● NC-Sen: PPP takes another look at North Carolina and once again finds Republican Sen. Richard Burr in surprisingly bad shape. They give Burr just a 39-36 edge over Democratic nominee Deborah Ross, with Libertarian Sean Haugh gobbling up 8; a month ago, Burr edged Ross 43-37. Burr posts a bad 28-40 approval rating, while Ross, a former state House majority whip, has an 18-18 favorable score. PPP isn't the only pollster to give Burr a weak edge. In March, SurveyUSA had him up 48-41, while Elon University and the conservative Civitas Institute's April polls had him leading 37-33 and 39-38, respectively.
However, outside groups aren't acting like this race is competitive. While the DSCC and NRSC have made huge TV reservations for the fall, they've passed over North Carolina so far. Additionally, organizations like Senate Majority PAC on the left and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the right have also left the Tar Heel State out of their ad blitzes. Of course, just because this race isn't on the radar now doesn't mean it won't get its share of ad spending soon. As James Lambert reminds us, the DSCC didn't book its first ads here in 2008 until July. For much of that cycle, Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole looked like the solid favorite against Democrat Kay Hagan, another little-known candidate. However, Hagan ended up crushing Dole 53-44.
Still, it's too early to say that will happen again. At least for now, major organizations are acting like Burr is well-positioned to win a third term, and they're focusing their money and attention elsewhere. It's not clear why: Maybe national groups have polls that show Burr in better shape, or they're just convinced that his large warchest will help him improve his standing. Or maybe this will be a repeat of 2008, and the big spending will just start late once each side is convinced that this is a real race. Even with Burr's meh polls, Daily Kos Elections currently rates this as Likely Republican, but we'll be on the lookout for any developments.
● CO-Sen: Former Colorado State University Athletic Director Jack Graham, who may be the least-flawed candidate running in the June 28 GOP primary, is spending $455,000 on his first TV spot. Graham tells the camera that "I'm not a lawyer, never run for office, and don't owe any favors in Washington." Graham goes on to talk about his business background and pledges to focus on the economy in the Senate. It's a pretty boring offering, but, with the exception of fellow rich guy Robert Blaha, Graham is the only GOP candidate who has any TV presence right now. And credit where credit is due, at least Graham doesn't claim to not be a politician while asking for people to vote for him.
● FL-Sen: Politico's Kevin Robillard has busted Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson for running a rinky-dink little scam to make his first-quarter fundraising report look bigger than it actually was. In the first three months of 2016, Grayson loaned his campaign $200,000, making his total receipts appear to exceed $1 million when that loan was combined with the $819,000 in actual donations he took in.
But at the same time, Grayson—despite possessing a net worth of at least $30 million—had his campaign repay him for an earlier loan, made in a previous quarter, that also just happened to be for $200,000. All of this legerdemain didn't affect Grayson's cash-on-hand one bit; rather, it simply inflated his apparent fundraising haul past the psychologically important $1 million mark.
We've seen this kind of shenanigan before, such as when former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a Republican, pulled this same shtick when he ran for the House in 2012. But it only makes a candidate look dodgy, and whatever headlines you get for "raising" seven figures are more than undone by the negative stories you get hit with when your trickery is uncovered. And in any event, Grayson still badly lagged his Democratic primary opponent, fellow Rep. Patrick Murphy, who raised $2 million in the first quarter. There's just no upside to this game. Just ask Maldonado: He lost by double digits.
● IA-Sen: Ex-Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, the DSCC's endorsed candidate in the June 7 Democratic primary, is going up with her first TV spot. The commercial reminds the audience about the destructive 2008 summer floods that hit Iowa, before Judge appears in what's made to look like the crisis center control room. Judge tells the audience that "our recovery began by working together. Nobody had time for pointing fingers," before the narrator says that as the state's homeland security advisor, it was Judge who coordinated the rebuilding efforts. Judge then talks up "partnership and problem-solving."
This spot definitely is more interesting than the usual bland paeans to bipartisanship. Of course, as Iowa Starting Line points out, Judge's presence in a very detailed disaster control room talking to "emergency workers" makes it look like the candidate is actually a time traveler! If she is, she should really just run on that. Or change history so that Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley never got elected to the Senate in 1980. Or reverse "Firefly"'s cancelation in 2002. Judge faces state Sen. Rob Hogg next month; Hogg has very little money and presumably no DeLorean, but he has the support of several influential unions.
● NH-Sen: Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, the group founded by ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords, is out with what they tell WMUR is a "seven-figure, three-week buy" hitting GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte on guns. The narrator warns that "criminals and the dangerously mentally ill can buy guns without a background check," and they accuse Ayotte of standing with the gun lobby to keep these loopholes open. Ayotte's campaign didn't waste much time airing their own spot staring four past and present New Hampshire police chiefs. The chiefs bemoan what they say are false attacks, and they claim that Ayotte voted for background checks and prosecuted murderers as state attorney general.
● OH-Sen: Two union groups are taking to the airwaves against GOP Sen. Rob Portman. AFSCME is spending $582,000 on a spot going after Portman's votes for trade deals, with a man standing in front of the shuttered factory where he used to work and saying that the senator "pretty much gave our jobs away." The American Federation of Teachers is dropping $325,000 on their own commercial that accuses Portman of being in the pocket of Wall Street and wanting to privatize Social Security.
● PA-Sen: GOP Sen. Pat Toomey's newest TV ad attacks Democrat Katie McGinty on a topic that doesn't often come up on the campaign trail: sanctuary cities. In particular, Toomey's spot claims McGinty "would allow Philadelphia's extreme sanctuary rules" which would lead to the "releas[e] of violent criminals here illegally." At issue is a decision Philadelphia's new mayor, Jim Kenney, made back in January to restore the city's policy of barring cooperation between Philly law enforcement agencies and federal immigration agents; Kenney's predecessor, Michael Nutter, had repealed his own 2014 order putting the policy in place in the final days of his administration late last year.
Toomey promptly flipped out after Kenney's move, seizing on the issue as a way to terrorize voters—and to divide the state along geographic lines. (He's tried to mock his opponent with the hashtag #PhillyMcGinty, which means he doesn't give a damn about winning urban votes.) Toomey even tried to push an amendment on the Senate floor earlier this month that would have punished local authorities that refuse to work with immigration officials. (It has not received a vote.)
And now he's taking his complaints to the airwaves. McGinty is pushing back by criticizing Toomey for not supporting the 2013 effort to reform immigration laws, but she hasn't aired any ads on the topic yet. We have a while yet before we'll know whether this turns out to be a salient issue in November, or if it's just a passing fancy for Toomey.
● CA-Gov, San Diego, CA Mayor: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is one of the California Republican Party's few big names, and until now, he's deflected questions about his interest in a 2018 gubernatorial campaign. But on Tuesday, Faulconer said that if he's re-elected mayor this year, he will serve out his entire four-year term.
If Faulconer is sincere, it's a big blow to the GOP's hopes in this blue state. Of course, Faulconer wouldn't be the first politician to pledge to serve out his new term only to seek a promotion anyway. During his 1990 re-election campaign for governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton promised to serve out the new four-year term he was campaigning for; needless to say, he did not. We'll want to check back in 2017 to see if Faulconer's stated plans have changed.
There isn't much doubt that Faulconer will be re-elected this year though. While San Diego usually backs Democratic candidates in presidential and statewide races, it's been more than comfortable sending Republicans to city hall. Faulconer faces two opponents in the non-partisan primary: Democrat Ed Harris, the leader of the lifeguards union, and ex-Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who now identifies as an independent. Harris, who served as an interim city councilor for nine months after Faulconer was elected mayor in 2014, did recently go up with a TV spot hitting the incumbent on long 911 wait times. However, neither Harris nor Saldaña has much money available. If Faulconer takes a majority of the vote on June 7, he'll win re-election without needing to go through the November general.
● IN-Gov: On Wednesday, Democratic nominee John Gregg announced that he had chosen state Rep. Christina Hale to be his running mate. Gubernatorial running mates almost never make much of a difference in the general election, unless they generate unwanted headlines for the ticket. However, EMILY's List did express interest in a Hale Senate bid earlier this year, and she seems well-regarded in Indiana Democratic politics. Team Blue's bench isn't great here, but Hale's presence on the ticket is likely to enhance her stature for a future race even if Gregg loses to Republican incumbent Mike Pence.
● FL-19: After briefly mulling a bid for this safely red Cape Coral seat, state Rep. Matt Caldwell announced that he wouldn't go for it. Right now, the only two contenders in the late August primary are wealthy ex-Ambassador Francis Rooney and
attorney former Paul Ryan aide Chauncey Goss, the son of former Rep. Porter Goss. However, ex-state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who took third in the 2012 and 2014 primaries, says he's likely running again, and he's formed a PAC to "test the waters."
Kreegel is fundraising for his new group, "Values are Vital." Kreegel won't be able to legally coordinate with it if he becomes a candidate but right now, it's perfectly cromulent for him to raise money for the group. This kind of move didn't go incredibly well for fellow Floridian Jeb Bush when he tried it this cycle though. While super PACs aren't subject to the donation limits that candidates are subject to, FCC regulations give candidates—but not outside groups—discounted rates on TV and radio; in other words, super PACs need to spend much more money to air the same number of ads as candidates. Super PACs also can't pay the candidate's staff or for their travel: Jeb infamously was forced to lay off staff even though his allied super PAC was flush with cash.
If Kreegel has a bunch of wealthy friends who want to write huge checks to help him get to Congress, than maybe this move makes sense. Otherwise though, it seems like he should be "testing the waters" by raising money for his own campaign, especially since the primary is only a few months away. The filing deadline is June 24.
● GA-03: On Tuesday, Republican voters went to the polls in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, and unsurprisingly, no one won a majority of the vote. State Sen. Mike Crane and ex-West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson both took 27 percent of the vote, and they'll face off in the July runoff; rich guy Jim Pace was just behind with 23.
Crane represents about a quarter of this seat, and he made a name for himself with social conservatives by pushing "religious liberty" legislation. However, law enforcement groups were not happy with Crane when he told a crowd in March, "You come to my house, kick down my door. If I have an opportunity I will shoot you dead and every one of you should do the same." Crane has also been a weak fundraiser. While Ferguson was only the mayor of a small town, he used his connections with fellow dentists to raise a surprising amount of cash at the beginning of the year. Pace loaned his campaign $250,000 and outspent both his opponents, but it wasn't quite enough.
Crane has the support of the deep-pocketed Club for Growth, which could make a huge difference in the runoff. The Club didn't spend much to help Crane in the first round of the primary, but they may come back in full force now that there are only two candidates left. This seat, which stretches from the Atlanta exurbs to Columbus, is safely red at 66-33 Romney.
● GA-09: Republican Rep. Doug Collins decisively won renomination in this safely red rural seat by defeating ex-Rep. Paul Broun 61-22. Broun represented a portion of this district from 2007 until the 2012 round of redistricting split up his old constituency, and he ended up seeking re-election to the nearby 10th District. Broun was a go-to guy for far-right quips, including his classic 2012 proclamation that "[a]ll that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell."
However, Broun gave up his seat in the House to run for the Senate in 2014, and he badly lost the primary. Broun launched a last-minute campaign against Collins, but the incumbent never seemed particularly vulnerable. Broun raised very little money and he attracted no significant outside support. He also was dogged by some stories about his failed Senate bid. Last year, one of his consultants pled guilty to lying to investigators about whether he was paid in taxpayer money for Broun's Senate campaign. Broun himself hasn't been implicated yet, but his old chief of staff was recently indicted for obstructing an investigation into the matter, as well as for stealing government property. It's very possible that losing this campaign won't even be the worst thing to happen to Broun this year.
● GA-11: Freshman Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk defeated wealthy primary foe Daniel Cowan 60-18 in this safely red suburban Atlanta seat. Cowan decisively outspent Loudermilk, but he never made much of a case for why Republican voters should deny the incumbent a second term. While Cowan's TV commercial argued that the businessman wasn't a politician, he never actually directly attacked Loudermilk on the air. It's a good reminder that, even in an era where Republican voters are sick of their party establishment, they still actually need a compelling reason to fire their incumbents.
● HI-01: This week, ex-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa confirmed speculation that she's considering running for her old seat. Hanabusa, a Democrat, told Hawaii News Now that she's undecided if she'd rather return to Congress or stay on as chair of the board for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which is overseeing Honolulu's expensive and controversial rail project. If Hanabusa gets in, she'll likely clear the field in this blue seat. However, the filing deadline is June 7, so if Hanabusa passes, other Hawaiian politicians will need make plans very quickly.
● KS-01: Tea partying Rep. Tim Huelskamp is up with his first TV spot ahead of the August GOP primary. Huelskamp is shown driving a tractor as the narrator characterizes him as "reliable, dependable, tried and true" and praises him for "fighting for conservative principles, even if it means standing up to members of his own party." That's a nice way of saying that the GOP leadership and local farming interests hate Huelskamp but damn it, he's your asshole and no one else's. Huelskamp's intra-party rival, physician Roger Marshall, also recently aired his first commercial. This sprawling district, which is uncreatively nicknamed "The Big First," is safely red.
● MI-08: In disappointing news for Democrats, former "Little House on the Prairie" actress Melissa Gilbert is abandoning her campaign for Congress, citing health issues stemming from head and neck injuries sustained in 2012. While Democratic hopes of unseating freshman GOP Rep. Mike Bishop in this 51-48 Romney seat were always long, and while Gilbert had her flaws, she at least gave Team Blue a candidate with some name recognition and the ability to raise money.
Now Democrats will have to scramble to find a substitute. Gilbert is the only Democrat on the Aug. 2 primary ballot, and under Michigan law, she can apparently be replaced after the primary by local party officials. It's unlikely, though, that anyone of stature will step forward at such a late date. With literally no one running under the Democratic banner here right now, we have no choice but to move this race from Likely Republican to Safe Republican. If a legitimate alternative emerges, we'll revisit then.
● NC-13: A little while ago, the Club for Growth launched a $285,000 spot for gun ranger owner Ted Budd, making him the only candidate in the 17-way June 7 GOP primary who had any TV presence. However, the National Association of Realtors' political arm is dropping $258,000 on a commercial in support of state Rep. Julia Howard, who is a realtor (bet that just blew your mind). The Realtors' commercial is not online yet, though Bloomberg says it characterizes Howard as "the conservative voice North Carolina needs in Washington." Why, that's almost as shocking as Howard being a realtor! The NAR is one of the few groups out there that helps candidates on both sides of the aisle, and they tend to spend big for their friends.
● NV-03: This week, the powerful Culinary Union endorsed Jacky Rosen in the June 14 Democratic primary for this swing seat. Rosen, who leads a prominent Las Vegas synagogue, is backed by Sen. Harry Reid, so it's no surprise that Culinary is following his lead. Rosen faces self-funding attorney Jesse Sbaih, who has a horrible relationship with Reid, next month.
● NV-04: Big Dog Re-Alert! Ex-President Bill Clinton threw his support behind state Sen. Ruben Kihuen on Tuesday, and it took less than 24 hours for Kihuen to release a TV spot touting the endorsement. Kihuen's new ad features Sen. Harry Reid telling the audience that Kihuen is a progressive champion in the legislature, and says that's why both he and Clinton are backing him. Kihuen then pledges to "take on Republicans to pass equal pay for women and protect Social Security," before a union official notes that labor is in his corner.
Some of Kihuen's labor allies are also spending $192,000 on an ad for him. UNITE HERE, which the powerful Culinary Union is an affiliate of, argues that Donald Trump will endanger Medicare but pledges that, like Reid, Kihuen will protect it. Kihuen faces two well-funded rivals in the June 14 Democratic primary; the winner will take on freshman GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy.
● TX-15: On Tuesday, wealthy attorney Vicente Gonzalez defeated Edinburg school board member Juan "Sonny" Palacios Jr. 66-34 in the Democratic primary runoff to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez loaned his campaign $1.6 million, though he stopped self-funding after the first round in March. Palacios hails from a prominent Rio Grande Valley political family, and his supporters hoped that his connections would allow him to pull off a win. However, congressional Democrats supported Gonzalez, who is close to neighboring Rep. Filemon Vela; some Texas Democrats also talk up Gonzalez as a potential candidate for higher office. This seat, which includes McAllen, backed Obama 57-42, and it should stay blue in a presidential cycle.
● TX-19: The Texas Republican establishment got a win on Tuesday, as former George W. Bush aide Jodey Arrington, a former Texas Tech vice chancellor, defeated Lubbock Mayor Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson 54-46 in the primary runoff. Arrington touted his ties to the former president, and he got help from Bush and his allies, as well as ex-Gov. Rick Perry. The wealthy Robertson started the contest with much more name recognition and he outspent Arrington, but it wasn't enough. Romney carried this Panhandle seat 74-25, and Arrington won't have any problem holding it in November.
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.