The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● CA-Sen: Former Google executive Lexi Reese on Thursday announced that she was forming an exploratory committee for a potential campaign to succeed her fellow California Democrat, retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Reese, whose team tells Politico's Christopher Cadelago she'd use a "significant" amount of her own money should she run, added, "I'm going to take the next couple of weeks to make a decision."
Reese's name hadn't previously surfaced in a top-two primary contest between Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff, though she appears to have spent a significant amount of time quietly preparing a campaign. Puck News reports that she "has been actively exploring a Senate run over the last few months," while Cadelago relays that she's already put a team together.
Reese's entrance could make it easier for a Republican to advance to the general election in a dark blue state that's hosted several fall contests between two Democrats. The San Mateo County resident would also end Lee's status as the only serious Democratic candidate who hails from the Bay Area instead of from Southern California, though unlike the longtime East Bay congresswoman, Reese has never run for office before. That last bit may be a tough hurdle to overcome because, despite the massive cost of running for office in America's most populous state, California has rejected several wealthy first-time candidates who wanted the governorship or a Senate seat.
Back in 1998, when the Golden State still held partisan primaries, former Northwest Airlines co-chair Al Checchi broke state records by dropping $40 million of his own money (about $75 million in 2023 dollars) to try and win the Democratic primary for governor. His investment helped him build an early lead in the polls, but Checchi soon found himself trading negative ads against Rep. Jane Harman, who was also deploying some of her fortune.
It also didn't help Checchi that, as CNN wrote over a month before the primary, voters were comparing him to Michael Huffington, a one-term Republican congressman who narrowly lost the 1994 Senate race to Feinstein after doing his own extensive self-funding. Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who had languished in third place for most of the primary, promised "experience money can't buy" and beat Checchi in a 57-20 landslide, a win that set Davis on the path to becoming California's first Democratic governor in 16 years.
Davis’ tenure ended in a 2003 recall where he was replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in a campaign where the superstar spent $10.6 million (nearly $20 million in 2023 dollars). That win made Schwarzenegger the last person to win either of the state’s top posts after doing a serious amount of self-funding, though unlike other wealthy contenders, the soon-to-be “Governator” began his race as a household name.
Checchi in 2010 would acknowledge the limits of his own strategy by griping to the San Francisco Chronicle, "What could you say in a 30-second commercial?" but Republican Meg Whitman that year would air many 30-second ads in her bid to lead the state. The former eBay CEO gave her campaign $144 million ($200 million today), which at the time made her the biggest self-funder in American electoral history. That same cycle saw former HP CEO Carly Fiorina challenge Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, though Fiorina deployed "just" $7 million as she relied more on donors.
But while Republicans were on the offensive that year nationally, the termed-out Schwarzenegger’s terrible approval ratings were too much of an anvil for California Republicans to overcome. Former Gov. Jerry Brown regained his old office by beating Whitman 54-41 the same night that Boxer scored a similar victory against Fiorina.
● IN-Sen: Termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb revealed Thursday that he would stay out of the GOP primary for the Senate, a declaration that comes months after almost everyone stopped seriously wondering if he’d run. (Holcomb himself only made this announcement in the seventh paragraph of an op-ed for the Indianapolis Star bemoaning the state of the federal government.) Far-right Rep. Jim Banks remains the only serious contender for this seat, and there’s no indication that will change.
● WI-Sen: Wealthy businessman Scott Mayer tells The Messenger he’ll decide after Labor Day if he’ll enter the GOP primary to challenge Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin, though he acknowledges he’s not his own first choice to run. Mayer reveals he wanted “someone like” Rep. Mike Gallagher to get in, but he says that “there is really no… awesome people stepping forward” now that the congressman has decided not to go for it. Mayer also reiterated that, while he’d “have to put some of my own money in,” he doesn’t have enough to get by only on self-funding.
● ND-Gov: While Republican Gov. Doug Burgum doesn't appear to have said anything about running for a third term at home in the likely event that his White House hopes go nowhere, a pair of party strategists tell Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin they anticipate the incumbent will be seeking reelection.
There is no shortage of Republicans who could run if this becomes an open seat race, but one of Rubashkin's sources tells him that "nobody is going to do anything until they see if Burgum catches any fire in the presidential race." North Dakota's candidate filing deadline takes place in April, well after most states hold their presidential primaries.
● MI-07: While 2022 GOP nominee Tom Barrett has yet to announce his long-anticipated new campaign, party strategists tell Inside Elections' Erin Covey they believe he will this summer. No other serious Republicans have shown any obvious interest in running for the swing seat that Barrett's last Democratic foe, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, is giving up to run for the Senate; one person mentioned former state House Speaker Tom Leonard as a possible option in the event that Barrett shocks everyone and stays out.
No notable Democrats are running yet either, but Covey says the party has "largely consolidated behind" former state Sen. Curtis Hertel. The Detroit News previously reported that Hertel, who currently serves as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's legislative director, could launch as soon as next month after the state budget is finished.
● RI-01: Former state official Nick Autiello has launched the very first TV ad of the Sept. 5 special Democratic primary, and WPRI says he's spending less than $20,000 for a week-long buy. The spot features Autiello declaring, "It's time we ban assault weapons, make healthcare affordable, and deliver for Rhode Island."
● UT-02: Candidate filing closed Wednesday for the special election to succeed outgoing Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, who will "irrevocably resign" effective the evening of Sept. 15, in a gerrymandered seat that Donald Trump carried 57-40, and the state has a list of contenders here. The party primaries will take place Sept. 5―a full 10 days before Stewart is to leave office―and the general election for Nov. 21, dates the legislature also approved in a special session Wednesday.
Contenders have two routes to make the ballot for their respective party primary. The first option is to turn in 7,000 valid signatures by July 5, while the other alternative is to win their party's convention: The GOP's convention is set for June 24, while Democrats will gather four days later.
Thirteen Republicans filed overall, and since eight are only going with the convention option, the field will be significantly smaller soon. That's because, under the state's special election law, only one person can advance out of the event instead of the maximum of two that are normally allowed. The Republicans who are only going with the convention option are:
- State party activist Kathleen Anderson
- Businessman Quin Denning
- Academic Henry Eyring
- State party official Jordan Hess
- Leeds Mayor Bill Hoster
- former state House Speaker Greg Hughes
- Perennial candidate Ty Jensen
- Stewart legal counsel Celeste Maloy
The remaining five are trying both routes:
- former state Rep. Becky Edwards
- Navy veteran Scott Hatfield
- RNC member Bruce Hough
- Some Dude Remy Bubba Kush
- former congressional staffer Scott Reber
While candidates have the option to bypass the convention entirely and just collect signatures, none will this time. (Edwards originally checked off the box on her filing form saying she'd do this, but she later crossed it out and went with convention and signatures.) The petition process can cause headaches even for well-funded candidates, though, so some of these people may struggle to continue their campaigns if they lose the convention.
Three Democrats are also in, and all three are just competing at their convention: state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, businessman Guy Warner, and perennial candidate Archie Williams. Another six nonaligned contenders are running but, despite some early chatter, 2022 Senate candidate Evan McMullin is not one of them.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Aurora, CO Mayor: Nonprofit head Rob Andrews this week became the second Democrat to launch a bid against Republican Mayor Mike Coffman in a Nov. 7 nonpartisan contest where it takes just a simple plurality to win. Coffman's only declared foe up until this point was City Councilmember Juan Marcano, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who started running in January. The filing deadline isn't until Aug. 29.
Andrews, who would be the first Black person elected to lead this suburb of 384,000 people just east of Denver, was briefly part of the Calgary Stampeders' 2007 roster, but that Canadian Football League team released him during the preseason. Andrews, who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council in Colorado Springs in 2009, now leads a nonprofit that describes its mission as "empower[ing] the unemployed and those with barriers to employment to become self-supporting through job preparation and placement."
● Houston, TX Mayor: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on Thursday publicized a high-profile endorsement from her fellow Democrat, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, ahead of the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary for mayor. Hidalgo leads a county that includes about 98% of Houston (in Texas, county judges are the top executive offices rather than judicial posts), with the rest split between Ford Bend and Montgomery counties.
Jackson Lee's main foe in the race to succeed termed-out incumbent Sylvester Turner appears to be another Democrat, state Sen. John Whitmire. The field also includes City Councilman Robert Gallegos; bond investor Gilbert Garcia; attorney Lee Kaplan; and former City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who lost the 2020 Democratic primary for Senate. Attorney Tony Buzbee, a self-funding independent who lost the 2019 runoff to Turner 56-44, also showed interest in another campaign in April, but he's since signed on to represent Attorney General Ken Paxton at the Republican's upcoming impeachment trial. The candidate filing deadline isn't until Aug. 21, and it's not clear if Paxton's trial before the state Senate will have started by then.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Palm Beach County, FL State Attorney: Alexcia Cox, who is the top deputy to retiring incumbent Dave Aronberg, announced Thursday that she'd compete in next year's Democratic primary to succeed him. Cox would be both the first Black person and first woman to serve as prosecutor for this populous South Florida county.