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-AG, NC-14: Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson announced Thursday that he would run for attorney general of North Carolina, a move that came one day after the GOP-dominated legislature passed a new gerrymander making his 14th District all but unwinnable for Democrats.
"I've been a prosecutor in a courtroom and a soldier in Afghanistan," Jackson said in a launch video intercut with footage of him boxing an opponent. "And I am the last person corrupt politicians want to see as attorney general."
Jackson did not directly mention fellow Rep. Dan Bishop, a Big Lie spreader and architect of North Carolina's infamous "bathroom bill" who faces no serious intraparty opposition for the Republican nod. However, the Democrat excoriated his likely general election foe in August, saying that "as a prosecutor, I don't think that anyone who supported overturning an election should be talking about law and order." (Bishop was one of 147 congressional Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race.)
Jackson likewise doesn't have any notable primary opponents in sight as he campaigns to succeed Attorney General Josh Stein, who is the Democratic frontrunner to succeed term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper, a fellow Democrat.
Republicans haven't won an election for attorney general since 1896, though the party briefly held the post in 1974 when GOP Gov. James Holshouser appointed James Carson to fill a vacancy. (Carson lost the ensuing special election a few months later to Democrat Rufus Edmisten.) Republicans, though, are hoping that 2024 will be the year they take control of a powerful post that previous occupants, including Cooper, have successfully used as a springboard to higher office.
P.S. The likely Jackson-Bishop showdown would be the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century that two sitting U.S. House members have faced off in a general election to become attorney general of any state. The last time such a matchup came about was in 1954, when New York Democrat Franklin Roosevelt Jr., who was the son and namesake of the 32nd president, campaigned against Republican colleague Jacob Javits. Javits won 51-48—the only Republican to win statewide in New York that year—and became one of the most prominent liberal Republicans in the country following his ascension to the Senate two years later.
● Mike who? House Republicans have managed to elevate someone so obscure to the speakership that even we scarcely know who he is. But that's why we're devoting this week's episode of "The Downballot" to exposing Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson and his crazy, weird, extreme views. Johnson voted to overturn the 2020 election, supports a nationwide abortion ban, and voted to shut down the government just last month—and he won unanimously, meaning vulnerable Republicans now own all that, too. Plus, Johnson has zero track record when it comes to one of the House speaker's most important duties to his party: raising tons of money. How long before he starts pissing his caucus off?
We're also joined this week by Amanda Litman, the co-founder of Run for Something, which is devoted to encouraging young, diverse progressives to seek local office. Her group just launched a new project specifically targeting school board races, an enormous battleground that gets far too little attention. Litman tells us how Run for Something recruits candidates and advises them on the challenges unique to school board elections, including the importance of retail campaigning and how to push back against attacks from Moms for Liberty-type extremists.
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.
● GA Redistricting, GA-06: A federal district court struck down the congressional and legislative maps that Georgia Republicans enacted after the 2020 census, ruling on Thursday that they illegally discriminated against Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The court gave the Republican-led legislature until Dec. 8 to redraw one congressional district and seven legislative districts to empower Black voters, prompting GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special legislative session beginning Nov. 29. However, like their counterparts in Alabama, Georgia Republicans may try to craft maps that still do not comply with the VRA and fight to preserve them on appeal, or at least drag out the process.
To remedy Georgia’s VRA violation, the court ordered the creation of a new majority-Black congressional district in Atlanta's western suburbs. During the court litigation, one set of plaintiffs put forth just such a map, which you can see alongside the GOP's gerrymander in the illustration at the top of this story. (Click here for a larger image, and see here for an interactive version). The plaintiffs’ map would dismantle the solidly red 6th District, which is currently represented by GOP Rep. Rich McCormick; in its place would be an entirely new 6th due west of Atlanta that would be just over 50% Black and heavily Democratic.
The court noted that, in the decade before the 2020 census, minorities accounted for all of the state’s population growth, with Black Georgians responsible for almost half that total. The white population, by contrast, actually fell. Nonetheless, Republicans refused to increase the number of Black-majority districts at either the congressional or legislative levels.
The Atlanta metropolitan area in particular has seen explosive growth among Black, Latino, and Asian American residents. Despite the region’s skyrocketing diversity, the GOP's new congressional map failed to create a new district in the western Atlanta area where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate, who would almost certainly be a Black Democrat.
Instead, Republicans gerrymandered the 6th District to flip it from blue to red. The old 6th had been a majority-white but highly educated suburban district directly north of Atlanta that Rep. Lucy McBath, a Black Democrat, had flipped in 2018 and held in 2020. The previous district had backed Joe Biden 55-44 in 2020, but the GOP's new gerrymander radically reconfigured it into a seat that Donald Trump would have won 57-42.
The GOP’s new map prompted McBath to run next door in the safely Democratic 7th District, where she defeated Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the primary and continues to serve in Congress today. McCormick then easily flipped the revised 6th last year.
The court also ordered the creation of several new majority-Black legislative districts: two state Senate districts in the southern Atlanta metro area; three state House districts in the southern and western suburbs of Atlanta; and two state House seats near the city of Macon further south. Revising all of these districts will also entail redrawing many surrounding districts.
Following the 2022 elections, Republicans held a 9-5 majority in the congressional delegation, a 33-23 edge in the state Senate, and a 102-78 majority in the state House. While new Republican-drawn maps would likely remain too gerrymandered elsewhere in the state for Democrats to win majorities anytime soon, Democrats could flip several seats across these three maps following the creation of new VRA-mandated districts.
Before last year's elections, the same federal court determined that the plaintiffs were "substantially likely to succeed" in their claims, but it put the case on hold until after 2022 because the Supreme Court had put a similar ruling out of Alabama on hold while the GOP there appealed. However, the Supreme Court subsequently issued a landmark ruling that upheld a key part of the VRA and required Alabama to create a new congressional district where Black voters will have the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice. The new Georgia ruling cites the Supreme Court’s Alabama decision extensively.
However, it's far from guaranteed that Georgia will have new districts in time for 2024. Republicans will almost certainly appeal to the conservative-dominated 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Any ruling there could in turn be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could result in lengthy delays.
It’s also not clear yet when candidates need to turn in paperwork to run for office: State election authorities recently told Daily Kos Elections they won't set the filing deadline for candidates looking to run in the May 21 primary until the end of this year. (In the past, the deadline has usually come in the first half of March.)
However, just as they did in Alabama and Louisiana last year, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has frequently let Republicans get away with using illegal maps for at least one election cycle by dubiously claiming it's too close to the next election to implement any changes without causing too much disruption. Delays from inevitable GOP appeals could give the justices a pretext to do so again in Georgia and postpone any new maps until at least 2026 even if the plaintiffs ultimately prevail.
Nonetheless, if this ruling survives on appeal, Black voters will have the chance to more fully participate in the political process thanks to the creation of new districts that will no longer dilute their voices.
● OH Redistricting, OH Ballot: In a setback for supporters of a ballot initiative that would create an independent redistricting commission in Ohio, organizers will have to start the process over again after discovering a typo with a date in their ballot summary language. After fixing the error, they will need to get Republican Attorney General Dave Yost and Ohio's GOP-controlled Ballot Board to approve their petition once more.
While that hurdle should be surmountable, this setback could delay by several weeks the start of gathering roughly 413,000 voter signatures. The initial deadline to turn in signatures to qualify for the November 2024 ballot is July 3.
● MT-Sen: Far-right Rep. Matt Rosendale responded to the Flathead Beacon's question about a potential rematch against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester by saying, "I have set a deadline to make a decision and it's March the 11th of 2024, which happens to coincide with the [filing] deadline of the secretary of state." Politico reported all the way back in April that the congressman "has told friends and allies that he plans to run for Senate," but he's publicly remained on the sidelines even as wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy runs ads introducing himself to GOP primary voters.
● PA-Sen: Franklin & Marshall College's newest poll shows Democratic incumbent Bob Casey beating wealthy Republican Dave McCormick 46-39, which matches Casey's 42-35 margin from the school's April survey.
● TX-Sen: YouGov, polling on behalf of the University of Texas and Texas Politics Project, shows Rep. Colin Allred leading state Sen. Roland Gutierrez 21-10 in the March Democratic primary to face Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Several other contenders, including state Rep. Carl Sherman and former Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, take 3% or less, while a 46% plurality says they don't have a preference. Candidates need to win a majority to avert a May runoff.
Allred, though, enjoys a massive lead in the money race. The congressman outpaced Gutierrez $4.7 million to $630,000 during the third quarter, and he finished September with a $7.9 million to $380,000 cash on hand edge. Sherman, meanwhile, only brought in $80,000 during his opening quarter, while Gonzalez has not reported raising any money.
Cruz, meanwhile, lagged Allred, though the incumbent doesn't have any serious intraparty opposition. The Republican took in $3.1 million and ended last month with $5.8 million in the bank.
● AZ-08, AZ-Sen: Blake Masters, a Big Lie enthusiast who ran arguably the worst Senate campaign of 2022 in a cycle chock-full of terrible Republican candidates, announced Thursday that he'd run to succeed retiring Rep. Debbie Lesko in Arizona's 8th District.
Multiple media publications reported in late August that Masters planned to campaign for Arizona's other Senate seat, but he put all that on hold after Donald Trump made it clear he'd be back one of Blake's fellow Arizona losers, Kari Lake, instead. Masters' calculations shifted further last week after Lesko unexpectedly announced that she wouldn't seek reelection in the reliably red 8th in Phoenix's western suburbs.
But Masters will face yet another high-profile 2022 failure on his road to the GOP nomination. Abe Hamadeh, a fellow election denier who narrowly lost last year's general election for attorney general, launched his own campaign to replace Lesko hours after she called it quits, and he was quick to portray his former ticketmate as an outsider.
"It is sad to see the establishment tricking @bgmasters into driving up all the way from Tucson and getting in the race," Hamadeh said in a tweet that included a photo of Masters campaigning alongside Mike Pence last year.
Masters does indeed live 100 miles away in southern Arizona, though Hamadeh also resides outside the 8th, making his home in GOP Rep. David Schweikert's neighboring 1st District. Lesko herself is supporting state House Speaker Ben Toma, who is one of her constituents, though he hasn't actually announced he's running yet. Lake, for her part, is backing Hamadeh.
A pair of polls surfaced the day before Masters launched his new effort, but they disagree on who has the edge in the August primary. A Data Orbital survey sponsored by Masters showed him beating Hamadeh 33-18, with Toma at just 7%. But National Public Affairs, a Republican firm that says it commissioned its own survey, has Hamadeh defeating Masters 31-24 as Toma grabs 11%.
Masters won the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly last year after receiving Trump's endorsement and benefiting from heavy spending by his old boss and mentor, Peter Thiel. Reuters, though, reported back in April that Thiel doesn't plan to contribute to any candidates this cycle, a development that could spell trouble for his one-time protégé. (It's not clear, though, whether Thiel was ruling out redeploying his super PAC.) But the Club for Growth may come to Masters' aid, as Politico reported last week that it was encouraging him to run following Lesko's surprise announcement.
Masters ultimately lost to Kelly 51-47 statewide, though Bloomberg's Greg Giroux says the Republican carried the 8th 52-46. However, that 6-point margin was less than half of Trump's 56-43 performance, a shortfall almost certainly due to Masters' preternaturally weak campaign.
That bid was defined by poor fundraising and some truly strange gaffes. To take just one example, he called Ted Kaczynski a "subversive thinker that's underrated" before belatedly acknowledging that it's "probably not great to be talking about the Unabomber while campaigning." Indeed, the University of Virginia's J. Miles Coleman aptly summed him up last year when he said that Masters "comes across as a 4chan guy." (If you're not familiar with 4chan, you're one of the lucky ones.)
However, not everyone is convinced Masters' new effort will be like his first. Time's Eric Cortellessa wrote in June that unnamed state Republicans were "impressed with Masters' introspection" since his defeat, saying that he'd "made clear to party insiders his desire to seek public office again and has recognized a need to soften his image." It remains to be seen, though, what this type of softening entails, or if Masters will even bother to stick with it now that his top priority is winning the primary.
An exclusive focus on wooing MAGA voters could be a mistake, though: When Lesko first won office in a 2018 special election, she did so by just a 52-48 margin, and she didn't have anything like Masters' baggage. (Like, what the hell was this?) A Masters candidacy could therefore create an unlikely opening for Democrats. So far, former Defense Department official Greg Whitten is the only Democrat to report raising any money, and he's brought in just $58,000 so far, but with an open seat and a notorious opponent potentially in the offing, he'll now have the chance to prove himself.
● CO-03: Attorney Jeff Hurd's primary bid against far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert won a high-profile endorsement on Thursday from former Gov. Bill Owens, who is the last Republican to lead Colorado. Owens made his announcement shortly after campaign finance reports revealed that Hurd raised a credible $410,000 during his opening quarter and ended September with $360,000 in the bank.
Owens, who left office in early 2007 after two terms, didn't directly address any of the many unfavorable stories about Boebert's behavior, including her ejection from a showing of the "Beetlejuice" musical last month. Still, the former governor unsubtly drew a distinction between the candidates. "Jeff is a man of character," he told Time's Mini Racker. "He is a hardworking, smart and sincere leader who will deliver for the district."
Hurd launched his campaign in August for western Colorado's 3rd District by declaring he was "committed to consensus-building" and touted his "proven track record of being part of the solution, not creating more problems." That's rarely an effective appeal with Republican primary voters, but Hurd has also argued that Boebert's theater incident "was the last straw" with many of her constituents.
Some local officials agree, telling Racker that the episode motivated them to back the challenger. Mesa County Commissioner Bobbie Daniel went still further and pointed to Boebert's unexpectedly weak 546-vote win last year against Democrat Adam Frisch, a narrow scrape that came despite Trump's 53-45 performance in the district in 2020. Frisch is seeking a rematch, and Daniel argued that the congresswoman's "latest round of self-inflicted wounds" was another sign that "we can't keep going on this trajectory and keep this seat."
Republican voters have been exceedingly reluctant to dump embarrassing extremists like Boebert, but it's not unheard of. Just last year, fed-up GOP leaders in North Carolina ganged up on the unhinged Madison Cawthorn to deny him renomination, ending his congressional career after just a single term. Boebert is not immune to a similar fate.
However, she continues to be a potent fundraiser, bringing in a sizable $830,000 during the third quarter of 2023. Notably, though, her war chest actually shrank despite that haul because she burned through even more cash during that three-month period. Politico reports that these expenditures even include $300 she spent at the bar co-owned by her "Beetlejuice" date. The congresswoman, however, still had $1.4 million available to defend herself.
If she gets through the primary, though, Boebert will be in for a truly expensive rematch against Frisch. The Democrat raised a gigantic $3.4 million during the third quarter alone, which was more than any House candidate anywhere except then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Thanks to Boebert's notoriety, Frisch has hauled in an astonishing $8.5 million in total this year after getting largely ignored in 2020, and he ended last month with $4.3 million in the bank.
A few other contenders in both parties are also running, though they've struggled to raise money. Financial adviser Russ Andrews, a Republican who says he supports abortion up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy, took in just $30,000 but self-funded another $250,000, which left him with $260,000 to spend. On the Democratic side, Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout has struggled to connect with donors in the way Frisch has, raising only $100,000 and banking $40,000.
● FL-28: Democrat Phil Ehr has publicized an internal from Change Research that shows him trailing Republican incumbent Carlos Giménez 45-32, though it goes on to argue that Ehr would surge once voters learn about him. Donald Trump carried this Miami-area seat 53-47.
● MD-03: Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes announced Thursday that he would not seek a 10th term representing Maryland's 3rd District next year, a decision that came two months after he indicated he would in fact run for reelection. Sarbanes' suburban Baltimore constituency supported Joe Biden 62-36, so whoever takes a plurality in the May 14 Democratic primary should have no trouble holding it.
While the congressman's declaration took observers by surprise, Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin quickly mentioned several Democrats who could run to replace him, including Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, and Del. Courtney Watson. The Baltimore Sun also names state Sen. Clarence Lam as a possibility.
Sarbanes, who is the son of the late Sen. Paul Sarbanes, worked as an attorney and as a special assistant to the state superintendent of schools before his father's retirement set off a chain of events that gave him the chance to run for Congress in 2006. Then-Rep. Ben Cardin left behind an old version of the 3rd to wage a successful bid to succeed the elder Sarbanes, while the senator's son joined a field of seven other Democrats all seeking to replace the 10-term Cardin.
Sarbanes ended up beating former Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson, the son of former California Rep. Anthony Beilenson, 32-25, and he had no trouble winning the general election or holding onto the seat thereafter. The new congressman was quickly talked about as a future candidate for higher office in part because his father, Cardin, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski had all made the jump from representing the 3rd to the upper chamber.
Indeed, observers speculated in 2012 that Democrats redrew his seat to take in wealthy parts of the D.C. suburbs so he'd have access to more wealthy donors; the Washington Post dubbed that version of the 3rd "a crazy quilt," while a judge said it looked like a "broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state."
That long-awaited Sarbanes Senate bid never happened, though. He ultimately sat out the race to succeed Mikulski in 2016 after she announced her retirement and barely saw his name mentioned as a possible contender after Cardin decided to step aside this May. Sarbanes himself told Maryland Matters in August, "I decided a few years back that was something that I wasn't drawn to," while also insisting that "I always come off each cycle looking forward to the next campaign." However, the 61-year-old congressman said Thursday that he wanted to get back to "working with nonprofits, volunteering and otherwise contributing to my community."
● RI-01: Salve Regina University has released the first survey of the Nov. 7 special election, as well as what appears to be the school's first-ever horserace poll, and it shows Democrat Gabe Amo leading Republican Gerry Leonard 46-35. Joe Biden carried this district 64-35, and no major outside groups are acting like Amo has anything to worry about two weeks from now.