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.

Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast

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

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.

Ad Roundup

Campaign Action

Morning Digest: Bookmark our new 2024 calendar of primary dates and filing deadlines

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

Primary Calendar: Daily Kos Elections is pleased to unveil our 2024 primary calendar, where you'll find a complete list of major-party filing deadlines, primaries, and runoffs for all 50 states. We also include the dates of each presidential primary, which often take place months before the state's downballot nomination contests. Sometimes, though, the two coincide, which frequently leads to higher-than-normal primary turnout.

One of the things we pay careful attention to at Daily Kos Elections is each state's candidate filing deadline, since it represents the point at which prospective candidates need to decide whether or not they'll actually run for office. The first deadline of the cycle was on Friday in Alabama, where a brand-new congressional map will be used for the first time.

That gives us the opportunity to run down the state of play for the state's key races, something we'll do as each state's filing deadline passes. And several are coming up soon: Arkansas is next on Nov. 14, while Illinois, California, Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio all have deadlines next month.

Filing season doesn't end, though, until July 19 in Louisiana, which traditionally brings up the rear. (Louisiana holds an all-party primary on Nov. 5, which is the date of the general election, rather than separate partisan primaries.) Some precise dates are not yet set such as the filing deadline for Georgia, which likely will be sometime in early March, so we'll update our calendar as soon as they are.

We also include important notes about those deadlines. Nebraska, for example, has a unique law that requires any incumbents, regardless of whether they are seeking reelection or another office, to file by Feb. 15; the deadline for everyone else is March 1. We also list states where party conventions are important for determining ballot access, winnowing the field, or officially picking nominees.

Finally, we provide details about which states require primary runoffs, including what percentage of the vote is needed in each state to trigger a second round of voting. For instance, in Georgia, a runoff is needed if no candidate takes a majority of the vote, while in North Carolina, runoffs are only conducted if no one takes more than 30%—and then only if the runner-up requests one.

The 2024 downballot primary season officially kicks off on March 5 (Super Tuesday), with Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas leading the way. Some primary dates could change, though. For instance, while Massachusetts is currently set for Sept. 17―the very last partisan primary in the nation―the state House passed a bill Wednesday to move it to Sept. 3.

The state Senate and Gov. Maura Healey still need to assent, but there's good reason to think they will. As the Boston Globe notes, the legislature has routinely bumped up the date over the last decade since late primaries interfere with federal laws that require mail ballots to be sent to overseas voters 45 days before a general election. (Legislation setting a permanent earlier date has yet to pass.) We'll update our calendar when Massachusetts finalizes its plans, and we'll do the same for any other adjustments to the calendar elsewhere.

There's a lot to explore, so you should check out—and bookmark—our calendar for all the details. You can also find a sortable version here.

Senate

NJ-Sen: The New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein writes that First Lady Tammy Murphy will announce in the coming week that she'll seek the Senate seat held by her fellow Democrat, indicted incumbent Bob Menendez. Murphy would join Rep. Andy Kim in the June 4 primary; Menendez, who is set to go on trial the month before, hasn't announced his plans yet, though Wildstein writes that "few expect" him to run again.

Wildstein also reports that longtime South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross will likely support Murphy. Norcross' brother, Rep. Donald Norcross, didn't rule out running himself in late September, but we can probably cross his name off the potential candidate list now.

OH-Sen: The liberal firm Data for Progress tests Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown against four Republican foes:

  • 46-46 vs. Secretary of State Frank LaRose
  • 47-46 vs. state Sen. Matt Dolan
  • 47-44 vs. businessman Bernie Moreno
  • 48-43 vs. Some Dude Joel Mutchler

DPF tells us it has no client for this survey.

WI-Sen: NRSC chair Steve Daines told Punchbowl News that rich guy Eric Hovde is his top choice to oppose Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin. No major candidates have launched bids here yet, and that may not change for a while: Unnamed sources predicted that Hovde would launch sometime next year.

House

AL-01: Due to the creation of Alabama's new 2nd Congressional District (see just below), two Republican incumbents will face off for the right to represent the neighboring 1st District, Reps. Barry Moore and Jerry Carl. The revised 1st, which stretches from the Gulf Coast in the west to Dothan in the east, is a deep red, heavily white district, so whoever survives the GOP primary will be assured of another term in the House. The loser will go home.

The two incumbents, who are both white, are both intensely conservative, though Moore may be even more extreme. While both men voted against certifying Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump in 2020, Moore went even further in inflaming Trump supporters following the Jan. 6 attacks. [I]t was a Black police officer who shot the white female veteran," he tweeted of rioter Ashli Babbit, who was shot attempting to breach a hallway adjacent to the House chamber.

Moore, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, could also earn the backing of the deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which aided him in his initial bid for the prior version of the 2nd District in 2020 while also seeking to thwart Carl that same year. But Carl, who was elected to the old 1st District, does have one notable advantage: He represents 59% of the population of the redrawn 1st versus 41% for Moore, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

Alabama’s primary is March 5, though an April 2 runoff is required should no candidate win a majority of the vote. However, since Carl and Moore were the only two to file, their race will be settled in the first round.

AL-02: Alabama is poised to send two Black Democrats to Congress for the first time ever, thanks to a brand new court-ordered 2nd District that's designed to bring the state into compliance with the Voting Rights Act. The new open seat has inspired a large field of hopefuls to join the race, including 13 Democrats and eight Republicans, according to AL.com's Mike Cason.

One major name, however, had a last-minute change of heart. State Sen. Kirk Hatcher, who had announced a bid late last month, said on Friday that he would not file for the race after all. His decision means that the Democratic primary will feature no prominent candidates from the city of Montgomery, which anchors one end of the redrawn district. (The new-look 2nd runs east-west across the state to include most of the rural Black Belt, reaching down to take in Mobile along the Gulf Coast in Alabama's southwestern corner.)

That still leaves five Democratic lawmakers seeking the seat, including one who entered just before the filing deadline, state House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels. Like several other contenders, Daniels represents a district a ways away from the one he's now hoping to represent: His Huntsville-based seat is nearly 200 miles from Montgomery. Daniels, however, grew up in Bullock County, one of the Black Belt counties now in the 2nd, which he has said gives him an understanding of rural communities that other candidates lack.

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, meanwhile, represents Birmingham, which forms the heart of the state's other Black-majority district, the 7th. (There, veteran Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell faces minimal opposition in her bid for reelection; see more below.) Givan says that she, too, has ties to the district, though she seemed less concerned about the issue. "I feel I'm just as qualified to run for this seat as anybody else," Cason reports she said at her campaign kickoff, "whether I live here in Montgomery, or whether I live across the street, or up the street, or back the street, or anywhere else."

Another Birmingham-area legislator, state Sen. Merika Coleman, pointed to her itinerant upbringing as a child of a military veteran. Coleman said that although she was not "indigenous" to her district in the legislature, "most people would never know that because I have fought the good fight" for her constituents, according to AL.com's Roy Johnson.

The other two lawmakers in the mix do actually serve parts of the 2nd District. State Rep. Jeremy Gray, best known for spearheading the repeal of Alabama's ban on yoga in public schools, represents a seat at the far eastern end of the state, though his hometown of Opelika is just outside the 2nd. Finally, state Rep. Napoleon Bracy hails from Prichard, a city just outside of Mobile. That makes him the only elected official from the region in the primary.

But he's not the only notable Mobile-area Democrat in the race: Shomari Figures, who recently stepped down from a position with the Justice Department, joined the contest the day before the filing deadline. Figures is the son of state Sen. Vivian Figures, a prominent Mobile politician who has been in public office for three decades and had considered a bid herself.

The 2nd was created specifically to give African American voters the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate—almost certainly a Black Democrat, like all of the contenders mentioned above. To that end, the district is now home to a 51% Black majority and would have voted for Joe Biden by a 56-43 margin, according to Dave's Redistricting App. Given Alabama's history of racially polarized voting, that will make the Democratic nominee the heavy favorite in next year's general election.

But that hasn't stopped a number of Republicans from hoping they can pull off an unlikely upset. The GOP field includes two politicians, state Sen. Greg Albritton and former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker, both of whom are white. Another late entrant was former NFL defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who was a star for the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide before playing professionally for nine seasons; Gilberry is Black.

AL-07: State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton has opted against a primary challenge to Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell in the 7th District, despite saying in September that he was "looking forward" to just such a campaign, according to AL.com's Roy Johnson. When he announced he was considering a bid, Singleton told the Alabama Daily News, "I want the big fish." But when the filing deadline came and went, Singleton's name was nowhere to be found on the menu. Sewell should have no problem winning another term in the majority-Black 7th, which would have voted for Joe Biden 64-35, per Dave's Redistricting App.

CO-04: State Rep. Richard Holtorf declared Thursday that he was entering the June GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. Ken Buck in this reliably red eastern Colorado constituency. Holtorf formed an exploratory committee back in September before the incumbent announced that he wouldn't run again, but the state representative isn't done trashing his would-be opponent. "Ken Buck let us down when he failed to push for the Trump agenda," declared Holtorf.

Holtorf, who cosponsored a resolution last year calling for a "full forensic audit of the 2020 and 2021 elections in Colorado," has also made it clear exactly what he thinks of Buck's anger with Republicans who refuse to accept Joe Biden's win. He previously took Buck to task for condemning a letter from local Republicans accusing the federal government of violating the rights of Jan. 6 defendants, as well as Buck's opposition to his party's fervor to impeach Biden. "Why is he on CNN and MSNBC?" Holtorf asked in September, "I don't think the message he is explaining represents the sentiment of the district."

Holtorf, by contrast, made national news in 2021 when he called a Latino colleague "Buckwheat," claiming later that he didn't know of the racist origins of the word. Holtorf again attracted unwanted attention again the next year when he accidentally dropped his gun in the state capitol while rushing to a vote, an episode that one observer called "reckless and scary."

FL-20: The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday that it was investigating Democratic Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, though it did not include any details about what it was looking into. A spokesman for Cherfilus-McCormick, who represents a safely blue seat in South Florida, only said the congresswoman was "committed to compliance and will work to see that the matter is resolved."

OH-02: Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup's Thursday evening retirement announcement unexpectedly set off an open-seat race for Ohio's 2nd District, a longtime conservative bastion in the eastern Cincinnati suburbs. Donald Trump took this constituency 72-27, so whoever wins a plurality in the March 19 GOP primary should have no trouble holding it. But because the filing deadline is Dec. 20, Wenstrup's potential successors have only a few weeks to make up their minds.

Wenstrup himself got to Congress after pulling off a major primary upset against the infamous Rep. Jean Schmidt in 2012, when he made his second bid for office. Wenstrup, who worked as an orthopedic surgeon, was awarded a Bronze Star by the Army for his service as a combat surgeon in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. He also had a small, albeit apolitical, fanbase back in southern Ohio: When Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Kiesewetter asked which local physicians fit the nickname "Dr. McDreamy" from "Grey's Anatomy," some readers submitted Wenstrup's name.

Wenstrup entered the officially nonpartisan 2009 contest for mayor of Cincinnati but lost to Democratic incumbent Mark Malloy, albeit by a respectable 54-46 margin. Though he said he didn't have any plans to enter another race, he would later tell the Enquirer his feelings changed after a religious retreat in early 2011. "One of the themes of the retreat was, 'What are you going to do with the rest of your life?'" he'd recount the next year. "I felt Congress was the place to be. It was the place where I could make a difference, and I wanted to go for it."

The incumbent he decided to challenge in the 2012 primary, though, seemed secure despite a rough tenure in office. Schmidt had struggled to win her initial 2005 special election against Democrat Paul Hackett months, even though George W. Bush had decisively carried the 2nd District—a poor performance she followed up with weak victories in both the 2006 and 2008 general elections. However, the woman nicknamed "Mean Jean" by her many enemies finally had an easy time during the 2010 red wave, suggesting that she had at last turned a corner.

The ultraconservative Schmidt, though, managed to alienate her base when she gave President Barack Obama a kiss on the cheek at the president's State of the Union address in 2012, a gesture that played badly in the tea party era. The House Ethics Committee had also determined that Schmidt had improperly taken $500,000 in legal services from a Turkish group.

On top of that, redistricting left Schmidt with a seat that was about a quarter new to her. A new super PAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which had the stated goal of denying renomination to incumbents from both parties, got involved with a $50,000 radio and phone campaign attacking the congresswoman.

But it was still a major surprise when Wenstrup, who didn't air a single TV ad, racked up a 49-43 win that March—a result that made Schmidt the first member of Congress to lose reelection that cycle. "Jean has always had some tough races, but she's always sort of hung on and won, so I guess I expected that again," fellow Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told Roll Call after the votes were tallied. "It just wasn't on my radar screen."

Observers realized in retrospect that it hadn't been on Schmidt's radar screen either. The congresswoman had gone on the air only in the final days of the race and even spent the morning of the primary in D.C. rather than campaigning at home. "She just didn't work it or take this seriously," one national GOP source told Politico hours after the dust had settled. (Schmidt eventually resurrected her career by winning a state House seat in 2020.) Wenstrup, unlike the congresswoman he'd just beaten, had no trouble in the general election, and he never struggled to hold the 2nd.

Wenstrup attracted national attention in 2017, when he treated Rep. Steve Scalise immediately after a gunman shot the Louisianan at practice for that year's congressional baseball game. "Happened to have Brad Wenstrup on the field that day, and he was one of the first to come to my side," Scalise would say when he returned to Congress months later. "Who would've thought that God would've put Brad out there on that field with me because the tourniquet he applied―many will tell you―saved my life so that I could actually make it to the hospital in time with all the blood loss."

Wenstrup would later sign on to the lawsuit alleging "unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election," though he'd ultimately vote to recognize Joe Biden's win in the hours after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The congressman expressed interest a few weeks later in running to fill the seat held by retiring Sen. Rob Portman, but he ultimately decided to seek what would be his final term in the House.

WA-06, WA-Gov: Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced Friday that she was ending her uphill bid for governor and would instead run for the seat held by Rep. Derek Kilmer, a fellow Democrat who announced his retirement the day before. Franz served on the city council for Bainbridge Island, which is located in the 6th, from 2008 to 2011, though the Seattle Times writes that she's since registered to vote outside the district in Seattle. However, Franz's announcement says she lives in Kilmer's district in Grays Harbor County.

On the GOP side, state Sen. Drew MacEwen told the paper Friday that he was forming an exploratory committee. This seat backed Joe Biden 57-40, though Democrats will want to keep an eye out to make sure two Republicans don't advance past the August top-two primary.

Attorneys General

NC-AG: Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry unexpectedly announced Friday she would seek the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Deberry will take on Rep. Jeff Jackson, who until now had no serious opposition in the March primary to replace their fellow Democrat, gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein. The winner will likely take on far-right Rep. Dan Bishop, who still has no major opponents in the GOP contest.

Deberry was elected in 2018 to become the top prosecutor for Durham County, which is the bluest in the state, and she won again last year. Deberry, who would be the first Black woman to hold one of the 10 statewide offices that are part of the North Carolina Council of State, has touted herself as a "progressive prosecutor."

Prosecutors and Sheriffs

Snohomish County, WA Sheriff: Susanna Johnson declared victory Thursday evening over hard-right Sheriff Adam Fortney after more ballots were tabulated from Nov. 7's officially nonpartisan race. Johnson led 51-48, a margin of almost 5,400 votes, with heraldnet.com saying there just 500 ballots left "plus any mail-in ballots still en route." Fortney had the county GOP's support, while Johnson had the support of several Democratic groups.

Fortney was elected to this post in 2019, and he spent the first months of his tenure refusing to enforce Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee's public health rules. He's also rehired deputies accused of wrongdoing, including one fired for an unjustified killing. Johnson, who would be the first woman to hold this post, told Bolts Magazine the return of these deputies inspired her to run, arguing it's led to constituents becoming "terrified of the cops."

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: Former Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby was convicted Thursday evening on two counts of perjury, and each carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Mosby last year took third place in her Democratic primary against the eventual winner, Ivan Bates.

Prosecutors argued that Mosby lied when she submitted paperwork to withdraw $90,000 from Baltimore's Deferred Compensation Plan during the pandemic, as she checked the box saying she'd suffered "adverse financial consequences" when her salary actually rose. Mosby's team insisted that the travel business she founded had been forced to close, but prosecutors made the case that it never had any employees, clients, or income. Mosby still awaits trial for allegedly filing false mortgage applications.