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: On Tuesday night, we saw something we scarcely could have imagined even months ago: a Democratic victory in Alabama's special election for the Senate. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, led Republican Roy Moore 49.9-48.4. Jones' win makes him the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama since Richard Shelby was re-elected in 1992, two years before he switched parties to the GOP. It's also the first statewide Democratic win since Lucy Baxley narrowly won a seat on the Public Service Commission in 2008.
And once Jones takes office, the GOP will have just a 51-49 edge in the Senate. Democrats still face tough math to flip the chamber in 2018, but that math has gotten quite a bit less daunting now, and helpfully, Jones won't be up for re-election until 2020.
To say this was a weird race would be the understatement of a lifetime. Moore, who was permanently suspended as chief justice of the state Supreme Court last year, had made plenty of enemies in his own party, but he seemed on track to win in this very conservative state until a month before Election Day.
Most national Republicans gave up trying to aide Moore after the Washington Post first reported about Moore's past predatory behavior toward teen girls. Of course, that was only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies considered several bonkers schemes to delay or outright cancel the special election, like something straight out of a banana republic.
Well, except for one national Republican: Donald Trump loudly proclaimed his loyalty towards Moore in the final weeks of the race and gave him a full-throated endorsement. Democrats feared we'd see a repeat of the Access Hollywood tape from the 2016 election, when Republicans moved away from their nominee but slowly came crawling back in time for Election Day. However, even while some conservatives held their noses and backed Moore, it wasn't enough, especially in the face of strong turnout in heavily African-American areas.
There's a whole lot more to say about this off-the-wall race, and we expect a few good books to come out of it. But we want to highlight what the New York Times' Alex Burns wrote on election eve: This election shook out as it did largely because Republican power-players in Alabama and Washington made the worst set of choices they possibly could. It began with Trump himself, who picked then-Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general instead of someone not currently in office who therefore wouldn't have had a seat to lose.
Trump's decision (which we bet he especially regrets now) allowed then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who was under investigation for using state resources to cover up an affair with a senior staffer, to pick a replacement senator. And had Bentley picked anyone but Attorney General Luther Strange, who came off looking like an utter sketchball seeing as he was tasked with investigating Bentley, that new senator should have easily won renomination. (Well, anyone aside from Roy Moore. Duh.) As we've written before, things got worse for national Republicans from there, culminating in Moore's primary win and his loss on Tuesday. We've seen so many berserk races in just the last few years, but suffice it to say we've never seen one like this.
● MN-Sen-B: Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has issued a press release saying he will announce a replacement for Democratic Sen. Al Franken on Wednesday morning at 11 AM ET. In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Franken said he would resign "in the coming weeks" in the face of sexual harassment allegations, but he has not yet provided a specific date for his departure.
● MS-Sen: A month ago, state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he'd make an announcement about whether he'll primary GOP Sen. Roger Wicker (or run for lieutenant governor) "in a matter of weeks," but now he's saying he's going to hold off until January. We suppose 10 weeks is still "a matter of weeks," but phrasing things that way will make people want to give you noogies.
● TX-Sen: The second candidate filing deadline of the 2018 election cycle passed on Monday in Texas, and the Texas Tribune has a comprehensive list of who filed in each race. The primary will be on March 6, and there will be a runoff on May 22 in races where no one took a majority of the vote. This is the last filing deadline until Jan. 27 in West Virginia. There are all sorts of caveats to watch out for as each state's filing deadline passes, which we round up here.
After failing to win the White House in 2016, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz will seek another term. A year ago, several notable Texas Republicans didn't rule out challenging Cruz, who pissed off conservatives everywhere with his tepid-at-best support for Donald Trump in the general election. However, Cruz has spent 2017 considerably more loyal to the guy who beat him, and it looks unlikely he'll have much to worry about in the primary. Cruz's only notable intra-party rival is Bruce Jacobson, a Christian TV executive. However, it doesn't look like Jacobson has the connections to mount a serious bid in this ultra-expensive state, and there's no indication enough primary voters are tired of Cruz to give him much of an opening.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Beto O'Rourke faces only minor opposition. O'Rourke won't have an easy time beating Cruz in this conservative state, especially when national Democrats are concentrating on numerous other Senate races. However, progressive Cruz-haters everywhere have contributed to O'Rourke's campaign, and this contest is worth keeping an eye on in what's already been a crazy election cycle.
● NY-Gov: New York Republicans finally landed a notable candidate to take on Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year when state Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb kicked off a bid on Tuesday. To say Kolb's path to victory is narrow is an understatement, though: No Republican has won statewide since 2002, and Cuomo has an astonishing $26 million in his campaign account. (That's what exploiting corrupt New York politics to the maximum will do for you.)
Kolb, by contrast, has just $255,000 in the bank, but that's not his only problem. For one, several other Republicans are still weighing bids, including wealthy businessman Harry Wilson, who reportedly once said that he was willing to self-fund $10 million. And in a sign that New York's beleaguered GOP isn't done tearing itself apart, Kolb even suggested that the party's convention next year could be "rigged"—by none other than the Republican chair himself.
That's not all. The Daily News also reports that "rumors" have long circulated throughout the capitol that Kolb had sexually harassed an aide, and there may indeed be more to it than that: Court papers filed in 2004 by a former Assembly staffer who accused then-Speaker Sheldon Silver's chief counsel of raping her also alleged that Kolb had "engaged in improper or illegal sexual misconduct and sought information on anyone who had made previous sexual harassment complaints against" him. Why Kolb would court further scrutiny in furtherance of such a longshot campaign is beyond fathoming.
● TX-Gov: GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has only minor primary opposition, and the well-funded incumbent is the heavy favorite in a state where Democrats haven't won a single statewide race since 1994. But the state Democratic Party spent months looking for a credible candidate to challenge Abbott both to help turn out voters for other races, and so they could capitalize if this contest becomes a lot more competitive than it looks right now. Ex-Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and businessman Andrew White jumped in this month and, for the first time in a very long time, Texas Democrats have a competitive primary for governor.
The state party seems to prefer Valdez, who would be Texas' first Hispanic governor as well as the first open lesbian governor in the country. White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, who served one term in the mid-1980s, is positioning himself as a business-friendly centrist.
● IL-04: Nonprofit founder Neli Vazquez Rowland has announced that she's dropping her bid for Illinois' safely blue 4th Congressional District, a Chicago-area seat that's being left open by Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez's retirement. Vazquez Rowland was one of half a dozen notable Democrats to file for the race, but her close ties to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner would likely not have helped her in a Democratic primary. Her departure now leaves nonprofit director Sol Flores as the only prominent woman in the race.
● MI-07: On Tuesday, EMILY's List endorsed former state Rep. Gretchen Driskell in her rematch against GOP Rep. Tim Walberg, just as they did last year. Driskell remains the only notable Democrat running in Michigan's 7th District, which occupies the southeastern corner of the state, though the filing deadline is not until late April. In 2016, Driskell matched Walberg dollar for dollar, but the 7th moved sharply to the right, going from a narrow 51-48 win for Mitt Romney to a huge 56-39 victory for Donald Trump, and Driskell lost by a similar 55-40 spread.
● NJ-11: On Monday, Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett dropped his bid for New Jersey's 11th Congressional District and said that he'd seek re-election to his current post instead. Bartlett raised a creditable $230,000 in his first quarter in the race, but he was utterly swamped by former federal prosecutor and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill, who pulled in a monster $487,000 and has earned a great deal of attention for her campaign. A third candidate who is still in the race, businesswoman Tamara Harris, raised $157,000 and self-funded $300,000. Bartlett didn't endorse either of his rivals, but Sherrill, who has the backing of EMILY's List, looks like the favorite to take on GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen next year.
● OH-12: Republican state Sen. Kevin Bacon, who unfortunately is not the ubiquitous Hollywood actor who starred in A Few Good Men, Footloose, and Flatliners, has now joined the race for Ohio's 12th Congressional District, which GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi has promised he'll resign from by Jan. 31. (The good news is that the real Kevin Bacon is a Democrat.) Several other Republicans are already running, and a few more are still considering bids. For Democrats, farmer John Russell recently declared a bid. This seat, which includes some of the Columbus suburbs, went for Donald Trump by a 53-42 margin, so it might just be gettable for Team Blue if the proverbial stars align.
● TX-02: GOP Rep. Ted Poe announced one month before the filing deadline that he would retire. This district, which includes part of Houston and some of its northern suburbs, was drawn to elect a Republican as part of the infamous DeLaymander of 2003, and Romney easily carried it 63-36. However, Trump won it by a considerably smaller 52-43 margin, and Team Blue hopes to put this race in play.
Several Republicans filed to run here, but only state Rep. Kevin Roberts holds elected office. Roberts, a freshman legislator who represents northwest Houston, picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from Harris County Judge Ed Emmett (whose post would be called county executive in many other states.) However, primary rival and longtime GOP donor Kathaleen Wall also has connections, as well as some personal wealth. It's not clear if the other candidates, including former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, can run a competitive race. The fourth-quarter campaign fundraising reports, which are due in late January, will give us a good idea about who is serious here and who isn't.
On the Democratic side, non-profit executive Todd Litton had $230,000 in the bank at the end of September, well before Poe called it quits. A few other Democrats are competing in the primary as well.
● TX-03: Longtime GOP Rep. Sam Johnson announced he would retire back in January, and every noteworthy Republican quickly deferred to state Sen. Van Taylor. Taylor ran for Congress all the way back in 2006 in a seat well to the south, but he lost to Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards. This time, Taylor faces minimal primary opposition, and national Democrats haven't shown much interest in targeting this 55-41 Trump district. A few Democrats have filed including attorney Sam Johnson, who is not known to be related to Rep. Sam Johnson.
● TX-05: GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling is retiring from a seat that backed Trump 63-34, and there's a crowded GOP primary to succeed him. Hensarling endorsed Bunni Pounds, a GOP fundraiser and his former campaign manager. Ex-state Rep. Kenneth Sheets narrowly lost his Dallas County seat last year, making him the one Texas House Republican to lose to a Democrat that cycle, and he's hoping to avenge himself by winning this district.
State Rep. Lance Gooden also is in, and he could have a geographic edge over his Dallas County-based foes. While this seat is often described as a suburban Dallas district, only about 40 percent of this seat is in Dallas County, with the balance located in smaller, rural areas. The Dallas portion is by far the bluest part of the seat, so a rural candidate like Gooden may have a big edge in a GOP primary over suburban Dallas politicians. However, Gooden doesn't seem beloved at home. In 2014, Gooden narrowly lost renomination 51-49. Gooden got his revenge by winning the 2016 primary, but by only 52-48. Six other Republicans are running including Jason Wright, a former member of the Tyler City Council and a staffer to Sen. Ted Cruz. However, Tyler is located outside this seat.
● TX-06: While longtime GOP Rep. Joe Barton had planned to seek another term in this Fort Worth-area seat, he chose to retire after a nude photo of him circulated on Twitter and the public learned about some very unsavory aspects of his personal life. The primary frontrunner looks like ex-Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, a former Barton chief of staff who was considered the congressman's heir apparent before the scandal.
However, being linked to the GOP establishment doesn't always go over well with primary voters, and Wright's connections to Barton may not help either. Barton himself half-jokingly said that, while he'd likely vote for Wright, "Given my current status, I'm not sure if anybody would want my endorsement, so I might come out against somebody if that helps them." Jake Ellzey, a veteran who serves on the Texas Veterans Commission, had launched a bid against Barton before the congressman decided to retire, though he claims he was planning to run before the scandal. Ellzey ran for the state House in 2014 but took just 16 percent of the vote in the primary even with then-Gov. Rick Perry's support. Several other Republicans are running, but it remains to be seen if any of them are viable.
This seat, which includes most of Arlington, a portion of Fort Worth, and some nearby rural areas, went from 58-41 Romney to 54-42 Trump, so it could be a Democratic target in a good year. Six Democrats are running, and public relations consultant Jana Lynne Sanchez has attracted the most attention. Sanchez had barely raised any money by September, but she says she brought in $100,000 in the days after Barton admitted the photo was of him.
● TX-07: Republican Rep. John Culberson's suburban Houston seat has been in GOP hands for decades, and future President George H.W. Bush even represented a previous version of the district in the 1960s. However, Democrats became a whole lot more interested after this seat swung from 60-39 Romney all the way to 48.5-47.1 Clinton, and several Democrats have filed to run against him.
The primary has been going on for months, so we have a good idea of which Democratic candidates are raising a serious amount of money. At the end of September, nonprofit executive Alex Triantaphyllis had more than $500,000 in the bank, and attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who has since been endorsed by EMILY's List, had $400,000. Laura Moser, who founded the progressive group Daily Action, had $272,000, while MD Anderson cancer researcher Jason Westin had $167,000 in the bank. Culberson himself had only $389,000 on-hand, a pretty weak sum for a longtime incumbent in what's shaping up to be a competitive race.
● TX-10: GOP Rep. Michael McCaul hasn't been mentioned much this cycle as a Democratic target. However, his seat, which stretches from the Austin suburbs east to the Houston area, went from 59-39 Romney to 52-43 Trump, and a credible Democratic candidate may be able to make things interesting in a good year. Mike Siegel, an assistant city attorney for Austin, announced he was running this month, and a few other Democrats are also in.
● TX-16: Rep. Beto O'Rourke is leaving this safely blue El Paso seat behind to run for Congress, and a few noteworthy Democrats have entered the race to succeed him. O'Rourke quickly endorsed Veronica Escobar, who resigned as judge of El Paso County to run here. (Escobar's post functions as both a county executive and legislator.) EMILY's List also endorsed Escobar a few months ago, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the U.S. House, did as well on Tuesday.
Escobar's main primary foe is former El Paso school board president Dori Fenenbock, who has outraised Escobar so far. There's a good reason why national Democrats seem to prefer Escobar: As we've noted before, Fenenbock only voted in a Democratic primary for the first time last year, having voted in GOP primaries in the past (Texas doesn't register voters by party), and she's relied heavily on Republican donors.
Just before the filing deadline, ex-state Rep. Norma Chávez also announced she was in. However, Chávez has not been very successful at the ballot box in recent years. In 2010, Chávez was widely condemned when she publicly referred to primary foe Naomi Gonzalez as a lesbian. Chávez issued a non-apology, saying, "I regret that in response to one of my opponent's repeated, negative, personal attacks, I made reference to her sexual orientation," and went on to lose 53-47. Chávez sought a rematch in 2014, and Gonzalez ended up taking third in the primary. However, Chávez badly lost the runoff 68-32 to another candidate.
● TX-21: Rep. Lamar Smith is another one of the several longtime Texas GOP congressmen who decided to retire this year. Smith's seat, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and takes up part of the Texas Hill Country, went from 60-38 Romney to a smaller 52-42 spread for Trump, and it could be a good Democratic target in a strong year.
Several Republicans entered the race to succeed Smith. The best-known candidate to readers of the Digest is probably ex-Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, who won the competitive neighboring 23rd District in the 2010 GOP wave. However, Canseco lost re-election two years later 50-46 to Democrat Pete Gallego even as Mitt Romney was carrying his 23rd District 51-48. Canseco wanted a rematch in 2014, but he lost the primary to Will Hurd 59-41, and Hurd continues to hold the 23rd. Donors didn't give Canseco much help in his last campaign, and we'll see if he does better this time.
A plethora of other Republicans are in, and some may have better connections than Canseco. Chip Roy, a state GOP political veteran and a former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz, has his old boss' support. Businessman Robert Stovall resigned as chair of the Bexar County GOP to run here, and he narrowly lost a 2012 general election for county tax assessor-collector. State Rep. Jason Isaac, who represents part of the Hill Country (including Lyndon Johnson's boyhood home of Johnson City) has the distinction of being the only current elected official in the race. Communications firm chief Jenifer Sarver; retired CIA officer Eric Burkhart; attorney Ivan Andarza, who has served in various party and state-appointed roles; and several other Republicans are also in, but they've all attracted less attention.
We also unexpectedly have a primary poll here, though it doesn't tell us too much. On behalf of a super PAC founded by Travis County GOP chair Matt Mackowiak, Cygnal released a survey just before the filing deadline. They gave Canseco the lead with 22 percent of the vote, even though he only represented about 2 percent of this seat when he was in the House five years ago. They had ex-state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran in second with 14 percent, but Hilderbran didn't end up running here. In third place was perennial candidate Matt McCall with 11, who is running once again.
On the Democratic side, businessman Joseph Kopser, who earned a Bronze Star in Iraq, had $219,000 in the bank at the end of September before Smith announced he would retire, far more than any of his primary rivals. Several other Democrats are running here, and we'll see if Smith's departure has helped any of them fundraise.
● TX-23: Last year, Republican Rep. Will Hurd won a second term 48-47 as Clinton was carrying his seat, which stretches from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso, 50-46, and he's once again a top Democratic target. Federal prosecutor Jay Hulings is close to neighboring Rep. Joaquin Castro and his brother, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, while Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones has the support of EMILY's List and VoteVets. Former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Judy Canales is also running in the Democratic primary, but she didn't report raising money before the end of September. Hurd himself is a strong fundraiser who has a knack for generating favorable media coverage, and he won't be an easy general election opponent.
● TX-27: GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold has been in the news lately for some very bad reasons, but he's still going ahead with his re-election campaign. Back in 2015, Farenthold settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with his former communications director Lauren Greene, and he went on to win renomination in this conservative Corpus Christi-area seat just 56-44 against a weak opponent. The ugly details of Greene's lawsuit were publicly known at the time, but at the beginning of the month, Politico reported that Farenthold had used $84,000 in taxpayer money for the settlement.
Afterwards, a second Farenthold staffer came forward and said that while Farenthold hadn't harassed her, he "allowed us to work in a place that was just emotionally damaging, and that should never be allowed in any office." The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg recently took a look at Farenthold's office, writing that "legal documents and interviews with former aides suggest an atmosphere in which the congressman set the tone for off-color jokes and inappropriate banter, which flourished among his underlings."
While NRCC head Steve Stivers gently suggested that Farenthold should retire, the congressman filed to run for a fifth term anyway. Six Republican have filed to run against him, and his main opponent looks like Bech Bruun, who resigned as chair of the Texas Water Development Board to challenge him. Trump won 60-37 here, so even if Farenthold survives the primary, this isn't a likely Democratic target.
● TX-29: Veteran Democratic Rep. Gene Green decided to retire from this safely blue Houston seat this cycle, and he endorsed state Sen. Sylvia Garcia's bid to succeed him. While several other local elected officials expressed interest in running, Garcia, whose Senate district overlaps with most of the 29th, has largely cleared the field. Four other Democrats are running, but the only one who looks like he has the connections to run a credible campaign is healthcare company CEO Tahir Javed, who hosted a 2016 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.
● TX-31: Republican Rep. John Carter has never had much trouble winning this suburban Austin seat, but he has an interesting Democratic challenger this time. Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar flew search-and-rescue missions in Afghanistan, and in 2009, she saved her passengers after the Taliban shot down her medevac helicopter. Hegar went on to lead a lawsuit against the Department of Defense against their now-defunct policy that prevented women from serving in ground combat positions, and Angelina Jolie reportedly is in talks to star in a movie version of her memoir.
Hegar, who has a few primary foes, recently released a poll showing her trailing Carter only 46-40 in a general election. However, Hegar will need a lot to go right to win here. While this seat went from 60-38 Romney to 54-41 Trump, it's still very red turf, and Hegar has had trouble fundraising. Still, this race could be worth keeping an eye on in a wave year.
● TX-32: This suburban Dallas was another seat that swung hard to the left last year, moving from 57-42 Romney all the way to 48.5-46.6 Clinton. GOP Rep. Pete Sessions is facing his first competitive general election since 2004, but the former NRCC chair is taking this race seriously. Democrats didn't challenge Sessions last year, but this time, there's a crowded primary to face him.
Ed Meier, a former staffer for Hillary Clinton, has lapped the field in fundraising, and he had $438,000 in the bank at the end of September. Former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Lillian Salerno and Colin Allred, an NFL player turned civil rights attorney, are also in, but they had far less money than Meier. Former TV investigative reporter Brett Shipp also jumped in just before the deadline in a move that reportedly caught state and national Democrats completely by surprise. Shipp is reportedly well-known in the area, but he's never run for office.
● San Francisco, CA Mayor: On Tuesday morning, Democratic San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee died at the age of 65 hours after he collapsed from a heart attack. Lee's death came without any warning, and Board of Supervisors President London Breed became acting mayor immediately.
Lee became San Francisco's first Asian American chief executive in early 2011 after Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. Lee, who was serving as city administrator at the time, was chosen by the Board of Supervisors to replace Newsom, and he originally said he had no interest in running for a full term later that year. However, Chinese American civic leaders, former Mayor Willie Brown, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein successfully encouraged him to change his mind. Lee, whose campaign produced a memorable web video where will.i.am and MC Hammer called him "too legit to quit," decisively won, and he was easily re-elected in 2015.
Breed, who is now the city's first African American woman mayor, will serve at least until the 11-person Board of Supervisors votes for a new mayor. If a majority of the Board agrees on a candidate (whether it be Breed or someone else), that person will serve until a special election can be held in June 2018. However, if a majority can't settle on someone, Breed will remain acting mayor until the June special. (Update: This post originally said that there would only be a special election if the Board couldn’t agree of a new mayor.) Breed was one of several local politicians laying the groundwork to run in 2019 before Lee died. San Francisco politics is often defined by the battle between moderates (who would be considered liberals almost anywhere else in the United States) and progressives. Moderates took a majority of the Board after the last election, and Breed is generally seen as a moderate.