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
● MT Ballot: The campaign to bring a top-four primary to Montana got some welcome news last week when the state Supreme Court unanimously overruled a move by Republican state Attorney General Austin Knudsen that would have kept a proposed constitutional amendment off the 2024 general election ballot. Montanans for Election Reform isn't done dealing with Knudsen, however, as he still has to review a second ballot measure that would require winning candidates to secure a majority of the vote.
The Montana Free Press explains that MER wants to implement a system similar to that used in Alaska, under which all candidates, regardless of party, would compete in one primary. The four contenders with the most votes would then advance to an instant-runoff general election.
The amendment that the Supreme Court acted on, which the secretary of state's office has designated Ballot Issue 12, would replace Montana's partisan primaries with a top-four setup. However, it doesn't include any rules for how the second round of voting would work, likely to avoid running afoul of the state's "single-subject" rule for ballot measures—which itself was at the core of MER's legal dispute with Knudsen.
To fill this gap, reformers are also proposing another amendment, Ballot Issue 13, "provide[s] that elections for certain offices must be decided by majority vote as determined as provided by law rather than by a plurality or the largest amount of the votes."
Both amendments would apply to the same set of elections: those for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, statewide posts, the legislature, "and other offices as provided by law." Issue 12 also contains provisions designed to ensure that third-party and independent hopefuls can still make the ballot, including one that limits the number of signatures needed to reach the primary.
Notably, though, Issue 13 does not require ranked-choice voting. Indeed, the GOP-led legislature banned instant-runoff voting earlier this year, and it's not clear what method the state would use to ensure winners secure a majority of the vote if voters were to approve the amendment.
MER sued Knudsen last month after he determined that Issue 12 violated the state constitution by addressing too many separate issues. Montana's highest court, however, disagreed with the attorney general's interpretation and sided with the plaintiffs. While Knudsen insisted that the signature requirements were a separate topic from the top-four system, Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote that "the signature-gathering limitation is not a separate function but is rather, as MER asserts, an integral part of the top-four primary system BI-12 proposes."
MER now has until June 21 to collect 60,000 signatures, an amount equal to 10% of the vote in the most recent election for governor, including 10% in at least 40 of the 100 districts in the state House. Organizers can only start the signature gathering process for Issue 12, though, since Knudsen has not yet finished his review of Issue 13.
Both of the proposed amendments come after the state's junior U.S. senator, NRSC chair Steve Daines, reportedly pressured the legislature to make a very different change in order to weaken Democratic Sen. Jon Tester next year.
The state Senate passed a bill in the spring to implement a top-two primary system, but only for Montana's 2024 U.S. Senate race. Critics argued the move was a scheme to hurt Tester in a state where Republicans frequently complain that Libertarian Party candidates cost them vital support. Indeed, one unnamed GOP lawmaker told the New York Times that party officials outright said that beating Tester was the plan's purpose.
However, the legislature adjourned in May without agreeing on anything, so Tester still only needs to secure a plurality to win reelection next year.
● CA-Sen: Wealthy tech executive Lexi Reese announced Tuesday that she was exiting the March top-two primary. The Democrat said she was departing the contest because of fundraising, writing, "$2 million is just not enough to run a state-wide campaign. As someone outside the system, voters don't know who I am and what I stand for."
● UT-Sen, UT-03: Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird didn't dispel speculation that he could end his Senate bid and run to succeed Rep. John Curtis if his fellow Republican launched his own campaign for the upper chamber. "I've had a lot of people reach out, actually," he told the Deseret News. "For now, I'm 100% focused on the Senate race." Bird finished September with $1.1 million in the bank thanks almost entirely to self-funding, and he could transfer that money to a House race.
Political observer Kirk Jowers also speculates that conservative activist Carolyn Phippen could switch from the Senate to a race to replace Curtis, though she doesn't appear to have publicly addressed the idea. The Deseret News also writes about the many other Republicans who could run for the safely red 3rd Congressional District if Curtis seeks a promotion, but we'll hold off on looking at that open seat field until there's actually an open seat.
● CA-22: Gov. Gavin Newsom has endorsed 2022 nominee Rudy Salas' rematch campaign against GOP incumbent David Valadao. The former state assemblyman already had the support of Sen. Alex Padilla and the state Democratic Party for the March top-two primary for this Central Valley constituency.
Salas' only notable intraparty foe is state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, and he ended September with a $160,000 to $30,000 cash on hand edge. Valadao, who finished the third quarter with $1.2 million stockpiled, faces a challenge on his right from Chris Mathys, a wealthy perennial candidate who almost denied him a spot in last year's general election. Valadao went on to beat Salas 52-48.
● CT-01: Democratic Rep. John Larson’s team tells Punchbowl News that he plans to seek a 14th term, information that comes months after he told WTNH in April that he was "leaning strongly toward running" again. The 1st District, which is based in the Hartford area, backed Joe Biden 63-35 in 2020.
● MN-03: MPR News' Dana Ferguson says that two Republicans, state Rep. Kristen Robbins and 2022 attorney general nominee Jim Schultz, have told her that they won't run to succeed outgoing Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips. Ferguson also mentions businesswoman Sheila Qualls, the wife of 2022 nominee Kendall Qualls, as a possible contender, but there's no word on her interest.
● NC-11: Democratic state Rep. Caleb Rudow declared Tuesday that he would challenge freshman Republican Rep. Chuck Edwards in the 11th District, a western North Carolina constituency that would have favored Donald Trump 55-44 under the GOP's new gerrymander. Edwards won this seat last cycle months after he denied renomination to Rep. Madison Cawthorn, and the new congressman hasn't attracted anything like the national attention that stuck to his notorious predecessor.
● NC-13: State Rep. Erin Paré announced Tuesday that she was dropping out of the GOP primary for this newly gerrymandered seat and would instead seek reelection.
● OH-09: Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur's team made it clear this week that she'd once again defend her competitive seat, though there wasn't any indication that she was looking to retire. "Congresswoman Kaptur will seek reelection, and will file her petitions in December as required," her spokesperson told Punchbowl News.
● TX-26: Keller Mayor Armin Mizani told the Texas Tribune Monday that he'd stay out of the GOP primary to replace retiring Republican incumbent Michael Burgess.
● VA-07: The Washington Post writes that state Sen. Jeremy McPike is considering entering the Democratic nomination contest for this open seat, though there's no quote from him. McPike won renomination by 50 votes in June against Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, and she's since formed an exploratory committee for her own potential bid to succeed outgoing Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.
● PA-AG: State Rep. Craig Williams announced Tuesday that he'd compete in the April GOP primary for this open Democratic-held post, though national Republicans have already made it clear he's not their guy.
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 the state representative had hoped to mislead voters after he was seen taking selfies with the group's logo at their offices. RAGA went on to endorse York County District Attorney Dave Sunday earlier this month.
Williams launched his statewide effort by declaring, "I will campaign with grassroots volunteers while others rely on political insiders in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. Their strategy loses elections time after time, and this next election is crucial for Republicans." He joins Sunday and former Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland in the nomination contest, while five major Democrats are also campaigning.
P.S. The Keystone State allows candidates to run for multiple offices at once, and Williams does not appear to have said if he'll also defend his 53-46 Biden state House seat in the Philadelphia suburbs. Williams last year won a second term 52-48 even as Democrats were taking a 102-101 majority in the lower chamber.
● AR Ballot: Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin on Tuesday blocked a proposed abortion rights amendment from going forward. Griffin told Arkansans for Limited Government that both the title of its amendment, "The Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment," and the ballot summary were potentially "misleading" and needed to be reworked. The committee responded, "We are committed to supporting a ballot proposal that is clear for Arkansas voters."
ALG is seeking to end the state's near-total abortion ban and allow the procedure to take place up to 18 weeks through a pregnancy, but Griffin isn't the only major obstacle it has to overcome. Anyone looking to place an amendment on the 2024 ballot must gather petitions from about 91,000 voters, a figure that represents 10% of the ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election, by July 5.
A new GOP law also requires organizers to hit certain targets in 50 of Arkansas' 75 counties, which is a huge hurdle for progressives in a state where Joe Biden carried only eight counties. ALG may also be in for a tough campaign even if it can overcome all of this and get a proposal on the ballot: Civiqs finds that 52% of the state's voters believe that abortion should be illegal all or most of the time, while 44% say the opposite.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee earned an endorsement from Bill Clinton on Tuesday, a move that comes weeks after she picked up Hillary Clinton's support. Jackson Lee faces her fellow Democrat, state Sen. John Whitmire, in the Dec. 9 nonpartisan runoff.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Cook County, IL State's Attorney: Former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Eileen O'Neill Burke has publicized an internal from Impact Research that gives her a 25-13 lead over attorney Clayton Harris in the March Democratic primary to succeed retiring incumbent Kim Foxx. Harris has the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the contest to serve as the top prosecutor for America's second-most populous county.
Harris and O'Neill Burke will likely have the primary ballot to themselves, as the Dec. 4 filing deadline is coming up fast and Illinois' tough petition requirements deter anyone from launching last-minute campaigns. The only declared candidate on the GOP side is perennial candidate Bob Fioretti, a former Chicago alderman who lost to Preckwinkle 69-28 last year. Former state House Minority Leader Jim Durkin spent months considering, but the local NBC affiliate reports he won't get in.