The Political Report – November 12, 2023

A new University of North Florida poll shows Donald Trump leading Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Florida GOP presidential primary, 60% to 21%.

Other candidates are just footnotes: Nikki Haley is in third with 6%, followed by Chris Christie with 2%, and Vivek Ramaswamy with 1%.

NEW YORK 26TH DISTRICT. Multiple outlets confirm WBEN’s report that Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins will resign from the House to lead Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, with a source saying it’s a “done deal.” Politico separately says Higgins’ departure announcement will take place as soon as next week, and that he’ll step down in January. We’ll have more about the race to replace Higgins in this 61-37 Biden seat, as well as his long career, after he confirms he’s departing.  

OHIO 2ND DISTRICT. Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who earned his ticket to Congress by unseating the notorious Jean Schmidt in the 2012 GOP primary, announced his retirement on Thursday night. If he hadn’t waited until after 7 PM and been the fourth departure of the day, we’d have included a full write-up in this issue of the Digest, so you’ll have to wait until the next edition of our newsletter to learn more about his career.

WASHINGTON 6TH DISTRICT. Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer unexpectedly announced Thursday that he wouldn’t seek a seventh term representing Washington’s 6th Congressional District. This constituency, which is based in the Olympic Peninsula and Tacoma, supported Joe Biden 57-40, and Democrats are favored to keep it. It’s possible, though, that the party will need to be on guard going into the August top-two primary to make sure a pair of Republicans don’t advance to the general election.

Both Inside Elections’ Erin Covey and the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner quickly relayed speculation that one prominent Democrat, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, could end her campaign for governor and instead run to replace Kilmer.

Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall, meanwhile, confirmed she was considering her own bid. Randall’s 2018 election made her one of the first two lesbians to serve in the state Senate, and she’d be the state’s first LGBTQ+ member of Congress.

Covey also mentioned the following fellow Democrats as possible contenders:

  • State House Speaker Laurie Jinkins
  • Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello
  • Kitsap County Commissioner Christine Rolfes
  • Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards

On the GOP side, state Sen. Drew MacEwen wrote on social media he’ll decide “very soon.”

Kilmer won elected office for the first time in 2004 when he unseated Republican state Rep. Lois McMahan 50-48 in a tight race for the state House. This would turn out to be the only close contest of his career. Kilmer won a promotion to the state Senate two years later 60-40, and he turned in a similar performance in the 2010 red wave in what Roll Call described as the most conservative Democratic-held seat in the chamber.

Kilmer got the opportunity to run for Congress in 2012 when longtime Rep. Norm Dicks retired. Several Democrats initially showed interest in running, but Kilmer, who called the incumbent a mentor, quickly became the favorite and scared off any serious opposition. Kilmer won the general election 59-41 as Barack Obama was carrying the district 56-41, and he easily held it for the rest of his career. The congressman became a leader in the moderate New Democrat Coalition, though he compiled a mainstream record and never attracted a serious challenge from the left.

Kilmer’s ascent, however, did result in some problems for his party back in the state Senate. Democrats appointed Nathan Schlicher to succeed him, but Schlicher faced an uphill 2013 special election to keep the seat against Republican state Rep. Jan Angel. Angel won 52-48, an outcome that made it more difficult for Democrats to retake the chamber from a coalition of Republicans and two renegade conservative Democrats. That state of affairs would continue until Democrat Manka Dhingra flipped a crucial seat elsewhere in the state in a 2017 special, while Randall would replace the retiring Angel the following year.

IOWA 3RD DISTRICT. Former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Lanon Baccam on Thursday became the first notable Iowa Democrat to launch a bid against Republican Rep. Zach Nunn, who holds a swingy seat that Democrats want to retake. Baccam, who is the son of members of the Tai Dam ethnic minority who fled Laos as refugees following the communist takeover in 1975, would be the first person of color to represent the state in Congress.

But he has a challenging race ahead of him before he can make history. The 3rd District, which is based in Des Moines and southwestern Iowa favored Donald Trump by a tiny 49.3-48.9 margin in 2020. Nunn ousted Rep. Cindy Axne, who was the Hawkeye State’s only remaining Democratic member of Congress, by a comparably tight 50.3-49.6 spread two years later.

Baccam announced his effort with endorsements from state Auditor Rob Sand, who is the party’s only remaining statewide elected official, and former Gov. Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden’s secretary of agriculture. The new candidate used his launch video to describe his decision to enlist in the Iowa National Guard at age 17, for which he needed permission from his parents. “After 9/11, my National Guard unit was activated and deployed to Afghanistan,” Baccam tells the audience. “As a combat engineer, I was on the frontlines detonating unexploded ordinances and weapons caches. I was proud of my service and grateful to make it home.”

Nunn, who served in the Air Force, finished September with $1.4 million in the bank, and he’ll have access to plenty more to defend this seat. If Baccam can prove himself, though, Iowa’s 3rd could once again be a top battleground. As the new challenger pointed out in his kickoff video, “The last race was decided by just a few votes per precinct.”

MICHIGAN 13TH DISTRICT. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is one of the more prominent Democrats in Michigan, announced Thursday that she was backing former Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency director Adam Hollier’s primary bid against Rep. Shri Thanedar. Benson, who is a 13th District resident, did not mention Thanedar, who beat Hollier 28-24 last year. She instead praised the challenger’s prior service in the Army, the state Senate, and at the state Veterans Affairs Agency.

OREGON 3RD DISTRICT. State Rep. Travis Nelson said Tuesday that he’s decided not to enter the Democratic primary for this safely blue state, but the race to succeed retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer may still expand soon. Fellow state Rep. Maxine Dexter tells Willamette Weekly that she’s interested and plans to make up her mind in the near future. A third state representative, Thuy Tran, didn’t return WW’s request for a comment, but the paper says she’s also thinking about running. Former Multnomah County Commission Chair Deborah Kafoury said over the weekend that she wouldn’t enter the primary to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

NEW YORK 3RD DISTRICT. Nonprofit founder Zak Malamed announced Wednesday that he was exiting the busy Democratic primary to take on still-Rep. George Santos and endorsing former Rep. Tom Suozzi.

MINNESOTA 3RD DISTRICT. Democratic state Sen. Kelly Morrison announced Thursday that she would run for this suburban Twin Cities seat, a development that could mean she doesn’t expect Rep. Dean Phillips to seek reelection in what’s become a reliably blue seat.

Morrison and Phillips are close friends, and the longshot presidential candidate responded to her announcement with a tweet declaring, “I’m thrilled @Morrison4MN is entering the MN-03 primary because healthy democracies promote competition, don’t limit it, and voters appoint their Representatives, not a person or political party.” Morrison, for her part, responded to the Star Tribune’s question of what she’d do if Phillips ran again by saying, “I’m not really thinking about hypotheticals right now.”

Morrison, who has continued her work as an OB-GYN during her service in the legislature, entered the Democratic primary with the support of former Gov. Mark Dayton. She launched her campaign about a month after DNC member Ron Harris, who has made it clear he’ll run no matter what Phillips does.

NEW JERSEY 7TH DISTRICT. Summit City Council President Greg Vartan, who is a Democrat, has filed FEC paperwork for a potential campaign against GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr.

NEW YORK 16TH DISTRICT. Westchester County Executive George Latimer has pushed back his timeline to December for when he’ll decide whether to launch a primary challenge against Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, saying, “Obviously, I’m actively thinking about it.” Both News 12 and Jewish Insider had reported earlier this week that Latimer would run.

Latimer will announce a primary challenge of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) before departing on “a solidarity trip” to Israel on November 26, Jewish Insider reports.

NEW YORK 17TH DISTRICT. Former Trump administration official William Maloney, whom Politico says has more recently worked for Steve Bannon’s radio show, told the publication that he’s considering a primary challenge from the right against freshman GOP Rep. Mike Lawler, who is already likely to be a top Democratic target next year in what is currently a 54-44 Biden district.

FLORIDA 27TH DISTRICT. Miami-Dade County School Board member Lucia Baez-Geller became the first notable Democrat to challenge sophomore GOP Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar when she launched her campaign on Thursday. Salazar unseated one-term Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala 51-47 in a 2020 rematch, then easily defeated Democrat Annette Taddeo 57-43 two years later after Republicans made her seat redder in redistricting.

The district remains swingy on the presidential level, with Donald Trump carrying it by just a 49.9 to 49.6 margin, but Gov. Ron DeSantis won it 58-41 last year, according to one analysis. Baez-Geller is the child of immigrants from Colombia and Cuba, while Salazar was also born to Cuban immigrants.

TEXAS 12TH DISTRICT. Tarrant County Commissioner Manny Ramirez said Monday night that he’d stay out of the race to succeed his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Kay Granger. State Rep. Nate Schatzline said Tuesday that he’d seek reelection rather than join the primary to succeed his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Kay Granger.

ARIZONA 1ST DISTRICT and IOWA 1ST DISTRICT. EMILY’s List has endorsed both former TV news anchor Marlene Galán-Woods in Arizona’s 1st District and former state Rep. Christina Bohannan in Iowa’s 1st. Galán-Woods is one of several Democrats competing in a busy primary to take on GOP Rep. David Schweikert, while Bohannan currently faces no serious intraparty opposition in her rematch with Republican incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

ARKANSAS 3RD DISTRICT. Republican state Sen. Clint Penzo has filed paperwork with the FEC ahead of a possible primary challenge to Rep. Steve Womack, a few days after reportedly expressing interest in a bid. Arkansas’ filing deadline is Tuesday, so we’ll know Penzo’s decision soon.

ALABAMA 2ND DISTRICT. State Rep. Juandalynn Givan announced Thursday she’d join the Democratic primary for this redrawn seat one day ahead of the filing deadline. Givan’s Birmingham base is located far outside the boundaries of the 2nd, but she argued, “There is a need for new, fresh progressive leadership in Alabama.”

On the Democratic side, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed has confirmed he won’t run. State Sen. Kirk Hatcher said last week that Reed would be endorsing him, though the mayor hasn’t publicly thrown his support behind anyone yet.

Two different Republicans, state Sen. Greg Albritton and former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker, declared Monday that they’d run for this redrawn constituency. The GOP primary also included attorney Caroleene Dobson, who announced Wednesday.

The new 2nd, which would have favored Joe Biden 56-43 in 2020, was drawn to ensure Black voters could elect their preferred candidate, and all three GOP candidates are white. (Rep. Barry Moore, who is also a white Republican, decided last month to oppose fellow incumbent Jerry Carl in the March primary for the conservative 1st rather than try to hold the 2nd.) Brewbaker, though, argued to in September that if the general election comes down to “straight-up racial polarization … the Republicans can potentially hang onto the seat.”

MARYLAND 3RD DISTRICT. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who recently published a book about his experience during the Jan. 6 riot, told Axios late last month he was mulling a bid to replace retiring Rep. John Sarbanes in this safely blue seat. “[A]t this moment it’s only an intriguing idea,” Dunn tweeted Oct. 28, “And I haven’t given much formal thought to it. I’m not against it but it’s a hell of a decision that I’m not prepared to make now.”

The Baltimore Sun, meanwhile, writes that Del. Terri Hill says she’s decided to enter the Democratic primary, but there’s no quote from her. Del. Terri Hill filed FEC paperwork Monday for a potential campaign to replace her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. John Sarbanes. Democratic state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that she’s been endorsed by Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, whose county is home to just over half of the 3rd’s denizens.

COLORADO 4TH DISTRICT. House Minority Leader Mike Lynch tells Colorado Public Radio he’s interested in running to replace his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Ken Buck. Lynch texted that he and his wife were mulling “how my background as a West Point graduate, Army veteran, small business owner, and Colorado House Minority Leader could best be used to serve the people of my state and our nation.”

CPR also mentions former state Sen. Tom Wiens as a possible candidate, though there’s no word if he’s considering well over a decade after his last run for office. Wiens took on Buck for the GOP’s 2010 U.S. Senate nomination, but he dropped out well before the primary.

GOP state Rep. Richard Holtorf tells Colorado Politics’ Ernest Lee Luning he has an announcement set for Thursday. Holtorf set up an exploratory committee in September for a potential primary bid against Rep. Ken Buck, who ultimately decided not to seek reelection.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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