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, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● PA-Sen, PA-17: On Friday, Rep. Conor Lamb made his long-awaited entrance into what was already a crowded Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, which will be one of Team Blue’s top pickup targets nationwide next year. Lamb’s decision means that he’s leaving behind his competitive 17th Congressional District in the Pittsburgh suburbs, though no one knows what his constituency will look like once the redistricting process is finished.
Lamb became a national sensation in March of 2018 when he won the special election for a very conservative congressional district that became open the previous year after GOP Rep. Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace in the face of duel sex and bullying scandals. Murphy’s seat, which was numbered the 18th District at the time, had supported Donald Trump by a hefty 58-39 margin in 2016, and few initially gave Team Blue much of a chance to flip it.
Lamb, though, proved to be a very strong candidate for a seat that stretched from the Pittsburgh suburbs into the rural western part of the state. The former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran had deep ties in Western Pennsylvania (his uncle, Michael Lamb, is the city controller for Pittsburgh), and he ran an energetic campaign that brought in plenty of money. The same could not be said for his GOP opponent, state Rep. Rick Saccone, who attracted scorn from his own party for everything from his basic campaign skills to his “porn stache.”
Outside Republican groups ultimately dumped in over $10 million to try to prop up their hapless candidate, and Team Red even sent in Trump himself—twice!—to stump for Saccone, who liked to claim that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump.” None of it worked, though, against Lamb, who campaigned as a moderate. The Democrat ended up beating Saccone 49.8-49.5, an upset that gave Republicans their strongest sign yet just how much the political climate had turned against them.
The new congressman had to quickly prepare for another contest in the fall, but this time, he didn’t need to run on turf this red. The state Supreme Court had thrown out the GOP’s gerrymandered congressional map earlier that year and drawn a new one after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf threatened to veto the Republican legislature’s attempts to pass a new gerrymander. Lamb ended up running in a district, now numbered the 17th District, that was considerably more suburban than the constituency he’d won in March and had backed Trump only 49-47.
Lamb, who worked hard to keep the moderate image he’d cultivated in the special election, faced off against three-term Rep. Keith Rothfus, a Republican who had been an ardent Trump ally. While national observers initially expected a very competitive incumbent vs. incumbent race, national Republicans viewed Rothfus as a weak candidate and left him to fend for himself in late September. Lamb ended up beating Rothfus 56-44 in a year where Democrats did exceptionally well in suburban areas like this, and he looked secure going into 2020.
That year, though, proved to be unexpectedly challenging for Lamb. Donald Trump promoted Army veteran Sean Parnell early, and he ended up raising a strong amount of money late in the campaign. The Congressional Leadership Fund began airing ads to help Parnell in the final days of the race, and that investment almost paid off: Lamb fended off Parnell 51-49 as Joe Biden was taking this seat by a slightly larger 51-48 spread.
A number of Republicans, including Parnell, are running to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, but Lamb has his own primary to get through before he can focus on any of them. The Democratic field already includes two well-funded candidates: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who also hails from Western Pennsylvania, and Montgomery County Commission Chair Val Arkoosh, who leads a populous community in the Philadelphia suburbs. A few other Democrats are also in including Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia-based state representative who would be the nation’s first Black gay senator.
Lamb’s centrist reputation could also prove to be an obstacle in the primary. The congressman notably told the New York Times just after the 2020 election, “I’m giving you an honest account of what I’m hearing from my own constituents, which is that they are extremely frustrated by the message of defunding the police and banning fracking,” a message he argued was both unrealistic and politically harmful. Lamb’s most prominent supporter, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, played up the congressman’s moderate views on Friday, labeling him, “Not too far left, not too far right. Moderate.”
Lamb, though, launched his statewide run arguing that he is a mainstream Democrat “somewhere in the middle of where we are as a party.” He declared that he has “economically progressive positions” such as support for unions and campaign finance reform; he added, “We can achieve very, very progressive results if we’re open-minded about the people we want to elect, and we have a teamwork frame of mind.” Lamb also opened his campaign assailing Republicans as the party that “denies reality and worships Trump.”
● GA-Sen: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has released its first survey of next year’s Senate contest in Georgia, and the poll finds Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock with modest leads over three prospective Republican challengers. Warnock holds a 48-46 advantage over former NFL player Herschel Walker, a 47-44 edge in a rematch against former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and a wider 46-38 lead over state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who has much less name recognition than Walker or Loeffler.
Black is the only one of the three Republicans who has formally joined the race so far, but Donald Trump has been heavily encouraging Walker to get in. Loeffler has also been considering another campaign against the man who beat her in January’s special election runoff.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that former GOP Sen. David Perdue has been “grappling with whether to run” after his defeat in January for Georgia’s other Senate seat, though there’s no direct quote from Perdue himself. The former senator had said he wasn’t running earlier this year, but CNN recently reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is worried Walker would be a weak candidate and “has suggested to allies” that he wants Perdue to change his mind about running.
● WI-Sen: Darrell Williams, who has served as the administrator of Wisconsin Emergency Management following his appointment by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in 2019, is the latest candidate to join the Democratic primary for Senate next year. As WEM administrator, Williams helps to coordinate the state’s relief effort for disasters, and he previously served in the U.S. Army for nearly three decades, though he does not appear to have run for office before.
Williams joins a crowded primary that includes Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.
● FL-Gov: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ allies at the Florida Chamber of Commerce have released a poll from Cherry Communications showing the governor beating both of his leading Democratic challengers, with DeSantis sporting a 51-43 edge over Rep. Charlie Crist and a similar 50-42 advantage over state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. This poll’s release comes right on the heels of a recently released survey by St. Pete Polls for Florida Politics that found a much tighter contest with Crist actually up 45-44 over DeSantis and Fried trailing the incumbent just 45-42.
Polling of this race has been sporadic, but the few surveys we have seen so far have typically showed DeSantis with a more sizable edge closer to what Cherry Communications just found.
● NV-Gov: Associates of former Republican Sen. Dean Heller have indicated that Heller is likely to join next year’s contest for governor with a “very early September announcement” in the works, while state political experts noted that Heller has long been interested in serving as governor. Heller lost re-election to Democratic Sen. Jackie Rosen in the 2018 midterm wave, and if he decides to challenge Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak next year, 2022 could see a reversal of the 2018 ticket with Heller running for governor and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt running for Senate against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto instead.
However, Laxalt hasn’t yet joined the Senate race, and Heller would first have to get past a primary field for governor that includes Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee.
● WI-Gov: Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, who had expressed interest in potentially joining the Republican primary for governor last year, is currently running to be chair of the state Republican Party, which is a sign that he may be unlikely to turn right around and launch a campaign against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers next year.
● MA-04: The Boston Globe reported on Friday that former Brookline Selectwoman Jesse Mermell is considering another run in the Democratic primary for this safely blue district. Mermell ran for last year’s open seat contest as a staunch progressive but lost by a slim 22-21 against moderate Rep. Jake Auchincloss in a crowded field where progressives split the vote and helped Auchincloss prevail.
Although there’s no direct quote from Mermell regarding her interest, she could have an easier time consolidating progressive voters this cycle without numerous rivals running. However, Auchincloss may be harder to beat now that he’s the incumbent and has been making overtures to the left to ward off a primary challenger.
● Boston, MA Mayor: Acting Mayor Kim Janey earned unflattering headlines on Tuesday when she compared New York City’s proof-of-vaccine requirements to slavery and birtherism. When asked if she’d consider also mandating that Boston establishments, such as restaurants and gyms, require customers to prove they’d been vaccinated for COVID-19, Janey responded that, while she was trying to make it easier for people to get vaccinated, “There’s a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers.”
Janey continued, “During slavery, post-slavery, as recent as, you know, what immigrant population has to go through here. We heard Trump with the birth certificate nonsense.” The incumbent further said, “Here we want to make sure that we are not doing anything that would further create a barrier for residents of Boston or disproportionally impact BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities.”
Janey, whose ascension earlier this year made her Boston’s first African American leader, said the following day, “I wish I had not used those analogies, because they took away from the important issue of ensuring that our vaccination and public health policies are implemented with fairness and equity.” The mayor, added that, while she was “working toward” requiring city workers to be vaccinated, she was against the idea of “vaccine passports.”
Janey’s rivals in the Sept. 14 nonpartisan primary were quick to fault her handling of the pandemic, with the most vocal criticisms coming from City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is also Black. “There is already too much misinformation directed at our residents about this pandemic, particularly for Black and brown residents,” said the challenger, who also expressed her support for proof of vaccination requirements.
Janey also got some mixed news when July’s fundraising numbers revealed that, while she once again brought in more money than any of her rivals last month, she had the second-smallest war chest:
- Acting Mayor Kim Janey: $239,000 raised, $625,000 cash-on-hand
- City Councilor Michelle Wu: $194,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
- City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George: $173,000 raised, $669,000 cash-on-hand
- City Councilor Andrea Campbell: $135,000 raised, $1 million cash-on-hand
- Former city cabinet official John Barros: $49,000 raised, $195,000 cash-on-hand
Campbell, meanwhile, is spending $200,000 to air her campaign’s first TV commercial. (A group called Better Boston that’s funded in part by charter school supporters has been running pro-Campbell ads for a while.) Campbell tells the audience how she and her twin brother both grew up in public housing. “The system worked for me,” says the candidate, “But it failed my brother Andre. He died in prison.” She continues by talking about her work improving schools and public housing and her focus on police reform.
● Minneapolis, MN Mayor: Campaign finance reports are in for the first seven months of the year, and Mayor Jacob Frey maintains a big financial lead heading into November’s instant runoff contest. Frey outraised his nearest opponent, former state Rep. Kate Knuth, $384,000 to $137,000, and he ended July with a $434,000 to $20,000 cash-on-hand lead. Another contender, community organizer Sheila Nezhad, took in $119,000 and had $45,000 in the bank.
We haven’t seen any polling to indicate whether Frey is vulnerable in a contest that will take place the year after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. A referendum will also be on the ballot that would create a Department of Public Safety to replace the police department, using a “comprehensive public health approach” to public safety. Knuth and Nezhad both back the proposal, while Frey has argued its passage “would mark a major setback for accountability and good governance.”
Frey has the support of Gov. Tim Walz, but local Democratic activists aren’t so fond of the incumbent. In June, Nezhad outpaced Frey 53-40 among delegates in the final round of balloting for the local party endorsement, which was a bit below the 60% threshold she needed. The result means that the party, which hasn’t backed anyone since R.T. Rybak won his third term in 2009, remains officially neutral in this fall’s contest.
● St. Petersburg, FL Mayor: St. Pete Polls’ newest survey of the Aug. 24 nonpartisan primary once again finds Democrat Ken Welch and Republican Robert Blackmon advancing to the November general election. Welch, who is a former Pinellas County commissioner, takes first with 31%, while Blackmon outpaces Darden Rice, his Democratic colleague on the City Council, 25-16 for second. The poll also shows Welch beating Blackmon 44-28 in a hypothetical general election.