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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● VA-07, VA-Gov: Politico unexpectedly reported on Friday that Rep. Abigail Spanberger has been telling fellow Democrats that, not only will she run to succeed Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor of Virginia in 2025, but that she also won't seek reelection to her competitive House seat next year so she can prepare for a statewide bid. Multiple publications have relayed Spanberger's interest in the governorship over the last several months, but there was no indication until now that she might retire from Congress.
Spanberger's team did not confirm or deny Politico's reporting, saying instead that she's "squarely focused" on this November's battle for control of Virginia's state Senate and House of Delegates. The story adds that Spanberger, who would be the first woman to lead the Old Dominion, likely won't reveal anything about her future plans until those contests take place. Spanberger would be free to seek a fourth term in the House in 2024 and even remain in Congress if she were to lose the governor's race, but some Democrats argue she'd actually be helping her party by leaving in a presidential year.
The 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Northern Virginia's Prince William County into more rural communities to the south, favored Joe Biden 53-46 in 2020, but Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe 52-47 here the following year. Republicans hoped that Youngkin's win would set them up to end Spanberger's career in 2022, but her 52-48 victory over Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega instead was an early sign on election night that the long-hyped red wave wasn't going to wash up.
While Spanberger's departure could make it tougher for Democrats to hold this constituency, some party members tell Politico that they'd rather defend an open seat during a presidential election, when they're hoping for an electorate similar to the one that powered Biden to a 7-point win, than risk an unpredictable special election.
Even one House colleague agreed with that take. "If she asked me, and she hasn't, I'd say don't run in '24," said Rep. Don Beyer, who represents the neighboring 8th District. Beyer argued that Spanberger would personally benefit by having to focus only on a single campaign for governor over the next two-and-a-half years rather than two back-to-back races but would also be helping her party. "That's still a very competitive seat and as Democrats, we're more likely to hold it with a new candidate in a presidential year," Beyer said.
An open House seat would likely attract plenty of interest from Democrats in Prince William County, and Politico names state Sen. Jeremy McPike as well as former Dels. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Hala Ayala as possible candidates to replace Spanberger. All three competed in competitive primaries last month for the state Senate: McPike fended off Del. Elizabeth Guzmán 50.2-49.8―a margin of 50 votes―while Carroll Foy beat Ayala 63-37 for another safely blue seat. The only notable Republican currently running for the 7th District is self-funder Bill Moher, though others will likely take a look no matter what Spanberger does.
Spanberger would also likely be in for a contested nomination battle if she seeks to replace Youngkin in the one state where governors remain forbidden from seeking a second consecutive term. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who himself cannot run for a third term next year as leader of Virginia's capital city, confirmed his interest to Jewish Insider in April, saying, "I'm going to seriously consider running for governor in 2025." Stoney would be the Old Dominion's second Black governor following Douglas Wilder, whose 1989 win made him the first African American elected to lead any state.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who served as state House speaker for the two years that Democrats held the majority following the 2019 elections, also said earlier this year she's thinking about a bid for governor. Filler-Corn, who would be both the first woman and Jewish person to hold the state's top post, briefly served as minority leader after the GOP regained control of the chamber, but her caucus narrowly voted in April of 2022 to oust her. While no lawmakers ever publicly aired their grievances against her, multiple stories reported that their unhappiness was in part due to disappointment with the election that had just taken place. Filler-Corn later decided not to seek reelection to the legislature this year.
Republicans may also have a competitive nomination contest as they try to win their second consecutive gubernatorial race for the first time since 1997, when Jim Gilmore beat Beyer to succeed George Allen. Both Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares were elected statewide along with Youngkin in 2021, and they've both been talked about as possible replacements. Sears would be the first Black woman to serve as governor, while Miyares would be Virginia's first Latino chief executive.
● MT-Sen: Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale still seems to be in absolutely no hurry to decide whether to join the race to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester even as the only serious declared candidate, self-funder Tim Sheehy, is spending $200,000 on what Politico says is an introductory "broadcast, cable, satellite and digital ad buy." Rosendale instead tells Bloomberg, "We've got plenty of time for that," a statement that comes over a month after Politico reported he was telling colleagues he planned to avenge his 2018 loss to Tester.
Sheehy's head start may be costing Rosendale, as Club for Growth president David McIntosh recently suggested to reporters that it might backtrack from its previous statements indicating it would once again support the congressman. But Rosendale insisted to Politico on Wednesday that McIntosh told him "that he was misquoted," though the 2018 nominee admitted that the Club head said Sheehy had an "impressive record." However, the Club itself does not appear to have publicly suggested that McIntosh was inaccurately quoted saying, "Matt has not yet decided to run. If he does, we're going to take a close look at that race and figure out what the best answer is."
Sheehy, for his part, is using his opening ad buy to air versions of the video that accompanied his campaign launch last month. The candidate tells the audience that the Sept. 11 attacks "motivated me to serve our nation as a Navy SEAL."
● OH-Sen: Ohio Northern University's new poll with Lucid shows Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown taking an identical 45% of the vote against his three notable GOP foes:
- 45-33 vs. state Sen. Matt Dolan
- 45-32 vs. Secretary of State Frank LaRose
- 45-28 vs. businessman Bernie Moreno
The school also asked about the Republican primary but only sampled 297 respondents, which is just below the 300-person minimum we require for inclusion in the Digest.
● UT-Sen: Republican Sen. Mitt Romney tells CNN's Manu Raju that he will "wait 'til the fall" to decide whether to seek a second term, a more specific timeframe than the one his team offered in April, when a spokesperson said the senator would "make a final decision in the coming months." Romney's most recent fundraising report offered some confusing tea leaves: He took in just $350,000 from donors during the second quarter but also rented out his fundraising list for double that sum. He already has one GOP primary opponent in Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, though Staggs reported raising only $171,000. However, State House Speaker Brad Wilson, who is still weighing a bid, has already brought in $1 million and self-funded another $1.2 million.
● KY-Gov: The RGA is continuing to air transphobic ads against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, and it's once again attacking him for vetoing a bill in March that bans gender-affirming care for young trans people. (The GOP legislature quickly overrode that veto.)
Beshear recently launched his own commercial pushing back on these attacks, saying, "I've never supported gender reassignment surgery for kids, and those procedures don't happen here in Kentucky," and the Louisville Courier Journal recently reported that LGBTQ+ groups in the state share the governor's stance. But while the paper also noted "there is no record" of gender reassignment surgeries for children "ever happening in Kentucky," that hasn't stopped the RGA from claiming, "Child sex changes with permanent consequences. That's Andy Beshear's Kentucky."
● MS-Gov: The Daily Journal has obtained an early July internal from OnMessage Inc. for Republican Gov. Tate Reeves' campaign that shows him leading Democratic Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley 49-32, which makes this the first poll we've seen here since late April. The article notes that this survey was conducted shortly before Presley, who faces no intra-party opposition on Aug. 8, began his TV ad campaign.
● IL-07: Kouri Marshall, a former aide to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, entered the race to unseat longtime Rep. Danny Davis in next year's Democratic primary on Thursday, though the growing field of challengers could ultimately wind up saving the incumbent. Already running is gun safety activist Kina Collins, who held Davis to just a 52-46 win last year, while Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin appears poised to join the contest this fall.
Incumbents are typically most vulnerable in one-on-one matchups, which is essentially what unfolded in 2022 (one minor candidate netted the remaining 2%). But in bona fide multi-way races, there's a greater risk that voters unhappy with the office-holder in question will split their vote among multiple challengers, potentially allowing the incumbent to escape with a plurality of the vote. (Illinois does not require runoffs if no candidate wins a majority.)
Such scenarios can also make it harder for a single challenger to gain sufficient traction, making it easier for the incumbent to secure a majority. That's what may have happened in 2020, when Collins first challenged Davis. That year, the congressman took a relatively soft 60% in the primary, but his three opponents split the remainder of the vote, each taking around 13-14%. But the presence of multiple opponents is not a guarantee of incumbent survival: Last year, for instance, Madison Cawthorn, the notorious North Carolina Republican, lost his bid for renomination despite facing seven other candidates.
● MD-06: Former GOP Del. Brenda Thiam has announced that she's joining the primary to succeed Democratic Senate candidate David Trone in this 54-44 Biden seat. Thiam became the first Black Republican woman to ever serve in the legislature after she was appointed to a vacant seat in 2020, but Democrat Brooke Grossman unseated her 54-46 two years later
● RI-01: WPRI's Ted Nesi reports that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' BOLD PAC has booked $300,000 in TV ads to help Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who would be the first Dominican American woman to serve in Congress, in the Sept. 6 special Democratic primary. This buy, which is set to last from Aug. 4 to Aug. 14, would be the first major independent expenditure of the contest.
● TX-18 & Houston, TX Mayor: Incumbent Sheila Jackson Lee has not said if she'd seek reelection to her safely blue seat in the event that she loses this year's race for mayor of Houston, but former City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards tells the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek that she'd continue her bid to replace Jackson Lee no matter what. "I do think Congresswoman Jackson Lee can win the race and certainly anticipate that her seat will be the one that becomes open," said Edwards, who has endorsed the congresswoman for mayor, before adding she "will remain in the CD-18 race even if Congresswoman Jackson Lee decides to pursue CD-18 again."
Both Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire are likely to earn the most support in the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary to succeed their fellow Democrat, termed-out Mayor Sylvester Turner, but Svitek notes that it's not clear if a runoff would take place before or after the Dec. 11 filing deadline for their current posts. He writes that a new state law would require that a second round take place on a Saturday between 30 to 45 days after the primary, which would leave either Dec. 9 or Dec. 16 as options. Whitmire, who led Jackson Lee 51-33 in a recent runoff poll from the University of Houston, also has not said what he'd do if he loses.
● OH Ballot: A new survey from Ohio Northern University of the Aug. 8 special election for a GOP-backed measure that would make it harder to pass constitutional amendments paints a very different picture of the race than recent polling from Suffolk University, but the two polls differ considerably in their methodology.
Ohio Northern's poll, which the school says was conducted in collaboration with the polling firm Lucid and relied on a panel from the online research company Qualtrics, did not actually ask respondents how they plan to vote on Issue 1 next month. Rather, the questionnaire first tersely summarized the amendment, saying, "Ohio law currently requires a simple majority (50% + 1 person) of voters to approve a change to the state's constitution." It then asked, "Do you agree or disagree with the effort to increase the threshold to 60%?" Respondents split nearly evenly with 42% saying they agree and 41% saying they disagree.
Suffolk, by contrast, directly asked voters, "Do you support or oppose State Issue 1?" and found a huge 59-26 majority lined up against it. Just prior to its question, Suffolk laid out the substance of the amendment in much greater detail and included information on two other provisions of Issue 1 that Ohio Northern left out. It's worth reading Suffolk's text, which much more closely approximates the language that voters will see on their ballots, in full:
Next month, Ohio voters will decide State Issue 1, which would require 60% of the vote for a constitutional amendment to pass instead of the current requirement of a simple majority. To put an amendment on the ballot, citizens would need to get signatures from voters in 88 counties instead of the current requirement of 44 counties. Issue 1 would also remove a 10-day period that allows petitioners, if necessary, to gather additional signatures for an amendment.
While the heightened threshold for passage has garnered the most attention, Issue 1 would also make it more difficult for progressives—but not conservatives—to place amendments on the ballot by mandating they gather signatures in all 88 Ohio counties. While progressives must already collect signatures in small rural counties where left-leaning voters are scarce, this proposed increase to that geographic distribution requirement would necessitate that they spend resources in another 44 deep red counties. Conservatives wouldn't be similarly burdened: Just seven counties voted for Joe Biden in 2020, and their dense urban nature makes it easier to find right-leaning voters even on blue turf.
The final plank of Issue 1 would further hamper initiative backers. Ohio currently gives organizers 10 extra days to gather more signatures if their first batch is found insufficient by election officials (activists routinely submit more signatures than the legal minimum because an uncertain number will invariably be found invalid for various reasons).
That grace period is in fact presently underway for a measure that would legalize recreational marijuana after supporters fell just 679 short of their target of 124,046. While that proposal is statutory in nature (as opposed to an amendment to the state constitution) and therefore would not have been affected by Issue 1, eliminating this extra window is yet another way Republicans are hoping to clamp down on citizen-sponsored initiatives. (Suffolk, incidentally, found the marijuana measure passing 59-35; Ohio Northern doesn't appear to have asked about it.)
We can't say which school's explanation of Issue 1 is preferable, but it is worth noting that Ohio Northern's question to respondents is more akin to asking about a politician's favorability rating while Suffolk explicitly asks about the vote at hand, just as you'd ask a horserace question pitting two candidates against one another. But unlike traditional elections, ballot measures are notoriously difficult to poll, so we'll only know which approach was best on Aug. 8.
Interestingly, both pollsters found much more similar results regarding the abortion rights amendment that Republicans are trying to thwart via Issue 1 despite once again taking divergent approaches. Suffolk found voters backing the amendment, which will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, by a 58-32 margin, while 54% of Ohio Northern's respondents said they agree with the measure versus just 30% who said they disagree. Either figure would be enough to ensure passage under Ohio's current laws but not if Issue 1 were to pass.