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.
Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast
● MT-Sen: Republicans in the Montana state Senate on Tuesday evening passed a bill to change the rules for the 2024 U.S. Senate election―and only the 2024 U.S. Senate election―in a move Democrats blasted as a "partisan power grab" aimed at weakening Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in a tough state. The proposed legislation would do away with partisan primaries and instead require all the candidates to compete on one ballot. The top-two vote-getters would be advancing to next year's general election, and there's little question that neither of them would be an independent or belong to a third party.
State Sen. Greg Hertz, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, insisted he was trying to put this top-two primary system, which is already in use in California and Washington state, in place because "[w]e want to make sure that the winning U.S. senator has more than 50% of the supporting people in Montana." He also defended the decision to put this in place for just one race in just one year, saying that he was picking the U.S. Senate race for a top-two "test run" because of the power of the office and its six-year term.
Critics argued this was 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. The senator himself won his 2006 contest by unseating Republican incumbent Conrad Burns with a 49-48 plurality, and he defended his seat six years later by pulling off a 49-45 victory in another race where a Libertarian claimed the balance. Tester won reelection in 2018 with a 50-47 majority against Republican Matt Rosendale, who may challenge him again this cycle, with the rest once again going to the Libertarians.
The top-two bill passed the state Senate Tuesday in a 27-23 vote, with all 16 Democrats and seven Republicans in the negative. (The chamber the same night also voted to ban instant-runoff voting, which is not in use in Montana.) The legislation must still be approved by the state House, where the GOP enjoys a 68-32 edge, before it could go to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. It's possible that there would be a legal challenge should this become law, and election law professor Quinn Yeargain thinks there may be an argument that the proposal is unconstitutional.
● Progressives scored a monumental victory in Wisconsin Tuesday night when Janet Protasiewicz flipped a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court, and we've got plenty to say about it on this week's episode of The Downballot. Not only are the electoral implications deeply worrisome for Republicans, the court's new liberal majority has the chance to revive democracy in the Badger State by restoring abortion rights and striking down gerrymandered GOP maps. It truly is a new day—and one we've long awaited—in Wisconsin.
We're also delving into the fascinating politics of Alaska with our guest this week, former state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Jonathan recounts his unlikely journey to the state House after winning a huge upset while still in college before explaining how Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans forged a remarkable cross-partisan governing coalition. We also get an on-the-ground view of what Mary Peltola's stunning special election victory last year looked like to Alaska Democrats.
New episodes of The Downballot come out every Thursday morning. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show, and you'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● WI State Senate: The Associated Press on Wednesday morning called the special election for Republican state Rep. Dan Knodl, a win that gives his party a two-thirds supermajority in the upper chamber. Knodl leads Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin 51-49 in a 52-47 Trump constituency that's home to longtime conservative bastions in the suburbs and exurbs north of Milwaukee, and she conceded the race later Wednesday. Knodl will succeed longtime legislator Alberta Darling, a fellow Republican who resigned late last year.
● Wisconsin: While progressive Janet Protasiewicz's victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race took center stage Tuesday, state liberals also scored a big judicial win further down the ballot in Milwaukee County when Sara Geenen ousted conservative incumbent William Brash in a 69-31 landslide for a seat on the 16-member state Court of Appeals.
Brash, who was serving as chief justice at the time of his defeat, was appointed in 2015 by none other than GOP Gov. Scott Walker, and he didn't even face an opponent in his 2017 campaign for a six-year term. Things were very different in this officially nonpartisan race, though, as Geenen worked to tie her opponent to Daniel Kelly, the conservative Supreme Court candidate who lost Milwaukee County 73-27.
Badger State Democrats also successfully defended three prominent local leaders in more officially nonpartisan races. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson earned a fourth term by turning back former county board member Kevin Sturn 55-45 as Protasiewicz was winning his county by a small 51-49. Nelson badly lost the 2016 election for the 8th Congressional District to Republican Mike Gallagher and dropped out of last year's Senate race before the primary, but neither race required him to give up his post as the head of the competitive county that's home to Appleton.
Just to the north in Green Bay, Mayor Eric Genrich scored a 53-47 victory over Republican Chad Weininger, a former state representative who now serves as Brown County's director of administration. Republicans targeted Genrich for defeat, but the incumbent held on after running a campaign highlighting Weininger's anti-abortion stances. Racine Mayor Cory Mason adopted a similar strategy, as well, as he turned back Republican Alderman Henry Perez 57-43.
Statewide, though, about two-thirds of Wisconsin voters approved a pair of constitutional amendments to allow judges to consider additional factors for bail. Voters by an 80-20 margin also passed a nonbinding advisory referendum asking if "able-bodied, childless adults" should have to "look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits," a measure legislative Republicans placed on the ballot in the vain hope that it would boost their prospects at holding the state Supreme Court seat.
● FL-Sen: Inside Elections' Erin Covey reports that former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is "actively considering a campaign" for the Democratic nod to take on Republican Sen. Rick Scott, though Mucarsel-Powell has not said anything publicly. Mucarsel-Powell won her only term in Congress in 2018 when she won a tough race to unseat Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in a Miami-area constituency that was then numbered the 26th District, but she lost to Carlos Giménez 52-48 as her seat was swinging hard from 57-41 Clinton to 53-47 Trump.
Several other Democrats have been talked about as possible contenders to face Scott, but no one has stepped up yet in an expensive state that's lurched aggressively to the right. Covey lists Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer as a possibility, but there's no indication he's looking to leave the job he's held since 2003. She also relays that former Rep. Gwen Graham, who now serves in the U.S. Department of Education, "has also been mentioned as a potentially formidable candidate, though Democratic strategists who spoke with Inside Elections had not heard that she was actively considering a campaign."
● KY-Gov: Kelly Craft uses her latest commercial for the May 16 GOP primary to declare that she helped "rip up NAFTA" when she was Trump's ambassador to Canada―a job she was absent from for a significant amount of time. Craft and her allies have enjoyed a huge spending edge, though Attorney General Daniel Cameron's supporters are working to get his name out: The Lexington Herald-Leader's Austin Horn says that Bluegrass Freedom Action has now deployed $500,000, which is well above the $200,000 reported days ago.
● NH-Gov, ND-Gov: Both North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu this week addressed the possibility that they'd try to hold their current offices in 2024 even as they each also eye longshot Republican presidential bids, though Sununu sounds the more likely of the two to depart. "I am not saying I am not running [for governor] again, but I've got to get a real job," New Hampshire's chief executive joked Wednesday about the post he's held since 2017, adding, "My wife is very excited when I say that."
Sununu added that he'd decide by early August if he'd seek the White House, though he doesn't appear to have laid out a timeline for when he'd make up his mind if he'd campaign for what would be a historic fifth two-year term running this swing state. As we've written before, Sununu wouldn't necessarily need to decide between the two campaigns because the Granite State has one of the latest candidate filing deadlines in America for non-presidential offices.
Burgum, while evading questions about any commander-in-chief dreams, meanwhile said of a potential re-election campaign, "I haven't made any official announcement on that in the past, but I love having the opportunity to serve and I have a ton of energy for this job. But that decision about a third term is a long ways off."
● WV-Gov, WV-Sen: The radical anti-tax Club for Growth on Wednesday not only endorsed Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's day-old campaign for governor, but it also said that it and its allies at Black Bear PAC plan to spend a combined $10 million to help him win the GOP nod. (Both organizations are heavily funded by megadonor Dick Uihlein.)
The Club also said it would commit $10 million to aid Rep. Alex Mooney in the Republican primary for Senate, a contest where Gov. Jim Justice keeps promising to announce "very soon" if he'll seek the GOP nod. (Justice said just before Thanksgiving we'd "know real soon" if he'd go up against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, so maybe former billionaires have a different definition of "soon" than the rest of the world?)
● AZ-01: Orthodontist Andrew Horne didn't generate much press in early January when he entered the Democratic primary to take on Republican Rep. David Schweikert, but he attracted a bit more attention this week when he said he'd ended the first quarter with $780,000 in the bank. Horne tells us that he raised $150,000 from donors for his campaign to flip this seat in northeastern Phoenix and Scottsdale, while he self-funded another $650,000.
The only other declared Democratic candidate here is state Rep. Amish Shah, who launched his campaign Monday for a constituency that Biden carried 50-49.
● AZ-02: Coconino County District Attorney Bill Ring, who is retiring from his current post, last week did not rule out seeking the Democratic nod to take on far-right freshman Rep. Eli Crane. Any Democrat would face a tough job beating the new incumbent, though, in a sprawling Northeastern Arizona seat that backed Trump 53-45 and where Crane ousted Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran 54-46 last year.
● AZ-03: State Sen. Raquel Terán, who is a former chair of the state Democratic Party and state Senate minority leader, on Wednesday announced that she'd campaign to succeed Senate candidate Ruben Gallego in this safely blue Phoenix seat. Terán's kickoff video extols her activism against the infamous 2010 anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 and touts her work organizing to defeat two prominent Arizona Republicans, state Senate President Russell Pierce and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Terán, who would be the state's first Latina member of Congress, launched her bid one day after Phoenix City Councilmember Yassamin Ansari, who would also make history as Arizona's first Iranian American representative. Plenty of others may join the Democratic primary as well, and the Arizona Republic says that among those considering are former state Rep. Cesar Chavez and state Sen. Catherine Miranda, who badly lost a 2018 primary to unseat Gallego.
Phoenix City Councilmember Laura Pastor, who is the daughter of the late Rep. Ed Pastor, also expressed interest back in January, though she has yet to commit to anything.
● ME-02: Democratic incumbent Jared Golden picked up his first declared Republican primary foe on Wednesday when Robert Cross, who lost a state Senate primary last year, announced that he'd campaign for this 52-46 Trump constituency in northern Maine.
Cross is the grandson of the founder of the large company Cross Insurance, which was established in Bangor and has the naming rights to the city's arena. Cross, who was a longtime official at the regional U.S. Department of Agriculture, ran for the state Senate last year but lost the primary 55-45 to state Rep. Peter Lyford.
● TX-03: Businesswoman Suzanne Harp this week filed FEC paperwork for a potential rematch against freshman Rep. Keith Self, who outpaced her in a truly strange 2022 Republican primary that neither of them exactly won. Last year incumbent Van Taylor scored 49%, just under the majority he needed to win renomination outright, while Self edged out Harp 26-21 for the second spot in the runoff. There was no runoff, though, as Taylor stunned everyone the day after the first round he was ending his re-election campaign because of an affair the married congressman had with a woman named Tania Joya who had fled her ISIS terrorist husband years ago.
That news surfaced on the far-right site National File just before Election Day in part because Harp sent one of her supporters to do the interview with Joya that ran there, but Harp wasn't the candidate who ultimately benefited from it. Instead, Taylor's departure automatically made Self the nominee in a gerrymandered Plano-based seat that Trump took 56-42.
● MS Ballot, MS-LG: Mississippi's Republican-led state legislature adjourned Saturday without voting to restore even a small part of the ballot initiative process that the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court obliterated in 2021.
Both state House and Senate leaders argued who was to blame for the inaction, which came despite a Siena College statewide poll showing that 72% of respondents wanted them to once again grant "voters the power to place issues directly on the ballot," though one powerful legislator was happy to take credit. State Sen. John Polk, who refused to let the proposal receive a vote when it reached the committee he chaired, argued, "When it came to my decision, I decided that Mississippi right now was best without the ballot initiative."
The state's highest court, as we wrote two years ago, decreed that the rules adopted in the 1990s requiring organizers to gather signatures from each of the state's five congressional districts in order to qualify for the ballot had become impossible to comply with because the state lost a congressional district in the 2000 round of reapportionment. This decision not only made it impossible for any future ballot measures to qualify under the current rules, it also invalidated a 2020 initiative that voters had passed to legalize medical marijuana.
This year the state House began advancing a proposal to restore the initiative process, but only in a very limited way. While voters previously had the power to collect signatures to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, the legislature would still retain that power for itself. Mississippi's denizens would have the ability to initiate ballot measures to create or amend state laws―but not for any proposals to weaken the state's near-total ban on abortion. However, the legislature would have had the power to alter, or even repeal, anything approved by voters.
None of this ended up mattering, though, because while the House and Senate seemed to agree that they wanted a weak initiative process in place, they failed to reach a consensus over the number of signatures required to place something on the ballot: The upper chamber wanted 240,000, which is the equivalent of 12% of the state's registered voters, while the House wanted to restore the 106,000 minimum that previously existed. House Speaker Philip Gunn said that, while the Senate suggested 150,000 as a late counter-offer, it wasn't good enough with almost no time left to act before the session ended and other priorities needed to be addressed.
Mississippi Today notes that this debacle could have an impact on this August's GOP primary for lieutenant governor between incumbent Delbert Hosemann, who runs the upper chamber, and far-right state Sen. Chris McDaniel. While Hosemann temporarily kept the Senate's bill alive after it stalled in Polk's committee, McDaniel and other critics blame him for sending it there in the first place knowing full well the chairman was ardently opposed to it.
"Delbert Hosemann chose yet again to silence the voices of Mississippians and protect his own power by obstructing our ballot initiative process," declared McDaniel, adding, "Delbert's actions are both disgraceful and unconstitutional."
● WI Supreme Court: Janet Protasiewicz's win on Tuesday means that liberals will have a majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the first time since 2008, and progressive Justice Ann Walsh Bradley immediately celebrated the accomplishment by committing to seeking another 10-year term in 2025. "I'm absolutely going to run again," the 28-year incumbent told PBS Wisconsin, adding, "After tonight's performance and seeing the energy in this room, I'm not only going to run, I'm going to win."
Conservatives would need to unseat Bradley to retake the court two years from now, while conservative Rebecca Bradley is set to go before the voters in 2026.