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.
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● AL-Sen: Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he was "withdrawing my endorsement" of Rep. Mo Brooks ahead of the May Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, a move that came after months of stories detailing the GOP master's unhappiness with the congressman' campaign. Trump concluded his not-tweet by saying, "I will be making a new Endorsement in the near future!"
There are two remaining available candidates in the GOP primary that Trump could back: Army veteran Mike Durant and Shelby's choice, former Business Council of Alabama head Katie Boyd Britt. Trump had disparaged Britt as "not in any way qualified" for the Senate back in July, but he's warmed up to her in recent months and, per a CNN report last month, even told her that "he would speak positively of her in private and public appearances."
That same story relayed that Trump saw Durant, whom he derided as "a McCain guy" because he functioned as a surrogate for John McCain's 2008 campaign, as unacceptable. That seems to also be changing, though, as Politico reports that Durant met with Trump on Monday. As for Brooks, who helped foment the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, the Club for Growth responded to Trump's Wednesday announcement by saying it was still sticking with him.
Trump argued he was abandoning the "woke" Brooks because the candidate told an August rally, "There are some people who are despondent about the voter fraud and election theft in 2020. Folks, put that behind you." However, while CNN said last year that Brooks' performance at this event, as well as Trump's brief but friendly conversation with Britt backstage, were what "first sowed frustration" with the congressman inside Trumpworld, few observers believe that those seven-month-old comments from Brooks are the reason Trump is now leaving him for dead.
Instead, almost everyone agreed that Trump decided that Brooks was running a doomed bid and wanted to avoid being embarrassed by his primary defeat. Indeed, CNN reported all the way back in December that Trump, GOP insiders, and even Brooks' allies were unhappy with his weak fundraising and other aspects of his campaign: The candidate responded that month by "reassessing his campaign strategy" and replacing several members of his team, but CNN said last week that this shakeup only granted him a temporary reprieve from Trump's gripes. "He feels he has been more than patient and that Mo hasn't risen to the occasion despite many opportunities to do so," said one unnamed person close to Trump.
But things intensified last week when Trump began to publicly discuss yanking his "Complete and Total" endorsement over the August comments. Brooks responded by saying that Trump had been told "that there are mechanisms by which he could have been returned to the White House in 2021 or in 2022, and it's just not legal." An unnamed Trump advisor told CNN afterwards that a Republican saying that the 2020 election couldn't be overturned represented a "cardinal sin," and that Brooks had just said "the quiet part out loud and it might cost him (Trump's) support." Brooks himself last week used his very first ad of the race to proudly showcase the Jan. 6 speech he delivered to the pro-Trump rally that preceded the day’s violence, but that messaging wasn't enough to keep Trump on his side.
Things got even worse for Brooks on Tuesday when the Republican firm Cygnal released a survey for the Alabama Daily News and Gray Television that showed the former frontrunner in a distant third place. Durant led with 35%, while Britt led Brooks 28-16 for the second spot in an all-but-assured June runoff; last August, before Durant joined the race, the firm showed Brooks crushing Britt 41-17.
There's no word if those ugly numbers influenced Trump, but he announced just a day later that he was finally done backing Brooks. The congressman himself responded with a statement saying, "President Trump asked me to rescind the 2020 elections, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency." He continued, "As a lawyer, I've repeatedly advised President Trump that January 6 was the final election contest verdict and neither the U.S. Constitution nor the U.S. Code permit(s) what President Trump asks. Period." Brooks also declared that Trump has allowed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to "manipulate" him.
● Joining us on The Downballot for this week’s episode is Jessica Post, the president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee—the official arm of the Democratic Party dedicated to winning state legislatures nationwide. Jessica talks with us about how the DLCC picks its targets and helps candidates, the impact of freshly un-gerrymandered maps in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and how Democrats are protecting vulnerable seats in a challenging midterm environment.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also discuss yet another shameful redistricting ruling from the Supreme Court, Donald Trump pulling the plug on Mo Brooks' Senate campaign in Alabama, and a brand-new special election for the top prosecutor's post in America's fourth-largest county. You can listen to The Downballot on all major podcast platforms, and you can find a transcript right here.
● WI Redistricting: The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Wisconsin's new legislative maps in an unsigned "shadow docket" opinion on Wednesday, ruling that the state Supreme Court had violated the Constitution when it selected a map for the state Assembly earlier this month that would increase the number of Black-majority districts in the Milwaukee area from six to seven. However, the high court rejected a separate challenge on different grounds to the state's new congressional map.
As a result, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will now have to either pick new legislative maps or provide further evidence in support of the plans it originally selected, which were submitted by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. But as election law expert Rick Hasen noted, in a piece calling Wednesday's ruling "bizarre on many levels," the U.S. Supreme Court is using the Wisconsin case to "chip away at the Voting Rights Act." That suggests the justices would be hostile to the Evers maps no matter what additional arguments the Wisconsin court might adduce.
The decision also showcases the high court's stark hypocrisy: Six weeks ago, the Supreme Court blocked a lower federal court ruling ordering Alabama to redraw its congressional map in order to create a second Black congressional district, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act—the same law the Wisconsin Supreme Court cited as motivating its choice of maps. At the time, Justice Brett Kavanaugh explained in a concurring opinion that the lower court's order in the Alabama case had come too close to the election for the state to revise its existing map, which included only a single district with a Black majority.
Now it's late March, yet the Supreme Court has nevertheless seen fit to send Wisconsin back to the drawing board. There's simply no legitimate reason for the differing outcomes: The original lower court ruling in Alabama came down four months before the state's primary, while the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision was issued just five months ahead of the primary there. In both cases, however, Republican interests benefit, and the cause of Black representation suffers.
● NC-Sen: Rep. Ted Budd, aka the far-right congressman running for Senate that Trump still backs, is running a spot for the May primary based around his support for finishing Trump's border wall.
● NH-Sen: Bitcoin millionaire Bruce Fenton tells Politico that he's considering entering the September Republican primary to face Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan and would self-fund $5 million if he gets in. Felton adds that he'll decide early next month after, naturally, the Bitcoin 2022 gathering.
● NV-Sen, NV-Gov: The Club for Growth has released a WPA Intelligence survey of the June Republican primary that gives its endorsed Senate candidate, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a wide 57-19 lead over Army veteran Sam Brown.
The Club also takes a look at the race for governor, where it has yet to take sides: WPA shows Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo leading former Sen. Dean Heller 28-22, with North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee at 13%. A recent PPP survey for the Democratic Governors Association had Lombardo ahead with a similar 26%, while Heller and Lee tied with 13% each.
● GA-Gov: Newt Gingrich has waded into his home state's May Republican primary for governor by backing former Sen. David Perdue's intra-party bid against incumbent Brian Kemp.
● MD-Gov: Former Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker has publicized a GQR internal of the twice-delayed Democratic primary, which is now set for July, that shows him trailing state Comptroller Peter Franchot 23-15; former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez and former nonprofit head Wes Moore aren't far behind with 11% and 10%, respectively. Baker, who was the runner up in the 2018 primary, has released these numbers to argue that he's the strongest alternative to Franchot.
On the Republican side, termed-out Gov. Larry Hogan has endorsed former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, whom the Washington Post called his "handpicked candidate" last year.
● PA-Gov: State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman's newest spot for the May Republican primary consists of him calling for the impeachment of Larry Krasner, Philadelphia's reform-minded district attorney.
● CO-08: While Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco initially sought to collect signatures to qualify for the June Democratic primary ballot for this new seat, he didn't end up turning in enough petitions before last week's deadline. Tedesco will instead seek to advance by competing at the April 5 party convention, where he'll need to win the support of at least 30% of the delegates in order to keep his candidacy alive.
The other major Democratic candidate is state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, who did turn in the requisite number of petitions. She's also competing for the party endorsement next month, but she'll make it to the primary ballot as long as she wins at least 10% of the delegates.
● FL-07: Longtime congressional aide Rusty Roberts announced this week that he was entering the Republican primary to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Roberts previously served as chief of staff for John Mica, the Styrofoam-obsessed Republican whom Murphy unseated in 2016. (Politico wrote during that campaign that Mica "obsessively hordes throwaway coffee cups in his office and home, insisting that his companions reuse the same paper or Styrofoam carries because 'it's recyclable!'")
● MO-01: Republican state Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this month that Democratic state Sen. Steve Roberts wants lawmakers to modify the boundaries of the safely blue 1st District to strengthen his chances for a potential primary campaign against Rep. Cori Bush. Roberts rejected Schatz's claim about his interest in shaping redistricting, though he did not deny he was considering a campaign against the high-profile freshman. "Is this on the record or off the record?" he asked a reporter, and when he was informed he was on the record, Roberts simply said he was focused "on my legislative duties."
Roberts appeared in the news again on Monday when The Intercept reported that someone with an IP address in the Missouri Office of Administration edited Roberts' Wikipedia page to delete a section describing how he'd been accused of sexual assault by two different women in 2015 and 2017, though he was never charged. A spokesperson for Roberts denied any knowledge of the edits and also deflected a question about a possible campaign against Bush. Missouri's candidate filing deadline is still set for March 29 even though the GOP-run legislature hasn't yet passed a new congressional map.
● NC-13: Law student Bo Hines uses his first spot for the May Republican primary to talk about his time as a college football player and to inform the viewer that he's Donald Trump's endorsed candidate. The spot features a montage of Hines jumping rope, lifting weights, and, in one weird moment at the 12-second mark, apparently talking to himself in the mirror.
● NJ-11: For the second cycle in a row, former Kinnelon Council President Larry Casha has dropped out of the Republican primary to face Democratic incumbent Mikie Sherrill.
● TN-05: Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles has announced that he's joining the August Republican primary for the open 5th District, which Republicans recently transformed from blue to red by cracking apart the city of Nashville. Ogles is a former state director for the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity, and he launched a primary bid in 2017 against Sen. Bob Corker days before the incumbent decided to retire. Ogles, though, attracted little attention in the new open seat race from the Kochs or anyone else, and he soon dropped out and launched a successful bid for Maury County mayor.
Ogles, who established himself as a loud opponent of Gov. Bill Lee's pandemic measures, responded to Lee's summer declaration that school districts could decide for themselves if a mask mandate would be required in elementary schools by calling for the legislature to hold a special session to address his "continued abuses of power." Ogles also didn't rule out a primary campaign against Lee before the new congressional maps were unveiled, but he soon shifted his focus to the 5th District.
Ogles joins a contest that includes former state House Speaker Beth Harwell; businessman Baxter Lee; retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead; music video producer Robby Starbuck; and Trump's choice, former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. Ortagus' campaign, though, has attracted scorn from plenty of loud conservatives who have cast the recent Tennessee arrival as an outsider.
Ortagus gave her critics some fresh material last month when, during an appearance on Michael Patrick Leahy's conservative radio show, she bombed the host's quiz about the new district and state. Among other things, Ortagus couldn't answer when asked which "three interstate highways" are in the 5th, the names of the four living former Republican governors (she only got Lee's predecessor, Bill Haslam), and the identity of "[o]ne of the most famous NASCAR drivers living today [who] lives in the 5th District and has a large auto dealership in Franklin." (The answer is Darrell Waltrip.)
Each chamber of the state's GOP-dominated legislature has also passed a bill that would impose a three-year residency requirement on congressional candidates, and while its state House sponsor denied it had anything to do with any specific contender, observers were quick to note that it would keep Ortagus off the ballot. However, while the Senate version would take effect this cycle, the House bill wouldn't come into force this year. It likely wouldn't matter what the legislature ends up agreeing to, though, because of a 1995 Supreme Court decision that ruled that states cannot add further qualifications to candidates for Congress that aren't in the U.S. Constitution.
● VT-AL: Sianay Chase Clifford, who is a former aide to Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, announced last week that she was joining the August Democratic primary for Vermont's open House seat and campaigning as "a real progressive option." Chase Clifford, who is 27, moved to the Bay State for college, and she returned to Vermont during the pandemic. The candidate, whose mother is from Liberia, would be the first Black person to represent the state in Congress.
● GA-AG: Donald Trump has endorsed Big Lie proponent John Gordon, who renewed his law license last year to try to help Trump overturn his Georgia defeat, against Attorney General Chris Carr in the May Republican primary. Carr warned his counterparts in other states against joining Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit to throw out the results in Georgia and other states Biden won, and Trump lashed out Tuesday by saying the incumbent did "absolutely nothing" to aid him.
Gordon, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "has little statewide profile," though he does have a close connection to another Trump ally. The paper reports that former Sen. David Perdue, who is trying to deny renomination to Gov. Brian Kemp, lives on property owned by Gordon because his own place is undergoing construction, though Perdue denied he had anything to do with this endorsement.
Carr and Gordon are the only Republican candidates, so this contest will be decided without a runoff. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Jen Jordan is the undisputed frontrunner against attorney Christian Wise Smith.
● ID-AG: The Club for Growth has dropped a survey from WPA Intelligence that shows former Rep. Raúl Labrador, who was one of the far-right's most prominent members during the tea party era, lapping five-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden 35-14 in the May Republican primary. The Club hasn't made an endorsement, though it supported Labrador in his unsuccessful 2018 bid for governor.
● Maricopa County, AZ Attorney: Three more GOP candidates have announced that they'll run in this year's special election to succeed their fellow Republican, soon-to-be-former County Attorney Allister Adel: City of Goodyear Prosecutor Gina Godbehere, attorney James Austin Woods, and prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. Republicans need to turn in just over 4,500 valid signatures by April 4 in order to make the primary ballot; Anni Foster, who is Gov. Doug Ducey's general counsel, launched her own bid earlier this week.
Godbehere on Tuesday earned a supportive tweet from former TV anchor Kari Lake, the far-right conspiracy theorist that Donald Trump is supporting for governor. Woods, for his part, is the son of the late Grant Woods, who served as state attorney general from 1991 to 1999. That link may not be helpful with GOP primary voters, though, as the elder Woods was a vocal Trump critic who became a Democrat in 2018.
Finally, Mitchell is a longtime sex crimes prosecutor who attracted national attention during Brett Kavanaugh's 2018 Supreme Court hearings when the all-male Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee brought her in as a "female assistant" to question him and accuser Christine Blasey Ford. She went on to tell the GOP senators that no "reasonable prosecutor" would prosecute Kavanaugh for sexual assault.
The next year Mitchell temporarily served as Maricopa County attorney after Bill Montgomery resigned to join the state Supreme Court: Both she and Godbehere were named as finalists for the appointment for the final year of his term, but Adel was ultimately selected. Mitchell made news again last month when she was one of the five division chiefs to tell their boss to resign due to serious questions about her sobriety and ability to serve as the county's top prosecutor.
On the Democratic side, 2020 nominee Julie Gunnigle said Tuesday that she'd already collected the requisite petitions in less than 24 hours.