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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● KY-Gov: The super PAC Bluegrass Freedom Action, which supports Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in the May 16 Republican primary for governor, made history Friday when it launched the first TV ad in American history to tout an endorsement from an indicted former president.
The spot, which represents the first pro-Cameron commercial of the contest, extols the attorney general as "a conservative fighter" who sued President Joe Biden over border security, battled "the companies that fueled the opioid crisis," and is a "champion for law enforcement." The narrator goes on to remind the audience that Donald Trump backs Cameron before it turns to a clip of the candidate declaring, "Mr. President, we are going to make sure that Kentucky is never a sanctuary state." The commercial does not mention any of Cameron's intra-party opponents or the man they're all hoping to unseat this fall, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
The ad, which was posted to YouTube just before the news broke Thursday that a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump, also unsurprisingly avoids mentioning his legal travails. Cameron himself, though, predictably responded by claiming that "political weaponization of our justice system" was to blame for what happened to Trump. Two of Cameron's primary foes, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, jumped in with similar language; McClatchy points out that none of these three candidates noted that Trump is also being investigated in Georgia for his attempts to overturn Biden's win.
Bluegrass Freedom Action says this opening ad is a "multi-six-figure" buy, and the Republican firm Medium Buying has tracked $200,000 for a week-long TV buy. However, the super PAC has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to match the $4.2 million that NBC says Craft and her allied super PAC have already deployed with about a month-and-a-half to go before the primary. So far, there have been no TV ads to support Quarles, Auditor Mike Harmon, or Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.
A late January survey from Mason-Dixon for several state media organizations gave Cameron a wide 39-13 lead over Craft, but that was well before anyone started attacking the attorney general on the airwaves. Over the last few weeks, though, Craft and her backers have run commercials labeling the frontrunner as a "soft establishment teddy bear" and arguing he "decided to close" a "coal-fired plant running that serviced 165,000 Kentuckians." While Cameron has hit back in tweets and press releases, including with a photo of a teddy sporting an "I ♡ Cameron" shirt, he's had no one defending him on the air until now.
● MD-Sen: Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin tells Bloomberg that he plans to decide whether to seek re-election next year during Congress' current recess (lawmakers reconvene on April 17) and will make an announcement some time next month.
● WI-Sen: Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who said in October that "I think I'm gonna run for re-election," now tells Bloomberg she intends to announce her plans in "mid-April."
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Bryan Steil, a potential Baldwin challenger, dodged a question about his interest in seeking a promotion in a new interview with WISN's Matt Smith. Asked if he was considering a Senate bid, Steil responded, "I'm busy with my job here in the House of Representatives and plan to run for re-election." When Smith further pressed, "So is that a no?" Steil replied, "No, I'm not planning to run for Senate. If I can be more clear, I will for you." Of course, he could have been more clear had he wanted to by eschewing the words "planning to," so it still sounds like he's not ruling out a run.
● AZ-01: Democrat Jevin Hodge said Friday that he would not seek a rematch with Republican Rep. David Schweikert, who held him off 50.4-49.6 in a 2022 contest that only attracted major outside spending from each party about two weeks before Election Day. This seat, which is based in northeastern Phoenix and Scottsdale, will still likely be a key Democratic target, though: Biden prevailed 50-49 here in 2020, and Bloomberg's Greg Giroux says that Sen. Mark Kelly and Gov. Katie Hobbs last year took it 52-46 and 52-48, respectively.
The only other notable Democrat who showed any public interest in running before Friday was former TV anchor Marlene Galan Woods, a self-described moderate who said in mid-January she was giving herself 90 days to decide. Woods is the widow of Grant Woods, who served as Arizona's Republican attorney general in the 1990s, and she also identified as a "lifelong Republican" before joining the Democrats during the Trump era.
● MI-08: Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee said Friday he'd been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and would receive treatment in a few weeks for this "serious but curable form of cancer." The congressman added, "I'm really fortunate to have caught it early and I'm especially fortunate that I have people around me ... who are very supportive and are going to help me get through these difficult several weeks."
● RI-01: State Sen. Ana Quezada tells the Boston Globe's Dan McGowan that she's planning to enter the upcoming special election to succeed her fellow Democrat, outgoing Rep. David Cicilline, though she hasn't committed to anything yet.
Meanwhile, Arlene Violet, a former Republican whose 1984 win made her the first woman to serve as attorney general of any state, said Friday she was considering running as an independent for this 64-35 Biden constituency. Violet said she wouldn't campaign as a Republican because of her disgust with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump and belief that "independents have more power."
Violet, a one time member of the Sisters of Mercy who was dubbed "Attila the Nun," has been out of office since she narrowly lost re-election in 1986 (the Ocean State later voted in 1992 to elect its statewide officials to four-year terms), but she's remained an active presence in Rhode Island. The former attorney general went on to host a radio show on WHJJ, and she continues to write a column in The Valley Breeze. Violet also was heavily featured in a 2017 episode of the podcast "Crimetown" focused on her efforts to combat corruption in the state.
● MD Ballot: Maryland's Democratic-run legislature has passed an amendment to the state constitution that would guarantee the right to an abortion, sending it to voters for their approval at the 2024 general election. Maryland is the first state to advance an amendment specific to abortion rights following the passage of similar amendments in California, Michigan, and Vermont last year. (New Yorkers will vote on a much broader Equal Rights Amendment next year that proponents say will protect abortion rights.)
Organizers in Ohio and South Dakota are also working to place an abortion rights amendment on the ballot for this November, but unlike in Maryland, where lawmakers voted to refer the measure to voters, advocates in those states must gather signatures to do so.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: AdImpact on Friday took one more look at both sides’ spending ahead of the April 4 general election and says that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and his allies have deployed more than twice as much money as Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson on advertising. Vallas has outpaced Johnson $7 million to $4 million during the second round of voting, while two pro-Vallas groups have thrown down another $1.4 million.
● Denver, CO Mayor: We haven't seen any recent polling to suggest which two candidates will advance out of Tuesday's 16-way nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Mayor Michael Hancock, but AdImpact's AdVantage newsletter reported on Friday that 80% of the spending for commercials comes from just two contenders and their respective super PAC allies: former state Sen. Mike Johnston and his fellow Democrat, former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough.
The biggest spender by far is Advancing Denver, a super PAC allied with Johnston that has deployed $2.1 million. Denverite says the group is primarily funded by Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder and Democratic megadonor, while it's also received money from former Davita CEO Kent Thiry and hedge fund manager Steve Mandel. AdImpact also reports that Johnston's own campaign has spent $400,000.
Another $800,000 each comes from Brough, who served as Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper's chief of staff when he was mayor in the 2000s, and her allies at A Better Denver. The PAC has received a plurality of its funding from the National Association of REALTORS, a group that's long aided candidates from both parties.
A number of other notable candidates are also in the hunt here, though they've spent relatively little. The field includes three sitting elected officials: state Sen. Chris Hansen, state Rep. Leslie Herod, and City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega. Also in the running are criminal justice activist Lisa Calderon, investment banker Trinidad Rodriguez, environmental activist Ean Tafoya, and businessman Andy Rougeot, who is the only Republican campaigning in this dark blue city. A June 6 runoff would take place in the all-but-certain event that no one earns a majority of the vote on Tuesday.
● Maricopa County, AZ: Arizona's Republican-run legislature has failed to pass a bill that would have split up Maricopa County, which is the nation's fourth-most populous and contains 62% of the state's population, into four new counties in order to ensure GOP control over three of them.
- Republicans fear losing control over Maricopa's County government. Republicans only narrowly held onto their 4-1 majority on the county Board of Supervisors in 2020. Thanks to heated GOP infighting, the country's leftward trend, and fairly drawn districts, Democrats have a strong chance to flip the two seats they need to win control next year.
- Supposed small-government motivations didn't hold up to scrutiny. Supporters claimed that splitting up the county would advance small-government principles and bring government closer to the people. However, even some Republicans disputed that notion, pointing out the measure would have required raising taxes.
- The bill failed this time, but the issue could return again. State senators rejected the bill, with a quarter of Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition, but the main sponsor said he plans to bring it back up again in 2024.
Read more about how this bill would have cemented Republican power at the expense of Democrats and voters of color—and why it's not dead yet.