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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● TX-34: Former Republican Rep. Mayra Flores announced Tuesday that she would seek a rematch with Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who convincingly beat her 53-44 in an unusual incumbent vs. incumbent contest last year. National Republicans, however, are hoping that 2024 will be a strong year for them in Rio Grande Valley constituencies like this one.
The Texas Tribune reported last week that, not only was the NRCC working to recruit Flores for a second bout in this Brownsville-based seat, which has the largest Latino population of any House district in America, its late May internal from 1892 Polling found her and Gonzalez deadlocked 42-42. Reporter Patrick Svitek, though, noted that Republicans fell victim to over-optimism in south Texas last cycle, and Flores herself tweeted on election night that "the RED WAVE did not happen."
Flores' frustration came at the end of a cycle in which Republicans expected to make huge gains up and down the ballot in a region that had long been reliably Democratic downballot but seemed to be wavering, as her own special election win months earlier had suggested.
Other data supported that notion: Under the previous map, the 34th District, which was represented by Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, had moved dramatically to the right between 2016 and 2020, supporting Hillary Clinton 59-38 but Joe Biden just 52-48. Gonzalez, meanwhile, had represented the neighboring 15th District, which experienced a similar shift.
But the GOP’s new gerrymander and a retirement shuffled the map: Vela opted against seeking reelection, while GOP mapmakers made the 34th District bluer in order to strengthen their position in the neighboring 15th. As a result, the revamped 34th supported Biden 57-42 but the 15th backed Trump 51-48.
Gonzalez unsurprisingly went on to announce that he'd run in the new 34th rather than the 15th, even though he only represented about a quarter of the former. (While Gonzalez would blame Republicans for moving him out of his district, it was a fellow south Texas Democrat who proposed the amendment that awkwardly transported Gonzalez's home from the 15th to the 34th. It passed almost unanimously.)
The move made sense for him personally, but by leaving the 15th open, he made it ripe for a Republican pickup—and the GOP did in fact capitalize (more on that below). In the 34th, though, Gonzalez started off looking like the favorite against Flores, a local conservative activist who'd never run for office before. But her prospects started to improve after Vela resigned to take a job at a lobbying firm a few weeks after she convincingly won the GOP primary.
That triggered a June special election to succeed him in the old 34th, which ultimately set up the strange November face-off between Flores and Gonzalez. Ordinarily, when a retirement unexpectedly turns into a resignation, that creates an opportunity for the two candidates seeking the seat in the general election to both run in the special. But in this case, the Democrat was Gonzalez, who already had a seat in Congress and therefore had no incentive to join the race for the final six months of Vela's term and trigger a vacancy for his own seat if he had won.
That task instead fell to former Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez, while Flores eagerly jumped at the opportunity. Republican outside groups saw an opening and deployed $1 million to aid Flores, while Democrats only began airing TV ads in the final week. Flores ended up beating Sanchez 51-43 in a win that made her the first House Republican elected to represent portions of the seat since 1870, fueling GOP certainty that a red wave was looming.
It didn't take long, however, for the new congresswoman's extremist views to start attracting attention in a way they hadn't during the special after Media Matters and CNN both reported that Flores had repeatedly used the "#qanon" hashtag on social media (she later claimed to the San Antonio Express-News during the special election that she had "never been supportive" of the conspiracy theory).
She had in fact spent the weeks after the 2020 elections denying Trump lost, including on Jan. 6 itself. "If we allow the Democrats to steal THIS election," she tweeted, "they will steal EVERY election moving forward!" Flores wrote later that day that the attack "surely was caused by infiltrators" and falsely insisted that one rioter was a Black Lives Matter activist. When the New York Times repeatedly asked the congresswoman if she considered Biden's win to be legitimate, she responded four times, "He's the worst president of the United States."
While Democrats had run some ads during the special tying Flores to the rioters, they deployed far more money to advance that point during her showdown with Gonzalez. The congressman's allies also went after her ardent opposition to abortion rights, an issue she said led her to leave the Democratic Party a decade earlier. Republicans, meanwhile, tried to portray Gonzalez as hostile to the police and tried to attack him over his past career as an attorney.
Altogether, the four largest House groups spent $11.1 million on a contest that seemed to be anyone's race going into Election Day. It ended, however, in a comfortable 9-point romp for Gonzalez, even as Republican Monica De La Cruz was simultaneously flipping the 15th District; the GOP also failed to unseat another Rio Grande Valley Democrat, conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar, despite another expensive effort. Gonzalez's win, according to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, also came as Democrat Beto O'Rourke was carrying the 34th 56-43 despite losing his campaign for governor, another sign that Democrats were by no means a spent force in the area.
Flores is hoping that 2024 will be the red wave that 2022 wasn't, though it's not quite clear yet whether she'll have an obstacle-free path to the general election. Her only notable intra-party foe so far is perennial candidate Mauro Garza, a self-funder who most recently lost last year's primary in the 15th to De La Cruz 57-15. A more serious potential opponent is former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, who recently told the Texas Tribune he'd decide after Labor Day. Pastor Luis Cabrera, however, told the site in May he'd only get in if Flores passed on the race.
- UT-Sen: Brad Wilson (R): $2.2 million raised
- NC-Gov: Mark Walker (R): $550,000 raised (in six weeks)
- AZ-01: Amish Shah (D): $530,000 raised
- AZ-03: Yassamin Ansari (D): $500,000 raised
- AZ-06: Kirsten Engel (D): $430,000 raised
- CA-47: Dave Min (D): $400,000 raised
- IL-07: Danny Davis (D-inc): $100,000 raised, Melissa Conyears-Ervin (D): $280,000 raised
- MN-02: Angie Craig (D-inc): $830,000 raised, $1.1 million cash on hand
- NY-03: Kellen Curry (R): $200,000 raised
- OH-01: Greg Landsman (D-inc): $450,000 raised
- PA-01: Brian Fitzpatrick (R-inc): $1.2 million raised, $3 million cash on hand
- PA-07: Susan Wild (D-inc): $600,000 raised, $830,000 cash on hand
- WI-01: Bryan Steil (R-inc): $830,000 raised, $2.85 million cash on hand
● KY-Gov: Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron's backers at Bluegrass Freedom Action are airing an ad that claims Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear orchestrated a partisan takeover of public schools by replacing members of Kentucky's Board of Education. Beshear, however, was responding to a controversial move by his Republican predecessor, Matt Bevin, who had eliminated and then reconstituted several education-related panels, filling them with supporters of charter schools. Critics, including Beshear (who was state attorney general at the time), attacked Bevin for undermining the independence of the state's education boards.
The GOP spot also hits the governor for ordering the early release of nearly 2,000 people from prison, noting that hundreds were later charged with crimes. However, the spot omits that Beshear commuted these sentences during the height of the pandemic in 2020 to reduce the spread of Covid in crowded prisons. Under Beshear's order, people convicted of violent or sexual crimes did not qualify, and many of those who were eligible had less than six months left on their sentences to begin with.
Beshear and his allies have noted that many other governors issued similar commutations during the pandemic. They've also pointed out that the 20% rate of those who received a commutation being convicted of a subsequent crime after release was in fact lower than the overall rate in 2019, Bevin's last year as governor.
● MS-Gov: Democrat Brandon Presley has unveiled his opening TV ad, which is backed with a $161,000 buy. The minute-long spot highlights his humble upbringing and small town roots, touting how he cut taxes after becoming mayor of that same town. Presley notes how as public service commissioner, his current position, he stopped utility companies "from jacking up rates" and brought high speed internet to "some of the most forgotten parts" of Mississippi. Presley vows he'll expand Medicaid if elected and take on corrupt politicians, a subtle dig at the administration of GOP Gov. Tate Reeves, who goes unnamed.
Newly available campaign fundraising figures show that Reeves, however, outraised Presley by $1 million to $500,000 last month. The governor also started July with a hefty advantage of $9.6 million in cash on hand to Presley's $1.85 million.
● NH-Gov: Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig declared Tuesday that she'd seek the Democratic nomination for governor of New Hampshire even though Republican incumbent Chris Sununu hasn't confirmed whether he'll retire. Sununu, who spent months flirting with a presidential campaign before deciding not to go for it, himself said last month that "I don't think I'm going to run again," though he added that he'll only decide sometime this summer.
But Craig, who leads the state's largest city, argued to NBC that she wouldn't let the governor's deliberations impact her campaign, and she used a separate interview with WMUR to fault his response to the state's opioid crisis. The mayor joins Cinde Warmington, who is the only Democrat among the five members on the state's unique Executive Council, in the primary.
Craig won her post in 2017 by unseating Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas 53-47 two years after falling short by 85 votes, a victory that made her the city's first Democratic leader in over a decade. The mayor of Manchester often gets talked about as a top candidate for higher office, particularly given the dearth of statewide elected positions in New Hampshire (only the governor and its two U.S. senators are elected by the entire state), though Craig didn't show any obvious interest in seeking a promotion for most of her tenure.
That changed in March, though, when she announced she wouldn't seek reelection to her current job this fall. The mayor went on to form an exploratory committee in early May to raise money for a campaign for governor, a strong signal that she would, in fact, launch a bid.
● CA-49: Businesswoman Sheryl Adams, a Republican, has announced she will challenge Democratic Rep. Mike Levin in this coastal seat, which covers southern Orange County and northwestern San Diego County. She joins a top-two primary field that includes businessman and fellow Republican Matt Gunderson.
Adams quickly gained an endorsement from longtime GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents the neighboring 48th District further inland. Issa had previously represented prior versions of the 49th District for 18 years until retiring in 2018, likely to avoid losing to Levin in that year’s blue wave, but he subsequently won the next cycle in an adjacent district.
● IL-07: The Chicago Sun-Times reports via a campaign source that Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who filed for a potential campaign this spring, will announce in the next few months that she will indeed challenge longtime Rep. Danny Davis in the Democratic primary for this dark blue district. However, Conyears-Ervin's team only confirmed that she "will make an official announcement this fall."
The news comes on the heels of Davis' last primary challenger, gun safety activist Kina Collins, announcing Monday that she would challenge the incumbent from the left again after losing to him just 52-46 last year. If Conyears-Ervin does join the race, doing so could significantly undermine the prospects of either challenger successfully ousting the 14-term incumbent by splitting the votes of those who prefer a new face, since it only takes a plurality to win primaries in Illinois.
● IL-17: Former Republican state Rep. Dan Brady, who was the GOP's nominee for secretary of state last year, says he won't run to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Sorensen here.
● OH-01: Local prosecutor Orlando Sonza on Monday became the first notable Republican to launch a bid against freshman Democratic Rep. Greg Landsman in what's currently a 53-45 Biden constituency based in Cincinnati, and the Army veteran presently doesn't have any serious intra-party opposition in sight. The chair of the Hamilton County GOP tells the Cincinnati Inquirer's Scott Wartman that no other potential candidates have spoken to him about running, while both former Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray and former state Rep. Tom Brinkman also say they're not going to take on Landsman.
Sonza last year lost a race for a safely blue state Senate seat 73-27 against Democrat Catherine Ingram, and it doesn't seem like that campaign trained him for how to deal with the tough questions about abortion rights he can expect coming for him. Sonza used his kickoff to declare he'll "he will stand up for life," but he wouldn't provide an answer when reporters when in a pregnancy he thinks abortion should be banned. The Republican, writes Wartman, then "was whisked away by a staffer after the question was asked."
It remains to be seen if Republicans will try to redraw Ohio's already-gerrymandered congressional map to weaken Landsman, though the GOP likely will try to beat him no matter what. Sonza, for his part, insisted, "I don't have any plans to drop out of this race no matter how this district is drawn," which may not be quite as strong a statement as he wants it to be.
● PA-07: The Morning Call reports that Republican state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie "is expected to officially announce" later this month that he'll run for this Lehigh Valley district held by Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, though Mackenzie doesn't appear to have publicly addressed his interest in the race just yet. Mackenzie has served in the state House since 2012 and previously showed interest in running for a congressional district in this area in two recent cycles but didn't ultimately end up on the ballot either time.
Last cycle, Mackenzie had filed with the FEC for a potential campaign in the 7th but decided to seek reelection shortly before the state Supreme Court released the new congressional map it had drawn following the 2020 census. Back in the 2018 cycle, Mackenzie went further by declaring a bid to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Charlie Dent in what had been the 15th District, but he dropped out of that contest after the same court struck down the GOP's gerrymander and replaced it with a fairer map that redrew the red-leaning 15th as a swing district that it also renumbered as the 7th District, which Wild successfully flipped later that year.
If Mackenzie does run, he'd join a primary that includes businessman Kevin Dellicker, who just kicked off his own campaign Monday after falling short by only 51-49 for the GOP nomination last year.
● PA-AG: York County District Attorney David Sunday on Monday became the first notable Republican to announce a bid to succeed appointed Attorney General Michelle Henry, a Democrat who has said she won't seek a full term next year.
● TX-AG: GOP Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas would get yet another temporary attorney general later in the week when incumbent John Scott steps down Friday to be replaced by Angela Colmenero, who is one of the governor's top aides. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton remains suspended from office ahead of his trial before the state Senate, which is set to begin Sept. 5; Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the upper chamber, said Tuesday that he expects it to last "two and a half to three weeks."