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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● FL State House: Newly invigorated Florida Democrats have a shot at flipping a vacant seat in the state House, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has prevented the race from getting underway by once again dragging his feet when it comes to scheduling the legally mandated special election.
The 35th District has been without representation since the end of last month, when Republican Fred Hawkins resigned to take a job as president of South Florida State College. As many reports have noted, Hawkins has no background in higher education, but he's particularly tight with DeSantis and even sponsored the high-profile and extremely controversial bill that allowed the state to take over the special development district run by Disney World earlier this year.
(The relationship between the two, incidentally, seems to have experienced quite a turnaround from just a few years ago, when DeSantis suspended Hawkins from his post on the Osceola County Commission after he tried to enter a private meeting by pretending to be a sheriff and flashing an honorary "special deputy" badge.")
But even if Hawkins earned his new gig for all the wrong reasons, the suburban Orlando turf he once represented is now up for grabs. And the most appealing bit of news for Democrats is that his district leans just slightly to the left, at least on the presidential level: It backed Joe Biden by a 52-47 margin and supported Hillary Clinton 49-46. However, thanks in large part to desultory turnout last year among Democrats statewide, Hawkins won a comfortable 55-45 victory over Democrat Rishi Bagga.
Since then, though, Sunshine State Democrats have gotten a new infusion of energy after unexpectedly winning the March race for mayor of Jacksonville, Florida's largest city and a GOP stronghold for three decades. While they remain deep in the hole in the state House—Republicans hold a daunting 83-35 advantage, with both Hawkins' seat and the solidly red 118th District vacant—Democrats are eager for the opportunity to show that Jacksonville wasn't a fluke and that there's still life left in the party.
DeSantis, unsurprisingly, doesn't want to give them the chance. State law requires that he call a special election, but he has delayed in doing so—a stunt he's regularly pulled in the past. In 2021, DeSantis declined to order elections in three heavily Democratic legislative seats in South Florida for more than three months and only scheduled them after he was sued. By dawdling, he ensured that Democrats' diminished ranks would not be replenished until the very end of the next session of the legislature, allowing Republicans to enjoy an even larger majority than they were otherwise entitled to.
Notably, all three of those districts were served by Black Democrats, and all were home to majorities of Black voters. They'd become vacant because of a Florida law that required their representatives to resign in order to run in an earlier special election—this one for a vacant seat in Congress. DeSantis had likewise stalled in calling that election, waiting a month after Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings' death in April of 2021 to do so, and again only acting after a lawsuit had been filed.
Once he finally did act, DeSantis set an election calendar that meant residents would lack representation for a full three-quarters of a year. That 280-day wait was almost twice as long as the gap that had preceded the state's two most recent congressional special elections at the time—both of which were held to replace white Republicans in 2014, when Republican Rick Scott was governor.
Yet when it's suited DeSantis, he's moved with alacrity: As Nicholas Warren, an attorney with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted last year, the governor waited less than two weeks to call a special election after GOP state Rep. Joe Harding, the author of the state's notorious "Don't Say Gay" bill, resigned after getting indicted on fraud charges.
The Florida ACLU in fact just sued DeSantis on Friday for failing to order a special election for the 118th District in the Miami suburbs, more than a month after he appointed GOP Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin to a post in county government. Here the delay is harder to understand, given the district's rightward lean, but as the ACLU's filing points out, it's still a dramatic departure from past practice: From 1999 through 2020, Florida governors took on average just over a week to call special elections. Only more recently has DeSantis sought to gum up the gears of democracy.
Whether or not another suit is necessary to force the governor's hand, though, Democrats will be ready. Along with another Democrat (and a trio of Republicans), Bagga is already running again for the 35th District, and he says he raised more money in his first month on the trail this time than he did during any single month all of last year. DeSantis can keep trying to drag things out, but sooner or later, he'll have to let this seat go before voters and find out whether this newfound enthusiasm among Florida Democrats is for real.
● WI-Sen: As Wisconsin Republicans continue to cast around for a candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year, unnamed party operatives tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lawrence Andrea that former state Senate President Roger Roth is considering a bid. Roth himself has yet to comment, but last year, he defeated seven other candidates to win the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, besting his nearest opponent, state Sen. Patrick Testin, 30-18. However, Roth lost the general election as part of a ticket with gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his running mate, Sara Rodriguez, prevailing by a 51-48 margin.
● LA-Gov: The conservative group Citizens for a New Louisiana has released a poll of this fall's race for governor conducted by BDPC, a consulting firm run by veteran pollster Greg Rigamer that has done work for both parties. Notably, the poll asked a few issue questions before the horse race, including, "Did the Louisiana Legislature acted responsibly or irresponsibility [sic] in passing the state budget?"
The survey finds Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry with a 30-28 edge over former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who is the only Democrat in the race, while state Treasurer John Schroder takes 6% and none of the other candidates tops 5%. In the likely event that no one earns a majority in the first round, a hypothetical runoff question shows Landry leading Wilson just 45-40 despite Louisiana's strongly conservative lean.
● ME-02: The Cook Political Report mentions state House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham as a possible GOP opponent for Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, whose only notable declared foe so far is businessman Rob Cross, a former USDA official. Cook also adds that state Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, whose name has come up before, is "probably at the top of the NRCC's wish list." Stewart hasn't said anything publicly yet, though last cycle, he waged a month-long campaign for this seat before deferring to former Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Poliquin, whom Golden narrowly ousted in 2018, was unsuccessful in his comeback attempt, losing 53-47. Golden is one of just five House Democrats who represent a district carried by Donald Trump.
● RI-01: The Rhode Island Laborers' union, whom WPRI's Ted Nesi describes as "a deep-pocketed group that has often played kingmaker" in state politics, has given its backing to Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos in the special election for the vacant 1st Congressional District. Nesi notes that the Laborers played a key role in powering Matos' boss, Gov. Dan McKee, to victory in last year's Democratic primary for governor.
Most other top labor organizations, however, have yet to get involved in the extremely crowded race to replace former Rep. David Cicilline. Matos is just one of nearly two dozen Democrats in the all-important Sept. 5th primary for this safely blue seat; a general election will be held on Nov. 7.
● OH Ballot: Supporters of a GOP-backed amendment that would make future amendments harder to pass at the ballot box in Ohio have launched their first TV ad ahead of next month's special election, but the new spot doesn't address the measure at all. Instead, it encourages a "yes" vote by stoking fears over a likely November vote on a separate amendment that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.
The group behind the advertisement, Protect Women Ohio, has made no secret of its true aims: On its website, it's explicit in saying it seeks to thwart the ballot measure on abortion. But its new television spot doesn't mention abortion, nor does it explain what the August measure, known as Issue 1, would actually do—namely, increase the threshold for future amendments to pass from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority.
Instead, viewers are greeted by footage of a young girl getting tucked into bed. "You promised you'd keep the bad guys away, protect her. Now's your chance," a female narrator warns. "Out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids are hiding behind slick ads." On-screen we see shots of a teaching tool called the Gender Unicorn and a clip of what appears to be a drag queen story hour.
The abortion amendment, however, has nothing to do with any of these issues. Its text, rather, states that individuals would have the right "to make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one's own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion."
"You can keep this madness out of Ohio classrooms and protect your rights as a parent by voting 'yes' on Aug. 8," concludes the narrator. Protect Women Ohio says it's putting $2 million behind the ad, on top of the $1 million it's already spent on radio and online advertising. Reproductive healthcare advocates and opponents of the GOP's amendment, meanwhile, have already been on the air for more than two weeks, with ads focusing both on the substance of the August measure and on statements by Republican officials who've made it clear their intent is to block abortion rights.