The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● FL-Sen: Former Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell kicked off her campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Rick Scott on Tuesday, a development that gives national Democrats the recruit they want for what will be a challenging contest. Mucarsel-Powell, though, is hoping that Scott’s own vulnerabilities, as well as a backlash to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ far-right agenda, will give her the chance to score an upset in a longtime swing state that veered sharply to the right in 2022.
Mucarsel-Powell, who flipped a competitive Miami-area House seat in 2018 but lost it two years later, first needs to win the primary. However, she begins as the strong favorite to become the first Latina Democrat ever nominated for statewide office.
The only other notable candidate who has launched a bid is Navy veteran Phil Ehr, who raised $2 million for his 2020 campaign against the nationally infamous Rep. Matt Gaetz in the safely red 1st District, but he’s so far attracted no major allies. Former Rep. Alan Grayson also is talking about running and even filed FEC paperwork in late June, but his deliberations have attracted little attention now that he’s well into the perennial candidate stage of his career.
Scott, who became wealthy running what was the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, HCA, used his vast personal resources to win two tight races for governor in 2010 and 2014 before narrowly unseating Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.
His political fortunes, though, took a sharp downturn last cycle after a chaotic tenure as head of the NRSC that was defined by a feud with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and saw the GOP manage to defy history by actually losing a seat. One of Scott’s many mistakes came early in 2022 when he unveiled a plan to “sunset” all federal legislation, including Social Security, after five years, an agenda that Democrats were only too happy to make Republican Senate candidates answer for.
Scott’s proposal received new attention earlier this year when President Joe Biden attacked it in his State of the Union address—a pile-on that McConnell was only too happy to join. “I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America,” said McConnell of the senator who months before had tried to oust him as the GOP’s Senate leader. (The bad blood between the two camps continues to linger, with one unnamed McConnell ally using just two words to describe Scott to Time magazine in April: “Ass clown.”)
Scott soon edited his “sunset” plan to include “specific exceptions of Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans benefits, and other essential services,” but Mucarsel-Powell made it clear this week that his belated about-face wouldn’t deter her from making Scott’s blunder an issue. “He wrote the plan that could take away the Social Security and Medicare you worked and paid for,” she said in a kickoff video that also insinuated Scott had shirked his duties to the public while becoming even richer during his time in office.
The former congresswoman went on to highlight the most notorious chapter of Scott’s business career: his company’s 2003 guilty plea in what the Department of Justice at the time proclaimed was “the most comprehensive health care fraud investigation” it had ever undertaken. (HCA wound up paying a record $1.7 billion in fines.) The scandal was never quite enough to deny Scott victory in any of his previous elections, but Mucarsel-Powell is hoping it will help her frame this race as a battle between an immigrant from Ecuador who once “worked for minimum wage in a donut shop” and a wealthy incumbent “who cuts taxes for himself, but he’d raise them for you.”
Mucarsel-Powell is also hoping to get some help at the top of the ticket if she’s to give Florida Democrats their first win in a federal statewide race since 2012. Donald Trump carried the Sunshine State 51-48 in 2020 even as he was losing most other swing states, but it was landslides by DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022 that truly left Democrats in a funk. However, there are signs that Joe Biden is serious about keeping Florida in play next year, as his campaign included the state as part of a new $25 million TV and digital buy covering several battlegrounds.
And Democrats have some reason to be optimistic that, if serious resources are allocated here, their message could gain traction. Abortion rights advocates are collecting signatures to place a constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot that would both undo the six-week abortion ban that DeSantis signed into law in April and allow the procedure to take place up to 24 weeks into pregnancy. That could create problems for Republican candidates like Scott, who backed DeSantis’ ban and has indicated support for a federal ban as well.
The former congresswoman is also betting that voters are tired of other parts of DeSantis’ agenda. “These out-of-touch extremists cannot continue to wield the levers of power in our state,” she declared last month. Democrats are hoping that Donna Deegan’s upset win in the May race for mayor of Jacksonville was an early sign that Floridians are indeed growing weary of what the DeSantis-era GOP has to offer. They’ll also have an early chance to prove that victory was no fluke in a Jan. 16 special election where they’ll try to flip a competitive state House seat in the Orlando area.
Democrats also hope that Mucarsel-Powell, who was the first immigrant from South America ever elected to Congress, will be able to appeal to the many Latino voters who switched sides and backed Trump in 2020 after voting for Hillary Clinton four years earlier. Mucarsel-Powell herself experienced that swing the hard way in 2020 as the old version of her 26th Congressional District, where the electorate had a large number of Cuban Americans and voters with ties to elsewhere in Latin America, veered from a 57-41 win for Clinton all the way to a 53-47 Trump victory, a transformation that helped Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez unseat her 52-48.
“Yes, the fear of socialism is real and engrained for those of us who fled dangerous places in search of the American dream,” Mucarsel-Powell wrote in a Twitter thread two weeks after her defeat. “My own father was murdered by a criminal with a gun in Ecuador. But it’s not why I lost and it’s not the only reason South Florida went red.”
“There were many factors,” she continued, including “a targeted disinformation campaign to Latinos; an electorate desperate to re-open, wracked with fear over the economic consequences; a national party that thinks racial identity is how we vote.” Mucarsel-Powell went on to argue that state and national Democrats need to “step back and deeply analyze how we’re talking to Latinos and every voter.” Now she’ll have the chance to test out her own prescription statewide.
● NV-Sen: Duty First, a super PAC that backs Army veteran Sam Brown, has publicized an internal from Public Opinion Strategies that shows him beating election conspiracy theorist Jim Marchant 33-15 in the GOP primary, with no one else taking more than 2%. This is the first survey we’ve seen of the contest to face Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen.
● CA-22: Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado announced Tuesday that she would challenge Republican Rep. David Valadao in California’s 22nd District, a Central Valley constituency that favored Joe Biden by a 55-42 margin in 2020. Hurtado joins former Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a Democrat who is running to avenge his 52-48 loss last year against Valadao, in the top-two primary.
Hurtado joined the state Senate in 2018 when she unseated Republican incumbent Andy Vidak 56-44, a victory that made the 30-year-old the youngest woman ever elected to the chamber. She faced a tough battle four years later to remain there, though, especially after the state’s independent redistricting commission left her with a seat that was about one-third new to her.
Democrats were also only too aware that the party’s long struggle to turn out their Central Valley base in non-presidential cycles meant that the electorate would be considerably more conservative than the one that favored Biden 53-45 two years before in Hurtado’s revamped 16th Senate District. Republican Brian Dahle ended up scoring a 55-45 victory here over Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, but Hurtado narrowly held on and beat Republican David Shepard by 13 votes.
Hurtado’s tight win came the same night that Valadao defeated Salas in one of the year’s most expensive House races as Dahle was carrying his seat 52-48. Salas soon began laying the groundwork for a rematch, but Hurtado’s name only surfaced a week after the former assemblyman launched his campaign in July. She begins the contest with a big geographic base of support, though: Hurtado already represents 96% of the 22nd District, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, while Salas served just over half of the seat when he lost to Valadao.
Both Salas, who earned an endorsement last week from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, and Hurtado would be the first Latino to represent the Central Valley in the House. Valadao, for his part, is one of several people of Portuguese descent who has represented this heavily Latino area.
● CO-03: Democrat Adam Frisch has publicized an internal from Keating Research that shows him edging out far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert 50-48 less than a year after she only fended him off by 546 votes; the memo notes that Keating’s October 2022 survey showed Boebert ahead 47-45 at a time when almost everyone expected her to win easily. The sample favors Donald Trump 49-44, which would mark a small drop from his 53-45 margin in 2020. The memo does not mention Grand Junction Mayor Anna Stout, who joined the Democratic primary last month.
● RI-01: We still haven’t seen any negative TV ads two weeks ahead of the packed Sept. 5 Democratic primary, and both Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and former Biden administration official Gabe Amo are remaining positive in their newest spots. Matos is emphasizing her support for abortion rights in what WPRI’s Ted Nesi says is her campaign’s first TV commercial in two weeks. (EMILY’s List and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC have been airing pro-Matos ads while she’s been off the air.) Amo, meanwhile, touts his White House experience.
● MI State House: The Michigan Board of Canvassers on Monday approved recall petitions against state Rep. Sharon MacDonell while once again rejecting those filed against five other Democrats; recall proponents also withdrew their paperwork against a seventh Democrat, state Rep. Reggie Miller. Biden carried MacDonell’s 56th District 57-41, which makes it the bluest of the targeted seats. Democrats currently hold a 56-54 majority in the chamber.
Conservatives looking to oust MacDonell will have 180 days to collect roughly 11,000 signatures, a figure that represents 25% of the votes cast in the district during the most recent general election, but all of them must be gathered within a 60-day timeframe. However, the attorney representing the six Democrats, former state party chair Mark Brewer, declared that he’ll appeal the decision, which he says will automatically prevent signature collection efforts from going forward for 40 days.
The bipartisan Board of Canvassers voted 3-0 to approve the recall campaign against MacDonell (one Democrat was absent) after determining that her detractors, by citing her vote for gun safety legislation, provided enough information about why they want her ousted. (Brewer argues the paperwork is still too vague.) The body, though, voted 2-1 to reject petitions filed against the other five Democrats, with the majority saying the language didn’t do an acceptable job summarizing the legislation they supported.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Houston, TX Mayor: Candidate filing closed Monday for Houston’s Nov. 7 nonpartisan primaries, and the wealthy attorney Tony Buzbee waited until the final hours of qualifying to announce that he’d campaign for a spot on the city council rather than wage a second bid for mayor. Buzbee, an independent who serves as GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lead attorney for his upcoming impeachment trial, was the only notable politician who was still publicly undecided about running to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner, and there were no other last-minute developments in the mayoral contest.
A pair of prominent Democrats, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, remain the frontrunners in the 17-way race to succeed Turner. Also in the running are City Council member Robert Gallegos; former METRO board chair Gilbert Garcia; attorney Lee Kaplan; and former City Councilmember Jack Christie, who is the only notable Republican in the contest. A runoff would take place either on Dec. 9 or Dec. 16 unless one candidate wins a majority, though that likely second round has not yet been scheduled.
The only poll we’ve seen in months was a July survey from the University of Houston that showed Whitmire and Jackson Lee taking 34% and 32%, respectively, with Garcia at just 3% (Christie, who was not yet running, was not included.) Responds, though, decisively favored Whitmire 51-33 in a runoff.