• Sun. Jan 24th, 2021

Morning Digest: Democrats scored biggest win ever in New Mexico seat primed for special election


Dec 18, 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.

Note: Monday’s Digest will be our last of the year.

Leading Off

Pres-by-CD: Daily Kos Elections’ project to calculate the results of the 2020 presidential election for all 435 congressional districts makes its next stop in New Mexico, which was the site of one hotly contested House race this year and could soon host a special election in a different district. As always, we’re providing detailed county-by-county breakdowns, and we also have an extra-large map of the results you can explore.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s no surprise that southern New Mexico’s conservative 2nd District returned to form in 2020 and ousted freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, given Donald Trump’s strong 55-43 margin of victory. On the margins, that actually represented a small increase from his 50-40 win four years earlier, though the 2016 numbers were skewed somewhat by former Gov. Gary Johnson, who took a sizable 9% running on the Libertarian ticket.

Torres Small won a huge upset in the 2018 blue wave when she defeated Republican Yvette Herrell 51-49 after GOP Rep. Steve Pearce departed for an unsuccessful run for governor. But Herrell came back for a rematch and prevailed, though her 54-46 win was narrower than Trump’s 12-point spread.

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The state’s two other districts, both reliably blue, easily went for both Joe Biden and their respective Democratic House candidates, but there was an interesting flip-flop: For the first time in a presidential race since New Mexico added a third congressional seat following the 1980 census, the 1st District gave a higher share of its vote to the Democrat than the 3rd. While the district lines have shifted somewhat overtime, they’ve been largely stable for the last 30 years, with the 1st anchored by Albuquerque and the 3rd spreading out from Santa Fe.

This year, the 1st went for Biden 60-37 while the 3rd supported him 58-40; the strong result in the 1st was powered by Biden’s 61-37 win in Bernalillo County, the second-best showing by a Democrat of all time, trailing only FDR’s massive 1936 romp. Four years ago, the 1st gave Clinton 51.6% of the vote while the 3rd gave her 51.8%. The difference, of course, was not dramatic, and Clinton actually carried the 1st by a slightly larger margin (52-35 with rounding, vs. 52-37 in the 3rd).

The increased margin in the 1st is welcome news for D.C. Democrats, who’ve expressed some apprehension about Biden tapping 1st District Rep. Deb Haaland to become the first Native person to head up the Department of the Interior, a move he’s reportedly about to announce (see our NM-01 item below for more). While Republicans could be competitive in a special election here, a seat Biden won by 23 points is probably at the outer limits for them.

The key reason New Mexico’s districts haven’t budged much since the 1990s is that state government was divided between Democrats and Republicans in recent redistricting cycles, leading a judge to impose new maps each time that made as few changes as possible while ensuring population equality. That could change next year, however, as Democrats will have full control of redistricting for the first time since 1991.

P.S. If you haven’t done so yet, you’ll want to bookmark our complete data set with presidential results by congressional district for all 50 states, which we’re updating continuously.

Georgia Runoffs

GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: In a first, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have released a joint TV ad—they even say “we approve this message” in unison at the end—featuring none other than Joe Biden. In a direct-to-camera monologue designed to resemble a presidential address, Biden says, “On day one as your president, I’m prepared to sign a COVID relief package that fully funds the public health response needed, led by Georgia’s own CDC.”

He promises free testing and vaccination for all Americans, as well as small business relief, and emphasizes, “I need Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the United States Senate to get this done.” Biden even finishes with the traditional salutation he offers after all speeches: “God Bless America, and may God protect our troops.”

Ossoff, meanwhile, devotes his own 60-second spot to his mentor, the late John Lewis, and his legacy. It begins with footage of Lewis and fellow civil rights protestors getting brutally beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama before showing Ossoff at the very same bridge today, narrating the ad.

Noting the courage of Lewis and his compatriots that brought about massive change in the 1960s, Ossoff insists, “The promise of equal justice in America remains unfulfilled, so together we’ll fight for a new Civil Rights Act and a new Voting Rights Act. To ensure equal justice for all no matter the color of our skin, to end racial profiling and police brutality, and to stop anyone from suppressing the sacred right to vote.”

The ad ends with a 10-second clip of Lewis addressing the Democratic convention in 2012, exhorting attendees to remember, “Too many people struggled, suffered, and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.”


FL-Sen, FL-Gov: The Tampa Bay Times directly asked Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy this week if she was considering a 2022 statewide run, and she very much did not say no. Murphy instead responded, “I think it’s a little early for that right now,” before adding, “There will be a time for politics and I think I have some experiences I will be able to share from my time flipping and serving a purple or red district.”

Meanwhile, another Democrat who had been mentioned for both offices, state Sen. Lauren Book, seems more interested in a third alternative. Politico reports that Book is considering a campaign against state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican who has many of the duties that would belong to a treasurer or comptroller in other states. (The CFO is also the state fire marshal.) A consultant for Book said she’s “being approached by a number of leaders about seeking higher office” and that “nothing is off the table,” though he didn’t name any specific races.

Meanwhile, multiple media outlets have relayed rumors that Ivanka Trump’s recent decision to relocate to Florida means that she could challenge Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. There’s no indication that Trump is actually interested, and state party chair Joe Gruters dismissed the speculation as “just noise,” adding, “I don’t anticipate anybody running against the governor or Marco Rubio that’s serious at this time.” Trump, though, has not responded when asked to comment, so she’s at least not doing anything to get the chatter to stop.

KY-Sen: Perry Bacon writes in Bluegrass Beat that outgoing state Rep. Charles Booker, who lost a surprisingly close Democratic primary for Senate to national party favorite Amy McGrath seven months ago, hasn’t ruled out challenging Republican incumbent Rand Paul for Kentucky’s other seat. “We have two terrible Senators in Kentucky,” Booker said in October, adding, “So I’m praying on what that means for me in 2022. Stay tuned.”

NC-Sen: Republican Sen. Richard Burr has said for years that he won’t seek a fourth term in 2022, but he’s sounding a little less definitive about retirement all of a sudden. This week, when CNN asked Burr if he’d be running again, he responded, “I don’t have any plans to right now.” The senator, though, is still under investigation for the large stock transactions he made just before the markets tanked in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, so he may not be able to stick around even if he wants to.

The GOP field currently consists of just one man, outgoing Rep. Mark Walker, though two of his soon-to-be-former colleagues may end up joining him. A spokesperson for Rep. Ted Budd confirmed that his boss is thinking about getting in, while fellow Rep. Dan Bishop very much didn’t rule it out. Bishop instead put out a statement saying his “thoughts about the US Senate right now” are confined to the two Georgia runoffs next month.


MN-Gov: Minnesota Morning Take reports that state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Rep. Pete Stauber are each “testing the waters for support” for a potential campaign for the Republican nomination for governor. Stauber did not rule anything out when asked last month, while Gazelka doesn’t appear to have said anything publicly about a possible bid against Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.

VA-Gov: Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman said this week he would not seek the Republican nomination next year.


LA-02: EMILY’s List has endorsed state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson in the upcoming special election to succeed Rep. Cedric Richmond, a fellow Democrat, in this safely blue seat.

NM-01: Multiple media organizations reported Thursday that Joe Biden would nominate Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, who is a member of the federally recognized Laguna Pueblo tribe, would be the first Native person to hold this post.

Haaland’s departure would also set off a special election in New Mexico’s 1st District in the Albuquerque area. A previous version of this seat hosted the state’s last congressional special back in 1998 after Rep. Steve Schiff died, which fellow Republican Heather Wilson won just 45-40 over Democrat Phil Maloof, with a Green Party candidate taking 15%. The area has moved sharply to the left over the ensuing two decades, though, and as new data from Daily Kos Elections shows, the current version of the 1st District backed Biden 60-37 (see our lead item above for more).

Special elections can be unpredictable, of course, but it would be very difficult for the GOP to put this seat into play. Inside Elections’ Ryan Matsumoto notes that the largest over-performance in a congressional special election during Trump era was the 2017 race for Kansas’ 4th District, where Democrat James Thompson ran 21 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s margin but still lost to Republican Ron Estes; if Republicans were to flip New Mexico’s 1st, they’d need to outperform Trump by 23 points.

A number of Democrats will likely eye this seat if Haaland is confirmed (likely including some of the opponents she faced in 2018 when she won an open-seat race), but nominees won’t be chosen by primary voters. Instead, each party’s central committee would pick their candidate for the special.


Special Elections: Saturday brings us our final legislative special election of 2020, an all-GOP affair in Texas:

TX-SD-30: Shelley Luther, who gained notoriety and admiration among conservatives when she was arrested earlier this year for defying the state’s COVID-19 restrictions to keep her Dallas-area salon open, will face state Rep. Drew Springer in Saturday’s runoff for this safely red seat in North Texas.

Luther narrowly edged out Springer 32.0-31.9 in the September all-party primary, while a Democrat took third with 21%. Gov. Greg Abbott went on to endorse Springer after the first round, which was hardly a surprise since Luther had called Abbott “our tyrant governor [who] has embarrassed us completely.”


Albuquerque, NM Mayor: Democratic Mayor Tim Keller is up for re-election in next year’s officially nonpartisan race, and he looks to be in good shape, as a September poll from Research & Polling Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal gave him a strong 60-22 approval rating. Keller’s detractors, though, hope that the concerns about the city’s crime rate, which has long been a major issue in local politics, will leave the incumbent vulnerable.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales expressed interest in taking on Keller over the summer, and local political observer Joe Monahan relayed this week that he was still considering. However, while Gonzales is a Democrat, he’s been more than willing to side with the Trump administration. In June, Gonzales appeared at the White House as Trump and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced that they were deploying federal agents to Albuquerque.

New Mexico Democrats roundly condemned what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called “authoritarian, unnecessary and unaccountable military-style ‘crackdowns,'” and Sen. Martin Heinrich called for Gonzales’ resignation. Gonzales did not quit, though, and Trump soon commended him in a tweet for his “great comments on Operation Legend!”

Anchorage, AK Mayor: Austin Quinn-Davidson became mayor of Anchorage in October after Democratic incumbent Ethan Berkowitz resigned as the result of a sex scandal, but it doesn’t sound like she’ll be seeking a full term next year: The Anchorage Daily News’ Aubrey Wieber wrote earlier this month that Quinn-Davidson said “she does not plan on running for mayor.” Not planning to run and not running are two different things, of course, but with the Jan. 29 filing deadline coming up quickly, it would be a surprise if Quinn-Davidson reversed course.

Local politicians had long been planning for what they thought would be an open-seat race to succeed Berkowitz, who was unable to seek another three-year term even before he departed (Anchorage is the only major city in America we know of where terms last for an odd number of years). As a consequence, a number of candidates have been competing in this officially nonpartisan race for a while. All the contenders will compete in the April 21 election, and if no one takes at least 45% of the vote, a runoff would take place May 5.

The field already includes Forrest Dunbar, a member of the Anchorage Assembly (the equivalent of the city council) who was the 2014 Democratic nominee against Republican Rep. Don Young before winning his current office in 2016. Another prominent local candidate is Bill Falsey, who resigned as the city’s municipal manager in November to concentrate on his bid. George Martinez, a former aide to Berkowitz, is also running.

The more notable candidates also include a trio of Republicans: former Republican City Assemblyman Bill Evans; Air Force veteran Dave Bronson; and Mike Robbins, a local party official. There is no obvious frontrunner at this point.

Cleveland, OH Mayor: Businessman Justin Bibb announced Wednesday that he’d raised $180,000 in the three months since he launched a committee to explore a bid for mayor of Cleveland. Bibb is a member of the board of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and the founder of a nonprofit focused on racial justice, as well as a cousin of longtime local TV news anchor Leon Bibb.

This office is currently held by Democratic Mayor Frank Jackson, who has not yet said if he’ll seek a fifth term next year. The field of potential candidates in this very blue city also includes City Council President Kevin Kelley and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who was nicknamed the “boy mayor” of Cleveland when he was elected to the position at the age of 31 back in 1977.

Omaha, NE Mayor: Republican Jean Stothert is seeking a third term next year, and Democrats are hoping to give her a serious fight in this officially nonpartisan race.

Public health official Jasmine Harris, a Democrat who would be the city’s first Black mayor, announced in October. She was followed by developer RJ Neary, who joined the race earlier this month with the support of the city’s last two mayors, Democrats Mike Fahey and Jim Suttle. Neary also has the endorsement of City Councilman Ben Gray, who had been mentioned as a potential Democratic contender himself.

Other candidates may get in ahead of the March 8 filing deadline. Last month, the Omaha World Herald reported that two other Democrats, Omaha Public Schools board member Kimara Snipe and Douglas County board member Jim Cavanaugh, were also considering. The paper also relayed that Kara Eastman, who lost a very competitive race to Republican Rep. Don Bacon last month in the Omaha-based 2nd District, wasn’t ruling out a mayoral bid either.

All the candidates will face off in the April 6 nonpartisan primary, and the top-two vote-getters will proceed to the May 11 general election. Unlike in many cities, candidates cannot avert a second round of voting by winning a majority in the primary.

San Antonio, TX Mayor: Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a progressive independent, defeated conservative City Councilman Greg Brockhouse by a narrow 51-49 margin in 2019, and Brockhouse recently said that he planned to try again next year. (San Antonio is the largest city in America to elect its mayors to terms lasting for two years rather than four.) The filing deadline is Feb. 12, and the officially nonpartisan contest will take place May 1. A runoff would take place on a later date if no one captures a majority of the vote.

Brockhouse made it clear he plans to rally Republican voters in this Democratic-leaning city. The former city councilman said that Donald Trump’s defeat meant that “[c]onservatives and faith-based people lost their champion,” but insisted that anger with the new national status quo would inspire them to turn out in 2021. Brockhouse also refused to acknowledge Joe Biden as president-elect and attacked Nirenberg as a “fearmonger” for his COVID-19 briefings.

St. Petersburg, FL Mayor: Mayor Rick Kriseman is termed out next year, and two fellow Democrats have been laying the groundwork to succeed him for a while. Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who would be the city’s first Black mayor, said he’d file after the holidays, but he pre-emptively unveiled an endorsement this week from local Rep. Charlie Crist. City Councilwoman Darden Rice, who would be the city’s first gay leader and the first woman to hold the post since the 1980s, also recently said she plans to run.

Other candidates may get in ahead of the June 18 filing deadline. Former Democratic state Rep. Wengay Newton, who would also be the city’s first Black mayor, told the Tampa Bay Times this week he was “definitely considering.” Newton lost a Democratic primary to succeed Welch on the county commission in August 52-33 two years after he won renomination to the legislature with just 49% of the vote, but he argued that he’d do better in a race where Republicans and independents could vote. “I was shackled and limited to Democrats only,” Newton said, adding, “I’ve always prided myself on representing all the people.”

Businessman Deveron Gibbons also said he was being encouraged to run, though he said that the birth of his new child has him “weigh[ing] any political aspirations against this awesome responsibility, knowing that family must always come first.”

St. Petersburg is a predominantly Democratic city in national elections, but Republicans ran it for decades until Kriseman won in 2013, and they came close to taking city hall back four years later. They’re certain to try again. Florida Politics wrote last month that Republican City Councilman Robert Blackmon has avoided talking about his plans and instead “said he was honored to be a part of the conversation,” which isn’t a no. Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes has ruled out running, but the site says there “continues to be a source of speculation regardless” about him.

The filing deadline is June 18 for the Aug. 24 nonpartisan primary. If no one wins a majority of the vote, the two contenders with the most support will advance to a Nov. 2 general election.

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