Morning Digest: The field is now set in the race to replace George Santos

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

NY-03: Multiple media outlets reported Thursday that Republican leaders have chosen Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip for the Feb. 13 special election to succeed George Santos, and there’s a lot to learn about the new nominee:

  • A newcomer vs. a mainstay. Pilip, who was airlifted from Ethiopia to Israel as a child refugee, first won elected office in 2021, while her Democratic rival, former Tom Suozzi, has been a fixture of Long Island politics for decades. Both sides are hoping the comparison will work to their advantage.

  • An already infamous photo. While Pilip easily won reelection last month, her Democratic rival shared a photo of her smiling alongside Santos that she almost certainly wishes she could take back. Don’t be surprised if it reappears during the campaign.

  • Where they stand on abortion. Pilip doesn’t appear to have said anything publicly about her positions on most issues, including abortion rights. That remained true Thursday afternoon when a GOP official stopped a New York Times reporter from questioning her about her views on a national abortion ban. Suozzi, meanwhile, was pressed by Gov. Kathy Hochul to shed his wobbliness on abortion and instead offer vocal support in exchange for the governor backing his nomination.

Check out our new post for more on the promises and perils that Pilip’s nomination brings for her party.


CA-20: A trio of Republicans joined the March 5 top-two primary to succeed outgoing Rep. Kevin McCarthy shortly before filing closed Wednesday: Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux; Kyle Kirkland, who leads Fresno’s Club One Casino; and businessman Matt Stoll.

Boudreaux, who leads the California State Sheriff’s Association, is the top lawman for a county that’s home to 15% of the district’s residents. Kirkland, by contrast, is a first-time candidate who tells he recently re-registered as a Republican after “taking a little break from the party.” Kirkland chairs the board for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, and he gave it a “seven-figure” donation back in June.

Stoll, who is a retired Navy pilot, ran for Congress under two different maps. The candidate, who identified as pro-choice last year, competed in the April all-party primary to replace former GOP Rep. Devin Nunes in the old 22nd District but narrowly failed to reach the second round. The leading Republican and eventual winner, former Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, took first with 35% as Democrat Lourin Hubbard edged out Stoll 19-16 for second.

Stoll also ran for the new 21st last cycle, but he took third in the top-two primary two months after his first defeat. Democratic Rep. Jim Costa secured first with 47%, while Republican Mike Maher beat out Stoll 26-17. (Costa won 54-46 in November.)

The three newcomers join at least two fellow Republicans: Assemblyman Vince Fong, a former McCarthy district director who has his old boss’ endorsement, and businessman David Giglio, who was challenging the incumbent before he announced he would resign. Giglio, who took fourth in last year’s top-two primary for the neighboring 13th District, threatened to sue Fong on Wednesday over his eligibility to run for this seat, though he said later in the day he hadn’t yet submitted anything to the courts.

Fong, as we’ve previously written, filed to seek reelection to the legislature Friday before announcing days later that he’d changed his mind and would campaign to succeed McCarthy. “While the Lord might forgive Mr. Fong for going back on his word,” Giglio declared, “the laws of the state of California make it clear that what he is attempting to do is illegal under two sections of the state election code.”

Giglio went on to argue that state law prohibits Fong from getting off the ballot for the Assembly and keeps him from running for both offices at once. The California secretary of state’s office seemed to agree on Monday, but it said the following day, “Because of the unusual circumstances, we are carefully reviewing the issue. We’ll provide clarifying information as soon as possible.”

We haven’t seen a complete list of candidates yet, but at least two Democrats are running: Marisa Wood, who lost to McCarthy 67-33 last year, and security guard Andy Morales. Donald Trump carried the seat 61-36, and the area may be red enough to send two Republicans to the November general election.

GA-03: Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson announced Thursday that he would not seek a fifth term in Georgia’s 3rd District, a reliably red constituency anchored in the southwestern Atlanta exurbs. It remains to be seen if federal courts will allow the state to use the new gerrymandered map that GOP legislators passed earlier this month, but the 3rd is likely to remain safe for Republicans under any scenario.

While Ferguson’s decision was a surprise, he’s made it clear for a while that he’s not happy with his party’s direction. Though Ferguson signed onto a lawsuit to overturn Joe Biden’s win, he still was one of the minority of Republicans who voted to recognize Biden’s victory in the hours after the Jan. 6 riot. Ferguson, who is an ally of Majority Leader Steve Scalise, also opposed making Jim Jordan speaker in October, a stance he says led to death threats.

The filing deadline will be around early March (an exact date has not been set), for the May 21 primary. A June 18 runoff would take place if no one earned a majority of the vote in the first round of the nomination contest.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein was quick to identify several potential Republican candidates. “We are very open to a run,” said former state Rep. Philip Singleton, who Bluestein identifies as a “top aide” for 6th District Rep. Rich McCormick. Chris West, who was the GOP’s nominee last year against 2nd District Rep. Sanford Bishop, also said, “I’ve been getting calls, and I haven’t even spoken with my wife about the potential yet.”

Bluestein also mentions several other Republicans as possibilities:

  • former state Rep. Tim Bearden
  • state Sen. Matt Brass
  • former state Sen. Mike Crane
  • state Sen. Mike Dugan
  • Trump aide Brian Jack
  • state Rep. David Jenkins
  • state Sen. Randy Robertson

Crane, as we’ll discuss below, lost a nasty 2016 runoff to Ferguson the last time this seat was open.

Ferguson, who worked as a dentist, got his start in elected office in 2008 when he won the race to serve as mayor of West Point, and he was in charge when KIA Motors opened its plant the next year in this community of less than 4,000 people. Ferguson got his chance to run for the House in the 2016 cycle when GOP Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a religious conservative who famously couldn’t name all Ten Commandments on “The Colbert Report,” decided to retire.

However, Ferguson had to get past a crowded field of intraparty opponents. His two main foes were state Sen. Mike Crane, who had the backing of the anti-tax Club for Growth, and wealthy businessman Jim Pace, who used his personal resources to outspend the rest of the field.

However, while Ferguson didn’t represent many voters, he used his connections with fellow dentists to bring in a surprising amount of cash. Crane, who struggled with fundraising, also alienated law enforcement groups when he told a crowd, “You come to my house, kick down my door—if I have an opportunity, I will shoot you dead. And every one of you should do the same.”

Crane narrowly led Ferguson 26.9-26.7 in the first round, while Pace took a close third with 23%. Prominent establishment groups and figures like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as Westmoreland and Pace, consolidated behind Ferguson in the runoff, and this contest turned into a proxy war between different wings of the GOP.

Ferguson’s side made full use of Crane’s comments in their ads, with a local county sheriff memorably declaring that the state senator’s comments would get his officers killed. Crane went up with a response ad denouncing Ferguson’s commercial and telling viewers that both his father and uncle were police officers, but it wasn’t enough. Ferguson won 54-46, and he easily won the general election.

Ferguson never struggled to hold his seat, but he had mixed success gaining influence in the House. The congressman joined the powerful Ways & Means Committee during his second term and rose to become chief deputy whip under Scalise, but his quest to become majority whip following the 2022 elections didn’t go quite so well.

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks finished first in the internal leadership contest to become the number-three Republican in the House leadership, while Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, who had just finished his second cycle as head of the NRCC, edged out Ferguson by one vote for second. Emmer ultimately beat Banks, who is now running for the Senate, though the Minnesotan’s own speakership campaign ended in failure in October.

MD-03: Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who recently published a book about his experience during the Jan. 6 riot, told Roll Call this week that he’s still thinking about running to replace retiring Rep. John Sarbanes in this reliably blue seat. “My mind is not made up on this, but nothing is off the table and I’m considering it,” said Dunn, who also disclosed that he has “started the process of resigning” from the force.

NC-06: Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed lobbyist Addison McDowell even though McDowell had not yet joined the March Republican primary for this gerrymandered seat. But McDowell, who is a former employee of 9th District Rep. Richard Hudson and now-Sen. Ted Budd, quickly rectified that and announced he would campaign to replace Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning. The filing deadline is Friday.

Trump passed over a large field of Republicans including Bo Hines, the party’s unsuccessful 2022 nominee for the old 13th District. The News & Observer writes that Hines had “hinted at a potential Trump endorsement” one day before Trump chose McDowell instead.

NC-08: Chris Maples, a Navy veteran who previously served as GOP Rep. Dan Bishop’s district director, announced Thursday that he was joining the March Republican primary for the safely red seat that his old boss is giving up to run for attorney general. Maples also once worked for 9th District Rep. Richard Hudson, who now leads the NRCC.

NC-13: On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel announced he won’t seek reelection in 2024, a development that comes after North Carolina Republicans recently enacted a new gerrymander that shredded his competitive 13th District and replaced it with one that is solidly Republican.

Nickel highlighted the GOP’s new map as the reason for his decision, saying, “Republicans have rigged the system to favor themselves and I don’t have a path to run for re-election in the 13th district.” However, Nickel indicated he plans to run for Senate in 2026, arguing that GOP legislators “can’t gerrymander a statewide election.” If Nickel ran and won the Democratic nomination, he would likely face off against Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, whose seat is up then, though Tillis has not yet announced whether he will run for a third term.

Last year, while he was still a state senator, Nickel pulled off a 52-48 upset win against far-right Republican Bo Hines in a congressional district that would have supported Joe Biden 50-48. The old 13th included part of Raleigh and much of its nearby suburbs, but the GOP’s new map replaced most of this blue-leaning turf with distant rural areas that are much more Republican. Consequently, the new 13th would have supported Donald Trump 58-41 according to new calculations from Daily Kos Elections.

In the 2022 midterms, North Carolina used a court-drawn congressional map, which elected seven Republicans and seven Democrats, but the GOP’s new gerrymander targeted four of the latter for defeat, and three of them aren’t running again as a result. In addition to Nickel, 6th District Rep. Kathy Manning is retiring, while 14th District Rep. Jeff Jackson is running for state attorney general. Just Rep. Don Davis, the only one of the four who didn’t see his Biden-supporting district turned into a solidly Trump-favoring seat, is seeking reelection, but his new 1st District would have backed Biden just 50-49.

Consequently, all the action to replace Nickel in the new 13th will be in the GOP primary, which could soon get even more crowded. On Thursday, wealthy attorney Kelly Daughtry filed to run, though she doesn’t appear to have formally announced her candidacy yet. Last year, Daughtry self-funded nearly $3 million for her primary campaign in the old 13th, but she took third place, with 17%, while Hines won a 32-23 plurality over activist DeVan Barbour, which was just over the 30% needed to avoid a runoff between the top two finishers.

Next year’s primary field also includes businessman Fred Von Canon, Army veteran Josh McConkey, and former federal prosecutor Brad Knott, the last of whom we haven’t previously mentioned. However, WUNC reported that the “little-known” Knott has benefitted from at least $500,000 in ad spending by a super PAC called the American Foundations Committee, whose leaders have extensive ties to state Republicans.

While Hines himself is running for Congress again next year, he’s doing so in the redrawn 6th District, which exists in the central Piedmont region this time. We’ll know very soon who all the contenders are for the 13th and other districts since the filing deadline is on Friday.

OR-03: State Rep. Maxine Dexter this week publicized primary endorsements from two former Democratic governors: Ted Kulongoski, who served from 2003 to 2011, and John Kitzhaber, who was both Kulongoski’s immediate predecessor and immediate successor. Kitzhaber resigned in 2015 after he was accused of being complicit in allowing his fiancée to use her access to the governor for financial gain, but federal prosecutors didn’t charge either of them with wrongdoing.

Kitzhaber has kept a fairly low profile since then, though last year he backed state Treasurer Tobias Read in the primary for governor over former state House Speaker Tina Kotek. Kotek, who was one of the legislative leaders who pressured Kitzhaber to quit, ended up decisively beating Read and later winning the general election.

OR-04: Media outlets report that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries reached a $425,000 settlement earlier this autumn with former employee Shaina Pomerantz, who said she was the target of racial hostility when freshman Democratic Rep. Val Hoyle served as labor commissioner. The news came several months after a jury awarded $1.7 million in damages to Pomerantz’s former boss, Carol Johnson, another Black woman who leveled similar allegations.

In Johnson’s lawsuit, she alleged that while Hoyle personally showed support, she failed to discipline the offending employees. The congresswoman saw things differently, telling a jury, “I was committed to her success.” Hoyle, who was not a party to Pomerantz’s lawsuit, responded to news of the resolution by saying, “In terms of the settlement, I had no influence, was not consulted and do not know why they settled.”

TX-23: The Uvalde News Leader’s Sofi Zeman reports that gun maker Brandon Herrera left behind an “inactive explosive device” at a recent campaign event in Uvalde, requiring the San Antonio bomb squad to respond to the incident. Herrera’s team subsequently released a statement describing the device as a “spent shell” and claimed it was not “a threat to anyone.”

“At the event, a generous fan brought Brandon an inert, spent dummy shell as a gag gift that Brandon had fired in one of his videos,” the campaign said. “Brandon’s campaign then re-gifted to the round to another fan who failed to collect it at the conclusion of the event as attendees were being ushered out.”

Uvalde police Chief Daniel Rodriguez told Zeman that security footage recorded an unidentified person leaving the object outside the building where a campaign event had just taken place. An unnamed individual discovered it the following day and informed the police, who proceeded to ask the bomb squad in San Antonio—100 miles away—for assistance. “We don’t believe that he intentionally left it there,” Rodriguez said, “but until we obtain a statement, we won’t know for sure what actually happened and why he left it where he placed it down.”

Herrera, who has over 3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel called “The AK Guy,” is challenging Rep. Tony Gonzales in the March 5 Republican primary for Texas’ 23rd District. He ended September with considerably more money than any of the congressman’s other intraparty foes.


PA State House: Democratic state Rep. John Galloway resigned Thursday to prepare to assume a judgeship in Bucks County, and Democratic state House Speaker Joanna McClinton immediately scheduled the special election to succeed him for Feb. 13. (Yep, the same day as the special to replace George Santos in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.) Galloway’s seat in the Philadelphia suburbs favored Joe Biden 55-44.

The 203-member chamber is now deadlocked 101-101, but Democrats remain in charge thanks to a rule they adopted in March. The majority is now defined as the party that “won the greater number of elections for the 203 seats in the House of Representatives” in the most recent general election, and should a vacancy open up, “the political party that won that seat at the last election shall remain the party that won that seat until any subsequent special election is held to fill that seat.” Control would still shift, though, if the other side flipped enough seats before the next general election.

In Pennsylvania, it’s up to the parties to pick their nominees for special elections, and three Democrats are already running. The roster consists of Melanie Bidlingmaier, who was Galloway’s chief of staff; Donna Petrecco, the vice chair of the Bucks County Housing Authority; and Jim Prokopiak, who is a member of the Pennsbury School Board. The Pennsylvania Capital-Star says that no Republicans have declared yet.

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