The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● CA-20: Kevin McCarthy's colleagues ousted him as speaker of the House on Tuesday, and if you're like us you have just one question: What's next for California's 20th District?
Ok, even the most hardcore among us may have a few other things on our minds right now, but California's early filing deadline means that McCarthy will have only a little more than two months to decide if he wants to seek a 10th term to the chamber where he was just humiliated. The congressman himself did nothing to dispel speculation that he might retire or resign when he responded to a question about whether he’d stay in office by answering, “I’ll look at that.”
Candidates have until Dec. 8 to turn in paperwork if they want to compete in the Golden State's March 5 top-two primary, and, because hopefuls can pay a fee rather than submit signatures, major contenders can decide whether they'll run on the final day of qualifying. The state automatically extends the deadline to five days in contests where the incumbent chooses not to file for reelection, so the field might only take shape late if McCarthy doesn't end up running.
The current version of the 20th District, which includes parts of the Bakersfield and Fresno areas, supported Donald Trump 61-36, which makes this the most conservative of any of California's 52 congressional districts. The GOP likewise has a large bench of prospective candidates, and, because this area is so red, it's possible that two Republicans could advance to the general election. McCarthy has always easily prevailed in this area going back to his initial election in 2006, and it remains to be seen if any strong opponents would take him on even in his diminished state.
- OH-Sen: Bernie Moreno (R): $1 million raised, additional $3 million self-funded, $5 million cash on hand
- CA-49: Margarita Wilkinson (R): $1 million raised (campaign did not respond to inquiry if this includes self-funding)
- TX-18: Isaiah Martin (D): $307,000 raised (in 25 days)
- TX-32: Julie Johnson (D): $300,000 raised
● CA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Laphonza Butler was sworn in Tuesday to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but she says she's unsure if she wants to enter the top-two primary for a full six-year term. "I have no idea. I genuinely don't know," she told the Los Angeles Times the previous day.
California's filing deadline is Dec. 8, but Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin notes that another important date will pass next week. Democratic candidates have until Oct. 13 to say that they want to compete for the party endorsement at the November convention, and no major candidate will want to pass up the opportunity to be listed by name in a special section of the voter guide that each county sends to all voters. As we've written before, this is a bit like having someone else pay for a mailer to every voter in the state, a real boon in an expensive contest like this one.
Meanwhile, Data Viewpoint finished a poll just before Butler's appointment was announced Sunday that did not include her as an option. It found Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter both advancing past the top-two primary with 19% each as Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee and Republican Eric Early took 6% apiece.
● FL-Sen: The Messenger's Marc Caputo reports that businessman Stanley Campbell is interested in seeking the Democratic nomination to take on GOP incumbent Rick Scott even though former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell has emerged as the party's frontrunner. Campbell, who is the brother of 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell, has not said anything publicly, though he quietly filed FEC paperwork last week.
Caputo writes that Campbell served in the Navy and went on to form multiple companies, including an artificial intelligence firm whose work helped lead to the 2005 apprehension of serial killer Dennis Rader. Campbell went on to become one of the few African Americans to own a golf course in 2021 when he purchased Martin Downs Golf Club in southeastern Florida's Treasure Coast region.
● MI-Sen: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig confirmed Tuesday that he would seek the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a declaration that comes the year after he was ejected from the 2022 primary ballot for governor of Michigan over fraudulent signatures. "I'm not doing it for ego," said Craig, whose last campaign experience would have humbled almost anyone else.
Protestors disrupted his 2021 kickoff rally for his quest to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and that was just the start of his troubles. Craig's campaign would experience several major shakeups, including the departure of two different campaign managers in less than four months, and it would also draw unfavorable press coverage for heavy spending.
The former chief also lost a high-profile endorsement from Rep. Jack Bergman, a northern Michigan Republican who griped that his former choice ignored his region "in favor of a self proclaimed Detroit-centric approach." Still, polls showed Craig well ahead in the primary as he sought to become the Wolverine State's first Black governor.
Everything changed in May, though, when election authorities disqualified Craig and four other contenders from the ballot after they fell victim to a huge fraudulent signature scandal and failed to turn in enough valid petitions. The former frontrunner decided to forge ahead with a write-in campaign to win the GOP nod, blustering, "I'm going to win." However, Craig instead became an afterthought even before far-right radio commentator Tudor Dixon emerged as the new frontrunner, and he ended up taking all of 2% of the vote.
Craig went on to endorse U.S. Taxpayers Party nominee Donna Brandenburg, who had also been ejected from the Republican primary, saying that Dixon's extreme opposition to abortion rights went too far even for him. (James himself was recorded the previous year responding in the affirmative when asked if he'd stop Democrats "from undoing the law that makes abortion illegal in Michigan.") Whitmer soon won 54-44, with Brandenburg in fourth with just 0.4%.
The former chief launched his new effort weeks after former Rep. Mike Rogers joined the nomination fight, and Craig has already worked to position himself as the Trumpiest candidate. The new contender published a pro-Trump op-ed last month in the far-right Daily Caller, and the GOP's supreme master responded by sharing it on social media.
Rogers, by contrast, has had a bumpier relationship with Trump. While the former congressman briefly served on Trump's 2016 transition team, he told the Washington Post last year that "Trump's time has passed." Rogers, who considered waging his own presidential bid, also said of the Jan. 6 riot, "There is never a time in American democracy when violence accomplishes what you want … It is giving up on our Constitution when you storm the Capitol to try to change an election."
But Rogers, whom multiple outlets say the NRSC recruited to run for the Senate, now seems to have realized that Trump's time very much has not passed for the primary voters who will be determining his fate next year. The former congressman echoed the far-right voices in his party last week in a video proclaiming, "[W]hat we are seeing right now is a politically motivated DOJ waging war against the leading Republican presidential candidate on behalf of President [Joe] Biden." "This is not the mike Rogers i knew," tweeted former Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment after Jan. 6. "How did you fall so far mike?"
The GOP field also includes state Board of Education member Nikki Snyder, who struggled to raise money during the first half of the year, and it may swell still further. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, who lost renomination last year after voting for impeachment, formed an exploratory committee just before Labor Day. Wealthy businessman Perry Johnson, who got thrown off the 2022 gubernatorial ballot along with James, also said last week he was considering abandoning his doomed presidential bid to run for the Senate; the Detroit News also reported in August that another rich guy, 2018 primary loser Sandy Pensler, is thinking about another try, and the paper wrote Tuesday that he was still mulling it over.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the frontrunner in a field that includes actor Hill Harper, who launched his campaign in early July. Observers are waiting to learn if Harper or any of the other contenders raised a credible amount of money during the third quarter of the year or if Slotkin ended September as the only Democrat with enough money to run a serious operation.
● UT-Sen: Republican Rep. John Curtis declared that he'd remain in the House rather than run for the Senate in a Deseret News op-ed that was published days after the congressman sounded very likely to seek a promotion. KSL NewsRadio asked him Thursday to rate his likelihood on a scale of one to 10, to which Curtis responded, "It's up there in the nine-plus region."
● IL-04: Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez, who the Chicago Sun-Times calls "one of the police union's staunchest City Council supporters," announced Tuesday that he'd challenge Rep. Chuy Garcia in the March Democratic primary for this safely blue constituency. Lopez, who the paper adds has a history of "anemic fundraising," previously entered the 2018 race for a previous version of this seat and this year's contest for mayor of Chicago, but he dropped out well before each primary.
Lopez ended up backing wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson for mayor over Garcia, incumbent Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, and several other contenders. Neither Garcia nor Lightfoot ended up advancing past the nonpartisan primary, though, and Lopez supported former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas in the general election against Johnson. Garcia, for his part, endorsed fellow progressive Johnson, who went on to pull off a tight win.
● WI-03: State Rep. Katrina Shankland declared Tuesday that she was joining the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who made national news in July when he reportedly screamed at teenage Senate pages.
Shankland, who was first elected to the legislature in 2012, won reelection in 2020 56-44 as Joe Biden was taking her seat by a smaller 53-45, and she touted herself as a candidate with "a proven track record of not only winning elections but outperforming the top of the ticket in those elections." Van Orden's southwestern Wisconsin constituency is significantly redder turf, though, as Donald Trump took it 51-47.
Shankland joins a nomination contest that includes businesswoman Rebecca Cooke and former La Crosse County Board chair Tara Johnson. Cooke, who took second in last year's primary, announced Tuesday that she'd raised $400,000 during the opening quarter of her new effort.
● NH State House: State Rep. Maria Perez announced Monday she was leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent, a move that once again changes the math ahead of a series of upcoming special elections for this closely divided chamber.
Republicans currently hold a 198-196 edge in a 400-member body that includes Perez and two other nonaligned members. The final three seats are vacant, but while Joe Biden carried two of them by double digits, the final one favored Donald Trump 53-45: Voters go to the polls Nov. 7 to fill the bluest of these three constituencies, while the other two specials have not yet been scheduled. However, given how much volatility we've seen in the state House this year, it's anyone's guess what the membership rolls will look like by the time all three of these seats are occupied.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: Goucher College's new poll with The Baltimore Banner shows former Mayor Sheila Dixon beating incumbent Brandon Scott 39-27 in the first survey we've seen of the May Democratic primary, with another 23% opting for "some other candidate." That latter group said they preferred Scott over his rival 36-33, though that would be far from enough to make up the deficit. The school also finds Dixon, who resigned in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, with a narrow 47-45 favorable rating, which is far better than the 37-53 score that respondents give Scott.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff: Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Monday that, not only would he not run again in 2024, he would resign in January as the top lawman in America's fourth-largest county. Penzone implied he was quitting because another opportunity had presented itself, saying he wanted to avoid "distractions" during what would have been his final year in office.
State law requires the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to select another Democrat to succeed Penzone even though Republicans enjoy a 4-1 majority on the body. Supervisor Steve Gallardo, who is the only Democrat, tells the Arizona Republic he wants the new sheriff to be an "effective candidate" for next year's race.
Penzone first ran for this post in 2012 against Republican incumbent Joe Arpaio, who had spent decades as one of America's most venal and abusive law enforcement officials, but he lost 51-45. Their rematch four years later went very differently, though, and the department's racial profiling policies against Latinos finally caught up to the sheriff.
That October, just a month before his re-election campaign, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would charge Arpaio with criminal contempt of court for violating a judge's orders to curtail his department's unconstitutional profiling practices. Penzone ended up winning by a lopsided 56-44 even as Donald Trump, who would pardon Arpaio soon after the election, carried the county 48-45.
Penzone went on to secure reelection by that same 56-44 spread against Jerry Sheridan, a former Arpaio chief deputy who had just beaten his old boss in the primary, but the department still has a long way to go to excise Arpaio's legacy. Raul Piña, who serves on the court-appointed Community Advisory Board, told the Republic on Monday that "institutional racism in the Sheriff's Office" persists. Piña, while acknowledging that Penzone had made much-needed changes, said of the incumbent's legacy, "[T]here will always be an asterisk … because the racial profiling continued, and you can't run away from that."
Democratic elected officials were more complimentary, with Secretary of State Adrian Fontes saying, "Even on the hardest days when there were very serious threats being hurled at me and my staff, I always felt safe knowing Paul and his team were always watching out for us."
- NV-Sen: Duty First Nevada - pro-Sam Brown (R)
- KY-Gov: Defending Bluegrass Values (DGA affiliate) - anti-Daniel Cameron (R)
- PA Supreme Court: Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness - anti-Carolyn Carluccio (R)
- Allegheny County, PA District Attorney: Matt Dugan (D) (part of $64,000 buy)
- Allegheny County, PA Executive: Sara Innamorato (D) — anti-Joe Rockey (R)