The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● TN-05: Tennessee lawmakers have sent a bill to Gov. Bill Lee that would impose a requirement that House candidates reside in their districts for three years before becoming eligible to run, a move that seems to be aimed at blocking one contender in particular: former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, who is Trump's endorsed candidate for the August Republican primary in the newly gerrymandered 5th District.
The legislation could have a tough time surviving a court challenge, however, because of a 1995 Supreme Court decision holding that states cannot add further qualifications to candidates for Congress that aren't already in the Constitution: namely, a minimum age and length of U.S. citizenship, and residency in the state—but, crucially, not the district—they're seeking to represent.
However, one of the measure's proponents said he hoped that the court would now revisit its earlier ruling, a five-to-four decision that saw swing Justice Anthony Kennedy join four liberal justices in the majority to strike down term-limits laws. On the other side, a well-financed group called Tennessee Conservative PAC says it would sue to stop the bill, though Ortagus herself hasn't said if she'd go to court.
Ortagus moved to Tennessee last year from D.C., and critics have cast her as an interloper. She didn't help her cause last month when, during an appearance on a conservative radio show, she bombed the host's quiz about the new 5th District and state. Many observers have argued that the legislature crafted this bill as an attack on Ortagus, especially since its sponsor, state Sen. Frank Niceley, has made it clear he's not a fan: Niceley said earlier this month, "I'll vote for Trump as long as he lives. But I don't want him coming out here to tell me who to vote for."
Another GOP contender, music video producer Robby Starbuck, has argued that this legislation is meant to harm him as well. However, the former Californian now says that he'd meet the residency requirements of the newest version of the bill.
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● FL Redistricting: As promised, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the new congressional map passed by Florida's GOP-run legislature, which responded by saying it would convene a special session starting April 19 to draw new districts. The Republican leaders of both chambers released a statement saying their goal is to pass a plan that would be "signed by the Governor," suggesting they aren't interested in working with Democrats to craft a veto-proof plan—at least for now.
● MD Redistricting: Maryland's Democratic-run state Senate quickly passed a new congressional map on Tuesday after introducing it the prior evening, with action in the state House likely by Wednesday's court-imposed deadline to enact a remedial redistricting plan.
The new map would return the 1st District to dark-red status by resituating it almost entirely on the conservative Eastern Shore and undoing its jump across the Chesapeake Bay that had it take in blue-leaning turf around the state capital of Annapolis. As a result, the revamped 1st would have voted for Donald Trump by a comfortable 56-42 margin, according to Dave's Redistricting App, instead of giving Joe Biden a 49-48 edge as it did under the Democrats' now-invalidated map. The change would mean smooth sailing for the state's lone Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris.
The latest revisions also make the 6th District, held by Democratic Rep. David Trone, noticeably redder as well: It would have gone 54-44 for Biden, instead of 60-38, and just 47-46 for Hillary Clinton in 2016. The changes appear to be aimed at pleasing the courts, at least in part, by presenting a map that, to the naked eye, simply looks nicer than the one it's replacing. This superficial view that a map ought to appear pleasing can often lead to misleading analysis—we've dubbed the concept a "prettymander"—but even the Supreme Court has objected to election districts on the grounds of their "bizarre shape."
As for the other six districts, they'd all remain safely blue, even though their configurations would all change considerably. But this new map might not see use this year: Tucked in at the end of the legislation is a provision that would revert the state back to the prior map if the court ruling that struck it down is overturned on appeal. It's still not clear whether there will be an appeal, though a spokesperson for Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh said that the legislature's choice to move forward with a new map would not affect any decision on whether to appeal.
● MO Redistricting: On a wide bipartisan vote, the Missouri House sharply rejected a new congressional map that passed the state Senate last week after far-right renegades caved to GOP leaders, despite the fact that the state's candidate filing deadline came and went on Tuesday.
In so doing, the House also voted to establish a conference committee with the Senate to hash out a compromise, but we might not even get that far: One House Republican said he believed that some senators would filibuster any motion for a conference committee—the same tactic hardliners used to hold up passage of the map in the first place. Lawsuits have already been filed asking the courts to step in and draw new districts in the event of a continued impasse.
● OH Redistricting: Ohio's Republican-dominated redistricting commission passed a fourth set of legislative maps late on Monday night on a 4-3 vote by making relatively small adjustments to the maps the state Supreme Court most recently rejected. Just hours before Monday's court-imposed deadline, the commission abandoned efforts to have a bipartisan pair of consultants draw new districts from scratch; by instead approving maps similar to those that were previously struck down, it's courting yet another adverse ruling.
The commission, however, seems to have scored a lucky break on the congressional front, as it appears to have run out the clock on a separate legal challenge to the heavily slanted map it passed in favor of the GOP earlier this month, at least for this year. The state Supreme Court issued a scheduling order on Tuesday that would not see briefing conclude for another two months—well after the state's May 3 primary.
A group of voters backed by national Democrats has continued to argue that the map, which closely resembles a prior iteration that was struck down by the Supreme Court as an illegal partisan gerrymander, should again be invalidated. However, a second group of plaintiffs, led by the Ohio League of Women Voters and represented by the state chapter of ACLU of Ohio, has conceded the matter, saying in a filing that they "do not currently seek relief as regards to the 2022 election."
● MO-Sen: Former state Sen. Scott Sifton said Monday night, just one day before candidate filing was to close, that he was dropping out of the Democratic primary and endorsing philanthropist Trudy Busch Valentine, a first-time candidate who announced her own bid the following day. Busch Valentine is the daughter of the late August Busch Jr., who was instrumental in the success of the St. Louis-based brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, and she previously donated $4 million of her money to St. Louis University's nursing school (now known as the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing). Busch Valentine will face Marine veteran Lucas Kunce in the August primary.
● OH-Sen: Rep. Tim Ryan's campaign says he's launching a $3.3 million opening ad buy for the Democratic primary, and he uses his first spot to repeatedly attack China. "Washington's wasting our time on stupid fights," the congressman says, continuing, "China is out-manufacturing us left and right. Left and right."
● WI-Sen: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes' new internal from Impact Research (formerly known as Anzalone Liszt Grove or ALG) gives him a 38-17 lead over Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry in the August Democratic primary, with state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson at 9% and 8%, respectively. Back in December, the firm found Barnes with a 40-11 advantage against Lasry.
● CT-Gov: Democratic incumbent Ned Lamont uses his first TV spot to talk about how he managed to balance the budget without raising taxes, saying, "We turned a massive budget deficit into a $3 billion surplus. While investing in schools, healthcare, and public safety." The governor continues, "And now we are cutting your car tax and your gas tax."
● GA-Gov: Former Sen. David Perdue is continuing his all-Trump all-the-time advertising strategy for the May GOP primary with a new commercial that uses footage of Trump bashing both incumbent Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams at his Saturday rally.
The spot begins with the GOP master bellowing, "Brian Kemp is a turncoat, he's a coward, he's a complete and total disaster." As the crowd repeatedly boos, Trump eggs on his followers by claiming that the governor was "bullied into a consent decree engineered by Stacey Abrams and allowed massive voter fraud to occur throughout the state of Georgia." The only mention of Perdue in the spot comes afterwards as Trump proclaims that he'll "never surrender to Stacey Abrams and the militant radical left, and with your vote we're going to rescue the state of Georgia from the RINOs."
Meanwhile, Perdue's allies at Georgia Action Fund are spending another $955,000 on TV advertising for him, which AdImpact says takes the group's total to $1.64 million.
● HI-Gov: Civil Beat reports that Lt. Gov. Josh Green has received endorsements from two of the state's most prominent unions, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and Hawaii Government Employees Association, for the August Democratic primary. Several other labor groups, including the Hawaii Firefighters Association, are also behind Green, who has posted huge leads in the few surveys that have been released.
The commercial comes a week after former Rep. Jim Renacci, who is DeWine's most prominent intra-party foe, deployed $104,000 on his own cable ads, which attack the incumbent for "turning his back" on both Trump and Ohio. Renacci's commercial continues by going after DeWine for "mandating masks on our kids" and argues he's been "governing Ohio just like his liberal friends Joe Biden and Andrew Cuomo would." This is the first time we've seen Cuomo appear in a TV spot outside New York since he resigned last year, and it doesn't even allude to the many scandals that resulted in his downfall.
● AK-AL: Former state Sen. John Coghill has announced that he'll compete in the June special top-four primary to succeed his fellow Republican, the late Rep. Don Young. Coghill served for 22 years in the legislature and amassed a number of powerful posts, but the Senate Rules Committee chair lost renomination by 14 votes to Robert Myers in 2020 under the old partisan primary system. Myers, who ran to Coghill's right, said of his tiny win, "I know that this election was not about how much people like me. This election was about how much people hated John Coghill."
● MI-13: Public Policy Polling has surveyed the August Democratic primary for this open seat on behalf of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization, and it finds hedge fund manager John Conyers III leading former Detroit General Counsel Sharon McPhail 19-9, with wealthy state Rep. Shri Thanedar taking third with 7%. The survey, which finds a 43% plurality undecided, was conducted days before Conyers announced his bid.
● MO-01: State Sen. Steve Roberts announced Monday evening that he would challenge freshman Rep. Cori Bush, who is one of the most prominent progressives in Congress, in the August Democratic primary for this safely blue seat in St. Louis. Roberts said of the incumbent, "She made a comment that she wanted to defund the Pentagon. The NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) is a multi-million dollar project that's in my Senate seat, in the 1st Congressional [District], those folks don't have a voice." His campaign also faulted Bush for casting a vote from the left against the Biden administration's infrastructure package.
Roberts himself was accused of sexual assault by two different women in 2015 and 2017, though he was never charged. Bush's team highlighted the allegations after he announced his bid, saying, "Such men do not belong in public service, much less representing the incredible people of St. Louis in Congress."
● PA-17: Navy veteran Chris Deluzio has earned an endorsement from the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, which the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review describes as the "largest labor coalition in the region," for the May Democratic primary for this competitive open seat.
● SD-AG: A committee in South Dakota's GOP-run state House has recommended against impeaching state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges last year for striking and killing a man with his car in September of 2020 but avoided jail time. A majority on the committee found that Ravnsborg had not committed a "crime or other wrongful act involving moral turpitude by virtue or authority of his office," but two Democrats disagreed, saying the attorney general had not been "forthcoming to law enforcement officers during the investigation" into the fatal crash.
The development comes despite an overwhelming vote in favor of the impeachment investigation in November, but the committee may not have the last word. The House will reconvene on April 12, when a simple majority could nevertheless vote to impeach.
● NY-LG: Multiple media outlets report that federal investigators are probing whether Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin had any knowledge of an alleged scheme to make fraudulent contributions to his unsuccessful bid last year for New York City comptroller. The investigation is centered around Gerald Migdol, a real estate investor whom prosecutors charged last year with faking the origin of dozens of donations so that Benjamin's campaign could more easily qualify for public financing.
The lieutenant governor has not been accused of wrongdoing, and his spokesperson says that Benjamin's campaign for comptroller donated the illicit contributions to the city's Campaign Finance Board as soon as it learned about them. However, the New York Times reports that investigators are looking further into whether Benjamin used his previous post in the state Senate to "direct state funding in some way to benefit Mr. Migdol in exchange for the contributions."
Last year, two months after Benjamin lost his bid for comptroller, newly elevated Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed him to fill her previous position as lieutenant governor. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor of New York compete in separate nomination contests before running as a ticket in the general election, but they can choose to campaign together in the primary and urge voters to select them both. Hochul and Benjamin have been running as an unofficial ticket in June's Democratic primary, but the governor's spokesperson on Monday didn't comment when asked if she'd keep Benjamin on as a running mate.