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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● MS-Gov: Mississippi Democrat Brandon Presley is using his first negative TV ad to tie Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to the $77 million welfare funds scandal involving retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre―a story that the public service commissioner is hoping will give him an opening in November's race to lead this dark red state.
"Under Tate Reeves, millions were steered from education and job programs to help his rich friends," intones the narrator. "A horse ranch, a volleyball stadium, even $1 million to his own personal trainer. And when the investigator got too close, Tate Reeves fired him." Presley, who faces no opposition in next week's primary, did not say how much he was spending to air this new message, though AdImpact tells NBC his campaign has booked at least $250,000 starting this week.
Reeves has denied he had anything to do with the misuse of millions from the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families that occurred under his immediate predecessor, fellow Republican Phil Bryant. As Mississippi Today first reported, text messages show that Bryant advised the former Green Bay Packers star how to obtain more than $1 million to finance his proposed volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Favre's daughter participated in that sport. (The elder Favre was the school's quarterback just before his NFL career began in the early 1990s.) But other messages show that Favre spoke to Reeves about getting state money for the project in early 2020 during the new governor's first weeks in office.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services, which answers to Reeves, initially hired a former Clinton-era U.S. attorney named Brad Pigott to investigate the scandal, but the agency fired him last year shortly after he subpoenaed Southern Mississippi. "All I did, and I believe all that caused me to be terminated from representing the department or having anything to do with the litigation, was to try to get the truth about all of that," he told Mississippi Today hours after his ouster, unhappily adding, "I am sure they can find a loyal Republican lawyer to do the work." Reeves, for his part, has claimed he had Pigott terminated because he had "a political agenda."
But Favre isn't the only well-connected athlete who has been implicated. State auditors discovered in 2020 that an organization called Victory Sports Foundation run by Paul Lacoste, a fitness trainer whose clients included Reeves and several state legislators, received $1.3 million in TANF payments through a nonprofit run by private school founder Nancy New. New and her son have both pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government, while Lacoste has denied he had any knowledge of her crimes.
While Lacoste is not the subject of criminal charges, the Department of Human Services is currently suing him for allegedly committing fraud in obtaining TANF funds. Lacoste has countersued, claiming in April that he's been wrongly "ridiculed throughout the State as someone who knowingly took money from indigent people in Mississippi."
Presley's offensive comes at a time when Reeves maintains a huge financial edge, though the Democrat has gotten some help. The Democratic Governors Association donated $750,000 to Presley’s campaign last month, a contribution that was revealed on Tuesday when financial reports for the month of July were made public. Including the big DGA infusion, Presley brought in $1.1 million last month, compared with $309,000 for Reeves. However, Reeves still has a considerable $9.3 million war chest, according to Mississippi Today, while Presley has just $1.5 million to spend.
Reeves himself has not mentioned Presley in any of his ads, and he's avoided any mention of the welfare scandal. But it still unintentionally wound up in one of his very first spots: In May, Presley was quick to highlight footage in Reeves' ad that featured a now-shuttered private school founded by none other than New.
● AL-Sen: GOP Sen. Katie Britt said Monday she'd checked herself into the hospital over the weekend after she "experienced a sudden onset of numbness in my face." The senator continued that doctors "determined that my symptoms were a result of swelling of a facial nerve, most likely caused by a post-viral infection," and that her ongoing outpatient care might "take several weeks."
● NJ-Sen: The New York Times' Tracey Tully reports that the federal prosecutors investigating Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez appear to be probing whether the senator or his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, "received undisclosed gifts from a company run by a friend of Ms. Menendez, and that those gifts might have been given in exchange for political favors." Tully writes that the friend in question is Wael Hana, who runs the only company empowered by the Egyptian government to certify that any imported food meets halal dietary requirements even though he'd previously filled out court papers saying he had no background in that industry.
The story says that federal authorities are investigating allegations that either Robert or Nadine Arslanian Menendez obtained a car or apartment from Hana's company, IS EG Halal, though Tully adds, "It is, however, unclear which, if any, of Mr. Menendez’s official acts as a senator is under scrutiny by prosecutors." Hana's spokesperson told the paper in May, "Allegations about cars, apartments, cash and jewelry being provided by anyone associated with IS EG Halal to Senator Menendez or his wife at all—let alone in exchange for any kind of favorable treatment—are totally without basis."
The senator, who has made it clear he plans to run again this cycle but hasn't yet announced, predicted to the Times this matter would be "successfully closed." Menendez previously was indicted in 2015 on corruption charges in a different matter, but the jury failed to reach a verdict two years later. Federal authorities decided not to seek a second trial, and the Democrat won another term in 2018.
● PA-Sen: The Philadelphia Inquirer's Julia Terruso investigates why rich guy Dave McCormick still hasn't announced his long-awaited campaign against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, and multiple Republicans tell her that McCormick is being "cautious" about making a decision a year after his tight primary loss to Mehmet Oz for the state's other seat. "I was told he stuck his toe in the Atlantic Ocean and the temperature's not where he needs it to be right now," a Philadelphia party official told her, adding, "I think at some point, we will just go ahead and plunge in, but I dunno when that day will be."
A party strategist, also speaking on the record, said of McCormick, "He's staring down the barrel of two guns — trying to beat Bobby Casey is not an easy thing to do, even in a great environment. The other thing is, does he want to be running in a swing state with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket?" Still, unnamed McCormick allies tell Terruso they anticipate he'll launch sometime in the fall.
● WI-Sen: GOP Rep. Tom Tiffany on Tuesday announced he'd remain in the House rather than take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a move that means Republicans still don't have a major candidate here.
● KY-Gov: The conservative Bluegrass Freedom Action's newest ad once again goes after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear for ordering the early release of about 1,700 people from prison during the early months of the pandemic; we previously fact-checked a similar ad here.
● NC-Gov: Friday was the deadline for candidates to submit their campaign finance reports covering the first six months of 2023, and the Associated Press has rounded them up:
- Attorney General Josh Stein (D): $5.98 million raised, $8.23 cash-on-hand
- Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (R): $2.29 million raised, $3.21 cash-on-hand
- former Rep. Mark Walker (R): $554,000 raised, $495,000 cash-on-hand
- Treasurer Dale Folwell (R): $170,000 raised, additional $1 million self-funded, $1.19 million cash-on-hand
Folwell previously revealed how much money he had in the bank, though he didn't indicate that he was self-funding most of his campaign. Another Republican, former state Sen. Andy Wells, launched his campaign in July weeks after he seeded it with a $51,000 loan, and he finished the previous month with $63,000 available.
● AZ-01: Conor O'Callaghan, who is an executive at the global trading and fund services firm BTIG, declared Tuesday that he was joining the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. David Schweikert. O'Callaghan, who emigrated from Ireland when he was young, tells Bloomberg he grew up in Arizona and moved back to the state three years ago even though it meant needing to wake up at 4:30 AM to work New York hours. O'Callaghan, who is a first-time candidate, also told azcentral.com that he believed the party had previously nominated contenders who were "too left" for the district, and that he worried a similar thing was happening nationally.
Schweikert won reelection here in 2022 50.4-49.6 two years after Biden carried this Phoenix-area constituency 50-49, and several Democrats are already competing to take him on. The field includes former TV news anchor Marlene Galán-Woods; orthodontist Andrew Horne; former Arizona regional Red Cross CEO Kurt Kroemer; state Rep. Amish Shah; and businessman Andrei Cherny, who ran unsuccessfully for the old 9th District in 2012 under the last map.
● IN-03: Businessman Tim Smith, who lost the 2019 race for mayor of Fort Wayne 61-39 against Democratic incumbent Tom Henry, this week became the latest Republican to enter the contest for this safely red seat.
● RI-01: State Sen. Sandra Cano has launched her first TV ad ahead of the busy Sept. 6 special Democratic primary, and WPRI's Ted Nesi says she has a total of $85,000 booked for the campaign. The narrator tells the audience, "Sandra Cano is an immigrant, a public school kid, the daughter of a gun violence survivor, [and] a mom who's faced reproductive health issues." The ad goes on to say her progressive views "are not talking points: They're her story."
● TX-15: EMILY's List has endorsed 2022 Democratic nominee Michelle Vallejo's rematch bid against GOP freshman Rep. Monica De La Cruz, a development that comes at a time when no other notable Democrats are running here.
● WI-03, WI State Senate: Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff this week publicly acknowledged his interest in seeking a rematch against freshman Republican Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who made national news days before when he reportedly screamed at teenage Senate pages and adopted what a source told NBC was a "physically aggressive" stance. "Obviously in the last few days my phone's been ringing off the hook," Pfaff told WIZM (the relevant portion begins around the 4:00 mark), adding that "we will see as we move forward here, but one thing is for sure, we can't have a member of Congress with that kind of temperament, character, or judgment serving."
Pfaff lost to Van Orden 52-48 in 2022 in a southwestern Wisconsin seat that Trump took 51-47 two years before, and he argues that things would have gone differently if national Democratic groups hadn't redirected resources elsewhere. Pfaff, however, wouldn't have the primary to himself: businesswoman Rebecca Cooke, whom the state senator defeated 39-31 last year, is already in, while other Democrats are also considering.
Unlike in 2022, though, Pfaff would need to give up his spot in the legislature if he were to mount another campaign against Van Orden. Biden carried his seat 52-46, but Pfaff acknowledged that Republicans would have a better chance to flip it if he didn't seek reelection. The stakes would also be high for that contest, as the GOP currently has exactly the two-thirds majority in the upper chamber that it needs to override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' vetoes.
● AR Ballot: Arkansas organizers seeking to repeal a bill promoted by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders that purports to ban critical race theory in public schools turned in signatures ahead of Monday's deadline for what's known as a "veto referendum," but it remains to be seen if they turned in enough to continue their effort. Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students initially estimated they'd fallen about 500 short of the 54,422 minimum, but the group said Tuesday it now believed it had collected enough after all.
The secretary of state's office says that CAPES would get an additional 30 days to collect petitions if it both verifies that it turned in the minimum needed (a figure that represents 6% of the ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election) and it finds that at least 75% of those signatures are valid.
In addition to the statewide signature requirement, the constitution specifies that organizers must gather petitions equal to 3% of the vote in the last election for governor in at least 15 counties; Republicans passed a law in March ramping up that requirement to 50 of the 75 total counties, but CAPES argues that, at least until the courts weigh in, the 15-county rule is the one that applies. The group, however, believes it hit that threshold in 48 counties, though it's prepared to sue if need be. CAPES adds that, if its current efforts fails, it would work to place a constitutional amendment on a future ballot.
Sanders made national news in March when she signed the LEARNS Act, which she declared meant that "all forms of racism and leftist indoctrination in our schools will be outlawed." Among other things, the law, which took effect Tuesday, bans teaching students about "gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual reproduction" before fifth grade. It also bars any discussion of critical race theory—without actually defining the term. (It's an academic framework for analyzing systemic racism, but the phrase is frequently brandished by conservatives to describe any conversation on race they find objectionable.)
The act additionally provides vouchers to help pay for students to attend private schools or be homeschooled, which opponents have charged would aid wealthy parents while undermining the public school system. State law gives organizers 90 days to force a veto referendum following the end of the legislative session in which the targeted legislation passes, but CAPES had just 55 after GOP Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected its first two proposed ballot measures for what he claimed was "misleading" summary language.
● OH Ballot: Andrew Tobias of Cleveland.com reports that the conservative Protect Women Ohio has reserved $4.3 million in TV time to promote Issue 1, which would make it harder to amend Ohio's constitution, for the final week of the campaign. He adds that the main group on the "no" side, One Person One Vote, has booked a smaller $2.3 million for the last days of the Aug. 8 special election.
● WI Supreme Court: Progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in as a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday following her 55-44 victory over conservative Dan Kelly in April, giving the court its first liberal majority since 2008. The court is poised to rule on a wide variety of issues that will impact elections, including the state's 1849 abortion ban and its gerrymandered political maps.
Voting rights advocates had already filed a lawsuit last month in anticipation of the court's ideological transition seeking to reverse the state's prohibition on the use of drop boxes for returning absentee ballots. A progressive law firm previously pledged to ask the new-look Supreme Court to revisit a different set of decisions greenlighting the GOP's legislative maps, while state Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, is challenging the abortion ban in a case that is all but certain to end up before the high court.
● MI State House: The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Tuesday rejected a conservative drive to recall six Democratic state representatives, an effort that Republicans hoped would give them a chance to flip the chamber less than a year after Democrats unexpectedly took control. All four members of the bipartisan body agreed that the recall proponents failed to provide enough information in their paperwork, though they differed on exactly what was wrong; however, the Board did give the recall supporters the option to return and provide more details.
One Republican and a Democratic 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." Another Democrat argued that the handwriting on the petitions was too tough to read, while the final Republican said that there wasn't a "disclaimer" about who was behind each effort. Ultimately, the body deadlocked 2-2 with one party member on each side, a tie that prevented the petitions from getting approved.
However, the recall campaign to remove Republican state Rep. Cam Cavitt, who represents a dark red seat, was allowed to move forward. Cavitt's detractors wrote that the reason they wanted him gone was his vote in January to make Democrat Joe Tate speaker, a move Bridge Michigan's Jonathan Oosting says was "already a foregone conclusion and typically not controversial." The Board unanimously agreed that this wording was clear, a move that gives his opponents 180 days to collect the requisite 12,000 signatures; The Detroit Free Press, though, says that all of these petitions must be gathered within a 60-day timeframe.
● NV State Senate: Nevada Democrats' chances of gaining two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative chambers next year grew stronger on Monday after Republican state Senate Minority Leader Heidi Gansert announced she would not seek reelection in her blue-leaning 15th District.
Democrats already hold two-thirds of the Assembly and are just one seat shy in the Senate, so flipping Gansert's open seat could give them the power to both override GOP Gov. Joe Lombardo's vetoes and pass tax measures to increase state revenues without needing any Republican votes.
Gansert had previously served as chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and as Assembly minority leader before running for state Senate in 2016, a race she won by a 53-42 margin despite Hillary Clinton carrying her district 47-44. However, Gansert faced a much tougher reelection battle in 2020, and she won just 52-48 as Joe Biden was winning her district by a wider 52-45.
Making matters worse for Gansert, Nevada was the lone swing state where Democrats had enjoyed total control over redistricting following the 2020 census, allowing them to draw maps in their favor. Their new lines transformed her district, which includes parts of Reno and its suburbs, into one that Biden would have carried 56-41.
After Democrats last year won a 28-14 advantage in the Assembly and a 13-8 edge in the Senate, Gansert was left as the only lawmaker in either chamber whose new district would have supported the other party's presidential ticket in 2020, and she would have been a top target had she run again. Democrats must also defend several seats in the Senate next year, but the most competitive of them still voted for Biden 53-45.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Memphis, TN Mayor: GOP City Councilman Frank Colvett announced last week that he was dropping out of the Oct. 3 nonpartisan race to lead this overwhelmingly Democratic city, but 17 candidates remain on the ballot to succeed termed-out Mayor Jim Strickland in a contest where it takes a simple plurality to win. The notable contenders are:
- Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner
- former TV judge Joe Brown
- State Rep. Karen Camper
- Businessman J.W. Gibson II
- former County Commissioner James Harvey
- Businessman Reggie Hall
- former Mayor Willie Herenton
- Memphis-Shelby County School Board member Michelle McKissack
- former Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner
- Downtown Memphis Commission CEO Paul Young
Bonner, for his part, picked up endorsements last week from the local police and firefighter unions.
● NJ-LG: Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died Tuesday at the age of 71 one day after she was hospitalized for an unspecified condition. Gov. Phil Murphy, who chose Oliver to be his running mate during their successful 2017 campaign, will have 45 days to appoint a successor for the almost two-and-a-half years remaining in her term.
Oliver rose to prominence in early 2010 when she became the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the state Assembly, and she competed in the 2013 special election to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Oliver, though, had a tough time gaining traction in a primary dominated by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and she ended up taking fourth place with 4%.
She lost the speakership a short time later to Vincent Prieto, who announced even before that year's legislative elections that he had more than enough support to replace her whether or not she stepped down, but OIiver remained in the lower chamber. She got to make history again after the 2017 elections when she became only the second person ever to serve as lieutenant governor following a 2005 constitutional amendment that created the office, as well as the first Black woman to hold statewide elected office.