● UT-03: On Thursday, Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced that he was resigning from the House, effective June 30. Chaffetz, who surprisingly announced last month that he would not seek re-election, did not reveal why he was stepping down. However, The Salt Lake City Tribune says there are rumors Chaffetz is talking with Fox News about a job. In any case, Democrats won't be sad to see the House Oversight chair go: Chaffetz infamously delighted in aggressively looking into Hillary Clinton's emails, but showed absolutely none of the same zeal in going after Donald Trump.
Trump carried Chaffetz's 3rd District, which includes Provo and much of the southeast corner of Utah, with 47 percent of the vote, while conservative independent Evan McMullin edged Clinton 24-23 for second place. This seat has been reliably red for decades, and it's unlikely Democrats will make a serious play for it in the upcoming special election, though Utah's apathy towards Trump could conceivably make things interesting.
However, it may take a long time before we know anything about the upcoming special election. As we've mentioned before, Utah law requires that "the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy." That is all it says: There's nothing about when the special needs to be called, how the parties will choose their nominees, or even if the parties are allowed to nominate anyone. And it doesn't sound like this ambiguous law will get fixed for a while. Earlier this week, the GOP state House caucus threatened to sue Republican Gov. Gary Herbert if he didn't call a special session to allow them to clarify the special election rules.
State House Speaker Greg Hughes claims that the current law requires 328 days to hold the special election, while his caucus wants to shorten that to a more reasonable 180 days. Herbert says he wants the parties to pick their nominees through a primary, while GOP legislative leaders are considering having the nominees be chosen through conventions instead. We'll see if Chaffetz's departure speeds things along, or if this seat will be vacant until well into 2018.
● AL-Sen: On Wednesday, candidate filing closed in Alabama for this year's special election for the final three years of Jeff Sessions' Senate term, and Al.com has a list of candidates here. Both parties will hold their primaries on Aug. 15, and in contests where no one takes a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff Sept. 26. The general election will be held Dec. 12, and the winner will be up for re-election in 2020.
On the GOP side, there were a few very late developments before filing closed. State Rep. Ed Henry, who announced he would run hours after the special was moved from 2018 to 2017, ended up bowing out of the race and ripping up his qualifying papers. Henry did take some shots at appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who is running for the rest of Sessions' term, on his way out.
However, state Sen. Trip Pittman decided to launch a campaign just after state Senate leader Del Marsh revealed that he wouldn't run. Pittman, a Gulf Coast politician who had already decided not to run for re-election to the legislature, argued that unlike the rest of the field, he's a "successful businessman." This is going to be a very expensive contest, and Pittman likely will need to be willing and able to do so serious self-funding if he wants to break through.
Right now, it looks like there will be three major GOP candidates in the August primary. Strange, a former state attorney general who was appointed this year to the Senate by the disgraced now-former GOP Gov. Robert Bentley, has the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and McConnell's well-funded allied super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has pledged to spend heavily for him in the primary. However, Strange pissed off plenty of local Republicans over the last few months: Strange's attorney general's office was investigating Bentley for covering up a sex scandal, and his decision to take a job from the governor infuriated plenty of people who felt the whole affair looked dirty. Strange didn't help things by arguing that he may not actually be investigating Bentley, a charade he kept up until he was in D.C.
Strange's best-known primary opponent is likely ex-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore has a following with Alabama's many social conservatives going back to 2003, when he was kicked off the bench for refusing to comply with a federal judge's order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state Supreme Court. Moore won back his old post in 2012, and last year, he was permanently suspended after he told state probate judges that they "have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary" to Alabama's defunct law banning same-sex marriage. Moore has a bad relationship with business groups over some of his rulings, which could hamper his fundraising, but his name recognition may be strong enough to get him at least to the runoff.
The third major GOP candidate is Rep. Mo Brooks, who represents a seat around the Huntsville area. Brooks has been a hard-core tea partier in the House, and in his campaign kickoff, he once again argued that Democrats were waging a "war on whites." Brooks may end up competing for the same sort of anti-establishment voters as Moore, though Brooks doesn't have the same sort of ties to religious conservatives. However, Brooks does have money. At the end of March, Brooks led Strange $1.18 million to $764,000 in cash-on-hand, though McConnell and friends will likely do all they can to help the appointed incumbent raise money.
According to Brooks himself, he begins the campaign as the underdog. Brooks recently said that according to his own poll (which he didn't release to the public), Moore was in first place with about 30 percent of the vote, Strange had about 20, Brooks was in the low double digits. A few days ago, Politico reported that Brooks was hoping that Strange and Marsh would hurt each other enough to allow him and Moore to advance to the runoff, but Marsh's decision not to run may have dramatically changed that calculus.
Besides Pittman, there are a few other GOP candidates who may have an impact on this race. Randy Brinson recently stepped down as head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama to run. Brinson may be able to eat into Moore's religious conservative base, though infighting between different social conservative groups could hurt Brinson. Businessmen Dom Gentile and Bryan Peeples are also in, though it's far from clear if they have the personal money or connections to run a serious race. Gentile recently said he planned to self-fund, but we'll need to see if he can write himself a big enough check to get his name out.
Alabama is one of the most GOP-friendly states in the nation, and Democrats will have a very tough time winning the December general. However, GOP infighting and Trump's scandals could give Team Blue at least a shot to make things interesting. The most notable Democratic candidate is lawyer Doug Jones, who served as U.S. attorney from 1997 to 2001. Jones is best known for successfully prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan for the murder of four girls who were killed when the Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, an act Martin Luther King Jr. called "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity."
Seven other Democrats are running, and none of them appear to have much name recognition or connections. However, one of those contenders just happens to be named Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Kennedy doesn't appear to have any relationship to the famous political family, but if Jones doesn't put enough effort into winning the primary, it's possible that voters will gravitate toward Kennedy's recognizable name.
● MT-Sen: This week, businessman Troy Downing, an Air Force veteran he owns a California-based self-storage company, told the Associated Press that he would challenge Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester next year. Downing reportedly visited the White House a few weeks ago to discuss a potential campaign, though Democrats wasted little time revealing that Downing spent much of 2015 and 2016 mocking Trump on Twitter.
It's unclear if Downing is able and willing to self-fund, or how much support he has from national Republicans. However, Downing doesn't seem to have state Republicans on board yet. Downing himself even has admitted that he hasn't met with any state party central committee members, though he now says he'll "start going through the GOP list and introducing myself."
Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines seems to have someone else in mind to challenge Tester. The Associated Press' Matt Volz reports that Daines told donors earlier this month that that the party has "a statewide elected official that I think can beat Jon Tester" lined up, but he didn't reveal who it is. Two statewide electeds, state Attorney General Tim Fox and state Auditor Matthew Rosendale, haven't ruled out running, though it's unknown how interested either man really is. State Sen. Al Olszewski is currently running for Team Red, but he doesn't seem to be attracting much attention.
● AZ-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Steve Farley has been talking about running against GOP Gov. Doug Ducey for months, and it looks like we'll know where things stand soon. Farley will hold an event June 5th where he will "speak about the future of Arizona." If Farley gets in, he will face David Garcia, who narrowly lost the 2014 superintendent race, in the primary. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton may also be interested.
● CA-Gov: A few months ago, powerful California state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León didn't rule out running for governor, but he didn't sound particularly likely to join the crowded and expensive Democratic field. However, The Hill reports that in recent days, "the political world has been buzzing" about a possible de León campaign, while Politico also hears reports "that suggest he'll jump into the governor's race next month."
If De León runs, he'll be getting in relatively late. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been running since 2015, while Treasurer John Chiang and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa entered the race last year. At the beginning of 2017, De León had raised $1.6 million for a possible lieutenant governor campaign that he could use for a gubernatorial run, but his rivals still have a huge head start over him. De León has a similar base of support as Villaraigosa, so if he runs, the two could cost one another votes.
While the Democratic contest has been underway for years, it's still not too late for other candidates to get in. Environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer recently said he'd decide in a few months, and he's reportedly polling to determine his chances. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also hasn't ruled anything out. It's also unclear who the GOP will field in this dark blue state. California uses the top-two primary system where everyone runs on one ballot, and the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general regardless of party. If a few weak Republicans run, it's very possible that two Democrats will advance to the general election.
● IA-Gov: On Wednesday, Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry announced that he would not join the crowded Democratic primary. However, Iowa Starting Line says that there are rumors that a different Democrat from Iowa City could get in. SEIU 199 head Cathy Glasson, whom Pat Rynard describes as "deeply involved in Iowa politics, particularly in Eastern Iowa, for a very long time," hasn't said anything publicly yet. Rynard says that SEIU 199's main base of membership is the University of Iowa's hospital system. Johnson is a large and very Democratic county, and a candidate with a solid base of support there could do well.
A number of other Democrats are already running for governor, and if no one takes more than 35 percent of the vote, the nomination will be decided at a party convention. This is what happened in 2014's 3rd Congressional District GOP race. David Young took fifth place in the primary with just 16 percent, ahead of only a Some Dude candidate, but he was awarded the GOP nod at the convention over his four rivals. Young ended up decisively winning a competitive general election that year, so the awkward method that got him his party's nomination didn't do much long-term damage.
This year, the Iowa State Senate voted to instead implement a primary runoff. However, the legislative session ended without the state House ever passing the bill, so the current convention system is here to stay at least through 2018.
● IL-Gov: This just feels insane, for so many reasons: Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin just gave $20 million to the campaign of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, a fellow billionaire who is running for a second term next year. Let's talk about why this is so nuts.
- A $20 million donation is legal? It is, unfortunately, because of Illinois' perverse finance regulations. Just how perverse? Get this: Illinois does theoretically cap campaign contributions, but those limits are lifted when one candidate in a race self-funds heavily—including for the self-funding candidate! That means Rauner was able to open the door for Griffin's monstrous gift by giving his own campaign tens of millions of dollars. This is lunacy.
- When you give someone that much money, you're trying to buy them, period. That's disgusting.
- Rauner, as noted, is incredibly rich (reportedly worth around $1 billion) and has already dumped $50 million of his own money into his re-election bid, on top of $45 million for his 2014 campaign. He can afford to spend as much as is humanly necessary. Why does he even need Griffin's money?
- And here's what may be the sickest part of all of this: Griffin, who's worth $8 billion according to Forbes, wouldn't shell out this kind of cash unless he thought he'd get a good return on investment. That means he thinks that whatever policies Rauner pursues would benefit Griffin's own bottom line by even more than $20 million, perhaps much more. He's a Wall Street guy, after all—he's not looking to merely break even.
With such a massive concatenation of money on the Republican side, it makes sense that some Democrats, including labor unions, are starting to rally around yet another billionaire, J.B. Pritzker, who noted that Griffin also recently gave $100,000 to Donald Trump's inaugural committee. It's unfortunate that Illinois politics is turning into a battle of the billionaires, but there may not be any other way for Team Blue to avoid getting drowned in Rauner’s and Griffin's money.
● NJ-Gov: Democratic primary frontrunner Phil Murphy is out with yet another ad ahead of the June 6 primary. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and Obama ambassador to Germany, says that "things were tight" growing up, and that he was "fortunate and succeeded, so I helped lead a charity for domestic abuse survivors and created a teen hotline." Murphy pledges to "close corporate tax breaks and end hedge funds ripping off taxpayers," which he says will help fund education.
● SC-Gov: Earlier this year, longtime South Carolina Republican politician Henry McMaster, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, finally became governor after incumbent Nikki Haley resigned to become U.N. ambassador. However, while it looked for a brief time that McMaster would win the 2018 primary for a full term without much opposition, that's not how things are shaping up so far.
A long-running political scandal involving McMaster's longtime allies at the very powerful GOP consulting firm Richard Quinn & Associates has only gotten worse for them in recent days, which helps explain why the governor isn't looking too strong. This week, state Rep. Rick Quinn, the son of RQ&A founder and owner Richard Quinn, was indicted for allegedly failing to report millions of dollars from unnamed groups that went to companies operated by himself and his father, and then using his elected position to influence policy to help those contributors.
And as we've noted before, McMaster isn't just a simple RQ&A client. In 2000, RQ&A helped him save his re-election campaign for state party chair by funneling money to the bankrupt party, which allowed McMaster to show how flush with cash the South Carolina GOP was. Days before the vote, the money was all wired back in secret—information that didn't come out until long after the election.
McMaster already faces a tough primary next year. Before Haley was nominated by Trump to serve as U.N. ambassador, ex-state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Templeton, who made a name for herself with conservatives by fighting unions across the country, made it clear she would run. After it became clear McMaster was about to become governor, Templeton seemed to be ready to back off, but she soon changed course and decided to run.
During the first quarter of 2017, McMaster outraised Templeton $960,000 to $700,000, not an impressive showing for an incumbent, even an unelected one. Other Republicans seem to sense weakness from McMaster. Last month, ex-state Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor said he would decide in June or July whether to run, and two more politicians didn't rule out campaigns when the local blog First In The State News asked them.
Kevin Bryant, a former state senator who replaced McMaster as lieutenant governor in January, has been touring the state recently. When asked if he was interested in running for governor, Bryant only said, "We've been preaching conservatism statewide. It's been well received," which is far from a no. (McMaster did not choose Bryant to be lieutenant governor. The Senate pro tempore gets the job, and Bryant's colleagues selected him for that post after the chamber's leader temporarily stepped down to avoid becoming lieutenant governor.)
Another Republican, state Sen. Katrina Shealy, was more blunt, telling FITS she "feel[s] like I can help the people in South Carolina here whether it is in the state Senate or the governor's office." Shealy beat longtime GOP state Sen. Jake Knotts in the 2012 general election after she petitioned her way onto the ballot after state leaders got her removed from the primary ballot, and in office, she has spoken out against the Quinns' influence. South Carolina requires a runoff if no one takes a majority in the primary, so McMaster may not benefit from facing a crowded field of opponents. The Palmetto State is usually reliably red, though the state GOP's problems may give Democrats an opening.
● VA-Gov: On behalf of the Washington Post and George Mason University, Abt Associates takes a look at the June 13 Democratic primary for governor of Virginia and finds a tight race. Ex-Rep. Tom Perriello leads Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam 40-38. Perriello, who went on to serve in the Obama State Department after his 2010 defeat, has the support of influential national progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and of former Obama campaign officials. Northam is the choice of state Democrats like Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Abt also polled the GOP primary, but the survey's 264-person sample size is below the 300-person minimum that Daily Kos Elections considers acceptable.
The only other primary survey we've seen in the last few weeks was a PPP poll for the pro-Northam Virginia Education Association, which gave the lieutenant governor a 45-35 lead, a small drop from the 42-28 Northam edge they found in April. As the University of Virginia's Kyle Kondik points out, the primary difference between Abt and PPP's read on the contest is how they think African American voters are breaking. Abt gives Perriello a 6-point lead with this group, while PPP has Northam up by 26 points. At this point, we don't have enough information to say which pollster is closer. Previous polls found most voters undecided, but with less than a month to go before the primary both sides have started to run commercials and voters are beginning to pay more attention.
● CO-06: Another Colorado Democrat is eyeing a run against GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, who has turned back three serious Democratic attempts to dislodge him from his suburban Denver seat. The Colorado Statesman reports that Levi Tillemann, a clean-energy expert who served in Obama's Department of Energy, has formed an exploratory committee for a potential bid. Tillemann is the grandson of ex-Lt. Gov. Nancy Dick, who left office three decades ago and is chairing his committee. On the other side of the family, Tillemann's grandfather is the late California Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in Congress.
A few other Democrats have entered the race, and the Coffman campaign took some time to use Tillemann to troll one of his would-be primary rivals. Coffman's team argued that Tillemann is running against veteran Jason Crow, whom they call the DCCC's "anointed" candidate "over all these other more grassroots, more progressive candidates." When a different Democrat, attorney David Aarestad, announced he would run, Coffman's campaign also framed this as a grassroots Democrat running against the DCCC's handpicked candidate. It's unclear if Coffman believes Crow would be his toughest opponent, or if he's just causing some mischief because he can; there's also no word if the DCCC actually prefers Crow over anyone else.
However, Tillemann and Aarestad do have one talking point that Crow doesn't have. Crow currently lives just outside the district in Denver, while Aarestad noted in his announcement that he's from the 6th District. The Statesman also reports that Tillemann lives in Aurora, which is well within the 6th. Clinton carried this seat 50-41, but Coffman won re-election last cycle 51-43 over a touted Democratic candidate.
● GA-06: The two biggest outside Democratic groups that involve themselves in House races are both ramping up their involvement on behalf of Democrat Jon Ossoff ahead of next month's special election runoff. House Majority PAC just announced it would spend $500,000 on broadcast television ads starting at the end of the month and another $200,000 on a field program beginning this weekend. (The advertisements aren't available yet.)
Meanwhile, the DCCC is out with a new TV spot hitting Republican Karen Handel with familiar attacks: that she's a self-serving career politician who spent lavishly in office and can't be trusted in Washington.
● MI-08: Democrats made a late move last cycle to target GOP Rep. Mike Bishop in Michigan's 8th District, which includes Lansing and some wealthy suburbs of Detroit. However, this seat swung from 51-48 Romney to 51-44 Trump, and Bishop won his second term 56-39. This district is still competitive enough that it could be in reach in a wave, and the Detroit News reports that local Democrats are "buzzing" about the possibility that former Defense Department official Elissa Slotkin could run.
Slotkin, whom the paper says was "the principal adviser under two secretaries of defense on the Middle East, Europe and NATO, Russia, Africa and the Western Hemisphere" and also was in Iraq with the CIA, recently moved back to Michigan from D.C. Slotkin herself said earlier this month that she's "seriously considering" getting in, and Bishop's vote for Trumpcare "only strengthened my resolve to get in."
● MT-AL: Republican Greg Gianforte has been treated to a rash of ugly headlines in the final stretch of his campaign for Montana's lone congressional seat, and the latest is just gnarly: Last year, he donated to an unsuccessful state House candidate named Taylor Rose that the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have identified as a white nationalist. In fact, Rose received support from a whole host of Republican leaders—after, the Missoulian notes, reports by the SPLC and ADL "gained traction on social media in Montana."
Earlier this week, Gianforte came under fire for a $47,000 investment in a French-Swiss company that's been accused of making payments to local security forces protecting a factory in Syria that may have made their way to ISIS. Notably, Donald Trump's campaign mercilessly attacked Hillary Clinton last year because the Clinton Foundation had accepted a donation from this same company.
Before that, it was Gianforte publicly distancing himself from the GOP's Obamacare repeal bill while embracing it in private. ("I'm thankful" for the legislation, he told lobbyists.) And before that came the news that Gianforte had $240,000 invested in Russian firms that are currently under U.S. sanction.
Democrat Rob Quist has faced his own share of rough news, mostly related to his financial woes, including unpaid debts, tax bills, and liens. But despite Montana's strong red lean, Republicans still keep acting like next week's election is no sure thing.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce just parachuted in with a new $200,000 TV buy (no copies of the ads are available yet), while the NRCC has launched two more spots. One hits Quist for his fiscal troubles and also accuses him of supporting "job-killing government regulations" and "higher taxes and more debt." The other is purely about Quist's debts, which Republicans obviously feel is a potent issue, given the number of ads they've devoted to the topic.
But when it comes to funding his campaign, Quist's had no trouble at all. On Thursday, his campaign announced that it had raised $5 million to date, a truly insane sum for such a cheap state. Even more amazing, Quist had reported raising $3.3 million as of May 5 in a recent FEC report, which means that he pulled in a massive $1.7 million in just the last two weeks. We may just be in for a very interesting election.
P.S. Note that Election Day is on Thursday, May 25, not Tuesday!
● New York, NY Mayor: On Wednesday, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries announced that he would not challenge New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in this September's Democratic primary. Back in February, Jeffries also appeared to make that same announcement, only to immediately take it back. However, Jeffries hasn't reversed himself this time.
So far, de Blasio hasn't drawn a credible primary foe, and time is running out for his detractors. De Blasio has had some stumbles in office, but he's largely maintained his base of support with labor and with African American voters, two very important constituencies in Democratic primaries. De Blasio and some of his aides were facing an investigation over their fundraising, but the potentially damaging probe was dropped in March. De Blasio has also been a vocal Trump critic, which may be helping his standing in this very blue city.
While de Blasio became New York's first Democratic mayor in 20 years when he was elected in 2013, he seems to have even less to worry about in a general election. Quinnipiac gives De Blasio a 63-21 lead over Republican real estate executive Paul Massey, and a 64-21 edge over Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island.
● Milwaukee County, WI Sheriff: What the what? Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who is both the worst lawman and worst Democrat in the country, had been rumored to be in line for a Trump job for a little while, and on Wednesday, it appeared his dream had come true: Clarke announced that he'd been tapped for a job in the Department of Homeland Security—one that, crucially, doesn't require Senate confirmation. A revolting development, yes, but one that would give him an escape hatch from a well-nigh unwinnable re-election campaign next year (and, mercifully, spare his constituents from his continued reign of terror).
Slight hitch, though: Later that same afternoon, Homeland Security's official Twitter account posted that "[n]o such announcement" had been made with regard to Clarke's hiring. Will this be a truly embarrassing climb-down for Clarke, or is this just a classic Trump regime flub? Either way, we can enjoy the moment.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.