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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● AZ State Senate, WI State Assembly: Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers badly lost his bid to return to the state Senate on Tuesday a few weeks after he detailed Donald Trump's attempts to steal the election before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, but he's not the only Republican legislative leader the GOP's master is trying to purge this month.
Trump put out a statement just hours before polls closed in the Grand Canyon State in which he denounced Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for refusing to carry out "a full cyber forensic audit of the 2020 election" and endorsed his opponent, Adam Steen, in next week's primary. The offensive came after Vos said that Trump had recently called him and urged him to retroactively decertify Joe Biden's victory in the state—a move the speaker said was legally impossible.
Trump's war on his perceived enemies in the GOP has typically focused on candidates for statewide office or Congress, but his rage has now extended further down the ballot. In Arizona, Bowers, who was termed-out of the state House, was trying to remain in the legislature by campaigning for the upper chamber. (He previously served a stint in the state Senate from 1997 to 2003.)
But Bowers was already distrusted in far-right circles for refusing to support the infamous Cyber Ninjas "audit" of the 2020 results and for killing a bill that would have allowed the legislature to overturn elections. His detractors soon turned to former state Sen. David Farnsworth to beat him; Farnsworth was only too happy to take up their banner, telling Insider, "I have no doubt in my mind that the election was stolen."
But while Bowers tried to appeal to conservatives by proclaiming that he'd "passed 38 bills on election integrity stuff," his biggest moment in the spotlight came in June when he testified before the Jan. 6 committee. The speaker told Congress that Trump's disgraced attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had pressured him to overturn Biden's win in the state, but says he responded, "Look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it, and I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona." Trump, predictably, retaliated by endorsing Farnsworth.
Bowers enjoyed a big spending edge over his rival, though a right-wing PAC called Securing Arizona got involved in beating the speaker: The group was ostensibly funded by a California-based business, but its owners insisted they'd never made any contributions to the group, saying that "[s]omebody's just impersonating us for the purposes of making a donation, figuring it would fly." Bowers himself acknowledged he was in trouble electorally, saying, "If I pull this off, it's going to be a miracle." He didn't get that miracle: Farnsworth won 64-36, and he faces no general election opposition in this very red seat in the Mesa area.
The dynamics are different in Wisconsin, where legislators aren't subject to term limits. Vos himself took over as speaker in 2013, and he's used his gerrymandered majority to repeatedly frustrate Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' agenda. Vos even responded to Biden's win by launching a taxpayer-funded review of the contest, but that wasn't good enough for the nation's most prominent Republican.
On Tuesday, Trump trashed Vos for using an old photo of the two of them together in his campaign literature as he endorsed the previously little-known Steen. "Speaker Vos had 17 years to prove to Wisconsin residents that he has their best interest in mind," Trump said, "but even in his own campaign efforts, Vos has tried to mislead his constituents, sending out mailers that feature a picture he took with me—trying to make voters believe I am a Vos supporter, which I am not." The speaker responded, "As a conservative, I believe in upholding the constitution. That's why I won't take the impossible step to overturn the 2020 election."
Steen, like Farnsworth, is more than willing to spread the Big Lie. "I would have voted to pull back our electors because fraud vitiates everything," the challenger told the New York Times, adding, "When you're looking at the fact that we have an election that has lots of questions, I'd say, 'Why, why?' Could you tell me why Robin doesn't want to look at it? I don't know." Just like in Arizona, the winner of the GOP primary for this seat in the Racine area will not face any Democratic opposition in November.
● Kansas rocked the political world on Tuesday night, rejecting an attempt to amend the state constitution to strip away the right to an abortion in a massive landslide. On this week's edition of The Downballot, we pick apart the vote with law professor Quinn Yeargain, an expert on state constitutions. Yeargain explains how the amendment came to be on the ballot, what might've caused the huge spike in voter turnout, and what lessons Democrats should take away from the election (hint: abortion rights are popular, so lean in to them).
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's other key races, including Trump picks prevailing in Senate races in Arizona and Missouri (if you allow that "ERIC" nonsense); a pro-impeachment House Republican going down to defeat in a Michigan seat Democrats are now better-positioned to flip in November; and the return of the notorious Kris Kobach, who narrowly won the GOP nod for Kansas attorney general—and could once again jeopardize his party's chances in a race Republicans have no business losing.
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.
● MT Redistricting: Montana's bipartisan redistricting commission has at long last released draft maps for the legislature, but as we previously explained, the state won't actually implement new districts until the 2024 elections. That's because of a provision in the state constitution requiring the commission to submit maps to lawmakers for their review at the first legislative session after census data becomes available—which won't take place until January of next year. This needless delay could expose the state to a lawsuit in the future, but no one sought to challenge this practice this time.
● AZ-Sen: The Republican firm OnMessage Inc.'s survey for the conservative group America Next gives Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly a 49-44 lead over former Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters, who won the GOP nod on Tuesday. The organization, which is run by former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, shows Masters narrowly pulling ahead after respondents are exposed to GOP talking points about the Biden administration's agenda.
● OH-Sen: National Republicans have responded to weeks of bad stories about J.D. Vance's campaign with a multi-million dollar effort to aid him in a general election where GOP groups likely never planned to spend anything at all. The NRSC and Vance are running a coordinated buy for $1 million, which is the most that can be spent in Ohio for such an effort; the biographical spot represents Vance's first ad since he won the primary in early May.
Another conservative organization, One Nation, is deploying $3.8 million on a TV and radio buy criticizing Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, but there's a catch. Because One Nation is technically an issue advocacy group, it can only run commercials in media markets located in the 13th Congressional District that Ryan was elected to represent in 2020. That constituency spans two markets, Cleveland and Youngstown, which together are home to just shy of 40% of the state's residents.
● AZ-Gov: Democrat Katie Hobbs announced hours before polls closed for Tuesday's primary that she would go on the air the next day with ads attacking each of the GOP frontrunners, former TV news anchor Kari Lake and Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, even though she didn't yet know which opponent she'd face. The RGA, which is run by termed-out Gov. Doug Ducey, had no doubt it would be going up against Hobbs, though, and it used Wednesday to launch the first commercial from its $10.2 million reservation.
● MI-Gov: Real estate agent Ryan Kelley, who was arrested in June on misdemeanor charges related to his role in the Jan. 6 riot, characteristically responded to his fourth-place showing in Tuesday's Republican primary by making evidence-free fraud allegations against the state party and the woman who beat him.
Kelley claimed that WWMT-TV News Channel 3, which accidentally published randomly created test election results on its website last week, was part of a conspiracy against him. On Wednesday morning, hours after the actual election results showed Tudor Dixon outpacing him by a decisive 41-15 margin, Kelley wrote on Facebook, "Looks like the 'testing' was not testing after all, and it was a release of their preferred and predetermined outcome. NOT CONCEDING!" He continued, "Let's see the GOP and the predetermined winner call for a publicly supervised hand recount to uphold election integrity."
Unsurprisingly, Kelley did not attended the party's unity event, which took place hours after a GOP spokesperson blasted his conspiracy-mongering as "absolutely irresponsible."
● CA-22: David Binder Research is out with a mid-July internal for Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas and the DCCC that shows Salas beating Republican incumbent David Valadao 43-35. This is the first survey we've seen testing Salas against the congressman, who only narrowly made it out of the June top-two primary after voting to impeach Trump. Biden would have won this Central Valley constituency 55-42, but this largely rural agricultural region has traditionally seen much weaker turnout among Democratic-leaning voters in midterm years.
● CO-07: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has publicized a survey from Meeting Street Insights that gives Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen just a 44-42 edge over the Republican nominee, former oil and gas executive Erik Aadland. Biden carried this seat in the western Denver suburbs 56-42, but Republicans are hoping that Rep. Ed Perlmutter's retirement will give them a bigger opening. This is the first poll that's been released of this contest.
● IN-02: Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski died Wednesday in a car crash along with two aides and another driver. Walorski, who was 58, had been in her north-central Indiana district and had just attended an event shortly before the collision.
Walorski was a three-term member of the state House when she launched her first bid for Congress in the 2010 cycle against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in the 2nd District. Barack Obama had carried that seat 54-45 as he was becoming the only Democrat to win Indiana's electoral votes since LBJ's 1964 landslide, but Republicans believed Donnelly would be vulnerable as the political climate worsened for his party.
Walorski, who had strong ties to tea party groups, decisively won her primary, but she faced a tough fight against Donnelly even in that red wave year. The congressman benefited from union support in an area where labor still held sway, and he went after Walorski for supporting a 23% national sales tax. Donnelly also enjoyed the backing of the NRA, which still was willing to endorse Democratic incumbents at the time, and he prevailed 48-47 under very tough conditions.
Walorski quickly announced that she'd run again in 2012, but she never got a rematch with Donnelly. The incumbent decided to campaign for the Senate after the GOP gerrymandered the 2nd, and this time, Walorski looked like the clear favorite. However, she still went through another tough general election against Brendan Mullen, an Army veteran who campaigned as a moderate. Walorski's second campaign was another cliffhanger, but she came out on top 49-48. The narrow win came about as Mitt Romney was carrying the 2nd 56-42, though Donnelly was also prevailing here 50-45 as he was winning his Senate race.
Democrats were determined to target Walorski again, but they got dispiriting news when Mullen decided not to wage another bid in 2014. Walorski, who shed her old reputation as a hard-right culture warrior by adopting more establishment-oriented positions and emphasizing bipartisanship, also benefited from her seat's continuing shift to the right.
While Democrats occasionally talked about putting this constituency into play, Walorski never came close to losing: Her closest re-election fight was in 2018, but she beat self-funder Mel Hall by a convincing 55-45. In 2020, Walorski easily won another term as Trump was taking her once-competitive 2nd District 59-39.
● MN-01: SurveyUSA, working for ABC 6 News, shows Republican Brad Finstad beating Democrat Jeff Ettinger 46-38 in next week's special election for this 54-44 Trump constituency. The only other poll that anyone's released is an early June Ettinger internal that put Finstad's advantage at 48-47.
● TN-05: There's only one seriously contested congressional primary in America's only Thursday primary (more on that below), but it's a pricey one. Former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, and retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead are the main Republican candidates in a nine-way contest to succeed Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, who decided to retire after the GOP legislature transmuted his seat from a 60-37 Biden district to a 54-43 Trump constituency by cracking the city of Nashville.
Note that, unlike in many Southern states, it takes a mere plurality to win the primary in the Volunteer State. Polls close at 8 PM ET/ 7 PM CT; the winner will face state Sen. Heidi Campbell, who has the Democratic side to herself.
Winstead, who is self-funding the majority of his campaign, outspent Harwell $1.3 million to $600,000 through July 15, while Ogles deployed only $300,000. However, Roll Call notes that two affiliates of the Club for Growth, USA Freedom Fund and School Freedom Fund (sensing a theme here?) have dropped a total of $1.7 million to support Ogles or attack his main rivals.
One recent spot argues that Harwell, who took fourth in the 2018 primary for governor, "rammed through a 28% gas tax increase," while the narrator insists that Winstead "bankrolled the liberal Tennessee Democrat Party." A different pro-Ogles piece also makes use of footage of him proclaiming, "When this administration attacked Americans by weaponizing COVID, I refused to comply with the mandate."
Not every big money group, though, is so enamored with Ogles, who is a former state director for the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity. Conservative Americans PAC, which has gotten involved in a few GOP primaries this year, has spent over $700,000 going after the mayor; its efforts include a new spot that accuses Ogles of supporting tax increases when his "businesses didn't pay their own taxes—the state had to file liens to collect."
Another organization called Government of the People, which supports Harwell, has also used $110,000 to argue Ogles is a lobbyist while Harwell is a true conservative. Harwell is using a similar theme in her own ad, which labels him as beholden to "amnesty-loving RINOs who sell out America." Winstead, who does not have any major outside group allies, is running his own commercial pushing back on attempts to portray him as a secret Democrat. The spot stars a fellow veteran who defends him for casting a "dumb vote and a donation or two over 10 years ago." A recent Winstead internal showed him trailing Harwell 22-20, with Ogles in third with 15%.
P.S. So why is Tennessee's primary on a Thursday? Politico investigated this very question back in 2014 and discovered that it's been on Thursday since the state's first constitution was drafted in 1796, but that no one knows why. This relic of the George Washington era has remained intact ever since, though the state votes on Tuesday for presidential primaries and for general elections.
The Associated Press issued calls for several Aug. 2 primary contests on Wednesday. Note that the margins can still change as new ballots are counted.
● AZ-01 (R): Incumbent David Schweikert defeated wealthy businessman Elijah Norton 43-33 after a truly ugly campaign, while the balance went to underfunded opponent Josh Barnett.
Norton used his personal resources to outspend the congressman and attack him over a major scandal that resulted in the incumbent admitting to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws in 2020. Schweikert responded by circulating mailers showing the challenger and a male friend with the caption, "Elijah Norton isn't being straight with you." Norton quickly fired back with a defamation lawsuit accusing Schweikert of falsely insinuating that he's gay.
Schweikert will go up against Democrat Jevin Hodge, a communications consultant who would be Arizona's first Black congressman. This seat in the eastern Phoenix area would have supported Biden 50-49, while Schweikert's existing 6th District went for Trump 51-47.
● AZ-02 (R): Navy SEAL veteran Eli Crane, who earned Trump's endorsement late in the campaign, beat state Rep. Walt Blackman 34-24. Crane, who like Blackman is an ardent Big Lie promoter, will take on Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran in a dramatically reconfigured seat in northern and eastern rural Arizona: While Biden carried O'Halleran's existing 1st District 50-48, Trump would have taken the new 2nd 53-45.
● MI-13 (D): Wealthy state Rep. Shri Thanedar defeated state Sen. Adam Hollier, who benefited from heavy spending by AIPAC and other groups, 28-24 in this safely blue seat; Michigan Civil Rights Commissioner Portia Roberson, who had retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence's endorsement, took third with 17%.
Thanedar, who immigrated to the United State from India, would be the state's first Indian American member of Congress. His win, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib's primary victory in the neighboring 12th District, also all but guarantees that the city of Detroit will not have a Black representative for the first time since 1955.
● AZ-AG (R): Former prosecutor Abe Hamadeh, who had Trump's backing, defeated former Tucson City Councilor Rodney Glassman 32-24 to win the nomination to succeed termed-out Republican incumbent Mark Brnovich. Hamadeh, who has denied that Biden won the state, will face former Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes in the fall.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.