● FL-13, Sen: The NRCC has never had a great relationship with GOP Rep. David Jolly. The Republican House campaign committee probably thought they were finally done dealing with him after the congressman announced that he'd be leaving the House behind to run for Florida's open Senate seat after a court-ordered redistricting plan made his district much more Democratic. But over the last week, Jolly's camp has refused to close the door on rumors that he's interested in dropping his Senate bid and instead defending his St. Petersburg seat, redistricting be damned. The NRCC, however, isn't offering any encouragement to Jolly, even though he's the only Republican who could possibly hold this seat.
In fact, the committee just did the exact opposite. On Friday, the NRCC Executive Director Rob Simms sent a remarkable open letter to the show 60 Minutes that accused Jolly of lying about the committee during a recent feature—one that Simms compared to a scandal no less than Watergate.
So what's the story behind 60 Minutesghazi?
At the beginning of the year, Jolly announced that would he stop personally fundraising for his Senate campaign, and further said he'd introduce a bill that would prohibit members of Congress from personally seeking donations. It didn't take much cynicism to believe that this was just a bit of grandstanding designed to distract from Jolly's consistently poor fundraising, but this new crusade earned Jolly a segment on 60 Minutes a week ago.
On the show, Jolly promoted his "Stop Act" (which stands no chance of becoming law anytime soon, and may not even survive in court if it did), and he delved into the gory details of candidate fundraising. Jolly began by saying that the GOP leadership demands that its members raise "$18,000 a day," then described how he had to cold-call donors to meet his goals. The show's producers then went on to show the actual NRCC-approved script for fundraising calls, complete with a diagram outlining how a member of Congress should respond depending on what the target says.
The segment was already not exactly the type of thing leaders at the NRCC (or the DCCC, for that matter) would have liked, but the worst was yet to come. Reporters are barred from the NRCC's DC call center, but host Norah O'Donnell explained that with the help of an unidentified GOP staffer, 60 Minutes placed hidden cameras inside NRCC headquarters, and the show obtained some pretty interesting footage. There were shots of the office cubicles where members made their calls and a list identifying how much money each member had brought in. Jolly summed up the office by calling it "a cult-like boiler room on Capitol Hill where sitting members of Congress, frankly, I believe, are compromising the dignity of the office they hold by sitting in these sweatshop phone booths calling people asking them for money."
This stunt very much pissed off NRCC chair Greg Walden and his staff. Simms' letter insisted that there never had been a meeting where Jolly was told to raise $18,000 a day, calling his story "a work of fiction." Simms went on: "Had the reporter or producer of the story bothered to verify this claim, they would have been told as much." Simms then said 60 Minutes had "knowingly trespassed or encouraged another to trespass in our offices to film footage." He concluded in histrionic terms: "Not since Watergate has the headquarters of a major political party committee been so violated. CBS conspired with an anonymous staffer to enter our offices and obtain unauthorized footage under false pretenses. This is not journalism. This is trespassing."
Republicans love to hate the media, so it's not too notable that the NRCC is picking a fight with CBS's famous news magazine, but it's very unusual for the committee to charge one of their own with lying and conspiring against the party. There are plenty of explanations for what could be going on. As we noted at the outset, the NRCC has never liked Jolly. In 2014, just days before Jolly's closely-watched special election in a swing seat, anonymous staffers at the committee—which was also led by Walden at the time—leaked embarrassing details about Jolly's campaign operation to Politico. Among other things (including complaints that Jolly paraded around the district with a girlfriend 14 years younger than him), the NRCC's people claimed that Jolly ran a weak campaign and had to be bailed out by DC. Jolly ended up narrowly winning the special, but there's absolutely no love lost between Walden's staff and Jolly.
The NRCC may also be annoyed at the idea that Jolly might run for re-election for more than just personal reasons. Obama won the new version of Jolly's seat by a 55-44 margin, and even if Jolly would still have an outside chance, he'd be the decided underdog. The NRCC may just prefer to triage the seat altogether rather than waste millions defending it: Since the NRCC is, first and foremost, an incumbent protection organization, they'd probably feel obligated to do something to help Jolly. So to avoid flushing money on a potentially hopeless race, it's possible that the committee is hoping convince Jolly to just take his chances in a Senate race where he wouldn't need to work with them.
But what may have annoyed the NRCC the most (as well as their counterparts at the DCCC) is that Jolly gave potential House recruits an ugly glimpse at their future if they run and win. Any credible congressional candidate will need to spend a great deal of time and effort fundraising (aside from wealthy people who can just cut themselves a check). Still, many of them may hope that, once they actually get elected, that annoying part of their life will at least die down. If so, the footage of the NRCC's call center is the last thing they'll want to see. After all, what type of people want to go through a very tough race only to win and then spend hours each day essentially acting as telemarketers in addition to having to do their already-stressful day job?
None of this was exactly a secret before those hidden cameras rolled, of course, but those images of dreadful NRCC cubicles make the whole dark enterprise a lot more vivid than it was before. Jolly's ultimate sin may have been exposing just how sucky it is to be a congressman—and forcing potential candidates to ask themselves why they'd want this life for themselves.
● CO-Sen: On Friday, Judge Elizabeth Starrs ruled that ex-state Rep. Jon Keyser would appear on the June GOP primary ballot after all. A few days before, the Colorado secretary of state's office announced that Keyser did not have enough valid petitions. However, Keyser's problem was that one of his signature gatherers, Tyler Gonzalez, listed an address on his petition affidavits that didn't match the one associated with his voter registration record. Gonzalez explained the discrepancy by saying he had recently moved and failed to update his registration. The secretary of state's office said that while they were simply following rigid guidelines under the law, the judge could apply a more relaxed standard. Starrs agreed that this was too minor a reason to keep Keyser off the ballot when he had "substantially complied" with Colorado election law.
Keyser will face at least rich guy Jack Graham and El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn in June for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, but two other Republicans' campaigns are also in limbo. On Thursday, the secretary of state's office announced that rich guy Robert Blaha and former Aurora City Councilor Ryan Frazier also didn't have enough valid signatures to make the primary ballot. Blaha and Frazier's problem may not be so easy to solve: The secretary of state says that both candidates had their signatures rejected "for a variety of reasons, including the signer was not a Republican, the signer's address did not match voter registration records, duplicate signatures and notary errors." Colorado's ballot was to be finalized on Friday, but a judge granted Blaha and Frazier's joint request to delay certification and extended the deadline until Wednesday, so we should know where things stand soon.
● IN-Sen: We have our second, and probably last, poll of Tuesday's GOP primary between Reps. Todd Young and Marlin Stutzman. Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne gives Young a 42-34 lead, a little smaller than the 43-31 Young edge the GOP group Public Opinion Strategies found in their poll for two state media outlets. However, the IPFW poll was conducted over a ridiculously-long two-week period.
● PA-Sen: It's only been days since Katie McGinty won the Democratic nod to face Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, and the general election spots have already been flying. The Club for Growth (which Toomey used to lead) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have each aired ads for Team Red, and Toomey's campaign is now out with their own commercial hitting McGinty. The narrator accuses McGinty of helping steer millions to help corporations that went on to hire her. The spot goes on to charge that those corporations killed Pennsylvania jobs when they closed their plants, but McGinty still got paid.
McGinty's allies at AFSCME are going on the offensive with a $1.2 million ad campaign. AFSCME's spot goes after Toomey's financial services career and characterizes him as "a Wall Street wheeler-dealer." The narrator charges that Toomey voted with Wall Street in the Senate, including "voting to allow banks to continue making the risky investments that wrecked our economy." A group called The Constitutional Responsibility Project is also hitting Toomey on TV. As you could probably tell from their name, the ad goes after Toomey on the GOP's Supreme Court blockade and accuses him of putting his party over the Constitution. The organization declined to reveal the size of the buy.
● MT-Gov: The RGA recently went up with a $93,000 spot against Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock, and the DGA is launching their own $200,000 ad campaign at Republican rich guy Greg Gianforte. Team Blue calls Gianforte a "millionaire from New Jersey (who) is desperate to be governor from Montana" and accuses him of wanting to cut taxes for other rich people. Gianforte's camp says the spot "starts out with a lie": Gianforte's actually originally from Pennsylvania.
● WV-Gov: A few days ago, billionaire Jim Justice launched a negative ad at his two Democratic primary rivals, ex-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler. Well, it turns out that ad isn't airing in isolation: In the past week, both Justice and his detractors have been running TV spots against one another ahead of the May 10 primary.
In addition to Justice's spot calling Goodwin and Kessler "two peas in a pod," Justice ran another commercial aimed at just Goodwin. That ad characterizes Goodwin as "another career politician," and claims that he took contributions from lawyers who were arguing cases before his father, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin. The Charleston Gazette-Mail's David Gutman writes that Justice's camp sent out a list of 17 lawyers who had supposedly made those questionable donations. However, federal records showed that several of these donors didn't have any cases before Judge Goodwin, and that "[t]he remaining donors on the Justice campaign list included lawyers on both sides of those cases." Goodwin hails from a prominent West Virginia political family and he has more money and internal support than Kessler, so it makes sense that Justice would devote more time to attacking him.
Goodwin himself has been airing a few positive ads, but he went after Justice on the air days ago. Kessler's minute-long ad stars Judy Jones Peterson, the sister of a man who died at one of coal magnate Don Blankenship's mines. Peterson praises the job Goodwin and his team did in prosecuting Blankenship and says that she doesn't understand why Justice is attacking his work on the case. Peterson adds that Justice "of all people as a coal mining operator should understand the plight of coal miners, but I think unfortunately that the plight he understands best is the plight of Don Blankenship." While Goodwin managed to secure a misdemeanor conviction against Blankenship over the deaths of 29 of his employees, the jury found Blankenship not guilty of three far more serious felony charges; Justice has been hitting Goodwin on the campaign trail for failing to get more convictions.
A mysterious group called Americans for Integrity In Government Officials also ran an ad against Justice in March, and they've recently returned to the airwaves with a $110,000 buy. Their commercial uses dash cam footage from an incident in late 2014 when Justice was pulled over for speeding and proceeded to berate the officer. The ad features Justice declaring, "I am a long way from being, you know, too big for the law, but you have got to be a total lunatic for what I do [inaudible], you have got to be crazy," with AIGO providing text of the conversation for the viewer. Justice's camp called for the ad to be pulled after the text added "what I do for this state" to the conversation; the group proceeded to make minor modifications. Whoever emerges from what is becoming a messy primary will face Republican state Senate President Bill Cole.
● IA-01: Cedar Rapids Councilor Monica Vernon is going up with her second TV spot ahead of the June Democratic primary. The commercial is narrated by Tom Miller, who has served as state attorney general since 1995 (and held the post from 1979 until his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1990). Miller calls Vernon "a strong Democrat who knows how to build a strong economy for the middle class."
Vernon is facing 2014 nominee Pat Murphy for the right to take on freshman Rob Blum, one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House. Vernon has a huge $775,000 to $88,000 cash-on-hand edge over Murphy as of the end of March, and few influential Democrats seem to want Murphy to be their standard bearer again. Over the summer, Murphy attacked Vernon, a former Republican, for only joining the Democratic Party in 2009, and Miller's line about her being "a strong Democrat" probably was included to counter that.
● IA-04: Several "investors loyal to presidential candidate Ted Cruz" recently announced that they had formed a super PAC to help Rep. Steve King fend off state Sen. Rick Bertrand in June's GOP primary. The group, Reignite Iowa, kicked off their efforts by unveiling a poll from Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research that shows that King has absolutely nothing to worry about. The survey, taken April 10 to 11, gives King a 68-16 lead against Bertrand in this reliably red western Iowa seat. This is certainly an unconventional way to encourage potential donors to give to Reignite Iowa.
● LA-03: Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle starts out with the most name recognition in the race for this safely red Acadiana seat, and his campaign is out with a poll arguing that he's crushing all of his many intra-party opponents. The Market Research Insight survey gives Angelle 56 percent of the vote in the November jungle primary, with none of his foes taking more than 8 percent of the vote each. If no one takes a majority, the top two vote-getters advance to a December runoff.
However, while none of the other contenders are exactly household names, some of them have the resources to get their name out. Lafayette Parish School Board member Erick Knezek and businessman Gus Rantz have both been self-funding their bids, and fellow businessman Greg Ellison also may be wealthy enough to bulk up his warchest. This poll argues that Angelle is well-liked enough to win a majority in November but even if that's true right now (and internal polls always need to be taken with a few grains of salt), that may change once more candidates start spending.
● PA-AG: President Barack Obama made a rare state-level endorsement in the Democratic primary to replace Kathleen Kane, and it paid off. On Tuesday, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro defeated Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala 47-37, with Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli taking 16. Shapiro will face Republican state Sen. John Rafferty in November. State and national Democrats see Shapiro as a rising star (Shapiro was unsuccessfully recruited to run for the Senate this cycle), so the GOP has a good incentive to work hard to defeat him.
● Deaths: On Thursday, ex-Montana GOP Sen. Conrad Burns died at the age of 81. Burns, the well-known founder of an agriculture radio and TV network, unseated Democratic incumbent John Melcher in 1988, giving the state GOP their first Senate victory since 1946. Burns easily won in 1994 but had an unexpectedly close call six years later against future-Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and Team Blue made him a top target in 2006.
While Burns had the advantage of running in a conservative state, his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff made him vulnerable. And while Burns had a reputation for folksiness, he had a also habit of saying the exact wrong thing at times. Perhaps most seriously for his political career, Burns confronted a group of out-of-state firefighters at an airport in the summer of 2006 and told them they had done a "piss-poor job" handling a blaze. Burns narrowly lost re-election to Jon Tester in a high-profile race.
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