Rich ex-ambassador hopes to derail GOP’s preferred Nevada Senate candidate

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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

NV-Sen: Republican Jeff Gunter, who served as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Iceland, announced Tuesday evening that he was launching a $3.3 million advertising campaign in his quest to upset Army veteran Sam Brown in Nevada’s June 11 GOP primary.

The NRSC-backed Brown has been the frontrunner to take on Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen ever since launching his campaign last summer, but both Gunter and Democrats are hoping this new offensive will complicate Brown’s path to the nomination. The GOP primary also includes Jim Marchant, an election conspiracy theorist who lost a tight 2022 general election for secretary of state, as well as 10 minor candidates.

Gunter’s opening TV spot, which does not mention his intra-party rival, touts the candidate as a “110% pro-Trump ambassador” and depicts him brandishing a gold-plated gun.

“As ambassador, he fought China and won,” proclaims the narrator. “When the stakes were high, Trump chose Gunter to represent the USA.” The commercial goes on to show footage of last year’s Bud Light ad featuring social media personality Dylan Mulvaney that led to a transphobic boycott campaign as the narrator pledges Gunter will “fight the Democrats’ extreme woke agenda.”

The ad, unsurprisingly, does not discuss what happened during Gunter’s turbulent tenure in the usually low-profile post of ambassador to Iceland, a country the Trump donor had never previously visited. The dermatologist-turned-diplomat made news in 2020 when sources told CBS he was “paranoid” about his safety and wanted a gun and a “stab-proof vest” even though there was no indication he was in danger. A report from the Office of the Inspector General later said Gunter was responsible for fomenting a “threatening and intimidating environment.”

The network also reported that Gunter left Iceland in February of that year and demanded he be allowed to work remotely from California. (CBS’ sources weren’t sure whether or not his departure was related to the unfolding COVID pandemic.) He eventually returned in May after Mike Pompeo had what one unnamed person, who speculated that the then-secretary of state didn’t want to turn off a possible donor ahead of a future campaign of his own, called a “gentle” conversation with the displaced ambassador.

Gunter’s stint came to an end in early 2021 along with the Trump administration, but he hardly viewed his tenure as a disaster. The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reported last year that he‘d made a website listing 122 “triumphs,” including how he’d crafted a tweet shared by Trump as well as “three Facebook videos to inspire people during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Downballot

Florida’s Supreme Court just greenlit a ballot measure to enshrine abortion in the state constitution—and simultaneously allowed the GOP’s new six-week abortion ban to become law. That makes the already-high stakes for this amendment even higher, as we discuss on this week’s episode of The Downballot. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also talk about the death of New Jersey’s infamous “county line” and how the GOP managed to pick yet another whackjob candidate for yet another congressional special election.

Our guest this week is Daria Dawson, the executive director of America Votes, an organization that forms a crucial piece of infrastructure for the progressive moment. As Dawson explains, America Votes plays the role of “traffic cop” to ensure that its 400 partners don’t duplicate each other’s work—and that the right groups communicate with the right voters. She also emphasizes that Democratic candidates need to affirmatively tie themselves to ballot measures protecting abortion rights and says that voting rights are key to differentiating between the parties when talking to voters.

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 Thursday afternoon. New episodes every Thursday morning!

1Q Fundraising

  • NV-Sen: Sam Brown (R): $2.2 million raised
  • OH-Sen: Sherrod Brown (D-inc): $12 million raised
  • PA-Sen: Dave McCormick (R): $5.2 million raised, additional $1 million self-funded
  • CA-13: Adam Gray (D): $1 million raised, $1 million cash on hand
  • CA-16: Sam Liccardo (D): $1 million raised  
  • CA-22: Rudy Salas (D): $1.3 million raised, $750,000 cash on hand
  • MI-08: Matt Collier (D): $300,000 raised (in three weeks). The Collier campaign tells Daily Kos Elections, “Less than $20,000” of this haul was self-funded
  • NY-18: Pat Ryan (D-inc): $900,000 raised
  • PA-07: Susan Wild (D-inc): $1.3 million raised
  • TN-07: Megan Barry (D): $350,000 raised, $360,000 cash on hand
  • WA-06: Emily Randall (D): $305,000 raised

Governors

ND-Gov: State Sen. Merrill Piepkorn confirmed Tuesday that he’d seek the Democratic nomination to replace retiring Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who holds an office that Democrats last won in 1988. Piepkorn, a former radio host and country singer, has the primary to himself.

WV-Gov: While many Republicans have been accused of being anti-Trump over the years, businessman Chris Miller is the first one we’ve seen targeted for sporting a Donald Trump wig. But Black Bear PAC, which backs Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the May 14 primary, is doing just that in an ad that utilizes footage from what appears to be a 2016 commercial Miller filmed for his car dealership.

“Get out there with a shovel and start digging the moat,” Miller is shown saying as he breaks out a bad Trump impression. “We put the wall behind the moat all around the country.” Black Bear is funded by the Club for Growth, which has a far more recent history of clashing with Trump.

House

CA-16: Assemblyman Evan Low and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian are tied for the second-place spot in the general election as of Wednesday evening, based on unofficial final results from the two counties that form the 16th District. The deadline for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to certify the results of the March 5 top-two primary is Thursday.

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo claimed first in the March 5 top-two primary with 21%, while Low and Simitian each took 17%. If they remain deadlocked when all is said and done, both runners-up would advance to an all-Democratic general election with Liccardo in this dark blue Silicon Valley seat. The eventual winner will succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, who supports Simitian.

A second-place tie has happened just once since California implemented its top-two primary system in 2012, but the stakes were far lower. Both Low and Simitian will have the opportunity to request a recount after state officials finalize the results on April 12, but in the event of a tie, both men might prefer to take their chances on a three-way November race rather than pursue a review of the vote that might not go their way.

IN-05: State Rep. Chuck Goodrich recently began airing a commercial for the May 7 GOP primary in which the narrator rhetorically asks of the Republican incumbent, “Why does Victoria Spartz put Ukraine first? Chuck Goodrich will put America first.”

“She’s very obviously Ukrainian and speaks with an accent,” GOP strategist Cam Savage, who says he is not working on the race, noted to NBC’s Bridget Bowman. “Maybe they just see a cheap-shot opportunity and they’re willing to take one.”

Spartz faced xenophobic attacks well before 2022, when Russia invaded the country she had emigrated from two decades earlier. One of her primary foes in 2020, Beth Henderson, ran an ad that emphasized Spartz’s thick Ukrainian accent and showed the dark outline of a woman gazing at a large Soviet flag on a nearby building, accompanied by the text “VICTORIA’S SECRET.” It wasn’t enough, though, to stop Spartz from beating Henderson 40-18.

Bowman notes that several other Republicans have been hit with commercials attacking them for supporting funding for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion, but her sources point out that Spartz has not been an outspoken defender of Ukraine’s cause. While the congresswoman called Russia’s attack as a “genocide of the Ukrainian people,” she soon enraged Ukraine’s government by accusing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of “playing politics with people’s lives.”

The congresswoman responded to Goodrich’s ads by airing her own spot that demonized another country that Republicans love to target. After invoking her support for Donald Trump’s agenda, the narrator accuses Goodrich of voting “to let Chinese companies buy Indiana farmland” and backing “a sweetheart deal to a communist business Trump called a national security threat.” The ad concludes, “China Chuck Goodrich: Puts China first to get rich.”

MI-08: Retired Dow Chemical Company executive Mary Draves has announced she’s joining the August Republican primary for this open swing seat in the Flint and Tri-Cities areas. Draves is a first-time candidate but could have connections here since Dow is based in Midland, one of the three Tri-Cities along with Saginaw and Bay City.

Draves joins a nomination contest that includes 2022 nominee Paul Junge and state Board of Education member Nikki Snyder. Establishment Republicans would likely prefer an alternative to Junge following his unexpectedly weak performance last cycle against Democratic incumbent Dan Kildee, who is now retiring. Snyder may have trouble being that alternative, though, as she badly struggled with fundraising for her aborted Senate campaign before she switched to this race last month. The filing deadline is on April 23.

NH-02: State Sen. Becky Whitley said on Wednesday that she was forming an exploratory committee for a potential bid to replace Rep. Annie Kuster, a fellow Democrat who unexpectedly announced her retirement last week. Whitley, who was first elected in 2020, told WMUR she’d decide over what reporter Adam Sexton characterizes as “the coming weeks,” though a separate report in the Concord Monitor relayed that she has no timeline.

The Boston Globe’s James Pindell reported the previous evening that another prominent Democrat, Biden administration official Maggie Goodlander, is also considering joining the September primary, though she has not said anything publicly.

While Goodlander does not appear to have run for office before, she has deep connections in the federal government. Pindell described her as part of an “elite circle of aides to President Biden,” which includes her husband, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

The story also notes that Goodlander’s grandfather, Samuel Tamposi, was a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox and a powerful figure in New Hampshire GOP politics before his death in 1995. Goodlander’s mother, Betty Tamposi, lost a close GOP primary for the 2nd District in 1988 but later went on to back Democrat John Lynch for governor in 2004. However, while Goodlander grew up in the 2nd District, she’s currently registered to vote in the neighboring 1st.

The only notable declared Democrat is still former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who launched his campaign one day after Kuster announced her departure. The candidate filing deadline isn’t until June 14.

NJ-03: Assemblywoman Carol Murphy has publicized a mid-March internal poll from Target Smart that shows her trailing Assemblyman Herb Conaway 22-18 in the June 4 primary to replace their fellow Democrat, Senate frontrunner Andy Kim. A 49% plurality remain undecided, while civil rights attorney Joe Cohn and businesswoman Sarah Schoengood take 4% and 3%, respectively.

Conaway was endorsed by local Democrats in all three counties that form the 3rd District, and until last week, that meant he’d enjoy favorable placement on the primary ballot. All of that changed on Friday, though, when a federal judge granted Kim’s request to bar the use of the “county line” and instead required all candidates seeking the same office to be grouped together. (Schoengood is one of Kim’s co-plaintiffs.)

Some of the county clerks who are defendants in the case have appealed, but if the decision stands, that means Conaway will no longer have the major advantage he had been counting on until recently. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be favored in the general election in a South Jersey constituency that Joe Biden carried 56-42 in 2020.

PA-12: A spokesperson for the progressive Working Families Party says that it and its allies intend to spend $500,000 on TV and digital ads supporting Rep. Summer Lee ahead of the April 23 Democratic primary, where she faces Edgewood Borough Council member Bhavini Patel. Meanwhile, Patel’s supporters at Moderate PAC have confirmed that Republican megadonor Jeff Yass has once again contributed to the group after giving it $1 million last cycle. Moderate PAC began airing ads here last month.

Congressional Leadership Fund: The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the main GOP outside group in House races, announced Wednesday that it was placing its first 20 challengers on its “Trailblazers List,” a program CLF says provides “direct financial support to top-tier candidates.” The contenders include:

  • AK-AL: Nancy Dahlstrom
  • CA-09: Kevin Lincoln
  • CA-47: Scott Baugh
  • CO-08: Gabe Evans
  • CT-05: George Logan
  • IL-17: Joe McGraw
  • IN-01: Randy Niemeyer
  • KS-03: Prasanth Reddy
  • ME-02: Austin Theriault
  • MI-07: Tom Barrett
  • MN-02: Joe Teirab
  • NC-01: Laurie Buckhout
  • NM-02: Yvette Herrell
  • NY-18: Alison Esposito
  • OH-01: Orlando Sonza
  • OH-09: Derek Merrin
  • OH-13: Kevin Coughlin
  • PA-08: Rob Bresnahan
  • PA-17: Rob Mercuri
  • VA-07: Derrick Anderson

Most of the members of this program, which began last cycle, have already won primaries or were the party’s undisputed frontrunner. The most notable exception is in Alaska, where Dahlstrom, who serves as lieutenant governor, is going up against two-time candidate Nick Begich in the August top-four primary. No other notable Republicans are running, so it’s likely that both Dahlstrom and Begich will advance to the November instant-runoff contest against Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola.

Ballot Measures

WI Ballot: Wisconsin voters on Tuesday approved a pair of Republican-backed constitutional amendments despite fears from election administrators that the measures could make their jobs harder and potentially create chaos.

Question 1, which prohibits election officials from accepting help or funds from “private donations and grants,” passed 54-46. Question 2, which “provide[s] that only election officials designated by law may perform tasks in the conduct of primaries, elections, and referendums,” won by an even larger 59-41 spread.

Judges

State Supreme Courts: Bolts Magazine’s Daniel Nichanian has published a guide to the 33 states that are holding state supreme court elections this year, which include contests for 82 different seats. Nichanian goes state-by-state and highlights the races with the biggest stakes this fall, including those in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Montana, and more.

Legislatures

TX State House: The hardline Club For Growth announced Tuesday that it would spend a total of $4 million to target state House Speaker Dade Phelan and four other Republican state representatives who opposed Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to use taxpayer money to pay for private schools. All five were forced into May 28 runoffs after they failed to secure a majority of the vote in their March 5 primaries.

The group’s anti-Phelan commercial features footage of a reporter asking the speaker if he’d continue to allow Democrats to chair committees, to which he responds, “I’m not wavering from that.” The ad does not mention either school vouchers or David Covey, the Trump-backed challenger who outpaced Phelan 46-43 in the first round. The Club is also going after state Reps. DeWayne Burns, Justin Holland, John Kuempel, and Gary Vandeaver.

Mayors & County Leaders

Anchorage, AK Mayor: With about 52,000 votes counted in Anchorage’s nonpartisan primary as of Thursday morning, former Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance leads with 36% as Mayor Dave Bronson is just behind with 35%. Candidates needed to secure more than 45% to avert a May 14 runoff.

While there are still an unknown number of ballots to be tabulated, there’s little question that LaFrance, a Democratic-backed independent, will take on the far-right Bronson in the second round of voting. Former Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp is a distant third with 17%, with another 8% going to former state House Majority Leader Chris Tuck.

Popp, who is unaffiliated with any party, did not concede on election night even as he acknowledged to the Anchorage Daily News, “I’m more than willing to admit that it’s a tough gap to close.”

Tuck, who was the only notable Democrat in the race, accepted his defeat but said he wasn’t ready to choose between either LaFrance or Bronson. The former majority leader, who shared the local Democratic Party’s endorsement with LaFrance, instead told the paper, “We’ll just see how things shape up between the two of them to see who will catch, capture that togetherness spirit the most between now and that final outcome.”

Bronson, who has spent his three-year term dealing with ugly headlines concerning his personal behavior and scandals surrounding his administration, still appeared certain to advance, while there was plenty of uncertainty about how his opponent would be going into Election Day.

The most recent available campaign finance reports show that LaFrance outraised Bronson $400,000 to $350,000 through March 23. However, because the incumbent spent considerably less money during the late winter, he also ended that day with a $168,000 to $93,000 cash on hand lead.

It’s not clear how much each contender needed to spend to secure a place in the runoff, but Bronson argued to Alaska Public Media that he was “very well prepared” because he’d stockpiled cash for round two. Alaska’s largest city favored Joe Biden 49-47 in 2020, according to Dave’s Redistricting App.

Baltimore, MD Mayor: Incumbent Brandon Scott has launched his opening ad campaign ahead of the May 14 Democratic primary, and while none of his commercials call out former Mayor Sheila Dixon by name, it’s probably no coincidence that a radio spot praises Scott for having “no scandal and no corruption.” The Baltimore Banner says the ads were delayed a week because of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, an event that Scott’s commercials do not mention.  

Dixon, who resigned in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, has yet to run her own ads, though her allies have been on the air. Better Baltimore, a super PAC partially funded by the Baltimore Sun’s new right-wing owner David Smith, last month debuted commercials characterizing Scott as a “[n]ice guy, bad mayor.” Those commercials, however, did not say anything about Dixon.

Scott and Dixon are competing in a primary that also includes Thiru Vignarajah, a former federal prosecutor who lost three citywide primaries in as many cycles, and several unheralded candidates. Whoever takes a plurality of the vote next month should have no trouble in the November general election in this loyally blue city.

Maricopa County, AZ: Maricopa County has released a list of contenders who will be competing in the July 30 party primaries for county-level office, and the close of candidate filing on Monday means that we finally know the lineup for some key races.

While there was talk last year that Republican County Supervisor Jack Sellers, who infuriated Trumpists by refusing to back the Big Lie, could face an intra-party challenge from state Sen. Jake Hoffman, Hoffman is instead seeking a spot on the Republican National Committee. Sellers isn’t in the clear, though, as he still faces a challenge from Chandler City Council member Mark Stewart, though it remains to be seen if far-right forces will rally behind Stewart.

The winner will go up against Tempe City Council member Joel Navarro, who is the only Democrat in the race, in the general election for a seat that backed Joe Biden 51-48 in 2020. You can find more on the battle for control of the five-member body that leads Arizona’s largest county in our piece from February.

The GOP primary for county attorney is a rematch between incumbent Rachel Mitchell and former local prosecutor Gina Godbehere. Mitchell, whom the Board of Supervisors appointed in 2022 to fill a vacancy, fended off Godbehere 57-43 later that year.

Godbehere, who is arguing that Mitchell is weak on crime, once again has the backing of Kari Lake, the election conspiracy theorist who is the GOP’s frontrunner for Senate. Attorney Tamika Wooten is the lone Democrat running.

Finally, in the Democratic primary for county sheriff, Apache Junction police commander Jeffrey Kirkham did not file despite initially saying he would run. The nomination contest will instead be a duel between appointed Sheriff Russ Skinner, who was a lifelong registered Republican until late last year, and former Phoenix police officer Tyler Kamp.

Kamp also only registered as a Democrat last year, but the local Democratic Party unsuccessfully encouraged the Board of Supervisors to appoint him over Skinner following the resignation of Democratic incumbent Paul Penzone. The party also used its X account to encourage Democratic voters to sign petitions to get Kamp on the ballot, while it appears to have said nothing about Skinner.

The three-person Republican field consists of 2020 nominee Jerry Sheridan, who lost to Penzone 56-44; 2020 primary loser Mike Crawford; and former Arizona Department of Safety Director Frank Milstead. Milstead, who retired in 2020, was in the news two years later when a former partner accused him of domestic violence. The candidate, who denied wrongdoing, told ACB 15 last month that their issues have since been resolved.

San Francisco, CA Mayor: The San Francisco Standard reports that Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin will announce Saturday that he’ll challenge Mayor London Breed in November’s instant-runoff contest. Peskin would be the first prominent progressive to join the race against Breed, who hails from the city’s moderate political faction. The field already includes former Supervisor Mark Farrell, nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie, and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, all of whom are usually identified as moderates.

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