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.
● NY-Gov: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that he would resign in two weeks, just as an impeachment investigation into a wide-ranging sexual misconduct scandal was reaching a critical point, a move that paves the way for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to become New York’s first-ever female governor.
Cuomo, who dominated state politics for more than a decade with unusual power and vindictiveness, wound up responsible for his own undoing. The end began in December, when a former Cuomo aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused the governor of sexually harassing her “for years,” though she declined to provide any specifics at the time. In February, however, Boylan wrote in an online essay that Cuomo had fostered a hostile workplace and had once kissed her on the mouth unsolicited—accusations that would lead an ever-growing number of women to levy similar or worse charges.
After a second aide, Charlotte Bennett, came forward just days later, Cuomo agreed, under massive pressure, to refer questions about his conduct to state Attorney General Tish James, a fellow Democrat, for an independent investigation. As the accusations mounted, the Assembly began its own investigation into potentially impeaching the governor, while more and more leading Democrats, including state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and almost every member of the state’s congressional delegation, called on Cuomo to resign.
Some, like President Joe Biden, hedged slightly, saying that Cuomo should leave office if James’ investigation confirmed the claims of his accusers. Her 168-page report, released last week, concluded just that, saying that Cuomo had violated federal and state law by sexually harassing 11 different women, including a state trooper, and that he’d retaliated against at least one of them for speaking out.
Following the report’s publication, virtually every major Democrat from Biden on down demanded Cuomo’s ouster, and even some longtime allies, like state party chair Jay Jacobs, finally turned on the governor as well. Cuomo, however, steadfastly continued to insist that every alleged incident had either never taken place or had been misinterpreted, and the whole while never ruled out running for a fourth term next year.
On Monday, though, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters that lawmakers’ impeachment investigation would be resolved “in weeks, and not months,” and the New York Times reported that “most, if not all, of the Democratic majority” supported impeaching Cuomo. The governor still appeared desperate to hang on, and reportedly even offered not to seek re-election if legislative leaders would halt their proceedings against him—a proposal Heastie publicly shot down.
Given Cuomo’s notorious penchant for bitterly clinging to every vestige of power, his announcement on Tuesday came as a surprise. It brings to an end a long political career that began in the early 1980s, when Cuomo served as campaign manager for his father Mario’s successful bid for governor in 1982 and later as an adviser in his administration. After running the Department of Housing and Urban Development during Bill Clinton’s second term, the younger Cuomo himself ran for governor in 2002 but dropped out just before the Democrats’ state convention, knowing he would lose the nomination to then-Comptroller Carl McCall.
Four years later, however, he handily won the race to succeed Eliot Spitzer as state attorney general, and soon thereafter his rise accelerated. When Spitzer resigned in disgrace just a year after winning the governorship, and the lieutenant governor who replaced him, David Paterson, abandoned his bid for a full term, Cuomo was instantly the obvious choice for Democrats in 2010. Despite the GOP wave that fall, he pummeled Republican Carl Paladino by a 62-33 margin to return to the office his famous father had held for three terms.
In office, Cuomo positioned himself as vocally liberal on social issues—a major early accomplishment was the passage of a same-sex marriage bill despite Republican control of the state Senate—but he was almost always at odds with progressives on matters of economics and voting rights. Cuomo in fact relied on that Republican Senate majority to stymie a huge raft of progressive priorities for years and propped it up by encouraging the formation of a breakaway junta known as the Independent Democratic Conference that helped keep the GOP in power even when Democrats held a nominal majority in the chamber.
Those reactionary policies earned Cuomo left-wing primary challenges during his two re-election campaigns, but he turned away both fairly easily, defeating law professor Zephyr Teachout 63-33 in 2014 and actress Cynthia Nixon 66-34 in 2018. During the Trump era, however, a newly energized progressive movement took sharp aim at the IDC and defeated six of its eight members on the same night Cuomo beat Nixon.
That, combined with a spate of Democratic pickups that fall, led to a sea-change in New York politics, as, for the first time in memory, Democrats enjoyed a wide, stable, and solidly liberal majority in the Senate, led by Stewart-Cousins. While the threat of a Cuomo veto—and Cuomo retaliation—always loomed, Democrats were able to pass a raft of voting rights bill that transformed voting in the state, as well as other long-thwarted legislation.
Progressives, though, remained as unhappy as ever with Cuomo, who made it clear he planned to seek a fourth term—the goal that eluded his father when he shockingly lost to Republican George Pataki in 1994. The possibility of a third primary challenge to Cuomo from the left nonetheless seemed distant until his accusers began stepping forward, though now next year’s political calculus has been completely rewritten.
Stepping into Cuomo’s place will be Hochul, who will serve out the remaining year-and-a-half of his term. Hochul will be New York’s first governor from the Buffalo area since none other than Democrat Grover Cleveland, who won the top job in 1882 after a short stint as mayor. She’s also the first bona fide Upstate resident to hold the post since Republican Nathan Miller of Cortland County left office in 1922.
As distant as her geographic roots are from the Queens-born Cuomo’s, so too does her personal style differ. As Roll Call‘s Jim Saska puts it, “Where Cuomo was feared, Hochul is beloved; where Cuomo had judged, Hochul has empathized.” But like Cuomo, she also owes her rise, albeit more directly, to Spitzer, who appointed her to serve as Erie County Clerk after tapping the incumbent for a state post at the start of his governorship.
Soon thereafter, Hochul made headlines when she turned on her benefactor and opposed Spitzer’s proposal to let undocumented immigrants obtain driver’s licenses, threatening to arrest any applicants. (Spitzer eventually dropped the plan, while years later Hochul reversed her stance.)
Hochul’s ascent continued in 2011, when she won a difficult special election for what was then numbered New York’s 26th Congressional District, conservative turf that John McCain had carried 52-46 in the most recent presidential election. Hochul, who touted her “A” rating from the NRA, benefited from a split on the right after wealthy former Democrat Jack Davis, who’d been spurned for the GOP nomination, decided to run on his own “Tea Party” line and captured 9% of the vote. That allowed Hochul to defeat Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin by a 47-43 margin, just months after the GOP had seized control of the House following the 2010 wave.
Hochul’s congressional career was short, though: After a court-drawn map made her district several points redder (McCain would have won it 54-44), she lost a tough bid for re-election against Erie County Executive Chris Collins just 51-49. Like the man she’s succeeding now, Collins would later resign in disgrace, following an insider trading conviction. (The man she replaced in Congress, Republican Rep. Chris Lee, had also left office under a cloud, after he’d sent shirtless photos to women on Craigslist.)
After Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy announced he wouldn’t seek a second term in 2014, Cuomo, seeking regional balance for his ticket, tapped Hochul as his running-mate, despite the conservative record she had amassed (and had touted regularly on the campaign trail). That record, which had once been so useful in winning a traditionally Republican congressional district, became a liability statewide in blue New York, and Hochul, like Cuomo, was primaried twice. In 2014, she ran behind Cuomo with her 60-40 win over legal scholar Tim Wu, while in 2018, she beat New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, then a little-known figure, by just a 53-47 margin. (Williams is now public advocate, the city’s second-ranking official.)
While leading Democrats may have been intimidated by the prospect of going up against Cuomo (who last month reported having a mammoth $18.5 million campaign war chest), Hochul in most ways represents a less daunting target. Though she’s distanced herself from many of her past positions, those could still harm her with a liberal electorate in the likely event she chooses to run in next year’s election.
She’s also never won statewide on her own—candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries but together in the general election—and she hails from a part of the state with far fewer voters than Democrat-rich New York City, which tends to dominate in primaries.
Still, though, lieutenant governors who’ve been elevated following vacancies have typically done quite well when seeking election in their own right. According to data assembled by NBC’s Steve Kornacki, of the 27 governors who reached office in this way and sought a full term since 1980, 19 have succeeded, while only three have lost at the nomination phase, two have lost in the general election, and three others (including Paterson) have dropped their bids.
In a strange quirk of New York law, Hochul will also be able to name her own replacement—and without any input from the legislature. That’s because the state constitution doesn’t specifically prescribe a method for filling a vacant lieutenant governorship. Instead, the state’s highest court ruled in 2009 when Paterson sought to choose a new second in command, that power comes from a generic catch-all provision that allows the governor to act unilaterally. Republicans at the time demanded the law be changed, likely through a constitutional amendment, but the gap remains unplugged.
● CO-Sen: Air Force veteran Eli Bremer, who finished 22nd overall in the pentathlon at the 2008 Olympics, became the first notable Republican to kick off a bid against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett on Tuesday. He also formerly served as chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party. Bremer previously discussed mounting a campaign with the NRSC, and his announcement comes just after serving as a commentator for the Olympics, which wrapped up last Sunday.
● IL-17: State Rep. Mike Halpin recently told Jim Niedelman of WHBF that he is still considering a bid for the open 17th Congressional District in western Illinois, though he did not rule out running for an open state Senate seat in the area instead.
In the interview, Niedelman mentioned that several Democrats were awaiting a decision from Halpin before revealing their plans, and indeed, no notable Democrats have jumped into the race to succeed retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos. 2020 GOP nominee Esther Joy King, who lost to Bustos 52-48, is so far the only notable Republican candidate to enter the contest.
● NC-08: Cumberland County Commissioner Charles Evans has filed paperwork with the FEC for a potential campaign against Republican Rep. Richard Hudson. Congressional redistricting later this year could scramble the map in the Tar Heel state, but Evans, a Democrat, says he’ll likely press forward with a bid unless “there is absolutely no way for me to win.”
● SC-06: Former state Rep. and CNN contributor Bakari Sellers told Jewish Insider that he was interested in possibly succeeding Rep. Jim Clyburn when he leaves Congress but ruled out challenging the veteran congressman in a primary. Sellers hadn’t been mentioned as a possible candidate and he was clear that a primary to Clyburn wasn’t something he’d been considering.
● WI-03: Veteran 3rd District Rep. Ron Kind announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to his western Wisconsin House seat next year. While Kind is retiring from the lower chamber, he had been considering a bid for Senate, and, according to Politico, some Democrats still think he could run for statewide office next year.
Regardless of his future plans, Kind is giving up a House seat that has become tough turf for Democrats over the years, shifting from a 55-44 win for Barack Obama in 2012 to a 49-45 win for Donald Trump in 2016.
Kind’s long political career began when he replaced eight-term Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson in 1996 after winning a five-way Democratic primary with 46% and defeating Republican James Harsdorf in the general election 52-48. He would not experience that tight of a race again until the strong GOP year of 2010, when he survived a difficult 50-47 contest over Republican Dan Kapanke. Kind faced the closest call of his career last year, though, edging out Derrick Van Orden 51-49 while Trump was once again carrying the district 52-47.
Van Orden had already launched a rematch earlier this year, presaging another competitive race. Kind’s departure will now almost certainly give Republicans, who need just five seats to win a majority, an even better shot at flipping this district.
● St. Petersburg, FL Mayor: The Tampa Bay Times has obtained screenshots of racist and sexist Facebook posts from Republican City Council member Robert Blackmon, the highest profile GOP candidate vying for St. Petersburg’s mayoralty this fall. In a statement, Blackmon called the posts “inappropriate, shameful and embarrassing” but also tried to cast doubt on their authenticity, saying he didn’t know if the posts were “accurate.” He also claimed that the leaked screenshots were an attempt to sabotage his campaign.
Blackmon had $185,000 in cash-on-hand as of early July, and polling has also found him competitive, including a recent survey from St. Pete Polls that showed him comfortably in second place. If no candidate takes a majority of the vote in the nonpartisan primary on Aug. 24, then the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff on Nov. 2.