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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● ID Ballot: The campaign to bring a top-four primary to Idaho won a largely favorable verdict on Thursday when the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the ballot summary crafted by far-right Attorney General Raúl Labrador and ordered him to issue a new one by the end of the following day. However, the deadline for Idahoans for Open Primaries to turn in signatures to get its initiative on the November 2024 ballot will remain May 1 after the court declined the group's request to extend it.
The plan under consideration would replace Idaho'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 office.
Labrador, though, wants to preserve the status quo that has benefited Republican hardliners like himself. "Let's defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups," he tweeted in May. The attorney general, who spent his four terms in the U.S. House as one of the most prominent tea party shit-talkers, was tasked with writing the summary that voters will see on their ballots, and he produced language that so displeased organizers they immediately filed a suit to challenge it.
In particular, IOP objected to Labrador's contention that their plan would "replace voter selection of party nominees with nonparty blanket primary." The conservative Supreme Court proved sympathetic. Justice Colleen Zahn, who crafted the court's opinion, wrote that the phrase "nonparty blanket primary" seems to be "one of the attorney general's own creation" and could hurt the initiative's chances.
Zahn noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 struck down an electoral system in California that had commonly been referred to as a "partisan blanket primary." "Using an undefined term that is very similar to, but slightly different from those discussed by the Supreme Court could cause a voter to conclude that the system proposed in the Initiative has been or would be held to be unconstitutional, when in fact it has not," explained Zahn.
That now-defunct system, which Golden State voters approved in 1996, required all of the candidates to run together on a single ballot, with only the top vote-getter from each party advancing to the general election. But the U.S. Supreme Court determined four years later that it violated the parties' First Amendment rights of association because it forced them to allow their nominees to be chosen by "those who, at best, have refused to affiliate with the party, and, at worst, have expressly affiliated with a rival." (Voters adopted California's familiar top-two primary system in 2010.)
During oral arguments, Justice Robyn Brody had suggested that Labrador was using the words "blanket primary" because they've been used to describe practices in California and Washington, two blue states that Idaho conservatives love to rail against. "Doesn't that drive home the point that the petitioners are making here," she asked, "which is you're dooming this to failure before it even gets out of the blocks?"
The court gave Labrador one day to produce a new summary, and IOP called what he released Friday a “major improvement.” The new summation says:
Measure to (1) replace voter selection of party nominees with a top-four primary; (2) require a ranked-choice voting system for general elections
Plaintiffs did not earn a complete victory, however. The court determined that state law doesn't give it the power to extend the signature-gathering deadline past May 1, which was unwelcome news to IOP. "We've lost about five weeks," said its attorney, "and in the summer, an essential season." The coalition needs to turn in about 63,000 signatures―a figure representing 6% of Idaho's registered voters—and organizers must also collect a sufficient number of signatures 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 a law the legislature passed earlier this year to bar ranked-choice voting, the Idaho Capital Sun notes that legislative Republicans could try to pass a new bill to repeal it all over again.
● WA Redistricting: A federal district judge struck down one of Washington's 49 legislative districts on Thursday for violating the Voting Rights Act and ordered the state to redraw the 15th District to ensure that Latino voters there have the ability to elect their preferred candidates. The ruling follows a landmark Supreme Court decision in June that upheld the same provision of the VRA at issue here.
Latinos make up 68% of adults in the existing 15th District, which is located in the heavily agricultural Yakima Valley in south-central Washington, but only 51% of eligible voters. Plaintiffs successfully argued that the district as drawn includes areas with historically low Latino turnout and excludes nearby communities with higher turnout, resulting in an electorate that is predominantly white. And as in other heavily agricultural areas with large Latino migrant populations, such as California's Central Valley, Latino voter participation is particularly low in midterm years.
As a result, Joe Biden won the 15th by just two tenths of a percentage point in 2020, according to Dave's Redistricting App, suggesting that the district could struggle to elect Latino voters' candidates of choice—who would likely be Democrats—further down the ballot.
The problem would have been even more acute last year, when Democratic Sen. Patty Murray lost the 15th by a wide 64-36 margin despite winning statewide by a margin comparable to Biden's two years earlier. At the legislative level, Republican state Sen. Nikki Torres easily prevailed 68-32 in 2022, and the districts' two Republican members of the state House didn't even have Democratic opponents. (Washington uses the same map for both legislative chambers, with each district electing one senator and two representatives.)
The court granted the state an opportunity to redraw the map, which would require it to reconvene its bipartisan redistricting commission. The commission—whose members consist of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a nonvoting chair member who can't break ties—would need to submit a new map by Jan. 8 for the legislature's approval, with a deadline for lawmakers to enact it by Feb. 7.
However, it would take two-thirds of legislators to call the commission back to work, meaning Democrats would need some Republican votes to do so. GOP support may be difficult to find, since a redrawn district could cost Republicans a seat in the Senate and two in the House. (Both chambers are currently run by Democrats.)
If lawmakers or the commission fail to act, the court itself would take over the map-making process and give the parties a chance to propose maps. However, it's unclear whether Republicans, who were allowed to intervene as co-defendants, will appeal the court's ruling.
● IN-Sen: State GOP chair Kyle Hupfer announced Thursday that his organization was both endorsing Rep. Jim Banks and authorizing the Republican National Committee to financially aid the congressman, and indystar.com says this appears to be the first time it's ever done this in a Senate primary for an open seat.
Banks' only notable intra-party foe is wealthy egg farmer John Rust, though Hupfer also cast doubt on the idea this second candidate will even make the ballot. Rust needs to convince his local party chair to certify that he's a Republican, but Hupfer, in the words of the Indiana Capital Chronicle, says the Jackson County GOP head Amanda Lowery has "indicated she would not approve his candidacy."
Rust is in this situation because the state only allows candidates to seek the nomination of the party they actually belong to, and while Indiana doesn't have party registration, there are two ways to meet these criteria. The easiest option is for a candidate to have cast their two most recent primary votes with the party they say they're affiliated with, but the last two primaries Rust participated in were the GOP's 2016 contest and the 2012 Democratic race. The other route is to enlist the help of his county party chair, and Hupfer said this isn't likely to happen.
● TX-Sen: Democratic Rep. Colin Allred on Thursday publicized a primary endorsement from colleague Veronica Escobar, who represents the El Paso area.
● LA-Gov: Thursday was the third and final filing deadline for the nation's 2023 gubernatorial contests, but while there were no last-minute surprises for the Oct. 14 all-party primary to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, there was some new nastiness on the GOP side. Stephen Waguespack, who is the former head of the state's Chamber of Commerce affiliate, accused Attorney General Jeff Landry of threatening "consequences" for his donors should they continue to stand by him.
Treasurer John Schroder also labeled Landry "an antagonistic bully" days before, while a fourth Republican, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, said that the attorney general was only ahead in the polls because he's been "gathering ... insider endorsements." Landry, who has the support of Donald Trump and the state GOP, responded to his intra-party rivals' gripes by saying, "That's probably why they're in single digits." Another notable Republican, state Rep. Richard Nelson, declined to go after the far-right frontrunner, saying instead, "I'm really running against Huey Long." Long, the legendary populist who dramatically expanded state government nearly a century ago, was assassinated in the state Capitol in 1935 and did not respond to Nelson's needling.
The field altogether consists of three Democrats, eight Republicans, and five nonaligned candidates. Former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who would be the first Black person elected statewide since Reconstruction, is the only serious option for Democrats, and he looks well-positioned to claim one of the two spots in the Nov. 18 runoff. (Candidates can win outright by taking a majority in the first round, but there's essentially no chance anyone does that in this crowded field.) Wilson, though, would face a tough second round in a conservative state where Edwards is the only Democrat who has won statewide since 2008.
Polls meanwhile show Landry well ahead on the GOP side, but the other Republicans haven't given up hope knocking him into third place. Also in the running is independent Hunter Lundy, a self-funding attorney who serves on the governing board for the Christian nationalist group the National Association of Christian Lawmakers.
● MS-Gov: Republican Gov. Tate Reeves uses his new ad to tie general election rival Brandon Presley to Democrats like President Joe Biden and Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is the state's only Black member of Congress. The narrator doesn't actually highlight any liberal stances from Presley but instead faults him for accepting $700,000 in donations from the DGA while "pretending he's one of us," and for being endorsed by Thompson.
Presley, meanwhile, is airing his own commercial to tell the audience, "When you grow up worrying if your water will turn on or if your lights are going to get cut off, sometimes a family Bible is the only place you have to turn." The candidate continues by describing himself as "pro-life" and pledging to "expand Medicaid to working people who need it most."
● AZ-03: Ylenia Aguilar announced Friday she was ending her campaign for the Democratic nomination for this safely blue open seat, a decision the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board member said she was making because of "unexpected health developments."
● NY-12: Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who emerged from his 13-month prison sentence as a vocal critic of his old boss, told Semafor's Kadia Goba on Thursday he's interested in challenging veteran Rep. Jerry Nadler in the Democratic primary. A local Democratic strategist incredulously responded with a "jesus fucking christ," a reaction that Goba says is similar to what others have expressed.
● RI-01: Famed actress and environmental activist Jane Fonda stars in former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg's newest ad for the special Sept. 5 Democratic primary, and she tells the audience, "Aaron is the only candidate we can trust in this race to truly stand up to Big Oil."
● TX-07: Renewable energy developer Pervez Agwan launched a campaign to deny renomination to Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher back in February, and while he's struggled with fundraising since then, Jewish Insider's Gabby Deutch writes that he's "already mounting a heavy ground game with door-knocking and in-person campaigning seven months before the March primary." Agwan, who is the son of immigrants from India, would be Texas' first Muslim member of Congress.
Last cycle, Republicans in the state legislature made Fletcher's once-competitive seat safely blue in order to shore up GOP incumbents in other Houston-area constituencies. Fletcher initially flipped the 7th District in 2018 by running as a moderate, but now Agwan argues that he's a more progressive alternative. To that end, the challenger has called for Green New Deal in an area where the oil and gas industry is a major presence.
He's also gone after Fletcher over support she's received from the hawkish pro-Israel group AIPAC. Agwan told The Intercept in July that when it comes to U.S. aid to Israel, "I support ending all aid to and implementing economic sanctions on any foreign country that egregiously violates human rights." So far, though, he doesn't have much money to get his message out. He finished June with just $77,000 in the bank, while Fletcher, a prodigious fundraiser, had $1.6 million at her disposal.
● OH Ballot: The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday unanimously rejected a lawsuit that sought to prevent voters from having the chance to approve a constitutional amendment on Nov. 7 to enshrine abortion rights in the state's governing document. The conservative plaintiffs insisted that the petitions to place the amendment on the ballot failed to specify which state laws would be repealed, but the GOP-controlled body rejected this argument. The decision instead declared, "The fair and natural reading of [Ohio law] does not require a petition proposing a constitutional amendment to include the text of an existing statute."