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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● NH State House: Have you worshipped the dark lord Molech today? No? Then you simply aren't doing your part to protect abortion rights!
Think we're insane? Think we're kidding? Then you, friend, have not yet heard the good word dispensed by the GOP's brand-new nominee for a pivotal special election for the New Hampshire state House. Say hello to pastor Jim Guzofski, and please enjoy his 2021 Halloween sermon:
No, it's a shade of witchcraft! Is probably what you're seeing. And you don't want to be bold enough to stand up and speak out against it. See, witchcraft is the religion of the fallen humanity. It's rooted in murder. Why do you think they fight so hard to keep abortion? I mean, to a lunatic frenzy! Because they know blood sacrifices to their god Molech.
What, you don't think a fellow like this is the right sort of guy to hold a critical swing district that will literally determine whether or not Republicans maintain their majority? Maybe instead you feel he's a poor fit because he thinks "the majority of the people" who come down with COVID "are the ones that took the jab" since they "literally infected you with the virus"? Or perhaps it's because he believes being gay is "against nature" because "you never see two male dogs going at it and having kids"? Or is it just that he thinks "the doctrine of demons has so permeated our society in establishing a perverted mindset"?
Well, whatever the reason, it seems that New Hampshire Republicans—or what remains of their establishment—actually agree with you. Party leaders had backed Jessica Sternberg, an official with the state chapter of the College Republicans, but Guzofski, a member of the governing board in his hometown of Northwood, rode his local name recognition to a 56-44 victory in Tuesday's primary.
Democrats, by the by, did not need a primary. They're running computer programmer Hal Rafter, who, after losing his bid for the same district last year by just 25 votes, is the natural choice. Rafter is a mainstream progressive who believes in things like protecting the right to an abortion and improving our public schools and fighting climate change. No witchcraft, no demons, no evil Canaanite deities from Leviticus.
And that's your matchup on Sept. 19, when Rafter and Guzofski go head-to-head for a tossup district in Rockingham County that was held by Republicans until it became vacant in April. If Democrats flip it (and win two other special elections in safely blue seats), then the state House will be evenly divided between the parties, 199 to 199, plus two independents.
If that comes to pass, it'll be a remarkable turnabout. Republicans went into the midterms with freshly gerrymandered maps to buoy them, but in spite of everything, Democrats managed to pick up a dozen seats and whittle the GOP down to the smallest majority in state history. Now Democrats are poised to tie the chamber.
What might happen then? It's difficult to say, because functional control of the gigantic New Hampshire House always depends on who shows up on any given day. Even though Republicans have a nominal majority, Democrats have managed to defeat horrid GOP bills and even pass some good legislation of their own when they've had superior numbers on the floor. If Rafter is victorious, that'll give Democrats one more reliable vote, even if Republicans retain the speakership.
And if Guzofski prevails, may Molech save us.
● It’s a joyous week in Wisconsin, where Janet Protasiewicz’s swearing-in means that the state Supreme Court now has its first liberal majority in 15 years. We’re talking about that monumental transition on this week’s episode of “The Downballot,” including a brand-new suit that voting rights advocates filed on Protasiewicz’s first full day on the job that asks the court to strike down the GOP’s legislative maps as illegal partisan gerrymanders.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also discuss why reports that a Democratic congresswoman might not seek reelection to her swingy House seat might actually be good news; the absolutely bonkers candidate Republicans just nominated in a pivotal New Hampshire special election; how North Dakota conservatives are trying to pave the way for congressional term limits by passing age limits; why Brett Favre is at the center of Democratic attacks against Mississippi’s Republican governor; and why a new poll of Ohio’s Issue 1 differs so dramatically from some other recent data.
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.
● Tennessee: The Volunteer State is once again hosting America's only Thursday Election Day (more on that below), and barring any truly massive surprise, briefly expelled Democratic state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson will officially win the special elections to succeed themselves.
The Republican-dominated chamber ejected the pair in April for taking part in a demonstration against gun violence on the House floor, but their respective county governments reappointed them just days later. (State Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is the only white member of the "Tennessee Three," was not expelled, and she told reporters afterward that her Black allies may have been treated differently because of "the color of our skin.") Special elections still need to take place under state law, and Jones and Pearson each raised $1 million during the first six months of the year.
They likely won't need to spend much of those huge war chests, though, to hold their dark blue constituencies. Pearson, who won his June primary for his Memphis seat in a 95-5 blowout, faces only an independent foe this week, while Jones, who was unopposed for renomination in his Nashville district, has a Republican opponent.
Thursday also brings us the crowded nonpartisan primary to replace Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who is retiring after just one term, as leader of his reliably blue community; unless someone unexpectedly wins a majority, the top two candidates will compete in the Sept. 14 general election. A pair of July polls show Metro Council member Freddie O'Connell, who has emphasized his opposition to Cooper's successful drive this year to fund a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans, with a clear lead for first place.
O'Connell's wealthy detractors, though are still hoping to stop the candidate who argues he's the most progressive person in the race. A trio of businessmen, two of whom are well-connected in Republican politics, have been financing the only negative TV ads of the race, including one that accuses O'Connell's transit plan of prioritizing bikes and flowers over drivers. That spot came from a group called "Paid for by Friends of Enoch Fuzz," but that prominent pastor says he didn't give anyone permission to use his name and doesn't support the effort to stop O'Connell. "I hate that kind of negative campaigning," Fuzz, who hasn't endorsed anyone, told the Nashville Banner. "I told Freddie, 'Man, don't let them distract you. You need to go on and run a positive campaign.'"
The few polls we've seen show a tight race for second between former city economic development chief Matt Wiltshire, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, and Alice Rolli, who is the only notable Republican in the race. Wiltshire picked up an endorsement late in the race from Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, while Yarbro has the support of the mayor's brother, former Rep. Jim Cooper. The contest also includes Council member Sharon Hurt, Davidson County Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoite, and state Sen. Heidi Campbell, who lost last year's general election for the gerrymandered 5th Congressional District to far-right Republican Andy Ogles.
P.S. So why does Tennessee hold its primaries and local elections on Thursdays? Politico investigated this very question back in 2014 and discovered that they've been on Thursdays since the state's first constitution was drafted in 1796—but no one knows why. This relic of the George Washington era has remained intact ever since, though the state votes on Tuesdays for presidential primaries and for general elections.
● WI Redistricting: As promised, voting rights advocates filed a new challenge to Wisconsin's Republican-drawn legislative districts on Wednesday, just a day after Janet Protasiewicz's swearing-in gave the state Supreme Court its first liberal majority since 2008.
The petition, which was filed directly with the Supreme Court, alleges that the current maps violate the state constitution as "extreme partisan gerrymanders" and should therefore not be used in any future elections. Challengers further say that many districts in both chambers also run afoul of a constitutional requirement that they be contiguous, pointing to the 47th Assembly District as an example.
In addition, they argue that the court's previous conservative majority "transgressed separation-of-powers boundaries" by adopting the very same maps that Republican lawmakers had passed but that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had vetoed. That ruling, say petitioners, constituted "judicially overriding that gubernatorial veto."
In one final request, petitioners ask the court to order new elections for the entire state Senate in 2024, even though normally only half the chamber would be up. They say such a move is necessary because senators elected last year "were elected from unconstitutionally configured Districts" and therefore "lack legal entitlement to their office." If this remedial measure is granted, all 132 seats in the legislature would go before voters next year.
● NJ-Sen: Kyle Jasey, the head of a real estate lending company and the son of retiring Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, told Politico this week that he'd wage a long-shot Democratic primary bid against Sen. Robert Menendez, who remains under federal investigation. The younger Jasey quietly filed FEC paperwork in May but hasn't reported raising any money yet, and there's no indication that the state's powerful party establishment is looking to abandon Menendez.
● PA-Sen: Every day seems to bring a new story about how badly D.C. Republicans want rich guy David McCormick to take on Democratic incumbent Bob Casey, but The Dispatch is the first to report that NRSC chair Steve Daines literally, albeit jokingly, told donors to "beg" him to run.
The conservative site relays that Daines in May asked anyone who knows either McCormick or his wife to contact them and "encourage" him to get in the race. "Beg!" someone interrupted, and the Dispatch writes that the NRSC chair laughed before delivering a "tongue-in-cheek response agreeing that the audience members should, in fact, 'beg' McCormick to run for Senate this cycle." These donors may not have begged quite hard enough yet, though: While almost everyone seems convinced McCormick will ultimately get in, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that he hasn't committed to anything yet.
● IN-Gov: Wealthy businessman Eric Doden announced Wednesday that he was launching an opening $2 million TV and digital buy far ahead of next May's Republican primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb. Doden is the first candidate to go on the air, though he's not the only 2024 downballot candidate in the nation who is already on TV: Maryland Rep. David Trone began running ads in May with a full year to go before his Democratic primary, and he'd already deployed more than $2 million through June.
Doden's first spot in his campaign to keep the governor's office in Eric hands isn't especially exciting stuff, however: His narrator declares that this "grandson of a preacher" is a "devoted family man and pro-life champion," as well as "a job creator who's rebuilt community." But Doden, who ran the Indiana Economic Development Corp. under Gov. Mike Pence, could use any chance to increase his name recognition in a primary where Sen. Mike Braun looks like the early frontrunner; the field also includes Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and disgraced former Attorney General Curtis Hill, while outgoing state Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers is also talking about running.
● KY-Gov: Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has released his first two negative TV ads of the race, and they both attack Republican Daniel Cameron's positions on education. The governor uses one commercial to say that, while he wants to increase teacher pay, his opponent "supports voucher programs that sent tax dollars to private schools. And he wanted to cut pensions promised to Kentucky teachers." The other spot stars a teacher making the same arguments before concluding, "Andy Beshear supports teachers and students. Daniel Cameron doesn't. There's no comparison."
While Beshear himself only ran positive ads before now, his allies at the DGA have been airing spots tying Cameron to Matt Bevin, the unpopular Republican whom Beshear unseated four years ago. GOP outside groups have also been attacking the incumbent, while Cameron himself has been off the air since he won the primary back in May.
● GA-13: Democratic Rep. David Scott released a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying that he'll seek a 12th term despite a recent Politico report relaying that his colleagues "widely expect him not to run" again in his dark blue seat." The congressman mentioned his goals as the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee and other duties like ensuring funding for historically Black colleges, declaring, "These are all issues I intend to tackle in the next Congress, which is why I am running for reelection."
The 78-year-old Scott does not appear to have addressed concerns about his health, including comments from an unnamed fellow Democrat to Politico saying, "There are real questions about whether he's with it." In June, when one reporter was actually able to ask the congressman how a hearing had gone, the congressman replied, "I don't know."
● MD-06: Montgomery County Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles this week filed FEC paperwork, though she says she hasn't yet decided if she'll run to succeed her fellow Democrat, Senate candidate David Trone. Sayles, who would be the first Black woman to represent western Maryland and the northwestern D.C. exurbs in Congress, says she'll make up her mind sometime this month.
● NY-16: Westchester Deputy Corrections Commissioner Michael Gerald this week became the first candidate to launch a Democratic primary bid against Rep. Jamaal Bowman, an announcement that comes more than a year after the challenger first waged a brief intra-party campaign. Gerald's kickoff comes at a time when Westchester County Executive George Latimer is publicly mulling an intra-party challenge to the congressman.
Gerald, who is a Baptist pastor, said in 2022 that Bowman needed to go because he was more interested in "making a national name for himself" than solving local problems. Gerald dropped out weeks later, though, telling Jewish Insider, "Rather than crash-landing, I think it was the best thing for me to do."
● RI-01: Businessman Don Carlson has launched his first TV ad from what WPRI said last week was a $240,000 month-long reservation ahead of the special Sept. 6 Democratic primary. Carlson touts his local roots before describing himself as "an education and clean energy innovator, and a volunteer EMT in Jamestown."
● OH Ballot: The GOP firm Medium Buying reports that the groups looking to beat Issue 1, which would make it much harder to amend Ohio's constitution, have narrowly outspent the "yes" side $10 million to $9.7 million on TV and radio. However, a recent story from cleveland.com, which cites another GOP strategist, says that conservatives have booked $4.3 million on TV for the final week of the Aug. 8 contest, compared to $2.3 million from their rivals.
Unsurprisingly, the anti-abortion Protect Women Ohio is continuing to insist that Issue 1 is needed to stop "radical groups" from "tak[ing] away parental rights, take away parents' ability to be informed and to make decisions for their children." PWO has already run ads like this to try to stop the November constitutional amendment to guarantee abortion rights in the state, but as the head of the pro-choice Ohio Physicians For Reproductive Rights pointed out months ago, "There is absolutely nothing in the [November] amendment that mentions or supersedes Ohio's parental consent laws."
● State Supreme Courts: Progressives took over Wisconsin's Supreme Court on Tuesday for the first time in 15 years, but as Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf explains, it was not just an isolated event but part of a wider regional trend. Four major swing states in the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest that Joe Biden won—Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all had state supreme courts controlled by Republicans or conservatives a decade ago, but progressives control them all now. Flipping these courts has had major consequences for stopping gerrymandering, preserving voting rights, and preventing far-right efforts to steal elections, as Donald Trump attempted following his 2020 defeat.
After the GOP's 2010 midterm wave, Republicans were swept into power in swing states across the country and quickly set about passing ruthless gerrymanders that helped them maintain their majorities even when Democrats won more votes overall such as in the 2012 elections. However, Wolf chronicles when each of these states' courts flipped to Democrats or progressives thanks to their statewide election wins and how that often resulted in redistricting becoming fairer. As our WI Redistricting item above further details, Wisconsin could soon see the new progressive majority on its top court usher in fairer maps for 2024.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Wichita, KS Mayor: Kansas' largest city held its nonpartisan primary Tuesday, and both Republican-turned-Libertarian Lily Wu and Democratic Mayor Brandon Whipple advanced to the Nov. 7 general election. Wu, a former local TV reporter backed by the Koch family's Americans for Prosperity, secured first with 30%, while Whipple narrowly edged out GOP City Council member Bryan Frye 24-23 for the second-place spot; Celeste Racette, a Democrat turned independent who leads a group advocating for the historic performance venue Century II, grabbed 17%, while five others split the remaining 7%.
Democrats are hoping that this fall's electorate will be considerably more friendly than the one that went to the polls this week, and they may have some reasons for optimism based on what happened four years ago. GOP incumbent Jeff Longwell secured first in that primary with 32%, while Whipple led Republican Lyndy Wells 26-25. Longwell, though, drew some bad headlines in September when The Wichita Eagle reported that he had steered a large and crucial city contract for a new water treatment plant to his political allies and friends: Whipple ended up unseating him 46-36, with Wells grabbing most of the balance as a write-in candidate.
Whipple launched his general election effort on Tuesday evening by once again hoping to turn the spotlight on his opponent, declaring, "Lily Wu has never once balanced a budget, never once done anything that has to do with public policy." He also tried to the Kochs' support into a liability, arguing he would not let "the richest, most elite politicals in the country" run Wichita.
Wu, who decisively outraised Whipple and the rest of the field in the leadup to the campaign thanks in large part to AFP and local business interests, in turn declared she was an "outsider." The former reporter previously addressed her support from AFP at a recent debate, saying, "Am I proud to be supported by a pro-freedom organization? Absolutely.