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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● NH State House: New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter scored a major pickup for his party on Tuesday by flipping a swingy seat in a special election for the state House, a triumph that puts Democrats one seat away from erasing the GOP's majority in the chamber.
Rafter beat Republican Jim Guzofski 56-44 to flip Rockingham County's 1st District, a constituency that favored Donald Trump by a tiny 49.1 to 48.7 margin in 2020. The seat became vacant in April when Republican Rep. Brian Bartlett resigned, citing health issues.
Rafter's win leaves Republicans with a bare 198-197 edge despite a map that they gerrymandered for their own benefit just last year. The enormous 400-member also includes a pair of independents and, importantly, three other vacant seats. Two of those vacancies occurred this very week: Democrat Bill Hatch announced his departure Monday, while Republican Troy Merner resigned the next day, just hours before Rafter's victory.
The final unoccupied seat was last held by Democrat David Cote, who stepped down in July. Only the race to replace Cote has been scheduled, so if Democrats defend his safely blue district in the Nashua area on Nov. 7, they'd force a tie in the chamber―assuming nothing else happens, that is.
The other two vacant seats are less likely to change hands, but in New Hampshire, nothing is impossible. Both, as it happens, are in Coos County in the state's far north: Hatch's 6th District voted 55-43 for Biden and 58-41 for Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan last year, while Merner's 1st District went for Donald Trump 53-45 and also favored far-right Republican Don Bolduc 50-46 in his challenge to Hassan.
The eventual Republican nominees in those upcoming specials, though, would need to work hard to be as … interesting as Guzofski, a local government official and pastor. He once declared that "the majority of the people" who come down with COVID "are the ones that took the jab" since they "literally infected you with the virus;" that being gay is "against nature" because "you never see two male dogs going at it and having kids;" and that "the doctrine of demons has so permeated our society in establishing a perverted mindset."
And who can forget his 2021 Halloween sermon?
No, it's a shade of witchcraft! Is probably what you're seeing. And you don't want to be bold enough to stand up and speak out against it. See, witchcraft is the religion of the fallen humanity. It's rooted in murder. Why do you think they fight so hard to keep abortion? I mean, to a lunatic frenzy! Because they know blood sacrifices to their god Molech.
All of these pronouncements were already public before last month's primary, but that didn't stop Guzofski, who is a member of the governing board in his hometown of Northwood, from scoring a 56-44 victory against Jessica Sternberg, an official with the state chapter of the College Republicans who had the support of party leaders. GOP donors weren't quite so fond of their nominee, though: Guzofski reported raising all of $450 as of early August (at which point he stopped filing financial reports altogether), which was less than 1% of Rafter's $47,000 haul.
● PA State House: Democrats once again hold a 102-101 majority in the Pennsylvania House following Lindsay Powell's 65-35 victory Tuesday over Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith in the 21st District, a constituency in the Pittsburgh area that supported Joe Biden 61-38. The win for Powell, who will be the first Black woman to represent this seat, marks the third night this year that Democrats have defended the one-seat edge they won last November.
● MD-Sen: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks this week picked up a Democratic primary endorsement from Rep. Glenn Ivey, who represents much of her geographic base.
● MI-Sen: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a Michigan Republican who was ejected from the 2022 primary ballot for governor over fraudulent signatures, seems to have trouble both starting and ending his campaigns.
Craig said just last month that he was 99% sure he'd run to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a figure that appeared to increase to 100% when he told Politico over the weekend, "I will be a candidate for the workers because I am a worker." He then tweeted out that same statement on Monday in boldface.
But while that declaration, as well as his accompanying assurance—"We are going to win"—sure sounded like the words of a man who is 100% sure he is running for office, no news outlet appears to be treating the former chief as a declared candidate. Craig himself has yet to set up a fundraising account with the FEC, so he still seems to be content to merely talk like a candidate rather than behave like one.
Yet this is by no means the first time Craig has turned the routine task of announcing a run for higher office into an adventure. He told the world in July of 2021 that he was forming an exploratory committee to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, even though that sort of entity doesn't actually exist under Michigan law. He then went on Fox hours later and unequivocally told Tucker Carlson, "I am running," but he still insisted on waiting almost two months before holding a formal campaign launch.
But as hard as it is to believe, Craig would have been better off if he'd just let his comments to Carlson serve as the final word on his plans. About 50 protesters showed up to his long-planned kickoff at Belle Isle Park and chanted slogans like "Black Lives Matter." Craig, as the Detroit Free Press described the scene, was drowned out as he made several unsuccessful attempts to deliver his remarks before giving up and belting out, "I've got one thing to say: I'm running for governor!"
The candidate, who promptly left after delivering that line, made his case against Whitmer later that day in a far more controlled setting at an event space in Detroit, but almost all of the media coverage focused on his misbegotten first try. "I feel like they were paid," the Republican said of the demonstrators. "I don't have any hard evidence, but I feel like they were paid."
Craig also baselessly speculated that the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Belle Isle, was in on a plan to disrupt his launch. "They indicated they were going to come and move the protesters back," he told the Detroit News. "That never happened. So it makes me wonder if it was by design." However, the Free Press soon obtained texts in which a campaign staffer informed a parks official they understood that managing the crowd was "not on you guys." That Belle Isle event foreshadowed the chaotic operation that Craig would run over the next eight months, which culminated in him failing to make the ballot at all and waging a doomed write-in effort.
Normally, when a major (okay, or "major") candidate enters a race, our practice at Daily Kos Elections is to provide our readers with a reasonably detailed backgrounder on the new entrant—beyond their failed campaign launches, that is—and the race awaiting them. But given Craig's history, we think it's probably prudent if we hold off.
● UT-Sen: Rod Bird, the mayor of the small community of Roosevelt (pop. 7,000), declared Monday that he was joining the GOP primary and would self-fund $1 million in his quest to succeed retiring incumbent Mitt Romney.
● LA-Gov: Mason-Dixon's new survey for Gray Television shows Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry with a clear lead in both the Oct. 14 all-party primary and in each potential matchup for the likely Nov. 18 runoff. The firm has Landry in first in the former contest with 40% as the only serious Democrat, former state Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson, beats former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack 24-9 for second place.
Mason-Dixon goes on to find Landry defeating Wilson 52-39 in round two and enjoying a larger 52-27 edge against Waguespack, who is his fellow Republican; Landry posts an even larger lead in hypothetical matchups against three other foes. A month-old survey from Faucheux Strategies also showed the attorney general decisively beating Wilson, though it didn't test any other runoff scenarios.
● AZ-01: Former TV news anchor Marlene Galán-Woods has earned an endorsement from 7th District Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who represents much of southern Arizona, in the Democratic primary to face GOP incumbent David Schweikert in a swingy seat in the Phoenix area.
● CT-05: Kevin Rennie of Daily Ructions reported Monday that unnamed GOP leaders are recruiting former ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele to challenge Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes, and she didn't rule it out when the Indianapolis Star's Dana Hunsinger Benbow asked her about it that same day. "No comment on this," said Steele, who is an Indiana University alum, "but I appreciate you asking."
Steele attracted attention in 2021 when she publicly denounced the COVID vaccine mandate from Walt Disney Co., which owns ESPN; her employer temporarily took her off the air over this and for what Benbow says were "comments questioning former President Barack Obama's identification as Black on the census and sexual harassment of women sports reporters." Steele, after apologizing, filed a lawsuit against ESPN, and the parties recently reached an out-of-court settlement.
Joe Biden carried this seat, which includes northern Fairfield County and northwestern Connecticut, 55-44, but former state Sen. George Logan held Hayes to a 50.4-49.6 victory last year. The head of the state GOP told CT Insider last month that "[w]e're hoping George will be getting in soon," and Politico reported shortly before Labor Day that Logan was "likely" to run again.
● IN-05: Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz hinted that she might rethink her retirement decision on Monday in the midst of a fight with the man she called a "weak Speaker," Kevin McCarthy.
Spartz reacted to McCarthy's declaration that "[i]f Victoria is concerned about fighting stronger I wish she would run again and not quit" by tweeting, "I wish @SpeakerMcCarthy would work as hard at governing our country as he does at collecting checks but his wish might come true." After a blush emoji, she added, "I do need to regroup to win the war but considering the significance of this battle maybe I should win it first."
● MD-06: April McClain-Delaney announced Tuesday she was stepping down from her post at the U.S. Commerce Department, a move that came about a week after MoCo360 reported that she'd launch a bid for the Democratic nod in October.
● TX-32: State Rep. Rhetta Bowers declared Tuesday that she would campaign for the safely blue seat that her fellow Democrat, Rep. Colin Allred, is giving up to run for the Senate, a declaration that came more than three months after she surprised observers by announcing she'd run for reelection rather than seek a promotion. The new contender entered the race with an endorsement from former 30th District Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson; Johnson only represented 17% of this seat when she retired in January, but she was a prominent figure in Dallas-area politics during her 30 years in the House.
Bowers did not say why she'd changed her mind about running, though one of her rivals, fellow state Rep. Julie Johnson (no relation to the former congresswoman), was quick to argue to the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek that Bowers "has flip-flopped on her previous statement about running to Texas voters." Bowers, for her part, took a not very subtle dig at Johnson in a launch video that highlighted how Bowers had joined and remained with other state House Democrats by flying to D.C. in a 2021 effort to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a voter suppression bill.
While that video does not mention Johnson directly, Svitek notes that she was one of the two members described in the Tribune headline contained in Bowers' video reading, "Two House Democrats who broke quorum missing from Washington, D.C., reportedly vacationing in Portugal." "I was away from my family for 38 days and when some broke ranks," Bowers tells the audience about the unsuccessful drive to stop the bill. "I stood on principle until the bitter end."
The Democratic field also includes 2022 state Board of Education nominee Alex Cornwallis, civil rights attorney Justin Moore, and trauma surgeon Brian Williams. A runoff would take place if no contender won a majority of the vote in the first round of the primary.
● VA-10: The Richmond Times-Dispatch mentions Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall as a possible contender to succeed Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a fellow Democrat who is retiring for health reasons. Randall, whose 2015 win made her the first Black woman to chair a board of supervisors anywhere in the state, has not said anything publicly about this contest.
On the Republican side, 2022 nominee Hung Cao's team says he'll continue his campaign against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine rather than run here.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor & TX-18: The Texas secretary of state's office announced Tuesday that Houston's runoff will take place Dec. 9 for any contests where no one wins a majority of the vote in the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary, a date that comes two days before the filing deadline to compete in the 2024 state and federal party primaries. The frontrunners for mayor are Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, and neither Democrat has said if they'd run for reelection should they lose this fall's race.
● Brereton Jones: Brereton Jones, a Kentucky Democrat who won his only term as governor in 1991, died Monday at the age of 84. Jones got his start in elected office in 1964 in both a different party and a different state when he won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican, but he later got involved in Bluegrass State Democratic politics and won the lieutenant governor's office in 1987. You can find more about Jones' subsequent governorship, including his successful push to allow his successors to seek a second consecutive term, in the Lexington Herald-Leader's obituary.
This piece has been corrected to accurately note the results of the 2022 contest in Connecticut’s 5th District.