Morning Digest: You’ve got to try hard to raise as little as this Republican

The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.

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Leading Off

NY-03: Thanks to a series of signature challenges, Republicans now know that their hopes of avenging their loss in February's special election for New York's 3rd District will rest with former Assemblyman Mike LiPetri. But even though supporters of LiPetri were behind those challenges, there's good reason to wonder whether he can pose a serious threat to Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi.

LiPetri's campaign has denied involvement in the efforts to boot four other candidates, including Air Force veteran Greg Hach and businessman Jim Toes, from the June 25 primary ballot. But Hach and Toes were quick to accuse the Nassau County Republican Party, which has endorsed LiPetri and seldom brooks dissent in nominating contests, of trying to pre-ordain the outcome in comments to the Long Island Herald's Will Sheeline.

Hach and Toes also pointed out the disastrous fates of the Nassau GOP's last two hand-picked choices for this seat: George Santos, who was expelled from Congress last year, and Mazi Pilip, who got crushed by Suozzi in the special to replace Santos.

Republicans should be concerned about LiPetri, too: After announcing his campaign on March 11, he raised all of $52 for the rest of the month—a sum so small that you'd almost have to make an effort not to raise more. Suozzi, by contrast, still had $1.1 million banked at the end of March, despite his heavy spending on the special. (Hach at least had self-funded almost $700,000, and both he and Toes managed to bring in about $100,000 from donors.)

There's still time for LiPetri to turn things around, but since this Long Island-based district is contained entirely inside the ultra-expensive New York City media market, he'll need lots of dough to get his name out, especially given how well-known his Democratic rival is. And LiPetri can't count on outside GOP groups to make up the difference, as Pilip hoped they would, since third parties pay much higher advertising rates than candidates.

Senate

 AZ-Sen: A new report from Politico points out that national Republican groups have yet to make ad reservations for Arizona's Senate race despite the eight-figure sums Democrats have already booked, and it's almost certainly because of their likely nominee's never-ending record of self-sabotage.

Perhaps no incident better sums up the problem posed by Kari Lake, the far-right former TV anchor who narrowly lost her bid for governor in 2022, than her incoherent response to a recent state Supreme Court ruling upholding an 1864 law banning nearly all abortions.

Following that ruling, Lake reportedly urged state lawmakers to repeal the ban, according to multiple media reports. But just days later, on a trip to Idaho—Lake has a penchant for out-of-state travel—she reversed herself completely.

"The Arizona Supreme Court said this is the law of Arizona, but unfortunately, the people running our state have said we're not going to enforce it," she told a conservative outlet called the Idaho Dispatch. "So it's really political theater." (The state did ultimately undo the ban earlier this month.)

Episodes like this have made many Republicans wary of Lake, including Mitch McConnell. As Politico points out, the minority leader recently failed to mention Arizona when listing the GOP's top four targets this year, which he gave as Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Lake is also getting swamped by her likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Ruben Gallego, who has raised $21 million this cycle compared with just $5.5 million for the Republican. In addition, Gallego has been on TV continuously since March while Lake has barely advertised.

Lake may be getting some help soon, though: Politico reports that the NRSC "is preparing to launch a joint TV ad buy" with the candidate. However, any such coordinated expenditures would be limited to about $720,000 in total, since it's unlikely that hybrid ads would be effective in swingy Arizona.

 NV-Sen, OH-Sen, PA-Sen, WI-Sen: More big ad reservations from both sides are flooding into a quartet of top-tier Senate races.

AdImpact reports that Duty and Honor, a Democratic super PAC affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, has booked at least $7 million to start running ads in Ohio later this month. Meanwhile, the firm says that the GOP group One Nation has reserved $8.5 million in Pennsylvania, almost $4 million in Wisconsin, and $1.5 million in Nevada. These spots are set to begin sometime this summer.

Governors

 WV-Gov: With just days to go before West Virginia's primaries, the Club for Growth has started airing ads attacking Secretary of State Mac Warner, who has been mired in fourth place in the polls and had been ignored by outside groups until now.

The new spots, from the Club's affiliated Black Bear PAC, slam Warner for failing to endorse Donald Trump's third bid for president (and par for the course for this race, it also manages to throw in a transphobic jab). It's not clear how much the Club is putting into this latest offensive, but the GOP firm Medium Buying points out that Warner's campaign has spent a measly $17,000 on TV and radio so far.

Early on in the contest, the Club, which is hoping to see Attorney General Patrick Morrisey secure the Republican nod for the open governorship, focused its fire on businessman Chris Miller, apparently seeing him as the biggest threat. But several weeks ago, it began hammering former Del. Moore Capito, who recently earned the endorsement of term-limited Gov. Jim Justice.

According to 538's polling average, Morrisey remains the frontrunner with the support of 33% of primary voters with Capito not far behind at 26. Miller is further back at 20 while Warner brings up the year with just 12% of the vote.

House

 NJ-10: New Jersey Redevelopment Authority COO Darryl Godfrey and Shana Melius, who worked as a staffer for the late Democratic Rep. Don Payne, each joined the July 16 special Democratic primary election to succeed Payne before filing closed Friday

Godfrey is a top official at an independent state agency that describes its mission as "transform[ing] urban communities through direct investment and technical support." The New Jersey Globe says that Godfrey, who previously worked in banking, says he's willing to do some self-funding, though it remains to be seen to what extent.

Godfrey grew up in the 10th District in Newark, but he currently lives in Morristown in Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill's neighboring 11th District. The candidate, writes the Globe, intends to move back to this constituency. (Members of Congress do not need to live in the district they represent.) He does not appear to have sought office before. 

Melius, meanwhile, spent three years in Payne's office, and she also co-founded a group to improve "diversity and social equity within the cannabis industry." Melius is a first-time candidate.

Godfrey and Melius are two of the 11 Democrats competing in the special election for this safely blue Newark-area seat. The other main contenders are all current or former elected officials: Newark City Council President LaMonica McIver, who has the backing of several influential figures in populous Essex County; Linden Mayor Derek Armstead; Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker; and former East Orange City Councilwoman Brittany Claybrooks, who worked as North Jersey political director for Rep. Andy Kim's Senate campaign.

Kim's Senate campaign was part of a successful lawsuit that barred Democrats from utilizing the county line system in this year's primaries, a ruling that applies to this contest. That's a big difference from the 2012 special election to Payne's father and namesake, where the younger Payne's favorable ballot position, as well as name identification, helped him easily beat several opponents.

Whoever secures a plurality in the July 16 primary should have no trouble beating Carmen Bucco, a perennial candidate who has the Republican side to himself, in the Sept. 18 general election.

Payne's name remains on the ballot for the regularly scheduled June 4 primary, where he's the only candidate listed. Local Democratic leaders will be tasked with selecting a new nominee sometime after results are certified on June 17. The New Jersey Globe previously reported that party officials "are not expected" to act until after the special Democratic primary.

 NY-16: Westchester County Executive George Latimer is airing what appears to be his first negative ad targeting Rep. Jamaal Bowman ahead of next month's Democratic primary, featuring several people who castigate Bowman's record and views.

"One of only six Democrats to oppose the historic infrastructure bill," says one woman. "Just to stick it to President Biden," adds another in disgust.

Bowman said in 2021 that he'd voted against the infrastructure bill because it had been severed from a climate change and healthcare reform measure known as Build Back Better, though many of those priorities became law thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in 2022. (Bowman voted for the latter bill.)

The spot then shifts to address reports from earlier this year about the congressman's questionable beliefs.

"Bowman even promoted dangerous conspiracy theories about 9/11," says another woman. "That's a disgrace."

In January, the Daily Beast's Will Bredderman revealed that Bowman had written a "free verse" poem embracing conspiracies about the attacks in 2011, which Bowman sought to dismiss as an old attempt at intellectual exploration. Just days, ago, however, Bredderman also reported that Bowman had subscribed to all manner of fringe channels on his YouTube account, including some operated by flat earthers and UFO obsessives.

The ad concludes with various individuals praising Latimer for "modernizing our infrastructure" and "protecting our reproductive rights."

 OR-03: State Rep. Maxine Dexter reported raising more than $218,000 on a single day recently, a haul that OPB's Dirk VanderHart says "appears" to be linked to the prominent pro-Israel group AIPAC.

Federal candidates normally report fundraising data on a quarterly basis, but in the 20 days prior to an election, FEC rules give them just 48 hours to declare any new donations of $1,000 or more. With Oregon's primary looming on May 21, that accelerated reporting period began earlier this month, prompting Dexter's disclosure.

VanderHart says that the "vast majority" of donors who gave to Dexter on May 7 "have a history of giving to AIPAC," though AIPAC itself did not comment. Dexter's campaign also noted that the group has not issued an endorsement in the Democratic primary for Oregon's 3rd District, a safely blue open seat based in Portland.

Dexter faces two notable rivals in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer: former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who is the sister of Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales.

Jayapal had led the pack in fundraising through the end of March, but a different set of reports that were due at the FEC on Thursday showed Dexter surging during the month of April. (Twelve days before their primaries, candidates must also file a pre-election report that details all fundraising from the end of the previous quarter through the 20th day before the primary. After that point, the 48-hour reporting rule for large donations goes into effect.)

In her pre-primary filing, Dexter reported raising $575,000 while Jayapal took in $160,000 and Morales pulled down $112,000. Dexter also outspent her opponents in April and entered the stretch run with more cash on hand. That advantage has only grown since then, though: While both Jayapal and Morales had each filed one 48-hour report through Friday, their total hauls were a more modest $18,000 and $8,000 respectively.

 TX-13, TX-22, TX-38: It's Texas Week for the House Ethics Committee, which issued announcements concerning inquiries into three different Lone Star Republicans on Thursday and Friday.

The committee revealed in a press release that it's investigating Rep. Ronny Jackson, who two years ago was the subject of a report by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics concerning alleged improper spending.

That earlier report, which the Ethics Committee did not reference in its release, concluded there was "substantial" evidence that Jackson had spent campaign money for membership at a private social club, which is prohibited by federal law.

At the time, an attorney for Jackson, who had refused to cooperate with the OCE's investigation, said the congressman had sought to use the membership for campaign events. In response to the latest developments, a spokesperson called the accusations "baseless," though she claimed that Jackson had "fully complied" with the committee.

Separately, the committee said it would extend a previously announced probe into Rep. Troy Nehls that began in March. It also released a report from the OCE saying there was "probable cause to believe" that Nehls had made personal use of campaign funds and had failed to provide required information on the annual financial disclosure forms that all members of Congress must file.

The OCE's report focuses on payments from Nehls' campaign to a company he owns called Liberty 1776, ostensibly to rent office space to run his campaign. However, Nehls listed a property run by an entity called Z-Bar as his headquarters on his FEC filings, though he never recorded paying any rent to Z-Bar and only made irregular payments to Liberty 1776.

An attorney for Nehls denied the OCE's allegations, and Nehls, like Jackson, has refused to cooperate with the office's investigation. He said, however, that he would cooperate with the Ethics Committee.

Finally, the committee acknowledged it's looking into Rep. Wesley Hunt, though there's been no reporting as to what this investigation might concern. A spokesperson for Hunt told the Dallas Morning News that the congressman was cooperating with the committee and was "extremely confident that the matter will be dismissed shortly."

All three Republicans secured renomination two months ago, and all of them are defending reliably red seats this fall.

 UT-03: Sen. Mitt Romney has endorsed attorney Stewart Peay in the race for Utah's open 3rd District, where he's one of five candidates hoping to succeed Rep. John Curtis, who himself is running to replace Romney. Peay's wife, Misha, is a niece of Romney's wife, Ann.

Ballot Measures

 FL Ballot, FL-Sen: A new survey of Florida from a Republican pollster finds an amendment to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution passing despite strong numbers for Republican candidates at the top of the ticket.

The poll, conducted by Cherry Communications for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, shows Amendment 4 earning the support of 61% of voters while just 29% are opposed; to become law, it needs to win a 60% supermajority. A separate measure known as Amendment 3 that would legalize recreational marijuana is just short of the threshold at 58-37.

In the race for Senate, though, Republican incumbent Rick Scott holds a wide 54-39 lead over his likely Democratic opponent, former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, while Donald Trump is up 51-42 against Joe Biden.

 NV Ballot: The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld a February ruling by a lower court that blocked a pair of amendments that would establish a bipartisan redistricting commission from appearing on the ballot this fall. That earlier ruling disallowed the amendments because they would not raise the revenue needed to operate the commission they sought to create.

Obituaries

 Chris Cannon: Former Utah Rep. Chris Cannon, an ardent conservative who lost renomination to Jason Chaffetz in the 2008 Republican primary, died Wednesday at age 73.

Cannon served six terms in Congress and compiled a very conservative voting record, but he also supported a pathway to citizenship and government benefits for some undocumented immigrants. His decisive defeat foreshadowed the direction his party was heading in a full eight years before the ascendence of Donald Trump was complete.

Cannon first won his seat in 1996 by unseating Democratic Rep. Bill Orton 51-47 in the 3rd District, and he went on to serve as one of 13 House managers in the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. However, while Cannon never had trouble turning back Democrats, his views infuriated the GOP's nativist base.

"We love immigrants in Utah. We don’t make distinctions between legal and illegal," he said in 2002—comments that would be unthinkable for a Republican now.

Cannon passed his first major test in the 2004 primary when he held off former state Rep. Matt Throckmorton 58-42. Two years later, his 56-44 triumph over developer John Jacob in the primary was viewed by national observers as a major win for George W. Bush's immigration goals. (Jacob infamously told the Salt Lake Tribune ahead of that race, "There's another force that wants to keep us from going to Washington, D.C. It's the devil is what it is.")

However, Cannon's victories proved misleading. Chaffetz, a former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman, made a nativist pitch similar to that of Cannon's prior opponents while arguing that the party as a whole had "lost its way." Chaffetz won in a 60-40 landslide that presaged years of turbulence and waning influence for the old GOP establishment.

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Morning Digest: Democratic landslide in Alabama is massive warning for GOP on IVF

The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.

Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast

Leading Off

 AL State House: Democrat Marilyn Lands defeated Republican Teddy Powell on Tuesday in a 62-37 landslide, easily prevailing in a nationally watched special election for a GOP-held seat in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Lands outperformed the 10th District's normal lean by wide margins: Donald Trump carried the district by a 49-48 spread in 2020, according to Dave's Redistricting App, while voters favored Republican David Cole over Lands 52-45 two years later.

While Republicans will still retain their supermajority in the chamber, both parties were paying close attention to see whether a recent ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court that threatened access to in vitro fertilization could be a winning issue in competitive areas like this suburban Huntsville constituency.

Lands focused intently on reproductive rights in her campaign to replace Cole, who resigned last summer after getting convicted on voter fraud charges. "It's shameful that today women have fewer freedoms than I did two decades ago," she said in one spot excoriating the state's near-total abortion ban. Lands, a mental health counselor, also argued the legislature didn't do enough to protect IVF when it passed a law earlier this month that shields clinics from liability.

Powell, a member of the City Council in Madison, adopted a very different strategy. He instead focused on issues like infrastructure and downplayed the importance of reproductive rights. "It's certainly an issue that needs to be dealt with," he told Politico, "but not our top issue. I don't think that this is the issue that wins or loses the race."

That calculus turned out to be wrong, and Lands just gave Democrats good reason to believe that Powell will be only the first of many Republicans to pay the price at the ballot box this year.

Senate

NJ-Sen: Candidate filing closed Monday for New Jersey's June 4 primaries, and the New Jersey Globe has a list of contenders. Not everyone who turned in paperwork will necessarily make the ballot, though, since anyone can challenge the validity of a candidate's petitions.

The GOP's Senate lineup shrunk just before the deadline when former TV reporter Alex Zdan announced he was dropping out. His departure leaves developer Curtis Bashaw, who picked up Zdan's endorsement the next day, and Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner as the main Republican candidates campaigning in this solidly blue state.

Rep. Andy Kim, meanwhile, is the heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination after his top rival, former financial analyst Tammy Murphy, unexpectedly dropped out just ahead of the filing deadline.

TX-Sen: Marist College finds Republican Sen. Ted Cruz leading Democratic Rep. Colin Allred 51-45, with respondents favoring Donald Trump by a larger 55-44 spread. This is Marist's first look at this race, as well as the first poll we've seen here since Allred won the March 5 primary.

Governors

IN-Gov: Republican Sen. Mike Braun made news on Friday when he missed the vote to avert a government shutdown hours after he attended a fundraiser back in Indiana, prompting one of his intra-party rivals for governor to quickly release an ad taking him to task.

Wealthy businessman Eric Doden's spot focuses on a claim by Braun's chief of staff that the senator mistakenly believed the matter would be settled the next day and therefore "decided to spend the night at home and fly out Saturday morning."

"Senator Braun: Sleeping on the job?" reads the on-screen text at the conclusion of the almost wordless commercial. Politico's Adam Wren reminds us that Braun labeled Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly "Sleepin' Joe" during his successful 2018 campaign.

House

FL-27: EMILYs List has endorsed Miami-Dade County School Board member Lucia Baez-Geller's campaign to take on GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar. Baez-Geller faces former Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey in the Aug. 20 Democratic primary for this Miami-area seat.

TX-22: The House Ethics Committee announced Tuesday that it's investigating Republican Rep. Troy Nehls, but it did not provide any details about why. Nehls subsequently described the probe as an "inquiry into my campaign's finances," though he didn't offer further information about the allegations. The Ethics Committee has pledged to "announce its course of action in this matter" by May 10.

Nehls won renomination without opposition this month in Texas' 22nd District, a suburban Houston constituency that backed Donald Trump 57-41 in 2020.

Attorneys General

TX-AG: Federal prosecutors announced a deal with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday under which they agreed to drop his nearly nine-year-old indictment for securities fraud as long as he pays $271,000 in restitution over the next 18 months. The agreement also requires the far-right Republican to perform 100 hours of community service, but he'll face no jail time.

The Texas Tribune, however, notes that Paxton's legal woes are not all resolved. Federal authorities reportedly are continuing to investigate whether the attorney general used his post to benefit a wealthy ally. The state House impeached Paxton last May over these allegations, only for the Senate to subsequently acquit him.

Four of Paxton's former top aides are also still suing him for allegedly retaliating against them for helping in the federal investigation. The Texas State Bar additionally brought a lawsuit for professional misconduct lawsuit against him in 2022 over his efforts to overturn the results of the last presidential election, though the case remains unresolved.

Paxton has spent the last several months working to punish the Republicans who crossed him last year. The attorney general backed a slate of legislative candidates in the March 5 primaries, several of whom ousted his enemies.

Other GOP incumbents, including state House Speaker Dade Phelan, were forced into runoffs, which will take place on May 28. Donald Trump in January joined Paxton in supporting David Covey's bid to unseat Phelan, with Trump citing the speaker's support for what he characteristically dismissed as "the Fraudulent Impeachment."

Paxton, however, has hinted that he could personally challenge an even more prominent intra-party critic next cycle rather than seek a fourth term. In September, he celebrated his acquittal by the state Senate by telling Fox he wasn't ruling out a primary bid against Sen. John Cornyn in 2026.

Paxton intensified Senate chatter last month when he responded to the news that Cornyn would seek to replace Mitch McConnell as the chamber's top Republican by tweeting, "It will be difficult for @JohnCornyn to be an effective leader since he is anti-Trump, anti-gun, and will be focused on his highly competitive primary campaign in 2026." Cornyn fired back by snarking, "Hard to run from prison, Ken," a response that lost much of its bite on Tuesday.

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The war between Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy is far from over

The House Ethics Committee is conducting an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz that includes reaching out to a woman he reportedly had sex with while she was still a minor. CNN reported Thursday that this investigation is now expanding, with the committee seeking information from a former Capitol Hill staffer described both as Gaetz's “ex-girlfriend” and a “key witness.”

In CNN’s words, the investigation includes “allegations of sex crimes, drug use, and illicit benefits.” But Gaetz is reportedly adamant that the whole thing is just “payback” for his role in ousting former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

Despite the source, there may be some truth to Gaetz’s claims. McCarthy may no longer be in the House, but he is reportedly "out for blood" and going on a "revenge tour" to get back at Gaetz and others he feels betrayed him.

While members of the House Ethics Committee have declined to comment, an attorney for Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend informed CNN that she is a potential witness in the ongoing investigation. The woman’s relationship with Gaetz reportedly goes back to 2017, which is the same period in which Gaetz was reportedly involved in sexual contact with a 17-year-old girl. 

A federal probe into allegations that Gaetz was involved in sex trafficking ended in 2023, with no charges filed against Gaetz. That investigation was connected to a scheme involving Florida tax collector Joel Greenburg—a reported friend of Gaetz—who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for six federal charges including sex trafficking, identity theft, and wire fraud.

The House Ethics Committee resumed its investigation into Gaetz in June 2023, several months before McCarthy was ousted. According to private correspondence that The Daily Beast reviewed, Gaetz told a friend that his effort to undercut and remove McCarthy from the speaker position was payback for launching the ethics probe. Gaetz ultimately forced the vote that ousted McCarthy, and was obviously pleased with the outcome.

“We heard Speaker McCarthy say that he wanted us to ‘Bring it on!’ Gaetz told reporters after the vote ended McCarthy’s term as speaker. “So I guess we did.”

In addition to the satisfaction of seeing McCarthy sidelined, the move also seems to have generated an infusion of cash for Gaetz. According to Politico, six of the eight Republican House members who voted to oust McCarthy saw an increase in small-dollar fundraising over the next quarter. Gaetz had a quarter-over-quarter jump of $725,000 from donors giving under $200. 

In December, the angry and humiliated McCarthy resigned from the House. But even though Gaetz won the battle, McCarthy doesn’t seem to be finished with the war.

Vanity Fair describes McCarthy as “out for blood,” and Politico says he is overseeing an effort to find primary challengers for the “Gaetz Eight.”

The New Republic calls it McCarthy’s “revenge tour” and says he knows exactly who he is targeting first: Reps. Nancy Mace, Bob Good, and Eli Crane. McCarthy’s allies judge these three to be the most vulnerable. Mace may be at the front of the line because she is described as having been a member of McCarthy’s “inner circle” before she voted for his removal.

After being removed from office and resigning from the House, McCarthy may seem to be a less-than-fearsome opponent when it comes to launching a campaign of revenge. However, previous to his ouster, he was known as the Republican’s best fundraiser. According to The New Republic, McCarthy is still able to tap his donor network to power primary challenges to those against the Republicans on his hit list. There are even indications that McCarthy’s vengeance tour could continue beyond this election cycle, as he works his way through Gaetz’s supporters. 

Whether or not McCarthy is successful, the idea that the best Republican fundraiser is busy raising funds to take down Republican incumbents seems like a very good thing for Democrats, as well as another battle in the Republican’s intraparty warfare. 

Maybe McCarthy should pick up a yellow jumpsuit and a katana.

Campaign Action

EMILY's List has been devoted to electing pro-choice Democratic women for 40 years, a mission that's grown only more critical since the fall of Roe. Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is Christina Reynolds, one of EMILY's top officials, to tell us about how her organization recruits, supports, and advises women candidates at all levels of the ballot nationwide. Reynolds explains the unique challenges women face, from a lack of fundraising networks to judgments about their qualifications that never seem to stick to men. She tells us how Dobbs has—and hasn't—changed campaigning for EMILY's endorsees and spotlights a wide range of key races the group is involved in this year.