The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● ND Ballot: North Dakota officials on Friday gave the green light to advocates for term limits to start collecting signatures for a proposed amendment to the state constitution to bar anyone older than 80 from representing the state in Congress. The measure could, however, have a tough time surviving a court challenge, though it joins a long history of conservatives testing the limits of a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that states cannot add further qualifications to candidates for Congress beyond those outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
That 1995 ruling, known as U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, struck down an Arkansas ballot initiative that tried to impose term limits on members of the state's congressional delegation. The court's 5-4 decision, which saw swing Justice Anthony Kennedy join the four liberal justices, explained that the only restrictions states could impose on congressional candidates were the ones spelled out in the nation's governing document: namely, a minimum (but not maximum) age, a minimum period of U.S. citizenship, and residency in the state they're seeking to represent at the time of election. Clarence Thomas, however, wrote a dissent that three fellow conservatives joined, saying he would have allowed Arkansas' law to stand.
Last year, Republicans in Tennessee decided to test whether Thomas' views might now hold sway on the Supreme Court, whose membership is now considerably further to the right than it was three decades ago. The GOP-dominated state legislature imposed a requirement that U.S. House candidates must have voted in the previous three statewide general elections to be eligible to run, a move that seemed to be aimed at blocking Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, from seeking the open 5th Congressional District. (Ortagus had only relocated from D.C. in 2021.)
The bill didn't apply last cycle because Gov. Bill Lee only allowed it to become law after the candidate filing deadline had passed. However, the state GOP's executive committee later used a different state law to eject Ortagus and two others from the ballot for not meeting the party's definition of a "bona fide" Republican. At least two of the plan's proponents, though, had much more than 2022 in mind, as they explicitly said they hoped the Supreme Court would overturn U.S. Term Limits. First, though, a candidate impacted by the law would have to file suit, which has not yet happened.
In North Dakota, meanwhile, organizers are seeking to collect signatures to impose a different requirement that, like Tennessee's, also isn't found in the Constitution. The proposed amendment would forbid anyone who would turn 81 before the end of their term from being elected or appointed to Congress. The measure also includes a section saying that, in the event that the courts block this maximum age limit, a "ballot advisory" would appear next to the names of congressional candidates on the ballot informing voters how old they'd be when their term would end.
The effort is being spearheaded by Jared Hendrix, a GOP party official who played a key role in electing and defending members of the legislature's far-right "Bastiat Caucus" (named after the 19th century French economist who championed free markets) and last year helped pass a term-limits measure applying to the governor and state legislators. Hendrix tells the Associated Press' Jack Dura that his group is aiming to get the measure on the June primary ballot rather than wait for next year's general election, saying, "Our plan is to aggressively and quickly gather signatures before cold weather hits."
Hendrix and his allies have until Feb. 12 to turn in about 31,200 signatures, a figure that represents 4% of the state's population (North Dakota is the only state that doesn't require voter registration) in order to meet his timeline; if they submit in their petitions later, the amendment wouldn't go before voters until November 2024. No matter what, though, it would only take a simple majority to pass the proposal at the ballot box.
Congressional elections could experience some major changes coast to coast if the Supreme Court were to chart a new course, but it wouldn't immediately impact any of the three members of the Peace Garden State's all-GOP delegation. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer are 66 and 62, respectively, while Rep. Kelly Armstrong is 46. Of course, many members of Congress have served (or currently serve) into their 80s and even beyond: Texas Rep. Ralph Hall was 91 when his career came to an end, while South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond remained in office until he was 100.
● NV-Sen: An unnamed source tells NBC that Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who had a turbulent tenure as Trump's ambassador to Iceland from 2019 to 2021, plans to launch a bid against Democratic Sen. Jackie Rosen sometime early next month. Gunter would join a GOP primary that includes Army veteran Sam Brown, whose kickoff this month came as welcome news to the NRSC, and Jim Marchant, the Big Lie spreader who narrowly lost last year's race for Nevada secretary of state.
● NC-Gov: Though term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper had previously declined to endorse Josh Stein to succeed him next year, he told a recent gathering of the Democratic Governors Association that one of his priorities is "getting North Carolina's Attorney General Josh Stein elected," in the words of Punchbowl News. Stein remains the only notable Democrat in the race for governor, but last month, Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan, who is retiring from his current post, said that he's considering a bid. Cooper's comments might therefore be a subtle message that he'd prefer to see Stein avoid any competition in the primary, or that he'd be willing to help him secure the nomination if he does get company.
● CA-22: Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado on Wednesday filed FEC paperwork for a potential campaign against GOP Rep. David Valadao. Hurtado would join a top-two primary that includes 2022 nominee Rudy Salas, who lost a tight and expensive race last time: Politico notes that Salas enjoys the support of the number-three Democrat in the House, 33rd District Rep. Pete Aguilar, for his second try.
● CO-03: Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout announced Wednesday that she'll seek the Democratic nod to take on far-right Lauren Boebert, a move that comes months after 2022 nominee Adam Frisch launched his second bid after coming shockingly close to victory. Stout was elected in 2019 to the city council for this 68,000-person community where Trump won roughly 56-41 in 2020, and her colleagues chose her to serve a second one-year term as mayor in April. Colorado Public Radio also adds that she has "developed a reputation as a moderate lawmaker."
Stout will be in for an expensive fight against Frisch, who hauled in a massive $2.6 million during the second quarter of the year and finished June with $2.5 million in the bank. Boebert, who fended Frisch off by all of 546 votes last year, took in $810,000 during this time and had $1.4 million on-hand. Donald Trump carried this western Colorado district 53-45, but Democrats are hoping Boebert's tough race last year means she'll be in for another serious fight in 2024.
● NH-01: Former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott on Thursday became the first notable Republican to launch a campaign against Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, an announcement that came less than a year after Prescott badly lost the 2022 primary for this eastern New Hampshire constituency. He's likely to once again face intra-party opposition, though, in a longtime swing seat that favored Joe Biden 52-46.
Prescott is a longtime Granite State politician who won reelection to the state Senate in the 2002 general election by fending off none other than now-Sen. Maggie Hassan; Hassan unseated him in their 2004 rematch, but Prescott reclaimed his seat by riding the 2010 red wave to victory in their third and final bout. (Hassan herself bounced back in 2012 by winning the governorship.) Prescott made the jump to the powerful Executive Council in 2016 and narrowly won re-election two years later before retiring in 2020.
Prescott tried to return to elected office last cycle when he kicked off his campaign to take on Pappas, who had served with him on the Executive Council during his first term, just three-and-a-half months before the primary, but things did not go well. The candidate, whose $350,000 loan accounted for most of his budget, struggled to gain traction in a 10-way contest dominated by 2020 nominee Matt Mowers and election denier Karoline Leavitt: Leavitt beat out Mowers 34-25, with former TV reporter Gail Huff Brown taking 17% and Prescott lagging in fourth place with just 10%. Republicans hoped that another red wave would wash up, but Pappas instead beat Leavitt by a convincing 54-46.
● NY-22: GOP Rep. Brandon Williams' office said Wednesday that the congressman was back in the hospital due to a "complication" following the heart bypass surgery he received two weeks ago. Williams' team added that he would be absent from the House "for the remainder of the week."
● RI-01: The State Board of Elections put out a statement Wednesday saying it would not review any signatures from Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos' campaign, declaring, "Local boards did their job, verifying signatures, rejecting signatures, identifying a subset of rejected signatures as potentially fraudulent, and referring these to state and local law enforcement for criminal investigation." The state attorney general's office is investigating allegations that Matos' team submitted fraudulent petitions, but the Board of Elections argues she still turned in more than enough valid signatures to appear on the crowded Sept. 6 special Democratic primary ballot.
Meanwhile, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg has begun what his team tells WPRI's Ted Nesi is a $300,000 TV buy through Election Day, which is the most that anyone has committed to spending on the airwaves. Regunberg's two inaugural spots (here and here) tout him as an effective progressive who "took on the old guard" and touts his support for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. The latter ad also informs viewers that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is backing Regunberg, an endorsement that became public the same day the spots debuted.
Nesi relays that Matos and former Biden administration official Gabe Amo, who each began their own opening buys, have spent or booked $280,000 and $215,000, respectively. Nesi adds that a fourth candidate, clean energy investor Don Carlson has increased his broadcast TV budget to $240,000 and will start advertising on Tuesday rather than in mid-August as he originally planned. Navy veteran Walter Berbrick has yet to launch any spots, though he did secure an endorsement from VoteVets this week.
Secretaries of State
● OR-SoS: State Treasurer Tobias Read, who lost last year's Democratic primary for governor to Tina Kotek 56-32, this week became the first notable candidate to launch a bid for secretary of state. The post is held by LaVonne Griffin-Valade, whom Kotek appointed in late June after Democratic incumbent Shemia Fagan resigned in May following her admission that she'd been doing paid consulting work for a cannabis company at a time when her office was finishing an audit into how the state regulates such businesses. The Oregon Capitol Chronicle writes that Griffin-Valade "has said she doesn't plan to run for a full term," though there's no quote from her.
Because Oregon is one of a few states that lack a lieutenant governor’s office, the secretary of state is normally first in line to succeed the governor if the latter office becomes vacant. However, because that provision only applies to elected secretaries, Read took over the top spot in the line of succession once Fagan resigned, and if he’s elected secretary of state next year, he would remain first in line despite switching offices.
● ME Ballot: Democratic Gov. Janet Mills unexpectedly announced Wednesday that a referendum to replace Maine's current state flag with one that was in use from 1901 to 1909 will take place in November 2024 rather than this fall. Mills was able to delay the referendum by not signing or vetoing the bill authorizing the vote, a move that ensured it would only take effect when the legislature reconvenes in January. "Rather than sign the bill and rush the question to ballot in little more than three months, she will … allow time for robust public debate and discussion on all sides of the issue," her team explained.
Maine's existing flag features, in the words of the Associated Press, "the state's coat of arms, which includes a pine tree, a moose, a seafarer and a lumberjack, against a blue background." The 1901 design, by contrast, shows just a green pine tree and blue star across a yellow backdrop, which proponents argue makes for a more distinctive image. Critics of the existing flag also argue that the design is far too cluttered.
However, as the Boston Globe recently explained, the fight over what flag to fly goes far beyond aesthetic preferences. "They want to take the farmer and the fisherman off the flag, to disappear them," a supporter of the status quo told the paper, continuing, "and to me that’s like what’s been done to the lobstermen and the fishermen in real life, over-regulating them and making it harder if not impossible to make a living."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: The University of Houston is out with the first poll anyone has released since Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee launched her campaign four months ago, and it finds that, while she's well-positioned to advance to a runoff with state Sen. John Whitmire, she'd be the underdog against her fellow Democrat in a second round.
The school first looks at the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner and has Whitmire and Jackson Lee taking 34% and 32%, respectively, with former METRO board chair Gilbert Garcia a very distant third with just 3%. U of H, though, shows Whitmire defeating the congresswoman 51-33 in a runoff. (The date has not yet been scheduled.)
While both the frontrunners are longtime Democratic officeholders in this blue city, the school shows Whitmer, who has sided with the GOP on multiple votes against bail reform, winning over Republican voters by an astounding 88-2 as independents back him 60-18. Jackson Lee, who reliably votes with her party in D.C., carries Democrats 55-28, but U of H says that's far from enough.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Former city economic development chief Matt Wiltshire and state Sen. Jeff Yarbro each earned a big-name endorsement Wednesday with about a week to go before the Aug. 4 nonpartisan primary to succeed retiring Mayor John Cooper. In Wiltshire's corner is Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, of whom the Nashville Banner writes, "If there is any vestige of a political machine left in the county, it belongs to Hall."
Yarbro, meanwhile, has the support of former Rep. Jim Cooper, who represented the entire city in Congress from 2003 until he left office early this year after Republican mapmakers passed an aggressive new gerrymander. Cooper is the brother of the current mayor, who has not yet taken sides. A GBAO Strategies survey taken July 17-19 for the Tennessee Laborers PAC, which doesn't appear to have taken sides in the crowded contest, also finds both Wiltshire and Yarbro locked in a tight race along with GOP strategist Alice Rolli for the second spot in the all-but-certain Sept. 14 runoff.
Council member Freddie O'Connell, who has emphasized his opposition to John Cooper's successful drive this year to fund a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans, is a clear first with 21%. Rolli, who is the only notable Republican in the running, holds a tiny 13-12 edge over Yarbro for second, with Wiltshire at 10%. State Sen. Heidi Campbell and Council member Sharon Hurt respectively take 8% and 6%, with 4% going to Davidson County Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoite.
We've seen just one other survey this month, a Music City Research survey taken July 5-6 that put O'Connell at 22% as Wiltshire led Rolli 17-13 for second. As we've noted before, that pollster is affiliated with a firm run by one of O'Connell's supporters, fellow Metro Council member Dave Rosenberg: Rosenberg told us earlier this month that this survey was paid for by a "private entity" that, as far as he was aware, was not backing or opposing anyone.
● Wichita, KS Mayor: Campaign finance reports are in ahead of Tuesday's nonpartisan primary for mayor, and former TV reporter Lily Wu outpaced Democratic incumbent Brandon Whipple and the other contenders in the period spanning Jan. 1 through July 20. The two candidates who earn the most votes next week will compete in the Nov. 7 general election.
Wu, who switched her party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian last year, hauled in $207,000 thanks in large part to what KMUW's Kylie Cameron says are big donations from "prominent Wichita business leaders," and she finished with $88,000 available for the home stretch. Wu also has the support of Americans for Prosperity, which is part of the Wichita-reared Koch family's conservative political network (Koch Industries remains headquartered here); however, since these reports don't cover outside spending, it's not clear what it's doing to aid her.
GOP City Council member Bryan Frye, meanwhile, outraised Celeste Racette, a Democrat turned independent who leads a group advocating for the historic performance venue Century II, $93,000 to $39,000, and he went into the final weeks with a $26,000 to $4,000 cash-on-hand advantage. Whipple, by contrast, brought in $35,000, while he had $28,000 in the bank.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Cook County, IL State's Attorney: Eileen O'Neill Burke, who retired this month as a local appellate court justice, announced this week that she was joining next year's party primary to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring incumbent Kim Foxx, as the top prosecutor for America's second-most populous county. Burke, who pitched herself as "a steady hand at the wheel," is the second candidate to launch after attorney Clayton Harris, who has the backing of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.