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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● Voting Rights: Texas Republicans have advanced multiple bills designed to target left-leaning Harris County—and Harris County alone—with measures that would enable the GOP secretary of state to replace its local election administrator and even invalidate election results and order a rerun on dubious grounds.
- A one-time GOP stronghold that's flipped to Democrats. Thanks to a racially diverse and well-educated electorate, Harris County, the largest in the state, has zoomed leftward thanks to Donald Trump. Democrats took control of the county's government in 2018, giving them an important base of power and a potential springboard for higher office.
- A "really low" threshold for ordering a do-over. One proposal empowers the secretary of state to order a redo election if they have "good cause to believe" that 2% of the county's polling places didn't have enough ballots—but it doesn't require hard proof of such problems, let alone whether they prevented enough people from voting to affect the outcome of the election.
- Texas Republicans have undermined Harris County's voters for years. These bills aren't isolated: GOP officials recently unveiled a plan to take over Houston's school system and replace its elected board, and they've previously passed laws restricting access to voting in Harris County—the very situation they're now complaining about following their losses last year.
Read more about how these bills could interfere with the integrity of elections in Texas' largest blue county.
● AZ-Sen: While wealthy businessman Jim Lamon still hasn't closed the door on another Senate bid, he recently told a crowd of fellow Republicans that, in the words of the Washington Post, "he so far was supporting" Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb's run.
● MT-Sen: While we haven't heard anything about Attorney General Austin Knudsen's interest in this race in the two months since the National Journal first relayed that he was considering, the Washington Post now says he's one of the two people that national Republicans want to recruit to take on Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. The other is wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy, a Navy SEAL veteran whose name first surfaced last month and whom NRSC chair Steve Daines reportedly has been trying to land. The Post adds these same insiders don't want Rep. Matt Rosendale, who lost to Tester 50-47 in 2018, to be their nominee again.
This isn't the only way Daines has been trying to intervene in his home state, though, as the New York Times' Nick Corasaniti reports that one of his allies played a key role in drafting the bill to adopt a top-two primary system intended to weaken Tester. Corasaniti writes that lobbyist Chuck Denowh wrote to the legislation's sponsor, state Sen. Greg Hertz, "We would like it to apply only to United States Senate races," and, "We'd like a sunset in 2025." Denowh didn't specify who he meant by "we," but one state senator told his colleagues the bill "came from Daines" and was the "brainchild" of the NRSC's executive director.
The plan recently passed the state Senate, and two Republican members also informed Corasaniti that Daines' team pressured them into backing it. Critics argue this is no more than a scheme to weaken Tester, and Tester only, in a state where Republicans frequently complain that Libertarian Party candidates cost them vital support: Indeed, one legislator says party officials outright told them that beating Tester was the plan's purpose. However, as FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich's recently wrote, "You can't just assume that every Libertarian voter would have voted Republican if the Libertarian candidate hadn't been on the ballot; elections don't work like that."
Indeed, Rakich went on to highlight that, not only would the GOP candidates have needed to take the Libertarian vote overwhelmingly in 2006 and 2012 to beat Tester, they'd also have needed almost all of those third-party backers to show up in the first place even without their candidate on the ballot. No amount of Libertarian support would have saved Rosendale, though, as Tester won his third term with a majority of the vote.
GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte said of the bill, which is set to receive a vote in a House committee on Monday, "I think it's kind of an interesting idea, but we won't take a firm position until we actually see the final legislation." There may be a change in store, though, as Hertz introduced an amendment to the lower chamber to require the top-two system be used for all U.S. Senate races rather than just Tester's 2024 contest. Republicans are also waiting for Gianforte's signature on legislation to ban instant-runoff voting, which is not in use in Montana.
● KY-Gov: The GOP firm Medium Buying reports that the RGA put at least $317,000 behind its opening ad buy against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear.
● NH-Gov: While New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu hasn't yet announced if he'll depart from his job as leader of this competitive state, reporter Paul Steinhauser takes a look at potential contenders who could campaign to succeed their fellow Republican. Before we dive in, though, we'll note that, while Sununu sounds unlikely to seek what would be a historic fifth two-year term, he could still run for re-election in 2024 even if his White House flirtations go bust and render all of this chatter moot.
Perhaps the most familiar name in Steinhauser's story belongs to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whom he reports "has been talking with people about running for governor." Ayotte was last on the ballot in 2016 when she lost re-election to then-Gov. Maggie Hassan in a 48.0-47.8 squeaker, a contrast that took place as Sununu was reclaiming the governor's office for the GOP after 12 years of Democratic control. The former senator was talked about as a potential candidate for governor in both 2019 and 2021 in the event that Sununu ran for the Senate, but the incumbent opted to stay put.
State education commissioner Frank Edelblut, meanwhile, recently confirmed he's interested in running to replace his boss and former rival. Edelblut, who is a former member of the 400-member state House, campaigned for governor in 2016 and used his personal fortune to outspend both Sununu and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas in the primary. Sununu and Gatsas focused their attacks on one another near the end of the contest while ignoring their wealthy foe, and this was almost enough for Edelblut to pull off an upset.
Sununu, though, ended up fending off Edelblut 31-30―a margin of just over 1,000 votes―while Gatsas ran behind with 21%. The new governor soon picked Edelblut to run the state Department of Education even though he'd home-schooled his children rather than send them to public schools.
The commissioner last year set off protests when he published an opinion piece decrying that "activist educators" were teaching elementary schoolers that "there are totally more than two genders!" He also said parents "should not be concerned, as occurred in another New Hampshire classroom, that the introduction to art will begin with a lesson in pronouns and links to Black Lives Matters for kids and LGBTQ+ for kids." Edelblut, though, did not heed calls for his resignation and continues to hold this post.
Another Republican Steinhauser reports is "preparing for a potential gubernatorial campaign" is former state Senate President Chuck Morse, who stepped up to challenge Hassan last year after Sununu dispirited Senate Republicans by passing on the race. But Morse, who was characterized as someone who "is not flashy, and does not have charisma" by a supporter, struggled to get past retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a Big Lie spreader who didn't struggle to stand out in the primary.
Bolduc, among other things, called the governor a "Chinese communist sympathizer" with a family business that "supports terrorism," so it was anything but a surprise that Sununu sided with Morse in the primary. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's allies also spent a hefty $4.6 million on an ad campaign to promote Morse and attack Bolduc as a surefire loser with "crazy ideas." Democrats, though, also launched an expensive ad campaign of their own tying Morse to lobbyists, a move aimed at weakening him for the general election if they couldn't keep him from the GOP nomination.
But Democrats got exactly what they wanted in the primary: Bolduc edged out Morse 37-36 two months before losing to Hassan in a 54-44 rout. Morse at least gets one claim to fame though: In January 2017, he technically became the Granite State's first GOP chief executive in 12 years when Hassan resigned to join the Senate two days before her gubernatorial term ended and Sununu's began, and Morse even got a security detail during that brief stint.
Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, who also lost his last campaign, says he's considering both a bid for governor or a rematch against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd Congressional District. Last cycle, Democrats aired ads in the GOP primary designed to help Burns defeat Keene Mayor George Hansel, a self-described "pro-choice" candidate backed by Sununu, and this was another race where that investment very much paid off. Burns won the nod 33-30, only to end up on the receiving end of a 56-44 drubbing by Kuster.
So which Democrats could run to end the GOP's eight-year control of the governorship? Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig didn't rule the idea out last month when she announced she wouldn't seek re-election this year as head of New Hampshire's largest city, and unnamed sources soon told the Concord Monitor she's interested in running for the top job. Steinhauser also mentions Cinde Warmington, who is the only Democrat on New Hampshire's unique and powerful five-member Executive Council, as a possibility.
● AZ-03: Democrat Raquel Terán announced Thursday she was resigning from the state Senate, a move that allows her to focus on her bid to succeed U.S. Senate candidate Ruben Gallego.
● CA-47: Businessman Max Ukropina, who founded a company that markets itself as a "credit app for couples," said Monday he'd campaign as a Republican in the top-two primary to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Katie Porter. The National Journal notes that his connections to the financial services company Acorn and "familiarity with the venture-capital environment thanks to his startup company" could help him raise money in a contest where former Orange County GOP chair Scott Baugh has been the only serious Republican contender.
● RI-01: State Rep. Stephen Casey, a self-described conservative who opposes abortion rights and unsuccessfully tried to weaken a gun safety bill last year before voting against it, on Thursday announced he'd seek the Democratic nomination in the upcoming special election. Casey, whom Primary School notes also opposed legalizing same-sex marriage in 2013 and last year voted against decriminalizing marijuana, told the Providence Journal's Katherine Gregg, "I know who I am, I know what my values are, and I'm not going to compromise on that. I need to sleep at night knowing that I'm doing what I believe in."
When Gregg asked the legislator if he thought he'd attract conservative independents, he responded, "I could see that. But again, the people in the race hasn't all been determined...[and] it's really not going to take a lot with a [possible] field of 20 to come up with 10 or 12% of the vote." The field is indeed well into the double digits for a primary where it takes just a simple plurality to win, though state Sen. Dawn Euer also said Thursday she'd back colleague Sandra Cano rather than run herself.