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Morning Digest: McConnell swallows hard and makes his peace with Trump’s MAGA favorite in Georgia

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

Leading Off

GA-Sen: Mitch McConnell on Wednesday endorsed former NFL player Herschel Walker, the Trump-backed candidate the minority leader reportedly feared just months ago would jeopardize Team Red’s chances against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. McConnell, though, delivered his establishment stamp of approval to Walker this week by proclaiming, “Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate.” Walker is the first non-incumbent that McConnell has endorsed in a primary this cycle.

Back in August, CNN reported that McConnell was one of several Republicans who fretted that Walker, who still had yet to move back to Georgia from Texas, “would implode” on the campaign trail. Walker’s detractors feared that the first-time candidate couldn’t run a serious campaign, and they also grew especially wary after the Associated Press reported that his ex-wife had accused him of threatening to kill her in 2005. McConnell, CNN said, was meeting with some of Walker’s primary foes and even hoping that either former Sens. David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler, who each lost in this January’s runoffs, would run.

So, what’s changed? McConnell himself said last month, “There are some things written that indicate he’s had some challenges in his life. On the other hand, the good news is, he’s made several impressive performances on national television.” The minority leader also favorably noted, “His whole team is the same team around [former Sen.] Johnny Isakson.”

Campaign Action

Politico’s Alex Isenstadt writes now that unnamed GOP officials were happy with the $3.8 million that Walker raised during his opening fundraising quarter, as well as the aforementioned campaign staff. These party insiders added that they very much wanted Walker to avoid an ugly primary that could weaken him ahead of the general election with Warnock.

However, several of Walker’s intra-party opponents very much have the resources to put up a fight if they choose to go forward. Walker’s $2.5 million war chest gave him the most money of any of the GOP candidates at the end of September, but banking executive Latham Saddler also had a credible $1.6 million at his disposal. State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who is the only elected official in the primary, had $930,000, while businessman Kelvin King had $455,000 to spend. Warnock, who has no serious primary opposition in sight, meanwhile had an enormous $17.2 million at his disposal.

Redistricting

AL Redistricting: A joint committee in Alabama’s Republican-run legislature advanced new congressional and legislative maps in a series of party-line votes on Tuesday ahead of a special session that will begin on Thursday. The maps were not posted on the legislature’s site until after the vote; they were made public beforehand only because state Rep. Chris England, who is also chair of the state Democratic Party, posted copies on Twitter.

UT Redistricting: Utah’s bipartisan redistricting commission released proposed congressional and legislative maps late on Monday, but don’t expect lawmakers in the Republican-run legislature to pay them any heed. After the commission was created by voters in 2018 to tamp down on gerrymandering, Republicans passed legislation gutting the board and made it purely advisory. Legislators have since been working on their own maps and are set to convene for a special session to take up redistricting on Nov. 15.

Senate

NH-Sen: A new poll from St. Anselm College finds Republican Gov. Chris Sununu leading Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan 46-41, a bit closer than Sununu’s 49-41 advantage when the school last polled during August. Last week, Sununu said he’d “probably make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Governors

NE-Gov: Donald Trump has given his endorsement in Nebraska’s open governor’s race to agribusinessman Charles Herbster, who faces several opponents in next year’s GOP primary.

NJ-Gov: Monmouth University’s newest poll finds Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy leading Republican Jack Ciattarelli 50-39 ahead of next week’s election, little changed from the 51-38 advantage Murphy enjoyed in Monmouth’s last poll of the race in mid-September.

NM-Gov: Republican Mark Ronchetti, who recently quit his job as a TV meteorologist for the second time, has finally kicked off his long-anticipated bid for governor. Ronchetti had been a fixture at local news station KRQE for years until he left to pursue a bid for Senate in 2020. While he lost that open-seat race to Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, his 52-46 defeat was closer than expected, though a very late $250,000 ad buy from the Senate Majority PAC offered a hint that things were tighter than Democrats would have liked.

Following his loss, Ronchetti returned to KRQE, a move so unusual–;going from broadcasting to politics and back to broadcasting–;that the only other examples we’re aware of are from Latvia and the Philippines. The reprise did not last long, though, as Ronchetti again quit last week, this time to run against Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she seeks a second term.

Ronchetti joins a primary field that includes retired Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, and state Rep. Rebecca Dow. State GOP chair Steve Pearce, who lost to Lujan Grisham in 2018, has also said he’s considering seeking a rematch.

NY-Gov: The local media reported Wednesday that New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has filed paperwork to set up a gubernatorial campaign committee the previous week, a development that came weeks after he formed an exploratory committee for a potential Democratic primary bid against incumbent Kathy Hochul. Williams on Tuesday said his exploratory effort was “going well” and he might provide more details about his 2022 plans in the next few days.

Also on Wednesday, an advisor for Attorney General Tish James said the Democrat “has made a decision regarding the governor’s race,” and that it will be revealed “in the coming days.” The City, citing “;several people familiar with the matter,”; reported later in the day that James has been telling people her decision is yes, with one source saying the attorney general has even been filming an ad to kick off a campaign against Hochul.

OR-Gov: Columnist Nick Kristof, who recently left his perch at the New York Times after nearly 40 years at the paper, announced on Wednesday that he’d run for governor as a Democrat. Kristof, who won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on Tiananmen Square and Darfur, grew up in Oregon but only moved back to the state two years ago and has never sought office before. He joins a primary field that includes two prominent names, state House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read. Republicans also have a busy primary, with physician Bud Pierce, the party’s 2016 nominee, likely the most prominent candidate. Oregon’s governorship is open because Democrat Kate Brown is term-limited.

VA-Gov: Christopher Newport University’s final poll has Democrat Terry McAuliffe edging out Republican Glenn Youngkin 49-48, a tightening from the 49-45 McAuliffe lead the school found at the start of the month. Democrats also have 1-point advantages in the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

WI-Gov: State Rep. John Macco says that he and businessman Eric Hovde, who ran for the Senate in 2012, are both considering bids for governor but are attempting to work out between themselves which one of them should enter the GOP primary. To that end, says Macco, they’re going to field a poll, paid for by Hovde, and intend to decide by Thanksgiving.

Howwwever …; while Hovde hasn’t commented on this purported alliance, an unnamed “person close to him disputed much of what Macco claimed, saying the two have not had in-depth discussions and were not conducting a joint poll.” That same person also hinted that Hovde might be contemplating a bid for the Senate if fellow Republican Ron Johnson declines to seek a third term.

House

FL-20: A recently-formed group called Florida Democratic Action PAC is spending $102,000 on TV ads in support of state Rep. Omari Hardy ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, a very crowded race that has attracted very little outside spending. The spots, which are airing on MSNBC, tout Hardy as “a teacher who grew up here.”

MI-11: 2020 Republican nominee Eric Esshaki announced this week that he would seek a rematch against Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens, a decision that comes before Michigan’s new independent redistricting commission has completed its work.

Esshaki, who worked as an attorney, won a crowded August primary for a suburban Detroit seat that Donald Trump had carried 50-45 in 2016, but he looked like the decided underdog for much of the campaign. The 11th District, like many other ancestrally red suburban areas, had lurched hard to the left in 2018, and Esshaki initially struggled to raise money against the well-funded Stevens. National Democrats were especially confident, as the DCCC scaled back its reservations in the Detroit media market in late September.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, though, saw an opportunity around that same time, and it began airing ads caricaturing Stevens as a radical. The incumbent’s allies, including the DCCC, ended up spending serious amounts of money to aid her in the final weeks of the contest. That late rush may have made the difference, as Stevens turned back Esshaki in by a close 50-48 margin as Joe Biden won the seat 52-47.

MO-04: Former local TV anchor Mark Alford, who recently left Kansas City’s Fox affiliate after 23 years, said Wednesday that he was joining the crowded Republican primary to succeed Senate candidate Vicky Hartzler in this safely red west-central Missouri seat.

Alford said he had considered running for office before but believed he was more useful to conservatives by staying where he was. The novice candidate, though, wrote earlier this week that “it has not been easy being in the media while also being a conservative Christian who respects law enforcement and wants to promote local entrepreneurs and small business owners.”

Alford argued in his campaign kickoff, which naturally took place on a local conservative talk radio program, “The more I tried to be an alternative to provide balance, the more of a fight it was each day,” and, “I’ve got 20, maybe 30 years left in me to do something really spectacular and serve people.”

OR-05: Attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner has filed FEC paperwork for a potential Democratic primary bid against Rep. Kurt Schrader and told Oregon Capital Bureau’s Gary Warner she would have more to say this week. Meanwhile on the Republican side, Warner writes that former state Rep. Cheri Helt “​​has also said she is looking at the race,” though there’s no quote from her.

TX-34: In explaining his decision to switch districts ahead of his bid for re-election next year, Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez claimed that “Republicans stripped hundreds of thousands of constituents out of the 15th District of Texas, which I currently represent, and moved them along with my residence into the 34th District of Texas.” We thought the same thing about Gonzalez’s home–;only it’s not true at all: The amendment that shifted it from the 15th to the 34th was proposed by a Democrat, state Rep. Ryan Guillen, and passed almost unanimously. Gonzalez’s campaign, reports the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, “did not respond to a request for comment” on Tuesday and doesn’t appear to have said anything since.

Gonzalez looked eager to move over to the bluer 34th rather than stand and fight in the 15th, which Republicans made about 5 points redder, not long after the GOP released its first draft congressional map about a month ago. By falsely claiming Republicans further altered their map to pull his home into the 34th, Gonzales is attempting to argue that it was only natural for him to change districts (though of course, members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent).

Instead, though, a fellow South Texas Democrat made it happen. In very brief remarks on the House floor (starting at 6:17:30), Guillen claimed that his amendment “primarily is a change or swap of precincts based on local preferences.” Whose preferences he did not say, but it’s hard to believe his assertion: Under the original plan, Gonzalez’s hometown of McAllen was contained wholly within the 15th District, but Guillen’s amendment stuck a jagged prong into the city that just so happened to scoop up the congressman’s neighborhood and little else. Why split a small city of 145,000 people between two congressional districts if you don’t have to?

If Gonzalez does wind up facing a contested primary in his new district, he’ll face questions about this sooner or later, but a contested primary is exactly what he’s trying to avoid. Gonzalez is already running a TV ad in which he appears alongside retiring Rep. Filemon Vela, who represents the old 34th District and anoints Gonzalez as his preferred successor.

Ballot Measures

NY Ballot: On Tuesday, New Yorkers will have the chance to vote on two statewide constitutional amendments, both of which were placed on the ballot by the Democratic state legislature, that would expand voting rights. Proposal 3 would allow the legislature to create a same-day voter registration law, which Democratic leaders say they’d go forward with.

Proposal 4, meanwhile, would remove the excuse requirement to vote absentee. As The City explains, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order last year that essentially allowed for any voter to cast an absentee ballot because of the pandemic, and the passage of Proposal 4 would lay the groundwork for the legislature to make excuse-free absentee voting permanent.

Legislatures

Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s special election in New Hampshire:

NH-HD-Cheshire 9: Democrat Andrew Maneval defeated Republican Rita Mattson 65-35 to hold this seat for his party. This represents a strong overperformance of past presidential results for Democrats in a district that backed Joe Biden 57-41 and Hillary Clinton 53-41. Republicans now control this chamber 207-189 with four seats vacant.

Mayors

Buffalo, NY Mayor: The Buffalo News reports that the New York State Realtors Fund is spending $300,000 to aid Mayor Byron Brown’s write-in campaign ahead of Tuesday’s general election.

Minneapolis, MN Mayor: Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey maintains his large financial lead heading into the final days of the instant runoff general election, though some of his intra-party foes have the resources to get their messages out. The incumbent took in $292,000 from July 28 through Oct. 19, and he had $156,000 on-hand.

Activist Sheila Nezhad and former state Rep. Kate Knuth raised $112,000 and $91,000, respectively, and had $50,000 and $48,000 to spend. Another contender, 2020 City Council candidate AJ Awed, raised $25,000 and had $28,000 on-hand; attorney Clint Conner, in turn, hauled in $60,000 but had less than $15,000 in the bank.

Nezhad and Knuth have attracted the most attention of any of Frey’s opponents, and they both received an endorsement from Rep. Ilhan Omar last week. The two challengers also have encouraged their supporters to rank the other as their second choice in the instant runoff election and to avoid ranking Frey at all. Nezhad and Knuth both support Amendment 2, a ballot measure that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a “Department of Public Safety” and shift more control of the department from the mayor to the City Council, while Frey, Awed, and Conner oppose it.

St. Petersburg, FL Mayor: St. Pete Polls’ newest survey for Florida Politics gives Democrat Ken Welch a 55-39 lead over Republican Robert Blackmon in Tuesday’s officially nonpartisan race.

Prosecutors

Bucks County, PA District Attorney & Sheriff: Bucks County Democrats scored historic wins in the 2017 and 2019 local elections in this populous and competitive community located to the north of Philadelphia, and they’re hoping to cement their gains on Tuesday in the races for “row offices,” the countywide offices other than commissioner. The local Democratic party’s target is District Attorney Matt Weintraub, who is the one row office Republican left in all of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.

The GOP, likewise, is trying to re-establish power in a suburban county they’d long dominated by flipping some row offices, with the open seat race for sheriff taking center stage. Bucks County has supported the Democratic presidential nominee in every election from 1992 on, but it’s far from reliably blue turf: While Joe Biden carried it 52-47, local Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick won both Bucks County and the entire 1st Congressional District 57-43 that same night.

The D.A. race pits Weintraub against one of his former prosecutors, Democrat Antonetta Stancu. In the sheriff contest, meanwhile, Warrington Township Board of Supervisors member Mark Lomax won the May Democratic primary in a 78-22 landslide against incumbent Milt Warrell, who did not have a good relationship with local party officials. (In March, after the county Democratic Committee overwhelmingly voted to endorse Lomax, Warrell argued he was snubbed “[b]ecause I openly support our law enforcement and will not denounce that.”) The Republican nominee is Fred Harran, who is Bensalem Township’s director of public safety.

Stancu and Lomax, who have been campaigning together, have both sought to pre-empt GOP attempts to label them as opponents of the police. In one commercial starring the two Democrats, Lomax declared, “We know to fight crime, we must fund the police.” Stancu continued, “That’s how we get more community policing. Programs for mental health treatment. And improved training for officers to do their jobs better and keep us safer.”

Stancu later explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer that the pair knew they had to push back on “a misperception [that] because one identifies as a Democrat, that they are not in favor of working with law enforcement, that they’re not a supporter of law enforcement.” She added, “But that doesn’t mean we don’t want progress, doesn’t mean we don’t want to continue to work to make things better.”

Nassau County, NY District Attorney & Executive: While Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky maintains a financial advantage ahead of next week’s special election for Nassau County district attorney, former prosecutor Anne Donnelly is spending plenty to try to score a win in this populous Long Island community. Newsday reports that Kaminsky has outspent his opponent $684,000 to $545,000 on TV commercials during October, though he’s outpaced her by a lopsided $117,000 to $19,000 in digital advertising.

While Kaminsky enjoyed a massive cash-on-hand edge in late September, the Nassau County Republican Committee gave Donnelly a boost by transferring $520,000 to her. Donnelly has focused her campaign almost entirely on her opposition to cash bail reform, including by spreading lies claiming the 2019 criminal justice reforms passed by Kaminsky and his colleagues in the legislature have resulted in the release of people accused of negligent homicide. The winner will be up for a full term in 2023.

Meanwhile in the race for county executive, Democratic incumbent Laura Curran has outspent Republican Bruce Blakeman $696,000 to $480,000 on TV in October, and she’s outmatched him $138,000 to $20,000 online. We haven’t seen any surveys of either race, but state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs told City & State’s Zach Williams in early October that his internal polling showed Kaminsky only “slightly ahead” even as Curran led by at least 10 points. The Nassau GOP is also acting like the executive race is the less competitive of the two, as it sent Blakeman just $260,000, only half of what it gave Donnelly.

Suffolk County, NY District Attorney: Democratic incumbent Timothy Sini is up for re-election next week in a Long Island county that backed Donald Trump by 232 votes last year, but this district attorney contest hasn’t attracted the same amount of outside attention as the race in neighboring Nassau County. Newsday reports that Sini has outspent his Republican rival, prosecutor Ray Tierney, $620,000 to $95,000 in October TV ads.

Both candidates have been arguing that they’ll be tougher on crime than their opponent. And just like in Nassau County, Republicans are hoping that opposition to bail reform will propel them to victory, though Sini also says he’s against bail reform.

Other Races

Erie County, PA Executive: Democrat Tyler Titus is hoping to hold the top office in this competitive northwestern Pennsylvania county for their party, and they’re going into the final days of the general election with a big cash lead over Republican Brenton Davis. Titus, who would be the first trans county executive in American history, took in $428,000 from June 8 to Oct. 18 compared to $309,000 from Davis and outspent their Republican foe $372,000 to $307,000; Titus ended the period with an $87,000 to $16,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Davis in recent days has also faced scrutiny over his military service. The Erie Times-News writes that, while Davis said he’d seen the “​​real-world cost of combat through years on foreign soils,” military records show the Army Reserves veteran never deployed to any combat zones. The Republican also has been on the receiving end of questions about when he was first vaccinated for COVID-19.

Titus and Davis are competing to succeed retiring incumbent Kathy Dahlkemper, a Democrat who previously represented this area in the U.S. House from 2009 to 2011. Erie County swung from 48-46 Trump to 50-49 Biden.

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