The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● MI-03: On Tuesday evening, Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for president as a member of the Libertarian Party. Michigan doesn't allow candidates to run for president and for Congress at the same time, and Amash soon confirmed that he was giving up his seat in the Grand Rapids area. Amash, who left the GOP last year, also said that he'd be informing the House clerk that he's now a Libertarian, which would give the party its first-ever member of Congress.
The Libertarian Party is scheduled to award its presidential nomination in late May, so Amash will soon know if he'll be its standard bearer. However, he does have a backup option if delegates reject him: While Michigan's filing deadline for major party candidates is May 8, everyone else has until July 16 to turn in their paperwork.
For now, though, we have an open seat race in an area that's been friendly to the GOP for a long time. Gerald Ford himself represented Grand Rapids for decades, and the current 3rd District went from 53-46 Romney to 52-42 Trump. However, Democrats may still have an opening if 2020 turns out to be a favorable year. 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette took the seat by a very slim 48.6-48.2 margin while he was losing statewide 53-44, while GOP Senate nominee John James carried the district by a modest 51-47 that same year while he was going down 52-46.
Several candidates were already running against Amash, and while the deadline to run in the August primary isn't until next month, it's unlikely the field will expand. Congressional candidates need to turn in 1,200 valid signatures to make the ballot this year, and social distancing makes that task especially difficult. The main GOP candidates are Army veteran and wealthy businessman Peter Meijer and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, while attorney Hillary Scholten has the Democratic side to herself.
Amash's decision to leave Congress will mark the end of a 10-year career defined by fights with GOP leaders. Amash first ran for the House in 2010 as a first-term state representative who had already established a reputation for libertarian principles: Notably, Amash was the only state lawmaker to oppose 59 different bills, and he posted explanations for each negative vote on his Facebook page. Amash was one of several Republicans to campaign to succeed retiring Rep. Vern Ehlers, and he earned the support of the anti-tax Club for Growth and local conservative powerplayers Dick and Betsy DeVos. Amash won the primary 40-26, and he had no trouble in November.
Amash brought to D.C. his habit of voting no on any bills that didn't pass his personal purity test, as well as a reputation for being difficult to work with. In late 2012, Amash was one of three GOP House members who were removed from their committees for, as one unnamed member put it, being "the most egregious a—holes" in the caucus. Amash refused to vote for John Boehner in the following year's speakership election, and he opposed him again two years later. Amash had more success with the GOP's emerging tea party wing, though, and he was one of the founding members of the nihilist House Freedom Caucus.
Amash's establishment enemies backed wealthy businessman Brian Ellis in the 2014 primary in what turned into an expensive and nasty race. Ellis attempted to portray Amash as weak on abortion issues and even labeled Amash, who is of Palestinian and Syrian descent, as "Al Qaeda's best friend in Congress," while the Club for Growth spent heavily to defend the incumbent. Amash won 57-43, though, and he was never again seriously threatened.
Amash's final break with the GOP came from his frustration with Donald Trump. Amash was the rare Republican who never fell into line with the administration, and he openly started musing about a third-party or independent presidential bid in March of last year.
Two months later, Amash took to social media and wrote that, after reading the Mueller Report he believed that Trump "has engaged in impeachable conduct." That attracted a typically belligerent response from Trump, and a number of candidates soon entered the GOP primary against Amash as his old allies almost all abandoned him. Amash announced on July 4 that he was leaving the GOP to become an independent, and he voted to impeach Trump at the end of last year.
Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.
● California: The Board of Supervisors in Los Angeles County, which is the largest county in the nation, has voted to mail a ballot to every voter for the November general election. The county is home to more than 10 million people and has more than 5.5 million registered voters. While voting by mail is very popular in California, it's been less so in Los Angeles: 45% of L.A. voters cast ballots by mail in 2018, compared to 72% in the rest of the state.
● New York: Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has sued the New York State Board of Elections, asking that New York's June 23 Democratic primary for president be reinstated. Earlier this week, the board canceled the presidential primary (but downballot primaries remain scheduled that day).
● Rhode Island: Democratic Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea says every voter will be sent an absentee ballot application for Rhode Island's June 2 presidential primary. The effort does not appear to apply to the state's downballot primaries, which will not take place until Sept. 8.
● South Carolina: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has postponed a number of local elections that were set to take place on May 5 and May 12. New dates have not yet been set.
● Texas: A group of Texas voters, supported by the National Redistricting Foundation, have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the state's practice of allowing all voters 65 or older to cast absentee ballots without an excuse while requiring an excuse for anyone younger violates the Constitution. Specifically, the suit charges that the law in question violates the 26th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age." Six other conservative states have similar provisions in place, all but one of which is also located in the South.
Two other cases on the issue of Texas' excuse requirement are still pending. In one, filed in state court, a judge ruled that all voters can cite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to request an absentee ballot, though Republicans have said they will appeal. A second similar case in federal court awaits a ruling.
Separately, commissioners in Harris County have allocated $12 million in new election funds, which would allow the county to mail ballots to every voter for the November general election. Harris is home to Houston and is the largest county in the state, with more than 2.3 million registered voters.
● CO-Sen: On Tuesday, Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann ruled against placing climate activist Diana Bray in on the June Democratic primary ballot. Bray had only turned in just over 2,700 of the necessary 10,500 signatures, and Baumann argued that she had not demonstrated a "significant modicum of support" from the state's voters.
● KS-Sen: Rep. Roger Marshall's allies at Keep Kansas Great PAC recently ran a spot against former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ahead of the August GOP primary, and Advertising Analytics reports that the size of the buy was at least $35,000.
● NC-Sen, NC-Gov: SurveyUSA is out with a poll for WRAL-TV that has some good news for Team Blue. Democrat Cal Cunningham posts a small 41-39 lead over GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper leads Republican Dan Forest by a massive 57-30. This sample also shows Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 50-45.
April polls have consistently shown Cooper, who has received strong marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, leading Forest by double digits, but there's less agreement on the state of the Senate race. The conservative Civitas Institute released numbers two weeks ago from the GOP firm Harper Polling that showed Tillis ahead 38-34, while the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Cunningham ahead 47-40 around that same time.
● Senate: On Tuesday, the DSCC announced its first wave of TV and digital ad reservations for the fall. The Democratic group's initial bookings consists of $30.6 million in four GOP-held Senate seats:
- Arizona (Martha McSally): $6.4 Million
- Iowa (Joni Ernst): $7.3 Million
- Montana (Steve Daines): $5.2 Million
- North Carolina (Thom Tillis): $11.7 Million
The DSCC's reservations come weeks after its allies at Senate Majority PAC, as well as the GOP organizations NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund, made their own first wave of bookings.
All four groups made their largest reservations in North Carolina, a race that could very well decide control of the U.S. Senate in 2020. What's more surprising, though, is that all four organizations also booked millions for Iowa, which has long looked like a reach target for Democrats. The state swung hard to the right in 2014 and 2016, and while Democrats did considerably better last cycle, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds still won a close contest for a full term.
We haven't seen a single poll of the Senate race since December, so we don't have a good sense for how vulnerable incumbent Joni Ernst is. However, this quartet of well-funded groups is at least acting like this race is very much in play.
● CA-25: Democrat Christy Smith is out with what Politico describes as her "closing TV spot" ahead of the May 12 special election. The narrator goes after Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis and argues that Republican Mike Garcia "attacks anyone who doesn't agree with Trump." The commercial then shows a clip of Garcia saying that "everyone should have to figure out how to fend for themselves." The rest of the spot praises Smith's work during the pandemic.
● GA-09: State Rep. Matt Gurtler picked up an endorsement this week from the radical anti-tax Club for Growth ahead of the crowded June GOP primary for this safely red seat. Gurtler has spent his two terms in the legislature fighting with party leaders, which makes him an ideal candidate for the Club.
● IA-04: State Sen. Randy Feenstra is out with a poll from American Viewpoint that shows him trailing white supremacist Rep. Steve King by a modest 41-34 in the June 2 GOP primary; another 8% opt for another candidate. While Feenstra is down, the memo says that this is a big shift in his favor from late January, when a previously-unreleased poll found King up 53-22. We haven't seen any other surveys of the contest for this rural western Iowa seat all year.
Feenstra is using his huge financial edge over King to air a spot contrasting the two candidates. The narrator declares, "Steve King couldn't protect our farmers, and couldn't defend President Trump from impeachment." He continues, "King lost his congressional committees, can't do his job, can't protect us." The rest of the commercial praises Feenstra as an effective and pro-Trump conservative.
Election Result Recaps
● MD-07: The almost all-mail general election for the final months of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings' term took place on Tuesday, and former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume won 73-27 in a seat that Hillary Clinton carried 76-20. Mfume represented a previous version of this Baltimore-based seat from 1987 until he resigned in 1996 to lead the NAACP. However, former Rep. Rick Nolan still holds the record for the longest gap in congressional service: The Minnesota Democrat retired in 1981 and returned 32 years later in 2013.
Mfume does have one more contest in his near future, but it doesn't look very competitive. The primary for the full two-year term is on June 2, and Mfume faces former state party chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is Elijah Cummings' widow, state Sen. Jill Carter, and Del. Jay Jalisi. This group faced off in the February special election primary, which ended with Mfume decisively defeating Rockeymoore Cummings 43-17; Carter and Jalisi took 16% and 2%, respectively.
P.S. In a tweet encouraging people to vote on Tuesday, Rockeymoore Cummings wrote, "A lot of people have asked me if you can write my name in. The answer is yes." Only about 1% of voters ended up writing in another candidate's name, though, and it's not clear how many of them selected Rockeymoore Cummings.
● Ohio: After an abrupt cancellation, Ohio's primaries, originally scheduled for March 17, took place on Tuesday. The election took place almost entirely by mail, and only voters with disabilities or those who lacked a home address were allowed to vote in person. Ballots will still be accepted through May 8 as long as they were postmarked by Monday, so the margin may shift in some races.
● OH-01: Former healthcare executive Kate Schroder defeated retired Air Force pilot Nikki Foster by a decisive 68-32 margin in the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Steve Chabot. This seat in the Cincinnati area was heavily gerrymandered to keep Chabot from losing again after he had lost re-election in a bluer previous version of this district in 2008 (Chabot returned two years later). However, Donald Trump only carried the current 1st District by a modest 51-45 margin, and Chabot himself won an expensive re-election campaign 51-47 in 2018.
Chabot's campaign was also thrown into turmoil last summer when the FEC sent a letter asking why the congressman's first-quarter fundraising report was belatedly amended to show $124,000 in receipts that hadn't previously been accounted for. From there, a bizarre series of events unfolded.
First, Chabot's longtime consultant, Jamie Schwartz, allegedly disappeared after he shuttered his firm, called the Fountain Square Group. Then Schwartz's father, Jim Schwartz, told reporters that despite appearing as Chabot's treasurer on his FEC filings for many years, he had in fact never served in that capacity. Chabot's team was certainly bewildered, because it issued a statement saying, "As far as the campaign was aware, James Schwartz, Sr. has been the treasurer since 2011." Evidently there's a whole lot the campaign wasn't aware of.
The elder Schwartz also claimed of his son, "I couldn't tell you where he's at" because "he's doing a lot of running around right now." Well, apparently, he'd run right into the arms of the feds. In December, local news station Fox19 reported that Jamie Schwartz had turned himself in to the U.S. Attorney's office, which, Fox19 said, has been investigating the matter "for a while."
Adding to the weirdness, it turned out that Chabot had paid Schwartz's now-defunct consultancy $57,000 in July and August for "unknown" purposes. Yes, that's literally the word Chabot's third-quarter FEC report used to describe payments to the Fountain Square Group no fewer than five times. (Remember how we were saying the campaign seems to miss quite a bit?)
We still don't know what those payments were for, or what the deal was with the original $124,000 in mystery money that triggered this whole saga. Chabot himself has refused to offer any details, insisting only that he's been the victim of an unspecified "financial crime." There haven't been any public developments since December, but until there's a resolution, this story always has the potential to resurface at exactly the wrong time for Chabot.
● OH-03: Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty won renomination in this safely blue Columbus seat by defeating Morgan Harper, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau adviser, 68-32.
Harper, who is 36 and a first-time candidate, had contrasted herself against Beatty, who is 69 and has held elected office for two decades, by calling for generational change. However, while Harper raised a credible amount of money, she was always at a big disadvantage against the well-funded incumbent. Beatty also had considerably more cash left to use than Harper when the race was unexpectedly extended, and the incumbent kept up her spending advantage over the final weeks.
● OH State House, Where Are They Now?: Former GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost renomination in a 2012 upset against now-Rep. Brad Wenstrup, looks to be on-track to return to her old stomping grounds in the Ohio state House.
Schmidt ended Tuesday evening with a 44-42 lead―a margin of 287 votes―in the GOP primary for House District 65, which is based in Clermont County to the east of Cincinnati. There are close to 3,000 absentee ballots left to tally countywide (HD-65 makes up just over 60% of the county), so it may be a little while before we have a resolution. This seat backed Donald Trump 66-29, so the GOP nominee should have little trouble in November.