Former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, who lost the 2018 nomination fight to Raffensperger 62-38, also announced over the weekend that he would seek a rematch. Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a Trump-supporting ex-Democrat who joined the Republican Party right after the 2020 election, had also been mentioned, though he turned his gaze to the governor’s race on Monday. Georgia requires a runoff in any primaries where no one takes a majority of the vote.
Hice, though, will likely be Raffensperger’s main foe thanks to Trump’s endorsement and prominent position, but his many ugly views could also prove to be a liability in a general election in what’s now become a swing state.
Hice, a pastor who worked as a conservative radio host before his 2014 election to Congress, made a name for himself with a 2012 book where he wrote, “Evidently there are many who believe a ‘Gestapo-like’ presence is needed by the government in order to corral and keep under control, all these ‘dangerous’ Christians.” Hice also used that tome to attack LGBTQ people and Muslims, as well as compare supporters of abortion rights to Hitler.
Hice has remained a far-right favorite in Congress, especially this year. Hice posted on Instagram hours before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, “This is our 1776 moment.” The message was quickly deleted after New York Times reporter Charles Bethea flagged it on Twitter in the midst of the assault on the building. Hice’s spokesperson said the next day, “The 1776 post was our way of highlighting the electoral objection—we removed the post when we realized it could be misconstrued as supporting those acting violently yesterday and storming the Capitol.”
That violence was hardly enough to stop Hice from spreading conspiracy theories. Last month, the congressman used his CPAC panel titled “Who’s Really Running the Biden Administration” to declare, “I guarantee you, Georgia is not blue, and what happened this election was solely because of a horrible secretary of state and horrible decisions that he made.”
On the Democratic side, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that one of the “leaning potential candidates” for secretary of state is state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is the first Vietnamese American to serve in the chamber. Nguyen has been in the news in recent days as she’s spoken out against racism against Asian Americans following last week’s lethal attack on Atlanta-area spas.
Meanwhile, Republicans are already eyeing the race to succeed Hice in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. This seat backed Donald Trump 60-39, and it will almost certainly remain safely red after the GOP devises new maps.
Two Republican members of the legislature, state Sen. Bill Cowsert and state Rep. Houston Gaines, expressed interest in recent days. The AJC also name-drops 2014 candidate Mike Collins, state Rep. Jodi Lott, and former state party chair John Padgett as possible candidates for Team Red.
● AL-Sen: Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a hard-right favorite who helped foment the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, announced on Monday that he would compete in the Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby. Brooks joins major GOP donor Lynda Blanchard, who served as ambassador to Slovenia, in a nomination fight that could attract more Republicans in this extremely red state.
Brooks previously competed in the 2017 special election for the Yellowhammer State’s other Senate seat in a race that turned out quite badly for him. Appointed Sen. Luther Strange and his allies at the Senate Leadership Fund aired ad after ad using footage from the previous year of Brooks, who had supported Ted Cruz in the presidential primary, attacking Donald Trump. One piece showed the congressman saying, “I don’t think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says” before the narrator argued that Brooks sided with Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi against Trump.
The ad campaign worked, but not to the GOP’s benefit. Brooks took third place with 20%, but Roy Moore went on to defeat Strange in the runoff; Moore later went on to lose to Democrat Doug Jones after multiple women accused the Republican nominee of preying on them as teenagers.
Brooks, though, didn’t have to give up his House seat to run in that special, and he soon reinvented himself as one of Trump’s most ardent allies. Brooks proved to be an especially eager promoter of Trump’s election conspiracy theories, and in a speech delivered four hours before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, he told rally goers, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” CNN later reported that several Republicans later talked about ejecting him from his committee assignments after that day’s violence, though unsurprisingly, they didn’t actually do anything.
One Republican who was delighted by Brooks, though, was Trump, something that could go a long way towards helping the congressman avoid a repeat of his 2017 experience. Politico reports that Trump is leaning towards endorsing Brooks over Blanchard in part because of a major mistake from her campaign.
“The president doesn’t know Lynda all that well and it had gotten back to him and his team that people on her team had been overstating how close they supposedly are,” said one unnamed Trump ally, adding, “One of her aides was telling any donor who would listen that Trump was going to endorse her and that left him annoyed.” A Blanchard insider, naturally, countered, saying, “That’s bullshit. That’s somebody spinning someone to help Mo out. She would never oversell it, she’s not that kind of person.”
P.S. Brooks’ decision will open up the 5th Congressional District, a northern Alabama seat that backed Trump 63-37 in 2020.
● AK-Sen, AK-Gov: Last week, the Associated Press’ Mark Thiessen name-dropped a few Republicans as possible intra-party opponents for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has not yet said if she’ll run again in 2022. The most familiar name is former Gov. Sarah Palin, who is perennially mentioned as a possible Murkowski foe even though she hasn’t actually appeared on a ballot since her 2008 vice presidential bid.
Thiessen also lists Gov. Mike Dunleavy as a possibility, though he hasn’t shown any obvious interest in doing anything other than run for re-election next year. Dunleavy hasn’t announced his 2022 plans, though he said last week, “I enjoy the job and there’s a lot of work to be done.
There’s also Joe Miller, who beat Murkowski in a 2010 primary shocker but went on to lose to her that fall when the senator ran a write-in campaign. Miller, who unsuccessfully sought the 2014 GOP nod for Alaska’s other Senate seat, campaigned against Murkowski as a Libertarian in 2016 and lost 44-29. Miller also does not appear to have said anything about another campaign.
● MO-Sen: Less than three years after he resigned in disgrace, former Gov. Eric Greitens announced Monday that he would seek the Republican nomination for this open seat. We’ll have more in our next Digest.
● NC-Sen: Meredith College takes a look at an extremely early Democratic primary scenario and finds former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and state Sen. Jeff Jackson tied 13-13. Former state Sen. Erica Smith, who lost the 2020 primary, takes 11%, while virologist Richard Watkins is at 4%. (Watkins ran in 2018 in the primary against veteran Rep. David Price and took just 6% of the vote.) Beasley is the only person tested who is not currently running.
Meredith also released numbers for the GOP primary but sampled just 217 respondents, which is below the 300-person minimum we require for inclusion in the Digest.
● NV-Sen: The far-right anti-tax Club for Growth has released a survey from its usual pollster WPA Intelligence that finds its old ally, 2018 gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt, leading former Sen. Dean Heller 44-25 in a hypothetical GOP primary. Heller, who lost Nevada’s other Senate seat to Democrat Jacky Rosen in 2018, has not shown any obvious signs of interest in taking on Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto.
Laxalt has not said anything about his 2022 plans, though CNN recently reported that he is considering a Senate bid. McClatchy, citing an unnamed GOP aide, also writes that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “is also said to favor Laxalt’s candidacy.”
● OH-Sen: 314 Action, which is trying to recruit former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton to run for this open seat, has released a survey from Public Policy Polling that shows her outperforming her fellow Democrat, Rep. Tim Ryan, in hypothetical general election matchups against a trio of Republicans. First up are the Acton numbers:
- 42-41 vs. former state Treasurer Josh Mandel
- 40-40 vs. former state party chair Jane Timken
- 40-38 vs. author J.D. Vance
Next up is Ryan:
- 38-42 vs. Mandel
- 38-41 vs. Timken
- 37-39 vs. Vance
314 publicized another PPP poll last week that had Acton leading Ryan 37-32 in a potential primary. Both Democrats are publicly considering running, though neither of them has announced a bid.
Mandel and Timken currently have the GOP side to themselves, but plenty of others could get in. Vance, who is best known as the writer of “Hillbilly Elegy,” has not said anything about his interest, but Politico reports that he recently met with people close to Trump. Last week, the Cincinnati Enquirer also revealed that far-right billionaire Peter Thiel had contributed $10 million to a super PAC set up to help Vance if he runs.
Jones, unsurprisingly, echoed his patron’s lies about election fraud by insisting, “If it weren’t for Brian Kemp, Donald Trump would still be President of these United States.” Joe Biden, of course, would still have earned an electoral college majority even if Trump had carried Georgia, but that’s hardly stopped Trump from targeting his one-time ally Kemp.
Jones had a long career in Democratic politics, though he’d struggled to win higher office under his old party. After a stint in the state House in the 1990s, Jones became the first African American to lead DeKalb County following his 2000 victory for CEO of this large Atlanta-area community. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that during his tenure, Jones “drew intense scrutiny for angry outbursts and an accusation of rape that he said was a consensual act between three partners.” Jones, however, was never charged.
Jones tried to use his high-profile post as a springboard to statewide office, but he lost the 2008 primary runoff for Senate 60-40 to Jim Martin, who went on to lose to Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss. Jones then challenged Rep. Hank Johnson in the 2010 primary for the 4th Congressional District and lost 55-26.
In 2013, a grand jury probing Jones’ time as DeKalb County CEO recommended he be investigated for what the AJC calls allegations of “bid-rigging and theft.” The following year, his campaign for DeKalb County sheriff ended in a landslide 76-24 primary defeat.
Jones, though, resurrected his political career when he won the 2016 primary to return to the state House in a safely blue seat. Months later, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced that he wouldn’t be charging a number of figures, including Jones, for lack of evidence.
Jones spent the next few years often voting with Republicans and tweeting favorably of Trump, but he only burned his last bridges with his party in 2020 when he endorsed Trump’s re-election campaign. Jones, who was already facing a competitive primary, ultimately retired from the legislature (albeit after initially saying he’d be resigning), and he spent the rest of the campaign as a prominent Trump surrogate.
Jones finally switched parties in January, and he’s been eyeing another statewide bid over the last few months. Jones has been mentioned as a prospective Senate candidate, and he reportedly eyed a primary campaign for secretary of state against Brad Raffensperger as recently as last week. Trump, though, has touted former NFL running back Herschel Walker as a prospective Senate candidate and endorsed Rep. Jody Hice’s bid against Raffensperger on Monday (see our GA-SoS item), which may be why Jones is now talking about taking on Kemp instead.
● MO-Gov, MO-Sen: Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced Monday that he would compete in the 2024 race to succeed Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who will be termed-out, rather than run in next year’s open seat race for the Senate.
Kehoe’s kickoff is extremely early, but while it’s not unheard of for prominent gubernatorial candidates to enter the race well over three years before Election Day, that preparation doesn’t always pay off. Then-California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom notably launched his successful 2018 gubernatorial campaign in February of 2015, while Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin announced his 2022 bid in August of 2019 only to drop down to attorney general last month after Donald Trump backed a rival Republican primary candidate.
● NY-Gov: A ninth woman, Alyssa McGrath, has come forward to accuse Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, making her the first current Cuomo employee to do so on the record. McGrath, an executive assistant in the governor’s office, says Cuomo “would ogle her body, remark on her looks, and make suggestive comments to her” and a coworker. She also says Cuomo called her “beautiful” in Italian and on one occasion stared down her shirt.
Cuomo once again did not deny the interactions had taken place. Instead, a spokesperson insisted that “the governor has greeted men and women with hugs and a kiss on the cheek, forehead, or hand. Yes, he has posed for photographs with his arm around them. Yes, he uses Italian phrases like ‘ciao bella.’ None of this is remarkable, although it may be old-fashioned. He has made clear that he has never made inappropriate advances or inappropriately touched anyone.”
● PA-Gov, PA-Sen: Several more Republicans, including a few familiar names, have made their interest in running to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf known in recent days.
On Monday, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain formed a fundraising committee for a potential bid. That step came days after Rep. Mike Kelly said he was thinking about running either for governor or for the Senate. The Associated Press also writes that another congressman, Rep. Dan Meuser, “has said he is considering running” for governor, but there’s no quote from him.
Former Rep. Lou Barletta, who badly lost the 2018 Senate general election, also acknowledged his interest in the gubernatorial race and pledged to decide over the next few weeks. Additionally, state Sen. Dan Laughlin said over the weekend that he was thinking about campaigning to replace Wolf. The Erie Times-News writes that Laughlin is one of the more moderate Republicans in the legislature, which could be helpful in a general but toxic in a primary.
● VA-Gov: Wealthy businessman Pete Snyder has earned an endorsement from Rep. Bob Good ahead of the May 8 Republican nominating convention. Good himself won the GOP nomination last year through this system when he unseated incumbent Denver Riggleman.
● LA-02: Two Democratic state senators from New Orleans, Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson (the two are not related), will face off in the April 24 runoff to succeed Cedric Richmond, who resigned in January to take a post in the Biden White House. Carter took first in Saturday’s all-party primary with 36%, while Peterson edged out Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers by a surprisingly small 23-21 margin.
Carter has the backing of Richmond, the state AFL-CIO, and a high-profile Republican in the region, Cynthia Lee Sheng. On Monday, Carter also earned an endorsement from East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, whose constituency cast just under 10% of the vote. Peterson, for her part, has benefited from about $600,000 in outside spending from EMILY’s List.
Both Carter and Peterson, who would be the first Black woman to represent Louisiana in Congress, have campaigned as ardent Democrats, though Peterson has argued she’s the more progressive of the two. Notably, while Peterson and other contenders called for a Green New Deal, Carter merely characterized it as “a good blueprint” that won’t be in place for a long time and that he doesn’t support.
Both candidates also say they back Medicare for all, though only Peterson has run commercials focused on it. Carter, for his part, has insisted he’d have a far easier time working with Republicans than Peterson. Carter has additionally played up his relationship with Richmond, saying, “I would have the ear of the guy who has the ear of the president of the United States of America.” Peterson, who is a former state party chair, has pushed back by saying she has her own ties to senior White House officials and does “not need to have the ear of the ear of the ear of the toe of the thumb of someone.”
Peterson will likely need Chambers’ supporters to disproportionately break for her in order for her to close the gap next month, and she may be better positioned to appeal to them than Carter. That’s far from guaranteed to happen, though, and Chambers himself hasn’t hinted if he’s leaning towards supporting one of them over the other. Chambers, while acknowledging Sunday that his endorsement would be very valuable, said of the two runoff contenders, “I don’t think either one of them is a true progressive.”
Local politics in New Orleans, which is coterminous with Orleans Parish, also may impact this race, as the two state senators represent conflicting factions in local Democratic politics. Peterson is a leader in the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), a longtime power player in the Crescent City that has clashed with Richmond and his allies. Each side scored some big wins and losses in the 2019 legislative elections, and Clancy DuBos of the New Orleans weekly The Gambit recently noted, “Many see this contest as the latest bout between BOLD and Richmond.”
In Orleans Parish, which cast just over half the vote on Saturday in this 10-parish district, it was Carter’s side that very much came out on top in the first round. Carter led with 39%, while Chambers actually narrowly led Peterson 27-25 for second.
● LA-05: University of Louisiana Monroe official Julia Letlow defeated Democrat Candy Christophe 65-27 in the all-party primary to succeed her late husband and fellow Republican, Luke Letlow, which was well more than the majority she needed to avoid a runoff. Luke Letlow won an open seat runoff for this safely red northeast Louisiana seat in December, but he died weeks later of complications from COVID-19 before he could take office.
Julia Letlow will be the first woman to represent Louisiana in Congress since Democrat Mary Landrieu left the Senate following her 2014 defeat, as well as the first Republican woman to ever serve in the state’s delegation.
Letlow will also join Doris Matsui, a California Democrat, as the only member of Congress elected to succeed a late husband. (Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell won the 2014 contest to succeed John Dingell, which made her the first member elected to succeed a living spouse; John Dingell died in 2019.) Texas Republican Susan Wright is also currently running to succeed Rep. Ron Wright, who also died after contracting COVID-19.
● NY-23: Chemung County Executive Chris Moss said Monday that he was interested in running to succeed Rep. Tom Reed, a fellow Republican who on Sunday apologized for sexually harassing a woman in 2017 as he announced he would not run for office in 2022. But Moss, who was the party’s 2014 nominee for lieutenant governor, said that he would first run for re-election to his current office this year and would not decide on anything until he sees the new congressional map.
Moss has good reason to be wary, as no one knows what this 55-42 Trump seat, which currently includes Ithaca and southwestern New York, will look like next year. New York is very likely to lose at least one House seat, and Reed’s departure could make it easier for mapmakers to eliminate this upstate New York seat.
It’s also not clear, though, who those mapmakers will even be. An amendment to the state constitution backed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed in 2014 that, under the pretense of establishing an independent redistricting commission—a judge literally ordered that the word “independent” be stricken from the amendment’s description because it was nothing of the sort—was actually designed to ensure Republican lawmakers would have a say in redistricting no matter if they lost their then-control over the state Senate. Legislative Democrats, though, now have the two-third supermajorities that would allow them to bypass this amendment―if they choose to try, that is.
All we know for now is that Reed’s Sunday announcement will mark the end of a decade-long political career that included one unexpectedly competitive race. Reed was the mayor of Corning, a small city best known as the headquarters of the eponymous glassworks company, in 2008 when Democrat Eric Massa scored a pickup in what was numbered the 29th District at the time. The ancestrally red seat, though, had supported John McCain 51-48, and Republicans planned to make Massa a top target.
Reed entered the race to take on the freshman Democrat, but he never got the chance to take him on. Massa resigned in disgrace in March of 2010 after an aide accused him of sexual harassment, and Democrats had a very tough time finding a viable replacement candidate. Reed ultimately avoided any intra-party opposition and decisively outraised his Democratic foe, Afghanistan veteran Matthew Zeller. Major outside groups on both sides largely bypassed the race and Reed won 56-43; he also scored a similar win in a special election held that day for the final weeks of Massa’s term.
Redistricting left Reed with a less conservative seat, but his huge financial advantage over Democratic Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa made him look like the heavy favorite to keep the new 23rd District red. It was therefore a big surprise when Reed only defeated Shinagawa 52-48 as Mitt Romney was carrying the seat 50-48, and Democrats were determined to give him a serious fight next time.
Fellow Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson stepped up for Team Blue, but 2014 proved to be a very difficult year for her party. Reed ran ad after ad portraying Robertson as an “extreme Ithaca liberal,” including one commercial with a very strange cartoon of Robertson driving around in a hippie car as the narrator sarcastically threw in hippie slang.
Reed ended up winning 62-38, but Democrats hoped that the 2016 climate would revert back to something more like 2012. That’s very much not what happened, though: Instead, Trump won 55-40 here, and Reed beat Democrat John Plumb 58-42. Reed had a closer 54-46 shave against cybersecurity expert Tracy Mitrano in 2018, but he won their 2020 rematch 58-41.
● OH-16: The radical anti-tax Club for Growth has followed Donald Trump’s lead and endorsed former Trump administration official Max Miller’s Republican primary bid against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach the party’s leader in January. The Club has also released a poll from WPA Intelligence that shows Miller beating Gonzalez 39-30, though no one knows what this district will look like after redistricting.
- GOP activist Susan Wright (R): 18
- 2018 nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez (D): 9
- State Rep. Jake Ellzey (R): 8
- 2020 state House candidate Lydia Bean (D): 6
- Former Trump administration official Brian Harrison (R): 6
- Education activist Shawn Lassiter (D): 4
- Former Homeland Security official Patrick Moses (D): 2
- 2020 Nevada congressional candidate Dan Rodimer (R): 1
The only other poll we’ve seen was a Victoria Research survey for Sanchez released last week that showed Wright leading her 21-17, with Ellzey and Bean at 8% and 5%, respectively.
● TX-34: In a surprise, Democratic Rep. Filemón Vela said Monday that he would not seek a sixth term in Texas’ 34th Congressional District, a heavily Latino seat that snapped hard to the right last year. Vela is the second Democratic House member to announce his retirement following Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who made her 2022 plans known earlier this month.
This constituency, which includes Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley and rural counties to the north, went for Joe Biden 52-48 four years after it supported Hillary Clinton by a hefty 59-38 margin in 2016. This was the biggest shift toward Trump of any congressional district in Texas, and his third-largest improvement in the entire nation. Vela himself won re-election by a comfortable 55-42 against an underfunded Republican in a contest that attracted very little outside spending, but the dynamics of an open seat race could be very different.
Further muddling the picture for 2022 is redistricting. While Texas Republicans were ecstatic about their gains with Latino voters, they saw an even broader disintegration in their former suburban strongholds across the state that’s left many of their incumbents on the brink. While the GOP will have full control over redistricting for the coming decade once again, Republicans in the legislature will have to make many hard choices about which districts to prop up and which to cut loose.
Vela, for his part, has not had to worry about a competitive race since he won his first primary in 2012. Vela had never sought office before he entered that crowded contest for the newly-drawn 34th District, but his family had some very strong ties to the seat: His mother, Blanca Vela, was the first woman to serve as mayor of Brownsville while his father and namesake, Filemón Vela Sr., was a longtime federal judge who had a courthouse named for him in the city.
The younger Vela looked like the frontrunner especially after his most prominent opponent, Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos, was indicted for racketeering weeks before the primary. (He was later sentenced to 13 years in prison.) Vela reached the runoff by taking 40%, while his opponent, former congressional staffer Denise Saenz Blanchard, was far behind with 13%.
Blanchard ran to Vela’s left and portrayed her opponent, whose wife was a GOP member of the state Court of Appeals, as far too conservative. Blanchard hit Vela for having voted in GOP primaries in the past, and some Republicans even insisted that Vela himself had planned to run for Congress as a member of Team Red until he saw the new congressional map.
However, Blanchard had little money available in a contest that attracted very little outside attention (Daily Kos Elections at the time dubbed it, “The most under-watched nominating battle in the nation.”), and Vela won 67-33. Vela had no trouble that fall or in any other campaigns.
● Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Saturday’s special election in Louisiana and a preview of Tuesday’s race in Virginia:
LA-HD-82: An all-Republican runoff is on tap for April 24 after Eddie Connick and Laurie Schlegel were the top two vote-getters for this seat in the New Orleans suburbs. Connick led Schlegel 40-36 in the first round, while Democrat Raymond Delaney took third with 25%.
Despite some recent leftward movement in this solidly red district, the two Republican candidates outpaced the Democrat 75-25. The strong GOP performance here could partially be attributed to the Republican candidates’ connections to well-known local political figures.
VA-SD-38: This Republican district in southwest Virginia became vacant after former Sen. Ben Chafin died earlier this year. Former Radford City Councilwoman Laurie Buchwald is the Democratic candidate taking on Republican Travis Hackworth, a Tazewell County supervisor.
Buchwald has run for office once before, losing a state House of Delegates race to GOP incumbent Joe Yost 58-42 in 2015.
This is a strongly Republican seat that backed Donald Trump 75-22 in 2016, and according to The News and Advance, Trump took 78% of the vote here in 2020. This is the only vacancy in this chamber, which Democrats narrowly control 21-18.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: Joe Biden will be hosting a Friday virtual fundraiser for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, which is the president’s first such event for any candidate since he became president. Bottoms faces a potentially competitive re-election fight this fall against City Council President Felicia Moore, while others are also considering taking her on.