● PA-Sen, MD-Sen: The Democratic establishment notched a pair of big wins in two important Senate primaries on the eastern seaboard Tuesday night. In Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty, a former director of the state's Department of Environmental Protection, was beating ex-Rep. Joe Sestak, the 2010 nominee, by a 42-31 margin when we put the Digest to bed; Braddock Mayor John Fetterman was third with 20. Though she finished strong, McGinty needed a huge outside boost from the DSCC, EMILY's List, and organized labor, which spent millions to help her win the nomination over Sestak. McGinty also benefited from a high-profile endorsement from President Barack Obama.
It's pretty rare to see national and state Democrats spend so much money and energy to defeat someone in a primary, but their antipathy towards Sestak had become almost legendary. Democratic operatives claimed that Sestak was too undisciplined to win in the general election, but more cynical observers believed that DC Democrats were motivated more by an old grudge with the retired admiral. Six years ago, Sestak, known as the honey badger of Pennsylvania politics, refused to back down from challenging party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary and decisively beat him, only to narrowly lose to Republican Pat Toomey that November.
But whether they were motivated by a legitimate fear that Sestak would cost the party, or myopic pique over Sestak's maverick ways, Democrats now have to concentrate all their energy on making sure Toomey, a strong campaigner with an enormous warchest, doesn't win a second term this fall. The party's path back to a Senate majority is narrow, making the Keystone State a top battleground. Daily Kos Elections currently rates this race Lean Republican.
Meanwhile, in Maryland, two members of the state's congressional delegation were vying to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Rep. Chris Van Hollen rolled to a wide victory over fellow Rep. Donna Edwards, leading her 53-39 at press time. Van Hollen, a top leader in the House, had assiduously cultivated support from elected officials throughout the state, particularly among black leaders. Edwards, meanwhile, campaigned as more of an outsider, though she had seven-figure backing from EMILY's List. While most polls had indicated a close race, Van Hollen pulled away late. He'll be the prohibitive favorite to keep this seat blue in November against GOP state Rep. Kathy Szeliga. We currently rate this race as Safe Democratic.
● CA-Sen: Election officials in California have a problem: There are simply too many candidates running for Senate—34, in fact. Usually, all contenders in a given race will appear on a single page of a ballot, but because the Senate primary field is so huge, many counties are printing ballots with some names running on to a second page. However, in trial runs, fully a third of test voters—a figure one expert called "devastatingly high"— treated each page as a separate race and marked a second candidate on that second page. That would yield so-called "overvotes" (voting for more than one candidate in the same race), which cannot be counted.
And if a ton of Senate ballots are disqualified as a result, that would in turn result in a considerable undervote in the final tallies. It's impossible to say how this might affect the outcome of the primary, but if there's one saving grace, it's that this problem will probably affect all candidates equally because California law requires candidate lists to be randomized for each ballot.
● FL-Sen: We immediately pegged Carlos Beruff's first TV ad of the race as utterly Trumpian, so it's no surprise that he's running hard on the Xenophobes United platform. At a Q&A session on Monday night, the wealthy Republican businessman offered his views in response to a question on "Muslim immigration":
"I think our immigration department is broken. And I don't think it's safe to allow anybody from the Middle East into this country."
Beruff later clarified to a reporter that he wants to ban "pretty much anybody that's got a terrorist organization in it, which is pretty much all the Middle East." How sickening is it that this all sounds so familiar?
● NV-Sen: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going back on the air on behalf of GOP Rep. Joe Heck, with a trio of near-identical ads (one is in Spanish) that diss Harry Reid and tout Heck as an "Iraq veteran" and "battlefield doctor" who "introduced a bipartisan effort to increase tourism" in Nevada. According to the Chamber, that tourism legislation qualifies as "bold, new leadership." There's no word on the size of the buy, though.
One interesting aside: Rob Engstrom, the Chamber's political director, told Jon Ralston that this race is "is the only opportunity in America" for the GOP to make gains in the Senate. That's a harsh (but fair) assessment of Republican chances in Colorado.
● OH-Sen: The pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC says it's spending $850,000 on a two-week run of a new TV ad hitting GOP Sen. Rob Portman as a "Washington insider" and "lobbyist" who voted "for NAFTA and tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas" and pushed "to privatize Social Security." That "tax breaks" line has been used in tons of Democratic ads for years now; either it's still effective, or no one's managed to think of anything better.
● IN-Gov: Has Republican Gov. Mike Pence emerged from the danger zone following last year's disastrous Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle? After Pence signed RFRA into law (which critics vociferously charged would make it easier to discriminate against gay people), a few polls surfaced showing him in the low 40s—not where any incumbent wants to be—and with his Democratic rival, 2012 nominee John Gregg, not far behind.
Now, though, it's been a year since RFRA dominated the headlines, and a new survey from Public Opinion Strategies finds Pence ahead of Gregg 49-45. However, we always urge caution when all we have to go on is one poll, and it's worth noting that while POS conducted this poll on behalf of a couple of media organizations, they're a Republican outfit. (In fact, we can't ever recall POS working for a non-partisan client.)
The one piece of good news for Gregg, though, is that even though he's waging his second bid for governor, he's still largely unknown to the electorate. Only 54 percent of voters recognize his name, and his favorability score is just 20-8. Pence, meanwhile, is known to 94 percent of respondents and has a weak 44-41 favorability rating. That means in theory, Gregg has a shot at making inroads with that small patch of undecided voters, but again, let's wait to see what other polls say first.
● NH-Gov: Republicans haven't won New Hampshire's biennial gubernatorial election since 2002, but they're about to try once more this year. According to NH1 reporter Paul Steinhauser, the Republican Governors Association just booked $3 million in airtime for the final six weeks before Election Day. Both parties face contested primaries, which won't be held until September, for this open seat.
● WV-Gov: The May 10 Democratic primary isn't far away, and billionaire Jim Justice is out with yet another ad. Justice speaks to the camera and does the usual "I'm a businessman, not a politician" shtick. Justice bemoans that West Virginia is "50th in everything," and adds, "I can't be bought, surely I don't need to steal. Heck, I won't even take a salary as your governor." Justice faces ex-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler.
State Senate President Bill Cole faces no opposition in the GOP primary, but he's going up with his first spot anyway. The ad features a speech by the almost comically deep-voiced Cole playing on a large tablet held up by various West Virginians. (Kind of eerily, not one person is actually watching Cole's speech, they all just stare straight at the audience.) Cole delivers some platitudes about education, standing up to Obama on guns, and "protecting our environment in a way that also protects our jobs."
● CA-24: Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal has a big financial edge over all his rivals from both parties, and he's making use of it by going up with his third TV spot. Carbajal speaks to the camera and highlights his military career, telling the audience that it taught him "discipline, that all good things don't come easy in life." Carbajal then pledges to help veterans when he gets to Congress. Carbajal is trying to get past fellow Democrat Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider in the June top-two primary.
● FL-04: Last week, businessman Hans Tanzler III told Florida Politics that he was "actively considering" a run for this safely red Jacksonville-area seat and said he would decide this week. Tanzler is the son of ex-Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler, who left office in 1979. Ex-Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford currently looks like the frontrunner in the August GOP primary.
● FL-05: A new survey of Florida's redrawn 5th Congressional District from St. Pete Polls finds Rep. Corrine Brown locked in a close fight with former state Sen. Al Lawson, leading him 42-37 in the Democratic primary. Brown currently represents only 38 percent of the latest iteration of the 5th, but most voters say they already know her, giving her a 48-19 favorability rating. Lawson's standing is similar, with a 41-25 score. Neither candidate has much money, so it'll be a struggle for both contenders to get their names out to undecided voters. That means that if this poll is right, this race is very much a tossup, but St. Pete has a decidedly mottled track record.
● FL-13, FL-Sen: When redistricting made freshman GOP Rep. David Jolly's district substantially bluer, he decided to seek the escape hatch and run for Senate rather than re-election. But Jolly's campaign for statewide office faces some serious obstacles, chief among them the fact that he's a sucky fundraiser who has actually sworn off fundraising. Yet Jolly's first-quarter haul of $308,000, while pitiful for a Senate campaign, might be decent enough for a lower-tier contest … like a House race, maybe?
That's what Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos is suggesting. Cretekos, who serves a city of 100,000 located in the 13th District, worked with Jolly for many years in the office of the late Rep. Bill Young, and he says he "continue[s] to encourage" Jolly to drop back down and run for another term in the lower chamber.
The prospect would still be daunting, though, not only because of the changes wrought by redistricting, but because ex-Gov. Charlie Crist, a strong fundraiser and popular figure in the area, is the likely Democratic nominee for this seat. However, reporter Adam Smith claims to have seen a "recent private poll" that had Jolly up 4 points on Crist, though no other details were provided. Jolly's campaign has refused to respond to any questions about whether he might run for re-election, and he has until the June 24 filing deadline to make up his mind. Democrats are probably hoping he stays put: He likely can't win the Senate primary, but if he did switch races, he'd put his House seat back in play for Republicans.
● GA-09: Ex-Rep. Paul Broun launched a primary campaign against GOP Rep. Doug Collins last month, but donors don't seem to be clamoring to hand him cash. Broun raised just $66,000 for the quarter, and he has $43,000 in the bank; Broun only had a few weeks to raise money before the quarter ended, but it's still a pretty weak haul. By contrast, Collins has $478,000 on-hand. Broun was not friendly with House leaders during his tenure and unsurprisingly, Speaker Paul Ryan is backing Collins. The primary for this safely red rural seat is next month.
● GA-11: Businessman Daniel Cowan launched his primary challenge against freshman GOP Rep. Barry Loudermilk last month, and thanks to the magic of self-funding, Cowan already has more money to spend. At the end of March, Cowan held a $355,000 to $151,000 cash-on-hand lead. Cowan loaned his campaign $250,000 but he also narrowly outraised Loudermilk $126,000 to $125,000 with donors. Cowan has already launched a TV spot, though he hasn't been attacking Loudermilk (yet). This suburban Atlanta seat is safely red.
● IA-04: Sen. Chuck Grassley recently backed Rep. Steve King in the June GOP primary and this week, Sen. Joni Ernst also endorsed King. However, Gov. Terry Branstad has announced that he won't support either King or state Sen. Rick Bertrand, who is challenging the incumbent. Branstad vehemently opposed Ted Cruz, whom King supported, in the February presidential caucus; while King himself has been an ally of Iowa's ethanol industry, Cruz is decidedly not.
A number of ethanol businessman, including Branstad's son, have made noises about opposing King, but it's unclear what they actually plan to do. Bertrand raised no money during the two weeks he was in the race before end of the quarter, but if he's going to have a shot at beating King, he's going to need a lot of moneyed folks to help him very quickly. King himself has only $173,000 in the bank, though his connections to western Iowa's many social conservatives will make him incredibly tough to unseat. The GOP nominee should have little trouble in November against underfunded Democrat Kim Weaver in this 53-45 Romney seat.
● IL-10: Last month, ex-Rep. Brad Schneider won an expensive Democratic primary against Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering but fortunately, it didn't leave him bankrupt. At the end of March, two weeks after the primary, Schneider had $547,000 in the bank. That's a whole lot less than the $1.9 million warchest GOP Rep. Bob Dold! has at his disposal, but the well-connected Schneider should be able to narrow the cash gap. Obama carried this affluent suburban Chicago seat 58-41, but Republicans still do very well downballot here; Daily Kos Elections rates the general as a Tossup.
● LA-02: Last week, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden set up a campaign account with the FEC, though he has yet to announce that he's actually challenging Rep. Cedric Richmond, a fellow Democrat. Richmond had $483,000 on-hand at the end of March, which isn't a bad place to start at all. Holden had problems raising money during his campaign for lieutenant governor last year, even though he was the only Democratic candidate in that contest. This seat is safely blue.
● LA-03: The race to succeed Senate candidate Charles Boustany in this safely red Lafayette-area seat is going to be nothing if not expensive. Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who did well in the area during his gubernatorial campaign last year, almost certainly starts out with the most name recognition. Angelle raised $363,000 from donors during the month he was in the race and thanks to a $250,000 loan, he has a strong $602,000 warchest.
However, it doesn't look like Angelle will be able to drown his many opponents in money. Lafayette School Board member Erick Knezek loaned his campaign a hefty $451,000, and he has $515,000 in the bank. Businessman Gus Rantz himself self-funded $250,000, and he has almost $400,000 on-hand. Another businessman, Greg Ellison has been primarily relying on donors, though he may be wealthy enough to self-fund if he wants, and he has $231,000 in the bank.
However, ex-Ambassador Grover Rees and ex-state Rep. Brett Geymann are getting left in the dust so far. Rees raised just $46,000 from donors, and the $90,000 he self-funded pales in comparison to what many of his rivals have forked over; Rees has $121,000 in the bank. Geymann himself only has $40,000 on-hand. All the candidates will run on one ballot in November and, unless someone takes a majority, the top two vote-getters will meet in a December runoff. It's very possible a weak Democratic candidate could grab one of the runoff spots, though Team Blue would have very long odds of actually flipping this 66-32 Romney seat.
● LA-04: We have another crowded GOP race in North Louisiana. Physician Trey Baucum, who comes from a prominent local family, surprisingly built up a $315,000 warchest in two months without doing any self-funding. Shreveport City Councilor Oliver Jenkins, who loaned his campaign $100,000, has $253,000 in the bank. State Rep. Mike Johnson, a favorite of religious conservatives, had a more modest $142,000, also without any of his own money. Two other Republicans, attorney Rick John and ex-state Sen. Elbert Guillory, each had less than $50,000 on hand, and they probably won't be much of a factor here. Romney won this seat 59-40, and it doesn't sound like Team Blue plans to make a serious effort to win it.
● NC-02: The conservative group FreedomWorks, which had its origins in the Koch world but fractured badly—and publicly—several years ago, is apparently still kicking. They've issued an endorsement of Rep. George Holding, who faces fellow Rep. Renee Ellmers in June's redistricting-induced GOP primary. But let's see if they still have any juice left: They spent just $1.7 million in 2014 after spending almost $20 million in 2012, so they're no longer one of the big players.
● NM-02: While Democrats won this southern New Mexico seat in 2008, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce hasn't looked at all vulnerable this time out. Late last year, businesswoman Merrie Lee Soules kicked off a bid, and we wondered if Soules, the sister of a state senator, could raise enough money to put this 52-45 Romney district into play. The answer is no: Soules raised just $27,000 during her first full quarter in the race.
● NY-03: About a third of New York's 3rd Congressional District is located in Suffolk County, but only one of the four notable Democrats running for this swingy open seat calls that part of the district home, Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. That gives Stern a path to the nomination that relies on running up the score on his home turf, and to that end, he's consolidating support from local officials, most notably with a new endorsement from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Stern also has more money in the bank than his opponents, and he's run the first TV ad of the race as well.
● Fresno, CA Mayor: In June, the nation's 34th-largest city will host a non-partisan primary to succeed termed-out GOP Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea (the father of ex-Assemblyman Henry T. Perea) and City Councilor Lee Brand have raised the most cash, and a new SurveyUSA poll for KFSN-TV confirms that they are the frontrunners.
Perea and Brand take the top-two spots with 36 and 24 percent of the vote, respectively; pastor H. Spees is all the way back at 13. (His first name is Harold but he goes by just "H" and was tested that way in the poll.) Unless someone wins a majority in June, the two candidates with the most votes will advance to the November general. Obama carried Fresno 57-41 in 2012, but the city has not elected a Democratic mayor since the 1990s. Perea identifies as a Democrat, while Brand and Spees are Republicans. Perea's son ran for the mayoralty in 2008 but lost the open seat contest to Swearengin 54-45 even as Obama was beating McCain 57-42 here.
● NC-LG: North Carolina's Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, is whole-heartedly embracing HB2, the state's new anti-LGBT legislation, as he seeks re-election to a second term. In a new TV ad, Forest explains, "If keeping men out women's showers and bathrooms protects just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted, then it was worth it. And if a corporation wanting to do business here can't see the value of our children, they're making a grave mistake."
Forest only narrowly beat Democrat Linda Coleman in 2012, prevailing by just 0.2 percent even as fellow Republican Pat McCrory was winning the governor's race by more than 11 points. Forest faces a rematch with Coleman, and in a recent PPP poll, he led her by just a 38-37 margin. What's more, this time, McCrory is dealing with a much stiffer challenge from state Attorney General Roy Cooper, so while Forest will have incumbency on his side, the Democratic ticket overall will be much stronger.
● Where Are They Now?: After losing the 2014 Democratic Senate primary by just 1,636 votes, ex-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has accepted another high-profile position in Hawaii politics. Last year, Hanabusa was appointed by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board of directors, which is overseeing the island's huge and very controversial rail project. The board's chair Don Horner recently resigned in the face of accusations that he has mismanaged the project as costs soured, and Hanabusa was appointed to serve as the new chair last week.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and Stephen Wolf.