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.
● NV-Gov: On Tuesday, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt finally made his long-awaited campaign official. Laxalt has looked like the Republican front-runner for ages, but had been content to keep things unofficial while still raising money for re-election, which he can now transfer to a gubernatorial bid. Unlike term-limited Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has cultivated a moderate image, Laxalt has staked out hard-right positions to cast himself as Nevada's "One True Conservative", in the words of prominent state political journalist Jon Ralston.
The grandson of former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt and the son of the late New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, Adam Laxalt won his single term in elected office in the 2014 GOP wave in a shocking 46-45 upset against Democratic then-Secretary of State Ross Miller. Laxalt's campaign was a trainwreck of negative headlines that literally included some of his own family members arguing he was unqualified and endorsing Miller. Nevertheless, Laxalt squeaked across the finish line thanks to historically awful turnout among Nevada Democrats after their party put up a complete nobody to run against the popular Sandoval at the top of the ticket that year.
Unfortunately for Democrats, the same attacks that proved potent in 2014 against a then-political neophyte may not do as much damage now that Laxalt has had a few years in office to burnish his credentials. Still, Laxalt's extremism could come back to haunt him in this swing state, such as his bragging about refusing to enforce a universal gun background check law in a state that recently witnessed the worst mass shooting in American history. However, that same militant conservatism likely makes him a favorite in the Republican primary against state Treasurer Dan Schwartz. Schwartz has a poor relationship with the party establishment and has already begun bashing Laxalt as too extreme, which isn't exactly a winning message with GOP primary voters these days.
Sen. Dean Heller wasted no time endorsing Laxalt on Thursday. While Heller eyed a run for governor himself, Laxalt reportedly refused to back off no matter what he did, and Heller decided at the beginning of the year that it wasn't worth it to go through a tough primary when he could just easily win renomination at home. However, Heller got a tough primary anyway when wealthy perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian jumped in. The senator may have decided that if he hitches his wagon to Laxalt, he could win over some elements of the GOP base that are open to backing Little Tark.
● UT-Sen, UT-04: Longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch hasn't officially made up his mind about whether to run for re-election next year, claiming that he "intends" to run again but won't decide until the end of the year. That hasn't stopped some top Utah Republicans from openly scheming on whom to replace him with. On Wednesday, 4th District Rep. Mia Love was overheard responding to a question asking if she might run for Senate with "No, but Hatch isn't sticking around. We're trying to get Mitt [Romney]."
Prior reports have indicated Romney could be preparing for a Senate campaign to succeed Hatch if the latter retires, but Hatch's campaign is set on taking as much time as it damn well pleases. A Hatch spokesperson responded to Love with the following statement (emphasis added):
While we appreciate the Congresswoman's concern for the future of this critical Senate seat, despite her own tightening House race, she has been misinformed. Senator Hatch has said he intends to run but will make a final decision by the end of the year.
When that decision is made, he will make the announcement himself. Nobody—be they consultants, operatives, or reported "close friends"—will make that decision or announcement for him.
Hatch here is referring to Love recently drawing a top-tier Democratic challenger in the form of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
● FL-Gov: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine announced on Wednesday that he would run for governor in 2018, becoming the latest Democrat to enter the fray. Levine serves as mayor of a city with roughly just 92,000 residents, but he's extremely wealthy and a prominent Democratic fundraiser who made countless millions in the cruise industry. Levine has already given his political committee $2.6 million of his own fortune, and recently said he could "maybe" self-fund a staggering $20- or $25 million. He isn't solely reliant on self-funding either, as the well-connected Democrat has already been raising millions from donors ahead of his campaign.
However, while access to tens of millions in campaign spending is a critical asset in such a large and expensive swing state, Democrats have plenty of reasons to be unenthused with Levine's candidacy. For starters, Levine had mulled running as an independent this past spring, even though it likely would have been a massive boon to Republicans next year. He's a self-described "radical centrist" who previously stated "I actually like the Republican Party, and I like a lot of Republican ideas." And Levine has also been wishy-washy on criticizing Trump, while at the same time making decidedly Trump-esque statements like wondering "why aren't we discussing the invasion" of Cuba, something he later claimed was a joke.
Nevertheless, Levine's immense personal wealth and his stated willingness to self-fund into the tens of millions makes him a major contender to win the Democratic nomination. Levine joins a Democratic primary that includes former Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and real estate company owner Chris King, but none of Levine's three rivals has wowed with fundraising so far. Graham has led the way with $2.5 million in cash-on-hand at the end of September compared to $1.7 million for King and $557,000 for Gillum, but Levine himself starts off the race with $4.6 million on-hand as of Oct. 1.
Anticipating Levine's entry into the race, Florida Politics commissioned a poll by St. Pete Polls that tested the four Democratic primary candidates. Graham staked out an early lead with 31 percent, while Gillum took 13 percent, Levine 6 percent, and King 5 percent. However, with 46 percent undecided and no candidates yet running TV ads to boost their name recognition in such a costly race, this primary is still wide open.
● IA-Gov: Iowa Starting Line's headline just sums it up perfectly: "Kim Reynolds Decries Lack of Civility, Names Steve King Co-Chair the Next Day." Rep. Steve King, one of the most openly racist members of the GOP caucus, has thrown his support behind Gov. Kim Reynolds, who faces a primary challenge from Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. King, who briefly thought about running against Reynolds himself last year, is a big power-player in red western Iowa, and so far, he hasn't been much of a liability for Iowa Republicans in general elections.
● IL-Gov: On Tuesday evening, state Rep. Jeanne Ives announced that she would indeed challenge Gov. Bruce Rauner in the GOP primary. Rauner pissed off conservatives in September when he signed a law expanding abortion access, and Ives is hoping that grassroots anger will allow her to overcome the wealthy incumbent's huge financial edge. While Ives reportedly was waiting to see if she could raise $1 million before committing to a run, she said Tuesday that the only reason she didn't say she was running was that she didn't "know that anybody can say that they're running for governor until they have the qualified signatures to get on the ballot. Which is why I've qualified my response." So, how's that task of getting those qualified signatures going?
Not so great. Ives began circulating petitions on Saturday to run for governor, but on Wednesday, she announced that, because of a typo with her running mate's address, those petitions are invalid. Ives asked her supporters to download the correct papers; the filing deadline is Dec. 4, so she doesn't have all that much time to collect signatures across the state. (Confusingly, Ives said a week before that she was already circulating petitions, even though she apparently only really started this weekend; getting signatures really doesn't seem to be her strong suit.)
And it's quite possible Ives false start will cost her. Petition challenges are a way of life in Illinois: Barack Obama himself won his state Senate seat in 1996 by getting all his Democratic primary foes —including the incumbent—thrown off the ballot for a lack of sufficient signatures. Just last year, Chicago Alderman Howard Brookins challenged Rep. Bobby Rush's petitions, and Rush only squeaked by with just 90 more valid signatures than the minimum 1,300 he needed. Rush went on to crush Brookins 71-19 in the Democratic primary, but the longtime incumbent's close call a few months earlier demonstrates that this is no minor thing.
● NJ-Gov: Monmouth: Phil Murphy (D): 53, Kim Guadagno (R): 39 (Oct.: 51-37 Murphy)
● OK-Gov: Quarterly fundraising reports are in for all the candidates, and the GOP primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Mary Fallin is getting a bit more interesting. Back in July, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb had by far the most money, with him leading Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett $1.9 million to $178,000 in cash-on-hand. But while Lamb still has far more cash in the bank than everyone else, most of his opponents are showing a lot more life than before.
Lamb raised $620,000 from July to September, and he had $2.4 million on hand. But it was mortgage banker Kevin Stitt, who entered the race over the summer, who took in the most money from donors. Stitt raised $811,000 and self-funded $800,000 in his opening quarter, leaving him with a war chest of $1.3 million. Cornett, who has led Oklahoma's largest city since 2004, raised just shy of $600,000, and he had $623,000 on-hand.
Wealthy attorney Gary Richardson, who got 14 percent as an independent in 2002 and almost certainly cost Republican nominee Steve Largent the election, is continuing to self-fund his bid for the GOP nod. Richardson raised only $25,000 from donors but self-funded another $825,000, and he had $763,000 on-hand. The other Gary in the race, state Auditor Gary Jones, wasn't so lucky. Jones raised only $32,000, and he had just $44,000 in the bank. Ex-state Rep. Dan Fisher raised $71,000 for his opening quarter and self-funded another $20,000, and he had $63,000 on-hand. If no one takes a majority in the first round of the primary, there will be a runoff.
Oklahoma is a very red state, but the state's ongoing budget crisis may give Team Blue an opening. Former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who narrowly lost the 2010 primary, got some good news last week when his only credible primary foe, state House Minority Leader Scott Inman, dropped out. Edmondson raised $244,000 during the quarter and had $293,000 on-hand.
● RI-Gov: Fundraising reports for the third quarter are now available in Rhode Island's gubernatorial race, and Democratic incumbent Gina Raimondo continues to raise considerable cash for this small state. Raimondo raised $502,000 from July through September and finished the period with $3.1 million on-hand.
The Republican field has only slowly started to take shape, but Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who narrowly lost in 2014 to Raimondo and recently announced a bid for a rematch, led the pack with $94,000 raised and $230,000 on-hand. State House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who is the only other major candidate to announce yet, took in $69,000 and loaned herself $27,000, leaving her with $91,000 on-hand. Former state Rep. Joe Trillo is still considering whether to officially join the race, but he raised $32,000, loaned himself $100,000, and ended the reporting period with $131,000 on-hand.
● VA-Gov: Recent polls of Virginia's gubernatorial race have averaged a modest, single-digit lead for Democrat Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie, but outlier polls have a tendency to grab headlines. Two recent such polls in October include one from Hampton University, where Gillespie led by 41-33, and one from Quinnipiac University, where Northam led 53-36. These two surveys accordingly marked the largest lead that either candidate has attained in any poll since the general election began, but their divergent results have one thing in common: Both pollsters used random-digit dialing to contact voters.
A recent Politico article looked at the various methodologies of the pollsters who conducted October surveys of the race and noted that pollsters like Quinnipiac and Hampton that had glaring outliers were the only ones using a strict random-dialing method to contact respondents. All other polls used at least some form of registration-based sampling. While both methodologies still involve some use of a screening questions to determine who is likely to vote, sampling respondents based off of a voter list can at least counteract participant response bias by verifying whether the respondent is indeed registered to vote and has turned out in previous elections.
Gauging the right composition of the electorate is particularly challenging in odd-year contests where turnout is far lower than a presidential electorate and registered nonvoters tend to disproportionately lean Democratic. Consequently, those firms that pay for access to a voter file may consequently end up being more accurate when determining who is likely to vote than pollsters simply relying on respondents providing accurate answers about their own registration status and voting history. Quinnipiac in particular has consistently given Northam bigger leads than the polling average, and their methodology may be at fault if the result ends up much closer on Election Day or Gillespie actually wins.
● IL-13: EMILY's List, a prominent group that backs pro-choice Democratic women, endorsed fundraising consultant Betsy Londrigan this week in the primary. Londrigan is one of a few Democrats jockeying to face GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, and her most formidable opponent looks like attorney Erik Jones. This downstate seat went from a very tight Romney win to 50-44 Trump.
● MA-03: We may have yet another Democratic candidate for this open Merrimack Valley seat soon. In a lengthy profile at The Atlantic of ex-U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, reporter Amy Weiss-Meyer writes that he's "likely preparing to run for Congress in Massachusetts's third district." Gifford, who was finance director for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, notably got attention as ambassador by frequently appearing on Danish TV and impressing the country with what Weiss-Meyer calls his "charisma, transparency, and earnest, self-deprecating attempts to speak Danish."
Back in August, Gifford told the Boston Globe that he was going to run for something, but he said it could be Senate, governor, or the House. Gifford and his family are incredibly well-connected (his father was chairman of Bank of America), but the self-described "Massachusetts nomad" hasn't lived in the Bay State in 20 years. Gifford also is originally from Manchester-by-the-Sea, which is well outside the 3rd District. Gifford did acknowledge to Weiss-Meyer that he would be seen as an outsider if he ran, but insisted he could win over voters. A number of other Democrats, several of whom also didn't live in the 3rd until recently, are competing for this 58-35 Clinton seat.
● OH-14: This week, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown endorsed attorney Betsy Rader's bid against GOP Rep. David Joyce. Rader faces no significant opposition in the primary, but this is very much a reach target for Team Blue. This suburban Cleveland seat went from 51-48 Romney (though Brown himself won it 48-47 that year) to 54-42 Trump, and Joyce decisively won re-election in 2014 and 2016. But Rader raised $125,000 during the third quarter of 2017, and Joyce's $471,000 to $153,000 cash-on-hand edge is hardly massive given the incumbent's big head start. Joyce may also face a primary challenge from pastor Darrell Scott, who claims he's received encouragement from longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.
● TN-02: Businessman and Young Republicans National Federation chairman Jason Emert kicked off his campaign on Wednesday to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Jimmy Duncan next year. Emert previously ran for a swingy state House seat in Knoxville in 2014, but lost the GOP primary just 50.3-49.7 to now-state Rep. Eddie Smith, who went on to narrowly defeat the Democratic incumbent that fall.
Emert joins a Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District that includes Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and state Rep. Jimmy Matlock. This Knoxville-based seat last elected a Democrat back in 1852, the second-longest such streak in the nation, and the 65-30 Trump district should be an easy Republican hold next year.
● TX-05: GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling's decision to retire from this safely red seat may have come as a surprise, but his would-be successors don't have much time to decide what they'll do ahead of the Dec. 11 filing deadline. So far, no notable Republicans have openly expressed interest in running, but a few names have popped up.
The Dallas News' Gromer Jeffers Jr. writes that state Sen. Bryan Hughes is "said to be interested," though Hughes has yet to say anything publicly. Only a very small portion of Hughes' rural East Texas seat is in the 5th District, but Jeffers reports that the longtime legislator "enjoys ardent support from social conservatives and tea-party adherents." Ex-state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, who represented a Dallas seat until his defeat last year, only told Jeffers on Tuesday that he had just heard about Hensarling's departure and "wouldn't have a comment." Unlike Hughes, Sheet's former seat is located entirely in this district. However, Sheets narrowly lost re-election to a Democrat last year. On Tuesday, infamous ex-Florida Rep. Allen West also didn't rule out a bid in his new state.
There are plenty of other Republicans who could run, but a few would need to revise their 2018 plans quickly. State Rep. Cindy Burkett is currently trying to unseat state Sen. Bob Hall in the primary. When Jeffers asked her about her interest in a House bid, acknowledged she had been approached and only said, "I'm flattered. I'm committed to running against Bob Hall in the Texas Senate race," which isn't exactly a no.
Jeffers also writes that a different Dallas County state Senate candidate is being encouraged to run here rather than for the legislature, but it’s unlikely that he will. Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Phillip Huffines is currently campaigning for an open state Senate seat against Angela Paxton, whose husband state Attorney General Ken Paxton is running for re-election while awaiting trial for securities fraud. Jeffers says it's "widely expected that Phillip Huffines will indeed be approached by emissaries from Paxton, or GOP party leaders, about a deal that would have him run for Congress and end his bid for the Texas Senate" in order to avoid a nasty GOP primary battle that could draw in the attorney general.
However, a consultant for Huffines said that "Phillip Huffines is running for the Texas Senate," and Jeffers reports that Huffines very much believes he can win that race. A consultant for Angela Paxton also suggested that Huffines' twin brother state Sen. Don Huffines could run for Congress, but there's no sign he's interested.
Jeffers also name-drops state Reps. Dan Flynn and Lance Gooden, while the Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston writes that "[s]ome in Texas Republican circles point to former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, currently an administrator in U.S. Housing and Urban Development under Trump," could be a possible contender. There's no word on any of this trio's interest: It's worth noting that none of Van Duyne's Irvine base is in this seat.
● VA-10: Democrats have already had a crowded primary underway for several months in the 10th District, but the field grew even larger recently with the addition of former federal prosecutor Paul Pelletier. The Washington Post describes Pelletier as having spent nearly 27 years with the Justice Department, during which time he directed major corruption investigations into lobbyist Jack Abramoff and disgraced ex-Reps. Bob Ney and William Jefferson.
Pelletier will have some catching up to do on the fundraising front for this expensive seat, which is located in the D.C. media market in suburban Northern Virginia. He'll join a Democratic primary that includes state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, former State Department official Alison Friedman, Army veteran Daniel Helmer, and former Veterans Administration official Lindsey Davis Stover. The eventual nominee will then face Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock in a seat that flipped from 50-49 Romney to 52-42 Clinton.
● St. Paul, MN Mayor: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is retiring in order to concentrate on his bid for the Democratic nomination for next year's gubernatorial race, so Minnesota's second-largest city will elect his successor next week. Just like in Minneapolis (which has its own intense mayoral race), all the candidates will compete on one nonpartisan ballot, though all but one identifies as a Democrat. Voters will be allowed to rank their top three choices, and if no one takes a majority of first-place votes, second and third choices are redistributed from the candidates with the fewest votes to the remaining candidates. The process continues until someone clears 50 percent. Ballots will be counted by hand, and the winner may not be known until Nov. 11.
Much as the race across the river did earlier this year, the contest in St. Paul took an ugly turn in the last few weeks. The unpleasantness began when former City Councilor Melvin Carter III, who has the support of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, was burglarized back in August, and two guns were stolen from his home. The St. Paul Police Federation, which is backing another former city councilor, Pat Harris, then issued a statement claiming that Carter had not provided the police with the weapons' serial numbers. A PAC called Building a Better St. Paul, which is partially funded by the Police Federation, then inexplicably sought to link the stolen firearms to crime throughout the city, sending out mailers charging, "Over 100 shots have been fired since August 15 when Melvin Carter's guns went missing."
Dayton, Coleman (who has not endorsed anyone), and Harris all condemned the attack, and Dayton took his criticism a step further, saying that the Police Federation's hit on Carter, who is black, "injected that kind of negativity and that kind of racial bias into a mayor's race." Dave Titus, the head of the Police Federation, ended up apologizing, but he refused to resign after Coleman urged him and the entire board to quit.
There haven't been any public polls of the race, but we do know that Harris and Carter have raised the most money, with City Councilor Dai Thao also in the top tier. A few months ago, though, it was Thao, who came to America as a Hmong refugee from Laos, who was in the hot seat. Law enforcement officials had been investigating allegations that Thao had attempted to solicit a bribe, but the inquiry ended in September without any charges.
There are a few other candidates running, though they lack much in the way of resources and are unlikely to have an impact. Perhaps the most notable is Elizabeth Dickinson, who took 20 percent of the vote in the 2005 race for mayor. She's the only candidate who does not identify as a Democrat and is backed by the local Green Party.
It's tough to know who is the favorite here, especially given the unpredictable role of the instant-runoff format of this election. However, MinnPost pointed out that the other candidates converged on Harris at a forum a few weeks ago, which could be a sign that they think he's the frontrunner.
● Detroit, MI City Clerk: When Detroiters head to the polls next Tuesday to vote in their local election for mayor, they'll also be choosing their city clerk, whose office administers elections. MIRS News has commissioned a recent poll from Target-Insyght of the city's races, which shows incumbent clerk Janice Winfrey leading challenger and fellow Democrat Garlin Gilchrist by just 42-35.
This race will be one to watch next week because Detroit in particular earned awful headlines for its handling of the 2016 presidential race, with a post-election audit concluding there were "an abundance of human errors" by election administrators that contributed to the problem. Gilchrist, who serves as Detroit's technology director, is consequently challenging Winfrey on a platform of modernizing the city's election administration and improving access to voting. Doing so could subsequently prove critical for future elections in a state that Trump won by just 10,704 votes, given that Detroit is the most heavily Democratic big city in America.
● NY Ballot: Every 20 years, cicada-like, a question automatically appears on the ballot in New York asking voters whether they want to hold a constitutional convention, through which changes could be made to the state constitution. That bi-decadal opportunity will present itself next week, but a new poll shows that New Yorkers are once again ready to reject it, as they did in 1997, 1977, and 1957. According to Siena, which has been tracking the issue for years, 57 percent now say they plan to vote "no," while just 25 percent say they'll vote "yes." That's a big turnaround from earlier this year, though support has trended steadily downward: As recently as May, voters favored a convention by a 62-22 margin, but in September, that had slipped to a bare 44-39 plurality.
And with good reason. The procedures involved in conducting a so-called "con-con" make the prospect of a convention an extremely dangerous one. If the question were pass, elections would be held next year to choose delegates to the convention, giving corporate interests and conservative ideologues an enormous opportunity to flood the state with cash in order to elect their preferred candidates. What's more, the elections would be held using the district lines for the state Senate, which were gerrymandered to benefit Republicans to an almost absurd degree following the last Census.
In short, there'd be no way to ensure that a convention wouldn't be dominated by extremists, demagogues, and shills—and once the convention begins, literally anything in the constitution would be up for revision. Some progressives are willing to take that chance and support a convention, but the very real fear that important rights could be abridged is why a broad coalition of labor, environmental, and reproductive rights organizations (including Planned Parenthood) has joined forces to oppose it and has spent over $1 million on the effort. Interestingly, many right-wing groups, including the state Republican and Conservative parties, are also members of this alliance because, naturally, they have mirror-image fears of what a wholesale rewrite of the constitution could mean.
If things were to go awry at a convention, there would be one final backstop, as New Yorkers would still have to approve any proposed changes at the ballot box in 2019. Indeed, voters did exactly this in 1967, following a constitutional convention that had been approved in 1965. (That year, the legislature put the question on the ballot itself.) Still, so much can go wrong between here and there. Make no mistake: New York's state government is deeply corrupt and broken. But as a New York Times editorial puts it, voters already have a much less perilous way to fix it—and they get a chance every two years rather than every 20—by sending new representatives to Albany.
● PA Supreme Court: These races haven't gotten much attention outside of the state, but next week, Pennsylvania will hold elections for a number of judicial posts, including three spots on the state Supreme Court. These elections are partisan in nature and extremely important. Not only does having more Democratic judges mean that ordinary folks seeking relief in the courts will have a better shot at getting justice, but the high court plays a crucial role in redistricting, too.
This year, two justices—one from each party—are standing for retention, which means that voters simply say whether or not they want these judges to remain on the bench. Losing a retention vote is very rare in any state, and both Chief Justice Thomas Saylor (the Republican) and Justice Debra Todd (the Democrat) are exceedingly likely to remain on the court.
The third race is a more traditional contest, in which Justice Sally Mundy is defending her seat against Judge Dwayne Woodruff, who currently sits on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and played cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 12 seasons. Mundy is a Republican who was appointed to fill a vacancy last year by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and is now running for a full 10-year term. (Why would Wolf nominate a Republican? Because the selection had to get approved by the GOP-controlled state Senate.) Unfortunately, Mundy is also favored to win, in large part because trial lawyers, a well-funded and motivated group that usually prefers Democrats, are pleased with her record of pro-plaintiff rulings.
Fortunately, thanks to an impressive campaign two years ago, Democrats took a majority on the Supreme Court—one that can't be dislodged at the ballot box before the next Census, even accounting for this year's elections. But the story behind Mundy's appointment shows why nothing can be taken for granted: The seat she now occupies became vacant when her predecessor became the second justice to resign in the wake of the so-called "Porngate" scandal. (The two justices who quit had sent offensive emails to colleagues.) So even if Democrats retain their current five-to-two advantage, that could easily change if the winds of fortune shift direction.
Which brings us back to redistricting. During the decennial process of redrawing electoral districts, an evenly split bipartisan commission is tasked with coming up with new lines for the state legislature. Since such a panel will almost inevitably deadlock, the Supreme Court gets to appoint a tiebreaker, which means Democrats would have a huge chance to reverse the GOP's existing state House and Senate gerrymanders come 2021. That means any chance Democrats have to pad their majority on the high court, they should take. In addition, a whole host of judgeships on lower courts are also at stake.
Unfortunately, little help has come in from outside the state, and in particular, Pennsylvania Democrats are justifiably grumbling that the DNC has ignored their pleas. (Sniped one unnamed operative: "The only 'resisting' the DNC is doing is when it comes to answering our desperate phone calls for help.") Inexplicably, the DNC has sent six figures just across the Delaware River to help New Jersey Democrats in next week's legislative races, even though the party's majorities are entirely unthreatened. A spokesperson said the committee has "increased its monthly investment to the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party to $10,000," which is an almost insulting figure, given that Republicans are outspending Democrats $2 million to $1 million in judicial races.
We've always been of the opinion that electing judges is a truly terrible way to administer justice, and the rest of the world agrees—only two other nations elect any judges at all. But as long as we have the system we've got, we have to fight within it. Republicans have long understood the power to be had in winning judicial elections, and they've used them to remake the courts in many states. Democrats simply cannot abdicate the playing field.
● VA State House: Election Day in Virginia is less than a week away, and there are a whole bunch of races on the ballot besides the statewide contests for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general—100, to be exact. And while not all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates are contested this fall, a record number of them are. In fact, only 12 out of the 66 Republicans in the chamber aren't facing Democratic opponents, while 28 out of 34 Democratic lawmakers will coast to reelection.
Because they're starting with just 34 seats, Democrats have a great deal of room for success, but their task is complicated by the GOP's expert gerrymandering of the state. Democrats have won every statewide race in Virginia since 2012 but barely hold more than a third of the state's House seats. Expecting Democrats to flip the 17 seats necessary to win a majority is unrealistic for a single cycle, but a variety of factors point to significant gains for Team Blue next week.
After evaluating fundraising numbers, field program strength, polling data, paid media programs, and other relevant information (such as this marvelous visualization from the Virginia Public Access Project that estimates absentee ballot requests by county and region compared to 2013), a reasonable prediction is in the range of five to eight pickups. The top targets to keep an eye on include House Districts 2, 42, 12, 13, 31, 32 and 67. You can read more about the rationale for these predictions and more details about districts likely to flip here.
Perhaps the stars will align and the dramatic trend of Democratic special election over-performances will bleed into Virginia's general election. Republicans are clearly spooked: Ugly, bigoted, and racist campaign communications have reared their heads in a number of races that present key Democratic pickup opportunities, like Districts 13, 31, and 51. In District 12, the Republican incumbent is running away from his own party. Does this level of GOP fear and loathing on the campaign trail mean Democrats will win all of these seats? It's impossible to say, but these Republican campaign tactics are not symptoms of electoral confidence.
● Demographics: The Pew Research Center came out last week with another installment in their political typologies series, a decades-long effort to better understand the different groups within each party's coalition, and what beliefs motivate them. David Jarman takes a closer look at this year's findings, especially at the competing Republican tribes in light of this year's ongoing GOP crackup.