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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.
● VA-Gov: With Election Day upon us, we're rating this year's marquee election, the open-seat race for Virginia governor, as Lean Democratic. That means we think that Democrat Ralph Northam, the state's lieutenant governor, has an identifiable advantage over the Republican nominee, former RNC chair Ed Gillespie, though an upset is still a real possibility. We’d be surprised if Northam didn’t win, though, and here’s why.
When taken in aggregate, the polling (including a last-minute flood of several new surveys) continues to show Northam leading, just as it has ever since the primaries back in June. Our final average of all the polls finds Northam ahead 46.5 to 43.1, with Libertarian Cliff Hyra at 2.3 percent and undecided voters or those saying they'll vote for other candidates at 8.2. In fact, of the 44 post-primary polls in our database, only four have ever shown Gillespie ahead, and two of those results have since been superseded by new polls from the same outfits (Monmouth College and The Polling Company, a GOP firm) that have put Northam in front.
But after 2016, it’s understandable if many Democrats feel nervous about any polling lead, and in Virginia, those feelings have reason to be particularly acute. Back in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe held a 7-point advantage in the polling averages but only won the governorship by 2.5 points, while a year later, Sen. Mark Warner had a double-digit lead on none other than Ed Gillespie but escaped by less than a single point.
However, despite last year's broader polling miss nationwide, the polls in Virginia were spot-on, and there are other signs that point in Northam's favor as well. The biggest is the inescapable fact that historic levels of enthusiasm have buoyed Democratic candidates in all parts of the country ever since Donald Trump's win a year ago. We've been closely tracking every special election for Congress and state legislatures, and Democrats have, on average, outperformed the 2016 presidential results by 11 points—and 2012's by 9 points. Those are huge gains, and they've not only handed Democrats wins in places that should never have been competitive in the first place, but they've also made plenty of other races far closer than they should have been.
If anything like this intensity replicates itself in the Old Dominion, that's going to be hard for Republicans to overcome, and we haven't seen anyone make a case that we should expect Virginia to behave differently than everywhere else. Indeed, the available evidence only suggests the opposite. For the first time in ages, the state hosted contested gubernatorial primaries on both sides, but turnout was far heavier among Democrats: 543,000 Virginians voted in the Democratic contest, while just 366,000 cast ballots in the GOP primary. And not only has Northam badly outraised Gillespie ($34 million to $24 million), he’s had more than double the number of small donors: 47,000 to 22,000.
Then there's the matter of the sort of campaign Gillespie ultimately chose to run. As you'd expect of a former RNC chair, Gillespie is the quintessential Beltway creature, and his natural approach would have revolved around the classic conservative promises of lower taxes, fewer regulations, and job growth. Indeed, that's exactly what he emphasized in the GOP primary … which he very nearly wound up losing to Corey Stewart, an unabashed fanboy of the Confederacy who made a direct appeal to the same nativist anger that Trump himself ran on.
Gillespie could have continued as he had, but not long after he shakily captured the Republican nomination, he chose to make a wrenching shift and embrace the exact same themes Stewart ran on. Gillespie's ads and mailers targeting Northam turned openly racist. Adorned with photos of heavily tattooed Latino gangsters (photographed not in Virginia but in Central America), Gillespie's spots accused Northam of supporting everything from sanctuary cities to tearing down Confederate monuments to "restoring the rights" of pedophiles. It's been as ugly as it gets, but you know who was a prominent critic of this strategy?
Ed Gillespie himself. In 2005, he penned an op-ed calling "[a]nti-immigration rhetoric" a "political siren song" for Republicans that, if unresisted, would cause the GOP's majorities to "crash on the shoals." Yet despite this belief, Gillespie chose to reject his own advice and embrace the very rhetoric he despised. If the classic milquetoast Chamber of Commerce-style campaign had been working, surely he'd have stuck with it. The fact that he so abruptly changed gears suggests a move made out of desperation.
That's not to say outright appeals to racial animus can't or won't work—Donald Trump is living proof of that—so it's certainly possible that Gillespie's about-face might yet save him. But it was a strategy borne out of weakness, not strength. It did, however, cause Northam to stumble, and he might have hurt himself with Latino voters with an inexplicable late blunder in which he said he would vote to ban sanctuary cities, despite the fact that Gillespie's most searing ads were predicated on the fact that Northam had cast a politically courageous vote (engineered by the GOP) against such a ban. If turnout among communities of color is lower than what Northam's been hoping for, that could lead to a very unpleasant election night surprise, and he may only have himself to blame.
But Northam doesn't need any "ifs" in order to win. Gillespie, on the other hand, either needs the polls to be wrong, or he needs to win a disproportionate share of undecided voters. As we acknowledge, either of those things could happen, but we don't have good reason to think they will. It's still a tight race, but we expect Northam to pull this one out.
● AL-Sen: Democrat Doug Jones' latest ad says "You know it. I know it," when it comes to the healthcare system being broken. Jones says he'll work across party lines to find solutions, but Republican Roy Moore's extremism and grandstanding "will take us back to the past."
● IN-Sen: Republican state Rep. Mike Braun is spending $324,000 on TV and radio to introduce himself to voters. The wealthy businessman's TV spot highlights how he started a successful company in his own hometown. Braun says he's running for Senate to "get Washington moving again" and overcome the dysfunction.
● KY-Sen: Over the weekend, news surfaced that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, was physically attacked at his Bowling Green home. Paul suffered several broken ribs and a bruised lung. His next-door neighbor Rene Boucher was arrested for the assault, but officials did not say what sparked the incident or if it was politically motivated. Both men work in the medical field, with Paul being an ophthalmologist and Boucher and anesthesiologist. The Washington Post reports that "Paul's recovery could last several months."
● ME-Sen: Republican Gov. Paul LePage has long been coy about whether he'll run for office again and has made statements over the years suggesting an unserious interest in various races. However, LePage recently said "If I run for U.S. Senate, I will be a single man," which is a pretty strong statement conveying that he's unlikely to challenge independent incumbent Angus King next year, though it's not technically a firm "no." The governor also said that his wife, Maine first lady Ann LePage, has no interest in a Senate campaign either despite a recent entreaty from Steve Bannon for her to join the race.
● CT-Gov: Several months ago, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said she would wait until Connecticut's budget was finished before she decided about running for the Democratic nod. The state's budget negotiations took far longer to conclude than Wyman or anyone else probably anticipated, but now that they're finally done, Wyman's spokesperson says she "will make a decision soon." Several Democrats are raising money to succeed retiring Gov. Dan Malloy, but a few have indicated that they wouldn't run against Wyman. Democratic donors may also be waiting to see what Wyman does before they open their wallets.
● FL-Gov: On Friday night, Politico reported that six women who work in the Florida state capitol accused state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, of "inappropriately touch[ing] them without their consent or utter[ing] demeaning remarks about their bodies."
The women, all of whom asked not to be named for fear of losing their jobs, relayed that over the last several years, Latvala made them feel "degraded and demeaned when he touched their buttocks or other private areas of their bodies, or when he commented on their weight and their breast size. One woman said the legislator would audibly grunt in her ear when giving her lengthy hugs that were physically and emotionally painful and embarrassing." Days later, a former Latvala aide also publicly said that she'd "tolerated degrading comments because I badly needed to keep my job" and that the senator should "resign immediately."
Latvala denied everything, declaring on Friday that, "I'm sure that you have handpicked people and you are going to let anonymous people have this kind of impact on the career of a guy who has been there for 16 years," and added that he'd "never had a complaint filed against me." That's not even a remotely compelling argument, of course. As the Miami Herald recently wrote in an article about the toxic culture of the Florida state capitol, a lobbyist has never filed a complaint against a legislator for unwanted advances, and neither Speaker Richard Corcoran nor Senate leader Joe Negron can recall a legislator ever being reprimanded for it.
Latvala also made it very clear that he wouldn't be dropping out of the race to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Rick Scott. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a former state legislator and intra-party enemy of Latvala, told Politico that "everyone in Tallahassee knows that Jack Latvala is an absolute hound," and that he witnessed some incidents himself. Not long after, an opposition research file on Gaetz was uploaded by someone that detailed, among other things, a drunk driving arrest.
However, while Latvala's allies defended him, other Florida Republicans weren't so understanding. Scott, who has yet to take sides in the primary to replace him, called the allegations "disgusting" and called for anyone tied to those actions to be "out of office." (We'll just note that Scott remains a huge Donald Trump supporter.)
Negron, who beat Latvala two years ago in a battle to control the Senate, initially picked the chamber's general counsel to head the investigation, but she recused herself due to her ties to Latvala. Negron is currently looking for someone to head an independent investigation, which Scott said he supports. On Monday, Latvala released a letter to Negron asking to take a "leave of absence" from chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee, and he was soon temporarily removed from that post.
● NJ-Gov: What a difference four years makes. This time in 2013, Chris Christie was cruising to the easiest of re-election victories. Now New Jersey's governorship is all but assured of switching hands, leading us to rate this race as Safe Democratic.
It's been a pretty amazing turnaround. Following his widely praised response to Hurricane Sandy—and that well-publicized hug with Barack Obama—Christie became politically untouchable, so much so that Democrats struggled to even recruit a challenger, and Christie went on to a monster 60-38 win. But in that huge success, Christie sowed the seeds of his own downfall.
In one of the pettiest, most vindictive, and most embarrassing political shenanigans in modern times, Christie staffers retaliated against a local mayor who'd refused to endorse the governor by shutting down toll lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, declaring, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." The scandal became known as "Bridgegate" and yielded prison sentences for several Christie aides. And while Christie himself avoided direct culpability, his poll numbers began an epic tank that only grew worse with his ill-fated presidential campaign and never really bottomed out.
With Christie's larger-than-life unpopularity looming over the race to succeed him, Republicans never really had much of a chance, especially since they nominated Christie’s own lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno. Democrats, meanwhile, went with wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy, who seems to have avoided pissing anyone off or making any real mistakes.
Not only has Guadagno never led in a single poll, she's never come close: Murphy's had double-digit leads since day one and has an average advantage of about 15 points. And both of the major party committees that invest in gubernatorial races, the DGA and RGA, have largely stayed out of this one, preferring to focus on Virginia. This one is a snoozer, and for Democrats eager to cast of eight years of Christie's misrule, that suits them just fine. Democrats should also have no trouble whatsoever holding the state Assembly and Senate on Tuesday, so a Murphy win would restore Team Blue’s complete control of state government after eight years.
● NY-Gov: Former state Sen. Terry Gipson recently filed to run for governor in 2018 and challenge Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo in the primary, although Gipson says he's still exploring whether to actually run or not. Gipson won a single term to the state Senate in 2012 in an upset in a Republican-leaning district in the Hudson Valley, but he lost 51-46 in 2014 and fell short by 55-45 in his 2016 comeback bid.
Cuomo has long angered the progressive base thanks to his facilitation of Republican control of the state Senate with the help of a band of renegades called the Independent Democratic Conference, who caucus with the Republicans. Gipson previously criticized the incumbent for failing to do enough to bring the rebel Democrats back into the fold, with the effect being that the GOP-run Senate has blocked progressive priorities such as voting rights reforms and environmental protections.
However, Cuomo's enabling of GOP control of the Senate may be a bit too inside baseball for the average Democratic voter, since polls have typically found the governor with a strong approval rating among his own party. Cuomo also had a huge $26 million war chest as of July, and any successful primary challenger would likely need to raise millions in this expensive state. It remains to be seen whether Gipson has what it takes to pull off an upset here.
● TX-Gov: Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who was Team Blue's 2014 nominee, recently said she would "99 percent" rule out running for governor again. Although Davis said she was leaving the door 1 percent open "[b]ecause no one's stepping forward," she sounds quite unlikely to mount a second campaign. Davis was originally a highly touted candidate in the 2014 cycle, but lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by 59-39 for an open seat during that year's GOP midterm wave.
● HI-01: State Rep. Kaniela Ing recently became the first Democrat to announce a bid for this open 63-31 Clinton seat in Honolulu. As we've noted before, Ing represents Maui in the state House, which is entirely located in the 2nd Congressional District. Back in September, Ing played up his local ties, noting that he was student body president at the University of Hawaii Manoa and has spent years working in Honolulu in the legislature. Ing also argued that Honolulu is in danger of becoming too expensive for anyone to live but the "super rich," declaring that, "Every politician says we want to change that, but there are donors—that elite 1 percent—that add to the problem. The only way to change that is a grassroots campaign."
It's not uncommon for Honolulu-based politicians to just run for whichever seat is open at the time (about 70 percent of the island is in the 1st, while the balance is in the 2nd). For instance, Rep. Coleen Hanabusa, who is leaving to run for governor, herself ran for the open 2nd in 2006 and narrowly lost the primary to now-Sen. Mazie Hirono four years before she won this seat. But it's a lot more unusual for politicians from other Hawaiian islands to make a serious drive for this Honolulu seat.
Ing almost certainly won't have the primary to himself. State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who was the runner-up in the 2014 primary, has set up another campaign account, though she has yet to announce she's in. Several other Democrats have also expressed interest in a bid. Attorney General Doug Chin has been publicly quiet about his 2018 plans, but political observers believe he's very interested in this seat.
● ID-01: Layne Bangerter, who led Trump's election campaign in Idaho, expressed interest in running for the GOP nod for this safely red open seat back in June. However, Bangerter recently took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as state director for Rural Development in Idaho, so we can cross his name off the list.
● IL-13: Sen. Dick Durbin has waded into the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Rodney Davis and endorsed fundraising consultant Betsy Londrigan. Londrigan, who also has an endorsement from EMILY's List, has worked as a fundraiser for Durbin in the past. A few other Democrats are competing for this 50-44 Trump downstate seat, and Londrigan's main primary foe looks like attorney Erik Jones.
● KS-02: Antonio Soave's bid for the GOP nomination for this open Topeka-area seat has not been going well. At all. Until recently, Gov. Sam Brownback denied that Soave had been forced to resign as state commerce secretary in June, but he changed his story a few days ago. Now, Brownback says that Soave "presented a number of problems that resulted in his termination. Among those problems, he entered into several consulting contracts that reflected a lack of judgment and that the Governor felt were inappropriate. These contracts were either terminated or not renewed as appropriate under the circumstances."
Soave continues to insist that he left "after mutual accord and agreement," even though his own lawyers said in court documents that he chose to depart due to "extreme pressure" from the governor's office. Soave has been in a legal fight with a former business partner who alleges that Soave used money from their consulting business to pay off his personal credit card and expenses from his government job.
Soave also attracted other bad headlines a few days ago after he lost his post as state head of a charity after the Kansas City Star began asking questions about his hiring. The Star also identified "at least nine of Soave's friends or business partners who had landed state contracts for consulting and marketing services during his 18 months as secretary." Soave faces several Republican primary opponents in his bid for this House seat, but Soave has raised very little money so far.
● TN-06: While ex-state Rep. Joe Carr considered a bid for this safely red Middle Tennessee seat, he announced this week that he would run for the state Senate instead. Carr ran in the 2014 GOP primary for the U.S. Senate and held incumbent Lamar Alexander to a 50-41 victory. However, Carr challenged GOP Rep. Diane Black last year and lost 64-32.
● TN-07: Last week, songwriter Lee Thomas Miller, who serves as head of Nashville Songwriters Association International, set up a campaign committee with the FEC for this safely red seat. Miller has not yet committed to a bid to succeed Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, but he said that "we'll have an announcement soon." Miller has written songs for several well-known artists, and a few of them, including Kix Brooks, Brad Paisley, and Jamey Johnson, are encouraging him to run. So far, the only notable Republican who has announced a bid for this Middle Tennessee seat is state Sen. Mark Green.
● TX-21: With just a little more than a month to go before the Dec. 11 filing deadline, Republicans don't have a lot of time to decide if they'll run to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Lamar Smith. Ken Mercer, a member of the Texas Board of Education, wrote over the weekend that he was considering. State Rep. Lyle Larson, whom the San Antonio Express-News' Gilbert Garcia writes has "eyed Smith's office over the years," said last week that he's considering, but his "inclination is to stay (in the Texas House) and keep working on water issues."
Garica also writes that Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, who like Larson is close to retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus, "will face some recruiting pitches from his supporters, but his interest in Congress (which once was pretty high) seems to have cooled in recent years." As for Straus himself, he definitively ruled out a bid over the weekend. This seat, which stretches from Austin west to San Antonio and takes up part of the Texas Hill Country, went from 60-38 Romney to 52-42 Trump.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: On behalf of WSB-TV, the GOP pollster Landmark Communications takes one last look at Tuesday's nonpartisan primary. They give City Councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has the support of termed-out Mayor Kasim Reed, the lead with 25 percent. City Councilor Mary Norwood, an independent who narrowly lost to Reed in the 2009 runoff, leads ex-Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman 23-12 for the other spot in the Dec. 5 runoff. This is the first poll we've even seen that shows Norwood not in first place. Until a few months ago, Bottoms looked like she was competing with several other Democrats to get to the runoff, but both Landmark and SurveyUSA have found her moving ahead.
● St. Petersburg, FL Mayor: On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls takes one last look at Tuesday's nonpartisan general election, and they find a very tight race. They give Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman a 48-46 edge over ex-Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican. No other group has released numbers here.
● SimCity Mayor: Tuesday brings us our biggest election night in a while for mayoral races across the country, with competitive contests in St. Petersburg, FL; Atlanta, GA; Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN; Charlotte, NC; Manchester, NH; and several other places across the country. We've rounded out the races to watch in our hour-by-hour guide to election night. However, as far as we know, none of the mayoral candidates in any of these cities had their leadership skills tested during the campaign with a game of SimCity.
That may sound like an absurd exercise, but as we've written before, it's actually been tried once before in the United States. As Jason Koebler wrote for Vice in 2015, the candidates running to lead Providence, RI in 1990 were invited to spend a day as mayor of SimProvidence. Koebler's entire article is fascinating and worth a read. A professional cartographer, computer scientist, and research consultant used the original SimCity to design a virtual version of Rhode Island's largest city that emulated the real-life Providence as best they could. Five of the six Democratic candidates for mayor played the game, and the results were written up in the Providence Journal.
The experiment may have had real-world electoral consequences. While four of the five players relayed their orders to Joseph Braude, the journalist who set up the game, state Rep. Victoria Lederberg insisted on implementing the controls herself. However, Lederberg didn't have a good grasp of the game and she ended up making several avoidable mistakes.
Braude describes how she ran a SimProvidence that was crime-free "but the expense was so high that all available city funds were depleted and taxes rose far beyond reasonable limits." Lederberg lost the primary by 482 votes to City Councilor Andrew Annaldo, who performed better in the simulation. Lederberg later became a state Supreme Court justice, but she very much blamed Braude for her mayoral defeat.
Annaldo was overshadowed in the general election by two independents, wealthy businessman Fred Lippitt and legendary ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci, who both took part in the experiment. While Lippitt's SimProvidence had little crime, local businesses struggled under him. But Cianci proved to be a great SimCity player, perhaps because "[h]e was the only candidate who had taken the trouble to scribble his expenses on a scratchpad."
Cianci defeated Lippitt in the real-life election by 317 votes: SimCity may not have made the difference, but it probably didn't hurt. Cianci later resigned and went to prison for corruption (there's probably no good way for SimCity to root out a corrupt player, unless that person tried to put in cheat codes when no one is looking). It doesn't appear that anyone in the United States has tried a similar experiment since 1990, but it has been attempted in Europe, most notably in a 2002 race for mayor of Warsaw. As we said above, the whole Vice article is absolutely worth reading in full.
And for anyone looking for a post-Nov. 7 mayoral elections fix before the new year, you're in luck. Albuquerque, NM holds its general election on Nov. 14, while New Orleans, LA is on Nov. 18. Atlanta will also host its runoff in early December. As far as we know, no one has organized a SimCity competition for any of those races, but there's still time!
● VA State House: If you are following along tomorrow night with us, as the results flow in from Virginia, it might be worth keeping a tab open for this clip-and-save guide of key precincts.
Sunday, we looked at over a dozen competitive districts, and checked out precincts that may offer hints into how the Democratic night is progressing. Will the Democrats be able to carve a huge slice out of the outsized majority Virginia Republicans drew for themselves in the House of Delegates? These little McNuggets of election-night information could provide valuable tea leaves.
● Babka: Election Day is upon us, and that only means one thing… wait, actually, it means many things. But one of them is babka. Daily Kos Elections is pleased to present our 2017 prediction contest, with delicious chocolate babka from the exceptional Green's Bakery as our prize!
To enter, you must have had a Daily Kos account on or before Oct. 31. You will also need to provide your email address so that we can contact you if you win (we'll only use this information to contact winners). The deadline for submitting predictions is 6 PM ET Tuesday, Nov. 7—one hour before the first polls close. You may submit as many predictions as you want, but only the last one received before the deadline will be scored. We'll be asking you to beat the spread on three major races, predict the winners in several others, and predict how many of the 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates Democrats will win on Tuesday.
We've also put together an hour-by-hour guide of what races to watch across the country on Tuesday, as well as a preview of the Virginia House landscape. We'll be liveblogging the results at Daily Kos Elections, starting at 7 PM ET, and tweeting as well. Until then (well, an hour before then), go out and earn that babka!
● Demographics: You might think of rural areas as the remaining stronghold of white nativist voters, but it turns out that the large majority of the population growth that's occurring in those rural areas is coming from foreign-born persons. A new analysis from the Daily Yonder digs into the actual numbers: rural counties (i.e. everything that is non-metropolitan), taken as a whole, gained only 160,000 residents in the 2010-2015 period (and that was all concentrated in "micropolitan" counties, which gained 276,000 residents; counties with no population center of 10,000 or more actually lost 115,000 residents during that period). Of that 160,000, 48,000 were native born and 112,000 — or 70 percent of the total — were foreign-born.
This isn't the first time the subject has been broached; following the 2016 election, there was a surge of news articles that matched the counties where the GOP gained the most ground with the counties that were diversifying most rapidly. (This was often accompanied by speculation that the anti-immigrant turn by the white working class in 2016 was partly driven by immigration finally trickling down into rural areas, discomforting residents for whom it had only been an abstract concept before.) Daily Yonder's analysis, however, underscores how much the demographic replacement cycle is changing the face of even rural areas, which may slowly take the political path that more-rapidly diversifying inner suburbs have already taken.