Morning Digest: Republican attacks primary rival for being too strict on abortion

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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

SC-04: South Carolina Rep. William Timmons’ newest ad accuses his primary opponent of being too hardline on abortion, a line of attack that GOP candidates almost never use against one another. Timmons, though, is betting that even Republican primary voters in the conservative Greenville area have limits on what they’re willing to tolerate.

The spot shows footage of state Rep. Adam Morgan, who is challenging Timmons for renomination on June 11, raising his hand in support of what a female narrator describes as “legislation that would send rape and incest victims to jail for up to two years who ended their pregnancy.”

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“Adam,” she continues, “being pro-life doesn’t mean you hurt women by jailing the victims of rape and incest. Your vote was shameful.” Timmons himself closes out the commercial by saying he approves his message “because I am pro-life.”

The Greenville News’ Savannah Moss recently explained the context for the 2022 vote in question. At the time, the state House was debating a bill that would ban abortion unless the mother’s life was at risk or the pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault.

But Republican Rep. Josiah Magnuson thought these restrictions still did not go far enough, so he proposed an amendment that would punish a woman who “intentionally commits abortion” with a misdemeanor with a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Morgan, who chairs the far-right Freedom Caucus that Magnuson is also a member of, voted for his ally’s plan, but most lawmakers did not. The amendment failed 91 to 9, though the legislature went on to ban abortion in most cases after just six weeks.

Morgan defended himself at a candidate forum earlier this month by claiming that his vote was meant to close an alleged “loophole” by going after women “who performed abortions on themselves.” He also snarked that the three-term congressman didn’t understand the true purpose of the vote because he suffered from “reading comprehension issues.”

Timmons stood his ground both on the amendment and his reading abilities. The incumbent shared his new ad on social media Monday, writing that Morgan had backed a measure that “was widely rejected by the national and state pro-life movement as not only harmful to women, but to the noble effort to protect the unborn.”

Timmons, who has Donald Trump’s endorsement, is facing off against Morgan in an increasingly ugly battle. During a debate last week, the congressman brought up a website his campaign had created to attack Morgan for missing votes in the legislature, prompting Morgan to respond by drawing attention to rumors that Timmons used the powers of his office to conceal an extra-marital affair.

“The fact that we’re at a place in our politics where somebody has to go and create a website about attacking their opponent and attacking their integrity,” Morgan complained. “I have to say, you don’t want this election to be about integrity.”

When the rumors first surfaced two years ago, Timmons denied he’d done anything illegal. He did not, however, address whether he’d been unfaithful to his wife, who filed for divorce several months later, with the estranged wife of a developer named Ron Rallis.

Rallis publicly accused Timmons of moral and legal wrongdoing at the time and has since kept up a public crusade against the incumbent. The developer sat in the audience at a late April candidate forum as another attendee asked Timmons about the scandal. The congressman, after what the Post & Courier described as “a moment that left the room in awkward silence and Timmons at a loss for words,” avoided giving a direct answer.

Election Recaps

CA-20: Assemblyman Vince Fong beat Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux in Tuesday’s all-Republican special election to replace former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Fong leads 60-40 as of Wednesday morning, with the Associated Press estimating that 87% of the vote has been tabulated. It’s possible the margin may change as the remaining ballots are counted, but the outcome is not in doubt.

Fong and Boudreaux will face off one more time in November in the general election to represent California’s conservative 20th District, which is based in the Central Valley, for a full term.

 GA-03 (R): Former Trump aide Brian Jack and former state Sen. Mike Dugan will face off in a June 18 primary runoff after no candidate won a majority of the vote in this five-person field. 

Jack took first with 47%, while Dugan outpaced former state Sen. Mike Crane 25-16 for second. The winner of next month’s runoff should have no trouble in the general election to replace retiring GOP Rep. Drew Ferguson in Georgia’s 3rd District, a reliably red seat based in the southwestern Atlanta exurbs.

Jack earned Trump’s endorsement hours before he even announced he was running, and he also benefited from $1.5 million in spending from super PACs. (None of his opponents received any serious outside support.) It wasn’t quite enough to secure an outright win for Jack on Tuesday, but it should give him a formidable advantage over Dugan in the second round.

 GA-06 (D): Rep. Lucy McBath handily won renomination in Georgia’s revamped 6th District, setting her up for an easy November victory in this safely blue constituency. The well-known McBath took 85% while Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson finished with a distant 9% and state Rep. Mandisha Thomas ended up with 6%.

Thanks to multiple rounds of redistricting since she was first elected in 2018, McBath will have represented around 20% of the state once she’s sworn in next year, according to analyst Varun Vishwanath.

GA-13 (D): Rep. David Scott defeated six challengers on Tuesday, clearing the way for the longtime congressman to win a 12th term in Georgia’s redrawn 13th District in the fall. Despite serious concerns about his health, Scott won 57% of the vote while his nearest competitor, former South Fulton City Councilman Mark Baker, earned just 12%. Like McBath’s 6th, this district is safely Democratic.

 GA Supreme Court: Conservative Justice Andrew Pinson fended off a late challenge to win a six-year term on Georgia’s Supreme Court, turning back former Democratic Rep. John Barrow 55-45.

Barrow had hoped his vocal support for abortion rights would help make him the first challenger to unseat a sitting justice in more than a century. Pinson, however, benefitted from his status as an incumbent—he was even listed as such on the ballot—and outside support from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed him to the bench in 2022.

ID-02 (R): While Rep. Mike Simpson didn’t come close to losing renomination, the 13-term incumbent took an unimpressive 56% of the vote against a pair of underfunded foes; his nearest intra-party opponent, 2022 independent Senate candidate Scott Cleveland, earned 35%. But Simpson, who considered retiring this cycle before opting to seek reelection, should have nothing to worry about in the fall in this dark red constituency.

OR-03 (D): State Rep. Maxine Dexter beat former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal in the primary to replace their fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer, in this safely blue seat in the eastern Portland area. Dexter leads Jayapal 51-29 as of Wednesday morning, with the AP estimating that 63% of the vote has been tabulated. 

Dexter benefited from more than $2 million in support from 314 Action, a group that promotes Democratic candidates with backgrounds in science (Dexter is a pulmonologist). She also decisively outraised her opponents late in the race thanks in part to a large infusion from donors with a history of also giving to the hawkish pro-Israel group AIPAC. 

While AIPAC did not officially endorse Dexter, it responded to her victory by tweeting that “AIPAC members were proud to support” her against Jayapal.  

Jayapal, who is the sister of Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, received no major outside support and was also on the receiving end of more than $3 million in attacks from a new super PAC called Voters for Responsive Government.

We still don’t know who’s funding the super PAC, though. VFRG was required on Monday to disclose any contributors it received through April 30, but the forms it submitted only revealed that all of its donations came after that date.

OR-05 (D): State Rep. Janelle Bynum defeated 2022 nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner for the right to take on freshman GOP Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer. Bynum leads 69-31 with 70% of the estimated vote in.

Bynum, who would be the first Black person to represent Oregon in Congress, benefited from the support of the DCCC and Gov. Tina Kotek. A mysterious super PAC, by contrast, launched a late ad campaign to boost McLeod-Skinner in what appears to have been an unsuccessful Republican attempt to meddle in the primary.

McLeod-Skinner spent the race dogged by allegations that she had mistreated her staff as a candidate and as a municipal official, which could help explain both why Republicans wanted her and why national Democrats wanted Bynum. The 5th District, which is based in Portland’s southern suburbs and central Oregon, favored Joe Biden 53-44 in 2020. 

OR-SoS (D): State Treasurer Tobias Read defeated state Sen. James Manning in the primary to replace Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, a fellow Democrat who did not run for a full term. Read leads 71-21 with the AP estimating that 71% of the vote has been counted.

Read will take on state Sen. Dennis Linthicum, who was one of the six Republican members of the upper chamber who were prohibited from seeking reelection this year because of a 2022 measure aimed at punishing legislators who take part in quorum-busting boycotts. Linthicum’s advantage over his nearest opponent, businessman Brent Barker, stood at 66-20 on Wednesday morning with the AP estimating that 74% of the vote has been counted. 

Read will be favored in this blue state for a post that’s both the state’s chief elections officer and first in line to succeed the governor in case of a vacancy. That latter role will be a familiar one to Read: Oregon has no lieutenant governor, but because Griffin-Valade was appointed to her role after her predecessor, Shemia Fagan, resigned amid a scandal, Read is currently first in line.

Multnomah County, OR District Attorney: Longtime prosecutor Nathan Vasquez enjoys a big lead over District Attorney Mike Schmidt in the officially nonpartisan general election, though the AP has not yet called the race. Vasquez holds a 56-44 advantage with an estimated 63% of the vote tabulated as of Wednesday morning.  

Schmidt, whose decisive 2020 victory represented a big win for criminal justice reformers, identifies as a Democrat, while Vasquez left the Republican Party in 2017 to enroll with the Independent Party of Oregon. 

Vasquez ran ads arguing that under Schmidt, crime and homelessness have veered out of control in Portland. Schmidt tried to defend his record and highlighted Vasquez’s past support for the policies he went on to attack, but the challenger’s message appears to have won out.

Senate

MD-Sen: Former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has launched his first general election ad, which focuses on abortion and is part of a $1 million buy. The commercial, obtained by Politico, presents Hogan as an abortion rights supporter who claims he’ll codify Roe v. Wade if elected.

Hogan had described himself as “pro-life” for years and notably vetoed a bill in 2022 that would have expanded abortion access, which Democratic lawmakers overrode. After kicking off his surprise bid for Senate in February, however, he began shifting his stance

That shift accelerated after Hogan won the GOP primary earlier this month, when he began calling himself “pro-choice” and endorsed the reproductive rights amendment that Democratic lawmakers placed on November’s ballot following a party-line vote last year. But just days after he joined the race in February, Hogan told CNN’s Dana Bash that abortion was an “emotional issue for women” and the ballot measure “wasn’t really necessary.”

While serving as governor, Hogan repeatedly claimed he wouldn’t seek to restrict abortion access, but that prospect was always a nonstarter with Democrats dominating the state legislature. By contrast, if Hogan wins his Senate race, he would have the first chance in his career to restrict abortion rights by helping Republicans win a majority.

NV-Sen: A new internal poll finds Army veteran Sam Brown crushing former Ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter by 52-14 ahead of the June 11 Republican primary, with election conspiracy theorist Jim Marchant taking 7%.

The poll, obtained by the Nevada Independent, was conducted by the Tarrance Group for Brown and his supporters at the NRSC. Gunter has self-funded millions and has been advertising heavily in recent weeks, but it doesn’t seem to have had a material impact. Last month, a survey from Tarrance for the same clients found Brown dominating 58-6 over Marchant while Gunter took 3%.

Governors

VT-Gov: Former Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Monday that he wouldn’t seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who said earlier this month that he would seek a fifth two-year term. Weinberger led Vermont’s largest city for 12 years before leaving office earlier this year. With former Gov. Howard Dean also saying recently that he’d sit out the race, Democrats lack a prominent candidate ahead of the May 30 filing deadline.

House

LA-05: Gov. Jeff Landry endorsed Rep. Julia Letlow on Monday in a tweet that did not mention her colleague and potential opponent, fellow GOP Rep. Garret Graves. Landry’s move is anything but a surprise, though, as he reportedly pushed for the congressional map that turned Graves’ 6th District solidly blue.

Graves, who spent about a year considering whether to take on Landry in the 2023 race for governor, further alienated the eventual winner by recruiting a rival candidate. Democratic state Rep. Mandie Landry, who is not related to Jeff Landry, said last month in her testimony over the new boundaries, “The governor wanted Congressman Graves out … It was the one [map] we all understood would go through.”

Jeff Landry also used his tweet to note that Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who represents Louisiana’s 1st District, is likewise supporting Letlow in the 5th. Scalise, like Landry, did not say anything about Graves in his own message praising Letlow, but he has his own reasons to want him out of Congress.

Scalise told Politico last year that Graves sabotaged his bid for speaker by spreading false rumors about his health. Scalise said that, while his physicians had told him his battle with cancer was progressing well, an “unnamed member of Congress” had claimed Scalise was “going to die in six months.” This “unnamed member,” according to Politico, was Graves.

VA-07: VoteVets has launched what it says is a $400,000 TV ad buy to support former National Security Council adviser Eugene Vindman in the crowded Democratic primary on June 18. The spot notes that Vindman was fired for standing up to Donald Trump in the scandal that led to Trump’s first impeachment, and it also touts the Washington Post’s recent endorsement along with Vindman’s support for abortion rights.

Attorneys General

VA-AG: Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe this week became the latest prominent Democrat to endorse former Del. Jay Jones for attorney general even though Jones himself hasn’t announced his plans for next year’s elections. The post is held by Republican Jason Miyares, who is a potential candidate for governor in 2025.

Ballot Measures

NV Ballot: Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom announced it had submitted more than 200,000 voter signatures for a ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion rights in Nevada’s constitution. Amendment supporters need 102,362 of those signatures to be valid, including an amount in each congressional district equal to 10% of the votes cast for governor in the last election, a target supporters say they’ve also surpassed.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot and wins voter approval this fall, voters would have to pass it again in 2026 before it could take effect.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: The National Rifle Association announced Monday that its new president would be former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican-turned-Libertarian-turned-Republican. The once mighty organization has seen its influence wane dramatically in recent years in large part due to a series of scandals, though Republican candidates still welcome its endorsement.

Barr, for his part, also saw his own power fade in the decades since he helped prosecute Bill Clinton as a manager during the president’s 1999 impeachment trial. Peach State Democrats used the final congressional map they ever got to draw to pit Barr against fellow Rep. John Linder in the 2002 primary for the 7th District, a contest Linder won 64-36.

Barr went on to serve as the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential nominee before rejoining the GOP a few years later. He sought a return to the House in 2014 when he campaigned for the open 11th District only to lose the primary runoff 66-34 to Barry Loudermilk, who still holds the seat.

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