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-Sen: National Democratic leaders got some encouraging news out of Florida on Wednesday when the Palm Beach Post's Stephany Matat, citing two unnamed sources, reported that former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell "has committed to running" against Republican Sen. Rick Scott. Mucarsel-Powell, whom Politico previously said that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to recruit, has not yet confirmed she'll enter what would be an expensive and challenging race.
Democrats are hoping that 2024 will give them a chance to undo some of the big gains that Republicans have made in the Sunshine State and go after Scott, whose relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is so toxic that one McConnell ally described to Time in April with just two words: "Ass clown." McConnell months before castigated Scott's proposal to have all federal legislation expire every five years, including Medicare and Social Security, as "just a bad idea." The minority leader predicted, "I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America."
But Democrats have had a difficult time landing a strong recruit willing to test McConnell's theory, especially since last year's brutal election cycle left the party locked out of statewide office for the first time since Reconstruction. A few prominent donors told NBC in May that they were trying to land some out-of-the-box candidates―NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill―but there's no indication either of them ever seriously considered running.
So far the only notable Democrat who has launched a bid against the wealthy Scott is Navy veteran Phil Ehr, who raised $2 million for his 2020 bid against the nationally infamous Rep. Matt Gaetz in the safely red 1st District, but he's so far attracted no major allies. Plenty of Democratic leaders very much want to avert a competitive primary that would only resolve in August of next year, and at least one potential candidate seems to share that wish: While Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins has publicly expressed interest in a Senate bid, people close to her tell Matat she wouldn't go for it "if other name-recognized candidates ran."
The story adds that state House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell is also thinking about challenging Scott, but some prominent Democrats would prefer she instead wage a 2026 campaign to replace GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. State Sen. Bobby Powell said as much to Matat, calling Driskell "the most qualified candidate" to win the party its first gubernatorial race since 1994. Former Rep. Alan Grayson also is talking about running and even filed FEC paperwork in late June, but his deliberations have attracted little attention now that he's well into the perennial candidate stage of his career.
Mucarsel-Powell, for her part, would give her party a candidate who has the potential to make history. The former congresswoman, who was born in Ecuador, would be the first Latina Democrat ever nominated for statewide office; she'd also be the second woman to represent Florida in the Senate after the late Paula Hawkins, a Republican who was elected in 1980 and lost six years later.
Mucarsel-Powell also has experience running in competitive races, though she's lost more than she's won. The Democrat, who headed a consulting firm that aided nonprofits with fundraising, first emerged on the political scene in 2016 when she challenged Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in the Miami area. Mucarsel-Powell lost 54-46, but her campaign still impressed party leaders and made her a compelling option the following cycle when she took on Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the old 26th Congressional District.
That race proved to be one of the most competitive contests anywhere in 2018. Curbelo had just won his second term 53-41 even as Hillary Clinton was carrying his seat 57-41, and he had a strong fundraising network behind him. Republicans also did what they could to try to "other" Mucarsel-Powell in this heavily Latino constituency by calling her only the Anglicized name of "Debbie Powell," arguing she "doesn't share our values," and recycling dubious attacks over her husband's business interests.
Mucarsel-Powell, though, proved to be a formidable fundraiser herself, and she found a poignant line of attack by focusing her ads on healthcare. Mucarsel-Powell ultimately unseated Curbelo 51-49 in that blue wave year, a win that made her the first immigrant from South America ever elected to Congress.
The new congresswoman immediately became a top GOP target for 2020, and the party successfully recruited Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez to take her on. What followed was another expensive campaign in a political atmosphere that proved to be far tougher for local Democrats than almost anyone imagined. Donald Trump capitalized on his strong performance with Cuban Americans and other Latino groups in Florida to take the 26th 53-47―a mammoth swing of 22 points from four years before. That transformation was too much for Mucarsel-Powell to overcome, and Giménez unseated her 52-48.
The now-former congresswoman quickly made it clear she wasn't done with politics, though. Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was fatally shot when she was 24, soon became a senior advisor for Giffords, the prominent gun safety group that former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords formed after she survived a 2011 assassination attempt. Last month Mucarsel-Powell previewed some of the arguments she might use against Florida Republicans if she runs again by highlighting DeSantis' far-right agenda and declaring, "These out-of-touch extremists cannot continue to wield the levers of power in our state. It's time for Democrats to go on offense. Because our lives, our children's lives, depend on it."
● MI-Sen: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig tells The Messenger he's "probably 99% certain" to seek the GOP nod to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a prospect that might not excite any Republicans who remember how chaotic his 2022 gubernatorial campaign was even before he was thrown off the ballot over fraudulent signatures. James, who says he's aiming to announce in late September, did not address reporter Dan Merica's questions about how that ejection might impact a new effort, saying merely that he was "looking ahead to 2024 and that is what is important to me."
Craig is one of several Wolverine State Republicans who are eyeing this race, and the Detroit News reported this week that rich guy Sandy Pensler is one of them. Pensler spent $4 million of his own money on his 2018 quest for this seat, but he got some unwelcome news late in the primary when Donald Trump endorsed his opponent, Army veteran John James: James ended up winning the nod 55-45 before losing to Stabenow in the fall.
Another wealthy businessman, New York Stock Exchange executive John Tuttle, has also been quietly eyeing this contest, but while an unnamed source previously told Time he could enter the GOP primary in mid-July, we still haven't heard from him a month later. That hardly means we can cross Tuttle off the list, though, as Merica relays that party operatives have heard he's "strongly considering." The would-be candidate himself did not respond to Merica's inquiries.
● UT-Sen: If Attorney General Sean Reyes is still thinking about challenging Sen. Mitt Romney in the GOP primary, he's being very quiet about it. While Politico reported in March of 2022 that Reyes was "preparing" a bid, it now writes, "One person we've not heard from in recent times is Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who's indicated he's faced significant pressure within the state to run."
● KY-Gov: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling's new survey for Gov. Andy Beshear finds the incumbent with a 49-41 edge over Republican Daniel Cameron ahead of their Nov. 7 showdown. The only other poll we've seen conducted in the last month was a mid-July Public Opinion Strategies internal for the Republican State Leadership Committee that gave Beshear a smaller 49-45 advantage.
Beshear is also getting some outside support, as the DGA announced Thursday it had reserved $11 million in TV time for the remainder of what's already a more expensive race than the tight contest four years ago between Beshear and GOP incumbent Matt Bevin. AdImpact reported earlier this week that both sides have spent about $31 million so far, a figure that does not include this DGA reservation, compared to $24 million total in 2019.
● NC-Gov: Retired health care executive Jesse Thomas this week joined the GOP primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, though the newest contender doesn't seem to recognize where his party's electorate is ideologically. Thomas, who ran Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina's Medicaid plan, told the Associated Press he'd appeal to the "wide middle ground between the two extremes." He also said of his party's frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, "He is focused on the culture war and the bedroom issues, instead of the kitchen-table issues."
● CA-45: In a truly strange development, attorney Aditya Pai’s campaign initially emailed out a statement on Thursday saying he was ending his bid to face GOP Rep. Michelle Steel only for the Democrat to declare hours later that it was “sent by a now-former aide in error.” He added, “I will absolutely NOT be suspending my campaign.”
Pai, who is one of several contenders seeking this Orange County constituency, acknowledged he’d written the original missive where he said he was dropping out because "at least at this moment, I don't enjoy the life of a politician." The still-candidate said in his second email, “I wrote that letter as an emotional processing exercise after an exhausting glimpse into the political machine. I sent it to some mentors and staff for perspective before getting back to work; it was never supposed to be shared.” He added, “Despite the emotional weight of candidacy, my call to service — not politics — far outweighs it.”
● CT-05: The head of the state GOP tells CT Insider's John Moritz that he's spoken to 2022 nominee George Logan about seeking a rematch with Democratic incumbent Jahana Hayes, and that "[w]e're hoping George will be getting in soon." Politico reported back in May that Logan was considering trying to avenge his 50.6-49.4 loss, but we hadn't heard anything new about his plans until now. Joe Biden carried this seat, which includes northern Fairfield County and northwestern Connecticut, 55-44.
● FL-11: The Daily Beast's Roger Sollenberger reports that former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is challenging Rep. Daniel Webster in the GOP primary for Florida's conservative 11th District, "wildly plagiarized" his 2012 honors thesis for the University of Florida.
Sollenberger says that the very first sentence of the document is a "near-verbatim version" of one from a book about Friedrich Nietzsche (whose first name Sabatini constantly misspelled as "Freidrich"), while other passages come from Wikipedia without any sourcing or quote marks. The head of Stanford University's English Department, who called Sabatini's work "a fascinating text from a plagiarism standpoint," also told the reporter, "Many of the references to his secondary sources seem largely fabricated, right down to the page numbers."
Sabatini, who did not respond to Sollenberger's request for comment, was elected to the state House in 2018 even after photos surfaced showing him in blackface during his time in high school, and he spent his four years in office picking fights with his party's leadership. Sabatini sought a promotion last year when he ran for the newly gerrymandered 7th District, but Kevin McCarthy's allies also didn't want to have to deal with him.
McCarthy's side instead aided a super PAC that ran ads against him in the primary, with one person later telling the Washington Post that Sabatini was one of the candidates who "would have been legislative terrorists whose goal was fame." The state representative lost 38-24 against now-Rep. Cory Mills, and he announced months later that he'd take on Webster in the 11th District. Webster himself only won renomination last year 51-44 against Laura Loomer, a far-right troll who is considering another try for a seat that includes the gargantuan retirement community of The Villages.
● MD-06: Montgomery County Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles on Thursday became the latest Democrat to join the busy primary to succeed Democratic Senate candidate David Trone in this 54-44 Biden seat. Sayles, who is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, last year became the first Black woman to win an at-large seat on the County Council, and she'd also be the first African American to represent western Maryland and much of Montgomery County in Congress.
● NC-08: State GOP activist Dan Barry tells the conservative Carolina Journal that he's mulling a bid to succeed Rep. Dan Bishop, a fellow Republican who is leaving to run for attorney general. Barry, who is a former member of the Weddington Town Council, ran in 2012 several maps ago for what was then numbered the 9th District and placed fifth in the primary with 6%.
● NJ-07: Former State Department official Jason Blazakis filed FEC paperwork Wednesday for the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr., though he held off on announcing he was in. Blazakis' team, which described him as still "exploring," a bid, said it wouldn't be launching before funeral services take place over the weekend for Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, adding, "We'll have more information in the coming weeks." Blazakis would join a nomination contest that includes Working Families Party state director Sue Altman and Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello.
● AR Ballot: State election authorities said last week that the campaign to repeal Arkansas' hard-right education law had failed to submit enough signatures to move forward. Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, which acknowledged it had fallen short, faulted GOP Attorney General Tim Griffin for rejecting its first two proposed ballot measures and thus costing it 35 of the 90 days it had to gather petitions following the conclusion of the legislative session. "We are confident that if we had the time the Constitution allows, we would have far exceeded the minimum," said CAPES' head, who added, "As for what is next? CAPES is not done, so stay tuned."
● MI State House: Conservatives looking to recall six Democratic state representatives filed new paperwork against at least four of them after the Michigan Board of State Canvassers determined that they'd previously failed to provide enough information about why they wanted them ousted. Bridge Michigan's Anna Liz Nichols says that the Board is set to meet again in late August, though it hasn't announced its agenda.
Last week the bipartisan body voted 2-2 to reject the recall campaigns, a deadlock that prevented recall proponents from being able to gather the signatures needed to proceed. One Democrat and Republican board member each faulted the recall forms, which contained almost identical wording, for merely citing a bill number as its reason for wanting the member ousted, with Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz declaring, "The (bill) number does not give somebody who is apt to sign a petition sufficient information to make an informed decision."
The resubmitted paperwork explicitly faults three Democrats―Noah Arbit, Jennifer Conlin, and Reggie Miller―for their votes on a bill called HB 4474 and provides descriptions of the legislation that Nichols says "would expand the state's hate crimes law to include members of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled Michiganders." Recall proponents meanwhile say they want to oust state Rep. Betsy Coffia over her vote for gun safety legislation.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Former City Councilmember Jack Christie announced Wednesday that he would campaign to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner in the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary, a late entry that nonetheless makes Christie the first notable Republican in the race. The candidate filing deadline is Aug. 21 for a post that Republicans last won in 1979.
Christie was first elected to a citywide seat in 2011 and made news two years later when he became the one member of the 16-member body to vote against accepting a federal grant for childhood immunizations. The Republican, who apparently thought the program was for flu vaccinations, volunteered he'd never had a flu shot and declared, "You don't die from the flu." A local physician called out Christie's "totally wrong" views, saying, "There is very good evidence that the flu shot reduces deaths from the flu." None of this, though, stopped Christie from winning two more citywide races, with his most recent campaign taking place in 2015; the Republican left four years due to term limits.
Christie argued this week that he could prevail in a race that's been dominated by two Democrats, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, by arguing that "there was a possibility of a fiscal conservative winning because the two leaders will be fighting each other." Political scientist Bob Stein, though, argued that the only impact his late arrival would be to "siphon votes away" from Whitmire, a longtime moderate who has the support of several prominent GOP donors.