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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● OH Ballot: Suffolk University on Thursday released an Ohio poll for USA Today that finds a strong 59-26 majority of likely voters saying they'll oppose Issue 1, a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would require 60% voter approval to pass future amendments and a more burdensome number of voter signatures to put them on the ballot. This is the very first survey that anyone has publicized of the Aug. 8 special election, a contest Republicans instigated in order to make it more difficult for pro-choice advocates to pass their own amendment this November to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.
We always caution that you should never let one poll determine your outlook of a race―even when there is literally just one poll―and that's especially true when it comes to referendums like this one. These sorts of contests can be challenging to survey in part because, unlike most general elections, voters can't simply rely on candidates' party labels to help them decide.
Pollsters instead need to quickly summarize the referendum's question for voters, who may not always fully understand the choice in front of them, and respondents may respond differently based on how the question is worded. This race presents an additional complication since no one's sure what turnout will look like: As the head of the Ohio League of Women Voters, which opposes Issue 1, recently said, "[I]n the 200-year history of our state, the state legislature never has put an issue of such great importance on an August special election."
However, there are already signs that considerably more people will show up than Republicans expected or hoped. Cleveland.com's Andrew J. Tobias reports that about 66,300 people cast ballots during the first week of early voting, which is more than ten times the amount who cast ballots at this point in the August 2022 primary.
That may come as a surprise to GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who said earlier this month that he "wouldn't be surprised" if turnout was "similar to" the 8% of registered voters who showed up last August. (LaRose, a U.S. Senate candidate who is one of Issue 1's most fervent supporters, backed a successful effort just months ago to end regular August elections. He argued that they "generate chronically low turnout," which he deemed "bad news for the civil health of our state," though he insisted Issue 1 should take place over the summer anyway.)
The amendment's detractors have argued that this is exactly what conservatives want, with the group One Person One Vote airing an ad depicting an empty polling place as the narrator warns that special interests are "trying to sneak something through, hoping you won't vote." The campaign has also run a commercial featuring a clip of LaRose agreeing the Issue 1 fight is "about abortion," as well as a spot where a pair of scissors slice the state constitution apart.
Conservatives, meanwhile, began their own TV ad campaign last week just after this poll, which was in the field July 9 to 12, was finished. Protect Women Ohio used its inaugural spot to encourage a yes vote by warning, "Out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids are hiding behind slick ads." Neither Issue 1 nor the abortion amendment has anything to do with any of these issues, but the group is very much betting that transphobia will give them the lift they need.
One Person One Vote's message, though, is still the one that's getting far more exposure. Tobias reports that the group has spent $4.5 million on ads, including ones that have yet to run, compared to $1.9 million for Protect Women Ohio.
● WV-Sen: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin tells CNN he'll decide whether to seek reelection "in the fall sometime," a declaration that came days after he disclosed to NBC that he'd make up his mind whether to wage a third-party bid for president "next year." Fall ends this year on Dec. 21.
● IN-Gov: Outgoing state commerce secretary Brad Chambers has acknowledged for the first time that he's considering joining next year's Republican primary for the open governor's race. Chambers recently announced that he would resign his current position on Aug. 6, leading to increased speculation over whether he would seek elected office, though he did not indicate when he expected to make a decision about running for governor.
● KY-Gov: The Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, working on behalf of the education group Prichard Committee, finds Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear fending off Republican Daniel Cameron 52-42 in a late-June survey that’s one of the few polls we've seen here all year. The Courier Journal's Joe Sonka, who first reported the results, describes the sponsor as a "nonpartisan nonprofit," and most of the survey's questions concerned education and childcare issues.
This is the first poll we've seen since two other GOP pollsters released numbers from May, and they showed a very different state of affairs. A co/efficient internal for Cameron showed Beshear ahead 45-43 while Cygnal, which did not say if it had a client, had a 47-47 tie.
● NC-Gov: Former state Sen. Andy Wells has announced that he'll run in next year's Republican primary for governor, setting up a rematch with Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson after the pair faced off against each other in the crowded primary for lieutenant governor when that office was open in 2020. Robinson defeated Wells 33-15 in that contest and avoided a runoff by surpassing the 30% threshold. Wells self-funded a sizable $500,000 for that race, and he has not indicated yet whether he would be able or willing to substantially self-fund in his latest campaign.
Despite having made a number of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and transphobic comments over the years, Robinson is the GOP's undisputed primary frontrunner for next year's race to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Robinson has already secured Donald Trump's endorsement and has enjoyed wide leads in the few polls testing potential primary matchups thus far. He finished June with $3.2 million cash on hand compared to the $1.2 million that state Treasurer Dale Folwell's campaign said he had and the $550,000 that former Rep. Mark Walker reported.
● NH-Gov: Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster quickly ruled out running for governor next year following GOP Gov. Chris Sununu's Wednesday announcement that he wouldn't seek reelection. Kuster said Democrats already have "two great candidates" in reference to Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who had already kicked off their campaigns before Sununu revealed his plans.
● DE-AL: Delaware State Housing Authority director Eugene Young, a Democrat who previously indicated he was considering running for the state's open House seat, has scheduled a press conference for this coming Monday where he will reveal whether he'll run for office this cycle.
● FL-09: Politico reports that former Osceola County Commissioner John Quiñones, whose 2012 quest for a previous version of this seat ended after Democrats successfully meddled in the GOP primary, will file to challenge Democratic Rep. Darren Soto "in the coming days." Joe Biden carried this Orlando-area seat 58-41, but Soto defeated an unheralded Republican foe by a smaller 54-46 last year. Florida data expert Matthew Isbell also says that GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis outright carried the 9th 50-49 in 2022, while Democrat Val Demings edged out Republican Sen. Marco Rubio just 51-48.
Quiñones, who is often identified as "John 'Q' Quiñones," made history in 2002 when he became the first Republican of Puerto Rican descent elected to the state House, and he went on to win a 2010 race for the county commission. Quiñones (not to be confused with the ABC correspondent with the same name) soon set his sights on a bid for the newly-created 9th District, a Democratic-leaning seat with a large Latino population that was predominantly Puerto Rican, and Democrats feared that he could pose a real threat to the comeback hopes of former Rep. Alan Grayson.
Grayson, who is not Latino, responded by running ads ahead of the GOP primary that accused Quiñones of raising taxes. House Majority PAC also went after the commissioner while producing mailers ostensibly attacking his intra-party foe, attorney Todd Long, as a tea partier who "will never compromise with President Obama." This campaign, which marked one of the last times the bombastic Grayson and the D.C. Democratic establishment were on the same side, worked: Long defeated Quiñones 47-28 before predictably losing to the once-and-future congressman 63-37.
Quiñones, for his part, suffered another defeat two years later when the commissioner narrowly lost reelection 51-49 to Democrat Viviana Janer. Quiñones does not appear to have run for office again during the ensuing decade.
● MD-06: Two Republicans, Navy veteran Tom Royals and Woodsboro Mayor Heath Barnes, announced this week that they would run to succeed Democratic Senate candidate David Trone in a seat Biden carried 54-44. (Maryland Matters notes that Barnes' official title is "burgess," which is what some Maryland communities call their mayor.) Royals, who appears to be seeking office for the first time, launched his effort with a professionally made video touting his combat career while also touting conservative talking points warning that the country is "under a different kind of attack—from left-wing politicians targeting the rights of parents."
Barnes, for his part, was one of four Republicans who last year campaigned in the primary for a three-member seat in the House of Delegates. (In Maryland, state House districts can have anywhere from one to three members.) Barnes ended up losing 24-17 for that third and final spot in the general election, but he generated attention this year when he told a Frederick County Public Schools meeting, "As a gay man who came out in 2005 and fought for LGBT rights, we are being set back by 30 years because we have started messing with our children."
The mayor, who does not have school-aged children, went on to say, "No one cared about our movement, no one cared about our drag shows, no one cared about any of this stuff until the last three or four years when we've started pushing it in front of our children." While Barnes did not specify what he was protesting, most people at the meeting were there to talk about a local policy to "foster a more gender-inclusive environment."
● NY-16: Westchester County Executive George Latimer confirmed he is thinking about challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary after unnamed party insiders have been urging him to run. Latimer won his first term to lead this populous suburban county directly north of New York City by decisively ousting a Republican incumbent in 2017, and he won reelection by a wide margin in 2021.
Bowman has been one of the most outspoken progressive members in the House following his successful primary challenge against longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in 2020, and he’s one of just a handful of self-identified democratic socialists in Congress. Bowman faced a serious challenge from the right by Westchester County Legislators Vedat Gashi and Catherine Parker in last year's primary, which he won 54-25 over Gashi while Parker took 19%, but that apparently has not deterred some of his party's more moderate supporters.
If Latimer does run against Bowman, he could prove to be a far more formidable threat to the incumbent than last cycle’s challengers since his county already contains 91% of the 16th District's population. However, Latimer declined to elaborate on his interest in the race and only said, "I am thinking about the advice I have been given and will have more to come."
● RI-01: Election officials in Newport and East Providence on Wednesday night asked the police to investigate allegations that Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos' campaign turned in forged signatures ahead of the September Democratic primary, a move the Jamestown Board of Canvassers previously took Monday, and Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office said later that day it would be "taking the lead" in the probe. The state police said the following day they were also involved in the investigation.
Election authorities have verified that Matos turned in almost 730 valid signatures, which is well over the 500 minimum needed to get on the ballot. But one of her opponents, businessman Don Carlson, has filed a challenge to her signatures ahead of the Board of Elections' Friday morning; the Rhode Island Working Families Party, which supports former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, is taking similar action.
Matos campaign says, "We are confident that, once the board has reviewed the facts, they will uphold the secretary of state’s determination that we have qualified for the ballot. This is, in part, because the complaints do not challenge enough validated signatures to affect our status on the ballot." Her team also declared, "Our campaign provided clear instructions to circulators on how to correctly gather signatures. Anyone who violated these detailed instructions and the nomination process has no place in our campaign and will be held accountable."
Most of the signatures in question were on nomination papers signed by a paid field organizer named Holly McClaren, who appeared in a TV ad last year for Democratic Gov. Dan McKee attacking Republican foe Ashley Kalus. McClaren herself submitted her own petition to get Matos on the ballot, but election authorities rejected it because she lives in the 2nd District.
● MO Ballot: The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously ordered Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey to do his "ministerial duty" and certify a proposed abortion rights amendment, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it may still be some time before pro-choice groups can start collecting signatures to reach next year's ballot.
That’s because the ACLU, a chief backer of the amendment, is suing Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is the GOP's frontrunner for governor, for proposing ballot summary text that says the measure would "allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice." The ACLU has described that language as “disinformation.”
Bailey has tried to interfere with the amendment by demanding that another Republican, Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, estimate that its passage could cost the state "as much as $51 billion dollars." Fitzpatrick had determined the cost would be just $51,000, and while making it clear that he opposed abortion rights, he sued Bailey for trying to force him to provide "inaccurate information." The state's highest court agreed and concluded that there's no provision in state law that "gives the attorney general authority to question the auditor's assessment of the fiscal impact of a proposed petition."
Bailey's obstruction had prevented organizers from finalizing the petition that voters must sign to put the measure on the ballot, which the court noted had cost supporters more than three months of time for gathering signatures. The ruling therefore removes a major obstacle to the start of signature-gathering efforts.
● FL State House: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has finally called special elections for two vacant state House seats in yet another instance where he waited unusually long to set election dates and only did so after a lawsuit was filed to compel him to act. DeSantis set a Nov. 7 primary and Jan. 16 general election for the 35th District, a 52-47 Biden seat in Orlando's suburbs, while he set an Oct. 3 primary and Dec. 5 general election for the 118th District, a much redder seat in Miami's southern suburbs. It's unclear why he called the two elections for different dates.
Both seats were previously held by Republicans: The 35th became vacant on June 30, while the 118th opened up on June 11. But despite Florida law requiring that DeSantis promptly call special elections to fill them, he waited to act only until after the ACLU had filed a lawsuit to require a special election in the 118th. That suit, which didn't address the 35th, noted that Florida governors took on average just over a week to call special elections from 1999 through 2020.
In 2021, though, DeSantis began dragging out special elections for months in several predominantly Black and heavily Democratic seats, including one congressional seat and three state legislative districts, which wound up reducing Democratic strength in the following year's legislative session. DeSantis only relented after litigation ensued, but his delay ensured that the 20th Congressional District in southeast Florida went without representation for more than nine months, which was 39% of the entire two-year term. It was also nearly twice as long as the two previous congressional vacancies that occurred when Republican Rick Scott was governor, both of which had involved white Republicans.
Nevertheless, Democrats now have a prime opportunity to flip the 35th District near Orlando, where Democrat Rishi Bagga is running again following his 55-45 loss last year, when abysmal Democratic turnout contributed to Republicans gaining two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers. While Democrats would still be deep in the hole even if they flip this district in January, it could bode well for their chances of a broader rebound that November.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Veteran Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee dramatically shook up the race to succeed termed-out Mayor Sylvester Turner when she kicked off her campaign in March, though new campaign finance reports show that two of her rivals have considerably more money available ahead of the November nonpartisan primary. The congresswoman raised $1.2 million through June 30 and finished with $1 million on hand, though her team said she'd be returning $60,000 from donors who exceeded the legal limit.
Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, meanwhile, was forbidden by state law from raising money all year until June 19 because of the legislative session, but he took in $370,000 during the rest of the month; Houston Public Media says that Protect and Serve Texas PAC also took in $160,000 "on his behalf." Whitmire finished June with almost $10 million in the bank thanks in large part to the millions he amassed over his decades in the legislature, though it's still not clear how much he can use for this campaign.
Former METRO board chair Gilbert Garcia raised only $170,000 from donors since his March launch but self-funded another $3.1 million, and he ended June with $2.9 million stockpiled. Another contender, attorney Lee Kaplan, took $480,000 during the first six months of the year and finished the period with $1.3 million available. City Council member Robert Gallegos, finally, brought up the rear with just $60,000 raised since his February entry and $150,000 on hand.