● MI-Sen: Wealthy businessman Sandy Pensler announced Friday that he would join what's now a busy August GOP primary to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Pensler spent $5 million of his own money on his 2018 quest for this seat and led in the polls for most of the primary, but the race did not end well for him.
During that contest, Army veteran John James, who now serves in the House, attacked his intraparty rival for campaigning as a "pro-choice" candidate during a failed 1992 primary bid for a U.S. House seat. While Pensler insisted he'd "evolved" rightward since that campaign, James argued that "nobody believes" he'd really changed. Pensler got more unwelcome news late in the race when Donald Trump endorsed James; the future congressman ultimately won the nod 55-45, though he went on to lose to Stabenow in the fall.
Pensler, who launched his newest effort by touting himself as a political outsider, may once again struggle to appeal to his party's anti-abortion base. The candidate told the Detroit News that he opposed passing federal laws that would roll back abortion rights, including any policies that would overturn the state's 2022 reproductive rights amendment.
"For 50 years, I've said that I thought five appointed judges at the Supreme Court should not [be] able to create broad new constitutional rights or limitations," Pensler argued. "This is properly left under the state level, and the voters of the state of Michigan have spoken, and I won't vote to determine what they voted for." Still, he added of the state's voter-approved amendment enshrining abortion rights, "I do think that proposition went too far, and there's some work to be done here at Michigan."
Just months ago, Republicans didn’t have a single viable candidate running, but Pensler is now the fourth major notable contender competing for the nomination. The NRSC is rooting for former Rep. Mike Rogers over the rest of the field, which includes former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and former Rep. Peter Meijer.
● OH-Sen: Rich guy Bernie Moreno has publicized an internal poll from co/efficient that shows him edging out Secretary of State Frank LaRose 15-14 in the March GOP primary, with state Sen. Matt Dolan taking 13%. That's anything but a dominant lead, especially since 58% of respondents are undecided, but the memo argues that Moreno's new TV ad campaign has helped him gain 8 points since co/efficient conducted an unreleased survey back in August.
● AL-01: Rep. Jerry Carl has debuted his first TV ad months ahead of his March 5 primary against fellow incumbent Barry Moore, and the National Journal's James Downs writes that this inaugural spot is airing on Moore's turf in the Dothan media market. The ad which doesn't mention Moore, touts Carl as a "conservative" and "Christian" who "doesn't care about the title on his door."
● CA-45: VoteVets has endorsed attorney Derek Tran, a Democrat who served in the Army, in the March top-two primary to face GOP Rep. Michelle Steel.
● GA Redistricting: Georgia Republicans released a new congressional map on Friday that, as instructed by the courts, creates a new Black-majority seat in the Atlanta area—but seemingly defies the same ruling by transforming Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath's 7th District from safely blue to safely red.
A federal district court struck down the state's congressional and legislative maps in October for violating the Voting Rights Act, saying that a new Black district was needed to remedy the problem. But U.S. District Judge Steve Jones explicitly warned the state that it "cannot remedy" the map's VRA violations "by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere in the plans."
Republicans appear to have ignored that warning, however, by dismantling one such minority opportunity district, the 7th. The previous district’s adult population was just 33% white, 30% Black, 21% Latino, and 16% Asian American. While Black voters were short of a majority, they were able to elect their preferred candidate thanks to crossover support from other groups. In 2022, that candidate was McBath, a Black Democrat.
Under the GOP's new proposal, though, the 7th would become 67% white and would have favored Donald Trump 59-40, making it all but impossible for McBath or any other Democrat to win there should the map stand. As a result, even though the revamped 6th District with its new Black majority would likely elect a Black Democrat, Republicans would maintain their overall 9-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.
Republicans also passed new state Senate and state House maps out of their respective chambers that used similar tactics to preserve their majorities. We'll have more detailed coverage of these developments and the prospects for expected legal challenges in a future Digest.
● Sandra Day O'Connor: Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor died Friday at the age of 93, and our obituary documents her trailblazing career in Arizona electoral politics―including a 1978 race for governor she fatefully decided not to enter.
O'Connor, a Republican who became the first woman to serve as majority leader of any state Senate in 1973, had moved on to serve on the Maricopa County Superior Court when GOP power brokers tried to convince her to challenge Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt. O'Connor, though, was skeptical the party would provide her with the resources to win.
O'Connor also was wary about entering what would have been an ugly primary against the already infamous Evan Mecham. "Meacham was a goofball car dealer who wore white socks with business suits," her son later recounted to biographer Evan Thomas, "But he was crazy enough to run even if the establishment greased the skids for mom."
Check out more about the short but important electoral career that preceded O'Connor's time on the U.S. Supreme Court―including how her decision to sit out that 1978 race helped set the stage for her to become the first woman to serve on the nation's highest court―in our obituary.