● NV-03: Republican primary voters handed Team Blue a huge gift in Nevada's swingy 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday night. Businessman Danny Tarkanian defeated state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the choice of Gov. Brian Sandoval and national Republicans, by a surprisingly wide 32-24 margin; gun-obsessed Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore came in third with 18.
Roberson wasn't a particularly exciting candidate, but he was a good fundraiser who didn't have many obvious flaws that would hurt him in a general election. However, Tarkanian is something completely different. Tarkanian has unsuccessfully run for office four times, but his wealth and family name—his late father was the legendary UNLV basketball coach
Danny Jerry Tarkanian—have kept him from being just another Some Dude.
This pedigree, however, can't mask Tark's serious personal baggage. Perhaps most seriously, Tarkanian and his family guaranteed several bad loans in their failed effort to build an "equestrian destination resort." In 2012, Tarkanian was hit with a $17 million judgment as a result of that debacle, leading him to declare bankruptcy because of course he didn't have anything like $17 million to repay his creditors. (He finally settled the matter for just $525,000.) Tarkanian emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, just in time to launch another campaign.
And there's the matter of ideology, too. Tarkanian is an ardent conservative, which helped him in the primary against Roberson but will only undermine him in November. While Roberson and his allies attacked Tarkanian on his bankruptcy, Tarkanian pounded Roberson for his key role in passing a tax increase last year, a toxic attack in GOP politics if there ever was one. Sensing trouble, the super PAC Ending Spending shelled out a massive $1.6 million in a desperate, last-minute effort to help Roberson in the final days of the race.
However, early voting, which always plays a big role in Nevada politics, had already been underway for some time when Ending Spending cranked up its involvement, so a significant proportion of votes were already banked. If the group had started spending a bit earlier, perhaps it could have saved Roberson, but it turned out to just be too late. It also didn't spend very wisely, either: Ending Spending rather bizarrely ran ads painting Fiore as a classic corrupt politician, a move that likely drove some of her supporters towards the incendiary Tarkanian rather than the staid Roberson (if it had any impact at all.)
Sen. Harry Reid and the DCCC spent months trying to find a viable candidate here, but they finally got synagogue president Jacky Rosen to jump in. Rosen, who easily defeated attorney Jesse Sbaih 62-13 on Tuesday, may not have been Team Blue's first or even third choice, but she was the one who stepped up to the plate in the end, and she's the one who gets the privilege to take on Tarkanian. Both parties have signaled that they'll spend big in this 50-49 Obama seat, and for all of Tarkanian's failings, he could still win. But there's no question that Tark gives Democrats a much greater chance to flip this must-win seat than Roberson would have. As a result, Daily Kos Elections is changing our rating from Lean Republican to Tossup.
● FL-Sen, FL-06: On Thursday, Politico reported that Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera told GOP Sen. Marco Rubio that he would step aside for him if Rubio decided to run for re-election. Rubio confirmed the story later that day and said that he would speak with his family over the weekend about his plans. Florida's filing deadline is June 24, so this game will be over one way or another soon.
Rep. David Jolly has already confirmed that he'll also end his Senate bid if Rubio gets in; Jolly says he'll announce his 2016 plans on Friday, and there doesn't seem to be any doubt that he's bowing out even before Rubio makes his plans official. (See our FL-13 item for more.) However, rich guy Carlos Beruff has made it clear that he's not deferring to Rubio. Beruff is rich enough and nasty enough (he recently refused to attend a candidate forum, arguing that none of his current GOP primary foes are "worth debating") that, even if he can't beat Rubio in the late August primary, he can certainly make his life a living hell. Military contractor Todd Wilcox also says he won't quit for Rubio. However, while Wilcox is worth $50 million, he hasn't shown the same willingness to self-fund as Beruff has, and he may not end up being a major player in the contest.
Rep. Ron DeSantis hasn't said what he'll do if Rubio gets in, which is a good sign that he's not planning to stick it out. However, it's far from clear if DeSantis will run for re-election to the House, or if he'll sit out 2016. Florida Politics says "the rumor du jour" is that DeSantis will go for state attorney general in 2018 if he parachutes out of the Senate contest, while an unnamed source close to DeSantis tells The Washingtonian's Elaina Plott that, "All signs point to Ron running for his congressional seat if Rubio gets in." Four notable Republicans are seeking the 6th but again, the filing deadline is June 24, so things will fall into place one way or another very soon.
● IA-Sen: On Wednesday, EMILY's List threw its support behind Democratic nominee Patty Judge. Judge has an uphill fight against Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, so it's good that EMILY is giving support rather than writing this off as too much of a long shot.
● NV-Sen: Predictably, Rep. Joe Heck defeated 2010 nominee Sharron Angle 65-23 in the GOP primary. Few Republicans have any love for Angle, whose awful campaign helped Democratic Sen. Harry Reid secure one last term. Democrats hoped that Angle would at least force Heck to lurch to the right, but he mostly just ignored her and her underfunded campaign. Oh well, we'll always have the memories from the legendary Reid-Angle campaign.
Heck will face ex-Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto in a contest that both parties will fight hard to win. And sure enough, the conservative group One Nation launched their $2.3 million ad campaign here this week. Their spot praises Heck for backing legislation to help veterans find jobs. The narrator notes that GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval is also pushing a similar proposal.
● WI-Sen: In late March, Marquette Law School caused a little bit of a stir when they found Democrat Russ Feingold leading GOP Sen. Ron Johnson just 48-45 among likely voters, a pretty good result for an incumbent accustomed to ugly polls. However, Marquette's new poll gives Feingold a healthy 51-42 lead.
Interestingly, the contest hasn't changed much with registered voters. Feingold led 47-42 back in March, almost identical to his 45-41 edge now. It's very possible that now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee and voters have had even more time to appreciate his antics, Republican enthusiasm has just plunged. Of course, it's possible that Marquette's likely voter screen is just a bit too restrictive this far from Election Day (they define likely voters as "those who say they are certain they will vote in November"), and that Johnson is doing a bit better than he looks. Still, Johnson, who hasn't led in a single released poll from any group, is still trailing with registered voters, so "better" still wouldn't mean "good." Daily Kos Elections rates this as Lean Democratic.
● ND-Gov: In a big surprise, businessman Doug Burgum not only defeated North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in Tuesday's GOP gubernatorial primary, he did it by a massive 59-39 margin. Burgum started the contest with little name recognition, and he even spent months flirting with running as an independent. Stenehjem, who has served as attorney general since 2000, had the backing of the state GOP establishment, including outgoing Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Sen. John Hoeven. Stenehjem also won the state party's endorsement in April, and Burgum made the unusual choice to keep campaigning into the primary rather than respecting the endorsement and bowing out.
Thanks in large part to self-funding, Burgum badly outspent Stenehjem, but there was more to his win than that. As Mike McFeely explains at inforum.com, Stenehjem didn't do much campaigning, apparently believing that voters were happy enough with the status quo to pick him as Dalrymple's chosen successor. However, North Dakota's budget has taken a hit from the collapse of oil and crop prices, and it was easy for Burgum to tie Stenehjem to the state's problems. Burgum also ran ads against Stenehjem over Obamacare, accusing him of not doing enough to fight the program.
But as Say Anything's Rob Port argues, Burgum also benefited from the support of Democratic voters, though his win may have been so large that they weren't decisive. North Dakota not only doesn't have party registration, it's the only state that doesn't have voter registration whatsoever, so it was easy for Democrats to show up for Burgum. Liberal radio show host Joel Heitkamp, the brother of Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, openly advocated for Democrats to crossover for Burgum, and in a small state like North Dakota, his voice carried a lot of weight. While Burgum attacked Stenehjem from the right, Democrats liked that he was trashing the GOP establishment, and they decided to take the conservative they didn't know instead of the conservative they already disliked. Burgum should have no trouble in November against Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson, who has raised very little cash.
● FL-13, FL-Sen: Mark your calendars: GOP Rep. David Jolly will announce his 2016 plans on Friday. Jolly has made it clear that he'll hit the eject button on his Senate bid if Marco Rubio runs for re-election, and he reiterated on Wednesday that he expects Rubio to get in, so there's little doubt that Jolly's Senate campaign is over. It's not clear yet if Jolly will seek re-election to the redrawn 13th District or if he'll just leave Congress, though it's looking pretty likely that he'll take another shot at the House against Democrat Charlie Crist.
● NV-04: Freshman Rep. Cresent Hardy, who is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House, learned the identity of his Democratic foe on Tuesday night. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen defeated ex-Assemblywoman Lucy Flores by a decisive 40-26 margin, with education activist Susie Lee taking 21.
Kihuen's base is in the 1st Congressional District, and he started the race with little name recognition in suburban Las Vegas. However, Kihuen had the support of Sen. Harry Reid and Nevada's powerful unions. Kihuen was outspent by Lee, who did some self-funding, and Flores, whose fundraising went through the roof after Bernie Sanders endorsed her. However, as they both learned the hard way, it's very tough to beat a candidate backed by Reid and labor in a low-turnout Democratic primary. (The fact that Bill Clinton also endorsed Kihuen didn't hurt either.) The DCCC originally tried to persuade Lee to run for the neighboring 3rd District instead, and she's probably wishing she'd gone that route now.
Obama won this seat 54-44, and Hardy will need everything to go right to win. Both parties have reserved millions in airtime in the Las Vegas market, though it's impossible to know how much of that will go toward the 3rd District and how much will go to this contest. Daily Kos Elections currently rates the general as a Tossup, but we could see this contest move in the Democratic direction.
● NY-19: A recent GOP primary poll for ex-Assembly Minority Leader John Faso found him beating businessman Andrew Heaney 51-32, and Siena College gave Faso a similar 50-28 lead last week. Heaney is finally releasing his own survey of the June 28 contest and it finds… that Faso also beating him. The Public Opinion Strategies poll gives Faso a smaller, but still clear, 37-28 lead. The memo argues that Heaney is making up ground: An unreleased October poll had Faso up 33-10, and in May, Faso still led 36-18. POS also says that only 38 percent of Republicans have decided who they're "definitely voting for."
It's a valid point that voters only really pay attention to House primaries at the end of the contest, so things could shift. However, Faso's allies are doing their best to ensure that Republicans don't hear anything good about Heaney before Election Day. New York Wins, a super PAC that is funded by hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, has already dropped $500,000 against Heaney. The group is now spending another $277,000 on a new spot calling Heaney "dangerously liberal." Obama won this seat 52-46.
● NY-22: Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, one of the three Republicans running in the June 28 primary for this competitive seat, has had a horrible relationship with the Oneida Indian Nation for years, and they set up a super PAC called "Grow the Economy" to beat her. Grow the Economy is spending $143,000 on a spot that calls her an "Albany insider" and links her to disgraced Democratic ex-Speaker Sheldon Silver. Another group, Defending Main Street, recently spent $75,000 on an ad for businessman Steve Wells, one of Tenney's primary rivals.
● SC-01: Well, maybe Republicans haven't let bygones be bygones with Rep. Mark Sanford after all. Sanford defeated state Rep. Jenny Horne in the GOP primary in South Carolina's safely red 1st District, but by a surprisingly thin 56-44 margin. Horne briefly captured national attention last year when she called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the South Carolina state House grounds, but it didn't look like she was gaining much momentum against the incumbent. Horne raised just $115,000 during her entire campaign against Sanford, and no major organizations came to her aid.
However, Sanford is no normal congressman. While serving as governor, Sanford went missing for several days in 2009 when he secretly visited his mistress in Argentina. Sanford left office a punch line (forever tainting the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail"), but he resurrected his career when he won a 2013 special election. Sanford won that year's GOP primary 57-43 against another underfunded foe, so it seems that there's a very consistent block of Republican voters who just don't like him even after all these years.
Sanford, who is obsessively frugal (he famously ordered his employees to use both sides of Post-it-notes and index cards) also barely dipped into his almost $1 million campaign account. He doesn't have anything more to worry about in 2016, but his weak performance could encourage a stronger primary challenger to go after him if he seeks re-election next cycle.
● VA-02: In a surprise, Rep. Randy Forbes not only lost the GOP primary to state Del. Scott Taylor, he went down by a punishing 53-41 margin. Forbes was accustomed to safe re-election campaigns in his old 4th Congressional District in Virginia's Tidewater region. However, court-ordered redistricting split most of Forbes' seat between two safely blue districts, and Forbes was left without any obvious place to run for re-election. But Forbes seemed to get a new lease on life when Republican Rep. Scott Rigell decided not to seek re-election in the 2nd District.
Forbes hadn't represented a single centimeter of the new 2nd since at least 2003. However, since part of Forbes' seat and the 2nd share a media market, Forbes did have name recognition in the area. After Rigell's preferred successor, ex-state Sen. Jeff McWaters, decided not to run, Rigell made it clear that he'd support Forbes if he campaigned here, and Forbes soon entered the race. However, Taylor, a retired Navy SEAL who ran for this seat in 2010 and barely registered, did not defer to Forbes. Taylor quickly sought to make this a contest between a local and an outsider, and he attacked Forbes as a "coward" and "deserter" for running here instead of at home.
Until Tuesday night, it looked like Forbes had the advantage. Forbes outspent Taylor by a massive $711,000 to $91,000 margin in the final two months of the race. Forbes, who largely had the airwaves to himself, also ran ads stressing his seniority on the House Armed Services Committee. Most members of Congress recognize that voters are fed up with DC and don't tout their clout in the capitol, but Forbes believed his message would resonate in a district where the military is a huge economic presence. Forbes also had the support of Rigell and most other influential Virginia Beach Republicans, though Sheriff Ken Stolle was a prominent Taylor backer.
A May poll from Taylor showed Forbes up 39-35; while Taylor argued that voters abandoned Forbes once they learned he only ran here for political reasons, it just didn't look like Taylor had the resources to blast that message out. But Forbes did take Taylor seriously enough to run ads against him late in the race, so it looked possible that Taylor could pull off an upset. Still, few saw Taylor's 11-point victory coming.
As Matthew Isbell demonstrates, Taylor's dominance in Virginia Beach made all the difference. The city made up 68 percent of the primary vote, and Taylor carried it 56-36. Forbes narrowly won outside Virginia Beach, but it was far too little to save him. Taylor may have only represented a small chunk of the city in the legislature, but at least voters knew he was a local. Stolle also is an influential figure here, and his support may have helped Taylor get his name out.
Romney only narrowly carried the 2nd District, but unfortunately, Team Blue appears to have already forfeited the general election. The Democratic nominee is perennial candidate Shaun Brown, who hasn't reported raising any cash at all. If there's a massive blue wave in the fall, maybe even a weak contender like Brown could get swept in, but even that may not be enough. Brown's from Newport News, which is located entirely in the 3rd District; Taylor has certainly already proven he can turn locals against carpetbaggers. Daily Kos Elections rates the general election as Safe Republican.
P.S.: In case anyone is feeling a little sorry for Forbes, remember that in 2013, he took the NRCC to task for supporting gay candidates. Politico reported that Forbes was waging a "lengthy crusade" to convince the committee to not to help Richard Tisei and Carl DeMaio, who were running in competitive contests. Both men ended up losing the general election, though the NRCC spent big to help them.
● VA-04: Unsurprisingly, state Sen. Don McEachin defeated Chesapeake City Councilwoman Ella Ward by a massive 75-25 margin in the Democratic primary. McEachin had the support of all of Virginia's prominent Democrats, and his Richmond-area base was simply much larger than Ward's home turf. This redrawn seat is safely blue.
● NV State Senate: Democrats need to net one seat this fall to retake the Nevada state Senate, and GOP primary voters may have made their task a bit easier on Tuesday. In SD-06, a Republican-held suburban Las Vegas seat that backed Obama 52-47, Victoria Seaman defeated fellow Assemblymember Erv Nelson by a 63-37 margin. Nelson, who was backed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, outspent Seaman. However, she pounded him for voting for Sandoval's 2015 tax increase. Jon Ralston describes Seaman as a "ferocious campaigner," but it looks like she'll be easier for Democrats to beat than Nelson would have been. Team Blue is fielding Clark County Deputy District Attorney Nicole Cannizzaro.
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.