● MT-AL: On Thursday night, wealthy Republican businessman Greg Gianforte defeated Democratic folk musician Rob Quist in the special election to fill Montana's lone House seat, which became vacant when former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke left to become Donald Trump's interior secretary earlier this year. In a stunning turn of events, Gianforte was charged with criminal assault the night before the election after violently attacking a reporter, but he nevertheless wound up winning 50-44, with 6 percent going to Libertarian Mark Wicks.
That, however, was 14 points closer than Trump's 20-point victory last fall, and it was in fact the tightest House race in Montana in 17 years, when Republicans won by 5 points in the 2000 elections. What's more, outside Republican groups, including the NRCC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, spent heavily—almost $6 million—to ensure Gianforte's victory.
Democratic organizations, meanwhile, put in just $650,000 for Quist, though the candidate's own fundraising was exceptionally strong. (Quist said he'd raised $6 million for his campaign; Gianforte appears to have raised less, though he self-funded at least $1.5 million.) At this point, it's unclear how much—or even whether—Gianforte's election eve outburst affected the final margin, though with perhaps as much as two-thirds of the vote cast early, the impact was necessarily going to be limited.
In the end, while Democrats once again wound up moving the needle back toward blue, it wasn't far enough to overcome Montana's strong red tilt. As we said at the outset when Daily Kos first endorsed Rob Quist, this was always going to be a very difficult contest to win. But it's no accident that Trump (or Steve Bannon) chose congressmen from historically Republican districts for his cabinet—they weren't going to give Democrats any easy pickup opportunities.
Fortunately for Democrats, Trump did screw up at least one appointment, since Georgia's traditionally dark red 6th District has turned into a very competitive race. But even more importantly, the playing field for next year's midterms is much more favorable for Team Blue than it's been in the handful of special elections that have taken place this year.
And in addition to sending grassroots enthusiasm through the roof, Trump has also inspired huge numbers of Democratic candidates to jump into House races across the country. We've been analyzing elections for a long time, and we haven't seen recruitment like this in a decade—when Democrats were in the midst of enjoying two successive wave elections. Republicans might be breathing a sigh of relief that their morally reprehensible candidate won on Thursday night, but they should still be worried about 2018.
As for Gianforte, he still has to appear in court by June 7. Depending on the outcome of his legal proceedings, he could yet find himself vulnerable next year, whether in a primary or a general election.
● IN-Sen: While neither Luke Messer nor fellow GOP Rep. Todd Rokita has announced that they will challenge Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly this cycle, both men have given every indication that they're planning to run, and they have even already begun exchanging blows in the press. However, the local political newsletter Howey Politics reports that three other Republicans are interested in getting in. State Attorney General Curtis Hill, who served as Elkhart County prosecutor from 2003 until his statewide win last year, hasn't said anything publicly. However, Howey reports that Hill is making phone calls about a possible bid and staffing up.
Howey also says that state Rep. Mike Braun is "reportedly making calls" about a possible bid, though he also hasn't said anything publicly. Braun had a long business career before he won office in 2014, including a decades-long stint as owner of the distribution company Meyer Distributing, which has locations in 34 states. It's possible that if Braun is interested, he has the connections to raise a serious amount of money and the ability to self-fund.
Last cycle, state Sen. Mike Delph flirted with running for Indiana's other Senate seat, but ultimately passed after anti-establishment groups like the Club for Growth consolidated behind Rep. Marlin Stutzman's unsuccessful bid. Delph isn't ruling out a campaign this time, telling Howey that he'll "address 2018" after his daughter's June 25 wedding.
As for Messer and Rokita, we may not need to wait too long for their official decisions. Back in March, Messer said he was "probably a couple of months away from making a final decision," which would put his announcement around… about now. As for Rokita, "sources close to" the congressman tell Howey they expect him to declare he's running in the early summer.
● UT-Sen: It feels like this race is becoming a game of telephone. On Thursday morning, Utah Policy, citing unnamed Republicans, reported that GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch was leaning towards retiring, with an announcement coming as early as August. They also said that if Hatch left, Mitt Romney would likely run to succeed him. However, Hatch told Politico later that day that he's "talked to Mitt Romney. He's not going to run for this seat. I would be glad for him if he would." Throughout all this, Romney has been silent. In the past, Hatch has said he's planning to run again, but left open the option of reversing course "if my wife gets sick, or I get sick, or something like that." So… who knows.
● CT-Gov: Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, one of almost a dozen Republican candidates potentially in the mix for next year's open gubernatorial race, will apparently upgrade from "exploratory committee" to "actually running" with a promised "big announcement" on June 8. (In an amusing turn of phrase, Herbst railed against ""gold-dome insiders" who've "created an economic calamity for Connecticut citizens and its businesses"—apparently a reference to the state capitol's gilded cupola.) So far, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan are the only declared candidates in the GOP primary, though at least three others, like Herbst, are also formally in exploratory mode, which confers certain advantages related to how Connecticut provides public financing to campaigns.
● GA-Gov: On Thursday, state Rep. Stacey Evans became the first noteworthy Democrat to announce that she would run to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Nathan Deal. Evans, who hails from the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, won't start out with much name recognition, but she may have the background and connections to run a serious campaign.
Evans was an attorney representing whistleblowers in a case against DaVita Healthcare Partners, and she used her share of the settlement to create a $500,000 scholarship for first-generation graduates at the University of Georgia law school. In office, Evans is known for trying to restore funding cuts to the HOPE scholarship program.
Evans is almost certain to have competition in the primary. While state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams hasn't announced she will run yet, she has filed paperwork to set up a campaign. While the well-connected Abrams should have no trouble raising money, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Greg Bluestein says that some Democrats are afraid she'd lose a general election.
One of the large divides in Georgia Democratic politics has been the question of whether the party should focus more on registering and turning out African American and Hispanic voters, or whether it should put more of a priority into winning over Republicans and independents who aren't happy with Donald Trump. Abrams has made voter registration a huge priority, while Evans supporters reportedly feel she'd do a better job winning over voters who have backed Republicans for years. There's also the possibility that many insiders feel that Abrams, who would be Georgia's first black governor, would face a tougher time in a general election than Evans, who is white.
Evans is close to both ex-Gov. Roy Barnes and ex-state Sen. Jason Carter, who was Team Blue's 2014 nominee, and she may be able to attract support from Democrats wary of Abrams. Carter has expressed interest in another bid in the past, but Evans' campaign may be a strong sign that he won't run.
Evans avoided directly hitting Abrams in her kickoff, but the 2011 cuts to the HOPE scholarship may emerge as a huge point of contention in the primary. Bluestein writes that Abrams backed the changes in order to save the program, and that she stood behind Deal as he signed them into law. By contrast, Evans calls that signing the "most devastating day" of her time in the legislature. However, Abrams could have an edge if race plays a role in the primary. In recent years, black voters have made up a larger proportion of the Democratic primary electorate: In the 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, 51 percent of voters were black and 38 percent white, according to exit polls.
● ID-Gov: Wealthy developer Tommy Ahlquist, a former doctor, started airing ads in March even though the GOP primary is about a year away, and he's up with another spot. It's a boring biographical commercial, but voters should get used to seeing them.
● KS-Gov: Kansas Democrats hope that after years of termed-out Gov. Sam Brownback's disastrous budget cuts, voters in this conservative state will be ready for a change. However, if wealthy independent Greg Orman runs for governor, he could make a tough campaign even tougher. Orman expressed interest in January, and while he hasn't said much since then, KCUR's Jim McLean writes that "people close to" Orman say he's going to run.
Back in 2014, Orman ran an independent bid for the U.S. Senate against GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. Polls showed Roberts with weak poll numbers, but with Democratic nominee Chad Taylor and Orman splitting the anti-Roberts vote, the incumbent looked secure. But two months before Election Day, Taylor dropped out of the race, giving Orman a clear shot at Roberts and an initially large lead in the polls. Orman maintained that he'd caucus with whichever party was in the majority, but that didn't stop Democrats from flocking to him or Republicans from spending heavily against him.
Ultimately, the 2014 GOP wave helped Roberts pull off a 55-43 win. If Orman runs for governor, it's very likely that he'd pull away more Democratic-leaning voters than Republicans, and this time, we shouldn't count on the Democratic nominee dropping out for him.
● ME-Gov: State Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, an ally of termed-out Maine GOP Gov. Paul LePage, has done little to shoot down speculation that she's planning to seek the Republican nomination to succeed her boss. And on Wednesday, Mayhew announced that she would resign her post, something she would need to do before running for governor.
During her time in office, Democrats have criticized Mayhew for pushing for cuts to vital programs, and they blamed her after the Riverview Psychiatric Center lost federal certification. Mayhew's fellow Republicans unsurprisingly see her in a much more favorable light.
The race to succeed LePage is slowly taking shape, but one potential candidate looms over the field. GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who has decisively won re-election here three times, has been mulling a bid, and she said last month that she'd likely decide in the fall. Collins would be tough for anyone to beat in a primary or the general, but LePage and the senator do not have a good relationship. It's possible that even if Collins ran, Mayhew would forge on ahead. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents half the state in the House, has also not ruled out a bid, though he may be waiting to see what Collins does.
● NH-Gov: Democrats are hoping to unseat GOP Gov. Chris Sununu next year, but the field is still taking shape. WMUR's John DiStaso reports that some Democrats are encouraging Andru Volinsky, one of the five members of New Hampshire's unique Executive Council, to run. Volinsky got attention earlier this year when he grilled Frank Edelblut, Sununu's nominee to head the state department of education, at his confirmation hearing. (One of the Executive Council's many duties is confirming or rejecting the governor's departmental nominees.)
After noting that Edelblut, who narrowly lost the 2016 primary to Sununu, served on the board of the Virginia Christian college Patrick Henry College, Volinsky asked Edelblut about his views on the college's writings. Volinsky questioned whether Edelblut would "require creationism to be taught alongside evolution," and that, in his role as commissioner, and whether he would "believe, and act upon the belief, that women are subservient to men." The GOP-led Council ultimately confirmed Edelblut, but Volinsky impressed progressives. Volinsky also recently drew notice for probing Charlie Arlinghaus, Sununu's pick to be administrative services commissioner, for his conservative think tank's ties to the Sununu family.
DiStaso also notes that Volinsky is close to labor and for his work as an attorney on behalf of public education as possible assets in a primary, and adds that his support for Bernie Sanders in last year's presidential primary could give him a "natural base of support" in a state Sanders decisively won. There is no word yet on how interested Volinsky is.
● NJ-Gov: Both parties' primaries in the race for New Jersey's open gubernatorial seat continue to trudge along with little movement. A new poll from Stockton University finds former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy beating former Treasury Department official Jim Johnson 34-10, with Assemblyman John Wisniewski at 9 and the rest of the field taking less than 5 percent apiece. That's only minimally changed from Stockton's survey a few weeks ago, which had Murphy ahead 37-6.
Indeed, every poll of the contest has shown Murphy with sizable leads, a state of play that Johnson now has less than two weeks to upend—and he certainly is trying. An aggressive new Johnson TV spot begins with a clip of Bernie Sanders saying, "Goldman Sachs was one of those companies whose illegal activity helped destroy our economy." A narrator then declares, "As a Goldman Sachs president, Phil Murphy made his fortune in a rigged system." The rest of the ad features Johnson mostly saying positive things about himself.
Still, it's hard to see Johnson overtaking Murphy. While Johnson's movement in this poll was at least in the right direction, he'd still need to win at least two-thirds of those voters who remain undecided (a third of Stockton's sample) just to pull even. As for the GOP contest, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has legged out to a 37-18 advantage over Assemblyman Jack Ciatarelli. She last led 29-19, and like Murphy, she's been in front in every single public poll.
● RI-Gov: Back in December, attorney Clay Pell, who lost the 2014 Democratic primary to eventual winner Gina Raimondo, didn't rule out a rematch. However, Pell hasn't said anything since then, and ex-Gov. Lincoln Chafee tells the National Journal that Pell told him he wouldn't run. Chafee himself has been flirting with a bid against Raimondo in the Democratic primary, though he hasn't closed the door on running as an independent instead.
Chafee and Raimondo have long disliked each other, and their divisions aren't just about policy. Via WPRI's Ted Nesi, former state Economic Development Corporation head Keith Stokes recounted in a deposition that in either 2011 or 2012, then-state Treasurer Raimondo was having cocktails with a senior EDC staff member "and, for whatever reason, she inadvertently pressed her phone option on the phone and made what we sometimes call a pocket call, and the call went to the governor. And the general treasurer and the staff person were speaking openly and critically about the governor for about 20 minutes of this call that the governor received." Stokes went on to say that the "crisis" kept him and the EDC's counsel busy for days.
● GA-06: The Congressional Leadership Fund is up with yet another new TV ad that once again takes aim at Democrat Jon Ossoff's experience on national security issues. A woman named Donna Rowe, whom the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes as a "well-known local GOP activist," says that she served in Vietnam as an Army nurse, then goes on the attack: "Ossoff is a liberal. And immature. And he lied to us about his national security experience. Ossoff would vote with Nancy Pelosi to put our soldiers and our dear country at risk." That "[a]nd immature" line comes across as particularly nasty.
● MN-02: High school civics teacher and football coach Jeff Erdmann just became the first Democrat to announce a bid against freshman GOP Rep. Jason Lewis, an incendiary former radio host infamous for his long history of repugnant remarks. (Sample: "[Y]oung single women … care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about 'The View.' They are non-thinking.") On paper, Erdmann doesn't possess the kind of profile that recruiters typically look for, but sometimes local sports coaches bring a passionate fan base with them to their campaigns.
Meanwhile, we're still waiting to hear from 2016 Democratic nominee Angie Craig, a wealthy former health care executive who said she'd decide whether to seek a rematch some time this summer. Craig raised prodigious sums and was well-regarded by national Democrats, but she lost to Lewis by a narrow 47-45 margin.
● NH-02: Last year, New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster defeated an underfunded Republican foe by a modest 50-45 as her seat went from 54-45 Obama to 49-46 Clinton. Republicans want to give Kuster a tougher challenge next year, and WMUR's John DiStaso reports that they're hoping that ex-state Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker will run after she gets off of active duty with the Navy in January. Blankenbeker planned to run last cycle, but she was called up for deployment first. Blankenbeker was a combat nurse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and she won a heavily Democratic seat in the 400-person state House in a 2009 special.
But as we noted two years ago, Blankenbeker may not be the dream candidate the GOP wants her to be. To begin with, she speculated in 2011 that Osama Bin Laden may not have actually been killed. Later that year, she sent an email to her colleagues from her deployment describing how she "got to be the gunner which was fun. The .50cal is quite a gun! I was never ascared [sic] of the unions but they better not F#%k with me again!!! Just saying." In 2012, she also argued that, "People with or without insurance have two affordable choices, one being abstinence and the other being condoms, both of which you can get over the counter." When she was told that condoms were not a foolproof contraception method, Blankenbeker replied that "[a]bstinence works 100 percent of the time." So yeah, this is the person the GOP has hoped would run for Congress for years.
DiStaso also reports that former reporter and TV anchor Tiffany Eddy, who now works as communications director for the University System of New Hampshire, was mentioned briefly. Eddy responded by saying, "I'm flattered and honored, but it is not something that is on my radar right now." That's not a no.
● PA-16: Democrat John George, a former schools superintendent for the town of Warwick (pop. 14,000), just announced that would challenge first-term Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker next year. This is a challenging seat for Democrats to win, but they may yet make another go of it. Pennsylvania's 16th District wraps around a chunk of the Philadelphia suburbs and goes into Lancaster County in a deliberate GOP gerrymander. The seat went for Donald Trump by a 51-44 margin and for Mitt Romney by a 52-46 spread.
Those presidential numbers actually pass for something resembling good news, though, since Trump barely improved on Romney's performance in the 16th even though he did considerably better statewide. However, Smucker managed to beat his Democratic opponent last year, non-profit consultant Christina Hartman, by a noticeably wider 54-43 margin, though that was the best showing by a Democrat in this district "in at least two decades," according to LancasterOnline. Hartman said shortly after her loss that she would consider a rematch, though she doesn't appear to have commented further since.
● Nassau County, NY Executive: On Wednesday evening, state Assemblyman Charles Lavine dropped out of the September Democratic primary and threw his support behind county Legislator Laura Curran, who has the endorsements of both the Nassau County Democratic Party and the Working Families Party. Curran still faces county Comptroller George Maragos in the primary, but she should be the clear favorite over Maragos, who only left the GOP last year.
The GOP establishment has also chosen their candidate for this fall's race to lead this large Long Island county. Last month, ex-state Sen. Jack Martins, who lost the 2016 race for New York's 3rd Congressional District, earned the endorsement of the county Republican Executive Committee. GOP incumbent Ed Mangano was indicted last year on corruption charges, and while he still says he may run for re-election, he appears to have very little support in the county GOP.
● Demographics: It's been a long time since the most populous city in any of the 50 states has lost its number-one ranking to a rival metropolis. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Baton Rouge temporarily became the largest city in Louisiana, but New Orleans retook the title after a few years. Before that, the last time a city lost this status appears to have been in the 1980s. But the U.S. Census released their 2016 population estimates on Thursday, and not one but two states have a new largest city. In South Carolina, Charleston finally edged out Columbia, while in Tennessee, Nashville overtook Memphis.
It's very likely that Lexington would have passed Louisville for largest city in Kentucky a while ago. However, Louisville avoided this fate by merging with the rest of Jefferson County in 2003 in what the MinnPost's Steve Berg said was a deliberate attempt to stay number one. And the move very much worked: As of 2016, Louisville leads Lexington in population 616,000 to 318,000.
It's also possible that a similar maneuver will also get Columbia its title back, at least temporarily. South Carolina's capitol city has been aggressively focusing on annexing new areas, and Mayor Steve Benjamin has also discussed consolidating the city government with the rest of Richland County. However, state law makes annexation a slow process, in part due to Columbia's past attempts to bring in new areas.
● Where Are They Now?, NC-02: Last year, after court-ordered redistricting scrambled North Carolina's congressional map, Renee Ellmers lost the GOP primary to fellow Rep. George Holding 53-24. Ellmers was one of the first members of Congress to back Donald Trump, and Trump very belatedly returned the favor when he endorsed Ellmers the weekend before Election Day, but it was far too little, far too late.
However, The Donald is actually giving Ellmers some useful help now, since Ellmers has a new job running the Atlanta office of the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump is infamous for devoting far more energy towards punishing his enemies rather than rewarding his allies, so Ellmers definitely got lucky this time. Back in December, Ellmers didn't rule out another run for Congress, but we can take her off the list for 2018.
● Site News: We'll be taking off Friday and Monday for Memorial Day weekend, so that means no Live Digest either of those days (it'll return on Tuesday). For those who read us on the web or via email, there will be no Morning Digest on Monday or Tuesday, but we'll be back on the web and in your inbox on Wednesday. Enjoy the holiday!
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.