● VA-Gov: On Tuesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed ex-Rep. Tom Perriello in the competitive June 13 primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. While Sanders did not do well in last year's Virginia presidential primary, his backing could help Perriello raise money from the senator's huge financial network, and gives Perriello the chance to earn more attention with two months to go before Election Day.
Candidate filing closed last week for the primary, and as expected, the Democratic contest will be a duel between Perriello and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. While Sanders' endorsement makes it easy to portray this as a race between the Democratic establishment and an outsider, or as a straight up proxy-fight between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Sanders, we've noted before that this primary is really more complicated than that.
Northam does indeed have the support of plenty of influential state Democrats, including McAuliffe and Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. However, Perriello endeared himself to prominent Obama supporters during his one term in the House from 2009 to 2010 for siding with the administration on several tough votes despite representing a conservative seat in southern Virginia. Perriello also went on to serve in the State Department as a special envoy to Africa.
In addition to Sanders, Perriello is backed by David Plouffe, who served as Obama's 2008 campaign manager and remains part of the former president's political network, and John Podesta, a longtime D.C. presence who most recently was Clinton's campaign chair. It's more accurate to describe the primary as a contest between Northam and the Virginia Democratic establishment on one side, and Perriello and influential national Democrats on the other. Still, it's not even that clear-cut: For instance, McAuliffe is a former Democratic National Committee chair who still plays a prominent role in national party politics. Polls show a tight race, but with most voters undecided with more than two months to go.
The GOP field is also finally set, and there were no surprises before filing day. Ex-Republican National Committee head Ed Gillespie, who lost a surprisingly tight 2014 Senate race against Warner, will face state Sen. Frank Wagner and Corey Stewart, the head of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Gillespie is essentially the epitome of the national GOP establishment, while Stewart is an ardent Donald Trump supporter. However, while Stewart would love to frame this as a battle between a guy who was with The Donald from the beginning against the D.C. GOP establishment that so many Trump fans despise, Stewart himself was sacked as head of Trump's state campaign last year for staging an unwelcome protest outside the RNC.
Stewart is waging a nasty Trump-style campaign, but he has very little money and is far behind in the polls. Wagner has been running a more quiet campaign than Stewart, but he also hasn't been a fundraising dynamo, and he's also trailing Gillespie in the polls. Plenty of voters remain undecided in this primary as well, but Gillespie looks like he's the only candidate who will have the resources to get his message out in the next two months.
● CO-Gov: Mike Johnston (D): $625,000 raised
● IL-Gov: Ameya Pawar (D): $325,000 raised; Daniel Biss (D): $314,000 raised, $1.5 million cash-on-hand
● CA-31: Pete Aguilar (D-inc): $500,000 raised, $1.3 million cash-on-hand
● CA-49: Darrell Issa (R-inc): $350,000 raised
● GA-06: Karen Handel (R): $463,000 raised (in seven weeks), $183,000 cash-on-hand
● IN-Sen: Sen. Joe Donnelly is likely one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in 2018 after Donald Trump won Indiana by a punishing 56-37 margin, but he has yet to draw a high-profile opponent in his bid for a second term. Attorney Mark Hurt appears to be the first Republican to throw his hat into the ring, but it's unclear whether Hurt, who once did work advising former GOP Sen. Dan Coats, has the connections to mount a serious race. Among the more well-known Republicans, Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita have both said that they're thinking about challenging Donnelly, while several other Republican officeholders are potential candidates too.
● ME-Sen: Just days after he formed an exploratory committee, GOP state Sen. Eric Brakey announced on Tuesday that he would challenge Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Brakey, who will turn 30 a few months before Election Day, was Ron Paul's state director in 2012, when Paul came close to winning the state caucus. Brakey unseated a Democratic incumbent two years later and was Rand Paul's state chair in 2016. (The younger Paul's campaign died long before that year's Maine caucus.) Brakey debuted with a pretty obnoxious video that begins with a narrator declaring, "Down in D.C., there's a king." With such clever wordplay, how can Brakey lose?
While Trump almost won Maine, King doesn't look especially vulnerable. GOP Gov. Paul LePage has been flirting with a Senate bid for years and if he gets in, Brakey probably won't have an easy time beating him. Of course, there's never any telling what LePage will do.
● GA-Gov: When Republican Lynn Westmoreland announced that he was retiring from the House last year, he immediately acknowledged he was considering a 2018 run for governor. Westmoreland hasn't taken the plunge yet, and while he isn't ruling anything out, he doesn't sound particularly enthusiastic about a campaign.
In a recent interview, Westmoreland said he's "not ready to make that decision," and added that while "[e]verybody wants to get people committed. But at the same time, I'm not ready. The stars just haven't aligned for me to be able to do that. I'm happy. I am really and truly happy." Westmoreland also noted how he didn't miss fundraising while in Congress, adding that, "when you spend a day a week trying to raise money, it's not fun." A gubernatorial campaign would certainly require a lot more of that anti-fun activity, and Westmoreland doesn't seem to have an appetite for it. The good news is if Westmoreland is done with politics, he'll finally have the time to memorize the Ten Commandments.
● NH-Gov: We may get a full-fledged reunion tour for the 2016 Democratic gubernatorial primary next year. Mark Connolly, a former state securities regulator, says that while he doesn't "have any plans to run for governor," he'll consider after the state budget is done. Connolly's last bid didn't exactly go well, though. In 2016, he lost the primary to then-Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, the establishment favorite, by a brutal 51-20, while ex-Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand took 25. Connolly did not endear himself to us during that campaign, either. Over a year after Connolly's old frat at Dartmouth College, Alpha Delta, was booted from campus for a hazing ritual where pledges were branded, Connolly sent out a fundraising email to his fraternity brothers calling for Alpha Delta to be reinstated.
A few days ago, Marchand
expressed interest in announced a second bid for governor. Van Ostern, who narrowly lost last year's general to Republican Chris Sununu, so far hasn't said if he's also thinking about a second run. However, Van Ostern hasn't exactly kept a low profile since the election. A few weeks ago, Van Ostern was at a phone bank organized by Save the Children Action Network to advocate for Concord to expand its all-day kindergarten. Van Ostern also still seems to be active in local Democratic politics, and he recently used his email list to fundraise for Manchester mayoral candidate Joyce Craig. That doesn't mean Van Ostern is considering a rematch with Sununu, but it's definitely the type of thing that candidates do to maintain connections with the party faithful between elections.
● NJ-Gov: On Monday, candidate filing closed for the June 6 primary to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Chris Christie, and there were no surprises for either party.
On the Democratic side, ex-Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive backed by New Jersey's powerful party establishment, continues to look like the clear frontrunner. Murphy will face ex-Undersecretary of the Treasury Jim Johnson; state Sen. Ray Lesniak; Assemblyman John Wisniewski; and Tenafly Councilor Mark Zinna. Murphy is very wealthy and well-connected, and will have little trouble spending money in this very expensive state. Both Johnson and Wisniewski did raise the $400,000 minimum they needed to qualify for the state's two-for-one matching funds, though. Under this system, candidates receive $2 for every $1 they raise, but they're not allowed to spend more than $6.4 million in the primary. Lesniak conceded weeks ago that he would not raise nearly enough money to qualify for matching funds, while Zinna has barely registered in this race at all.
With Christie posting horrific approval ratings, the GOP nomination may not be an incredibly valuable prize. Still, there's a contested primary, with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli looking like the only credible candidates; both have qualified for matching funds. In New Jersey, counties can select a candidate to run on their county line, which gives them a prominent place at the top of the county's primary ballot. While Murphy earned all 21 county lines in the Democratic primary, the GOP side has been more competitive. Guadagno won 14 county endorsements, including in voter-rich Bergen, Monmouth, and Ocean. However, Ciattarelli did score some wins, which could allow him to get his name out.
● SC-Gov: Republican Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster became governor of South Carolina earlier this year after Nikki Haley left to serve as Donald Trump's UN ambassador. However, McMaster will still need to win next year's primary if he wants to keep his new job, and he picked up a credible opponent this week. Ex-state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Templeton, who made a name for herself with conservatives by fighting unions across the country, declared that she would run on Tuesday.
Templeton originally planned to kick off her bid in January for what she assumed would be the race to succeed the termed-out Haley, but after McMaster became governor, she postponed her announcement. In the end, though, she decided to go for it, hours after GOP Sen. Tim Scott said it was very unlikely he would join the contest.
Scott told The Post and Courier that he could "best serve the people of South Carolina in the office that I was elected to, and if something changes, there will be a clear indication." Scott later elaborated that this "clear indication" presents itself in the form of "an audible voice from God." Scott is high-profile enough that he may be able to enter the race late if he changes his mind, but it doesn't sound like he's inclined to. Still, we'll be listening, too.
There's also a third candidate in the primary, Yancey McGill, a party-switching former Democratic state senator who briefly served as lieutenant governor in 2014 and announced he would run last year. McMaster's promotion doesn't appear to have altered McGill's plans, though he doesn't seem like a major foe. However, he could still have an impact even if he only takes a small share of the vote, because South Carolina requires primary candidates to win a majority in order to avoid a runoff.
And it won't be easy for Templeton (or McGill) to convince a majority of primary voters that, now that McMaster is governor, they should go ahead and fire him. Still, an unfolding corruption investigation involving McMaster's longtime allies could make things interesting. The State recently reported that agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division raided the offices of a powerful Republican consulting firm called Richard Quinn & Associates a few weeks ago. No charges have been filed against owner Richard Quinn or anyone else from his group. But last month, an influential GOP state senator, John Courson, was indicted for allegedly using contributions from the Quinn group for his personal use.
If things could get worse, it could hurt McMaster at the ballot box. McMaster is very close to Quinn, keeping the firm on as consultants throughout all this. And they go back a long way: RQ&A helped McMaster salvage his 2000 re-election campaign as South Carolina Republican Party chair. The party was in bad financial shape, but just before the vote, RQ&A and another firm contributed a total of $85,000 to the GOP's coffers. The party then released letters showing it had plenty of money in the bank, and McMaster won another term. But just days before the vote, the money was all wired back in secret—information that didn't come out until long after the election.
If RQ&A earns some more ugly headlines, Templeton will have a much easier time portraying McMaster as a part of a corrupt establishment that needs to go—and that could make for a competitive primary where, just a couple of months ago, we weren't expecting one at all.
● GA-06: On Tuesday, we got two different polls of the April 18 all-party primary, and they both show Democrat Jon Ossoff in the low 40s, a bit away from the majority he needs to win this seat outright without a June runoff. The progressive activist group MoveOn has released a new poll from Lake Research, making this the first survey we've seen from the Democratic side. MoveOn's poll finds Ossoff, whom they endorsed last month, leading the way with 40 percent of the vote, while Republican Karen Handel is second with 18 and 19 percent are undecided (no other candidate breaks out of single digits). And in a hypothetical runoff matchup, Ossoff and Handel are tied at 45.
A new SurveyUSA poll for local TV station WXIA finds similar results, with Ossoff at 43 and Handel at 15. The race for second place is a lot tighter here, though, with Republican Bob Gray at 14 (Gray took just 7 in MoveOn's poll). Handel, a former state secretary of state who is the nominal establishment favorite, claimed to WXIA that "her internal polling shows her beating her Republican counterparts by double digits," but she declined to actually share it, so perhaps Gray, who has the backing of the Club for Growth, can overtake her.
While on one level both these polls are positive—Ossoff is in front—it's still somewhat surprising that MoveOn would want to release their survey. In recent days, all the chatter has been about the possibility that Ossoff could clear 50 percent in the primary and avoid a second round—something Republicans are openly fretting about. But Lake's data suggests Ossoff is quite a ways away from scoring a first-round knockout, especially since those undecideds are apt to lean Republican, given this district's demographics. SurveyUSA's poll shows Ossoff in better shape, but still quite a bit away from a majority with two weeks to go.
Still, we have relatively little polling to go on, and the influx of GOP money indicates some real worry. Between the NRCC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, Republicans are now reportedly spending over $4 million to try and stop Ossoff. That speaks at least as loud as any surveys.
● IL-03: Marketing consultant Marie Newman said last month that she'd formed an exploratory committee to examine a primary challenge against conservative Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, and now she's taken a step further and filed paperwork (a so-called "statement of candidacy") with the FEC. For progressives eager to take another shot at the recalcitrant Lipinski, a bid by Newman would be welcome indeed. Illinois' 3rd Congressional District, located in the Chicago suburbs, voted for Hillary Clinton 55-40, so it could easily host a much better Democrat than the current incumbent. (Hat-tip: Greg Giroux)
● MN-01: Democratic Rep. Tim Walz recently announced a run for governor, and several names from both parties have surfaced as possible candidates to succeed him. This southern Minnesota district backed Trump by a daunting 53-38 spread, but it has historically been relatively swingy at the presidential level. Morning Take now reports that Republican state Rep. Joe Schomacker is considering a bid, but there's no word from Schomacker himself. Thus far, Democratic state Sen. Nick Frentz, Olmsted County Republican Party Chair Aaron Miller, and GOP state Rep. Nels Pierson have all previously said that they're considering it, while 2014 and 2016 Republican nominee Jim Hagedorn is already in the race.
● MN-07: Longtime Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson's 7th District in western Minnesota is by far Trump's best House district that Democrats hold, having favored him by a brutal 62-31 edge after Mitt Romney won it by a smaller 54-44 margin in 2012. Despite spending less than $20,000, veritable some dude Dave Hughes held Peterson to just a 52-47 win in 2016, thanks largely to Trump's landslide there. Although Hughes previously announced he would seek a rematch in 2018, the district's red hue could help lure bigger-name Republican candidates into the race. Indeed, Morning Take recently reported that GOP state Rep. Tim Miller has "made the rounds in D.C." and is telling people that he is running, although Miller hasn't declared anything publicly yet.
Peterson is no stranger to running challenging races in what has long been a relatively Republican-leaning district, though. He faced a highly touted state senator in the Republican-favoring year of 2014, yet nonetheless prevailed 54-46. However, this district is overwhelmingly white, heavily rural, and has a relatively low share of voters with a college degree, making it prime Trump territory. Peterson himself hasn't even decided if he will run for a 15th term next year, and Democrats would be hard pressed to hold his seat if the 72-year-old retires. If Peterson does run again, he'll be a formidable candidate, but in an era of declining ticket-splitting, even he might not be able to escape his district's lean.
● MT-AL: Democrat Rob Quist has released his first TV ad for the May 25 special election for Montana's at-large congressional seat, and he hits exactly the themes you'd expect. "There's nearly 300 millionaires in Congress, but not one Montana folk singer," Quist says to viewers, in a jab at his uber-rich Republican rival, Greg Gianforte. He goes on: "After a career using my voice for the Montana we love, I will be a voice for you." Quist then vows to "defend public lands from private developers," fight on behalf of farmers and ranchers, and support "healthcare we can afford."
Meanwhile, Gianforte is also out with a second ad. In this spot, he complains about Washington, D.C. having "the highest incomes in America" (Republicans don't usually complain about people earning lots of money), saying that "D.C. insiders have rigged the system to cash in at your expense." Gianforte then says he wants to "drain the swamp" by instituting term limits, banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists, and withholding their paychecks unless they balance the budget. There's no word on the size of either ad buy.
● VA State House: Virginia's entire 100-member state House is up this fall. The GOP holds a huge 66 to 34 majority in the chamber, but Hillary Clinton carried 51 seats, including 17 GOP-held districts, and Old Dominion Democrats are hoping to make major gains this year. In 2015, 44 Republicans won their general elections without opposition. But according to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Democrats have at least one candidate in 82 seats this time as of last week's filing deadline. It's possible some of those remaining districts will have a candidate as well, since the party has until the June 13 primary to select a nominee for those currently-uncontested seats through other means.
● VA-LG: With Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam leaving this office behind to run for governor, both Republicans and Democrats are hosting three-way June 13 primaries to succeed him. Lieutenant governor races often don't earn much attention, but this contest is important for a few reasons. The GOP holds a small 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and the chamber will be up again in 2019. If Democrats can net just one district that year (or somehow take a seat before then in a special election or through a party switch), it will be up to the new lieutenant governor to break the tie and decide which party controls the chamber. This post is also a good launching pad for higher office: Aside from attorney general, Virginia doesn't have any other statewide elected offices besides governor and U.S. senator.
As we've noted before, the GOP contest is an utter shit show. To sum things up: State Sen. Bryce Reeves is accusing GOP primary rival and fellow state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, or at least someone close to her, of spreading false rumors insinuating that he had an affair with a campaign staffer. A third Republican, Del. Glenn Davis Jr., is running and has managed to stay out of this mess. The Democratic primary is far more sedate. The candidates are former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax, who lost the 2013 primary for attorney general to eventual winner Mark Herring 52-48; Gene Rossi, another former federal prosecutor; and Susan Platt, who served as Joe Biden's chief of staff in the Senate in the 1990s.
● VA-AG: In 2013, Democrat Mark Herring won the race to become attorney general by 907 votes in a contest that wasn't resolved for over a month. Herring decided early in his term to seek re-election rather than run for governor, and he faces no opposition for renomination. On the GOP side, attorney and first-time candidate John Adams is the only contender. Adams works for a prominent Richmond law firm and he used to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and as a lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, so it sounds like he has some connections.
Adams claims that the well-funded Republican Attorneys General Association has committed to spending between $2 million and $3 million on his race, and he may not be bluffing. Virginia is the one state that will elect an attorney general this year (in New Jersey, the governor appoints the AG), so it's not like there are other contests competing for RAGA's attention right now.
● Site News: Daily Kos Elections is beyond pleased to announce that Stephen Wolf has joined our team on a full-time basis! You're undoubtedly already familiar with his excellent work on redistricting, voting rights, and international elections, as well as his terrific maps and graphs (all home-made!), and now you'll be seeing even more. You can find Stephen on Twitter at @PoliticsWolf, and if you haven't already, you should sign up to receive his indispensable weekly Voting Rights Roundup. Welcome aboard, Stephen!
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.