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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● UT-Sen: Republican Sen. Mitt Romney announced on Wednesday that he would not run for reelection next year, bringing to an end a three-decade political career that featured several bids for office but only two victories years apart. Romney's decision creates a wide-open race to succeed him in a deeply conservative state dominated by Republicans but one where critics of Donald Trump, including Romney himself, retain a measure of support.
Romney was born in Detroit in the years immediately after World War II and, as a 15-year-old in 1962, watched his father win election as governor of Michigan. While George Romney would serve three two-year terms and wage an ill-fated bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, Mitt, his youngest son, did not get involved in politics until the early 1990s—and did so in a different state.
The younger Romney had moved to Massachusetts in 1972 to pursue a joint JD/MBA program at Harvard and went on to make his name in the business world, co-founding the private equity firm Bain Capital in 1984. A decade later, he sought to challenge veteran Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, hoping that a favorable political climate for Republicans would help him oust the "liberal lion" of the Senate. But despite polls that showed a tight race, Kennedy prevailed by a comfortable 58-41 margin, though it would be the closest contest of his long career.
Romney immediately returned to Bain and was later credited with turning around the financially trouble committee responsible for running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Just weeks after the closing ceremonies, though, Romney announced a campaign for governor after acting Gov. Jane Swift, a fellow Republican, dropped her bid for a full term.
While Massachusetts had for many decades seldom sent Republicans to Congress, it had a long tradition of electing them to the governorship; when Romney sought the post, the last time a Democrat had won it was in 1986, when Michael Dukakis secured his third and final term. As he had in his race against Kennedy, Romney campaigned as a moderate and claimed to support abortion rights. (Kennedy had jeered that Romney was not pro-choice but "multiple-choice.") Thanks in part to a large financial advantage—the wealthy Romney self-funded $6 million, a record at the time—he defeated his Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien.
The victory was Romney's first, and it also marked the fourth straight gubernatorial win for Massachusetts Republicans. But the streak wouldn't last long for Romney: With more than a year left in his term, he announced he would not seek reelection. The move came ahead of a widely expected campaign for president, which he'd telegraphed by shifting to the right on key issues like abortion.
Romney's metamorphosis left many conservatives unconvinced, however, and he lost the nomination to John McCain, who in turn was beaten by Barack Obama. Four years later, though, true believers failed to rally around a strong alternative and Romney captured the GOP nod, but he, too, lost to Obama. (Romney was reportedly "shellshocked" by the loss despite the incumbent's consistent polling leads.)
Romney later relocated to Utah, where he'd earned his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young and had long maintained a vacation home. But despite declaring he'd been branded a "loser for life" in a documentary about his attempts to win the presidency, he made one last foray into the political arena. Following Sen. Orrin Hatch's retirement, Romney easily won both the GOP primary and general election to succeed him in 2018, making him the first person in 150 years—and just the second ever, after the legendary Sam Houston—to serve as governor and senator in two different states.
While Romney remained a traditional conservative, his Senate tenure was marked by his criticism of Trump. (Hard as it may be to believe now, Trump actually endorsed Romney's initial campaign for Senate.) He made history in 2020 when he became the first senator to vote in favor of convicting a president from his own party at an impeachment trial during Trump's first impeachment, then voted (along with a handful of other Republicans) to convict him again at his second impeachment the next year.
The hatred his apostasies engendered from the MAGA brigades all but ensured he'd face a difficult fight to win renomination had he sought another term. An August poll showed him taking just 44% in a hypothetical primary matchup, a soft showing for an incumbent. It turned out that his 2018 victory would not only be just his second ever but also his last.
In remarks on Wednesday announcing his departure, Romney noted that he'd be in his mid-80s at the end of a second Senate term and said that "it's time for a new generation of leaders." That new generation likely won't look much like the outgoing senator, though it's possible that a split among extremists could see the GOP nominate a relative pragmatist: In the recent special election primary for Utah's 2nd Congressional District, former state Rep. Becky Edwards took a third of the vote despite saying she'd voted for Joe Biden and opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
At the moment, though, the only Republican in the race is Trent Staggs, mayor of the small community of Riverton. Other candidates, however, are already hovering in the wings, so we're likely to see a crowded primary in 2024.
● What do you do if you're associated with one of the biggest election fraud scandals in recent memory? If you're Republican Mark Harris, you try running for office again! On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we revisit the absolutely wild story of Harris' 2018 campaign for Congress, when one of his consultants orchestrated a conspiracy to illegally collect blank absentee ballots from voters and then had his team fill them out before "casting" them. Bipartisan officials wound up tossing the results of this almost-stolen election, but now Harris is back with a new bid for the House—and he won't shut up about his last race, even blaming Democrats for the debacle.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also discuss a late entrant into the race for North Carolina governor; why Republicans are struggling to recruit in Ohio now that they can't gerrymander their congressional map again; how a Freedom Caucus member has bizarrely emerged as a voice of sanity within the GOP—and why it'll likely doom him; Mitt Romney's retirement in Utah; and proposed maps that our Daily Kos Elections colleague Stephen Wolf submitted to the federal court in Alabama that's about to impose new congressional districts.
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.
● MI-Sen: Wealthy businessman John Tuttle, who's the vice chair of the New York Stock Exchange, has declared that he won't run for the GOP nomination next year. Tuttle's announcement leaves former Rep. Mike Rogers as the only major candidate in the primary so far, though some other big GOP names are still considering the open seat contest.
● WI-Sen: Trempealeau County Board Supervisor Stacey Klein has filed paperwork to run as a Republican and said she would officially kick off her campaign on Saturday. Klein, who first won her board seat in April 2022, hails from a county that is home to less than 1% of Wisconsin's population, but her entry nonetheless makes her the most prominent GOP candidate so far in a longtime swing state where Republicans have struggled to land a major candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
● DE-Gov: Term-limited Gov. John Carney has endorsed Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long just one day after his fellow Democrat announced she was running to succeed him next year. Both Democrats are currently serving their second terms (governors and lieutenant governors are elected separately in Delaware), and Hall-Long faces a primary against New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, whose county contains 58% of the state's population.
● IN-Gov: The far-right Club for Growth has endorsed Republican Sen. Mike Braun in his primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb. Braun, who previously won the Club's endorsement during his competitive initial primary for Senate in 2018, faces a crowded GOP field for governor that includes Lt. Gov. Susanne Crouch, former state Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, former Indiana Economic Development Corporation president Eric Doden, and former state Attorney General Curtis Hill.
● AR-03: Republican Rep. Steve Womack announced that he'll seek another term representing his safely red seat in northwestern Arkansas, which he first won in 2010. Although Womack himself is solidly conservative, he had nonetheless recognized Joe Biden's 2020 victory and had previously told the Washington Post that he had been considering retirement due to dissatisfaction with GOP leadership caving to far-right hardliners, though he's never had any trouble winning renomination before.
● OH-13: Former state GOP chairwoman Jane Timken, who unsuccessfully competed in her party's 2022 primary for Senate, announced Wednesday that she wouldn't run for the 13th District next year. Timken's decision comes just a week after the state Supreme Court granted a request by plaintiffs to dismiss their legal challenges against the GOP's current gerrymander, which ensured that Republicans won't get a chance to draw an even more extreme map for 2024 that could have targeted freshman Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes in this 51-48 Biden seat in Akron.
● OH Ballot: Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, which is supporting November's ballot initiative that would enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution, has launched their first TV ad buy for $687,000 over the next week. The new spot argues that the government shouldn't be making difficult reproductive healthcare choices for Ohioans and that voting yes on Issue 1 would "end Ohio's extreme abortion ban," which has "no exceptions for rape or incest." It also emphasizes that the amendment would protect access to birth control and emergency care for miscarriages.
● NY State Assembly: Democrat Sam Berger won Tuesday's special election to fill a Democratic-held seat in Queens by a 55-45 spread against Republican David Hirsch. This district contains large Asian American and Orthodox Jewish populations, two demographics that Democrats have lost some ground with in recent years in New York City, and some had feared that Republican Lee Zeldin's 56-44 win over Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul here last year was a warning sign of things to come.
However, Berger enjoyed a large fundraising advantage and nearly matched Joe Biden's 56-43 victory in the district. Assembly Democrats will retain a 102-48 supermajority once he's sworn in, which will make the 25-year-older Berger the chamber's youngest member.