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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● OH Ballot: In a 4-3 decision that split along party lines, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Republican majority ruled that GOP legislators had the authority to schedule an Aug. 8 special election for their constitutional amendment that would make it harder for voters to pass future amendments. Republican lawmakers just months earlier had passed a law ending regular August elections, and the plaintiffs had contended that the party could thus only schedule one by enacting separate legislation―something the GOP reportedly lacked the votes to pass. However, the court rejected their arguments.
The GOP’s amendment, which only needs a simple majority in order to go into effect, would raise the threshold to 60% voter approval to pass future amendments. Their measure, which will be identified as Issue 1 on the ballot, would also require voters to gather a certain number of signatures from all 88 counties to qualify their own amendments for the ballot instead of the current number of 44 counties. The existing rules already make it burdensome for progressives to qualify ballot initiatives and pass them in this conservative state, but if voters approve the GOP’s amendment, passing such measures could become all but impossible.
“This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, said earlier this month as he promoted Issue 1. Indeed, the campaign comes at a time when abortion rights backers are gathering signatures to get their own measure onto the ballot this November, but Republicans made sure the 60% threshold could take effect by then if approved.
The higher signature requirement wouldn’t apply until next year, but this isn’t the only potential ballot measure that Ohio Republicans are looking to stop. A state representative told his colleagues last year that this amendment also aims to thwart a 2024 effort to create an independent redistricting commission and end the GOP’s existing gerrymanders. LaRose, meanwhile, touted Issue 1 by warning, “Who knows what’s next? Marijuana, or maybe we just get rid of that whole pesky keep and bear arms thing that’s in the Constitution?”
The secretary of state months ago was one of the Republicans who successfully called for ending regular August elections, saying, “August special elections generate chronically low turnout because voters aren’t expecting an election to occur. This is bad news for the civic health of our state.” However, he and his allies are now almost certainly hoping that the low turnout they warned about will make the August electorate disproportionately conservative and help Issue 1 earn the majority it needs. “The left has some really dangerous plans,” LaRose said as he promoted it earlier this month, “and this is one of the ways that we can make sure they’re not successful.”
● AL Redistricting: Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision earlier this month that upheld a lower court ruling requiring under the Voting Rights Act the creation of a second congressional district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate, the lower court has given the Republican-led legislature until July 21 to draw a new map, which the judges would then decide whether to accept. However, if Republican lawmakers once again pass a map that violates the rights of Black voters, then the court itself would likely step in and draw one for the 2024 elections.
● MI-Sen: EPIC-MRA shows Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin with a 40-39 edge in a hypothetical general election against Detroit’s former police chief, Republican James Craig, with a hefty 21% undecided. Craig, who ran a chaotic 2022 campaign for governor even before he was ejected from the ballot over fraudulent signatures, doesn’t appear to have said anything about a Senate run since he first expressed interest two months ago.
● TX-Sen: Democratic state Rep. James Talarico, who is the subject of a lengthy profile in Politico detailing how the progressive “fights the culture wars by quoting scripture,” tells reporter Adam Wren that he’s considering either challenging GOP Sen. Ted Cruz this cycle or running for governor in 2026. Unnamed Talarico allies, though, say he’s “leaning toward” the latter option now that Rep. Colin Allred is taking on Cruz.
● IL-12: Former state Sen. Darren Bailey will host a July 4 event at his farm, and ABC7 writes there’s “some speculation” the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee could use the occasion to announce a primary bid against Rep. Mike Bost. The incumbent recently confirmed that he’d be seeking a sixth term in this dark red constituency in downstate Illinois.
● KY-05: Longtime Republican Rep. Hal Rogers responded to the Lexington Herald Leader’s inquiries about his reelection plans with, “I haven’t thought about that. Unless something happens, yes.” The 85-year-old Rogers, who became dean of the House after Alaska Rep. Don Young died last year, has been on the retirement watchlist for several cycles, but the 22-term member has always opted to retain his dark red eastern Kentucky constituency.
● ME-02: The conservative site The Dispatch reports that Republicans are waiting to see if former Rep. Bruce Poliquin will seek a third bout against Democratic incumbent Jared Golden, though there’s no sign he’s interested in trying again after how badly his last comeback went. “According to everyone that I’ve spoken with, he’s not going to run or even looking at it,” an unnamed strategist said of Poliquin, who lost 53-47 in 2022 four years after Golden narrowly unseated him.
The only notable Republican currently running for this 52-46 Trump seat is Robert Cross, who lost his own primary last year for the state Senate.
● VA State Senate: Virginia holds its legislative primary Tuesday, and several Democratic contests for safely blue seats in the state Senate have turned into expensive battles between two groups: Dominion Energy and the Clean Virginia Fund, a well-funded environmental group that is one of the mammoth energy producer’s most ardent foes. One of the most prominent recipients of Dominion’s aid is scandal-ridden Sen. Joe Morrissey, the self-proclaimed “unapologetically pro-life” lawmaker who has received close to $100,000 from the company.
Clean Virginia, which was founded by hedge fund CEO Michael Bills, has in turn donated $190,000 to former Del. Lashrecse Aird, with another $125,000 coming from Bills’ wife, Sonjia Smith. Aird, who has endorsements from U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Rep. Jennifer McClellan, has outraised Morrissey $1.6 million to $670,000 in the 13th Senate District, which includes communities near Richmond.
This isn’t the only Democratic primary where both sides are making hefty contributions, though. Over in Northern Virginia’s 35th District, Sen. Dave Marsden has benefited from $90,000 in contributions from Dominion, while activist Heidi Drauschak has received $190,000 from Clean Virginia and Smith. The dynamics are similar next door in the 36th as Sen. George Barker tries to fend off Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky.
To the south around Charlottesville another Democratic senator, 2009 gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds, is trying to win renomination against Del. Sally Hudson in the 11th. Smith has donated $100,000 to the challenger, while Deeds has received $30,000 from Dominion. Meanwhile back in Northern Virginia, the open 33rd features an expensive clash between two former delegates: Clean Virginia and Smith are for Jennifer Carroll Foy, who lost the 2021 primary for governor, while Dominion is supporting 2021 lieutenant governor nominee Hala Ayala.
However, not every big Democratic Senate primary has become a proxy fight between these two sides. Clean Virginia is helping both Democrats campaigning for Northern Virginia’s 29th, Sen. Jeremy McPike and Del. Elizabeth Guzman. Dominion, meanwhile, has donated to both incumbents jousting for the 18th District in Hampton Roads, Louise Lucas and Lionell Spruill.
Spruill currently represents 44% of this seat compared to 37% for Lucas, but the latter is pointing to her huge advantage in seniority to make her case for renomination. Lucas is also insisting that Spruill is too close to Republicans and has faulted him for avoiding votes on LGBTQ+ rights: She’s also gone so far as to compare her fellow Black Democrat to “those individuals who sold their own people into slavery” in an interview with the Washington Post. Spruill, for his part, has argued he’d do a far better job working with Republicans like Gov. Glenn Youngkin, though he’s also run ads declaring, “He’s sure as heck going to keep taking on Glenn Youngkin.” He’s also pushed back on the idea that Lucas is the more liberal of the pair.
While this is the sole incumbent vs. incumbent battle in the chamber, the Post notes that several other senators face challenging races under a revamped Senate map drawn by the state Supreme Court. Barker, perhaps most notably, currently represents a mere 6% of the seat he’s seeking reelection in, compared to 31% for Marsden. McPike and Morrissey, meanwhile, respectively serve 41% and 45% of their redrawn seats, while Deeds represents about two-thirds of the new 11th.