Morning Digest: Abortion rights advocates outraise foes in battle over Kentucky amendment

PKA received a little less than half of its funding from Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, while the American Civil Liberties Union also was a major donor; YFL, by contrast, was largely funded by the conservative groups Right to Life and Family Foundation, as well as the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. The pro-choice side also went into September with a $1.2 million to $390,000 cash-on-hand lead.

The Bluegrass State’s GOP-dominated legislature has passed several anti-abortion bills over the last few years, including a “trigger law” to outlaw nearly all abortions once Roe v. Wade was overturned. The state Supreme Court last month allowed that ban to remain in force until it determines whether the law violates the state constitution. A hearing in the case is set for Nov. 15, but a win for Amendment 2 the week before would take the decision out of the justices’ hands. (Should the amendment fail, however, the court could still rule in favor of the ban.)

Pro-choice activists got some positive news last month when voters in Kansas rejected a similar constitutional amendment in a 59-41 landslide. PKA responded soon afterwards by hiring Rachel Sweet, who was the campaign manager for the “no” side in Kansas, to lead the efforts to defeat Amendment 2.  

This time, however, the stakes are different, as the Kansas Supreme Court had, in 2019, ruled that the constitution in that state affirmatively protects the right to an abortion. The high court in Kentucky has never issued a similar finding (and as noted above, it’s still debating the question), so should the amendment pass, the current state of abortion access would not change.

And while both Kansas and Kentucky are conservative states, the latter is considerably more so: Donald Trump carried Kansas by 15 points in 2020 but won Kentucky by 26. And on abortion in particular, data from Civiqs shows that 52% of Kentucky voters agree that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while only 43% say it should usually or always be legal. By contrast, a 50-46 majority of Kansans want the procedure to be legal in most situations.

Still, these numbers can’t predict how voters will feel about Amendment 2 specifically, especially after the 18-point win for abortion rights supporters in Kansas. We also have yet to see any polls in Kentucky on this referendum, which makes its fate especially uncertain.


AK-Sen, AK-AL, AK-Gov: The AARP is out with our first fresh numbers from Alaska’s instant-runoff general elections from the GOP pollster Fabrizio Ward and the Democratic firm Impact Research, and it finds a very tight Senate race even as Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola holds her new seat in a rematch against Republican Sarah Palin. The bipartisan team of pollsters see a far less eventful race for governor, though, as they show Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy decisively winning a second term.

We’ll start with the Senate numbers, where former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka begins with a 43-35 lead over her fellow Republican, incumbent Lisa Murkowski. Democrat Pat Chesbro takes another 13%, with 1% going to Buzz Kelly, a Republican who dropped out to endorse Tshibaka but remains on the ballot. The pollsters go on to simulate the instant runoff process by asking respondents who they’d rank second and third and reallocating the results accordingly, and they end up with a 50-50 tie between the senator and Tshibaka in the final round of tabulations. (Three more respondents picked Murkowski over her challenger.)

The poll comes about a month after Murkowski led Tshibaka 45-39 in the top-four primary, with Chesbro clocking in at just 7%. Murkowski’s allies were at least outright happy with that showing, as the Senate Leadership Fund soon announced that, because she “is in a very strong position,” it was canceling $1.7 million in ad reservations. However, we don’t have any other recent numbers to indicate if they’re right or if this contest is truly the cliffhanger these two firms see.

Turning to the House race, the AARP survey finds Peltola taking 45% as Palin leads her fellow Republican, Nick Begich III, 30-20 for second; another 2% goes to the final candidate on the ballot, Libertarian Chris Bye. The new congresswoman ends up defeating Palin 53-47 after tabulations are finished, which is considerably larger than her 51-49 victory in last month’s special election.

Many angry Republicans responded to that contest by blaming Palin for their loss in this red state, especially after the state Division of Elections released data showing that Begich would have beaten Peltola by 5 points if he’d been her final opponent. Still, according to this poll, not enough Republican voters are flocking to Begich to give him the chance to overtake Palin.

Finally, Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research give Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy a 45% plurality, with former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara outpacing Dunleavy’s predecessor, independent Bill Walker, 24-17. Another 6% goes to Republican Charlie Pierce, who said earlier this month he was quitting as Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor to focus on his campaign. However, Borough Assembly members later revealed that they’d asked Pierce to resign because an investigation found that harassment allegations leveled against him by a Borough employee were “credible.”

The poll, after reallocating Pierce’s few supporters, shows Dunleavy clinching the majority he needs with 54% as Gara and Walker lag with 26% and 20%, respectively. When just the top two vote-getters are included, Dunleavy leads 59-41.

OH-Sen, OH-Gov: The GOP pollster Fallon Research’s new survey for the Republican public affairs firm Montrose Group shows Democrat Tim Ryan leading Republican J.D. Vance 49-46 for Senate even as GOP Gov. Mike DeWine fends off Democrat Nan Whaley 49-37. The horse race numbers came after a few issues questions, including how respondents felt about their area’s income tax levels and whether the economy is in a recession.

PA-Sen: While Democrat John Fetterman has devoted much of his time towards attacking Mehmet Oz as an interloper from New Jersey, he uses his new commercial to attack the many quack cures the Republican promoted on The Dr. Oz Show.

“He had a magic pill for everything,” says the ad’s star, a woman identified as Lynne. She then lists some: “Raspberry Ketones. Sea Buckthorn. Alpha CycloDextrin. Yacon Syrup. Garcinia Cambogia.” Lynne then argues, “Dr. Oz pushed all those pills and he knew they didn’t really work,” a statement followed by a clip of the would-be-senator telling a congressional panel, “There’s not a pill that’s going to help you lose weight without diet and exercise.”

Senate: AdImpact reports that the conservative Senate Leadership Fund has reserved $11 million more in ad time in six states, though some of these increases are quite small:

  • NV-Sen: $6 million
  • WI-Sen: $2.4 million
  • GA-Sen: $1.2 million
  • NC-Sen: $873,000
  • OH-Sen: $260,000
  • PA-Sen: $230,000

The Wisconsin bookings come about a month after SLF’s allies at the NRSC canceled $2.5 million intended to help incumbent Ron Johnson. However, because those now-defunct NRSC reservations were made months ago when air time was cheaper, the GOP now needs to spend more for each ad.


KY-Gov: State Sen. Max Wise this week backed former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft in next year’s Republican primary rather than run himself. Multiple media organizations have relayed rumors that Craft is planning to make Wise her running mate (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run together as a ticket in both the primary and general elections in Kentucky), but she has yet to confirm this.

LA-Gov: While state Treasurer John Schroder texted supporters in January that he “will be entering the governor’s race,” he now tells the Lafayette Daily Advertiser‘s Greg Hilburn that he is still “giving this very strong consideration.” It’s unclear if the Republican, who took all of 1% in a March poll of the 2023 all-party primary, just wants to make sure he can generate some more attention with a formal kick off, or if he’s really having second thoughts.

Hilburn, meanwhile, relays that another Republican, West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard, has expressed interest in campaigning to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, though there’s no quote from the would-be candidate. Havard generated national coverage in 2016 when, as a member of the state House, he introduced a bill requiring exotic dancers to be 28 or younger and to weigh no more no more than 160 pounds, saying he wanted to “trim the fat.” Havard later withdrew the legislation and claimed it was a joke, but he refused to apologize.

On the Democratic side, Hilburn writes that activist Gary Chambers, who is waging a long-shot bid to unseat Republican Sen. John Kennedy this fall, “is expected to run for governor if he can’t upset Kennedy.” He also name-drops state Rep. Robby Carter, who both preceded and succeeded Edwards as the representative for the governor’s hometown of Amite, as a possibility.

NV-Gov: Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak is up with a commercial responding to ads from Republican Joe Lombardo and the RGA attacking him over Northshore Labs, a company that received a state contract to supply COVID tests that turned out to have an extremely high false negative rate. “Northshore was a federally licensed lab,” says the narrator, “and when bad testing was discovered, Sisolak’s administration launched an investigation and moved to shut them down.” The spot then goes on to argue Lombardo is the one who gave out “contracts to his donors.”

In May, a ProPublica story detailed how the Chicago-based Northshore contracted with the sons of Peter Palivos, a close Sisolak friend and donor who’s been at the center of Republican attack ads, to “build clientele and manage operations.” As a timeline created by the Nevada Independent explains, the Palivoses tasked Mike Willden, a former state health department head now working as a lobbyist, with expediting approval for Northshore’s testing centers. Willdent reached out to the governor’s chief of staff regarding the approval process (though he did not mention Northshore) and was connected with other state health officials.

Northshore wound up getting its fast-tracked approval after one inspector, in the words of the NV Indy, “begrudgingly let Northshore skip the waiting line,” and one of the entities it soon reached a testing agreement with was the University of Nevada Reno. However, school officials this winter determined that Northshore’s PCR results failed to accurately diagnose 96% of positive cases.

Sisolak’s office said it took action to suspend the company’s license the day it learned of the problems, saying of Northshore, “They took advantage of states and local municipalities at a time when millions of Americans were relying on their services.” The governors’ aides also noted that Willden was a “former DHHS director with a long standing reputation in state government” and said he had “vouched for the company.” Sisolak’s team also denied that the governor had discussed Northshore with any members of the Palivos family and said it was cooperating with a federal investigation into the company.

Republicans, though, believe that this story can damage Sisolak. Just before Labor Day, the RGA ran a commercial as part of a $2.5 million ad campaign charging that the incumbent “fast-tracked a government contract for a shady company tied to a campaign donor.” The narrator continued, “Now there’s an investigation and Steve Sisolak is caught in the middle,” language that makes it sound like the governor is the one being probed by federal authorities instead of Northshore.

RI-Gov: Republican Ashley Kalus is airing a new ad attacking Democratic Gov. Dan McKee over the ongoing FBI investigation into his administration over a now-canceled education consulting contract, a story that also caused him trouble in the primary.

Last year, McKee’s administration awarded a one-year $5.2 million contract to ILO Group, a consulting firm that formed just two days after he ascended to the governorship. The legislature, which is dominated by fellow Democrats, went on to look into whether ILO, which beat out a far lower bid from another firm, had an unfair advantage because of its connections to one of the governor’s allies.

The state went on to cancel the contract and pay $1.8 million for six months. McKee maintained that there was nothing strange about how the contract was procured, though he later signed legislation passed in response to the ILO story.

Both state and federal authorities are currently investigating the matter, something McKee’s opponents brought up ahead of this week’s primary. The governor declared at a debate last month that he had not been subpoenaed by the FBI, though he didn’t say if anyone from his administration had been. “My administration is dealing with it internally,” he said, to which the moderator responded, “Is that a yes?” McKee answered, “I am not making a comment on that.”


FL-13: While none of the four largest groups involved in House races have aired any general election ads in this newly gerrymandered seat, a group called Progress Pinellas PAC has launched a $2.2 million buy attacking Republican Anna Paulina Luna’s opposition to abortion. After playing a clip of Luna describing herself as a “pro-life extremist,” the audience hears the candidate say, “Abortion is not health care. It will never be health care. It’s wrong.” The ad does not mention Democrat Eric Lynn, who is trying to hold a St. Petersburg-based constituency that would have supported Trump 53-46.

RI-02: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has launched what it says is a $1 million buy against Seth Magaziner days after he decisively won Tuesday’s Democratic primary, which makes it the first of the big four outside groups to spend in this 56-42 Biden seat. The opening spot goes after Magaziner for hailing from a wealthy family and argues that he’d favor “elite families like his” in Congress.  

Ballot Measures

CA Ballot: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom made news this week when he starred in a commercial urging voters to reject a ballot measure backed by the state party that would increase income taxes on those making about $2 million in order to fund “zero-emission vehicle purchases,” charging stations, and “wildfire-related activities.” Newsom instead cast this proposal, which is identified as Proposition 30 on the fall ballot, as “one company’s cynical scheme to grab a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy,” and the on-screen text makes it clear he’s talking about Lyft.

The rideshare giant is responsible for almost all of the $15 million the pro-Prop. 30 campaign raised before this week, and it threw down another $10 million after Newsom’s ad went up. The “yes” side also launched its first commercial days later where a firefighter warned viewers that “we need more firefighters, more equipment, [and] better forest management to prevent wildfires and reduce toxic smoke.” The commercial, which does not mention zero-emission vehicles, goes on to frame the initiative as a way to fund these vital efforts.

The “no” side, meanwhile, raised $8 million before this week from what Politico says are largely “wealthy individuals,” while The Gap Inc. heir William Fisher threw down most of the $1.1 million more that it took in Monday. It’s likely to use much of that cash to keep Newsom front and center in its ad campaign: An internal from Hart Research found that, while respondents initially backed Prop. 30 by a 61-31 margin, they favored “no” 62-22 after reading the governor’s argument against it.

A new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, which was finished just before the Newsom ad began airing, also showed Prop. 30 ahead 55-40, though that’s down from its 63-35 edge in July; the new sample also showed the governor turning back Republican Brian Dahle in a 58-31 landslide.

So why exactly is Newsom allying with Dahle’s GOP and opposing a measure backed by many environmentalists, as well as prominent progressive Rep. Barbara Lee? San Francisco Chronicle columnist Joe Garofoli notes that, while the governor may have 2024 presidential politics in mind, he’s also taking the same side as the California Teachers Association. This powerful group, Garofoli writes, opposes Prop. 30 because it fears it could be used to undermine an older ballot initiative that “requires that a minimum percentage of the state budget be spent on K-14 education.”

P.S. the PPIC also asked respondents about Prop. 1, which would amend the state constitution to explicitly enshrine the right to abortion and contraceptives, and found a hefty 69-25 majority in favor.

MA Ballot, MA-Gov: Suffolk University’s newest poll of its home state, which was done on behalf of a trio of media groups, shows a 56-35 majority in support of the “millionaires tax” or “Fair Share Amendment.” The survey was in the field just as opponents of Question 1, which would increase taxes on personal income over $1 million in order to fund education and transportation projects, launched an expensive ad campaign to derail it.

The battle over Question 1 will almost certainly be more competitive than the race to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, though, as Suffolk has Democrat Maura Healey beating Republican Geoff Diehl 52-26. And while both sides in the Fair Share Amendment fight have millions stockpiled, Healey ended August with an overwhelmingly $4.7 million to $17,000 cash-on-hand lead over her far-right foe.

Ad Roundup

Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.

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