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Morning Digest: Will Massachusetts' Republican governor seek a third term? No one knows

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R)

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

MA-Gov: Political science professor Danielle Allen announced Monday that she'd join the Democratic primary to take on Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who is keeping everyone guessing whether or not he'll seek a third term next year. That's a decision that will have huge implications for Allen and other Democrats looking to score a victory in what is otherwise a very blue state.

Back in 2019, just months after Baker scored a landslide re-election victory, the Boston Globe reported that he was putting together a team for a possible 2022 campaign. While at the time this seemed like a strong indication that Baker would attempt to become the first Bay State governor in modern history to serve three consecutive terms, observers aren't so sure now. Baker pulled in weak fundraising totals during the final months of 2020 even as his running mate, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, continued to stockpile money, which generated plenty of chatter that the governor could support a Polito campaign to replace him rather than run himself.

Baker, who has deflected questions about his plans, has continued to keep observers guessing. In late May, State House News Service's Katie Lannan took note of his attendance at a Republican Governors Association conference, writing that unnamed "people close to Baker" said that "his re-engagement with the RGA could be a sign that he is leaning in the direction of running for a third term but that he had yet to share a final decision with top aides."

Campaign Action

Days later, though, the Boston Herald's Joe Battenfeld pointed out that Baker had raised a mere $3,400 during all of May, which he said was "his second-worst fundraising performance in the last two years," compared to $48,000 for Polito during this time. Baker's cash-on-hand also fell below $500,000, which is less than a quarter of what his lieutenant governor has at her disposal. Still, while Battenfeld wrote that all of this could mean that Baker is on his way out, he added "it could just mean he's focused on the pandemic and not his re-election chances."

Baker has posted strong numbers in almost every poll since he took office in early 2015, and there's little question that his retirement would turn Massachusetts into one of Team Blue's best pickup opportunities in the nation. Republicans, though, might be able to still put up a strong fight even without the incumbent leading the ticket.

While Bay State Democrats have super majorities in both chambers of the legislature and control the rest of its statewide offices, that's helped Baker and past GOP gubernatorial nominees argue that a moderate Republican is necessary to prevent one-party rule. Plenty of Democrats went into the 2014 race convinced that this line wouldn't be very effective as split-ticket voting continued to decline across the nation, but that year's GOP wave helped propel Baker to a narrow victory.

Still, it's always possible that Team Red could instead nominate the type of far-right Republican who is utterly toxic in Massachusetts. Former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who was the party's 2018 Senate nominee against Elizabeth Warren, has talked about running for governor no matter what Baker does, and he or a like-minded candidate could have some institutional support: Politico's Lisa Kashinsky recently took a detailed look at the conflict between the governor and the more Trumpy leaders of the state party, a fight that could end up benefiting a hardcore Republican especially in an open seat race.

All of this uncertainty hasn't stopped the Democratic field from slowly taking shape. Former state Sen. Ben Downing announced a campaign back in February, and he was joined Monday by Allen. Allen began raising money late last year for an exploratory committee, and she had a $283,000 to $111,000 cash-on-hand lead in early June.

Allen has never run for office before, but the 2001 MacArthur "genius grant" recipient has a long career in academia. Last year, She convened a conference at Harvard to develop a "roadmap" to reopen the economy in the midst of the pandemic, and Joe Biden incorporated parts of it into his own COVID plan. Allen would also be the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts (Republican Jane Swift ascended to this office in 2001 but never sought election in her own right), as well as the first Black woman elected to lead any state.

Two current office-holders have also generated plenty of speculation about their plans. State Attorney General Maura Healey has avoided saying much about 2022, but observers have taken note of her recent high-profile appearances across the state and vocal criticism of Baker. Healey, who has more than $3 million in the bank, would almost certainly start the primary as the frontrunner if she ran for governor, and she would also be the first lesbian elected governor anywhere in the country.

The attorney general has her critics on the left, though. The Boston Globe's Emma Platoff wrote earlier this month that some of the vocal progressive activists who backed Sen. Ed Markey's successful re-nomination campaign last year "see Healey as a willing participant in a criminal justice system that some believe should be pared back or eliminated entirely."

Members of this group have also been encouraging state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who expressed interest back in late March, to run instead. The state senator doesn't appear to have said anything publicly about this race over the following two months, though Politico reported Monday that she's recently been contacting party members. Chang-Díaz, who is of Chinese and Costa Rican descent, would also make history if she were elected governor.

Senate

AL-Sen: Just a few days after sharing an old poll that showed Rep. Mo Brooks with a wide lead in next year's Republican primary for Alabama's open Senate seat, the Club for Growth has formally endorsed the far-right congressman.

MO-Sen: A survey of next year's GOP Senate primary from Republican pollster Remington Research, conducted on behalf of the local tipsheet Missouri Scout, finds former Gov. Eric Greitens leading the way with 34%, while state Attorney General Eric Schmitt is at 25, Rep. Vicky Hartzler takes 14, and gun-waving attorney Mark McCloskey brings up the rear with 7% of the vote. The poll finds that 20% of voters are undecided. A March poll from Remington, when only Greitens and Schmitt were in the race, found the ex-governor with a tiny 40-39 edge, so the larger field has ostensibly helped him widen his advantage.

And the field could grow larger still: Rep. Billy Long, who's been considering a bid for some time, said the other day that he's "getting really close on it." Mind, though, that back in April, Long said he'd have a decision "not before too long."

NC-Sen: So why would Rep. Ted Budd release an internal poll showing former Gov. Pat McCrory beating him 45-19 (with former Rep. Mark Walker at 12)? Because, sayeth pollster Meeting Street Insights, when respondents are informed that Donald Trump recently endorsed Budd, the picture changes dramatically, with Budd suddenly up 46-27 on McCrory and Walker deep in the hole at 8.

NH-Sen, NH-Gov: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu keeps pushing back his timeline for deciding whether to run for the Senate: "I won't make a decision for a really long time," Sununu said in an interview late last week. "I'm really going to enjoy having a summer and fall ... of just being a governor." On Valentine's Day, Sununu said he'd reach a conclusion "maybe six, seven months from now," which would have placed his timetable somewhere in August or September. Now, it seems, he's content to wait for cooler weather—and keep the entire GOP waiting on him.

Governors

FL-Gov: A survey of next year's Democratic primary for governor from the Listener Group, a Republican pollster, finds Rep. Charlie Crist leading state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried 41-31, with 29% undecided. The firm tells us that the poll was not conducted for a client. A poll last month from St. Pete Polls had Crist ahead 55-22.

RI-Gov: Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has been considering a bid for governor for a long time, and he says he's going to keep considering for a good while longer: As to when he'll make an announcement about seeking the Democratic nomination, Elorza recently said, "I don't know—maybe three, four, five months from now." The mayor first publicly mooted a gubernatorial run in late 2019, saying at the time that if "I see a path by this time next year, then I'll probably jump in."

VA-Gov, VA-LG, VA-AG: A crowdfunded poll for the elections website CNalysis, conducted by Republican pollster JMC Analytics, finds the Democratic nominee for Virginia's open gubernatorial race this fall, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, leading Republican Glenn Youngkin 46-42. Remarkably, this is the first independent poll of the race and just the second overall following a recent Youngkin internal that had McAuliffe up 48-46. Four years ago, by contrast, there had been 15 general election polls conducted before the June primary.

JMC's survey also included data for Virginia's two other statewide races on the ballot this year. Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, the lone incumbent seeking re-election, holds a 45-38 advantage on Republican Del. Jason Miyares, while Democratic Del. Hala Ayala has a 42-36 lead on former Republican Del. Winsome Sears in the race for lieutenant governor.

House

FL-13: State Rep. Michele Rayner, who'd been considering a bid for Florida's 13th Congressional District, kicked off her campaign on Monday, making her the third notable Democrat to run. Last year, Rayner, a civil rights attorney, became the first Black LGBTQ woman to win election to the Florida legislature. She joins state Rep. Ben Diamond and former Department of Defense official Eric Lynn in seeking the seat left open by Rep. Charlie Crist's bid for governor, though at least one other prominent Democrat, St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, is still weighing a bid.

MO-04: Former state Sen. Ed Emery announced a bid for Missouri's newly open 4th Congressional District on Friday, making him the first notable Republican to join the race. There's little chance he'll be the last, though, as many other GOP pols are also eyeing the race for this deeply conservative seat in west-central Missouri that Rep. Vicky Hartzler is giving up to run for Senate.

NY-21: Democratic attorney Matt Putorti has launched a challenge to Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, whose high profile as a vocal Trump defender makes her both a monster fundraiser and a major target for progressive donors. Stefanik's standing as a money magnet is only likely to grow thanks to her recent elevation to the House GOP's third-ranking post following Liz Cheney's ouster, but the much bigger question is what Democrats in the state legislature choose to do with her sprawling rural district that voted for Trump 54-44 last year, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

It's too early to speculate on specifics, but while Democrats could try to target Stefanik by making her district bluer, they could very well go the opposite direction and make other GOP-held seats more competitive while making Stefanik's less so. The answer also partly hinges on whether Democrats choose to bypass the state's new bipartisan redistricting commission, which in turn depends on whether a new amendment to the state constitution that among other things would make it easier to override the commission's maps passes at the ballot box this fall.

TX-21: Businessman Matt McCall, who lost the 2018 GOP primary to Rep. Chip Roy 53-47 for what was then the open 21st District, sounds eager for a rematch: “I have asked Trump for his endorsement to run against Chip Roy," he recently told the National Review. "If Trump endorses, I will run, and we will kick Chip Roy's ass."

Roy's sin is his refusal to endorse the Big Lie, something that naturally earned him opprobrium from Trump, who half-threatened in a press release last month that Roy "has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district." Trump's outburst came in the context of his endorsement of New York Rep. Elise Stefanik for the House GOP leadership post formerly held by Liz Cheney, a race Roy lost to Stefanik by a 134-46 margin.

But some old familiar battle lines are re-emerging. The deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which was bitterly hostile to Trump during the 2016 presidential primary but later became a vocal ally, endorsed Roy for re-election on Monday, the same day that the National Review piece came out. While it might have made peace with Trump, the Club is a true believer when it comes to Roy: It's spent $7.7 million on his behalf over the last two election cycles, including an extraordinary $6.3 million in 2020 alone.

Attorneys General

TX-AG: Republican Eva Guzman filed paperwork to enter next year's primary for state attorney on Friday, which was the same day that her resignation from the Texas Supreme Court took effect. Guzman didn't announce that she would take on incumbent Ken Paxton, though her consultant said, "She looks forward to putting her experience and know-how to work in a new role. The campaign will have a formal announcement soon."

Paxton already faces a high-profile primary challenge from Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who is the son of Jeb Bush. Guzman almost certainly doesn't have the name recognition of either of her foes, but she also lacks their liabilities: Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 for securities fraud and is reportedly under federal investigation over a completely separate scandal, while Bush's attempts to renovate the Alamo have destroyed his relationship with the party's nativist base. A primary runoff would take place if no one earns a majority of the vote in the first round.

Secretaries of State

AZ-SoS: Democrats landed their first prominent candidate in the race for Arizona's newly open secretary of state election when state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding announced his entry on Monday. Bolding has drawn attention as a vocal critic of voting restrictions that Arizona Republicans have sought to pass in the wake of Joe Biden's victory in November, which marked the first time that a Democrat had carried the state's electoral votes since 1996.

Bolding's activism has gotten under the skin of his GOP colleagues: As he delivered a fiery denunciation of a bill to end the permanence of Arizona's popular Permanent Early Voting List in April, Republican state Rep. Travis Grantham interrupted him to demand, "I think he should be sat down and he shouldn't be allowed to speak." Grantham also complained that Bolding had cast aspersions on his character "with regards to colored people."

Bolding would be the first Black official elected statewide in Arizona, and he'd also be the first person of color to serve as the state's top elections official. He's hoping to succeed incumbent Katie Hobbs, who recently announced a bid for governor, though he could be joined in the primary by former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who has expressed interest in a bid. Two vigorous voter suppression advocates are already seeking the Republican nod, state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and state Rep. Mark Finchem.

Legislatures

Special Elections: Louisiana held a special election over the weekend, while two Georgia state House seats will be on the ballot Tuesday. First up is our recap of Saturday's race in the Pelican State:

LA-SD-07: State Rep. Gary Carter avoided a runoff by winning 60% of the vote in the contest to succeed his uncle and fellow Democrat, Rep. Troy Carter, in the state Senate; Republican Patty McCarty was a distant second with just 17%.

Republicans control the chamber, which is back up to full membership, 27-12. A special election will later take place to replace Carter in the state House, but Democrats should have no trouble holding onto his safely blue seat.

Next are the two Georgia contests. In both elections, if no candidate takes a majority of the vote, a runoff will take place on July 13:

GA-HD-34: This Republican district based in Cobb County in the northern Atlanta suburbs became vacant after former Rep. Bert Reeves resigned to take a job at Georgia Tech. Two Democrats, educator Priscilla Smith and attorney Sam Hensley, and two Republicans, former Kennesaw City Councilmember David Blinkhorn and businessman Devan Seabaugh, are in the running for this seat. Smith was the Democratic nominee against Reeves last year, a race she lost 56-44.

Though it's still light red, this district has been part of suburban Atlanta's enormous shift to the left: Donald Trump won it 55-40 in 2016, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp took it by a smaller 54-44 spread in the 2018 governor's race, and last year Trump carried it just 51-47.

GA-HD-156: This Republican district in the Vidalia area became vacant after former Rep. Greg Morris became a member of the Georgia Department of Transportation's State Transportation Board. The Republicans vying for this seat are business owners Leesa Hagan and Wally Sapp, while the Democrat is writer Wright Gres.

This is a strongly Republican seat that backed Trump 75-25 last year. Republicans control this chamber 101-77, with just these two seats vacant.

Mayors

New York City, NY Mayor: Marist College, working on behalf of Politico, Telemundo 47, and WNBC, is out with its first poll of next week's instant runoff Democratic primary, and it shows Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in good shape heading into the final stretch. He leads former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia 24-17, while attorney Maya Wiley is in third with 15%. Marist goes on to simulate the ranked-choice process and finds Adams defeating Garcia 56-44 in the 12th and final round of tabulations.

The survey gave Adams some welcome news days after coverage of the race became dominated by questions about where exactly the frontrunner lives, but it doesn't tell us whether or not these stories have done him any real damage. Marist was in the field June 3-9, so few respondents would have seen the June 8 Politico story that started this strange inquiry, much less the subsequent coverage.

Notably, Marist also finds 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang in a distant fourth place with 13%, which is quite a bit worse than where other firms have placed him. Other recent numbers have shown the former frontrunner trailing Adams, though, and Yang's allies at Future Forward PAC are hoping to alter his trajectory by launching what appears to be the first negative TV spot of the entire contest.

The group, which is funded primarily by startup investor David Rose, begins by framing the race as a choice between Adams and Yang. The narrator continues, "Ex-Republican Eric Adams was investigated for using a charity to help himself. Sound familiar?" Just in case the audience wasn't drawing the connection yet, that last statement is followed by a picture of Donald Trump. The narrator goes on to label Adams "a former cop who wanted to search homes for marijuana" before she praises Yang's vision of "justice, equity, and progressive values." A second ad from the group stays positive and extols Yang as "a real progressive."

Adams was a registered Republican until 2002, though he was elected to the state Senate four years later as a Democrat. The line about the charity is a reference to a nonprofit called One Brooklyn that Adams formed in 2014. Politico wrote in April that while the group "does plenty of charitable work throughout the year," it has also spent money "on high-end fundraisers that raised little money, marketing materials that promote Adams' name and image and awards given out to prominent businesses and constituents—some of whom later donated to his mayoral campaign."

A subsequent New York Times report said that New York City's Department of Investigation concluded in 2014 that "Adams and his nonprofit appeared to have improperly solicited funding from groups that either had or would soon have matters pending before his office." Adams' team said that these mistakes had happened early during his tenure and pledged to fix them, and the paper noted that "no enforcement action was taken." Until now, the only Adams opponent we've seen try to use this story against him was former Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire, who brought it up at a debate a month ago.

Finally, the line about Adams once having "wanted to search homes for marijuana" is likely a reference to a 2011 video where the then-state senator instructed parents on how to search their own homes to see if their children were hiding "contraband." In addition to warning, "A small-caliber weapon could be hiding inside a jewelry box," Adams showed viewers how a doll could be used to hide pot. The video received tons of mockery online when it resurfaced in April, though none of his foes appear to have tried using it against him until now.

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