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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● Virginia: Criminal justice reformers in Virginia scored key victories in 2019, but three of those freshman prosecutors in populous Northern Virginia communities now face challenges in the June 20 Democratic primaries: Fairfax County's Steve Descano, Arlington County's Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, and Loudoun County's Buta Biberaj.
This trio of races are in fact the party's only contested primaries for prosecutor anywhere in the state, and the dynamics are similar in each of them. As DCist recently reported, the challengers are all framing their criticisms as complaints about how the incumbents are running their offices while downplaying ideological differences—framing that those same incumbents have rejected.
All of these battles are taking place on blue turf: Each jurisdiction gave Joe Biden over 60% of the vote in 2020 and decisively backed Democrat Terry McAuliffe in his unsuccessful campaign for governor the following year. Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee in each race should be the favorite in November, but the stakes are still high.
We'll start with Descano, who is state's attorney for both Fairfax County―which is by far the most populous locality in the state―as well as the separate and considerably smaller City of Fairfax. His intra-party foe is defense attorney Ed Nuttall, who has made a name for himself representing officers in police shooting cases. "There's a morale problem in the police department now due to the conflict between the commonwealth's attorney's office and the police department," said Nuttall, who has also faulted the office's performance in several recent cases.
Descano, who stopped asking for cash bail in his first year in office, has pushed back on these complaints by declaring, "It takes more than one term to undo decades of bad policy, decades of injustice." He's also argued that Nuttall, whom he's dubbed "a Republican wolf in Democrat's clothing" is too close to police unions and would reverse the four years he's spent "building a system of equality, justice and fairness." When the Associated Press asked Nuttall if he considered himself a reformer, he responded, "Sure, why not?"
Descano has outraised Nutalle $490,000 to $220,000 through June 8, but his opponent is getting some high-profile support. Nuttall has formed an alliance with Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and state Sen. Chap Petersen, and all three candidates are encouraging voters to back the trio as an unofficial ticket next week. Both Kincaid and Petersen enjoy huge financial edges over their own respective primary opponents, Kelvin Garcia and Saddam Azlan Salim, and the senator appears to be making use of his war chest to benefit the whole slate. Ken Reid, who is the only Republican running for Petersen's seat, recently complained that his would-be foe has been running ads on Fox News that appear to be aimed at getting conservatives to participate in the Democratic primary.
Dehghani-Tafti, who is commonwealth's attorney for both Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, faces a challenge of her own from a former subordinate, Josh Katcher. Katcher has accused the incumbent of prosecuting fewer felonies as crime rises, while Dehghani-Tafti has countered by saying he's employing "scare tactics" in what remains "a low crime community." Dehghani-Tafti, who has also refused to ask for cash bail, has outraised her opponent $550,000 to $340,000 through last week.
Finally, in Loudoun County, Biberaj is trying to fend off former public defender Elizabeth Lancaster, who has deployed similar arguments as those leveraged by Nuttall and Katcher. Unlike her counterparts, though, Lancaster has struggled to wage an organized campaign. She raised less than $5,000 through late March, though the public only learned of her diminutive haul after she filed her financial reports a month-and-a-half late, and she also missed Monday's deadline to submit updated reports. However, a conservative group called Mission America PAC has deployed $50,000 to aid her campaign. Biberaj, for her part, has taken in $560,000.
● IN-Gov, IN-Sen: While plenty of Hoosier State Democrats hoped that Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly would come home and seek statewide office, former campaign manager Peter Hanscom tells Politico that the onetime senator "will not be a candidate for Governor in 2024." Hanscom, in the words of reporter Adam Wren, also says that his old boss "would also not pursue a Senate run."
● CA-47: EMILY's List has backed Democratic activist Joanna Weiss ahead of next year's top-two primary to replace Democratic Senate candidate Katie Porter, and Roll Call says this is the first time this year the group has endorsed a non-incumbent in a competitive House seat. Weiss' main intra-party foe in this Orange County constituency is state Sen. Dave Min, while 2022 nominee Scott Baugh is the favorite on the GOP side.
● NC-01: The conservative Carolina Journal writes that Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson is considering a second bid for the GOP nod in the seat the party may gerrymander, a development that comes a year after an expensive primary defeat for both him and the Republican establishment.
Roberson in 2022 self-funded $1 million, while the Congressional Leadership Fund deployed $600,000 on ads attacking 2020 nominee Sandy Smith. Smith, though, won the nomination 31-27, and allies of Democrat Don Davis spent the general election airing their own commercials highlighting how she'd been accused of physical abuse by her daughter and not one but two ex-husbands. Davis went on to score a 52-48 victory over Smith, and she quickly made it clear she'd run again. The GOP field also includes Fred Von Canon, who lost back-to-back races for the state House.
● WV-02: State Treasurer Riley Moore this week picked up an endorsement from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his bid to succeed his fellow Republican, Senate candidate Alex Mooney, in this dark red seat; Mooney previously endorsed the treasurer all the way back in November. Moore, who is the nephew of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, currently has no serious intra-party opposition as he runs to represent the northern half of the state. The same cannot be said for his cousin, Del. Moore Capito, who is taking part in a crowded primary for governor.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Palm Beach County, FL State Attorney: Three-term Democratic incumbent Dave Aronberg announced Monday that he wouldn't seek reelection next year as state attorney for populous Palm Beach County, a longtime Democratic stronghold in South Florida. (Florida's 67 counties are divided amongst 20 judicial circuits, but the 15th Circuit only covers Palm Beach.)
Aronberg, who is a former state senator, was elected to this post in 2012 two years after losing the primary for attorney general, and he's remained put despite occasional talk over the years about another run for higher office. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Anthony Man writes that the state attorney "hasn't been a liberal crusader," though he notes that his office's successful prosecution of Nouman Raja in 2019 marked "the first time in decades a police officer in Florida had been convicted of an on-duty killing." Aronberg has also been a ubiquitous presence on cable news as a legal analyst, though Man says that his public post prevents him from getting paid for his appearances.
Longtime defense attorney Gregg Lerman filed to run in the Democratic primary back in May on the correct assumption that Aronberg would retire, and he praised the outgoing incumbent this week for managing his office well. Plenty of other Democrats will also likely take a look at campaigning for this prominent post.
● MS-LG: Siena College, polling on behalf of Mississippi Today, shows Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann leading far-right state Sen. Chris McDaniel 47-32 in the Aug. 8 Republican primary, which is just below the majority needed to avert a runoff three weeks later; another 21% are undecided, while support for two minor candidates rounds out to 0%. This is the first survey we've seen of the contest for one of the most powerful offices in the state.
McDaniel, who is a longtime ally of neo-Confederate groups, attracted national conservative support in 2014 for his almost-successful bid to topple the late Sen. Thad Cochran, but he's struggling to bring in cash for his newest bid. New campaign finance reports show that Hosemann outraised McDaniel $960,000 to $110,000 in May, though the lieutenant governor's team says that McDaniel's haul includes $10,000 that he'd previously disclosed. The incumbent also posted a massive $3.7 million to $390,000 cash on hand advantage.