The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● MI-AG, MI-SoS: Two election conspiracy theorists with Donald Trump’s backing, Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo, defeated more traditional choices at the Michigan GOP's endorsement convention on Saturday, setting them up for general election battles against Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, respectively.
The results, though, left some vocal Republicans fuming that their party had just thrown away the chance to take down two vulnerable Democrats in this important swing state. State Rep. Beau LaFave, who badly lost his bid for the nomination for secretary of state, spoke for many when he said, "I'm disappointed that Jocelyn Benson will be the secretary of state for the next four years."
Dissenters may get another shot, though: Under state law, both Democrats and Republicans are actually required to pick nominees for these two offices (plus lieutenant governor) at their August conventions; these April gatherings are a recent innovation to allow candidates to get an earlier start on their campaigns, but they don't have any official imprimatur.
To that end, state Rep. Ryan Berman, who took third place in the race for attorney general, said he'll continue his campaign in the hopes of achieving a different result at the end of the summer. It would, however, take an affirmative vote of three-fourths of delegates to overturn Saturday's vote, something one consultant characterized as a "smash-glass-in-case-of-emergency" option.
But Berman argued that Republicans might have to avail themselves of this option: He predicted that "[t]here's a good chance" that DePerno could lose his law license or be indicted, which Bridge Michigan explains is a reference to a pair of investigations—one by the state's Attorney Grievance Commission, the other by the state police—into DePerno's lawsuits aimed at overturning Trump's loss in Michigan.
DePerno, who recently called for the arrest of Nessel, Benson, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, was a minor figure in Michigan politics until just after the 2020 election. But he attracted Trump's attention when he filed a lawsuit arguing that election fraud had taken place in Antrim County after vote totals initially showed Joe Biden leading Trump in this small conservative community. Those numbers, though, were the result of a clerical error that was quickly corrected to reflect Trump's actual 61-37 win in the county, and a hand-count audit confirmed that voting machines provided by Dominion Voting Systems had correctly tabulated the results.
None of that, however, stopped the Antrim County results from becoming a prominent feature in the false Trumpian narrative claiming that Dominion had stolen the election, and DePerno has been all too happy to keep the story in the limelight. In the real world, his crusade has been an utter failure: Last week, a state appeals court issued the latest verdict against his evidence-free lawsuit, which DePerno vowed to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. But that setback did not bother his allies in the least, nor did a recent revelation that his former law firm fired him in 2005 after alleging he'd "padded" client bills.
Karamo likewise emerged from obscurity after she insisted she'd seen fraud in 2020 while working as a poll worker in Detroit. She's since used her newfound far-right fame to appear at a QAnon event in August with extremist secretary of state candidates running in other states, taking the opportunity to call Benson "evil." She later said (baselessly, of course) that Benson and other Democratic election officials had been "placed in those battleground states strategically to ensure that there was massive cheating and fraud in the election."
Karamo also previously hosted a podcast, so you know the archives are replete with crazy. On her now-defunct show, among many other things, she announced that Beyoncé was bringing "Black Americans into paganism," declared that LGBTQ people and anyone who has sex outside of marriage "violate God's creative design," called herself an "anti-vaxxer," and labeled yoga "a satanic ritual." (Believe it or not, she's not even the only anti-yoga Republican on the ballot this year.)
On Saturday, she easily won the GOP endorsement outright with 67% of the vote, while DePerno was forced into a runoff after leading 2018 nominee Tom Leonard 49-40. Berman, who took third with 10%, backed Leonard in the second round, where voting was delayed for half an hour because, according to party officials, runoff ballots left out the candidates' names and video graphics listed them in the wrong order. A party official called the issues the result of "human error," which Bridge notes "echoed official explanations about 2020 irregularities in Antrim County that have spawned Trump's false claims of fraud."
But unlike in 2020, Trump's people didn't complain because the convention results went their way, with DePerno beating Leonard 55-45. Trump even celebrated both results before voting had even begun in either race, proclaiming that DePerno and Karamo would "get to the bottom of the 2020 Election Fraud."
● KS Redistricting: A state court struck down the new congressional map drawn by Kansas Republicans as an illegal partisan and racial gerrymander in a 207-page decision issued Monday.
Republicans had sought to make the 3rd District, held by Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, more favorable for Republicans by splitting up the Kansas City area and placing portions of it in the 2nd District. In so doing, the revamped district would have voted for Joe Biden by a 51-47 margin—considerably redder than Biden's 54-44 win under the old lines.
And to avoid making the neighboring 2nd any bluer, Republicans extricated the liberal college town of Lawrence and grafted it onto the sprawling 1st District, deep-red rural turf that stretches all the way to the Colorado border. Had they not included that second step, Donald Trump's margin in the 2nd would have shrunk to about 51-46 and made the seat vulnerable; instead, it stays at 57-41 Trump, similar to the old district's 56-41 margin for Trump.
Judge Bill Klapper, however, ruled that these maneuvers violated the state constitution's guarantee of the right to vote by diluting "the power of votes on the basis of party affiliation." At the same time, he held that the map also ran afoul of the constitution's equal protection provisions by diminishing the ability of Black and Latino voters in and around Kansas City to elect their candidates of choice by moving a disproportionate number from the 3rd District to the 2nd. Klapper did not specify a timetable for lawmakers to draw a new map but said they must do so "as expeditiously as possible."
Republicans, who passed their map over a veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, reacted with predictable anger to the ruling and pledged to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Separately, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the Supreme Court to review the state's new legislative maps on Monday, triggering a process that gives the justices 30 days to decide on their validity.
● UT-Sen: In an unusual move, delegates to Utah's state Democratic convention voted on Saturday to back conservative independent Evan McMullin's campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Mike Lee rather than put forward their own nominee. The decision, which ended the campaign of Democrat Kael Weston, gives McMullin a better chance to put together a winning general election coalition in this very red state, though he'll still be in for a very tough contest.
Prominent Democrats, including former Rep. Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, had previously endorsed McMullin, with Wilson explicitly urging Team Blue against fielding a candidate of its own in order to avoid splitting the anti-Lee vote. But Weston, who was the 2020 nominee against 2nd District Rep. Chris Stewart last cycle, still went forward with his bid, and because he was the only Democratic candidate to file, it looked like he'd be on the November ballot.
However, the Beehive State's unusual ballot access laws gave McMullin's Democratic allies a chance to block Weston on Saturday. In Utah, as we've previously explained, candidates either needed to have turned in the requisite number of signatures or win enough support at their state party convention, and while contenders can simultaneously try both options, Weston only went with the convention route. That meant that, when delegates voted 57-43 not to nominate anyone, he had no fallback option. Weston, whose supporters booed McMullin when he addressed the gathering, did not explicitly endorse him afterwards, though he put a statement declaring, "Let's all help defeat Mike Lee -- the sooner the better."
McMullin, who took 21% in the state in the 2016 presidential race as an anti-Trump conservative, has used his new campaign to argue that Utah needs to replace the extremist Lee. The independent also focused on recent revelations that Lee worked to overturn Trump's 2020 defeat in his brief speech to convention delegates Saturday, saying, "We will show the rest of the country how we beat people like Mike Lee who try to overturn our democracy in the shadows." McMullin, unlike most nonaligned candidates, will have the money to make his case, though Lee still ended March with a wide $2.4 million to $847,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● VT-Sen: University of New Hampshire: Peter Welch (D): 62, Christina Nolan (R): 27
● GA-Gov: The NRA has endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp ahead of the May 24 Republican primary.
● NV-Gov: Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo uses his very first ad for the June Republican primary to go negative on his intra-party foes, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and former Sen. Dean Heller, as well as Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, by labeling them "a bunch of keyboard cowboys" who "talk tough about immigration." Lombardo continues by saying that unlike his rivals, "I've deported thousands."
● WI-Gov: Wealthy businessman Tim Michels has announced he is joining the Republican primary for governor this August, and the Wisconsin State Journal reports that he's poised to go up with a "high-dollar" TV ad buy soon. Michels co-owns a construction company and previously ran for office a couple of times in previous decades, but his last attempt way back in 2004 saw him decisively lose that year's Senate contest as the GOP nominee against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, who prevailed 55-44.
Following the news of Michels' entry into the race, GOP Rep. Tom Tiffany has reiterated his support for former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has held large leads in the few polls taken to date, though with many voters still undecided. Also in the running for Republicans are 2018 Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun.
● FL-02, FL-05: Democratic Rep. Al Lawson told Politico on Sunday that if he decides to run again, he would do so in the Tallahassee-based 2nd District against Republican Rep. Neal Dunn rather than in the new 5th, which is contained to the Jacksonville area. Lawson for three terms has represented a plurality-Black 5th District spanning from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and Republicans targeted him with their recently enacted congressional map by breaking up the 5th District to ensure that both cities were drawn into majority-white districts that favored Republicans, leaving Lawson with no great options.
In a sign of which way he might be leaning, Lawson also recently told a local TV reporter that his "plan right now is to be on the ballot," though that isn't quite a firm commitment to running again. If Lawson does choose to run in the 2nd, he would face sizable headwinds in a seat that Donald Trump would have carried by 55-44 in an area that has been trending to the right over the last decade. Furthermore, Lawson currently represents only 31% of the redrawn 2nd's population compared to 64% for Dunn.
However Lawson argued that his ties to the area are much deeper and broader than a quick glance at the toplines might suggest: Lawson represented much of this area, including several conservative counties outside of Tallahassee, when he was in the state Senate from 2000 to 2010. Additionally, prior to his initial 2016 victory in the current 5th following court-ordered redistricting, Lawson made two runs for Congress in older versions of the 2nd District that contained a large majority of the new 2nd's territory, coming up short by close margins in the 2010 primary and 2012 general election.
Still, with Joe Biden sporting a low approval rating and the midterms shaping up to favor Republicans this fall, Lawson would have his work cut out for him if he chooses to run here. One reason he may be holding off on making a decision, though, is that several advocacy groups and Florida voters filed a lawsuit in state court last week alleging that the new map violates the state constitution's prohibitions on partisan gerrymandering and diluting minority representation, which could result in something close to the existing 5th District getting revived if the plaintiffs prevail.
● MA-04: Former Brookline Selectwoman Jesse Mermell, who just barely came up short by 22-21 in the crowded Democratic primary against freshman Rep. Jake Auchincloss when the current version of this seat was open in 2020, has announced that she won't seek a rematch this cycle. Auchincloss, a relative moderate who benefitted last time from multiple more progressive opponents splitting the vote, faces no notable opponent in the September primary this cycle, and time is quickly running out for one to materialize before the May 10 filing deadline.
● MN-01: Republicans in the new 1st Congressional District held their convention over the weekend, but while a majority of delegates backed state Rep. Jeremy Munson, he was unable to take the requisite 60% needed to secure the party endorsement for the full two-year term. The GOP did not do a convention for the special election because redistricting was completed just before Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn died, though an endorsement for the regularly scheduled race still could have given one of the contenders a lift in the May 24 primary.
Ultimately, however, Munson fell just short. He led former Department of Agriculture official Brad Finstad 55-35 in the seventh round, but attendees voted on Sunday at 1 AM local time to disperse after concluding that no one would outright win. "By one o'clock, everybody was getting kind of grumpy," explained one delegate.
● MN-03: Navy veteran Tom Weiler defeated businessman Mark Blaxill on Saturday to win the Republican Party endorsement to take on Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips; Blaxill does not appear to have said if he'll file to compete in the August primary for a seat Biden would have carried 59-38.
● NC-01: Retiring Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield has endorsed state Sen. Don Davis in the May 17 primary to succeed him.
● NC-11: State Sen. Chuck Edwards' latest ad for next month's Republican primary cuts right to the chase and calls far-right Rep. Madison Cawthorn an Instagramer who posts all day but doesn't actually do anything to solve the country's ongoing problems. Edwards draws a contrast by claiming he "fought the liberals [in state government] and won," pointing to how he advanced conservative positions on taxes, guns, and immigration.
Cawthorn is also facing further opposition from a super PAC with ties to GOP Sen. Thom Tillis called Results for NC, which has allocated an additional $126,000 to bring its total ad spending here up to just over half a million in only the last few days. The group recently went up with a spot calling out Cawthorn as a serial liar.
● OR-05: President Biden has endorsed Rep. Kurt Schrader ahead of the May 17 Democratic primary, where the moderate incumbent faces a progressive primary challenge by attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. In addition to Biden's support, Schrader headed into the primary's final stretch with a large financial advantage: Schrader outraised McLeod-Skinner in the first quarter by $714,000 to $314,000 and started April with a $2.7 million to $310,000 edge in cash-on-hand.
● OR-06: CHC BOLD PAC, which is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' campaign arm, says it is spending $1 million on an ad backing state Rep. Andrea Salinas in next month's Democratic primary. Their spot notes Salinas' background as the daughter of an immigrant father and praises her state legislative record on issues including abortion rights, healthcare, the minimum wage, and climate change.
● UT-01: Retired intelligence officer Andrew Badger outpaced freshman Rep. Blake Moore 59-41 at Saturday's Republican convention, which secured the challenger a spot on the June primary ballot. Former Morgan County Councilmember Tina Cannon, who has the support of former Rep. Rob Bishop, will also be competing in the primary because, like Moore, she collected enough signatures to advance no matter how the weekend gathering went. But it's the end of the line for both Vineland Mayor Julie Fullmer and businessman William Campbell, who were only pursuing the convention route.
Cannon has faulted Moore with not living in this safely red northern Utah seat, while Badger's objections are more ideological. Badger, whom Cachevalleydaily.com says delivered "brief speeches that sounded more like revival meetings," has pledged to join the far-right House Freedom Caucus. The story says that Moore, by contrast, has a "carefully cultivated reputation for bipartisanship," but he tried out more conservative rhetoric on Saturday. Neither Cannon nor Badger has much money available to make their case against Moore to primary voters, however.
● UT-03: Former state Rep. Chris Herrod led Rep. John Curtis 55-45 at the weekend's GOP convention, but Herrod heads into their June primary showdown with less than $3,000 to spend. This will be the third face-off between Curtis and Herrod for a safely red seat in the Provo area and southeastern Utah: Curtis won the 2017 special primary 43-33, and he prevailed 73-27 in their rematch the following year.
● Former Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose tenure from 1977 to 2019 makes him the longest serving Republican senator in American history, died Saturday at the age of 88. Hatch, who worked as an attorney, was a first-time candidate and political unknown when he joined the 1976 GOP race to take on Democratic incumbent Frank Moss, a decision his family and friends tried to talk him out of in order to spare him what they saw as an all-but-certain defeat. Hatch went ahead and filed a mere five minutes before the deadline, and the Salt Lake Tribune story about his nascent candidacy marked the first time he’d even been mentioned in the paper.
But Hatch gained traction thanks to two influential allies: Brigham Young University President Ernest Wilkinson, who was the 1964 nominee against Moss, and former Salt Lake City police chief Cleon Skousen, who was a powerful member of the far-right John Birch Society. (The Tribune wrote in a detailed 2012 look at this race that Hatch “tried to keep [Skousen] at a distance” while still benefiting from his financial help and volunteers.)
Hatch needed to perform well at the party convention in order to even make the primary ballot, and he reached out to delegates by mailing them cassettes he’d created through one of his side-businesses; he ended up taking a surprisingly strong second-place against former Interior Department official Jack Carlson. Hatch gained ground by capitalizing on post-Watergate distrust of the establishment, and a poll taken just before the primary showed Carlson only narrowly ahead.
Hatch then decided to take a chance and ask Ronald Reagan, who had just lost the presidential nod to incumbent Gerald Ford, for an endorsement; Reagan delivered, though Hatch’s team had to alter Reagan’s telegram backing “Warren Hatch.” After winning the nomination in a 65-35 landslide, Hatch spent the general election saying of Moss, “What do you call an 18-year incumbent? You call him home.” He went on to unseat Moss, who is Utah’s most recent Democratic senator, 56-43 as Ford was carrying the state 62-34 against Jimmy Carter.
Hatch six years later turned back Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson 58-41, and he never again faced a serious Democratic opponent. He sought a promotion in 2000 when he ran for the White House himself, but he won another term in the Senate that year after his longshot presidential bid went nowhere. In 2012, though, he had a potentially serious intra-party challenge from state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who was hoping to ride the same tea party wave that had cost Hatch’s longtime colleague, Bob Bennett, renomination two years before. The incumbent, however, insulated himself by courting conservatives and won his primary 67-33.
Hatch, who served more than twice as long as Moss had when the Republican implored voters to “call him home,” mulled running for an eighth term in 2018, but he ultimately retired.