The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
Subscribe to The Downballot, our weekly podcast
● OH Redistricting: In a dismaying turn of events on Tuesday, both Democratic members of Ohio's bipartisan redistricting commission sided with their five Republican counterparts to approve new legislative gerrymanders that would likely lock in the GOP's three-fifths supermajorities just like the maps they were replacing. Despite winning just 53-45 statewide in 2020, Donald Trump would have carried a 24-9 majority of state Senate districts and a 63-36 majority of state House districts according to Dave's Redistricting App.
New maps were required for 2024 because the state Supreme Court had struck down the GOP's five prior sets of maps in 2022 for violating an Ohio constitutional amendment banning partisan gerrymandering. However, that flawed amendment didn't let the court draw its own maps after striking down illegal districts, so the GOP successfully ran out the clock for 2022 and was able to use a set of the unconstitutional maps last year thanks to a ruling by federal judges appointed by Donald Trump.
The state Supreme Court had held that the proportion of districts favoring each party must reflect the 54-46 advantage that Republicans had in statewide elections over the previous decade, but it's unlikely that the court will reject this sixth set of maps for benefiting Republicans well beyond that range. That's because those 2022 rulings saw Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor side with the court's three Democrats to reject the gerrymanders, but age limits required O'Connor to retire last year, enabling hard-line Republicans to solidify a 4-3 GOP majority in November's elections.
Due to the state court's rightward lurch, new Republican gerrymanders for 2024 were practically guaranteed. State Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio and state House Minority Leader Allison Russo, who are the commission's two Democratic members, defended their "yes" votes by claiming the GOP would have passed even worse gerrymanders if they hadn't compromised, and that they still viewed the end results as unfair.
However, the GOP's draft proposals from last week were not drastically worse for Democrats than the maps Antonio and Russo approved, and it appeared that the compromise maps sacrificed partisan fairness for protecting Democratic incumbents. By providing them with bipartisan support, the Democratic commissioners likely ensured that the maps would remain valid for the rest of this decade, since maps passed on a party-line basis would only be valid for four years. Furthermore, this bogus bipartisanship could undermine the support for passing real redistricting reform in the future.
Ohio found itself in this situation because of two amendments that the Republican-dominated legislature put on the ballot and were subsequently approved by voters last decade. While these amendments purported to ban partisan gerrymandering and marginally improved upon the status quo, we noted at the time that they were fundamentally flawed and appeared designed to thwart efforts to pass truly fair reforms at the ballot box, like those passed by Michigan voters in 2018. The repeated rounds of unconstitutional maps following the 2020 census made these flaws readily apparent.
While Ohio will again be stuck with GOP gerrymanders in 2024, there is a potential way forward for voters. O'Connor, the former chief justice, is leading an effort with other good-government advocates to use a ballot initiative for November 2024 that would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw new legislative and congressional maps beginning with the 2026 elections, an initiative we previously explored in detail here.
Unlike previous flawed reforms, this proposal would strip elected officials of their control over the process, handing it to a citizens' commission, and set clearer standards for partisan fairness. Supporters are in the process of getting GOP officials to sign off on their ballot summary and the validity of their proposal before they can begin gathering voter signatures to get onto the November 2024 ballot.
● The Virginia House flipped to Democrats in 2019 and back to Republicans in 2021. Can Democrats win the three seats they need to regain control of the chamber? Blue Virginia's Lowell Feld joins us to run through the key races in both the Virginia Senate and House and how Democrats can win both chambers this November. We also look to 2024 and discuss some key announcements in competitive Virginia Congressional races.
Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also cover the huge news out of New Jersey, where Sen. Bob Menendez has been indicted (again) and this time most state and national Democrats are not standing by him. We also discuss the long-awaited entrance of hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick into the Pennsylvania Senate race for Republicans; the Supreme Court rejecting Alabama's long shot attempt to prevent a new Congressional map; and the gerrymandered state legislative maps Ohioans will be using for at least one cycle.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern time.
● CA-Sen: The Public Policy Institute of California's new survey shows Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter advancing out of the March top-two primary, which is the same outcome that UC Berkeley found in its most recent poll. PPIC shows Schiff in first with 20% as Porter edges out a third Democratic representative, Barbara Lee, 15-8.
● MI-Sen: Businessman Perry Johnson, who has failed to qualify for either GOP presidential debate despite spending millions of his own money, tells NBC he may run for the Senate after all. Johnson, whose primary bid for governor ended last year after he fell victim to a fraudulent petition signature scandal, insists, "I've only had, what, somewhere between 100 to 150 calls [to be] running for Senate."
● NJ-Sen: Rep. Donald Norcross didn't rule out a Democratic primary challenge to indicted incumbent Bob Menendez on Tuesday, telling the New Jersey Globe, "There are a number of things that are taking place right now in the state of New Jersey that are of great concern to everyone. We'll take it one day at a time." Norcross is the brother of George Norcross, a longtime party power player who has watched his influence diminish in recent years.
The Star-Ledger's Tom Moran also writes that former Rep. Tom Malinowski is considering, though there's no word from him. Malinowski lost a tight 2022 reelection contest against Republican Tom Kean Jr., and the Democrat announced earlier this year that he wouldn't try to regain his old seat.
● UT-Sen: Utah state House Speaker Brad Wilson on Wednesday launched his long-anticipated campaign for the Senate seat held by his fellow Republican, retiring incumbent Mitt Romney, and he entered the primary as the frontrunner. However, he got a reminder that the nomination battle remains unsettled hours before his kickoff when Rep. John Curtis told the Deseret News he was “very seriously” considering joining the race.
Wilson's exploratory committee finished June with $2.1 million in the bank thanks to a combination of fundraising and self-funding, and it remains to be seen if any of his intra-party foes will have the resources to put up a serious fight. However, as we've noted before, Wilson may not be quite right-wing enough to satisfy his party's base who would prefer someone in the mold of the Beehive State's other senator, Mike Lee. Political scientist Damon Cann told the Associated Press, "I think most people are expecting Brad Wilson would govern somewhat more conservatively. I think he would be toward the political center from where Mike Lee’s at but I think he would be more conservative than Mitt Romney has been."
Wilson made sure to emphasize his hardline credentials ahead of his launch: His campaign rolled out endorsements in August from fellow legislators that featured testimonials calling him a "conservative champion" and someone who worked to "advance pro-life legislation." (Altogether, three-quarters of House Republicans and two-thirds of the Senate caucus backed him.) However, while Wilson has indeed helped pass anti-abortion legislation, the AP also noted that he helped stop the legislature from formally rebuking none other than Romney in 2020 for his vote to convict Donald Trump during his first impeachment trial.
Wilson joins a contest that includes two mayors, Riverton's Trent Staggs and Roosevelt's Rod Bird. Staggs launched his campaign in late May but raised little during his first month, while Bird pledged to self-fund $1 million when he entered the race last week. Conservative activist Carolyn Phippen is also talking about running, and Curtis and other Republicans could end up campaigning to represent this dark red state.
● AL-02: John Sharp of AL.com takes a look at the many Democrats who could run for the 2nd District now that the U.S. Supreme Court has paved the way for a lower court to adopt a new map that creates a second district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate. The exact boundaries of the new 2nd are not yet known, though judges next month will consider three different maps that each link Montgomery and Mobile.
The four state legislators who tell Sharp they're thinking about getting in are state Sens. Vivian Figures and Merika Coleman and state Reps. Napoleon Bracy and Juandalynn Givan. Figures, who was the 2008 nominee against then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, hails from Mobile, while Bracy is from the nearby suburb of Prichard. Coleman and Givan both represent Birmingham, which would not be located in the 2nd under any of the trio of maps advanced by the court-appointed expert.
Sharp also mentions two Montgomery-based politicians, state Sen. Kirk Hatcher and Mayor Steven Reed, as possibilities, though neither of them commented for his article. Reed, though, didn't rule out a House bid in July during his reelection campaign, saying instead, "I don't know what I'm going to do. For one, I've got to win first." He did indeed win by a convincing 57-39 the next month.
Most Republicans are treating this seat like an automatic Democratic flip, but former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker argues that he could run and win it for his party. Brewbaker, who unlike all the aforementioned Democrats is white, predicts to Sharp that if the general election comes down to "straight-up racial polarization ... the Republicans can potentially hang onto the seat."
● AL-07: Bobby Singleton, who serves as minority leader in the Alabama state Senate, announced Tuesday that he was forming an exploratory committee for a potential Democratic primary bid against Rep. Terri Sewell in the safely blue 7th District. A federal court will choose a new congressional map next month after blocking two consecutive maps enacted by GOP lawmakers for violating the Voting Rights Act, but there's little question that this will remain a majority-Black and heavily Democratic district covering parts of both the Black Belt and the Birmingham region.
Singleton, who was first elected in 2002 to represent part of the Black Belt in the legislature, argued to AL.com that Sewell hasn't done a good job serving his area. He instead argued that he could effectively represent the entire district, including Birmingham's Jefferson County. The congresswoman, who grew up in Selma in the Black Belt and resides in Birmingham, has not faced any serious primary opposition since she first won an open seat in 2010.
As one of multiple sets of plaintiffs in the litigation against the GOP's 2021 gerrymander, Singleton had tried to redraw the 7th District in a way that plenty of his fellow Democrats were unhappy with. The minority leader proposed a new map that split relatively few counties but didn't contain a single majority-Black seat: Instead African American residents would form a tiny 46.8-46.6 plurality in his 7th, while the other six seats would remain majority white.
Singleton's side would argue that the state was wrong to continue to divide Jefferson County's predominantly Black and white areas, claiming that the best solution was to unite the county in one district. After the courts blocked the GOP's 2023 map earlier this month, Singleton proposed another plan where all of Jefferson County and a small part of neighboring Shelby County would be based in the 6th, which is currently represented by GOP Rep. Gary Palmer, while Sewell's 7th would contain most of the Black Belt by adding all of the Montgomery area.
According to Dave's Redistricting App, Joe Biden would have carried both the 6th and the 7th under Singleton's latest plan. However, because several downballot Republicans over the past decade won or only narrowly lost the 6th, the GOP would have had a good chance to maintain control of six of the seven seats.
A different set of litigants known as the Milligan plaintiffs proposed a new map where Black voters would be a majority in two districts, but Singleton's side continued to promote their boundaries as the best solution. Several fellow Democrats were unconvinced, with state House Minority Caucus Chair Chris England reposting a thread from journalist Kareem Crayton declaring, "There are more problems with this case than I can discuss here." Sewell's team also filed a brief excoriating the proposed map.
A court-appointed expert tasked with assisting the judges proposed three maps on Monday for their consideration that largely mirrored the Milligan plaintiffs' proposal. The lower court will likely adopt one of them or something similar early next month.
While Singleton isn't getting the map he wants, he expressed interest Tuesday in taking on Sewell anyway. "I'm not running in the new district," he told Alabama Daily News Tuesday, "I'm running in Congresswoman Sewell's, that's what I want, I want the big fish." In a separate interview that day with AL.com, though, he acknowledged he hadn't actually decided, saying, "If the exploratory committee comes back with something positive, we'll be in it. If not, we wish [Sewell] good luck."
The state's filing deadline is set for Nov. 10 and, because Alabama's legislative seats are only up in midterm years, Singleton would not have to risk his current post if he sought a promotion.
● MT-01: EMILY's List on Wednesday endorsed 2022 Democratic nominee Monica Tranel, who faces no serious intra-party opposition as she seeks a rematch against GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke.
● NH-01: Hollie Noveletsky, who runs a steel fabricator business, has filed FEC paperwork for a potential bid against Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas. Noveletsky would join a GOP nomination contest that includes former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott, who took fourth place in the 2022 primary.
● NJ-07: Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak said this week that he would not enter the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr. The New Jersey Globe also reports that physician Tina Shah, who served in the Obama and Biden administrations, has decided not to run despite talking to party leaders about a potential bid; David Wildstein writes that one unnamed "party bigwig said at one point Shah said she was in, only to move back to the maybe list a week later."
● TX-28: Jose Sanz, who previously served as district director for Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar, announced Wednesday that he'd challenge his old boss as a Republican. Sanz is the first notable Republican to launch a bid against Cuellar, who has long been one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus, but it remains to be seen if the GOP will seriously target him. Joe Biden won this constituency, which includes Laredo and the eastern San Antonio suburbs, 53-46 two years before Cuellar turned back a well-funded Republican foe 57-43.
It's also unclear if the congressman will be in for another competitive primary challenge. Attorney Jessica Cisneros hasn't ruled out taking him on again after narrowly losing in 2020 and 2022, and there's still a while to go before the Dec. 11 filing deadline.
This piece has been corrected to accurately note Alabama state House Minority Caucus Chair Chris England’s title.