NC Redistricting: In a major victory for voting rights on Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling issued last year that had struck down 28 of North Carolina’s 170 state legislative districts on the grounds that Republicans had unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered these maps. These lines will now have to be redrawn, and new elections will be held under them, most likely next year or possibly even later this year. When that happens, Democrats could finally break the GOP’s years-long veto-proof supermajorities in the legislature, which Republicans have used to run roughshod over democratic norms and impose a radical conservative agenda on an evenly divided swing state.
So why did the courts determine these lines were invalid? Republicans had taken seats like the 21st State Senate District in Fayetteville—the tentacular monstrosity shown in this map—that had a plurality of African-American voters and made them majority black. Republicans claimed that they were required to do so under the Voting Rights Act so that black voters could elect their candidates of choice, but that argument was entirely pretextual.
That’s because black voters, even in plurality-black districts, were already able to elect their preferred candidates—typically, black Democrats. Republicans merely sought to pack as many black voters into as few seats as possible in order to make surrounding seats whiter. In the South in particular, blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic while whites vote heavily for Republicans, so reducing the black population in these neighboring seats quite simply made it easier for the GOP to win them.
Unfortunately, there’s one big hitch. Though the courts have ordered new maps, the very same Republicans who benefitted from the gerrymanders that were just struck down will get to draw up those new lines. Whatever new districts they produce, Republicans will likely now claim that they’re only taking partisanship (and not race) into account. We know this because the exact same thing happened with the state’s congressional map, which was also struck down as an illegal racial racial gerrymander but reconstituted (so Republicans said) as a purely partisan construct—something the Supreme Court still tolerates.
But the GOP will still face new constraints on how it can use race when it goes back to the literal drawing board, and that could make all the difference. The now-invalidated maps were so brutally effective that Republicans won veto-proof three-fifths majorities every election since they were first put in place following the 2010 census. That even includes last year, when North Carolina elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to office.
Yet now it will be harder for Republicans to retain that hammerlock going forward. Democrats only need to gain four seats in the 120-member state House to break the Republicans’ 74-46 supermajority (one nominally Democratic member in a Trump seat frequently sides with Republicans). Exactly when the GOP will face its moment of truth remains to be seen, though. The lower court had originally called for special elections to take place this year, but the Supreme Court vacated that part of the ruling and told the district court to issue new findings in regard to timing. That means special elections could still happen in 2017, though it’s more likely that the new maps won’t be used until the regularly scheduled elections next year, when the entire legislature will go before voters.
Whatever schedule is chosen, Democrats have a major chance to set North Carolina in a new direction. Republicans have turned the Tar Heel State into an experiment in hardline conservative governance and made it ground zero in the battle over voting rights. With redrawn districts, Democrats could finally provide a firm check against Republican legislative abuses by sustaining Cooper’s vetoes and restoring sanity to North Carolina’s government.
• MT-Sen: Confirming reports from last Friday, Montana’s GOP state Attorney General Tim Fox announced on Monday that he indeed would not run for Senate against Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in 2018. His opting out of the race deprives Republicans of what would have been one of their strongest potential recruits against the two-term incumbent in this Republican-leaning state. State Sen. Al Olszewski and businessman Troy Downing are already running for the GOP, but Fox’s declining to enter the race leaves many state Republicans searching for a better-known standard-bearer among the party’s relatively deep bench.
• AZ-Gov: State Sen. Steve Farley became the second noteworthy Democrat running for governor against Republican incumbent Doug Ducey when he announced his campaign on Monday. Farley, who runs a graphic design and art company, represents a Democratic-leaning seat in the Tucson area and serves as assistant minority leader, giving him a prominent perch in the legislature. He joins Arizona State University professor David Garcia, who narrowly lost a 2014 race for state education superintendent, in the Democratic primary.
Ducey, who is the wealthy ex-CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, has so far demonstrated few vulnerabilities in this red-leaning state. However, Arizona trended strongly Democratic last year when it favored Donald Trump by just 3.5 points, and its growing Latino population gives Democrats hope that they can put the state into play for future races.
• CT-Gov: Over the weekend, Connecticut Port Authority Chair Scott Bates announced that he would not join the crowded Democratic primary. Bates picked an odd way to make his plans clear, writing a long op-ed in The Day with candidate-like phrases such as, “I grew up in a middle-class family in the small town of Mystic,” and, “I’ll put three ideas out there that I think should be at the core of our governing agenda in Connecticut.” If you skipped the last paragraph, you’d probably be sure Bates would be on the ballot.
Still, Bates does conclude, “I need to carry out the duties of my role as Deputy Secretary of the State and do all I can as chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority to help build the infrastructure that creates jobs and economic growth. I can’t do either job right from the campaign trail running for governor.” It certainly does feel that Bates, who could have been the first governor from southeastern Connecticut since the 1880s, is either building up his profile for a run for something, or is at least auditioning for another appointed post.
• FL-Gov: GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, a close ally of tea party-friendly groups like the Club for Growth, reportedly has been considering running for governor of Florida for a while, but he’s said little publicly. However, DeSantis recently told Politico that he “appreciate[s] the encouragement I’ve received about the 2018 governor’s race,” and is “considering how I can make difference and will decide my plans by the fall.” Politico’s Marc Caputo also writes that DeSantis has met with donors about a possible run for state attorney general as well, and the congressman wants to assess how much money he can raise before deciding on anything.
If DeSantis gets in, he’ll face a very expensive GOP primary with state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. But DeSantis, who served in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps in Iraq before winning his seat, hopes he can emulate the strategy that allowed termed-out Gov. Rick Scott to upset Attorney General Bill McCollum in the 2010 primary. DeSantis would likely try to portray Putnam, who has never left elected office since he won a state House seat at the age of 22, as a career politician.
While Caputo writes that DeSantis knows he would get outspent by Putnam, who has $10 million in the bank, he wouldn’t be starting his fundraising quite from scratch. DeSantis has $2 million in his House account and $750,000 in a super PAC, and he can transfer a large part of his cash (though not all) to a gubernatorial campaign. However, it’s worth noting that when DeSantis ran for the Senate in 2015 to replace the temporarily-retiring Marco Rubio, his fundraising wasn’t incredible. DeSantis brought in a total of $4.5 million from the start of the cycle until he dropped out of the race when Rubio turned around and sought re-election in late June of 2016.
Campaign finance rules would be different for a gubernatorial campaign and DeSantis would be facing a completely different field of opponents, so his fundraising could go completely differently in 2018 if he runs. Still, Putnam already has more than twice as much cash at his disposal than DeSantis managed to raise in 18 months, and he may have the connections to widen his lead.
If DeSantis ran and beat Putnam, he may give Democrats a better chance to win the general. DeSantis is a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, and he echoed Trump on Monday just after the weekend’s terror attacks in London when he argued that Mayor Sadiq Khan insisted that terrorism is “part and parcel” of city life. What Khan actually said last year was that “part and parcel of living in a great global city is you gotta be prepared for these things [terrorism], you gotta be vigilant, you gotta support the police doing an incredibly hard job, you gotta support the security services,” but that doesn’t sound as surrendery has Trump and DeSantis would like it to. Of course, as outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and Trump’s own narrow wins have shown, flawed candidates can very well win in this swing state.
Three other notable Republicans have expressed interest in running. State Sen. Jack Latvala, a powerful Tampa Bay Republican, says he’ll decide sometime in the summer. State House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Scott antagonist, insists he won’t decide until next year, but he’s begun fundraising for a possible bid. Eccentric rich guy “Alligator” Ron Bergeron also says he’ll decide around August.
• GA-Gov: On Saturday, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. That same day, the influential group EMILY’s List threw its backing behind Abrams even though another Democratic woman, state Rep. Stacey Evans, is also running. If Abrams wins the general election, she would be Georgia’s first African-American governor (and the first female black governor of any state), while either Abrams or Evans would be the first woman to serve as governor of the Peach State.
• IA-Gov: Republican Kim Reynolds got her promotion from lieutenant governor to governor last month after Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China, but it looks like not all her fellow Republicans are on board with her. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, a former state House speaker, has been considering a bid since December, and he told the Quad City Times that he plans to announce he’s running at the end of June, though there’s no direct quote from Corbett definitively saying he’s running.
Corbett is the guy who back in February teased a “big surprise” at the end of his final state of the city address. That “big surprise” turned out to be Corbett singing “Sweet Home Cedar Rapids,” a tribute he wrote to the tune of “Sweet Home Chicago.” We’re content to wait for Corbett to actually say “I’m running for governor” just in case this is another fake out and he’s actually announcing that the Sweet Home Cedar Rapids Experience is going on a multi-state tour.
• MN-Gov, MN-08: Republican state House Speaker Kurt Daudt has been talking about running for governor, and Minnesota politics tipsheet Morning Take reports he does indeed plan to announce a bid soon, which has reportedly been delayed by a lawsuit over legislative funding. So far, the current major GOP candidates include Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman, state Rep. Matt Dean, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who was the 2014 Republican nominee. Several other Republican state legislators have also expressed interest in a potential campaign.
Morning Take also reported that businessman Stewart Mills was considering a run for governor now after Democratic Rep. Nolan announced on Friday that he wouldn’t seek the governor’s office, but Mills categorically denied the report, saying a bid was “never … considered.” Mills had used his considerable personal fortune to finance two heavily contested House races against Nolan in 2014 and 2016, but he just narrowly fell short both times even as the Iron Range-based 8th District lurched from 52-46 Obama to 54-39 Trump. However, the rich businessman did reiterate that he was still considering a third bid for House even after Nolan’s recent decision not to seek higher office.
• NV-Gov: Republican state Attorney General Adam Laxalt has not yet formally declared his expected 2018 gubernatorial campaign, but he recently released a poll from Remington Research taken in late may that showed him with a 46-37 lead over Democratic Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak in a hypothetical general election. Sisolak had said back in January that he was considering a bid, with the Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting at the time that he expected to announce his plans by April, but that month came and went without any formal decision. However, Sisolak did recently reaffirm that interest and asserted that his own internal polls did not agree with Laxalt’s numbers, but with almost no other polling of this race, it’s hard to tell where things stand.
Laxalt reported raising over $600,000 since April, while Sisolak has a significant amount of cash left over from his 2016 re-election campaign that he can use on a statewide race, although the commissioner noted it was somewhat less than the $3.8 million he had at the beginning of 2017. Laxalt appears to have locked up substantial support ahead of a potential GOP primary, but state Treasurer Dan Schwartz has previously said he’s considering running too. On the Democratic side, wealthy businessman Stephen Cloobeck has made noises about running, though his support for GOP Sen. Dean Heller doesn’t exactly make him an ideal nominee.
• TN-Gov, TN-Sen: Republican Sen. Bob Corker has been coy about his 2018 intentions for a while, but his plans came a little more into focus in a recent interview. Corker stated that he was leaning toward running for a third term in the Senate next year unless “something else” came up, but that he was “not interested” in a gubernatorial bid and that it wasn’t included in the “something else.”
Corker would have been the biggest-named candidate if he had run in next year’s GOP primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam, but many prominent Republicans are still potentially in the mix. State Sen. Mae Beavers and a pair of lesser-known state government officials are already running in the GOP primary, while state House Speaker Beth Harwell, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett have all said they’re considering it.
• VA-Gov: Democrat Tom Perriello debuted two new ads on Monday (here and here) ahead of Virginia’s June 13 gubernatorial primary. The first spot features his most nationally prominent endorsers, with Elizabeth Warren praising Perriello as a fighter for hard-working families interspersed with footage of Perriello’s rallies with Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama, the latter of which was from his old 2010 re-election campaign. Perriello closes the segment by promising to fight for everyone and leave “no region or race behind” contrary to Donald Trump’s values.
The second ad showcases Perriello talking to the camera to bemoan Trump’s attacks on our nation’s values while asserting that he’ll advocate for Virginians of all backgrounds and a fairer economy.
• WI-Gov: Two new Democrats have recently weighed in about their interest in a possible gubernatorial bid. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who has served for three separate tenures over the past five decades, said he’s thinking about running after previously refusing encouragement to do so last year. However, his close association with the progressive enclave of the state capital could prove to be a negative with swing voters, a notion with which the mayor himself said he had long agreed. Meanwhile, Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell, who was Team Blue’s nominee for lieutenant governor in the 2012 recall, refused to rule out a campaign, stating that he has not “made any plans to run” and thought that it was too early for anyone to make a decision.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker is expected to seek a third term in 2018, but Democrats still have no noteworthy candidate to speak of in the race. State Rep. Dana Wachs and businessman Andy Gronik both said that they were considering the race back in early spring and would reveal more about their plans “soon,” but we haven’t heard anything from either of them in the intervening months.
• FL-27: Talking head/political consultant Ana Navarro, one of the most prominent anti-Trump Republicans in the country, on a possible bid for Florida’s 27th Congressional District: “But at this time it seems to me that it requires a level of masochism that I have not yet reached.” We’ll check back in with her once she reaches the appropriate level of masochism.
• GA-06: Democrat Jon Ossoff’s latest ad for the upcoming June 20 special election skewers Republican Karen Handel over her controversial failed effort to defund Planned Parenthood while serving as vice president of the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 2012. It features several women who survived breast cancer thanks to early detection lambasting Handel for using her leadership role at a breast cancer charity to try to eliminate funding for an organization that provides critical cancer screenings.
• IA-02: Republican Michael Bousselot, who was chief of staff to Gov. Terry Branstad before Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China, has been mentioned as a possible candidate against Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, but it looks like he’s decided to do something else. Bleeding Heartland notes that Bousselot has taken a job with Summit Agricultural Group as “managing director and head of external relations,” and the gig is over in the 4th District.
• MN-01: On Monday, ex-state Sen. Vicki Jensen became the first noteworthy Democrat to announce that she would seek this open southern Minnesota seat. This district swung from 50-48 Obama to 53-38 Trump, and Jensen was one of the Democratic victims of the region’s lurch toward Trump. In 2012, Jensen won her first term in the state Senate 53-47 even as Romney carried her seat 51-46. But four years later, Jensen lost re-election 59-41 as Trump was taking her district 58-34. Other Democrats have made noises about running here, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Dan Feehan reportedly is planning to get in.
• NY-19: During the first three months of 2017, Democratic attorney Antonio Delgado raised $300,000 (with no self-funding) for a campaign against freshman GOP Rep. John Faso, even though Delgado said his campaign was still in the “exploratory phase.” Unsurprisingly, Delgado has dropped from the exploratory phase into normal space and announced that he’s running for this this Hudson Valley seat. A number of other Democrats are eyeing this race as well or are already running.
• SC-01: Two weeks ago, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford had two GOP primary challengers, but now he has none. On Friday, wealthy businessman and Marine veteran Ted Fienning announced that he was dropping out of the race for this red Charleston-area seat, saying only that he and his wife “realized that we need to focus on our two young sons and growing our businesses.” About a week earlier, defense analyst Tom Perez announced that he was being deployed with the military oversees, and wouldn’t be back before next year’s primary.
However, Sanford can’t rest easily with so much time before the candidate filing deadline. While enough voters may have forgiven the former governor for his infamous 2009 sex scandal (people who actually hike the Appalachian Trail may still be angry with Sanford for turning their activity into a euphemism), he still pulled off an unexpectedly weak 56-44 primary win against an underfunded state representative last year. Since then, Sanford has emerged as one of Donald Trump’s most vocal critics in the Republican Party. A few months ago, Sanford notably told Politico’s Tim Alberta that Trump “has fanned the flames of intolerance” and says he can’t “look the other way” as Trump lies.
As Sanford’s 2013 comeback showed, GOP voters can tolerate many personal indiscretions, but Sanford is definitely playing with fire by picking a fight with Trump, who remains popular with Republicans. Sanford himself may not care, telling Alberta, “I’m a dead man walking. If you’ve already been dead, you don’t fear it as much. I’ve been dead politically.” Still, you can’t beat someone with no one, and we’ll see if Sanford picks up a new primary foe. Trump carried this coastal seat, which takes up part of Charleston and its suburbs, 54-40.
• TX-16, TX-23: Over the weekend, Democratic state Rep. César Blanco announced that he would seek re-election rather than run for either House seat. Blanco initially expressed interest in challenging GOP Rep. Will Hurd in the swingy 23rd District, though he said he was being encouraged to seek the safely blue 16th if Rep. Beto O’Rourke left to run for the Senate. O’Rourke ended up doing just that, and Blanco, whose seat is almost entirely in the 16th, initially didn’t rule out a bid for this El Paso seat while the legislature was in session.
• WA-05: At 52-39 Trump, this eastern Washington seat isn’t exactly hospitable to Democrats. Still, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart is out with a poll from EMC Research arguing that he has a path against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the GOP leadership. The survey gives McMorris Rodgers a 49-42 lead, and 37 percent of voters give her a poor rating, the same percentage as those who give her a good or excellent review; an additional 22 rate her as “only fair.”
The poll also says that, “A brief message battery shows that Ben Stuckart’s biography and issue positions are clearly appealing to Democrats and Independents,” and propels him to a 51-42 lead. However, McMorris Rodgers will likely have more resources to get her message out instead. At the end of March, McMorris Rodgers only had $273,000 in the bank, but the well-connected incumbent likely can raise a whole lot more if she feels seriously threatened. By contrast, Stuckart had about $50,000 on-hand.
• Pres-by-LD: Daily Kos Elections’ project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation takes on South Carolina, a solidly Republican state where Democrats still do hold some conservative seats. You can find our master list of states here, which we’ll be updating as we add new data sets; you can also find all of our calculations from 2016 and past cycles here.
Donald Trump carried South Carolina 55-41, a swing to the right from Mitt Romney’s 55-44 win in 2012. The GOP has held the state House since the 1994 Republican wave, and they captured the Senate in 2000. Team Red has an 80-44 lead in the House and a 28-18 edge in the Senate (one Democratic-held House seat is vacant, and Daily Kos Elections assigns open seats to the party that last held them). The entire House is up every two years, while the Senate is only up in presidential cycles.
We’ll start with a look at the House. Trump carried 86 of the 124 seats, taking three Obama seats while losing two Romney districts. Unlike in neighboring North Carolina and Georgia, ticket splitting actually benefited Democrats here. Seven Democrats hold Trump seats, while only state Rep. Kirkman Finlay is the one Republican in a Clinton seat. Of those seven Democrats, four represent seats that also backed Romney, while another Democrat holds a Romney-Clinton district.
The Democrat in the reddest House seat is Michael Anthony, who won his eighth term 55-45 even as his HD-42, which is located south of Spartanburg, went from 55-44 Romney to 60-37 Trump. Those other three Democrats in Romney/seats also represent districts that swung right and gave Trump at least a 19-point margin of victory. Finlay, the one Republican in a Clinton seat, won a third term 59.5-40.5 as his HD-75, which is located in the Columbia area, moved from 56-43 Romney to 48-45 Clinton.
Democrats haven’t had much luck in statewide races in South Carolina recently, and the GOP-drawn House map was designed to make it even tougher for Team Blue to flip the chamber. One way to illustrate the GOP’s advantage is to sort each seat in each chamber by Clinton’s margin of victory over Trump and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. Because both chambers have an even number of seats, we average the two middle seats to come up with the median point in the chamber. In the House, the median seat backed Trump 59-37, quite a bit to the right of his 55-41 statewide win.
We’ll turn to the Senate, which won’t be up again until 2020. A bit surprisingly, Trump won all 33 Romney seats, while Clinton carried each of the 13 Obama districts. No Republicans hold Clinton seats, while five Democrats represent Trump turf. The Democrat in the reddest seat is none other than Vincent Sheheen, who was Team Blue’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial nominee. Sheheen won re-election last cycle without any GOP opposition even as his SD-27, located in the northern part of the state, swung from 55-44 Romney to 59-38 Trump.
Three other Democrats hold seats that backed Trump by at least a 10-point margin. The Republican in the bluest seat is John Courson, who led the chamber from 2012 to 2014 and was indicted on ethics charges earlier this year. Courson’s SD-20, which is located in the Columbia area, went from 54-44 Romney to just 48-46 Trump, and it could be a Democratic special election target if Courson needs to resign. Trump carried the median seat 58-38, also well to the right of the state.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.
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