Morning Digest: Kentucky's unpopular ex-governor trolls pols at filing deadline but nixes comeback

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

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Leading Off

KY-Gov: Friday was the last day for candidates to file to run for office in Kentucky this year, and former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin spent the day trolling the political world about his plans before finally passing on a rematch against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear. Bevin, who famously launched his successful 2015 campaign on the last day possible, kept everyone guessing for months if he’d do the same thing and enter the crowded May 16 primary.

The former governor, to the frustration of Republicans who remember his chaotic four years in office, narrow 2019 defeat, and controversial final pardons, began Friday with some cryptic tweets implying he’d try again. Bevin then announced an afternoon press conference at the state Capitol, the same building where filing was taking place in the secretary of state’s office, after which he’d be “proceeding down the hall.”

With about an hour to go before the deadline Bevin delivered a 20-minute speech that appeared to be his campaign kickoff. However, the Republican instead took the hall that led out of the building, got into a van, and drove away―all without actually saying that he wasn’t going to run. It was only at 4 PM local time that the secretary of state’s office door closed and it became 100% clear that Bevin wouldn’t be coming back, though one person joked, “Bevin’s coming in the window!”

So, who is running in the Republican primary for governor? Twelve contenders, ended up filing, and the notable names are:

  • State Attorney General Daniel Cameron
  • former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft
  • State Auditor Mike Harmon
  • Somerset Mayor Alan Keck
  • State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles

While there was some speculation over the preceding weeks that Papa John’s founder John Schnatter or another Republican could get in late, there were no surprises in the end. It’s far too early to designate a frontrunner for this primary, where it takes a simple plurality to win, especially since no one has released any polling here in months.

However, both Cameron and Craft have some big advantages. The attorney general, who would be Kentucky’s first Black governor, has an endorsement from Donald Trump; Cameron is also close to his former boss, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Craft and her husband, coal billionaire Joe Craft, have together been some of the GOP’s most influential donors, and she outraised all of her intra-party rivals during the final quarter of 2022 without doing any major self-funding. Craft has also spent considerably more than her opponents, and she has the personal wealth to throw down more.

Quarles, for his part, finished last year with the largest war chest in the race, though he brought in little during the last quarter. Keck, meanwhile, leads a small community of 12,000 people in heavily conservative southern Kentucky, though this appears to be the first time he’s sought higher office.

Harmon, finally, has announced all the way back in July of 2021, but he’s been a terrible fundraiser throughout his long campaign. Harmon last quarter brought in just about $3,000, which is about as much as another rival, Republican-turned independent-turned-Republican Eric Deters, took in. Deters, a suspended attorney who was charged in October with menacing behavior towards his nephew, has pledged to self-fund over $1 million, but he’s thrown down just $70,000 so far.

Beshear, who is Kentucky’s only Democratic statewide elected official, will be in for a tough fight no matter what in a state that Trump took 62-36. We haven’t seen any surveys testing him against any of these Republicans, though a September poll from the Democratic firm Garin-Hart-Yang showed him with a strong 62-36 approval rating. Beshear also finished last year with $4.7 million on-hand, which was considerably more than any of his opponents had available.

Redistricting

SC Redistricting: A federal court struck down South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District on Friday, ruling that Republican lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Black voters when they redrew it. The three-judge panel concluded that legislators had violated the Constitution in packing too many African Americans into the neighboring 6th District, illegally letting race predominate when drawing their new map without serving a compelling government interest.

The legislature now has until March 31 to devise a remedial plan. However, the court rejected similar claims of racial gerrymandering by the plaintiffs, who are backed by the NAACP, regarding the 2nd and 5th districts, limiting the scope of the decision.

The 1st District had seen competitive elections under the previous map in recent years: Democrat Joe Cunningham won a 51-49 upset in 2018 before losing by that same margin to Republican Nancy Mace in 2020. However, the GOP engaged in defensive gerrymandering in order to insulate Mace from future challenges, shifting the 1st from a district that had backed Donald Trump by a 52-46 margin to one that would have given him a wider 53-45 edge.

They did so by moving Black voters—who reliably vote for Democrats—from the 1st into the already dark blue 6th District, a Voting Rights Act-protected seat that already was home to a Black majority and has long sent Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Black Democrat, to Congress. (Due to population loss, the 6th had to add a significant number of new residents and now has a Black plurality, despite GOP packing.) As a result, Mace comfortably won re-election in the 1st by a 56-42 margin last year.

But despite this latest ruling, a revised map may not significantly improve Black voters’ ability to reliably elect their preferred candidate—almost certainly a Democrat—in a second one of the state’s seven districts, even though nearly two-sevenths of South Carolina’s population is Black. That’s because the court’s ruling hinged on the 14th Amendment rather than the Voting Rights Act; while the latter can require states to draw districts that empower Black voters to elect their chosen candidates, the former mandates only that map-makers don’t let race predominate over other factors without justification when crafting lines.

Republicans may therefore try to continue to pursue their partisan ends of drawing a map that favors Republicans in six of the state’s seven districts, simply by convincing the court that a future map does not overly rely on race. Nevertheless, if this ruling survives a likely appeal, it could see the 1st District become somewhat less favorable toward Republicans. But given the Supreme Court’s deep hostility toward minority voting rights in recent redistricting rulings, this decision could get overturned.

Senate

MI-Sen: Republicans will need to make it through yet another cycle without having Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller as a candidate for higher office.

While Miller’s old chief of staff, Jamie Roe, said Thursday that the former congresswoman was “seriously considering” campaigning to succeed Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Roe the next day confirmed reports that she had decided to sit out the open seat race. Roe tweeted Miller “believes it’s time to pass to a new generation and stay doing a job she loves,” so this may be the last time she gets seriously talked about for Senate or governor.

Meanwhile, the Detroit News mentions state Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt as a possible GOP contender, while a Democratic strategist names newly elected Rep. Hillary Scholten as a possibility for his party, though there’s no word if either is considering. One Democrat who has made it clear she won’t run, though, is Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald.

MO-Sen: Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, a Democrat who lost last year’s primary for Missouri’s other Senate seat, announced Friday that he’d challenge Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a kickoff that coincided with the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack. Kunce launched his campaign with a video highlighting how Hawley ran from the rioters just hours after raising his fist to salute the crowd that wanted to overturn Biden’s victory. Kunce told Politico that “if I ran like that in Iraq or Afghanistan—or anybody else there did—the Marine Corps would have court-martialed us.”

Kunce last cycle raised about $5.6 million for his campaign to succeed retiring incumbent Roy Blunt in what’s become a very tough state for Democrats. Self-funder Trudy Busch Valentine, though, defeated Kunce 43-38 for the nomination before losing the general election 55-42 against Republican Eric Schmitt.

Governors

IN-Gov: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch revealed Friday that she’d finished 2022 with $3.1 million on-hand, which gives her a slightly larger war chest for the 2024 Republican primary than her two declared opponents. Sen. Mike Braun ended last year with $2.9 million to spend, while businessman Eric Doden had $2.8 million available.

None of them will be bringing in much for a while, though, because state law prohibits candidates for statewide office from raising money during the legislative session. The legislature is set to convene Monday and remain in session until late April.

LA-Gov: Attorney General Jeff Landry is using what will likely be his last days as the only Republican in the race to reveal that he has more than $5 million on-hand, while his allied PAC has an additional $1.5 million available. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is set to announce Tuesday that he’s joining the October all-party primary, while state Treasurer John Schroder’s declaration is scheduled for two days afterwards. Another Republican, state Rep. Richard Nelson, says he’ll reveal his own plans in “next few weeks.”

Louisiana political observers are also waiting to see if Rep. Garret Graves will get in now that he knows he won’t need to go up against Sen. John Kennedy, who recently declined to run. The GOP congressman, though, doesn’t appear to have said much since the November elections about his interest in this race, and he didn’t respond to The Advocate‘s questions on Thursday.

House

WV-01: Former Del. Derrick Evans, who served 90 days in prison for his participation in the Jan. 6 riot, used the second anniversary of the attack to announce he would challenge Republican Rep. Carol Miller for renomination in this safely red seat. “Carol Miller has had five years to leave her mark on Washington,” Evans said of the incumbent, who actually took office four years ago, “But instead, she’s left the car door open with the keys in the ignition.”

Evans two years ago live-streamed himself at the Capitol yelling at police officers, “You go tell your liberal mayor to go kiss rocks!” A short time later he told his audience, “We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” Evans resigned from the legislature days later after only about a month in office, and later told his judge that he was a “good person who was unfortunately caught up in a moment which led to me breaking the law.”

Unsurprisingly, Evans isn’t at all apologetic about what he did. He launched his exploratory committee last month by declaring he was “held captive by the illegitimate Biden regime as a Jan. 6 political prisoner” until October, adding, “I am proud to know that the liberal mainstream media is going to label me as an ultra MAGA election denier.”

Legislatures

NH State House: The New Hampshire Bullet reported over the holidays that Feb. 21 will indeed be the date for special election for Strafford District 8 (usually referred to locally as Rochester Ward 4), which will be a replay of the November contest that ended in a tie between Democratic incumbent Chuck Grassie and Republican challenger David Walker. Republicans currently enjoy a tiny 201-198 edge in New Hampshire’s 400-person lower chamber.

Mayors and County Leaders

Harris County, TX Judge: Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who lost a tight contest to Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo last year, announced Thursday evening that she would contest her defeat, a matter that will go before the county’s district court. Mealer, who came up short by 18,000 votes―a margin of 51-49―initially conceded the race to lead Texas’ most populous county, but she now argues that “there were serious operational issues that occurred throughout Election Day that call into question whether the county’s failures denied voters their right to vote.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum last month turned in a report looking into the ballot shortages and late opening polling places that occurred on Nov. 8, but he said it is “not yet revealed” if these prevented anyone from voting. Tatum also wrote that the county Republican Party had “reportedly” urged at least some presiding judges and alternate judges not to speak to his staff about the issues.

Political science professor Bob Stein told the Texas Tribune that it was unlikely these issues were enough to impact the result of the county judge race, declaring, “I’m extremely doubtful that there is a legitimate legal challenge here.” (In Texas, county judges are executive rather than judicial offices.) “It’s not like voters were told they couldn’t vote or that they had to go home,” he said, adding, “They were discouraged because the lines were long, or because they were told they’d have to wait.”

Stein argued that, in order to convince the court that it should void the election or proclaim Mealer the winner, her team would need to bring in evidence that more than 18,000 people had planned to vote for the Republican and couldn’t. The story also notes that about 70% of the county’s 2022 votes were cast before Election Day.

Las Vegas, NV Mayor: Former Rep. Shelley Berkley, who was the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2012, announced Thursday that she was entering the 2024 nonpartisan race to succeed termed-out independent Mayor Carolyn Goodman. Berkley, who was elected to a Las Vegas-based seat in 1998, has not sought office since her tight loss to GOP Sen. Dean Heller.

Berkley joins a contest that began to take shape all the way back in 2021 when City Councilman Cedric Crear and Nevada Equal Rights Commission head Kara Jenkins, who would each be the city’s first Black chief executive, both announced they were in. The last mayoral contest, which Goodman won easily, took place in 2019, but the Democratic legislature soon passed a law requiring all Nevada municipalities conduct local elections in even-numbered years starting in 2022.

Suffolk County, NY Executive: Venture capitalist Dave Calone has had the field to himself ever since he entered the race last July, and prominent Democrats are working to make sure he has no intra-party opposition to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone this year. Calone on Thursday held his kickoff with powerful county chair Rich Schaffer, the Democratic caucus in the county legislature, and local party officials. Calone was on the ballot back in 2016 when he competed in the primary to take on 1st District Rep. Lee Zeldin, but he narrowly lost the nod to Anna Throne-Holst.

It remains to be seen who the Republicans will run as they try to take control of Suffolk County, a populous Long Island community that has moved to the right in recent years. Local GOP chairman Jesse Garcia didn’t name anyone who might compete in the June party primary, merely telling Newsday his camp was “talking to a number of candidates.” County Comptroller John Kennedy, who lost to Bellone 56-43 in 2019, didn’t rule out the idea of another campaign in early November just before Kennedy was re-elected 60-40.

grab bag

Where Are They Now?: Both Richard Burr and his attorneys put out statements Friday saying that the Securities and Exchange Commission has told them that it has ended its insider trading investigation and will not charge the former North Carolina senator or his brother-in-law. The SEC previously said it was “investigating whether [Burr] sold stocks on the basis of nonpublic information” during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and provided this information to his relative.