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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● FL-Sen, NC-Sen: While vocal Republican strategists reacted with horror this week when South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham proposed a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd quickly announced that they would cosponsor the bill that one GOP ad-maker argued "rips open a political sore." Rubio, though, seems convinced that he can avoid any backlash with an ad campaign caricaturing his Democratic rival, Rep. Val Demings, as the one with extreme views on abortion.
The senator has launched what NBC says is a one-week buy for $1.8 million, which includes an ad campaign connecting Demings to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The narrator in one insists, "Demings voted with Pelosi to allow radical abortions even at the moment of birth," before moving on to bashing her on a myriad of other issues; another Rubio commercial uses similar language. Most Republican candidates have been reluctant to discuss abortion at all, but the NRSC recently aired its own ad against Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly in which it insisted that Kelly, like Rubio, also supports "extreme last minute abortions right before baby's birth."
Both of these attempts to neutralize abortion as an issue, though, deliberately mislead and fearmonger about a vote both Democrats cast in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act, a bill that would protect and expand abortion rights and is sometimes described as "codifying" Roe v. Wade. The legislation would only allow abortions later in pregnancy "when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health."
Budd, meanwhile, backed Graham's bill the very same day that Politico publicized an internal GOP poll warning that abortion rights could badly damage the party's prospects in the fall. Capitol Communications, surveying Aug. 21-22 on behalf of an unnamed candidate for the state Supreme Court, showed Democrat Cheri Beasley edging out Budd 42-41. Pollster Paul Shumaker spent most of his memo arguing, "The Red Wave is Real," but he wasn't so optimistic in a portion titled, "Roe V Wade and The Democrats' Only Hope."
"I begin by telling my fellow Republicans, don't shoot the messenger," Shumaker wrote, before he revealed that a 44% plurality said that the statement, "Abortions should be the right of a woman and legal in all circumstances" best described their stance. Another 25% selected, "Abortions should be permitted in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the mother's life."
Shumaker argued that his party should "[r]adicalize the ultra-left Democrats who support unrestricted access to abortions, including full-term abortions, while not letting Democrats radicalize the Republicans as the Party of an all-out ban," though Budd doesn't seem to have internalized that last part.
● Michigan Democrats are defending a narrow 4-3 majority on their state Supreme Court this fall, and one incumbent on the ballot is the fascinating Justice Richard Bernstein, our guest on this week's episode of The Downballot. Bernstein, who made history in 2014 when he became the first blind justice in the court's history, describes his work as a disability rights advocate prior to joining the bench; how voters identified their struggles with his own during his first campaign; and why he wrote such a feisty response last week when a conservative colleague wanted to block an abortion rights measure from going before voters in November.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recount the final primaries of the year, which saw MAGA candidates sweep three congressional races in New Hampshire, much to the consternation of whatever passes for the GOP establishment these days. They also try to understand why on earth Lindsey Graham introduced a 15-week national abortion ban this week, which has some Republicans twisting in knots and others—including several in competitive races—inexplicably joining in.
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.
● NH-Sen: Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan quickly responded to Republican Don Bolduc's victory in Tuesday's GOP primary by launching a spot set to start Thursday that attacks her underfunded rival's opposition to abortion rights before he can respond. Her narrator declares, "The Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and Don Bolduc and anti-choice Republicans say we should 'rejoice' at the ruling denying women access to abortion." There's more where that came from, as NBC reports that EMILY's List will also begin a $1.4 million buy on Thursday.
On the GOP side, NRSC chair Rick Scott insisted his committee would "absolutely" spend against Hassan despite its major money woes. Politico wrote back in May that the NRSC had reserved $9 million for this race, though CNN's Manu Raju tweeted Wednesday that it had booked only $6.5 million. The group has yet to air any ads here and there's no reports of it scaling back its reservation, so it's not clear what the source of the discrepancy is.
● PA-Sen: Monmouth University released a survey on Wednesday that found 49% of Pennsylvania voters would "definitely" or "probably" support Democrat John Fetterman while only 39% said the same about Republican Mehmet Oz. However, while some observers quickly characterized the results as Fetterman leading Oz 49-39, that's not the case. This poll isn't trying to simulate the horserace because respondents weren't asked whether they would vote for Fetterman or Oz, just how open they are to supporting each man.
By contrast, a new YouGov poll for CBS found Fetterman ahead 52-47 in a straight head-to-head question: Respondents were quizzed if they would select him, Oz, an unnamed "someone else," or if they weren't sure, which better reflects the actual decision voters will be faced with in the fall.
GA-Sen: Quinnipiac University: Raphael Warnock (D-inc): 52, Herschel Walker (R): 46 (June: 54-44 Warnock)
NC-Sen: East Carolina University: Ted Budd (R): 49, Cheri Beasley (D): 46 (May: 49-42 Budd)
WI-Sen: Marquette University Law School: Ron Johnson (R-inc): 49, Mandela Barnes (D): 48 (Aug.: 51-44 Barnes)
While Quinnipiac's numbers aren't quite as good for Warnock as they were in June, these are still some of the best results for him from the last several weeks. (The earlier poll sampled registered voters, while this one looks at likely voters.)
The Quinnipiac survey, though, didn't name Libertarian Chase Oliver, whose presence could keep either major candidate from taking the majority they'd need to avert a December runoff. Instead, the school offered an unnamed "someone else" as an option, but fewer than 1% of respondents selected this choice.
Marquette's last poll was conducted at a time when Barnes, who had just won his primary, had aired several positive ads with little pushback; Johnson, by contrast, had been on the receiving end of months' worth of negative spots by Democrats. Republicans, though, have spent the time between the two surveys running commercial after commercial painting Democratic nominee as a radical: One NRSC spot even included on-screen text saying that Barnes, who would be Wisconsin's first Black senator, is "different."
● LA-Gov: Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, a four-term Republican who is sometimes mentioned for higher office, tells LAPolitics that he'll seek re-election next year even though "I have been encouraged to run for governor." Strain actually did announce in 2012 that he'd enter the 2015 campaign to lead the state, but he bowed out the next year.
GA-Gov: Quinnipiac University: Brian Kemp (R-inc): 50, Stacey Abrams (D): 48 (June: 48-48 tie)
NM-Gov: SurveyUSA for KOB-TV: Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-inc): 48, Mark Ronchetti (R): 36, Karen Bedonie (L): 5 (May: 47-43 Lujan Grisham)
OK-Gov: SoonerPoll for KWTV-DT and KOTV-DT: Kevin Stitt (R-inc): 44, Joy Hofmeister (D): 43, Ervin Yen (I): 4, Natalie Bruno (L): 3
PA-Gov: YouGov for CBS: Josh Shapiro (D): 55, Doug Mastriano (R): 44
TX-Gov: YouGov for the University of Texas and Texas Politics Project: Greg Abbott (R-inc): 45, Beto O'Rourke (D): 40 (Aug: 49-42 Abbott)
WI-Gov: Marquette University Law School: Tony Evers (D-inc): 47, Tim Michels (R): 44, Joan Beglinger (I): 5 (Aug.: 45-43 Evers)
SurveyUSA's New Mexico numbers represent a massive shift from when it last went into the field about a month before Ronchetti overwhelmingly won his primary. The only other recent poll we've seen here were late August numbers from the local firm Research & Polling for the Albuquerque Journal, and it showed Lujan Grisham ahead by a smaller 47-40 margin.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of this bunch was the SoonerPoll that showed Stitt only narrowly ahead in one of the reddest states in the nation. The numbers were released shortly after the Republican firm Echelon Insights surveyed this race as part of a 14-state poll for the big tech trade association NetChoice: That assortment of polls overall found very favorable results for Democrats, but it still had Stitt up by a wide 55-36.
The only other Oklahoma numbers we've seen in the last two months came from a late July survey from the Democratic firm Change Research for an anti-Stitt group, and it found the governor ahead 42-34.
Beglinger recently dropped out of the race for governor of Wisconsin and endorsed Michels, but she'll remain on the ballot.
● AZ-02: Republican Eli Crane late last month released a Moore Information internal conducted Aug. 11-15 that showed him leading Democratic incumbent Tom O'Halleran just 45-44, though the survey didn't get much notice until now. Those numbers, dusty as they are, may help explain why the NRCC recently threw down $900,000 on an effort to unseat O'Halleran in a sprawling northeastern Arizona constituency that, under the new map, would have favored Trump by a wide 53-45.
● CA-27: Democrat Christy Smith is out with a poll from The Mellman Group taken just before Labor Day that found her edging out Republican incumbent Mike Garcia 44-42 in their third matchup. This is the first survey we've seen since April of the contest for a seat based in northern Los Angeles County that, at 55-43 Biden, is a couple points to the left of the district where Garcia beat Smith by 333 votes in 2020.
● NV-03, NV-04: The Nevada Independent reports that Morning in America PAC, a GOP group that had little money when reports were last released in early July, has spent $1 million so far to help April Becker in the 3rd District and another $280,000 to aid Sam Peters in the 4th.
● NY-22: Democrat Francis Conole this week unveiled an endorsement from Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, an independent who did not take sides in the competitive 2018 and 2020 contests in the previous version of this seat. Walsh is the son of former Rep. James Walsh, a Republican who represented Syracuse from 1989 until his 2009 retirement.
● OR-04: In a damning new story on Army National Guard veteran Alek Skarlatos, the Oregon Capital Chronicle details the Republican nominee's history of creepy and misogynistic behavior toward women. The Capital Chronicle notes that Skarlatos, who is 29, has "liked" Instagram photos of underage girls as young as 15 who were wearing bikinis or other revealing clothing, doing so within the past few months and dozens of times since 2020. Skarlatos issued a statement defending himself stating, "To imply that a 'follow' or a 'like' of social media influencers on Instagram with over 100,000 followers is inappropriate is absurd."
However, the story doesn't end there for Skarlatos, who narrowly lost a Douglas County commissioner race in 2018 and was also the 2020 GOP nominee in the old 4th District. Back in 2018 on a podcast interview a few months before he first ran for office, the candidate and host joked about women violently dying during sex, including Skarlatos laughing "oh yeah" in response to the host's question, "You ever thought if you choked someone and killed them in bed what would happen?" Skarlatos also complained that the women in his town of Roseburg were unattractive and that he had to travel elsewhere for dating.
In response to the reporting on the podcast comments, Skarlatos offered a classic non-apology: "Looking back at the comments I made as a 24-year-old who just left the Army, I'm disappointed. I apologize if I offended anyone."
● OH Supreme Court: Suffolk University has polled the three state Supreme Court elections taking place as partisan races this fall, giving us a rare look at contests that could have major consequences for fair elections and civil rights such as abortion access. In the race for chief justice, Democrat Jennifer Brunner and Republican Sharon Kennedy, both of whom are currently associate justices, are tied 42-42. Meanwhile, Republican Associate Justice Pat Fischer leads Democratic challenger Terri Jameson just 42-41, and fellow GOP Associate Justice Pat DeWine edges out Democratic challenger Marilyn Zayas 43-41.
Republicans currently hold a 4-3 majority on Ohio's high court, though retiring GOP Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor has been a critical swing vote and sided with her three Democratic colleagues to repeatedly strike down the GOP's congressional and legislative gerrymanders this cycle. Although Republican mapmakers were able to run out the clock and use districts deemed unconstitutional this November, those lawsuits remain ongoing for the 2024 cycle, and a lawsuit over the state's six-week abortion ban is also ongoing. But with O'Connor reaching mandatory retirement age, Democrats will have to flip a seat to gain a majority inclined to thwart gerrymandering and protect abortion access.
As we have previously noted, the battle for control over the court this cycle is complicated by the fact that Brunner and Kennedy are both seeking a promotion to chief justice. Should either one prevail, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine would be positioned to appoint a Republican replacement as associate justice. Thus, a win or defeat for Brunner will not change the partisan balance of the court this year, meaning Democrats must defeat either Fischer or DeWine to gain a majority (though the chief justice does have broader powers that would make Brunner winning that race nonetheless significant).