● ID Ballot: Election reformers looking to bring a top-four primary to Idaho on Friday got the green light to collect signatures to place their initiative before voters in the 2024 general election, but they announced days later that they'd first sue the state's far-right attorney general, Raúl Labrador, for issuing a ballot summary they say is biased and false. "We're going to ask the court to substitute what [Labrador] has proposed," former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Jones told the Idaho Capital Sun, "and we want instead to have an impartial statement of what is contained in the initiative."
The plan being put forward by a coalition of several reform groups known as Idahoans for Open Primaries would replace the state's partisan primaries with the same type of system that was pioneered in Alaska in 2022. All candidates, regardless of party, would compete in one primary, and the four contenders with the most votes would advance to an instant-runoff general election. The measure would apply to races for Congress, the governorship and other statewide offices, the legislature, and county posts, though it would not impact presidential elections or contests for judicial offices. (Maine also uses instant-runoff voting in most races.)
Reformers argue that change is necessary because the status quo prohibits independents, who make up about a quarter of Idaho's registered voters, from participating in GOP primaries in a state where Republicans haven't lost a single statewide election since 2002. (Democrats, who have long been deep in the minority, allow nonaligned voters to cast ballots in their nomination contests.) Proponents also say that the top-four approach will empower more moderate politicians, with one Republican supporter declaring, "Our current primary system incentivizes candidates to demonize people who disagree with them rather than focus on solving problems."
Republican legislators, however, are not fans, and even passed a law earlier this year to ban ranked-choice voting. (This initiative would repeal that bill.) Labrador, who spent his four terms in the U.S. House as one of the most prominent tea party shit-talkers, has also been an ardent foe, tweeting in May, "Let's defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups." The attorney general released a report the following month arguing that, because the proposed initiative would both do away with party primaries and institute instant-runoff voting for the general election, it violates the state constitution's "single-subject rule."
Labrador was also tasked with writing up the summary that voters will see on their ballots. IOP was not happy Friday when he released text claiming that their plan would "replace voter selection of party nominees with nonparty blanket primary" and "require ranked-choice voting for general voting for general election."
The coalition responded that the phrase "nonparty blanket primary" is "an obscure term that is almost entirely absent from common usage." Reformers also said that, because voters would still be free to select just one general election candidate, ranked-choice voting would not be "required." Jones, a Republican who has long had a terrible relationship with Labrador, meanwhile blasted the attorney general's work as "misleading and treacherous."
Labrador also warned that the dispute might involve more than just the ballot language, telling Secretary of State Phil McGrane that he believes the initiative is "ineligible for placement on the ballot" and he'd "litigate that objection if and when it becomes ripe." Jones responded, "The main problem I see is Labrador is setting it up so it will look like there are two subjects on the initiative, which is pure baloney."
(Labrador himself has no love for Jones, who aided his Democratic opponent last year and even used his official perch to broadcast that fact. "It is no secret that Jim Jones has an unhealthy obsession with AG Labrador," his office charged in a statement last month. "His criticisms at this point aren't grounded in the law but based entirely on his personal biases.")
State law allows anyone unhappy with ballot summaries to take the matter directly to the Idaho Supreme Court, and that's what IOP says it will do. It remains to be seen how long such a lawsuit might take, but we do know that the coalition needs to turn in about 63,000 signatures―a figure representing 6% of Idaho's registered voters―by May 1 in order to make the ballot in November of next year. Organizers must also collect enough signatures to account for 6% of the registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts.
It would only take a simple majority of voters to approve the initiative, but that likely wouldn't be the end of the battle. While a win would repeal the law barring ranked-choice voting, the Capital Sun notes that legislative Republicans could try to pass a new law to repeal it all over again.
"This is a voting system that is being spread around the country I would say a little like a virus," state Rep. Dale Hawkins, who drafted the current ranked-choice ban, said in March. "It's destabilizing people's normal voting abilities and it's, according to the people in some of these states, very harmful. But everywhere it goes, it seems to do a little bit of confusion to the voter." A poll of Alaska voters last year commissioned by supporters of ranked-choice voting found that 85% of respondents found the system to be "simple."
- MT-Sen: Jon Tester (D-inc): $5 million raised, $10 million cash on hand
- IN-Gov: Mike Braun (R): $2.2 million raised, $4.6 million cash on hand; Eric Doden (R): $1.7 million raised, $3.8 million cash on hand
- CO-03: Adam Frisch (D): $2.6 million raised, $2.5 million cash on hand
- DE-AL: Sarah McBride (D): $414,000 raised (in five days)
- NY-17: Mike Lawler (R-inc): $900,000 raised, $1.5 million cash on hand
- NY-19: Josh Riley (D): $775,000 raised
● NM Redistricting: The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday that a lawsuit brought by Republicans challenging the state's congressional map can proceed, holding that the state constitution permits litigants to raise claims of impermissible partisan gerrymandering. The justices directed a lower court judge to assess the map, which was crafted by Democratic lawmakers, according to a three-part test laid out by Justice Elena Kagan in her dissent to a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision that decreed that partisan gerrymandering challenges cannot be brought in federal court.
That test is fairly deferential, with the court stating that "a reasonable degree of partisan gerrymandering" is "permissible" but warning that it cannot be "egregious in intent and effect." That will present a central question for the lower court as it scrutinizes New Mexico's map, which Democrats redrew in 2021 so that the rural 2nd District in the southern part of the state would take in a portion of the Albuquerque area. As a result, the 2nd was transformed from a solidly Republican seat into a light-blue swing district, a key reason why Democrat Gabe Vasquez was able to oust freshman GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell last year.
But that race was extremely close, with Vasquez prevailing by less than a percentage point, 50.3 to 49.6. And even though Joe Biden would have carried the district 52-46, Republican Mark Ronchetti narrowly won the 2nd in his unsuccessful bid for governor last year by a 48.7 to 48.4 margin, according to analyst Drew Savicki.
The competitive nature of the district could therefore make it difficult for plaintiffs to prove, as Kagan instructs, that Democratic lawmakers' "predominant purpose" was to "entrench" their party in power and that the new lines "substantially" dilute Republican votes. Herrell in fact kicked off a bid for a rematch earlier this year, suggesting she does not believe Vasquez is "entrenched" in his seat.
Yet even if plaintiffs can make such a demonstration, Democrats would still have the opportunity to show that they had "a legitimate, non-partisan justification" for their choices. The map's sponsor, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, has argued just that, saying his goal was to ensure all three of the state's congressional districts would include both cities and rural turf.
"For 20 years I've worked to erase the chosen boundaries, which historically assigned southern NM to the Republicans in exchange for the north assigned to Democrats," he tweeted the day his proposal was signed into law. "This plan rejects that past thinking, mixes urban and rural areas, and will bring us together as a state."
● TX-Sen: The Dallas Morning News reports that state Sen. Roland Gutierrez will "likely" announce early this month that he'll seek the Democratic nod to take on GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a timeline the paper says comes from "numerous sources with knowledge of his plans." That would set up a primary with Rep. Colin Allred, whose recently announced $6.2 million haul in his first two months of the race far outpaced Beto O'Rourke's early fundraising efforts in his campaign against Cruz six years ago.
● WV-Sen, WV-Gov: The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has publicized a survey of next year's statewide GOP primaries from Orion Strategies (a firm that doesn't appear to have released horserace polling in over a decade) as part of what it says is its effort to "start boosting interest in these important elections and encourage more people to learn about the candidates and be involved." The poll gives Gov. Jim Justice a wide 56-19 edge over Rep. Alex Mooney in the contest to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, which is similar to what the few other surveys we've seen have shown.
But things are far different in the contest to succeed Justice: Attorney General Patrick Morrissey edges out Del. Moore Capito just 31-30, while Secretary of State Mac Warner takes a distant third with 9%. The only other public data on the contest came from a March survey for a pro-Morrissey group taken before he was even in the race, and it found the attorney general leading Capito 28-15.
● CA-34: Former prosecutor David Kim, who twice came unexpectedly close to beating Rep. Jimmy Gomez in all-Democratic general elections for this dark blue seat in downtown Los Angeles, announced Wednesday that he'd wage a third effort this cycle.
Just three years ago, Gomez seemed to be in for an easy win against Kim, whom he'd outspent by a 15-to-1 margin, so it was a big surprise when the incumbent prevailed only 53-47. Kim, who ran on an explicitly left-wing platform, relied on a large volunteer corps to make up his financial deficit and attacked Gomez for accepting campaign donations from the private prison industry and fossil fuel companies. The challenger also likely benefited from the area's sizable Korean American population.
Gomez was determined not to get caught off guard the next time and sent out mailers charging that Kim was running "with QAnon-MAGA support." Gomez's campaign argued the attacks were fair because, in 2020, Kim had received the backing of Republican Joanne Wright, a QAnon conspiracy theorist who failed to advance out of the top-two primary. The congressman's team said that Wright's beliefs were already public at the time, but Kim retorted that Gomez was misleadingly making it sound like he'd gotten support from QAnon acolytes for his 2022 race. Despite his more aggressive campaign, though, Gomez hung on by just a 51-49 margin.
● GA-06: Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson, whom legislative Republicans are trying to unseat through gerrymandering, tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution she's been encouraged to seek the Democratic nod to take on freshman GOP Rep. Rich McCormick and hasn't ruled out the idea. Last cycle, Republicans made the 6th District dark red, but civil rights advocates are hoping that last month's Supreme Court decision striking down Alabama's congressional map will also result in Georgia needing to draw another majority-Black seat in the Atlanta area.
The fate of Richardson's current job may be decided first, though. Lawmakers drew up a new map for the commission last year that moved Richardson's home out of her constituency, and some legal experts have argued the state's residency requirements could force her out of office even before her term is up. The commission's Democratic majority responded by passing its own map that would keep Richardson where she is. A judge is set to hold a hearing on the validity of the competing plans Friday.
● OR-05: 2022 Democratic nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who lost to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer 51-49, has a rally and "special announcement" set for Saturday. McLeod-Skinner would join a primary that already includes state Rep. Janelle Bynum and Oregon Metro Council President Lynn Peterson.
● PA-07: Republican María Montero, who is the director of public affairs for the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, filed FEC paperwork this week for a potential bid against Democratic Rep. Susan Wild. No notable Republicans have announced campaigns yet for this 50-49 Biden constituency in the Lehigh Valley, but Montero isn't the only one eyeing the race. Technology consulting company owner Kevin Dellicker, who came unexpectedly close to winning last year's primary, has updated his donation page to tell viewers he'll "be making an announcement soon," while LehighValleyNews.com says state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie is "rumored" to be considering.
Montero previously served as director of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs under former Gov. Tom Corbett, and she tried to win a seat in the House in 2019 when she ran in the special election for the dark red 12th District. (The old 12th, which was situated in the rural northern part of the state, does not overlap with Wild's 7th District.) Party officials, rather than primary voters, decide nomination contests in Pennsylvania specials, and Montero was eliminated after the third convention ballot shortly before state Rep. Fred Keller prevailed.
Dellicker, for his part, sought to challenge Wild last year, but he was completely overshadowed in the primary by 2020 nominee Lisa Scheller. It was consequently a major surprise when Scheller, who enjoyed the backing of Kevin McCarthy, only outpaced Dellicker 51-49. Wild went on win a tough general election, also by a 51-49 margin. Inside Elections reported in April that GOP sources doubt Scheller will try again.
● TX-34: Former GOP Rep. Mayra Flores expressed renewed interest this week in seeking a rematch with Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, telling the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek that she "will make a decision soon." Flores might not have a clear Republican primary if she gets in, though, as former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos says he's also considering and will make his own decision after Labor Day. Svitek writes that the NRCC, however, very much wants Flores to be its standard-bearer, and its latest recruitment efforts include the release of a late May internal from 1892 polling showing a 42-42 tie with Gonzalez.
The 34th District, which is based in the eastern Rio Grande Valley, backed Joe Biden 57-42, though Republicans hoped that Flores' win in a June special election for the prior version of the seat would set them up for another victory. Major outside groups on both sides wound up spending a collective $11.1 million, but Gonzalez prevailed by a decisive 53-44 spread; according to Svitek, Democrat Beto O'Rourke also carried this district by 13 points in his unsuccessful campaign for governor.
Cascos, for his part, previously served as county judge (a post that is similar to county executive in other states) in Cameron County, which is home to about 55% of the 34th's denizens. He resigned in 2015 to accept an appointment as secretary of state, a stint that lasted for two years, before twice trying to regain his county post. Cascos' 2018 comeback effort ended in a 60-40 defeat against Democratic incumbent Eddie Treviño, while Treviño won their second bout by a much smaller 53-47 margin last year.
● UT-02: Former state Rep. Becky Edwards and RNC member Bruce Hough both turned in signatures ahead of Wednesday's filing deadline, but election officials still need to determine if either Republican submitted enough valid petitions to join Celeste Maloy on the Sept. 5 special primary ballot to succeed Maloy's former boss, outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart. Two other Republicans, Navy veteran Scott Hatfield and the memorably named Remy Bubba Kush, did not submit signatures, so their campaigns are over.
● NH State House: Democratic state Rep. David Cote, who hadn't attended a session of the legislature since the start of the pandemic, announced his resignation from the New Hampshire House on Wednesday. His departure will set up a special election for his safely blue district in Nashua. Should Democrats prevail, they'll have an additional voting member on the floor of the closely divided chamber, where day-to-day absences can determine which party has functional control of the agenda despite the GOP's nominal majority.
Citing chronic health conditions, including cerebral palsy and a heart attack, Cote last cast a vote on March 11, 2020. He had sued for the right to participate in legislative business remotely under the Americans with Disabilities Act in a case that is still pending. (The state Senate offers a remote option but Republican Speaker Sherman Packard has refused to do the same in the House.)
Despite his absence, Cote easily won reelection in each of the last two cycles, continuing a long career in the state House that began in 1982. That three-decade streak made him the second-longest tenured representative, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. During that time, Cote also held leadership roles, most recently serving as acting minority leader last year even though he was not physically present at the capitol.
Following Cote's resignation, Republicans have 199 members to Democrats' 196. Two other seats are held by independents (one ex-Republican and one former Democrat) while three are vacant. Two of those vacant seats, including Cote's, should be easy holds for Democrats, while the third is a swingy Republican seat that will go before voters in a special election on Sept. 19. If Democrats win all three, the chamber would be formally tied between the two parties.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Hillsborough County, FL State Attorney: Appointed Republican incumbent Suzy Lopez announced Wednesday she'd seek a full term in 2024 as the top prosecutor for Tampa and several of its suburbs, but she could be in for a battle against the Democrat whom Gov. Ron DeSantis removed last year on the basis of his refusal to prosecute people who obtain or provide abortions.
Andrew Warren, who won his second term 53-47 in 2020 as Joe Biden was carrying his county by a similar margin, responded to his successor's declaration by telling the Tampa Bay Times, "Depending on what happens, there's always the option of going back to the people of Hillsborough to seek reelection for a third term." Warren, who has so far unsuccessfully sought to reverse his ouster in state and federal court, previously didn't quite rule out a bid against Republican Sen. Rick Scott in February, but he's shown no obvious interest in a statewide run.
The ousted Democrat, by contrast, has had quite a bit more to say about Lopez, whom DeSantis picked to replace him. Warren faulted her for once again prosecuting bicyclists who'd been charged with nonviolently resisting arrest, a policy that the U.S. Department of Justice found resulted in the disproportionate ticketing of local Black bikers. Warren in 2022 ordered an end to this "Biking While Black" policy, and he responded to Lopez's decision to resume it by telling Florida Politics, "Everybody should be outraged, and not just the people who voted for me—this should anger anyone who cares about democracy and the Governor's abuse of power to overturn elections."