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.
Programming Note: This is the last Digest before the Daily Kos Elections crew takes off for Thanksgiving. The Live Digest will return on our site on Monday, and the next edition of the Morning Digest will hit your inboxes on Tuesday morning. Have a happy—and safe—holiday!
● NY State Senate: Democrats in New York’s Senate appeared to lock down their 42nd seat on Tuesday, giving them a two-thirds supermajority for at least the next two years that could have a major impact on how the state is governed, including how district lines are drawn for the next decade.
Democrats went into the election needing to net two seats in the GOP-gerrymandered Senate to achieve supermajority status, which they’ve long enjoyed in the Assembly thanks in part to that chamber being gerrymandered by Democrats instead. Election night returns, which did not include absentee ballots, prematurely showed Republicans ahead in many races, but as mail votes were counted, Democrats surged into leads across the state.
With AP calls and candidate concessions (including two by Republicans on Tuesday, one in the 40th District and the other in the 46th), Democrats have secured 40 seats and have wide leads in two others, the 39th and 60th. Party leaders, who celebrated the anticipated milestone on Monday, could yet see their final tally grow to 43, if the 50th District, where Republicans hold a 3-point lead, breaks their way.
These legislative supermajorities would, at least in theory, allow Democratic lawmakers to override—or at least threaten to override—vetoes by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has long stood in the way of progressive reform despite having been elected as a Democrat himself. Cuomo, predictably, acted blasé about the development, noting that he still holds tremendous sway over the all-important state budget.
Legislators could, however, still use their newfound power to circumvent Cuomo’s wishes in other areas, most notably redistricting. With a two-thirds vote, Democrats could bypass a 2014 amendment to the state constitution that, under the pretense of establishing an independent commission—a judge literally ordered that the word “independent” be stricken from the amendment’s description because it was nothing of the sort—was actually designed to ensure Republicans would have a say in redistricting no matter how small their minority might grow.
If they remain united, therefore, Democrats in Albany could pass new congressional and legislative maps entirely on their own. That would allow them to produce anything from extreme partisan gerrymanders to districts designed to protect incumbents to genuinely fair maps.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins recently suggested that she intends to keep both partisan and civic aims in mind, saying at a Monday press conference, “We will do the right thing. I believe that we will be able to draw up lines that are, you know, contiguous and rational, and still be able to achieve a Democratic majority.” Given New York’s strong blue lean, however, almost any maps short of the sort of Republican gerrymander currently in place should consistently yield majorities for Democrats.
The big question, of course, is whether Democrats will in fact be able to stick together. One obvious problem is Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who for many years caucused with Republicans and was only welcomed back into the Democratic fold last year.
The redistricting landscape isn’t completely settled though, since shortly before the 2020 elections, Democrats passed a constitutional amendment that would lower the threshold needed for lawmakers to override the redistricting commission from the current two-thirds to just three-fifths, along with enacting implementing several nonpartisan criteria for drawing districts. If Democrats pass the amendment again next year, it would go before the voters next November in time for redistricting in 2022, and if it passes, members such as Felder would have even less power to block Democrats from drawing partisan maps.
But beyond Felder or any other troublesome members, there remains … the budget.
As Democratic Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, who has served in the chamber for half a century, put it in a highly informative article by the Albany Times Union‘s Edward McKinley, “Even when we’re not doing the budget, when people are thinking of giving the governor a hard time, they always have to remember what the governor can do in the budget.” Given Cuomo’s notorious penchant for vengefulness, Democrats who cross him on redistricting—or any other matter—could pay a dear price when it comes time for what McKinley dubbed the “sweepstakes underpinning the state’s roughly $170 billion annual spending.”
If the entire party stands against the governor, Democrats might find safety in numbers. But Cuomo’s ability to strike back at his enemies, real and perceived, can never be underestimated, and that’s something lawmakers won’t ever forget.
● GA-Sen-B: Raphael Warnock is betting that the best way to fight fire is with humor. In his latest ad, Warnock is seen walking his pet beagle on a sidewalk in a picket-fenced neighborhood as he addresses his audience, “We told them the smear ads were coming, and that’s exactly what happened.” He goes on, “You would think that Kelly Loeffler might have something good to say about herself if she really wants to represent Georgia. Instead, she’s trying to scare people by taking things I said out of context from over 25 years of being a pastor.”
Rounding a corner with a small plastic baggie of unmistakable provenance now in hand, Warnock offers, “But I think Georgians will see her ads for what they are”—and chucks the bag into a trash can before addressing his pooch: “Don’t you?” The dog, naturally, barks in assent.
In a separate new spot, Warnock delivers a minute-long sermon on the meaning of Thanksgiving during such a difficult time. Citing John 1:5 of the New Testament, Warnock preaches, “Light shines through the darkness, and the darkness overcometh it not.” He goes on to give special thanks to “the teachers, the doctors and nurses, the essential workers.” Warnock concludes with a prayer: “And to those who’ve lost loved ones in recent days, and for whom the holiday seasons are particularly difficult, I pray for your strength.”
Meanwhile, the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC has two new ads up, both of which go negative. The first hits Kelly Loeffler for allegedly profiting off the pandemic by trading stocks after Congress was briefed on the coronavirus, mostly by using clips of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro berating Loeffler as part of the “swamp.” (Presumably this is at least partly a play to convince Trump-loving Republicans there’s no reason to get off their duffs for the runoff.) The topic of SMP’s ad going after David Perdue is the same, though minus the wild-eyed Judge Jeanine.
The PAC says it’s putting $6 million behind the ads, which in any normal election would be a large sum—but these races are anything but normal. According to CNN, spending and ad reservations from GOP campaigns and outside groups have topped $168 million, while Warnock, Jon Ossoff, and their allies have spent $101 million.
● Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 congressional districts nationwide ventures to New England, where we have new numbers for both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. You can find our complete data set here, which we’re updating continuously as the precinct-level election returns we need for our calculations become available.
New Hampshire has usually been competitive in presidential contests, but it shifted sharply to the left this year at the top of the ticket. Joe Biden took the Granite State 53-45, which was a big improvement over Hillary Clinton’s narrow 48-47 victory in 2016, and he won both of its congressional districts; you can find our map here. (Thanks in part to GOP gerrymandering, the state went in the other direction further down the ballot, which we’ll explore in the future when we release parallel data for legislative districts.)
The 1st Congressional District in the eastern part of the state has been one of the swingiest seats in the nation for years, but like the state as a whole, it was friendly turf for Team Blue this time. The district bounced from a tiny 50-49 edge for Barack Obama in 2012 to a just-as-slender 48-47 Trump win four years ago, but Biden carried it by a relatively comfortable 52-46 margin.
The 1st has also been especially volatile in House races, though Democrats have again done better here in recent years. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter flipped it in a 2006 shocker, but she lost her bid for a third term to Republican Frank Guinta during the 2010 red wave. Shea-Porter won it back from Guinta in 2012 as Obama was carrying the district, but Guinta returned in 2014 to unseat her. Shea-Porter, however, came back again in 2016 to beat Guinta during their fourth matchup, despite Trump’s slim advantage.
That was the last time, though, that either Shea-Porter or Guinta appeared on the ballot. Shea-Porter decided not to run again in 2018, and fellow Democrat Chris Pappas decisively won the contest to succeed her. Pappas, who is the state’s first gay member of Congress, won re-election against Republican Matt Mowers 51-46 this year in a race that attracted no serious outside spending.
The 2nd District in western and northern New Hampshire, meanwhile, has traditionally leaned more toward Democrats than the 1st. Biden carried the district 54-45, which was also a decisive shift to the left from Clinton’s 49-46 victory.
Republican incumbent Charlie Bass lost this seat in the 2006 blue wave against Democrat Paul Hodes, but he narrowly won it back in 2010 against Democrat Annie Kuster after Hodes left to unsuccessfully run for the Senate. Kuster, though, defeated Bass in their 2012 rematch, and she held on during the 2014 GOP wave. Kuster prevailed 50-46 in 2016 against an underfunded Republican as Clinton was carrying her seat by a similar margin, but she had no trouble in 2018 or 2020 in successive matchups with Republican Steve Negron.
While Granite State Democrats performed well in federal elections this year, the upcoming round of redistricting could cost them a seat. Not only was Republican Gov. Chris Sununu decisively re-elected, the GOP also retook control of the state House and Senate two years after losing both chambers.
Republicans likewise controlled the redistricting process after the 2010 elections (due then to their legislative supermajorities), but ironically, their success that year constrained their ambitions. Both Guinta and Bass had just flipped seats, and since there was no way for Republican mapmakers to shore up one congressman without hurting the other, they made only slight adjustments to the district lines. Incumbent protection is no longer a concern for Republicans this time, though, so we could see more aggressive changes to a congressional map that has largely remained unaltered since 1881.
We’ll turn next to Massachusetts, where Republicans last won a House race in 1994. Biden took the Bay State 66-32, which was also a shift to the left from Clinton’s 61-33 win. Biden, like Clinton, also carried all nine congressional districts. (You can find a link to our map here.)
The only seat where Biden didn’t hit 60% of the vote was the 9th District on Cape Cod and the South Shore, but he still came close. Biden won 58-40 here, an improvement over Clinton’s 53-42 performance, while Democratic Rep. Bill Keating won his sixth term 62-36. Biden’s best showing in the state by far was in Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s 7th District, a diverse Boston-area constituency that he took 85-13.
The next round of redistricting is likely to produce another favorable map for Democrats. While Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s term will last through the start of 2023, Democrats maintained supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, allowing them to override the governor’s vetoes. And even if Democrats weren’t in charge, you’d be hard pressed to draw any district that would favor Republicans simply because of how deep and wide Massachusetts’ blue hue is.
● Orange County, CA Board of Supervisors: Though some mail ballots still remain to be counted, Republican incumbent Andrew Do’s 52-48 lead over Democrat Sergio Contreras for the 1st District on Orange County’s Board of Supervisors looks unlikely to budge. Contreras doesn’t appear to have conceded and Do doesn’t seem to have declared victory, but at least one local journalist has declared Do the winner, meaning the GOP will keep its 4-1 majority on the board if the results stand.
That overall edge could change soon, though, as Republican Michelle Steel’s victory in the 48th Congressional District will require a special election for the board’s 2nd District. Democrats would next have a chance to take a majority in 2022, when two Republican seats (including Steel’s), as well as their lone member, Doug Chafee, will be on the ballot.
● CO 18th District DA: Republican John Kellner currently leads Democrat Amy Padden by 1,433 votes in the race for district attorney in Colorado’s open 18th Judicial District, which covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln Counties in the Denver suburbs, a margin that would send the race to an automatic recount, likely after Thanksgiving. A Kellner win would represent a hold for the GOP, which has occupied this office since 1968.
Dinkins, who was close to a number of influential Harlem politicos, including future Rep. Charlie Rangel, was elected to a single term in the Assembly in 1965 before redistricting cost him his seat. He went on to hold an influential post as city clerk before he was elected Manhattan borough president on his third try in 1985 by defeating Assemblyman Jerrold Nadler in the Democratic primary by a 65-35 margin (Nadler would go on to win a seat in Congress seven years later and emerge as a top party leader).
In 1989, Dinkins set his sights higher by launching a primary bid against three-term Mayor Ed Koch. The incumbent had won re-election with ease four years earlier, but his standing had taken a tumble due to a bad local economy and what the New York Times described in 1989 as fears of “drugs, resurgent crime, homelessness and AIDS.” Koch began the campaign looking weak against Dinkins, who argued he could stabilize the city. However, while Koch managed to cut his deficit after a TV ad campaign, Dinkins defeated him by a convincing 51-42 margin and ended his hopes of becoming the city’s first four-term mayor.
While New York City hadn’t elected a Republican mayor since the liberal John Lindsey in 1965, Dinkins faced a tough challenge from former U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani. Dinkins made an early attempt to insulate himself from Giuliani’s attacks, saying on the night of the primary, “I intend to be the toughest mayor on crime this city has ever seen,” but the Republican waged a vicious campaign that focused in large part on Dinkins’ personal financial situation. Dinkins won 50-48 in a contest where race proved to be a major fault-line: Some 60% of white voters supported Giuliani, while Dinkins won about 90% of Black voters.
Dinkins inherited a very difficult financial situation, to which he responded with large budget cuts and passed the largest tax increase in city history. Crime remained an ever-present issue: The city’s murder rate hit an all-time high of 2,605 killings in 1990 before falling during each remaining year of Dinkins’ term, but headlines continued to focus on high-profile crimes and portray the mayor as inept. Dinkins did have some notable successes, though, with the Times’ Robert McFadden writing that he “kept city libraries open, revitalized Times Square and rehabilitated housing in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem.”
But Dinkins’ tenure would be indelibly marked by three days of violence in the Crown Heights, a predominantly Black neighborhood in central Brooklyn with a large Hasidic population, that broke out in the summer of 1991. Longstanding tensions between the two communities boiled over on the evening of Aug. 19, when a 22-year-old Hasidic man, Yosef Lifsh, accidentally caused a car crash that killed a young Black boy named Gavin Cato and severely injured his cousin, Angela Cato.
Black youths began to riot following the incident, at first throwing rocks and bottles, but later that night, a group of about 20 young Black men mobbed a 29-year-old Hasidic doctoral student from Australia, Yankel Rosenbaum, and fatally stabbed him. Rioting continued for two more days, with attacks on Jewish residents, homes, and stores that also left many police officers injured. Dinkins and his police commissioner, Lee Brown, were heavily criticized for a response that an official state report later characterized as incompetent and ineffective.
Dinkins’ handling of the riots became a central issue of his 1993 re-election campaign, which featured a rematch with Giuliani. The Republican argued that he’d be able to fix the city’s problems, including its crime rate, and he benefited from an endorsement from Koch. Giuliani also capitalized on racist sentiment by running a commercial that accused Dinkins of fomenting “racial attacks”; years later, Dinkins would write of his defeat, “I think it was just racism, pure and simple.”
Giuliani was further aided in the New York City mayoral race by voters who didn’t want to be part of New York City anymore. Staten Island, where Giuliani had performed very well in 1989, held a referendum on Election Day asking if it should secede and form its own city. The non-binding measure, which passed with 65% of the vote, boosted turnout in the Republican stronghold, which may have made the difference at the top of the ticket.
Ultimately, Giuliani won 51-48, with his margin provided by his appearance on the Liberal Party line—a contrivance that allowed thousands of traditionally Democratic voters who couldn’t countenance pulling the “Republican” lever to support a candidate who was anything but liberal.
The Times wrote after the contest that both candidates had largely performed the same with various demographic groups as they did in 1989 but concluded that Giuliani had made gains with his fellow Republicans and especially with voters with only high school diplomas. While New York City (which continues to include Staten Island to this day) remained a strongly Democratic constituency over the following decades, Democrats wouldn’t win another mayoral contest until Bill de Blasio prevailed in 2013.