The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● WI State Senate: Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the far-right candidate that Wisconsin Democrats are actively trying to get Republican voters to nominate in next week's special election primary for a crucial state Senate seat. Trump, characteristically, wrote in his Truth Social post that Brandtjen "provided the platform for the investigation into the Rigged and Stolen 2020 Presidential Election, where she has doggedly pursued the truth when so many RINOS and the Fake News Media have tried to cover up this massive corruption."
And while Trump didn't mention either of Brandtjen's intra-party foes in the 8th District, fellow state Rep. Dan Knodl and Thiensville Village President Van Mobley, by name, he did say, "Her RINO opponents don't care about the State." He continued by bringing up three of his least favorite Republicans in the nation, saying, "They are led by Liz Cheney, who lost her race in Wyoming by the biggest margin in History, Cryin' Adam Kinzinger, and RINO Robin Vos, who barely won re-election against an opponent that no one ever heard of."
Trump and Brandtjen were on the same side last August when they both supported that "opponent that no one ever heard of," Adam Steen, when he challenged state Assembly Speaker Vos for renomination. Brandtjen, like Trump, invoked the Big Lie to justify her decision to go after one of Wisconsin's most prominent Republicans, but it wasn't enough to stop Vos from prevailing 51-49. (Vos went on to easily turn back Steen's write-in campaign in the general election.)
Brandtjen's GOP colleagues responded the week after Election Day by ejecting her from their caucus, with one member saying, "The continual issues from the past have led our caucus to lose trust in you." Vos went on to remove Brandtjen, whom he called "inept," as head of the elections committee. This week, when the New York Times asked who he was supporting in the state Senate primary, Vos responded, "Lol. Let me quote Sarah Huckabee Sanders, 'normal vs crazy.' I would vote normal."
Knodl, who signed a letter to Mike Pence asking him not to certify the results of Joe Biden's victory, hardly qualifies as "normal" under any definition, but the Republicans who prioritize preserving the new supermajority the party acquired in November thanks to gerrymandered maps would vastly prefer him to Brandtjen. That includes the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has spent over $160,000 so far on mail and digital efforts to help Knodl.
But perhaps unfortunately for both Knodl and Mobley, another group that's involved is Keep Country First, a PAC run by allies of one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, former Illinois Rep. Kinzinger. The organization has spent at least $55,000 on digital ads blasting Brandtjen as “inept, unqualified, ineffective," though it doesn't cite Vos as the source for those attacks. The PAC's presence in the race, as well as its support for Cheney during her unsuccessful renomination contest, was all the prompting Trump needed to argue that these two GOP apostates were supporting Brandtjen's foes.
Trump's intervention comes at a time when environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, who is the only Democrat running in the April 4 general election, has been airing ads to boost Brandtjen ahead of the primary by ostensibly attacking her as "the most conservative you can be when it comes to abortion." The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has joined in by sending mailers to Republican voters that highlight how an anti-abortion group named her "Pro-life Legislator of the year," language that's also meant to make her more appealing to conservatives.
Brandtjen herself wasn't at all concerned that Democrats were trying to meddle in the primary because they see her as a weak opponent. "It's clear that many in the establishment of both parties would prefer to distract voters from my true record of accomplishments of fighting for the citizens in this community from tax relief to human trafficking," she said this week, adding, "I don't really pay much attention to whatever strategy the Democrats may or may not be utilizing."
● AZ-Sen: OH Predictive Insights, an Arizona-based pollster that sometimes does work on behalf of Republicans, has released a survey that shows Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego leading in eight different hypothetical election matchups. We’ll start with the four testing him in head-to-heads with possible Republican rivals:
38-34 vs. former Gov. Doug Ducey
36-32 vs. 2022 gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson
43-33 vs. 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake
43-32 vs. 2022 Senate nominee Blake Masters
OH also included scenarios where Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema runs, and it shows the incumbent in third place no matter what:
Gallego (D): 32, Ducey (R): 27, Sinema (I-inc): 17
Gallego (D): 31, Taylor-Robson (R): 24, Sinema (I-inc): 21
Gallego (D): 34, Lake (R): 26, Sinema (I-inc): 19
Gallego (D): 33, Masters (R): 24, Sinema (I-inc): 22
While this firm shows Sinema barely making an impact, the senator’s detractors found something different weeks ago. The Democratic firm Normington Petts, working on behalf of anti-Sinema groups, had Gallego beating Lake 50-45 when they were the only two choices. However, the pair deadlocked 36-36 in a three-way contest, with Sinema at 24%.
● CA-Sen: While some media outlets had mentioned Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell as a possible Democratic candidate, she said this week she would be seeking re-election instead.
● IN-Sen: NRSC chief Steve Daines has gone beyond just putting out a supportive statement for Rep. Jim Banks, and he’ll host a fundraiser for the sole GOP candidate at NRSC headquarters next month.
● MI-Sen: Nikki Snyder, a Republican who serves on the state Board of Education, on Thursday became the first notable candidate from either party to announce a bid to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, but her last effort to reach D.C. went very poorly.
Snyder, who is not related to former Gov. Rick Snyder, challenged Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in 2020 for what was then the 8th District, but she raised all of $41,000 in an eight month campaign that came to an end when the state Board of Canvassers ruled she didn't have enough signatures to make the primary ballot. Snyder, though, was still in the middle of the eight-year Board of Education term she'd won in 2016, and she went on to unsuccessfully call for schools to halt COVID testing and oppose other pandemic mitigation measures.
● PA-Sen: Democratic Sen. John Fetterman's staff said Thursday that he'd checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center the previous evening so he could "receive treatment for clinical depression." The statement continued, "While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks." It concluded, "After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself."
Fetterman stayed in the hospital for two nights last week after he felt lightheaded, and he left Friday after tests didn't find any signs of a stroke or seizure. The senator's wife, Gisele Fetterman, said Thursday, "After what he's been through in the past year, there's probably no one who wanted to talk about his own health less than John. I'm so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs."
● LA-Gov: Wednesday was the deadline for Louisiana candidates to report how much money they had at the end of 2022, and unsurprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Landry posted a huge financial edge. Landry, who was the only notable Republican who kicked off his campaign last year, had $5 million available, while his allied PAC had another $1.5 million. Independent Hunter Lundy, who also jumped in during 2022, had $1.6 million to spend, with most of it coming from his $1.4 million campaign loan.
A trio of Republicans also had money stockpiled before they launched their campaigns last month. State Treasurer John Schroder had $2.4 million on-hand, while state Sen. Sharon Hewitt's war chest stood at $620,000. State Rep. Richard Nelson, finally, was far back with just shy of $200,000 at his disposal.
● CA-12: Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee earlier this week filed FEC paperwork for Senate ahead of what the Washington Post says will be an announcement later this month, but political observers had already spent the last month talking about who might run in the top-two primary to succeed her in this dark blue bastion in the East Bay.
BART board member Lateefah Simon told the San Francisco Chronicle in January that she was interested, while the paper said that Assemblywoman Mia Bonta was considering. State Sen. Nancy Skinner and former Oakland City Councilmember Loren Taylor, who lost a tight race for mayor last year, didn't rule it out themselves, while the paper also mentioned Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks and former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf as possibilities.
Lee's 12th District, which includes Oakland and Berkeley, is the bluest House seat in the state at 89-9 Biden, so it would be a surprise if two Democrats didn't advance to the general election. Indeed, there are just two congressional districts in the entire nation where Biden did better: Maryland's 4th, which is held by Rep. Glenn Ivey, and Pennsylvania's Rep. Dwight Evans' 3rd District.
● NV-01, NV-04: Two Republicans who unsuccessfully ran for the state Assembly last year are moving to take on a pair of Democratic House members next year in Las Vegas area seats that Biden carried by identical 53-45 margins. Restaurateur Flemming Larsen has filed FEC paperwork to face Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the 1st District, while Air Force veteran David Flippo has announced that he'll go up against 4th District Rep. Steven Horsford. No other notable Republicans have entered either race yet.
Larsen last year was the GOP nominee for the open 12th Assembly District, and he held Democrat Max Carter to a 51-49 win in a 54-44 Biden constituency. Flippo, meanwhile, ran for the 37th District and took last in the three-way primary with 25%: Jacob Deaville, who won the nod with 49%, went on to lose a close general election to former Assemblywoman Shea Backus. Flippo now says, "I hadn't run before; it was my first time running, so there's a lot to learn and all that. And that's one of the reasons I got in so early this time. I wasn't going to make that mistake again."
● OH Ballot: Abortion rights groups in Ohio are working to put a proposed constitutional amendment on this November's statewide ballot, and two previously competing organizations announced this week that they were merging in order to better advance this goal. This proposal would only need a majority to pass if it goes before voters, but as we'll discuss, Republicans are working to advance their own measure to make it far tougher to ever amend the state constitution again.
The two pro-choice groups, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, initially disagreed up until now whether they should put this proposal before voters in 2023 or 2024. The earlier date won out, though, and they now say they'll be submitting the summary of their proposed measure to Republican Attorney General Dave Yost next week. While the campaign has not yet released the text, it says this referendum will be similar to the measure that Michigan voters passed last year that enshrined the right to reproductive freedom, including abortion, into their state constitution.
Ohio Republican legislators passed a law in 2019 that effectively bans abortion after just six weeks, but a state judge blocked it last fall. For now, abortion is legal for 22 weeks, but Yost is trying to bring the matter before the GOP-led state Supreme Court. Abortion rights supporters want to pass this amendment before that can happen, but as Axios explains, they first must clear several hurdles before they can even present it to voters.
First, Yost must determine the proposed ballot summary is a "fair and truthful representation" of the amendment. If it gets the green light, then pro-choice groups would have until July 5 to collect just over 413,000 valid signatures—a number that represents 10% of the number of votes cast for last year's governor race. State law also requires that these petitions come from at least half of Ohio's 88 counties, and that “[f]rom each of these 44 counties, there must be signatures equal to at least 5 percent” of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. If it qualifies for this year's ballot, the measure would need to prevail over what will likely be an expensive campaign from anti-abortion forces.
Republican legislators, meanwhile, are hoping to put their own referendum on this November's ballot to require that future amendments win the support of 60% of voters. That measure, ironically enough, also needs to win just a majority of the vote in order to pass, and it would impact any amendments from 2024 on. This could include a potential anti-gerrymandering amendment that supporters want to be on next year's ballot.
It takes three-fifths of each chamber to put a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters, and the GOP has the numbers to do this in both the state Senate and House. Republicans originally hoped to place this on this May's primary vote, where turnout tends to be low, but didn't act in time to meet this month's deadline. However, state House Speaker Jason Stephens said Wednesday that he would make advancing this amendment a priority, an announcement that pleased one very prominent intra-party enemy.
State Rep. Derek Merrin has been engaged in an ugly feud with Stephens since the latter forged a coalition of Democrats and a minority of Republicans to win the speakership. However, while the two can't even agree which of them should control the credit card for the caucus' campaign arm, they're on the same page on the 60% amendment. Merrin said, "We can pass whatever bill we want in the House, in the Senate. But if we're going to allow our constitution to be hijacked, it completely ruins all the work that the people's representatives have done."
Republicans have until Aug. 9 to meet this new deadline, but abortion rights supporters say they'd also work to beat this measure if it comes to it. A spokesperson for Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom declared, "We are against that and for our constitutional amendment … And if we have to fight both at the same time we will."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: EMILY's List on Thursday endorsed former local TV anchor Donna Deegan in a March 21 nonpartisan primary that includes one other Democrat, state Sen. Audrey Gibson.
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former City Councilmember Helen Gym this week earned the endorsement of Unite Here Philly, a union that the Philadelphia Inquirer says leads "one of the city's most visible ground operations," ahead of the May Democratic primary. The only other candidate who has received major union support so far is grocer Jeff Brown.
● Where Are They Now?: The National Hockey League Players' Association confirmed Thursday that Marty Walsh, who resigned as mayor of Boston last year to become U.S. secretary of labor, would be leaving the cabinet to become its new executive director in "mid-March."
Walsh's career switch comes about two months after the National Collegiate Athletic Association named now-former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as its incoming president. Walsh and Baker famously enjoyed a close cross-party relationship when they were both in office, and the Republican governor told the secretary "I miss you, man," during his final State of the Commonwealth speech last year.