Morning Digest: Democrats land first notable House challenger in Iowa this cycle


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

IA-01: Former state Rep. Christina Bohannan announced Tuesday that she’d seek a rematch against Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who beat her last year 53-47 in Iowa’s 1st District. Bohannan, who is the first notable Democrat to launch a campaign for any of the Hawkeye State’s four House seats, is trying to flip a southeastern Iowa constituency that supported Donald Trump by a small 51-48 margin in 2020.

The former state representative, who is a law professor at the local University of Iowa, launched her second effort days after the New York Times ran a story detailing Democratic pessimism about a rebound anytime soon in a one-time swing state that’s moved hard to the right over the last decade. “It’s difficult even to recruit people to run when we’re so far down,” said former Rep. Dave Loebsack, who represented previous versions of this district back when it was still numbered the 2nd. (Loebsack beat Miller-Meeks in 2008, 2010, and 2014; she finally won the 2020 race to succeed Loebsack after he retired by just six votes.)

Bohannan, though, has an angle of attack that wasn’t available to her last time. Upon her entry into the race, she immediately emphasized her opposition to a state law banning most abortions after just six weeks, a bill that GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law in July. “My view is we should go back to Roe v. Wade,” she told the Des Moines Register. “No more, no less. That’s what people support.”

Bohannan also highlighted Miller-Meeks’ cosponsorship of a proposed constitutional amendment that, without exception, calls for a “right to life of each born and pre-born human person.” The Republican, who identified herself as “pro-choice” during her successful 2018 bid for the state Senate, last year told the Quad-City Times, “I’m pro-life with exceptions for life of the mother, rape, and incest.”

Bohannan told the Register she intends to carry her “message out far and wide and reach people that maybe didn’t hear from us last time” and likely is hoping she’ll receive considerably more outside support to accomplish that task than she got in 2022. Pro-Miller-Meeks groups, led by the Congressional Leadership Fund, spent $2.7 million on the congresswoman’s behalf last time, compared to less than $100,000 for Bohannan’s side.

Democrats had every reason to be pessimistic going into 2022. Two of Iowa’s best-known Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Reynolds, were heading toward decisive wins, and Hawkeye State Republicans caught the red wave that so many of their fellow travelers elsewhere waited for in vain. Grassley carried the 1st 53-47 as he was beating Democrat Mike Franken 56-44 statewide, while Reynolds did even better.

The midterms also saw Zach Nunn narrowly unseat 3rd District Rep. Cindy Axne, who was the state’s only remaining Democratic member of Congress, on the same night that a pair of 10-term incumbents, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, also fell to Republican challengers. About the only bright spot for state Democrats was the reelection of Auditor Rob Sand, whose 50.1-49.9 victory made him the party’s most prominent elected official by default.

Bohannan is counting on 2024 to be a far better year for her party, but it remains to be seen whether other potentially vulnerable Republicans in Iowa’s House delegation earn credible challenges. Axne likely removed herself from contention two months ago when she accepted a post in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and no serious Democrats have publicly expressed interest in taking on Nunn in the 3rd. Inside Elections reported in June that unnamed Democrats were trying to recruit Dave Price, who recently retired as political director for the station WHO 13, but we’ve heard no new developments since about this 49.3-48.9 Trump seat around Des Moines.

Things have been even quieter in northeastern Iowa’s 2nd District, where Rep. Ashley Hinson remains unopposed for a constituency that favored Trump 51-47. Rep. Randy Feenstra, though, will almost certainly remain secure in his dark red 4th District even if 2024 turns into a strong cycle for Democrats.

Senate

MD-Sen: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks unveiled a high-profile endorsement Tuesday from Sen. Chris Van Hollen ahead of next year’s Democratic primary to succeed Maryland’s other senator, retiring incumbent Ben Cardin. Van Hollen joins Reps. Steny Hoyer and Kweisi Mfume in Alsobrooks’ corner even though their colleague, Rep. David Trone, is also competing for the nomination.

MI-Sen: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig told The Detroit News Monday that he’d decide within the following 60 days if he’d seek the GOP nod for Senate. Craig remains as modest as ever a year after the end of his disastrous campaign for governor, saying of potential intra-party foes, “I think they’re watching me. And they should.”

Governors

LA-Gov: Stephen Waguespack, a Republican who served as then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff before spending a decade heading what reporter Greg Hilburn called “Louisiana’s most powerful business lobby,” is using his new $600,000 ad campaign to promote himself as an “outsider” challenging the power of “the insiders.” Hilburn calls this the “first major TV ad buy” from the Waguespack campaign ahead of the Oct. 14 all-party primary, though the candidate is not exactly a stranger to viewers: His allied super PAC began a $1.75 million ad campaign in May just before Waguespack said he was launching an opening “six-figure ad buy.”

GOP Attorney General Jeff Landry, meanwhile, is looking to maintain his frontrunner status with a new piece where he stands in a classroom and bemoans “woke politics.” A pro-Landry group, Protect Louisiana’s Children, also is running its own commercial touting his battles with the Biden administration.

House

CA-22: Former Assemblyman Rudy Salas has earned an endorsement from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi for his rematch campaign against GOP Rep. David Valadao. Salas is the only notable Democrat who has announced a bid so far, though state Sen. Melissa Hurtado set up a fundraising account in late July.

CA-49: Margarita Wilkinson, who works as an executive at the TV broadcaster Entravision, filed FEC paperwork this week to run as a Republican against Democratic Rep. Mike Levin.

NJ-07: Jason Blazakis, who is the former head of the U.S. State Department’s Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office, declared Monday that he would seek the Democratic nod to take on GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr. in a competitive seat that includes the southwestern New York City suburbs and exurbs.

The New Jersey Globe’s Joey Fox writes that Blazakis grew up in the 7th District but only recently started living there again, to which he responded, “I’ve worked on national security for the last 20-plus years, trying to keep Americans safe from terrorists. That took me away [from New Jersey]―working on the hardest national security challenges in the world.” Fox also notes that Blazakis served as a legislative aide for GOP Rep. Jim Saxton from 1997 to 2001; Blazakis says that Saxton, who retired in 2009 from a South Jersey seat, is the last Republican he ever voted for.

Blazakis used a separate interview with Punchbowl News to identify himself as a “centrist, moderate,” while declaring labeling Kean “an enabler of an extremist agenda.” The new candidate joins Sue Altman, who heads the state branch of the progressive Working Families Party, and Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello in the primary for this 51-47 Biden district.

NY-03: Air Force veteran Greg Hach this week became the latest Republican to launch a primary bid against still-Rep. George Santos, telling the conservative Washington Examiner, “I’m as confused about George Santos’ life as he is.” Hach is now part of a field that includes a pair of businessmen, Kellen Curry and Mike Sapraicone.

PA-01: Anti-abortion activist Mark Houck tells Punchbowl News that he launched his GOP primary bid against Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick after receiving encouragement from Freedom Caucus head Scott Perry, who represents the 10th District. Houck claimed of Perry, “He said, ‘This is a decision you need to make,’ but if he were in my shoes, he would do it, were kind of his words, which is exactly what he did, so yeah, he did encourage me.” Perry’s team responded, “While Congressman Perry greatly respects Mr. Houck’s tireless dedication to fighting for the unborn, he only encouraged Mr. Houck to pray about a decision to run for Congress.”

PA-17: Republican state Rep. Rob Mercuri announced Tuesday that he’d take on freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio in a suburban Pittsburgh constituency that favored Joe Biden 52-46. Mercuri, who served with the Army in Iraq, represents a legislative district is contained entirely within Deluzio’s seat, but because Pennsylvania House districts are so small, the Republican only serves about 8% of the 17th Congressional District.

Mercuri launched his campaign by telling triblive.com that he identifies as “pro-life” but believes the federal government should let the states define their abortion laws. But while the state representative wouldn’t say when he thinks abortions should be prohibited in Pennsylvania, reporter Ryan Deto notes that Mercuri cosponsored a 2021 bill that would have largely outlawed the procedure after six weeks. The DCCC also quickly posted a CBSN clip from his 2020 bid where, upon being asked if he’s a “Trump supporter,” Mercuri replied, “I am a Trump supporter. I am a fan of his policies.”

Deluzio, a Navy veteran who also served in Iraq, won an expensive open seat battle 53-47 last year, and Democrats hope that Trump’s toxicity will continue to keep this seat out of GOP hands. The only other declared Republican is pastor Jim Nelson, who raised a mere $29,000 during his opening fundraising quarter and finished June with $14,000 to spend. Deluzio, meanwhile, took in $348,000 and had $368,000 available.

RI-01: The Rhode Island Board of Elections announced Tuesday that its review of Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ petitions found “no obvious pattern of fraud,” and that it only disqualified four additional signatures. The body, though, voted to subpoena everyone who collected petitions for Matos, but it said this would not happen until after the Sept. 5 special Democratic primary. The attorney general’s office and state police are conducting their own probe into allegations that Matos’ campaign handed in petitions ostensibly from dead voters and people who said they’d never signed.

One of the other Democrats, state Sen. Sandra Cano, meanwhile went up with her own commercial featuring her young daughter. Cano, who like Matos would be the first woman to hold this seat, declares she’s running “because a woman’s perspective matters, and no woman has ever represented us in Congress.” The only Rhode Island woman to ever serve in either chamber is Republican Claudine Schneider, who served the 2nd District from 1981 to 1991.

WI-01: Caledonia Village Board Trustee Anthony Hammes and Navy Reserve Officer Lorenzo Santos are the first two Democrats to announce bids against Republican Rep. Bryan Steil in a 50-48 Trump district that fair-maps advocates are hoping will be redrawn. Hammes previously lost a 2022 general election for a dark red seat in the state Assembly months before he unseated an incumbent to win his current post in this community of 25,000. Santos, for his part, is the deputy emergency management coordinator for Racine County and head of the Young Democrats of Wisconsin, and this appears to be his first run for office.

Delavan Mayor Ryan Schroeder also tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s interested in taking on Steil, while the paper reports that former Racine Police Chief Art Howell is considering; Howell has yet to say anything publicly about his interest.

State Legislatures

GA State Senate: One of the co-conspirators indicted alongside Donald Trump by Georgia prosecutors on Monday is Shawn Still, a fake elector who managed to win a freshly gerrymandered seat in the state Senate last year. That makes Still the first sitting elected official to be formally charged in Trump’s plot to steal the 2020 election—and his fast-changing district tells the story of Georgia Republicans’ desperate bid to cling to power. In a new piece, David Nir explores Still’s path to the legislature and explains why, even if he isn’t on the ballot next year, shifting demographics and GOP malfeasance will make his district competitive.

Mayors & County Leaders

Nashville, TN Mayor: Republican Alice Rolli declared Monday evening that she’d “separated ties” with her consulting firm after learning that one of its executives, Woodrow Johnston, had “more than a strong connection to Proud Boys.” But Johnston, who praised the extremist group in 2020 in what he now says was a joke and denies having any ties with them, told both Axios and The Tennessean that he’d communicated all this to Rolli in their first conversation and that she’s “now throwing me under the bus to protect herself.”

Johnston also claimed he’d been the one who’d quit days before, and he showed The Tennessean his resignation email from Saturday where he said he was leaving because he and Rolli were “too far apart on what direction we want to take the campaign.” The candidate later acknowledged that Johnston had indeed quit, but her team claimed Tuesday that she’d parted ways with his firm, McShane, because it was too close to the Proud Boys. Rolli faces Democrat Freddie O’Connell in the Sept. 14 nonpartisan general election to lead this blue city.

Prosecutors & Sheriffs

Northampton County, PA District Attorney: Incumbent Terry Houck announced Monday that he was ending his general election campaign, a move that leaves the man who beat him in the May Democratic primary, former local Judge Stephen Baratta, as the only candidate on the Nov. 7 ballot. Houck won the GOP nod through a write-in effort even as he was losing to Baratta 54-46, but the head of the local Republican Party quickly made it clear that his organization wouldn’t do anything to help the registered Democrat hold his post.

Houck himself admitted Monday how difficult it would be to prevail in this Lehigh Valley county by saying, “I’m a candidate without a party, right?” Baratta, for his part, acknowledged that Republicans could still field their own write-in candidate against him in this 50-49 Biden county, saying, “I respect the people in charge of the Republican Party, and they have the ability, if they want, to attempt to fill that spot.” He added, “We still may have to run a campaign, so we don’t want to rest on our laurels or act smug about this. We want to be prepared.”





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