● House: Thursday offered a potent reminder that the Republican civil war remains just as intense on Capitol Hill as it does on the presidential campaign trail—and is offering up new potential victims for Democrats to eviscerate. Let's set the scene: On Wednesday, House Republicans passed a defense spending bill that would have allowed federal contractors to use their claimed religious beliefs as an excuse to fire LGBT people. Nice guys, huh?
Fighting back, Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney offered an amendment to a different defense appropriations bill the following day that would have overturned this anti-LGBT provision. Amazingly enough, despite the GOP's wide majority in the chamber, it passed.
Or so it appeared. As the clock for the two-minute vote expired, 182 Democrats and 35 Republicans joined together to give Maloney's amendment 217 votes; the rest of the GOP could only muster up 206 votes against it. That's math simple enough even for the Republican leadership to understand—and indeed it did. Republicans held the vote open for another six minutes, enough time to coerce seven of their number to switch their votes "quietly from the back benches," as Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer put it.
But few congressional shenanigans get past Hoyer, and soon after, he tweeted out a list of the turncoats. It's an interesting assemblage, to say the least. Of the seven, fully four are potentially vulnerable this fall: California Reps. David Valadao and Jeff Denham; Iowa Rep. David Young; and Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin. While all of these men are quite conservative, they all at least had the brains to oppose this particularly instance of anti-LGBT bigotry … but not enough fortitude to resist when their party leaders came demanding obedience.
And that's a real problem, because all four of the districts represented by this group went for Barack Obama in 2012, and all four are on Daily Kos Elections' list of races that either will be or could become competitive in November. The coverage of this skullduggery has already been unflattering, and this quartet will not only get painted by their Democratic opponents as bigots but as flip-floppers, too.
Oh, and if you're wondering why the GOP was so insistent on making sure the Maloney amendment failed, Rep. Charlie Dent, one of the provision's Republican supporters, explained that the more conservative members of his party didn't want to get stuck voting for a defense bill with a pro-LGBT amendment attached to it. So House GOP leaders figured they'd sacrifice a few congressman in bluer seats to protect the ultra-wingnuts from possible primary challenges. The Republican war rages on—and only Democrats stand to benefit.
● FL-Sen: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is out with his first TV spot ahead of the crowded late August GOP primary. Lopez-Cantera starts by telling the camera, "I think anybody who serves in public office should have a little contempt for government in their heart. Then you are always constantly trying to fix the problem." The candidate continues by bragging that he's always found ways to save money, and says he wants to "take the money out of the government's hands [and] put it into the people's hands," because people are better at managing their money than government. This… isn't exactly riveting TV.
● NH-Sen: Democrat Maggie Hassan is the latest candidate to make a large autumn TV reservation. Hassan, who is trying to unseat Republican Kelly Ayotte, has purchased $6 million in fall TV time.
● PA-Sen: The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC is going up with a $1.2 million ad buy aimed at Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. It opens with one cat scratching the other's back, as the narrator declares, "You know what it means: You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." The narrator than accuses Toomey of getting rich on Wall Street while supporting policies that helped banks make risky practices. The ad ends with another image of those cats and a final meow.
● Senate: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a $10 million ad buy hitting Democrats in six Senate seats. In New Hampshire, they argue that Maggie Hassan has a record of taxing the state to pay for her huge spending policies.
In Ohio, they accuse Ted Strickland of crippling the state's economy while he was governor. Of course, like all conservative groups, they decline to mention that Strickland was in charge of the state during the worst of the Great Recession, and make it sound like he was just an irresponsible idiot. The narrator than promotes GOP Sen. Rob Portman as someone who wants to fix the mess Obamacare has caused. The Chamber's ads in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are not available yet.
● MT-Gov: Wealthy businessman Greg Gianforte, the presumptive GOP nominee against Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock, is up with another ad. Gianforte tells the audience that "like you, I'm tired of our state lagging behind," saying that Montana is "49th in wages" and that young people are leaving to find good paying jobs. Gianforte blames special interests from holding the state back, and pledges not to accept any money from them.
● FL-04: For a little while, it looked like the late August primary for this safely red seat would be a layup for ex-Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford. But attorney Hans Tanzler III, the son of a former Jacksonville mayor, claims he's raised $300,000 in the two weeks that he's been in the contest. Rutherford is well-connected and he should have the resources he'll need, but it looks like Tanzler will at least be able to put up a fight. State Rep. Lake Ray and St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure are also in.
● FL-19: On Thursday evening, Republican Rep. Curt Clawson announced that he would not seek a second full term in the House. Clawson's mother died last year, and he says he's leaving Congress to spend more time with his father. This Cape Coral-based seat is safely Republican and mid-decade redistricting didn't affect it at all.
Clawson's departure means that for the third time in four years, we'll have an open seat race here. In 2012, Connie Mack IV left to unsuccessfully run for the Senate, and Trey Radel succeeded him; in 2014, Radel resigned a few months after pleading guilty to cocaine possession, and Clawson won the special election.
Within hours of Clawson's announcement,
attorney Chauncey Goss, who lost to Radel 30-22 in 2012, entered the race. Goss is the son of ex-Rep. Porter Goss, who represented this area from 1989 to 2004. Goss used to work for Paul Ryan, and he earned his endorsement during his last campaign; given how much the GOP base distrusts the party leadership and Ryan's ongoing battle with Donald Trump (who did well in this area during the primary), Goss may be a bit more reluctant to tout his history with Ryan this time around.
A number of other Republicans have also made noises about getting in before Florida's June 24 filing deadline. Ex-state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who took third place in both 2012 and 2014, says he's "probably" running again. Former Vatican ambassador Francis Rooney, who briefly mulled a Senate bid a few months ago, also says he’ll decide in the next few days. State Rep. Matt Caldwell, State Board of Education member Tom Grady, and Byron Donalds, who ran in 2012 and is currently campaigning for the state House, also are thinking about getting in. However, while state Sen. and 2014 candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto initially considered running again, she took her name out of the running on Sunday.
But perhaps the most interesting possible contender is Mack himself, who was memorably dubbed the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics by a Senate primary foe. On Thursday, Politico's Marc Caputo asked the former congressman about his interest, and got back a one-word "interesting" reply. When asked if he was considering a comeback, Mack only said, "Processing."
Mack wouldn't struggle for name recognition, but it sounds like plenty of people on Capitol Hill aren't particularly happy with him right now. Mack currently represents bondholders who are owed money by Puerto Rico, and he's been lobbying against a congressional rescue plan for the island. As Adam Smith tells us, Mack recently sent a letter to GOP House members identifying several conservative groups and individuals opposed to the bill, only for several of those groups to quickly complain and say that they didn't belong on the list. Ryan's name was included, and his office was not happy. In 2014, Mack also signed up to lobby on behalf of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the worst human beings on the planet, though unfortunately that probably wouldn't be an electoral liability.
● GA-03: State Sen. Mike Crane has been outspent by West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson and self-funding businessman Jim Pace, but he's getting a little assistance from the Club for Growth in Tuesday's GOP primary. The Club's last-minute spot praises Crane as a job-creator who stood up for the taxpayer. So far, the Club only appears to be putting a small $30,000 behind the ad. If no one takes a majority on Tuesday, there will be a runoff in July; this seat is safely red.
● HI-01: On Thursday, Democratic freshman Rep. Mark Takai announced that he would retire for health reasons, and his move seems to have caught everyone by surprise. Still, with the June 7 filing deadline coming up quickly, potential candidates need to decide very soon what they'll do. State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who lost the 2014 primary to Takai 44-28, says she probably won't try again, though she didn't rule out a bid altogether. On the GOP side, ex-Rep. Charles Djou, who was unseated in 2010 and lost to Takai 52-48 during the 2014 GOP wave, says he's considering another run. However, Democratic ex-Rep. Ed Case and former GOP Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona are both noes. Obama won this Honolulu seat 70-29, and it should stay blue in a presidential year.
● IA-01: While EMILY's List has spent big in a few Senate Democratic primaries this cycle, they're now up with their first House ad of 2016. EMILY's spot on behalf of national party favorite Monica Vernon pledges that the candidate will protect Social Security and Medicare, and touts her endorsements from prominent Democrats. Politico reports that this ad is backed by 1,200 gross rating points, which is a standard buy for a week's worth of advertising.
Vernon faces 2014 nominee Pat Murphy in the June 7 primary. Murphy had a $775,000 to $88,000 cash-on-hand deficit at the end of March, but he has enough resources to run a TV spot against Vernon a little while ago. Murphy's ad reminds viewers that Vernon used to be a Republican (she switched parties in 2009) and accused her of raising $88,000 from Republicans. It's a pretty weak attack: Vernon took in $32,000 from registered Republican voters in 2014, and $49,000 for 2016, a drop in the bucket for both races. A recent Vernon ad featured longtime Attorney General Tom Miller characterizing her as a "strong Democrat," which may have been her campaign's way of pushing back on Murphy without repeating his charges. The winner will take on freshman Republican Rod Blum in this 56-43 Obama seat.
● MI-10: Self-funding businessman Paul Mitchell has far more cash than all his GOP primary rivals, so it's no surprise that he's the first candidate to go on the air. Mitchell's spot takes place at a toy store, where a kid is presented with the choice of numerous "Career Politician" action figures as the narrator declares, "This election, you can choose between career politicians and insiders and get the same old results, or you can vote outside the box." The ad then talks up Mitchell as a "tough businessman with real-world experience."
Of course, Mitchell may want to be a little careful about labeling himself as an outsider, since he only moved to the Detroit area last year just before he launched his campaign. Last cycle, Mitchell ran for Congress in the 4th District, which is at the other side of the state; Mitchell decisively outspent his opponents then too and ran a memorable ad calling himself a "job-creating, crossbow-shooting, accordion-playing outsider" (there are no crossbows or accordions in this latest offering). However, Mitchell ended up losing the primary 52-36 to now-Rep. John Moolenaar. This time, Mitchell's main rival in the August primary looks like state Sen. Phil Pavlov, with ex-state Sen. Alan Sanborn and state Rep. Tony Forlini also in the mix. This seat is safely red.
● NC-02: A few weeks ago, Carter Wrenn, the pollster for Rep. George Holding, said that his survey showed Holding deadlocked with fellow Rep. Renee Ellmers in the June 7 GOP primary. It's pretty unusual for a campaign to say that they're locked in a tight race (unless they're an underdog trying to show donors that they actually have a path to victory), but Wrenn now says that Holding has opened a big lead.
In a Tuesday blog post, Wrenn wrote that in two weeks, the race went from a 25-25 tie to a 46-18 Holding edge. Wrenn, who did not include field dates or sample sizes, attributes the shift to Ellmers arguing that Holding voted against the Army because he opposed "Obama's Omnibus Budget Deal," and voters seeing right through it. It seems pretty unlikely that this alone could have caused a huge shift: Voters usually just don't care enough about House primaries to know what votes against the omnibus budget deals of the world really mean, especially if no one is running ads about the topic.
Still, there's little doubt that Ellmers is in trouble here. Holding represents far more constituents in the new district than Ellmers does, and the Club for Growth recently spent $300,000 on an ad against her; no notable organizations have come to her aid. Ellmers did recently air a spot touting her conservative credentials; the commercial did not mention Holding or tea partying physician Greg Brannon.
● NC-03: Even though former Treasury aide Taylor Griffin only lost to Rep. Walter Jones by a small 51-45 margin in the 2014 GOP primary, Griffin's second bid hasn't attracted the same kind of attention or establishment support. But Griffin is out with a TV spot ahead of the June 7 primary and once again, he goes after Jones on national security.
Rather than employing an ominous-sounding narrator, Griffin himself brags that unlike President Obama, he'll say "radical Islamic terrorism," before several scary clips of ISIS play. (According to most national security experts, Obama could eliminate ISIS today if only he'd just say the words "radical Islamic terrorism" in front of a bathroom mirror three times in a row.) Griffin then accuses Jones of taking "the president's way," and says the incumbent "caved to Obama" by empowering him to cut a deal with Iran. This coastal seat is safely Republican.
● NY-03: At the end of March, former North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman had the smallest warchest of any of the four major Democrats competing in this swing seat. However, as The Island Now's Noah Manskar notes, Kaiman is the only contender who has any support from labor groups. Kaiman recently picked up endorsements from the local plumbers and Communications Workers of America unions, who join the Theatrical Teamsters in his corner.
● NY-19: The super PAC New York Wins, which is funded by hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, recently went up with a spot attacking businessman Andrew Heaney ahead of the June 28 GOP primary. Via Politico's Scott Bland, the group spent a hefty $500,000 to air the commercial. About half of this Hudson Valley seat is in the expensive New York media market; that $500,000 doesn't buy as many eyeballs as it would in most other upstate New York seats, but it's definitely not nothing. Heaney's primary foe is ex-Assembly Minority Leader John Faso.
On the Democratic side, EMILY's List has thrown its support behind law school professor Zephyr Teachout. An unusual coalition is backing Teachout over Livingston Town Councilor Will Yandik in this swing seat. Teachout has the support of more establishment-friendly politicians like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and neighboring Rep. Sean Maloney, but she also has Bernie Sanders and his massive donor base in her corner. (EMILY is backing Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary.) But having support from multiple wings of the Democratic Party has helped Teachout haul in some serious money, so she certainly isn't complaining.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and Stephen Wolf.