Morning Digest: North Carolina court says GOP’s gerrymandered House map can’t be used next year

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Meanwhile, the same court panel also approved the new legislative maps that Republican legislators and some Democrats passed last month to replace the GOP’s illegal gerrymanders, but this development is a setback for fair districts and a defeat for the plaintiffs, who had challenged a number of the GOP’s “remedial” state House districts. The judges specifically noted that these maps passed with some Democratic support, highlighting the importance of why Democratic legislators should never vote for GOP gerrymanders just because their own seat may have been made safe for them.

As we explained in our post on the new maps, these districts are still highly problematic compared to nonpartisan maps we drew that better satisfy the court’s criteria and existing state and federal law. We used three common measures of partisan bias to assess the new maps, and they retain most of the GOP’s unfair advantage compared to their illegal gerrymanders.

Democrats are well-positioned to gain some seats, but the new maps could preclude 2020 majorities barring a massive wave election. That could in turn perpetuate further stealth gerrymanders by Republicans next decade if they maintain their legislative majorities heading into post-2020 redistricting, since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper lacks the power to veto their gerrymanders even if he wins re-election next year.

The plaintiffs in the legislative case could still appeal over the state House districts they had unsuccessfully objected to, but it’s unclear if they will even try. Democrats hold a 6-1 majority on North Carolina’s Supreme Court, but seeing as the trial court panel had a 2-1 Democratic majority, there’s no guarantee that an appeal would be successful after the GOP went to much greater lengths to hide their partisan intent with the new districts.

Gubernatorial

KY-Gov: Democrat Andy Beshear is out with an ad his campaign is calling their “closing argument.” The spot begins with a clip of Beshear and his children playing basketball as the candidate says through a voiceover, “Just like my kids, I was raised with our Kentucky values. We treat everyone with respect, and we look out for our neighbors.”

Beshear then goes after the GOP incumbent by arguing, “Matt Bevin doesn’t share our values.” Bevin is heard saying “you can’t win an argument with an ignorant person” before Beshear continues, “As governor he’s tried to rip health care away from our families, and he’s cutting public education. We can’t take four more years.”

MS-Gov: Republican Tate Reeves is out with another ad linking Democrat Jim Hood to trial lawyers.

House

CA-25: Late on Sunday evening, freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Hill announced she would resign from Congress after less than a year in office, victimized by revenge porn she accused her estranged husband and “hateful political operatives” of circulating.

Last week, the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into claims that Hill had engaged in a sexual relationship with a congressional staffer, an allegation that first surfaced on a pro-Trump site that also published intimate photos of the congresswoman.

Hill denied the relationship, which would have violated House rules governing members’ conduct, though she did acknowledge she had had a relationship with a campaign staffer during what she described in a letter to constituents last week as “the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage.” Hill added, “I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment.” (Such a relationship would not have fallen under the purview of the Ethics Committee.)

It was, however, the prospect that more private materials would become public that drove Hill from office. In her resignation letter, Hill wrote, “I know that as long as I am in Congress, we’ll live fearful of what might come next and how much it will hurt.” One Republican operative boasted that he was in possession of over 700 such photos and messages.

In a video she released on Monday, Hill pledged, “I will also take up a new fight: I will fight to ensure that no one else has to live through what I just experienced.” She went on, “Some people call this electronic assault, digital exploitation. Others call it revenge porn. As a victim of it, I call it one of the worst things we can do to our sisters and our daughters.” Hill concluded by saying “I will not allow my experience to scare off other young women or girls from running for office.”

It’s a stunning end to what had looked like a very promising career. Hill, an advocate for the homeless, kicked off a bid for California’s 25th Congressional District in early 2017. At the time, she was just 30 years old and had never run for office before. But she proved to be both a strong campaigner and an astonishing fundraiser, allowing her to defeat a trio of fellow Democrats for the right to take on two-term GOP Rep. Steve Knight.

Riding the 2018 blue wave, Hill wound up smashing Knight by almost 9 points, winning 54.4 to 45.6. She was aided by the fact that Knight’s district, located in the northern Los Angeles suburbs (including Santa Clarita, Palmdale, and Simi Valley), had been trending rapidly toward Democrats: After voting for Mitt Romney by a narrow 50-48 margin in 2012, it went for Hillary Clinton 50-44 four years later.

Hill quickly became a favorite of Nancy Pelosi, earning a spot on the speaker’s whip team and securing the role of vice chair on the powerful House Oversight Committee. She was also elected as freshman class representative alongside Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse. Given her age and popularity, it would not be surprising to see Hill return to politics one day; in her video, Hill ended by asking supporters to “join me on the next ride.”

Now, though, a special election will ensue, and one Democrat has already kicked off a bid with great intensity. Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who like Hill flipped a seat long held by the GOP last year, joined the race Monday morning with a slate of major endorsers backing her play, including Rep. Jimmy Gomez, who represents downtown L.A., as well as state Controller Betty Yee, state Treasurer Fiona Ma, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Smith also said she’s locked down enough support from California Democratic Party delegates to earn the state party’s official endorsement. Smith has another advantage as well: She already represents 55% of the 25th District.

Of course, that may not deter other Democrats from entering the race, and at least one big name is reportedly considering, Secretary of State Alex Padilla. According to CBS, Padilla lives in the district, though the seat he represented in the state Senate from 2006 to 2014 lies to the south. Last year, Padilla carried the 25th 54-46 amidst a dominant 64-36 statewide win.

Writing at Roll Call, Nathan Gonzales also name-drops freshman state Sen. Henry Stern and attorney Bryan Caforio, who lost to Knight 53-47 in 2016, then got edged out 21-18 by Hill in last year’s primary. (Incidentally, fourth-place finisher Jess Phoenix has said no to another go.) Politico’s Ally Mutnick, meanwhile, mentions Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, who worked at NASA during the Obama years.

As for Republicans, Knight has said that he’s “more than considering” a comeback bid and promised a decision “very quickly.” However, Knight also intimated he might stay out because some “fine candidates” are already running, though he may be overstating the case somewhat.

The GOP field is now down to two options after nonprofit executive Suzette Martinez Valladares, a once-touted NRCC recruit, bailed last month. The remaining contenders are Navy veteran Mike Garcia and Lancaster City Councilor Angela Underwood-Jacobs. Garcia raised $230,000 in the third quarter and, thanks to $126,000 in earlier self-funding, had $355,000 in the bank. Underwood-Jacobs brought in just $23,000 and had $188,000 left over. (To put those figures in context, Hill raised $601,000 during the same timeframe.)

It’s also not yet clear when the special election would be held. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has 14 days to order an election after the seat becomes vacant, but Hill hasn’t officially resigned yet and hasn’t said when she would. Once she does, though, and Newsom issues his proclamation, the election must take place within 126 and 140 days, with a primary nine weeks earlier.

It’s possible, then, as analyst Rob Pyers notes, that the primary could be consolidated with the state’s Super Tuesday primary on March 3. That would be a boon for Democrats, given that voters will likely turn out in droves to support their favored presidential hopefuls, and could allow the party to win the seat outright on that day.

While all candidates from all parties run together on a single ballot, just as they do in California’s regular primaries, a runoff can be averted in a special election if the winner takes a majority in the first round. If not, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to a second round of voting.

FL-19: No notable Republicans have entered the race for this safely red open seat yet, but St. Pete Polls is already out with a poll of a hypothetical August primary for Florida Politics. They give state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto a 24-17 lead over former state Rep. Matt Caldwell, while state House Majority Leader Dane Eagle grabs 10%. State Rep. Byron Donalds is at 5%, while fellow state Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen and Bob Rommel each take 2%.

HI-02: State Sen. Kai Kahele still has the Democratic primary to himself in this safely blue seat, but there are plenty of other potential candidates who may run to succeed presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda said Friday, “My team and I have been seriously looking at potential opportunity for 2020 and 2022 … Washington D.C. has been something that I have looked at.” Tokuda ran for lieutenant governor last year and lost the primary to fellow state Sen. Josh Green by a narrow 31-29.

The Associated Press and the National Journal also mention a few names as possibilities:

  • Former Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho
  • Former Senate President Donna Mercado Kim
  • State Rep. Chris Lee
  • Former Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin

Carvalho also competed in that lieutenant governor primary and took third place with 19%. Both Kim and Martin ran in last year’s primary for the 1st District but lost to now-Rep. Ed Case. Case, who used to represent the 2nd District, beat then-Lt. Gov. Doug Chin 40-26 while Kim took third with 18%; Martin was a distant sixth with just 3%.

IL-15: Farmer Sarah Frey recently acknowledged that she is considering seeking the GOP nod for this safely red open seat. Frey’s company, Frey Farms, is the country’s top pumpkin supplier, and the New York Times labeled her “the undisputed pumpkin queen of America” in a 2016 article. (We assume Frey is not related to Jack the Pumpkin King from The Nightmare Before Christmas.)

LA-05: GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham says he’ll decide by January if he’ll seek re-election in this reliably red northeastern Louisiana seat, but one fellow Republican isn’t waiting for his answer.

Scotty Robinson, who serves as a police juror in Monroe’s Ouachita Parish (in Louisiana, a parish police jury is similar to a county commission or board of supervisors), used his Friday announcement to recount how Abraham pledged to serve just three terms during his 2014 campaign. Robinson continued, “Now that we’re halfway through his third term, I’ve been thinking about the best man to succeed him.”

However, Robinson didn’t address the possibility that Abraham might stay beyond term three. Abraham said last week that he may run for a fourth term next year, but he insisted he wouldn’t serve beyond that.

MD-07: On Monday, GOP Gov. Larry Hogan set the dates for the special election to succeed the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings in this safely blue Baltimore seat. The filing deadline will be Nov. 20, and the primary will be on Feb. 4. The general election will take place April 28, which is also the date of Maryland’s regularly-scheduled presidential and statewide primary. The filing deadline to run for the full two-year term is Jan. 24.

MN-01: End Citizens United has endorsed 2018 Democratic nominee Dan Feehan’s bid for this southern Minnesota seat.

OR-02: On Monday, veteran Republican Rep. Greg Walden announced that he would not seek a 12th term in Oregon’s safely red 2nd Congressional District, making him the 19th House Republican to retire this so far this year.

Walden ran the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, successfully holding the House for the GOP both times. He’d also served as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee until the new Democratic majority took over in January. (Walden’s departure also means that five Republicans who are top-ranking committee members are now quitting Congress.)

Walden had been a reliable Trump ally during the last Congress, but starting this year, he frequently voted against the administration. That led to speculation during the spring that he would retire, but Walden claimed in April that he wanted to stick around. Channeling his inner Lebowski, Walden explained to Politico, “I’m a chairman in exile, dude.” GOP rules limit their members to a total of three terms as the party’s top committee member, and Walden, who is in his second term on the Commerce Committee, continued, “I’ve got two more years as chairman. That’s my focus.”

To regain that chairmanship, however, would have required Republicans to retake the House next year. With that prospect looking distant, Walden may have since decided that his exile wouldn’t be quite so temporary. While he insisted Monday that he was “optimistic that a path exists for Republicans to recapture a majority in the House,” he nevertheless conceded, “I also know that for me, the time has come to pursue new challenges and opportunities.”

Walden has been Oregon’s only Republican member of Congress for over a decade, but the GOP should have no trouble keeping his 57-36 Trump seat. The filing deadline for this district, which includes the part of the state east of the Cascades as well as some of southern Oregon, isn’t until March, and the primary will take place in May.

Walden got his start in politics as a congressional aide. Walden, whose father was a former state representative, was elected to the chamber in 1988, and he went on to become its majority leader. Walden was preparing a run for governor in 1993 until he discovered that his unborn son had been diagnosed with a heart ailment, and his child died soon after being born.

Walden decided not to run for anything himself in 1994, but he did serve as campaign manager for state Sen. Wes Cooley’s bid to succeed retiring Rep. Bob Smith in the old 2nd District, which makes up much of the same eastern Oregon turf that Walden represents today. Cooley won, and the next year, Walden was appointed to succeed him in the state Senate.

However, the two former allies soon came into conflict during Cooley’s 1996 re-election campaign as the freshman congressman was dogged by multiple scandals. Voters learned that Cooley had lied about serving in the special forces in Korea, and he was also accused of hiding his marriage during the 1980s so his wife could continue to receive veteran survivor’s benefits from her last marriage. Polls showed Cooley losing to a Democrat in what should have been a safely red seat, and the congressman faced massive pressure from his party to quit the race.

Walden, who was serving as state chairman of the Bob Dole presidential campaign, added to that pressure when he announced that he would run against Cooley as an independent. However, Cooley dropped out of the race and party leaders chose Smith, the district’s former congressman, to be the new nominee. Walden ended his campaign and Smith had no trouble regaining his seat.

Smith decided to retire again soon after returning to the House, and this time, Walden ran to succeed him in the 1998 GOP primary. Walden’s main opponent was Christian broadcaster Perry Atkinson, who had narrowly lost the crowded 1994 primary to Cooley. Also in the race was Cooley himself, who had been convicted shorty after leaving Congress of making false statements about his military service on an official election document and sentenced to two years probation.

Walden had Smith’s endorsement, while Atkinson received help from prominent religious conservative Gary Bauer and a pro-term-limits group. Walden ended up beating Atkinson 55-33, while Cooley took only 9% of the vote. Walden had no trouble winning in November, and he never came close to losing a primary or general election campaign during his long House career.

VA-07: GOP Del. John McGuire has been mentioned as a possible opponent for freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, and he seems to be keeping his options open. McGuire, who is up for re-election next week in a reliably red seat, appeared at a recent candidate event and was asked if he’d complete another two year term. McGuire would not commit to this and instead responded, “I will say this: God has a plan, and I’m going to follow God.”

The NRCC very much wants to target Spanberger in this 51-44 Trump seat, and nonprofit director Tina Ramirez was one of several candidates nationwide they highlighted in an August memo titled “GOP Recruitment Remains Robust.” Ramirez’s campaign fundraising has been anything but robust, though. She raised just $74,000 during the third quarter of 2019, and Ramirez had only $52,000 in the bank at the end of September. By contrast, Spanberger brought in $564,000 during this time and had $1.5 million in the bank.

One new Republican candidate, former Department of Defense official Andrew Knaggs, entered the race early this month, so we’ll need to wait until next year for our first look at his fundraising. Local GOP state legislators, including McGuire, may also take a look at running once next week’s state elections are over.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who represented the Detroit area from 1965 until 2017, died Sunday at the age of 90. We take a look at his long career, which ended with his 2017 resignation after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, in our obituary.

Conyers only won his initial 1964 primary by 108 votes, but, despite some problems during his career (including getting briefly thrown off the ballot in 2014), he never came close to losing re-election. However, Conyers’ two campaigns for mayor of Detroit both ended poorly. Conyers ran in 1989 against incumbent Coleman Young, a former ally whose 1973 victory made him the city’s first black leader. Young won the nonpartisan primary with 51% of the vote while another candidate led Conyers 24-18 for the second general election spot.

Young won that race but decided to retire in 1993, and Conyers ran for mayor again. This campaign went even worse for the congressman, though. The New York Times reported at the time that Conyers “sometimes does not show up for scheduled speeches and at one point arrived for a televised debate wearing a three-piece suit but without socks.” Conyers’ response to all this was to reply, “I don’t have to explain myself to the voters; they know who I am.” Conyers ended up taking a distant fourth place with a mere 3% of the vote.

Conyers remained in Congress for another 24 years despite those massive losses, but his career ended in scandal in 2017. Check out our obituary for more.

Deaths: Former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who won her seat in the 2008 blue wave and lost it six years later in a very expensive contest, died Monday at the age of 66 after a long battle with encephalitis.

National Democrats were looking to challenge freshman Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who had chaired the NRSC the previous cycle, but they struggled to find a viable candidate throughout much of 2007. North Carolina had voted for George Bush by a decisive 56-44 margin in 2004, and Dole didn’t look especially vulnerable. Gov. Mike Easley and Rep. Brad Miller both declined to run and Hagan, who was co-chair of the state Senate’s appropriation committee, initially also said she wouldn’t challenge Dole.

Hagan changed her mind in late October, though, and she decisively won the primary the next year. And while Dole had begun the contest as the clear favorite, things began to change over the summer. Barack Obama ran an unexpectedly strong campaign for North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, and Hagan proved to be a much tougher contender than almost anyone in either party initially anticipated. Hagan’s allies at the DSCC also drew blood when they ran a TV spot featuring two elderly men on rocking chairs snarking about Dole, her support for the unpopular Bush administration, and her lack of influence in the Senate.

Most polls gave Hagan a small lead in October, and Dole responded by launching her infamous “Godless ad.” The spot accused Hagan of attending a fundraiser with the head of the Godless Americans Political Action Committee, and the narrator declared that she “took Godless money” and asked, “What did Hagan promise in return?” The commercial ended with a female voice saying, “There is no God.”

Hagan hit back with her own ad where she denounced the attacks on her faith and how Dole “even faked my voice in her TV ad to make you think I don’t believe in God.” Hagan continued, “Well I believe in God. I taught Sunday school. My faith guides my life,” and she declared that her campaign was “about creating jobs and fixing our economy, not bearing false witness against fellow Christians.” Hagan ended up beating Dole 53-44, running far ahead of Obama’s narrow victory in the state.

Hagan faced an even more difficult contest in 2014 against state House Speaker Thom Tillis in a very tough environment for Democrats. Both parties poured millions into this race, and the election was the most expensive Senate contest in American history at the time. Hagan ran a strong campaign, but she lost 49-47. Democrats made an early attempt to recruit Hagan to challenge her former colleague Richard Burr the next cycle, but she decided not to run.

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