The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● AL-Sen: In a stunning article published Thursday, the Washington Post reported that in 1979, Alabama Republican Roy Moore had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl named Leigh Corfman when he was 32; then as now, such contact would be punishable as a sexual offense under state law (though the statute of limitations has since run out). Now an adult, Corfman says she had kept silent for years until the Post approached her, saying that she could no longer "sit back and let this continue, let him continue without the mask being removed." The Post also spoke with three other women who say Moore pursued them when they were aged 16 to 18 and he was in his early 30s; while flattered as teenagers, they expressed serious concern now, with one calling Moore's behavior "disgusting."
The bombshell revelations prompted panicked D.C. Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to call on Moore to drop out of next month's special election for the U.S. Senate, though nearly all qualified their demands by adding Moore should only do so, as McConnell put it, "[i]f these allegations are true." The number two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, went even further, declaring, "I'm interested in seeing what substantiation there is for the story." It's hard to imagine, though, what sort of evidence these Republicans would accept, short of a confession from Moore himself—and one is most certainly not forthcoming.
Moore not only denied all wrongdoing, and not only sought to turn this into a conspiracy by calling the news "a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post," he also went ahead and started fundraising off the scandal, blaming the "Obama-Clinton Machine's liberal media lapdogs" and saying "the forces of evil are on the march in our country." In an era when Republicans reflexively reject anything they don't like as "fake news," this is probably an effective tactic, at least with a certain segment of the population.
Indeed, some of Moore's fellow Republicans, especially those in Alabama, are already taking this line. Secretary of State John Merrill suggested he thought it was suspicious that these allegations only surfaced shortly before Election Day, and specifically wondered why a D.C. outlet—and not an Alabama publication—broke the story. Meanwhile, some others are just outright defending Moore's behavior. State Auditor Jim Zeigler offered the most eye-popping defense, saying, "[T]ake Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."
And it doesn't seem like the GOP has any good options even if Moore did want to quit (which would be utterly out of character for him). By far the best analysis of Alabama's relevant election laws comes from law professor Derek Muller, who explains that Moore cannot be replaced on the ballot because candidates must withdraw at least 76 days before an election (the Dec. 12 special election is just a month off), and election officials have already printed ballots and sent them to absentee voters.
Not only that, if Moore were to pull out, state law says that any votes cast for him would not be certified, essentially making it as though "there were no candidate at all," according to Muller. That would hand the race to Democrat Doug Jones by default. Conceivably, someone like Sen. Luther Strange (whom Moore defeated in the September primary) could wage a write-in campaign, but that might risk splitting the Republican vote between Moore-haters and those convinced he's the victim of a left-wing plot. For what it's worth, Strange says he wants to "do some more research," but it's already been done—it's write-in or bust.
The GOP's one desperation shot would be to convince a judge to allow them to replace Moore despite what the law says. That hope's not without precedent: Muller cites the 2002 case of Bob Torricelli, the embattled Democratic senator who dropped his re-election bid after New Jersey's deadline; the state Supreme Court ultimately permitted Democrats to swap in then-retired Sen. Frank Lautenberg instead, in the name of providing voters with a proper choice in the election.
But there, Democrats succeeded in pressuring "The Torch" to stand down. It's unlikely, to say the least, that Republicans will be able to convince Moore to do the same. After all, this is the guy who was twice booted from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying the law. The real question is, will this be enough to sink Moore's hopes of victory? In a sane world, this would go without saying, but post-morality Republican voters may just convince themselves that even these sins don't matter. Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale spoke with one county GOP chair, Jerry Pow, who made it clear that they don't: "I would vote for Judge Moore because I wouldn't want to vote for Doug," he said. "I'm not saying I support what he did." Oh, but vote for Moore and you do.
● PA-Sen: On Thursday, businessman Jeff Bartos announced that he was dropping out of the GOP Senate primary and would instead run for lieutenant governor as an ally of state Sen. Scott Wagner. (In Pennsylvania, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries, but the nominees are paired together on the general election ticket.) Bartos had done some self-funding for his Senate campaign and had $1 million in the bank at the end of September, but he never looked like a particularly strong candidate.
Rep. Lou Barletta is the frontrunner to face Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, though self-funding businessman Paul Addis had $881,000 on-hand at the end of September. But Barletta is an ardent Trump ally while Addis volunteered that he didn't vote for Trump and thinks the GOP "has lost its way," so this may be a very one-sided primary no matter how much of his own money Addis throws down.
● TN-Sen: Ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen has been heavily courted to run for this open seat by national Democrats, and we may not need to wait for his decision much longer. The Tennessean's Joey Garrison writes that Bredesen is "expected to take a few days to consider next steps and make a decision before Thanksgiving."
● CO-Gov, CO-04: Suburban Denver District Attorney George Brauchler's bid for the GOP nomination for governor has been going badly, but he may have an escape hatch. While there'd been rumors that Brauchler could run for attorney general if GOP incumbent Cynthia Coffman runs for governor, Brauchler had always denied them … that is, until Coffman actually announced on Wednesday that she was, in fact, running for governor. Hours later, Brauchler's campaign acknowledged that people had asked him to switch races, and they say he's considering it. Brauchler so far has raised very little money and he recently announced that he wouldn't even hire a new campaign manager for the rest of the year after the last one quit, so he really doesn't have much to lose by dropping down.
Meanwhile, another Colorado Republican has made it clear that he will not be running to replace Coffman. Rep. Ken Buck, who represents a safely red seat, confirmed that he'd seek re-election despite the attorney general's post opening up. Buck had expressed interest in running for attorney general over the summer, and while he backtracked in September, he didn't quite rule out the idea until now.
● CT-Gov: We hadn't previously heard Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin mentioned much as a possible Democratic candidate for governor, and he doesn't seem very interested in any case. Bronin didn't quite foreclose a bid this week, but he came close, telling the Hartford Courant , "Right now I don't expect that that's something I'm going to do," and adding that he still has "a lot of work left to do" in Hartford. The city has been in dire financial shape for years and Bronin has been focused on dealing with the crisis, so he's not kidding when he says he has his hands full at home.
● NH-Gov: Democrat Colin Van Ostern, who left the state's Executive Council to run for governor last year, lost what was an open seat race to Republican Chris Sununu by a tight 49-47 margin. Back in September, Van Ostern only said he was focused on the state's 2017 elections when he was asked about his interest in a rematch. Now that Election Day has come and gone, WMUR's John DiStaso writes that unnamed "sources familiar with Van Ostern's thinking" tell him that that Van Ostern "continues to seriously consider making a second run for governor, with a decision expected in early 2018." Van Ostern opened up a political campaign committee on Wednesday with the stated purpose of "support[ing] state issues and candidates who are moving New Hampshire forward," but committee could also be used for organizing and fundraising for a second gubernatorial bid.
Several Democrats have talked about challenging Sununu, but the only one who has jumped in so far is former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, who lost the 2016 primary to Van Ostern 51-25. While New Hampshire is often very volatile politically, it tends to be a lot more understanding when it comes to first-term governors. Since the 1920s, the only governor to be denied a second two-year term is Republican Craig Benson, who narrowly lost in 2004. Polling is limited here, but the University of New Hampshire gave Sununu a strong 61-15 approval rating last month. UNH is one of our least-favorite pollsters, but it would be remarkable if even they were so far off base as to say Sununu is this popular if he's not.
● NY-Gov: Well, we won't have Rob Astorino to kick around anymore. Two days after Astorino lost re-election as Westchester County executive by a 57-43 margin to Democrat George Latimer, his office confirmed that he would not seek the GOP nod to challenge Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Astorino was Team Red's nominee for governor in 2014 and lost 54-40; earlier this year, he didn't rule out another try, though several other Republicans have also expressed interest in taking on Cuomo. The governor's political network reportedly decided to go after Astorino this year, and they seem to have gotten exactly what they wanted.
● PA-Gov: State House Speaker Mike Turzai is infamous for always talking about running for higher office but never going for it, and Republicans have suspected for months that he'd stay out of the primary to take on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. We shouldn't need to wait much longer before finding out, with Turzai's consultant saying, "By the time people sit down for their Thanksgiving celebration, it will be clear what he intends to do and how he intends to approach it." That's a relief, because we here at DKE World Headquarters can't imagine having a good Thanksgiving dinner while wondering about what Mike Turzai intends to do and how he intends to approach it.
● VA-Gov: The Wrap's headline just sums up this hilarious story perfectly: "Ed Gillespie Changed His Birthday on Twitter to Have Balloons on Election Day—But Then Lost." Gillespie's actual birthday is Aug. 1. And yes, the balloons continued all night even after Gillespie conceded.
● CA-39: Navy veteran Gil Cisneros got his second endorsement from a Southern California Democratic House member this week, with Rep. Grace Napolitano joining Rep. Nanette Barragan in his corner. Cisneros is one of several Democrats challenging longtime GOP Rep. Ed Royce in a competitive suburban seat.
● FL-26: This week, Rep. Lois Frankel endorsed businesswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo in a nearby South Florida seat. So far, Mucarsel-Powell has the Democratic primary to herself.
● HI-01: State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim formed a campaign committee with the FEC a little while ago, and this week, she announced that she would indeed seek the Democratic nod for this open seat in Honolulu. Kim ran here in 2014 when Rep. Colleen Hanabusa left to run for the Senate, and she initially began the race as the frontrunner. However, Kim had voted against legalizing same-sex marriage in 2013, which did not please progressives, as did her remarks during the campaign when she said she wanted Hawaii to obtain an exemption from Obamacare. Kim ended up losing the primary 44-28 to Mark Takei, who went on to win the general election but died of cancer last year during his first term.
Despite her loss, Kim still doesn't seem to have much interest in placating progressives. In fact, she referred to "the progressives" as a group from which she considers herself distinct, saying, "I don't believe that my interest and what I represent is very different from that of the progressives. We all want what's best for the working families, for the disadvantaged, for our students, our keiki [children]. It's a matter of how we go about getting this done." So far, the only other Democrat who has announced for this dark blue seat, which Hillary Clinton carried 61-31, is state Rep. Kaniela Ing, but several others are interested. Attorney General Doug Chin has said little about his plans, but his potential candidacy may be a factor for other would-be Democratic candidates.
● NH-01: Chris Pappas, a member of New Hampshire's five-person Executive Council, announced on Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nod for this open swing seat. Pappas, whose family runs a prominent local restaurant, the Puritan Backroom, is considered a rising star in state Democratic politics, and he's been talked about as a potential candidate for this seat (or for governor) for a while. Last cycle, though, Pappas ended up deferring to Carol Shea-Porter, who won back this district and then announced she would retire in October.
Several other Democrats are already running, though Pappas looks like the most well-connected candidate. This seat, which includes Manchester and much of eastern New Hampshire, narrowly backed both Obama and Trump, and the GOP will want to make a play for it. However, the Republican candidates so far haven't raised much money for such a competitive seat.
● NJ-02: State Sen. Jeff Van Drew is the top choice for Democratic leaders for this suddenly open South Jersey seat, and unlike every cycle since 2006, he might actually go for it this time. Van Drew says he's leaning toward getting in and will likely make his decision before January.
● VA-06: On Thursday, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the powerful House Judiciary Committee, announced that he would not seek a fourteenth term in Virginia's 6th District, a safely red seat in the Shenandoah Valley. Like a number of his departing Republican colleagues, Goodlatte was serving the final term of his chairmanship, but he's only 65, so he likely could have hung around a bit longer and acquired another good post in Congress had he felt like it. However, while most retiring Republicans have denied that dealing with Trump has made Congress a less appealing place, it'd be naïve to imagine that he's not affecting their considerations. It's also worth noting that Goodlatte's announcement came just two days after Democrats romped to victory in his home state.
In any case, Democrats won't miss Goodlatte when he leaves. As Judiciary chair, Goodlatte remained obsessed with investigating Hillary Clinton even after Trump became president, and he also opposed any attempt to update the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted a key portion of it in 2013. Goodlatte also caused a big headache for his own party early this year when he successfully pushed the GOP caucus to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics of its independence in a closed-door meeting. Once the plan became public, the House leadership quickly reversed course and killed Goodlatte's plan, but only after an enormous outcry that made the GOP look like corrupt bumblers.
Goodlatte has always sailed to victory in the 6th District, which includes Roanoke, Lynchburg, and much of the Shenandoah Valley. This seat supported Mitt Romney by a 60-40 margin and Trump by an even wider 60-35 spread, and according to Miles Coleman, Republican Ed Gillespie carried it 60-39 on Tuesday even as he was losing 54-45 statewide. However, while it's likely that plenty of Republicans will eye this race, it's not clear how the party will select its nominee. In Virginia, the parties can nominate their candidates through a traditional state-run primary, a party convention, or a so-called "firehouse primary" conducted by the party itself, where voters have just a few hours to cast ballots at a limited number of polling places. The head of the local GOP says they'll decide how they'll pick their nominee in January, and added that they've preferred conventions in the past.
And following Goodlatte's announced, two Republicans swiftly jumped in to succeed him, Del. Ben Cline and Republican National Committeewoman Cynthia Dunbar. Cline served as a top aide to Goodlatte before he launched his own political career and is most notable for twice introducing bills to defund Virginia Planned Parenthood Clinics, though Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has blocked these efforts with his veto pens. Some conservative activists had tried to recruit Cline to run against Sen. Mark Warner in 2014, but Cline passed on what looked like an extremely longshot bid. The National Journal's Ben Pershing says that Cline is respected by fellow Republicans in the state capitol, so he may be the sort of well-connected insider who could do well at a GOP convention.
Dunbar, meanwhile, is a former law professor at Liberty University, a bastion for the religious right that is located in this district in Lynchburg, but she's also a somewhat recent arrival to the state. Dunbar successfully ran for the Texas Board of Education in 2006, and while she was on the board, she wrote a book arguing that the founding fathers didn't actually believe in separation of church and state and insisting that "[t]he biblical worldview, or the mindset that is based upon a clear application of scripture, understands that the civil government is to have no involvement or jurisdiction over the realm of benevolence or aid to the poor." Dunbar later ran for Texas' 22nd Congressional District in 2008 and took just 4 percent of the vote in a crowded primary.
Dunbar retired from the board in 2010 and became the head of a right-wing educational book company called Momentum Instruction. In 2015, Momentum published an infamous textbook called Mexican American Heritage that attracted a national firestorm for passages such as one claiming that Chicanos "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society." Read another, "Stereotypically, Mexicans were viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers" and "it was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem."
Dunbar defended the textbook, arguing that most of the concerns were just from a revised draft copy. However, the Texas Board of Education voted unanimously last year to reject it; Dunbar unpersuasively told her old colleagues that voting against the textbook would be "unconstitutional." Dunbar has served as an RNC member from Virginia since 2016.
There are plenty of other Republicans, though, who could also run here, and Roll Call's Simone Pathé name-drops state Sens. Mark Obenshain and Steve Newman as possible contenders. Obenshain is best known as the GOP's 2013 nominee for attorney general, when he narrowly lost to Democrat Mark Herring by just 907 votes in a recount. (Interestingly, Dunbar beat Obenshain's wife in race for her RNC position.) Pathé also mentions retired surgeon Nancy Dye as a possible candidate. Dye ran for the state Senate in a competitive race against vulnerable Democratic incumbent John Edwards in 2015 and lost 51-43. It's not clear yet if any of this trio is interested.
● WA-08: EMILY's List, a prominent group dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women, has endorsed pediatrician Kim Schrier in this open swing seat. Schrier faces several other Democrats in the top-two for this suburban Seattle district, while outgoing state Sen. Dino Rossi has the GOP side to himself right now.
● Pennsylvania: Democrats are targeting three competitive congressional seats in the Philadelphia suburbs next year, and Tuesday's local election results should give them some very good reasons for optimism. The most startling result came in Chester County, where Democrats unseated GOP incumbents in the races for treasurer, controller, coroner, and clerk of courts. According to party officials, the last time Democrats won these offices was in 1799 … and we're talking about Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans.
Chester County is mostly located in the 6th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Ryan Costello (a former Chester County commissioner) won re-election against a weak Democratic challenger 57-43 as Clinton was winning his seat 48.2-47.6. Large portions of Chester are also located in the 7th District, a 49-47 Clinton seat held by Republican Rep. Pat Meehan, and the 16th District, where freshman Rep. Lloyd Smucker is more of a longshot target.
Local Democrats also had an unusually great night in Bucks County, which makes up the bulk of GOP freshman Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick's 8th District. Democrats won the offices of county sheriff, prothonotary, recorder of deeds, and controller on Tuesday, and it it's been more than 30 years since Democrats won any countywide office in Bucks other than commissioner. Fitzpatrick, the brother of outgoing Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, won an expensive open seat race 54-46 last year, running well ahead of Trump's 48.2-48.0 win.
Delaware County has been a reliably blue area in presidential races for years, but local Republicans have still done well down-ballot here. However, Democrats also scored a historic win in Delaware on Tuesday when they beat a Republican in a county council election for the first time ever—in fact, they beat two! (The GOP still maintains a three-to-two edge on the council overall.) Delaware is mostly located in Meehan's 7th District, with a portion in the safely blue 1st.
One of the challenges Democrats have had in the Philadelphia suburbs for a long time is winning over voters who back Democrats in presidential races but vote Republican down the ballot. Team Blue seemed to break through in 2006 as George W. Bush's unpopularity dragged down the GOP, allowing Democrats to flip the old versions of the 7th and 8th (though then-Rep. Jim Gerlach defied them in the 6th). However, the 2010 wave gave the GOP their lost seats back, and the Republican legislature proceeded to make the 6th and 7th considerably redder in redistricting (the 8th mostly was left alone).
Democrats hope that Trump's unpopularity will give them a shot at all three seats again even against well-funded Republican incumbents, just as Bush's did more than a decade ago. The fact that Democrats have now won local offices that stayed red even through the Bush era is at least a good sign that voters are not only angry with national Republicans, but that they're also ready to punish the entire party. And if voters are really taking out their rage at Trump on Republican coroners, prothonotaries, and recorders of deeds, GOP congressmen have a lot to worry about.
● PA Redistricting: On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced it would hear a lawsuit challenging the state's Republican-drawn congressional map as an illegal partisan gerrymander. A GOP-dominated lower court had previously stayed the suit, but plaintiffs appealed to the high court, whose Democratic majority has now expedited the proceedings and given the lower court a deadline of Dec. 31 to issue a ruling. If the courts strikes down this map, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf could veto any replacement GOP plans, forcing the courts to draw nonpartisan districts in time for the 2018 midterms and presenting Democrats with opportunities for major gains.
As shown in this map, the GOP's brazenly tortured lines have produced a stable 13-to-5 Republican congressional majority in what is otherwise an evenly divided swing state. That Republican advantage persisted even when Obama carried Pennsylvania by 5 points—and Democratic House candidates won more votes statewide than Republicans—in 2012, and it held fast in 2016 when Trump narrowly won the state. As we have demonstrated, the GOP's map likely cost Democrats up to four seats in both 2016 and 2012, making it one of the most effective Republican gerrymanders nationally.
The plaintiffs in this suit have pointed to several statistical tests to argue that Republicans could not have possibly passed the map that they did without intending to favor their own party. These tests include the "efficiency gap," which is at the center of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case regarding Wisconsin, as well as one called the "mean-median district test," both of which we have previously explained in detail. The plaintiffs have also put forth computer-simulated nonpartisan plans to buttress their claim that any efforts by mapmakers to adhere to traditional redistricting criteria alone (like geographical compactness of individual districts) were statistically unlikely to produce such a GOP-friendly map.
Most importantly, this lawsuit is relying on state constitutional protections for voters based on freedom of association and equal protection. While the various statistical tests have yet to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down partisan gerrymanders for violating the federal constitution, it would have limited latitude to override the state high court's interpretation of Pennsylvania's own constitution in this matter. Democrats gained a crucial majority on the state Supreme Court in 2015, and while that's no guarantee of victory, it gives plaintiffs a much stronger chance of a favorable ruling against GOP gerrymandering.
● Statehouse Action: This Week in Statehouse Action: The Old Dominion Strikes Back edition highlights Virginia results and other major Democratic wins, the latest terribleness from Grand Moff LePage, scum and villainy in Nevada, and more!
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