Morning Digest: Why the GOP’s big new Senate recruit is a longshot

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Leading Off

● MD-Sen: Out of nowhere, former Gov. Larry Hogan announced a bid for Maryland’s open Senate seat right before Friday’s candidate filing deadline. But despite his personal popularity, he faces enormous obstacles in winning a state that last elected a Republican senator in 1980.

Hogan’s entry was unexpected because he rejected entreaties from GOP leaders to run for Senate in 2022 and trashed the idea of running just last year, after Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin announced his retirement.

“The thing that surprised me the most was that my wife said, ‘Why don’t you run for the Senate?'” Hogan told NewsNation. “I told her she was crazy. I mean, I didn’t have any interest in being a senator.”

Hogan even derided the very idea of serving in Congress in that same interview. “The Senate is an entirely different job,” he said. “You’re one of 100 people arguing all day. Not a lot gets done in the Senate, and most former governors that I know that go into the Senate aren’t thrilled with the job.”

It’s likely Hogan won’t get the chance to experience that same disenchantment. Former governors who managed to defy their home state’s political leanings have rarely met with success when seeking the Senate. The last decade or so is replete with examples: Montana’s Steve Bullock, Tennessee’s Phil Bredesen, and Hawaii’s Linda Lingle all won multiple terms in states that normally back the opposite party but all failed when they sought to become United States senators.

It’s not hard to understand why. It’s much easier to gain separation from national party politics in state office, something Hogan achieved by presenting himself as a relative moderate and frequent critic of Donald Trump. But that’s considerably harder to pull off in the context of a Senate race, when your opponents can readily link you to unpopular D.C. figures whose caucus you’re looking to join.

Hogan was also last on the ballot in 2018, long before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision upended American politics. Today, he’ll face a difficult time answering for his views and actions on abortion: The ex-governor calls himself “pro-life,” and in 2022, with the Dobbs ruling looming, he vetoed a bill to expand abortion access in the state. (Lawmakers overrode him.)

That will pose a special problem for him in Maryland, where an amendment to enshrine the right to an abortion will appear on the ballot in November. One poll showed 78% of voters backing the proposal.

A hypothetical poll of a Hogan Senate bid conducted last year also points to the challenge he’ll face. The survey, taken by Democratic pollster Victoria Research on behalf of a pair of political firms, found Hogan trailing Democratic Rep. David Trone by a 49-34 margin, showing just how close Democrats are to locking down this seat.

The same survey had Hogan leading a second Democrat, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, 42-36, but even then, he was far from a majority. (The self-funding Trone likely performed so much better due to his heavy spending on TV ads, while Alsobrooks has advertised minimally.)

Hogan’s decision to run will, however, likely force Democrats to sweat a race they’d much rather not have to worry about at all. But yet another hurdle looms: the May 14 GOP primary. While Hogan is by far the best-known candidate in the Republican primary, which had until now largely attracted no-names, he’s loathed by the MAGA brigades and could be vulnerable if a Trumpist alternative catches fire.

Indeed, in 2022, Hogan’s hand-picked candidate in the race to replace him, Kelly Schultz, lost the primary to hard-right extremist Dan Cox 52-43. Cox had some help from Democrats, who much preferred to face him in the general election, which Democrat Wes Moore won in a 65-32 blowout. Hogan is far better known than Schultz ever was, but there are still no guarantees for him.

Senate

● CA-Sen: A super PAC backing Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is taking a page from the candidate’s playbook and running ads ostensibly “attacking” Republican Steve Garvey as “too conservative for California.” Standing Strong PAC’s goal, just like Schiff’s, is to elevate Garvey to the second slot in the March 5 primary, since it’d be easier for Schiff to beat him in the general election compared to another Democrat. Politico says this new effort is backed “by an initial six-figure buy.”

● MT-Sen: Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale finally launched his long-awaited second bid for Senate on Friday, though he was immediately greeted with an endorsement for businessman Tim Sheehy by Donald Trump. The two will face off in the June 4 GOP primary for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who defeated Rosendale 50-47 in 2018. Democrats would prefer to take on the far-right Rosendale and have been spending heavily to boost his fortunes in the primary.

● NJ-Sen: Democratic Rep. Andy Kim won the endorsement of the Democratic Party in New Jersey’s populous Monmouth County on Saturday, defeating former financier Tammy Murphy by a wide 57-39 margin among delegates. While Murphy has secured the backing of several other county Democratic organizations, Monmouth was the first to put the matter to a vote rather than allowing party leaders to hand-pick a candidate.

The victory ensures that Kim will receive preferential placement on primary ballots in Monmouth, which typically casts about 6% of the vote in statewide Democratic primaries. Kim has called for eliminating these special spots on the ballot, known as the “county line,” but told the New Jersey Globe’s Joey Fox in September, “I’ll work within the system we have” to secure the Democratic nomination for Senate.

Fox called the developments in Monmouth “hugely consequential” and noted that two other smaller counties, Burlington and Hunterdon, will soon award their endorsements using similar procedures. Several other counties will also hold open conventions, according to a guide published by the Globe.

On the Republican side, former News 12 reporter Alex Zdan, who covered Democratic Sen. Bob Menedez’s first corruption trial in 2017, kicked off a bid on Friday. However, even if Zdan wins the GOP primary, there’s little chance he’d face the spectacularly wounded Menendez: Following his most recent federal indictment on corruption charges, the incumbent has yet to announce whether he’ll seek reelection and has scored in the single digits in every poll of the Democratic contest. He also did not compete for the endorsement in Monmouth County.

House

● GA-13: Army veteran Marcus Flowers, who ran against Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2022, announced he’d challenge Rep. David Scott in the May 21 Democratic primary on Friday. While Flowers never stood a chance against Greene in northwestern Georgia’s rural, heavily white 14th District—he got blown out 66-34—he was able to raise an enormous $16 million thanks to his opponent’s notoriety.

If he can continue cultivating that same network despite lacking an easy villain to run against, Flowers could conceivably threaten the 78-year-old Scott, who has faced questions about his health. Scott must also contend with a redrawn 13th District that is mostly new to him. That seat, however, is based in the Atlanta suburbs and shares nothing in common with the district Flowers sought last cycle.

● NJ-03: Assemblyman Herb Conaway won the backing of the Monmouth County Democratic Party in a blowout on Saturday, ensuring he’ll enjoy favorable placement on the ballot in the June 4 primary. Conaway defeated Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, who represented the same district in the legislature, by an 85-15 margin among delegates. However, Monmouth makes up just 22% of New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District; the balance is in Burlington and Mercer counties, which have yet to issue endorsements.

And Murphy picked up two key endorsements of her own in her bid to succeed Rep. Andy Kim. The Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, which the New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein describes as one of the state’s “most politically potent” unions, gave Murphy its support on Friday, while EMILY’s List followed suit the next day.

● NY-01: CNN anchor and No Labels co-founder John Avlon has stepped down from the network and plans to run for New York’s 1st Congressional District, reports Puck News’ Dylan Byers. It’s not clear, however, what party banner Avlon might run under, or whether he’d pursue a bid as an independent. The closely divided 1st District, based in eastern Long Island, is currently represented by first-term Republican Nick LaLota. Several Democrats are already running, though chemist Nancy Goroff, who unsuccessfully sought this seat in 2020, has far outraised the rest of the field.

● TN-02: Former state Rep. Jimmy Matlock, who had been considering a challenge to Rep. Tim Burchett in the Aug. 1 GOP primary, has opted against a bid. Burchett was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as House speaker in October, and as Politico’s Ally Mutnick reports, the deposed speaker’s allies “were hoping to back a challenger” and considered Matlock a possibility. There’s still time for an alternative to emerge, though, as Tennessee’s filing deadline is not until April 4.

● WA-04: In a piece discussing Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Thursday retirement announcement, the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner suggests that Rep. Dan Newhouse might be the next House Republican from the state of Washington to call it quits. Brunner reports that there’s “been rampant speculation in state Republican circles that Newhouse may be the next to announce his retirement” and says that the congressman did not answer when asked if he’d run for another term.

Newhouse was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and is one of only two still left in Congress (the other is California Rep. David Valadao). Newhouse survived the top-two primary last cycle thanks in part to a badly divided field of unhappy Republicans: The incumbent took just 25.5% to Democrat Doug White’s 25.1%, while his nearest GOP detractor, Donald Trump-endorsed former police chief Loren Culp, finished just behind with 22%.

Newhouse has only drawn a single intra-party challenger this time, former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler, who ran last time but ended up in fourth place with just 12%. Sessler has raised very little for his second go-round, but Newhouse’s own fundraising has been modest: He brought in just $154,000 in the fourth quarter of last year and reported $331,000 in the bank.

Washington’s 4th District, which is based in the central part of the state, is also the state’s most conservative, supporting Trump by a 57-40 margin. If Newhouse quits, it will almost certainly stay in Republican hands.

● WI-08: Without warning, Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher announced his retirement on Saturday, following a week in which fellow Republicans hammered him mercilessly for voting against impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Though Gallagher is just 39 years old and serving his fourth term, he claimed to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Lawrence Andrea that the toxic environment in the House had not prompted him to quit.

“I feel, honestly, like people get it, and they can accept the fact that they don’t have to agree with you 100%,” said Gallagher, despite the fact that members of his own party savaged him for his impeachment vote.

In an op-ed, Gallagher said he opposed the effort to oust Mayorkas because he feared it would “pry open the Pandora’s box of perpetual impeachment,” but his words carried little weight with his caucus. (“‘They impeached Trump, but if we impeach them back they’ll impeach us again!'” Georgia Rep. Mike Collins mocked.)

The ruckus had already caused one far-right Republican consultant, Alex Bruesewitz, to say he was considering a challenge to Gallagher in the Aug. 13 primary, but more established politicos are now certain to enter the fray. Whoever secures the GOP nomination will be the heavy favorite in the 8th District, a conservative seat based in northeastern Wisconsin that backed Donald Trump by a 57-41 margin in 2020.

That wasn’t always the case, though. When Gallagher, a Marine Corps veteran, first ran for Congress following GOP Rep. Reid Ribble’s retirement ahead of the 2016 elections, the 8th had gone for Mitt Romney by just a 51-48 margin in 2012. But as in so many other rural white areas, the bottom dropped out for Democrats when Trump was on the ballot: He carried the district 56-39 over Hillary Clinton, and Gallagher, who’d easily won the Republican nod, crushed Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson 63-37.

Gallagher cruised to reelection in each of his subsequent campaigns and did not even face a Democratic opponent in 2022. Whoever wins the GOP nomination in the race to succeed him should similarly have little trouble in November.

Legislatures

● LA Redistricting: A federal judge has struck down Louisiana’s legislative maps for violating the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Black voters and has ordered the state to produce remedial plans. The court said it would set a deadline for new maps after receiving further submissions from the parties but said it would give the Republican-run legislature “a reasonable period of time” to act.

Much like another federal court found in a different lawsuit, the judge presiding over this case determined that lawmakers had diluted Black voting strength by dividing up Black populations between districts instead of drawing seats where Black voters would have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. New maps would likely lead to the election of more Democrats, which could in turn break the effective supermajority control that the GOP often wields in both chambers.

Prosecutors & Sheriffs

● Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff: Maricopa County’s Republican-run Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 along party lines to name Russ Skinner as sheriff, following Democrat Paul Penzone’s resignation last month. But while state law required the board to pick an appointee from the same party, Republican supervisors in effect circumvented that rule.

Skinner had been registered as a Republican since 1987 and only switched his party registration to Democratic the day after Penzone announced his intention to step down a year before the end of his second term. While Arizona’s process for filling vacancies in the state legislature gives the former official’s political party a key role in screening candidates for the county board’s consideration, the process for replacing Penzone as sheriff had no such restriction.

The appointment could have big implications for the 2024 elections in this county of 4.6 million people. Maricopa, which covers the Phoenix metropolitan area, is home to three-fifths of Arizona’s population and is the fourth-largest county nationwide. Like the state itself, it’s also a former longtime Republican bastion that has been moving to the left in the Donald Trump era, flipping to Joe Biden in 2020.

Following his appointment, Skinner said he had “no intention of switching back” to the GOP and was unsure about whether to run for a full term, but Democratic Supervisor Steve Gallardo had wanted to appoint a Democrat who could be an “effective candidate” for this fall’s race. Several candidates had announced they were running before the appointment. The lone Democrat is former Phoenix police officer Tyler Kamp, while the four Republicans include 2020 nominee Jerry Sheridan and 2020 primary loser Mike Crawford. More candidates could join ahead of the April filing deadline.

Grab Bag

● Arizona: Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has signed a bill that moves Arizona’s primary from Aug. 6 to July 30 in order to alleviate pressure on elected officials who now expect more frequent recounts due to a separate law passed in 2022. The state’s candidate filing deadline would also move up a week. Both of these changes are now reflected on our bookmarkable 2024 elections calendar.

The legislation, which was crafted as a compromise between the parties, also includes several other provisions, including some designed to speed up the counting of ballots. One measure demanded by Republicans reduces the time voters have to correct problems with their mail-in ballots from five business days to five calendar days. Many parts of the new law are temporary, including the adjustments to the election calendar, which will revert back to its prior schedule after this year.

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