Morning Digest: North Carolina will host one of the top Supreme Court races of 2024

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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Leading Off

NC Supreme Court: Candidate filing closed this past Friday for the March 5 primaries in North Carolina, a perennial swing state that will host closely watched races up and down the ballot. Not to be overlooked, though, is a crucial contest for an eight-year term on the state Supreme Court.

Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Allison Riggs in September after Mike Morgan, a fellow Democrat, resigned ahead of launching a bid for governor. Had Morgan instead sought and won another term on the court, he would have faced mandatory retirement at the age of 72, in 2027, less than halfway through a second term. The new justice, whose appointment at 42 made her the youngest woman ever to serve on the court, won’t face that same problem, but she doesn’t have a clear path to the general election.

Riggs instead faces an intraparty challenge from Superior Court Judge Lora Cubbage, who serves the Greensboro area. Cubbage ran statewide in 2020 for a seat on the Court of Appeals, but she lost to Republican Fred Gore 51-49 as Donald Trump was narrowly carrying the state. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows that both candidates start off with little name recognition, with Riggs ahead 12-9.

The only Republican in the race is Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin, who won his post three years ago by unseating Democratic incumbent Chris Brook, also by a 51-49 margin as Republicans were seeping every statewide court race in 2020.

Democrats need to hold this seat in November as part of a multi-cycle plan that represents their only realistic path toward rolling back the GOP’s iron grip on state politics. Last year, Republicans flipped two Supreme Court seats to turn what had been a 4-3 Democratic edge into a 5-2 GOP majority, and Democrats have little room for error if they’re to regain control this decade. To eventually take a 4-3 majority, Democrats would need to win four of the court’s next five races, a battery that includes Riggs’ election campaign next year, fellow Democratic Justice Anita Earls’ reelection bid in 2026, and contests for three Republican-held seats in 2028.

It’s also critical that Democrats prevail in next year’s race to succeed Cooper as governor so that they can stop Republican legislators from adding two seats to the court for a GOP governor to fill, a court-packing plan they’ve been contemplating for years. A Democratic governor could also fill any other vacancies that arise.

Senate

AZ-Sen, AZ-02: Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego on Monday publicized an endorsement from his ex-wife, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, an announcement that comes at a time when Republican Kari Lake is trying to weaponize the couple’s divorce against the congressman heading into next year’s Senate race.

At the end of 2016, the Gallegos announced their impending divorce, with both calling it a “private matter.” The two, who share custody of a son who was born a short time later, have continued to say little about their breakup. That did not stop Lake, who has a long history of spreading far-right lies, from tweeting last week that the congressman had “abandoned his wife” after he attacked Lake’s opposition to abortion rights.

Gallego’s campaign did not directly respond to Lake’s accusation, but the Gallegos offered positive remarks about one another in announcing the mayor’s support. “I’m proud to endorse Ruben because I know first-hand his commitment to building a brighter future for Arizona,” Kate Gallego said in a statement.

“On top of being an incredible leader in our community, Kate is the best mom that our son could ask for and I’m truly honored to have her support,” Ruben Gallego added.

Lake remains the favorite to claim the GOP nod in August, though Politico reports that unnamed Republicans are waging an as yet unsuccessful effort to convince her only notable intra-party rival to run for a different office.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb confirms that he’s been contacted about waging a primary bid against Rep. Eli Crane, who was one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker, but he added, “I quickly dispelled that.” Arizona’s filing deadline isn’t until April, however, so the persuasion campaign might not be over yet.

IN-Sen: The Indiana Supreme Court has announced that it will hear arguments on Feb. 12 about a constitutionality of a law that would keep wealthy egg farmer John Rust off the GOP primary ballot, a date that comes three days after the state’s filing deadline. State judge Patrick Dietrick blocked this law, which we explain here, earlier this month, but Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita quickly appealed the ruling.

Rust is free to proceed with his campaign for now, though, because the state’s highest court kept Dietrick’s ruling in place. Senate candidates must turn in 500 valid signatures from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts. Rust is the underdog in the May GOP primary against Rep. Jim Banks.

MT-Sen: The conservative Washington Examiner writes that, according to AdImpact, a Democratic group called Last Best Place has already booked $1.6 million in ad time to attack businessman Tim Sheehy, which is much larger than the $141,000 figure it had deployed through mid-September. As we wrote back then, the spots slam Sheehy for not paying back a $770,000 loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program that was designed to support businesses during the pandemic (the loans were forgivable in many cases).

Governors

NC-Gov: Below is our look at the major contests to watch next year in North Carolina, though you’ll find our preview of the state’s crucial Supreme Court race at the top of this Digest.

The state Supreme Court also casts a shadow over this cycle’s elections: After Republicans retook control of the court last year, the new conservative majority reversed a previous ruling that forbade partisan gerrymandering. That in turn allowed Republican lawmakers to pass extremely one-sided maps both for Congress and the state legislature, prompting multiple Democrats not to seek reelection.

Note that the Tarheel State allows for primary runoffs on May 14, but only if no candidate wins more than 30% of the vote on March 5. The runner-up must also formally request a runoff.

Five Democrats and three Republicans are competing for the seat held by termed-out Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Attorney General Josh Stein has been the Democrats’ frontrunner since launching his effort in January, while former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan entered the primary in September.

However, a new survey from Public Policy Polling, which tells us it has no client, finds Stein far ahead with 56%, while Morgan’s 5% barely puts him ahead of three little-known contenders. Cooper and other influential Democrats are backing the attorney general, while Morgan hasn’t secured any major endorsements yet.

The GOP contest pits Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson against state Treasurer Dale Folwell and wealthy businessman Bill Graham. A fourth candidate, former state Sen. Andy Wells, did not file ahead of Friday’s deadline.

Every poll has shown Robinson, who has Donald Trump’s endorsement, far ahead of his primary rivals. However, Robinson’s intraparty critics have fretted that his past screeds—which run the gamut from antisemitic and Islamophobic to misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic—as well as his ardent opposition to reproductive rights could cost them next year’s general election. Sen. Thom Tillis this month became the first major Republican to endorse Graham, who began airing ads in October.

House

CA-20: The California secretary of state’s office said Friday that Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong couldn’t run for Congress in 2024 because he’d already filed to run for reelection and can’t get off the ballot for Assembly. Fong quickly announced that he’d sue to get on the March 5 top-two primary ballot to succeed his former boss and top supporter, outgoing Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

CA-47: AFSCME California has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Dave Min ahead of the March 5 top-two primary for this competitive open seat.

CO-04: Former state GOP chair Kristi Burton Brown tells the Denver Post that, not only has she decided to sit out the race for this safely red open seat, 2022 gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl is also a no. Ganahl, for her part, does not appear to have said anything publicly about her plans.

By contrast, Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon reiterated to the paper that he’s thinking about campaigning to replace his fellow Republican, retiring Rep. Ken Buck. And while the Colorado Sun wrote earlier this month that state House Minority Leader Mike Lynch was “expected to launch a congressional bid in the coming weeks,” Lynch himself says he’s still making up his mind.

GA-03: State Rep. David Jenkins on Monday became the first notable candidate to enter the May GOP primary to retiring Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson. Jenkins, who served in the 101st Airborne Infantry Division, won his seat 51-49 following an expensive 2020 battle against state House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, who was the last white Democrat representing a rural district.

MA-07: The CommonWealth Beacon’s Gintautas Dumcius writes that a spokesperson for Joe Kraft, who is the son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, says he “has no interest in running” against Rep. Ayanna Presley in the Democratic primary. (There’s no direct quote from Kraft’s team.)

The speculation about such a campaign began earlier this month when the Boston Herald reported that the younger Kraft had brought some property in the North End of Boston, which the conservative paper mistakenly said was in Presley’s district. However, while the congresswoman represents most of the city, Dumcius points out that the North End is actually in Democratic Rep. Steve Lynch’s 8th District.

MI-08: Dan Moilanen, who is the executive director of the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, declared late last week that he would seek the Democratic nod to replace retiring Rep. Dan Kildee in this swing seat. Moilanen is a former party chair in Genesee County, which forms just over half of the district. The only other declared contender for the August Democratic primary is State Board of Education president Pamela Pugh.

NC-01: GOP map-makers targeted freshman Democratic Rep. Don Davis by lowering Joe Biden’s margin of victory here from 53-46 to just 50-49, and two Republicans are running to face him in this inland northeastern North Carolina seat.

The more familiar name belongs to 2022 nominee Sandy Smith, who lost to Davis 52-48 last year. House Republicans never wanted her to be their nominee in the first place: The Congressional Leadership Fund spent $600,000 in the primary in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Smith, who was accused of physical abuse by her daughter and not one but two ex-husbands. The other contender is Army veteran Laurie Buckhout, who said she’d already self-funded $1 million when she entered the race in October.

NC-06: Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning said earlier this month she wouldn’t seek a third term after Republicans transformed her constituency from one that would have voted 56-43 for Joe Biden in 2020 into one that would have gone 58-41 for Donald Trump. Six Republicans are competing to replace her in this central Piedmont region district, though Trump put his thumb on the scales on Wednesday by endorsing lobbyist Addison McDowell.

McDowell faces several Republicans who have more experience running for office in this area. The most prominent contender, at least until Trump’s intervention, was former Rep. Mark Walker, who represented previous versions of the 6th from 2015 through 2021. Walker, though, took a distant third place in last year’s Senate primary.

Another recognizable name is Bo Hines, who has spent the last few years searching for a seat to run for somewhere in the state. Hines tested out four different districts before going on to lose the 2022 general election to Democrat Wiley Nickel 52-48 in the old 13th. Outgoing High Point Mayor Jay Wagner is also in, as are two lesser-known Republicans who waged low-profile bids against Manning last cycle.

NC-08: Far-right Rep. Dan Bishop is leaving Congress to run for attorney general, and six fellow Republicans are campaigning to succeed him. This constituency, which is based in the eastern Charlotte suburbs and rural areas east of Charlotte, favored Donald Trump 58-41.

There’s no obvious frontrunner yet, though there is one candidate that many Republicans wish they could just forget: pastor Mark Harris, whose 2018 House campaign was responsible for one the most ignominious election fraud scandals in recent memory. The only sitting elected official in the race is state Rep. John Bradford, who is capable of spending millions. Former Union County Commissioner Allan Baucom is also running, and he self-funded almost all the $251,000 his campaign had available at the end of September.

Another name to watch belongs to Chris Maples, who previously worked as Bishop’s district director. Rounding out the field are Don Brown, who is an author and retired Navy JAG officer, and former National Association of Realtors official Leigh Brown, who badly lost the 2019 GOP primary to Bishop in the special election that was called after evidence of fraud prompted officials to declare Harris’ seat vacant.

NC-10: GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry unexpectedly announced his retirement in early December, and five Republicans are hoping to take his seat. Donald Trump won the 10th District, which includes the Winston-Salem and western Piedmont region, 57-41.

The one elected official in the running is state Rep. Grey Mills. However, he faces well-funded opposition from firearms manufacturer Pat Harrigan, who was the GOP nominee in the old 14th District last year. Harrigan, who originally was running for the revamped 14th before McHenry retired, finished September with $745,000 banked thanks mostly to self-funding. Three other Republicans are on the ballot, but they haven’t attracted much attention yet.

NC-11: Republican Rep. Chuck Edwards faces notable Democratic opposition from state Rep. Caleb Rudow, but the challenger has an uphill battle here. This western North Carolina constituency backed Donald Trump 55-44; Edwards also hasn’t attracted anything like the national attention that stuck to his notorious predecessor, Madison Cawthorn.

NC-13: A grand total of 14 Republicans are running to replace Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel, who said he would not seek a second term because the GOP gerrymandered his seat and would instead run for the Senate in 2026. The new map morphed this consistency from one that would have favored Joe Biden took 50-48 into one that would have supported Donald Trump 58-41.

The Republicans running to represent this seat in the Raleigh exurbs and nearby rural areas are:

  • 2022 state Senate candidate Chris Baker
  • 2022 congressional candidate DeVan Barbour
  • 2022 congressional candidate Kelly Daughtry
  • Businessman Marcus Dellinger
  • Some Dude David Dixon
  • Former federal prosecutor Brad Knott
  • 2020 congressional candidate Steve Loor
  • Army veteran Josh McConkey
  • Real estate agent James Phillips
  • Accountant Sid Sharma
  • Former intelligence officer Matt Shoemaker
  • Army veteran Eric Stevenson
  • 2022 state House candidate Fred Von Canon
  • Conservative activist Kenny Xu

Knott is already getting $500,000 in ad support from a super PAC called the American Foundations Committee, whose leaders have extensive ties to state Republicans.

NC-14: Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson launched a bid for attorney general after Republicans gerrymandered his seat, and GOP state House Speaker Tim Moore now appears to be on a glide path to replace him.

Moore’s only intraparty foes are perennial candidate Jeff Gregory and Nalini Joseph, who took third in the 2022 primary for the safely blue 12th District. Another Republican, former state Court of Appeals Judge Eric Levinson, announced he was running in November but did not file last week. Donald Trump would have carried the new version of this seat in western Charlotte and the western foothills by 58-41, while Joe Biden took the last incarnation 57-41.

NH-01: Businessman Chris Bright, who previously served in the Army, announced earlier this month that he would take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas. Bright joins a September GOP primary that consists of businesswoman Hollie Noveletsky and former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott, who placed fourth in last year’s nomination contest.

OH-02: Conservative activist Kim Georgeton, who is a local leader in the far-right Moms for Liberty, has joined the busy March GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup.

Georgeton, who lives outside this safely red constituency, opposed state Rep. Chris Monzel in last year’s primary. She made news when she blasted the Hamilton County Republican Party’s endorsement of Monzel as the “definition of corruption,” while Alex Triantafilou said that Georgeton personally told him she voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Georgeton told the Cincinnati Enquirer in response she had indeed voted in the Democratic nomination contest, though she didn’t disclose if she’d backed Sanders. She instead declared, “The intent is to vote for a weaker candidate in the opposing party primary to help the Republican candidate win in the November election.” Monzel ultimately won 59-41.

RI-02: The Cook Political Report says that 2022 Republican nominee Allan Fung won’t seek a rematch against freshman Democratic Rep. Seth Magaziner in this 56-42 Biden seat. Magaziner won 50-46 last year despite never leading in a single released poll, and Republicans are unlikely to make this race a priority this cycle.

Attorneys General

NC-AG: Two sitting House members, Democrat Jeff Jackson and Republican Dan Bishop, are likely to face off in a closely watched race to replace Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Josh Stein, though only Jackson has a contested primary. However, a new poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows Jackson leading Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry by a wide 34-8 margin, with attorney Tim Dunn at 2%.

Legislatures

PA State House: The Bucks County GOP over the weekend nominated Candace Cabanas, who says she has “experience in both healthcare and hospitality,” for the Feb. 13 special election to replace former Democratic Rep. John Galloway. Three Democrats are currently trying to convince their party’s leaders to select them to be their party’s standard bearer in a contest that will once again determine control of the chamber.

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