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: How much does the NRSC want Roy Moore to just end his campaign? Politico reports that an internal poll for the committee, conducted Sunday and Monday, gives Democrat Doug Jones a stunning 51-39 lead. By contrast, an early October poll gave Moore a 53-37 edge, while a Nov. 6-7 survey, finished the day before the Washington Post first reported about Moore's predatory behavior, had the Republican up 51-42, suggesting the race had been tightening even before Moore's scandal burst loose.
Politico also writes that the NRSC tested how Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who used to hold this seat, might fare as a write-in candidate, and the results "were not favorable." The NRSC did not identify a pollster, and we're always suspicious when someone says they have poll numbers but won't say where they came from. However, we're inclined to take note of this polling despite the lack of a full disclosure simply because it runs so contrary to the ostensible interests of the group it was conducted for—though obviously the NRSC leaked this in a desperate attempt to pressure Moore.
But this is also is an occasion when we suspect that reality is not quite as bad as this apparently dire data makes it seem. Indeed, another poll indicates that Moore may not be as DOA as the national GOP seems to think (or maybe even hope) he is: The Republican firm Strategy Research, polling on behalf of a local Fox affiliate, gives Moore a 49-43 edge. Strategy Research's last three polls for media clients each gave Moore an 11-point lead, so this actually isn't much of a drop, all things considered. And knowing Moore, he'll readily choose to believe the numbers that look good for him while chalking up anything that looks bad as an establishment conspiracy.
And that establishment apparently still hasn't given up trying to find a way, any way, to have a Republican who isn't named Roy Moore in that Senate seat after the Dec. 12 general election. The Washington Examiner's David Drucker reports that "top Republicans in Washington" are considering asking appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who badly lost the September primary to Moore, to resign before the election. The thinking goes that Gov. Kay Ivey could then appoint someone to the seat and thus delay the special election until November of next year. However, Strange emphatically says he'll "serve [my term] out, serve the people of the state, try and get tax reform, and be the best senator I can be," and insists no one has talked to him about stepping down.
Yet even if Strange were to play ball, there's a good reason to suspect that local Republicans like Ivey would be a lot less accommodating. As the Montgomery Advertiser's Brian Lyman notes, Moore has a loyal base of Republican primary voters who are very much sticking with him through all of this. While the Mitch McConnells of the universe can safely plot against Moore from D.C., GOP leaders in Alabama actually have to fear the wrath of Moore’s fanatic fans—that is, the local leaders who aren't Moore fans themselves. State GOP chair Terry Lathan has even threatened to deny any Republicans who support someone other than Moore a place on future primary ballots, something the state party actually can do, so Republicans planning to run for office in Alabama have a lot of incentive to keep any disgust for Moore they may have to themselves.
Ivey in particular could be vulnerable if Moore's base decides she's conspiring against their man. Ivey only became governor in the spring when Robert Bentley resigned due to a sex scandal, and she faces several primary foes next year. The only poll we've seen was an Ivey internal that gave her a wide lead, but she could lose whatever edge she has if she takes part in a McConnell scheme to keep Moore out of the Senate. What's more, Alabama requires a runoff if no one takes a majority of the vote in a primary, so Ivey can't just sail through with a plurality. Still, we expect to hear about a whole lot more zany schemes to get a different Republican in that Senate seat over the next few weeks.
● AZ-Sen: Local GOP pollster OH Predictive Insights tests Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema against two prospective Republican foes and gives her narrow leads. Sinema edges Rep. Martha McSally, who is reportedly the favored candidate of the GOP establishment, 46-45. Sinema has a slightly larger 46-43 lead against ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is very much not the favorite of the GOP establishment. McSally reportedly has told her House colleagues that she'll run, but she has yet to publicly announce.
OH also takes a look at a hypothetical GOP primary and gives Ward a 42-34 lead over McSally. We've only seen a few other polls testing Ward against McSally, but Ward has led in all of them. However, Ward may have some name recognition left over from her 2016 primary bid against Sen. John McCain, where she lost 53-40, while the well-funded McSally has yet to run statewide. It's also worth noting that while OH tested a one-on-one fight between Ward and McSally, other Republicans will likely run here. Arizona Board of Regents member Jay Heiler, who is well-connected, has formed an exploratory committee, and plenty of others have expressed interest.
● TN-Sen: Andy Ogles, the former state head of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity chapter, announced on Wednesday that he was dropping out of the GOP primary. Ogles kicked off his primary bid against Sen. Bob Corker days before Corker decided to retire, but he never attracted much attention once this became an open seat race. The Koch political network never showed much interest in lining up behind Ogles after Corker bailed, and Ogles said on Wednesday that he didn't think he could raise enough money to compete against Rep. Marsha Blackburn and ex-Rep. Stephen Fincher.
● WV-Sen: On behalf of 35th PAC, a super PAC supporting Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, Fabrizio, Lee and Associates is out with a mid-October poll of the GOP primary. They give Morrissey a 40-34 lead against Rep. Evan Jenkins, with 26 percent undecided. The survey also gives Morrissey a 51-13 favorable rating with primary voters while Jenkins, who represents southern West Virginia, has a 39-5 score. This is the first poll we've seen of the primary to face Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
● MA-Gov, MA-Sen: Massachusetts Democrats haven't shown a whole lot of optimism about beating GOP Gov. Charlie Baker next year, and some prominent Democrats have even openly and vigorously praised him. A new poll from MassINC on behalf of the NPR affiliate WBUR won't give Baker's detractors much to celebrate, either. In a hypothetical general election matchup with Newtown Mayor Setti Warren, Baker leads 58-24. Baker also beats former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez and environmentalist Bob Massie 59-19 and 60-21, respectively. The survey gives Baker a 67-14 favorable rating, while most respondents have no option of the three Democratic candidates.
To put Baker's numbers in perspective, he posts even wider leads than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat whom only the most dedicated of Warren haters and the most bored of political writers think is vulnerable next year. MassInc gives Warren a 56-33 advantage over Beth Lindstrom, a former senior aide to Mitt Romney, and comparable edges against two other Republicans. Massachusetts is a very blue state, but it has a tendency to elect Republican governors to help counterbalance the rest of the Democratic-dominated state government.
● OH-Gov: Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has kept Ohio Democrats guessing for a over a year about whether he'll resign his post and come back home to run for governor, or stay in D.C. and prevent Trump from appointing a new CFPB who would undermine Cordray's work. Cordray seems to have made his choice, since on Wednesday, he announced he was resigning from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by the end of the month. Cordray did not mention his future plans, but it's unlikely that Cordray is departing from such a high-profile post before his term ends next summer just to spend more time with his family.
If Cordray jumps into the governor's race, he won't have the Democratic primary to himself. Former Rep. Betty Sutton, ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley have been running for months, while state Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill entered the contest in October despite previously saying he wouldn't run against Cordray. Additionally, talk show host Jerry Springer (yes, that Jerry Springer) and ex-Rep. Dennis Kucinich have left the door open to running. The current Democratic field hadn't raised much money during the first half of 2017, though it's unclear how much uncertainty about Cordray's plans deterred donors.
But while there have been rumors for months that some of the current Democratic candidates were interested in being Cordray's running mate or seeking another office if he ran, three of them very much made it clear that they were not going to defer to him. Both Whaley and Pillich said that by resigning from the CFPB, Cordray was handing Trump a huge win, an argument we're likely to hear a lot more of over the next few months. Schiavoni didn't go as far, but argued that Cordray "represents the same old recycled politician," while Schiavoni framed himself as someone new. However, O'Neill sounded a lot less firm about running, saying he wouldn't comment on the race "until I talk to my friend Richard Cordray. I would expect Rich will be calling me when he can."
The Republican Governor's Association has trained most of their fire on Cordray for months, a sign that he's the potential opponent they take the most seriously. The GOP also has their own crowded primary. Polls consistently show Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator who narrowly beat Cordray during the 2010 GOP wave, with a clear lead against Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and Rep. Jim Renacci.
● AZ-02: In addition to making it to the DCCC's Red to Blue list (see our House item below), ex-Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick also received an endorsement from Rep. Ruben Gallego, who represents a Phoenix seat.
● ID-01: This week, state Rep. Christy Perry announced she was joining the GOP primary for this safely red western Idaho seat. This has been a low energy race so far, with none of the Republican candidates having much money to spend. Ex-state Sen. Russ Fulcher, who has departing Rep. Raul Labrador's support, had $102,000 in the bank at the end of September, more than state Rep. Luke Malek and attorney David Leroy, a former lieutenant governor who narrowly lost the 1986 general election for governor.
● MA-03: The Democratic primary for this open Merrimack Valley seat has gotten even larger. Alexandra Chandler, a former Navy intelligence officer who has received national attention for talking about her experience as an openly-transgender woman in the military, announced she was in. If Chandler wins, she would be the first openly transgender member of Congress. Patrick Littlefield, a software businessman who recently left a post with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has also filed with the FEC, though he has not yet announced he's running. Plenty of other Democrats are running in what's already an expensive contest for this 58-35 Clinton seat.
● PA-09: While some reports indicated that he was interested in retiring, GOP Rep. Bill Shuster announced this week that he would seek another term in this safely red Altoona-area seat. Shuster chairs the powerful Transportation Committee, but he will need to give up his gavel next year due to intra-party term limits. Several other termed-out chairs have decided to retire this cycle, and it's actually a bit surprising to see Shuster not join their ranks.
Back in 2014, Shuster took just 53 percent of the vote in his primary. Two other Republicans split the rest of the vote, so Shuster didn't come close to losing renomination, but 2016 was another story. In a one-on-one match with businessman Art Halvorson, who ran underfunded campaigns in 2014 and 2016, Shuster won just 50.6-49.4. No notable Republicans have made noises about challenging Shuster this cycle (no, this dude does not qualify as notable), but after his last few weak showings, he shouldn't count on a smooth primary.
● TX-05: While state Rep. Dan Flynn was mentioned as a possible candidate for this safely red seat, he announced this week that he would run for re-election instead.
● VA-06: On Tuesday, Del. Steve Landes announced that he would stay out of the GOP race for this heavily red Shenandoah Valley seat. Landes said a few days ago that retiring Rep. Bob Goodlatte had encouraged him to run.
● House: On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is the official party organization devoted to electing Democrats to the House, unveiled the first round of its "Red to Blue" program for the 2018 election cycle, highlighting key races where the committee thinks it has the strongest chance of picking up seats from Republicans next year. The full list of candidates making the DCCC's initial roster are below:
Most of these choices are precisely what you'd expect, since they're top-tier candidates running in competitive GOP-held districts, along with one important defensive priority in Nevada's 3rd District. Perhaps the most interesting selection is Dan McCready, an Iraq veteran and executive at a solar energy firm, given that North Carolina's 9th District wasn't close on the presidential level in either of the last two elections. But McCready raised much more money in the last fundraising quarter than his GOP opponent, Rep. Robert Pittenger, who is also dealing with a serious primary challenge for the second cycle in a row. As for Paul Davis, the other candidate in a deep red seat, he actually carried Kansas' 2nd District when he (unsuccessfully) ran for governor in 2014, so Democrats are hoping for a repeat, especially since this seat is now open.
But while most of these hopefuls are the only serious contenders running in their respective races, a few are involved in contested primaries: Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona's 2nd District, Jason Crow in Colorado's 6th, and Abby Finkenauer in Iowa's 1st. Kirkpatrick's inclusion is unsurprising, since she's a former member of Congress (though she represented a different House seat than the one she's seeking now) and has swamped her rivals in fundraising since entering the race. Similarly, Crow, an attorney and former Army Ranger, was reported to be a favorite of the DCCC from the moment he kicked off his campaign. He's also led the pack in fundraising (albeit not to the extent Kirkpatrick has), and more importantly, he's drawn by far the most fire from Republicans, who appear to fear him the most.
Abby Finkenauer's appearance is somewhat less expected, since she hasn't raised money like gangbusters (and whether we like it or not, this is a key measure of electability that groups like the DCCC rely on). But she's a state representative and thus may have deeper ties to her district than her chief primary opponent, former Labor Department official Thomas Heckroth, who only recently moved back to Iowa after living out-of-state for many years.
So why would the D-Trip (as it's colloquially known) want to weigh in on these races? It's probably not because they're hoping to influence the outcome of any primaries: Kirkpatrick certainly doesn't need the help, and Crow and Finkenauer are likely the frontrunners in their contests, too. However, the general elections in all of these districts are all going to be very expensive; by giving these candidates the committee's seal of approval now, that could help them get better prepared for the post-primary phase.
Of course, the DCCC could be wrong in some of these cases, and their picks might not all emerge with their party's nomination—it's certainly happened before. And while Republican primary voters have been far more likely to rebel against their national party's selections than Democrats have, there's still a risk that a Democratic rival could beat the DCCC choice by making the case that "D.C. insiders" are trying to "hand-pick" their preferred option. But obviously that's a risk the D-Trip is still willing to take.
Meanwhile, in addition to their Red to Blue launch, the DCCC also released a list of what it calls "Majority Maker" districts—83 in all. This is basically a full catalog of almost every imaginable seat Democrats could potentially put in play next year, ranging from "sure to be competitive" to "serious reach." Rather than reproduce the entire list here, we've summarized these races in this map, which displays every congressional district in the country as equally sized. In addition, the map also includes the DCCC's new "True Blue" districts, which are Democratic-held open seats that shouldn't be competitive, as well as the committee's "Frontline" members, incumbents who face potentially difficult re-election bids.
● Special Elections: Some exciting action on Tuesday night! Johnny Longtorso recaps:
Oklahoma SD-37: Democrats picked up this seat. Allison Ikley-Freeman defeated Republican Brian O'Hara 50.3 to 49.7, a 31-vote margin.
Oklahoma SD-45: Republicans held on to this one; Paul Rosino defeated Democrat Steven Vincent by a 57-43 margin.
Oklahoma HD-76: Republicans had no trouble retaining this seat. Ross Ford defeated Democrat Chris Vanlandingham by a 68-32 margin.
Ikley-Freeman's victory was the 14th special election flip for Democrats this year, and like so many others, it came on deep red turf. Senate District 37, a seat just west of Tulsa, went 67-27 for Donald Trump in 2016 and 69-31 for Mitt Romney in 2012, meaning Ikley-Freeman performed an astonishing 40 points better than last year's presidential results. Her win also means that the ranks of LGBTQ members of the Oklahoma legislature will grow by one. For our complete chart of all legislative special elections since Nov. 2016, click here.
● Albuquerque, NM Mayor: New Mexico's largest city held its non-partisan general election on Tuesday, and it was a big win for Team Blue. State Auditor Tim Keller beat GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis 62-38 to succeed GOP Mayor Richard Berry, who is retiring.
Eight years ago, Berry won this office with just 44 percent of the vote after two Democrats split the blue vote (the city's electoral rules have changed since then, and now a majority of the vote is needed to win without a runoff), and he was easily re-elected in 2013. However, the area's high crime rate seems to have left him incredibly unpopular. Lewis tried to depict Keller as too weak to fight crime, but it was a tough argument to make at a time when voters were unhappy with the GOP city government that Lewis was a part of.
● New Orleans, LA Mayor: With days to go before the Saturday runoff, Republican Rep. Steve Scalise has endorsed ex-Judge Desiree Charbonnet. There aren't many Republican voters in the Big Easy, but they could make a difference in a close race if they break for one candidate. However, recent polls suggest that it won't be a close race between City Councilor LaToya Cantrell and Charbonnet, a fellow Democrat. A new survey from the University of New Orleans gave Cantrell a 46-35 edge. A survey from Multi-Quest for Voice PAC, the super PAC of anti-Charbonnet businessman Sidney Torres, also gave Cantrell a 47-34 edge. Two other polls also gave Cantrell a double-digit lead.