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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● ME-02: Republican state Rep. Austin Theriault kicked off his campaign on Monday to take on Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in a northern Maine district that Donald Trump would have won 52-46 in 2020. Theriault's entry gives national Republicans their preferred candidate in one of just five House seats nationwide that favored Trump in 2020 yet elected a Democrat in 2022.
This rural district has a large working-class white population and had backed Democrats for decades before it lurched sharply to the right in the past decade. However, Golden, who is one of the most moderate Democrats in Congress, has proved to be a strong campaigner. Golden first won the previous version of this seat by narrowly ousting GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2018, and he held onto it in two more heavily contested races, including a 53-47 victory last year in an expensive rematch against Poliquin.
Theriault is a former NASCAR driver who made it to the top level of American racing, the NASCAR Cup Series, in 2019, where he competed five times before an injury led him to become a driver consultant. (His career-best performance in the NASCAR Cup Series was 32nd place.) Last year, he won elected office for the first time when he flipped the seat long held by retiring Democratic state Rep. John Martin, who served as the powerful speaker of the House from 1975 to 1994. Theriault won that open seat 69-31 two years after it favored Trump by a much smaller 54-44, according to Dave's Redistricting App—a sign Theriault could be a strong general election candidate.
Although Theriault has reportedly consolidated the support of national GOP leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his allies, he'll first have to get through a Republican primary. Theriault's GOP rivals include fellow state Rep. Mike Soboleski, who recently launched his own campaign and is running as a steadfast Trump ally, as well as mortgage broker Robert Cross, an underfunded candidate who unsuccessfully sought the nod for a state Senate seat last year. Hard-line state Rep. Laurel Libby also said earlier this month that she hasn't decided if she'll also get in.
Both the primary and general elections will be conducted using instant-runoff voting.
● AL Redistricting: The court-appointed special master in the Alabama congressional redistricting case has filed his three recommended maps with the court for the judges to consider, which follows the court’s recent rejection of the new map GOP lawmakers adopted in July. All three of the special master's proposals would be likely to see a Black Democrat replace a white Republican if adopted for next year, doubling the number of districts where Black voters can elect their preferred candidates.
All three plans would significantly revamp the 2nd District compared to the GOP's invalidated maps by linking the cities of Montgomery and Mobile, both of which have large Black populations, via the rural Black Belt region while dropping whiter rural areas outside the Black Belt. However, the special master put a high priority on preserving as much of the GOP's blocked 2023 map as possible elsewhere in the state. Consequently, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th districts would be unchanged from the GOP’s new map while the 6th and 7th would see only small changes.
The parties to the case have until Thursday to file briefs commenting on the proposed maps, and the court will hold a hearing over any objections on Oct. 3. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers are still appealing to the Supreme Court to try to keep their 2023 map in place for next year, but their odds of success are low.
● AZ-Sen: After NBC News obtained an internal document from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's campaign laying out a potential strategy to win a three-way general election, a spokesperson for the Democrat-turned-independent said that Sinema "has not announced or decided one way or another" whether she'll seek a second term, though they noted she has "been actively fundraising." Notably, the document itself indicated that Sinema's team thought the centrist senator's path to victory would involve taking more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.
While few relevant polls have been released in recent months, the handful we have seen have generally found Sinema languishing in third place, behind both Rep. Ruben Gallego, who is the only notable Democratic candidate, and various hypothetical Republican nominees. The Republican field currently includes Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, but he has struggled to raise money, while Blake Masters and Kari Lake—the GOP's 2022 nominees for Senate and governor, respectively—have flirted with their own Senate bids. Recent reporting has indicated that Lake is likely to announce her candidacy next month.
● NJ-Sen: The progressive group VoteVets has endorsed Rep. Andy Kim's nascent Democratic primary challenge against indicted incumbent Bob Menendez. While Kim is not a military veteran, he served as a national security adviser during the Obama administration and as a civilian adviser to Army Gens. David Petraeus and John Allen in Afghanistan.
● NC-Gov: Raleigh-based Meredith College has released a new poll that includes matchups for next year's primaries for governor. On the GOP side, they find Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson with a 34-7 edge over former Rep. Mark Walker, while no other candidate tops 3% and the plurality, 44%, is undecided. On the Democratic side, state Attorney General Josh Stein leads former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan 33-11, while 46% are undecided.
● NJ-08: As the fallout from Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez's indictment for corruption last week continues to unfold, a new story from the New Jersey Globe indicates that the senator's troubles could endanger the political career of his son, freshman Rep. Rob Menendez, who represents the Jersey City-area 8th District. The Globe reported Monday that Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla is reaching out to Democratic insiders to gauge their support for a primary challenge against the younger Menendez, and Bhalla's spokesperson confirmed that his boss is "seriously considering running for Congress."
Last year, Rob Menendez easily won his first term in public office, representing this safely Democratic district, which the elder Menendez himself held from 1993 to 2006, in large part thanks to his father's sway with the local county Democratic parties. Local party support plays a key role in New Jersey primaries since the ballot format typically gives party-endorsed candidates a big advantage over their rivals.
While the younger Menendez was not implicated in Friday's indictment against the senator, he was the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation who defended his father after the news broke. Given the Menendez family's close ties to the local county parties in this majority-Latino district, Rob Menendez may still be a formidable incumbent to take on. However, if someone like Bhalla were to run, it would already mean the incumbent would be facing a more prominent foe than in his initial election, when he won an open seat without major opposition.
● NV-03: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has endorsed Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in this 52-46 Biden seat in the southern Las Vegas area. Kasama kicked off her campaign last month and had already earned an endorsement from GOP Gov. Joe Lombardo.
● OH-09: 2022 GOP nominee J.R. Majewski, the QAnon ally whose disastrous campaign for this red-leaning seat resulted in a 57-43 landslide loss against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur last year, announced that he "definitely" wants to run again and would decide by early October. Majewski previously kicked off a bid for a rematch against Kaptur only to drop out back in May, but he's since attacked his party's establishment for lining up behind former state Rep. Craig Riedel, who lost 36-31 to Majewski in last year's primary.
● PA Supreme Court: Planned Parenthood's super PAC has announced it will launch a seven-figure ad buy for TV, streaming, and digital spots opposing Republican nominee Carolyn Carluccio. Their first TV ad attacks Carluccio for deleting her anti-abortion views from her campaign website and relying on the support of "MAGA Republicans" who favor a total ban with "no exceptions for rape or incest."
Carluccio, who is a local judge in Montgomery County, is running against Democratic Superior Court Judge Dan McCaffery this November for a state Supreme Court seat that has been vacant since Democratic Chief Justice Max Baer died this past September. Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority, with just this seat vacant.
Correction: The photo for this story originally identified Democratic Rep. Jared Golden as a Republican