The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● MD-Gov: Termed-out Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday responded to Trump-backed Del. Dan Cox's victory in the previous evening's Republican primary by tweeting that Trump has "selfishly colluded with national Democrats to cost us a Governor's seat in Maryland," a fatalistic take that came even though it remained unclear who Cox's Democratic foe would be. Hogan's spokesperson also confirmed that the outgoing incumbent would not cast a general election vote for the man he'd labeled a "conspiracy-theory-believing QAnon whack-job."
Cox was outpacing Hogan's candidate, former state cabinet official Kelly Schulz, 56-40 as of Wednesday; the state will not begin tabulating mail-in ballots until Thursday so this margin may shift, but the Associated Press called the contest for Cox on election night. The AP, however, has not yet made a projection in the Democratic primary, where former nonprofit head Wes Moore leads former DNC chair Tom Perez 37-27 with 358,000 votes counted—a margin of 35,000 ballots.
It's not clear exactly how many votes still remain to be counted. Maryland Matters writes that election officials had received 168,000 mail-in ballots from Democratic voters through Monday, while "[m]any additional mail ballots were likely returned on Tuesday." Moore, who is also a nonfiction author, himself held off on declaring victory in his election night speech, while Perez expressed optimism he'd do significantly better with the remaining votes. Moore would be the Old Line State's first Black governor, while Perez would be Maryland's first Latino chief executive.
Hogan pulled off a 2014 general election upset against then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in this very blue state by arguing that Democrats badly ran and overtaxed Maryland, but Cox has made it clear he'll be a very different candidate. The new nominee played a role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol by organizing a busload of people to attend the rally that preceded it, and he tweeted later in the day that Mike Pence was a "traitor" for recognizing Biden's win.
The delegate has continued to emphasize his fealty to the Big Lie since then. In April, Cox attended a QAnon-aligned conference in Pennsylvania where he delivered an address alleging he'd seen election fraud in that state and questioning Biden's heavy 65-32 win in Maryland. Afterwards, the candidate came back on stage for a prayer led by a self-proclaimed prophet who had just told the audience that "the real president" was "coming back." Cox has no love for Hogan either, and he introduced a hopeless impeachment resolution against him this year that accused the governor of "malfeasance in office."
National Democrats, eager to avoid a repeat of the 2014 debacle, took action to ensure that the far-right Cox, rather than Schulz, would be the GOP nominee. The Democratic Governors Association spent $2 million on an ad campaign that, while nominally attacking the delegate, tried to make him more appealing to conservatives by emphasizing his Trump connections; Cox, by contrast, deployed only about $20,000 on ads for himself. Schulz tried to warn primary voters that Cox was a "nut" and a "pathological liar" who would cost the party the governorship, but it wasn't enough to overcome Trump's pitch that Republicans "don't want Hogan's anointed successor."
Cox, for his part, responded to his win by making it clear he'd continue to run as a proud Trumpian in the fall in a state that, despite his conspiracy theories, Trump lost in a landslide. The new nominee repeatedly thanked Trump in his victory speech, and he said the next day, "The freedom movement is strong and the MAGA movement is here in Maryland."
● Our guest on this week's episode of The Downballot is former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith, who spent a year in federal prison stemming from a campaign finance violation and devoted himself to criminal justice reform upon his release. Smith tells us about the grave problems his experience behind bars showed him are in desperate need of redress and why reformers have zero margin for error. He also dives into Missouri's midterm elections to explain why Eric Greitens—whom he's known since childhood—is such a dangerous candidate, and why he can win despite his staggering flaws.
Co-host David Beard recaps Maryland's primaries, some of which still haven't been called, and dissects the House vote recognizing same-sex marriage as a fundamental right, which saw a number of telling Republican votes both for and against. David Nir, meanwhile, examines the huge second-quarter fundraising gap that still favors Democrats despite the pro-GOP political environment and also looks at the first poll of a key abortion rights ballot measure in Kansas that will go before voters on Aug. 2.
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.
● OH-Sen: Democrat Tim Ryan's new commercial declares that, while Republican J.D. Vance set up a nonprofit ostensibly to combat the state's opioid crisis, it "failed to fund a single addiction program." Instead, the narrator charges, the money went towards Vance's political advisor and toward polling.
Last year, Insider reported that, according to the group's first year of tax filings, Vance's group "spent more on 'management services' provided by its executive director — who also serves as Vance's top political advisor — than it did on programs to fight opioid abuse." Why only look at one year of filings, though? Insider explains, "The nonprofit raised so little in each of the last three years — less than $50,000 a year — that it wasn't even required by the IRS to disclose its activities and finances."
● AK-Gov: The Alaska Beacon has collected the fundraising reports from the period from Feb. 2 to July 15 for all the leading candidates competing in the Aug. 19 top-four primary.
- Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R-inc): $925,000 raised, $768,000 cash-on-hand
- Former Gov. Bill Walker (I): $832,000 raised, $751,000 cash-on-hand
- Former state Rep. Les Gara (D): $575,000 raised, $656,000 cash-on-hand
- Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce (R): $64,000 raised, $22,000 cash-on-hand
- State Rep. Christopher Kurka (R): $12,000 raised, $3,000 cash-on-hand
The RGA previously donated another $3 million to aid Dunleavy, money the Beacon says has not yet been spent.
Unlike in past cycles, the candidates are allowed to accept unlimited donations. That's because a federal court last year struck down a 2006 ballot measure that capped donations at $500 a year, and the legislature adjourned this spring without adopting a new law.
● NV-Gov: Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak outraised Republican Joe Lombardo $1.7 million to $822,000 during the second quarter, which ended two weeks after Lombardo won his primary. Sisolak finished June with a huge $10.7 million to $1.2 million cash-on-hand lead.
● OR-Gov: Rep. Kurt Schrader announced Tuesday that he was endorsing independent Betsy Johnson for governor, a declaration that came about two months after the Blue Dog Democrat decisively lost renomination to Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
● AZ-04, WA-03: Winning For Women Action Fund, a Republican group funded in part by the Congressional Leadership Fund, is getting involved in two very different Aug. 2 contests.
The PAC has deployed $450,000 in Arizona's 4th District to support Republican Tanya Wheeless, a onetime aide to former Sen. Martha McSally, in her bid to take on Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton in a seat Biden would have taken 54-44. Wheeless faces an expensive intra-party battle against restaurant owner Kelly Cooper, a self-funder who ended June with a wide $1.2 million to $500,000 lead. CLF endorsed Wheeless back in April before it was clear that Cooper, a first-time candidate who only registered to vote as a Republican last year, would have the resources to run a serious campaign.
Over in the top-two primary for Washington's 3rd, meanwhile, Winning For Women is dropping $800,000 against Trump-endorsed Army veteran Joe Kent. The super PAC does not appear to have endorsed incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler, who is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump.
● WA-08: The Washington Observer reports that a new group called Lead The Way PAC is spending $250,000 to boost 2020 Republican nominee Jesse Jensen while attacking one of his intra-party rivals, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, ahead of next month's top-two primary to face Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier. The TV commercial declares that Dunn "voted to cut law enforcement by nearly $100 million" and touts Jensen's time as an Army Ranger.
The PAC's mailers go much further and sum up Dunn with the words, "DUI. Binge Drinking. Relapses. Empty Promises." The mail pieces also say, "The Dunn's marriage councilor also reported Dunn had acknowledged grabbing his wife by the shoulders and pushing her against a wall multiple times." The candidate was the subject of a detailed March profile in the Seattle Times about his struggles with alcoholism, including his relapse after swearing off drinking following a 2014 DUI. Dunn told the paper that he's been sober for over four years, and he produced regular lab reports to confirm he's stayed away from alcohol.
● KS Ballot: With two weeks to go before the Aug. 2 vote, the Republican pollster co/efficient finds a small 47-43 plurality in support of the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the GOP-dominated legislature to ban abortion in Kansas. This survey, which the firm says it paid for itself, is the first we've seen of what's become a closely watched and very expensive referendum campaign.
FiveThirtyEight, in its detailed look at the contest, lays out the messaging strategies both sides are using in this conservative state. Value Them Both, which is the group supporting the anti-abortion "yes" side, has highlighted how abortions have increased in Kansas since 2019, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the procedure is protected by the state constitution. (FiveThirtyEight notes that this is "due largely to Texas and Oklahoma residents who can no longer get abortions in their home states.")
The campaign has also tried to frame the vote as something other than a straight up question about whether to ban abortion. Instead, Value Them Both says a "yes" win would just let the legislature impose "common-sense abortion limits" like parental notification―something that is already state law. The group, though, has also seized on partisan talking points about "unelected liberal judges" and told voters that under the status quo, Kansas has abortion laws similar to blue states like California.
Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which is the vehicle of the "no" side, has tried to appeal to conservatives in a different way. As we wrote earlier this month, the campaign recently ran a spot in the very red Wichita media market that didn't mention abortion at all; instead, it framed the ballot measure as "a strict government mandate designed to interfere with private medical decisions," a statement followed by images reminding viewers of pandemic face mask requirements and the cancellation of in-person religious services.
In the Democratic-leaning Kansas City media market, by contrast, one ad featured a mother describing how she needed an abortion in order to remain alive for her husband and three-year-old son, and that the ballot measure "could ban any abortion with no exceptions, even in cases like mine." Kansans for Constitutional Freedom has also aired commercials informing viewers that "abortion is highly regulated" already, but the amendment "could lead to a full ban of any abortion in Kansas, with no exceptions for rape, incest or a mother's life."
The "yes" side decisively outraised its opponents last year, but there's been a big shift since 2022 began. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom outpaced Value Them Both $6.5 million to $4.7 million from January 1 to July 18, and it enjoyed a smaller $5.8 million to $5.4 million spending advantage.
● San Francisco, CA Ballot: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to place a referendum on the November ballot that would move the city's next set of local elections from 2023 to 2024 and keep them in presidential cycles going forward. Mayor London Breed, who would be up for re-election next year under the current law, has ardently opposed such a shift, arguing that "a group of democratic socialists" are seeking to "have more control and power of being able to get more of their people elected."
● Maryland: What follows is a look at where the state's major races stood as of Wednesday. The state will not begin to tabulate mail-in ballots until Thursday, so the margins may shift after all the votes are counted.
● MD-04: Glenn Ivey, who is the former state's attorney for Prince George's County, beat former Rep. Donna Edwards 51-35 to win the Democratic nomination to succeed outgoing Rep. Anthony Brown in one of the bluest House districts in America.
The race was defined by a massive $6 million campaign by the hawkish pro-Israel group AIPAC―its largest investment in any contest to date―that argued Edwards did a poor job serving her constituents during her time in office from 2008 to 2017. (Edwards left to wage an unsuccessful campaign for the Senate, and Brown beat Ivey in the 2016 race to replace her.) J Street, a progressive pro-Israel organization that often finds itself at odds with AIPAC, responded with a considerably smaller $730,000 offensive portraying Ivey as a lobbyist for "big business," but it wasn't enough.
● MD-06: Del. Neil Parrott earned his rematch against Democratic Rep. David Trone by defeating Matthew Foldi, a 25-year-old former writer for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, 64-15 in the Republican primary. Foldi sported endorsements from both Gov. Larry Hogan and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, but Parrott's supporters castigated him as "a wealthy elitist" and a "kid."
Trone beat Parrott 59-39 last cycle as Biden was carrying the old version of the seat by a similar 61-38 spread, but this contest will be fought on very different turf. Parrott sued after Democrats passed another map to protect Trone, and his efforts were rewarded after a judge threw out those boundaries earlier this year. Legislative Democrats and Hogan agreed on new lines soon after that created a 6th based in western Maryland and the D.C. exurbs that Biden would have won only 54-44, and the incumbent quickly emerged as a major GOP target. The wealthy Trone has been preparing for a tough fight, though, and he recently loaned his campaign $10 million.
● MD-AG: Rep. Anthony Brown beat former Judge Katie O'Malley 60-40 in the primary to succeed their fellow Democrat, retiring incumbent Brian Frosh, a win that puts him on course to become the state's first Black attorney general. Brown lost the 2014 race for governor to Republican Larry Hogan, but he should have no trouble in the fall against Republican nominee Michael Peroutka, a former board member of the neo-Confederate League of the South who prevailed 58-42.
Peroutka, among many other things, has called the separation of church and state a "great lie;" dismissed public education as "the 10th plank in the Communist Manifesto;" and insisted that abortion and same-sex marriage both defy "God's law." And while Peroutka left the League of the South before it helped organize the infamous 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, he's still refused to denounce the group. The GOP last won the attorney general's office in 1918.
● Baltimore, MD State's Attorney: Defense attorney Ivan Bates holds a 41-32 lead over incumbent Marilyn Mosby with 48,000 votes counted in the Democratic primary, but the AP has not called the race. Prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah, who sported a cross-party endorsement from GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, has the remaining 27%. The winner will have no trouble in the fall in this reliably blue city.
Mosby, who rose to national prominence in 2015 just months into her first term when she charged six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, was indicted in January for allegedly filing false mortgage applications and lying to federal prosecutors. Bates lost to Mosby 49-28 in 2018, but this time, he benefited from heavy spending from a super PAC funded by 2020 mayoral candidate Mary Miller.
● Baltimore County, MD State's Attorney: Attorney Robbie Leonard holds a tiny 51-49 edge against four-term incumbent Scott Shellenberger with 49,000 ballots tabulated in the Democratic primary, but it will likely take a while to determine the winner here. The eventual nominee will be favored in a county that supported Biden 62-35.
Shellenberger, whose jurisdiction includes many of Baltimore's suburbs (the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County have been separate jurisdictions since 1851), was on the receiving end of heavy spending by a super PAC affiliated with philanthropist George Soros. Leonard, for his part, positioned himself as a criminal justice reformer while also arguing that Shellenberger has done a poor job dealing with the local murder rate.
● Montgomery County, MD Executive: Wealthy businessman David Blair has a 40-38 lead against incumbent Marc Elrich with 73,000 ballots counted in the Democratic primary to lead this populous and dark blue suburban D.C. community, but this is another contest that will likely take a while to settle. Four years ago, it was Elrich who beat Blair in a 77-vote cliffhanger.
Blair, who spent around $5 million on his second campaign, argued that Elrich had done a poor job making the county more affordable or dealing with crime; the challenger also benefited from $900,000 in spending by a super PAC funded in part by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz as well as developers and business groups. Bethesda Magazine writes that Elrich, whose "political base among civic and neighborhood groups often made him an outlier in three terms on the County Council on planning and development issues," has also clashed repeatedly with business groups.
The incumbent, for his part, focused on his work during the pandemic while also accusing Blair and County Council Member Hans Riemer, who is in third with 21%, of supporting policies that were "very Koch brothers [and] Reaganesque—like let the private sector solve everything."
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.