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Morning Digest: Trump elevates Arizona TV anchor turned conspiracy theorist in governor primary

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

AZ-Gov: Donald Trump continued his conspiracy theorist endorsement tour on Tuesday by throwing his backing behind former TV anchor Kari Lake in the Republican primary for governor of Arizona. The GOP leader also took the opportunity to once again attack termed-out incumbent Doug Ducey, a one-time ally who became persona non grata in Trump world by recognizing Joe Biden’s victory in the state, writing that Lake “will do a far better job than RINO Governor Doug Ducey –; won’t even be a contest!”

Lake herself left Phoenix’s Fox 10 in March after 22 years to announce her own campaign, but she began spreading disinformation and cultivating ties with the far-right well before she went off the air. As early as 2018, Lake tweeted that the “Red for Ed” movement to increase teacher pay and school funding was really a secret plan to legalize marijuana―a claim she made solely based on a photo of a satirical t-shirt.

Since then, Lake has set up accounts on sites that are popular with QAnon followers and neo-Nazis. She has also circulated lies about the coronavirus, including a widely debunked video that she continued to share on Facebook after it was removed from YouTube. Lake additionally has parroted Trumpist conspiracy theorists about the 2020 election and called for Arizona to take the legally impossible step of decertifying its results.

Campaign Action

Lake also received favorable news hours before Trump announced his endorsement when OH Predictive Insights, a firm that occasionally polls on behalf of Republicans, released a survey showing her leading former Rep. Matt Salmon 25-9 in the crowded GOP primary. (The group also surveyed the Democratic primary but sampled just 283 respondents, which is below the 300-person minimum we require for inclusion in the Digest.) This is the first poll we’ve seen here since May, which was before Lake announced her campaign.

Salmon, though, made it clear he’d fight on despite these unfavorable developments. The former congressman responded to Trump’s decision to back Lake by dubbing her a “fraud” and “a lifelong member of the liberal media who knows how to put on a show.” Salmon also referenced previous reporting from Arizona Family about Lake’s alienation from the GOP from 2006 to 2012, including her brief time as a registered Democrat, as well as donations from her or her husband to Democrats, including John Kerry and Barack Obama.

Redistricting

CO Redistricting: After a drama-filled meeting on Tuesday night that saw multiple deadlocked votes, Colorado’s new independent congressional redistricting commission approved a new map, with 11 members in favor and just one opposed. While lawmakers are now removed from the redistricting process thanks to a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018, the state Supreme Court must still sign off on any new districts by Nov. 1. If the court rejects the new maps, the commission will get a second crack, but the justices must greenlight a final plan by Dec. 15.

With the court’s review still pending, we’ll hold off on a deep dive into the new districts, but a few important facts are worth noting now. Despite the commission’s independent nature, its map would favor the GOP by creating what would likely end up as four Democratic seats, three Republican seats, and one tossup district, the brand-new 8th. Republicans would therefore have a good shot at winning an equal-sized delegation even though Democrats have dominated statewide in Colorado for many years (Joe Biden carried the state 55-42 last year.)

The new 8th District, located in the Denver suburbs, is particularly problematic from the perspective of increasing Latino representation, a large and growing portion of the state. Only about 27% of the district’s voting eligible population would be Latino compared to the 66% that is white, and given traditional turnout patterns, the Latino share of the electorate would likely be even smaller. According to Dave’s Redistricting App, the 8th would have voted for Joe Biden by a small 51-46 margin and would in fact have supported Donald Trump 46-45 in 2016, meaning a Democratic candidate preferred by Latino voters could readily be defeated by the district’s white majority.

There’s no telling, though, whether arguments such as these will hold sway with the state Supreme Court, which will review the map to determine whether the commission engaged in an “abuse of discretion” by not adhering to the criteria laid out in the constitution. Perhaps the best avenue of attack is that the commissioners are required to, “to the extent possible, maximize the number of politically competitive districts,” though the map only contains one such seat.

ME Redistricting: Democratic Gov. Janet Mills swiftly signed new maps for Congress and the state legislature that Maine lawmakers passed with the two-thirds supermajority required under state law on Wednesday. Those maps were drawn up by the state’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission, a body made up mostly of legislators that completed its work earlier in the week.

The new congressional lines will make the competitive 2nd District, currently represented by Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, slightly bluer. According to our new calculations, the new version would have voted for Donald Trump by a 6-point margin, as opposed to the 7.4-point margin under the older lines. Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree’s 1st District would remain deep blue, voting for Joe Biden 60-37, virtually identical to its old performance. (The reason for the unequal changes is faster population growth in the higher-turnout 1st District, which had to shed population to the 2nd to balance the two.)

The legislative maps, meanwhile, largely maintain the status quo, but that state of affairs favors Republicans, even though Democrats currently control both chambers. While Biden would have won an 80-71 majority of districts last year per Dave’s Redistricting App, Trump would have won an 80-71 majority in 2016, despite losing the state, and the new median district is 6 points to the right of the state as a whole using 2020 presidential results. The Senate is not quite as skewed but still benefits the GOP: Overall the seat count would have gone 22-13 for Biden and 19-16 for Hillary Clinton, according to our preliminary analysis, but its 2020 median district is still 4 points to the right of the state, which Biden carried by 9.

Depending on the overall political environment next year, therefore, Republicans could return to power. That’s especially so in Maine, where politics is more volatile than in most places. The Senate, for instance, changed hands multiple times over the last decade, flipping from blue to red in 2010, then back to blue in 2012, then back to red again in 2014, before finally turning blue once more in 2018. Yet another transfer of power in either or both chambers is eminently possible once more.

WV Redistricting: The Redistricting Committee in West Virginia’s Republican-controlled state Senate released a dozen proposed congressional maps on Wednesday, including a couple from Democrats. (The plans labeled “Trump” were not drawn with a Sharpie by That Guy but rather were submitted state Sen. Charles Trump, the committee chair.) Due to a decline in population, the state will drop from three districts to two, which means that two incumbents will face off against one another barring a retirement.

Senate

CA-Sen: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Monday a bill that will require a special election take place next year for the final months of Vice President Kamala Harris’ Senate term, a contest that will take place concurrently with the race for a new six-year term. This means that voters in June will get the chance to vote in separate top-two primaries for the Senate, and that there will also be two general elections listed on the November 2022 ballot. All of this may not matter much for appointed Democratic incumbent Alex Padilla, though, as he has yet to attract any serious opposition.

NV-Sen: Republican Adam Laxalt has released a survey from WPA Intelligence that shows the very likely nominee edging out Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto 39-37. The only other poll we’ve seen here was a late August internal from VCreek/AMG for a conservative outfit called Americas PAC that found Laxalt ahead 42-32, a gaudy margin that looks even more ridiculous now that Laxalt’s own pollster is showing a tight race.

OK-Sen: State Sen. Nathan Dahm announced Tuesday that he was taking on Sen. James Lankford in next year’s Republican primary in this very red state. Lankford was already facing a longshot intra-party challenge from Jackson Lahmeyer, a pastor who made national news earlier this month when he promised to grant a religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccines to anyone who donated to his church. A runoff would take place if no one earned a majority of the vote in the first round of the primary.

Dahm previously campaigned in 2018 for the open 1st Congressional District in the Tulsa area and took a close fourth in the nomination fight with 20% despite fundraising struggles. Dahm, who didn’t need to give up his legislative seat to run, made the news this year when he told a sexist joke about Kamala Harris that even the chamber’s leader, Senate President Pro Temp Greg Treat, condemned. The GOP anger at him was hardly universal, though, as several fellow senators walked out of the chamber after a pastor used the morning sermon to denounce Dahm by name.

Dahm kicked off his new campaign with a rally where he emphasized his many fights with his party’s leadership and his own ultra-conservative agenda, though he didn’t mention either Lankford or Lahmeyer. Lahmeyer, though, responded to his new rival’s entry by accusing Dahm of being part of a “‘dirty trick’ …; coaxing a third ‘spoiler’ candidate into the Senate primary in order to divide the anti-establishment, America First primary voters.”

Governors

NH-Gov: While there was some media speculation earlier this year that former Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic primary, could run again, he said Wednesday that he’d stay out of the race.

NJ-Gov: Stockton University’s first general election poll gives Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy a 50-41 lead over Republican Jack Ciattarelli. Another New Jersey school, Monmouth, recently found Murphy up 51-38, while a Ciattarelli internal showed the governor ahead only 45-42.

PA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Dan Laughlin confirmed Tuesday that he would compete in next year’s open seat race for governor, though the somewhat-centrist candidate may have a tough time winning a primary in today’s day and age.

Laughlin, who formed an exploratory committee back in June, previously predicted he’d have a “clear path to the middle” if he got in and compared himself to two former moderate Republican governors, Bill Scranton and Dick Thornburgh. It doesn’t sound like he plans to depart from that pitch, as he said earlier this month, “One of my goals as a state senator is to moderate our party and bring it back to the middle.”

Laughlin, though, did sign onto the unsuccessful lawsuit to try to overturn Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania. Still, it doesn’t seem like he plans to campaign as a Trumpist, as he said that securing Donald Trump’s backing “is not at the top of my agenda.”

VA-Gov: Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s newest ad makes use of audio of Republican Glenn Youngkin saying of vaccines, “One of the things I encourage folks is if they do have an exemption policy and I encourage people to fill it out.”

House

TX-38: Army veteran Wesley Hunt earned an endorsement Wednesday from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for his campaign for the 38th Congressional District. Republican lawmakers recently introduced a draft congressional map that would create a new and solidly red seat in the Houston suburbs, but they have yet to take action on it.

Legislatures

Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s two special elections in Texas:

TX-HD-10: Republican Brian Harrison defeated fellow party member John Wray 55-45 to win this deep red seat. Harrison will succeed former GOP Rep. Jake Ellzey, who was elected to the U.S. House earlier this year. Harrison was one of Ellzey’s opponents in the all-party primary for that House seat, and Ellzey backed Wray in this contest.

TX-HD-118: The race to replace former Democratic Rep. Leo Pacheco is heading to a runoff after no candidate took a majority of the vote. Republican John Lujan led the way with 42%, and Democrat Frank Ramirez finished second with 20%. The pair will face each other in a runoff election on a date that has yet to be determined.

Overall, the three Democratic candidates and two Republicans were nearly deadlocked in this contest, with Team Red narrowly leading the combined vote 50.3-49.7. According to the Texas Legislative Council, Joe Biden won this western San Antonio district 56-42 last year.

Mayors

Boston, MA Mayor: City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George has picked up an endorsement from the Laborers Local 223, a construction union that was led by Marty Walsh until he was elected mayor in 2013. The group is now run by Walsh’s cousin, who also happens to be named Marty Walsh; the Boston Herald’s Sean Philip Cotter tweeted earlier this year that the current union head is identified as “Big Marty” to distinguish him from the former mayor and the many other Marty Walshes in Boston politics.

Seattle, WA Mayor: Former City Council President Bruce Harrell has earned an endorsement from the local firefighters union, IAFF Local 27.

Data

Pres-by-CD: Daily Kos Elections is pleased to present our new data repository featuring our calculations of the results of the 2020 presidential election for the new congressional districts that states are in the process of enacting. At the moment, it includes numbers for Oregon and Maine, which were the first and second states to pass a new map this year, respectively, and the six at-large states where congressional redistricting isn’t required. However, we’ll be adding new data continually, just as soon as each state finishes the redistricting process.

In addition, the link above includes a detailed discussion of our approach to assigning “predecessor” districts for each new district. It’s a complicated process that is as much art as science, but we generally take an incumbent-centered approach whereby we link up new districts with old ones based on where current representatives choose to seek re-election. One very important note, though, is that just because districts share a number doesn’t necessarily mean they share a lineage, particularly because maps are often renumbered.

In any case, you’ll want to bookmark our new hub, and be sure to check the Digest every day for releases of new data!

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