The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.
● AK Ballot: Alaska will be the first state in America to use the “top-four” primary system now that the Associated Press has called a victory for Measure 2, which passed by a narrow 50.5-49.5 margin. Starting in 2022, Measure 2 will require all the candidates for congressional, legislative, and statewide races to face off on one primary ballot, where contenders will have the option to identify themselves with a party label or be listed as “undeclared” or “nonpartisan.”
The top four vote-getters will advance to the general election, where voters will be able to rank their choices using instant-runoff voting. Measure 2 will also institute instant-runoff voting for the presidential contest, which will make Alaska only the second state in America besides Maine to do this, and it will also set up new financial disclosure requirements for state-level candidates.
The success of Measure 2 could have big repercussions for Alaska politics even before it takes effect in 2022. The state House is currently controlled by a coalition of Democrats, independents, and dissident Republicans, and it’s possible that a similar arrangement could be put in place next year. State Senate Republicans do have control of their upper chamber, but Democrats are hoping that ongoing GOP infighting will give them a chance to form a governing coalition of their own with renegade Republicans.
Democratic state Sen. Bill Wielechowski predicted just before Election Day that bipartisan coalitions may be more likely in either chamber if Measure 2 passed, since the top-four will reduce the influence of conservative Republican primary voters and thus could make it easier for members to form cross-party alliances and still keep their seats. We may find out if he was right soon enough.
Another big winner from the success of Measure 2 is Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is up for re-election in 2022. The state’s conservative base has long despised Murkowski, and they even denied her renomination in 2010 against challenger Joe Miller in a stunner; Murkowski managed to keep her seat in the fall, though, by waging a successful write-in campaign against Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams.
Murkowski could have been in for a similar experience two years from now if Measure 2 had failed and the current partisan primary system remained in place. Murkowski has had an awful relationship with Donald Trump for a long time, and he tweeted in June, “Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski.” Murkowski, though, will likely be harder for Trump and his allies to beat now that she no longer has a GOP primary to worry about.
● GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: In his newest ad, Jon Ossoff ties himself directly to Joe Biden, whose victory in Georgia made him the first Democrat to carry the Peach State’s electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992.
Addressing the camera, Ossoff says that “the only way to beat this virus is to give our new president the chance to succeed,” adding, “I’ll work with Joe Biden to empower the medical experts, to rush economic relief for families and small businesses, and invest in infrastructure to jumpstart our economy.” He also attacks his Republican opponent, saying, “But David Perdue says he’ll do everything in his power to make sure Joe Biden fails, just like he tried to do with President Obama.”
The now-familiar set of outside groups with fat wallets have also just released their first ads as well. On the Democratic side, the Senate Majority PAC says it’s spending $4.5 million on TV and another $500,000 online to slam both Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. SMP’s anti-Loeffler spot attacks her for trading stocks after receiving early congressional briefings on the coronavirus while its Perdue ad hits the senator for blocking COVID relief for businesses and individuals.
New Republican ads, meanwhile, continue to get ever frothier. The Senate Leadership Fund’s first runoff spot starts with the histrionic claim that Ossoff “hid cash from Chinese communists and terrorist sympathizers,” which refers to the prosaic fact that Ossoff amended his financial disclosure forms earlier this year to reflect payments from Al Jazeera and a Hong Kong-based firm to air investigative reports that his documentary filmmaking company produced. The rest of the ad tries to tie Ossoff to the usual liberal bogeymen.
Finally, SLF’s counterparts at American Crossroads are going after Raphael Warnock with a familiar refrain, accusing him of “attacking the police.” As clips of street violence roll, a quavering narrator declares, “National defund-the-police radicals are flocking to Georgia to support Warnock! He’s backed by anti-police extremists because he’s one of them.” The spot ends on a cynical note, as stock footage of an apparently multi-racial family plays, with a white father holding a squalling baby as the voice-over concludes, “If Raphael Warnock wins, they win—and you and your family lose.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, campaigns and third-party groups have spent $100 million on the airwaves, with about two-thirds so far coming from Republicans. However, reports the paper, unnamed “analysts expect Democrats to catch up by mid-December when early voting begins.”
Webb mentions Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2017 special election for the 3rd District, and 2020 gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright as possibilities, though there’s no word yet if either man is interested. Lee’s allies at the anti-tax Club for Growth seem to be taking Ainge seriously, though: On Oct. 30, the organization tweeted, “Club for Growth Action stands ready to bury Tanner Ainge should he try and challenge conservative champion @SenMikeLee. Utahns don’t want a tax-and-spend liberal representing them.”
● NJ-Gov: While there has been some speculation over the last few years that Senate President Steve Sweeney could challenge Gov. Phil Murphy in next year’s Democratic primary, Charles Stile writes at NorthJersey.com that Sweeney has instead “spent most of his energy in recent months shoring up support among his Senate caucus to lock up another term as the Senate leader.”
● VA-Gov: Republican Del. Kirk Cox, who served as speaker of the Virginia House until Democrats took the majority following last year’s elections, announced Tuesday that he would enter the 2021 contest for governor. Cox joins Amanda Chase, a far-right state senator who has a terrible relationship with party leaders, in the race for the GOP nomination, though others are also eyeing the contest.
While Cox’s party lost control of the House, Cox himself won under challenging conditions. A court-ordered map was put into place in 2019 to replace the previous GOP gerrymander, and the seat that shifted furthest to the left as a result happened to be Cox’s own constituency in the Richmond suburbs: Though his old House District 66 backed Donald Trump 59-37, the new version supported Hillary Clinton 50-46.
Democrats ended up flipping six seats that fall, but Cox won re-election 52-47, a victory that makes him just one of two Republicans left in a Clinton House seat (the other is Robert Bloxom Jr.). Cox decided after the election, however, not to take a leadership post in the new GOP minority.
Both parties have competitive contests in the race to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, but neither side appears to have announced how exactly they’ll be selecting their gubernatorial candidate. Virginia allows parties to nominate candidates through a traditional primary, a party convention, or through a party-run firehouse primary.
Old Dominion Democrats have gone with the primary option in statewide contests for years, and it’s hard to imagine that they’d depart from that practice this time. It’s a different story for Team Red, though. The party held a nominating convention for governor and other statewide offices in 2013 and for the Senate in 2014; GOP leaders originally opted to do one for the 2017 gubernatorial race as well, but the State Central Committee ended up voting 41-40 to switch to a primary.
As that tight result shows, there’s still plenty of appetite in GOP ranks for conventions, which tend to be dominated by ultra-conservative activists who prize purity over electability even more than your standard crop of primary voters. Republican operative Joe Desilets said Tuesday that the party should decide what method it will use to pick its nominee at the winter state central meeting, though he added that “new COVID restrictions could have an impact on them being able to move forward with the regularly planned meeting at the party’s winter retreat.”
● LA-02: Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond announced Tuesday that he would resign from Louisiana’s reliably blue 2nd District sometime before Jan. 20 to lead the Biden White House’s Office of Public Engagement.
Richmond’s departure will set off a special election to fill his seat, which stretches from the New Orleans area west to Baton Rouge. All the candidates will face off in the all-party primary, and if no one takes a majority, a runoff would take place between the top-two vote-getters. This district, which Republicans gerrymandered after 2010 to take in as many Black voters as possible, backed Hillary Clinton 75-22 and almost certainly supported Joe Biden by a similar margin, so there’s a very good chance that two Democrats would advance to a runoff.
Richmond himself won a previous version of the 2nd District, which at the time only included portions of the city of New Orleans and suburban Jefferson Parish, in 2010 after coming up short two years before. In 2008, then-state Rep. Richmond was one of six Democrats who decided to challenge indicted Democratic Rep. Bill Jefferson, who earned his place in political infamy after he was filmed allegedly taking $100,000 in marked cash from a government informant, $90,000 of which was later discovered in his freezer.
Louisiana temporarily abandoned its all-party primary for congressional races in 2008 and 2010 and switched to a partisan primary and runoff, a development that proved to have unexpected implications. The first round of the Democratic primary was originally set for early September, but the state postponed the contest a month when Hurricane Gustav threatened the Gulf Coast at the end of August: An unusual arrangement was implemented where any primary runoffs would take place on Election Day in November, with the general election for those races occurring in December.
Jefferson ultimately took first place in the October primary with 25%, while former TV anchor Helena Moreno edged out Richmond 20-17 for second place. The following month, Jefferson won the Democratic nod by defeating Moreno 57-43 as Barack Obama was carrying the seat 74-25. Politicos universally expected that Jefferson, for all his legal problems, would have no trouble in the December general against Republican Joseph Cao in this heavily Democratic constituency, but low turnout helped propel Cao to a shocking 50-47 upset; Jefferson was convicted the next year.
Republicans were enthusiastic about their pickup after a very tough cycle, with Minority Leader John Boehner memorably putting out a memo afterwards proclaiming, “The future is Cao,” but it was immediately clear that the new congressman would be incredibly vulnerable in 2010. Richmond quickly entered the race and emerged as the favorite of prominent state and national Democrats, and he won the primary outright by beating fellow state Rep. Juan LaFonta 60-21.
Cao put up an aggressive fight in the general election and earned some endorsements from local Democrats, including LaFonta, but he was always the underdog in this very blue seat. Richmond also aired a TV commercial starring Obama, who otherwise kept his distance from Democrats in competitive races at a time when his national poll numbers were poor. Richmond unseated Cao 65-33, which gave Democrats one of their three House pickups during the GOP wave year.
In Congress, Richmond quickly became close to two senior Democratic members, South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn and Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, and he continued the cross-party friendship with neighboring GOP Rep. Steve Scalise that began when they both served in the state legislature. Richmond would also lead the Congressional Black Caucus from 2017 to 2019, and he was an early supporter of Biden’s presidential campaign. Perhaps most famously, though, Richmond was unquestionably the best player from either party in the annual Congressional Baseball Game, and Democrats dominated almost every game featuring the former Morehouse College pitcher.
Richmond’s subsequent campaigns, however, would be far less eventful than his time on the diamond. Richmond earned his only notable opponent for re-election in 2016 when East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, who had been Team Blue’s nominee for lieutenant governor the previous year, decided to take him on. Holden raised very little money, though, and didn’t offer a compelling reason for why voters should fire the incumbent. Richmond ended up winning 70-20, and he did even better in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Next year’s special election to succeed Richmond, though, will be a much more eventful affair. This will be the first contest for a New Orleans-based congressional district without an incumbent on the ballot since 1990, when Jefferson’s victory made him the state’s first Black member of Congress since Reconstruction, and there are plenty of Democrats who could be interested.
We got our first declared candidate hours after Richmond announced his resignation when state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who recently finished an eight-year stint as state party chair, entered the contest. Peterson would be the first Black woman to represent Louisiana in Congress.
Peterson challenged Jefferson, who was under investigation but had not yet been indicted, in the 2006 all-party primary, and the state representative looked like the favorite after they each advanced to the general election. Yet to many voters who had watched their government fail them a year ago during and after Hurricane Katrina, it looked like the feds were out to get Jefferson. Jefferson was able to tap into this resentment, and he held off Peterson 57-43. Peterson, though, bounced back by easily winning a 2010 special election to the state Senate, and she was elected state party chair two years later.
Two other Democrats showed interest in running in the weekend before Richmond made his departure known. The aforementioned Helena Moreno, who was elected to a citywide seat on the New Orleans City Council in 2017, said she “would have to look seriously at running again” if the 2nd District became open. State Sen. Troy Carter, who also unsuccessfully ran against Jefferson in that 2008 primary, also said of Richmond, “If he moves on, I’d be very interested in carrying on that legacy of supporting the people of Louisiana.”
State Sen. Cleo Fields, meanwhile, only would say at the time that he didn’t want to speculate about Richmond’s seat while he still represented it, which is not a no. Fields himself was elected to Congress in 1992 from a district that sprawled across the northern part of the state down into Baton Rouge at the age of 29, which made him both the state’s second African American member in over a century and the youngest member of the House at the time.
Months after Fields unsuccessfully waged his 1995 bid for governor, though, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his congressional district, which had been drawn up so Louisiana could elect a second Black congressman, was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Fields retired in 1996 but went on to be elected to the state Senate the next year. After being termed-out, Fields returned to the upper house of the legislature by winning a 2019 race for an East Baton Rouge Parish seat.
The Times-Picayune mentions a few other Democrats as possible candidates including state Reps. Royce Duplessis, Kyle Green, and Randal Gaines; state Sen. Jimmy Harris; and former St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom. One person who has already said no, though, is former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
● NRCC: House Republicans have tapped Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer for a second term as chair of the NRCC for the 2021-22 election cycle. Under Emmer, Republicans picked up several seats this year but remain in the minority.
● NY-03: Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi has won a third term in the House after his Republican challenger, businessman George Santos, conceded on Tuesday. Santos held a narrow edge on election night, but those returns only reflected in-person votes cast on Election Day. Election officials only began tallying absentee ballots, which heavily favor Democrats, a week after the election, but they quickly put Suozzi over the top. The incumbent currently leads 52-48 as of Tuesday afternoon, though that advantage will likely grow, as Patch estimates that another 70,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
● NC Supreme Court: With only a few dozen votes left to tally on Tuesday, Republican Paul Newby held a 406-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Cheri Beasley in the statewide race for chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Beasley announced that day that she would seek a recount, a process that must be completed on Nov. 25.
Republicans won the other two state Supreme Court races on the ballot, and a Newby victory would reduce the Democratic edge on the bench from 6-1 to just 4-3. No matter whether Newby ultimately wins, the GOP victories in the other races means Republicans will now have a chance to regain a majority as soon as 2022, when three Democratic-held seats will be up for election. Democrats have controlled the court since the 2016 elections.