● NC-08: Republican Mark Harris, whose 2018 House campaign was responsible for one the most ignominious election fraud scandals in recent memory, announced on Tuesday that he's waging a comeback bid for North Carolina's open 8th Congressional District.
Harris, an ultra-conservative pastor, managed to oust Rep. Robert Pittenger in the primary for the old 9th District, but despite the area's conservative lean, he faced a strong challenge in the general election from Marine veteran Dan McCready. It appeared that Harris managed to survive that year's blue wave by fewer than a thousand votes, but in a shocking development, the state's bipartisan Board of Elections unanimously refused to certify the results amid allegations of fraud.
In the following weeks, it emerged that McCrae Dowless, a consultant for Pittenger, had run a scheme to illegally collect blank or incomplete absentee ballots in rural Black counties (North Carolina prohibits third-party ballot collection), then filled them out and returned them to election offices with forged signatures. With the number of potentially tainted ballots far larger than Harris' ostensible margin of victory, the elections board eventually threw out the results of the race and ordered a do-over election. Dowless, along with half a dozen co-conspirators, was later indicted on a variety of felony counts but died last year while awaiting trial.
Harris, by contrast, was never charged with wrongdoing, but his fellow Republicans knew he was toxic. The GOP-run legislature quickly passed a bill changing state law to allow for a new primary rather than require the same candidates for both parties to run again. That allowed Republicans to replace Harris with state Sen. Dan Bishop, the author of North Carolina's notorious "bathroom bill," who defeated McCready by a tight 51-49 margin in a special election held 10 months after the original contest. Republicans, in other words, paid no electoral price for the fraudulent scheme designed to benefit their party.
And now that Bishop is running for state attorney general, Harris has the chance for a do-over of his own. But he doesn't seem to want to let the past remain there: In a statement accompanying his kickoff, he claimed to be a victim of a "manufactured scandal" perpetrated by Democrats and even re-hired the same campaign manager from his 2018 effort. He also seems aware that some Republicans may not be so happy to see him again, saying he "fully expects a flurry of lies and rumors from both Democrats and some from my own party."
As of now, though, he's the only candidate in the race. And with Republicans slated to re-gerrymander North Carolina's map, if he wins next year's primary, he's exceedingly likely to finally make it to Congress after all.
● MT-Sen: Republican Tim Sheehy is the target of an early attack ad from a new super PAC that Politico reports "has apparent ties to Democrats." The spot slams Sheehy for not paying back a $770,000 loan from the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program that was designed to support businesses during the pandemic (the loans were forgivable in many cases). The ad may be aimed at softening up Sheehy ahead of a potential against far-right Rep. Matt Rosendale, who lost to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018 and is likely Tester's preferred opponent. AdImpact says the group behind the campaign, called Last Best Place PAC, has booked $141,000 in TV time so far.
● NV-Sen: Politico reports that Duty First Nevada, a super PAC backing Republican Senate candidate Sam Brown, has reserved $512,000 for a seven-week TV ad buy that will start at the beginning of next month. Nevada's primaries are not until June.
● WI-Sen: Wealthy businessman Scott Mayer tells Politico he'll "need some more time" to decide on whether to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, saying "it's a little bit more complicated," though he declined to elaborate. Mayer previously said a Senate bid was "not something I ever had a desire to do," calling it "more of an obligation." Republicans still have yet to land a notable candidate.
● DE-Gov: Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long joined the Democratic primary to succeed term-limited Gov. John Carney, making her the second major candidate in the contest after New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer. After spending more than a decade in the legislature, Hall-Long won a crowded primary for lieutenant governor in 2016. She then prevailed comfortably in the general election to serve alongside Carney, who also won his first term that same year. (Governors and lieutenant governors are elected separately in Delaware.) She earned a second term four years later. Unlike Meyer, she hails from Sussex County in the southern part of the state.
● MO-Gov: The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which the Kansas City Star's Kacen Bayless describes as "one of the state's most influential and prominent pro-business groups," endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Parson. Kehoe faces far-right state Sen. Bill Eigel and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a vocal abortion opponent, in the GOP primary.
● NC-Gov: Former Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan, who'd previously hinted at a run for governor, kicked off his campaign to succeed term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday. If he's successful, he'd be the first Black governor in North Carolina history.
First, though, he'll have to get through a difficult primary. Until now, the only other Democrat running had been Attorney General Josh Stein, who launched his own bid way back in January and was endorsed by Cooper late last month. Morgan sounded resentful about that endorsement and those of other party leaders in comments to the News & Observer, insisting that "the responsible thing to do" would have been (in the paper's phrasing) to "wait to see who filed" before getting involved.
He also shrugged off Stein's fundraising advantage—the attorney general raised almost $6 million in the first half of the year—saying his opponent "may have the superior treasury, but I have the superior candidacy." Morgan argued he's more electable than Stein by pointing out that he earned a higher percentage of the vote in his lone statewide race than Stein did in either of his two campaigns (54.5%, vs. a shade over 50% both times for Stein). But Morgan's 9-point victory in 2016 came at a time when state Supreme Court races were nonpartisan (Republicans soon after made them partisan contests), while Stein has always had a "D" after his name on the ballot.
Thanks to his late start, Morgan, who resigned from the Supreme Court earlier this month, now has just six months to make his case to voters before the primary. Candidate filing ends in mid-December, but it's unlikely any other notable names will get in. Republicans have a multi-way primary of their own, but limited polling has shown far-right Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who would also be the state's first Black chief executive, with a giant advantage.
● CA-03: National security strategist Jessica Morse, who unsuccessfully sought California's 4th District in 2018, announced on Tuesday that she'd challenge freshmen Republican Rep. Kevin Kiley in the 3rd District. In her prior race, Morse sought to unseat GOP Rep. Tom McClintock but lost 54-46, a result roughly in line with Donald Trump's 54-44 margin two years later. The new 3rd, by contrast, is considerably bluer: Trump would have carried it just 50-48. Kiley, however, turned back Democrat Kermit Jones 54-46. More than half of the 3rd District is made up of the old 4th, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections.
● CA-31: Former Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros, who'd been mentioned as a possible candidate for California's open 31st Congressional District, has filed paperwork with the FEC ahead of a potential campaign. Cisneros previously represented the old 39th District, but it has virtually no overlap with the 31st.
● CO-04: Though he's a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Ken Buck has recently emerged as a vocal critic of extremists in his own party who want to impeach Joe Biden, which naturally has his fellow Republicans talking about a primary challenge. CNN reports that two possible names are already circulating, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and state Rep. Richard Holtorf, though neither has spoken publicly yet.
Sonnenberg declined a bid for Colorado's safely red 4th District once before, when it became an open seat under unusual circumstances in 2014. That year, Buck had been running against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, but D.C. Republicans managed to coax Rep. Cory Gardner, whom they saw as more palatable, into making a late bid for the Senate. Buck simultaneously dropped down to run for Gardner's seat and earned the congressman's endorsement, all while denying the fix was in. The switcheroo worked out better for Buck, though, since Gardner lost his campaign for reelection in 2020 while Buck is still in Congress—for now, at least.
● MD-06: Commerce Department official April McClain-Delaney will join the Democratic primary for Maryland's open 6th Congressional District next month, according to an unnamed source who spoke with MoCo360. McClain-Delaney is the wife of former Rep. John Delaney, who represented the 6th District for three terms before leaving office in 2019 for an ill-fated bid for president best remembered by a meme-worthy photo showing the grim-faced candidate descending a slide at the Iowa State Fair. MoCo360 adds that "it is widely expected" that McClain-Delaney will self-fund to some degree, much as her husband did for his own campaigns. A large number of candidates from both parties are seeking this left-leaning seat in western Maryland.
● OH-13: Former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin tells Cleveland.com's Jeremy Pelzer that he isn't ruling out a bid against Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes in Ohio's 13th District, but he doesn't sound enthused. According to Pelzer, Coughlin had hoped his fellow Republicans in state government would make the district redder, but a recent decision by voting rights activists to drop a challenge to the state's congressional map almost certainly means it will retain its current form for 2024. Under those lines, Joe Biden would have carried the district 51-48, and Sykes won it as an open seat last year by a 53-47 margin.
Pelzer also reports that another possible GOP candidate, state Sen. Kristina Roegner, has taken her name out of contention. The only Republican currently in the race is attorney Greg Wheeler, who unsuccessfully sought his party's nomination in 2022, though Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg has filed paperwork with the FEC to set up a campaign committee.
● VA-02: Virginia Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton have both endorsed Navy veteran Missy Cotter Smasal, who is seeking to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Jen Kiggans in the state's 2nd Congressional District. So far, Cotter Smasal is the only Democrat running in this swingy district in the southeastern part of the state.