entry into the race. Johnson is set to step down next year to take a job as president of Youngstown State University.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Ron Ferguson, who had reportedly been considering a bid, has now publicly confirmed his interest​. But former state Rep. Christina Hagan​, who lost to Democratic incumbent Tim Ryan in a 2020 race for the old 13th District, tells the Canton Repository she’s unlikely to run​ to replace Johnson. Unless I get some overwhelming shift of calling in the next several days, I will likely be keeping my service close to home​,” she told the paper. “I don’t want to miss these precious years with our young family​.”

OR-05: U.S. Term Limits has publicized a survey of the May Democratic primary conducted Nov. 14-17 by RMG Research, and it shows 2022 nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner beating state Rep. Janelle Bynum 41-9; Oregon Metro Council President Lynn Peterson secures 4%, while a 44% plurality are undecided. The poll sampled 300 people, which is the bare minimum we require for inclusion in the Digest.

The memo goes on to argue that McLeod-Skinner will expand her lead in the race to take on freshman GOP Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer once Democratic voters learn she “signed the U.S. Term Limits Pledge and supports term limits, but the other candidates oppose term limits.” (The release did not include general election numbers.)

Legislatures

PA State Senate: Pennsylvania Democrats got some welcome news Friday when Republican state Sen. John DiSanto announced he would not seek reelection to his seat in the Harrisburg area. DiSanto made his declaration several weeks after Democratic state Rep. Patty Kim launched her campaign to unseat him in a constituency that, according to data from Dave’s Redistricting App, favored Joe Biden 57-42.

Republicans, who have run the state Senate since the 1994 elections, hold a 28-22 majority in a chamber where half of the seats are up each cycle. The state constitution places limits on how Lt. Gov. Austin Davis could break ties, so Democrats need to net four seats to have complete control.

VA State House: A recount in the race for the 82nd District in the Virginia House has been set for Dec. 19. Republican Del. Kim Taylor leads her Democratic challenger Kimberly Pope Adams by 78 votes out of 28,542 cast, a difference of 0.3%. Regardless of the outcome, though, Democrats will enjoy a majority when the House reconvenes in January after winning 51 of the chamber’s 100 seats in last month’s elections.

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