The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● AK Ballot: Alaska voters made history in 2020 when they made their state the first in the nation to adopt a top-four primary with a ranked-choice general election, but conservatives tell the Alaska Beacon's James Brooks that they're close to qualifying a measure to repeal the system that would go before voters next year.
The campaign has until the start of the January legislative session to turn in about 27,000 valid signatures, a figure that represents 10% of the total number of votes that were cast in the most recent general election, and it must also hit certain targets in three-quarters of Alaska's 40 state House districts. One leader says that organizers have already gathered 30,000 petitions so far but will analyze them later to see if more are needed.
Under the current top-four system, all the candidates run on one primary ballot, and the four contenders with the most votes—regardless of party—advance to an instant-runoff general election. This method was first used last year in the special election to succeed the late GOP Rep. Don Young as Alaska's lone House member, a contest that ultimately saw Democrat Mary Peltola defeat former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin 51-49.
Conservatives both in Alaska and across the country were furious because Palin and another Republican, Nick Begich, outpaced Peltola by a combined 59-40 in the first round of tabulations. They blamed their surprise loss on instant-runoff voting rather than Palin's many failings or the Democrat's strengths.
"60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican," griped Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, "but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion—which disenfranchises voters—a Democrat 'won.'" But even without ranked-choice voting, Peltola still would have come in first, as she beat Palin 40-31. And since Begich took third with 28%, he may well still have lost a traditional primary to Palin had one been used.
Furthermore, a poll conducted right after the special by supporters of ranked-choice voting showed that Alaskans saw their new voting system as anything but "convoluted." Instead, 85% of respondents found it to be "simple," while 62% said they supported the new method.
Hard-right groups, though, soon had even more reasons to hate the new status quo. Thanks to the top-four system, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a rare Republican who's crossed party lines on high-profile votes, would no longer face what would almost certainly have been a tough GOP primary against Donald Trump's preferred candidate, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. (Murkowski famously lost her 2010 primary to a far-right foe but won the general through a write-in effort.)
Instead, Murkowski and Tshibaka easily advanced to the general election with Democrat Pat Chesbro and a little-known third Republican. Murkowski led Tshibaka 43.4-42.6 in the first round of general election tabulations, but the 10% of voters who supported Chesbro overwhelmingly broke for the incumbent and helped lift her to a 54-46 victory. Peltola also won her rematch with Palin 55-45 after initially leading her 49-26; unsurprisingly, both Palin and Tshibaka ardently back the effort to end the top-four system.
● OH Redistricting: Ohio's congressional districts will remain unchanged in 2024 after the state Supreme Court granted a request by plaintiffs to dismiss two legal challenges to the map, which the court ruled violated the state constitution as an impermissible partisan gerrymander last year.
Despite that ruling, however, challengers faced steep odds of a favorable outcome after hard-right Republicans won a majority on the court in November. But by abandoning their cases, voting rights advocates will ensure that Republicans cannot draw an even more aggressive gerrymander for 2024, since Ohio's constitution requires that the current map remain in place through next year's elections.
Republicans would still get a chance to draw a new map after 2024 under the current law, though, which is why reformers are instead focusing their efforts on qualifying an amendment for next year's ballot that would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw new maps.
This week, organizers submitted new ballot summary language after Republican Attorney General Dave Yost rejected their first attempt, mostly making technical changes in response to his complaints. Once they get the green light, activists will be able to start collecting the 413,000 signatures they need to put their measure before voters in 2024.
● CA-Sen: UC Berkeley has released two versions of its survey of the March top-two primary: One that includes a scenario where former Major League Baseball player Steve Garvey campaigns as a Republican, and one where he doesn't run. First is the Garvey version:
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D): 20
- Rep. Katie Porter (D): 17
- Rep. Barbara Lee (D): 7
- former Major League Baseball player Steve Garvey (R): 7
- perennial candidate James Bradley (R): 7
- 2022 attorney general candidate Eric Early (R): 5
- tech executive Lexi Reese (D): 1
- Others: 4
- Undecided: 32
Next up is the one without Garvey, though the two leading candidates don't see their numbers budge at all:
- Schiff (D): 20
- Porter (D): 17
- Bradley (R): 10
- Lee (D): 7
- Early (R): 7
- Reese (D): 1
- Others: 4
- Undecided: 34
This is the first poll we've seen that includes Reese, who announced in late June, though UC Berkeley's release misspells her first name as "Lexie." A strategist for Garvey, meanwhile, told Politico in early June that "[w]e should have a decision made here in the next few weeks," but we're still waiting on him three months later.
● IN-Gov: Former state Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers has made it clear he'll be doing a substantial amount of self-funding in his quest for the GOP nod by throwing down $5 million of his own money. Chambers also began airing TV ads this week far ahead of the May primary: His opening spot, which Politico says has seven figures behind it, goes biographical by touting the candidate's local roots and his supposed status as a political "outsider." Eric Doden, another wealthy former state cabinet official, began running his own spots a month ago.
Former state education superintendent Jennifer McCormick, meanwhile, has publicized a mid-August internal Public Policy Polling that tests the Democrat against the other three notable Republican contenders:
- 36-36 vs. former Attorney General Curtis Hill
- 35-39 vs. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch
- 35-46 vs. Sen. Mike Braun
The release argues that, while McCormick trails two of her would-be GOP foes, opposition to Indiana's near-total abortion ban and unhappiness with the direction of the state could give her an opening.
● WA-Gov: The Seattle Times' Jim Brunner says that Attorney General Bob Ferguson will announce Saturday that he's running for governor, a move that comes four months after he said he was forming an exploratory committee to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring incumbent Jay Inslee. As Brunner has noted before, Evergreen State law doesn't actually distinguish between exploratory committees and full-fledged campaigns.
● CA-49: Margarita Wilkinson, who works as an executive at the TV broadcaster Entravision, on Thursday became the latest Republican to join the top-two primary to go up against Democratic Rep. Mike Levin. The GOP field already consisted of businesswoman Sheryl Adams, 2022 state Senate candidate Matt Gunderson, and Marine veteran Kate Monroe. Joe Biden carried this seat, which includes coastal communities north of San Diego, 55-43.
● IN-03: Construction project manager Grant Bucher, who the Indiana Capitol Chronicle says is running the $26 million project to build a new Steuben County judicial center, said this week that he was joining the GOP primary for this safely red seat. Reporter Casey Smith adds that the new candidate grew up in this northeast Indiana seat, which Republican Jim Banks is giving up to run for the Senate, but that Bucher only recently returned from Michigan.
● MI-03: Republican Paul Hudson, an attorney who took fourth place last year for the state Supreme Court (where the top-two finishers were elected), declared Thursday that he'd challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Hillary Scholten. Joe Biden carried this constituency 53-45 two years before Scholten beat far-right Republican John Gibbs 55-42, a win that made her the first Democrat to represent a Grand Rapids-based seat in the House since the mid-1970s.
Hudson, however, did not have such a great 2022 even though the state GOP picked him and incumbent Brian Zahra to be its candidates in the officially nonpartisan statewide contest for two seats on Michigan's highest court. Democratic Justice Richard Bernstein and Zahra won those two seats respectively with 34% and 24%, while Democrat Kyra Harris Bolden was just behind with 22%. (Gov. Gretchen Whitmer weeks later appointed Bolden to the body after fellow Democrat Bridget Mary McCormack stepped down.) Hudson, for his part, languished in fourth place with just 13%.
● MI-10: Former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for a rematch against freshman Republican Rep. John James, who beat him by a surprisingly narrow 49-48 last year. Marlinga launched his campaign by publicizing a primary internal from Public Policy Polling that showed him leading Tiffany Tilley, a state Board of Education member whom we hadn't previously heard mentioned as a possible candidate, 31-5.
Two people who are running, gun safety activist Emily Busch and financial advisor Diane Young, take 3% each, as does physician Anil Kumar. The Detroit News says that Kumar, who unsuccessfully ran for the House twice before winning his 2018 statewide race for the Wayne State University Board of Governors, has formed an exploratory committee, and his team says he'll decide by early next month. The paper also identifies former Macomb County Health Department head Rhonda Powell, who lost last year's primary to Marlinga 48-17 and secures 2% in his poll, as a possible contender.
Marlinga has had a long career in Macomb County politics going back to 1984, when he was elected to the first of what would be five terms as county prosecutor, but he's experienced some major setbacks over the decades. Marlinga competed in the 1994 primary for Michigan's open U.S. Senate seat and took last place in the six-way primary with just 8% of the vote, though he convincingly won re-election two years later. He was still serving as prosecutor in 2002 when he challenged Republican Rep. Candice Miller in an earlier and more conservative version of the 10th District, a campaign the Democrat lost 63-36.
Marlinga was indicted two years later for allegedly helping a convicted rapist earn a new trial in exchange for contributions for that congressional campaign, and he stepped down as county prosecutor afterward. A jury, though, acquitted him in 2006, and Marlinga sought to return to public office soon after. After narrowly losing a 2010 primary for the state Senate, Marlinga was decisively elected to a local judgeship in 2012; it was during that campaign that he filled out a questionnaire saying the two U.S. Supreme Court justices he most identified with were anti-abortion hardliners Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, a response that surfaced again a decade later.
Marlinga decided to run for the House again last year after Michigan's independent redistricting commission last cycle created a suburban Detroit seat that would have favored Donald Trump just 50-49, and Democratic Rep. Andy Levin's ill-fated decision to run against colleague Haley Stevens in the 11th District meant that there would be no incumbent here. Marlinga, who argued he'd selected the two conservative justices because he's "always been a strict constitutionalist" but backed abortion rights, decisively won the primary but was in for a difficult general election.
James, who had waged competitive Senate races during the previous two cycles, massively outspent Marlinga $6.1 million to $1 million, and conservative outside groups deployed another $2.4 million as the other side directed their resources elsewhere. Michigan Democrats, though, enjoyed a strong year, and Marlinga came close to pulling off what would have been a truly shocking upset. The former judge, who went on to lead Attorney General Dana Nessel's Elder Abuse Task Force, emphasized James' opposition to abortion rights in his kickoff and argued that this time he'd have the resources to win.
● NJ-07: Greg Vartan, who serves as city council president for the community of Summit (pop. 22,000), tells the New Jersey Globe he's considering joining the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr. It may be a few months before he decides, though, as Vartan said he was currently focused on "electing great leaders" in the Nov. 7 local elections.
● TX-18: Isaiah Martin, who is a consultant in the aerospace industry, announced Wednesday that he was seeking the safely blue seat currently held by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a fellow Democrat who is competing in this year's race for mayor of Houston. The incumbent has not said if she'd seek reelection should she lose her current race.
Martin, a 25-year-old who says he wants to be Congress' "next Gen-Z member," is a former Jackson Lee intern, and the Houston Chronicle says he's been aiding her current campaign. The field to succeed the incumbent already includes former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who has said she'll run no matter what Jackson Lee does; Martin, for his part, does not appear to have directly addressed what he'd do should the congresswoman seek reelection.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: Former Mayor Sheila Dixon announced Thursday that she would seek a Democratic primary rematch next May against incumbent Brandon Scott, who beat her 30-27 in the 2020 nomination contest to lead this dark blue city. Dixon, as we recently wrote, resigned in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, but she's still enjoyed a loyal base of support from voters who remember her tenure as a time when the city's high murder rate dropped.
Dixon, who also came close to winning in 2016, kicked off her third comeback effort with an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun touting her accomplishments more than a decade ago and addressing the scandal that ended her career. "I let matters of the heart lead me astray once before," she wrote, "and for that, and the pain that it caused to my beloved Baltimore, I am truly sorry. I hope the people realize that my love for the future of Baltimore outweighs the mistakes of my past."
● Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: Democratic incumbent Daniella Levine Cava has publicized an internal from MDW arguing that she's favored in next year's nonpartisan race even if her Republican predecessor, Rep. Carlos Giménez, tries to retake his old job. The firm finds Levine Cava leading Giménez 55-19 in the nonpartisan primary, with another 8% going to conservative YouTuber Alex Otaola. (Candidates can avoid a second round by winning a majority in the summer primary.) The sample favored Joe Biden 51-39 over Donald Trump; Biden carried the county 53-46 in 2020.