The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Matt Booker, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● MO-Sen: Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who has long been one of the Republican caucus' most vicious anti-LGBTQ bigots, announced Thursday that she would seek Missouri's open U.S. Senate seat.
Hartzler joins a truly noxious primary field that currently consists of former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018; state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who was one of the main figures behind an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn Joe Biden's victory; and wealthy attorney Mark McCloskey, who made national headlines last summer when he and his wife aimed their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters.
Hartzler served in the state House from 1995 to 2001, where she championed an unsuccessful bill that would have allowed prosecutors to file murder charges against women who obtain late-term abortions. But it wasn’t until 2004 that Hartzler truly emerged as a social conservative powerhouse, when she led the successful campaign to ban same-sex marriage at the ballot box in Missouri—where it was already prohibited. She went on to write a book titled Running God's Way, to instruct candidates how to campaign in a "Christian" manner.
Hartzler decided to test out her approach on a bigger stage in 2010 when she challenged Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, who had won his 17th term the prior cycle in a 66-34 landslide even as John McCain was carrying southwest Missouri’s 4th District 61-38. The longtime chair of the House Armed Services Committee initially looked secure, but the deteriorating political climate helped give Hartzler an opening that few of Skelton's previous opponents ever enjoyed, and she even managed to turn his powerful position in Congress into a liability.
During the final weeks Mother Jones published an article titled, "Is Vicky Hartzler the Most Anti-Gay Candidate in America?" but even if the answer was “yes,” that type of publicity was by no means a problem for Hartzler in such a culturally conservative district. She unseated Skelton 50-45 and has never had trouble winning re-election.
During her decade in the House, Hartzler’s generally avoided the spotlight, but she's continued to make news for her opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. In 2017, she successfully pressured Donald Trump to issue an executive order banning transgender people from serving in the military. Two years later, the congresswoman was part of an effort to convince Amazon to restock a book championing "conversion therapy" and even gave a group supporting this pseudoscience permission to hold a forum in a congressional office building.
Most recently, Hartzler has vocally attacked the Equality Act, a bill to protect LGBTQ+ rights that the House passed earlier this year. Hartzler, of course, opposed the measure, which she blasted as "a far-reaching policy that will upend all aspects of life, turning basic decency & common sense into discrimination." She also joined with a majority of her caucus in voting to overturn Biden's victory hours after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
● FL-Sen: A day after the launch of her Senate campaign against Marco Rubio, EMILY's List has endorsed Rep. Val Demings, who is the only notable woman seeking the Democratic nomination (and is likely to remain so).
● OH-Gov: Former Rep. Jim Renacci, who was the GOP’s nominee for Senate in 2018, announced Wednesday that he would challenge Gov. Mike DeWine in next year’s Republican primary.
Renacci has been a loud DeWine critic for some time, but he intensified his attacks last year over the governor's measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The former congressman declared in the fall that the state was "committing economic suicide," and he went on to trash the governor for considering new restrictions on restaurants and bars as COVID-19 cases were rising.
Renacci tapped into another well of conservative grievances just after the election when he trashed DeWine for recognizing Joe Biden's victory. The governor's situation got considerably more serious days later when Donald Trump, who still had a Twitter account, wrote, "Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!" However, while Trump has continued to train his venom on two other GOP governors, Arizona's Doug Ducey and Georgia's Brian Kemp, he's largely left DeWine alone of late.
That could change at any time of course, but if Renacci is counting on Trump's backing, he may be in for a big disappointment: NBC reports that Trump is unlikely to endorse him thanks to his underwhelming 2018 Senate campaign. Indeed, Renacci's defeat at the hands of Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown that year makes him the one Republican to lose a partisan election in Ohio over the last four cycles (Democrats have prevailed in officially nonpartisan races for the state Supreme Court).
That misbegotten race was, in fact, never meant to be. Renacci had originally entered the GOP primary for governor that year in a field that included DeWine, but he switched to the Senate contest after the presumptive nominee, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, unexpectedly dropped out. Republicans hoped that the state's rightward drift would give them a good shot at unseating Brown, but they soon became dispirited by unfavorable polls and what they saw as a weak effort from Renacci.
Team Red was especially pissed that the challenger loaned his campaign $4 million but never spent most of it (almost $3.5 million in loans were repaid to the candidate after the campaign was over), and his actual fundraising from donors proved to be unimpressive. It didn't help that he managed to attract unhelpful headlines like, "Jim Renacci failed to pay strip club owner for governor campaign flights," and major outside groups never bothered to spend much money to aid him.
Brown ended up winning 53-47, even as DeWine prevailed 50-47 and the GOP swept every other partisan statewide race that same evening. Even Renacci himself agrees his decision to switch races was a botch: He recently called it “my biggest mistake and my biggest regret.”
● TX-Gov: There'd been hints that state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was considering a challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott in next year's GOP primary, but now he's finally confirmed his interest and says he'll make a decision "in the next couple of weeks."
● VA-Gov: An internal poll for Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin conducted by WPA Intelligence finds newly minted Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe with a narrow 48-46 edge in the November general election for Virginia's open governorship. To date, there's been no other publicly released polling of this matchup.
● CA-25: Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, who'd reportedly been considering a comeback bid, has now confirmed that she is in fact weighing a return to Congress. Hill, though, sounds ambivalent about the idea. "I don't feel like I have an obligation to [seek office], other than to show that people can recover from things, and if you've had a mission to do something and people try to derail you from it, don't let them," she said, referring to the revenge porn attack that drove her to resign in 2019. "But I don't know if that's a good enough reason."
● NH-01: Former Trump White House staffer Karoline Leavitt, who is 24 years old, says she is considering a bid for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, which is currently held by Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas but is likely to be targeted by Republicans in the upcoming round of redistricting.
● OR-05: Army veteran Nate Sandvig has entered next year's race against Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, making him the second Republican to do so after 2020 nominee Amy Ryan Courser. Sandvig didn't appear to earn any local media attention with his launch, though his campaign treasurer, Cabell Hobbs, also serves as treasurer for prominent Republicans like John Bolton (who operates a super PAC) and was an assistant treasurer for an arm of George W. Bush's re-election campaign.
● Special elections: There's a special election in Louisiana on Saturday:
LA-SD-07: This Democratic district in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, as well as parts of neighboring Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, became vacant after former Sen. Troy Carter was elected to the U.S House in April. Three Democrats and one Republican are vying for this seat, and if no candidate wins a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held on July 10.
Plaquemines Parish Board of Elections Supervisor Joanna Cappiello-Leopold, state Rep. Mack Cormier, and State Rep. Gary Carter (who is Troy Carter's nephew) are the Democratic candidates, while Patricia McCarty is the lone Republican running. Hillary Clinton won this district 67-30 in 2016, but while this may seem like a sleepy, safely Democratic contest, the outcome could have potential ramifications for Louisiana politics more broadly.
In 2019, Cormier flipped a state House seat, defeating Republican Chris Leopold—who happens to be married to Joanna Cappiello-Leopold—by a 54-46 margin. His victory was critical for Democrats because even though Republicans maintained a healthy 68-35 majority (with two independents) in the state House that year, Cormier's win prevented Team Red from gaining a supermajority in the lower chamber to match the one they'd already secured in the state Senate.
Should Cormier prevail, therefore, another special election would be held for his seat, which backed Trump 52-45 in 2016. A Republican win in that potential race could therefore put Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards's veto powers at risk, as Democrats would be completely reliant on both independents to sustain any vetoes.