Politics

Morning Digest: Three House incumbents lose renomination during a huge primary night

Casten will face Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, who won the GOP nod by beating Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso 39-27, in a constituency Biden would have carried 55-44.

 IL-15 (R): Freshman Rep. Mary Miller, who had support of Donald Trump and the Club for Growth, beat five-term incumbent Rodney Davis 57-43 in a safely red seat in rural central Illinois. While neither member had much of a geographic advantage in this new seat, the far-right Miller proved to be a better fit for local Republicans than Davis, who had long sought to present himself as a moderate in order to win under the previous map and voted for a Jan. 6 commission.

Davis tacked right during this campaign and pledged to investigate the Jan. 6 committee if he became chair of the House Administration Committee, but it was far from enough. Miller, by contrast, told Trump at a rally on Saturday, “I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday.” (Her campaign responded by insisting she’d meant to say “right to life.”)

 MS-04 (R): Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell defeated six-term Rep. Steven Palazzo 54-46 in the Republican runoff for a safely red seat along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The incumbent led Ezell only 31-25 in the first round of voting on June 7, and all five of the defeated candidates quickly endorsed Ezell for the runoff. Mississippi Today says that this is the first time a House incumbent has lost renomination in the Magnolia State since 1962, when Jamie Whitten beat fellow Rep. Frank Smith in their Democratic primary. (Whitten, who was elected in a 1941 special, retired in 1995 as the longest serving House member in American history, though the late Michigan Democrat John Dingell later broke that record.)

Palazzo spent the campaign dogged by an ethics investigation into allegations that he illegally used campaign funds for personal purposes. His many critics also portrayed him as an absentee congressman uninterested in doing his job, and Palazzo gave them more fodder earlier this year when he posted a picture on Facebook of himself and his son at a restaurant in Mississippi hours after he abruptly canceled a campaign forum for what his staff said were “meetings dealing with national security.”

election recaps

 Primary Night: Below is a state-by-state look at where Tuesday’s other major contests stood as of 8 AM ET Wednesday. We’ll start with a surprisingly close special election in Nebraska:

 NE-01 (special): Republican state Sen. Mike Flood only defeated Democratic colleague Patty Pansing Brooks 53-47 to win the contest to succeed Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in March after he was convicted of concealing illegal campaign funds he received from a foreign national, in a Lincoln area constituency that Trump would have won 54-43 in 2020 and 56-38 four years before. Bizarrely, the special was held under the new district lines even though the winner will fill out the remainder of Fortenberry’s term, which he of course won under the old lines; Trump carried the existing 1st by a stronger 56-41 in 2020.

National Democrats, though, were not prepared for things to be anywhere near as close as they were: Indeed, Pansing Brooks’ media consultant, Ian Russell, says that Flood outspent her $860,000 to $80,000 in a contest that attracted no serious outside spending. The two state senators will face off again in November for a full two-year term.

We’ll move on to Colorado, where Democrats spent serious amounts in what proved to be unsuccessful efforts to get Republicans to nominate Team Blue’s preferred opponents:

 CO-Sen (R): Self-funding businessman Joe O’Dea turned back state Rep. Ron Hanks, a vocal proponent of the Big Lie, 55-45 in the GOP primary to face Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet. A poll from the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group showed both Republicans losing to Bennet by the same 13-point margin, but Team Blue believed that the extremist Hanks would be easier to defeat.

 CO-Gov (R): University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, who is Colorado’s only remaining statewide Republican, defeated businessman Greg Lopez 54-46 for the right to take on Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. That same GSG poll showed Polis winning by identical 51-32 spreads against both, but Democrats tried to get GOP voters to select the underfunded Lopez.

 CO-03 (R): Another far-right freshman, Rep. Lauren Boebert, beat self-described moderate state Sen. Don Coram 65-35 in a western Colorado seat that Trump would have taken 53-45.

 CO-05 (R): Rep. Doug Lamborn turned back state Rep. Dave Williams 48-33 in a Colorado Springs-based seat Trump also would have carried 53-43. Lamborn, who has struggled to win renomination in the past, is the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation into allegations that he misused official resources by having congressional staff perform personal and campaign-related tasks for him and his wife.

 CO-07 (R): Former oil and gas executive Erik Aadland defeated businessman Tim Reichert 48-36 in the GOP primary to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Aadland will be the underdog against state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, who had no Democratic primary opposition, in a seat in the western Denver suburbs that Biden would have carried 56-42. 

 CO-08 (R): State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer beat Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann 40-23 in the GOP primary for this newly created seat in Denver’s northern suburbs. Democrats had aired ads trying to block Kirkmeyer and convince Republicans to instead nominate far-right Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, but Saine ended up taking only third with 20%. Kirkmeyer will go up against state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, who had no opposition in the Democratic primary, in a constituency Biden would have won 51-46.

 CO-SoS (R): Former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson defeated economic development specialist Mike O’Donnell 43-29; the balance went to Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who was indicted in March for allegedly breaching the county’s election systems during her attempt to demonstrate fraud in 2020. Anderson, who was the one Republican candidate who acknowledged that Biden won the 2020 election, will go up against Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

Next is Illinois, which was home to the bulk of Tuesday’s biggest contests:

 IL-Gov (R): Both Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Donald Trump got what they wanted from the Republican primary as far-right state Sen. Darren Bailey beat venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan in a 57-16 blowout; Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who looked like the frontrunner until early June, took third with just 15% despite the $50 million in donations he’d received from billionaire Ken Griffin.

Pritzker and his allies at the DGA very badly wanted to face Bailey instead of Irvin, and they spent massive amounts to make that happen. NBC reports that the incumbent dropped $32 million on TV ads during the GOP primary, most of which went towards hitting the mayor, while the DGA deployed another $18 million on commercials either touting Bailey as a conservative or attacking Irvin. Another conservative megadonor, Richard Uihlein, spent $17 million to promote Bailey as well and go after Irvin’s record as mayor and past moderate stances.

 IL-01 (D): Businessman Jonathan Jackson, who is the son of two-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and benefited from $1 million in support from crypto-aligned PACs, won the nomination to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush in this safely blue seat by defeating Chicago Alderman Pat Dowell 28-19. Rush, who is the only person to ever defeat Barack Obama, supported former Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership CEO Karin Norington-Reaves, who finished third with 14%.

 IL-03 (D): State Rep. Delia Ramirez, who had several progressive groups on her side, beat Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegas 66-24 in a safely blue seat centered around heavily Latino areas in southwestern Chicago and the city’s western suburbs.

 IL-07 (D): Longtime Rep. Danny Davis turned back anti-gun violence activist Kina Collins 52-45 in what was easily his closest renomination fight ever in this heavily Democratic seat in downtown Chicago. Davis beat Collins 60-14 in a 2020 contest that attracted little attention, but this time, there was notable outside spending on both sides. President Joe Biden also endorsed the 13-term incumbent two days before the primary.

 IL-08 (D): Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi defeated businessman Junaid Ahmed 70-30 in a seat based in Chicago’s outer western suburbs. Biden would have prevailed 57-41 here.

 IL-13 (R & D): The AP has not yet called this GOP primary, but with 95% of the projected vote in, activist Regan Deering leads former federal prosecutor Jesse Reising 35-33. The Democrats are fielding former Biden administration official Nikki Budzinski, who won her own primary 76-24, in a seat that now snakes from East St. Louis northeast through Springfield to the college towns of Champaign and Urbana. Democratic mapmakers transformed what was a 51-47 Trump constituency into one Biden would have carried 54-43, which is why GOP Rep. Rodney Davis decided to take his chances in the 15th instead of run here.

 IL-14 (R): The AP also has not yet made a call in the GOP primary, but conservative radio host Mike Koolidge leads perennial candidate James Marter 31-24. The winner will face Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood in a constituency in Chicago’s western exurbs where Democratic legislators augmented Biden’s margin of victory from 50-48 to 55-43.

 IL-17 (D): Former TV meteorologist Eric Sorensen, who would be the first gay person to represent Illinois in Congress, won the Democratic nod to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos by beating former state Rep. Litesa Wallace 38-23. Republicans are once again fielding 2020 nominee Esther Joy King, who lost to Bustos 52-48 as Trump was taking the old version of this northwestern Illinois seat 50-48; Biden would have carried the new version of the 17th 53-45.

Mississippi also had another big runoff Tuesday:

 MS-03 (R): Rep. Michael Guest avenged his June 7 embarrassment by beating Navy veteran Michael Cassidy 67-33 in the runoff for this safely red seat in the central part of the state. Cassidy led Guest, who voted for a Jan. 6 commission, 47.5-46.9 in the first round in a campaign that almost everyone expected the incumbent to win with ease. The congressman, who himself acknowledged he’d run a complacent campaign, used the next three weeks to air ads attacking Cassidy for the first time, while his allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund spent serious amounts on anti-Cassidy messaging.

New York held primaries for statewide races and the state Assembly, but because the courts redrew the maps for the U.S. House and state Senate, those nomination contests won’t take place until Aug. 23.

 NY-Gov & NY-LG (D): Gov. Kathy Hochul won her primary for a full term by beating New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams 68-19, while Rep. Tom Suozzi took 13%. Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, a former congressman who served as Hochul’s informal running mate, won his separate primary by beating activist Ana Maria Archila, who was aligned with Williams, 61-25. Hochul and Delgado will campaign together as a ticket in November.

 NY-Gov (R): Rep. Lee Zeldin defeated former Trump White House staffer Andrew Giuliani, the son of Donald Trump’s most embarrassing attorney, 44-23. Zeldin and running mate Alison Esposito, who had no intra-party opposition in the primary for lieutenant governor, will try to unseat Hochul and Delgado in a state where Republicans haven’t won a single statewide race since 2002.

Oklahoma also went to the polls: A runoff will take place Aug. 23 in any contests where no one earned a majority of the vote.

 OK-Sen-B (R): Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon will compete in the runoff to succeed longtime Sen. Jim Inhofe, a fellow Republican who announced in late February that he would resign, effective ​​when the current Congress ends.

Mullin took a firm first place with 44% while Shannon, who lost to now-Sen. James Lankford in the 2014 primary for Oklahoma’s other Senate seat, outpaced state Sen. Nathan Dahm 19-12. Another 11% went to Luke Holland, Inhofe’s former chief of staff and preferred successor, while former Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt barely registered with just 5%.

 OK-Gov (R): Gov. Kevin Stitt decisively beat state Department of Veterans Affairs head Joel Kintsel 69-14 even after dark money groups spent millions against him. Stitt will be favored in the fall against Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who left the GOP last year.

 OK-02 (R): State Rep. Avery Frix will compete in the runoff to succeed Mullin in this dark red eastern Oklahoma seat, but the AP has not yet called the second runoff spot. With 99% of the expected vote in for this enormous 14-person field, Frix leads with 15% while former state Sen. Josh Brecheen holds a 14-13 edge over Muskogee Chief of Police Johnny Teehee.

 OK-05 (R): Despite her vote for a Jan. 6 commission, freshman Rep. Stephanie Bice defeated her underfunded foe, conservative YouTube show host Subrina Banks, 68-32 in a newly gerrymandered seat in the Oklahoma City area.

The big night concluded with Utah.

 UT-Sen (R): Far-right Sen. Mike Lee turned back former state Rep. Becky Edwards, who centered her challenge around Lee’s unbending fealty to Donald Trump, 62-30. The incumbent will go up against conservative independent Evan McMullin, whom Democrats decided to support rather than field their own candidate.

 UT-01 (R): Freshman Rep. Blake Moore, who also voted to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks, beat retired intelligence officer Andrew Badger 59-27 in this safely red northern Utah seat.

 UT-03 (R): Finally, Rep. John Curtis, who also voted for a Jan. 6 commission, defeated former state Rep. Chris Herrod 71-29 in what was their third GOP primary contest. This seat in the Provo area and southeastern Utah is also dark red turf.

  Redistricting

LA Redistricting: In an unsurprising move, the Supreme Court’s far-right supermajority voted without explanation to block a lower court decision that struck down Louisiana’s congressional map for violating the Voting Rights Act over the objections of the three liberal justices. The court said it would hear a full appeal next term. As a result, Louisiana will use a map this year that features just a single Black congressional district out of six, despite the fact that the trial court determined that African Americans, who make up a third of the state’s population, are entitled to a second district in which they can elect their preferred candidates under the VRA.

Senate

AK-Sen: Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s allies at Alaskans For Lisa are using their first negative TV ad to attack former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka as “​​so extreme she wants to outlaw receiving contraceptives by mail,” which is almost never the type of messaging we hear in a contest between two Republicans. However, the state’s new top-four electoral system gives Murkowski’s side an incentive to appeal to Alaska’s entire electorate, not just the social conservatives who usually dominate GOP primaries

And there’s good reason to think that this sort of ad could resonate even in a red state like this one. Civiqs finds that registered voters agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases by a 50-45 margin, while other surveys have also shown that a majority of Alaskans support abortion rights.

AZ-Sen: Former Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters’ newest commercial for the August primary features him standing next to Donald Trump as the GOP’s actual master delivers a rare direct-to-camera appeal for one of his candidates. (Trump previously made a personal pitch for David Perdue in the primary for governor of Georgia which … did not end well for either man.)

After praising Masters as “strong on election fraud,” Trump also uses this occasion to argue that two of his intra-party foes, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and wealthy businessman Jim Lamon, “will only let you down,” though he uncharacteristically refrains from dissing them further. Masters himself only chimes in at the end to approve the commercial and shake Trump’s hand, a practice Trump once dismissed as “barbaric.”

MO-Sen: John Wood, a former Republican who served as a senior advisor to the Jan. 6 committee until last week, announced Wednesday morning that he’d run for this open seat as an independent. Wood previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Kansas City area under George W. Bush.

Wood launched his campaign shortly after former Republican Sen. John Danforth starred in a commercial that was part of what AdImpact reported is a $1.4 million buy from a PAC called Missouri Stands Unite. Danforth, who left office in 1995, didn’t mention Wood or anyone else by name but instead spent the 90 second commercial expressing his disillusionment with the state of American unity and argues that a victory for a nonaligned candidate would send a “message to politicians throughout America.” Danforth, though, called for Wood to run before the independent launched his campaign.

NV-Sen, WI-Sen: Two new ads from two pro-choice groups in top-tier Senate races both focus on abortion in the wake of the Dobbs decision, but they use strikingly different language.

In Nevada, Women Vote, which is the super PAC arm of EMILY’s List, says it’s spending $2.1 million to castigate Republican Adam Laxalt for calling the Supreme Court’s ruling an “historic victory.” The narrator elaborates: “Unapologetically pro-life, Laxalt has made a career pushing to limit abortion rights, committed to taking control of every woman’s personal decision and giving it to politicians.”

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, says it’s putting $1.5 million behind an ad warning that the Supreme Court’s decision will “trigger[] a ban on nearly all abortions in Wisconsin” because of an 1849 law outlawing abortion that’s still on the books. She explains that Sen. Ron Johnson “sided with them on overturning Roe v. Wade—punishing doctors and hurting people. Putting our health and reproductive rights in danger.” The voice-over concludes, “Johnson even said, if you don’t like it, you can move.” (Yep, he sure did.)

What’s surprising is hearing an organization like EMILY’s List use the term “pro-life”—a dastardly bit of Orwellian rhetoric deployed by the right for decades that has worked wonders to soften the image of a cruel movement designed to render women second-class citizens. Planned Parenthood wisely avoids the problem by eschewing labels altogether and simply describing the implications of Johnson’s vision.

WA-Sen: Tiffany Smiley, who is the only serious Republican challenging Democratic incumbent Patty Murray, has released an internal from The Tarrance Group showing her trailing the senator only 48-43. An early June survey for the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute gave Murray a larger 51-40 edge, but the Democrat has been taking this contest seriously. Politico reports that Murray has spent over $1 million on her opening ad campaign, including a recent spot where an OB-GYN warned, “You think women’s reproductive health care is safe here in Washington? Not with Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate in the U.S. Senate, Tiffany Smiley.”

Governors

AZ-Gov: Former Rep. Matt Salmon announced Tuesday that he was dropping out of the August Republican primary, saying, “Unfortunately, numbers are numbers, and it has become clear to me that the path to a first-place victory is no longer a realistic possibility.” While Salmon only narrowly lost the 2002 general election for this post to Democrat Janet Napolitano, he lagged in polls and fundraising in his second campaign 20 years later.

The former congressman’s departure five weeks ahead of the primary leaves former TV news anchor Kari Lake, who has Trump’s endorsement, and Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson as the only two major GOP contenders. Self-funding businesswoman Paola Tulliani Zen is also in, but while she recently aired an ad declaring, “I’m going to cut the fat off our government like I cut the fat off my prosciutto,” she’s otherwise attracted very little attention.

MD-Gov: Goucher College, polling on behalf of the Baltimore Banner and WYPR, finds close contests in both party’s July 19 primaries.

On the Democratic side, the school gives state Comptroller Peter Franchot the edge with 16% as former nonprofit head Wes Moore and former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez are just behind with 14% each; former Attorney General Doug Gansler is a distant fourth with just 5%, while a 35% plurality of respondents are undecided. The only other independent poll we’ve seen here was an early June OpinionWorks poll that also put Franchot on top with 20% as Moore and Perez took 15% and 12%, respectively.

In the Republican primary, Goucher has Del. Dan Cox outpacing former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz 25-22, with 44% undecided and no other candidates breaking 3%. OpinionWorks earlier this month gave Schulz, who has termed-out Gov. Larry Hogan’s endorsement, a 27-21 advantage over the Trump-backed Cox.

House

AZ-01: Self-funder Elijah Norton’s newest GOP primary commercial against incumbent David Schweikert features the congressman’s former campaign treasurer, Karen Garrett, expressing some choice words about her old boss and the scandal that dogged him last cycle. Garrett tells the audience that Schweikert “reported a fraudulent $100,000 loan, $279,000 in illegal contributions, and more than $500,000 missing.” She concludes, “Then he blamed his staff. He lied to us. Discovering the kind of person David has become has been one of the heartbreaks of my life.”

FL-02: The local firm Sachs Media gives Republican Rep. Neal Dunn a small 43-40 edge over his Democratic colleague, Al Lawson, in the first poll we’ve seen of this incumbent vs. incumbent matchup. There’s reason to think the undecided voters lean Republican, though: The sample also favors Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis 53-41 in a general election against Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist (Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is also seeking the Democratic nod for governor, was not tested), which closely matches Trump’s 55-44 performance here in 2020.

FL-04: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Tuesday became the latest prominent Republican to endorse state Sen. Aaron Bean in the August primary for this open seat.

FL-23: Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz has earned an endorsement from Hillary Clinton ahead of the Democratic primary.

FL-27: State Sen. Annette Taddeo has released an internal from SEA Polling and Strategic Design that shows her outpacing Miami Commissioner Ken Russell 51-15 in the Democratic primary to take on freshman Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar.

OH-09: Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur is using her first TV ad against her opponent, QAnon-aligned activist J.R. Majewski, to highlight the Republican’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attack. The narrator recounts, “He broke past the police barricades at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot” as the audience sees photos of Majewski in the crowd, continuing, “140 police officers were injured, one died.” The speaker, who is now identified as a local voter, goes on to praise Kaptur’s record supporting the police and funding a new jail before adding, “Look, reckless guys waving assault weapons don’t make our families safer, more police in our neighborhoods do.”

Ballot Measures

AK Ballot: Alaskans will vote this November on whether to hold a state constitutional convention, and the Alaska Beacon’s Lisa Phu writes that this once-in-a-decade referendum has become an abortion rights battleground now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1997 recognized that the state’s governing document protects the right to an abortion, and pro-choice groups are urging voters to keep the status quo in place by voting “no.”

Anti-choice forces, likewise, understand that a victory for the “yes” side would give them a chance to outlaw abortion in a state where it’s otherwise difficult to amend the state constitution. It takes two-thirds of both the state House and Senate to put a constitutional amendment proposal on the ballot, and while two state Senate committees last year advanced a proposal reading, “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution may be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the State to fund an abortion,” it failed to receive a floor vote in either chamber. Senate Republicans and their one Democratic ally currently hold a 14-6 supermajority, but the House is run by a coalition of Democrats, independents, and a few Republicans.  

If a majority voted “no” this fall, then this referendum would next take place in 2032. (Alaska is one of 14 states where constitutional convention questions automatically appear on the ballot after a set number of years; in 2012, “no” won 67-33.) If “yes” came out on top, however, the lieutenant governor’s office says, “The process could take as long as four-plus years or, depending on the legislature, it could be as short as, say, two years.” Phu explains that after the convention finished its work, voters would need to approve any amendments or other revisions to the constitution. The Last Frontier held its last constitutional convention in 1955 and 1956, which was a few years before Alaska became a state.

CA Ballot, VT Ballot: On Tuesday night, both chambers of California’s Democratic-led legislature mustered up the two-thirds majorities needed to place a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot that would affirm that “the state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”

Politico explains that, while “[p]rivacy rights already embedded in the state Constitution have been widely interpreted as protecting the right to abortion,” Democratic leaders want to do everything they can to avoid any legal ambiguity especially now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Back in February, Vermont’s Democratic-controlled legislature voted to place a similar constitutional amendment on its general election ballot that would safeguard “reproductive autonomy.” Civiqs finds that at least 70% of registered voters in both states believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: On the very day of the special election to fill the vacancy caused by his resignation, former Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry learned that he would receive zero time in jail after he was convicted in March of lying to federal investigators in an effort to conceal illegal campaign funds he received from a foreign national.

Remarkably, U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld handed down the light sentence—two years of probation, community service, and a fine—because he concluded that “by all accounts the man is of exceptional character,” adding, “The court is convinced that this wrongful, dishonest choice was out of character by Mr. Fortenberry.” Making the sentence all the more inexplicable, Fortenberry still denies wrongdoing and once again said he would appeal—the very opposite of the sort of showing of contrition that might motivate a judge toward leniency.

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