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: Is the GOP effort to sink the far-right frontrunner in the race to be Louisiana's next governor having an impact? Dueling polls tell different stories, but either way, the news still isn't good for the target of that campaign, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry.
The contest took an early turn for the ugly last month when Reboot Louisiana, a super PAC backing former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack, launched an expensive ad blitz both promoting their candidate and slamming Landry. The PAC released a poll Wednesday arguing its efforts are starting to pay off, but a Democratic survey from a week earlier suggests the effects haven't been quite so dramatic.
That new internal from Reboot Louisiana, conducted by the Republican firm Remington Research, shows former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who is the only serious Democrat in the race, taking 27% in the Oct. 14 all-party primary as Landry outpaces Waguespack 25-16 for the second-place spot in the likely runoff.
While that's still a clear edge for the frontrunner, it's also the first time we've seen Waguespack taking more than 5%. Indeed, Remington says that an unreleased March survey gave him just 2% compared to 30% for Landry. The poll further finds Waguespack well ahead of the remainder of the field, with GOP Treasurer John Schroder a distant fourth with 7%.
This new poll was conducted June 22-25, which was about a week after another firm showed Waguespack performing very differently. The Kitchens Group, a Democratic pollster, put Landry ahead of Wilson 31-21, with Schroder at 6% and Waguespack at just 5%. But pollster Jim Kitchens, who worked for termed-out Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards ahead of his upset 2015 win, argued that his results still shouldn't delight Landry.
"While Jeff Landry has a good start, he is in a similar position to where David Vitter began eight years ago," Kitchens told NOLA.com's Tyler Bridges. "With 25% of the electorate undecided, there is ample opportunity for any candidate to find a message and emerge as a strong contender." Vitter, who spent most of that race as the frontrunner despite his myriad scandals, ended up only narrowly outpacing fellow Republican Scott Angelle just 23-19 a month before he badly lost the general to Edwards. (Kitchens, who says that a partner, Vantage Data House, sponsored this survey to get its name out, did not publicize any numbers looking at whether Wilson could score a third straight runoff victory for his party in this red state.)
One major difference between this race and the one that saw Edwards upset Vitter is just how early the mud has started to fly. In 2015, Republicans waited until around Labor Day to begin attacking one another on TV, but Waguespack's backers deployed their first negative ad hitting Landry a month ago. The effort to both destroy the frontrunner's tough-on-crime image and build up their man's own name recognition hasn't been cheap, as the GOP firm Medium Buying reports that Reboot Louisiana has already spent $1.5 million on TV and radio ads so far. (Schroeder himself has spent a comparable $1.45 million, but no one's released any polls showing him escaping the single digits.)
Landry's own super PAC allies at Protect Louisiana's Children responded with their own commercials informing viewers that Waguespack once served as chief of staff to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a one-time GOP rising star who left office in 2016 with disastrous approval numbers after presiding over years of massive budget cuts. The PAC, according to Medium, has so far spent $385,000 on advertising, though.
Landry's campaign, meanwhile, has deployed $465,000 on his own advertising, including messaging unsubtly blaming crime on Black Democratic mayors and district attorneys, but he's yet to bring up any of his actual opponents by name. In fact, the attorney general doesn't even want to be seen with his actual opponents: Bridges reports that, not only has Landry skipped every candidate forum so far, his team has informed organizers he'll only show up to events if he gets the stage to himself.
● Ballot measures surged into the spotlight last year thanks to abortion rights, but they've long been a critical tool for enacting positive change. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is Kelly Hall, the executive director of the Fairness Project, which has helped pass progressive ballot measures across the country for nearly a decade. Hall tells us how ballot campaigns differ from traditional campaigns, and why stakeholders often spend years debating when and whether to get behind a measure. She also explains why progressive issues often fare better than progressive candidates, and how the Sheriffs' Association and Chobani yogurt helped make Medicaid expansion a reality in deep-red Idaho.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard, meanwhile, dissect this week's momentous Supreme Court decision that smacked down a radical right-wing argument that would have greenlit GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression nationwide, including why they're cautiously optimistic that a potential "ticking time bomb" in the ruling won't go off (at least, not to great effect). They also explain why Republicans shouldn't get too excited about landing a supposedly coveted recruit for Montana's Senate race. Finally, they discuss Sarah McBride's path-breaking entry into Delaware's House race, where a victory would make her the first openly trans member of Congress.
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.
● AZ-Sen: NBC News reports that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi will headline a virtual fundraiser Thursday evening for fellow Rep. Ruben Gallego, who remains the only notable Democrat running for the seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has yet to say whether she will seek a second term. Pelosi's support for Gallego is notable since top Democrats on the Senate side such as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the DSCC have yet to back a candidate.
● ME-Sen: Sen. Angus King again told the local media this week that he’s seeking reelection, a declaration that comes almost five months after the Democratic-aligned independent said he was in. While the incumbent said of his skeptics back in February, “I could be struck by lightning. But I am running,” that declaration didn’t quite end talk that the 79-year-old King could retire after all. The senator, though, responded “yes sir” when CBS13 reporter Johnny Maffei asked if he’d campaign for a third term, adding, “there’s too much to do, I just don’t feel like this is the time to quit.”
● MI-Sen: Longtime political columnist Tim Skubick relays that actor Hill Harper is "expected to join" the Democratic primary for this open Senate seat in July. Harper's team had previously said he was considering the race but did not give a specific timeline for a decision.
● WI-Sen: Former Gov. Scott Walker recently told the conservative site The Dispatch that Rep. Bryan Steil is still a "maybe" on seeking the Republican nomination for Senate next year, though last month a spokesperson for Steil had said his boss would seek reelection instead and there's been no further update from his team since then. Republicans still have yet to land a notable candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
● WA-Gov: While former Rep. Dave Reichert has yet to publicly express interest in running for governor, Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute points to the large number of Republican elected officials tweeting out their support to argue that he really "seems to be in and ready to run." Reichert, famously, has a long history of flirting with campaigning for the Senate or governor yet never done it, but his backers are at least acting like this time could be different: One of those allies is Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who leads the state's second-largest county.
● IL-17: Former state Rep. Dan Brady says he hopes to decide "right around" the Fourth of July whether to seek the Republican nomination to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Sorensen. National GOP strategists have reportedly been urging him to run for this swingy seat.
● MD-06: Destiny Drake West, who founded a think tank that "provide[s] informational products and services to government entities to improve outcomes for women in the areas of inclusion, justice, and security," has joined the Democratic primary for this open seat. West, who previously served as a legislative aide and in the Biden administration, would be the first Black person to represent a constituency that's based in western Maryland and the northwestern D.C. exurbs.
● NJ-07: Former State Department official Jason Blazakis, reports the New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein, is considering entering the Democratic primary to take on freshman GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr. Blazakis has yet to publicly express interest, though he notably tweeted over the weekend, "As I hang out at home in NJ-07, I had to get a hot dog from hot dog Johnny." Wildstein notes that "[i]t's rare for non-political people to identify their congressional district on social media," which is a huge shock to those of us who regularly tag whatever constituency we're visiting as our location on Facebook.
The only notable Democrat currently taking on Kean so far is Working Families Party state director Sue Altman, who announced at the end of May. Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Signorello told the site around June 19 he'd make up his mind "this week" if he'd abandon his longshot Democratic primary bid against Sen. Robert Menendez to run here instead, but we've yet to hear of a decision.
● NY-04, NY-17: EMILY's List has made endorsements for the Democratic nomination in two blue-leaning districts that Republicans flipped in 2022. In the 4th District in the Long Island suburbs, they're supporting 2022 nominee Laura Gillen. Meanwhile in the 17th District in the lower Hudson Valley, the group is backing local school board trustee Liz Gereghty, who is the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
● OR-05: 2022 Democratic nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner says she's still "seriously considering" running for this seat again this cycle and will decide in early July. McLeod-Skinner also released a GBAO Strategies poll taken a month ago that finds her leading 50-9 against state Rep. Janelle Bynum, with Oregon Metro Council President Lynn Peterson taking 5%. Bynum and Peterson both launched their campaigns this month only after the poll had been in the field.
● UT-02: The Salt Lake Tribune's Bryan Schott reports that Celeste Maloy, who narrowly won the Republican convention on Saturday, may not have actually been eligible to compete at the gathering because she'd only become an active voter after filing to run. The story may not matter, though: Maloy is still guaranteed a spot on the Sept. 5 special primary to succeed her former boss, outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart, and it remains to be seen if she'll face any intra-party opposition in this 57-40 Trump seat.
Maloy, writes Schott, last voted in Utah in 2018 before taking a job in D.C. as Stewart's chief legal counsel, which led election authorities to classify her as an inactive voter. The candidate, who appears to have stopped maintaining a residence in the state after moving to Northern Virginia, explained to KSL, "I didn't want my absentee ballot from out of state to get flagged as a fraudulent vote. I didn't want my boss to be answering any questions about my vote." Local election officials were in the process of removing Maloy from Utah’s voter rolls before June 15, when she submitted new information to return to active status that gave her sister's residence as her address―a move that came three days after she filed to run.
State law says that candidates can't "file a declaration of candidacy for a registered political party of which the individual is not a member," and Maloy's detractors argue that, because she wasn't an active voter when she filed at the time, she couldn't have been a member of the GOP. But Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who is Utah's top election official, tweeted, "There is no requirement for a congressional candidate to be a registered voter," while state party chair Robert Axson said he was going to submit Maloy's name for placement on the primary ballot. Schott also notes that no one formally objected to her eligibility before the convention, and it's too late for anyone to do that now.
The matter could be an issue if Maloy faces any opposition in the Sept. 5 primary, but it will be another week before we know if she will. Both former state Rep. Becky Edwards and RNC member Bruce Hough say they're still working to collect the requisite 7,000 signatures ahead of the July 5 deadline, but the petition process can cause headaches even for well-funded candidates.
Democrats, meanwhile, held their convention Wednesday evening, and state Sen. Kathleen Riebe secured over 85% of the vote against businessman Guy Warner and perennial candidate Archie Williams. None of the three contenders left themselves the option to gather signatures to reach the primary ballot in case they came up short, so Riebe’s win makes her the party’s nominee.
Secretaries of State
● OR-SoS: Gov. Tina Kotek announced Wednesday that she was appointing former Portland Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade to fill the office that their fellow Democrat, Shemia Fagan, resigned from in early May. Kotek's team said it would be up to Griffin-Valade, who left office in 2014 and went on to become a published novelist, if she'd run next year, though the Willamette Week says she's "not expected" to.
This post became open almost two months ago when Fagan stepped down shortly after acknowledging she'd been doing paid consulting work for a cannabis company at a time when her office was finishing an audit into how the state regulates such businesses. (Federal authorities are currently investigating the matter.) Oregon's last governor, Democrat Kate Brown, twice filled vacancies for secretary of state with appointees who pledged not to seek a full term, and she publicly urged Kotek to take the same approach. The current chief executive, though, said it was more important to find someone who would "restore confidence in the office" than to select a person who'd agree not to run.
While Oregon is one of just a handful of states that lacks a lieutenant governor's office and instead has the secretary of state serve as first in the line of succession when vacancies arise for governor, that provision only applies to elected incumbents, not appointed ones. State Treasurer Tobias Read, who unsuccessfully ran against Kotek for the Democratic nomination last year, will thus remain first in line until someone is elected secretary of state next year.
● New York, NY City Council: Yusef Salaam, who was one of the Central Park Five who spent seven years in prison before being exonerated in 1997, decisively won Tuesday's Democratic primary for a dark blue seat in Harlem. Salaam is at 51% with almost votes in, with Assembly members Inez Dickens and Al Taylor far back with 25% and 15%, respectively. (The balance went to incumbent Kristin Richardson Jordan, who dropped out in May but remains on the ballot.) Instant-runoff tabulations would be needed if Salaam fell below 50%, but there's no question he'd still win.
Another notable result took place in eastern Brooklyn where City Councilman Charles Barron, who has a long history of praising deposed dictators like Muammar Gaddafi and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, appears to have lost renomination to community organizer Chris Banks 51-44. Barron briefly rose to national prominence in 2012 when he competed in the primary for the open 8th Congressional District against Hakeem Jeffries. Jeffries, to the relief of national Democrats, won 72-28 a decade before becoming minority leader, and Barron last year responded to his old rival's ascension by calling him a "go-along, get-along politician." Unsurprisingly, Jeffries was a major Banks supporter.
● Lowell Weicker: Lowell Weicker, who represented Connecticut in the House and Senate as one of the last liberal Republicans before forming “A Connecticut Party” for his successful 1990 bid for governor, died Wednesday at 92. Weicker, as the CT Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas recounts in his comprehensive obituary, won a promotion from the state House to the U.S. House in 1968 by campaigning to the left of Democratic Rep. Donald Irwin, and this wasn’t the last time he’d be the more progressive option in a general election.
Perhaps Weicker’s most famous campaign was his only defeat in 1988 when he lost his bid for a fourth term in the Senate to Democratic Attorney General Joe Lieberman, who came from behind to prevail after running ads depicting the incumbent as a sleeping bear who slept through votes. (Lieberman eventually aired a spot in his 2006 Democratic primary that, strangely, once again compared the long-retired Weicker to a bear, a callback that did not resonate with voters.) The Democrat also earned the backing of prominent conservatives like the National Review founder William Buckley, who long had a terrible relationship with the senator he derided for his “pomposity and tergiversations.”
You can find much more about Weicker’s many campaigns, including his wins in three-way contests for Senate in 1970 and governor two decades later, in Pazniokas’ must-read obituary.