Minnesota's 1st District is conservative turf that runs along the state's entire southern border, taking in the city of Rochester (home of the famous Mayo Clinic) and many smaller towns and rural areas. It's also moved sharply away from Democrats over the last decade: While Barack Obama carried the district by a 50-48 margin in 2012, Hillary Clinton lost it by a wide 53-38 margin, and Joe Biden didn't do much better, losing 54-44.
It was therefore something of a surprise to see Republican Brad Finstad, a former official with the Department of Agriculture, hold off Democrat Jeff Ettinger, who used to be CEO of the food-processing giant Hormel, just 51-47. The outcome was not, however, entirely out of character: The district saw close House races in the last three regularly scheduled elections even as it's drifted rightward at the presidential level.
But it's still hard to square this result with a political environment that's as harsh for Democrats as typical midterm patterns—buffeted by high inflation and low presidential approval ratings—would suggest. In a vacuum, of course, we'd never want to draw conclusions about a single special election in the dead of summer. But this race does not stand alone.
In late June, just four days after the Dobbs ruling, the GOP similarly underperformed in another red district, Nebraska's 1st. There, Republican Mike Flood beat Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks 53-47, and just like in Minnesota, that was 6 points worse than Trump's 2020 margin. And just last week, an amendment that would have stripped the right to an abortion from the state constitution went down to a brutal 59-41 defeat in conservative Kansas, a state that Trump carried 56-41.
We can't say for certain that either of the House races represent a response to the Supreme Court, but there are reasons to think they might. As analyst J. Miles Coleman of Sabato's Crystal Ball points out, Finstad performed identically to Trump in the district's reddest counties, but in the purple and blue counties, he ran 7 to 8 points behind. That pattern suggests a one-sided backlash that's motivating Democratic-leaning voters and not Republicans.
This sample size is still quite small and may yet prove an aberration, but fortunately, we're about to get several more pieces of data. As Bloomberg's Greg Giroux notes, there will be three more special elections over the next two weeks—the first time in more than 60 years we've had three consecutive weeks with House specials.
The most telling of these will be the race for New York's 19th District, where Democrat Pat Ryan has put abortion front and center and called his race a "referendum" on the issue. The DCCC just got involved in the contest, jointly airing a new ad with Ryan to attack his GOP opponent, saying Marc Molinaro "oppose[s] a woman's right to choose" and warning that Republicans in Congress "will vote for a nationwide abortion ban."
So far, Republicans have put far more muscle into the effort, though, with about $715,000 in outside spending, most of that from the NRCC. Democrats have yet to engage similarly (coordinated expenditures like the DCCC's are limited to just $55,000). But unlike the 1st Districts in Nebraska and Minnesota, New York's 19th is a Democratic-held seat that narrowly voted for Biden by half a point. If Democrats can move the needle here the way they have elsewhere, they'd be able to hang on to this seat and deny Republicans a pickup opportunity. And if nothing else, we should learn a great deal more about what Dobbs might mean for November.
● Black voters are the most stalwart constituency in the Democratic Party, but candidates cannot take them for granted. Media consultant Terrance Green of 4C Partners joins us on this week's edition of The Downballot to discuss his career in politics communicating with voters, including leading the largest-ever paid media operation to turn out the Black vote on behalf of the Biden-Harris campaign. Immediately after that historic victory, he found himself targeting white voters on behalf of a Black Senate hopeful, Raphael Warnock, in Georgia's epic runoffs. Terrance also tells us how he's helped African American candidates turn back racist attacks and what he thinks the impact of having so many high-profile Black Senate contenders this year will be.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard, meanwhile, recap this week's races, including a special election in a conservative Minnesota House district that saw the Republican badly underperform Donald Trump; a surprisingly close call for one of the most vocal progressives on Capitol Hill, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar; and the Democratic primary for Vermont's open House seat, which means that, at long last, the state will almost certainly end its status as the only one never to send a woman to Congress come next year.
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.
● NC-Sen: The Democratic firm Blueprint Polling finds Democrat Cheri Beasley edging out Republican Ted Budd 46-42 in a survey that was not conducted for a client.
● PA-Sen: The conservative Senate Leadership Fund has booked an additional $9.5 million in ad time to support Republican Mehmet Oz, which takes its total planned investment to $34 million. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the group will also begin its ad campaign on Aug. 19 instead of the second week of September as originally planned. SLF's counterparts at Senate Majority PAC have reserved $32 million to help Democrat John Fetterman, and it launched its first commercial this week.
● FL-Gov: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has publicized a survey from Public Policy Polling that shows her trailing Rep. Charlie Crist 42-35 in the Aug. 23 Democratic primary to face GOP incumbent Ron DeSantis. That's considerably closer than the 56-24 Crist lead that St. Pete Polls found in its recent survey for Florida Politics, though a June Fried internal from a third firm, Global Strategy Group, showed her down only 38-34.
Crist, meanwhile, is airing a commercial that includes 2009 footage of the then-Republican governor hugging President Barack Obama. That embrace became fodder for Crist's many right-wing critics during his Senate primary campaign that cycle against Marco Rubio (Crist went on to unsuccessfully compete for the seat as an independent before becoming a Democrat in 2012), but this time, the congressman is the one focusing on the hug. Crist this week also earned an endorsement from Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who leads Florida's most populous county.
● LA-Gov: Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said Tuesday he is "planning on running" for governor next year, but he stopped short of definitively announcing his long-anticipated campaign. WAFB writes that Nungesser "said he plans to hit the campaign trail in January 2023."
● MN-Gov: The Democratic group Alliance for a Better Minnesota has launched a spot against former state Sen. Scott Jensen that plays the Republican nominee's own anti-abortion comments for the audience, a strategy Democrats have employed in other contests this cycle.
The ad opens with an interviewer asking, "If you were governor, would you try to impose new restrictions on abortion or would you try to ban it outright?" to which Jensen responds, "I would try to ban abortion." The rest of the commercial features several women expressing their anger at Jensen, with one saying, "A woman should not be criminalized for having an abortion."
● CO-08: Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo has publicized an internal from Global Strategy Group that finds Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer ahead 44-42 in a newly-created constituency in the northern Denver suburbs and Greeley area that Biden would have carried 51-46. The Colorado Sun writes that a mid-June GSG poll that "was accidentally made public" had Kirkmeyer up by a larger 44-36 spread.
● CT-05: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has released a late July internal from The Tarrance Group that shows former state Sen. George Logan, who won Tuesday's Republican primary without any opposition, deadlocked 45-45 with Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes. Logan himself recently publicized his own survey from one month prior that had Hayes outpacing him 46-41.
Democrats haven't released any numbers from this northwestern Connecticut constituency, which Biden would have carried 55-44. However, House Majority PAC recently booked $910,000 in TV time in Hartford, a reservation that's almost certainly meant to aid Hayes. CLF, for its part, reserved $1.75 million in that market back in April.
● FL-14: A state appellate court has stayed a decision that booted wealthy businessman Jerry Torres from the Aug. 23 Republican primary ballot, but a hearing is scheduled for next week to determine his eligibility. Torres was tossed late last month because he was in Africa when a Mississippi notary claimed he'd been physically present when signing a candidate oath required to file for office. Torres has pledged to spend as much as $15 million of his own money in an uphill effort to unseat Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor in a 59-40 Biden constituency based in Tampa and St. Petersburg.
● IN-02: GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb on Tuesday scheduled the special election to succeed Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski, who died in a car crash last week, to coincide with the regularly-scheduled Nov. 8 general election.
Local Republican precinct committeemen will hold a pair of caucuses on Aug. 20 to pick their nominees for the special and for the full two-year term. However, because those two contests will take place using slightly-different boundaries (92% of the new 2nd's denizens live in the old district), some committeemen will only be able to participate in one caucus. The existing version of this North-central Indiana constituency supported Trump 59-39, while the revamped district would have backed him 60-38.
Democrats will only need to choose a special election nominee because high school teacher Paul Steury won the May primary for a full term. Steury ended June with only a little more than $20,000 on-hand.
● MN-05: Rep. Ilhan Omar's 50-48 primary victory over former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels in Tuesday's Democratic primary was not only shockingly tight, the University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier reports that it was also historically close.
Ostermeier takes a look at the state's primary results beginning in 1944, when the state's Democratic Party and the Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party merged to form the modern Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, best known as the DFL. Omar's 2-point margin of victory was, it turns out, the smallest of any Democratic House incumbent during this eight-decade stretch. The only member, in fact, who lost renomination since World War II was a Republican, Herman Carl Andersen, who was defeated in 1962 after his constituency was dramatically redrawn. So, why did Omar experience such a scare?
Two years earlier, in her first re-election bid, Omar likewise dealt with a well-funded primary challenge, but it wasn't nearly as close: In 2020, attorney Antone Melton-Meaux benefited from $2.4 million in outside support from a group unhappy with Omar's criticism of Israel but still lost 58-39.
Nevertheless, the result indicated that a significant number of primary voters were unhappy with Omar, but she didn't seem to think she was in much trouble this year against Samuels. Most notably, the congresswoman didn't air a single TV ad during her contest: The HuffPost's Daniel Marans wrote that she made this decision because of a belief that her base was made up of "young voters" who presumably wouldn't be motivated by messages on television. Omar also campaigned outside of Minnesota for other candidates while early voting was underway.
Samuels, meanwhile, spent much of his campaign faulting Omar for supporting an unsuccessful local ballot measure last year that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety. He also tried to use Omar's high-profile status against her, insisting, "She's making points, gaining notoriety, and we are left unrepresented and unaccounted for."
The challenger earned endorsements from several unions, and he picked up Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's support during the final days of the race. Additionally, a newly formed PAC spent $625,000 for Samuels during the final days, an effort that included a TV ad praising him for opposing efforts to "defund the police."
All of this, however, wasn't quite enough to bring down Omar, who retains a loyal base of support in this Minneapolis-based seat. Samuels, who took a distant third in the 2013 race for mayor, also had his own liabilities. Notably, the former councilman attracted renewed scrutiny over a 2020 incident during which a 6-year-old drowned on an outing that was chaperoned by Samuels and his wife. In March, when a critic tweeted about the boy's death, the candidate blithely responded, "Can't swim but can govern."
Samuels' allies may have also gotten involved a little too late to pull him across the finish line. Early voting began all the way back in late June, but both the Frey endorsement and the super PAC's spending only occurred in the final week of the campaign. And while Samuels raised a credible $1 million through July 20, his haul was only about a quarter of what Melton-Meaux had brought in at that same point in his 2020 race.
Omar's primary win, as tight as it was, all but guarantees her a third term in a constituency Biden would have carried 80-17. The congresswoman responded to her victory by proclaiming, "Tonight's victory is a testament to how much our district believes in the collective values we are fighting for and how much they're willing to do to help us overcome defeat."
● NY-12: Attorney Suraj Patel's allies at the Indian American Impact Fund have dropped a Slingshot Strategies poll giving Rep. Jerry Nadler a 29-27 edge over fellow incumbent Carolyn Maloney in the Aug. 23 Democratic primary, with Patel in third with 20%. Another 5% goes to Some Dude Ashmi Sheth, while 19% are undecided.
● NY-17: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has picked up a Democratic primary endorsement from former President Bill Clinton, whose Chappaqua home is located in this constituency. Hillary Clinton has not publicly taken sides, though she did march with the DCCC chair at the local Memorial Day parade.
● PA-10: Republican Rep. Scott Perry said Tuesday that the FBI "seized my cellphone" earlier in the day hours after agents searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago lair. An unnamed source told the Washington Post afterwards that the congressman's device was taken "as part of the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the use of fake electors to try to overturn President Biden's victory."
Perry this fall is defending a district in the Harrisburg and York areas that would have favored Trump 51-47. His Democratic opponent is Harrisburg City Council member Shamaine Daniels, who had less than $60,000 on-hand at the end of June.
● WI-AG: The Associated Press has called Tuesday's Republican primary for Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, who defeated former state Rep. Adam Jarchow in a 37.5-36.9 squeaker. Toney will now go up against Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who won his post in a tight 2018 contest.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Mayor Lori Lightfoot picked up her latest opponent on Wednesday when Alderman Sophia King announced that she would compete in next year's contest. However, while the nonpartisan primary doesn't take place until late February, petitioning to get on the ballot starts Aug. 28 and lasts until Nov. 28. Candidates need to turn in 12,500 valid signatures, though most serious contenders will try to collect at least three times this amount to give themselves a cushion in a city where petition challenges are a way of life.
Lightfoot was elected in a 74-26 landslide in 2019 against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a win that made her both the first Black woman and gay person to serve as mayor. But while Lightfoot, who had never appeared on the ballot before, was able to consolidate diverse groups of voters who were united by their dislike for Preckwinkle, things are very different now that the mayor has spent more than three years in office dealing with the pandemic, the city's stubborn crime rate, and numerous other issues.
One former ally, Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, announced earlier this year that she wouldn't support Lightfoot again by declaring, "I have never met anybody who has managed to piss off every single person they come in contact with—police, fire, teachers, aldermen, businesses, manufacturing."
And Garza is far from alone in her criticism, as the Chicago Tribune's Laura Washington writes that unreleased polls from "Lightfoot's opponents and others have pegged her public approval rating at lower than 30%." Washington adds, "Her showing appears weakest in predominantly white wards on the lakefront and the Northwest and Southwest sides, where many city and public safety workers live. They are incensed about policing, crime and rising taxes."
King, who is a friend of Barack Obama, is the sixth notable challenger to announce. The field already includes two fellow aldermen: Roderick Sawyer, whose late father, Eugene Sawyer, was named mayor following Harold Washington's death in 1987; and Raymond Lopez, who would be both the first Latino and gay man to lead America's third-largest city. Another elected official in the running is state Rep. Kam Buckner, though he attracted unfavorable attention in April when he pled guilty to a DUI almost a decade after he entered a guilty plea for the same offense.
The other three candidates all are veterans of the 2019 nonpartisan primary. There's wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson, who took fourth with 11% and waged an independent campaign the next year against Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. Another familiar name is former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who snagged ninth with just 5%. They're joined by activist Ja'Mal Green, who failed to make the ballot after Wilson challenged his petitions.
Plenty of other notable names are also eyeing this race. The most prominent belongs to former Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he'd make up his mind at the end of the summer. Quinn lost a competitive 2014 re-election campaign to Republican Bruce Rauner (Quinn's running mate that year was Vallas), and he tried to revive his career four years later by campaigning for attorney general. Quinn, though, was defeated in the Democratic primary by then-state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who prevailed 30-27 statewide and took Chicago by a wider 38-23 margin.
The Tribune also lists state Rep. La Shawn Ford; former city commissioner of buildings Judy Frydland; Chicago Teachers Union president Stacy Davis Gates; Alderman Brian Hopkins; and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson in the maybe list, while Politico adds that attorney Gery Chico is thinking about it. Chico ran in the crowded 2019 race and clocked in just ahead of Vallas with 6%, while Ford ended up taking all of 1%.
Lightfoot, for her part, launched her re-election campaign in June with a video where she proclaimed, "The fact is because of you, Chicago is coming back. When we got knocked down by COVID, we came together as a city and we got right back up because that's who we are and that's how we've been able to make so much progress despite all that's been thrown at us." If no one wins a majority of the vote next February, a runoff would take place in April.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.
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