Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general confirms long-awaited bid for governor
Information about Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general confirms long-awaited bid for governor
National Democrats tried to recruit Shapiro to take on Republican Sen. Pat Toomey during the 2016 cycle, but he decided to run for state attorney general instead. Shapiro, who picked up a rare state-level primary endorsement from none other than Barack Obama during that campaign, decisively won the nomination and prevailed 51-49 in November even as Donald Trump was unexpectedly carrying the state.
Shapiro earned national headlines in 2018 when he released a major report that accused the Catholic Church of covering up child sexual abuse by over 300 Pennsylvania priests over seven decades, and he also emerged as a high-profile Trump administration opponent during his first term. Major state Democrats talked openly about him running for governor even before he was re-elected last year: In 2019, when Wolf was asked about the contest to succeed him, he notably pointed at Shapiro and said, “That’s my guy right there.”
Republicans looking to unseat Shapiro in 2020 tried to portray him as “a career politician already looking to run for governor,” but he won his second term 51-46 as Joe Biden was carrying the Keystone State by a smaller 50-49 spread, which also made the attorney general the only one of the three Democrats running for statewide executive office to win last year.
Seidman writes that Shapiro earned more Democratic support during the following months as Trump spread lies about his loss in the state, writing, “In the tense weeks before Biden’s inauguration, Pennsylvania’s attorney general became a ubiquitous presence on MSNBC and CNN and defended the state’s secretary of state in court.” The likely gubernatorial nominee has continued to denounce Trump’s attempts to steal the election, tweeting last week, “Make no mistake: In 2022, the Big Lie will be on the ballot — and we’ve got to vote against it.”
● DE Redistricting: Lawmakers in Delaware’s Democratic-run legislature have released a draft map for the state Senate. Legislators have yet to put forth a proposal for the lower chamber. Because the state is only entitled to a single congressional district, federal redistricting is not at issue.
● MI Redistricting: Michigan’s new independent redistricting commission voted to approve 10 draft maps on Monday afternoon, following a chaotic reversal that saw the board unexpectedly advance a single state Senate plan on Friday, then retract that vote Monday morning. The package includes three maps apiece for the state House and Senate and four proposals for Congress, though more maps from individual commissioners could join the pile. The panel will now hold a series of public town halls and must adopt new maps by Nov. 1.
As for the about-face, Report for America’s Clara Hendrickson’s reported that one commissioner said the panel “should be consistent in its procedure for voting to approve maps.” It’s not clear what lack of consistency concerned the commission, though the initial vote was not originally on Friday’s agenda, and the commissioners also said Monday they preferred to vote on all proposals for the Senate together rather than piecemeal. In addition, the Friday vote took place with a minimum quorum of nine of the board’s 13 members. The commission released different draft maps last month, some of them partial, which were widely panned.
● TX Redistricting: Texas’ Republican-run state Senate passed the GOP’s proposed gerrymander of the state’s congressional map on Friday, making what the Texas Tribune described as “minor tweaks” in some rural areas. The plan must still be approved by the state House, where a committee just voted to advance a new map for the Senate. The Senate previously passed its own map.
● VA Redistricting: After an acrimonious Friday meeting that saw three members walk out, Virginia’s new redistricting commission failed to finish drawing new legislative maps by a key Sunday deadline, thereby handing the process over to the state Supreme Court. The panel said it would instead try to draft new congressional districts, which are due by Oct. 25.
Members of Virginia’s top court are chosen by a majority vote of both chambers of the legislature, and all seven were confirmed when Republicans held a majority. (Only South Carolina uses a similar process.) Two justices tend to lean to the left, though, likely giving conservatives a 5-2 majority. When the constitutional amendment to create the new commission was on the ballot last year, some Democrats expressed opposition precisely because they feared that the court could impose maps that favor the GOP.
● VT Redistricting: Vermont’s Legislative Apportionment Board has released several draft maps and will forward final recommendations to lawmakers by Nov. 1. While the board is only advisory in nature, it was created by statute several decades ago, and legislators have in the past taken guidance from its proposals.
● AK-Sen: The Alaska Department of Public Safety has fined Republican Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka $270 for “commercial fishing without a commercial fishing crew license,” following the release of a July campaign video that showed her retrieving fish from a net and selling them to a tender boat. Officials declined to charge Tshibaka over a separate 2019 incident in which she obtained a sport fishing license reserved only for those who’ve lived in the state for 12 months, at a time when Tshibaka had only recently returned from living in Maryland.
Tshibaka is challenging Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, with the endorsement of Donald Trump. Democrats have yet land a notable candidate, though state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson has said she’s considering a bid. Physician Al Gross, who ran as an independent last year with the support of state Democrats, has also said he’s thinking about a second run, though he recently lost a campaign to serve on the hospital board in his home town of Petersburg.
● NV-Sen, NV-Gov: While Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer didn’t rule out running for Senate or governor back in April, he’s almost certainly out of the running now that he’s resigned from the legislature to accept an appointment from Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to the Nevada Gaming Commission.
● ME-Gov: State Senate President Troy Jackson has rebuked a union-backed PAC that’s been trying to push him to run against Gov. Janet Mills in next year’s primary, and according to Jackson’s spokesperson, he’s directly informed the group’s leaders that he’s not running. Last month, Jackson issued a statement expressing support for Mills when former GOP Gov. Paul LePage kicked off his comeback bid.
● NC-14: Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore did not rule out running for the House last week following the release of a proposed congressional map that placed his Cleveland County base in a new 14th District. “I still have a campaign committee open for state House, but it’s premature to talk about anything else other than that,” said Moore, who also insisted he didn’t know anything about these suggested boundaries.
The News & Observer writes of this map, “And while that was the very first map drawn by a top Republican official, it’s only one map. Some observers said they doubted it would make the cut in the end.”
● TX-03: Former Collin County Judge Keith Self on Monday filed FEC paperwork for a potential bid against Rep. Van Taylor, a fellow Republican. Self was elected in 2010 as the top executive in Collin County, which makes up close to 90% of the proposed new 3rd District (the balance is in Hunt County). He considered running for Congress in the 2018 cycle after veteran Rep. Sam Johnson retired, but he ultimately decided to retire rather than seek any office that year.
● Special Elections: There’s one special election on tap for Tuesday:
IA-HD-29: This Democratic district in the Newton area became vacant after former Rep. Wes Breckenridge resigned last month to take a job with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. The candidates were nominated by the parties and Republicans selected financial representative Jon Dunwell while Democrats chose Steve Mullan, a member of the Newton City Council. Dunwell was the GOP nominee for this seat last year, losing to Breckenridge 52-48.
This district has moved sharply rightward in recent years, though it’s been a bit friendly to Democrats downballot. Barack Obama carried this constituency 56-43 in 2012, which shifted to a 53-41 win for Trump in 2016, and Trump was able to expand his margin to 57-41 last year. In 2018, however, Republican Kim Reynolds only narrowly carried this seat 49.3-48.6 in the governor’s race and Democrat Rob Sand won it 52-45 in his successful bid for state auditor.
Republicans currently control this chamber 59-40 with just this seat vacant.
● Nassau County, NY District Attorney & Executive: Democrats are defending the offices of county executive and district attorney this November in Nassau County, a populous region on Long Island where once-dominant local Republicans are hoping to score some high-profile wins ahead of next year’s midterms.
After a century of GOP pre-eminence, Nassau began consistently voting for Democrats at the top of the ticket starting in 1992, capped by a 54-45 victory for Joe Biden last year—the party’s best performance in two decades. But the county remains a fertile battleground, and both parties remember well how Republicans won the executive post in a 2009 upset and decisively held it four years later.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Democrats reclaimed the job, when Laura Curran prevailed in a close race, and now she’s up for another four-year term next month against Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a longtime local Republican politico. The open-seat special election for district attorney, meanwhile, is a battle between Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky and his Republican rival, prosecutor Anne Donnelly.
We’ll start with the latter contest, which looks to be the more competitive of the two. A special election became necessary after incumbent Madeline Singas resigned in June to join the state’s highest judicial body, the Court of Appeals; acting District Attorney Joyce Smith, whose ascension made her the first Black person to hold this post, is not competing in the race for the final two years of Singas’ term.
(In an unusual aside, regularly scheduled elections for the DA’s office used to take place at the same time as those for county executive, but when Singas’ predecessor, Democrat Kathleen Rice, was elected to Congress in 2014, that reset the schedule for prosecutorial races in the county. After getting elevated to the top job after Rice left, Singas won a special election in 2015 and then a regular election four years later.)
We’ve seen no public surveys so far, but state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs recently told City & State’s Zach Williams that his internal polling shows Kaminsky only “slightly ahead” even as Curran leads by at least 10 points. Kaminsky did, however, hold a massive $1 million to $42,000 lead over Donnelly as of Sept. 27, but as Williams details, Republicans are hoping that Donnelly’s opposition to cash bail reform will help her overcome that deficit. Donnelly has made the issue the centerpiece of her campaign, which has included 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.
Nassau County has a low crime rate, and U.S. News & World Report even ranked it as the safest community in the country in both 2020 and 2021, but the GOP has a long history of successfully exploiting fears of increasing crime in suburban areas like this. Indeed, Nassau County Republican Party Chair Joseph Cairo touted Donnelly’s prospects by telling Williams, “The craziness of bail reform, it’s right there. That’s how she’s gonna win.”
But while Kaminsky, a nephew of the legendary comedian Mel Brooks, voted for the 2019 bill, he hasn’t positioned himself as a reformer and in fact joined a group of lawmakers who successfully worked to scale back some of the changes to bail policy last year. He’s also emphasized his time as a federal prosecutor and argued that he’d be harsher on “drug kingpins” and “gang leaders” than Donnelly.
Curran appears to be in stronger shape, though again, we’re hampered by a lack of poll data. In late September, Newsday‘s Dan Janison wrote, “Polling by both parties shows Curran, generally well-liked by voters, with a lead somewhere between large and enormous.” Curran also ended Sept. 27 with a wide $1.3 million to $552,000 cash-on-hand lead against Blakeman.
Just as in the DA race, local Republicans have tried to portray the Democrat as weak on crime. The county legislature, where the GOP enjoys an 11-8 majority thanks to a Republican gerrymander, passed a bill over the summer that would have listed first responders as a protected class under the local Human Rights Law, which would have allowed them to sue protestors and others for “discrimination.” Curran vetoed the legislation, arguing, “There is no consensus among elected officials and the public that this current legislation is necessary, carefully crafted and without negative consequences.”
Blakeman, meanwhile, earned unwanted headlines last week after City & State reported that, according to a 2017 memo, two of his staffers accused him of making them carry out personal tasks, including at odd hours and on weekends. One of those former aides also said that, after he refused, Blakeman retaliated by assigning him to janitorial services in a park. Reporter Jeff Coltin wrote that “it is not clear if the allegations were ever discussed publicly or whether Blakeman was ever reprimanded.” Blakeman’s camp responded to the story by dismissing the allegations as “part of some bad blood and not something that had merit.”
Jeff Singer, Matt Booker, Carolyn Fiddler, and Stephen Wolf from Daily Kos were joined last week by Sister District co-founder Gaby Goldstein, and we discussed 2021’s must-watch elections; next year’s Senate races; redistricting; our favorite campaign stories; the most important lessons we’ve learned about politics; and much more. (The mayoral race in Hialeah, Florida even made an unexpected appearance.) You can find the whole panel on YouTube.