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-LG: While Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann goes into Tuesday's Republican primary with far more money available than his far-right challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the top conservative megadonor in America is doing his part to help the challenger pull off an upset for this powerful post.
McDaniel first rose to national prominence in 2014 when he nearly ousted the late Sen. Thad Cochran in a nasty primary runoff in this dark red state, a defeat the challenger never accepted. (Like Donald Trump, he was still insisting years later that he believed he'd won.) His contest with Hosemann has likewise been an ugly and expensive affair.
Mississippi Today's Geoff Pender reports that a super PAC called Invest in Mississippi raised $885,000 through late July, with a little more than half of that cash coming from dark money groups that don't need to disclose their donors. However, the balance was from Save Our Constitution PAC, an Ohio-based organization funded almost entirely by Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein. Save Our Constitution PAC was founded this year to pass a constitutional amendment in Ohio that would make it far harder to ever change the state's governing document again, but it also seems to be functioning as a vehicle for Uihlein to direct some of his largesse toward the Magnolia State.
Invest in Mississippi has been using that money to air ads accusing Hosemann of having "served as the vice president of the South Jackson Women's Clinic, an abortion clinic that has since been shuttered." These allegations first surfaced all the way back in 1998 when Hosemann sought the GOP nod for a U.S. House seat, prompting his current campaign to reissue a 25-year-old memo from the clinic's president attesting that the facility didn't perform abortions while the candidate was affiliated with it. (Hosemann went on to win the nomination but lose to Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows.)
McDaniel, however, was not remotely appeased. "Frankly, I don't trust the word or the credibility of an abortion doctor in any event," he told the Mississippi Free Press. The state senator repeated the same charges days later at the Neshoba County Fair while still insisting that, despite labeling his opponent "Delbert the Democrat," he has "respect for Delbert Hosemann." Hosemann responded, "If he respected me, he'd pull his ads today. He knows they're lies."
That hasn't been the only line of attack that McDaniel has been employing, though. The lieutenant governor controls committee assignments in the 52-member Senate, including chairmanships, and Hosemann has handed out gavels to 13 of the 16 members of the Democratic caucus.
While all of Hosemann's recent Republican predecessors, including now-Gov. Tate Reeves, have appointed similar numbers of Democratic chairs, McDaniel has pledged to end the practice. (The chamber has a total of 41 standing and joint committees, the vast majority of the Senate's 36 Republicans run a committee; Pender notes that, while there's no rule against having one senator chair multiple panels, that would create a "heavy workload" for one person to handle.)
The incumbent, though, hasn't been afraid to go on the offensive himself. Hosemann filed a complaint months ago accusing McDaniel of breaking campaign finance law by setting up a PAC that raised $475,000 from a Virginia-based dark money organization, which in turn shipped almost all of those funds to McDaniel's campaign—far, far beyond the legal donation limit of $1,000.
McDaniel, who blamed the transaction on "clerical errors," ultimately returned the money and closed the PAC; Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch has shown no obvious interest, though the Friday before the election, she did announce an investigation into separate allegations regarding Invest in MS. McDaniel went on to argue that the problem lay with the state's campaign finance laws, not anything he did; Mississippi Today noted, "Oddly, McDaniel during his long tenure as a state senator loudly championed stricter campaign finance laws and transparency for the public on sources of political money."
Hosemann has also used the last week of the campaign to argue that his opponent likely doesn't actually live in his southeastern Mississippi Senate district, which would mean he'd voted illegally. The lieutenant governor cited work by journalist William Browning, who reported last month that McDaniel's home in Ellisville doesn't appear to have used much, if any, water from May 2020 to March 2023. (McDaniel also spent 2014 asking if Cochran still lived in Mississippi.)
The challenger has pushed back by insisting that this house "remains occupied and central to the McDaniel family's daily lives" but claims he's been "forced to spend nights elsewhere" because of a black mold infestation. (McDaniel did not respond to Browning's inquiries if that "elsewhere" is located in his district.)
However, while McDaniel said he would have to "tear out part of the walls and the flooring" to remediate the problem, Browning, who lives less than a mile from the residence, wrote that he'd never seen any sign of work being done and reported that other Ellisville residents "have told me over the years that the place is unoccupied." A reporter for the Clarion Ledger and Hattiesburg American also showed up at a later date and discovered "no activity at the house."
Hosemann, for his part, has held a huge financial lead throughout the campaign, and he went into the final days with a giant $2.09 million to $307,000 cash on hand advantage. The lieutenant governor also publicized endorsements during the final week of the campaign from U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both of whom have a history with McDaniel.
McDaniel launched a primary bid against Wicker in 2018 only to quickly switch races after a special election was called to succeed Cochran, who had resigned for health reasons. But the state senator, despite support from Uihlein, had trouble gaining traction against Cochran's appointed successor, Hyde-Smith, and he came nowhere close to beating her.
The Hosemann-McDaniel showdown may not wrap up on Tuesday, though, because of the presence of a little-known third contender named Tiffany Longino. Mississippi requires candidates win a majority of the vote in order to avoid an Aug. 29 runoff, and if things are tight enough, Longino could keep either of her opponents from hitting that threshold.
McDaniel himself found out the hard way nine years ago how much of an impact one minor candidate could have when he outpaced Cochran 49.5-49.0 only for Some Dude Thomas Carey to take the remaining 1.5%; Cochran used the extended three-week campaign to encourage the state's heavily Democratic Black electorate to vote in the runoff, a strategy that resulted in the incumbent's 51-49 win. McDaniel and his allies responded by arguing in court that Democratic voters had illegally voted in the GOP primary (the state has no party registration) and demanded a new election, which he never got.
We haven't seen any polling here in months to indicate whether things are close enough for a similar thing to happen again, however. But whoever wins the GOP nomination in August, whether it's this Tuesday or three weeks hence, will be the favorite in the fall against Ryan Grover, who has the Democratic side to himself.
● MI-Sen: The Michigan political newsletter MIRS reports that former Republican Rep. Mike Rogers is "nearing an announcement" for the state's open Senate seat but says there are "some loose-end business issues to be resolved" before he kicks off a campaign. One of those loose ends: the fact that Rogers no longer lives in the state he once again wants to represent. The Detroit News reported last month that the ex-congressman is now a resident of Fort Myers, Florida, but recently "was in Michigan shopping for property." There's no word yet, though, as to whether Rogers' house-hunting trip was successful.
● WI-Sen: Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on Wednesday once again reiterated his interest in seeking the GOP nod to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, but while the far-right loudmouth characteristically declared that "[h]er campaign is very afraid of me," The Messenger's Matt Holt writes that unnamed "national Republicans" doubt he'll make good on his bluster by actually running.
The two potential Republicans who would be far more appealing to the NRSC are Eric Hovde and Scott Mayer, and a state party official adds that they doubt the pair of wealthy businessmen would run against one another. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has also reported that former state Senate President Roger Roth is also mulling a bid, though The Messenger does not mention him.
Mayer himself sounds iffy about a Senate bid, telling the paper in mid-July, "I don't want to do it because I'm the only one left and I have to, but that's certainly a possibility." Mayer, though, told Holt he'd decide around Labor Day, which has been his timeframe for months. Hovde, who narrowly lost the 2012 GOP primary for this seat to former Gov. Tommy Thompson, also has said in the past he'd make up his mind around then.
Hovde, though, is already facing some unwelcome questions about his ties to Wisconsin. The Journal Sentinel reported in May that he paid close to $7 million in 2018 for a "luxurious hillside estate" in Orange County, California; shared in a California-filmed ad for his bank; and had the honor of being designated by the Orange County Business Journal as one of the 500 most influential people in the county in 2020.
When the paper asked him which state he spent most of his time in, Hovde avoided giving a direct answer. "OK, I'm born in Wisconsin, raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin," he said. "My home is Wisconsin. I have a business in Wisconsin. So that's my response." Hovde added, "I'm sitting in my office in Wisconsin right now … I'm getting ready to walk down to my favorite restaurant, called RED."
● KY-Gov: Daniel Cameron is airing his first ad since he won the Republican nod in mid-May, and the GOP firm Medium Buying tweeted Friday that he’s spending about $500,000 on TV and radio so far. Cameron's piece features several shots of Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear wearing a facemask as the challenger argues that the state needs a new leader.
● LA-Gov: Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who unexpectedly opened the door to a possible campaign for governor at the end of May, announced on Friday that he would not join the race. That leaves Shawn Wilson, who for many years served as transportation secretary under term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards before resigning in February, as the only notable Democrat in the race. Republicans have a nasty multi-way fight that won't get settled until the Oct. 14 all-party primary. Given the large field, the race will likely proceed to a Nov. 18 runoff between the top two vote-getters, one of whom will likely be Wilson.
● NH-Gov: State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut indicated in a new interview that he won't decide whether to join the Republican primary for New Hampshire's open governorship until next month, relays Boston Globe reporter Steven Porter. As Porter reminds us, that's a shift from Edelblut, who said he'd reveal his plans in a matter of days following Gov. Chris Sununu's retirement announcement last month.
● NC-06: Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning was in a car accident in her district on Thursday and broke her sternum and a bone in her foot. She and a staffer were treated at a hospital but were both released. A spokesperson says Manning plans to work from home during her recovery. The House is currently in recess until Sept. 12.
● NY-17: Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, who represents the neighboring 18th District, has endorsed former Rep. Mondaire Jones in his comeback bid for the 17th District. The two briefly served together last year after Ryan won a special election for what was then numbered the 19th District. Jones faces local school board trustee Liz Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, for the right to take on freshman GOP Rep. Mike Lawler in this swingy district.
● PA-17: Republican state Rep. Rob Mercuri is still considering a bid against first-term Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio, according to an unnamed source who spoke with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, though the paper says that Mercuri "did not respond to a request for comment." Inside Elections' Erin Covey reported something similar in April, but Mercuri still has yet to say anything publicly. Mercuri's legislative district is contained entirely within Deluzio's 17th Congressional District, but because Pennsylvania House districts are so small, Mercuri represents just 8% of the residents of the 17th.
● TN State House: Democrats Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who were expelled from the Tennessee House by their Republican colleagues in April, both resoundingly won special elections to reclaim their former seats on Thursday night. The results, including a third race in a dark red district, also continue to show Democratic candidates outperforming recent presidential results—a trend that should worry the GOP.
Following their removal from the House for participating in a protest in favor of gun safety legislation on the chamber floor, both Jones and Pearson were swiftly returned to the legislature under a state law that allows vacancies to be temporarily filled by the governing body in the home county of the lawmaker whose seat needs to be filled. Special elections were still required, however, to elect permanent replacements, though the two Democrats, who rose to national prominence thanks to their ordeal, faced little opposition in their safely blue districts.
Pearson, who represents the 86th District in the Memphis area, crushed an independent candidate by a lopsided 94-6 margin; last month, he won a primary by a similar 95-5 spread. Jones, whose 52nd District is in Nashville, didn't face a primary but he did dispatch a Republican opponent 78-22—a 55-point victory. That beat out Joe Biden's 69-28 margin in the same district by 14 points.
That overperformance was also very similar to one by another Democrat who ran in the extremely conservative 3rd District in East Tennessee, Lori Love. While Love lost to Republican Timothy Hill, who'd previously represented the district during the 2010s, Hill's 75-25 win was actually 13 points behind Donald Trump's 81-18 score in 2020.
Including both the Pearson and Love races, Democrats nationwide are now outperforming 2020 presidential numbers by an average of 7.5 points in special elections that have featured Democratic vs. Republican matchups, according to our Daily Kos Elections tracker. Though no single race can be predictive of future outcomes, special elections tend to closely correlate with U.S. House results in the ensuing general election when taken collectively. While much can change between now and November of next year, if current trends hold, Democrats are likely to enjoy a considerable advantage in 2024.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Nashville, TN Mayor: Metro Councilor Freddie O'Connell, who is one of the more prominent progressives in local politics, and GOP strategist Alice Rolli advanced out of Thursday's nonpartisan primary to a Sept. 14 to succeed retiring Democratic incumbent John Cooper.
O'Connell, who employed the slogan "More 'Ville, less Vegas" as part of his argument that the city needed to prioritize the needs of residents over tourists, took first with 27%, while Rolli outpaced former city economic development chief Matt Wiltshire 20-17 for second. Nashville, which has never elected a GOP mayor since it was consolidated with the rest of Davidson County in 1963, favored Joe Biden 64-32.