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.
Subscribe to our podcast, The Downballot!
● PA-Sen: While Kathy Barnette, a major Big Lie spreader who badly lost her only previous run for office, looked like an also-run for most of the Republican primary, a new poll from Fox News shows her within striking distance of victory on Tuesday. The Club for Growth also is rushing in with a $2 million buy for the final days that uses audio of Barnette, who herself had spent a total of merely $160,000 on TV through Wednesday, talking about her humble origins and bashing Democrats.
The Club’s last-minute investment may be money well spent because that Fox poll from Beacon Research and Shaw & Company Research gives TV personality Mehmet Oz a 22-20 edge over former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick, with Barnette just behind at 19%; former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands is a distant fourth with 8%. Back in March, this team of pollsters had McCormick beating Oz 24-15, while Barnette lagged in third with 9%.
Pennsylvania Republicans have spent months worried that state Sen. Doug Mastriano will capture the gubernatorial nod and endanger the party’s chances in November, but until recently, they didn’t fret much over Barnette. However, party insiders recently told Politico that they believed the massively expensive and ugly contest between the Trump-endorsed Oz and McCormick has left voters searching for an alternative. Operatives also pointed out that Mastriano, who leads in the polls for his own contest, has been campaigning with Barnette, which could be giving her a lift with people who dislike the two ostensible Senate frontrunners.
While Barnette, who spent the 2010s firing off anti-Muslim tweets, is a relative newcomer to politics, she showed just what kind of candidate she is following her 2020 campaign for the safely blue 4th Congressional District. She challenged Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean for a seat based in Montgomery County in the Philadelphia suburbs and lost 60-40, a wide and predictable defeat she refused to accept. Instead, the Republican declared on election night, "All plans of the enemy will be thwarted."
Barnette wasn’t only committed to overturning her own loss, though. She took to Fox in the days afterwards to back up Trump’s own election lies, claiming she’d won votes cast on Election Day but lost her lead because of “ridiculous” vote-counting afterwards. She later attended the Trump rally that took place just before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, though her team says she didn't take part in the riots.
Barnette launched her new Senate campaign last year saying, "We're told Black lives matter, except of course my Black life, because I'm a Black conservative." She hasn’t shown any interest in moderating herself over the ensuing year: CNN reports that her Facebook page touts how she’s “HIRING THE UN-VACCINATED” and blasts both parties for having “allowed COVID-19 to trump the Constitution.”
For now, though, Oz is still continuing his months-long attack on McCormick rather than focus on Barnette. A recent commercial makes use of footage of Trump’s weekend rally, including a clip where the MAGA master declares, “David is totally controlled and he is a candidate of special interests and the Washington establishment.”
P.S. Local news station Fox29 also commissioned a new poll of the race from Republican firm InsiderAdvantage, but despite our best efforts, we've been unable to track down the survey's field dates, which we regard as must-have data in order to report on any poll. If you've seen them anywhere reliable, let us know!
● Are Republicans torching their chances in November by nominating ultra-extreme MAGA loons? They just might be! This week on The Downballot, Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Steve Singiser joins us to gawk at a bunch of GOP primaries across the nation where hardcore Trump worshippers with blemished resumes and disturbing views could prevail over more mainstream alternatives. On the docket are Pennsylvania's marquee contests for Senate and governor, House races in Michigan and North Carolina, and the secretary of state's race in Colorado—where a prominent Big Lie proponent was just barred by a judge from performing her duties as a local election clerk.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also review Tuesday's primaries, including the first incumbent-vs.-incumbent contest of the year in West Virginia; highlight a brand-new court ruling striking down a key component of Ron DeSantis' congressional gerrymander for undermining Black voters; and recap major elections in Northern Ireland and the Philippines.
Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● FL Redistricting: A state court judge blocked Florida's new Republican-drawn congressional map from taking effect on Wednesday, ruling that it violates the state constitution because it "diminishes African Americans' ability to elect candidates of their choice." Circuit Judge Layne Smith, who was appointed to his current post by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, further ordered that the state implement a remedial map that restores the 5th District in northern Florida to its previous Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee configuration and makes commensurate changes to neighboring districts.
At issue is a set of amendments reforming the redistricting process that voters approved in 2010, often known as the "Fair Districts" amendments. These amendments prohibit, among other things, the "retrogression" of minority voting rights in both congressional and legislative redistricting. As ACLU attorney Nicholas Warren explained, "This means no backsliding in minority voters' ability to elect candidates of choice"—which in the case of the 5th District would mean a Black Democrat.
Indeed, the current representative for the 5th, Al Lawson, fits that mold precisely. But to maximize GOP fortunes and please his base, DeSantis demanded a map that shattered the 5th and transformed it from a safely blue district with a 46% Black plurality to a solidly red seat with a 67% white majority. That, said Smith in an oral ruling from the bench, violated the Fair Districts amendment that governs congressional line-drawing.
Republicans are certain to appeal, so Smith's decision may not stand. But it bears noting that the present east-west version of the 5th District was ultimately blessed by the state Supreme Court in a 2015 ruling following a successful challenge to the GOP's prior map under the Fair Districts amendment. The high court has grown considerably more conservative since then, thanks to appointments by DeSantis and his predecessor, Rick Scott, though as Warren noted, "the anti-retrogression mandate is a clear and uncontroversial part" of state law.
Whether that proves any sort of obstacle to the justices is the key question, though the appellate courts could also rule—as the U.S. Supreme Court regularly has in cases that disfavor Republicans—that it's too late for Florida to change its map this year. Practically speaking, however, the state still has a while to prepare, as Florida's primary is not until Aug. 23, though federal law requires that ballots must be finalized and mailed out to overseas voters at least 45 days before Election Day.
The remedial plan adopted by Smith leaves the rest of DeSantis' map intact, but several other districts are still being challenged as partisan gerrymanders, which are also barred by the Fair Districts amendment.
● AL-Gov: The Republican firm Cygnal's newest survey for Alabama Daily News and Gray Television shows Gov. Kay Ivey taking only 40% in the May 24 Republican primary, which is below the majority she'd need to avoid a June 21 runoff. The race for second is tight, with businessman Tim James edging out former Ambassador to Slovenia Lindy Blanchard 18-15. Back in mid-March, Cygnal had Ivey in a stronger position with 46% as James and Blanchard took 12% and 10%, respectively; in the time between those two polls, Ivey released a mid-April internal that found her in far better shape with 57%.
● KY-Gov: Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Wednesday that he was joining next year's primary to take on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, a move that plenty of party insiders have anticipated since he won his current post in 2019. That victory made Cameron, who is a former general counsel for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the state's first Black attorney general, as well as the first Republican to hold the post since World War II.
Cameron joins a May 2023 nomination contest that already includes two fellow statewide elected officials, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and state Auditor Mike Harmon, while plenty of other Bluegrass State politicos are also thinking about getting in. However, Secretary of State Michael Adams is no longer one of them: While he didn't quite rule out his own bid for governor last year, he quickly responded to Cameron's news by tweeting, "I will now consider running for Attorney General, and also consider pursuing reelection."
● Massachusetts: Tuesday was the deadline for federal and statewide candidates competing in Massachusetts' Sept. 6 primaries to submit their nomination papers to local election officials, but while it's now too late for anyone else to run, the ballot won't be set for a while.
Statewide candidates will compete at their respective party conventions, and they need to win at least 15% of the delegates in order to even continue on to the primary: The Republicans convene May 21, while the Democratic gathering is June 3-4. And while the convention doesn't matter for ballot access for U.S. House contenders, they and statewide candidates both still need to file again with the secretary of the commonwealth by June 7.
● MD-Gov: While former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz cannot possibly out-MAGA Trump-endorsed Del. Dan Cox ahead of the July GOP primary, her new ad uses the old Republican tactic of attacking a defense attorney for representing a client. "Dan Cox fought to release an accused child rapist from jail in 2021," intones the narrator, before saying, "Thanks to Cox, this convicted sex offender is out on the street after serving less than a year. Now Cox is attacking the victim, a child, and calls her a liar."
● NV-Gov: NBC News reports that A Stronger NV, a PAC that is funded by the DGA, has booked an additional $1.7 million for ads this month. The group recently began intervening in the GOP primary to attack Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and had already spent $500,000.
● PA-Gov: Fox News has released a survey of Tuesday’s Republican primary from its usual bipartisan team of Beacon Research and Shaw & Company Research, and it shows far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano beating former Rep. Lou Barletta 29-17; former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain takes 13%, while wealthy businessman Dave White and state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman are at 11% and 5%, respectively.
The survey comes at a time when party leaders are hoping to convince some trailing candidates to drop out in order to stop Mastriano, a QAnon ally whom they fear would be an utterly toxic nominee. They may get a little good news on Thursday, as Barletta has announced that Corman will join him for a “major campaign announcement.” The event comes exactly a month after Corman asked election officials to take his name off the ballot only to reverse himself hours later (Corman was told days later that it was already too late for him to remove his name).
● AK-AL: Alaska Survey Research, which is run by former Democratic consultant Ivan Moore, has released a survey of the 48-way top-four primary on June 11, which will determine which four contenders will compete in the August instant-runoff general election:
former Gov. Sarah Palin (R): 19
Businessman Nick Begich III (R): 16
Physician Al Gross (I): 13
North Pole City Council member Santa Claus (I): 6
former state Rep. Mary Peltola (D): 5
Anchorage Assembly member Chris Constant (D): 5
former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney (R): 4
state Sen. Josh Revak (R): 4
former oil executive Jeff Lowenfels (I): 3
state Rep. Adam Wool (D): 2
former state Rep. Andrew Halcro (I): 2
former state Sen. John Coghill (R): 2
Claus, who is narrowly taking that crucial fourth place spot, is a self-described "independent, progressive, democratic socialist" who previously had his name changed from Thomas O'Connor.
The firm also tested several August scenarios, but it did not provide undecided as an option.
● FL-20: Former Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, a Democrat who finished in third with 18% in last November's special election primary for the current version of this safely blue seat, has endorsed Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick ahead of the August primary for the newly redrawn version of the district. Cherfilus-McCormick faces a rematch with another former Broward County commissioner, Dale Holness, who lost by just five votes to the now-congresswoman in last fall's special election primary.
● MD-04: SEIU Local 500 and 1199SEIU, which the Washington Post calls "two significant Maryland labor unions made up of health-care workers and educators," have endorsed former Rep. Donna Edwards ahead of the July Democratic primary, where Edwards faces former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey and former state Del. Angela Angel. The Post also notes that 1199SEIU had previously opposed Edwards in her 2016 Senate primary and 2018 race for Prince George's County executive.
● NC-01: The Congressional Leadership Fund has launched a commercial against 2020 nominee Sandy Smith ahead of Tuesday’s GOP primary, which makes this the very first time that the group has gone negative on a fellow Republican. Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin puts the size of the buy at $584,000.
CLF, which has close ties to GOP leaders in the House, hasn’t said why it’s taking such extraordinary action to end Smith’s newest campaign for this Democratic-held seat. However, Rubashkin notes that its offensive comes after another Republican, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson, “dropped a massive oppo file very publicly that alleged all sorts of impropriety, including domestic violence and financial malfeasance.” CLF hasn’t expressed a preference for Roberson or for any of Smith’s other six foes.
As for the ad, CLF’s narrator begins by demonizing undocumented immigrants before saying, “But politicians like Sandy Smith would reward them with amnesty. Maybe because Sandy Smith repeatedly breaks rules herself.” The spot goes on to claim Smith “won't follow ethics rules by disclosing her financial interests … And Sandy Smith went bankrupt, owing creditors thousands, then failed to pay her taxes on time.”
● NC-11: Results for NC has thrown down an additional $526,000 against freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn ahead of Tuesday's Republican primary, which brings its total investment up to $1.45 million.
● NE-02: Democrat Tony Vargas' allies at 314 Action are out with a Change Research survey conducted in the days leading up to his primary win, and it shows Vargas edging out Republican incumbent Don Bacon 42-39.
● OR-06: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus' CHC BOLD PAC is spending an additional $501,000 to promote state Rep. Andrea Salinas in Tuesday's Democratic primary, which brings its total to $1.47 million. That's far below the more than $12 million that economic development adviser Carrick Flynn has received in outside support, but it still helps Salinas' side get their message out in the crowded contest.
● GA-AG: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a new dark money group called Georgians for Honesty in Government is spending $460,000 promoting Trump-backed Big Lie proponent John Gordon's campaign to beat Attorney General Chris Carr in the May 24 GOP primary, with most of this money going to ads. The offensive comes a few weeks after an affiliate of the Republican Attorneys General Association launched a $400,000 TV and radio campaign to support Carr.
● TX-AG: State attorney General Ken Paxton is using his first ad for the May 24 Republican runoff to bash opponent George P. Bush over his attempts to renovate the Alamo, an effort that stirred up a right-wing nativist backlash. "Even in Texas, liberal Land Commissioner George P. Bush proposed a woke plan to 'reimagine the Alamo,'" warns the narrator. He continues by claiming Bush "demanded that the monument honoring the Texas heroes that died there be moved" and imploring the viewer to reject him in order to "protect our Texas heritage."
Secretaries of State
● CO-SoS: A state judge on Tuesday forbade Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a far-right favorite who is seeking the Republican nomination to face Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, from administering her county's 2022 elections.
Griswold successfully prevented Peters from overseeing last year's contests, and she sought the same sanction even before the Republican was indicted in March on felony and misdemeanor charges for allegedly breaching the county's election systems during her attempt to demonstrate fraud in 2020. The judge ruled this week that the secretary of state convincingly demonstrated that Peters and a top aide "have committed a neglect of duty and are unable to perform the duties of the Mesa County Designated Election Official."
While GOP leaders called for Peters to drop out two months ago, the clerk not only remained in the contest, she even decisively won the April GOP convention. Peters still faces former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson and economic development specialist Mike O'Donnell in the June 28 primary: Anderson is the only member of this trio who acknowledges that Biden won the 2020 election.
● Los Angeles, CA Mayor: Rep. Karen Bass is spending $650,000 on her opening TV buy for the June 7 nonpartisan primary, which comes weeks after billionaire developer Rick Caruso, whom the Los Angeles Times estimates will have dropped $18 million on ads by mid-May, began his saturation campaign. Bass tells the audience, "When I worked in the E.R. during the crack epidemic, there was no time to hesitate; we had to act to save lives." She goes on to talk about her time as Assembly speaker "making tough decisions to save our state's economy, and help the people behind the numbers," and work in Congress during the pandemic.
Caruso's allies at the Los Angeles Police Protective League, meanwhile, are spending $2 million on commercials arguing that Bass "took $95,000 in free tuition from the same indicted USC dean" who has been linked to a corruption scandal involving Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, and that she "repeatedly voted to give USC millions in taxpayer funds."
Bass' attorney, who is attempting to get the ad pulled, responded, "Karen Bass never voted to appropriate taxpayer funds to USC, and none of the bills cited in the ad refer to USC." The L.A. Times explains that the House Committee on Ethics a decade ago allowed Bass to accept the tuition award from the school; she didn't disclose its full value until 2019, though, saying the omission was an error.
● Tim Johnson: Former Republican Rep. Tim Johnson, who represented part of downstate Illinois from 2001 to 2013, died Monday at the age of 75. Johnson, who was a fairly low-key congressman, briefly attracted national attention in 2010 when the Los Angeles Times covered his ongoing mission to contact every single one of his roughly 654,000 constituents, an effort that saw him make at least 100 calls every day aside from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. ("If I only do 100 a day, I have guilt feelings," Johnson said.)
Johnson won his first race in 1971 when he was elected to the Urbana City Council, and he began serving in the state House in 1977. In 1980, newspapers reported that the rookie member had employed a paper clip to hold the "Yes" button down at his desk so that he would vote in the affirmative when he wasn't physically present; Johnson, after initially denying it, said what he'd done was an "accepted practice" in the legislature.
Johnson got his chance to run for Congress in 2000 when fellow Republican Tom Ewing retired from what was then numbered the 15th District. Johnson won the nomination by defeating state Rep. Bill Brady 44-36, with 17% going to the congressman's son, Sam Ewing. Johnson's Democratic foe tried to relitigate the old paperclip story in the general election, but the Republican prevailed 53-47.
Johnson had no trouble winning over the next decade, but Brady's tight 2010 defeat in the governor's race allowed Democrats to draw up a map that endangered the congressman. Johnson ended up announcing after his 2012 primary victory for the new 13th District that he would retire rather than continue on, and party leaders soon selected Rodney Davis to replace him on the ballot; Davis went on to narrowly defeat David Gill, a Democrat whom Johnson decisively beat three times, and he continues to hold the seat.