Morning Digest: A Supreme Court majority is on the line in Montana this fall

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

MT Supreme Court: Conservatives have a chance to take a majority on Montana's Supreme Court in November thanks to the retirements of two liberal justices. However, a high-profile battle looms as progressives seek to defend a court that has long stood as a defender of democracy and abortion rights.

The race to replace Mike McGrath as chief justice has drawn the most attention to date. Three candidates are running in Tuesday's officially nonpartisan primary, though each party has coalesced around a single choice. (The top two vote-getters will advance to a November faceoff.)

Democrats are united behind former federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Lynch while the Republican establishment is backing Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson. The third entrant, criminal defense attorney Doug Marshall, doesn't seem to be running a credible campaign (he's said he might vote for Swanson).

The contest to succeed Dirk Sandefur, an associate justice, is arrayed similarly. The two main candidates are both trial court judges: Judge Katherine Bidegaray, the consensus Democratic pick, serves five counties in the eastern part of the state, while Judge Dan Wilson, the top choice of Republicans, has jurisdiction in Flathead County in Montana's northwestern corner.

A former Republican state lawmaker, Jerry O'Neil, is also running, but he's currently challenging the state's eligibility rules because he's not a member of the bar.

The four top contenders have all banked similar sums, between about $80,000 and $100,000, as of the most recent fundraising reports that run through mid-May. (Marshall and O'Neil have reported raising almost nothing.) Those totals in part reflect Montana's relatively low donation caps, which top out at $790.

But outside spending is sure to dwarf whatever the candidates put in. In 2022, when just a single seat on the court was seriously contested, third parties on both sides combined to spend at least $3 million—a huge sum given the state's small population—and very likely more. (The Montana Free Press said that figure was "almost certainly an undercount" due to errors in campaign finance filings.)

In that race, Justice Ingrid Gustafson won reelection to an eight-year term by defeating conservative James Brown 54-46. That victory preserved the ideological balance on the court, which has generally been described as including three liberals, two conservatives, and two swing justices, including Gustafson.

Those two swing votes have played a crucial role in recent years, often joined with the liberal bloc. Most notably, in a 5-2 decision issued in 2022, the court barred Republican lawmakers from proceeding with a ballot measure that would have let them gerrymander the court itself.

The court has been more united on abortion rights, which are protected under a 1999 precedent known as the Armstrong decision. Two years ago, the justices unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that temporarily blocked a trio of anti-abortion bills passed by GOP lawmakers. And earlier this year, on a 6-1 vote, the court gave the green light to a ballot initiative that would enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution.

But a court with four conservatives could feel emboldened to revisit Armstrong, which is a major reason why reproductive rights advocates are pushing forward with their amendment.

The issue is also certain to be a focus in the races for both Supreme Court seats. Both Lynch and Bidegaray have spoken in favor of abortion rights, albeit less explicitly than some liberal judicial candidates in other states have.

At a campaign event last year, Lynch said that Montanans deserved to be "[f]ree from government interference, especially when it comes to reproductive rights." Bidegaray has been less direct, telling ABC News in March that she's running "to protect our democratic principles, which include the separation of powers and the unique rights provided by the 1972 Montana Constitution, including women's rights."

The leading conservatives, however, have sought to avoid the issue altogether. Wilson declined to comment to ABC, while Swanson demurred. "I don't believe it would be appropriate to discuss potential outcomes of future cases," he said.

The Downballot

It's right there in the name of the show, so yeah, of course we're gonna talk about downballot races on this week's episode of "The Downballot"! Specifically, we drill down into the top contests for attorney general and state supreme court taking place all across the country this year. Democrats and liberals are playing defense in Montana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, but they have the chance to make gains in many states, including Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, and even Texas.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's runoffs in the Lone Star State, where a GOP congressman barely hung on against an odious "gunfluencer." They also dissect a new Supreme Court ruling out of South Carolina that all but scraps a key weapon Black voters have used to attack gerrymandering. And they preview New Jersey's first primaries in a post-"county line" world.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by Thursday afternoon. New episodes come out every Thursday morning!

Senate

AZ-Sen: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Bold PAC announced this week that it has reserved $1.1 million in TV, radio, and digital advertising for September to aid Democrat Ruben Gallego. "The statewide investment represents the first Spanish language reservations in the general election in this race and is the largest single independent expenditure in BOLD PAC’s 23 year history," the group said.

WI-Sen: A Senate Majority PAC affiliate has debuted a TV ad that attacks Republican Eric Hovde as a rich CEO whose bank "makes millions at seniors' expense" and "owns a nursing home being sued for elder abuse and wrongful death," citing a story from last month that the New York Times had first reported.

The commercial then plays a clip from a right-wing talk show appearance earlier in April where Hovde told the host that "almost nobody in a nursing home is in a point to vote" and insinuated without evidence that there was widespread voter fraud at Wisconsin nursing homes in the 2020 election.

Hovde's campaign has also unveiled new ads, with one spot covering generic far-right themes and cultural grievances. His second ad highlights his upbringing and family ancestry in Wisconsin to hit back against Democratic claims that he has mostly lived out-of-state for decades and spent most of his time in California before joining the race.

However, Hovde doesn't actually rebut those claims. After noting he graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1986, he only says he's had a business in the Madison area "for over 20 years" and his family currently lives there.

House

MI-08, DCCC: The DCCC announced Wednesday that it was adding Michigan state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet to its Red to Blue program for top candidates even though, unlike the other four new inductees, she still has a contested primary to get through.

McDonald Rivet's main opponent in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary for the open and swingy 8th District is businessman Matt Collier, a former Flint mayor and Army veteran who has VoteVets' support. State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh is also running to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, but she's struggled to raise money.

But while this is the first time that national Democratic leaders have publicly taken sides in the primary for this seat, which is based in the Flint and Tri-Cities areas, there were already indications that they wanted McDonald Rivet as their nominee. In its January article covering her entry into the race, the Detroit News wrote that party strategists viewed the state senator as a top recruit" they'd hoped to land.

Last year, Democratic consultant Adrian Hemond described her to the Daily Beast as the type of "solidly center-left Democrat" who can "play nice" with the district's large Catholic electorate, adding, "In terms of people who have a track record of winning tough elections in this area, Kristen McDonald Rivet is probably top of the list." McDonald Rivet since then has earned endorsements from EMILYs List and powerful labor organizations like the United Auto Workers and the state AFL-CIO.

The DCCC rarely adds candidates to Red to Blue unless they've already won their primary or it's clear that they'll have no trouble doing so, and that's the case for the other four new names on the list. The committee is backing former U.S. Department of Justice official Shomari Figures, who secured the nomination in April for Alabama's revamped 2nd District.

Also in the program are a pair of Democratic nominees who are challenging Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania: retired Army pilot Ashley Ehasz, who is taking on Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in the 1st District, and former TV news anchor Janelle Stelson, who is going up against far-right incumbent Scott Perry in the 10th.

The final new name belongs to Wisconsin Democrat Peter Barca, who is trying to beat GOP Rep. Bryan Steil and reclaim the seat he last held three decades ago. Candidate filing doesn't close in the Badger State until June 3, but there's no indication that any other serious Democrats are interested in campaigning for the 1st District.

The only one of those seats with a contested GOP primary is also Michigan's 8th District, and the Republican nomination contest has already gotten nasty with more than two months to go.

Retired Dow Chemical Company executive Mary Draves on Tuesday began running ads attacking her main intra-party rival, 2022 nominee Paul Junge, about two weeks after he started airing commercials against her. Draves' narrator says that, while Junge publicly says he supports American jobs, he really "invested his inherited trust fund in, you guessed it, China. Not one dollar invested in Michigan jobs." The rest of the spot touts Draves as a loyal Donald Trump ally with a history of creating local jobs.

Junge has been promoting a very different narrative about Draves with advertising portraying her as a phony conservative who served on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "climate change council to push her green agenda."

Draves was the subject of an unwelcome headline later in the month when the Detroit News reported both that she'd donated to Democratic Sen. Gary Peters' 2020 reelection committee and that she'd contributed last October to McDonald Rivet's own political action committee.

Draves defended herself by arguing that 99% of the political donations she's made in the last 18 years went to help conservatives and that she shouldn't be admonished for these two outliers. "I made a symbolic contribution to Peters as he was supportive of our work at Dow," she said in a statement, adding, "A friend of mine was hosting an event for Rivet's state Legislature leadership PAC and had asked me to buy a ticket, so I did but did not attend."

Republican leaders may be content if primary voters accept this argument so they can avoid having Junge as their standard bearer again. The 2022 nominee lost to Kildee by an unexpectedly wide 53-43 margin two years after Joe Biden carried the 8th District by a small 50-48 spread, and Democrats would likely once again hammer Junge over his weak ties to the region. Unlike the DCCC, however, national GOP leaders have yet to take sides in their nomination contest.

MI-13: Former state Sen. Adam Hollier announced Wednesday that he had filed an appeal with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson days after Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett determined that he'd failed to collect enough valid signatures to appear on the August Democratic primary ballot.

The Detroit News says it's not clear if the state Bureau of Elections will take up this matter before the Board of State Canvassers meets Friday to address the fate of other candidates who have been disqualified from the ballot. Hollier is Rep. Shri Thanedar's most serious intra-party opponent.

MO-01: AIPAC, the hawkish pro-Israel group, has launched its first TV ad to support St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell ahead of his Aug. 6 Democratic primary against Rep. Cori Bush. The commercial promotes Bell as a criminal justice reformer but does not mention Bush. AdImpact reports AIPAC has reserved at least $344,000 via its United Democracy Project super PAC.

NY-01: Former CNN anchor John Avlon has publicized endorsements from three members of New York's Democratic House delegation: Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represents a neighboring seat on Long Island, and New York City-based Reps. Dan Goldman and Greg Meeks. Avlon faces Nancy Goroff, who was the 2020 Democratic nominee for a previous version of the 1st District, in the June 25 primary to take on freshman GOP Rep. Nick LaLota.

NY-16: AIPAC's United Democracy Project has now spent roughly $8 million to support Westchester County Executive George Latimer's primary challenge against Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, according to AdImpact data relayed by Politico's Emily Ngo. By contrast, Bowman's campaign has spent just $715,000 with just a month until the June 25 primary.

VA-07: Former National Security Council adviser Eugene Vindman has released an internal from Global Strategy Group that shows him decisively beating Prince William County Supervisor Andrea Bailey 43-10 in the June 18 Democratic primary for the open 7th District; another 32% are undecided, while the balance is split between three other candidates.

This is the first poll we've seen of the contest to succeed Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is giving up this seat to concentrate on her 2025 run for governor. Vindman massively outraised the rest of the field through the end of March, and almost all of the outside spending on the Democratic side has been to support him.

WA-06: The Washington Public Employees Association this week endorsed state Sen. Emily Randall over the other leading Democrat, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, and its leaders made sure to highlight that it represents Franz's subordinates in the Department of Natural Resources.

The Washington Observer reported earlier this month that DNR staffers successfully urged another group, the Washington State Labor Council, to back Randall by citing "issues of worker safety and low morale" in their workplace. A third labor organization that represents DNR personnel, the Washington Federation of State Employees, also endorsed the state senator last month ahead of the Aug. 6 top-two primary.

Attorneys General

NC-AG, NC Supreme Court, NC Superintendent: The progressive group Carolina Forward has publicized the downballot portion of a mid-May poll it commissioned from Change Research, which finds narrow leads for Democratic candidates while many voters remain undecided.

In the race to succeed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Stein as attorney general, Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson posts a 43-40 edge over Republican colleague Dan Bishop. For the state Supreme Court, appointed Democratic Justice Allison Riggs is ahead 41-40 over Republican Jefferson Griffin, a judge on the state Court of Appeals.

For education superintendent, Democrat Moe Green is up by 42-39 over Republican Michele Morrow, a far-right conspiracy theorist who won her primary in an upset over GOP incumbent Catherine Truitt.

Carolina Forward had previously released the poll's results for the top of the ticket, where Trump led 45-43 in a two-way matchup and 41-38 in a three-way race with independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. taking 11%. Stein held a 44-43 edge over far-right Republican Mark Robinson for governor.

Ballot Measures

MO Ballot: Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday set Aug. 6 as the date for a re-do of a 2022 state constitutional amendment that empowered the state legislature to require Kansas City to spend at least 25% of its general revenue on its police. Parson's move comes even though the state Supreme Court explicitly ordered this amendment appear before voters on Nov. 5 rather than on the summer primary ballot.

Statewide voters last cycle approved Amendment 4 by 63-37 even though it only impacts Kansas City, which is the only major city in America that doesn't have control over its own police force. Last month, though, the state's highest court ruled that a new vote was required because election officials had included a misleading fiscal summary that said the amendment "would have no fiscal impact when the fiscal note identified a sizeable one."

Legislatures

TX State House: Six state House Republicans lost their runoffs Tuesday even as Speaker Dade Phelan won renomination in an upset, and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott was quick to insist that he "now has enough votes" to pass his stalled plan to use taxpayer money to pay for private schools.

Abbott didn't bother to acknowledge that there are general elections in November, and the Texas Tribune's Jasper Scherer noted that Democrats are hoping to flip at least one of the seats the governor is already counting as a pickup for his cause.

That constituency is the 121st District in San Antonio, where Marc LaHood defeated Rep. Steve Allison in the March GOP primary. Democrat Laurel Jordan Swift will face LaHood in a district that, according to VEST data from Dave's Redistricting App, favored Donald Trump by a small 50-48 spread in 2020.

Ultimately, 15 Republican representatives lost renomination this year, though Abbott wasn't happy to see them all go. Attorney General Ken Paxton also used this year's primaries and runoffs to punish members who voted to impeach him for corruption last year, and he was sometimes on the opposite side of Abbott in key races.

One member who escaped Paxton's wrath, though, was Phelan, who narrowly defeated former Orange County Republican Party chair David Covey 50.7-49.3 in a contest where Abbott didn't take sides. (The only other sitting GOP representative to get forced into a runoff but survive was Gary VanDeaver, who beat an Abbott-backed foe.)

The attorney general characteristically responded to the 366-vote loss for Covey, who also sported endorsements from Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, by accusing Phelan of having "blatantly stolen" the election by encouraging Democratic voters to back him. Texas, notes Axios' Asher Price, does not have party registration.

Paxton also called for Republican representatives, who are all but certain to maintain their hefty majority in the gerrymandered chamber, to end Phelan's speakership next year. Rep. Tom Oliverson, who avoided casting a vote in Paxton's impeachment, announced his own bid for speaker in March, and he responded to Phelan's victory on Wednesday by proclaiming, "Campaign For Speaker Begins In Ernest."

Prosecutors & Sheriffs

Hillsborough County, FL State Attorney: Former State Attorney Andrew Warren this week publicized endorsements from several Tampa-area Democrats including Rep. Kathy Castor, who represents about 40% of Hillsborough County, ahead of the Aug. 20 primary.

Warren is trying to regain his old office from Republican incumbent Suzy Lopez, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed in 2022 after permanently suspending Warren. First, though, Warren needs to win the Democratic primary against attorney Elizabeth Martinez Strauss, who hails from a prominent local legal family.

Strauss has stated that she believes that Warren was unfairly removed for, among other things, refusing to prosecute people who obtain or provide abortions. However, she's also argued that Warren is "a risky candidate" because DeSantis could just suspend him all over again. "Voters should have a choice and they may want a state attorney who can hold the job for more than 24 hours," Strauss told Florida Politics last month.  

Poll Pile

Ad Roundup

Campaign Action

The Downballot: Missouri Dems filibuster GOP into submission (transcript)

Democrats may be in the minority in the Missouri Senate, but you wouldn't know it after they staged an epic filibuster that just forced Republicans to abandon a cynical ploy to undermine direct democracy and thwart abortion rights.

Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in Democrats' record-breaking legislative marathon. Arthur breaks down the GOP's scheme to con voters into making it harder to amend the state constitution and explains how Democrats hung together through a 50-hour filibuster to protect cherished civil rights.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's primaries, punctuated by Angela Alsobrooks' victory in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat in the face of a $60 million onslaught. The Davids also highlight a big flip in Alaska, where a Democratic-backed independent is on course to unseat Anchorage's far-right mayor once final votes are tallied.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. New episodes come out every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast, dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode.

Beard: We've got another busy primary night to cover.

Nir: We do indeed. There were primaries across the country on Tuesday, so we are recapping the top races, including a contest in Maryland that could prove to be history-making in November. There were also interesting races in West Virginia and far across the country in Alaska, where a runoff was held for Anchorage mayor that saw Democrats flip a very important post.

Then for our deep dive, we are talking with Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a record-setting filibuster to prevent the GOP from undermining direct democracy in the state. It's an amazing conversation. Lauren walks us all through a talking filibuster, just like you see in the movies. There is a ton to discuss, so let's get rolling.

Nir: Well, we had a ton of primary action on Tuesday night, but we have to start with the big race and I am really, really happy about this result in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat. I think this was just a fantastic outcome and I am super happy with the candidate that Democrats nominated.

Beard: Yeah, there were two main Democratic candidates in the race for the open seat, Representative David Trone and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. They're both from the Washington area, which is interesting because there wasn't really a Baltimore candidate. And Trone spent a ton of money here, and so he led a lot of the early polling, but Alsobrooks closed great. She ended up winning by, I think, a larger margin than anyone expected, really, going into the night.

She's currently up 54-42 on Trone. There is a decent chunk of mail ballots that came in late, that are still to be counted in Maryland. So that margin could adjust a little bit, but being up 12 points, the AP called it for her. So she's going to be the Democratic nominee. There's still a decent chunk of mail ballots out still to be counted, later this week. She'll definitely move on to the general election against former Governor Larry Hogan.

Nir: Yeah, we'll talk about the general election in a second, but the primary was really something because Trone didn't just self-fund the race, he broke records. He spent more than $60 million of his own money, which almost beats the all-time self-funding record for an entire Senate race, but that includes a general election. That record is actually held by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who's also up for re-election this fall, but Trone smashed all records for primaries. He was able to do this because he is the owner of a giant liquor store retail chain called Total Wine, and there's no question that he was sure all along that his money would provide him the definitive advantage and the reason why he was going to win this primary, in his mind. He started advertising on TV almost a year before the race. He wound up outspending Alsobrooks by, I think, around 10 to one.

The margin was completely ridiculous, but the reason why Alsobrooks won is because she had a real base of support. That really understates it. She has such widespread support, and I think affection, among Maryland's Democratic political establishment, and that counts for a ton. And we're going to see this theme come up again later in this show, but having that built-in base of support matters so, so much, and I think that this proves that money cannot simply overcome the connections, and party building, and networking that Alsobrooks has engaged in for many, many years. Trone's only been in office for a few terms. He just simply didn't have the deep network that Alsobrooks had and money wasn't the substitute.

Beard: Yeah, and we've seen this before with candidates who primarily self-fund because they don't have to raise money, and so they don't have to engage within the greater party infrastructure in the same way that candidates who raise money have to and often continually do throughout their careers. I'll also say that Trone was a congressman. He was in D.C. Obviously, Alsobrooks is in a suburb of D.C., Prince George's County, but is very much more within the Maryland political structure. But we saw the federal Maryland Democrats, who you think might side with a fellow congressman, largely side with Alsobrooks, which I think is a pretty clear sign to a voter as to who these folks, who are elected officials, really think would be the better senator in these instances.

I'll also add that there was an interesting figure thrown around on Twitter on Tuesday night where money — like we said — does not decide races, but money still matters. Because I saw a tweet to you about, oh, money doesn't matter, which is not the case. There are three counties in Maryland's Eastern Shore that have a different media market than the rest of the state, which is covered by either the Baltimore media market or the Washington D.C. media market, where Trone spent a significant amount of money and Alsobrooks spent no money because she was more limited in her funds and focused on the two big media markets.

And those three counties were some of Trone's best counties and in fact much, much better for Trone than the other Eastern Shore counties in Baltimore's media market where he still won, but he won by a much narrower margin. So it's one of those things where you can clearly see how money matters, but it's not definitive. Other things matter too, as we saw ultimately with the endorsements and Alsobrooks's overall campaign.

Nir: Yeah, money has diminishing returns. I think the important thing is to have enough to run a credible campaign and get your message out there, which Alsobrooks certainly did. But after a certain point, it probably doesn't help a whole lot in moving the needle.

So now we're on to the general election. Republicans were excited. They felt that they had gotten a recruiting coup when they got former Governor Larry Hogan, who served two terms and was quite popular when he left office in 2022, when they got him to say he was going to run for Senate, even though he had previously really crapped on the idea of serving in the Senate.

But the reality is, as we have mentioned before on the show, it's much easier to win a state's governorship if you're from the out party than it is to win a Senate seat. We have seen this story so many times, Steve Bullock in Montana, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Ted Strickland in Ohio, Phil Bredesen in Tennessee. It's just an incredibly hard lift, and Hogan can pretend all he wants that a victory for him would not undermine abortion access for women, but voters are not that naive. They understand that the Senate is governed by parties and there will be a lot of ads run, making very clear that Hogan will be a vote for whoever replaces Mitch McConnell.

So Hogan would have to win a ton of folks who are ready to vote for Joe Biden, because Joe Biden's going to win the state by large margin, in order to somehow defeat Alsobrooks. In addition, there is a measure on the ballot in November, in Maryland this year, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. Hogan has a crappy record on abortion.

What is he going to say when he's asked how he's voting on that measure? It's one thing to pretend, oh, I would never change a law, yada yada. Okay, but now we do have an opportunity to change a law for the better, do you support it? No. So I am a huge skeptic about Hogan's chances. I know that Mitch McConnell was talking him up recently, but of course, Mitch McConnell's going to say that. Anyway, I really don't see this race as being a major focus once we get to November.

Beard: Yeah, and one of the big factors around this governor versus Senate aspect is a lot of governor's races take place in midterms, with smaller electorates who are not voting for the president at the top of the ticket, and priming them at that partisan level for most people. So for him to go from running, well, he first won the governor's race in 2014, which was a very Republican year, and then he was able to play the incumbency on the feeling that his governorship was a success, into reelection in 2018 — also a midterm year, even though it was a better year for Democrats.

He hasn't had to run in a presidential year with a Democrat at the top of the ticket, winning Maryland by likely more than 30 points. And that is such a huge, enormous deficit to overcome without even getting into, like you said, all the arguments around, hey, you're going to go to D.C. and you're going to vote for Mitch McConnell's or Republican successor to lead the Senate. You're either going to block Biden's judges or you're going to facilitate Trump's judges.

There are a lot of things you're going to be party line about because that's how Congress works, and so I totally agree with you. I'm very, very skeptical of this race even being close by the end of the day. I think ultimately, Hogan ran for Congress twice before he became governor. I think he toyed around a lot with the national spotlight and potentially running for president in some form or fashion, but ultimately he just seemed like a guy who really wanted to run for office again, and this ended up being where he ended up, but I don't think he's terribly likely to win.

Nir: So we have a few more primaries from Tuesday night to discuss. Maryland also had a few open House seats due to retirements, and also Trone running for the Senate. In the third district, which is very blue turf in the Baltimore area, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth defeated former Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. She is, as of this recording, up 35-25. This puts her on a glide path to joining Congress next year because, like I said, this is a solidly blue seat and there is almost no chance of Republicans flipping it in November.

This to me, was another interesting race, somewhat comparable to the one we were just talking about, because Harry Dunn was a huge hero for his service on Jan. 6th when he defended the Capitol against the riot. He became a very prominent figure, and he raised an enormous, enormous sum of money, more than $4 million from small donors all across the nation, and that made him a force to be reckoned with. But he didn't live in the district. You don't have to live in the district, as we know, but he didn't live in the district.

His ties weren't quite as strong and Elfreth, a little bit like Alsobrooks, did represent a good chunk of the district. She did have good ties to the political establishment and she also benefited from a lot of outside spending. AIPAC came in big for her, but at the end of the day, it was that personal direct tie to the area that wound up winning the race for her.

Beard: Yeah. Dunn had some really interesting national endorsements. In fact, former speaker, Nancy Pelosi endorsed Dunn and it really seemed from a D.C. perspective that he was the leading figure and was probably the favorite. So it was definitely a little bit of a surprise. Of course, as you mentioned, Elfreth had significant outside help monetarily to keep up with the money that Dunn had raised, and I think once she was able to be competitive financially on the air, her ties, as you mentioned, really came through a big chunk of that district had voted for her before for the Senate and of course was comfortable voting for her to send her to Congress.

So I think that's another piece of evidence that these local ties, and the experience that you have in lower office, are a great way to set yourself up. That's not the only way to get to Congress, but I think if you look overall, the most common way to get to Congress is to have a lower office where people know and have supported you in the past, and we see that here with Elfreth.

Nir: I think that the example of Harry Dunn might also be quite relevant for another primary that's coming up next month down in Virginia in the open 7th District where Eugene Vindman, another hero of the resistance as it were, has also raised huge sums nationally. His identical twin brother Alexander Vindman was the chief whistleblower in the Ukraine matter that ultimately led to Trump's first impeachment. But Vindman doesn't have particularly strong ties to that district, and so we will see once again, whether it's the establishment and local roots versus a huge infusion of grassroots money that carries the day.

Beard: Yeah. The interesting question I think in comparing these two districts, is whether there is an Elfreth-type character with both the local support, and either funding internally or funding from an outside group that's going to make that person competitive with Vindman's money. Because I could see Vindman getting a similar percentage of support as Harry Dunn getting like 25% or so, but in this case, if there's not a single opponent who's going to get 35 or 30%, he could easily win that primary. There's not a runoff in Virginia and he could go on and be the nominee with that lower level of support if there's not a consolidation around another candidate.

One other race that we want to note from Maryland is the Baltimore mayor's race where incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott defeated former mayor Sheila Dixon. He's currently up 51 to 41 as of this recording. Dixon was the mayor a number of years ago. She resigned after being convicted of embezzlement. She ran again and narrowly lost to Scott four years ago, and was back for another try. Scott seems to have defeated her more comfortably this time, and he of course will sail to the general election as Baltimore is an extremely, extremely Democratic city.

Nir: One interesting thing about Scott is that he is the first Baltimore mayor in quite some time to win two full terms at the ballot box. There's been a lot of turnover, people leaving office early due to scandal and resignation like Dixon did. The last person to do so was Martin O'Malley. O'Malley didn't wind up serving out two full terms, but that's because he wound up becoming governor in 2006. So Scott's success could see this become a potential stepping stone for him for future higher office.

Beard: The other state that had a ton of competitive primaries on Tuesday night was West Virginia. Of course in this case, they were mostly on the Republican side, whereas in Maryland, we mostly focused on the Democratic side. The race that had the clearest front runner was the Senate primary where Governor Jim Justice easily won. He crushed his opponent. Congressman Alex Mooney, 62-27, and is almost certainly going to be the next senator from West Virginia replacing retiring Democrat Joe Manchin.

Nir: The much more contested race was the Republican primary for governor. We mentioned this one before. This was the most disgusting Republican primary we have seen in quite some time. The entire race was focused on each candidate trying to prove that they were more transphobic than the next guy. Every single campaign and every single outside group was running ads, just trying to demonstrate to voters just how transphobic they are. And the winner of this disgusting contest was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

He defeated Del. Moore Capito who is the son of Shelley Moore Capito, the state's other senator, by a 33-28 margin. Morrisey, of course, lost to Joe Manchin in 2018 by what wound up being a surprisingly close margin; Republicans had kind of given up on him in that race and Manchin won. But it was by no means a blowout and probably a key reason why Manchin decided to retire ahead of this election. Anyway, just like Jim Justice, Morrisey is just about dead certain to become the state's next governor, and he is going to be an absolutely foul figure.

Beard: Yeah. There's really no candidate to root for in this. All of them were terrible. None of them took any sort of more positive path through the West Virginia Republican primary, which I doubt would've been a good idea. They probably all ran the race that made them most likely to win. It's just unfortunate that a race involved them being transphobic and awful throughout the entirety of the primary campaign. The most interesting thing you can say about it was that Morrisey's support in the northern part of the state was able to carry him through relatively poorer showings in the southern part of the state, particularly because the other candidates had a tendency to split the support, whereas Capito won a number of counties in the southern part of the state including the county with the capital of Charleston.

He also lost a number of counties to the third-place finisher Chris Miller, which meant that Morrisey's northern support, including some a few counties in the south, was able to carry the day with only 33% of the vote.

Nir: So clear across the country about as far across the country as you can possibly get, we had another super interesting race on Tuesday night. This was not a primary. This was a runoff for the mayor's position in Anchorage Alaska and we had a flip. Suzanne LaFrance, who previously was a member of Anchorage's equivalent to a city council, appears to have ousted incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson. She was up 45 the day after the election. There are still an unknown number of ballots left to count, but media reports all indicate that there aren't enough for Bronson to make up the difference, which is currently about 5,000 votes.

If LaFrance hangs on as it certainly looks like she will, she would be the first woman ever elected as mayor of Anchorage, which of course is by far Alaska's largest city. Now, this race was nominally nonpartisan, but as they almost always are in high-salience races like this one these days, the battle lines were quite clear.

Bronson is a far-right Republican while LaFrance is an independent, but she had been endorsed by the Anchorage Democratic Party. Bronson ran a very typical GOP playbook. He tried to attack LaFrance as woke and in the grips of some crazy far-left ideology. And LaFrance responded by running a pretty non-ideological campaign. She focused on questions about Bronson's competence and his penchant for getting into fights and issues like snow removal, which obviously is pretty damn important in Alaska. In the end, we saw which kind of campaign won out. It was the one about issues that actually matter to people, not the one about crazy paranoid fearmongering.

Beard: Yeah. Bronson won his first race three years ago, very, very narrowly. So I think the forces in opposition to him, which included both the center and the left, had a clear target to say that this person was too far right. He certainly governed that way and they were able to consolidate the anti-Bronson support behind this independent candidate with the Democratic Party support, as you said.

And it looks like that was enough to overcome any incumbency advantages that he might've accrued over the past three years. And so it looks like, hopefully, Anchorage is going to get a much better mayor.

Nir: So interestingly, even though more than a third of the state lives in Anchorage, the mayoralty hasn't really been much of a stepping stone for Republicans, but it has for Democrats. The last two Democrats who represented Alaska in the US Senate, Mark Begich and Tony Knowles, both served as mayor before seeking higher office.

Now, we should probably wait until LaFrance is actually sworn in before we start talking about her next steps, but who knows? We could be hearing more about her in the future.

Beard: Yeah. There are plenty of Republicans to take on in Alaska, so we will see where that might go.

Nir: Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up on our deep dive, we are talking to Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a historic filibuster to thwart the GOP's efforts to undermine direct democracy in the state of Missouri. It is a fantastic conversation. Please stay with us after the break.

 

Nir: Democrats in the Missouri state Senate have just emerged victorious after a historic filibuster in defense of direct democracy that could have major implications for abortion rights. Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in this record-breaking marathon, to explain the stakes to us and tell us exactly what is going on. Lauren, we could not be more grateful to you for taking the time to talk with us. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lauren Arthur: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for highlighting this issue that's important for Missourians, but also I would argue, says a lot about the state of our democracy.

Nir: Absolutely. So before we get to the filibuster, I think we need a little bit of background here. The background is that Republicans want to put an amendment on the ballot on the same day as Missouri's August 6th primary this summer, which would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution in the future. So what exactly would that GOP amendment do?

Arthur: So I'll start by talking a little about the initiative petition process. It's a really helpful tool when Missourians feel like their legislators are not responding or they're refusing to act on certain issues that are important to them, Missourians can collect enough signatures and send that issue to voters directly. In order for that to pass, it requires a majority vote. Missourians have approved things like Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage, and recreational and medical marijuana through the initiative petition process.

Republicans in Missouri, obviously they disagree with a lot of those positions and they want to make it harder to amend the state constitution. They would require that a majority of five out of eight congressional districts approve that measure. And we've seen some analysis that indicates as few voters as 23% of Missouri voters could defeat a ballot measure. So basically the effect of that is it would dilute the voices of those who live in more populous areas like Kansas City and St. Louis, and it would give more power and weight to the votes of those in rural Missouri.

Nir: This sounds awfully familiar because Republicans have been very open about their intentions, many of them at least. They want to stop an amendment, an initiative petition as you called it, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, which currently looks likely to appear on the November ballot. Organizers just submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures, and if it passes, it would reverse Missouri's near-total ban on abortion.

But as we saw just last year in Ohio, Republicans tried almost the exact same thing, and their effort failed very badly when they tried to make future amendments harder, that failed, and then abortion rights did pass there. Missouri Republicans have an idea to overcome what I think is a very natural resistance among voters to curtailing their own rights, which they've called — and opponents have called — 'ballot candy.' What exactly does that term mean? Because that is a very unusual term.

Arthur: Yeah. As you said, I think Republicans recognize that the measure will be incredibly unpopular and that people understand and support the concept of one person, one vote. So the idea of ballot candy, they've tried to add in language that is completely unrelated to the idea of making it more difficult to amend the Constitution, but these are going to be things that appeal to more conservative voters and frankly that seem common sense.

So things like they included language that non-citizens shouldn't be allowed to vote. That's already the case in Missouri. It is illegal. It is clearly defined, and there is no threat that non-citizens would gain the right to vote in Missouri elections on an initiative petition.

But they think that if voters show up to the polls, don't know what is going to appear before them on the ballot, they'll see that initial language and think 'That makes sense, I'm going to vote for that' and move on without realizing that they're actually undermining their own voting power. The reason they call it ballot candy is, basically, that it sweetens the measure so that it's more appealing and appetizing to Missouri voters.

Beard: Now, Republicans have wide majorities in both chambers of the Missouri legislature, but the state Senate is unusual in that filibusters are allowed, but your filibuster operates pretty differently from the one in the US Senate that I think most of our listeners are familiar with. So how does that work and walk us through the decision to start this filibuster?

Arthur: Yeah, absolutely. The Missouri Senate is a unique and special institution where any senator can decide to stand up, and we have a standing talking filibuster. So if someone wants to oppose a piece of legislation, he or she or they can stand up and talk on the motion or the legislation before the body. And usually, that's used to force compromise. Sometimes it can be used effectively to kill legislation, but it requires that people are standing and talking. And the Senate Democrats have been doing that for the last 50 hours where throughout the course of that time, someone was standing and making the case that this is really wrong-headed for the state of Missouri. And I have been awake for so long. I think I forgot your original question.

Beard: Totally understandable. Yeah. My other part to the question was the decision to launch a filibuster against this legislation specifically.

Arthur: Yeah. So because we only have 10 members in a body of 34 senators, we really have to pick and choose our battles. And this is such a fundamental issue protecting one person, one vote. It is foundational to our democracy. It is about fairness and justice and protecting the things that we hold dear as a democracy. So Democratic senators actually allowed that legislation to pass out of the Senate earlier this year because the whole time we've said, we really oppose the idea that you're going to make it more difficult to amend the constitution. But if you insist that that is a priority, we just want to make sure that it's a fair fight. That voters are informed. That they can read language that tells them what the amendment would actually do, and we trust voters to make the right decision when they understand what it is they're voting on.

So Democratic senators, once they cleaned that ballot candy off back in February and sent a clean version of the resolution, Democratic senators sat down voted no, and said, "Okay. We'll let that continue through the process." It was when it returned that it had that ballot candy on, and at that point, we just felt like it was such an important issue that we didn't want to in any way allow the GOP to try to deceive and lie to Missouri voters. It's just not right. So we felt really strongly that this was something we had to dig in.

Nir: So you mentioned that the Missouri Senate's filibuster is a talking filibuster, and that makes it very, very different from the United States Senate. And I think the talking filibuster is what most people think of when they hear that word. They imagine a sort of Mr. Smith goes to Washington kind of situation, and you actually have been living that. So walk us through what that's like. When exactly did it start? Are you taking turns? Is there anything you can and can't do? Are Republicans hoping to trip you up and catch you in a momentary second to try to end the filibuster? How does that all work?

Arthur: Yeah. So with the standing filibuster, basically someone seeks recognition, and then the way that the Democrats prefer to filibuster is by inquiring to one another. So we've had our filibuster partners and we work in shifts. Senators have stood and debated on the resolution.

We've talked about other important priorities, our vision for the state, and a couple of random topics about recommended movies, TV shows, and music to help fill those three hours, which can feel a little bit long when you're just standing up and talking. I mean, it's physical. You're standing at your desk for three hours at least. Some have picked up extra shifts and really helped out. It's been an incredible team effort, and I'm really proud of everyone for stepping up and sacrificing sleep, and at times hydration, and talking at all hours of the night.

We have decided that it was probably in our best interest to not be super hostile or aggressive towards the GOP, and that's because we're very aware that they do have a tool to shut down debate. And what's interesting is other Republican senators have actually filibustered more than Democrats this year. I don't know if that's the case after this really long filibuster, but Republican senators had been using the filibuster to basically attack other Republican senators.

And it's not unlike what we see in DC where some GOP senators were calling other GOP senators RINOs because they weren't taking hardline positions; they weren't being really aggressive in their attacks. So Republicans have really used the filibuster more than Democrats, and we just wanted to be respectful of the process and didn't want to antagonize anyone so that they might consider voting in favor of that motion that would shut down debate and force a vote on the worst version of this resolution.

Beard: Now, the Republicans that a lot of people are familiar with are these very aggressive Republicans that are eager to steamroll any and all opposition using any tool available. So it seems a little surprising that Republicans in the Missouri state Senate aren't just eager to use this motion that you just mentioned. Can you talk a little bit about the hesitancy from them on using it and why they haven't just gone full bore?

Arthur: Because of that division within the Republican Party, some Republicans have had a really hard time passing legislation and not even for Republican priorities. They've had a difficult time passing just basic governance kinds of bills. So for example, last week, the Senate debated the budget, and if not for Democratic votes, Missouri would not have a budget sent to the governor by the constitutional deadline.

So Democrats have been willing partners because we think that our state agencies should be funded. We know the importance of, for example, the renewal of something that is a self-imposed tax on hospitals so that they can fund our Medicaid program. As Democrats, we could have used all of those things as leverage, we could have teamed up with the guys who are trying to obstruct and cause chaos in the Senate and prevent any legislation from going forward. Democrats could have teamed up with that and made life very difficult for the Republicans and Senate leadership.

Instead, we believe in good governance. And if something is common sense, if something needs to get done for Missourians, Democrats have been good partners and we've negotiated in good faith on other legislation that might be a little bit more controversial. I think we have earned a little bit of goodwill. If they were to invoke that PQ or that nuclear option, everyone also understands that that's the end of the session, no other bills pass, and that it would have serious and long-lasting implications for the next session when the Democrats would come in and they would probably start from a very aggressive position.

Nir: That PQ, that's the motion for a previous question, but that only takes a simple majority in order to succeed. But what you're saying is this bitter division between these GOP factions, maybe, almost makes it impossible, despite the fact that they have, of course, a numerical majority to find a practical majority on the floor to call this previous question and shut off debate on the filibuster. They don't need a supermajority like in the US Senate, just the simple majority, but they still can't get it.

Arthur: That's correct. Yeah, exactly.

Nir: So as a result of all of this Democrats standing so strong and united together and taking shifts on filibusters throughout the night combined with really bitter GOP infighting and Republicans in disarray. On Wednesday afternoon, it sounds like you had a real breakthrough, a huge one, so tell us all about that.

Arthur: Yeah. I think there was pretty broad agreement and understanding that Senate Democrats were not going to back down and that there really was not a path forward to shut down the debate. And so the sponsor of the legislation made a motion to send this resolution to committee, or the House can recede from its position, which has all of that ballot candy, and make a determination going forward. There may be a conference committee where people meet and I don't think that the Democrats will, in any way, relent on that ballot candy issue. So if anything comes out of that committee, then we would expect it to be a clean bill.

Nir: And the legislative session ends at 6:00 PM local time on Friday, so there's a very limited clock for them to get this done.

Arthur: Yeah, that's correct. I should also mention the conference committee. We have Democrats and Republicans from the Senate, and then the House gets to assign its Republicans and Democrats as well to conference and hash out those details. But we are up against a hard deadline, 6:00 PM on Friday. There were... I mean, not unexpectedly… the really hardline Republicans were unhappy with this decision and they made that very clear and decried it on the floor. We will wait and see whether or not they're going to allow any other business to come before the body and whether or not we'll make it to 6:00 PM on Friday.

Beard: It seems like the two most likely outcomes here are either maybe nothing goes on the ballot or the clean version of the amendment goes onto the ballot, going back to this idea of the five of the eight congressional districts needing to pass any future amendments. So if that is on the ballot, you sounded like Democrats are going to campaign against it. How do you think it'll fare at the ballot box and what is the main campaign against it going to look like?

Arthur: Well, I think it will definitely be defeated and defeated resoundingly. There are so many people whose lives have been improved thanks to the initiative petition process and measures that Missouri voters have supported. And so I think they have a clear understanding of its importance and I don't think anyone wants their voices to count for less.

Like I said, I represent a purple district. We're talking about Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in my district, and I can't imagine a world in which any of them want their vote to count less than someone else's in a different part of the state. I think voters will get it and I also think that voters understand that this is a really cynical attempt to try to make it harder to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. There is a lot of movement and momentum to have that issue on the ballot in November. I think that they've collected, I don't know, two or three times more signatures than required in order to send that to voters. And I think this is a pretty brazen and obvious attempt to make it harder for people to make decisions about their bodies.

Nir: We have been talking with Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur of Missouri who just participated in a successful filibuster to get the GOP to back down from a diabolical plan to lard up a ballot measure with so-called ballot candy in order to entice voters to give up their rights to direct democracy. Lauren, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with us. Before we let you go, how can Downballot listeners learn more about your efforts in the state Senate in Missouri and also about the various ballot measures that may be on the ballot this fall?

Arthur: Well, thank you so much for highlighting these efforts. Thankfully, we have great local journalists who have been here throughout the 50 hours along with the rest of us. I'll give a shout-out to the Missouri Independent, St. Louis Public Radio, the Kansas City Star, and the people who have helped cover this issue locally. With the Senate Democrats here in Missouri, we're few but mighty, and we're hoping to grow our numbers in this next election.

Nir: Where can folks find you online on social media?

Arthur: You can find us on Twitter—old habits die hard—or X at MoSenDems. We have an Instagram page @mosenatedemocrats, Facebook is MOSenDems, and Threads @mosenatedemocrats, and you can find me on X @LaurenArthurMO.

Nir: Lauren, thank you again for coming on "The Downballot."

Arthur: It was my pleasure. Thank you again.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to state Sen. Lauren Arthur for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing thedownballot@dailykos.com. If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

Morning Digest: GOP tries to boost Oregon Democrat disdained by national party

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

OR-05: A new super PAC called Health Equity Now has launched what appears to be an attempt by Republicans to meddle in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Oregon's competitive 5th District. The group is airing ads designed to boost 2022 nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who is not her national party's preferred candidate.

The Associated Press, citing data from AdImpact, says that the PAC has reserved $350,000 for an ad campaign that began Wednesday. Its commercial declares that McLeod-Skinner is "putting progressive values into action" and says she backs Medicare for All. The spot does not mention state Rep. Janelle Bynum, who has the support of the DCCC, or the Republican they're both hoping to unseat, freshman Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer.

Health Equity Now does not need to disclose its donors until after the primary, but there's a very good reason to think that Republicans are behind the effort: According to Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin, the PAC is using a media buyer that only works for Republicans. In past races, new outfits looking to cause trouble in primaries have often given away their true partisan affiliation through their choice of media firms.

Bynum's camp responded to the development by telling the AP it "certainly looks like there are ties to Republicans." McLeod-Skinner didn't address whether the GOP might be helping her, however, but signaled her agreement with the ad's themes.

"While I’ve never heard of this group and don’t support undisclosed money in our elections," she said in a statement, "it’s absolutely true that I believe everyone should have high-quality, affordable physical and mental healthcare." McLeod-Skinner's own ads, however, have not focused on Medicare for All but rather on abortion and corruption.

While McLeod-Skinner lost to Chavez-DeRemer by a close 52-48 margin in what was a hairy year for Oregon Democrats, her intra-party detractors do not want to give her the chance to avenge that defeat.

Axios reported last year that unnamed party leaders believed that Bynum, who previously defeated Chavez-DeRemer in legislative races in both 2016 and 2018, would be "a more business-friendly candidate better positioned to win swing voters" than McLeod-Skinner.

McLeod-Skinner later was the subject of stories from the Oregon Capitol Chronicle and Willamette Week featuring allegations that she had mistreated her staff, both during previous bids for office and as the city manager for the small Oregon community of Phoenix.

Mainstream Democrats PAC, a group funded by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, has aired ads based around these accusations, including a report that "McLeod-Skinner's driver texted, 'I'm scared she's gonna hit me.'" The candidate has denied the allegations.

Bynum has received outside help herself: Mainstream Democrats and 314 Action have spent a total of $1.2 million to propel her to victory on Tuesday, while Health Equity Now is the first third-party group that's taking action to boost McLeod-Skinner.

Bynum's campaign also enjoys a financial advantage. The state representative outspent McLeod-Skinner $383,000 to $196,000 during the month of April, and Bynum had a $340,000 to $191,000 cash advantage going into the final weeks of the race.

McLeod-Skinner, however, is hoping her own messaging, as well as her name recognition from her last bid, can overcome that deficit. She began airing commercials last week attacking Bynum's voting record in the legislature, including one highlighting that Bynum "was the only vote against giving rape survivors more time to seek justice against their rapists." Regarding that vote, Bynum argued at the time, "It's not popular to protect the accused but it is our job."

The 5th District, which is based in Portland's southern suburbs and central Oregon, favored Joe Biden 53-44 in 2020, but both parties are preparing for a difficult general election. Chavez-DeRemer, who has no primary opposition, had $1.9 million stockpiled as of May 1.

Senate

UT-Sen: Rep. John Curtis' allies at the super PAC Conservative Values for Utah have publicized an early May internal poll from Guidant that shows him leading Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, by a wide 41-15 margin in the June 25 Republican primary.

Two self-funding candidates, former state House Speaker Brad Wilson and businessman Jason Walton, respectively clock in at 9% and 2%, while the remaining 33% are undecided. This is the first poll we've seen of the primary to replace retiring Sen. Mitt Romney since the April 27 GOP convention, which shrunk the number of contenders from 10 to four.

House

CA-16: The California Democratic Party endorsed Assemblyman Evan Low on Tuesday over former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in the all-Democratic general election for this open seat. The party previously backed Rep. Anna Eshoo at its November convention only for her to announce her retirement days later, and it had not issued a new endorsement until now.

CO-03: The Colorado Republican Party has endorsed former state Rep. Ron Hanks, an underfunded election conspiracy theorist, in the six-way June 25 primary for the open 3rd District. The move came one day after the GOP backed former state Rep. Janak Joshi's longshot campaign in the swingy 8th District over the national party favorite, state Rep. Gabe Evans.

In a statement, the party trashed two of Hanks' intra-party rivals, attorney Jeff Hurd and state Board of Education member Stephen Varela. Among other things, it took issue with Hurd for launching a primary challenge to incumbent Lauren Boebert before she decided to run in the more conservative 4th District rather than defend the more competitive 3rd District in western Colorado. (The party is supporting Boebert in her new race.)

It also charged that Hurd had refused to commit to voting for Donald Trump and attacked him for gaining a place on the primary ballot by collecting signatures rather than competing at last month's party convention. It further alluded unhappily to the $200,000 that Americans for Prosperity, a tea party-era group that's now toxic in MAGA world, has spent to help Hurd so far.

Varela, by contrast, won the convention that Hurd skipped, but the party still has grievances to air against him. Its statement alluded to a February story in the Denver Post reporting that Varela was under federal investigation for allegedly misspending his union's money when he led a chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees. It also highlighted an earlier report from 9News noting that Varela had changed his party affiliations 18 times since 2011.

Varela responded by arguing that the party was unwittingly helping the same national Democrats who spent millions last cycle in an unsuccessful attempt to boost Hanks, whom they viewed as a weak potential nominee, in the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. (Wealthy businessman Joe O'Dea won the nod but lost badly to Bennet anyway.) Democrats, however, have made no similar effort to promote Hanks so far this year.

MI-08: EMILYs List has endorsed state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary for this competitive open seat. McDonald Rivet's main intra-party rival appears to be businessman Matt Collier, who served as mayor of Flint three decades ago. State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh is also running, but she's struggled to raise money.

MI-13: Staffers for Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett officially recommended that she disqualify former state Sen. Adam Hollier from the August Democratic primary ballot on the grounds that he failed to turn in the requisite 1,000 valid signatures from voters.

In a report released Thursday, Garrett's team determined that Hollier submitted only 863 acceptable signatures, concluding that the remaining 690 were not usable.

The Detroit Free Press' Clara Hendrickson says that state law requires that this staff report must be made public at least two business days before Garrett makes a decision. Hendrickson adds that "those who disagree" with the clerk's determination may contest it with Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson or in court.

Hollier is seeking a rematch against freshman Rep. Shri Thanedar following his close 28-24 loss two years ago, when the safely blue 13th District was open. Thanedar sought to foreclose a second go-round, though, by announcing last month that he was challenging Hollier's signatures on the grounds that many were forged. Garrett's team agreed.

"It was more than obvious to staff that the same hand had completed and signed" several petition sheets, officials wrote in their report. Altogether, the review said that most of the 348 signatures collected by three circulators were suspicious. Other signatures couldn't be accepted for more prosaic reasons, such as the signer not being a registered voter in the 13th District.

Detroit Councilmember Mary Waters is also running against Thanedar, and she would likely benefit if Hollier is disqualified. Waters, though, had just $5,000 in her campaign coffers at the end of March, so she may not be able to put up an effective fight against the wealthy incumbent.

NY-16: AIPAC's United Democracy Project has begun what Jewish Insider reports is a $2 million week-long buy to beat Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the June 25 Democratic primary, with one of its opening ads attacking the incumbent for voting against the Biden administration's priorities.

This messaging may already be familiar to viewers, as Westchester County Executive George Latimer debuted his own ad last week that, like the UDP's, went after Bowman for voting against the 2021 infrastructure bill.

UDP, which is also airing a commercial praising Latimer as a reliable liberal, is the first super PAC to spend a serious amount of money. Bowman, however, was already facing a big advertising deficit: AdImpact said Thursday that Latimer has outspent Bowman $967,000 to $171,000 on ads.

SC-01: A super PAC called South Carolina Patriots has spent a total of $2 million as of Thursday attacking Rep. Nancy Mace ahead of the June 11 Republican primary, which is almost twice as much as the $1.1 million that the Post & Courier reported it had deployed through Sunday. The group has ties to allies of Kevin McCarthy, whom Mace voted to depose as speaker last year.

Altogether, AdImpact writes that $4.3 million has been spent or reserved for ads either attacking Mace or promoting her main intra-party rival, former state cabinet official Catherine Templeton, compared to $2.5 million in pro-Mace advertising. The Trump-backed incumbent's main ally is the Club for Growth, which, according to FEC records, has spent $1 million to help her.

Marine veteran Bill Young is also running, and while he's attracted little attention, his presence on the ballot could prevent either Mace or Templeton from winning the majority of the vote needed to avert a June 25 runoff.

VA-07: The Washington Post, which has a large readership in Northern Virginia, has endorsed former National Security Council adviser Eugene Vindman in the June 18 Democratic primary for an open seat based in Washington's southern exurbs. The 7th District, which Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger is giving up to focus on her 2025 bid for governor, favored Joe Biden 53-46.

Vindman, along with his identical twin brother, Alexander, was at the center of the scandal that led to Donald Trump's 2019 impeachment. Thanks to the siblings' high profile during that affair, Vindman has been one of the strongest House fundraisers in the nation. He ended March with a massive $1.8 million to $188,000 cash advantage over his nearest intra-party opponent, Prince William County Supervisor Andrea Bailey.

The field also includes Bailey's colleague on the County Board, Margaret Franklin; Del. Briana Sewell; former Del. Elizabeth Guzman, and two little-known contenders. Spanberger has not taken sides in the race to succeed her.

The Post also endorsed Green Beret veteran Derrick Anderson for the Republican nomination, though the paper's support was not a sought-after prize for GOP primary candidates even before Donald Trump made it one of his many "fake news" punching bags.

Indeed, one of Anderson's intra-party rivals, Navy SEAL veteran Cameron Hamilton, responded to the development by retweeting messages from the last two GOP nominees, Nick Freitas and Yesli Vega, saying that the Post's endorsement demonstrates that Anderson is the least conservative option. Anderson himself has ignored the development on his social media accounts.

The good news for Anderson is that he already had more valuable endorsements from Speaker Mike Johnson and the Congressional Leadership Fund. Anderson also ended March with a $581,000 to $176,000 cash on hand advantage over Hamilton, while none of the other four candidates had so much as $100,000 available.

VA-10: The Washington Post has also endorsed Del. Dan Helmer in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat who is not seeking reelection because of the worsening symptoms of a neurodegenerative disease.

Earlier this week, Wexton backed a different state legislator, state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam, in the 12-way race for the nomination. The 10th District, which is located just north of the 7th, backed Joe Biden 58-40 in the last presidential election.

Helmer ended March with a decisive financial lead over the rest of the field, though his advantage isn't as yawning as Alexander Vindman's in the 7th. Helmer finished the first quarter with an $815,000 to $608,000 lead in cash on hand over Krystle Kaul, a defense contractor who has been self-funding much of her effort.

Subramanyam was just behind with $575,000 banked, compared to $435,000 for former state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. Former state education secretary Atif Qarni had $208,000 on hand, while state Sen. Jennifer Boysko and Del. David Reid respectively had $172,000 and $109,000.

Judges

GA Supreme Court: A federal court has rejected a lawsuit by former Democratic Rep. John Barrow seeking to block a state panel from policing his statements on abortion as he seeks a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court, ruling that Barrow had failed to show he'd been injured by the board's actions.

The harms Barrow alleged stemmed from a letter that the state's Judicial Qualifications Commission had sent the candidate, warning him that his comments and advertisements expressing support for abortion rights violated the state's Code of Judicial Conduct.

But U.S. District Judge Michael Brown pointed out in his decision that the letter in question was confidential and only became public because Barrow shared it. He also questioned Barrow's claims that his speech might be chilled, noting that Barrow has continued to speak out on abortion.

An attorney for Barrow said the campaign might appeal or file a new suit in state court. Barrow is seeking to unseat conservative Justice Andrew Pinson in an officially nonpartisan election on Tuesday.

Ballot Measures

MO Ballot: A Republican plan to entice voters into curtailing their rights is all but dead after Democrats in the Missouri Senate staged a record-breaking filibuster that forced the GOP to back down on Wednesday. With the legislative session coming to an end on Friday evening, Republicans now have little time to act, buoying Democratic hopes of preserving direct democracy and passing an abortion rights amendment this fall.

Republicans had been hoping to thwart that effort, which would undo the state's near-total ban on abortion, by placing their own measure on the Aug. 6 primary ballot that would make it harder to pass future amendments.

Mindful of the humiliating failure their counterparts in Ohio experienced last year, however, Missouri Republicans sought to add so-called "ballot candy" to their proposal: empty provisions that might entice conservatives to back it despite its deleterious impact on voters' power.

It was these enticements that Democrats objected to vociferously, prompting a 50-hour filibuster that began on Monday. These blandishments included provisions that would ban non-citizens from voting and prohibit foreign donations—things that are already illegal.

Democrats had strong reason to resist, since this tactic had proven successful in the past: In 2020, voters repealed a redistricting reform measure they'd passed in a landslide two years earlier by narrowly adopting a Republican amendment that included some fig-leaf ethics reforms.

Democrats say they are prepared for a fair fight over a candy-free version of the GOP's proposal, which would require amendments to win a majority of the vote both statewide and in five of the state's eight congressional districts.

"I think it will definitely be defeated and defeated resoundingly," Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur told Daily Kos Elections on "The Downballot" podcast.

That is, if the measure makes the ballot at all. Republicans brought the Democrats' filibuster to an end on Wednesday by voting to send their amendment to a conference committee with the state House, which previously passed it, complete with candy.

The House, however, voted to reject any such conference that might yield an unencumbered version of the amendment on Thursday afternoon. That means Senate Democrats are certain to resume their filibuster to ensure that the sugar-coated variant doesn't pass, a talk-a-thon they'd need to sustain until 6 PM local time on Friday.

Republicans could still try to break a filibuster by deploying a little-used parliamentary maneuver known as "calling the previous question"—a step that members of the far-right Freedom Caucus have implored their party to take. But more mainstream Republicans have resisted, due both to a bitter split within the GOP and because past attempts have often resulted in even greater dysfunction.

If Democrats stand strong, then, and Republicans remain divided, the GOP would come away empty-handed, and the measure to restore abortion rights would only need a simple majority to become law in November.

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Morning Digest: Big Lie pushers aim to recall Wisconsin Republican for not pushing Big Lie enough

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

WI State Assembly: Far-right groups seeking to oust Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced Monday that they'd turned in about 10,700 signatures to recall the powerful Republican. The effort comes less than two years after Vos narrowly won renomination against an opponent backed by Donald Trump, who sought to punish the speaker for failing to do enough to advance the Big Lie.

If the recall campaign qualifies for the ballot, each party would hold separate primaries ahead of a general election. Vos' 63rd District in the Racine area is solidly Republican turf, so the best way for his conservative detractors to get rid of him may be to deny him the nomination. It only takes a simple plurality to win the primary, though, so a crowded field would likely benefit the incumbent.

Vos, whose 11 years in power makes him the longest-serving speaker in state history, has used his power to continuously block Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from implementing his agenda and responded to Joe Biden's tight 2020 win in Wisconsin by claiming that he believed there was "widespread fraud."

That pronouncement, however, was far from good enough for Trump. The two had a public falling out in 2022 after Vos told Congress that Trump had called him and urged him to retroactively decertify Biden's victory—a move the speaker said was legally impossible.

Trump retaliated by endorsing a previously little-known Republican named Adam Steen. The challenger came very close to defeating Vos, but the speaker hung on with a 51-49 win. (Steen's subsequent general election write-in campaign came nowhere close to succeeding.) While Vos has continued to frustrate Evers, the speaker antagonized election deniers again last year when he wouldn't advance an impeachment effort targeting Wisconsin's top elections official, Meagan Wolfe.

Vos argued in November that, while he wanted Wolfe removed, his party was "nowhere near a consensus" on how to do it. "We need to move forward and talk about the issues that matter to most Wisconsinites and that is not, for most Wisconsinites, obsessing about Meagan Wolfe," he said. But conspiracy theorists were far from done obsessing about Meagan Wolfe and quickly made good on their threats to launch a recall effort.

However, it's not clear exactly which voters would decide Vos' fate. Last month, Evers signed new legislative districts into law to replace gerrymandered Republican maps that the new liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down. (The court has yet to sign off on the new lines.) Last week, though, the justices declined Evers' request to clarify which set of maps would be used for any special elections or recalls that take place before November, when the new districts are otherwise set to go into effect.

Matt Snorek, who is leading the recall effort against Vos, acknowledged this uncertainty to WisPolitics even as he argued that the old boundaries should apply. "It's unconstitutional to allow folks who didn't vote for him in 2022 to remove him," Snorek said, but also noted that the recall campaign sought to collect signatures in both versions of the seat.

The partisan makeup of Vos' constituency didn't change dramatically, but it did become several points bluer: The old district favored Trump 58-40 in 2020, while the revamped version backed him 56-43.

If the previous lines are used, recall organizers will need 6,850 valid signatures, which represents 25% of the votes cast in the old 63rd District in the 2022 race for governor; the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes that it's not clear what this target would be under the new boundaries. Recall expert Joshua Spivak also added that an "unusual feature" in state law makes it easier to put a recall on the ballot: While most states require anyone who fills out a petition to be a registered voter in their district, the Badger State mandates only that signatories be "eligible" voters.

Vos, though, is hoping his enemies have failed to gather enough signatures and says his team plans to review each petition. Scott Bauer of the Associated Press writes that the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission has a total of 31 days to conduct its own review, though its decision can be challenged in court.

If the recall campaign qualifies, a primary would be held six weeks later, with a general election four weeks after that. (In the unlikely event that no primaries are necessary, the recall would take place on the day that primaries would have taken place.)

P.S. While Vos is on the outs with Big Lie spreaders now, the Republican has a long history of advancing conspiracy theories about elections. Vos responded to Democrat John Lehman's 819-vote victory over GOP state Sen. Van Wanggaard in a June 2012 recall by claiming, "Unfortunately, a portion of [the vote] was fraud." The soon-to-be speaker, though, acknowledged he "did not personally witness any voter fraud" in the campaign, which gave Democrats control of the upper chamber for a few months before Republicans won it back that fall.

Election Night

Mississippi: Tuesday is primary night in Mississippi, but none of the state's members of Congress appear to be in any danger of losing either renomination or the general election.

The most eventful race is the GOP primary for the 4th Congressional District, where self-funding perennial candidate Carl Boyanton has been airing animated ads depicting freshman Rep. Mike Ezell as a "busy bee" who's too close to special interests. (One even features a rhyming jingle.)

Boyanton, however, failed to break out of the single digits in either 2020 or 2022, so it would be a surprise if he gave Ezell a hard time on Tuesday. A third candidate, Michael McGill, is also in, though his presence would only matter if no one earned the majority of the vote needed to avert an April 2 runoff.

Senate

MI-Sen: Former Rep. Mike Rogers picked up the "Complete and Total Endorsement" of Donald Trump on Monday, a move that likely shortcircuits any prospect of a strong MAGA-flavored candidate entering the August GOP primary against the NRSC favorite. Rogers himself mulled challenging Trump in this year's presidential race, but the former congressman has spent his Senate bid cozying up to the man whose time he once said had "passed."

MN-Sen: SurveyUSA shows Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar with a 49-33 advantage over Republican Joe Fraser, a banker and Navy veteran who launched a campaign in January. This poll for the ABC affiliate KSTP, which is the first look we've had at this matchup, also shows Joe Biden ahead 42-38 in Minnesota.

NJ-Sen: Rep. Andy Kim won the Ocean County Democratic convention 86-13 on Saturday against former financier Tammy Murphy. Kim represented about half of this longtime GOP bastion under the congressional map that was in place when he won his first two terms in the House, though now it's split between two Republican-held districts, the 2nd and the 4th.

Senate: The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC announced Monday that it has reserved a total of $239 million in TV advertising in four additional states:

  • Arizona: $23 million
  • Michigan: $14 million
  • Pennsylvania: $42 million
  • Wisconsin: $14 million

The super PAC also said it had booked $65 million to defend Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, which is a bit more than the $61 million the GOP firm Medium Buying relayed last month. SMP previously reserved $45 million in Montana and $36 million in Nevada. All seven of these states are held by members of the Democratic caucus, including Arizona, where independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is not seeking reelection.

Governors

IN-Gov: Sen. Mike Braun has publicized a late February internal from Mark It Red that gives him a 41-12 advantage over Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch ahead of the May 7 Republican primary for governor, which is similar to the 40-13 spread the firm found in December.

House

AZ-02: Former Yavapai County Supervisor Jack Smith filed paperwork with the state on Friday for a potential August primary bid against freshman Rep. Eli Crane, who was one of the eight House Republicans who voted to end Kevin McCarthy's speakership last year. Smith, who does not have the most helpful name for a Republican candidate seeking office in 2024, has not said anything publicly about his plans. The filing deadline is April 1.

Politico reported last month that McCarthy's network planned to target Crane in northeastern Arizona's reliably red 1st District. There's no word yet, though, whether the former speaker sees Smith, who resigned from office in 2019 to become state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program, as a strong option.

CA-20: NBC projects that Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong has secured first place in last week's top-two primary to succeed his old boss, former Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Fong, who served as McCarthy's district director before winning a seat in the legislature in 2016, leads with 38% as of Tuesday morning. Another Republican, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, holds a 25-22 advantage over Democrat Marisa Wood for second.

It's not clear how many ballots remain to be tabulated, though. NBC estimates that 65% of the total vote has been counted, but the Associated Press places the proportion at just 62% reporting. The AP has almost 1,500 more votes tallied than NBC even as it reports that a lower percentage of the vote is in.

Note that the first round of the special election for the remaining months of McCarthy's term will take place on March 19. Donald Trump, who like McCarthy backs Fong, carried this Central Valley seat 61-36.

Georgia: Candidate filing closed Friday for Georgia's May 21 primaries, which will mark the first time that the state's new congressional map will be used, and you can find a list of contenders available here. A June 18 runoff will take place in contests where no candidate wins a majority of the vote. The state also conducts a general election runoff between the top two vote-getters on Dec. 3 if no candidate receives a majority on Nov. 5, though that's unlikely to come into play in any congressional races this year.

There was one notable development just ahead of the filing deadline when state Rep. Mandisha Thomas became the third and final Democrat to launch a campaign for the new 6th Congressional District, a safely blue seat in the western Atlanta suburbs. Thomas, though, will face a challenging battle against 7th District Rep. Lucy McBath, a nationally known gun safety activist who ended 2023 with $1 million at her disposal. Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson is also running, but she finished last year with a mere $4,000 banked.

MO-03: State Rep. Justin Hicks announced Monday that he was joining the August Republican primary to replace retiring GOP Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer. The launch comes several months after Max Calfo, a former Jim Jordan staffer who was challenging him for renomination, shared what he claimed were court documents from St. Louis County dating to 2010 in which a woman accused the then-17-year-old Hicks of trying to choke her.

"The restraining order's true," the woman, whose name has not been shared publicly, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Jack Suntrup in November. The county's Circuit Court would not confirm the existence of the records, however, though a spokesperson informed Suntrup that the forms posted by Calfo appeared to match those used by the court at the time. Hicks does not appear to have responded to the allegations, though Calfo claims the state representative is now suing him.

NY-03: Politico reports that the Nassau County Republican Committee has endorsed former Assemblyman Mike LiPetri, who does not appear to have shown any prior public interest in taking on Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi. LePetri ran for the open 2nd District in 2020 under a prior map but lost the primary 63-36 against Andrew Garbarino, his then-colleague and the eventual general election winner.

Politico says that, while the Nassau GOP only announced its support for LiPetri late Sunday, party chair Joe Cairo gave a heads-up to the other notable Republican running in the June primary, Air Force veteran Greg Hach. Hach quickly used that information to blast LiPetri on Friday as an "Anti-Trumper" who was "anointed by the local back-room political machine" and has "financial ties" to George Santos. But even though LiPetri fired off nine different tweets that same day, he only confirmed he was running to Newsday on Monday evening.

SC-01: Donald Trump on Saturday endorsed Rep. Nancy Mace, whom he'd unsuccessfully tried to defeat in the GOP primary last cycle. The congresswoman that Trump called "an absolutely terrible candidate" in 2022, however, has used the ensuing two years to remake herself into a diehard MAGA defender. Mace does not appear to have a similar reconciliation with Kevin McCarthy, whom she voted to oust as speaker in October.

Mace faces a June primary challenge from former state cabinet official Catherine Templeton, whom the incumbent labeled "McCarthy's puppet" last month. Dan Hanlon, who is Mace's former chief of staff, filed FEC paperwork in late January, but he still has not said anything publicly about this race. The candidate filing deadline is on April 1.

TX-23: Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales on Monday unveiled an endorsement from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of the most powerful far-right politicians in Texas, ahead of his May 28 primary runoff against gun maker Brandon Herrera, whom he led 45-25 in the first round of voting. Patrick's stamp of approval could be a welcome asset for Gonzales a year after the state party censured him for, among other things, voting to confirm Joe Biden's victory in the hours after the Jan. 6 attacks.

WA-06: State Sen. Emily Randall on Monday unveiled endorsements from two Democratic congresswomen who represent neighboring House seats, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of the 3rd District and Rep. Marilyn Strickland of the 10th. Retiring Rep. Derek Kilmer, whose seat Randall is seeking, previously endorsed the other major Democrat in the race, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

Ballot Measures

MO Ballot, MO-Sen, MO-Gov: A new poll from the GOP firm Remington Research Group for the local tip-sheet Missouri Scout finds a 42-26 plurality in favor of amending the state constitution "so that future constitutional amendments would need a statewide majority vote and a majority vote in a majority of congressional districts to take effect."

Note that this poll sampled November general election voters even though the proposed constitutional amendment would likely appear on the August primary ballot (should lawmakers actually pass the measure).

In the Senate race, Remington also finds GOP incumbent Josh Hawley outpacing the Democratic frontrunner, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, 53-39. GOP Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft likewise holds a similar 53-36 advantage in a hypothetical race for governor against state House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, though both candidates face contested primaries this summer.

Prosecutors & Sheriffs

Cook County, IL State's Attorney: Attorney Clayton Harris has publicized an endorsement from Rep. Chuy Garcia, a high-profile progressive who is also one of the most prominent Latino politicians in the Chicago area, ahead of next week's Democratic primary.

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Morning Digest: Check out our preview of special elections in Utah and Rhode Island

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

The Daily Kos Elections team will be taking Friday off for the Labor Day weekend. The Live Digest will be back on Tuesday, and the Morning Digest will return on Wednesday. Have a great holiday!

Leading Off

Primary Night: Tuesday is primary night for two vacant House seats on opposite ends of the country: Rhode Island's 1st District, which Democrat David Cicilline departed at the end of May, and Utah's 2nd District, where Republican Chris Stewart remains in office but triggered a special election by notifying Gov. Spencer Cox in June that he would "irrevocably resign" effective the evening of Sept. 15.

Given the respective lean of each district—Joe Biden took Rhode Island's 1st 64-35, while Donald Trump carried Utah's 2nd 57-40—the primaries will likely be dispositive in both cases. It'll still be a little while, though, before either state sends a new member to Congress: The general election in Rhode Island will take place on Nov. 7, while Utah's is set for Nov. 21. Below, we preview both contests.

RI-01: A total of 12 Democrats are on the ballot to replace Cicilline, though one of them, businessman Don Carlson, dropped out over the weekend amid a scandal.

The main contenders for this dark blue constituency are former Biden administration official Gabe Amo, state Sen. Sandra Cano, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, and former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg. Also running are Navy veteran Walter Berbrick, state Rep. Stephen Casey, Providence City Councilman John Goncalves, and state Sen. Ana Quezada.

Amo, Cano, Goncalves, Matos, and Quezada would each have the chance to make history as the first person of color to represent the Ocean State in Congress.

The only poll we've seen in the last month was a mid-August internal for Amo that showed Regunberg leading him 28-19 as Matos and Cano took 11% each. The survey, which found Carlson taking 8%, did not ask about the rest of the field by name and instead found 8% opting for "another candidate not mentioned here." However, there are further indications that Regunberg, who touts endorsements from prominent national progressives like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is the frontrunner going into Tuesday.

Regunberg, who is the nephew of Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider, was on the receiving end of more attacks than any of his opponents at Tuesday's debate. A group called Committee for a Better Rhode Island followed up days later by making Regunberg its target in the first negative TV ad of the entire race, though WPRI says it's only putting $81,000 behind its offensive. The spot attacks the candidate over his May declaration that he would have voted against Biden's debt ceiling deal with Speaker Kevin McCarthy; Regunberg said at Tuesday's debate that he'd have supported the agreement if he'd been the decisive vote.

Amo, for his part, picked up an endorsement Thursday from former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represented prior versions of this seat from 1995 to 2011 but has since moved out of the state. Kennedy, who is the son of the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, also appeared in a commercial for Amo and touted his work in the Biden administration.

Matos, meanwhile, looked like the frontrunner until July, when multiple local election boards asked the police to probe allegations that her campaign had turned in forged signatures in order to get on the ballot. State election authorities have reaffirmed that the lieutenant governor submitted a sufficient number of valid petitions, but the state attorney general's office is continuing to investigate the matter. Matos' allies at EMILY's List and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus remain in her corner, however, as she's benefited from more outside spending than any of her rivals.

Cano has trailed her opponents in fundraising and hasn't received any third-party help, but she has several influential labor groups on her side. The rest of the field has raised little money and hasn't picked up many notable endorsements.

UT-02: The GOP contest to succeed Stewart is a three-way battle between Celeste Maloy, the congressman's former legal counsel; former state Rep. Becky Edwards; and former RNC member Bruce Hough. The winner will face Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who has no intra-party opposition, for a seat located in central and western Salt Lake City and southwestern Utah.

Maloy, who has Stewart's support, earned her spot on the primary ballot by winning the support of delegates at the GOP's convention in June. Just days later, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that she'd last voted in Utah in 2018 before taking a job in D.C. to work for Stewart, which led election officials to move her voter registration to inactive status. Maloy's detractors unsuccessfully argued in court that she'd violated state law because she only became an active voter again after she filed to run for Congress, but they've continued working to portray her as an interloper.

Edwards, meanwhile, infuriated conservatives in 2020 when she endorsed Joe Biden (she has since expressed "regret"), a move she followed by waging a failed primary challenge to far-right Sen. Mike Lee in which she portrayed herself as a more pragmatic option. However, the one poll anyone has released finds voters may not be holding it against her: A mid-August survey from Dan Jones & Associates showed Edwards beating Hough 32-11, with Maloy at 9%. However, half of respondents were undecided, so if this survey is accurate, the race remains up for grabs.

Unlike in Rhode Island, there has been little outside activity in this contest. Hough and Edwards had each spent about $450,000 as of mid-August, while Maloy had spent about half that.

Senate

AZ-Sen: Multiple media outlets reported Wednesday that Blake Masters, who was one of the GOP's very worst Senate nominees last cycle, has decided to try again this year, and Politico says his declaration could come as soon as next week. Masters would join Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb in the primary for the seat held by Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat-turned-independent who still hasn't revealed her 2024 plans.

The Republican that everyone's waiting on, though, is election denier Kari Lake, who Axios previously reported plans to launch in October. She and Masters campaigned together last year by urging voters to back "Lake and Blake," but their relationship is anything but friendly these days. Lake on Sunday responded to the news that Masters would be talking to a local conservative activist by tweeting, "I hope you bring up election fraud, and Election crime. You've been quite silent."

MI-Sen: Following a new report on Thursday from the Detroit News that former Republican Rep. Peter Meijer had formed an exploratory committee ahead of a possible bid for Michigan's open Senate seat next year, the ex-congressman released a statement once again confirming that he's "considering running." The development comes as another former member of Congress, Mike Rogers, is also reportedly preparing to join the GOP primary. Democrats have a multi-way primary of their own, but Rep. Elissa Slotkin has raised far more money and earned more high-profile endorsements than the rest of the field.

MT-Sen: Republican pollster J.L. Partners has shared a recent poll with Semafor that tests next year's primary and general election, though there's no indication about who, if anyone, was their client. The GOP primary portion finds far-right Rep. Matt Rosendale with a wide 52-21 edge over wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy, who is the favorite of establishment Republicans and the NRSC. That result is only modestly better for Sheehy than a June survey from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had found Rosendale up 64-10 right before Sheehy kicked off his campaign.

While Rosendale has yet to formally announce his own campaign, he's recently been acting like he's going to run, and Democrats likely would prefer to face him given that he already lost to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester when this seat was last up in 2018. However, J.L. Partners' poll finds little difference between the two Republicans in a hypothetical 2024 general election: Rosendale leads Tester 46-43 while Sheehy beats the incumbent 46-42. Polling has been very limited here so far, but those numbers are very similar to Rosendale’s 46-41 edge over Tester that GOP pollster OnMessage Inc. found in February.

Governors

KY-Gov: Pluribus News reports that Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear and his allies have reserved $17.3 million in TV time for the remainder of the campaign, compared to $5 million from Republican Daniel Cameron and his backers.

LA-Gov: Conservative independent Hunter Lundy has self-funded more than $1 million to air his first TV ad, which is a minute-long spot that highlights his working-class upbringing and emphasizes his Christian faith. Lundy also calls for raising the minimum wage, investing in education, and holding responsible the "people who wreck our air and water."

Ballot Measures

MO Ballot: Missouri voters could see dueling ballot measures on abortion rights next year after a new group submitted six petitions that would create several exceptions to the state's near-total ban on the procedure, including in cases of rape or fatal fetal abnormalities. One version of the petition would also allow abortion through 12 weeks of pregnancy, while two others would permit it until fetal viability, which is generally viewed as beginning at around 23 to 24 weeks.

However, the proposals, which were put forward by a former Republican political operative and artist named Jamie Corley, have earned the ire of the state's Planned Parenthood affiliate, particularly for their focus on exceptions to Missouri's ban. Yamelsie Rodríguez, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in a statement that Corley's approach "will continue to harm Missourians" and warned that "exceptions have never provided meaningful access."

Reproductive rights activists have been working to qualify their own measure for the 2024 ballot after filing 11 different petitions earlier this year, all of which are more expansive than Corley's proposals. (Proponents will ultimately settle on a single plan.) However, the local Planned Parenthood has taken exception to this push, too: Politico reported in April that the organization had pulled out of the coalition behind the effort, called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, because most of its petitions also impose a fetal viability limit.

Corley is arguing that her more restrictive petitions have a better chance of becoming law. "I have respect for other organizations that are working in this realm," she told KCUR. But, she added, "I would say I think we have a much different view and assessment about what is ultimately passable in Missouri."

Missourians for Constitutional Freedom is also in the midst of a lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over the summary language he drafted for six of the group's petitions.

Ashcroft, who is running for governor, wrote that the measures would "allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice." The ACLU of Missouri, which is leading the challenge, charged that the descriptions are "misleading" and prejudicial." A state court will hold a trial on the dispute on Sept. 11, with the judge promising to deliver a ruling "pretty quick."

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was one of the most powerful Republicans in Arizona just seven years ago, announced Wednesday that he'll run again in 2024 for mayor of the Phoenix suburb of Fountain Hills, the 24,000-person community where incumbent Ginny Dickey beat him 51-49 last year. Arpaio, who is 91, previously lost his 2016 reelection campaign for sheriff, his 2018 primary for U.S. Senate, and the 2020 primary to regain the sheriff's office.