The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● LA-Gov: Republican infighting has suddenly escalated well ahead of Louisiana’s Oct. 14 all-party primary for governor, as a well-funded super PAC is already airing ads designed to deprive Attorney General Jeff Landry of his frontrunner status. This early offensive to help Stephen Waguespack, who is the former head of the state's Chamber of Commerce affiliate, comes unusually early, but his allies have the resources to ensure that voters see many more ads over the next four-and-a-half months.
Waguespack’s backers at Reboot Louisiana, which began a $1.75 million TV campaign in early May to boost the first-time candidate’s name recognition, launched a new spot on Wednesday hammering Landry on an issue he's sought to make his own. “Murder, rape, car jackings. Under Landry’s watch, Louisiana is the most dangerous state in America,” intones a narrator, who goes on to argue that Waguespack “has a plan to take Louisiana back from the criminals.” Landry himself has been emphasizing crime in his advertising, though he’s unsubtly blamed it on Black Democratic mayors and district attorneys.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who has not taken sides in the contest to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, responded to Reboot Louisiana’s commercial by calling for Waguespack to “denounce” the message. “We must learn from the mistakes of the 2015 and 2019 governor’s races, where Republican infighting ultimately squandered our opportunities to win the Governor’s mansion,” Scalise said in a statement referring to Edwards’ two wins in this red state.
Scalise might have also noted that Republicans only began hitting one another on the airwaves much later in those two contests. In 2015, the super PAC supporting frontrunner David Vitter only sprung into action around Labor Day by attacking his two main intra-party rivals, Jay Dardene and Scott Angelle, in a sign that Vitter wasn’t quite as strong as he looked. The scandal-tarred Vitter did indeed make it to the November general election against Edwards, but at great cost: Dardenne crossed party lines to endorse Edwards, who went on to score an upset win the next month, while Angelle remained neutral.
It took a bit longer four years later for the two leading Republicans, Rep. Ralph Abraham and wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone, to start attacking one another on the air, but once again, it hurt the party’s efforts against Edwards. Rispone began targeting his fellow Republican just three weeks before the first round of voting, and while the defeated Abraham did endorse Rispone for the second round, some of the damage was irreparable. Edwards worked hard to fan the flames of intraparty animosity by reminding Abraham’s constituents about the slams Rispone had leveled at their representative, a tactic that helped him perform significantly better in Abraham's district than Democrats usually do.
The Democrat who wants to benefit from this year’s early GOP clash is former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction. Three other Republicans running for governor―Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson―are meanwhile hoping that an ugly battle between Landry and Waguespack will give them the chance to establish themselves as an alternative conservative option.
● Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also take stock of recent developments in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two Rust Belt neighbors where Republicans—for once—are breathing a sigh of relief after a pair of disastrous 2022 candidates opted against repeat bids in 2024. They then dive into the extremely belated impeachment of Texas' corrupt attorney general by his fellow Republicans and remind listeners to mark their calendars for a major special election that just got scheduled in New Hampshire.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
● WA-Gov: Former Gov. Christine Gregoire, who served from 2005 to 2013, has endorsed the “exploratory campaign for governor” of her fellow Democrat, Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
● AZ-03: Phoenix City Councilmember Laura Pastor on Wednesday joined the busy Democratic primary to succeed Senate candidate Ruben Gallego in this dark blue seat. Pastor is the daughter of the late Rep. Ed Pastor, who represented previous versions of this constituency from 1991 until he retired in 2015, and she’s been talked about as a likely House candidate for years.
Chatter about her plans intensified in December of 2021 when she urged the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to revise its proposed congressional map to place a heavily Latino part of Phoenix in Gallego's seat, a change that would have made Republican Rep. David Schweikert's new 1st District reliably red. Pastor, who represented most of this area, said that she was acting to make sure the city's "historic core," heavily LGBTQ neighborhoods, and other locations weren't split; however, skeptics argued she was willing to protect Schweikert in order to boost her own prospects in a future contest to succeed Gallego. But the dramatic changes Pastor wanted didn't happen, and Schweikert went on to only narrowly win re-election.
● CO-08: Weld County Commissioner Scott James, reports Inside Elections, is considering seeking the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo. Joe Biden carried this constituency in the northern Denver suburbs and Greeley area 51-46, while Caraveo won her seat 48.4-47.7 last year.
● IN-05: While there was some talk during the winter that pastor Micah Beckwith could run to succeed retiring Rep. Victoria Spartz, who beat him in the 2020 GOP primary, Beckwith instead filed this week to campaign for lieutenant governor.
● NJ-07: Working Families Party state director Sue Altman on Wednesday became the first major candidate to announce a bid for the Democratic nod to take on freshman GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr. Joe Biden took this North Jersey seat 51-47, while Kean flipped it last year by ousting Democratic incumbent Tom Malinowski by an unexpectedly small 51-49 margin.
Altman, as we recently wrote, is a first-time contender, but she became a prominent force in state politics over the last decade by challenging the power of longtime party boss George Norcross. (Her organization is the state affiliate of the national Working Families Party, which usually backs progressive Democrats rather than run its own general election candidates.) Altman, Politico detailed last year, has been a crucial backer of Gov. Phil Murphy, especially during his first term when he worked to pass his agenda over Norcross supporters in the legislature.
● OH-09: J.R. Majewski, who was last year’s disastrous GOP nominee, said Tuesday night that he was ending his rematch campaign against Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur following his mother’s recent surgery. Majewski’s departure is a relief to Republicans, who did not look forward to the prospect of having him again as their standard bearer following his 57-43 landslide loss.
● RI-01: Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien said Wednesday he would not enter the upcoming special Democratic primary.
● UT-02: Republican Rep. Chris Stewart confirmed earlier reports on Wednesday that he would resign because of his wife's health, though he didn't specify a timeline, only saying he'd leave office "after an orderly transition can be ensured."
There's little question that whoever wins the GOP primary will prevail in the forthcoming special election: Republicans carefully gerrymandered Utah's congressional map, allowing Donald Trump to score a 57-40 victory in 2020 in the 2nd District, which includes the southwestern part of the state as well as a slice of Salt Lake City. Stewart's seat, though, could remain vacant until next year unless the legislature holds a special session specifically to appropriate funds to hold the special earlier.
That's because, under state law, special elections must coincide with regularly scheduled election dates. That means the earliest the primary could take place is Nov. 7, when several municipalities go to the polls. A general election, meanwhile, would not be possible until March of 2024, when Utah holds its presidential primaries. Without action by lawmakers, then, Stewart's constituents could go unrepresented for close to a year.
Stewart's eventual successor will succeed a hardliner who effectively won his seat in 2012 at a bitter party convention. Prior to seeking office, the future congressman made a name for himself in the Air Force by setting the record for the fastest uninterrupted flight across the world (36 hours and 13 minutes) and as the head of a consulting firm. He went on to co-write the memoir of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, though his main claim to fame in conservative circles came from his authorship of a six-part series of apocalyptic novels infused with Mormon theology. One prominent fan was Glenn Beck who, at the height of his influence, both touted Stewart's work on Fox and reissued revised versions of his books to make them palatable to what he called a "mainstream" Christian audience.
Stewart got his chance to run for Congress two years after the 2010 census awarded the Beehive State a new House seat. At the time, candidates could only make the primary ballot by taking at least 40% at their party convention (a 2014 law eventually allowed them to gather signatures), and Stewart's main foe in the 11-person field was former state House Speaker David Clark.
An anonymous mailer, as Mother Jones would recount later that year, made several attacks on Stewart, but it attracted little notice until the day of the convention when a little-known contender named Milt Hanks held it up as evidence that there was an "Anybody-But-Chris" group determined to make sure the author was defeated. Several other hopefuls did indeed endorse Clark, which led Stewart's backers to shout, "The prophecy has been fulfilled! The prophecy has been fulfilled!"
Fueled by this supposed conspiracy, more than 60% of convention delegates gave their backing to Stewart, allowing him to avoid a primary altogether since no other candidate could hit the necessary 40% threshold. But the gathering sparked plenty of angry feelings. Several defeated foes claimed that Stewart's team had produced the offending mailer precisely to cultivate a backlash, an allegation Stewart denied. But the ill will did nothing to stop him from easily prevailing in the general election, and he never struggled to hold his seat in ensuing years.
Soon enough, the congressman, whom one former GOP politician labeled "a certified nutcase" before he was even elected, made a name for himself as an ardent conservative. He became a Trump ally despite deriding him as "our Mussolini" during the 2016 primaries, prompting the new administration to consider him for secretary of the Air Force after the elections.
Stewart, however, remained in the House, and later joined the majority of his caucus in voting to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 win. He did break from party orthodoxy last year when he backed the Respect for Marriage Act to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, though he otherwise remained a supporter of far-right causes. He even appeared ready to consider a promotion earlier this year: In April, Stewart declined to rule out a primary challenge to Sen. Mitt Romney. His resignation, though, almost certainly ensures that won't happen.
Anyone hoping to succeed Stewart can try to follow in his footsteps by competing at their party convention for a spot on the primary, though they now also have the option of instead collecting 7,000 valid signatures. Under the state's special election law, though, only one candidate can advance out of the convention instead of the maximum of two that are normally allowed.
● TX-AG: Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday appointed former Secretary of State John Scott as interim attorney general to replace incumbent Ken Paxton, who was automatically suspended last week when the state House impeached him. Paxton, who like Abbott and Scott is a Republican, would resume his duties if he avoids being convicted by two-thirds of the state Senate, while we recently detailed what would happen to this office should he be removed.
● NH State House: New Hampshire officials just scheduled a pivotal special election in the Republican-run state House that could see each party wind up with exactly 200 seats in the chamber and potentially put control of the body up for grabs.
The state Executive Council on Wednesday ordered that a primary for Rockingham County's 1st District take place on Aug. 1, with a general election on Sept. 19. If, however, only one Republican and one Democrat file by the June 9 deadline, then the primary would be skipped and the general election would get bumped up to the day that nominating contests would have otherwise been held.
The district in question became vacant after Republican Rep. Benjamin Bartlett, who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, resigned in April, citing health issues. However, a report in the Boston Globe (building off a post by blogger Doug Bates) suggested that the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity, may have played a role.
Whatever the reason for his departure, Bartlett's district is a competitive one: Donald Trump carried it by less than a point in 2020, 49.1 to 48.7, and the trends appear to be favorable for Democrats, since Trump's margin in 2016 was more than 8 points. Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, meanwhile, won the district 50-48 during her successful campaign for reelection last year as Democrats fell just 10 votes shy of securing one of the district's three seats. (Only one seat will be up in the special.)
At the moment, Republicans hold 200 seats in the House and Democrats 198, with a separate special election for a safely blue seat likely this fall. If Democrats prevail in both, that would lead to an exact 200-all tie, though it's not clear whether control of the chamber would immediately be impacted. That's because at least five Democrats voted for Republican Sherman Packard as speaker, and they may or may not be interested in returning to the fold. (We don't know who those wayward Democrats are, by the way, because the speaker is elected via secret ballot.)
However, more specials are likely, particularly after the current legislative session adjourns on June 29, which is when a new budget must pass. Party leaders will undoubtedly try to forestall more resignations, but turnover is always high in the New Hampshire House, where lawmakers are paid just $100 a year. And given Democratic success in special elections both in the Granite State and nationwide this year, there's good reason to think they'll be able to increase their numbers as the opportunity arises.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Denver, CO Mayor: Campaign finance reports show the super PAC supporting former state Sen. Mike Johnston is finishing with a huge financial lead over former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough's allies ahead of next week's general election between the two Democrats. Advancing Denver, according to the Colorado Gazette, outpaced A Better Denver $1.6 million to $380,000 from April 5 through May 30.
The pro-Johnston PAC's major donors, notes Colorado Newsline, are some of the same people who supported his unsuccessful 2018 campaign for governor: LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; former Davita CEO Kent Thiry; and hedge fund managers John Arnold and Steve Mandel. The largest funder for Brough's side for the general election Pete Coors, who was the 2004 GOP nominee for Senate.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● San Francisco, CA District Attorney: Former District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled last year, said Wednesday he would not challenge incumbent Brooke Jenkins in the 2024 instant-runoff contest. Boudin will instead become the inaugural executive director for a new Criminal Law & Justice Center at the UC Berkeley School of Law, which he says “will serve as a national research and advocacy hub focused on critical law and policy changes to advance justice in the criminal legal system.”