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, and David Beard.
● CO-Gov: On Sunday, Democratic Rep. Jared Polis announced he would run for governor in 2018 to succeed term-limited Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper, setting up a major primary battle that has already drawn heated interest from Colorado Democrats. If he prevails next year, Polis would become the first openly gay man in America to win a gubernatorial election.
Polis is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, having made a fortune soon after graduating college when he founded and later sold multiple internet-related business during the late-1990s dotcom boom. His willingness to self-fund his campaigns helped him narrowly win a statewide race for Colorado's state Board of Education at just age 25 back in 2000. The congressman leaves behind the safely blue Boulder-area 2nd Congressional District that he first won in 2008—a campaign where he self-funded $6 million of his own money—and says he'll self-fund substantially in 2018.
Polis will face fellow Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, ex-state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, and businessman Noel Ginsburg in the primary, which could quickly become an expensive battle given his personal wealth. The congressman has a strongly pro-environment and civil-libertarian streak that could help endear him to Democratic primary voters—for instance, he is an avid backer of legalized marijuana. On the other hand, some of his positions such as support for charter schools and trade deals in Congress might give him trouble with parts of the Democratic base.
● AL-Sen: While national Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have steadfastly supported appointed GOP Sen. Luther Strange, state Republicans have been much less eager to throw their lot in with him. On Sunday, Rep. Mike Rogers announced his endorsement of fellow Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who is challenging Strange in the Aug. 15 primary in the special election to fill the remainder of former Sen. Jeff Sessions' term. Rogers was close to ex-state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who is currently incarcerated after Strange's office successfully prosecuted him for corruption when he was state attorney general, so there's likely no love lost between Rogers and Strange.
● UT-Sen: A few weeks ago, in response to reports that GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch was leaning towards retiring and that Mitt Romney would likely run to succeed him, Hatch responded by saying that Romney himself had told him he wouldn't be running. This already sounds like a bad game of telephone, and it gets worse. On Friday, Joe Biden(!) suggested that Romney should run for the Senate, and Romney reportedly just smiled in response. Multiple unnamed Romney aides also told Politico that "while a run remained unlikely, he was not yet prepared to close the door on it." At this point, we're going to just wait for Hatch or Romney to just announce their own plans rather than analyze more facial cues for clues.
● AZ-Gov: GOP Gov. Doug Ducey is up for re-election next year, and he hasn't emerged as a top Democratic target so far. But Arizona State University education professor David Garcia, the 2014 Democratic nominee for state superintendent of public instruction, is hoping to change that. Garcia is out with a June poll from PPP arguing that Ducey is vulnerable, and that Garcia has the best chance to face him.
The poll gives Ducey an underwater 36-45 job approval rating, while both Garcia and state Sen. Steve Farley, who recently jumped into the Democratic primary, are largely unknown. In hypothetical general election matchups, the poll gives Ducey a 42-40 lead against Farley, but it has Garcia up 44-42.
In a primary, Garcia posts a huge 53-11 lead. The survey gives Garcia a 35-15 favorable image with primary voters while Farley, a state senator from the Tucson area, has a 23-21 image. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton also may be interested in running, though the memo does not mention him. In any case, even if voters have soured on Ducey, the former Cold Stone Creamery executive will have more than enough resources to put up a tough fight.
● NE-Gov: Relatively moderate Republican state Sen. Bob Krist has previously said he was leaning toward running against GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts in next year's Republican primary, but it may have finally dawned on him how difficult such a GOP primary challenge from the center would be in this day and age. His latest strategy appears daunting as well; Krist now says he might run under a new third-party banner when he's termed-out of the legislature next year, and could announce a bid sometime "around Labor Day."
Nebraska's nominally nonpartisan legislature has historically been less polarized than other states, but it remains to be seen if Krist could gain traction running as a centrist independent if he's squeezed by both major parties to his left and right in a partisan gubernatorial race. Meanwhile, Ricketts has shown little sign of vulnerability so far in a strongly conservative state where Republicans haven't lost a governor's race in over two decades.
● SC-Gov: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster's ascent to the governor's office after former GOP Gov. Nikki Haley became U.N. ambassador earlier in 2017 hasn't gone as smoothly planned, and he may just draw another major challenger in next year's primary. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who took over McMaster's previous role when the latter moved up, admits that he too is considering running and will decide in the summer.
Unlike McMaster, Bryant has never been elected statewide, and he nearly lost his own state Senate primary last year, so it's unclear just how formidable of an opponent he might be. Furthermore, he can't count on a divided field to put him over the top with just a plurality, since South Carolina holds runoffs if no one wins a majority. Former Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton and party-switching ex-Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill are already challenging McMaster in the primary.
● CO-02: Democratic Rep. Jared Polis' decision to run for governor opens up his seat, which backed Clinton 56-35. The seat also backed the entire Democratic ticket during the 2014 GOP wave, even favoring attorney general nominee Don Quick 50-44 as he was losing statewide 51-42, so Team Blue should have no trouble holding it. Colorado's 2nd District includes the famously liberal town of Boulder, as well as Fort Collins and some of the Denver suburbs.
It took very little time for potential Democratic candidates to start making noises about running here. Ken Toltz, a prominent gun-safety activist, told The Denver Post that he's "vigorously exploring entering the race." Toltz ran for the House back in 2000 and lost 54-42 to GOP incumbent Tom Tancredo. Shannon Watts, a gun-safety activist who has served as an executive at several Fortune 100 companies, also says she's considering. Watts also made national headlines earlier this year when she tweeted that United Airlines was refusing to seat young girls wearing leggings. The Post says that Watts and Toltz are close friends, though it's unclear if they're willing to run against one another.
A few months ago, there were reports that Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Executive Director Joe Neguse, who narrowly lost the 2014 general election for secretary of state, was considering running for governor. However, an unnamed "top Democratic strategist close to Neguse" tells Colorado Politics that Neguse is "near certain" to run for this seat, and could announce within days. Neguse previously was an elected member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents.
There are plenty of other Democrats who also may be interested. Unnamed Colorado Democrats mentioned ex-Rep. Betsy Markey to Roll Call's Bridget Bowman, though it's unclear if Markey is interested. Markey won a term in the House in 2008 from the old 4th District, a conservative seat that included Fort Collins, and lost two years later to now-Sen. Cory Gardner. Markey ran for state treasurer in 2014 but lost 50-45, and she went on to become a regional administrator with the national Small Business Administration. About 42 percent of Markey's old House seat is in the 2nd District, but it'll have been eight years since she was last running for House there.
Roll Call also mentions Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, and state Sen. Stephen Fenberg as possible candidates, but there's also no word yet if any of them are interested. There may also be plenty of other Democrats eyeing this seat.
● GA-06: One important thing to bear in mind when following the ad spending in races like the Georgia 6th District special election is that not all dollars are created equal. If a campaign spends $1 million on TV or radio ads, that money will go much further than the same amount spent by an outside group because, under FCC rules, candidates are entitled to what's known as the "lowest unit rate," or the cheapest available ad rates a station can offer. By contrast, super PACs and the like have to pay full freight.
Unfortunately, most reporting on ad spending is described in terms of dollars, because that's the most easily available data in most cases. A better metric, though, is what's known as "gross ratings points," which explain exactly how many times a campaign's ads will run. That information, however, is seldom public—usually only campaigns themselves and organizations that can afford to subscribe to expensive proprietary sources have access to it.
But in a new post, Republican analytics firm Echelon Insights does offer a glimpse into this world, and it highlights the huge gulf between spending and advertising. According to Echelon, Democrat Jon Ossoff and his allies have outspent Karen Handel and the Republicans 53 percent to 47 percent in raw dollars during the runoff. But because the vast majority of Democratic money has come directly into (and out of) Ossoff's campaign, Team Blue's "share of voice" has been dramatically greater: 64 percent of all ads have come from Democrats to just 36 percent from Republicans (a statistic backed up by a separate analysis by NBC).
But that gap has closed to near parity in recent weeks, and Republicans are trying to spread their reach more widely than ever. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the main super PAC supporting Handel, is now airing a Spanish-language TV ad, which is not something you see the GOP do very often. They don't seem to have bothered to tailor their message very much, though, since the spot ties Ossoff to Pelosi and claims they both want higher taxes and "gobierno más grande que no podemos permitir" (bigger government we can't afford). Sounds the same in English!
The DCCC isn't changing gears, either: Their latest spot bashes Handel as a career politician who wasted taxpayer dollars on herself. Yes, we now have a macro that just spits out that description for us. One week to go!
● IA-03: Democrat Cynthia Axne, who worked in the state Department of Management and the Department of Natural Resources, joined the primary to face GOP Rep. David Young. Axne seems to have some good ties to local Iowa Democrats, but we'll need to wait to see if she'll have the resources to mount a serious campaign.
● MN-07: Republican Matt Prosch, who owns a local trucking company, announced over the weekend that he would challenge Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson. Prosch joins state Rep. Tim Miller and Dave Hughes, an underfunded candidate who held Peterson to a 52-47 win last year, in the GOP race. Trump carried this rural northwest Minnesota seat 62-31.
● MN-08: While Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan sounds ready to defend his 54-39 Trump seat in the Iron Range, he may not have a clear path through the primary. Leah Phifer, a counter-terrorism expert who used to work for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, kicked off an 80-day motorcycle tour of the district on Friday to explore a possible bid. Phifer's announcement did not mention Nolan or say why she thinks he needs to be replaced.
However, Phifer did argue that "[t]he 2016 election exposed a troubling truth: Too many members of our community feel overlooked and unheard," so it sounds like if she ran, she'd use that kind of line to attack the incumbent. It's unclear if Phifer has the connections to mount a serious campaign, but the last thing Democrats would want is a bloody primary in this vulnerable seat.
● MT-AL: On Monday, a judge sentenced Republican Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger-management counselling, and a $385 fine after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to his assault of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the day before last month's special election. Gianforte has since apologized to Jacobs, and reached a settlement agreement where the multi-millionaire will donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that advocates for press freedom.
Of course, Gianforte did not take responsibility when it mattered most: right before the May 25 special election for Montana's sole House seat. He also did not fully own up to how his campaign spokesperson issued a brazenly false statement about Jacobs that tried to blame the supposedly "liberal" journalist for the encounter shortly after it happened. Having won the election and with the settlement costing him just a miniscule sum compared to his immense fortune, Gianforte's cynical obstinacy paid off … for now.
While the judge let Gianforte off with no jail time, Democrats aren't likely to let things slide so easily in 2018. Musician Rob Quist, who lost just 50-44 to Gianforte in May, recently expressed interest in another bid next year, but didn't have any firm plans. While he raised millions in last month's special election, Republicans relentlessly hammered the first-time candidate for his personal financial troubles, and it's possible that national and state Democrats might look elsewhere for a more seasoned challenger. Regardless of the nominee, Gianforte's extensive flaws could give Democrats a major opening in a 56-36 Trump state that has a recent history of bucking the GOP downballot.
● NY-23: Kapla, warriors! Over the weekend, Democratic Ulysses Town Board member John Hertzler announced that he would challenge New York GOP Rep. Tom Reed. Hertzler, often credited as "J.G. Hertzler," is best known for playing the Klingon General Martok on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as several other characters on different Star Trek series. (He also co-wrote two good novels about Martok set after DS9 ended.) However, while Hertzler says he will campaign in character, he will not be going around this upstate New York seat devouring Gagh, chugging Blood Wine, or confronting trackers with a bat'leth.
Instead, Hertzler says he'll be "making appearances thoughout [sic] the district of 11 counties, sometimes in my birth persona as JG Hertzler and at other times I will endeavor to present my ideas and policies through the brilliant humorist for all ages, Citizen Twain." Indeed, Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens) used to live in Elmira, which is located in the 23rd Congressional District. Hertzler also says his campaign is both a "valentine" to both Twain and to actor Hal Holbrook, who portrayed Clemens for over 60 years in a one-act show and also played Clemens in a two-parter on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
This seat, which includes blue Ithaca but is surrounded by more conservative counties, has been an elusive target for Democrats. Back in 2012, Reed pulled off a shockingly close 52-48 win in a race that attracted little attention at the same time as Romney was carrying this upstate seat 50-48. National Democrats tried to target Reed over the next two cycles, but the 2014 GOP wave and Trump's 2016 55-40 win helped him decisively prevail both times. Democratic teacher Rick Gallant, a former member of the New York State United Teachers Board of Directors, entered the race last month. Presumably, Gallant will campaign only as Rick Gallant. We also assume that he won't be challenging Hertzler to any duels to the death, but you never know.
While Gallant looks like a much more serious Democratic candidate, it's unclear if he'll have the resources to run a serious campaign. The 23rd is a tough seat, but if Reed, who was an early and ardent Trump supporter, looks vulnerable, Democratic leaders probably would prefer not to have Mark Twain as their nominee. General Martok may be another story: Say what you will about him, but Tom Reed would have a tough time portraying him as weak on Changeling terrorism.
● PA-06: EMILY's List, a prominent group that aims to elect pro-choice Democratic women, threw its backing to Chrissy Houlahan on Monday. A first-time candidate, Houlahan is an Air Force veteran who was previously a top executive at footwear company And1 and more recently an executive at a pro-literacy nonprofit. She faces construction company executive Bob Dettore in the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Ryan Costello in this 48.2-47.6 Clinton seat, which is located in the Philadelphia suburbs.
● El Paso, TX Mayor: On Saturday, ex-state Rep. Dee Margo defeated businessman David Saucedo 57-43 in a non-partisan race. While El Paso is usually a reliably Democratic city, both candidates identified as Republicans. However, Margo had the support of outgoing Democratic Mayor Oscar Leeser in the runoff.
● San Antonio, TX Mayor: On Tuesday, City Councilor Ron Nirenberg unseated San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor 55-45 in a nonpartisan race to win a two-year term as chief executive of America's seventh-largest city. Taylor is nominally a Democrat while Nirenberg has refused to identify with either party, but there was no question that Nirenberg was the more liberal candidate.
Taylor, who won in 2015 with the support of the conservative North Side area of the city, even nicknamed her opponent "Liberal Ron Nirenberg," and very much did not mean it as a compliment. Nirenberg also had the support of ex-Mayor Julian Castro, a well-connected Texas Democrat who recently led the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Taylor's attempts to appeal to conservative voters may have also cost her. Taylor refused to support a lawsuit against the GOP-led Texas legislature's bill cracking down on sanctuary cities, which may have hurt her especially with Hispanic voters. Nirenberg also argued that Taylor hasn't done enough to deal with the city's rising violent crime rate.
In San Antonio, the mayor's office is not a very powerful job, since the appointed city manager makes most of the major decisions. However, Castro proved that the post could be a good springboard to bigger things; Henry Cisneros, who led the city in the 1980s, also went on to lead HUD.
● Primaries: Virginia's primary is on Tuesday, and it's a big one. In the blue corner, voters will choose between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who has the support of most state Democrats, and and ex-Rep. Tom Perriello, who has several influential national Democrats on his side. There is very little public polling to work with here, though Northam and his allies are acting more bullish than Perriello's team. We also have the GOP primary to watch, and both sides have a primary for lieutenant governor. Jeff Singer gives us a preview of what to watch. Polls close at 7 PM ET, and as always, we'll be liveblogging all the results at Daily Kos Elections and tweeting as well.
● Demographics: You probably instinctively understand that Christians tend to be more politically conservative than the non-Christian rest of the electorate, and that evangelical Christians are more conservative than non-evangelical Christians, but there's a whole lot of nuance that goes even deeper than that. The New York Times' Upshot has an interesting new approach that tries to dig into that question: They used voter-file data to find registration information on clergy members, added up all the clergy within a wide variety of denominations (37 of them), and then arranged them from most Democratic to least Democratic.
The most Democratic denomination —Reform Judaism—may not be surprising, but you might be surprised with the least: It's not a Pentecostal denomination, but rather the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It may not surprise you that one of WELS’ most prominent politician members was Michele Bachmann. However, it may surprise you that Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat who came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2013, is also a member.
Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations wind up closer to the median. On their list, every denomination from Adventists on down to the bottom, with the single exception of Greek Orthodox, are evangelical (in other words, Seventh Day Adventists are the "least Republican" evangelical group).
If this sounds somewhat familiar, the results here line up pretty closely with a Pew Research study from February 2016, where they used phone polling to talk to a wide sample of parishioners; Pew also found non-Christian religions and black Protestant churches as the most Democratic, and evangelical denominations (with the exception of SDA) as the least.
One subtlety that the NYT story is missing that might help readers is a framework for whether a denomination is considered evangelical or mainline; for that, we'd recommend looking at data from the Association of Religion Data Archives, who perform a decennial religion "census;" they not only classify what tradition each denomination falls into, but also show how numerous each one is in the United States.
● International Digest: When British Prime Minister Theresa May called early parliamentary elections for June, polls had her Conservative Party riding high and set for a historic landslide. However, after an astonishing campaign in which the opposition Labour Party surged, the Conservatives surprisingly lost their parliamentary majority, forcing them to ally with a right-wing Northern Irish party and throwing the United Kingdom's politics into even greater turmoil as it prepares to leave the European Union by 2019. Meanwhile, South Korea, France, and Iran all held pivotal national elections. Check out these stories and more in the June edition of Daily Kos Elections' International Digest.