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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● KY-Gov: New financial reports show Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear crushing Republican Daniel Cameron in fundraising, with the incumbent raising $15 million to date compared with just $2.8 million for his challenger.
As the Louisville Courier Journal's Joe Sonka explains, Beshear has brought in $5.8 million since the mid-May primary, on top of $6.2 million he raised before the primary—money he didn't have to spend since his race, unlike Cameron's, was uncompetitive. On top of that, the state Democratic Party recently shipped $3 million directly to Beshear's campaign.
That huge haul has allowed him to massively outspend his rival: The Lexington Herald Leader says that Beshear has already shelled out $10.8 million, compared to just $1.4 million for Cameron. Yet despite that spending gap, Beshear still has a $4.2 million war chest, while Cameron has just $1.4 million on hand.
Beshear has made the most of his financial advantage, and his allies have been piling in, too. According to the Herald Leader's Austin Horn, figures from the GOP firm Medium Buying show that the Democratic side has spent $21.3 million on the airwaves versus $12.3 million for Republicans, but the advertising gap is actually far bigger.
As longtime Digest readers know, candidates are entitled to lower ad rates than third-party outfits. As a consequence, because $7.6 million of the Democratic total is from the Beshear campaign itself, that money has gone much further in terms of purchasing actual TV and radio spots.
Outside groups are also vulnerable in another way we've frequently mentioned. Because stations are obligated to run ads from candidates regardless of their contents, they're also immune from liability in any lawsuit alleging defamation. But that's not the case with third-party ads: Stations are able to either accept or reject them, meaning that they can be sued over falsehoods.
And that's precisely what Beshear is warning in a new letter to stations in Louisville and Lexington regarding an ad from a pro-Cameron group called the School Freedom Fund that's affiliated with the hard-right Club for Growth. The spot focuses on a man named James Hamlin who was convicted of sexually abusing a child. A narrator claims that Beshear "turned him loose, released back into the community within a year," except that Hamlin was never released. (Hamlin's sentence for intimidating a witness in a separate case was commuted, but he's been behind bars continuously since early 2020.)
Attorneys for Beshear have demanded the ad be taken down, saying its "entire premise is based on a falsehood." The Herald Leader's Tessa Duval reports that the PAC at some point released an altered version of the spot claiming Beshear "signed an order intended to release Hamlin from jail," but Beshear's team says the ad is still untrue. It's not clear yet whether any stations have in fact removed the ad from the airwaves.
● PA-Sen: Wealthy former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick, whom Republicans have literally been begging to run for Senate, will reportedly join the race "later this month," according to two unnamed sources who spoke with Reuters' Jarrett Renshaw. The same piece describes McCormick as "stable enough to help other candidates on the ticket" in the eyes of Senate Republicans.
● UT-Sen: Following Republican Sen. Mitt Romney's announcement Wednesday that he won't seek a second term next year, the GOP field to replace him in this solidly red state has begun to shape up. Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs had already been running against Romney since May, but he may have some company soon.
State House Speaker Brad Wilson had previously filed paperwork for an "exploratory committee" while he considered the race, and he released a statement Wednesday that strongly hinted at a formal announcement soon, saying to "[s]tay tuned." The Messenger also noted that Wilson had already raised over $1 million and loaned his campaign an additional $1.2 million by the end of June, and he's already secured endorsements from roughly three-fourths of GOP legislators.
Two of Utah's four House members and one former member all refused to rule out running. In the 3rd District, Rep. John Curtis shared on social media, "It's encouraging to hear from friends urging me to run for Senate ... Be it in the House or Senate, there's much to accomplish & I look forward to getting things done." 1st District Rep. Blake Moore, however, appeared less eager to run and said, "It's all still early. So we'll see … I'm not ruling anything out, and I'm not planning anything." Likewise, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who preceded Curtis in the 3rd, told National Journal's Hotline, "I'm keeping the door open, but it's not something I'm actively pursuing."
Hotline also mentioned two other candidates who could run but don't appear to have said anything yet, conservative activist Carolyn Phippen and former state Rep. Becky Edwards, relaying that state GOP chair Robert Axson said Phippen was "closer to running than just considering." For her part, Edwards is a Trump skeptic who endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 (though she has since expressed "regret"). Earlier this month, Edwards lost the special election primary for the 2nd Congressional District by 39-33 against fellow Republican Celeste Maloy, and last year she ran as a more moderate primary challenger against far-right Sen. Mike Lee, losing that contest 62-30.
One Republican who won't be running, though, is state Attorney General Sean Reyes, who previously hadn't ruled out a bid. Reyes declared he would seek reelection and instead back an unnamed candidate who he said "will be making an announcement in the days to come."
● WV-Sen: The Washington Post reports that if Sen. Joe Manchin decides to run for reelection, he would apparently do so as an independent, according to two unnamed sources privy to a "series of private meetings" Manchin held in the Hamptons during the recent holiday weekend. Those sources say "it seemed clear to those [Manchin] met with that he is likely to leave the Democratic Party if he chooses to stay in politics." Manchin is also reportedly considering a presidential bid under the No Labels banner or simply retiring from politics altogether.
Manchin keeps veering back and forth about his timetable for making up his mind: The New York Times reported last week that he'd decide "by the end of the year," but he told CNN in July that he'd settle on his plans "in the fall sometime," just days after telling NBC he'd wait until "next year" to make a decision on a run for president. West Virginia's candidate filing deadline is January 27.
● LA-Gov: Former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson has launched his first TV ad ahead of the Oct. 14 all-party primary. The spot opens with the Democrat saying, "We need a governor who builds bridges, not burns them." That statement is meant both figuratively and literally, as Wilson goes on to tout how he "brought everyone to the table to find common ground" and created "the largest infrastructure investment in state history," which the Advocate noted refers to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding passed by the GOP legislature and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The Republican Governors Association began airing attacks on Wilson's record two weeks ago, which Wilson's ad does not mention. Wilson's GOP rivals, meanwhile, have so far stuck to attacking each other to secure the other spot for the Nov. 18 runoff in the likely event that no candidate earns a majority in October.
● MT-Gov: Democrat Ryan Busse, whom the AP describes as a "[f]ormer firearms executive turned gun industry critic," has announced a campaign against Republican Gov. Greg Gianfore next year. Busse is the first Democrat in the race, which will be a difficult one given Montana's conservative lean. While Democrats won four straight races for governor from 2004 to 2016, Gianforte prevailed in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock in 2020 by a 54-42 margin.
● CA-16, CA-18: Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who'd been considering running for both the 16th and 18th Congressional Districts, will instead take a job at a lobbying firm (though he says he will not be a lobbyist). Both districts Liccardo had been eyeing are safely blue seats represented by fellow Democrats—Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, respectively—and the 75-year-old Lofgren had made it clear she intends to seek another term. Eshoo, who is 80, has yet to announce her plans, though she'll have to decide soon, since California's filing deadline is in early December.
● IA-03: Democrats have thus far struggled to land a strong challenger against freshman GOP Rep. Zach Nunn after he ousted Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne last year by just 50.3-49.6 in a district that Donald Trump won only 49.3-48.9, and the Des Moines Register reports that there's no obvious candidate on the horizon yet. Unnamed insiders have mentioned U.S. Department of Agriculture official Theresa Greenfield, who was the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2020, but Greenfield has not said anything publicly about her interest.
Two Democratic legislators whom those insiders also mentioned to the Register both indicated they would likely stay out of the race: State House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst told the paper she was "committed to staying in the House and being the first Democratic woman speaker," while state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott said she was also intent on remaining involved in "state-level politics."
Axne herself has not commented on a possible comeback campaign next year, but after Biden appointed her to a USDA position following her defeat, few election observers have indicated that they think she would step down to run again. Inside Elections reported in June that unnamed Democrats were trying to recruit Dave Price, who recently retired as political director for the station WHO 13, but we've heard no new developments since then.
● MI-10: State Board of Education member Tiffany Tilley announced on Thursday that she'd enter the increasingly busy Democratic primary to take on freshman GOP Rep. John James in Michigan's 10th Congressional District next year. In 2018, Tilley won a seat on the board, whose members are elected statewide for six-year terms, finishing second in a top-two contest. As the Detroit News' Melissa Nann Burke notes, though, Tilley lives in the neighboring 11th District.
The busy field already includes gun safety activist Emily Busch, financial advisor Diane Young, and former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga, who narrowly lost to James in 2022. Marlinga recently released a poll giving him a 31-5 lead over Tilley (whose name hadn't previously surfaced), with Bush and Young at 3% apiece. The survey also found 3% supporting physician Anil Kumar and 2% backing former Macomb County Health Department head Rhonda Powell, who are both exploring bids. Powell lost to Marlinga 48-17 in last year's primary.
One potential candidate who won't be joining the race, though, is former Rep. Andy Levin. Last year, Levin opted for an ill-fated primary showdown with fellow Rep. Haley Stevens in the solidly blue 11th District instead of running against James in the swingy 10th. Stevens pummeled Levin by a 60-40 margin while James only defeated Marlinga, who was virtually abandoned by national Democrats, by half a percentage point. Levin told Burke he'd been recruited for a comeback bid by the DCCC but decided to pass.
● MI-13: Politico has a new update on potential primary challengers to freshman Democratic Rep. Shri Thanedar in this dark blue Detroit district, which includes two candidates who lost the crowded primary to Thanedar last year. Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency director Adam Hollier, who was serving in the state Senate last year, says he is "strongly considering" running again and will decide "in the coming weeks." John Conyers III, who is the son of the late long-serving Rep. John Conyers, told Politico he is planning on announcing he's running "soon."
Thanedar only won the 2022 primary by 28-24 over Hollier to replace retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence, while Conyers took fourth place with 9%. Thanedar's victory made him the first Indian American to represent Michigan in Congress, but it also meant Detroit, which is the most heavily Black major city in America, didn't have a Black Democrat representing it in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.
Because Michigan doesn't hold primary runoffs if no candidate takes a majority, Thanedar was able to win largely thanks to several Black candidates, including both Hollier and Conyers, splitting a majority of the vote in a district where Black voters are a sizable majority in a Democratic primary. It's unclear just how vulnerable Thanedar is in next year's primary, but he's much less likely to be able to win with a small plurality now that he's the incumbent instead of running for an open seat like last year when his many rivals spent much of their time attacking each other.
● PA-10: The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that longtime local TV news anchor Janelle Stelson will be stepping down this week after 26 years working for NBC affiliate WGAL in Lancaster after obtaining an email from the station's news director announcing that Stelson "has decided to step away from news and pursue other interests." The Inquirer had recently relayed that Stelson was considering running as a Democrat against GOP Rep. Scott Perry, which she refused to rule out when the paper asked, though she has yet to comment on their latest report. WGAL's broadcast region covers the entire 10th District, which could give Stelson an early edge in name recognition if she runs.
● NV Ballot: A coalition of reproductive rights organizations in Nevada, including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and NARAL, announced on Thursday that it would collect signatures to place an amendment on next year's ballot that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. Voters would have to approve it both in 2024 and again in 2026 before it could become law.
Nevadans have voted in support of abortion rights at the ballot box once before, back in 1990. As the Nevada Independent's Noel Sims explained in a recent piece, abortion became legal in the state after Roe v. Wade, and the legislature soon passed a law codifying those rights. But a 1989 Supreme Court decision that allowed states to ban the use of public funds to pay for abortions, as well as clinic blockades by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, prompted reproductive rights activists to take a more aggressive approach to protecting abortion rights.
The vehicle they used was a type of referendum unique to Nevada that had only ever succeeded once before, decades earlier. In other states that permit citizen-initiated referenda, such votes always seek to repeal a law. In Nevada, by contrast, it's possible to put forth a "statute affirmation" referendum, which, if successful, prohibits an existing law from being amended or repealed by lawmakers. Only a further statewide vote can ever change it.
Sims described the effort as a "high-stakes gambit." "Win, and the state's abortion law couldn't be changed by state lawmakers, only by another vote of the people," she wrote. "Lose, and the law would be repealed — opening the door to legislative restrictions on abortion." The gamble, however, paid off: Appealing to the state's libertarian streak, organizers pulled off a dominant 63-37 victory, ensuring abortion would remain protected.
Now activists want to go one step further by amending the state's governing document with broadly worded language prohibiting government interference in "all matters relating to pregnancy," including abortion, birth control, and infertility care. The campaign could also potentially boost turnout in ways helpful to Democrats, who will be running in competitive races at all levels of the ballot next year.