Herbster himself reacted to Thursday’s news that his victorious intra-party rival, Gov. Jim Pillen, had appointed Ricketts with a brief statement saying, “The lengths to which Pete Ricketts went to assure his handpicked successor for Governor were, by all standards, unprecedented. Today it is clear why it was so important for Pete Ricketts to fight my candidacy in the 2022 Primary Election.” The brief statement did not address the possibility that Herbster could try to deny the new senator the nomination in next year’s special election primary.
Pillen, who benefited from $1.3 million in spending from Ricketts during that campaign, has denied there was any arrangement to make sure the now-former governor got the appointment to succeed Ben Sasse, a fellow Republican who resigned from the Senate this month to become president of the University of Florida.
Ricketts and Herbster have had a terrible relationship going back to at least 2014 when it was Herbster who financed a campaign to boost a Ricketts rival in the primary for governor, an effort that didn’t work. Things only escalated further last cycle when the termed-out Ricketts unsuccessfully tried to deter Donald Trump from endorsing the agribusinessman, who had attended the infamous Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, in the primary to succeed him.
The race took a dark turn about a month before the primary when eight women, including Republican state Sen. Julie Slama, accused Herbster of sexual assault. Herbster responded by running a TV ad that took the remarkable tack of directly attacking Slama and claiming her allegations were part of a scheme orchestrated by Pillen and Ricketts. Herbster also sued Slama for defamation, to which Slama responded with a counterclaim seeking damages for sexual assault. Trump unsurprisingly remained committed to his candidate, who self-funded almost all of his $13 million campaign.
Pillen ended up prevailing 34-30 ahead of an easy general election win, which represented one of the first times in the 2022 cycle that GOP primary voters rejected Trump’s pick. In October, Slama and Herbster also reached an agreement where they dropped their respective lawsuits.
● IN-Sen: The radical Club for Growth is running a commercial aimed at deterring former Gov. Mitch Daniels from seeking the Republican nomination for Senate by labeling him “[a]n old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days,” though not many actual TV viewers should expect to see it.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle reports that the spot was only airing for $17,000 on Sunday’s state political shows, a move aimed at getting the chattering class chattering instead of actually wrecking Daniels’ image with his former constituents. The Club, though, insists it will deploy “whatever it takes to ensure voters know his real record.”
● MI-Sen: Wealthy businessman Perry Johnson said Friday that he was still considering a bid for the Republican nomination for president in addition to Michigan’s open Senate seat, but that he’d make up his mind by mid-February. Johnson, who failed to make the primary ballot for governor last year after he fell victim to a fraudulent signature scandal, said he’d be airing a Super Bowl ad then that “will probably give you a real good idea of where I’m going.”
● WV-Sen: Republican Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday that he would “probably” run for the Senate seat held by Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, a former ally who has not said if he’ll seek re-election in 2024. The termed-out Justice added he was “way down the road as far as my mind being made up,” though that doesn’t necessarily mean we can expect a quick decision: The governor said just before Thanksgiving that everyone would “know real soon” what he’d do, and here we are still waiting.
● LA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt said Friday she was joining this October’s all-party primary for governor, an announcement that so far makes her the only woman campaigning to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Hewitt would be the second woman to lead Louisiana after the late Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat who was elected to her only term in 2003.
Hewitt, who says she was “one of the first female executives in a major oil and gas company” after she rose through the ranks at Shell, was elected in 2015 to represent a seat based in St. Tammany Parish, a dark red community that’s home to several New Orleans suburbs north of Lake Pontchartrain. Hewitt last year chaired the state Senate committee charged with redistricting and co-authored the new congressional gerrymander that passed over Edwards’ veto, which was only the third time in state history that lawmakers have overridden a gubernatorial veto on any matter.
● AZ-01: Both 2022 Democratic nominee Jevin Hodge and former TV anchor Marlene Galan Woods tells 12News’ Brahm Resnik that they’re considering entering next year’s primary to take on Republican incumbent David Schweikert in the 1st District, a constituency based in northeastern Phoenix and Scottsdale that Biden carried by a tiny 50-49.
Hodge, who would have been Arizona’s first Black congressman, says he’ll be “taking a serious look at running … in 2024.” While he lost to Schweikert 50.4-49.6 in a contest that only attracted major outside spending from each party about two weeks before Election Day, he may have reasons to be optimistic about completing the task next time: According to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, Sen. Mark Kelly took this seat 52-46 as his fellow Democrat, Katie Hobbs, was winning 52-48 here in the race for governor.
Woods, meanwhile, told Resnik Thursday she’d given herself 90 days to decide, saying, “I’m a moderate Democrat. That seems right for the district.” She added, “I’m interested in voting rights―that’s the No. 1 issue―common sense gun laws―and reproductive rights.”
Woods is the widow of Grant Woods, who served as Arizona’s Republican attorney general in the 1990s, and she also identified as a “lifelong Republican” before joining the Democrats during the Trump era. Marlene Galan Woods herself hasn’t run for office before, though she chaired Democrat Adrian Fontes’ victorious campaign for secretary of state last year.
Schweikert himself survived a potentially career-ending scandal in 2020 when he admitted to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws, agreed to pay a $50,000 fine, and accepted a formal reprimand in a deal with the bipartisan House Ethics Committee to conclude its two-year-long investigation of the congressman. Schweikert in 2022 only won renomination 44-33 against an opponent who made the incumbent’s ethics his main issue, an approach Hodge and his allies adopted months later.
● CA-30: While Rep. Adam Schiff has said that he’ll wait for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, his fellow California Democrat, to announce her likely retirement before committing to a campaign for the upper chamber, two Democratic officeholders have already filed FEC paperwork for potential bids to succeed him in his 30th Congressional District: Nick Melvoin, who is a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman. Schiff’s L.A.-based seat backed Joe Biden by a 72-20 margin, so there’s a very good chance that two strong Democrats could advance out of the top-two primary if he leaves to run statewide.
We say “if” because, while many prognosticators are treating a Schiff Senate bid as a virtual certainty, we’ve seen plenty of potential candidates decide not to enter a race that almost everyone expected them to enter. Indeed, it was just days ago in Louisiana where Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser startled the Pelican State political world by announcing he’d seek re-election rather than enter a gubernatorial contest he’d seemed guaranteed to join.
And that had a ripple effect: At least two prominent Republicans had intended to run for the open lieutenant governor’s office, but Nungesser’s decision quickly upended their plans. Indeed, the development was the latest reminder that, while many would-be candidates telegraph that they plan to run for higher office, no one is actually a candidate until they actually announce they’re a candidate.
It’s quite possible that Schiff will do what Nungesser didn’t and seek a promotion, a move that would leave Friedman and Melvoin with an open seat to run for. But they’d almost certainly have further competition, as Politico has identified a few other Democrats who could campaign here.
It’s a similar situation far to the north in the 12th District held by Rep. Barbara Lee, an East Bay Democrat who reportedly told the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday she’d run for Senate but publicly hasn’t announced anything. But rather than run down the potential fields now for those districts, as well as other possible-but-not-yet-actual open seats, Daily Kos Election will be following our longtime practice of waiting until those constituencies actually become open.
We do this in order to avoid devoting energy and space to contests that may not actually ever unfold and so that we can focus on the races that are in fact underway. After all, there are plenty of constituencies in America where pundits spend cycle after cycle guessing what would happen should a veteran incumbent retire only for that incumbent to seek re-election once again and render that speculation moot for at least another few years.
This is a guideline we follow in seats like the 12th and 30th where would-be candidates only say they’d compete if the current incumbent does not. It’s a different story in the Senate race, where Democratic Rep. Katie Porter announced Tuesday she was running regardless of what Feinstein does. If and when Lee, Schiff, and other House members give up their seats, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the contests to replace them as well, as we already have for Porter’s now-open 47th District.
However, we’ll still be writing up instances when a notable politician opens a fundraising account with the FEC, as Melvoin and Friedman have each done. While this hardly commits them to running (as we’ve also written about before), it does give them the chance to raise money and potentially get a head start over opponents should their seat open up.
Still, it’s important to remember that this sort of head start may lead to nothing, at least for a long time to come. In the spring of 2009, for instance, California state Sen. Joe Simitian began raising money ahead of a possible special election to succeed Rep. Mike Honda, a fellow Silicon Valley Democrat who was hoping to secure a post in the new Obama administration. A job offer never came, though, and Honda remained in the House until his career ended after another Democrat, Ro Khanna, unseated him in 2016.
Simitian, who is now a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, has yet to run for Congress, but he still has close to $500,000 stockpiled 14 years later from that special election that never was. Just last month, Simitian said that he was keeping his campaign committee “alive so that if and when the opportunity presents itself, I am ready to go.” The supervisor’s longtime political base is in the 16th District, which is held by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, but Simitian made it clear he wouldn’t take on the incumbent should she run again.
However, given that Eshoo is 80, it’s very possible she won’t—but once again, we’ll wait to see what happens before handicapping that race.
● PA State House: The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Friday ruled that the special elections for two Democratic-held state House seats, House Districts 34 and 35 would indeed take place on Feb. 7, which was the date that House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton selected last year. Both parties previously agreed that the special to replace the late Democratic state Rep. Tony DeLuca in HD-32 would be on this day, but former Republican Speaker Bryan Cutler unsuccessfully tried to set the other two contests for May to coincide with the statewide primary.
Republicans currently occupy 101 seats in the 203-member chamber to the Democrats’ 98, while another constituency is held by Speaker Mark Rozzi―a moderate Democrat who said he would become an independent earlier this month but reportedly told his old party he’d remain a Democrat. There will almost certainly be a vacant GOP-held seat before long, though, as state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver is the favorite to win the Jan. 31 special election for a dark red state Senate district.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Allegheny County, PA Executive: Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein declared Thursday that he would compete in the May Democratic primary to succeed termed-out County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Weinstein, who was first elected in 1999, kicked off his bid in front of an audience the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says “mostly included longtime elected officials and members of the region’s Democratic establishment.” (One of the attendees was District Attorney Stephen Zappala, another veteran office holder who could face a serious renomination fight this spring.) The treasurer also used the event to tout his ties to labor groups and announce he had the backing of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council.
Weinstein joins a nomination contest that consists of:
- County Council Member Olivia Bennett
- Attorney Dave Fawcett
- State Rep. Sara Innamorato
- Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb
- former congressional candidate Erin McClelland
Whoever takes a plurality of the vote in the primary will be the favorite in November to win the executive office in Pennsylvania’s second-largest county, a reliably blue area that includes Pittsburgh and several of its suburbs.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: The Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General said Thursday it was investigating whether incumbent Lori Lightfoot violated any rules with an email sent the previous day asking teachers to encourage their students to volunteer for her re-election campaign ahead of the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary in exchange for “class credit.” As mayor, Lightfoot is tasked with appointing both the superintendent and members of the Chicago Board of Education.
Lightfoot’s campaign responded to the initial reports about the email by saying she was simply trying “to provide young people with the opportunity to engage with our campaign, learn more about the importance of civic engagement and participate in the most American of processes.” However, her team eventually said that her staff had now been “reminded about the solid wall that must exist between campaign and official activities and that contacts with any city of Chicago, or other sister agency employees, including CPS employees, even through publicly available sources is off limits.”
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: While it initially looked like the Democratic primary field to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Kenney had fully taken shape in December, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that state Sen. Vincent Hughes is considering jumping in and will decide “within a week or so.” Former Mayor Michael Nutter also reportedly is thinking about making a late entry ahead of the March 7 filing deadline, though he also hasn’t said anything publicly. It only takes a simple plurality to win the all-important Democratic nod in May.
The local AFSCME affiliate isn’t waiting until then, however: On Friday District Council 33, which the paper says is the city’s “largest labor union for city workers,” announced it was backing businessman Jeff Brown in what’s presently a nine-way primary. The timing of the endorsement was unexpected, with DC 33’s president saying even he was surprised when an officer called a vote during what was a routine meeting.
The Inquirer writes that Brown, who is the only declared candidate who has never held office, “benefits from the legitimacy that comes with being the favored candidate of the largest of the city’s four municipal unions.” DC 33 is the first major labor group to take sides, though the story adds that former City Councilmember Helen Gym is “considered a favorite” to get the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ support.
On the Republican side, City Councilman David Oh tells Billy Penn he’s preparing to resign his seat in early February to run for the top job. “People say, ‘Well, a Republican hasn’t won the mayor seat since 1940-something.’ That’s actually not evidence,” said Oh as he argued he could break a losing streak that started in 1951 during the Truman administration.
Republicans came close to prevailing here as recently as 1999 when John Street, who had won a bruising Democratic primary months before, only fended off opponent Sam Katz 51-49. Street, though, won their rematch 58-41 four years later, and general elections since then have been afterthoughts: Kenney himself prevailed 80-19 the last time he was on the ballot in 2019.