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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● CO Ballot: A proposed initiative that would implement major changes to how Colorado’s elections work took a major step closer to the ballot after gaining approval from certain state officials. Supporters could soon be cleared to begin gathering voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Among other things, the measure would replace traditional party primaries with a top-four primary and an instant-runoff general election—similar to the system Alaska implemented for the 2022 elections.
The effort is being led by a wealthy former health care CEO whose company has been accused of unsavory business practices. As an ostensible centrist, he has spent big in recent years on reforms that he claims would give moderate voters more sway.
Read Stephen Wolf's story for more about how this constitutional amendment could reshape Colorado's elections and about its main supporter's background.
● CA-Sen: Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is deploying his massive war chest to get his message out just before California election officials begin sending out ballots for the March 5 top-two primary. AdImpact reported Monday that Schiff's side has now spent or reserved $15.9 million on TV ads, compared to $3.1 million for fellow Democratic Rep. Katie Porter and her allies; only $1.2 million has been deployed to help the third Democrat in the race, Barbara Lee.
That's a huge shift from less than two weeks ago, when AdImpact placed Schiff's edge over Porter at a much smaller $2.4 million to $2.1 million. What hasn't changed, though, is that no one is airing any negative TV spots yet. The congressman's newest commercial features Schiff's "little brother" from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program attesting to his record and character.
● PA-Sen: Susquehanna Polling & Research (R): Bob Casey (D-inc): 46, Dave McCormick (R): 42 (47-39 Biden) (May: 53-41 Casey).
● MO-Gov: Candidates in Missouri have now filed finance reports for the final quarter of 2023, and once again Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is getting outpaced by two notable Republican primary foes even though early polls have shown him ahead in the Aug. 6 contest.
The new data, which were compiled by the Springfield News-Leader, has Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and his allied PAC, American Dream, taking in a combined $1.7 million while banking a total of $5.7 million. State Sen. Bill Eigel and his BILL PAC, meanwhile, raised $620,000 and finished the year with $1.6 million on hand.
But Ashcroft and his backers at Committee for Liberty PAC raised only $216,000 all told, though they still had $2.2 million at their disposal. Most polls released last year had Ashcroft well ahead of Kehoe, with Eigel barely registering. But we haven't seen any fresh data since October, when the Democratic firm Show Me Victories placed Kehoe ahead 19-18; Eigel grabbed 6%, and a 49% plurality were undecided.
On the Democratic side, state House Minority Leader Crystal Quade and her allies at Crystal PAC raised $213,000 and ended 2023 with $306,000 on hand. Wealthy businessman Mike Hamra, who launched his effort in October, raised $510,000 and self-funded another $250,000; he finished his opening quarter with $671,000 banked.
● ND-Gov: Rep. Kelly Armstrong said Tuesday that he would run to succeed Gov. Doug Burgum, a fellow Republican who announced his retirement a day earlier. Armstrong's only notable intra-party opponent in the June 11 primary so far is former state Sen. Tom Campbell, who launched his own effort just before Burgum revealed he would not seek a third term.
Armstrong and Campbell squared off in 2018 for North Dakota's only U.S. House seat back when they were both state senators, though their battle ended well before the primary. Campbell dropped out after badly losing the party convention to Armstrong, who was also a former state party chair. (Winning the convention doesn't impact ballot access, but many candidates leave the race if they lose.)
Campbell's name still remained on the primary ballot, however, and he still managed to take 27% of the vote despite ending his campaign. Armstrong, however, easily secured the GOP nomination by winning 56%.
Several other Republicans could also enter this year's contest to lead the Peace Garden State. An advisor for Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller told Inforum.com columnist Rob Port on Monday that she would "have a decision soon." Burgum appointed Miller to her post at the end of 2022 after Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford announced that he would resign to rejoin the private sector.
Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak also told Port she'd decide "soon" if she'd join the race to succeed Burgum, while one political insider mentions Sanford as a possibility to the North Dakota Monitor. Several Republicans, however, informed Politico or Port that they won't run, among them:
- State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler
- State Treasurer Thomas Beadle
- Sen. Kevin Cramer
- Secretary of State Michael Howe
- State Attorney General Drew Wrigley
Democrats last won this office in 1988 when the late George Sinner claimed his second term. No notable names have surfaced yet.
● NH-Gov: YouGov's survey of Tuesday's Republican presidential primary for UMass Lowell also quizzed likely voters about their preferences in the party's Sept. 10 nomination battle to replace retiring GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, and it shows former Sen. Kelly Ayotte beating former state Senate President Chuck Morse 54-22.
However, there's little question that many people who went to the polls this week won't come back for the other New Hampshire primary. In 2016, the last time Republicans had seriously contested races for both offices, about 286,000 voters took part in the party's presidential primary. Seven months later, though, only 112,000 votes were cast in a gubernatorial primary that Sununu narrowly won.
● NJ-Gov: Former state Sen. Ed Durr told Politico he wasn't ruling out seeking the GOP nomination for governor next year, though he doesn't seem especially serious about the idea. "I've had people on Twitter say I need to," he said, "but nobody with a checkbook has asked me." Durr, though, did close the door on running for the U.S. Senate this year.
Durr attracted national attention in 2021 when, as a virtually unknown truck driver with no political experience, he ousted Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney after spending all of $153. Durr's tenure was brief, though, as former Assemblyman John Burzichelli dispatched him 53-46 last year. Sweeney, who passed on a rematch with Durr, is campaigning to succeed termed-out Gov. Phil Murphy.
● WA-Gov: Sen. Patty Murray is the latest prominent Evergreen State Democrat to endorse Attorney General Bob Ferguson ahead of the Aug. 6 top-two primary. Ferguson already had the support of retiring Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington's other senator, Maria Cantwell.
● AZ-01: Businessman Andrei Cherny, who is one of several prominent Democrats seeking to take on Republican Rep. David Schweikert, faces a federal investigation in connection with a financial services firm he co-founded in 2013, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
Cherny's company, Aspiration, sells instruments known as carbon offset credits that purport to allow businesses and consumers to mitigate the greenhouse gasses they're responsible for generating by supporting efforts such as reforestation. But, says Bloomberg, both the Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are looking into "whether Aspiration misled customers about the quality of carbon offsets it was selling."
Unnamed sources "familiar with the probe" say that investigators are "reviewing the actions" of the company's founders, including Cherny, who served as CEO for nearly a decade until stepping down in 2022. In a statement to Bloomberg, Cherny said, "I have no knowledge whatsoever of any wrongdoing at Aspiration and will fully cooperate with this inquiry."
● CA-22: Politico reported on Monday that the DCCC is worried about Democrats getting locked out of the top-two primary in California's 22nd District and has decided to get involved in the contest—a step it's taken to avert similar fears in other Golden State House races in the past.
The D-Trip is backing former Assemblyman Rudy Salas over state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a fellow Democrat who is also hoping to unseat Republican Rep. David Valadao. AdImpact relays that the DCCC and Salas are spending at least $100,000 on a coordinated ad that highlights Salas' local roots and his efforts to increase the minimum wage, raise overtime pay for farmworkers, and protect abortion rights.
Salas lost to Valadao by 52-48 in 2022 in what was a tough year for California Democrats. But in addition to a rematch from Salas, Valadao also faces another challenge from the right in the form of former Fresno City Councilman Chris Mathys.
Last time, Valadao edged out Mathys just 26-23 in the top-two primary while Salas, the only Democrat who ran, took 45% (another Republican got 6%). With two Democrats running this time, however, there's a chance that Salas and Hurtado could split left-leaning voters evenly while Valadao and Mathys once again do the same with right-leaning voters.
An unlucky draw could see the Democrats finish third and fourth, leaving them with no candidate for the general election—a fate the DCCC must avoid at all costs. While the 22nd District voted 55-42 for Joe Biden, its primary electorate is often more favorable to Republicans, which helps explain why D.C. Democrats are working to boost Salas.
● CO-04: State House Minority Leader Mike Lynch survived two attempts by his caucus to strip him of his leadership role this week even though a majority of Republican members say they want him gone. The drama unfolded as Lynch competes in the busy GOP primary for the safely red 4th Congressional District, the seat that Lauren Boebert is now also seeking.
Lynch attracted ugly headlines last week when the Associated Press revealed that he had been arrested in 2022 both on "suspicion of drunken driving and possessing a firearm while intoxicated," and that he's still serving prohibition after pleading guilty to a count of "driving while ability impaired."
Lynch's colleagues, who were caught by surprise by the news, held a no-confidence vote on Monday, but the absence of one anti-Lynch member created a 9-9 deadlock that kept the minority leader in place. The missing representative, Stephanie Luck, tried to join remotely after the tie was announced (she'd recently given birth), but Lynch's side concluded the proceedings without a second vote.
Events proved even more farcical the following day when another meeting broke up because it lacked even a 10-person quorum, with one Republican telling Colorado Politics that members were told not to attend. GOP representatives are hoping to hold another meeting sometime this week, though they've clashed on the question of timing.
● CO-05: The latest Republican to join the primary for Colorado's open 5th Congressional District is Joshua Griffin, an Army veteran who made national news in 2019 when, at age 33, he served as the oldest Division 1 college football player at the time. Griffin, who was a walk-on for Colorado State University while taking part in an education program for enlisted soldiers, originally planned to challenge state Rep. Mary Bradfield for renomination. The candidate, though, decided to seek a higher office after GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn announced his retirement this month.
● GA Redistricting: Plaintiffs challenging Georgia's congressional and legislative maps under the Voting Rights Act have appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court approved new maps that Republicans enacted last month. At issue is how Republicans created new majority-Black districts as ordered but did so by dismantling some diverse districts elsewhere, such as Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath's 7th District.
● Louisiana: Republican Gov. Jeff Landry has signed a new bill to require partisan primary elections for elections for Congress, the state Supreme Court, the Public Service Commission, and the state's education board starting in 2026. Louisiana's unique all-party primary will still be used for most of the state's other races, including for the governorship and state legislature.
● MO-03: Spectrum News reports that Republican state Sen. Nick Schroer says he would run for this open seat if former state Sen. Bob Onder doesn't. While Schroer has previously described Onder as a "mentor," he apparently has not ruled out running, though there's no direct quote from him.
● ND-AL: GOP Rep. Kelly Armstrong's decision to run for governor has set off what could be a crowded June 11 primary to succeed him as North Dakota's only House member, though one politician didn't even wait for the congressman to make up his mind before announcing.
However, not many Republicans are likely to defer to former state Rep. Rick Becker, who campaigned as an independent against GOP Sen. John Hoeven last cycle and finished third with 18%. Becker is once again running as a Republican, but party rules prohibit anyone who ran as an independent from competing for the GOP endorsement at the party's April 5-6 convention.
Former Rep. Rick Berg, meanwhile, tells Inforum.com's Rob Port he's considering a comeback, though he doesn't sound excited about the idea. "Life has been tremendous not being in Congress," said Berg, whose narrow loss to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the 2012 U.S. Senate race makes him the last Republican to lose a statewide election.
State Board of Higher Education member Kevin Black also informs Port he's thinking about a House bid. Secretary of State Michael Howe, finally, didn't quite rule it out, but he sounds unlikely to go anywhere. "As far as our congressional seat, I have no plans to seek that," he said. "We have assembled a great team in the secretary of state’s office and have multiple projects I want to see through." North Dakota's candidate filing deadline is April 8, which is two days after the GOP's convention.
● NE-02: Businessman Dan Frei announced Tuesday that he would challenge Rep. Don Bacon, who represents a competitive House seat around Omaha, in Nebraska's May 14 Republican primary. Frei ran against then-Rep. Lee Terry from the right in the 2014 primary for a similar version of this seat, and he held the incumbent to a shockingly small 53-47 margin despite raising little money.
Some Republicans, writes the Nebraska Examiner, still blame Frei's campaign for Terry's subsequent loss to Democrat Brad Ashford in what was otherwise a great year for the GOP nationally. Bacon, who in turn unseated Ashford in 2016, faces a general election rematch against his 2022 foe, state Sen. Tony Vargas, so Democrats would love it if the incumbent were similarly weakened.
It would be difficult for Frei, however, to actually beat Bacon, especially since another candidate, Michael Connely, is also on the primary ballot. (Connely lives in the 3rd District, though House members aren't required to reside in the seat they want to represent.) And Bacon, who has a hostile relationship with Donald Trump, won renomination 77-23 last cycle against Steve Kuehl, an underfunded candidate who attracted attention late in the campaign after receiving a brief shoutout from Trump himself.
After bashing Bacon at a rally for failed gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster, Trump called out, "Good luck, Steve, whoever the hell you are." Most GOP voters, though, did not cast a ballot for "Steve, whoever the hell you are," and Bacon went on to narrowly beat Vargas 51-49 several months later.
● NJ-07: Former State Department official Jason Blazakis has publicized an internal poll from Public Policy Polling that shows him trailing Republican Rep. Tom Kean Jr. 41-33 in a hypothetical general election, while Working Families Party state director Sue Altman loses by a similar 43-35 spread. (Summit Councilman Greg Vartan, who is also competing in the June 4 Democratic primary, was not mentioned in the release.)
So why did Blazakis release these seemingly unfavorable numbers? As is typically the case with internal polls like these, the survey goes on to find both Blazakis and Altman, who begin with little name recognition, closing their respective deficits once voters hear positive information about them.
● NY-03: The House Majority PAC's opening TV ad ahead of the Feb. 13 special election in New York's 3rd District echoes spots previously run by the DCCC, featuring clips of Republican Mazi Pilip avoiding questions from reporters and calling herself "pro-life." The ad also mentions that her "backers are pushing for a national abortion ban—no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother."
The National Journal's James Downs notes that HMP's ad is part of a $3.7 million buy, while AdImpact reports that, overall, Democrats hold a wide edge in ad reservations, with $8.3 million in bookings versus $2.9 million for Republicans.
● OH-07: Former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich has confirmed that he'll run as an independent against GOP Rep. Max Miller. Two Democrats, Doug Bugie and Matthew Diemer, are also seeking this suburban Cleveland constituency, which favored Donald Trump 54-45 in 2020.
● TX-26: Far-right media figure Brandon Gill picked up endorsements this week from Sen. Ted Cruz and several out-of-state hardliners, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and not-Speaker Jim Jordan of Ohio. Gill is the son-in-law of Dinesh D'Souza, the MAGA toady who is partially self-funding a pro-Gill super PAC called Right Texas.
Former Denton County Judge Scott Armey, meanwhile, has the support of two of the most prominent Texans from a very different political era: former Sen. Phil Gramm and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who just happens to be his father. The Texas Tribune reports that the two men, who both retired ahead of the 2002 elections, will hold a fundraiser for the younger Armey. (There's no word if the theme will be "I love the early 2000s.")
Armey ran for a previous version of this safely red seat 22 years ago, but he lost the GOP runoff in an upset after his opponent, physician Michael Burgess, turned his connections to congressional insiders into a liability. (Burgess even sent out mailers accurately proclaiming, "My Dad is not Dick Armey.") Gill and Armey are competing in the busy March 5 primary to replace Burgess, who is now retiring.
● VA-07: 2022 Republican nominee Yesli Vega dispelled any talk she'd run again this year by instead endorsing Navy SEAL veteran Cameron Hamilton's campaign to replace Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is retiring to prepare for next year's race for governor.
● PA-AG: The Pennsylvania Republican Party endorsed York County District Attorney Dave Sunday on Monday, prompting former Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland to end her campaign. But a third Republican, state Rep. Craig Williams, said he'd continue his bid against Sunday, whom he accused of running his office "like a progressive Democrat," through the April 23 primary.
Williams and Sunday, who already had the support of the Republican Attorneys General Association, are competing to replace appointed incumbent Michelle Henry, a Democrat who says she won't run for a full term. Five notable Democrats are facing off in a primary where, unlike on the GOP side, there's no obvious frontrunner. Pennsylvania Democrats gathered to hand out endorsements in key races last month, but none of the candidates for attorney general secured the two-thirds support necessary to earn official party backing.
Mayors & County Leaders
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: Mayor Brandon Scott ended Jan. 10 with a $835,000 to $370,000 in cash on hand lead over former Mayor Sheila Dixon, his main opponent in the May 14 Democratic primary, though Dixon has one prominent wealthy backer in her corner.
Dixon's allied super PAC, Better Baltimore, is partially funded by David Smith, the new Baltimore Sun owner who also serves as executive chairman of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media empire. (Its other major funder is John Luetkemeyer, the son and namesake of a state treasurer from the 1960s and 70s.) Better Baltimore took in a total of $200,000 and spent more than half of that, with polling making up its largest expenditure. The group only had $96,000 left in the bank, though its donors are almost certainly capable of throwing down far more.
The Democratic field also includes businessman Bob Wallace, who had $230,000 available thanks mostly to self-funding. Wallace ran for this post in 2020 as an independent but lost the general election to Scott 70-20. And as was the case for Scott four years ago, whoever wins the Democratic primary should have no trouble on Nov. 5.
● Raleigh, NC Mayor: Former state Treasurer Janet Cowell, who was once a rising star in North Carolina Democratic politics, announced last week that she would run for mayor of Raleigh this year.
Cowell, who retired in 2016 rather than seek reelection or challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr, has since gone on to lead the nonprofit for the local Dorothea Dix Park. But she retains connections from her previous time in office, kicking off her new bid with endorsements from former Mayors Charles Meeker and Nancy McFarlane.
The former treasurer's campaign launch comes a few months after the entry of City Councilman Corey Branch, who describes himself as a "moderate Democrat" and joined this officially nonpartisan race in October. It remains to be seen, though, whether Democratic incumbent Mary-Ann Baldwin will seek another two-year term.
"My intent, at this point, is to run again," the incumbent told The News & Observer, adding that she'd decide sometime in the spring. The filing deadline is July 19, and the general election will be Nov. 5. There is no runoff here.
Baldwin herself was elected in 2019 in what turned out to be the capital city's final mayoral election in an odd-numbered year. The GOP-led state legislature permanently moved future contests to even years starting in 2022 following a request from the city government and eliminated runoffs. Baldwin won that year with a 47-41 plurality.
Prosecutors & Sheriffs
● Cook County, IL State's Attorney: While attorney Clayton Harris has the support of much of the local party establishment ahead of the March 19 Democratic primary, it's former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Eileen O'Neill Burke who ended 2023 with more money to spend. Burke finished the fourth quarter with a $247,000 to $155,000 cash on hand lead in the contest to replace retiring incumbent Kim Foxx as the top prosecutor for America's second-most populous county.
● Harris County, TX District Attorney: Campaign finance reports released last week for the second half of 2023 show that District Attorney Kim Ogg narrowly outraised former prosecutor Sean Teare, who is challenging her for renomination in the March 5 Democratic primary. While Teare still had more money available, Ogg outpaced him $282,000 to $279,000, a huge shift from Teare's gigantic $748,000 to $56,000 advantage in the prior six-month period. Teare ended December with a $550,000 to $455,000 cash on hand lead.