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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● Maricopa County, AZ Board of Supervisors: Republican Bill Gates told the Washington Post on Thursday that he won't run for a third term on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors next year, a decision that comes after years of extreme harassment from far-right conspiracy theorists. However, it could also open the door to the first Democratic majority in more than half a century on the five-member body that governs Arizona's largest county.
The atmosphere that pervaded Gates' tenure is part of a disturbing trend that has prompted many other election officials to leave office. After certifying the results of the 2020 elections, Gates faced death threats and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The assault continued into the next cycle, growing so dangerous that Gates spent Election Day last year at an undisclosed location due to fears for his safety. In the days that followed, Gates countered lies about the election leveled by Republicans at the highest levels, saying, "The suggestion by the Republican National Committee that there is something untoward going on here in Maricopa County is absolutely false and again, is offensive to these good elections workers."
Given the widespread embrace of these sorts of conspiracy theories by Republicans, the best chance for Gates to be replaced by someone who will likewise stand up for fair elections is if he's succeeded by a Democrat—a strong possibility despite the GOP's long domination of local politics. Maricopa County, which contains the state capital of Phoenix, was an early source of Republican strength in the burgeoning Sun Belt in the years following World War II, and Dwight Eisenhower's 1952 victory began a GOP winning streak in presidential elections that went unbroken until 2020.
But the county, which is now home to about 60% of Arizona's population, has moved to the left along with the state as a whole in recent years, a shift most vividly highlighted by Biden's narrow victories in 2020 in both jurisdictions. That same year, Democrats had high hopes that they might also take over the board of supervisors for the first time since 1968 and even appeared poised to do so after the first batches of votes were tallied on election night.
Later-counted ballots, however, eventually pushed two close races back to Republicans, with Gates prevailing by just 1.5 points and Jack Sellers winning a first term by a bare one-tenth of one percent of the vote. But while that left the GOP's 4-1 majority intact, Republicans have grown increasingly fretful about their grasp on this one-time conservative bastion, so much so that state lawmakers introduced a plan earlier this year that would gerrymander Maricopa into four new counties—three of which would be solidly red.
That proposal ultimately failed to advance, leaving Maricopa whole for now and putting Democrats in a position to finish the task that just barely eluded them three years ago. Gates' district, numbered the 3rd, will be their top target: According to Dave's Redistricting App, it voted for Biden by a 54-45 margin, making it ripe for a pickup. Sellers, meanwhile, has said he'll seek reelection, but Democrats will also work to oust him, as his 1st District supported Biden 51-48.
MAGA-type Republicans may try as well, and they might go after not only Sellers but also his two remaining GOP colleagues, Thomas Galvin and Clint Hickman. All three of them, as well as Gates and county Recorder Stephen Richer, were censured earlier this year by the county Republican Party, which said it "encourages all registered Republicans to expel them permanently from office."
The recent experience of Galvin, who was appointed to the board in 2021 to fill a vacancy, is instructive. The supervisor won a special election to retain his post last year after saying he believed the county had conducted the presidential election fairly, but he only managed to win the Republican primary with a 37% plurality against a split field of three election deniers. In a one-on-one race, a Republican incumbent who acknowledges that Joe Biden is the rightful president of the United States may very well be doomed.
Galvin, however, says he'll run for a full term, though Hickman says he's a "maybe." Most bullish of all, though, is the board's lone Democrat, Steve Gallardo, a former state senator who represents a safely blue seat and has been a supervisor since first winning a special election in 2014. Gallardo said last month that he's "looking forward to becoming the Chairman" of the board following the 2024 elections.
That role is chosen by the supervisors themselves, so if Gallardo expects to become the board's leader, that means he's counting on two more Democrats to join him. According to state elections expert Quinn Yeargain, if Democrats take a majority next year, it would be their first time doing so since 1964.
● DE-Sen: Unnamed advisors to Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester tell Politico she'll launch a campaign to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Sen. Tom Carper, sometime this month. Carper called for Blunt Rochester, who would be the first woman or African American to represent Delaware in the Senate, to replace him when he announced his departure last month, and no notable Democrats have shown any obvious interest in taking her on.
● WI-Sen: The NRSC, reports Politico's Ally Mutnick, is waging a "renewed push" to get Rep. Mike Gallagher to take on Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin, an effort that includes the disclosure of a Fabrizio, Lee & Associates internal showing Baldwin ahead only 47-46 in a hypothetical contest. Gallagher continues to deflect questions about his interest, though Mutnick says he is indeed considering the idea despite initial reluctance.
● KY-Gov, KY-AG: The GOP firm Cygnal has publicized a survey showing Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear and Republican Daniel Cameron deadlocked 47-47, numbers that come weeks after Cameron released his own internal giving the governor a tiny 45-43 edge. Cygnal also finds Republican Russell Coleman with a 39-29 edge over Democrat Pamela Stevenson in the contest to replace Cameron as attorney general. In response to an inquiry from Daily Kos Elections, Cygnal said, "We're not involved in those races" but did not offer further clarification as to who, if anyone, commissioned the poll.
● LA-Gov: Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams unexpectedly told The Advocate's Tyler Bridges on Wednesday that he could enter the October all-party primary, deliberations that come months after former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson appeared to have cleared the Democratic field.
Williams disclosed that he hadn't considered running until Attorney General Jeff Landry ran ads accusing him and other Black Democrats of supporting policies that made violent crime worse, messaging he denounced as “racist.” Williams, who said he wants to ensure the GOP frontrunner is stopped, added that he "wouldn't do anything to hurt Shawn," but observers were quick to note that his entrance could make it much tougher for Wilson to even advance to the general election.
Termed-out Gov. John Bel Edwards, who backs his former transportation secretary, also argued Wednesday that Williams should stay out and can "attack Jeff Landry from wherever he is." However, the district attorney put out a lengthy statement the following day saying that, while he and his family didn't want to leave New Orleans, "being in a contest with a candidate who is publicly working harder to ban more books than high-powered assault weapons has some appeal." The filing deadline is Aug. 10.
This isn't the first time that Williams has flirted with waging a late campaign for governor. Back in August of 2015, when he was still a New Orleans City Councilman, he suddenly started talking about running even though he'd previously shown no obvious interest in seeking office outside the Big Easy. A Williams candidacy could have ensured that the scandal-tarred frontrunner, David Vitter, faced a fellow Republican in the general election instead of Edwards, a scenario the Democratic candidate wanted to avert.
Luckily for the now-governor, he never got to find out how Williams would have impacted his prospects. Williams, as Bridges and Jeremy Alford wrote in their book Long Shot, told an Edwards consultant dispatched to talk him out of running that he wasn't serious about seeking the governorship and instead wanted to make sure his city's needs were addressed in the campaign; a short time later, the councilman confirmed he'd stay put.
● MD-06: Former Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, writes Maryland Matters, is reportedly considering entering the Democratic primary, though there's no word from her. Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin noted in mid-May that Gardner is a proven vote-getter in a community that's home to about 35% of the 6th District's denizens, which could make her a formidable contender in a race where most of the other candidates are likely to hail from Montgomery County. "[T]he uncertainty around Jan Gardner isn't her potential strength in the primary," one party strategist told Rubashkin, "it's does she want to run?"
● UT-02: Local political experts contacted by Axios have mentioned some more Republicans as potential candidates in the upcoming special election for this dark red seat: Washington County Commission chair Victor Iverson; former St. George Mayor Jon Pike; and Corey Norman, who serves as chief of staff to 3rd District Rep. John Curtis. There is no word on their potential interest in campaigning to succeed departing Rep. Chris Stewart in this 57-40 Trump constituency.
Mayors & County Leaders
● Wichita, KS Mayor: Democratic Mayor Brandon Whipple confirmed Wednesday that he'd seek reelection this year as head of Kansas' largest city, and eight people have filed to take him on in the Aug. 1 nonpartisan primary. The two contenders with the most votes will advance to the Nov. 7 general election even if one candidate wins a majority in the first round.
The only sitting elected official challenging Whipple is Republican City Council member Bryan Frye, while former GOP Council member Jared Cerullo is also in. Two other contenders have also attracted attention: former TV reporter Lily Wu, who switched her party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian last year, and Celeste Racette, a Democrat turned independent who leads a group advocating for the historic performance venue Century II.
Prosecutors & Sheriffs
● Harris County, TX District Attorney: Former prosecutor Sean Teare announced Tuesday that he would challenge his former boss, District Attorney Kim Ogg, for renomination in the March 2024 Democratic primary. He is the first person from either party to launch a bid to deny Ogg a third term as the top prosecutor for America's third-most populous county, which includes most of the city of Houston as well as many of its suburbs.
Teare, a first-time candidate who led the vehicular crimes division until February, told the Houston Chronicle that the incumbent “uses this job for political theater and as a seat to bully and punish anyone she views as a threat to her." He also criticized her for not joining five of her counterparts last year in signing a letter declaring they would "refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions." Ogg, for her part, supported Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner when he said his city "will not prioritize utilizing resources" to enforce Texas' draconian anti-abortion laws.
While Teare only recently announced his campaign, there were already signs of tensions between him and his former superior. In March, Ogg's office faulted him for a plea deal he'd reached on his last day as a prosecutor with a driver charged in a fatal hit-and-run. The deal was revoked, with Ogg's top deputy saying the district attorney "has to approve a matter like this, and she would not have approved it." Teare, though, defended his decision to Houston Public Media as he launched his campaign and said of the criticism, "It goes directly to how this administration likes to bully people."
Ogg made history in 2016 when she became the first gay person elected to this post, as well as the first Democrat to serve as district attorney in nearly four decades, but she alienated some vocal criminal justice reformers during her first term. She faced intra-party challenges from two of her former prosecutors in 2020 who went after her for opposing a plan to end cash bail and for continuing to charge people for marijuana possession. The incumbent, though, argued she'd implemented other changes that have sent offenders to treatment programs instead of to prison, and she averted a runoff by winning 55% of the vote.
Ogg went on to prevail 54-46 that fall against a GOP foe, but not every Democrat is happy she's still in office. County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is one of the most prominent Democrats in the state (in Texas, county judges are executive rather than judicial posts), has long had a terrible relationship with the district attorney. Last year, after Ogg indicted three of the judge's top aides for allegedly directing an $11 million contract for a COVID vaccine outreach project to a preferred political consultant, Hidalgo's legal team claimed this was political and personal "retaliation."