The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● NC Supreme Court, NC-Gov: Retiring Democratic Justice Mike Morgan said Thursday that he would resign in the first week of September rather than serve out the remaining 16 months of his term on North Carolina’s Supreme Court, a development that could give his party a better chance to defend this crucial seat next year. We may see Morgan’s name on the 2024 ballot anyway, though, as his announcement came two months after he unexpectedly expressed interest in running for governor.
First, though, it’s up to the state’s current chief executive, termed-limited Democrat Roy Cooper, to appoint a new justice to succeed Morgan on the seven-member body. Cooper’s choice does not need to be confirmed by the GOP-dominated legislature, and they’ll be able to run for a full eight-year term as an incumbent.
The News & Observer’s Lars Dolder mentions four state Court of Appeals judges―John Arrowood, Allegra Collins, Toby Hampson, and Allison Riggs―as possible picks. Dolder also speculates that former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who lost reelection to the court by just 401 votes in 2020 and was the party’s unsuccessful 2022 nominee for U.S. Senate against Republican Ted Budd, could also be considered.
Democrats will want the eventual appointee to be able to quickly organize a strong statewide campaign because the party needs to hold this seat in November of 2024 as part of a multi-cycle plan that represents their only realistic path toward rolling back the GOP’s iron grip on state politics. Republicans last year flipped two Supreme Court seats to turn what had been a 4-3 Democratic edge into a 5-2 GOP majority, and Democrats have little room for error if they’re to regain control in the next several years. To take a 4-3 majority, Democrats would need to win four of the next five races, which include Morgan’s seat in 2024, fellow Democratic Justice Anita Earls in 2026, and three Republican-held seats in 2028.
It’s also critical that Democrats prevail in next year’s race to succeed Cooper in order to stop Republican legislators from adding two seats to the court for a GOP governor to fill, which they’ve been contemplating for years. A Democratic governor could also fill any other vacancies that arise, including in 2027 when Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby hits the mandatory retirement age of 72 (Newby’s seat will be up in 2028 regardless).
For most of the year it looked all-but-certain that Attorney General Josh Stein would be the party’s nominee for governor, but Morgan himself said two months ago he was also thinking about waging his own campaign for the top job. Morgan, who would be North Carolina’s first Black chief executive, wouldn’t tell Dolder if his early departure means that he’s about to run.
“I don’t want to allow my focus to be so distracted by anything personally about what my plans may be that I take my focus away from making sure I leave the court in the best situation,” said the outgoing justice. “So I’m not fully prepared to talk about what I shall be doing, but soon after I leave the court I can more directly focus on myself.” The Tar Heel State’s candidate filing deadline is Dec. 15, so we’ll know what Morgan’s doing within a few months.
● AZ-Sen: Republican Kari Lake told The Hill Wednesday that she would decide “by the end of the year” if she’d run for the Senate, though Arizona’s not-governor also evaded answering when she was repeatedly asked if she was interested in serving as Donald Trump’s running mate. Axios reported weeks ago that Lake was “staffing up for a Senate campaign in anticipation of an October launch.”
● IN-Sen: Wealthy egg farmer John Rust’s already difficult campaign for the GOP nod received some potentially terminal news Tuesday when Jackson County party head Amanda Lowery told IndyStar.com’s Kayla Dwyer she wouldn’t sign off on paperwork certifying that he’s a Republican. Lowery insisted this was “nothing personal” against Rust because she also won’t be taking this step for anyone else who didn’t meet the state’s requirements for competing in primaries.
Rust, who would be the first gay Republican to serve in the upper chamber, is in this predicament because the state only allows candidates to run with the party they belong to, and the easiest way for Hoosiers to establish party affiliation is to cast their two most recent primary votes in that side’s nomination contests. (There is no party registration in Indiana.) But while Rust most recently participated in the 2016 GOP primary, his prior vote was in the 2012 Democratic race. Candidates can get an exemption if their local party chair certifies that they belong to the party, but Lowery made it clear she won’t be doing that.
Rust says he’ll continue his campaign to deny the GOP nod to Rep. Jim Banks, the frontrunner he castigated as a “career politician,” but it’s not clear what options he has. Dwyer writes that he’s “looking into a path around the statute,” but Rust wouldn’t say what options he was thinking of pursuing. He’ll eventually need to think of a strategy, though, because Dwyer says that Banks already plans to formally challenge his right to seek the Republican nomination.
● MO-Gov: Businessman Mike Hamra, whose eponymous company operates almost 200 restaurants nationwide, tells the St. Louis Business Journal that he’ll decide “in the upcoming weeks” if he’ll join state House Minority Leader Crystal Quade in the Democratic primary.
● ME-02: Republican state Rep. Mike Soboleski told the conservative Maine Wire this week that he’s interested in challenging Democratic Rep. Jared Golden for this 52-46 Trump constituency in the northern part of the state. The state representative, who was elected to his first term representing a conservative seat months after he won his primary by 5 votes, did not say when he expects to make a decision; Soboleski is a Marine veteran, a distinction he shares with his would-be opponent.
The only notable Republican who has announced a bid so far is Robert Cross, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nod for a state Senate seat last year, but he finished June with barely more than $30,000 banked. State Rep. Laurel Libby, who is one of the most prominent hardliners in the legislature, didn’t rule out her own bid in March, and the Bangor Daily News writes that she remains the “focus of the most speculation in Republican circles.” Golden, for his part, finished the second quarter with $610,000 on hand.
● RI-01: WPRI’s Ted Nesi reported Wednesday night that Williams College told businessman Don Carlson in 2019 that he wouldn’t be allowed to teach there again, a decision Nesi says occurred “after administrators were alerted to an overture he made to a student.”
Carlson, who is now competing in the Sept. 5 special Democratic primary, had been serving as a temporary economics instructor when, according to WPRI, a second student notified the school about what they felt was unacceptable conduct by Carlson towards their classmate. While there was never a complaint through Title IX, the federal act that outlaws sexual harassment in schools that receive federal assistance, Williams reportedly told Carlson he wouldn’t be returning.
Nesi writes that Carlson’s team would not discuss the allegations on the record until Tuesday when the campaign said, “WPRI has repeatedly refused to provide the campaign with the specifics of each of the allegations it intends to report, and we’re not going to respond to rumors and unnamed third-party sources. WPRI has an ethical duty to Don and the voters to provide us with specific assertions and the basis for those assertions that it intends to air so we can have the opportunity to address them.” (WPRI says its discoveries “had been laid out in detail to the campaign the prior week.)
Nesi continues that a Carlson attorney soon unsuccessfully tried to convince the station not to run the story because there was no “formal Title IX complaint, a formal investigation, or any formal findings of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Carlson.” Williams, for its part, would not address Carlson’s time as an instructor, saying, “While we can’t comment on specific personnel matters, we want anyone who has experienced sexual harassment or unwanted attention at Williams to know that you can contact our Title IX office and you’ll have our full support.”
The story comes less than two weeks before a crowded and unpredictable primary, and we got our first survey of the contest since last month on Wednesday when former Biden administration official Gabe Amo publicized a week-old Blueprint Polling internal. The survey shows former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg leading Amo 28-19 as two other candidates, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and state Sen. Sandra Cano, take 11% each.
Carlson is further back with 8% as another 15% are undecided, while the remaining respondents selected “another candidate not mentioned here.” (A total of 12 people are on next month’s ballot.) The memo argues that, while Amo is trailing, “[I]t is clear that Gabe is the only chance at beating Regunberg.”
Mayors & County Leaders
● Manchester, NH Mayor: EMILY’s List has endorsed Alderman June Trisciani in the Sept. 19 nonpartisan primary to succeed incumbent Joyce Craig, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, as mayor of New Hampshire’s largest city.
Trisciani is competing in a four-way field that features former Republican congressional staffer Jay Ruais and two fellow Democratic aldermen: Kevin Cavanaugh, who has Craig’s endorsement, and Will Stewart. The two contenders with the most votes will compete in the Nov. 7 general election.