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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● NJ-Sen: Rep. Andy Kim announced Saturday that he was launching a 2024 Democratic primary challenge against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a declaration that came one day after federal prosecutors indicted the incumbent and his wife on corruption charges.
Kim, who was the first major Democrat in the state to call for Menendez to leave office, highlighted the senator's defiance in a statement reading, "After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said, ‘I am not going anywhere.’ As a result, I feel compelled to run against him." The congressman, who won his South Jersey constituency in 2018 by unseating GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, would be the first Korean American to serve in the upper chamber, as well as the first Asian American senator from a state east of Illinois.
Menendez was previously charged in an unrelated matter in 2015 (federal authorities dropped the charges after the jury failed to reach a verdict in 2017, and he won reelection the next year), but this time, most of the state's powerful party establishment is telling him to quit rather than standing behind him. Among the many Democrats calling for the senator's resignation are Gov. Phil Murphy, who would be tasked with filling a vacant seat; most of the state's House delegation; the leaders of both state legislative chambers; and several county party chairs, whose endorsements carry a great deal of weight in party primaries.
About the only major Garden State Democrat who has defended the incumbent so far is Rep. Rob Menendez, who happens to be the defendant's son. The chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, which contains the senator's longtime base, meanwhile told Politico he plans to stay neutral for now.
All of this is a big reversal from just one month ago when Politico's Matt Friedman reported that, not only were Democratic officials standing behind Menendez amid reports of new investigations, but the one person the outlet contacted "who was willing to say anything that Menendez could possibly construe as disloyal" was former Sen. Bob Torricelli. (Torricelli, whose own career ended in scandal two decades ago, still made it clear he wouldn't run against the incumbent.)
However, things started to go differently Friday morning after party power players saw some of the salacious details in his latest indictment, including pictures of gold bars that prosecutors say the senator accepted as bribes from people connected to Egypt's dictatorial government.
Menendez, who was required to step down as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee because of Democratic Caucus rules, may have been counting on a repeat of 2015 when he put out a statement declaring, "For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave." However, while party leaders were ready with statements of support eight years ago (the Senate Historical Office tells the Associated Press that he appears to be the first sitting senator to face criminal charges for two unrelated matters), they greeted this indictment first with silence and then with calls for his resignation.
The only notable Democrat who was challenging Menendez before Saturday was Kyle Jasey, the head of a real estate lending company and the son of retiring Assemblywoman Mila Jase, but he has attracted little attention. It's possible other Democrats will follow Kim and take on the incumbent, though party leaders could avert a crowded field by closing ranks behind one person. The primary dynamics would also be different if Menendez retired or stepped down to allow Murphy to appoint a successor: The timing of such a departure would help decide if and when there's a special election for the remainder of his term.
It's also possible that, should Menendez somehow win renomination, the incumbent could step aside during the general election and let the party pick a new standard bearer. Indeed, this very thing famously happened in 2002 when the aforementioned Torricelli, under pressure from Democratic leaders, ended his reelection bid in late September in the face of ugly polling numbers: The party replaced him with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, whom Torricelli once threatened to castrate, and he easily won the seat in the fall.
Republicans haven't won a New Jersey Senate race since 1972, which is their second-longest such losing streak in any state. The GOP would have a tough time breaking that streak against anyone but Menendez, but that's not stopping Rep. Jeff Van Drew from expressing interest in a statewide run. Van Drew, a former longtime Democrat who infamously joined the GOP in 2019 during his first year in Congress, told the conservative blog Save Jersey on Saturday, "I have been honored that people across New Jersey have asked that I consider running for the United States Senate, and I will be making that consideration."
Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner launched her own campaign less than a week before Menendez was indicted, while former state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff also recently expressed interest. One Republican who quickly ruled out the race, though, is former Gov. Chris Christie, who is waging a longshot bid for president. Joe Biden carried the state 57-41 two years after the senator won reelection 54-43 against wealthy Republican Bob Hugin.
● AL Redistricting: The outside expert hired to assist a federal court with redrawing Alabama’s congressional map recently invited the public to submit their own maps as part of that process, and the Daily Kos Elections team took him up on his offer by filing a court brief of our own earlier this month. In it, we proposed two different maps to remedy what the court ruled were likely Voting Rights Act violations by Republican lawmakers.
The court took over the redistricting process earlier this month after blocking the new map that Republicans had enacted in July after the judges struck down the GOP’s first map, which was used in last year’s elections, for violating the rights of Black voters. The GOP’s invalidated maps had packed Black voters into just one heavily Democratic district to ensure the other six would remain safe for white Republicans, and the court ordered that a second district be drawn that would elect Black voters’ chosen candidate, who would almost certainly be a Black Democrat.
Our proposals would both significantly revamp the 2nd District and turn it into a majority-Black district that would likely lead to Democrats gaining a seat next year if adopted. Both plans would also ensure that Black voters would retain the ability to elect their preferred candidates in the 7th District, though the maps differed in just how the two districts would be drawn.
The court-appointed expert has a Monday deadline to prepare three different proposals to submit to the court for its consideration, meaning we’ll soon find out whether our maps and others submitted by the public had any impact. See our full story for a more detailed accounting of why Alabama’s map must be redrawn, why we drew our maps the way we did, and where you can find interactive versions of our two maps along with their political and demographic statistics.
● UT-Sen: This is one we haven't heard before: Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News that he was giving state House Speaker Brad Wilson a "tentative" endorsement in the GOP primary. The governor, though, didn't sound at all tentative about the speaker, who is set to announce his bid Sept. 27, declaring, "I just love Brad. I don't know what we call that." He continued to gush, "He doesn't need my endorsement. He didn't ask for my endorsement. It's just I really like Brad and think he would be really good but right now I don't even know who's running yet."
● CA-22: Chris Mathys, a perennial candidate who last year came close to denying Rep. David Valadao a place in the general election, tells 17 News he's decided to once again challenge his fellow Republican. Two Democrats, 2022 nominee Rudy Salas and state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, are already running in the March top-two primary, so it's possible that two candidates from the same party will advance to the general election for this 55-42 Biden seat.
Mathys previously served on the Fresno City Council before moving to New Mexico and losing campaigns in the Land of Enchantment in 2018 and 2020. Mathys relocated back to California in time to launch an intra-party campaign against Valadao following the incumbent's vote to impeach Donald Trump. (The 22nd District does not include Fresno.) Mathys, who self-funded almost all of his campaign's budget, attracted little outside attention for most of the race, and Trump didn't even bother to endorse him ahead of the top-two primary.
The Democratic-affiliated House Majority PAC, though, saw a late opportunity to knock out Valadao well ahead of the general election, and it ran ads late in the contest to boost Mathys by ostensibly attacking him as "100% pro-Trump and proud." But the congressman's allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund deployed even more money on their own campaign to sink Mathys, an investment that helped Valadao fend off the upstart 26-23 for the second spot in the general election. Salas, who was the only Democrat on the ballot, easily took first with 45% of the vote, but Valadao fended him off 52-48 in the fall.
Mathys is hoping Trump will gift him an endorsement this time, a sentiment that plenty of Democrats likely share. "The first thing and most important thing to me is to see that President Trump gets elected president and that we have a majority of Republicans that support him," he told 17 News in an interview where he also slammed Valadao as "not a Republican."
● NJ-03: Democratic Rep. Andy Kim's decision to run for the Senate opens up his 3rd District, a once-competitive South Jersey constituency that became significantly more Democratic after the tiebreaker on the state's bipartisan redistricting commission voted for the Democratic-backed map. Joe Biden would have carried the current version of this seat 56-42, while Donald Trump prevailed 49.4-49.2 under the old boundaries, which the commission drew last decade by selecting the Republican plan.
Several of Kim's fellow Democrats have already expressed interest in running to succeed him: state Senate Majority Whip Troy Singleton, state Assembly Majority Whip Carol Murphy, and Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello. Murphy tells the New Jersey Globe she'll decide after the Nov. 7 legislative elections, but David Wildstein relays that party sources say "she is extraordinarily likely to enter the race." Sollami Covello, meanwhile, told the site, "I am waiting to see who else is running."
Wildstein mentions several other Democrats as possible options: Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo; Marlboro Mayor Jon Hornik; Hamilton Township Mayor Jeff Martin; and Mercer County Democratic chair Janice Mironov. On the GOP side, Wildstein names Assemblymembers Vicky Flynn and Brandon Umba; Burlington County GOP chairman Sean Earlen; and 2022 nominee Bob Healey, who lost to Kim 55-44.
● OH-13: Attorney Greg Wheeler said Thursday that he was dropping out of the GOP primary to face Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes. Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg, a regional medical device company executive who now has the field to himself, meanwhile told The Repository that he has the support of Sen. J.D. Vance.
● VA-10: While no notable Democrats have publicly expressed interest in campaigning to succeed Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who announced Monday she'd retire for health reasons, Politico's Brittany Gibson reports that at least three members of the House of Delegates are interested: Dan Helmer, David Reid, and Suhas Subramanyam. Subramanyam is the party's nominee on Nov. 7 for a safely blue state Senate seat, while Helmer and Reid are similarly favored to win reelection.
An unnamed GOP source speculates to Gibson that 2022 nominee Hung Cao could drop his Senate campaign and run here again, though Cao's own team said Tuesday he'd continue his longshot bid against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Joe Biden carried the current version of this Northern Virginia seat 58-40 in 2020 a year before Democrat Terry McAuliffe took it by a small 51-49 spread in his unsuccessful race for governor, and both parties are looking at this year's legislative and local races for early clues about the 2024 climate.
● OH Ballot: The anti-abortion group Protect Women Ohio's opening spot for the Nov. 7 campaign argues that the proposed abortion rights amendment, which would safeguard reproductive rights up to 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, would allow "late-term abortions" to take place. The amendment actually states that abortion "may be prohibited after fetal viability," adding, "But in no case may such an abortion be prohibited if in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient's treating physician it is necessary to protect the pregnant patient's life or health."
PWO, though, is hoping that words like "late term-abortion" are enough to scare off voters. It deploys an old clip of Joe Biden agreeing with the late Tim Russert that he supported this ban before it shows more recent footage of Donald Trump saying he also favors prohibiting it. "Republicans and Democrats," intones the narrator, "oppose the late-term abortions allowed under Issue 1. Join them." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that just 1% of all abortions in the U.S. happen after 21 weeks.
The Cincinnati Enquirer says PWO booked $94,000 to air the spot during Saturday's game between Ohio State University and Notre Dame across several media markets. The commercial, though, will not be running in the Columbus market, which is home to OSU and 22% of the state's residents, because of the high cost of airing spots during the game.
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, meanwhile, is running a spot where a couple describes how they needed an abortion: "[A]t 18 weeks, doctors told us that there was no way she was going to be able to live." "But the government here in Ohio took that decision away from us," they continue, saying they had to go to another state to get the procedure. "What happened to us could happen to anyone."
MAYORS AND COUNTY LEADERS
● Bridgeport, CT Mayor: State election officials announced Wednesday that they would investigate a surveillance video from the Sept. 5 Democratic primary where a woman appears to be repeatedly inserting documents into a ballot drop box. Mayor Joe Ganim, whose career has survived numerous scandals―including a seven-year prison stint―edged out former city chief administrative officer John Gomes 52-48, but the challenger is contesting his apparent defeat in court.
The two are already set to face off again this year, as Gomes will be the state Independent Party's nominee in the Nov. 7 general election. Lamond Daniels, a former city official who failed to collect enough signatures to make the Democratic primary ballot, confirmed Friday that he'll be running as an independent, while Republican David Herz is also campaigning to lead this dark blue city.
● Dallas, TX Mayor: Mayor Eric Johnson used a Friday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to announce he was defecting from the Democratic Party to the GOP, a decision that makes Dallas the largest city in America with a Republican mayor three years after it gave 70% of its vote to Joe Biden. Johnson won this May's nonpartisan race for a second term without opposition, and term limits will prevent him from running again in 2027. His party switch makes Johnson the first Republican to lead Dallas since Tom Leppert served as mayor from 2007 to 2011.
Johnson previously served in the state House's Democratic minority from 2010 to 2019. He attracted attention for leading the successful charge to remove a plaque from the legislature that had lionized the Confederacy and pledged to pass on the lie that the Civil War "was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery." He also launched a quixotic 2018 bid to serve as speaker, declaring, "What Texas needs is a strong, pro-growth, progressive leader presiding over the Texas House to act as a counterbalance to a far-right governor and lieutenant governor."
Johnson had far more success the next year when he won the race for mayor with support from termed-out Democratic incumbent Mike Rawlings and plenty of prominent business leaders, a win that made him the city's second Black chief executive. His electoral successes didn't always translate to policy wins, though, as the city council decisively voted Wednesday to pass a new $4.6 billion budget over his opposition, with Johnson complaining it didn't do enough to cut property taxes. (Notably, Dallas is one of the largest U.S. cities with a council-manager system of government instead of a strong mayor).
The "strong, pro-growth, progressive leader" took to the Wall Street Journal two days later to explain his party switch by saying that "the overwhelming majority of Americans who call our cities home deserve to have real choices—not 'progressive' echo chambers—at city hall." Democratic state Rep. John Bryant, meanwhile, responded to the news by tweeting, "Switching parties? I didn't know he was a Democrat."
● Harris County, TX Judge: Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer announced Thursday evening that she was withdrawing her lawsuit challenging her narrow defeat by Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo in last year's race to lead Texas' most populous county, whose nearly 5 million residents make it the third-largest in the nation.
● Houston, TX Mayor: State Sen. John Whitmire debuted a commercial Wednesday starring two prominent local Democrats, Rep. Sylvia Garcia and fellow state Sen. Carol Alvarado, defending Whitmire's support for abortion rights and gun safety and opposition to "MAGA extremists." The ad came about a week after Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee debuted a digital ad declaring that Whitmire has the support of "Trump Republicans who want to make abortion a crime," though it's not clear if the spot is now airing on TV.
Whitmire and Jackson Lee are the frontrunners going into the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary, but their opponents are hoping to change that. Attorney Lee Kaplan launched a spot earlier this month where he pitches himself as an alternative to those rivals, whom he calls "career politicians with the wrong priorities." Wealthy businessman Gilbert Garcia, who recently told the Houston Chronicle "I'm going to have one of the biggest TV buys," is also airing a commercial using similar lines against Whitmire and Jackson Lee.
PROSECUTORS AND SHERIFFS
● Allegheny County, PA District Attorney & Executive: District Attorney Stephen Zappala is airing his first TV commercial since he lost the May Democratic primary, though WESA notes that the messaging isn't much different than it was months ago. "Matt Dugan fights for criminals that you elected me to convict," says Zappala of his opponent, a former chief public defender who beat him 56-44 the same night that the 25-year incumbent was winning the GOP nod through a write-in campaign. And while Zappala remains a registered Democrat, the footage of crime from Philadelphia and San Francisco would be right at home in any GOP ad.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that Zappala has spent or reserved $150,000 on TV while Dugan's side has yet to take to the airwaves for the second round. However, that's far behind the $815,000 that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that Republican Joe Rockey and his allies have deployed as he wages an uphill battle to become executive of a county that favored Joe Biden 59-39. Democrat Sara Innamorato, according to the PPG, also has yet to buy airtime for the general election.