Yarmuth’s retirement ends a political career that began when he was a Republican. The future congressman came from a wealthy and influential Louisville family, and his father was a fundraiser for Richard Nixon. Yarmuth, who would later say he “always considered myself a Rockefeller Republican,” worked for Jefferson County Judge-Executive Marlow Cook while in college, and he traveled across the state with none other than Mitch McConnell in 1968 to support Cook’s successful Senate bid. Yarmuth would recount that three years later, McConnell called him up to ask if he’d take his place on Cook’s Senate staff, which Yarmuth immediately agreed to.
Yarmuth left Capitol Hill following Cook’s 1974 defeat and went on to found and publish a magazine back in Louisville. He remained active in local GOP politics in the ensuing years, including in 1981 when McConnell, who now held Cook’s old job as Jefferson County judge-executive, convinced him to wage an unsuccessful campaign for county commission. Yarmuth, though, drifted from his old party during the Reagan era, saying later he finally switched his registration to Democratic in 1985 after televangelist Jerry Falwell attacked Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Yarmuth spent the next two decades active in the Louisville media scene as the publisher of a liberal alternative weekly and frequent TV guest, but national party leaders were not enthusiastic when he decided to run for Congress in 2006 against veteran Republican Rep. Ann Northup. The congresswoman had won her last campaign 60-38 even as John Kerry was taking the 3rd District 51-49, and the DCCC saw Iraq War veteran Andrew Horne as a more formidable candidate than the progressive publisher. Yarmuth, though, outspent his opponent thanks in part to his ability to self-fund and won the primary 54-32.
Northup used Yarmuth’s old writings, including his calls for legalizing marijuana, to portray him as unacceptably outside the mainstream, and the incumbent decisively outraised him. The DCCC was also pessimistic about their nominee’s prospects for much of the race, and it only added him to the Red to Blue list for top-tier candidates late in the race. The DCCC also spent only about $390,000 compared to $250,000 from the NRCC; the two groups, by contrast, spent well over $2 million each that year in the neighboring and far more conservative 4th District, where former Democratic Rep. Ken Lucas was well on his way to decisively losing his comeback bid against Republican Rep. Geoff Davis.
Yarmuth, though, emphasized his opposition to the unpopular Iraq War and called Northup a “rubber stamp” for George W. Bush, which proved to be a winning argument for many Democrats in competitive seats. Yarmuth ultimately unseated Northup 51-48, an upset victory that made him the state’s first Jewish member of Congress. Thanks to Kentucky’s notoriously early poll closing times, Yarmuth’s surprise win also heralded a strong night nationwide for Democrats, who took back the House for the first time since 1994.
Republicans hoped to retake this seat in 2008, and Northup agreed to run again after the party’s original choice dropped out after being called up for the Army Reserves. However, Yarmuth this time had the advantages of incumbency as well as an even better political climate, and he won their rematch in a 59-41 landslide as Barack Obama was carrying the seat 56-43.
National Republicans soon gave up on seriously targeting Yarmuth, who won 55-44 during the 2010 red wave against an unheralded foe. Yarmuth, who became the state’s only Democratic member of Congress following fellow Rep. Ben Chandler’s 2012 defeat, took at least 62% of the vote in his next five campaigns and rose to become budget chair after his party retook the majority in 2018.
● CO Redistricting: Colorado’s legislative redistricting commission adopted a new map for the state House on Monday and faced a Tuesday deadline for signing off on a plan for the state Senate, though no Senate map had been passed when we put the Digest to bed. Both plans will require approval from the state Supreme Court, which on Tuesday heard oral arguments over whether a new map recently put forth by the state’s separate congressional redistricting commission adheres to the state constitution.
● MA Redistricting: Lawmakers in Massachusetts’ Democratic-run legislature introduced new maps for the state Senate and House on Tuesday, with official copies available here. The proposals would lock in Democratic majorities while also boosting the number of districts with Black and Latino majorities. While Republican Gov. Charlie Baker could veto these maps, Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers and could easily override him.
● WV Redistricting: Separate Senate and House committees in West Virginia’s Republican-run legislature each advanced a new congressional map on Tuesday, producing very similar plans that, barring a retirement, will pit two Republican incumbents against one another because the state is losing a seat due to reapportionment.
Both proposals split the state more or less horizontally across its midsection, creating a northern 1st District that includes the hometowns and geographic bases of Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney; the state’s third Republican member, Carol Miller, would be left to her own devices in the southern seat. The two maps differ only slightly, with the Senate placing Ritchie County in the 2nd District and Pendleton County in the 1st; the House map simply swaps the two.
A north-south divide had long made the most sense geographically, though Politico’s Ally Mutnik reported on Tuesday—before the House took action—that McKinley had been “pushing a competing plan” that would instead double-bunk Mooney with Miller. Unnamed GOP operatives told Mutnik that McKinley’s alternative had “been gaining some traction,” but unless there’s a last-minute change of heart, that does not appear to have been the case.
In April, all three members released a joint statement saying, “At this time, we plan to seek re-election,” but added that after redistricting, they would “consider the issue again at that time.” According to Mutnik’s paraphrase, a Mooney spokesman said on Monday—again, before the latest action on the new maps—that the congressman “is absolutely running” for another term, while Miller said, “I am 100 percent running for re-election.” McKinley doesn’t appear to have revisited the matter, though, and he sounded noncommittal in remarks he made to Mutnick earlier this year.
Both committees also approved maps for their respective chambers. The state House of Delegates will see the biggest changes, due to a 2018 law mandating that its multi-member districts be replaced with constituencies that will elect just one member each. Currently, 47 of the House’s 67 districts are single-member seats, while the rest elect anywhere from two to five delegates, or 53 members in total. Going forward, all 100 delegates will be elected from individual districts.
● NY-Gov: For the first time, state Attorney General Tish James has uttered the words “I’m considering” in regard to next year’s race for governor, though of course she’s telegraphed her interest for months. James did not, however, offer a timetable for making a decision.
If she does get in, though, she’d start off as an underdog in the Democratic primary against Gov. Kathy Hochul, according to a new poll from Marist College. In a hypothetical three-way matchup including New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Hochul would take 44%, James 28%, and Williams 15%, with just 13% undecided. Williams has not yet kicked off a run but has promised he’d make an announcement about his plans this month.
● OR-Gov: New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who has been considering a run for governor as a Democrat, has created a new political committee that will allow him to fundraise ahead of a possible campaign.
● PA-Gov, PA-Sen: Republican Rep. Dan Meuser, who’d been considering a campaign for governor (and reportedly looking at Pennsylvania’s Senate race as well), said on Tuesday that he’d seek re-election to the House. In May, Meuser said he’d make up his mind about a gubernatorial bid in four to six weeks, which, well, is not how things played out.
● VA-Gov: Barack Obama will campaign with Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Richmond on Oct. 23, and McAuliffe said Tuesday that Joe Biden will also be coming to Virginia, though he did not announce any details on a presidential visit.
McAuliffe is also getting assistance from his allies at Everytown for Gun Safety, which just launched a new ad starring Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan, who praises the former governor’s support for law enforcement. Politico reports the ad “is part of Everytown’s $1.8 million investment in the Virginia election.” McAuliffe additionally has a new spot of his own, slamming Republican Glenn Youngkin for opposing abortion rights.
● IL-17: Democratic state Sen. Steve Stadelman says he’s considering a bid for Illinois’ open 17th Congressional District but cautioned that he’s waiting on the outcome of redistricting. “Until you know the boundaries and where the lines are drawn,” Stadelman told Politico’s Shia Kapos, “you’re a candidate in search of a congressional district.” Another Democrat in search of a district, Rock Island County Board member Angela Normoyle, is “making calls in anticipation of a run,” per Kapos, and has already hired consultants.
● PA-01: Army veteran Ashley Ehasz, a former helicopter pilot who served in Iraq, kicked off a bid against Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick on Tuesday, making her the first Democrat to enter the race. Fitzpatrick has long defied political gravity and repeatedly turned back challenges despite the leftward trend in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, so much so that Democrats have often had difficulty recruiting top-tier names. While redistricting looms, of course, the 1st is a fairly compact slice of the Philly ‘burbs and is likely to remain largely as-is.
● Albuquerque, NM Mayor: Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales raised $330,000 in the three weeks after the conservative Democrat abandoned his quest to receive over $600,000 in public funds. Gonzales goes into the final sprint to the Nov. 2 nonpartisan general election with a small $333,000 to $314,000 cash-on-hand lead over Democratic incumbent Tim Keller, who successfully qualified for public financing and can no longer receive donations. Keller, for his part, spent $211,000 from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4, while Gonzales deployed only $26,000 during this time.
Conservative radio host Eddy Aragon, meanwhile, has continued to raise little, and he has only $25,000 in the bank. If no one takes a majority next month, a runoff would take place at a later date.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: Former Mayor Kasim Reed goes into the final weeks of the Nov. 2 nonpartisan primary with $900,000 on-hand, which is well over the $460,000 that City Council President Felicia Moore, whom polls show is his main rival, has to spend.
Attorney Sharon Gay, who has been mostly self-funding, has $470,000 on-hand, while City Councilman Andre Dickens has $200,000. The report for fellow City Councilman Antonio Brown was not available on Tuesday, though his team says it was filed before the deadline.
Wu’s commercial features her telling the audience, “You want a mayor who will deliver big, bold solutions that’ll address the high cost of living and open the doors of opportunity for everyone.” Essaibi George’s spot, by contrast, features audio of her victory speech from the Sept. 14 nonpartisan primary as she proclaims, “I’ve said it before: you will not find me on a soapbox. You will find me in your neighborhood, doing the work.”
● Where Are They Now?: The White House announced Friday that President Joe Biden was nominating former Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly to serve as ambassador to the Vatican. Donnelly, a Democrat, was elected to the House from the South Bend area during the 2006 blue wave and won a promotion to the Senate in 2012, but he went on to lose re-election six years later to Republican Mike Braun.