The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● GA Public Service Commission: On Friday, a federal district court ruled that Georgia's system of electing all five members of the Public Service Commission in statewide elections violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The court further blocked officials from holding elections for two seats that were supposed to be on the ballot this fall.
Republican state Attorney General Chris Carr has yet to indicate whether he will appeal, but if the ruling stands, the elections will be postponed until the state's GOP-controlled legislature enacts a new district-based system next year so that Black voters have a chance to elect their chosen candidates in at least some seats.
Although members of the commission, which regulates public utilities, must seek one of the body's five districts (and live there), all voters statewide get to vote for every seat. The plaintiffs pointed out that only one Black candidate, Democrat David Burgess in 2000, has ever won an election for the commission in its 143 year history. All five current commissioners are Republicans, none of whom was the favored candidate of Black voters (the commission's sole Black member, Fitz Johnson, was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2021 and wasn't set to face the voters until this November).
While adopting district-based elections could empower Black voters if a map is fairly drawn, a switch could backfire if Republican legislators are still allowed to gerrymander the lines. GOP lawmakers enacted new commission districts earlier this year that packed Black voters into just one of the five districts while every other seat was at least 58% white and no more than 36% Black.
Republicans consequently would have carried four districts in every recent statewide election, even those they've lost. In fact, Donald Trump would have won a majority of the districts in 2020 by at least 15 points despite losing narrowly overall. It's not clear why Republicans aggressively gerrymandered the new map since district-level elections were not in the offing until the court's ruling, but it's possible GOP leaders anticipated they'd lose this suit.
● CT-Sen: Donald Trump on Thursday evening endorsed his former ambassador to Chile, Leora Levy, days ahead of the GOP primary to take on Democratic incumbent Richard Blumenthal. Trump initially made his proclamation by calling Levy's phone while she was attending a party gathering along with her two intra-party rivals, former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Peter Lumaj. (Levy broadcast his voice through the P.A.) He later put out a statement calling Klarides, who has long been a GOP rising star, "Weak on Crime, Weak on our Military and Vets, and will not be protecting our under siege Second Amendment."
● FL-Gov: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried recently aired a spot faulting Rep. Charlie Crist for appointing an "anti-choice extremist" to the state Supreme Court when he was Florida's Republican governor, and Crist has launched a response ad ahead of their Aug. 23 Democratic primary. “The truth: I vetoed anti-abortion legislation to protect your right to choose,” the congressman tells the audience, adding, “Nikki knows I fought for your right to choose.”
In a separate commercial, Crist’s narrator declares that Fried was “close pals with accused sex trafficker [Rep.] Matt Gaetz.” Politico writes that Fried became friends with Gaetz when he was in the state House and she lobbied for the state’s medical marijuana industry, but she says the two are no longer in contact.
● MI-Gov: NBC reports that the anti-abortion group Right to Life Michigan has reserved $7.8 million in ad time to defeat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Voters in November will also likely decide on a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to an abortion.
● MS-Gov: State House Speaker Philip Gunn has publicly acknowledged that he's considering waging a 2023 primary bid against Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, saying he is in "constant evaluation" about what to do. Magnolia State politicos have been talking about a potential Gunn campaign for over a year, but Mississippi Today writes, "In recent weeks, though, those rumors have cooled off."
● FL-04: St. Pete Polls' new survey for Florida Politics gives state Sen. Aaron Bean a hefty 59-16 lead over Erick Aguilar, a Navy veteran who made news last month for getting ejected from the GOP fundraising platform WinRed, in the Aug. 23 primary.
● MN-05: Minnesota Public Radio reports that a newly established group called Make A Difference MN 05 has launched a $350,000 TV buy to aid former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels in his Tuesday primary battle against Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
● Shelby County, TN District Attorney: Democrats scored a pickup on Thursday in Tennessee's most populous county when former Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy won an eight-year term by unseating Republican incumbent Amy Weirich 56-44.
Shelby County, which is home to Memphis and several of its suburbs, has long been a Democratic bastion in what's become a very red state. However, Weirich, who was appointed by then-Gov. Bill Haslam in 2011, easily won 65-35 in 2014 the last time she was on the ballot. The district attorney, though, made international headlines over the last year by prosecuting a woman with a felony conviction named Pamela Moses for attempting to vote.
As Daniel Nichanian writes in Bolts, Moses, who was also waging a longshot 2019 bid for mayor of Memphis, did not know that the state had permanently banned her from casting a ballot, and her probation officer had mistakenly signed a certificate of restoration to vote. (Moses, who is Black, resides in a state where one in five Black adults cannot vote because of a felony conviction.)
The district attorney's office last year successfully convicted Moses after arguing that she had known she wasn't eligible to vote; Judge Mark Ward sentenced her to six years in prison, declaring, "You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation." However, that wasn't the end of the story.
The Guardian reported earlier this year that the state had learned that Moses had been given wrong instructions about her voting rights days after her certificate was signed. The judge ordered a new trial after this information came to light, but Weirich ultimately decided to dismiss the charges; the district attorney argued that the blame lay with the Tennessee Department of Correction and that her office wasn't at fault. Moses, who still cannot vote, told Bolts afterwards that she believed she'd been prosecuted because of her race and political activism and added, "I think that the goal was to scare people, but it could boomerang."
Mulroy was determined that it would, arguing, "Overcharging and overreach is a theme with this prosecutor and has been for many years." He also faulted Weirich for advocating for a 2014 law that would make it a misdemeanor assault to use drugs while pregnant, saying that it showed how she'd behave once the state banned abortion. (The legislation was not renewed in 2016.)
However, while Shelby County supported Joe Biden 64-30, it was far from certain that enough Democratic voters would show up during the statewide primary to oust their Republican district attorney. In 2014, when Weirich was turning in a landslide victory, approximately 52% of the county's electorate cast a ballot in the GOP primary when Republicans had a competitive Senate primary.
This year, though, neither party had a high-profile statewide primary contest to draw out voters. Ultimately, 63% of Shelby County's voters participated in the Democratic primary for governor, and the bluer electorate helped Mulroy prevail. Ward, the judge who sentenced Moses, also narrowly went down in defeat as well.
Election Result Recaps
● AZ-Gov: The Associated Press has called Tuesday's Republican primary for Kari Lake, a former local TV anchor turned far-right conspiracy theorist. The Trump-backed Lake leads Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who had the support of termed-out Gov. Doug Ducey, 47-43. Lake, whom Ducey said weeks ago was "misleading voters with no evidence," will go up against Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
● AZ-04: The AP has also projected that self-funding restaurant owner Kelly Cooper has defeated former Arizona Bankers Association president Tanya Wheeless, who had the backing of the Congressional Leadership Fund, for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton. Wheeless benefited from $1.5 million in outside support, but she trails Cooper 28-25. Biden would have carried the new 4th District 54-44, while he took Stanton’s existing 9th 61-37.
● TN-05: Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles won Thursday's Republican primary for this newly-gerrymandered seat by defeating former state House Speaker Beth Harwell 37-26. Ogles, who is a former state director for the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity, benefited from spending from groups affiliated with the Club for Growth; the mayor celebrated his win by declaring, "Liberals, we're coming for you."
Ogles will face Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell in the fall in a seat the GOP did everything it could to flip. Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper decided to retire here after the GOP legislature transmuted his seat from a 60-37 Biden district to a 54-43 Trump constituency by cracking the city of Nashville.
● WA-04: The AP has called a general election matchup between incumbent Dan Newhouse and Democrat Doug White, which makes Newhouse the first House Republican to beat a Trump-endorsed intra-party foe after supporting impeachment. (California Rep. David Valadao made it through his own June top-two primary, but Trump did not take sides in that one.) Newhouse is in first with 26%, while White leads 2020 Republican gubernatorial nominee Loren Culp 25-21 for second. Trump would have taken this eastern Washington seat 57-40.
● WA-08: Both 2020 nominee Jesse Jensen and King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn conceded Tuesday's top-two primary to their fellow Republican, 2020 attorney general nominee Matt Larkin, shortly before the AP called the race. Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier was at 48% of the vote on Sunday evening while Larkin led Dunn 17-15; Jensen was in fourth with 13%. Biden would have carried this suburban Seattle constituency 52-45.
● AZ-SoS: The Associated Press has called the Democratic primary for former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who leads House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding 53-47. Fontes will go up against Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem, a QAnon supporter who led the failed effort to overturn Biden's victory and attended the Jan. 6 rally just ahead of the attack on the Capitol.