● MD-Sen: It's usually a fair sign that neither side is certain of victory when both candidates in a two-candidate primary start going negative on one another. Last week, with polls showing the race close, Rep. Donna Edwards launched her first ad of the Democratic primary, in which she hit Rep. Chris Van Hollen for expressing a willingness to "consider" cuts to Social Security.
Now Van Hollen is firing back with his own spot, where a pair of narrators accuse Edwards of leveling "false" attacks on him, then say she was "ranked one of the least effective members of Congress—dead last among all Democrats." They go on to cite a study from the Lugar Center claiming Edwards was "the least willing to find common ground, then reference a Washington Post editorial that described Edwards as "allergic to compromise, just like tea party Republicans."
Suggesting that your opponent is not bipartisan enough, though, hardly seems like a winning message in a Democratic primary. Maryland Democrats are really supposed to be upset that Edwards hasn't shown an interest in working with people like Ted Cruz? The fine print of the ad also reveals a telling detail: A footnote that appears onscreen with the Lugar study says the report was "Accessed 3/7/16," meaning this bit of oppo has been kicking around Van Hollen headquarters for over a month. If this is really the best Van Hollen has on Edwards, then it doesn't seem like much.
1Q Fundraising: Be sure to check out our first quarter Senate fundraising chart, which we'll be updating as new numbers come in.
● FL-Sen: Alan Grayson (D): $700,000 raised, $200,000 self-funded; Patrick Murphy (D): $2 million raised, $5.6 million cash-on-hand
● CA-24: Salud Carbajal (D): $313,000 raised, $1 million cash-on-hand
● FL-11: Justin Grabelle (R): $137,000 raised
● NJ-05: Josh Gottheimer (D): $600,000 raised, $1.7 million cash-on-hand
● VA-04: Donald McEachin (D): $100,000 raised (in one month)
● WI-08: Mike Gallagher (R): $520,000 raised
● CA-Sen: Field Research is the first pollster to include conservative activist Ron Unz in a poll of California's Senate race, but they predictably find that his only impact is to help Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Unz, best known (if you can even say that much) for an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1994, takes just 5 percent, splitting the meager Republican vote with a pair of former state party chairs, Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim, who earn just 4 and 2 percent respectively. Far ahead of the field is Democratic state Attorney General Kamala Harris, in first place with 27, while Sanchez clings to second place with 14. The top two candidates regardless of party will advance from the June primary to the November general election.
● CO-Sen: In an extremely unexpected development over the weekend, delegates to Colorado's Republican convention overwhelmingly gave their backing to El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, making him the only candidate to win a slot on the June 28 primary ballot without needing to file signatures. Glenn had raised all of $40,000 for his Senate bid throughout 2015, but observers credit his rousing speech for the surprise victory. ("All lives matter," declared Glenn, who is African-American.)
Several other contenders had also eschewed the petition route and placed their fate in delegates, but Glenn took 70 percent of the vote and no one else came close to the 30 percent threshold to automatically make it to the primary. As a result, state Sen. Tim Neville, El Paso County Commissioner Peg Littleton, businessman Jerry Natividad, and a couple of Some Dudes all saw their campaigns come to an end on Saturday. Neville's collapse is particularly shocking, given his strong support from social conservatives and gun groups.
But a GOP primary still looks very likely, since four candidates chose to bypass the convention and submit signatures: former Colorado State University athletic director Jack Graham, ex-state Rep. Jon Keyser, wealthy businessman Robert Blaha, and former Aurora City Councilor Ryan Frazier. The secretary of state's office has until April 29 to verify these petitions, though, so it's possible that some of these hopefuls won't make it on to the ballot, but some will.
Whatever the final field looks like, though, the Democrat these Republicans are all hoping to unseat, Sen. Michael Bennet, is in solid shape. While no one running has yet to release first-quarter fundraising totals, Bennet has a very healthy $6.7 million in the bank, far more than anyone else. Money of course is never the only metric that counts in politics, but the Republican field is far from intimidating, which is borne out by the fact that a single speech from an unknown and underfunded candidate could upend the race so easily. Daily Kos Elections currently rates this contest Lean Democratic.
● PA-Sen: As promised, EMILY's List is launching a new negative ad attacking ex-Rep. Joe Sestak, part of what the group previously said is a $1 million buy backing Katie McGinty in the Democratic primary. The spot says that Sestak supports a plan that "makes cuts to Social Security benefits" and "raises the retirement age." This is a reference to the failed Simpson-Bowles plan, that would have indeed reduced benefits and which Sestak said in January should serve as "the template upon which you can address both the needed raise in revenues and the proper reform of entitlements." (Incidentally, Simpson-Bowles is also the basis for Donna Edwards' new hit on Chris Van Hollen in the Maryland Senate race.)
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is out with two new ads of his own, both of which stay far away from national issues. One features a mental healthcare provider praising Toomey for helping to fight the state's heroin epidemic; the other showcases Toomey's efforts to help preserve jobs at a refinery. Toomey's very conservative—he ran the Club for Growth for four years, after all—but he's smart enough to avoid the kind of polarizing messages that would cost him in a blue state like Pennsylvania. There's no word on how much Toomey's spending on these ads, but he has a ton of money in the bank.
● WI-Sen: On Monday, former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold released his first TV ad of his senatorial comeback bid. In the minute-long spot, Feingold says he's "visited all 72 counties" in Wisconsin but warns that he's "still at it, so if you hear a knock on your door, it might just be me!" The rest of the ad features constituents talking to Feingold, mostly about their concerns over the economy. One woman wonders of her children and grandchildren: "How are they going to make it? How are they going to have the life that we've had?"
Meanwhile, Let America Work, a super PAC backing GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, is also running a new ad of its own, reportedly backed by a six-figure buy. It goes for straight-up fear-mongering, featuring video clips of violent scenes from abroad as a narrator says, "Obama's foreign policy is weakness—but not to Russ Feingold." The spot then features a clip of Feingold saying of Obama, "He is going to be a very important president in our history with regard to our foreign policy," followed by a mention that Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
Will this kind of attack work nowadays, though? This is all very reminiscent of what we say during the 2002 election, when Democrats wanted to focus on economic uncertainty, as Feingold does in his ad, while Republicans want to make Americans afraid of terrorism. But that election took place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and efforts to scare voters were amplified by the White House. This time, the terror threat, while still real, is more distant, while financial concerns are more prominent, after years of a weak economy. It's not clear that Republicans have many other cards they can play, though.
● UT-Gov: A new poll from Dan Jones & Associates shows that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has little to fear from his primary challenger, Overstock.com CEO Jonathan Johnson. Herbert leads Johnson by a wide 58-20 margin, but it's possible that a faceoff might not even come to pass. Herbert has petitioned his way on to the ballot this time (something newly allowed under Utah law) while Johnson has opted to make his case to delegates to the state GOP convention later this month. However, if Johnson doesn't get at least 40 percent of the vote there, then he won't appear on the June 28 primary ballot, handing Herbert victory by default.
● WV-Gov: Here's yet another ad from free-spending billionaire Jim Justice, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in West Virginia. This one is narrated by two former college football coaches, one of whom identifies himself as a Republican. The two praise Justice as a job creator, then one says, "Don't believe these ads attacking Jim Justice." The other: "They're paid for by powerful special interests supporting Booth Goodwin." That's a reference to a spot from a mystery group hitting Justice over the safety records at his coal mines. Justice has accused Goodwin, who is probably his chief primary rival, of being behind the ads, though Goodwin has denied any involvement.
● NJ-09: On Monday, ex-Patterson Mayor Jeffery Jones' primary bid against Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell went from longshot to no shot. Pascrell's allies challenged Jones' ballot signatures, and Jones announced that he had "formally withdrawn from the 9th Congressional district primary."
Jones, who has been a Pascrell rival for decades, previously expressed interest in running as an independent if his primary bid failed. Jones didn't say much about his future plans though, only writing, "Good luck to Congressman Pascrell and the Democratic party in the upcoming election. See you soon!" In any case, Pascrell has very little to worry about in the general with or without Jones in this 68-31 Obama seat. Jones took fourth place during his 2014 re-election campaign, so it's hard to argue he has much of a base left.
● Redistricting: An important new redistricting lawsuit in Wisconsin just cleared a major hurdle by surviving a motion for summary judgment and will now head to trial. The suit raises an argument that has been made many times before but without success: that election districts were drawn with the improper aim of maximizing one side's partisan advantage. In this case, the plaintiffs, a group of Democrats, have alleged that Wisconsin Republicans unfairly gerrymandered the state's legislative maps to benefit the GOP.
Every such case in the past that has made similar claims has ultimately failed because the Supreme Court (or more specifically, Justice Anthony Kennedy) has ruled that there's no manageable standard for judging when a partisan gerrymander is impermissible. But here, plaintiffs are relying on a new metric known as the "efficiency gap," a very compelling approach its creators describe as follows:
The efficiency gap is simply the difference between the parties' respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast. Wasted votes are ballots that don't contribute to victory for candidates, and they come in two forms: lost votes cast for candidates who are defeated, and surplus votes cast for winning candidates but in excess of what they needed to prevail. When a party gerrymanders a state, it tries to maximize the wasted votes for the opposing party while minimizing its own, thus producing a large efficiency gap. In a state with perfect partisan symmetry, both parties would have the same number of wasted votes.
Put more concretely, every time a Republican legislator or member of Congress wins with 55 percent of the vote but a Democrat in the same state wins with 85 percent, far more votes are "wasted" on behalf of the Democrat—exactly what Republican cartographers want. Unlike other proposals, this test can be rigorously and empirically applied to any map, and now plaintiffs will have the chance to make their case in court.
Should this dispute eventually reach the Supreme Court, it's quite possible that Justice Kennedy will finally find that the efficiency gap is a partisan gerrymandering standard he can love. But even if he doesn't, if a fifth liberal justice joins the court and finds this approach workable, it'll be a whole new day in redistricting jurisprudence, and a massive flood of lawsuits will follow.
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.