The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast
● OH State House: State Rep. Derek Merrin and his allies filed a lawsuit in state court over the weekend to try and claim control of the powerful Ohio House Republican Alliance from state House Speaker Jason Stephens' side, a move that comes nine months after Democrats joined with a minority of GOP members to elect Stephens over Merrin.
OHRA finished June with $1.1 million in the bank, and the legal battle could determine if its funds are used to help or hurt the Stephens backers who are already attracting challengers for their March primaries. The matter may not be settled until long after that, though, because the judge has set the trial for October of next year. Still, the Associated Press' Samantha Hendrickson writes that a legal defeat for Stephens could make it tougher for him to exert enough power to survive an all-but-inevitable leadership challenge following the 2024 elections.
Merrin began 2023 as his party's official choice to lead a chamber where Republicans hold 67 of the 99 seats, but Stephens and 21 other Republicans unexpectedly joined all 32 Democrats to make Stephens speaker. Merrin responded by accusing those Republican dissenters of "ramp[ing] up their efforts" for the top job when they learned their rival was busy caring for his dying father.
Stephens went on to approve rules that give Democrats more representation on committees and let Minority Leader Allison Russo choose members for special committees, but his leadership hardly was the start of a bipartisan age. Republicans came together in May to place an amendment on the August ballot to make it harder to change the state constitutional again; Stephens responded to its stinging defeat at the ballot box by pledging to beat this fall's abortion rights amendment, declaring, "As a 100% pro-life conservative, we must defeat Issue 1 on Nov. 7 to stop abortion from being a part of our state's constitution."
Hardliners, though, still had little patience for their unwanted speaker. The state party's central committee in January censured Stephens and his 21 allies, a faction one official dubbed "the Blue 22." The state branch of the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity additionally launched a $200,000 digital and mail offensive against half of them in August.
Stephens and Merrin also wasted no time feuding over who would have access to the official corporate debit cards that allow them to spend the OHRA's money: Stephens' people insisted he has this power because the speaker has traditionally also been the leader of the majority caucus, while Merrin emphasized that a majority of that caucus elected him its chair. The two factions reached an agreement in April to give them joint custody, though no one acted like this was the end of the party's public feud.
Things escalated over the weekend when Merrin and two fellow state representatives filed their lawsuit alleging that Stephens' side "immediately reneged" on their deal and spent over $280,000 without the requisite joint approval. The plaintiffs are asking the judge for full control of OHRA, plus about $400,000 for reimbursement, damages, and legal fees. Stephens, for his part, dismissed the suit as "nothing more than the desperate antics of a handful of self-promoting individuals."
But no matter how things turn out with the suit and the upcoming primaries, Stephens is likely to face a serious challenge to his speakership in January of 2025―just not from Merrin. Hendrickson writes that state Senate President Matt Huffman, who is termed out of the upper chamber, not only plans to run for the state House, but that he's "openly touted he's vying for speakership." Merrin, for his part, is also term-limited and thus won't be around to oppose Stephens.
● While the House continues to be in crisis from the fall of Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Conference’s inability to unite around a new candidate, the 2024 Congressional races are well underway. Daily Kos Elections’ own Jeff Singer joins us to run through some of the notable developments in the most competitive races, including George Santos’s ongoing legal drama and Nancy Mace’s strange theatrics.
Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also preview the first round of the Louisiana governor’s race, taking place this Saturday, October 14. They then discuss the new voting restrictions that North Carolina Republicans passed into law over Governor Cooper’s veto and review the new Alabama congressional map that a three judge panel decided will be used for the rest of the decade.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
- TX-Sen: Colin Allred (D): $4.7 million raised
- NC-13: Erin Paré (R): $200,000 raised (in one month)
- NC-14: Pat Harrigan (R): $250,000 raised (in one month), $750,000 cash on hand
- NY-18: Pat Ryan (D-inc): $600,000 raised
● MI-Sen: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has released a new poll of Michigan that looked at next year's Republican primary for Senate and finds former Detroit police chief James Craig leading former Rep. Mike Rogers 30-19 with a 51% majority still undecided. PPP tells us that they didn't conduct the survey on behalf of a client, and it's the first poll we've seen from anyone here since both Craig and Rogers kicked off their campaigns in recent weeks.
● WV-Sen: Gov. Jim Justice has released a month-old internal poll from Fabrizio, Lee and Associates that showed him with a wide 62-23 lead over Rep. Alex Mooney in next year's Republican primary for Senate.
● KY-Gov: AdImpact, a firm that tracks political ads, published data on Wednesday showing that Democrats have maintained a nearly two-to-one advantage in ad spending ahead of next month's contest between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Overall, Beshear and his allies have outspent Cameron and his supporters by $39.8 million to $21.3 million.
However, those numbers actually understate just how big Beshear's edge is since federal law entitles candidates to much lower TV ad rates than outside groups. That badly disadvantages Republicans since Beshear's campaign itself has outspent Cameron's by a lopsided $19.1 million to $3.1 million, meaning Republican ad spending has consisted overwhelmingly of outside groups coming to Cameron's aid. Consequently, Democrats have likely run well over two-thirds of the TV ads in this race thanks to those cheaper candidate rates.
● MS-Gov: Democrat Brandon Presley outraised Republican incumbent Tate Reeves $5.6 million to $1.6 million during the third quarter of the year, with about $3 million of Presley's total coming from the DGA. Reeves, though, still finished September with a $6 million to $1.8 million cash on hand lead.
The third contender, independent Gwendolyn Gray, announced Monday that she was dropping out and endorsing Presley, though her name will remain on the Nov. 7 ballot. It's possible that Gray could still take enough support to prevent either remaining candidate from securing the majority needed to avert a Nov. 28 runoff, though a recent Mason-Dixon survey for the conservative Magnolia Tribune placed Reeves ahead 51-43.
● AL-02: The Alabama Political Reporter's Bill Britt mentions two new Democrats as possible contenders for the new 2nd District, state House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels and Alabama State University President Quinton Ross. An unnamed person close to Daniels says they believe he'd defer to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed if he got in, as would state Sen. Kirk Hatcher; however, Britt relays that Reed is still making up his mind whether to get in.
Ross, by contrast, is getting talked about as a possible contender no matter what Reed does, though the former state Senate minority leader himself hasn't shown any obvious sign that he wants to return to elected office. Indeed, Britt writes that "of the nearly dozen people who spoke with APR, no one was quite sure where the rumors of Ross's interest came from or when they started." Alabama's filing deadline is Nov. 10.
● MI-10: Rhonda Powell, who took second in the 2022 Democratic primary for this seat, announced Wednesday that she would once again seek to take on freshman GOP Rep. John James. Powell, who is now the statewide operations director for the progressive group We the People Action Fund, will face a rematch against Carl Marlinga, the former Macomb County judge who beat her 48-17 last year; James went on to win 49-48.
Powell likely won't be the only new Democratic candidate this week, as the Detroit News reports that Wayne State University Board of Governors member Anil Kumar will jump in Thursday. The primary already includes gun safety activist Emily Busch, state Board of Education member Tiffany Tilley, and financial advisor Diane Young.