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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● California: The California Democratic Party held its annual convention over the weekend and issued endorsements in almost every House race ahead of June's top-two primary. While most of these get awarded to incumbents, a wide variety of candidates running for Democratic-held open seats or seeking to flip Republican districts were also beneficiaries.
That roster includes:
- CA-01: former Foreign Service Officer Max Steiner
- CA-03: physician Kermit Jones
- CA-05: attorney Mike Barkley
- CA-13: Assemblyman Adam Gray
- CA-15: Assemblyman Kevin Mullin
- CA-20: teacher Marisa Wood
- CA-22: Assemblyman Rudy Salas
- CA-23: activist Derek Marshall
- CA-27: former Assemblywoman Christy Smith
- CA-37: state Sen. Sydney Kamlager
- CA-40: physician Asif Mahmood
- CA-45: community college trustee Jay Chen
- CA-48: former Santee City Councilman Stephen Houlahan
The party, unsurprisingly, also backed every one of its House members running for re-election. Most of the delegation doesn’t face any serious intra-party opposition, though Rep. Jimmy Gomez may be in for a difficult fight in the safely blue 34th District in Los Angeles. Gomes faces a rematch against former prosecutor David Kim, who held him to a surprisingly close 53-47 win in the 2020 all-Democratic general election.
Despite the party's endorsement, several of the races listed above still feature competitive battles to serve as the Democratic standard-bearer. Among them is the contest to succeed retiring Rep. Jackie Speier in the safely blue 15th District where Mullin, who already had the incumbent's backing, faces San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa and Burlingame Councilmember Emily Beach.
Another one to watch is the contest for the 27th District in Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley where Smith needs to get past Navy veteran Quaye Quartey before she can concentrate on her rematch against Republican Rep. Mike Garcia. Others to keep an eye on are the 13th in the Central Valley and the 37th around Los Angeles, which are both open Democratic-held seats.
Democrats also declined to endorse in two other congressional districts, the swingy 41st and the safely blue 42nd. In the 41st, three Democrats are hoping to face longtime Republican Rep. Ken Calvert in the Riverside southern suburbs. One of them, former federal prosecutor Will Rollins, outpaced teacher Brandon Mosely 58-33 at the convention (engineer Shrina Kurani took just 9% of the delegates), which was just shy of the 60% that he needed to win the endorsement. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia came even closer in the 42nd, but his 59.5-36.9 showing against Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia wasn't quite enough to get him the party's backing.
So what exactly does the state party's nod actually do? Most visibly, endorsees are listed by name in a special section of the voter guide that each county sends to all voters, which is a bit like having someone else pay for a mailer to every voter in their district. That can be a real boon in expensive contests in a state where it usually costs quite a lot to advertise, especially since most voters have the luxury of consulting these guides while they fill out their ballots at home in this all-mail state.
Candidates who fail to earn the party's endorsement certainly can and do win regardless, but a 2015 study found that they're at a disadvantage. Researchers analyzed California's 2012 primaries and found that, after controlling for candidate strength, those who earned the Democratic endorsement did "somewhere between seven and 15 points" better than those without it.
● NC, PA Redistricting: The Supreme Court turned back GOP requests that it block new court-imposed congressional maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania in a pair of rulings on Monday, ensuring that those districts will be used in November. However, a dissent by Justice Samuel Alito in the North Carolina case showcased agreement with the extremist legal theory advanced by both sets of challengers—one that would profoundly unravel democracy at the state level.
This theory, known as the "independent state legislature doctrine," is based on a specious reading of the Constitution that holds that state legislatures are "supreme against all other actors that might run elections," as election law expert Rick Hasen has put it. This means that lawmakers’ decisions regarding federal elections cannot be checked by any other branch of state government—including state courts interpreting their own state constitutions.
Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, said he believed it was "likely" Republicans would prevail on their claim that the North Carolina Supreme Court could not reject congressional maps passed by the legislature. A fourth far-right justice, Brett Kavanaugh, also signaled his support for these claims in a separate opinion but said it was too close to the election to intervene in this particular case.
Another conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett, has yet to say where she stands on the matter, but either way, the court is very close to granting absolute power to state legislatures when it comes to running congressional elections, including not just redistricting but voter registration and voting itself.
● NH Redistricting: A committee in New Hampshire's Republican-run state Senate has finally voted to advance a long-stalled congressional map, two months after it was passed by the state House. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu had asked lawmakers to alter the map, which would gerrymander the 1st District to make it more favorable for the GOP, and instead craft lines that would make both of the state's districts competitive, but legislators did not heed his request, and the governor has not threatened to veto their plan.
● MO-Sen: Attorney General Eric Schmitt's allies at Protect Missouri Values are airing two new 15-second ads (here and here) for the August GOP primary praising him as an ardent conservative.
● NV-Sen: Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto has launched her first TV ads (here and here), and AdImpact reports that she's spending at least $224,000 on this opening buy. Both spots star people in the hospitality industry praising the senator for securing pandemic relief money at a time when few people were traveling to the state.
● OH-Sen: Punchbowl News reports that Winning For Women, a conservative organization that has long aspired to be the Mirror Universe version of EMILY's List, is spending $1.4 million on an ad campaign supporting former state party chair Jane Timken ahead of the May Republican primary. The commercial features Dave Johnson, the head of the Columbia County GOP, praising Timken as "a true Trump conservative, an America first conservative."
● OK-Sen-B: A prominent Oklahoma lawyer has filed a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court seeking to block the November special election to replace Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, saying that Gov. Kevin Stitt cannot call an election until the incumbent actually vacates his seat. Inhofe sent a letter to Secretary of State Brian Bingman last month saying he'd resign as of Jan. 3, but attorney Stephen Jones, who once represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, argues in his complaint that the 17th Amendment prohibits holding an election for a vacancy that is merely prospective.
Jones further notes that Inhofe could backtrack on his pledge and choose to remain in office (his term doesn't end until 2027), despite the senator's claim that his promise to resign is "irrevocable," since there'd be no way to enforce such a promise. It would therefore be "absurd and wholly unreasonable," says Jones, to hold a special election for a seat that may never become vacant.
Despite Jones' arguments, Oklahoma has permitted this practice for quite some time: In early 2014, then-Sen. Tom Coburn announced he'd resign at the end of that year, two years before his term was to expire, prompting a special election that fall. Likewise, Inhofe's predecessor, Democrat David Boren, said in the spring of 1994 that he'd leave office later that year—again, with two more years to go—in order to accept the presidency of the University of Oklahoma, which also triggered a special election that November. But Jones' biggest difficulty may be proving that he has legal standing to bring the case, which would require showing he'll suffer a concrete injury if this year's special is allowed to proceed.
For now, though, the special is on, and former Trump White House staffer Alex Gray announced Tuesday that he was entering the June Republican primary. Gray, who was chief of staff for the National Security Council, joins a field that includes Rep. Markwayne Mullin, state Sen. Nathan Dahm, and Luke Holland, who resigned as Inhofe's chief of staff to run with his boss' endorsement. However, both Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and former Rep. J.C. Watts made it known this week that they'd skip this race.
● PA-Sen: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is up with his first TV ad airing on broadcast TV, which Ad Impact says is part of the $1.48 million buy he has running through the May Democratic primary. After the narrator highlights how Fetterman successfully ran for mayor of Braddock "to stop the violence and help people," a local social worker praises him for having "brought out the best in people in Braddock, he gave people hope."
● NY-Gov: A newly created group called Empire Results is spending $567,000 on an ad campaign portraying Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul as soft-on-crime for not fixing New York's "so-called bail reform" law or standing up to Manhattan's new reform-minded District Attorney Alvin Bragg. While that sounds like the sort of messaging that Republicans routinely run against Democrats, the Times Union reports that the organization's media consultant spent 20 years working for Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is one of the governor's June primary foes. Suozzi has been airing his own spots that also use Bragg as a foil.
● RGA: Politico reports that the Republican Governors Association has booked a total of $31.4 million in ad time in five states, which makes it the first major outside group we've seen reserve general election commercials for any races. The breakdowns are below, along with any information about what day each ad campaign is set to start:
- Arizona: $10.2 million (Aug. 3)
- Kansas: $3.5 million
- Michigan: $3.5 million
- Nevada: $8 million (Sept. 7)
- Wisconsin: $6.2 million (Sept. 7)
Republicans are working to hold Arizona, where Gov. Doug Ducey is termed-out, while Democratic incumbents are running for re-election in the other four states.
We’ll likely see the RGA and its counterparts at the DGA spending money in considerably more states, though that doesn’t necessarily mean either group will be airing commercials in each battleground. That’s because some states, such as Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas, have no contribution limits, so major outside groups often decide to simply send millions directly to their nominees.
● CA-03: Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has earned an endorsement from Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, who chose to campaign for the new 5th District rather than here, ahead of the June top-two primary. McClintock currently represents 58% of the 3rd (compared to 41% of the 5th), a constituency in the Sacramento eastern suburbs that Trump would have carried by a small 50-48 margin.
● CA-41: Republican state Sen. Melissa Melendez on Monday filed paperwork with the Riverside County Registrar of Voters for a potential intra-party bid against 15-term Rep. Ken Calvert in the June top-two primary. She told The Desert Sun the next day that she'd "have further comments once the filing deadline closes on Friday," but she sounds very much like she plans to take him on. Melendez said, "I have immense respect for my opponent; however, when Ken Calvert was first elected to Congress, I was in the military serving my country during Operation Desert Storm. Since then, two of my five children have gone on to serve in the U.S. Navy, yet our representation in Washington has remained the same."
Meanwhile on the Democratic side, former federal prosecutor Will Rollins earned an endorsement from former Sen. Barbara Boxer who, according to his campaign, lives in this suburban Riverside constituency. Donald Trump would have carried the new 41st by a narrow 50-49 margin, but it's possible that two Republicans will advance to the general election and deny Team Blue a pickup opportunity.
● FL-22: Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz has publicized endorsements from 50 current or former elected officials including state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who initially considered seeking the Democratic nomination herself, and former Rep. Robert Wexler, who represented a previous version of this constituency from 1997 to 2010.
● GA-07: Protect Our Future, a super PAC backed by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, is out with the first spot in its planned $2 million ad campaign for the May Democratic primary in support of Rep. Lucy McBath. As the congresswoman is shown visiting her son's grave, the narrator tells the audience, "Lucy McBath's overcome the toughest challenges. From losing her son Jordan to senseless gun violence, to surviving breast cancer twice." The rest of the commercial touts her as a congresswoman who fights to protect healthcare and programs like Social Security.
● MN-05: Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, who last month expressed interest in challenging Rep. Ilhan Omar either in the Democratic primary or as an independent, has filed FEC paperwork for a potential bid as a Democrat.
● OK-02: Two more Republicans have announced that they'll enter the June primary for this safely red seat in the eastern part of the state: Chris Schiller, who serves as CEO of the local Economy Pharmacy chain, and state party chair John Bennett.
Bennett is a former state representative who, among many other things, called Islam "a cancer that needs to be cut out" and wrote a Facebook post saying of Hilary Clinton, "2 words ... firing squad" (he later said this was "sarcasm"). He took over as head of the state party last year, and he made national news a few months later when he endorsed pastor Jackson Lahmeyer's longshot primary bid against Sen. James Lankford, explaining that the incumbent deserved to lose because he refused to object to certifying Joe Biden's electoral college majority in the hours after the Jan. 6 attack.
Bennett, who has since rejected calls to apologize for comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, kicked off his House campaign at a Friday rally for Lahmeyer in Oklahoma City, which is about 65 miles away from the 2nd District.
● SC-07: State Rep. Russell Fry's first commercial for his campaign to deny incumbent Tom Rice renomination in the June Republican primary has an actor playing the congressman attending a touchy-feely "Villains Anonymous" meeting with the likes of the Joker, Lucifer, a pirate, Maleficent, and Delores Umbridge of the "Harry Potter" franchise. (To the eternal disappointment of "The Room" fanatic Jeff Singer, Chris R is absent.)
Even the Clown Prince of Crime, however, can't stand being in the same room as faux Rice after he talks about his record in Congress, including how he "even voted to impeach President Trump," though Lucifer is favorably impressed. It concludes with a fake Anthony Fauci, complete with a stereotypical New York accent, speaking up for Rice and telling the villains to wear their masks, which the pirate doesn't appreciate.
● TX-28: Cassy Garcia, who is a former staffer to Sen. Ted Cruz, earned endorsements from five of the six Republicans who failed to advance past last week's primary, a group that amassed a combined 45% of the vote. Garcia will face 2020 nominee Sandra Whitten, whom she outpaced 23-18, in the May runoff.
● VA-02: Far-right activist Jarome Bell got an endorsement for his second bid for Congress on Monday from 5th District Rep. Bob Good, a fellow election denier, in the GOP nomination battle to take on Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria. Bell, who earned last place with 23% in 2020's three-way primary, tweeted in September, "Audit all 50 states. Arrest all involved. Try all involved. Convict all involved. Execute all involved. #MaricopaCountyFraud." (Twitter eventually banned him.) More recently, he responded to a British intelligence official's condemnation of Vladimir Putin's persecution of LGBTQ Russians by writing that he "lets slip that the whole fake Russia war is about being gay."
The House GOP leadership, including the well-funded Congressional Leadership Fund, is very much supporting state Sen. Jen Kiggans over Bell, though she's also allied with one infamous conspiracy theorist. Kiggans last month was one of just three Republicans in the chamber to vote in favor of a proposal put forward by colleague Amanda Chase for a $70 million "audit" of the 2020 presidential results, though nearly half the caucus made sure to miss the vote.