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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● Ballot Measures: Abortion rights. Curtailing gerrymandering. Medicaid expansion. What do they all have in common? Progressives have secured each of these priorities and more in red states across the country by using ballot initiatives to circumvent recalcitrant GOP legislatures. But rather than reconsider their hostility toward these popular measures, Republicans are trying to make it harder—or even impossible—to pass initiatives in the first place.
- Bumping up the requirements. The approaches vary, but they include increasing the threshold for initiatives to pass, which is typically 50%, to a supermajority; increasing the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot; limiting the topics initiatives can address; and even banning organizers from paying petition-gatherers.
- Targeting progressives but not conservatives. One cynical tactic: expanding the number of counties or districts that signatures must be collected from, which forces progressives to unearth supporters in dark-red rural areas. Conservatives, though, can still readily find backers even in blue cities thanks to their densely packed populations.
- Fighting restrictions on the ballot box at the ballot box. Many proposals to undermine voter-backed initiatives actually require the approval of voters themselves before they can take effect—and most voters don't appreciate it when lawmakers try to strip away their powers. In fact, they've rejected recent GOP efforts in Arkansas and South Dakota by wide margins.
Read more about the 10 states where Republicans are currently waging their war on direct democracy, and how they're prosecuting it.
● MD-Sen: Politico's Holly Otterbein reports that "many expect" Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin to retire rather than seek a fourth term next year, though it's not clear what exactly these beliefs are based on. The 79-year-old Cardin previously said he'd decide by the end of March. Otterbein's piece is mostly focused on renewed GOP attempts to recruit former Gov. Larry Hogan to run for Senate, but an unnamed Republican operative privy to a recent discussion between Hogan and NRSC chair Steve Daines shot down the notion, saying, "The governor reiterated that he has never been interested in the Senate." Last cycle, Hogan turned down similar entreaties to challenge Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
● MI-Sen: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on Friday that she would not run to succeed retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, leaving Rep. Elissa Slotkin as the only major contender currently seeking the Democratic nomination. Several other Democrats are still considering bids, though, including state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh.
● WV-Sen: Politico reports that Republican senators and staffers think that Gov. Jim Justice, who's been publicly considering a bid for Senate, will in fact enter the race, possibly next month. But the term-limited governor has already blown past his own deadlines for making an announcement more than once: On Feb. 23, he said he'd make up his mind in the next 15 to 20 days, a point that passed more than a week ago; prior to that, on Jan. 31, he said he'd decide within 30 days, so he may continue to keep his boosters waiting.
Justice did just succeed in convincing a resistant legislature to pass a major income tax cut prior to adjourning earlier this month, a goal that Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin previously noted could impact his decision-making process. If he does get in, though, he won't have a clear path to the nomination: Rep. Alex Mooney has been running since mid-November, and there's nothing but bad blood between the two.
The antipathy ratcheted up last year, when Justice backed Rep. David McKinley after he and Mooney wound up in the same district due to West Virginia losing a seat in reapportionment. Justice even said he had "serious concerns" about Mooney's "ability to represent West Virginians well, after spending the majority of his time and life representing Maryland" (where he'd served in the state Senate), but primary voters didn't share those worries. Mooney, who had Donald Trump's endorsement, handily ended McKinley's political career with a 54-36 win.
A similar divide would likely ensue should Justice and Mooney square off. Justice, a former Democrat who switched parties during his first term in office, supported Joe Biden's infrastructure bill, which Mooney mercilessly attacked McKinley for voting for. The deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which spent $1 million to aid Mooney last year, has also said it could support the congressman once again. Justice, though, is still very rich despite a recent decline in his net worth, and a Morning Consult poll from earlier this year showed him with a 64-31 approval rating.
● KY-Gov: Former U.N. ambassador Kelly Craft continues to hammer the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, over his 2021 recommendation against allowing a utility company to impose a $67 million surcharge on customers in order to upgrade a coal-fired power plant, without which the plant would have to close by 2028. In her latest spot, Craft tries to link Cameron with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, claiming the attorney general "had a chance to keep a coal-fired plant running that serviced 165,000 Kentuckians" but instead "decided to close it."
In response to Craft's earlier ad on the topic, Cameron snarked, "Is Kelly Craft running for Governor of West Virginia?", noting that the plant in question is based in that state and saying it "provides no economic value to" Kentucky." Craft is now firing back by emphasizing the customers served by the plant, known as the Mitchell Plant, though it's in fact just one of two operated by the utility, Kentucky Power; the other is a natural gas plant that is, in fact, located in Kentucky.
Incidentally, West Virginia regulators voted to allow the Mitchell Plant to remain in operation until 2040, as its owners had asked, despite a contrary decision from their counterparts in Kentucky.
● NY-03: CNN reports that Republican Rep. George Santos has reached a deal with Brazilian prosecutors in a 2008 case in which Santos used a stolen checkbook to rip off a clothing store. Santos will apparently pay restitution to the victim but face no other penalties. However, multiple other investigations into the congressman at the federal, state, local, and congressional levels remain ongoing.
● RI-01: We've already tracked no fewer than 33 potential Democratic candidates who could run—or are running—for Rhode Island's soon-to-be-vacant 1st Congressional District, so what's a couple more? Attorney Donald Carlson, a one-time aide to former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, says he's "seriously considering" a bid while former Providence City Councilman David Segal, who finished a distant second in last year's Democratic primary for the state's other congressional district, isn't ruling out another run.
We also have some updates on some previously mentioned names. Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, who earlier hadn't foreclosed a campaign, now says he's "definitely leaning" toward entering the race and plans to announce his intentions by late April. Patrick Anderson of the Providence Journal also adds that DNC committeewoman Liz Beretta-Perik is "reportedly considering" a run, though there's no comment from her. In 2021, Beretta-Perik was short-listed as a potential appointee for lieutenant governor after Dan McKee ascended to the top job when then-Gov. Gina Raimondo joined Joe Biden's cabinet, but McKee instead selected Providence City Council President Sabina Matos, who herself is now running for the 1st District.