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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● VA-10: Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton announced Monday that she would not seek a fourth term representing Virginia's 10th District due to worsening symptoms of a neurodegenerative disease.
Wexton, who revealed in April that she'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's, said in her new statement that her physicians have since "modified my diagnosis to Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy - a kind of 'Parkinson's on steroids.'" The congresswoman said that she'd serve out the rest of her term but added, "There is no 'getting better' with PSP. I'll continue treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they don't work as well."
Wexton's departure will set off a race to replace her in a constituency based in the southwestern D.C. suburbs and exurbs, territory that swung sharply to the left during the Trump era. Joe Biden carried the current version of the 10th 58-40 in 2020, though Democrat Terry McAuliffe prevailed here by a smaller 51-49 spread in the following year's race for governor as he was losing to Republican Glenn Youngkin by that same margin statewide.
Wexton herself won an unexpectedly expensive contest in 2022 against Navy veteran Hung Cao 53-47, a margin half the size of her prior two victories in a previous district with similar partisanship. (Cao is now waging an uphill battle against Sen. Tim Kaine.) Her departure moves the 10th District up in our House Vulnerability Index from the 40th most at-risk Democratic-held seat to the 26th, though it would still likely take a GOP wave to put it in play.
Wexton spent more than a decade involved in Loudoun County politics as her populous and well-educated Northern Virginia suburb shifted from purple to blue. She sought office for the first time in 2011 when she ran to become the county's top prosecutor, but she lost to Republican Commonwealth Attorney Jim Plowman 52-48. That close defeat came the same night that Republicans netted the two seats in the state Senate they needed to secure the 20-20 deadlock that, thanks to Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's tie-breaking vote, gave them control of the chamber.
Wexton, though, would go on to play a key role in helping Democrats regain the body for a short amount of time. Two Democratic senators, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring, won respective races for lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013, and Democrats needed to win both January special elections to replace them in order to ensure that Northam could break ties in their favor. Democrats chose Wexton as their nominee to succeed Herring in the 33rd District, a seat that had backed Barack Obama 59-39 but was one where the party feared that low turnout could jeopardize their chances.
Wexton, though, had little trouble beating John Whitbeck, a local GOP official who had attracted unwelcome attention for telling an antisemitic joke at a rally, 53-38. But it wouldn't be clear for another week that Wexton's decisive victory had returned her party to power: Fellow Democrat Lynwood Lewis had won an extremely tight special to replace Northam two weeks earlier, but it took a recount to confirm he'd prevailed by 11 votes. However, the GOP would end up retaking the Senate just a few months later after Democrat Phil Puckett resigned from a dark red seat in June and was succeeded by a Republican, and they'd remain in power until the 2019 elections.
Wexton, however, was no longer in the legislature by that point. Prominent Democrats, including 4th District Rep. Donald McEachin, successfully recruited her to challenge Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock in the 2018 cycle in what everyone expected would be a challenging race. Comstock, who was a prominent GOP opposition researcher during the Clinton era, had just won her second term 53-47 even as her district was dramatically swinging from a 51-49 win for Mitt Romney all the way to a 52-42 margin for Hillary Clinton, and her strong fundraising made her a tough adversary.
McEachin, who was serving as a DCCC vice chair, quoted Thomas Paine in his appeals for Wexton to take up the task, writing, "You and I are not sunshine patriots. Your country needs you." First, though, the state senator had to prove to primary voters she was the best candidate against Comstock in what proved to be an expensive and busy primary. One contender, former State Department official Alison Friedman, used her personal wealth to far outspend all the other contenders. But Wexton, who had then-Gov. Northam's endorsement, ended up prevailing 42-23 ahead of what promised to be one of the marquee races of the year.
This race instead became a pricey debacle for the GOP. Comstock struggled to distance herself from the toxic Trump administration at a time when well-educated suburban voters were abandoning Republicans in droves, and several polls showed the challenger well ahead. The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund bowed to reality, leaving Comstock for dead early and never reserved ad time to help her.
However, the NRCC confounded observers by throwing down a total of $5 million―its largest expenditure in the nation. Committee chair Steve Stivers defended his decision, arguing, "The last poll I looked at she's winning. I'm not going to cut off somebody who is winning."
Wexton triumphed 56-44 as the GOP was losing control of 40 other House seats, and with them control of the chamber. Stivers did not seek another term as head of the NRCC, and his replacement, Tom Emmer, quickly acknowledged he had been "inundated with complaints about the $5 million spent on TV ads to help Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock." (Stivers resigned in 2021 to lead Ohio's Chamber of Commerce.)
Wexton had no trouble securing her second term two years later, but Republicans hoped that the anticipated red wave could give Cao an opening in 2022. The congresswoman ended up outraising her rival by a modest $3.8 million to $3.2 million, but this time, there was no serious outside spending from either party. Cao ran well ahead of Trump, but Wexton still prevailed 53-47.
● NJ-Sen: Republican Christine Serrano Glassner, who serves as mayor of the 6,000-person Mendham Borough, announced Monday that she would challenge Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez, who remains under federal investigation. Glassner, who served in George W. Bush's U.S. Small Business Administration, is married to Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer for Donald Trump's 2020 campaign.
● UT-Sen: State House Speaker Brad Wilson on Monday declared that he would resign from the legislature on Nov. 15, and the Republican followed up less than an hour later by promoting a "special event" on Sept. 27. That latter announcement was accompanied by a tweet saying, "It’s time for a conservative fighter in the U.S. Senate."
The only notable Republican currently in the race is Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who launched months before incumbent Mitt Romney announced his retirement, but more contenders could be on the way soon. The Salt Lake News reports that unnamed sources say that businessman Kirk Jowers, who previously ran the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, is considering.
Tim Ballard, who founded a group with the stated aim of combating human trafficking that Vice called a "QAnon-adjacent charity" in 2020, publicly expressed interest Friday just before he found himself on the receiving end of some truly terrible headlines. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that same day publicly condemned the former Operation Underground Railroad head for what it said was his behavior towards senior official M. Russell Ballard (no relation), declaring, "Once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association."
Vice reported days later that Tim Ballard left his group after he was accused of using his position to sexually harass women. Ballard responded, "It’s not true, nothing you hear is true."
The Deseret News also mentions radio host Boyd Matheson and businessman Brad Bonham as possible Republican contenders, though neither appears to have said anything publicly yet. Former Trump administration National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, however, reiterated that he wouldn't run, while former state House Speaker Greg Hughes, who lost the June party convention for the 2nd Congressional District, is another no.
● LA-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in covering the period from July 7 through Sept. 4, and far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry continues to hold a dominant lead over his rivals ahead of the Oct. 14 all-party primary:
- Attorney General Jeff Landry (R): $1.8 million raised, $4.3 million spent, $6.7 million cash on hand
- former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack (R): $620,000 raised, $1.2 million spent, $1.3 million cash on hand
- former Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson (D): $590,000 raised, $300,000 spent, $880,000 cash on hand
- Treasurer John Schroder (R): $120,000 raised, $640,000 spent, $1.7 million cash on hand
- Attorney Hunter Lundy (I): $80,000 raised, additional $700,000 self-funded, $1.7 million spent, $1.2 million cash on hand
- State Rep. Richard Nelson (R): $40,000 raised, $90,000 spent, $220,000 cash on hand
- State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R): $20,000 raised, $270,000 spent, $100,000 cash on hand
A pro-Landry organization called Protect Louisiana’s Children also has $1.3 million banked to help him. Waguespack is getting some support as well from a PAC called Reboot Louisiana, though it still hasn't replenished its war chest after deploying $2 million from early April through the first days of July: The group during this period took in $470,000, spent $540,000, and had $200,000 left over.
NOLA.com notes as well that the RGA affiliate Right Direction PAC has dropped $1.2 million from early July to early September, with most of that going towards anti-Wilson ads.
● NC-Gov: The progressive group Carolina Forward last week released an early September survey from Change Research that shows Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson leading Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein 42-38, is almost identical to the 46-43 Robinson lead it found in May.
● CA-27: Former Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has publicized an endorsement from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi ahead of next year's top-two primary to face GOP Rep. Mike Garcia. Whitesides' only notable intra-party rival, Los Angeles County Probation Oversight Commissioner Franky Carrillo, raised little during his opening fundraising quarter: New reports are due Oct. 15.
● CA-31: Former Rep. Gil Cisneros announced Monday that he was joining the top-two primary to succeed his fellow Democrat, retiring incumbent Grace Napolitano, even though the old 39th District he represented from 2019 to 2021 has virtually no overlap with Napolitano's current 31st. Cisneros kicked off his campaign with endorsements from eight members of the state's House delegation, including Rep. Linda Sánchez of the neighboring 38th.
Cisneros, who recently resigned from the Department of Defense, joins a top-two primary that includes several other Democrats: state Sen. Bob Archuleta, who has Napolitano's endorsement; Citrus Community College Trustee Mary Ann Lutz; Baldwin Park Planning Commissioner Ricardo Vazques; and state Sen. Susan Rubio. Joe Biden won 64-33 in this majority-Latino constituency, which is home to Los Angeles suburbs such as El Monte and West Covina, and a pair of Democrats could advance to the general election.
Cisneros, who served in the Navy, first earned headlines in 2010 when he and his wife won $266 million in the Mega Millions lottery, and they went on to use part of their new fortune to create a scholarship to help Latino youths get to college. Cisneros later was one of several Democrats who wanted to challenge GOP Rep. Ed Royce in the 2018 cycle for the old 39th, an Orange County-based seat that had swung hard to the left two years before, but Royce ended up surprising everyone by retiring.
Cisneros, who had the backing of the DCCC, advanced through a packed top-two primary after national Democrats spent millions to make sure the party wouldn't be locked out of the second round, but he faced a tough general election against former GOP Assemblywoman Young Kim. Cisneros prevailed 52-48 in a $34 million contest that OpenSecrets ranked as the most expensive House race of 2018, but Kim quickly made it clear she'd seek a rematch in 2020.
What followed was another closely watched battle, but one with a different outcome. While Joe Biden took the 39th 54-44, the area remained red enough down the ballot to allow Kim to unseat Cisneros 51-49. The Democrat initially expressed interest in avenging his loss, but the new administration instead chose him to run the Defense Department's personnel office. It was in that capacity that Cisneros worked to advance diversity and inclusion efforts and policies protecting abortion access for servicemembers and their dependents, a role that made him a target of far-right Republicans.
● CA-45: Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin reports that personal injury lawyer Derek Tran is "gearing up" to challenge Republican incumbent Michelle Steel in a western Orange County district that backed Joe Biden 52-46. Tran would join a top-two primary that includes several fellow Democrats, but none of them had more than $130,000 in the bank at the end of June.
● NM-02: SurveyUSA's new poll for KOB-TV finds former GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell edging out freshman incumbent Gabe Vasquez 46-45 less than a year after the Democrat unseated her by a similarly narrow 50.3-49.6. SurveyUSA's release did not include 2024 presidential numbers for this southern New Mexico constituency, which favored Joe Biden 52-46 in 2020; this is the first poll we've seen here.
● TX-32: State Rep. Rhetta Bowers filed FEC paperwork over the weekend for a potential bid to succeed her fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Colin Allred, a move that comes more than three months after she told the Dallas Morning News she'd run for reelection instead. However, Bowers didn't quite rule out a congressional bid in June: As reporter Gromer Jeffers wrote at the time, "When asked if she still planned to run in the Democratic primary to replace Allred, Bowers texted, 'Not at this time.'"
● VA-07: Derrick Anderson, a Green Beret veteran who lost last year's Republican primary, announced Monday that he'd wage a second campaign to flip this seat. Politico reported in July that Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger plans to retire from this 53-46 Biden constituency in the southern D.C. exurbs so she can focus on a 2025 bid for governor; Spanberger has not confirmed or denied this, saying only she'll reveal more after Virginia's Nov. 7 legislative races.
Anderson last time lost the primary to Prince William County Supervisor Vesli Vega 29-24 months before she failed to unseat Spanberger, and he has another busy nomination contest ahead of him. A trio of notable Republicans already announced before this week: investor Bill Moher, Navy SEAL veteran Cameron Hamilton, and Marine veteran Jon Myers. No serious Democrats have kicked off bids here yet.
● NH State House, PA State House: Tuesday brings us a pair of crucial special elections in closely divided lower chambers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. In the Granite State, Democrat Hal Rafter is competing against Republican Jim Guzofski, a pastor who declared in 2021 that abortion rights supporters "know blood sacrifices to their god Molech," for Rockingham County's 1st District, a race that Democrats need to win in order to be on track to force a tie in the state House.
But both parties got another reminder about just how turbulent the 400-member chamber is just one day before the special election when Democratic state Rep. Bill Hatch announced he would resign from Coos County District 6, which voted 55-43 for Joe Biden. Hatch's departure leaves the GOP with a 199-196 edge in a body that also includes two independents so Democrats need to win Tuesday's special, hold a safely blue seat on Nov. 7, and hang onto Hatch's district in order to deadlock the House.
Rockingham County District 1, which became vacant in April after Republican incumbent Benjamin Bartlett resigned, supported Donald Trump by a tiny 49.1 to 48.7, but the money race is anything but tight: Rafter reports raising $46,000 through mid-September, while Guzofski took in all of $450.
Over in Pennsylvania, Democrat Lindsay Powell is looking to fend off Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith in a race to preserve the 102-101 majority Powell's party won in November and has successfully defended in a series of specials this year. The 21st District around Pittsburgh supported Joe Biden 61-38, and it became vacant in July after Democratic incumbent Sara Innamorato resigned to focus on the general election for Allegheny County executive. Fundraising reports from early September show that Powell, who would be the first Black woman to represent this seat, far outpaced Autenreith $53,000 to $6,000.
● Lauch Faircloth: Lauch Faircloth, a North Carolina Republican who won his only term in 1992 before losing to Democrat John Edwards six years later, died Thursday at the age of 95. Faircloth got his start in Democratic politics and took third in the 1984 primary for governor, but he switched parties a year before his successful Senate bid, saying the following year, "Here I am an avowed conservative, under the charade of a liberal Democratic Party."
Faircloth unseated his former friend, Democratic Sen. Terry Sanford, 50-46 as President George H.W. Bush was narrowly carrying the state against Bill Clinton, but he struggled in the 1998 contest against the charismatic Edwards. The Democrat prevailed 51-47, and Faircloth never again sought elected office.