● AL-Sen: Republican Secretary of State John Merrill, who’d been considering a run for Alabama’s open Senate seat, admitted on Wednesday that he’d had an extramarital affair and said he would not seek any public office in 2022. According to AL.com, Merrill at first denied the relationship but then confessed when played a recording of a sexually explicit phone call with his former lover, Cesaire McPherson, that she provided to the site.
Merrill was very close to launching a bid to
succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby and had even rebranded his now-defunct website to describe himself as a Senate candidate. In addition to his withdrawal from the campaign trail, the Republican Secretaries of State Committee, which is the GOP’s campaign arm devoted to electing secretaries of state across the country, also announced on Thursday that it was replacing Merrill as chair with Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
● OH-Sen: Republican Rep. Steve Stivers, who said earlier this week that he has “a long way to go” before deciding whether to run for Ohio’s open Senate seat, now says he’ll make up his mind around July 4.
● PA-Sen: Kevin Baumlin, a political newcomer who serves as chief of emergency and urgent care services at the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Hospital, announced Wednesday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for this open seat.
● GA-Gov: State Sen. Burt Jones and former state Rep. Vernon Jones both say they plan to decide whether to challenge Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in next year’s primary “soon,” in the words of the New York Times. The two Joneses differ in their outlook, though: Burt, a wealthy businessman who was booted as chair of a key committee by fellow Republicans for leading an effort to overturn last year’s election, said that Kemp’s support for Georgia’s new voter suppression bill “has not hurt him among his base,” while Vernon, an ex-Democrat and fanatic Trump supporter who joined the GOP earlier this year, called Kemp’s move “too little, too late.”
● IL-Gov, IL-Sen: Former state Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, who lost a 2010 bid for governor by less than 1 point, says he’s considering another gubernatorial run next year, as well as possible campaigns for Senate or secretary of state. Brady’s fellow Republicans may not be eager to support a comeback, though: His caucus sacked him as leader last year, and Brady resigned soon after.
He also left office with more than $800,000 in his campaign account—money that his colleagues are pissed he did not return to them. Astonishingly, he could even spend some of that money on himself, thanks to an old law repealed more than two decades ago that, due to his long career, still applies to funds he raised back in the 1990s.
Brady unsuccessfully sought the governorship in three consecutive elections, finishing third in the GOP primary in both 2006 and 2014. In between, he fared considerably better, securing the 2010 nomination by less than 200 votes over fellow state Sen. Kirk Dillard.
He then ran a very competitive campaign against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who’d been elevated to the top post after his predecessor, the notorious Rod Blagojevich, had been impeached and removed from office. With discontent over the economy running hot, almost every public poll showed Brady leading, but Quinn prevailed 47-46 thanks to strong turnout in the Chicago area.
● NE-Gov: University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen kicked off a campaign for Nebraska’s open governorship on Thursday, making him the first notable Republican to do so. A much bigger GOP name, though, is now reportedly considering a comeback: former Gov. Dave Heineman, who left office due to term limits in 2015. When asked by NCN reporter Joe Jordan whether he might run, Heineman, who is 72, dodged the question, then agreed with Jordan that his response was “not a no.”
● RI-Gov: Physician Luis Daniel Muñoz, who serves on Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Equity Council, announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Muñoz is the first notable contender to kick off a primary bid against incumbent Dan McKee, who was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor after Gina Raimondo resigned last month to become secretary of commerce.
Muñoz ran for this post in 2018 as an independent against Raimondo and received less than 2% of the vote after a campaign that attracted very little attention. Muñoz’s profile has risen since, then, though, and he’s been active in efforts to increase vaccine access for people of color.
● VA-Gov: On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam endorsed his predecessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to become his successor. It’s not only a big get for McAuliffe, who faces several opponents in the June 8 Democratic primary, it caps a remarkable comeback for Northam. Just two years ago, virtually the entire Virginia Democratic Party called on Northam to resign after he admitted to wearing blackface in college. Northam, however, resisted those calls and eventually worked his way back into his party’s good graces, so much so that all but one Democratic hopeful, socialist Del. Lee Carter, sought his endorsement this year.
McAuliffe also released his first TV ad the same day, a 60-second spot that shows just how far the conversation has shifted in progressive politics. The issue McAuliffe chooses to highlight is his 2016 executive order restoring voting rights to over 200,000 Virginians who had served out felony sentences. The ad features a Black businessman named Eric Branch who describes the difficulties he faced “to get back into society” after completing a prison sentence for breaking and entering decades ago.
McAuliffe picks up the narration in the middle, explaining that in Virginia, “if you were a felon, you could never vote for the rest of your life.” He continues, “This was remnants of Jim Crow, this was racism, and it needed to end.” Branch returns to conclude the spot, saying, “What Terry McAuliffe did for me, he made me feel whole again.”
● GA-06: Army veteran Harold Earls, a Republican who has a large social media following, announced this week that he would challenge Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also name-drops state Sen. Brandon Beach, who ran an aborted campaign here last cycle; state Ethics chair Jake Evans; former state Rep. Meagan Hanson; and state elections official Gabriel Sterling.
The current version of this suburban Atlanta seat favored Joe Biden 55-44, but the Republican legislature will have the chance to make life difficult for McBath or neighboring Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux during the new round of redistricting. The AJC suggests that if the GOP map makers decide to go after Bourdeaux, Earls and other Republicans could run for her seat rather than take on McBath.
● IN-05: 2020 Democratic nominee Christina Hale told Howey Politics that she wasn’t ruling out a rematch against Republican Victoria Spartz, but added that she’d need to see the new maps after redistricting before deciding. Hale lost 50-46 as Donald Trump was carrying this suburban Indianapolis district by a small 50-48 spread, but Republican legislators will have the opportunity to try to protect Spartz.
● MS-04: Rep. Steven Palazzo got his first serious Republican primary challenger this week when Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, whose jurisdiction makes up about 20% of this safely red Gulf Coast-based seat, launched his campaign, and Ezell may have company before too long.
The conservative site Y’all Politics contacted several local Republicans to ask them about their interest in taking on Palazzo, who is facing an ethics investigation into charges that he illegally used campaign funds for personal purposes, and a few confirmed they were thinking about it. Mississippi requires a runoff in primaries where no wins a majority, so a crowded primary may not end up aiding the incumbent.
Both state Sen. Brice Wiggins and state Rep. Charles Busby said they were thinking about it, with Wiggins drawing attention to the probe against Palazzo. State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who waged unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaigns in 2014 and 2018, also said he was “not ruling out any race.” McDaniel did consider running against Palazzo back in 2016, but he ended up staying out to focus on aiding Ted Cruz’s failed presidential bid.
Another state senator, Joey Fillingane, didn’t address his plans in his statement to Y’all Politics, though he did call for Palazzo to leave Congress “if the allegations are true.” Public Service Commission Chair Dane Maxwell, meanwhile, said, “I have no plans to run against Congressman Palazzo, but if the seat were to become vacant I would highly consider running.”
Writer Frank Corder also name-drops Harrison County Commissioner Rebecca Powers, communications firm president Marie Sanderson, and banker Clay Wagner, though there’s no word on their interest. State Sens. Joel Carter and Scott DeLano and Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, though, said they wouldn’t take on Palazzo.
Palazzo, for his part, very much sounds like he plans to fight it out. The congressman released a statement following Ezell’s entrance into the race declaring, “I plan to continue to serve as long as the constituents of the fourth district have faith in me to do so.”
● NM-01: Republican-turned-independent Aubrey Dunn is out with his first TV spot ahead of the June 1 special election, and the former land commissioner’s messaging seems designed to appeal to voters from his old party. Dunn insists that his opponents “follow their party lines no matter how extreme” before proceeding to employ right-wing rhetoric about “[t]he border crisis, liberal abortion laws, defund the police and Nancy Pelosi.” There is no word on the size of the buy.
● SC-01: Former Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham, who hadn’t ruled out a comeback bid for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, has closed down his federal campaign account, though that’s not necessarily dispositive of his plans. For various technical reasons, candidates often close old accounts and re-open news ones instead. Cunningham, though, also hasn’t closed the door on a gubernatorial bid, so it’s possible this move could indicate a greater interest in state office—or in not running for anything at all.
● VA-02: On Thursday, Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans filed FEC paperwork for a potential bid against Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria. Kiggans was elected to an open swing seat based in Virginia Beach in 2019 by winning a competitive race 50-49.
● WI-03: Former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, who’d been considering a rematch with Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, announced he’d run again on Thursday. Kind beat Van Orden just 51-49 last year in the closest race of his long congressional career, which began in 1996.
Kind’s district also voted for Donald Trump twice, supporting him by about 5 points in 2016 and again in 2020, even as Joe Biden improved on Hillary Clinton’s margin nationwide. But while the trends in Wisconsin’s heavily rural and predominantly white 3rd District have not been positive for Democrats, the bigger concern may be redistricting, as Republicans may be able to ram through a map that makes Kind’s seat even redder.
● Anchorage, AK Mayor: A total of just under 42,000 ballots have been tabulated for Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary, and there is little question that Democratic City Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar will compete in a May 11 general election against conservative Air Force veteran Dave Bronson. Dunbar is in first with 33%, which is below the 45% needed to win outright, while Bronson leads former City Manager Bill Falsey 31-13 for second.
Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said that there are at least 15,000 ballots left to count, so these numbers may shift. However, the Anchorage Daily News’ Emily Goodykoontz writes that Falsey would need to win a majority of the remaining vote to grab a runoff spot, which is very unlikely to happen in a 15-way race.
Dunbar was the 2014 Democratic nominee against Republican Rep. Don Young before winning his current office in 2016, while Bronson unsuccessfully ran for a spot on the City Assembly (the local equivalent of a city council) in 2011. Bronson has spent the campaign pledging to end the city’s mask mandate and emergency pandemic orders, measures that Dunbar has supported. Dunbar has fired back by taking Bronson to task for holding indoor campaign events with plenty of unmasked attendees.
● Cleveland, OH Mayor: On Thursday, City Council President Kevin Kelley launched his long-anticipated campaign for mayor. The councilman is a close ally of incumbent Frank Jackson, and Cleveland.com’s Seth Richardson writes that Kelley’s entrance is the latest indication that Jackson won’t seek a fifth term this year. The candidate filing deadline isn’t until mid-June, though, so it may be a while longer before we have our answer.
Kelley is the vice chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, which gives him plenty of connections with local party power players in this very blue city. Kelley, whom Richardson characterizes as “the preferred candidate of Northeast Ohio’s business community,” also ended 2020 with a hefty $500,000 war chest, with much of his haul coming from unions and businesses.
However, Richardson writes that, while Kelley has been focused on poverty during his long tenure on the City Council, he’s also adopted some stances that could harm him with progressive voters. Notably, Kelley successfully urged the Republican-dominated state legislature in 2016 to block a planned city referendum to gradually increase Cleveland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Kelley joins two other notable contenders, nonprofit executive Justin Bibb and former Councilman Zack Reed, in the September nonpartisan primary. The top-two vote-getters will face off in the November general election.