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-02: Navy veteran Missy Cotter Smasal on Wednesday became the first notable Democrat to announce a campaign against freshman Rep. Jen Kiggans, a Virginia Republican who flipped one of the most competitive House seats in the nation last year.
The 2nd District, which includes all of Virginia Beach as well as other communities in the Hampton Roads area, favored Joe Biden 50-48 in 2020 before backing Republican Glenn Youngkin by a hefty 55-44 margin in the following year's race for governor. Kiggans, then a state senator, unseated Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria 52-48 in 2022 after an expensive battle, but Democrat Aaron Rouse's subsequent victory in the special election to replace Kiggans in the legislature was another reminder that this area remains swingy turf.
Cotter Smasal herself waged a high-profile campaign in 2019 for a different seat in the state Senate when she went up against Republican incumbent Bill DeSteph. DeSteph had won his first term 59-41 in 2015, a year before Donald Trump carried his constituency 51-43, but both parties made this contest a priority at a time when Democrats were looking to flip the chamber.
Cotter Smasal, who decisively outraised her opponent, attracted national attention late in the race when she ran a TV ad starring Karen Havekost, who had survived a mass shooting in Virginia Beach earlier in the year in which a city employee murdered 12 people. "I asked Sen. Bill DeSteph to do something so this doesn't happen again," Havekost told the audience. "Sen. Bill DeSteph did not meet with us. He blocked the Senate from even voting on gun safety laws." DeSteph responded with his own ad calling Cotter Smasal's message "shameful." He went on to a narrow 52-48 win, but that same night, his party lost control of the Senate for the first time since 2014.
Cotter Smasal launched her campaign to flip the 2nd District, where veterans make up a large portion of the electorate, by charging that Kiggans "voted to cut veterans' health benefits and then lied about it." (The congresswoman also served in the Navy.) The Democrat entered the race with endorsements from former Gov. Ralph Northam, who represented part of this area when he was in the legislature a decade ago, and Rep. Jennifer McClellan, who won a special election to represent the neighboring 4th District earlier this year. No other major Democrats have publicly expressed interest in running against Kiggans so far.
● Why does it seem like Republicans have such a hard time recruiting Senate candidates who actually live in the states they want to run in? We're discussing this strange but persistent phenomenon on this week's edition of "The Downballot." The latest example is former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who's been spending his time in Florida since leaving the House in 2015, but he's not the only one. Republican Senate hopefuls in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Montana, and Wisconsin all have questionable ties to their home states—a problem that Democrats have gleefully exploited in recent years. (Remember Dr. Oz? Of course you do.)
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap special election primaries in Utah, where an anti-Trump Republican might win, and Rhode Island, which saw something of an upset on the Democratic side. They highlight an unusual ad from Gov. Andy Beshear emphasizing an issue Kentucky Democrats rarely discuss—abortion—as well as unexpected spending by Republicans to attack the leading Democrat in Louisiana's race for governor. And they run down developments in major redistricting cases in Alabama and Florida that both saw new rulings in favor of Black voters' rights.
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.
● FL-Sen: While state Rep. Anna Eskamani didn't quite rule out seeking the Democratic nod for Senate earlier this year, she announced this week she'd seek reelection to the state House.
● MD-Sen: Businessman Juan Dominguez announced this week that he'd seek the Democratic nomination for this open Senate seat, though he could struggle to gain traction against the frontrunners, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Rep. David Trone. Dominguez, who set up a fundraising committee in mid-May, tells Maryland Matters he expects to have raised just $250,000 by the end of the week. The candidate, though, still set himself a lofty fundraising goal of $10 million for the primary and general election.
● MI-Sen: Former Rep. Mike Rogers, who moved to Florida sometime after he retired from the House in 2015, on Wednesday became the first serious Republican to enter the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow back in Michigan. NRSC chair Steve Daines responded with a supportive statement that, while not explicitly endorsing the former congressman, declared he was "pleased to see Mike stepping up to run."
Rogers, though, may not be the only Republican who steps up to run in a primary where, until now, the only remotely notable candidate has been Nikki Snyder, a state Board of Education member who has raised little money. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, who lost renomination last year after voting to impeach Donald Trump, formed an exploratory committee last week.
Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who was thrown off the 2022 gubernatorial primary ballot over fraudulent signatures, had also pledged to decide by mid-October. New York Stock Exchange executive John Tuttle reportedly is also considering, but while an unnamed source previously told Time he could enter the GOP primary in mid-July, we still haven't heard from him two months later. On the Democratic side, Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the frontrunner in a field that includes actor Hill Harper.
Rogers, who is an Army veteran and former FBI agent, has experience winning and holding on in competitive territory, though none of it recent. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1994, and he ran in 2000 to succeed none other than Stabenow when she gave up her Lansing-based U.S. House seat to successfully challenge GOP Sen. Spencer Abraham. Rogers ended up beating Democratic colleague Dianne Byrum by 111 votes even as, according to political analyst Kiernan Park-Egan, Al Gore was carrying what was then numbered the 8th District 50-47.
Republican mapmakers soon passed a new gerrymander to make Rogers more secure, and he always won reelection by double digits even in blue wave years like 2008, when Barack Obama won his seat 53-46. The congressman (who became one of two Mike Rogers in the House after the Alabama Republican won in 2002) became a popular presence on national TV news: Rogers during his final years in office even eclipsed John McCain to become the most frequent congressional guest of any on the Sunday talk shows. In 2013 the FBI Agents Association urged Obama to select Rogers, who was chair of the House Intelligence Committee, to lead the bureau, but the president instead made the fateful decision to pick James Comey.
Rogers ended up announcing in 2014 that he'd leave the House anyway to host a nationally syndicated show; Republican Mike Bishop decisively won the race to succeed him, but Slotkin unseated the new congressman in 2018. Rogers, for his part, continued his career in the media, including by hosting three seasons of the CNN show "Declassified," and also worked in cybersecurity and as a defense lobbyist.
The Republican at some point moved to Fort Myers, Florida and registered to vote in the Sunshine State, and he also mulled a longshot 2024 presidential bid before turning his attention to the Senate. Rogers' new campaign said Wednesday that he'd moved back to Michigan, though it wouldn't tell the Detroit Free Press where he'd moved to.
● WI-Sen: Businessman Eric Hovde tells the National Journal he'll decide in "the next couple months" if he'll challenge Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin in a race where Republicans still do not have a viable contender.
● KY-Gov: Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has publicized an internal poll from Garin-Hart-Yang that shows him leading Republican Daniel Cameron 51-42, which the memo says is an improvement from his 48-45 edge in an unreleased late July survey. The only other polls we've seen in the last two months have also come from partisan groups. Public Opinion Strategies' July numbers for the Republican State Leadership Committee gave the governor a 49-45 edge, while an internal for Beshear from Public Policy Polling about a month ago put the incumbent ahead 49-41.
● UT-Gov: State Rep. Phil Lyman announced Tuesday that he was forming an exploratory committee for a potential GOP primary bid against incumbent Spencer Cox, who has remained a Donald Trump critic.
Lyman, by contrast, received a pardon from Trump in 2020 five years after he was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing for leading an all-terrain vehicle group through a canyon the federal government had closed in order to protect Native American cliff dwellings; prosecutors alleged that Lyman, who was a San Juan County commissioner at the time, had recruited people who had recently taken part in Cliven Bundy's armed standoff with the federal law enforcement officials. Lyman, who spent 10 days in prison, unsurprisingly declared in July, "I'm all in for Trump 2024!"
● WV-Gov: Research America said this week that it incorrectly reported Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's percentage of the vote in its new GOP primary poll for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, MetroNews West Virginia, and The Health Group. The survey really found Del. Moore Capito beating Morrisey 32-27, while Capito's lead was originally listed as 32-23; businessman Chris Miller remained a distant third with 9%. The new release also corrected two other numbers: Secretary of State Mac Warner took 6%, compared to the 7% Research America originally placed him at, while the proportion of undecideds was 26% instead of 29%.
"We discovered a programming error late yesterday that was missed during our team's quality control process last week, which I am ultimately responsible for," Research America head Rex Repass said. He added, "No other question was affected."
● CO-08: State Rep. Gabe Evans announced Wednesday that he'd enter the Republican primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo in the 8th District, a constituency in the northern Denver suburbs and Greeley area that favored Joe Biden 51-46. Evans will compete for the nomination against Weld County Commissioner Scott James, a former conservative talk radio host who launched his own effort in July.
Evans, who previously served as a police officer in Arvada and in the Army, first won his state House seat in 2022. Evans during that campaign filled out a questionnaire where he said he wanted to outlaw abortion except when it was necessary to save the mother's life, a response the DCCC was quick to blast out on Wednesday.
● ME-02: The Bangor Daily News reports that Republican state Rep. Austin Theriault, who is a former NASCAR driver, is planning to announce a bid against Democratic Rep. Jared Golden sometime this month and that national GOP leaders are "effectively behind" him. Donald Trump took this northern Maine seat 52-46.
Theriault made it to the top level of American racing, the NASCAR Cup Series, in 2019, and he competed there five times before an injury led him to become a driver consultant. (His career best in the NASCAR Cup Series was 32nd place.) Theriault last year won elected office 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.
Theriault would join a GOP primary that includes Robert Cross, an unsuccessful 2022 state Senate candidate who raised little money through June for his newest effort. Fellow state Rep. Mike Soboleski expressed interest in running himself last month, while a third state representative, Laurel Libby, told BDN Tuesday she hasn't made up her mind about whether to take on Golden.
● MN-03: While Rep. Dean Phillips infuriated fellow Democrats this summer when he started mulling a primary challenge to President Joe Biden, Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzales writes that local Democrats don't believe he's "in immediate danger" of facing a serious renomination threat at home. Former state Sen. Melisa López Franzen accepted a job as the main lobbyist for the University of Minnesota shortly after the Minnesota tipsheet Morning Take mentioned her as a possible challenger, and no other notable names have surfaced so far.
● PA-10: Marine veteran Mike O'Brien announced Wednesday that he'd challenge Republican incumbent Scott Perry, who is the leader of the nihilistic Freedom Caucus, for a 51-47 Trump seat based in the Harrisburg and York areas.
O'Brien, who retired last week after a 20-year career as an aviator and instructor, grew up in Philadelphia and neighboring Montgomery County, and he tells the Philadelphia Inquirer he cast his ballot in the latter jurisdiction during most of his time in the service; the new candidate also says he decided to retire to Harrisburg's Dauphin County and registered to vote there in April. O'Brien kicked off his campaign declaring, "Right now, Congressman Scott Perry and his hard-right gang of insurrectionists are a threat to democracy and a threat to our freedoms."
The Democratic field also includes Harrisburg City Council member Shamaine Daniels, who lost to Perry 54-46 last year, and Rick Coplen, who unsuccessfully sought the nomination against Daniels; neither repeat contender, though, had more than $20,000 banked at the end of June. The Inquirer recently reported that TV news anchor Janelle Stelson is also considering running here.
● UT-02: The Associated Press has called Tuesday's special GOP primary for former congressional aide Celeste Maloy, who leads former state Rep. Becky Edwards 38-35 with 82% of the estimated vote in. Maloy campaigned as a Donald Trump backer in the contest to succeed her old boss and prominent ally, outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart, while Edwards infuriated conservatives in 2020 when she endorsed Joe Biden. (Edwards has since expressed "regret").
Maloy will go up against Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who had no intra-party opposition, on Nov. 21 in a district that favored Trump 57-40. Either Maloy or Riebe would be the only woman in the state's congressional delegation, as well as the fifth woman to ever represent the state.
● WI-03: Former La Crosse County Board chairwoman Tara Johnson announced Wednesday that she was joining the Democratic primary to face freshman Republican Rep. Derrick Van Orden in the 3rd District, a southwestern Wisconsin constituency that Donald Trump carried 51-47.
Johnson was elected in 2000 to the governing body of La Crosse County, which is home to 16% of the district's denizens, and she'd end up serving there for 20 years. She sought a promotion during that long stint in 2008 when she challenged Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke, but she lost 51-49. (Kapanke himself would go on to wage a failed 2010 campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in an old version of the 3rd, and voters would recall him the following year.) Johnson was named chair in 2011, and she still held that title when she announced she'd retire in 2020.
Johnson will face businesswoman Rebecca Cooke, who took second in last year's primary, for the nomination. State Rep. Katrina Shankland is also mulling a bid, though she tells WisPolitics she doesn't know when she'll decide.
● MT-AG: The board responsible for policing attorney ethics in Montana filed a complaint on Tuesday accusing Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen of committing 41 counts of professional misconduct. Timothy Strauch, an appointee of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, also requested that a review panel hear the matter and recommend any disciplinary action to the Montana Supreme Court. Knudsen, who won 59-41 in 2020, is up for reelection next year, and his team dismissed the complaint as politically motivated.
Strauch's report focused on a 2021 conflict in which the Republican-dominated legislature passed a law doing away with the Judicial Nomination Commission, an independent body that had been responsible for providing the governor with a list of candidates for appointment to the state's highest court. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled the law was constitutional, but Strauch says that Knudsen repeatedly violated the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct in his defense of the law.
Strauch argues that the attorney general and his team made "contemptuous, undignified, discourteous, and/or disrespectful" comments about the justices and defied their authority, including waiting at least eight months to follow a court order. "Knudsen and lawyers under his supervision routinely and frequently undermined public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of our system of justice," Strauch wrote, "by attempting to evade the authority of the Montana Supreme Court and assaulting the integrity of the judiciary and the individual justices who were duly elected by Montana citizens to make decisions."
If a panel does agree to hear the matter, it could hand down a wide range of sanctions, "from disbarment in the gravest cases to public admonition, with a number of other possibilities in between," according to the Montana Free Press.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire is making use of his enormous financial advantage to launch his opening TV ad ahead of the Nov. 7 nonpartisan primary, and his campaign says it will be part of a "multi-million dollar advertising campaign." The spot touts how his community aided his family after their house burned down when he was young, with Whitmire saying, "It just instilled in me how good people are."