The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● MS-03, MS-04: Two Mississippi Republicans―3rd District Rep. Michael Guest and 4th District Rep. Steven Palazzo―posted surprisingly weak showings in Tuesday’s primaries, and they each are in for a tough fight going into June 28 runoffs in their safely red constituencies.
Guest appeared secure before the votes started coming in, but with 45,000 ballots tabulated as of Wednesday morning, he trails his unheralded intra-party rival, Navy veteran Michael Cassidy, 48-47; another challenger named Thomas Griffin is taking the remaining 5%. A second round of voting would take place if neither Cassidy nor Guest earned a majority of the vote, though the Associated Press has not yet projected a runoff. Palazzo, however, is definitely going to be fighting it out on June 28, as he’s taking just 32% of the vote. The AP hasn’t called the second runoff spot, but Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell posts a 25-22 edge over banker Clay Wagner with 51,000 votes in.
Guest, a self-described “conservative Christian leader” and former district attorney, has almost entirely been a reliable Trumpist during his two terms representing the 3rd District, an east central Mississippi seat that’s also home to many of Jackson’s suburbs. The congressman, though, risked MAGA outrage last year when he became one of the 35 Republicans to vote in favor of a Jan. 6 commission last year, something that Cassidy zeroed in on.
However, while Cassidy worked hard to court more far-right outrage by pledging, as he puts it on his website, to “hold the Establishment's feet to the fire on numerous America First issues, including election integrity and the removal of all COVID mandates and restrictions,” he didn’t look like much of a threat for almost the entire campaign. Cassidy raised a mere $32,000 from donors through late May, though he also threw down $230,000 of his own cash.
Guest himself didn’t appear at all worried, and no outside groups got involved to aid either him or Cassidy. The congressman, though, seemed to acknowledge on election night that he’d run a complacent campaign, arguing, “I think people are confused about who we are and what we stand for. We’ve allowed our opponent to define that.” Guest continued, “So if this does go to a runoff, then we are going to make sure that people of the 3rd District know who we are, they know our conservative values, and when they have the chance to go back to the polls, we hope that we’re going to be able to better convince people that we are the right person to represent our state in Washington D.C.”
Palazzo, by contrast, was in more obvious danger in the neighboring 4th District along the Gulf Coast, though it was still startling to see him perform so poorly. The incumbent is the subject of a long-running ethics investigation into charges that he illegally used campaign funds for personal purposes, and he attracted six different intra-party opponents.
There have been no public developments about the probe in over a year, however, so it was unclear if this matter would end up hurting Palazzo with voters. His many challengers seemed to think he had even bigger vulnerabilities, because they largely focused on portraying the six-term incumbent as uninterested in doing his job. That’s not a new criticism, as Palazzo, writes Mississippi Today’s Adam Ganucheau, “notoriously holds few public events since he was first elected to Congress in 2010.”
However, the congressman gave his critics more fodder this year when he abruptly canceled a campaign forum for what his staff said were “meetings dealing with national security.” Hours later, Palazzo posted a picture on Facebook of himself and his son at a restaurant in Mississippi; “It is unclear,” Ganucheau writes, “if national security was among the topics Palazzo discussed with his college-aged son over dinner.”
Palazzo’s rivals took him to task for missing multiple candidate events and casting numerous proxy votes that didn’t require him to be in D.C. (Palazzo previously filed a lawsuit trying to end those proxy vote rules that were set up early in the pandemic.) Ezell himself went after Palazzo’s absenteeism by holding an “I’ll Show Up” tour of the district, arguing, “South Mississippi needs a Congressman who will show up, speak up and stand up for our conservative values—every day.”
Like Guest, though, Palazzo didn’t seem to have any idea how much trouble he was in for much of the campaign, and he hadn’t even run any TV ads going into the final month of the contest. Indeed, Ganucheau wrote in early May, “One month from Election Day, it’s difficult to see signs he’s actually running.” Palazzo now has just three weeks to put together a viable campaign to turn his underwhelming 32% of the vote into the majority he needs to secure renomination.
More primaries also took place Tuesday in California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. You can find the results at the links for each state; we’ll have a comprehensive rundown in our next Digest.
● LA Redistricting: A federal court in Louisiana has struck down the state's new Republican-drawn congressional map, ruling that lawmakers' failure to create a second district where Black voters can elect their preferred candidate violates the Voting Rights Act. Judge Shelly Dick ordered the legislature to pass a remedial plan by June 20, and to that end, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has called a special session for June 15. But Republicans have already appealed the decision, and the arch-conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is likely to block it, much as the Supreme Court did with a very similar case out of Alabama earlier this year.
● AK-Sen: Candidate filing closed June 1 for Alaska's Aug. 16 top-four primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here. The four candidates who take the most votes, regardless of party, will face off in an instant-runoff general election on Nov. 8.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has long had an uneasy relationship with state and national conservatives, faces eight Republicans, three Democrats, and eight independent or third-party foes in August. The only opponent who has attracted much attention, though, is former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican hardliner who has Trump's endorsement. The most prominent Democrat is arguably Pat Chesbro, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission member and former high school principal who badly lost a 2014 race for state Senate.
● AL-Sen: Politico reports that the Club for Growth's Conservative Outsiders PAC is spending $800,000 on what reporter Natalie Allison characterizes as the Club's "final" buy in support of Rep. Mo Brooks for the June 21 GOP runoff. The spot comes days after the Club reportedly cut $500,000 in ad time meant to help Brooks.
The narrator argues that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's allies are attacking the congressman because they "prefer a lobbyist" like his opponent, former Business Council of Alabama head Katie Britt, over a "proven conservative" like Brooks. The voiceover continues, "Britt ran a special interest group that worked with D.C. lobbyists backing amnesty for over 1 million illegal immigrants. And, Britt's group opposed making it harder for businesses to hire illegals."
● AZ-Sen: The Republican firm Data Orbital, polling the August GOP primary on behalf of an unidentified client, finds wealthy businessman Jim Lamon edging out Attorney General Mark Brnovich 20-18, with former Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters at 15%. Trump endorsed Masters on Thursday, which happened to be the second day that this three-day poll was in the field.
● PA-Sen: Democratic nominee John Fetterman has been off the campaign trail since he suffered a stroke on May 13, and his wife told CNN Monday, "I think he deserves a month break to come back as strong as ever." However, when Giselle Fetterman was asked if the candidate would be back in July, she responded, "Maybe. I think so. That's my hope."
That same day, John Fetterman's campaign began its first general election ads with a $250,000 buy on Fox News, which is usually not a venue where Democrats like to promote themselves. Unsurprisingly, though, the spots (here and here) focus on the lieutenant governor's blue collar image while highlighting him as an untraditional politician: In one commercial filmed before his health emergency, the 6 '9 tattooed candidate tells the audience, "I do not look like a typical politician. I don't even look like a typical person."
Democrats have a competitive nomination contest to take on Sen. Ron Johnson, a far-right Republican who represents one of the swingiest of swing states. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who would be Wisconsin's first Black senator, has led in every primary poll that's been released and recently picked up an endorsement from the prominent union AFSCME Council 32.
The field also includes Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, who recently released an internal showing him only narrowly behind Barnes, and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and nonprofit head Steven Olikara are also in, but they've each struggled in the polls and with fundraising. Two others, Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis and administrator of Wisconsin Emergency Management Darrell Williams, announced last year but never filed to run.
● AK-Gov: GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy is going up against four Republicans, four unaffiliated contenders, and one Democrat, former state Rep. Les Gara. The prominent challenger in this lot is former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent who was elected to his only term in 2014 with Democratic support but abandoned his re-election campaign four years later in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Dunleavy from winning. The incumbent also faces intra-party opposition from state Rep. Christopher Kurka and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, who are each positioning themselves to the right of the ardently conservative governor.
● AZ-Gov: The Republican pollster Data Orbital's newest look at the August GOP primary shows former TV news anchor Kari Lake with a small 27-23 edge over Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, with former Rep. Matt Salmon well behind with 12%. While no other firm has released numbers showing things this close, Data Orbital finds Lake's lead expanding to 35-21 once respondents are informed she's Trump's choice. Still, even if those numbers are on target, it hardly guarantees that Lake only has room to grow as more voters learn about the Trump endorsement.
Georgia Republican David Perdue found that out the hard way after a December survey from Insider Advantage showed his 41-22 primary deficit against Gov. Brian Kemp transforming into a 34-34 tie after the pollster followed up, "As you may have heard, President Trump is planning to endorse David Perdue in the Republican Primary for Governor. Knowing this information, how would you vote?" Perdue spent the next months doing everything he possibly could to let the base know he was Trump's guy, but primary voters ended up rewarding him with a landslide 74-22 defeat.
Robson, like Kemp, is doing what she can to make sure this primary turns into anything other than a choice between a Trump-backed candidate and everyone else, and she's turning to former Gov. Jan Brewer to make her case that Lake isn't actually a loyal conservative. Brewer, who left office in 2015, begins a new ad for Robson by recounting her battles with the Obama administration over immigration before a picture flashes by of Lake with Obama. The former governor tells the audience, "Kari Lake? She donated to Obama and published a radical plan that even the liberal Arizona Republic called 'mass amnesty.'" Brewer spends the rest of the spot touting Robson as "a fighter, like me."
● GA-Gov: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp uses his opening general election commercial to attack Democrat Stacey Abrams for labeling Georgia the "worst state in the country to live" because of its poor rankings in mental health, maternal mortality, and incarceration rates. Kemp's narrator, unsurprisingly, leaves out exactly why Abrams is so unhappy with the status quo, as well as her argument that "Georgia is capable of greatness. We just need greatness to be in our governor's office," and instead dismisses her with a "Bless her heart." The spot goes on to praise Kemp for having "reopened Georgia first" and for cutting taxes to "deal with Biden's inflation."
● KS-Gov: State Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative hardliner who recently left the GOP to become an independent, announced Tuesday that he would challenge Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly without a party affiliation, a move that could ease Kelly’s path to victory against Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Pyle, who needs to turn in 5,000 valid signatures by Aug. 1 in order to qualify for the general election ballot, explained his decision in a statement arguing, “Due to the continual gross negligence in protecting and assisting citizens, my family and I have decided it is in the best interest of our state that I pursue running for Governor to enact solutions to stop the hardship of Kansans.”
Pyle himself has made a name for himself for trying to make it more difficult to vote in Kansas and for trying to hobble the state government’s response to COVID, but Republicans quickly sought to portray him as anything but a right-winger. Schmidt, who faces no serious opposition in the Republican primary, labeled Pyle a “fake conservative.” Kansans for Life also blasted the new candidate for “playing games with the lives of preborn babies and their mothers,” a reference to his missed vote for a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment (Pyle says he was absent for personal reasons).
Pyle himself has come into conflict numerous times with his now-former party’s leadership long before this. In 2010, he tried to ride the tea party wave to D.C. by challenging Rep. Lynn Jenkins for renomination in the 2nd Congressional District, but he lost 57-43. (He also took fifth in the 2018 primary to replace the retiring Jenkins.) Pyle this year opposed the legislature’s successful drive to pass a new congressional gerrymander, which resulted in him losing most of his committee assignments.
● KY-Gov: State Rep. Savannah Maddox announced Tuesday that she was joining next year's Republican primary to take on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Maddox, who once labeled Beshear's pandemic health measures "tyranny," is a close ally of 4th District Rep. Thomas Massie, and the duo last month backed three successful primary challenges against Maddox's colleagues. The state representative launched her campaign for governor this week by framing the nomination contest as between "moderate Republicans" and "an authentic conservative who has a proven track record of fighting every day for our freedoms."
● WI-Gov: Four notable Republicans are competing to take on Democratic incumbent Tony Evers in what will be one of the most competitive governor contests in the nation.
The early frontrunner was former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has the backing of her old boss, former Gov. Scott Walker, but she may be in for a tougher nomination battle than she expected. A mid-May survey from Public Policy Polling showed her narrowly trailing wealthy businessman Tim Michels, who badly lost the 2004 Senate race to Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold, 27-26, and Trump has since endorsed Michels. The field also includes businessman Kevin Nicholson, a former College Democrats of America president who lost a competitive 2018 Senate GOP primary, and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, an ardent Big Lie proponent, though PPP showed them each badly lagging.
P.S. Amusingly, while Michels launched his bid for governor in late April by pledging, "I will never ask anyone for a donation," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Daniel Bice notes that Michels almost immediately began … asking people for donations. Michels this week also argued he'd remained a Wisconsinite despite owning multi-million dollar homes in Connecticut and New York, where his three children graduated high school, insisting, "I'm not going to apologize for my success."
● AK-AL: Most of the 48 candidates running in Saturday's special top-four primary to succeed the late GOP Rep. Don Young filed to seek the full two-year term, but a few notable contenders decided to only compete in the special.
Both former state Rep. Andrew Halcro, who is a Republican-turned-independent, and Emil Notti, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Young in 1973, pledged to only run for the remainder of Young's term, and they kept that promise by not filing on June 1. North Pole City Council member Santa Claus, a self-described "independent, progressive, democratic socialist" who previously had his name changed from Thomas O'Connor, also will not be continuing on.
Altogether, 31 candidates are campaigning for a seat in the next Congress. The regular top-four primary will take place Aug. 16, which is the same day as the special general election for the final months of Young's term.
● FL-15, FL-14: The August Republican primary for the new 15th District got smaller this week when former Rep. Dennis Ross and wealthy businessman Jerry Torres each dropped out. Ross, who unexpectedly retired in 2018 from a previous version of the 15th, said that he was abandoning his comeback bid because of "limited resources." By contrast Torres, who pledged to self-fund up to $15 million, announced that he would run instead against Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor in the 14th District even though, at 59-40 Biden, it's far tougher turf than the 51-48 Trump constituency he had been seeking.
● FL-27, FL-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo announced on Monday that she'd drop her bid for governor and would instead seek to run against freshman GOP Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar in south Florida's 27th Congressional District. Republicans made this seat several points redder in redistricting, shifting it from a 51-48 win for Joe Biden to a 50-49 margin for Donald Trump, but it remains one that Democrats are eager to target.
Last year, Taddeo had entered the gubernatorial primary behind two much better-known opponents, Rep. Charlie Crist and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and failed to gain any traction, with every recent poll showing her in the low single digits. But by switching races, Taddeo brings a high profile to a contest for a swingy seat that Democrat Donna Shalala picked up in 2018 but lost two years later.
After several unsuccessful bids for office, Taddeo flipped a Republican seat in the state Senate in an attention-grabbing 2017 special election, a perch that means she represents about a quarter of the congressional district she's now running for. The Colombia-born Taddeo also gives Democrats, who've lost serious ground with Hispanic voters in the region, the chance to put forward a Spanish-speaking Latina candidate.
First, though, Taddeo faces a matchup in the Aug. 23 primary with Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, a one-time professional yo-yo player who reiterated his commitment to the race after Taddeo's entry. But Taddeo immediately hoovered up a series of major endorsements, with Shalala (who herself had still been considering a bid), Crist, and a couple of nearby congresswomen, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, all giving her their backing.
The final name on that list represents quite the irony. In 2008, when Taddeo first ran for the House against Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Shalala's predecessor), Wasserman Schultz infamously refused to endorse Taddeo despite the fact that she was co-chair of the DCCC's Red to Blue program—the Democrats' campaign arm devoted to flipping Republican seats. Wasserman Schultz's absurd excuse that she couldn't get involved because of her supposed friendship with Ros-Lehtinen sparked immense outrage online and among Florida Democrats (we covered the scandal extensively at our predecessor site, the Swing State Project here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), but she never budged and Taddeo went on to lose 58-42.
Wasserman Schultz remains in office but her career has soured badly: She was greeted with widespread hostility when she floated the possibility of a Senate bid in 2015, and a year later, she was forced to resign as DNC chair after hackers released emails stolen from the committee. Taddeo, by contrast, is being hailed as a strong recruit at a time when Democrats could very much use one.
● IL-15: Mary Miller is going up with an attack ad against fellow Republican Rep. Rodney Davis weeks after the better-funded Davis went on the offensive himself. Miller's narrator labels her colleague a "RINO" on guns before the ad makes use of old footage of Davis saying, "That's why the red flag law is so important and should be put on the floor." The second half of the spot reminds the audience that Trump is in Miller's corner in the June 28 primary and that she's "A-rated by the NRA, unlike Rodney Davis."
● MO-04: Gov. Mike Parson has endorsed cattle farmer Kalena Bruce in the packed August Republican primary for this safely red seat, a contest that has lacked an obvious frontrunner. Parson, who now resides in the 4th District thanks to the new congressional map, explained he was taking sides because of his longtime friendship with Bruce's parents, saying, "I am going to return those favors at times like this."
● NY-17: State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi on Tuesday unveiled an endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the prominent national progressive who represents the 14th District, for her August primary campaign against DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney.
AOC last month took Maloney to task for choosing to campaign for the new 17th District rather than the 18th, a more competitive seat that contains most of his current turf, a decision that threatened to instigate a primary battle against Rep. Mondaire Jones. Jones ultimately decided to run for the 10th, but Biaggi herself highlighted Maloney’s move when she launched her own campaign against him days later.
● SC-07: With a week to go before the Republican primary, Rep. Tom Rice’s allies at Grand Strand Pee Dee PAC, which so far is responsible for all of the $260,000 in outside spending here, are doing everything they can to portray Trump-endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry as a secret liberal. Its commercial does not mention Rice, who is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment, or any of the other challengers hoping to force the incumbent into a June 24 runoff.
The minute-long spot begins by faulting Fry for supporting gas and car sales taxes as well as the “largest tax increase in South Carolina history” before it attacks him for not stopping America from turning into a conservative nightmare. The narrator argues that Fry “hasn’t done enough to protect our borders,” “has done little to push back against woke radical left ideas like critical race theory,” and “hasn't done enough to keep these dangerous ideologies from poisoning the minds of our kids,” though the ad never actually goes into detail on what exactly the state representative should be doing.
● TX-34 (special): House Majority PAC is spending $110,000 on a Spanish-language ad campaign against Republican Mayra Flores, which makes this the first TV ad on the Democratic side for the June 14 all-party primary. The commercial ties Flores to the Jan. 6 attack, arguing, “Mayra supported the conspirators and conspiracy theories that were part of the armed attack on Jan. 6, leaving 150 police officers injured and 5 dead, all thanks to criminals who promote the same lawlessness that Mayra Flores supports.”
● VA-07: The NRA has endorsed state Sen. Bryce Reeves ahead of next week’s Republican nomination contest to take on Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. The organization itself has dramatically diminished in recent years and it rarely spends much in primaries, but its stamp of approval can still give Republican office seekers a boost with conservatives.
● WI-01: The new congressional map adopted by the state Supreme Court shrunk Donald Trump's margin of victory in this southeastern Wisconsin district from 54-45 to 50-48, but Republican incumbent Bryan Steil still doesn't look vulnerable this year. Businesswoman Ann Roe, who is the only Democrat who appears to have filed, ended March with only $80,000 on-hand. Still, even if Steil skates by this time, he could be in for a much tougher race in a better political climate for Democrats.
● WI-03: Longtime Rep. Ron Kind is retiring from a southwestern Wisconsin district that, just like the constituency it replaces, would have supported Trump 51-47, and at least four fellow Democrats have filed to succeed him. Kind is backing state Sen. Brad Pfaff, who is his former chief of staff. Two other Democratic contenders, former CIA officer Deb McGrath and businesswoman Rebecca Cooke, also brought in a notable amount of money through the end of March.
The only Republican is 2020 nominee Derrick Van Orden, whose 51-49 defeat was still the closest race of Kind's congressional career. Months later, Van Orden used leftover campaign funds to attend the Jan. 6 insurrectionist rally in D.C., where, it appears, he went inside a restricted area on the Capitol grounds.
● MD-AG: OpinionWorks, working on behalf of the Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore, finds Rep. Anthony Brown beating former Judge Katie Curran O’Malley 42-29 in the July 19 Democratic primary for attorney general.
● WI-AG: Three Republicans are competing to take on Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. The most full-throated election denier is Karen Mueller, who founded a conservative legal organization and has declared that “the 2020 presidential election results must be decertified to restore the integrity and transparency of Wisconsin’s future elections.” Former state Rep. Adam Jarchow and Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, writes NBC, “haven’t denied the results of the 2020 election.”
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.
- AZ-Sen: Jim Lamon (R) - anti-Blake Masters (R)
- FL-Sen: Florida First Project - anti-Val Demings (D) ($1.5 million buy)
- GA-Sen: 34N22 (R) - anti-Raphael Warnock (D-inc) (“seven figure” buy)
- NV-Sen: Catherine Cortez Masto (D-inc) (in Spanish)
- NY-Gov: Kathy Hochul (D-inc)
- IL-13: Nikki Budzinski (D)
- VT-AL: Becca Balint (D)