• Sun. Jan 24th, 2021

Morning Digest: An all-around surge across Arizona's House districts propelled Biden's historic flip


Dec 17, 2020

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.

Leading Off

Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 congressional districts nationwide hits Arizona and Connecticut. 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.

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Arizona by a close 49.4-49.1 four years after it backed Trump 49-45, a result that made Biden the first Democrat to take its electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1996. Before that, the last Democrat to carry the state was Harry Truman in 1948.

Biden managed to win five of the Grand Canyon State’s congressional districts, which was one more than Clinton, while the remaining four went for Trump again; all the Biden seats are represented by Democrats, while the Trump seats remained in Republican hands. Biden also improved on Clinton’s margin of victory everywhere except the 3rd and 7th Districts, which are the most Democratic seats in the state. You can find our map here.

Campaign Action

We’ll start with a look at the 1st District, which is the only district that went from Trump in 2016 to Biden this year. This sprawling constituency in the northeastern part of the state had supported Mitt Romney 50-48 before going for Trump by an even narrower 48-47, but Biden took it 50-48 this time. Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who had previously served in the legislature as a moderate Republican, won a third term 52-48 against Republican Tiffany Shedd in a race that attracted millions in spending from outside groups on both sides.

Biden also made big gains in two seats that were competitive just a few years ago but have quickly veered away from the GOP. The 2nd District in the eastern Tucson area had backed Romney 50-48 before going for Clinton 50-44. The seat continued to move left this time by supporting Biden 55-44, and Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick prevailed by a similar 55-45 margin.

The shift over the last decade was even more dramatic in Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton’s 9th District, which is home to central Phoenix and its eastern suburbs. The seat supported Obama 51-47 in 2012 before going for Clinton by a wide 55-38 margin. Biden took it by an even larger 61-37, which makes this his biggest improvement over Clinton’s margin in any of the state’s nine districts.

Biden performed best in the 3rd and 7th Districts, but as we noted above, his margin of victory was smaller than Clinton’s four years ago even though he took a larger percentage of the vote (and more raw votes). Rep. Raul Grijalva’s 3rd District, which stretches from the Yuma area west to Tucson, moved from 62-33 Clinton to 63-36 Biden.

Rep. Ruben Gallego’s Phoenix-based 7th District went from 72-23 Clinton to 74-25 Biden, which represented a 0.17% drift to the right. Both seats are heavily Latino, a demographic that in many places moved toward Trump, though the shifts were considerably smaller here than they were in several comparable seats in neighboring California.  

We’ll turn now to the four Trump seats. National Democrats made a strong effort to unseat scandal-ridden Republican Rep. David Schweikert in the 6th District, a once-safely red seat in Scottsdale and North Phoenix that had moved from 60-39 Romney to 52-42 Trump. Trump’s margin of victory this time shrunk to 51-47, but that was enough to carry Schweikert to a 52-48 victory over Democrat Hiral Tipirneni.

Trump decisively carried the remaining three districts, but Biden made gains in each. Trump’s margin of victory in Rep. Andy Biggs’ 5th District in the Phoenix suburbs of Mesa and Gilbert shrunk from 58-37 to 56-42, his second-largest decline in the state after the 9th. The shift was only a little smaller in another suburban Phoenix seat, Rep. Debbie Lesko’s 8th District, where Trump’s margin sank from 58-37 to 57-41.

Rep. Paul Goser’s giant 4th District in the north-central part of the state, meanwhile, was again Trump’s best seat in the state by far, though Biden still trended up a bit here: While Trump won 68-28 here in 2016, he carried the seat 68-31 this time.

Arizona’s congressional and legislative maps are drawn by a bipartisan commission, but Republicans have done everything they can to eliminate it. In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the body’s constitutionality by just a 5-4 margin, and since then, the court has moved to the right. If the commission is struck down, the Republican-controlled state government would control the mapmaking process. (You can find our Connecticut calculations in our “Data” section below.)

Georgia Runoffs

GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: The progressive New Georgia Project has filed lawsuits against four counties—Bibb, Clarke, Houston, and Paulding—saying officials are refusing to provide the required number of days of early voting. Interestingly, while both Bibb (home of Macon) and Clarke (Athens) voted heavily for Joe Biden, Houston and Paulding went for Donald Trump by double digits.

We also have some new polling of both runoffs courtesy FOX 5 Atlanta, and for the first time since Nov. 3, the data comes from a firm, Republican pollster InsiderAdvantage, that’s already been in the field before. That means we have trendlines, though there’s been virtually no change over the last month: In both contests, Republicans hold 49-48 leads over their Democratic opponents; in November, InsiderAdvantage found Kelly Loeffler leading Raphael Warnock by that exact same score while showing a 49-49 tie between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue.


UT-Sen: Veteran GOP operative Steve Schmidt, who last month suggested he might challenge Republican Sen. Mike Lee in 2022, announced this week that he was registering as a Democrat but didn’t say anything about a possible run for office.

Schmidt worked to elect Republicans for many years, ultimately serving as a top advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, where he masterminded the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running-mate. However, he grew disgusted with his party as it coalesced around Donald Trump and left the GOP in 2018 to become an independent. The following year, he co-founded the Lincoln Project with other disillusioned Republican strategists, which worked to defeat Trump in the 2020 elections.


MA-Gov: Asked whether he might run for governor in 2022, the Boston Herald‘s Lisa Kashinsky reports that outgoing Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy “laughed” and all but rejected the idea. “I cannot imagine a reality where I am a candidate for office again anytime soon,” said Kennedy, who lost a high-profile primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Ed Markey in September. “Having just done that for a year,” he continued, “taking a breather from that and refocusing my time and space I think is what I’m looking forward to doing over the course of the immediate timeline.” That’s not an absolute “no,” but it’s pretty close.

MD-Gov: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski declined to rule out a bid for governor according to the Baltimore Sun‘s Emily Opilo, saying only that he would discuss his plans at some unspecified future date. Olszewski, a Democrat, previously served in the state House and won an extremely tight three-way primary for county executive in 2018 by just 17 votes before going on to easily win the general election.

Note: Baltimore County is a separate entity from Baltimore City and has been since Maryland’s 1851 constitution split the two. The county resembles a wrench surrounding the city, which is the most populous “independent city” in the nation (meaning it is not part of any county).

Meanwhile, Maryland Matters says that former Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2006 and later served as RNC chair, is “thought to be considering the race.” Steele, though, endorsed Joe Biden for president, so if he’s thinking about running in the GOP primary, well, good luck with that.

OH-Gov: Former Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, who previously refused to rule out a primary challenge to Gov. Mike DeWine, has now confirmed his interest. “I will be either supporting candidates who are taking him on or running against him myself,” said Renacci in a new interview while attacking DeWine for promoting “the same policies” as former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

SC-Gov: Over the summer, the Post and Courier‘s Andy Shain reported that former state cabinet official Catherine Templeton said she “will likely run for governor again” against Gov. Henry McMaster, whom she unsuccessfully challenged for the Republican nomination in 2018. Templeton came in third in the primary two years ago with 21% of the vote, while McMaster finished first with 42%.

The runner-up in that race, wealthy businessman John Warren, forced McMaster into a runoff and he, too, could run once more. Earlier this year, Warren set up an organization called South Carolina’s Conservative Future ostensibly aimed at helping downballot candidates but which Shane described as having “all the pre-election trappings of setting up another bid for governor.” After taking 28% in the first round, Warren came close to defeating McMaster, who won their runoff by a fairly tight 54-46 margin.

Warren didn’t appear to rule out the possibility of a rematch when he spoke with Shain in August, only saying “that he has no immediate plans to run for office.” In that same piece, Shain also called Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin “a current Democratic favorite to join the race.” Last year, Benjamin declined to rule out a bid, but he doesn’t appear to have said anything on the record recently.

2022: Politico’s Steven Shepherd and Sabrina Rodriguez take a broad look at all of the gubernatorial races coming up over the next two years and run through actual and potential candidates in each. Many are names that we’ve already covered in the Digest, but a number of possibilities are new to us, including:


  • Republican Kirk Adams, a former chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey and a former speaker of the state House who narrowly lost a 2012 primary for the 5th Congressional District.
  • Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, who considered a bid for Senate in 2020 but deferred to eventual victor Mark Kelly.


  • Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who returned to Congress earlier this year after a 24-year hiatus by winning the special election for the late Elijah Cummings’ 5th District.


  • Republican John James, an Army veteran who lost Senate bids in both 2018 and 2020.


  • Former Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who opted not to run for governor in 2018 and later declined to seek re-election. Last month, Hutchison told the Nevada Independent he intends to “think about my political future later,” both in regard to the governorship and a possible Senate bid.

New York

  • Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has long focused on raising her profile in the House and would, like any Republican, be an extreme longshot. She did not, however, appear to rule out the possibility in an interview with The Atlantic last month.


  • Former Republican Rep. Sean Duffy, a one-time star of MTV’s “The Real World” who resigned from Congress in 2019 in the middle of his fifth term.


SC-01: In a new interview with E&E News, Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham did not to rule out a rematch with Republican Nancy Mace, who defeated him last month. Earlier this month, Cunningham declined to close the door on a possible run for governor.


Connecticut: Joe Biden won the Nutmeg State 59-39, which was an improvement over Hillary Clinton 55-41 victory four years ago, though a diminished performance by third-party candidates likely played a role. Biden, like Clinton, also carried each of the state’s five congressional districts, including two that were unexpectedly close in 2016. You can our map here.

The 2nd District in the eastern part of the state supported Biden 54-44 after backing Clinton only 49-46. The seat is held by Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney, who first won the previous version of the district by 83 votes in 2006 but has not faced a close race since then.

The 5th District, which includes northern Fairfield County and northwestern Connecticut, likewise went for Biden 55-44 after supporting Clinton by a much smaller 50-46 spread. The GOP, though, never was able to take advantage of Donald Trump’s relatively strong showing here in 2016. Democrat Jahana Hayes defeated an underfunded Republican 56-44 in an open seat race two years ago, and she won 55-43 this time.

Democrats control the governorship and both chambers of the legislature, but they probably won’t be the ones drawing the new congressional lines. The state constitution requires two-thirds of each chamber to pass a new map for it to take effect, and while Democrats won a supermajority in the state Senate last month, they fell short in the House. If the legislature can’t agree on new boundaries, the task would fall to a bipartisan “backup” commission.

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