The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from Daniel Donner, David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert and David Beard.
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● AZ-Sen: Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who has been an ardent ally of far-right causes, on Tuesday became the first major Arizona Republican to announce a campaign for the Senate seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego quickly greeted his rival's entry by releasing a statement from former Capitol Hill Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell that excoriated the sheriff for his "continued perpetuation of the 'Big Lie' that led to the attack on me and my fellow officers and his attempts to excuse the violent actions taken by the January 6th rioters."
Lamb was elected in 2016 as the top lawman for Pinal County, a reliably Republican bastion between Phoenix and Tucson, in an election that coincidently took place as prominent xenophobe Joe Arpaio was losing re-election as sheriff in Phoenix’s neighboring Maricopa County. While Lamb said during his first campaign that he'd keep his focus at home and even asked rhetorically, "If Fox calls, what are they going to do for me," he soon took Arpaio's place on national TV as an anti-immigration hawk.
Lamb, who has shown sympathy for the fringe belief that sheriffs are the top legal authority in America, attracted more attention during the early months of the pandemic when he refused to enforce then-Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order. Naturally, he went on Fox to promote his decision to defy his fellow Republican. (Lamb himself came down with COVID in June of 2020.) Around that same time, he also formed a civilian "posse" in response to Black Lives Matter protests, even though none of those protests took place in his county.
He later reacted to the Jan. 6 attack by telling a pro-Trump rally that took place that same day, "This is about the other issues that have happened—the Hillary Clintons that have gone unpunished." Lamb also used that gathering to denounce the Supreme Court for declining to hear a case to overturn Trump's defeat, declaring, "This is about the fact that our Supreme Court isn't hearing our voices. This is the fact that our governor and our governments are not hearing our voices." The sheriff added, "I don't know how loud we have to get before they start to listen to us and know that we will no longer tolerate them stripping our freedoms away."
Lamb later in 2021 would later tell Politico that the Jan. 6 rioters were "very loving, Christian people" who "just happen to support President Trump a lot," and he'd also appear on a network infamous for its antisemitic content. Lamb would support Kari Lake's failed 2022 campaign for governor, declaring at one of her rallies, "We are going to make sure that we have election integrity this year. Sheriffs are going to enforce the law—this is about the rule of law." Lamb ominously added, "We will not let happen what happened in 2020."
Lamb may not be enough of a Big Lie backer for Lake, though, who is mulling a Senate bid even as she continues to deny she lost the governorship to Democrat Katie Hobbs. While NBC reported in December that Lake was encouraging Lamb to run for Sinema's seat, an unnamed Lake advisor now tells the Washington Post that she might attack him over his "hypocrisy" for telling Congress this year he'd seen "zero evidence" of "material, large-scale fraud." Lamb himself, though, tried to shore up his far-right defenses Tuesday when he argued he was only talking about Pinal County, with the Associated Press writing he "sidestepped questions about whether voters can trust that the last two elections were fair."
The sheriff, for his part, stressed his old anti-immigration platform rather than election lies in his kickoff video. He highlights how his son, who he said "struggled with drug addiction," died in a December crash with Lamb's 1-year-old granddaughter, with the candidate declaring, "I know what deadly drugs and the criminals peddling it are doing to families and communities." Lamb goes on to say, "It's time to declare the drug cartels terrorist organizations and use military force to wipe them out just like we did to ISIS."
Several other Republicans are also mulling bids ahead of what will be one of the top Senate races of 2024, including several of last cycle's losers. Blake Masters and Abe Hamadeh, who were the party's respective nominees for Senate and governor, have each shown interest even as they've signaled they'd defer to Lake. The same cannot be said of Karrin Taylor Robson, who narrowly lost the gubernatorial primary to Lake, or Jim Lamon, a fellow self-funder who failed to deny Masters the nomination, though neither has committed to anything.
Sinema herself, meanwhile, is keeping everyone guessing if she'll run again now that she's abandoned her party affiliation, while Gallego has no serious intra-party opposition.
- MT-Sen: Jon Tester (D-inc): $5 million raised
- WI-01: Bryan Steil (R-inc): $825,000 raised, $2.2 million cash on hand
● FL-Sen: Attorney Keith Gross, a Florida Republican who has described himself as a "very wealthy businessman, worth millions," on Tuesday announced that he'd wage a primary challenge against Sen. Rick Scott. It remains to be seen, though, how much Gross is able or willing to self-fund for what, despite Scott's horrible relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be an uphill battle against an incumbent who deployed $64 million of his own money during his 2018 race.
Gross did not directly mention the senator in his announcement video, opting instead to portray himself as a D.C. outsider. However, Florida Politics notes the challenger appeared to be taking a not-very-subtle shot at the $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine leveled at Scott's former healthcare company when Gross called himself "someone that isn't getting rich by riding fraud and corruption." Gross added, "I'm not running to exploit votes for my own greedy agenda. I've already made my way, and I didn't have to defraud anyone to do it." The new candidate also did not draw attention to his 2008 and 2010 bids for the Georgia legislature as a Democrat, though Scott’s allies certainly did.
Plenty of Scott's Republican colleagues may not be sorry if Gross pulls off an upset against the man who was the subject of a recent Time article titled, "The Least Popular Man in Washington." Scott, who led the NRSC during what turned out to be a dispiriting cycle for the party, spent last year feuding with McConnell before waging a failed leadership challenge against the Kentuckian. The still-minority leader himself seems to be in absolutely no hurry to make peace now with Scott, whom an unnamed McConnell ally described to Time with just two words: "Ass clown."
In February, McConnell generated headlines when he castigated Scott's proposal to sunset all federal legislation, including Medicare and Social Security, as "just a bad idea." McConnell predicted, "I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America." Gross himself wrote around that time, "Rick Scott is untrustworthy and I'm not surprised that he is trying to sunset Social Security because this is exactly what you should expect from someone with his history."
Still, no one has released any polling yet to suggest that Sunshine State Republicans are looking to fire Scott. Democrats would also love it if an ugly GOP contest gave them an opening in a longtime swing state that's lurched hard to the right in recent years, but no notable names have stepped up yet.
● MI-Sen: Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell confirmed Tuesday that she wouldn’t run for the Senate and would instead remain in the House.
● OH-Sen: Wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno has filed FEC paperwork ahead of his planned “special announcement” for April 18. Meanwhile another Republican, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said in late March he’d make up his own mind sometime in the summer.
● KY-Gov: AdImpact and Medium Buying together report that Attorney General Daniel Cameron has booked at least $234,000 for an opening TV buy set to begin Wednesday, a launch that comes at a time when former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and her super PAC allies continue to lob attacks on him ahead of the May 16 GOP primary. The newest offering from Commonwealth PAC links Cameron to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whom NBC notes happens to also be Black.
The PAC makes its case by utilizing a clip of Cameron saying, “We want to move to a no-money bail system,” before it flashes to footage of Bragg calling for the elimination of cash bail. That’s enough for the narrator to insist, “Cameron agrees with the George Soros-backed D.A. who prosecuted Trump,” before he picks up where a previous ad left off and compares the attorney general to a “soft on crime teddy bear.”
The offensive comes even as Cameron’s supporters at Bluegrass Freedom Action have aired their own ads proudly linking their candidate to the indicted Trump, who endorsed him last year. While Bluegrass Freedom has spent about $500,000 here, though, that’s far behind the $5.2 million that Craft and her backers have deployed altogether so far.
● NJ-Gov: Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop on Tuesday announced that he’d enter the 2025 primary to succeed his fellow Democrat, termed-out Gov. Phil Murphy, in a race that plenty of others are eyeing. While Fulop’s kickoff may seem early, though, Murphy himself began airing TV ads in September of 2015 almost two years before his own nomination contest, a strategy that helped deter Fulop and other prominent Democrats from running in the first place.
P.S. While anyone following U.S. politics today has spent most, if not all, of their lives in the era of the permanent campaign, even we have some limits here at Daily Kos Elections. Our general practice is to only talk about a race when it's no more than two years off, so we won't be saying much about the 2025 gubernatorial races until after Election Day this fall. However, we do make an exception when a notable contender like Fulop announces a campaign ahead of this time frame.
● WV-Gov: First quarter campaign finance reports are in for all the Republicans campaigning to succeed termed-out Gov. Jim Justice, and we’ve rounded them out below:
- auto dealer Chris Miller: $432,000 raised, additional $2 million self-funded, $3.3 million cash on hand
- Del. Moore Capito: $251,000 raised, $705,000 cash on hand
- Secretary of State Mac Warner: $175,000 raised, $162,000 cash on hand
- state Auditor JB McCuskey: $154,000 raised, $387,000 cash on hand
A fifth Republican, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, entered the race last week after the start of the new quarter, and the Club for Growth and an allied PAC have pledged to spend a total of $10 million to aid him in the primary.
● AZ-01: Democrat Hiral Tipirneni announced Monday that she would not seek a rematch against Republican incumbent David Schweikert, who defeated her 52-48 in a 2020 campaign for what was then numbered the 6th District.
● CA-47: Former Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda said Tuesday he was ending his comeback campaign because of a "moderate traumatic brain injury" that resulted from a fall last month. "Thankfully, my doctors say that I have started on the path to a full recovery," he wrote, though he said he was dropping out "on their advice."
Rouda's departure leaves state Sen. Dave Min as the Democratic frontrunner in the top-two primary to succeed Senate candidate Katie Porter, who is supporting Min. The Democratic field also includes businesswoman Dom Jones and former attorney Joanna Weiss, who are each active in local party politics, while former Orange County GOP chair Scott Baugh faces no serious intra-party opposition. Biden took this coastal Orange County seat 54-43, while Porter fended off Baugh 52-48 last year.
● CO-03: The liberal organization Progress Colorado has released a survey from the Democratic firm GSG showing far-right incumbent Lauren Boebert deadlocked 45-45 in a rematch against Democrat Adam Frisch in a western Colorado district that Donald Trump took 53-45 in 2020. Frisch in February kicked off his second campaign months after falling short by just 546 votes in a contest few thought he could win, and he has no serious intra-party opposition.
● IN-05: Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings this week became the first notable candidate to announce a campaign to succeed Rep. Victoria Spartz, a fellow Republican who is retiring from this gerrymandered seat. The new candidate is currently in his seventh term as the top prosecutor for a community that's home to 17% of the 5th District's denizens.
Cummings, though, seems determined to portray himself as the candidate who isn't from Hamilton County, which makes up another 46% of the seat. "People kept saying that candidates for the seat have always been from Hamilton County and that I could run well in Madison and other counties in the district," he said, adding, "The representatives from Hamilton County don't represent the other five counties in the district. I have the skill set to represent the entire district."
● MN-02: Former Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor last year, said Monday he'd challenge Democratic Rep. Angie Craig in a suburban Twin Cities seat where neither party has a big edge. Murphy, though, tells Axios' Torey Van Oot he still lives in GOP Rep. Tom Emmer's 6th District to the north, adding that he and his family are "in the beginning stages of considering our options" for whether to relocate.
Murphy played a crucial role in the race to take on Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, though not in a way that aided his party. The mayor was one of the five Republicans competing for the important party endorsement, and he outlasted two of those rivals to reach the sixth round of convention balloting. Murphy, upon being eliminated from contention, threw his support behind second-place candidate Scott Jensen, who surged past healthcare executive Kendall Qualls and soon claimed the endorsement.
But while Jensen's convention win deterred anyone from challenging him in the primary, he proved to be a terrible general election contender and badly lost to Walz. Last November also proved to be bad for Murphy as he lost re-election in Lexington to rival Gary Grote by 8 votes in a contest where just over 750 ballots were cast.
Murphy currently has the GOP nomination contrast to himself to take on Craig in the 2nd District, which Joe Biden took 53-45. Marine veteran Tyler Kistner, who was the Republican nominee here the last two cycles, last month said he wasn't ruling out a third bout, though we haven't heard anything new from him: Craig last time turned back Kistner 51-46 in a race that attracted heavy outside spending from both parties.
● NM-02: On Monday evening, former Rep. Yvette Herrell launched her long-anticipated rematch campaign against New Mexico Rep. Gabe Vazquez—the Democrat who last year unseated her 50.3-49.6 after an expensive race—at a rally featuring Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Herrell is so far the only notable Republican campaigning for the 2nd Congressional District, a constituency in the southern New Mexico and western Albuquerque area that Biden took 52-46. It will likely be another competitive general election battle.
Herrell, who is a former state representative, first ran for Congress under the old map in 2018, but she unexpectedly lost the campaign to represent the reliably red 2nd District to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small 51-49. Herrell, who reacted to that defeat by making evidence-free allegations of "voting irregularities," quickly announced she'd try again, but she first had to get through what turned into a truly ugly primary against businesswoman Claire Chase.
Both Republicans spent that campaign accusing the other of trying to undermine Donald Trump in 2016, while Herrell's commercial even employed a narrator who used what analyst Nathan Gonzalez described as a "ditzy tone" to impersonate Chase. Gonzalez, who titled his article, "The campaign attack ad no man could get away with," also characterized the spot as "one of the most sexist campaign ads in recent memory." The Associated Press reported that Herrell spread rumors about Chase's first marriage, but none of that stopped her from convincingly winning the nomination again.
This time Herrell had far more luck against Torres Small, whom she unseated 54-46 as Trump was carrying the district by a larger 55-43 spread. She quickly joined most of her party in voting to overturn Joe Biden's win hours after the Jan. 6 attack. However, Democratic map makers made defeating the new congresswoman a priority. They crafted new boundary lines that placed a portion of Albuquerque—including its most heavily Latino southwestern quadrant—into her district.
But no one was under any illusions that Herrell would be easy to beat, and what followed was a pricey battle between her and Vazquez, a former member of the Las Cruces City Council. Republicans aired ad after ad accusing Vazquez of wanting to defund the police and being hostile to the area's oil and gas industry, allegations he pushed back on.
Meanwhile, Democrats went on the offensive by tying Herrell to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, with one ad blasting the incumbent for "voting to protect an extremist who supported executing other members of Congress and denied 9/11." That same spot also emphasized how Herrell had co-sponsored a 2013 anti-abortion bill in the state legislature that read, "Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime."
Altogether the four largest House outside groups spent $9 million for what turned out to be a tight race. According to elections analyst Drew Savicki, Republican Mark Ronchetti beat Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham by a bare 49.7-49.4 margin as he was losing statewide 52-46, but Vazquez still pulled off a 1,350-vote win. Herrell signaled she would try again even before she left office when she opened a new campaign committee for 2024, though she didn't announce her new effort until Monday.
● NY-19: Democrat Josh Riley announced Tuesday that he'd seek a rematch against freshman Republican Marc Molinaro, who defeated him 51-49 last year in a competitive constituency in southeastern upstate New York. Riley, though, may not have the primary to himself, as state Sen. Michelle Hinchey tells the Daily Freeman she's considering her own bid. Hinchey is the daughter of the late Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who served parts of this area from 1993 to 2013.
Whoever wins the Democratic nod will be in for a tough race in a seat that both parties will likely make a priority. Joe Biden took this district 51-47 in 2020, but Bloomberg's Greg Giroux reports that Republican Lee Zeldin prevailed two years later 53-47 here against Gov. Kathy Hochul. The four largest House groups last cycle ended up deploying a combined $12 million, which was more than they spent in any other New York House contest, in the race that Molinaro narrowly won.
● RI-01: Gabe Amo on Monday resigned his post as a White House aide in what political observers are interpreting as a sign that he plans to enter the Democratic primary.
● VA-10: Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton on Tuesday commemorated World Parkinson's Day by releasing a video disclosing that she'd been diagnosed with the disease, writing she's "doing well" and hopes to remain in office for "many years to come."
The congresswoman said, "Over the past few months, it has primarily affected my speech and how my mouth moves," adding, "You may notice I speak more quickly now. It also has affected how I walk and keep my balance." Wexton also declared, "You are welcome to empathize, but don't feel sorry for me."
Secretaries of State
● LA-SoS, LA-Gov: Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin unexpectedly revealed Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in this October’s all-party primary, declaring, “I hope that Louisianans of all political persuasions will stand against the pervasive lies that have eroded trust in our elections by using conspiracies so far-fetched that they belong in a work of fiction.”
NOLA.com reports that state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a fellow Republican who had shown some interest in seeking the governorship a few weeks ago, is now “expected to announce” a campaign to replace Ardoin. The GOP side already included Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, a self-funder who launched his bid last month, as well as an underfunded Big Lie spreader, grocery store owner Brandon Trosclair. Others may also get in ahead of the August filing deadline.