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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● NY-17: As Republicans struggle to hold on to their slender majority in the House—which at the moment stands at just four seats—MAGA-flavored extremists are gearing up to do everything in their power to make the GOP's life more difficult. The latest batch of trouble is getting whipped up by former Trump administration official William Maloney, who now tells Hotline that he'll announce whether he'll challenge freshman Rep. Mike Lawler from the right in early January.
Lawler was already one of the most vulnerable House Republicans heading into 2024, and a primary fight won't help. Joe Biden carried his 17th District in the lower Hudson Valley by a 54-44 margin, making it one of the bluest seats held by a Republican. Lawler's efforts to moderate his image have also not gone smoothly: While he voted against making the far-right Jim Jordan speaker, he later capitulated and supported the installation of Mike Johnson, a just as extreme figure.
But a battle with Maloney could yank him even further to the right. After interning with Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Maloney worked his way through a series of minor government jobs before finally landing at the U.S. Agency for International Development at the age of 23. There, as White House liaison, he was responsible for installing a number of appalling Trump loyalists as political appointees, including one who dubbed the United States a "homo-empire" in thrall to "the tyrannical LGBT agenda" and another who derided Islam as a "barbaric cult."
Maloney enraged longtime USAID employees and only lasted a few months, soon moving over to the U.S. Agency for Global Media. That placed him under Michael Pack, an ally of Steve Bannon who would wreak havoc at the agency, which runs Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Maloney, too, was "close to people in Bannon's orbit," Politico's Daniel Lippman reported at the time, and later worked at Bannon's radio show, per an update from Lippman just last week.
Maloney told Hotline that he's hoping for Trump's endorsement, but vocal support on Bannon's popular podcast (which has been removed from multiple platforms for spreading disinformation) could prove just as important. He's also already drawing a contrast with the incumbent, attacking Lawler for backing funding for Ukraine and opposing a 15-week abortion ban—the same type of ban that got Virginia Republicans crushed in the suburbs last week.
What makes the GOP's predicament so acute is that Lawler is by no means the only swing-district House Republican facing the same problem. California Rep. David Valadao, for instance, has to deal with a repeat matchup with Chris Mathys, a far-right critic who nearly beat him in the top-two primary last year. Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has a prominent anti-abortion activist, Mark Houck, seeking to deny him renomination, and it's likely we'll see similar challengers emerge elsewhere.
And even if these MAGA devotees aren't capable of running especially polished campaigns, House GOP leadership always has to worry that outside Democratic groups will help them over the finish line—just as they did in Michigan's 3rd District last year, which flipped from red to blue after Democrats boosted an extremist past a more pragmatic incumbent in the Republican primary. The strategy worked flawlessly nationwide in 2022, and Democrats will be eager for Trump acolytes like Maloney to give them a chance to deploy it again.
● MI-Sen: Actor Hill Harper filed new financial reports saying he has no bank accounts and earned no income during the last two years, reports the Detroit News' Melissa Nann Burke, despite self-funding a large portion of his campaign for Michigan's open Senate seat.
Harper, who is seeking the Democratic nod, gave his campaign $463,000 in the last quarter, to go along with $559,000 raised from donors. His team offered no explanation for the apparent omissions, saying in an email to the paper that it "believe[s] the information provided is sufficient" but would "submit an amendment if it is necessary."
Harper is not the first politician to submit financial disclosures that lack similar details. The Daily Beast recently reported that newly elevated House Speaker Mike Johnson has never reported owning a bank account and said he had no assets at all in 2022.
● MS-Sen: A Republican super PAC called Elect Principled Veterans Fund has begun airing a TV ad in support of GOP Sen. Roger Wicker, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, and AdImpact says the commercial is part of a $153,000 buy over the next two weeks. Wicker recently drew a primary challenge from retired Marine Col. Ghannon Burton, but there's little indication yet whether the 16-year incumbent is actually in danger of losing renomination in this solidly red state.
● NJ-Sen: Labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina, who was mentioned as a possible primary challenger to Sen. Bob Menendez in September, "has said she is seriously considering running," according to NJ.com's Amira Sweilem. There is no direct quote from Campos-Medina, however. One other prominent Democrat, Rep. Andy Kim, is already in the race, while another, former financier Tammy Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, is reportedly set to join as well.
● AK-AL: Republican Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom announced on Tuesday that she will challenge Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola next year. Dahlstrom first won her current office last year after Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy chose her to run on his ticket, though she had previously served in his administration during his first term and in the state House before that.
Dahlstrom joins a GOP field that includes businessman Nick Begich III, who unsuccessfully ran last year. Under Alaska law, the top four primary finishers will advance to a general election using ranked-choice voting.
● AR-03, AR-02: A day before candidate filing closed on Tuesday, state Sen. Clint Penzo confirmed he would challenge Rep. Steve Womack in next year's GOP primary in Arkansas 3rd District, accusing the incumbent of being insufficiently conservative. Earlier this year, Womack, a self-described "institution guy," had considered retirement because of the antics of far-right colleagues, whom he said had made serving in Congress "so unpleasant." He ultimately decided, however, to seek another term.
Meanwhile, another member of the state's delegation who's faced his share of criticism from the right, 2nd District Rep. French Hill, avoided a second straight primary battle after no fellow Republicans filed to run against him. Last year, Hill fended off underfunded businessman Conrad Reynolds, who had attacked the congressman for his insufficient fealty to Donald Trump, by a relatively soft 59-41 margin.
● MD-03: Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, who had been considering entering the Democratic primary for Maryland's open 3rd Congressional District, now says that he will not run. Two notable Democrats, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, are already running, while many more are eyeing bids to succeed retiring Rep. John Sarbanes in the solidly blue 3rd.
● MI-13: Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Waters has begun circulating petitions to challenge Democratic Rep. Shri Thanedar in next year's primary and will announce a bid "within two weeks," reports Detroit Metro Times' Steve Neavling. If she enters the race for the dark blue 13th District, though, that could potentially benefit the incumbent, who has already drawn one notable opponent in former state Sen. Adam Hollier. Waters previously served in the state House and now represents one of two at-large districts on the Council that cover the entire city. Neavling describes her as an outspoken progressive who is close to organized labor.
● NJ-08, NJ-Sen: Businessman Kyle Jasey, who was waging a longshot primary challenge against indicted Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, has instead decided to run against Rep. Robert Menendez, the senator's son. Jasey, the son of outgoing Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, raised just $17,000 for his now-abandoned Senate bid in the third quarter. Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who is also weighing a campaign against the younger Menendez in the Democratic primary, recently said he's already raised more than $500,000.
● NY-03: Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan just became the second Democrat in a week to drop out of the race against George Santos and endorse former Rep. Tom Suozzi, following the same move by nonprofit founder Zak Malamed. Last week, Lafazan lost his bid for reelection to the county legislature to Republican Samantha Goetz by a 58-42 margin. Two other notable Democrats still remain in the primary for the 3rd Congressional District, former state Sen. Anna Kaplan and surgical center CEO Austin Cheng.
● NY-19: Attorney Josh Riley, who is seeking a rematch with Republican Rep. Mark Molinaro, just rolled out endorsements from five Democratic members of New York's congressional delegation: Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Joe Morelle, Paul Tonko, and Pat Ryan. Tonko and Ryan both represent neighboring districts, and Ryan also defeated Molinaro in a special election for a different version of this seat in a major upset last year.
While Riley has had the primary to himself, state Sen. Michelle Hinchey said in April that she, too, was considering a bid. However, Hinchey doesn't appear to have said anything since, while Riley has amassed a $1 million war chest.
● NY-26: State Sen. Tim Kennedy has become the first notable Democrat to launch a campaign to succeed Rep. Brian Higgins, who recently announced he would resign in early February from the solidly blue 26th District in the Buffalo area. The nomination, however, won't be decided in a primary but rather by party leaders.
Kennedy has represented Buffalo in the state Senate since first winning a seat in 2010, and his current legislative district contains 38% of the 26th District's residents. Other Democrats, however, are certain to express interest.
City & State's John Clelock writes that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is a likely candidate after he just won reelection 58-40 to a fourth term in a county that includes 80% of the 26th District's population. Poloncarz has yet to indicate whether he might run, though.
Several sources also mentioned Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a moderate who lost the 2021 Democratic primary to democratic socialist India Walton but won reelection to a fifth term as a write-in candidate that November. Brown didn't directly address his interest in the race on Friday but released a statement saying, "When the appropriate time comes, I look forward to a conversation about the future of this very diverse district." State Sen. Sean Ryan also refused to rule out running, saying he doesn't "know what the future holds."
The Buffalo News also mentioned Walton herself as a potential candidate here, along with Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes; Assemblyman Patrick Burke; former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who lost close races for the old, solidly red 27th District in 2018 and 2020; and nonprofit executive Melodie Baker, who unsuccessfully sought the nomination for the 2020 special election that ultimately went to McMurray.
Under state law, parties rather than voters choose nominees in special elections. That means candidates like Kennedy must tailor their pitch to a small group of power brokers in Erie and Niagara counties, the two counties that make up the district. Since Erie's portion of the 26th is four times as large as Niagara's, though, the choice may come down solely to Erie County Democratic chair Jeremy Zellner. Zellner told Spectrum News that "large town committees" and the Niagara party will "also have a say," though he didn't specify how the decision-making process would work.
● OH-02: State Sen. Niraj Antani on Tuesday became the first notable Republican to announce he is running to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Brad Wenstrup in this dark red district. Antani is a staunch conservative who says he favors a federal abortion ban, and he would be the state's first Indian American member of Congress if elected.
However, Antani's Senate district is located in the Dayton suburbs, and none of it overlaps with the 2nd District, which is based in the eastern Cincinnati suburbs and rural southern Ohio. Antani won a heavily gerrymandered Senate seat back in 2020 that had voted 55-43 for Donald Trump, but the new Senate map that Republicans adopted in September turned his 6th District into one that would have backed Joe Biden by 55-43, which may be why Antani is running elsewhere this cycle.
Plenty of other Republicans are likely to take a look at running for this open seat. Clermont County GOP chair Charles Tassell told radio host Brian Thomas he was running on Monday but clarified to Hotline that he's forming a committee to begin raising money and would decide "as soon as possible" whether to run. Former state Rep. Danny Bubp also said he's "strongly considering."
Meanwhile, state Sen. Shane Wilkin didn't rule out a campaign, telling cleveland.com's Jeremy Pelzer, "I'll let you know when I know." Union Township Trustee Michael Logue also didn't foreclose a potential campaign, saying he'll "see how the next few days and weeks develop." However, state Reps. Jay Edwards and Brian Stewart both said they wouldn't run.
● TX-04: WTF? A day after announcing that he'd give up his job in Congress to run for his old seat in the state Senate, Republican Rep. Pat Fallon now says he will seek reelection after all. We have no idea what's going on here, but we're pretty damn ticked we had to stay up late writing about his "retirement" for the previous Digest!
● VA-07: Hotline's James Downs has relayed the names of 10 Democrats who could run to succeed Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who announced on Monday that she won't seek reelection next year to prepare for her 2025 gubernatorial campaign, though we don't have direct word yet about anyone's level of interest:
- state Sen. Jeremy McPike
- state Sen.-elect Jennifer Carroll Foy
- Del. Elizabeth Guzman
- Del. Briana Sewell
- former Del. Hala Ayala
- businessman Joel Griffin, who narrowly lost a state Senate race last week
- Prince William County School Board Chair Babur Lateef
- Prince William County Supervisor Margaret Franklin
- former National Security Council official Yevgeny "Eugene" Vindman
- physician Cameron Webb, who was the 5th District nominee in 2020
Several Republicans were already running for this 53-46 Biden district in the southern exurbs of Washington, D.C. before Spanberger made her retirement official. The GOP field includes Green Beret veteran Derrick Anderson, Marine veteran Jon Myers, Navy SEAL veteran Cameron Hamilton, and investor Bill Moher.
● VA-10: Del. David Reid, who just won reelection to the legislature last week, announced on Tuesday that he'd enter the Democratic primary for Virginia's open 10th Congressional District. Reid easily defeated Republican Paul Lott by a 61-39 margin for a safely blue seat in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. He joins a field that includes a number of other prominent Democrats, including former state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who just unveiled an endorsement from former Gov. Ralph Northam.
● PA-AG: The Republican Attorneys General Association has endorsed York County District Attorney Dave Sunday in next year's open-seat race for Pennsylvania Attorney General. While Sunday is the only declared Republican candidate, state Rep. Craig Williams has also been looking at a bid. RAGA's move, however, may be aimed at heading him off, given the hostility it's previously expressed toward him.
Earlier this fall, Williams suggested to GOP leaders that the organization viewed his potential candidacy favorably. RAGA executive director Peter Bisbee responded by trashing Williams, suggesting Williams had hoped to mislead voters after he was seen taking selfies with the group's logo at their offices. "To win the AG's race we need a serious prosecutor who is tough on crime," he wrote, "not someone trying to deceive people and eyeing their next political move."
Four notable Democrats are also running to succeed appointed Democrat Michelle Henry, who has said she will not run for a full term next year: former public defender Keir Bradford-Grey, former state Auditor Eugene DePasquale, former Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan, and state Rep. Jared Solomon.