The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● Redistricting: On Thursday, the Supreme Court's Republican majority dealt a historic defeat to redistricting reformers when it ruled 5-4 that challenges to partisan gerrymandering could not be adjudicated under the U.S. Constitution, pushing the next battles over these maps to the states. Immediately afterward, in a fractured opinion, the court punted on whether the Trump administration could weaponize the census against Democrats and voters of color, sending the case back to the administration to come up with a new justification for adding the question.
By blocking any federal court limits on partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court has now opened up the floodgates for a wave of even more extreme gerrymandering. As a result, the court has given its blessing to a system that has disproportionately allowed Republicans to lock in enduring advantages at both the federal and the state levels.
In the census case, smoking-gun documents revealed the citizenship question is designed to undermine the representation of Democrats and people of color in redistricting, but the Supreme Court has by no means foreclosed the possibility of ultimately allowing it. Instead, the court's Republican justices have set up a second fight over whether the Trump administration can come up with a better rationale for adding it—one that gives Chief Justice John Roberts, who has always been concerned with his personal reputation and that of the court, a stronger veneer of plausible deniability that he isn't eviscerating the rule of law in a plot to entrench permanent Republican rule.
The two cases under review dealt with congressional maps from a pair of states: a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland and a Republican gerrymander in North Carolina. Holding that there was no workable standard to determine when such maps go too far despite smoking gun admissions from the offending parties, the Supreme Court's partisan Republican majority overturned two lower court decisions that had thrown out both maps last year.
The Supreme Court had repeatedly held since the 1980s that partisan gerrymandering could theoretically violate the Constitution but had never actually invalidated any particular map on such grounds, saying it lacked a standard to decide when to do so. The district courts that heard both cases were nevertheless able to come up with a set of applicable standards and struck down both maps in 2018, but the Supreme Court's reversal of those rulings precludes any further challenges to partisan gerrymandering under the U.S. Constitution.
The damage will be felt beyond just North Carolina and Maryland, though: While waiting for a resolution to this case, lower federal courts had struck down Republican gerrymanders in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin under standards similar to those relied on in North Carolina. These rulings will soon be swiftly overturned.
But this isn't the end of the line for court cases against partisan gerrymandering: Plaintiffs will have to pursue them at the state level and argue them under protections contained in state constitutions, which almost universally guarantee the right to vote.
That's precisely the approach Democrats took in Pennsylvania last year, with great success. After gaining a majority on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, Democrats attacked the GOP's extreme congressional gerrymander under the state constitution. The court replaced the map with fairer lines that led to a much more equitable partisan balance in the state's House delegation following the 2018 midterms.
The same outcome is also likely in North Carolina, where the Democratic-majority Supreme Court appears poised to follow suit by striking down the GOP's legislative gerrymanders. Any state with a progressive-oriented supreme court could likewise follow the same path.
Democrats will also need to wage this fight at the ballot box. Democrats can block future gerrymanders by winning key governorships and state legislative chambers, and they can also put forward ballot initiatives to ban gerrymandering, as they have in several states. Lastly, House Democrats passed the For the People Act in March, which would reform congressional redistricting nationally. Mitch McConnell has sneered that he'll never bring the bill up for a vote, but a future Democratic president and Senate could pass it into law.
The Supreme Court could have chosen to strike a vital blow in the battle to reign in partisan gerrymandering, but they did the opposite on Thursday. But the fight isn't over, and proponents of fair maps still have avenues to fight back.
● IA-Sen: On Thursday, retired Navy Adm. Michael Franken told Iowa Starting Line that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Sen. Joni Ernst. Franken said that, if he has his family's support, he could announce as early as July. The DSCC and many state Democratic leaders are supporting businesswoman Theresa Greenfield and Franken acknowledged, "She's got a big head start." However, Franken argued that he could win a general election with Ernst.
● KS-Sen: Businessman Dave Lindstrom, who formerly played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970s and 1980s, announced that he would seek the GOP nod for this open seat.
Lindstrom was the lieutenant governor nominee on the GOP's unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial ticket, and he was elected to the Johnson County Commission in 2004 and 2008. He currently serves as chair of the Kansas Turnpike Authority, which owns and maintains the state's major toll road. Lindstrom joins state Treasurer Jake LaTurner in the primary to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts.
● ME-Sen: Public defender Bre "Bee" Kidman has been running for the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins for a while, and although Kidman faces long odds against DSCC-backed state House Speaker Sara Gideon, Kidman's candidacy is groundbreaking in an unusual way: They're the first gender non-binary candidate for Senate. Indeed, Kidman successfully convinced the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to allow them and any future non-binary candidates to file for office using the prefix "Mx." instead of the traditional "Mrs., Ms., or Mr." Kidman didn't even need to resort to a lawsuit after officials simply updated the filing system upon their request.
● KY-Gov: The RGA's state affiliate, Putting Kentucky First, is out with two new TV spots ahead of this November's general election. Their first ad features a clip of Donald Trump telling a rally that GOP incumbent Matt Bevin is "a terrific man and a terrific governor." The narrator then links Democrat Andy Beshear to Hillary Clinton and accuses him of becoming "part of the radical resistance suing to stop Trump's agenda." The spot doesn't provide any examples of Beshear trying to undermine Trump in court: Instead, a large picture of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the GOP's new favorite punching bag, fills the screen.
The RGA's second commercial once again tries to connect Beshear to a disgraced former top aide named Tim Longmeyer. As we've noted before, Longmeyer was sentenced to prison last year for accepting bribes, saying he'd donated some of his bribe money to Beshear's last campaign. However, no evidence has ever surfaced indicating Beshear knew of the bribery; in addition, Beshear donated the $14,000 remaining in that campaign account to the good-government group Common Cause to make amends for what Longmeyer had done (it's unclear how much bribe money Longmeyer actually gave). None of this, of course, is stopping the RGA from insisting that Beshear "can't be trusted."
The RGA began airing its first spots right after the primary concluded a month ago, while Beshear and his allies have not run TV ads since he won the Democratic nod.
● LA-Gov: Medium Buying reports that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will launch a $111,000 TV ad campaign that will last from July 8 to July 21. Edwards has aired a few spots before this, but Medium characterizes this as the governor's first "big TV spending."
● MO-Gov: Lauren Gepford, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that state Auditor Nicole Galloway plans to challenge GOP Gov. Mike Parson. Galloway has not yet publicly said she's interested in running, and Gepford said she wasn't sure when an announcement would happen.
Galloway, who is the only statewide Democrat left in Missouri, may not have a clear path through the primary if she runs. Back in January, state Sen. Scott Sifton said he intended to run for governor, though he didn't commit to anything at the time. However, Sifton hasn't jumped in yet, and he declined to comment about his plans this week when the Post-Dispatch contacted him.
● CA-50: Conservative commentator Rory Riley-Topping told CNN this week that GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is under indictment for campaign finance fraud, groped her in 2014.
Riley-Topping, who was a House staffer at the time, recounted that she was at a bar following the NRCC's annual dinner that year and said Hunter approached her there. She said that the congressman, who seemed drunk to her, "told me that he wanted to talk to me about Agent Orange, which is an issue the committee was dealing with at the time. I politely said, 'Great. I'll get in touch with your staff.'"
She continued, "[H]e kind of leaned in and said, 'No, I want to talk to you about it,' and had reached over and pulled himself in very close with his hand on my behind." Hunter, Riley-Topping said, made her feel "very uncomfortable," prompting her to "very awkwardly move away." She went on to say that she quickly approached then-Rep. Jon Runyan and told him, "This is gross. This is what happened: Duncan Hunter just grabbed my ass. I don't want to be here anymore."
Riley-Topping says she didn't report the incident at the time, explaining, "This kind of stuff happens all the time. Even though it was something that felt inappropriate, it also unfortunately didn't seem unusual and I felt I was not physically injured, I wasn't raped." However, she said she stopped working for the House a few months later because of Hunter's actions that night.
Hunter is currently awaiting trial in September for allegedly illegally using campaign money for his own personal uses, including to finance five different affairs, and neither his office nor his attorney has commented about Riley-Topping's allegations. Roll Call reporters encountered Hunter at the House on Thursday and asked him if he had any response, to which he replied, "No, total baloney." When they asked Hunter why he characterized the allegations this way, he responded, "Because it's not true." CNN also reached out to Runyan, who left Congress at the beginning of 2015, but he has not yet said anything publicly.
● CO-03: On Thursday, state Rep. Donald Valdez announced that he would seek the Democratic nod to face GOP Rep. Scott Tipton. Valdez joins 2018 nominee Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost to Tipton 52-44, in the primary, and another notable Democrat is also eyeing the race. State Senate President Leroy Garcia told the Colorado Sun's Jesse Paul that he's had "conversations" about running, though he declined to say more.
Valdez has represented a seat in the Pueblo area since early 2017, and he's often voted against his party. Paul says that this year, Valdez "voted against 14 of the 460 bills Democratic-led chamber brought to a vote," more than all but one other Democrat in the 41-member caucus.
Valdez notably opposed bringing Colorado into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and voted against a "red flag" bill that allows judges to confiscate firearms from those whom they deem are a danger to themselves or to others. Valdez also opposed a major oil and gas regulation bill that Pail writes both directs "state officials to focus primarily on health and safety when approving new oil and gas permits" and also gives communities more of a say over local drilling. All three bills were signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
Garcia is a Marine veteran who was elected to the state House in 2012. Two years later, Garcia ran to reclaim a Pueblo-area Senate seat that his party had lost in a 2013 NRA-backed recall campaign. Garcia decisively beat Republican George Rivera 55-45, and Republicans didn't field a candidate against him four years later.
Democrats also retook the Senate in 2018, a win that gave them control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature for the first time in four years. However, Garcia was a pretty low-profile figure during the recent legislative session as other Democratic leaders sought to enact new progressive legislation, and he notably opposed the red flag bill.
Whoever wins the Democratic nod will be in for a tough race against Tipton. Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, which includes that western part of the state, backed Trump 52-40, and according to our preliminary calculations, Republican Walker Stapleton beat Polis in this seat last year by a 50-46 margin as he was losing 53-43 statewide.
● MI-03: On Thursday, freshman state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis announced that she would challenge Rep. Justin Amash in the GOP primary. Fellow state Rep. Jim Lower and Afghanistan veteran Tom Norton are already competing here, and they could split the anti-Amash vote enough to allow the incumbent to win renomination with just a plurality of the vote.
● NC-03: Pediatrician Joan Perry is out with another TV spot ahead of the July 9 GOP primary runoff, and the National Journal reports that the size-of-the-buy is $33,000. Perry, sporting a white lab coat, pitches herself as a "pediatrician, not a politician" who supports the Trump agenda. She then tells the audience she's being "falsely attacked by my opponent and his insider friends." Perry doesn't mention state Rep. Greg Murphy by name but says he's "terrified of a strong conservative woman who's beholden to no one except God and you. And they should be."
● NM-03: EMILY's List has endorsed attorney Teresa Leger de Fernandez in the crowded Democratic primary for this open seat in northern New Mexico.
● OH-01: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Jason Williams reports that Air Force combat veteran Nikki Foster will seek the Democratic nod to take on GOP Rep. Steve Chabot. Foster, who is an executive at GE Aviation, has not yet confirmed that she's in, though. Healthcare executive Kate Schroder also reportedly plans to challenge Chabot in this 51-45 Trump seat, and while she also hasn't publicly said she's running, Williams says she'll announce July 9.
Back in March, Williams reported that the DCCC was talking to Foster about running. However, there's no indication that national Democrats have a preference between her and Schroder, and Williams writes, "The party likes that both Schroder and Foster can play the outsider role. Neither candidate has previously held an elected seat." Foster ran for office last year against a GOP incumbent in a state House seat that Trump had carried by 60-35, and she lost 61-39.
State Rep. Brigid Kelly has occasionally been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate, but the Enquirer says that, while the DCCC spoke to her, she wasn't interested.
● UT-04: Utah Policy reports that GOP state Rep. Kim Coleman will announce a campaign against Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams sometime in "the coming weeks." A number of Republicans have expressed interest in running for this suburban Salt Lake City seat, but Coleman would be the first candidate to jump in. Utah Policy also adds that there are "rumblings" that former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman is also considering getting in. However, Tolman backed McAdams over GOP incumbent Mia Love last year, so he could be a tough sell for primary voters.
Coleman, who represents a portion of Salt Lake County, attracted some attention during this year's legislative session by introducing a bill that would make it considerably easier for communities to secede and form new counties. It's been 100 years since Utah created a new county, but Coleman's legislation came about as some conservatives called for new jurisdictions to be formed out of San Juan and Salt Lake Counties.
Coleman, citing her own Salt Lake County, pitched her bill by arguing that "sometimes that government gets so large that it ceases to be responsive to the people." This reasoning, though, could hardly apply to San Juan County, which has a population of just 17,000. However, Coleman's bill came about just months after Election Day, where Navajo candidates won a majority on the commission for the first time ever in this majority-Native American county.
That result came about months after a federal court, after ruling that white Republicans had illegally gerrymandered the county commission and school board districts to suppress the power of Navajo voters, redrew the lines. Soon after Election Day Republicans, including local state Rep. Phil Lyman, began proposing that the heavily white areas in San Juan County split and form their own new county and take their tax base with them, but the session ended without Coleman's bill going anywhere.
● Houston, TX Mayor: A number of candidates are already challenging Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner in this November's mayoral contest, and former Houston City Councilor Sue Lovell says she's likely to run as well. The filing deadline is in late August.
Lovell has been involved in local LGBT causes for decades going back to 1979, when she was part of the leadership of the Houston Gay Political Caucus when it helped defeat a city councilor who loudly opposed LGBT rights. Lovell was later president of the group during the 1985 mayoral election when former Mayor Louie Welch, who infamously declared that one way to stop the spread of AIDS was to "shoot the queers," unsuccessfully ran to reclaim his old office as an ally of the "Straight Slate."
Lovell won a citywide council seat herself in 2003 and left office in early 2012. Lovell hasn't run for office since then, though Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg picked her to lead government affairs in early 2017.