The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
● CO Ballot: Abortion rights groups in Colorado, reports the Colorado Sun, turned in paperwork last week to place a proposed constitutional amendment before voters that would both safeguard abortion access and overturn a 1984 amendment that bans public funding for the procedure. The campaign initially considered pursuing these changes through two separate initiatives before settling on one, and if the measure qualifies for the ballot, supporters would need to convince at least 55% of voters to back the “yes” side in November of 2024 in order to pass it.
The proposed amendment represents the latest battle over reproductive rights in the Centennial State, which made history twice in the 20th century by passing two very different first-in-the-nation laws regarding abortion. In 1967, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, the Colorado legislature advanced a bill to allow a panel of physicians to approve the procedure during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest; if the mother’s mental or physical well-being was at risk; or if there was a risk of birth defects.
The bill, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. John Love, would be unacceptable to pro-choice groups today, but it was groundbreaking for its era. (California Gov. Ronald Reagan would approve a scaled-back version later that year, a decision he’d call a “mistake” less than a decade later.) Love assured detractors that “[t]he fear that some have that Colorado will become an ‘abortion Mecca’ if this bill becomes law does not seem to me well founded,” but there was no organized anti-abortion movement to defeat it at the time.
Things would be very different in 1984 when voters approved Amendment 3 by 50.4-49.6 (state constitutional amendments only needed a simple majority to pass at the time). While the Hyde Amendment preventing federal funding was already a few years old, this tight win at the ballot box made Colorado the first state to bar public funds from being used for abortions. Anti-abortion groups celebrated even though a similar proposal failed in Washington state 53-47 that same day, and they correctly predicted they’d be able to achieve more such victories nationwide.
Reproductive rights supporters in turn argued that voters had been confused by the wording of the question and that some had mistakenly believed a “yes” vote was for “Yes for choice.” The head of the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate also told The Daily Sentinel that some voters saw Amendment 3, which was on the ballot as Reagan was overwhelmingly carrying the state, as “a spending measure … People are on a real wave of, ‘Hell, we’re not going to pay for anything.'” However, a 1988 proposal to repeal Amendment 3 went down by a lopsided 60-40.
Colorado’s electorate has shifted hard to the left since then, especially in recent years, and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and his allies in the legislature have successfully pursued some of the nation’s most pro-choice laws. Amendment 3, though, continues to be a huge obstacle for Medicaid recipients and state and local government employees. “Poor women in Colorado are, legally, basically living in Texas,” law school professor Jennifer Hendricks told Colorado Politics this year. “There’s been a lot of talk about Colorado as a haven and how we’re protecting this right and it’s important for women in the region, but the barriers that poor women face have not gotten as much attention.”
The Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition, which is an alliance of several progressive groups, agrees, and it’s working to place a proposed amendment on next year’s ballot to finally end this restriction. However, getting the proposal before voters will be an expensive job thanks to the passage of a 2016 amendment that, in addition to requiring 55% of the vote to pass constitutional amendments, also turned signature-gathering into a far more onerous task.
The coalition will need to turn in about 124,000 valid petitions, a figure that represents 5% of the total vote cast in the most recent election for secretary of state, and it must also hit certain targets in each of the 35 state Senate districts. Once the secretary of state approves summary language, the coalition will have six months to gather petitions: Despite the cost, though, one leader, Karen Middleton of Cobalt Advocates, predicted to Westword that they’d have no trouble hitting their goal. (Cobalt, notably, was formed in the aftermath of Amendment 3’s passage.)
Anti-abortion groups are also pursuing their own amendment to push a total ban even though voters in 2020 rejected a 22-week ban by 59-41. But while it’s unlikely such a proposal could pass in 2024, the Sun notes that the state could be in for an expensive battle as conservatives try to keep the pro-choice side from securing the 55% it needs. Middleton, for her part, previewed the argument her coalition would use last month to Westword, saying, “Everyone should have insurance that covers the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, regardless of who we work for.”
● LA Redistricting: A panel of judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is dominated by the far-right, has blocked a lower court from going ahead with a hearing on how Louisiana should redraw its congressional map for 2024, which had been set for next week. A new map is needed after the lower court ruled in 2022 that Republican mapmakers likely violated the Voting Rights Act by enacting a map where just one of the six districts was capable of electing Black voters’ preferred candidate in a state where nearly one-third of the population is Black and a second district could be readily drawn.
Thursday’s 5th CIrcuit ruling adds a delay in a case where Republicans may once more try to run out the clock until the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority says it’s too close to the next election to implement a new map. However, while the Supreme Court put the lower court’s ruling on hold for 2022, its order lifting that stay earlier this year specifically noted that the 5th Circuit had time to resolve the matter ahead of the 2024 elections, and it’s far from guaranteed that the GOP’s stalling tactics will work for a second election.
In a landmark decision this past June, the Supreme Court furthermore upheld a similar lower court ruling that required Alabama to create a second Black district, and just earlier this week, the high court rejected the GOP’s last-ditch attempt to block a new map for 2024 that would finally empower Alabama’s Black voters. Louisiana’s case is proceeding on a somewhat different track than Alabama’s case, but there’s still significant time left ahead of the 2024 congressional elections since the candidate filing deadline is on July 19.
Further complicating matters, a panel of three different judges on the 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments on Oct. 6 in the GOP’s appeal to overturn the lower court’s ruling itself. That 2022 ruling had only blocked Louisiana’s map on a preliminary basis before a full trial took place because the court found that the plaintiffs were highly likely to prevail and would suffer irreparable harm from further delay.
The plaintiffs seeking a new map could appeal Thursday’s panel ruling to the entire 5th Circuit or to the Supreme Court, though election law expert Michael Li noted that another solution would be to proceed with a trial over the map at the lower court, which would likely reach the same result as it did last year. However, Republicans could still appeal a subsequent ruling striking down the map after a trial, creating another avenue for delay.
● AZ-Sen: Republican Kari Lake told the Wall Street Journal’s Eliza Collins that she’ll use an Oct. 10 rally to enter the GOP primary in an interview that took place the same week that Lake suffered yet another legal setback in her bid to overturn her 2022 loss for governor against Democrat Katie Hobbs. Collins adds that, while national Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are convinced she’ll be the nominee, they need to be persuaded that she’s strong enough to invest resources in.
Collins also confirms that, while 2022 nominee Blake Masters had intended to run no matter what Lake did, he “put those plans on hold after Trump called him and walked through Lake’s strengths in a GOP primary.” She adds, though, that Masters hasn’t ruled out getting in anyway.
● NJ-Sen: Rep. Andy Kim’s allies at VoteVets have publicized a survey from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling to argue that Democrats badly need him as a general election alternative to indicted Sen. Bob Menendez. PPP shows former GOP Gov. Chris Christie leading the incumbent 27-24 as a hefty 41% opt for an unnamed “someone else,” while Kim beats Christie 46-20. (Christie, who is running for president, said over the weekend, “I have no interest in being in the United States Senate.”) The release, which also showed Menendez with a dire 8-74 favorable rating, did not mention any other Democrats.
Latina Civic PAC, meanwhile, is hoping to recruit another candidate, and it publicly suggested five names Thursday: federal judge Esther Salas, state Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, state Sens. Nellie Pou and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, and former PAC leader Patricia Campos-Medina. The New Jersey Globe also speculates that the group’s current head, Laura Matos, could run, but there’s also no word if she’s interested.
● PR-Gov: Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, who has served as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress since 2017, announced Wednesday that she would challenge Gov. Pedro Pierluisi in next year’s primary for the pro-statehood Progressive New Party. The PNP, which is known in Spanish as Partido Nuevo Progresista, includes people who also belong to both of the mainland’s main parties: González affiliates with the GOP in D.C., while Pierluisi identifies as a Democrat.
The incumbent is trying to become the first governor to win a second term since another PNP politician, Pedro Rosselló, was reelected in 1996. Pierluisi won his 2020 general election by narrowly beating Carlos Delgado Altieri of the Popular Democratic Party 33-32, and the challenger is once again running to be the standard bearer of the pro-commonwealth party.
● CO-08: While former state Rep. Dan Woog expressed interest in challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo back in June, the Republican instead announced Tuesday that he’d try to return to the legislature. Woog will take on Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Parenti, who unseated him 50-47 last year.
● CT-05: 2022 GOP nominee George Logan is teasing a “special announcement” Monday evening in a tweet that just happens to contain a “George Logan for Congress” logo. The former state senator lost to Democratic incumbent Jahana Hayes 50.4-49.6 two years after Joe Biden carried this northwestern Connecticut constituency 55-44. Logan may not have the GOP side to himself, though, as former ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele hasn’t ruled out waging her own campaign.
● IN-05: While GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz briefly sounded interested in reversing her retirement decision last week during a spat with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Howey Politics writes that she went on to tell a constituent at a Saturday town hall, “And listen, you don’t have to worry. I’m not running again.” Brian Howey says that response came after the questioner complained that Spartz hadn’t done anything to help when he was trying to keep his restaurant afloat during the height of the pandemic; Spartz also used that event to say of her boss, “This is probably going to be the end of Kevin.”
P.S. The article adds that Spartz’s January retirement announcement didn’t just surprise the political world, it also caught her own husband off guard. “So abrupt was the congresswoman’s decision,” writes Howey, “that her husband, Jason, was heard at a recent Hamilton County Republican Lincoln Dinner saying that he had just bought a condo in Washington the day before she announced she wasn’t going to run.”
● NC-??: State House Speaker Tim Moore announced Thursday that he wouldn’t seek reelection to the legislature, though the powerful Republican again wouldn’t say if he was interested in running for Congress. Moore, who already revealed during the summer that he was serving his last term as speaker, told reporters, “I’m looking at next steps. Don’t know what those will be yet, I’m looking at a number of great options out there.”
Moore’s counterpart in the upper chamber, state Senate leader Phil Berger, recently said he hoped that votes on a congressional map would take place during the week of Oct. 9, and there’s plenty of speculation that the speaker could try to draw himself a favorable seat at Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson’s expense.
● NJ-08: A powerful member of the local Democratic establishment this week signaled support for freshman Rep. Rob Menendez, who could face a serious primary challenge now that his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, has been indicted. Craig Guy, who has no serious opposition on Nov. 7 in the general election for Hudson County executive, posted on social media, “I would like to personally thank Rob for all that he is doing for the 8th District and look forward to continuing to work with him to deliver for our constituents here in Hudson County.”
The Hudson County View notes that, while Guy didn’t explicitly say he was endorsing the congressman, his words “likely signals support coming from the Hudson County Democratic Organization.” Guy’s declaration came days after Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla expressed interest in taking on Menendez.
As we’ve noted before, party endorsements in New Jersey tend to carry a good deal of weight with primary voters because endorsed candidates in many counties appear in a separate column on the ballot along with other party endorsees, a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. Guy himself benefited from this in June when he pulled off a 76-24 win against a member of the Hudson County Progressives’ slate. About two-thirds of the denizens of the safely blue 8th District live in Hudson County, while the rest are split between Essex and Union counties.
● SC-03: GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan on Wednesday alluded to the infidelity allegations his estranged wife recently leveled against him in divorce papers, tweeting, “My family is dealing with a difficult and private moment and I’m not going to comment on a deeply personal matter.” The congressman’s wife, Melody Hodges Duncan, says that he informed her that he was having a sexual relationship with a lobbyist and that he also carried on a different affair during their 35-year marriage.
Duncan, who has always campaigned as an ardent social conservative, has never faced any serious intra-party opposition in the years since his initial 2010 win in this dark-red constituency in the northwestern part of the state. South Carolina requires a runoff if no one earns a majority in the first round of the primary.
● PA Supreme Court: The Bullfinch Group, polling on behalf of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, has released the first survey we’ve seen of November’s statewide race, and it gives Democrat Dan McCaffery a 42-36 edge over Republican Carolyn Carluccio. The horserace numbers came from the Commonwealth Foundation’s quarterly statewide survey, and respondents first appear to have been asked several issue questions like, “Have you or someone you know thought about leaving Pennsylvania for a different state due to Pennsylvania’s policies?”