Morning Digest: How Michigan Democrats plan to hold one of the nation’s swingiest House seats

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

MI-08: Michigan politicos were taken aback when veteran Rep. Dan Kildee unexpectedly announced his retirement late last year, but Democrats just landed a replacement that one local newspaper called a “top recruit”: state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet.

As Jeff Singer explains in a new piece, McDonald Rivet has experience winning on difficult, swingy turf that’s much like the congressional district Kildee is leaving behind. First, though, she’ll have to get through a primary, and if she does, an expensive campaign awaits for a seat that the GOP is eager to flip. But Republicans have their own nomination contest to deal with, and their leading contender is the same guy who lost to Kildee last year by a surprisingly wide double-digit margin.

Read more about this top-tier race at Daily Kos Elections.

The Downballot

● Republicans have an unflagging ability to lose elections by saying outrageous crap, but someone has to record it all—and put it on blast. That someone is the Democratic opposition research shop American Bridge, which is why we’re talking to the organization’s president, Pat Dennis, on this week’s episode of “The Downballot.” Dennis tells us how the not-so-dark art of “oppo” works, explaining how it’s been refined over the years to better allow Democrats to target Republicans running far down the ballot. He also shares the do’s and don’ts of tracking candidates and how his shop most effectively weaponizes the massive storehouses of video and research it puts together.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also kick off the third season of The Downballot with a recap of the normally snoozy but surprisingly newsy holiday break, starting with Lauren Boebert’s naked attempt to stay in power by flitting off to a new district on the far side of the state. Then there’s a huge redistricting win for the good guys in Wisconsin, but a tough loss in Georgia—though a silver lining for Democrat Lucy McBath. Finally, we catch up on the special election to replace George Santos and the fumbling efforts of a Kevin McCarthy ally to get on the ballot in the race to succeed the ex-speaker.

Subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. You’ll find a transcript of this week’s episode right here by noon Eastern time. New episodes every Thursday morning!

4Q Fundraising

  • CA-16: Sam Liccardo (D): $1.65 million raised (in one month)
  • CA-41: Will Rollins (D): $1 million raised, $2.1 million cash on hand
  • CA-45: Derek Tran (D): $529,000 raised
  • ME-02: Austin Theriault (R): $355,000 raised
  • OH-02: Niraj Antani (R): $612,000 raised (in 48 days)
  • VA-10: Dan Helmer (D): $600,000 raised (in 47 days), $525,000 cash on hand; Suhas Subramanyam (D): $270,000 raised (in six weeks), $240,000 cash on hand

Senate

MI-Sen: Public Policy Polling, working on behalf of the Voter Protection Project, is out with the first survey we’ve seen in months of the August Democratic primary, and it shows Rep. Elissa Slotkin easily beating actor Hill Harper 50-12. While VPP doesn’t appear to have announced an endorsement in this race, its accompanying press release praised Slotkin as “the strongest candidate in one of the most important states in our fight to retain Democratic control of the Senate.”

NJ-Sen: Labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina declared Wednesday that she would compete in the June Democratic primary for the seat held by indicted Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez. Campos-Medina, who is an immigrant from El Salvador, would be the first Latina to represent New Jersey in Congress.

Ohio: Candidate filing closed on Dec. 20 for Ohio’s March 19 primary, which will feature a number of important races. Below, you’ll find our summaries of all the top contenders in all the key contests.

If you’re looking for lists of candidates, though, you’ll have to do a little legwork. While the Ohio secretary of state’s office has a list of candidates for the U.S. Senate and the state Supreme Court, anyone running for the U.S. House and the state legislature is required to file with the county that makes up the largest proportion of their district. The state doesn’t compile this information, so you’ll have to check out individual county websites, which are linked here.

OH-Sen: Rich guy Bernie Moreno has been the apparent GOP front-runner to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown ever since he picked up Donald Trump’s endorsement last month, a status he cemented after the radical anti-tax Club for Growth also gave him its backing on Wednesday.

Trump has long had a tumultuous relationship with the Club, which spent the past year unsuccessfully trying to recruit Rep. Warren Davidson to run here. But there may now be a thaw: The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Club “has contacted Trump advisers looking for a détente,” though the story didn’t mention this race as part of that effort.

Moreno’s two main intraparty foes are Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who insisted in August that he was “likely” to earn Trump’s backing, and state Sen. Matt Dolan, who came in third in the 2022 primary for the state’s other Senate seat after calling for his party to move on from Trump. Politico reports that Moreno has so far spent $4 million on TV, while Dolan, who is also self-funding much of his effort, has deployed $1.7 million. LaRose, by contrast, has not run any television spots yet.

UT-Sen: Rep. John Curtis declared Tuesday that he would enter the June primary to replace his fellow Republican, retiring Sen. Mitt Romney. Curtis made his announcement hours after attorney Brent Hatch, who is the son of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, launched his own campaign for the seat his father held from 1977 to 2019.

Curtis, who said he wouldn’t run in October only to reconsider, has largely been a reliable conservative vote in the House. However, unlike the majority of his caucus, he recognized Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, and he went on to vote for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot. Republicans in his Provo-area district had their chance to express their displeasure at Curtis, but they didn’t take it: The congressman instead won renomination 70-30 against Chris Herrod, a former state representative who’d already lost two previous primaries against Curtis.

Hatch, by contrast, is the treasurer of the hardline Federalist Society, but he doesn’t appear to have ever sought elected office before. The new candidate, while touting himself as “not a professional politician,” said he had “an insider’s knowledge of the highest levels of government” from working for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Two Republicans who were already running, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs and former state House Speaker Brad Wilson, told KUTV that Curtis’ entry wouldn’t change anything for them. But another Senate candidate, Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird, filed paperwork with the state to run for Curtis’ 3rd District rather than continue his bid for the upper chamber; the Deseret News speculates that conservative activist Carolyn Phippen could also switch races. Utah’s filing deadline is Monday, so we won’t be in suspense for long.

House

CO-03: Colorado Board of Education member Stephen Varela confirmed to the Colorado Sun that he’s “strongly considering” entering the GOP primary for this now-open seat.

CO-04: State House Minority Leader Mike Lynch on Wednesday joined the June GOP primary to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Ken Buck, a declaration that came a week after 3rd District Rep. Lauren Boebert decided to campaign here. Lynch joined many of his rivals in attacking the far-right congresswoman for running for the 4th, telling the Denver Post, “To assume that the state needs her so bad that she’d switch her constituent bases was shocking.”

Speaker Mike Johnson, though, doesn’t seem bothered by Boebert’s move, as he endorsed her later that day.

GA-03: State Sen. Mike Dugan declared Wednesday that he was entering the May GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson, and he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein that he’d resign Thursday to focus on his bid. The GOP’s new gerrymander did not alter this constituency in Atlanta’s southwestern exurbs at all, and it remains safely red at 64-34 Trump.

Dugan launched his campaign weeks after state Rep. David Jenkins became the first major candidate to enter the race. The AJC also writes that former state Rep. Philip Singleton “plans to enter the race this month.” The filing deadline is March 8.

Dugan, writes Bluestein, is a former majority leader, but he’s seen his influence plunge since the 2022 elections. Dugan campaigned for a promotion to president pro tem but lost to John Kennedy: The Associated Press said after that vote that, while the caucus liked Dugan, some members viewed him as “insufficiently orthodox on some issues.”

Things got worse last month when the state senator reacted to the new court-ordered legislative maps by accusing his colleagues of passing boundaries that split up his base and refusing to listen to his alternative proposals. “To say I was disappointed is an understatement,” said Dugan. “This is politics at its ugliest.”

NY-03: Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin reports that the NRCC and Republican Mazi Pilip are spending $100,000 on a coordinated TV buy that began Wednesday, though there’s no copy available yet. Rubashkin also says that the NRCC is deploying $847,000 on its opening independent expenditure, which will start airing Jan. 16.

Democrats, though, will have aired plenty of spots by then. Rubashkin places the size of the buy for the DCCC’s inaugural ad campaign this week at $1 million, and he says House Majority PAC will start spending $3.7 million the following week.

NY-26: Former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, a Democrat who waged a trio of unsuccessful bids for the now-defunct 27th District, took to social media Tuesday to express interest in campaigning for the seat that Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins will be resigning from in the first week of February. However, while it will be up to party leaders to choose their nominees for the special election, McMurray wrote, “I know me even considering it will kick the party bosses and their naysaying henchman (along with my MAGA fan base) into hyperdrive.”

OH-01: Freshman Democratic Rep. Greg Landsman faces one Republican, local prosecutor Orlando Sonza, in a Cincinnati-based seat that favored Joe Biden 53-45 in 2020. Sonza, who ran a quixotic 2022 campaign for a safely blue state Senate seat, ended September with only $75,000 in the bank, so his party is hoping that he did far better in the fourth quarter. (New fundraising reports are due at the FEC on Jan. 31.)

OH-02: Rep. Brad Wenstrup unexpectedly announced his retirement in mid-November, leading to a pileup of 11 fellow Republicans who are now campaigning to replace him. This southern Ohio constituency backed Donald Trump by a huge 72-27 margin.

The only current elected officials in the contest are a pair of state senators, Niraj Antani and Shane Wilkin, though Antani represents a constituency in the Dayton suburbs, far from the 2nd District. A pair of self-funding businessmen are running as well: Tim O’Hara, whom Axios reports will throw down $750,000, and David Taylor, who says he’s self-funded $1 million.

The field also includes OneOhio Recovery Foundation chair Larry Kidd, Clermont County party chair Charles Tassell, and Kim Georgeton, a far-right activist who lost a nasty 2022 primary for the state House.

OH-06: GOP Rep. Bill Johnson will resign Jan. 21 to become president of Youngstown State University, and while a special election hasn’t yet been scheduled, a trio of Republicans are competing for the regular two-year term. The GOP field for this 64-35 Trump seat in eastern Ohio consists of state Sen. Michael Rulli, state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, and chiropractor Rick Tsai.

OH-09: Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who is the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, is one of the GOP’s top targets in the nation. But Republicans have to sort through an especially messy primary—even by their standards—before they can concentrate on flipping this 51-48 Trump seat in northwestern Ohio.

For months, the main candidates were J.R. Majewski, the QAnon ally who lost to Kaptur 57-43 last cycle, and former state Rep. Craig Riedel, who lost the 2022 primary to Majewski. Riedel’s standing took a massive hit after he bashed Donald Trump in December, which reportedly prompted Speaker Mike Johnson and his allies to recruit state Rep. Derek Merrin after deciding Riedel was too damaged to beat Majewski. Napoleon Mayor Steve Lankenau is also running, but he’s attracted little attention.

OH-13: Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes is seeking a second term in a 51-48 Biden seat in the Akron and Canton areas, and three Republicans are competing to take her on. Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg has the backing of Sen. J.D. Vance, while former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin is campaigning to return to office for the first time in over a decade. Rounding out the field is Richard Morckel, who waged two little-noticed bids for Congress in 2016 and 2020.

OH-15: Republican Rep. Mike Carey faces notable opposition in the southwestern Columbus area from Democratic state Rep. Adam Miller, but Miller faces an uphill battle in a seat that supported Donald Trump 53-46.

PA-08: Speaker Mike Johnson on Tuesday endorsed wealthy businessman Rob Bresnahan, who is the only serious Republican campaigning against Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright.

UT-03: Former Utah County Republican Party Chairman Stewart Peay responded to Rep. John Curtis’ decision to run for the Senate by quickly announcing a bid to replace him in the 3rd District, which favored Donald Trump 57-38 in 2020. Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird, who launched a bid for the upper chamber in September by pledging to self-fund $1 million, also filed paperwork with the state to compete in the June primary for the 3rd.

The field of Republicans campaigning for this constituency, which includes parts of the Provo and Salt Lake City areas as well as rural southeastern Utah, will almost certainly expand in the days before Monday’s filing deadline. Both businessman Case Lawrence and state Sen. Mike Kennedy announced last month that they were setting up exploratory committees in case Curtis sought a promotion.

Both state Auditor John Dougall and former state Rep. Chris Herrod, who lost three primaries to Curtis, also expressed interest in running for an open seat. The former declared Tuesday that he would not seek reelection this year, though he didn’t say anything about leaving politics. The Deseret News also speculates that Utah County Commission chair Amelia Powers Gardner and conservative activist Carolyn Phippen, who is currently running for the Senate, could also campaign here.

Judges

OH Supreme Court: Republicans hold a 4-3 majority in the Ohio Supreme Court, so for Democrats to flip control, they need to sweep the three seats that are up this year. All contests are statewide races where the candidates’ party affiliations will be included on the ballot, but there are some important differences between them.

Republican Justice Joe Deters was appointed to fill a vacancy by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine following the 2022 elections, but rather than campaign for the remaining two years in his term, he’s decided to take on a fellow justice, Democrat Melody Stewart, for a full six-year term. Democratic Justice Michael Donnelly, meanwhile, has drawn a challenge from Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan in the general election.

As for the seat that Deters is leaving behind, two Democratic members of the state Court of Appeals are facing off in a primary. Lisa Forbes is running on a slate with the two incumbents that the state Democratic Party announced in November, while Terri Jamison, who lost to Republican Justice Pat Fischer 57-43 in 2022, launched a second bid at the filing deadline. The one Republican campaigning for this seat is Franklin County Judge Dan Hawkins.

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