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Extremist pastor seeks to break losing streak for Trump endorsees

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

● SC-03: A South Carolina congressional candidate will soon learn whether Donald Trump’s “COMPLETE AND TOTAL ENDORSEMENT” will be enough to help him overcome some major obstacles as he lurches toward primary day.

That test will take place on Tuesday in the dark red 3rd District in the northwestern part of the state, where Trump is backing far-right pastor Mark Burns to succeed retiring Rep. Jeff Duncan. And it comes after two successive weeks in which Trump endorsees fell short in primaries: David Covey in Texas and Christine Serrano Glassner in New Jersey.

Burns, of course, is hoping for a different fate. He’s made a name for himself for, among many other things, calling for the government to “start executing people who are found guilty for their treasonous acts.” In the same jeremiad, he named Sen. Lindsey Graham, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and anyone who promotes “LGBTQ indoctrination” as some of the alleged traitors he’d like to see put to death.

But Burns, who badly lost to GOP Rep. William Timmons twice in the neighboring 4th District, isn’t getting much aid from people other than Trump in his quest to win his new constituency.

For one, donors don’t seem very interested in Burns: He self-funded $500,000 of the $516,000 that his campaign brought in through May 22. Neither do campaign workers, since he recently told The State’s Joseph Bustos that he wasn’t spending much of his limited funds on paid staff.

The pastor has also received relatively little aid from outside groups. The only pro-Burns spending that the FEC has tracked is a $100,000 media buy from a group called Our American Century.

Anyone who wants to see Burns in Congress, though, may have some extra time to get involved. South Carolina requires a runoff on June 25 for primaries where no one earns a majority of the vote, and with seven candidates on the ballot, it would be a surprise if this race didn’t go into overtime.

Burns’ two main intra-party rivals, Air National Guard Lt. Col. Sheri Biggs and state Rep. Stewart Jones, are each hoping for a spot in a second round. Gov. Henry McMaster is not only supporting Biggs but has also filmed an ad for her aimed at convincing MAGA fans who don’t know or care who Trump actually endorsed that Biggs has his blessing anyway.

To achieve this sleight-of-hand, McMaster first reminds viewers that he was the first statewide elected official anywhere in the country to back Trump in 2016, then praises Biggs as a “strong, conservative, pro-Trump” contender. The spot also features a photo of Biggs standing next to a beaming Trump.

The Post and Courier notes that the wealthy Biggs has longstanding ties to McMaster, who has flown on her private plane more than anyone else. Many of Duncan’s former staffers are also supporting her, though the congressman, whose estranged wife accused him of infidelity in divorce proceedings last year, hasn’t taken sides.  

Biggs has self-funded much of her campaign, though unlike Burns, she’s also relying on donations. She’s also benefited from over $300,000 in support from a group called the Elect Principled Veterans Fund.

Jones, who is a co-founder of the state’s branch of the far-right Freedom Caucus, has access to considerably less money than either Burns or Biggs, but one prominent group is hoping its investment will make up for that. Protect Freedom PAC has deployed $670,000 to help Jones, which includes ads starring Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul touting Jones as “a true defender of liberty.”

The field also includes Kevin Bishop, a former Graham communications director who probably didn’t expect to be running against an opponent who wants to murder his longtime boss.

The Downballot

Whoa mama! June is chock-full of juicy primaries, so we’ve brought Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer on this week’s episode of “The Downballot” to give us the lay of the land. In South Carolina, we’ve got not one but two GOP primaries marked by accusations of infidelity on the part of Republican incumbents, while North Dakota will vote on a ballot measure that could spark a legal upheaval and pave the way for congressional term limits. And in Colorado, of course, we’ve got Lauren Boebert’s switcheroo, but there’s so much more, so tune in!

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday night’s primaries, which saw a Trump-endorsed candidate lose in New Jersey thanks to the death rattle of the “county line” system. In Iowa, meanwhile, a Republican congresswoman had her own near-death experience despite outspending her challenger 100-to-1. And in New Mexico, progressives ousted several reactionary Democratic incumbents in the legislature, opening the door to more progressive legislation next year.

Subscribe to “The Downballot” wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. You’ll find a transcript of this week’s episode right here by Thursday afternoon. New episodes every Thursday morning!

Senate

● MI-Sen: Democrat Nasser Beydoun, who formerly led the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, has filed a lawsuit asking a state appeals court to reverse his recent disqualification from the Aug. 6 primary ballot. Election officials determined last week that Beydoun’s voter signatures were invalid because his campaign listed a post office box on the petitions instead of the candidate’s address.

Even if his lawsuit were successful, though, Beydoun would be a longshot against Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who has dominated fundraising. Slotkin had $8.6 million in her campaign coffers at the end of the last reporting period on March 31, while Beydoun had just $149,000. (A third Democrat, actor Hill Harper, had a similarly meager $441,000).

House

● CO-04: Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg is running what appears to be the first TV ad from anyone attacking Rep. Lauren Boebert ahead of the six-way June 25 GOP primary for the 4th District in eastern Colorado.

“I am the candidate who has lived in the district my entire life,” the former state senator says in an unsubtle contrast with Boebert, who is leaving behind the 3rd District on the other side of the state to run in this more conservative area. Sonnenberg then ditches any subtly by declaring, “We can do better than Lauren Boebert … I will not embarrass you with scandals.”

However, the Colorado Sun’s Jesse Paul notes that Sonnenberg’s ad shows a picture of him accompanied by former Senate colleagues who were at the center of scandals. The commercial displays a photo of a beaming Sonnenberg standing with Randy Baumgardner and Larry Crowder, who have each been accused of sexual harassment.

● GA-03: Former Trump aide Brian Jack on Wednesday received endorsements from former state Sen. Mike Crane and former state Rep. Philip Singleton, who respectively finished third and fourth in the first round of the GOP primary two weeks ago, for the June 18 runoff. Jack outpaced former state Sen. Mike Dugan 47-25, with Crane taking 16% as Singleton grabbed 7%.

● IN-05: Politico’s Daniel Lippman and Adam Wren report that the House Ethics Committee has begun a probe into whether Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz abused her staff and used public funds for campaign purposes.

Two unnamed aides, one of whom no longer works for Spartz, previously filed complaints accusing the congresswoman of “general toxicity” and frequent “rage,” along with cutting certain staffers’ pay to punish them. Other staffers who spoke with the committee voiced similar complaints.

One current staffer alleged that on a “weekly” basis, Spartz will “call someone up or to their face, cuss them up, say the F-word about a million times, call them effing retards, effing children, effing whatever.” The aide furthermore claimed, “All my interactions with her have been filled with complete and total rage.”

Spartz’s chief of staff and communications director both resigned on Tuesday, though it’s unclear whether their departures were connected with these allegations and the ongoing investigation.

Spartz has been a notoriously tough boss for years: Politico reported in 2022 that she regularly engaged in verbal abuse that included shouting and cursing at staffers, often in front of people who don’t work for her.

Spartz won renomination by a narrow 39-33 margin last month against state Rep. Chuck Goodrich. Her victory followed a year of erratic behavior that included announcing she would retire from office, publicly flipping back and forth between considering reelection and resigning early, and finally jumping back into the race just days before the filing deadline.

The Ethics Committee reportedly waited until after the primary to announce a formal investigation to avoid improperly influencing that contest so close to an election. Thanks to GOP gerrymandering, Spartz is likely to cruise to reelection this fall no matter the probe’s outcome. Donald Trump carried Indiana’s 5th District 57-41, and Democratic nominee Deborah Pickett has raised little money so far.

● MI-08: The National Journal’s James Downs relays that a recent internal poll by UpOne Insights for 2022 GOP nominee Paul Junge finds him with a wide 53-11 lead over former Dow Chemical Company executive Mary Draves ahead of the Aug. 6 Republican primary. However, many voters remain undecided, and Junge likely has higher name recognition from his prior runs for office than Draves, who is a first-time candidate.

The poll tests hypothetical general election matchups against Democratic state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet, who has support from national Democrats. The survey finds Junge leading McDonald Rivet by 42-39 while Draves trails the Democrat by 40-32. The sample favors Trump 41-38 in a district Biden would have carried by 50-48 in 2020.

● ND-AL: Both NOTUS’ Reese Gorman and InForum’s Rob Port relay that the Club for Growth has canceled its planned TV buy to help former state Rep. Rick Becker for the final week of the GOP primary, a decision that Port characterizes as “ominous” for his prospects. A late May survey from the Republican firm WPA Intelligence for North Dakota News Cooperative showed Becker trailing Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak by a modest 32-25 spread, but that was before Donald Trump endorsed Fedorchak.

● NH-02: State Sen. Becky Whitley dropped out of the Sept. 10 Democratic primary on Wednesday. Her departure leaves two prominent candidates competing for the nod to replace their fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Annie Kuster: former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who has Kuster’s endorsement, and former Biden administration official Maggie Goodlander.

● Filing: Candidate filing closed in another six states over the last week. May 31 was the deadline in Wyoming, with Alaska following the next day. Kansas and Wisconsin closed Monday, while Hawaii and Minnesota finished on Tuesday.

The biggest surprise came in Kansas’ 2nd District where former Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda launched a last-minute campaign to regain the seat she lost 16 years ago, a development we covered in a recent Digest.

We did learn, though, that neither party would have a contested primary to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dean Philips in Minnesota’s 3rd District, a once competitive suburban Twin Cities constituency that moved hard to the left during the Trump era. State Sen. Kelly Morrison has the Democratic side to herself, while former state Judge Tad Jude is the only Republican campaigning in this longshot race.

Finally, one announced candidate for the state’s safely blue 5th District around Minneapolis, attorney Sarah Gad, did not file. (Gad suspended her campaign in December but showed some interest in relaunching last month.) Rep. Ilhan Omar faces a primary rematch against former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, whom she beat 50-48 in 2022, while two little-known candidates are also seeking the nod.

Ballot Measures

● MO Ballot: The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld GOP Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to set Aug. 6 as the date for a re-do of a 2022 state constitutional amendment that empowered the state legislature to require Kansas City to spend at least 25% of its general revenue on its police.

The court had explicitly ordered this measure to appear before voters on Nov. 5 in its decision requiring a revote, which was necessary because the justices ruled that election officials had included a misleading fiscal summary two years ago. However, the state Supreme Court this week said that any broader concerns about the governor’s ability to schedule an election for a different day than the one the body mandated would need to wait “for another day.”

Legislatures

● NM State Senate, NM State House: Progressives had a strong primary night in the Land of Enchantment on Tuesday and defeated several moderate and conservative incumbents who have blocked key legislation in recent years. Because the upper chamber is only up for election in presidential years, this was the first cycle under the new map drawn by Democrats after the 2020 census.

State politics observer Joe Monahan and the New Mexico Political Report’s Matthew Reichbach detailed the major primaries, and we’ve summarized the races below where progressives ousted incumbents, alongside each Senate and House district’s 2020 presidential results according to VEST data on Dave’s Redistricting App.

  • SD-15 (61-36 Biden): State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto lost 80-20 to policy analyst Heather Berghmans
  • HD-53 (54-44 Biden): State Rep. Willie Madrid lost 58-42 to former educator Jon Hill
  • HD-69 (63-34 Biden): State Rep. Harry Garcia lost 57-35 to attorney Michelle “Paulene” Abeyta
  • HD-70 (62-36 Biden): State Rep. Ambrose Castellano lost 55-45 to education advocate Anita Gonzales

The state party had disavowed Ivey-Soto after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, including progressive lobbyist Marianna Anaya, who won her own primary 49-41 to replace retiring state Rep. Gail Chasey in the dark-blue 18th District.

The other defeated incumbents had variously been targeted over their hostility to abortion rights, opposition to a paid family leave bill that failed in a 36-34 state House vote earlier this year, and other issues where they had aligned with Republicans. However, state Rep. Marian Matthews held off progressive challenger Greg Seeley 56-44 in the 27th District, which supported Biden by 55-42.

Senate Democrats currently hold a 27-15 majority and need just one flip to gain a two-thirds supermajority, while House Democrats already hold a 45-25 supermajority.

● SD State Legislature: Republican primary voters ousted at least 14 members of the state legislature in Tuesday’s primaries, with the South Dakota Searchlight writing that opposition to an underground carbon sequestration pipeline led to many of these defeats. While advocates of Summit Carbon Solutions’ project insisted it was necessary to aid the local ethanol industry, critics argued it would infringe on landowners’ rights.

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