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.
● WV-Sen: Oh boy ... Don Blankenship, the disgraced former CEO of Massey Energy, will reportedly join the Republican primary for Senate next year. WCHS-TV reports that Blankenship filed his paperwork with the FEC on Tuesday, but he has yet to officially announce that he's running. Blankenship is one of the most notorious people in West Virginia after a violation of federal mine safety laws led to the deaths of 29 of his employees in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion. A court sentenced Blankenship to a year-long prison term for a misdemeanor, but the government had unsuccessfully tried to convict him on far more serious felony charges. While he's now out of prison, Blankenship can't leave the state of Nevada until May without the permission of his probation officer or a federal judge.
Consequently, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin would likely be ecstatic to have such a boogeyman robber baron to run against if Blankenship somehow won the Republican nomination. Given his infamy, however, Blankenship will likely face a very steep climb to win the primary. A May 2016 poll from Public Policy Polling found that only 10 percent of West Virginians had a favorable opinion of Blankenship, while 55 saw him in a negative light. Even among Republicans, just 13 percent saw him favorably while 43 percent expressed an unfavorable opinion.
Blankenship's wealth could give him an opportunity to spin his side of the story if he decides to engage in some serious self-funding. Indeed, he has already been running an ad comparing the mine incident to Benghazi and trying to blame Manchin and Obama for what happened. Still, national Republicans would almost certainly go all out to prevent Blankenship from winning the nomination and costing them a key opportunity to flip a Senate seat next year. Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are so far the only other notable Republicans who are running.
● AL-Sen: Republican pollster JMC Analytics' newest poll of the Alabama Senate election is the latest to find Republican Roy Moore regaining ground against Democrat Doug Jones. This survey has Moore retaking a 48-43 lead in a reversal from Jones' 48-44 edge in their Nov. 11 survey, which was in the field in the immediate aftermath of Moore's scandal. However, it's still a smaller edge for Moore than the 48-40 advantage that JMC gave him in their early October survey. Unfortunately, this is now the second pollster to conclude Moore has rebounded since the immediate aftermath of the scandal, since Change Research previously found Moore turning a 46-43 deficit into a 49-44 lead in their two polls taken since the news broke.
Meanwhile, Leigh Corfman, who has accused Moore of sexually abusing her when she was 14, penned an open letter published on AL.com in which she excoriated Moore for smearing her character and insinuating that she was paid by his political enemies. Moore continues to deny ever knowing any of the women who have accused him of unwanted advances when they were teenagers, despite the credibility of their claims.
● NE-Sen: Republican Sen. Deb Fischer may end up drawing a GOP primary challenger this cycle at Steve Bannon's behest, but we can count out three prominent Republicans who had previously been mentioned in the media as potential challengers after state Treasurer Don Stenberg, former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, and state Sen. Mike Groene all endorsed Fischer. Scores of other major Republicans also gave the incumbent their backing, including the entire rest of the congressional delegation, Gov. Pete Ricketts, and former Govs. Kay Orr, Charles Thone, and Dave Heineman.
● MO-Sen: Attorney General Josh Hawley seems to be the rare Republican who has support from both the traditional party establishment and anti-establishment factions, and it looks unlikely that he'll face much primary opposition. Donald Trump himself basically endorsed Hawley at an event on Wednesday when he predicted that he "is gonna be a great senator." State Rep. Marsha Haefner has expressed interest in also running against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, but we haven't heard much from her in months.
● AR-Gov: Arkansas Democrats face daunting odds of defeating Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in next year's gubernatorial contest, but they may yet land a prominent candidate to take him on. Former state House Majority Leader Jay Martin recently said he was considering it and that he is "certainly headed in that direction." Martin held a seat in the state House from 2003 to 2007 and has served as president of a law firm since 2006.
Hutchinson is heavily favored given the sharp right turn that Arkansas has taken over the past decade, but Democrats would nevertheless benefit significantly in more winnable down-ballot races if they have a strong contender at the top of the ticket who can help bring voters to the polls. Although Republicans currently hold lopsided majorities in the legislature, they're still one state Senate seat shy of the three-fourths supermajority needed to pass a budget without any Democratic votes.
● CT-Gov: A federal judge has ruled that Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democrat, can't participate in Connecticut's all-important public campaign financing system because he was previously convicted of felonies related to public corruption. Ganim sounded doubtful of whether he would appeal, which could take months and become a major hinderance to his campaign for governor.
The mayor formed an exploratory committee back in the spring, and like many candidates in Connecticut who want to take full advantage of the quirks of its campaign finance laws, he hasn't officially joined the race as a candidate yet. Ganim recently said he would decide whether to formally run in January, but this major setback might just prompt him to simply call it quits. State Democrats probably would be pleased with that outcome, since the prospect of someone winning the nomination who served several years in prison for corruption could be disastrous.
● FL-Gov: Wealthy lawyer and prominent Democratic donor John Morgan recently announced he was leaving the party and wasn't ruling out running for governor next year as an independent. Now, Morgan says, "I have no clue and no thoughts about that right now. I'm in my budget meetings right now for all my businesses."
Morgan had previously urged Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to run for governor instead of re-election, which the senator's team quickly shot down, but Morgan appears to be seriously unimpressed with the current Democratic field. If he were to run as an independent and use his reported $100 million fortune to self-fund, it would likely hinder Democratic chances of winning considerably.
● MN-Gov: Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens is the latest Republican to join the crowded field for governor next year, becoming the first notable woman in the field. Giuliani Stephens has served as mayor of Woodbury since her initial 2010 election, but the St. Paul suburb is home to just 69,000 people, meaning she likely starts off with very little name recognition. However, Giuliani Stephens and other candidates may not need to be especially well-known to prevail in the all-important party convention, though there is no word yet on whether or not she will abide by the convention outcome.
Giuliani Stephens will face a GOP field that includes state Sen. David Osmek, former state party chair Keith Downey, state Rep. Matt Dean, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who was the GOP's 2014 nominee. Both Osmek and Dean have previously said they will abide by the convention outcome, however, so the eventual primary field will likely be smaller.
● CA-39: Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, who represents the nearby 31st District, has endorsed Navy veteran Gil Cisneros to take on Republican Rep. Ed Royce in the Orange County-based 39th District. Cisneros faces several other Democrats who are seeking to win the top-two primary to challenge Royce next November.
● IL-01: The Dec. 4 filing deadline in Illinois is swiftly approaching, and longtime Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush still has not filed for re-election in his South Side district. Politico reports that his son Flynn Rush also hadn't filed his petitions to run for a state House seat that he had previously said he'd campaign for, leading them to speculate whether the elder Rush may end up retiring while his son runs to succeed him. However, neither man has said anything publicly about it yet. If the congressman does call it quits, there would likely be interest from a large number of potential candidates for this dark-blue seat, but they would have to scramble to gather petitions in time to make the ballot.
● IL-04: Rep. Luis Gutierrez's decision to announce his retirement from this safely blue seat just days before Illinois' Dec. 4 filing deadline leaves potential candidates with almost no time to decide if they want to run before they need to start collecting signatures. Gutierrez immediately endorsed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's bid to succeed him (and left more than a few people asking if Gutierrez had timed things to try and keep Garcia's opponents from making the ballot), and Chicago Aldermen Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and Proco "Joe" Moreno also announced that they would seek the Democratic nod. Chicago Today writes that fellow Aldermen George Cardenas and Gilbert Villegas have also said they'll collect petitions for this race, but there's no quote from either of them.
Politico also reports that Sol Flores, the founding executive director of a local organization that helps people living in poverty and homelessness, has decided to run. They also say that Flores, whom they describe as a "popular Latina community activist," is also talking to EMILY's List about their possible support. Flores herself has not said anything publicly so far, but in any case, we'll know who is in and who is out very soon.
● MI-06: Former longtime Sen. Carl Levin has endorsed former Kellogg lobbyist George Franklin for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Rep. Fred Upton in the southwestern Michigan 6th District. Franklin faces a Democratic primary that includes physician Matt Longjohn and Western Michigan University professor Paul Clements.
● MI-08: EMILY's List has endorsed former Defense Department official Elissa Slotkin in Michigan's 8th District, which includes Lansing and some outer Detroit suburbs. Slotkin is already a strong fundraiser and so far faces no notable primary opponent for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Rep. Mike Bishop next year.
● NC-02: Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams have endorsed former state Rep. Linda Coleman, who is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Rep. George Holding in the outer Raleigh-area 2nd District. Like Coleman, both Butterfield and Adams are African Americans, while black voters also make up a major bloc in this district's primary electorate. That could help give Coleman an edge in the primary against tech executive Ken Romley and distillery owner Sam Searcy, who are white, if primary voting falls along racial lines as is relatively common in Southern states like North Carolina.
● NJ-02: National Democrats and the local Democratic establishment has longed for state Sen. Jeff Van Drew to run for this competitive South Jersey seat for years, and they got him this week. Things are taking shape far more slowly on the GOP side, and until recently, we hadn't heard a single noteworthy Republican so much as express interest in running in the three weeks since GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced he would retire. However, the New York Observer's Christian Hetrick takes a look at the Republicans who are considering a bid here and finds that there are a few potential takers.
While Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian lost re-election this month 58-39, his defeat apparently hasn't taken him out of the running here. Guardian's spokesperson confirms that he's met with the NRCC, and is considering getting in. Back in 2013, Guardian surprised political observers when he narrowly won the mayor's office in a place where Democrats usually do very well (Obama carried Atlantic City 86-13 the previous year, and Clinton took it 81-18), so national Republicans may not be holding his terrible loss against him given the circumstances.
Businessman Mike Torrissi, a managing member of an oil trucking company that Hetrick says employs hundreds in the 2nd District, also confirms that he's met with D.C. Republicans and is thinking about getting in. The NRCC also says they've spoken to ex-Assemblyman Vincent Polistina and that he is also considering, but Polistina has said nothing publicly yet. Polistina served for four years in the lower house but left to run for the state Senate in 2011 and lost the general election 53-47.
State Assemblyman Chris Brown, who won a promotion to the state Senate this month in the seat that Polistina lost in six years ago, also acknowledges he's spoken to the NRCC. However, Brown doesn't sound incredibly excited about a bid, saying that, "While it's an honor to be considered to run, I just worked very hard during the campaign telling the families of Atlantic County I want to serve them as their state Senator. I am focused on doing my best as their representative in the state Senate." That's not really a no, but if Brown changed course and ran for Congress, he'd do it after just a few months in the state Senate. Brown did unseat an appointed Democratic incumbent 54-46 in a seat that backed Clinton 54-43 on a dispiriting night for the GOP nationwide, so the NRCC may not give up trying to recruit him.
● NY-11: Retired boxer Boyd Melson, who serves as a captain in the Army Reserves, recently announced he was dropping his Democratic primary bid for the Staten Island-based 11th District because he had been called to active duty. Despite an impressive background, Melson had been badly struggling to raise funds. Army veteran Max Rose, who has had greater success fundraising and had $263,000 on-hand at the end of September, is thus the most prominent Democrat left in the race against Republican Rep. Dan Donovan in this 54-44 Trump district.
● NY-24, NY-Gov: Outgoing Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, announced last month that she wouldn't challenge Republican Rep. John Katko in the Syracuse-based 24th District next year. However, she recently told syracuse.com that she's reconsidering that decision in light of Katko's vote for the GOP's bill to cut taxes for the rich by raising them disproportionately on the middle-class in blue states like New York by getting rid of the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes. Indeed, Miner even tweeted at Katko on Wednesday to challenge him to a public discussion on taxes with their constituents.
National Democrats have heavily recruited Miner to run in this 49-45 Clinton district, where the party currently doesn't even have a candidate who has raised six figures yet. Miner did not give a timeline for when she might reach a decision, while she's also still publicly considering a progressive primary challenge against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. However, given Cuomo's huge fundraising advantage and stubborn popularity with rank-and-file primary voters, Miner may start finding it far more appealing to run against a congressman who just voted to screw his own constituents on taxes.
● TX-05: Bunni Pounds, a former campaign manager and fundraiser for retiring GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling, recently filed to run to succeed him in this safely red seat, which stretches from Dallas' eastern suburbs into rural East Texas. Pounds not only announced she was in on Wednesday, but she touted an endorsement from Hensarling. Pounds' primary rival, ex-state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, also unveiled an endorsement from neighboring Rep. Pete Sessions that day. The Dec. 11 filing deadline is coming up quickly, so we'll see soon if anyone else gets in.
● Special Elections: It was bound to happen eventually: Tuesday night brought us the year's first Democratic-to-Republican flip of a state legislative seat in a contested special election—though it comes with an asterisk. As we've discussed in the past, special elections in Mississippi are officially nonpartisan affairs, so neither of the two candidates who were on the ballot in the runoff for the state's 10th Senate District, businessman Neil Whaley and former Holly Springs Alderwoman Sharon Gipson, appeared alongside their party labels.
Gipson, though, had openly declared she was a Democrat while Whaley had coyly refused to say which party he preferred, even though he'd received donations from at least one Republican organization. Only after Whaley's 55-45 victory was his party affiliation fully acknowledged, when GOP Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves issued a congratulatory statement calling Whaley a "Republican."
It was probably a canny move for Whaley to play this game. In the September primary for this seat, he faced off against four other candidates (including Gipson), all of whom identified as Democrats. Collectively, this foursome took 64 percent of the vote, suggesting a daunting electorate for a Republican. But as we've seen in some elections elsewhere, especially in California, Republicans have often done much better by ditching their party label and running as independents on Democratic turf.
Not that the 10th is blue, mind you: According to our preliminary calculations, Donald Trump won it 53-46 last year. Of course, Democrats have won special elections in seats this red and redder, so the district's lean alone can't explain the outcome, but was it Whaley's obfuscation that did the trick? We might have to wait until 2019 to get a better sense, when Whaley will be up for re-election—and will likely have no choice but to run with an "R" next to his name.
● VA State House: Now that Virginia has certified its results from this month's elections, Democrats have filed for recounts in two pivotal state House races. Democrat Shelly Simonds trails Republican Del. David Yancey by just 10 votes in HD-94, while fellow Democrat Donte Tanner lags behind GOP Del. Tim Hugo by a wider 106-vote margin in HD-40.
Meanwhile, Democrats are "still assessing" their options in HD-28, where Democrat Joshua Cole trails by 82 votes against Republican Bob Thomas. Election administrators have announced that at least 147 voters in Fredericksburg were given ballots for the wrong district, which potentially may have cost Cole the race. Cole has until Dec. 7 to call for a recount, which could even narrow that 82-vote margin down to a level that makes those 147 wrong-district votes impossible to ignore. Republicans would barely hold a 51-49 majority if they prevail in all three contests, meaning the stakes are incredibly high.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: On behalf of Fox's local affiliate, we have our first poll of Tuesday's runoff election for mayor of Atlanta. Opinion Savvy gives Democratic City Councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms a 42-39 edge over fellow Councilor Mary Norwood, who identifies as an independent in this very blue city. The race to succeed termed-out Mayor Kasim Reed is officially nonpartisan, but the state Democratic Party has run ads arguing that Norwood is a "closet Republican."
Bottoms led Norwood 26-21 in November's nonpartisan primary, but Norwood has done a far better job winning over their defeated rivals. On Wednesday, ex-City Council President Cathy Woolard, who took third place with 17 percent of the vote, backed Norwood, following endorsements from former city Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman, who took 11 percent, and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who won 9 percent. And while ex-state Sen. Vincent Fort, a Bernie Sanders ally who took 10 percent, has announced that he won't be taking sides, he heaped praise on Norwood at a recent press conference. City Councilor Kwanza Hall, who won just 4 percent, is the only defeated candidate who has endorsed Bottoms (or at least the only defeated candidate who cleared 1 percent of the vote.)
While endorsements from also-rans never automatically translate into votes, there's good reason to think they'll prove beneficial for Norwood. All of the defeated candidates are Democrats, and they could make it tougher for Bottoms and her allies to portray Norwood as a stealth Republican—an image problem Norwood could use some help with after she loudly echoed Republican talking points when she claimed earlier this year, without evidence, that voter fraud cost her victory in her 2009 race against Reed.
Racial politics are another factor here. Bottoms is black, while Norwood would be Atlanta's first white mayor since the late Maynard Jackson ousted Sam Massell in 1973. Mitchell, and Fort are both African-American, as is former Mayor Shirley Franklin, another prominent Democrat who gave her backing to Norwood earlier this week (Woolard and Aman are white.) Atlanta has been a majority-black town for decades, but the city has grown whiter in recent years: While African-Americans made up 54 percent of Atlanta's residents in 2010, when Reed took office, the city is now 51 percent black. And in the primary, black candidates took a combined 51 percent of the vote, while white contenders took 48 percent. If these endorsements from black politicians help Norwood do just a little better with black voters than Bottoms does with white voters, it could make all the difference.
Bottoms does have Reed's vocal support, but if it's helped her, it's also sparked a backlash that seems to have helped persuade her former opponents, as well as Franklin, to back Norwood. The abrasive Reed has alienated much of Atlanta's political establishment over the years, and a scandal involving the city's former procurement director has Reed's critics saying the city needs a new direction.
Notably, both Woolard and Franklin have said they're supporting Norwood in large part because they believe she would improve transparency at city hall. Aman similarly argued that the city can't "afford four more years of a Reed-Bottoms team" when he made his endorsement. Mitchell didn't emphasize Reed when he made his decision, but he has a horrible relationship with the mayor: After Mitchell made his choice in the runoff, the mayor quipped, "Ceasar Mitchell supporting Mary Norwood is one man, one woman, two losers." But if things don't go Bottoms' way, Reed's own endorsement might wind up earning the stamp of "one man, one woman, two losers" in the end.