The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● NY-16: A hotly anticipated battle in the New York City suburbs is now underway with Westchester County Executive George Latimer's announcement that he'll challenge two-term Rep. Jamaal Bowman in next year's Democratic primary.
- Israel at the forefront: Bowman has been a harsh critic of Israel, accusing it of "genocide" in Gaza. Latimer fired back in his launch video by attacking Bowman for "voting against resolutions to condemn Hamas."
- But it's not the only issue: Latimer also criticized Bowman for voting against Joe Biden's infrastructure bill, a vote Bowman says he took because the bill wasn't paired with the administration's "Build Back Better" proposal.
- Good for the goose? Bowman himself got to Congress by ousting an incumbent in a primary. This time, though, the insurgent is no outsider: Latimer has served in public office since 1987.
Read more about this race, including detailed backgrounders on both candidates and the district they're seeking to serve, in our new post.
● It's not every day that the House expels one of its own, so of course we're talking about George Santos getting the boot on this week's episode of The Downballot. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard discuss the deep fracture inside the GOP that the expulsion vote, then handicap the special election to replace Congress' newest ex-member. They also dive into the absolutely wild New York Times report detailing how former Rep. Tom Suozzi had to grovel before Gov. Kathy Hochul to earn her approval to run in that February election.
The Davids spend some more time examining House Republican dysfunction as they recount the departures of two of the party's top leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Patrick McHenry. They also explain why the results of a legislative special election in Miami mean good news for Democrats before jumping into redistricting updates for both Florida and Georgia, then wrap up with a surprisingly positive ruling in favor of voting rights in North Carolina.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
● FL-Sen: Donald Trump on Tuesday backed Republican Sen. Rick Scott, though the incumbent may not need his longtime ally's "Complete and Total Endorsement" to win renomination next August. Scott's primary foe, attorney Keith Gross, insisted to The Hill in September that he's open to spending "$20, $30 million," but he'd only deployed a little less than $1 million through the end of the third quarter.
● NJ-Sen: The New Jersey Globe reports that Republican Curtis Bashaw, who is the former executive director of the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Authority, is considering a Senate bid and is "expected to make a decision early next year."
● NC-Gov: East Carolina University shows Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson outpacing Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein 44-40 in a likely general election match. Stein posts small edges against two other Republicans, rich guy Bill Graham and state Treasurer Dale Folwell, but ECU shows both of them badly lagging the far-right frontrunner in the March primary. The school had Robinson leading Graham 34-8, with Folwell at 7%.
● VA-Gov: Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday endorsed Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney in the 2025 Democratic nomination contest for McAuliffe's old job. Stoney is a longtime McAuliffe ally who served in the then-governor's cabinet before successfully campaigning for mayor in 2016.
● WV-Gov: WPA Intelligence's late November survey for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's allies at Black Bear PAC finds him leading Del. Moore Capito 39-23 in the May Republican primary; Secretary of State Mac Warner and businessman Chris Miller take 14% and 10%, respectively, with another 14% undecided.
Two November polls conducted by other GOP firms also showed Morrisey ahead, though they disagreed on other details. Warner's backer at American Freedom Builders publicized a CAMP survey finding Morrisey edging out their man only 24-21, with Moore and Miller taking 18% and 11%. However, the conservative firm American Pulse Research & Polling's survey for WMOV Radio has Morrisey beating Capito 31-23 as Warner lags with 14% and Miller takes 10%.
● AZ-03: Phoenix City Councilmember Yassamin Ansari has publicized an internal from Lake Research Partners that gives her a narrow 24-23 edge against former state Sen. Raquel Terán in the August Democratic primary. The memo goes on to argue that Ansari expands her lead after respondents hear positive information about both of the main candidates running to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Ruben Gallego.
● CA-20: Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy announced Wednesday that he would resign from the House "at the end of this year," a decision that will bring to a close his often frustrating 17 years in Congress.
There's no question that the GOP will hold onto California's 20th Congressional District, a constituency in the Bakersfield and Fresno areas that supported Donald Trump 61-36 in 2020. However, a new vacancy could still make life tougher for new Speaker Mike Johnson by narrowing his majority. And McCarthy's seat could remain unfilled for some time: Axios reported last week that Republicans already fear that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom could delay, or even decide not to call, a special election to succeed the former speaker.
"Pretty soon we won't be able to have two Republicans in the same car," an unnamed House Republican snarked to Axios after McCarthy, who insisted two months ago that he wouldn't resign, said he would indeed quit.
McCarthy's would-be successors, meanwhile, have only until the Dec. 13 filing deadline to decide if they want to seek a full two-year term in the next Congress. All contenders will face off in the March 5 top-two primary, which coincides with the state's presidential primary, and the top-two candidates, regardless of party, will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
Whoever eventually wins this seat will replace a congressman who, for all his problems gaining and maintaining power in D.C., was entrenched in his hometown of Bakersfield.
McCarthy, whose aunt and uncle owned two eponymous local yogurt shops, first made a name for himself on the local scene when he won $5,000 (nearly $15,000 when adjusted for inflation) in the state lottery as a 20-year-old student (though he'd often remember his age as 19) and used the money to open up a deli called "Kevin O's."
A 1986 review in the Bakersfield Californian was not entirely impressed by the location, however. "The full official name is Kevin O's Delicatessen," wrote Peter Tittl, "but that's an exaggeration. The deli is only a counter and refrigerator in McCarthy's dining room." Tittl, though, said that "the sandwiches there are better" than at other delis, "and the owner is a really friendly guy." McCarthy later sold the business, which soon closed.
McCarthy, who was active in the Young Republicans while in college, became a staffer for Rep. Bill Thomas, a local Republican who would rise to lead the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. McCarthy eventually served as Thomas' district director and became his mentee, a relationship that would help him ascend in local politics. Thomas, however, eventually became a vocal McCarthy critic: The now-retired congressman told KGET-17 in 2021 that Minority Leader McCarthy was a "hypocrite" who advanced "the phony lies the president perpetuated."
McCarthy, who was head of the Young Republican National Federation, went on to win his first election for public office in 2000, when he earned a spot on the Kern County Community College Board. He sought a promotion two years later, when he campaigned for a safely Republican seat in the state Assembly by taking on Bakersfield Councilman Mike Maggard in the GOP primary. (California wouldn't adopt its current top-two primary rules until 2010.) McCarthy, who had Thomas' support, won 50-43 in what would be the last challenging race of his career―at the ballot box, that is.
McCarthy made it a priority to become close to his fellow GOP lawmakers, who soon chose him to serve as minority leader even though he was in his first term. However, one prominent Golden State Republican was happy to see the upstart suffer. "You really pissed him off," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told his chief of staff in a leaked 2006 conversation regarding a dispute over a public works spending plan. "Anyway, so you hit him, you hit Bakersfield boy hard today." McCarthy downplayed the insult after it became public, saying, "What is on that tape is no different than what we said to one another."
McCarthy got his chance to go to D.C. in 2006, when Thomas announced his long-awaited retirement days before the filing deadline. It initially looked like the assemblyman would be in for a tough primary battle against state Sen. Roy Ashburn, but Ashburn decided to sit the race out and support McCarthy. (Ashburn, well-known as a social conservative, saw his career take another unexpected turn in 2010, when he was arrested for drunk driving and came out as gay.)
McCarthy went on to win the nomination in an 85-8 landslide against an unheralded foe, and he spent the months ahead of what would be an easy general election win raising money and campaigning for other Republicans. "He helped just about everyone in our freshman class," Ohio Republican Jim Jordan told the conservative Washington Examiner in 2007, "showing up in our district, spending some time with us, as a friend and hopefully, at that time, a future colleague, and contributing to our campaign."
The new congressman quickly earned a coveted spot as the freshman member of the powerful House Republican Steering Committee and joined the GOP's whip team. He also became involved with House Republicans' official campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and distributed watches to fellow Republicans with the acronym TEAM, which stood for "Time To Earn a Majority." "Every time they look at what time it is, it's time to earn a majority," he explained to the Examiner.
It was not time for Republicans to earn a majority in 2008, but heavy GOP losses that year ended up aiding McCarthy's rise to the top. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt stepped down following the disappointing returns and was replaced by Eric Cantor, who chose McCarthy to succeed him as chief deputy whip. McCarthy, Cantor, and fellow Rep. Paul Ryan would soon write and grace the cover of a tome called "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders," with conservative columnist Fred Barnes describing the triumvirate as "Cantor the leader, Ryan the thinker, McCarthy the strategist."
McCarthy handled recruiting for the NRCC during the 2010 cycle, and this time, it was time for a majority. Republicans picked McCarthy to serve as majority whip, a post that put him second in line behind Speaker John Boehner and Cantor, now majority leader. Just a few years later, though, the Young Guns troika broke apart when Cantor lost the 2014 GOP primary to outsider Dave Brat in a come-from-nowhere upset.
But once again, McCarthy benefited from a Republican loss. The Californian immediately became the frontrunner to replace Cantor as majority leader and easily won a leadership contest against Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican who reportedly didn't even have many of his colleague's phone numbers. And the next year, when Boehner announced he'd resign from Congress, McCarthy seemed poised for one final sprint to the top.
However, he had an unexpectedly difficult time winning over the type of hard-right members who had helped convince Boehner it was time to quit. McCarthy also proved to be his own worst enemy when he appeared on Fox News and openly acknowledged that the House GOP's investigations of Hillary Clinton were purely political in nature.
"[E]verybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" he said. "But we put together a Benghazi Special Committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping." The gaffe infuriated fellow Republicans by confirming Democrats' criticism of the investigation.
McCarthy was also dogged by unsubstantiated rumors that he'd had an affair with a colleague, North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers. He ended his speakership campaign after it became clear he couldn't secure the votes he needed, and McCarthy remained majority leader under Ryan, though he also dispelled any talk that he might retire in humiliation.
McCarthy finally became the top Republican in the House after Ryan retired in 2019, but Republicans were now back in the minority. McCarthy, who would establish himself as one of the GOP's top fundraisers, finally got his second chance to become speaker after the GOP won a narrow majority in 2022, though it took him an embarrassing 15 ballots to do it.
His nine-month reign at the top came crashing down in October when eight Republicans joined with a unified Democratic caucus to pass the chamber's first-ever "motion to vacate," which relieved McCarthy of his duties as speaker and sent the GOP spinning into three weeks of leaderless chaos. McCarthy insisted for a time that he would seek reelection, but just nine weeks after his ouster, he decided to quit Congress altogether.
● CO-04: The Colorado Sun writes that state House Minority Leader Mike Lynch is "expected to launch a congressional bid in the coming weeks" to succeed his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Ken Buck.
● NC-10: Republican state Rep. Jason Saine, who is a close friend of retiring Rep. Patrick McHenry, says he's considering entering the March GOP primary to succeed him in this conservative seat. Fellow state Rep. John Bradford also tells The Assembly he’s considering ending his bid for state treasurer to run here and will decide soon.
Saine further informs WUNC that state Rep. Grey Mills and state Sen. Vickie Sawyer are being encouraged to run. Sawyer tells The Assembly she’s “talking with some folks” about getting a candidate from Iredell County, though she didn’t indicate if it would be her. Potential candidates only have until the Dec. 15 filing deadline to decide what they're doing.
● NJ-09: Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh very much did not rule out challenging veteran Rep. Bill Pascrell in the June Democratic primary when the Paterson Press' Joe Malinconico asked him to comment on speculation about his interest in this safely blue seat.
"Right now, I’m just focused on being mayor of Paterson," Sayegh said. Malinconico wisely did not take that as a no and told Sayegh he could dispel chatter by saying he wouldn't run, but he writes that "Sayegh only repeated his initial statement." Pascrell's team was more open about his own plans, saying the incumbent "is running 110%."
It's possible, however, that Sayegh isn't the only North Jersey Democrat eyeing this race. Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter told the paper she wasn't thinking about her "next campaign" a month after winning reelection, adding, "I don’t like to limit myself." Fellow Assemblywoman Benjie Wimberly, by contrast, said, "There’s no chance I would run against the congressman."
The Democratic Party in Bergen County, which is home to 42% of the 9th's residents, likewise said it was for Pascrell. A 51% majority live in Passaic County, where Pascrell lives and previously served as Paterson’s mayor from 1990 to 1997, while Hudson County contains the balance.
While New Jersey's candidate filing deadline isn't until April, Malinconico notes that anyone looking to wage a serious bid against Pascrell needs to decide well before then. In New Jersey, as we've written before, it's difficult to win a primary without the support of the county parties, and Malinconico says that leaders in Passaic County will conduct a "screening process" before filing closes.
● OH-02: Businessman Tim O’Hara joined the primary Wednesday to replace his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Brad Wenstrup, and Axios' Juliegrace Brufke reports the former Marine drill instructor will self-fund $750,000.
● PA-15: Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson said Tuesday evening that he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer, writing, "While this diagnosis is a surprise, I feel well, and I will continue my work representing the people of Pennsylvania's 15th District."
● TN-07: Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry on Wednesday launched a longshot campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Mark Green in a gerrymandered district that favored Donald Trump 56-41. Barry became one of the most prominent Democrats in Tennessee when she was elected mayor in 2015, but she quit three years later as part of a plea deal for felony theft related to an affair with the former head of her security detail.
"I don't think anybody should be defined by their worst moments," Barry said in a video launching her new campaign, "It's what you do next that counts." The former mayor, whose son died of an opioid overdose in 2017, also declared, "We've seen the opioid crisis get worse, we've become immune to innocent people gunned down in our schools and our communities. And Congressman Mark Green has done nothing."
● TX-32: EMILY's List has endorsed state Rep. Julie Johnson in the crowded March Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Colin Allred, a fellow Democrat who is campaigning for the Senate.
● VA-10: Attorney Travis Nembhard, a Democrat who lost a competitive race last month for the state House, has joined the busy contest to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton. Nembhard campaigned against Republican Ian Lovejoy for an open seat in the state House that both parties made a priority: Nembhard outraised Lovejoy $2 million to $1.3 million, but the Republican prevailed 53-47.
Nembhard would be the first African American to represent Northern Virginia in the House; Del. Michelle Maldonado, who is one of Nembhard's intra-party rivals, would also achieve this distinction.
● WA-06: Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean on Wednesday became the third major Democrat to enter the August top-two primary to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer. Dean, who first won her office in 2016, joins state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who has Kilmer's endorsement, and state Sen. Emily Randall.