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.
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● NRSC: The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher delivered the startling news on Monday afternoon that the NRSC had slashed a total of $10 million in TV reservations meant to aid Republican Senate candidates in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, a move he characterized as “a likely sign of financial troubles headed into the peak of the 2022 midterm election season.”
Goldmacher, however, noted that the figures were "a moving target," and indeed, they moved rapidly. Less than two hours after his report first appeared, Politico's Natalie Allison upped the combined sum to $13.5 million and added a fourth state, Nevada.
The biggest cut by far comes in Pennsylvania, where, per Politico, the NRSC canceled $7.5 million intended to help Mehmet Oz, who has been the subject of endless GOP hand-wringing about his prospects of holding this open seat. (The Times' original number was $5 million.) Allison adds that the committee rescinded $3.5 million it had booked in Arizona, a contest that pits Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly against Republican Blake Masters.
Meanwhile, $2.5 million was nuked in Wisconsin, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is trying to fend off Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes. Goldmacher reported that at least $2 million was sliced in the Madison and Green Bay media markets, which together are home to 36% of the state’s denizens. He added that some money was getting moved to the Milwaukee market, where another 41% of the state’s residents live, but said it was “significantly less than what had been canceled.”
Finally, Allison says that $1.5 million is coming out of Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is trying to win a second term against Republican Adam Laxalt. The Silver State was not on Goldmacher's list, though the two reporters may have been relying on different sources: Allison cited the ad tracking firm AdImpact while Goldmacher said his information came from two unnamed "media-tracking sources."
The NRSC is the first of the big four party-aligned campaign groups that compete in Senate races to cancel planned ad time (the other entities at this level are the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC on the GOP side, plus the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC for Democrats), so predictably, Republicans tried to spin the move as a minor affair.
Goldmacher relays that an unnamed source said some of the funds "would eventually be used to rebook advertising time in coordination with the Senate campaigns," which can obtain cheaper advertising rates than third-party groups like the NRSC. Meanwhile, NRSC communications director Chris Hartline insisted the story was "false" but refused to say how much of the canceled airtime would be reinstated.
But even if the committee does rebook, it faces major restrictions on any coordinated buys with candidates. Whereas independent expenditures can be unlimited, coordinated expenditures are subject to state-by-state limits. In total, the NRSC is allowed to spend a total of $2.3 million across all three of those states, or less than a quarter of the canceled amount.
Goldmacher notes the NRSC could run “hybrid” ads to get around this and split the cost of commercials with candidates, but those come with their own complications. The biggest is that the campaigns would have to split the cost, which is quite the conundrum since most GOP Senate contenders have fallen victim to the same fundraising problems that have hurt the NRSC and other Republicans this cycle.
If the NRSC is hoping that its allies will step in to fill the void, it may be in luck. Indeed SLF, which started July with more than $40 million more in the bank than its counterparts at SMP, recently committed another $9.5 million to helping Oz in Pennsylvania, and it continues to have millions reserved in the other three states as well as in many others.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Johnson has benefited from a super PAC called Wisconsin Truth PAC funded by a set of local billionaires, Diane Hendricks and Dick and Elizabeth Uihlein, that just began airing ads against Barnes. And in Arizona, the NRSC's backstop may be megadonor Peter Thiel, who spent $15 million to help Masters win this month’s primary. He has yet to open his checkbook for the general election, however, and has so far left another underfunded protégé, Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, out in the cold as well.
● Primary Night: We Used Up Our Palin Jokes 14 Years Ago: We have high-profile races for each of Alaska and Wyoming's at-large House seats Tuesday, where a pair of onetime GOP rising stars are facing very different challenges. Polls close in Wyoming at 9 PM ET / 7 PM local time, with most of Alaska closing three hours later. (A little less than 1% of the Last Frontier's residents live in the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone, where polls close at 1 AM ET / 8 PM local time.)
It's hard to believe, but Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney just two years ago was the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership and a strong contender to become the first Republican woman to serve as speaker. But Cheney's vote to impeach Trump and subsequent service on the Jan. 6 committee has made her a pariah among national Republicans, and every poll shows her badly losing renomination to Trump's pick, attorney Harriet Hageman. Three other Republicans are on the ballot, but they're unlikely to have much of an impact; the winner should have little trouble prevailing in November in this dark red state.
There's far more suspense to the north, though, in the instant-runoff special election to replace Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who died in March after 49 years in office. However, we're almost certainly not going to know who won the three-way race among a pair of Republicans (former reality TV show star Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III) and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola until at least Aug. 31.
That's because mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted if they're received through the end of the month. In the very likely event that no one wins a majority, election officials would then use the ranked-choice process to reallocate the third-place finisher's votes to the two remaining candidates.
Palin, who sports Trump's endorsement, earned first place in the June top-four primary by taking 27%, while Begich snagged 19%. Independent Al Gross notched third in that campaign with 13%, but he dropped out soon afterwards and backed Peltola, who took 10%. Former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney, a Republican who finished just behind with 6%, registered last week to run as a write-in candidate, but she said her main focus would be advancing to the November election for a full term (more on that below).
Things have gotten quite nasty in the homestretch between the two Republicans. Begich went up with a negative spot late in the campaign attacking Palin's record as governor and taking her to task for abruptly resigning back in 2009 and spending the ensuing 13 years as a celebrity. (The ad featured photos of Palin's 2020 appearance on The Masked Singer where the one-time vice-presidential nominee performed "Baby Got Back" disguised as a pink and blue bear.)
Palin quickly responded by castigating Begich, who is the rare Republican member of Alaska's prominent Democratic family, for supporting relatives like former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. The former governor, though, has attracted negative press for avoiding many public events while making frequent trips out of state, something her detractors have been happy to highlight.
Peltola is hoping that the GOP infighting will give her an opening to convince Palin and Begich's supporters to rank her second, especially since Republicans haven't done much to attack her. National Democrats, however, have also avoided devoting resources to help the former state representative in a state Trump won 53-43. Peltola would be the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress as well as the first Democrat to represent the state in D.C. since Mark Begich's 2014 defeat.
All three of those people, as well as Sweeney and 18 others, will also be on the ballot again Tuesday in the aforementioned top-four primary for a full two-year term. Just like in June, everyone will compete on one ballot, and the four candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election. It would be a huge surprise, though, if Palin, Begich, and Peltola didn't all continue on; Sweeney also looks likely to go forward because her nearest opponents in the June race either didn't file to run again or dropped out after poor showings.
Alaska also will hold statewide top-four primaries for governor and Senate. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, former independent Gov. Bill Walker, and former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara have all vastly outraised the other seven candidates, so they each look set to advance. The big question seems to be whether the fourth spot will go to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce or state Rep. Christopher Kurka, two Republicans who are each positioning themselves to the right of the ardently conservative governor.
Finally, there isn't much of a question that the general election for Senate will feature an intra-party battle between Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Trump's choice, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Pat Chesbro, who is a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission, is the most prominent Democrat in the race, while none of the other 16 candidates have done much to stand out in the battle for the last slot.
● PA-Gov: Democrat Josh Shapiro has launched what Politico says is a $1 million ad campaign highlighting Republican Doug Mastriano's ties to Gab, a white supremacist website whose users included Robert Bowers, the man charged with murdering 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.
The narrator in one ad declares that "minutes before Jews were killed at this synagogue, the murderer posted his hate-filled plan" on Gab. She continues by saying that Mastriano "is paying thousands of dollars to this website to recruit supporters," including "[p]eople who spread hate and violence that should scare all of us." The other spot makes use of a news clip where a Pittsburgh Jewish leader says, "Doug Mastriano paid Gab.com thousands of dollars for alt-right antisemitic extremists to be part of his campaign."
Last month, Media Matters reported that Mastriano spent $5,000 in April on "campaign consulting" from Gab, and that new accounts automatically followed him. Mastriano himself sat down for an interview weeks before his May primary with Gab founder Andrew Torba, who regularly traffics in antisemitic conspiracy theories; the soon-to-be Republican nominee gushed that Torba was "giving us a platform for free speech" and that he "liked that one meme" he shared.
Weeks later, when reporters started asking questions, Torba proudly said of the Mastriano campaign, "This isn't a big tent. This is a Christian movement. Full stop." He also told media outlets that his "policy is not to conduct interviews with reporters who aren't Christian or with outlets who aren't Christian, and Doug has a very similar media strategy where he does not do interviews with these people."
In late July, after weeks of scrutiny, Mastriano put out a statement reading, "I reject antisemitism in any form" and that Torba "doesn't speak for me," though the Republican expressed no contrition for his relationship with him. Instead, Mastriano said, "Recent smears by the Democrats and the media are blatant attempts to distract Pennsylvanians from suffering inflicted by Democrat policies." He also appears to have deleted his Gab account around that time even though he'd used it that very week.
● TX-Gov: UT Tyler's newest survey for the Dallas Morning News shows Republican incumbent Greg Abbott outpacing Democrat Beto O'Rourke 48-42 among likely voters.
● FL-07: Last week, an outside group called American Liberty Action launched what Florida Politics says is a $700,000 campaign aimed at stopping state Rep. Anthony Sabatini in the Aug. 23 Republican primary, an amount that represents most of the outside money that's been spent here. The spot tears into Sabatini for being the one GOP nay vote against Gov. Ron DeSantis' budget, with the narrator proclaiming, "Sabatini tried sabotaging funding to remove illegals from Florida and secure elections from fraud." The ad also labels him a "[l]ongtime registered Democrat."
The far-right state representative, who has a terrible relationship with the chamber's leadership, countered by saying he'd cast his no vote because the budget was $13 billion more than what DeSantis proposed. WESH also notes that Sabatini became a Republican all the way back in 2015.
● IN-02: A few familiar Republicans have already filed ahead of Wednesday's deadline to replace the late Rep. Jackie Walorski on the ballot―including one politician plenty of party members would like to forget. That candidate is former Attorney General Curtis Hill, who, as we'll explain, narrowly lost renomination in 2020 after multiple women accused him of sexual assault.
Hill isn't the only new arrival, though. Former state Rep. Christy Stutzman, who is the wife of former 3rd District Rep. Marlin Stutzman, also joined the contest for the 2nd on Monday. The field also includes businessman Rudolph Yakym, who served as Walorski's campaign finance director during her winning 2012 bid and entered this race with an endorsement from the congresswoman's husband, Dean Swihart. Attorney Tiernan Kane also is in, while state Rep. Curt Nisly announced last week.
Hill is likely the most prominent person on this list, though not entirely in the way he'd like. He made history in 2016 when he became the first African American Republican to be elected Indiana attorney general (Democrat Pamela Carter's win back in 1992 made her the first Black woman to be elected attorney general in any state), and he was quickly mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office. Everything changed in July of 2018, though, when four women accused Hill of groping them at a party that had taken place a few months earlier.
Hill's fellow Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, called for the attorney general to resign, but he refused to go anywhere and even announced his re-election campaign the following year. Hill avoided criminal charges, but he still faced disciplinary proceedings in front of the state Supreme Court. In May of 2020, the justices finally ruled that Hill had "committed the criminal act of battery," and that they would suspend his law license for a month with an automatic reinstatement afterwards.
Indiana is one of a few states where nominees for attorneys general are chosen through a convention rather than a primary, and Hill returned to office just before ballots were sent out to delegates. Ultimately, though, former Rep. Todd Rokita dispatched the incumbent 52-48, and he went on to prevail in the fall; Rokita, rather than Hill, is now a prominent potential candidate to succeed Holcomb in 2024.
And just like in 2020, primary voters will not be deciding on Hill's fate. Instead, local Republican precinct committeemen will hold a pair of caucuses to pick their nominees for the Nov. 8 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.
● NY-12: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday backed Rep. Jerry Nadler over fellow incumbent Carolyn Maloney in their Aug. 23 Democratic primary, which makes Schumer the first member of New York's congressional delegation to take sides.
● PA-10: Democrat Shamaine Daniels has released an internal from Public Policy Polling that gives her a 44-41 edge over Republican incumbent Scott Perry in a poll that went into the field the day that Perry revealed the FBI had just seized his cell phone. Daniels had less than $60,000 on hand at the end of June for this 51-47 Trump constituency, and it remains to be seen if last week's developments will give her a big fundraising lift.
● Los Angeles, CA District Attorney: The Los Angeles County clerk’s office announced Monday that the campaign to oust Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón failed to turn in enough valid petitions to place a recall question on the ballot. Gascón is scheduled to be up again in 2024 for a new four-year term as the top prosecutor in America's most populous county.
Gascón’s detractors didn't gather enough petitions during last year’s recall effort, but they spent $8 million on their 2022 attempt. The campaign ultimately collected 717,000 signatures ahead of last month’s deadline, and it needed 567,000 to be accepted by the county—an amount that’s 10% of the total number of voters who were registered when Gascón was elected in 2020. The clerk, though, said that only 520,000 were valid, with just under half of the rejected petitions coming from a person who wasn’t registered to vote.