The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● OH-Sen: While Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has experienced what could charitably be described as a rough August, he insists to Jewish Insider that he's "likely" to earn Donald Trump's endorsement in the Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Trump "wants to be with somebody who can win the race and also be a good ally of his in the Senate, which I would be," argued LaRose, despite the fact that he reportedly earned the wrong type of attention from the party's supreme leader two weeks ago after he appeared to defend Mike Pence's actions on Jan. 6.
That moment came when NBC's Chuck Todd asked the secretary if Pence had done the right thing by refusing to reject the results of the 2020 election. LaRose replied that Pence "made the best decision he could with the information in front of him." An unnamed source told the network, "The video was sent to Trump by multiple people, and he has watched it," though they didn't say how Trump had responded—though it isn't hard to guess.
LaRose's team, for its part, quickly tried to walk back the candidate's remarks. "His position is that a lot of people wish they'd done things differently on January 6th," said the campaign in a statement. "Mike Pence made decisions based on what he knew at the time. Not everyone agrees that he did, and that includes President Trump." LaRose, though, had more cleanup to perform just days later when he fired press secretary Rob Nichols after Trump allies uncovered anti-Trump tweets Nichols had penned. In one, he had told a MAGA fan, "[I]t's been an incredible indictments race to the bottom for your guys and hunter biden...the daytona 500 of felonies and misdemeanors."
All of this took place shortly after Ohio voters decisively refused to heed LaRose's calls to support Issue 1, the Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would have made it more difficult to change the state's governing document. "This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution," LaRose told his fellow Republicans in comments that the "no" side plastered across the state in ads.
LaRose also tried to use his ardent support for Issue 1 to enhance his own standing in the Senate primary, declaring at one point that his two wealthy intra-party foes, state Sen. Matt Dolan and businessman Bernie Moreno, should each throw down $1 million to promote it. (Cleveland.com reports that Dolan owns assets worth at least $14.5 million, while Moreno's fortune is valued at a minimum of $25.5 million.) Moreno's team, though, responded to the measure's 57-43 loss by calling it "a preview of what would happen with Frank LaRose at the top of the ticket in 2024—a 14-point landslide loss that crushed conservatives."
Despite LaRose's protestations, Moreno has looked like the candidate with the best chance to secure Trump's endorsement; Trump himself told followers at a July gathering, "We love Ohio, and we love Bernie Moreno." (It also doesn't hurt that Moreno's son-in-law is Rep. Max Miller, a former White House aide who was so close to Trump that a source told Politico in 2021, "They had … kind of a unique 'bro' relationship.")
In his interview with Jewish Insider, LaRose seemed to bash Moreno in particular when he said it was possible to "be a great Trump supporter" without attempting "to be a cheap knockoff" of Trump. We can be pretty certain that he didn't have Dolan in mind: During his failed 2022 campaign for the state's other Senate seat, Dolan said that the GOP needed to move on from the Big Lie and Trump. Predictably, though, he hasn't actually ruled out backing Trump next year.
But Moreno, as the Daily Beast reported last week, has his own history of firing off tweets questioning Big Lie orthodoxy. In December of 2020, the now-candidate tried to argue that, while Democrats were wrong for accusing Trump of colluding with Russia, it was "just as bad for [Trump] to make claims of a fraudulent election without proof." He also condemned the Jan. 6 riots as they were happening and later liked a missive from Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw defending Liz Cheney's vote to impeach Trump. There's no sign yet, however, that Trump wants to punish Moreno, who now defends the Jan. 6 defendants as "political prisoners" and declared during his aborted 2022 Senate campaign, "President Trump says the election was stolen, and he's right."
Moreno still may need to be on guard, however, after what happened last cycle to former state party chair Jane Timken during the race to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman. Trump, reported Politico's Alex Isenstadt, had outright told Timken he'd endorse her only to abruptly change his mind when she initially defended another impeachment backer, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez. Trump eventually endorsed J.D. Vance, who himself had transformed from a one-time critic into a MAGA lackey, a decision that helped the now-senator win the primary.
Just a few months ago, LaRose seemed determined to avoid humbling himself to win Trump's backing as most of the 2022 field had. The secretary, in a springtime "secret recording" obtained by Politico, instead told fellow Republicans that while Trump's support "matters," only 20% of the primary electorate would "vote for whoever" he endorsed. He added that, while he thought he'd win Trump's favor, he didn't think "begging for it" would work. But his decision to fire Nichols, who had a long history in state GOP politics, has some observers thinking that LaRose is now willing to do whatever it takes to secure Trump's approval.
"Is the Trump endorsement worth burning bridges and setting fire to friendships?" an unidentified strategist asked the conservative Washington Examiner. "Is the Trump endorsement worth that much?" In LaRose's case, the operative argued, it very much isn't. "It just appears unnatural. It's like he's twisting himself in knots. When you're not true to yourself, it shows."
● Everyone always talks about redistricting, but what is it like to actually do it? Oregon political consultant Kari Chisholm joins us on this week's episode of The Downballot to discuss his experience as a member of Portland's new Independent District Commission, a panel of citizens tasked with creating the city's first-ever map for its city council. Kari explains why Portland wanted to switch from at-large elections to a district-based system; how new multi-member districts could boost diversity on the council; and the commission's surprisingly effective efforts to divide the city into four equal districts while heeding community input.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap yet another New Hampshire special election that saw Democrats overperform district baselines—and why Republicans should be worried about an even bigger special in September. They then discuss why a new Democratic recruit could help put Florida's Senate race in play and highlight another effort to put abortion on the ballot in 2024 in a very red state: Nebraska.
● LA-Gov: Faucheux Strategies finds GOP Attorney General Jeff Landry in strong shape in a survey conducted for several groups, including the state Urban League, the Public Affairs Research Council of Baton Rouge, and five media outlets. Landry and the one serious Democrat in the race, former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, respectively take 36% and 26% in the Oct. 14 nonpartisan primary, with wealthy independent Hunter Lundy a distant third with just 7%. Faucheux, which is run by veteran Louisiana pollster Ron Faucheux, also shows Landry beating Wilson 54-36 in a Nov. 18 runoff.
Almost every other firm has also shown Landry and Wilson advancing as all their opponents languished in the single digits. The only contrary numbers came in late June when a Remington Research poll for allies of former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack placed Wilson at 27% as Landry edged out its candidate 25-16. The only prior look at a runoff, by contrast, came from a July BDPC survey for the conservative group Citizens for a New Louisiana, and it had Landry edging Wilson just 45-40.
● MS-Gov: Democrat Brandon Presley has launched a response spot days after Republican incumbent Tate Reeves debuted a transphobic ad insinuating that his foe opposed a new state law that banned gender-affirming care for minors. "I'm on the record saying I don't support gender surgery for minors or boys playing girls sports―never have," Presley tells the audience. "Truth is, Tate Reeves will say anything to protect his good ol' boy network work and hide the fact that he's caught up in the largest corruption scandal in the history of Mississippi."
● MN-01: Democratic state Sen. Nick Frentz tells Axios that he's interested in challenging Republican Rep. Brad Finstad in what would be a difficult race for this 54-44 Trump seat in southern Minnesota, and he added that he has no timeline to decide. This area was swingy turf well into the 2010s, but it moved sharply to the right during the Trump era and has remained tough turf for Democrats.
Finstad himself last year won the August special election to succeed the late Jim Hagedorn just 51-47 against Democrat Jeff Ettinger, but he triumphed 54-42 in their rematch a few months later. (The special was conducted using the old congressional map, but the 1st didn't change much following redistricting.) Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who represented previous versions of this seat for 12 years, also lost the constituency 52-45 against Republican Scott Jensen even as the governor was winning statewide by that same margin.
● TX-23: Punchbowl News' Mica Soellner reports that several members of the hardline Freedom Caucus are "plotting behind the scenes" to deny renomination to GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales, but they've yet to consolidate behind any of his challengers. The state party censured the incumbent in March for defying the party line on multiple occasions, but he's remained defiant in a gerrymandered seat that spans from the San Antonio suburbs to El Paso and backed Donald Trump 53-46.
Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, who runs the Freedom Caucus, met with former ICE official Victor Avila in May, while 22nd District Rep. Troy Nehls later hosted an event that Avila addressed. But Avila, who finished a distant fifth place in last year's primary for land commissioner, has yet to earn endorsements from either representative, and he finished June with less than $20,000 available.
Soellner also writes that gun maker Brandon Herrera, who has 2.8 million subscribers on his "The AK Guy" YouTube channel, also had some favorable contact with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as he wages his own bid to beat Gonzales. Gaetz last week used his guest-host slot on Newsmax to interview Herrera and call this contest "America's most exciting congressional Republican primary election." Herrera entered the race in July after the new fundraising quarter began.
The field also includes Medina County GOP chair Julie Clark, who kicked off her bid in March. Clark self-funded over $300,000 through June but raised little from donors, and she had only $3,000 left at the end of the last quarter. Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, says Soellner, has met with Clark as well as Avila. A runoff would take place if no one earned a majority of the vote in next March's primary, a scenario that Gonzales and his $1.6 million war chest would like to avert.
Gonzales defied his party's base by confirming Joe Biden's victory in the hours after the Jan. 6 attack and later supporting gun safety legislation after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde happened in his district. He responded to the censure vote in March in Spanish with what the Houston Chronicle calls "some words for the group that are probably too coarse for a family newspaper."
● NH State House: Democrats racked up another big overperformance in New Hampshire on Tuesday night as David Fracht defeated Republican John Keane 72-28 in a special election for Grafton County's 16th District, 13 points better than Joe Biden's already sizable 64-34 margin. It's the third such result in as many tries this year: In May, Democrats ran 16 points ahead of Biden in another vacant seat in Hillsborough County, which followed a 7-point overperformance in February in a do-over election in Strafford County after November's contest ended in a tie.
Fracht's victory bumps up the Democratic caucus to 197 members, while Republicans have 199 (two more seats are held by independents). Next month, Democrats will try to flip a swingy Republican seat in Rockingham County. If they succeed and then hold another safely blue seat in Hillsborough County in November, then they'll strip away the GOP's majority by forcing the chamber into a 199-199 tie between the parties.