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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● AZ-Sen, MT-Sen: Republicans looking to take back the Senate received two pieces of unwelcome news Tuesday when Axios and Politico separately reported that a pair of far-right favorites, Arizona's Kari Lake and Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, are each preparing to run in their respective states.
We'll start with Lake, whom Axios writes is "staffing up for a Senate campaign in anticipation of an October launch." Lake, who refuses to accept her defeat in last year's contest for governor, has spent the last year talking about running for the seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema, though it's not clear how much of that time has been spent in Arizona.
People Magazine reported in June that Lake had in fact "spent a significant portion of her time" in Florida at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago lair. "Kari Lake is there all the time," volunteered one unnamed source. "There's a suite there that she practically lives in." Lake's team responded by calling the account "ridiculous," adding, "Kari Lake often speaks at events all over the country in support of America First candidates and organizations; and when she does have the honor of being invited to speak at the beautiful Mar-a-Lago, she overnights at Hilton properties in Palm Beach with her loving husband of 25 years."
But there's no disputing that Lake has indeed been traveling "all over the country" to promote her memoir and to stump for conservative causes like Ohio's Issue 1, the failed amendment that would have made it more difficult to change that state's constitution in the future. Yet Lake, wrote cleveland.com's Andrew Tobias, didn't actually mention Issue 1 at her appearance the weekend before the vote; instead, she mispronounced the name of Ohio's senior senator, calling him "Sher-ROD" Brown," something the late Rush Limbaugh once did while incorrectly asserting that the Democrat was Black.
Lake later used Tuesday's election to amplify conservative conspiracy theories about temporarily malfunctioning ballot scanners at a single polling place, though it's by no means the only one she's spread in recent months. Lake, who has been one of the Big Lie's most fervent proponents, recently exhorted House Republicans to decertify Joe Biden's 2020 win, saying of Trump, "He won in 2016. He won even bigger in 2020. All that Jan. 6 was, was a staged riot to cover up the fact that they certified a fraudulent election." That unconstitutional advice came about two months after she urged her Twitter followers to read a thread that claimed the state of California, which backed Biden 63-34, had actually gone for Trump "BIG."
But if Republicans like NRSC chair Steve Daines have an alternative to Lake in mind, they've been quiet about it. The only notable Arizona Republican who has announced a bid is Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, a former Lake supporter who is himself an ardent ally of far-right causes. Lamb, though, raised an unimpressive $603,000 during his opening fundraising quarter, and he finished June with just $335,000 banked. Rep. Ruben Gallego continues to have the Democratic side to himself (and has been raising large sums), while Sinema is still keeping everyone guessing whether she'll run again.
The situation is different in Montana, where Daines, who is the state's junior senator, has enthusiastically backed self-funder Tim Sheehy's bid to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. However, Politico's Ally Mutnick says that Rosendale, who lost to Tester 50-47 in 2018, is still planning to seek a rematch despite Daines' attempts to deter him. Indeed, Mutnick reports that the congressman has hired Caroline Wren, a prominent fundraiser who continues to advise Lake and other hardliners.
But Rosendale's detractors, who remember him as a weak nominee from his campaign five years ago, may still have time to talk him down. While Mutnick first reported in April that the congressman had "told friends and allies that he plans to run for Senate," we're still waiting for him to actually announce nearly four months later. And it doesn't seem like Rosendale himself is in any hurry to finally get in, either. In late July, he told Bloomberg, "We've got plenty of time for that."
Rosendale's team, though, is continuing to preview the attacks it would use in a primary. ABC reported last month that Sheehy's aerial firefighting company did an investor presentation in December touting its support for environmental, social, and corporate governance measures—a major bugaboo among conservatives these days. Rosendale's team this week called their would-be rival a "candidate who supports Leftist ESG and [diversity, equity, and inclusion] provisions." In keeping with the GOP's increasing embrace of Vladimir Putin, Rosendale's camp also highlighted Sheehy's previous anger with America's "inaction" as Russia invaded Ukraine.
● Take that, GOP schemes to rig ballot measures! On this week's episode of "The Downballot," co-hosts David Nir and David Beard gleefully dive into the failure of Issue 1, which was designed to thwart a November vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. The Davids discuss why Republican efforts to sneak their amendment through during a summertime election were doomed to fail; how many conservative counties swung sharply toward the "no" side; and what the results mean both for Sen. Sherrod Brown's reelection hopes and a future measure to institute true redistricting reform.
And joining us as our guest is political science professor Emily Farris, whose research sheds light on an elective office that usually receives too little attention: sheriffs. Farris explains how American counties came to elect their sheriffs in the first place; how they differ from police chiefs; the dangers posed by far-right "constitutional" sheriffs; and why it's so difficult to find committed reformers willing to run against the worst incumbents.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
● CA-Sen: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's team said Wednesday that the senator "briefly went to the hospital" the previous afternoon "as a precaution after a minor fall in her home." They added, "All of her scans were clear and she returned home."
● TN-Sen: Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson said this week that she'd set up an exploratory committee when she filed FEC paperwork to raise money for a potential bid against GOP incumbent Marsha Blackburn. "I'm taking a serious look at this race and having great conversations with folks who are hungry for better leadership in Washington," Johnson told the Associated Press.
● CA-13: Former Assemblyman Adam Gray on Wednesday launched his long-awaited rematch against freshman Republican Rep. John Duarte in this sprawling seat in the mid-Central Valley. The only other notable Democrat in the race is financial advisor Phil Arballo, whom Gray outpaced 31-17 in last year's top-two primary (Duarte took first with 34%). Arballo, though, finished June with just $26,000 in the bank compared to $1 million for the incumbent.
The 13th backed Joe Biden 54-43 in 2020, but both parties knew that the 2022 electorate would be far more conservative given Democrats' long struggle to turn out their Central Valley base in non-presidential years. What followed was an expensive open seat campaign where Gray's side ran ads accusing Duarte, who ran a large plant nursery, of refusing to refund local farmers after he knowingly sold them "defective trees," and they also attacked him over unresolved 2015 lawsuit leveled at him by former employees of his agribusiness. Republicans, meanwhile, worked to portray Gray, who was one of the most prominent moderates in the legislature, as a political insider.
Gray ran well ahead of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who lost this constituency 54-46 to Republican rival Brian Dahle, but not by quite enough. Duarte ultimately won 50.2-49.8, a 564-vote margin that made this the second-closest House race of the cycle. (Only Colorado's 3rd, where far-right incumbent Lauren Boebert fended off Democrat Adam Frisch by 546 ballots, was tighter; Frisch is also running again.)
Gray in February filed to take on Duarte again, and political observers spent the following months anticipating that he'd launch a second campaign. He did just that on Wednesday with the support of 21st District Rep. Jim Costa, who represented a little more than half of this seat under the last map. Gray kicked off his renewed effort by accusing Duarte of having "consistently bent to the will of Kevin McCarthy," the speaker who represents the neighboring 23rd District, while also "kowtowing to the whims of the radical Freedom Caucus."
● MN-05, NY-16, PA-12: Jewish Insider's Matthew Kassel takes a look at three safely blue House seats where the hawkish pro-Israel group AIPAC could back Democratic primary campaigns against progressive representatives it has clashed with in the past, though he notes that it's not clear yet which contests the group is looking to invest in. It only takes a plurality to win the nomination in each of these states, so the incumbents would likely benefit if more than one opponent takes them on.
Kassel begins in Minnesota's 5th District, a Minneapolis-based constituency where Rep. Ilhan Omar turned back former City Council member Don Samuels just 50-48 after AIPAC financed another super PAC's efforts to beat her. Samuels reportedly is considering another try, though an unnamed operative says AIPAC believes he's "reached his capacity" and is looking at recruiting current City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw. This source says that former National Guard recruiter Tim Peterson is also looking at this race, saying, "He wants to do it but doesn't want to make a misstep."
While the article didn't discuss why the organization wants to move on from Samuels, he did attract renewed scrutiny last year over a 2020 incident during which a 6-year-old drowned on an outing that was chaperoned by the former council member and his wife. When a critic tweeted about the boy's death in 2022, Samuels blithely responded, "Can't swim but can govern."
Vetaw, for her part, won her seat in 2021 by decisively unseating Phillipe Cunningham, who had made history four years before as the first trans man of color elected to office anywhere in the country. Vetaw, though, faulted the incumbent for backing an unsuccessful local ballot measure that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety, a position Omar also adopted. Kassel says that Vetaw "initially indicated that she would run" against the congresswoman, but the operative now says she's been "noncommittal" over the last month as she concentrates on the Nov. 7 race to retain her current post.
Over in New York's 16th District, another source tells Kessel that, not only has AIPAC been trying to recruit Westchester County Executive George Latimer to face Rep. Jamaal Bowman, but that Latimer will likely "decide in early September, after he sees polling." Latimer himself previously expressed interest last month, but he says he has "no news" himself to share.
We hadn't previously heard Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen talked about as a Bowman foe, but the mayor tells JI he's indeed thinking about it. Westchester Deputy Corrections Commissioner Michael Gerald got in earlier this month, but it remains to be seen if he'll be a serious threat.
Finally in the Pittsburgh area, Kassel writes that Edgewood Borough Council member Bhavini Patel "is planning" to wage an intra-party battle against freshman Rep. Summer Lee for Pennsylvania's 12th District. Patel, who dropped out last year well ahead of the primary, did not commit to anything when asked; the article says that JI hasn't been able to verify if AIPAC "had met with Patel or if it is more broadly engaged in the race."
● NC-08: Pastor Mark Harris tells the conservative Carolina Journal that he's considering another run for the House almost five years after state election authorities refused to certify the Republican's apparent victory in the old 9th District because of election fraud involving absentee ballots that a campaign operative committed on his behalf. "In calling our previous donors, I am finding overwhelming encouragement," said Harris, who argued he was the one who was wronged in 2018 by a state Board of Elections "determined to destroy my reputation, and impugn my character."
Harris would be running to succeed Rep. Dan Bishop, a far-right politician who is leaving to run for state attorney general, in what's now the dark-red 8th District. Bishop himself won a previous and more competitive version of this seat in 2019 after the Board of Elections ordered a new election and Harris, to the relief of his party, opted not to run in it. The consultant responsible for the previous year's fraud, the late McCrae Dowless, later went to prison, but Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced in 2020 that she wouldn't charge Harris as part of her probe.
● NY-01: Politico reports that Nancy Goroff, who was the 2020 Democratic nominee in the last version of this eastern Long Island seat, is "expected to launch a second bid later this year," though there's no word from her directly. Goroff would join former state Sen. Jim Gaughran in the primary to face freshman GOP Rep. Nick LaLota in a constituency that Joe Biden would have carried by a tiny 49.5-49.3.
Goroff was the head of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University when she launched her campaign to unseat GOP incumbent Lee Zeldin in the old 1st, and she would have been the first woman in Congress with a PhD in natural science. Goroff, who had the backing of EMILY's List, narrowly outpaced 2018 nominee Perry Gershon in the primary, and major outside groups from both parties ended up spending in the general election. The incumbent, though, prevailed 55-45 as Donald Trump was taking his seat by a smaller 51-47 spread.
● Ballot Measures: The GOP-backed campaign to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution crashed and burned on Tuesday night, but that's not the only front in the Republican war on direct democracy where the party has experienced setbacks this year. Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf revisits 10 states where Republicans had been seeking to clamp down on the initiative process and finds that most efforts have stalled out.
Out of more than a dozen such proposals, only a single bill in Arkansas has actually become law, and it faces a serious legal challenge. Two other measures in Arizona and North Dakota will appear on the ballot next year, but voters will have the chance to reject them, just as they did in Ohio. But read Wolf's complete rundown to understand why progressives still can't rest easy.
● MI State House: Two Democratic members of the state House, Kevin Coleman of Westland and Lori Stone of Warren, advanced to the nonpartisan general elections to become mayor of their respective cities, and the Democratic-led chamber would temporarily become tied if they both won on Nov. 7. However, Bridge Michigan says that Democratic Speaker Joe Tate would retain his position in the event of a deadlock.
Democrats would also be favored to keep both of their constituencies should any special elections take place. According to data from Dave's Redistricting App, President Joe Biden carried Coleman's 25th House District 59-40, while he racked up an even larger 64-35 margin in Stone's HD-13. It's very possible, though, that neither special will be required, as both members came in second on Tuesday: Interim Westland Mayor Michael Londeau outpaced Coleman 44-41, while Warren City Human Resources Director George Dimas edged out Stone 34-28.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Orange & Osceola counties, FL State Attorney: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that he was suspending Democratic State Attorney Monique Worrell for ostensibly failing to seek serious penalties in violent crime cases, a move she blasted as the actions of a "dictator." Worrell, who released data in March to argue her prosecution rate was comparable to her predecessors, declared, "This is simply a smokescreen for Ron DeSantis' failing and disastrous presidential campaign … He replaced his campaign manager yesterday and I guess today is my turn."
Worrell, who is the only Black woman to serve as the top prosecutor for any of Florida's 20 judicial circuits, said she was looking at her legal options but would be running again in 2024 for a new four-year term. Joe Biden carried this two-county district, which includes Orlando, 60-39, while fellow Democrat Charlie Crist beat DeSantis here 52-47 during the governor's 2022 landslide win.
DeSantis last year previously suspended another Democrat, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, on the basis of his refusal to prosecute people who obtain or provide abortions; Warren recently expressed interest in running to regain his seat against Suzy Lopez, the Republican DeSantis appointed to replace him.