Morning Digest: Strong night for progressives across Pennsylvania capped by upset in Pittsburgh

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Peduto, as the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Andrew Seidman notes, was hardly a moderate, though. The mayor was an early opponent of fracking, and he came out in opposition to building new local petrochemical plants in 2019. Peduto also focused on the vast gaps between white and Black Pittsburgh residents, but unlike his opponent, he argued that the city had made needed changes since he took control of what was a “broken city” eight years ago.

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Peduto also called for city officials to “re-imagine policing,” but plenty of activists were skeptical of his willingness to follow through. Protestors spent several days in August gathered outside the mayor’s home after local officers arrested a Black Lives Matter demonstrator and placed him in an unmarked van; Peduto had initially responded to the arrest by tweeting that constitutional rights “have restrictions,” though he later said he was “livid” after watching the footage. Peduto also said later that year that crime was decreasing “because our police budget has been increasing.”

Peduto had the backing of most prominent local politicians and a number of unions, as well as a big fundraising edge over Gainey. The challenger, though, had the support of the influential SEIU Healthcare union and the activist group One Pennsylvania, along with a well-funded super PAC.

Peduto may also have been hurt by the presence in the race of Tony Moreno, a retired police officer who took third with 13%. Moreno, who was a vocal Trump supporter as recently as 2019, called for the police to do more in the city, a pitch that was unlikely to win over many Gainey-inclined voters but could have cost Peduto some much-needed support.

Pittsburgh progressives also had a good night further down the ballot. As The Appeal’s Daniel Nichanian notes, voters backed referendums banning no-knock warrants and solitary confinement, and they also elected a slate of criminal justice reformers in local judicial races.

Senate

FL-Sen: Following a report in Politico this week saying that Democratic Rep. Val Demings would challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, and Demings herself tweeting that she’s “seriously considering” the race, a Demings consultant says the congresswoman “is planning a Senate bid” and promised “a more formal announcement” next month. While launching a campaign by dribs and drabs is our least favorite way to see it done (why sap your momentum like that?), and while we’d much prefer to hear directly from the candidate herself, we’re moving Demings into the “running” column unless we hear otherwise—which would be a huge walk-back.

We’re also considering her 10th Congressional District an open seat now, something that a number of local pols are also doing. See our FL-10 item below for more.

MO-Sen: Mark McCloskey, a wealthy attorney who made national headlines last summer when he and his wife aimed their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, announced Tuesday that he’d seek the Republican nomination for this open Senate seat. McCloskey’s declaration came several hours earlier than intended, though, as he initially posted his kickoff video to YouTube only to temporarily set it to private.

McCloskey and his wife were both booked with a felony weapons charge after their confrontation with demonstrators in front of their St. Louis mansion last year, and they were later also charged with evidence tampering; the two are scheduled to go on trial this November, though Republican Gov. Mike Parson said last year that he’d pardon the couple if they are convicted.

McCloskey, of course, has not been the least bit apologetic about his actions. The fledgling candidate used his kickoff video to claim, “An angry mob marched to destroy my home and kill my family,” though the Washington Post notes that “video suggested that the crowd merely passed through an open gate on their way to the mayor’s home to stage a peaceful demonstration.”

Governors

ID-Gov: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a far-right extremist who’s feuded bitterly with Gov. Brad Little over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, announced on Wednesday that she’d challenge the incumbent in next year’s GOP primary.

McGeachin, who previously served in the state House for a decade, has spent the last year-plus blasting Little for his efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, particularly a shutdown of non-essential businesses. She’s headlined multiple rallies attacking restrictions, including one earlier this year where attendees, including kids, burned masks and another last summer organized by the conspiracist John Birch Society, devoting her speech to slamming Little.

She also appeared in a video that suggested the pandemic “may or may not be occurring” and once posted a photo taken at the state Capitol with members of the so-called Three Percenters, a faction in the extremist anti-government “militia” movement. Last May, as her pro-COVID crusade crescendoed, Little said he had not spoken to McGeachin in weeks; it’s not clear whether that’s since changed.

One reason for this corroded state of affairs is Idaho’s method for assembling gubernatorial tickets: governors and lieutenant governors are elected separately, as is the practice in many states. Sometimes, this approach leads to candidates of opposite parties getting elected; others, as here, it yields members of the same party who are nonetheless implacably opposed. Little is extremely conservative and by no means did he fight the pandemic vigorously—he never imposed a mask mandate, for instance—but he’s simply not McGeachin’s level of crazy, so once again, here we are.

PA-Gov: Rep. Dan Meuser said Tuesday that he planned to decide in four to six weeks whether to enter the Republican primary for this open seat. Meuser also noted that the field now includes his “longtime friend,” 2018 Senate nominee Lou Barletta, which “does play into my decision-making process.”  

House

AZ-06: Insurance executive Elijah Norton said this week that he was setting up an exploratory committee for a possible primary bid against Republican Rep. David Schweikert. Norton said he wanted to bring “ethical leadership” to the district, a not-so-veiled dig at an incumbent who last year agreed to pay a $50,000 fine, accept a formal reprimand, and admit to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws in a deal with the bipartisan House Ethics Committee to conclude its two-year-long investigation.

Norton himself may also be vulnerable when it comes to ethics, though. The Arizona Republic‘s Ronald Hansen writes that he left as president of the company CarGuard Administration “ahead of a class-action lawsuit filed against the company and others claiming it had made numerous calls to phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.”

FL-10, FL-Sen, FL-Gov: Now that Democratic Rep. Val Demings’ team has publicly confirmed she’s leaving to run for the Senate, we can turn our attention to the race to succeed her in Florida’s 10th Congressional District. The current version of this Orlando-area seat backed Joe Biden 62-37, and while Republicans will control the redistricting process, it’s likely they’ll keep this constituency reliably blue in order to go after other districts.

A few local Democratic politicians began showing interest in a House bid over the last few weeks. State Sen. Randolph Bracy had talked about running for governor earlier this year, but an unnamed source told the Orlando Sentinel in late April that he’d likely enter an open seat race here. Orlando City Commissioner Bakari Burns also said earlier this month that he’d also think about mounting a bid to replace Demings.

Aramis Ayala, the former state’s attorney for the Orlando-based Ninth Circuit, had been mulling a Senate bid herself, but she said Wednesday she was now thinking about a House run. A source told The Hill that “all options were on the table at this point” for Ayala, but it sounds unlikely she’d oppose Demings, whom she praised as “an unapologetic champion for women, and all women of color, who step up on behalf of their community.”

Florida Politics also name-drops state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who lost the 2016 primary to Demings; 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Chris King; and the congresswoman’s husband, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, as possible Democratic contenders here.

MT-01, MT-02: Maritsa Georgiou of NBC Montana took a look earlier this month at the potential field of congressional candidates in Big Sky Country, which will be gaining a second House district as a result of the 2020 U.S. Census.

On the Republican side, 2020 gubernatorial candidate Al Olszewski, a former state senator who took last place with 19% in last year’s primary, said he wants to run in 2022. Olszewski, who struggled badly with fundraising last time, said he was working on forming an exploratory committee, but he hasn’t filled out any FEC paperwork over the following two weeks.

Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson also expressed interest in a run for Congress, but he said he wouldn’t run if redistricting placed him in the same district as Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Republican who currently represents the entire state. Johnson ran for Congress in 1990, the last time Montana had two House seats, but he lost in a landslide to Democratic incumbent Pat Williams in the 1st District in the western part of the state. Johnson, who went on to serve one term as secretary of state, currently represents a Public Service Commission seat in eastern Montana, but he took third place in last year’s primary to regain his old statewide post.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Shane Morigeau and former state Rep. Kimberly Dudik also said they were thinking about running for the House. Both also lost races for statewide office last year in what proved to be a brutal year for Montana Democrats: Morigeau was Team Blue’s nominee for auditor, while Dudik was defeated in the primary for attorney general. Public health expert Cora Neumann, who dropped out of last year’s Senate contest after former Gov. Steve Bullock entered the primary, also confirmed her interest.

Georgiou also writes that former state Rep. Tom Winter is thinking about another run, though there’s no direct word from him. Winter, like every other potential candidate we’ve mentioned so far in this item, also unsuccessfully sought statewide office last year: Winter campaigned for Montana’s only House seat but was defeated in the primary by 2018 nominee Kathleen Williams in a 89-11 landslide.

A pair of familiar Democrats did say no, though: Bullock and 2020 gubernatorial nominee Mike Cooney. Former Attorney General Tim Fox also took his name out of contention for Team Red.

NM-01: Democrat Melanie Stansbury has a positive commercial ahead of the June 1 special where she talks about her time working across party lines “to address hunger and expand school meal programs.”

OH-11: Former state Sen. Nina Turner has two new spots ahead of the August Democratic primary for this safely blue seat. The candidate appears with her young grandson in one ad where she says she’s running to make sure he and others can grow up “free of violence” and are able to afford college, get a job with a living wage, and have “quality, affordable health care.” Turner’s other commercial focuses on police reform and her work leading “Ohio’s first bipartisan community task force to stop racial profiling and address police brutality.”

SC-07: Former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride filed FEC paperwork this week for a potential Republican primary bid against incumbent Tom Rice, who was one of 10 GOP House members to vote to impeach Donald Trump.

Nine other Republicans have also set up fundraising committees for this coastal South Carolina seat, though the only notable contender who has announced so far is Horry County School Board chair Ken Richardson. A runoff would take place if no one wins a majority of the vote, so a crowded field may not ultimately do Rice much good.

TX-23: This week, Marine veteran John Lira became the first notable Democrat to announce a campaign against freshman Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales in a competitive seat that GOP map makers will have the chance to make redder. The current version of district, which stretches from San Antonio west to the El Paso area, swung from 50-46 Clinton to 50-48 Trump (the only other Clinton/Trump House seat in the nation is Florida’s 26th District), while Gonzales defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones 51-47.

WA-08: Republican Matt Larkin, who was the party’s nominee for state attorney general in 2020, announced this week that he’d challenge Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier in this competitive seat, which includes the eastern Seattle suburbs and rural areas to the east.

Schrier won her second term last year 52-48 in a race that attracted minimal outside spending from either party as Joe Biden was winning the 8th District by a larger 52-45 spread. Larkin himself lost statewide to Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson 56-44, though the Republican actually carried this seat 51-49.

As we’ve noted before, while Democrats control the governorship and both chambers of the legislature, they’ll only have a limited say in redistricting. Instead, a bipartisan commission consisting of one appointee made by each of the four legislative majority and minority party leaders will be tasked with drawing up the maps. While the commission’s proposals need to be approved by the legislature, state law requires two-thirds supermajorities, which Democrats lack, to modify the proposed maps. If there’s a commission deadlock, the courts would craft the new maps instead.

WY-AL: Air Force veteran Bryan Miller, who also chairs the Sheridan County GOP, announced Tuesday that he would wage a primary bid against Rep. Liz Cheney. Miller’s own electoral history is decidedly unimpressive: He has twice run for Senate, in both 2014 and 2020, and took 10% of the vote in the GOP primary each time. With a multitude of other candidates running, though, he could further split the anti-Cheney vote and make it easier for her to win renomination with a plurality.

Judges

PA Supreme Court: Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson, who had the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, won Tuesday’s primary for a key state Supreme Court race, defeating fellow Commonwealth Court Judge Patty McCullough 52-33. Brobson will face Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin, who won the Democratic nomination without opposition, for the seat held by retiring Republican Justice Thomas Saylor this November. Democrats currently control the court 5-2 but could expand their majority if McLaughlin wins.

Legislative

Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s special elections in California and Pennsylvania:

CA-AD-54: As of Wednesday afternoon, Democrat Isaac Bryan held a wide 49.7-24 advantage over his closest competitor, fellow party member Heather Hutt. Three other Democrats combined for 22% of the vote, while independent Bernard Senter had 4%.

A few late-arriving mail ballots, which will be counted in the coming days, will be crucial in determining whether Bryan can get the majority needed to win this seat outright or if he and Hutt will participate in a July 20 runoff.

PA-SD-22: Democrat Marty Flynn defeated Republican Chris Chermak 51-38 to keep this seat in the Democratic column. Flynn was endorsed by Joe Biden, who himself carried this district 54-45, reversing a trend towards Republicans here during the Trump-era.

Flynn outperformed the last two Democratic presidential nominees in this district, which was all the more impressive considering Green Party candidate Marlene Sebastianelli peeled off a surprising 9% of the vote. However, because the Democrat and Republican combined for less than 90% (thanks as well to a Libertarian who got 1%), we won’t include this result in our average on our special elections “big board.”

PA-SD-48: Republican Chris Gebhard defeated Democrat Calvin Clements 62-30 to hold this seat for his party. Former state Rep. Edward Krebs ran as an independent and took 5% while Libertarian Tim McMaster won 3%.

Republicans control this chamber 28-21 (there is one independent member who caucuses with the GOP), with no other seats vacant.

PA-HD-59: Republican Leslie Rossi defeated Democrat Mariah Fisher 65-32 to hold this seat for her party.

PA-HD-60: Republican Abby Major defeated Democrat Frank Prazenica 77-19 to hold this seat for her party.

This chamber is now at full strength with Republicans in control 113-90.

Prosecutors

Philadelphia, PA District Attorney: Incumbent Larry Krasner, whose 2017 win was an important early victory for criminal justice reformers, held back a challenge from former prosecutor Carlos Vega by a decisive 65-35 margin in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Vega, who had the support of the local police union, argued that Krasner was to blame for a recent spike in violent crime. The incumbent, though, argued he’d made necessary changes such as stopping “dumb, low bails for broke people on nonserious offenses.” Krasner also framed the contest as a choice between criminal justice reform and a “past that echoes with names like [Frank] Rizzo,” Philadelphia’s racist late mayor.

Krasner will have little trouble in the November general election in this heavily blue city against deeply flawed Republican Chuck Peruto, whose level of seriousness is best summed up by his “The Girl in my bathtub” section of his campaign website.

Krasner wasn’t the only local progressive to prevail on Tuesday, either. The Appeal’s Daniel Nichanian reports that eight judicial candidates supported by the group Reclaim Philadelphia also won city races, which he characterizes as “a big deal because judges have been obstacle for some of Krasner’s reforms so far.”

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