The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● NC-Gov: Wealthy attorney Bill Graham announced on Wednesday that he'd compete in the March Republican primary for governor of North Carolina, adding that he'd pour at least $5 million of his own money into his quest to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper. Graham's entry sets up a showdown with Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who's spent the year as the favorite to claim the nomination, but the conservative site The Dispatch writes that Graham has the support from unnamed national "donors and political operatives" who believe the far-right front-runner could cost Republicans the general election.
The lieutenant governor's many detractors have highlighted his past antisemitic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic screeds, as well as his ardent opposition to reproductive rights. Even more material surfaced in August when the Huffington Post uncovered Robinson's rambling posts about conspiracy theories that included a 2017 Facebook message in which he wrote, "I don't believe the Moon Landing was faked and I don't believe 9/11 was an 'inside job' but if I found both were true… I wouldn't be surprised."
However, GOP primary voters so far have tuned out appeals from alternative candidates, such as state Treasurer Dale Folwell and former Rep. Mark Walker, who've presented themselves as safer options. A recent survey from the Republican firm Cygnal for the conservative John Locke Foundation showed Robinson demolishing Folwell 49-5—the latest in a string of polls that have found him crushing his opposition. Donald Trump has also made it clear that Robinson is his guy.
While national Republicans who want to stop Trump from again serving as their presidential nominee are still flailing about for a savior, Graham is hoping his wealth will help him fill that role for Robinson skeptics. However, Graham may have his own doubters to persuade: His only previous bid for office was a 2008 campaign for governor in which he took a distant third place in the primary, with just 9%. The new contender will also begin with little name recognition almost 16 years after that race, though he's already said he'll begin a TV ad campaign next week to reintroduce himself.
Graham did not mention the lieutenant governor in his announcement but instead pitched himself as the strongest candidate to beat the Democratic front-runner, state Attorney General Josh Stein. Still, Graham not-so-subtly argued that Robinson would be a weak option. "Only four of the last thirty years have been led by a Republican governor in North Carolina; we keep losing to the liberals," he said in a statement. "If we want to change that, we need a nominee who will have the resources, discipline, and character needed to defeat the far-left Josh Stein in November."
But while Robinson's intraparty enemies are hoping that Graham will be able to emerge as a strong alternative, the front-runner would likely benefit from a crowded field of opponents. North Carolina allows for a primary runoff only if no candidate takes more than 30% of the vote, and the runner-up must also formally request one.
● Why do vulnerable House Republicans keep voting for a sure-loser speaker candidate who opposes all their priorities and might just drown them at the ballot box? Beats us! But we just can't resist a delicious GOP disaster on this week's episode of "The Downballot." David Valadao voted to impeach Trump—and also supports Jim Jordan, known insurrectionist. Brian Fitzpatrick represents a heavily Ukrainian district—and also supports Jim Jordan, known Putinist. And there are many more like them. Make it make sense! Well, we shall try our best.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard are also joined by Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer to recap the (dismal) results of Louisiana's gubernatorial election. The Davids then dissect the GOP's new ultra-extreme gerrymanders in North Carolina before discussing a welcome poll on Ohio's abortion amendment and very heartening developments in Poland, where pro-democracy forces just ousted the country's far-right authoritarian government.
It's also the end of the quarter, so we've published charts rounding up all of the new federal fundraising reports for both the House and the Senate.
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.
● CA-Sen: Christina Pascucci, who stepped down this week as an anchor for Los Angeles' Fox affiliate Fox 11, tells Politico she'll run as a moderate Democrat in the March top-two primary. Pascucci, who also divulged that she's 18 weeks pregnant, said of her longshot bid, "The only thing crazier than not jumping in this late would be not jumping in at all, because I have to fight for what I believe is possible for California and for this country."
● FL-Sen, FL-28: Navy veteran Phil Ehr declared Wednesday that he was exiting the Democratic primary for Senate and would instead challenge GOP Rep. Carlos Gimenez in the 28th District around Miami. Ehr in 2020 challenged far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz in the 1st District in the Florida Panhandle, which is about 10 hours away from the South Florida constituency he now wants to represent, but he insisted to Politico that he knows the area from his time in the military.
Ehr's departure from the Senate race leaves former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as the only notable Democrat still challenging GOP incumbent Rick Scott, though The Messenger reported earlier this month that businessman Stanley Campbell is considering. Mucarsel-Powell outraised Scott $1.7 million to $1.4 million during her opening quarter, but the wealthy senator finished September with a $3 million to $1 million cash on hand lead.
Scott's primary foe, attorney Keith Gross, insisted to The Hill last month that he's open to spending "$20, $30 million," but he's yet to throw down anything resembling either amount. Gross so far has deployed a little less than $1 million during the entire campaign, and he ended the third quarter with only $50,000 in the bank.
● MT-Sen: Former Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson declared Wednesday that he'd join the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, a development that comes months after the Senate leadership consolidated behind wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy. Johnson, whose name hadn't previously surfaced, launched his campaign with a dig at both Sheehy and Rep. Matt Rosendale, who is mulling running again after losing the 2018 campaign to Tester. "I am running because this isn't an election we can relegate to slick DC gimmicks nor second chances with failed candidates," said the new contender, who touted his past service as secretary of state.
Johnson has a long career in Treasure State politics, though it's been a decidedly mixed one. Johnson ran for the 1st District in the western part of the state all the way back in 1990 only to lose to Democratic incumbent Pat Williams in a landslide. The Republican, after taking a distant second in the 2002 primary to take on Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, won a tight 2004 race for secretary of state only to narrowly lose to Democrat Linda McCulloch four years later.
Johnson lost their 2012 rematch but returned to elected office two years later by securing a seat on the Public Service Commission. He waged one more campaign for his old job in 2020 only to take third in the close primary for secretary of state, and Johnson was termed out of the Public Service Commission following the 2022 elections.
Johnson launched his senate bid shortly after Sheehy revealed that he raised $2 million from donors during his opening quarter and self-funded another $650,000, but he only had $1.1 million left at the end of September. Rosendale, for his part, has reportedly spent at least the last six months telling people he plans to run for the Senate, though his newest fundraising totals are far from intimidating: The congressman hauled in just over $330,000 for the quarter, though he still had $1.7 million stockpiled. Tester, finally, raised $4.9 million and had $13 million to defend himself.
● VT-Gov: Democratic state Rep. Caleb Elder told VTDigger this week that he's thinking of running for governor even though GOP incumbent Phil Scott hasn't announced his plans. Elder indicated he'd be willing to take on Scott, who won his most recent two-year term with over 70% of the vote.
● AL-02: State Sen. Merika Coleman has filed FEC paperwork, which makes her the first notable Democrat to take such a step in this revamped district.
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, meanwhile, appeared to be the first serious Democrat to announce earlier this month, but she's now saying she's still deciding. While Tyson previously told AL.com, "I have been drafted [to run] by votes and elected officials since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s congressional maps had to be redrawn to include a second Black opportunity district," she informed the Alabama Reflector this week she was just "strongly" considering.
● AZ-08, AZ-Sen: Abe Hamadeh, an election denier who was the GOP's 2022 nominee for attorney general, responded to Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko's surprise retirement announcement Tuesday by quickly announcing a bid to succeed her in this conservative seat.
Hamadeh lost last year's race to Democrat Kris Mayes by 280 votes, and like gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, he's contested that defeat in court. The Arizona Supreme Court, however, has taken his legal team to task for its behavior: Just hours before Hamadeh launched his new effort, it ordered him to pay $55,000 to attorneys representing Mayes and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. Hamadeh in March also considered running for the Senate, but he seemed to lose interest after it became clear Lake planned to get in herself.
Politico also reports that the far-right Club for Growth is encouraging another member of that disastrous 2022 slate, Senate nominee Blake Masters, to run for this suburban Phoenix seat even though the Arizona Republic's Ronald J. Hansen notes he lives in Tucson. Another Republican, state House Speaker Ben Toma, also tells Axios he's mulling running himself.
Both Hansen and Republic columnist Laurie Roberts also mention several potential GOP contenders:
- Peoria Mayor Jason Beck
- state Sen. Shawnna Bolick
- former Gov. Jan Brewer
- former U.S. Marshal David Gonzales
- state Sen. Anthony Kern
- 2018 candidate Phil Lovas
- 2022 AZ-01 candidate Elijah Norton
- state Sen. Janae Shamp
We probably shouldn't expect Brewer to join the rare group of former governors who have run for the House, as Roberts only writes of her, "She’s got the name ID and time on her hands …"
In the no column are state Rep. Steve Montenegro, who took third in the special 2018 primary, and Treasurer Kimberly Yee.
● FL-05: Duval County School Board member April Carney on Monday responded to Rep. John Rutherford's first vote against making Jim Jordan speaker by telling Florida Politics that an unnamed "major bundler" has contacted her about waging a GOP primary challenge. Carney herself didn't rule out the idea, insisting she was "so busy with school board" that she "honestly [has] no idea" if she was interested.
● IN-05: Max Engling, who worked as an aide to Kevin McCarthy from 2019 until this year, announced Wednesday that he was joining the GOP primary to replace retiring (at least right now) Rep. Victoria Spartz. Howey Politics reported in August that Engling, an Indiana native whom The Hill named to its 2012 "50 Most Beautiful list," had a going away party in D.C. just before he moved back to the Hoosier State.
Engling, whose service with McCarthy was probably a lot more valuable two months ago, enters a contest that includes two self-funders, state Rep. Chuck Goodrich and businessman Siddharth Mahant. Another candidate, businessman Raju Chinthala, announced he was running for this gerrymandered seat in mid-September but has not reported any fundraising.
● MN-02: Former federal prosecutor Joe Teirab declared Wednesday that he was joining the GOP race to take on Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, and he may finally give national Republicans a well-connected contender for this competitive seat. Teirab's general consultant, as we've noted before, is a longtime ally of 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer, who is both the majority whip and a two-time NRCC chair.
Teirab, who describes himself as "the son of a Sudanese immigrant," launched his campaign by touting his time as a Marine veteran and prosecutor, but multiple media outlets immediately began inquiring into his ties to this suburban Twin Cities seat. The new candidate grew up in Windom, which is located to the west in GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach's 7th District, before going out of state for college and joining the military. Teirab has since returned to Minnesota, but his property records say he paid homestead taxes this year in Minnetonka over in Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips' 3rd District.
Teirab, however, tells Axios he recently relocated to Burnsville, which is in the constituency he wants to represent. He also divulged that he'd seek the party endorsement and drop out if someone else won it: Winning the party convention isn't the same thing as winning the primary, but many candidates decide not to continue on if delegates reject them.
Joe Biden carried this constituency 53-45, and it's hosted several competitive races down the ballot over the last several years. The congresswoman fended off Marine veteran Tyler Kistner 51-46 last year in a rematch from their 2020 contest, but his team indicated this week that he wouldn't try again in 2024. Kistner recently deployed abroad as a Marine reservist, and his advisor tells Axios the former candidate "has no plans to run for office this cycle."
Attorney Tayler Rahm has been running for months, but he only had $60,000 banked at the end of September after another underwhelming fundraising quarter. Former Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, meanwhile, appears to have stopped trying altogether, and his campaign was essentially bankrupt at the end of last month. Craig, by contrast, ended the third quarter with $1.5 million on hand.
● VA-10, VA-Gov: Del. Eileen Filler-Corn unexpectedly announced Wednesday that she would run next year to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Jennifer Wexton, rather than pursue a long-anticipated 2025 campaign for governor. Filler-Corn, who served as speaker for the two years that her party held the majority following the 2019 elections, is the first notable Democrat to enter the contest for a Northern Virginia constituency that Joe Biden carried 58-40.
Filler-Corn made history almost four years ago when she became both the first Jewish person and first woman to lead the state House, as well as its first Democratic speaker since early 2000. She briefly served as minority leader after the GOP regained control of the chamber, but her caucus narrowly voted in April of 2022 to oust her. While no lawmakers ever publicly aired their grievances against her, multiple stories reported that their unhappiness was in part due to disappointment with the election that had just taken place. Filler-Corn later decided not to seek reelection to the legislature this year.
Filler-Corn previously said she was mulling a bid for governor, but she tells Jewish Insider that subsequent events changed her plans. Wexton, whom the delegate calls a "good friend," announced last month she wouldn't run again following her diagnosis with Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy, something Filler-Corn said was "just horrific." The candidate also pointed to the dysfunction in the U.S. House and Hamas' attack on Israel as reasons for her to run for Congress.
● OH Ballot: Baldwin Wallace University and SurveyUSA find Issue 1, which would amend the Ohio constitution to broadly guarantee reproductive freedom, passing by a wide 58-34 on Nov. 7. July polls from Suffolk University and Ohio Northern University and an August survey from the GOP firm Fallon Research all showed voters backing the proposal by similar margins, but we hadn't seen any fresh data before now.
BWU and SurveyUSA also found voters favoring Issue 2, a statutory measure to legalize recreational marijuana, 57-35.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Hillary Clinton on Wednesday endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee ahead of the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary.