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.
● AL-05, AL-Sen: Despite the wishes of the Senate GOP leadership, tea partying Rep. Mo Brooks is challenging appointed Sen. Luther Strange in next month's Republican primary. Unlike Strange, Brooks has always had a fallback option if he loses: He can just turn around and seek re-election to his conservative northern Alabama House seat. Now, though, that Plan B is suddenly looking quite a bit choppier. Businessman Clayton Hinchman, an Army Ranger who lost his right leg in Iraq, has entered the GOP primary for Brooks' seat, and it looks like he has some prominent people backing his play.
The Washington Examiner's David Drucker notes that Hinchman's general consultant is none other than Ward Baker, who served as executive director of the NRSC in 2016 and is an advisor to the high-profile Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It's quite possible, then, that Hinchman’s campaign is an attempt to distract Brooks with less than a month to go before the primary, though Hinchman insists he planned to run before Brooks entered the Senate race.
Hinchman argues that Brooks has chosen ideology over pragmatism, and Hinchman says that unlike Brooks, he won't join the arch-dystopian House Freedom Caucus if he wins. But Brooks is getting squeezed from the other side, too. The Senate Leadership Fund has been attacking Brooks for speaking out against Donald Trump during last year’s presidential primary. Brooks was an ardent Ted Cruz supporter, though the SLF’s ads make it sound like Brooks sided with Nancy Pelosi over Trump.
Hinchman has now taken up that line of attack as well, arguing that Brooks didn't support Trump "[u]p until the last minute," adding that that "[n]ow that he's running or the Senate, he's completely come back around and said he supports the president." So there you have it: Mo Brooks is both too rigid an ideologue and also an insufficiently loyal partisan. While in the abstract it might seem impossible to square this circle, fealty to Trump is the defining trait of the modern-day GOP, so this makes perfect sense.
Believe it or not, Brooks’ seat was in the Democratic hands from Reconstruction until then-Rep. Parker Griffith switched parties in 2009, but it’s since gone dark red. Trump won it 65-31, and Republicans should have little trouble keeping it no matter how much trouble Hinchman makes for the incumbent.
Be sure to check out our second quarter Senate fundraising chart, which we'll be updating as new numbers come in. We're also including the totals for House members who are publicly or reportedly considering Senate bids.
● AL-Sen: Luther Strange (R-inc): $1.8 million raised; Mo Brooks (R): $297,000 raised, $1.4 million cash-on-hand; Roy Moore (R): $306,000 raised
● MI-Sen, MI-06: Fred Upton (R): $356,000 raised, $772,000 cash-on-hand
● MN-Sen: Amy Klobuchar (D-inc): $1.5 million raised, $4.3 million cash-on-hand
● OH-Sen: Josh Mandel (R): $1.7 million raised, $3.3 million cash-on-hand; Mike Gibbons (R): $490,000 raised, $200,000 self-loaned
● TN-Gov: Randy Boyd (R): $2.3 million raised, $2 million self-funded, $3.5 million cash-on-hand
● TX-Gov: Greg Abbott (R-inc): $9 million raised, $41 million cash-on-hand (in six months)
● VA-Gov: Ralph Northam (D): $2 million raised, $1.75 million cash-on-hand; Ed Gillespie (R): $1.8 million raised, $3.2 million cash-on-hand
● AZ-Sen: Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is one of the least popular incumbents in the country, in large part thanks to his occasional vocal opposition to Trump incurring hostility from the GOP base. However, conservative hardliners so far haven't been able to organize a robust campaign against him in next year's primary. Former state Sen. Kelli Ward has been running since shortly before last November's election, and she held longtime Republican Sen. John McCain to a weak 51-40 win in the 2016 primary. Nevertheless, Ward is a weak fundraiser who appears to be struggling to gain traction, leading Trump diehards to search for another primary challenger.
Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that Trump himself is keen on ousting Flake and has held meetings with Ward and two other potential primary challengers in recent weeks. Those two Republicans are state Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who was the Trump campaign's chief operating officer in 2016, and former state party chair Robert Graham. Both DeWit and Graham have previously refused to rule out running, and Isenstadt relays that Graham has been testing the waters behind the scenes recently. Isenstadt also says that some Republicans are trying to get Rep. Martha McSally or ex-Gov. Jan Brewer to run, but there's no sign that either of them is interested.
Trump has reportedly expressed a willingness to spend $10 million of his own money to defeat Flake, but that could be just another one of Trump's typical empty promises. While Flake looks vulnerable, a potentially divided field of primary opposition with Ward and another candidate like DeWit or Graham could save him by letting him prevail with a mere plurality.
● CA-Sen: Longtime Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein looks set to cruise to another term next year and so far no noteworthy Republicans have stepped up to challenge her, but she may yet land a famous opponent: Reality TV star and transgender advocate Caitlyn Jenner says she's been considering a campaign against Feinstein as a Republican. Jenner has never run for office before, though, and it's unclear just how seriously she actually is about running for Senate next year.
As perhaps the most famous trans woman in the world, Jenner would certainly stand out as a candidate, but her conservative positions and support for Trump would be an enormous impediment to defeating an entrenched incumbent in this dark-blue state. While Jenner is personally wealthy, California is an incredibly expensive state where candidates who self-fund millions have often failed miserably, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a realistic scenario in which a Republican could oust Feinstein.
● MO-Sen: On Monday, Rep. Vicky Hartzler announced that she would not challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill next year, making her the latest Missouri Republican to take a pass against the vulnerable senator. Hartzler will instead seek a fifth term representing the 4th Congressional District in rural western Missouri, leaving the GOP still without a notable challenger in the race.
However, plenty of other Republicans are interested in running, with much of the focus on recently elected state Attorney General Josh Hawley. Meanwhile, state Treasurer Eric Schmitt's spokesperson recently confirmed for the first time that his boss "is seriously considering" a campaign. Two unnamed Republicans tell Morning Consult's Eli Yokley that Schmitt is positioning himself to be ready if Hawley sits the race out. Like Hawley, Schmitt was only elected to his current post last November, but both men won by dominant margins.
Former state Republican Party chairman Ed Martin also recently refused to rule out running, but his track record of seeking elected office is less than stellar. Martin, a tea party darling, came just shy of an upset against Democratic then-Rep. Russ Carnahan in the 3rd District in the 2010 GOP wave, but he lost in a landslide when he ran for state attorney general against Democrat Chris Koster (the incumbent at the time) in 2012. Furthermore, his history of controversial and bigoted statements could be a stumbling block. For example, he defended Trump's immigration policies last year by saying, "You're not racist if you don't like Mexicans. They're from a nation. If you don't think Muslims are vetted enough, because they blow things up, that's not racist." Then again, in a state that voted 56-38 for Trump, maybe they wouldn’t be.
● TN-Sen, TN-02: There has been plenty of speculation of late that state Sen. Mark Green, whose nomination to become Trump's secretary of the Army failed due to his long history of disparaging remarks about Muslims and LGBT people, could challenge Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker in a GOP primary. Green has said nothing publicly, but the Washington Examiner's David Drucker reports that he's considering a bid. However, Drucker also writes that most state Republicans expect Green to pass because "he and Corker have a strong personal relationship."
Still, Corker may face an expensive primary regardless of what Green does. Corker, who still hasn’t confirmed whether he’s running for re-election next year, has a conservative voting record, but the Senate Foreign Relations chair is not exactly a far-right bomb thrower. Drucker writes that wealthy businessman Lee Beaman is leading a charge to finance a more anti-establishment alternative, but Beaman and his allies want to be sure their candidate can actually win. Green is their first choice, but it's not clear if they have a backup plan if he says no.
However, a few other Republicans have made noises about facing Corker. Andy Ogles, who leads the state chapter of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, refused to rule out a Senate run, though he's said nothing since then. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says he will run for Congress this cycle, though he's trying to decide between a Senate bid or a campaign for GOP Rep. Jimmy Duncan's 2nd Congressional District. (Duncan also hasn’t said whether he’ll run again.) State Rep. Andy Holt has also talked about challenging Corker, though he recently said he'd defer to Green, Ogles, or Burchett.
● UT-Sen: Utah is one of the most Republican states in the country, but Democrats just landed a surprisingly legit candidate against longtime GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch on Monday when Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson kicked off her campaign. Wilson is currently serving in her second six-year term on the county council, to which she’s been elected on an at-large (that is to say, countywide) basis). Since Salt Lake County covers about one-third of Utah's population, that means Wilson might start out with some measure of name recognition. Wilson is also the daughter of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who unsuccessfully ran for this seat against Hatch himself way back in 1982.
While Wilson gives Democrats a credible contender, merely calling this race a daunting challenge would be an understatement. Utah favored Trump 45-27 over Clinton, but the 21 percent voting for conservative independent Evan McMullin largely consisted of anti-Trump Republicans who had no problem backing the GOP downballot last year. Hatch hasn't had a close election battle since his initial victory over Democratic Sen. Frank Moss in 1976, and he's a heavy, heavy favorite over any Democrat next year.
However, Wilson may be counting on this turning into an open seat contest, since the 83-year-old Hatch has been deliberately non-committal about whether he’ll even seek another term next year. Hatch most recently said he intends to run, but just as with his past statements, he has an annoying habit of leaving wiggle room for the possibility of a retirement. But even should Hatch call it quits, a Democratic win in Utah would require many things happening that are far beyond Wilson’s control.
● FL-Gov: GOP state Sen. Jack Latvala has previously said he's considering running for governor next year, and he recently told a gathering of top Republicans that he'll announce his plans on Aug. 16. Latvala chairs the power state Senate Appropriations Committee, which could help bolster his fundraising substantially if he does get in.
Latvala has said previously that he’s "leaning in the direction" of running, and his recent fundraising indicates he's indeed likely to go through with it. Latvala's state Senate campaign raised $411,000 in June alone—even though he’s term limited!—and he had $3 million in cash-on-hand at the end of a previous fundraising report in May, all of which he could use in a gubernatorial bid.
● IA-Gov: On Monday, wealthy businessman Fred Hubbell announced that he would join the very crowded Democratic primary to face GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds. Hubbell, who was the CEO of his family's insurance company, is a very well-connected donor to Democratic candidates and prominent charitable causes in Iowa. The Hubbell family has been an influential part of Des Moines for generations, and the governor's residence, Terrace Hill, was in fact the Hubbell family mansion until they donated it to the state in 1971.
Hubbell himself also has an interesting story to tell. Back in 1981, Hubbell was on a Pakistan International Airlines flight when it was hijacked by Pakistani terrorists and flown to Afghanistan and then Syria. Hubbell and the other passengers were freed after 13 days when the hijackers surrendered in Damascus in exchange for the release of a group of Pakistani political prisoners.
Hubbell will face a number of opponents in the Democratic primary. Right now, the field consists of ex-state party chair Andy McGuire; John Norris, a former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Tom Vilsack; former Des Moines School Board President Jonathan Neiderbach, who was Team Blue's 2014 nominee for state auditor; state Sen. Nate Boulton; and state Rep. Todd Prichard. A few other candidates are also exploring the race.
Under Iowa law, if no one clears 35 percent of the vote in the primary, the nomination will be decided at a party convention. There's nothing resembling a clear frontrunner right now, and with a field this crowded, it could be very difficult for anyone to win the nomination outright on primary night. At the same time, there's also no telling who might be favored at a convention, so this race is very much in flux.
● NE-Gov: On Monday, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts drew his first major opponent for 2018 after term-limited state Sen. Bob Krist, a fellow Republican announced he would challenge the governor … by forming a new third party to run from the center. Krist had previously been contemplating a challenge in the GOP primary, but seems to have come to his senses over how quixotic opposing a Republican incumbent from the left would be in this polarized age. Of course, running under a third-party banner will still likely be well-night impossible in a state that has dutifully elected a Republican governor every four years since 1998.
While no notable Democratic candidates have jumped in to challenge Ricketts in this red state, Krist can't necessarily count on Team Blue simply sitting the race out and allowing him to challenge the ultra-conservative incumbent one-on-one. Something like this could conceivably pan out, since Democrats in Kansas and Alaska both forged this sort of arrangement with independents in 2014 (successfully in the case of the latter). However, it's more likely that Krist will run into the far more common reality of third party bids going nowhere.
● RI-Gov: Former state Rep. Joe Trillo is one of a handful of Republicans who has previously expressed interest in running against Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo next year, and in an interview last Friday, he promised he would "make an announcement before the first of the year." Trillo, who was Trump's honorary state campaign chair, also threw shade at state House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who recently formed an exploratory committee of her own. He touted his 16 years of legislative experience compared to her six, calling Morgan "basically in her infancy of learning." This sort of attack, though, is a bit unusual to see among Republican elected officials, who’ve made a fetish of denigrating “career politicians” ever since Newt Gingrich’s ascendancy.
● TN-Gov: On Monday, state House Speaker Beth Harwell became the latest Republican to jump into the 2018 gubernatorial race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Haslam, finally making official her long-rumored bid. Harwell has served in the House since 1989, becoming Tennessee's first female speaker in 2011. If she wins next year's primary and general election, she would also be the first woman to become Tennessee's governor. While Harwell touted her long list of accomplishments in the legislature, her lengthy tenure could also be a detriment for GOP primary voters seeking an outsider in the age of Trump.
Harwell joins a Republican primary field that has grown increasingly crowded. State Sen. Mae Beavers, former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, and state Higher Education Commission member Bill Lee are already running, while Rep. Diane Black is reportedly planning to join the campaign as well.
● TX-Gov: Businessman Jeffrey Payne became the first noteworthy Democrat to launch a campaign against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for next year after he filed his paperwork last Friday. Payne is a political neophyte starting out with little name recognition, but he says he'll loan his campaign $2.5 million. While that would be a substantial sum in almost any other state, Texas' sheer size makes it a drop in the bucket for what a campaign will ultimately cost to run. Payne will need to either self-fund considerably more, if he can, or demonstrate fundraising chops if he's to run a strong race.
Texas is a decidedly red state that hasn't elected a Democrat to any statewide office since 1994, the longest such streak in the nation. Abbott is the heavy favorite to win a second term, and he already has a jaw-dropping $41 million in cash-on-hand as of the end of June. However, another Democrat, former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, also recently left the door open to a potential gubernatorial bid.
● CA-39: On Monday, two more Democrats, Navy veteran Gil Cisneros and former Commerce Department official Sam Jammal, kicked off bids against longtime GOP Rep. Ed Royce in this Orange County-based seat.
Cisneros entered the race with an endorsement from VoteVets, an influential group that helps Democratic veterans win elected office. Back in 2010, Cisneros and his wife won $266 million in the 2010 Mega Millions lottery, and they used $20 million of their windfall to create a scholarship to help Hispanic youths get to college. Jammal, meanwhile, served as former chief of staff to California Rep. Tony Cardenas, and until recently, he was policy director for SolarCity, a solar equipment provider owned by the electric car maker Tesla.
Two other Democrats, pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran and Cal State Fullerton chemistry professor Phil Janowicz, were already challenging Royce in next year's top-two primary. This seat, which includes Fullerton and Yorba Linda, swung from 51-47 Romney to 51-43 Clinton in 2016.
● CO-04: GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has been mulling running for governor next year rather than seeking re-election, and one familiar Colorado Republican is interested in replacing her if she does. Sophomore Rep. Ken Buck, a former district attorney in Weld County, recently told the Denver Post that if Coffman "decides that she's not going to seek [the] attorney general's office, I would certainly keep my options open."
Buck’s prior statewide bids, though, have not met with success. In 2010, he rather infamously lost a squeaker to appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, in a year when the GOP was kicking butt from coast to coast. He tried for the Senate again in 2014 but engineered a switcheroo with then-Rep. Cory Gardner, dropping down to run for Gardner’s House seat while Gardner sought (and ultimately won) a promotion to the upper chamber. Eastern Colorado’s 4th District backed Trump 57-34, though, so it should stay red regardless of what Buck does.
● FL-27: GOP Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has been considering running for this open Miami-area seat since Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced that she wouldn't run for re-election back in late April, and we may find out his plans soon. Brian Swensen, a consultant who advised Lopez-Cantera on his abysmal Senate bid last cycle, told The Capitolist that he expects a decision in two or three weeks, though he says Lopez-Cantera may explore other options like a 2020 run for mayor of Miami-Dade County. A number of candidates from both sides are running for this House seat, which backed Clinton 59-39 but has historically favored Team Red downballot.
● IA-01: About a month after he expressed interest in joining the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Rod Blum, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker announced on Monday that he would stay out.
● MN-02: Last cycle, former health care executive Angie Craig lost an open seat race to Republican Jason Lewis by a 47-45 margin, and she announced on Monday that she would seek a rematch. While Craig spent about $1.7 million of her own money on her last race, she says she will not self-fund this time.
Craig and her allies spent heavily last time tying Lewis, a former conservative radio host with a history of racist and misogynistic comments, to Trump, only to see Trump also carry this suburban Twin Cities seat by the same 47-45 spread. So far, the only other Democrat who has entered the race is high school football coach Jeff Erdmann, but he brought in an unimpressive $27,000 in the second quarter.
● NV-03: A number of Republicans are looking at running to succeed Democratic Senate candidate Jacky Rosen in this suburban Las Vegas swing seat, and unnamed GOP operatives are now adding another name, telling Roll Call's Bridget Bowman that Lynda Tache, the president and founder of Grant a Gift Autism Foundation, is interested. Tache, though, hasn't said anything publicly yet.
On the Democratic side, wealthy education activist Susie Lee is reportedly considering, and Bowman writes that she's the potential candidate Democrats mention the most. Last cycle, Lee was recruited for this seat but decided to run for the 4th District instead, even though then-Sen. Harry Reid and his allies (including the powerful Culinary Union) were backing eventual winner Ruben Kihuen. Lee spent the most cash, but she took third place with 21 percent of the vote. However, an unnamed Democratic strategist tells Roll Call that even in defeat, Lee established a fundraising network and some name identification that could carry over to a new race for the 3rd District, which shares the same media market.
But if Lee chooses to sit this one out, it's far from clear who Team Blue will turn to. Democratic operatives mention state Sens. Nicole Cannizzaro and Joyce Woodhouse, who both won tight races in swing seats last year, but there's no word if either lawmaker is interested. Last cycle, Reid ended up turning to Rosen, a little-known programmer and synagogue president, after Lee and several other potential contenders turned him down. Rosen turned out to be a good get, but Team Blue almost certainly doesn't want to take their chances on another untested candidate.
● NY-01: Last cycle, this eastern Long Island seat flipped from a 50-49 Obama win all the way to 55-42 Trump, and GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin easily won his second term 58-42. Despite the big shift, though, a few Democrats have expressed interest in challenging him, and a new name may jump in before too long. Newsday's Rick Brand notes that Perry Gershon, a real estate and finance businessman, has filed with the FEC, and a spokesman says that Gershon expects to announce he's in later this summer.
However, Gershon has one big potential liability: He only changed his voter registration from Manhattan to Suffolk County in May, and the GOP could take a page from the venerable Pace Picante playbook and try to portray him as one of those dreaded carpetbaggers from New York City. New York City?!?!?!
● SC-01: GOP Rep. Mark Sanford only won renomination 56-44 last cycle against an underfunded state representative, and his eagerness to pick fights with Trump isn't doing him any favors with the base. Two unhappy Republicans originally launched bids against the former governor but dropped out for unrelated reasons, yet Sanford may have a new primary opponent soon. A mysterious poll testing Sanford against freshman state Rep. Katie Arrington recently has been making the rounds in this conservative Charleston-area seat, and when the Charleston Post and Courier asked an Arrington consultant about the poll, he refused to say anything beyond "I have nothing to report to you today." At the very least, that non-denial means Arrington isn't taking her name out of circulation.
● TX-23: Last week, former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego formed an exploratory committee for a possible third consecutive tumble with GOP Rep. Will Hurd. But Gallego, who lost tight races to Hurd in 2014 and 2016, tells the Texas Tribune that he has no timeline for deciding. Texas' congressional map may be redrawn soon, and this sprawling seat, which backed Clinton 50-46, could become a bit more Democratic as a result.
However, while Gallego seemed to suggest earlier this year that he'd be a lot more likely to run if this district, which stretches west from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso, got bluer, he told the Tribune that his decision "certainly wouldn't be dependent on an outcome that may or may not come." Former Department of Agriculture official Judy Canales is also publicly considering getting in, while national Democrats have been reportedly looking at federal prosecutor Jay Hulings.
● VA-05: Last year, national Democrats made a late effort to target Virginia’s 5th District, which includes Danville and Charlottesville, but Republican Tom Garrett nevertheless outran the top of the ticket, winning his first term 58-42 as Trump carried the seat 53-42. Consequently, this district may not be a top Democratic pickup opportunity this cycle, but it looks like Team Blue does have a credible contender. Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler raised $337,000 from April to June with no self-funding, and he has about $280,000 in the bank. The GOP shockingly lost a previous version of this seat back in 2008 when Tom Perriello unseated incumbent Virgil Goode, and while lightning may not strike twice, it's always good to field strong candidates in tough seats just in case.
● Special Elections: Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and New Hampshire special elections. Johnny Longtorso brings us the latest:
New Hampshire House, Merrimack-18: This is an open Democratic seat in Concord. The candidates are Democrat Kris Schultz, a nonprofit communications director, and Republican Michael Feeley, an Army veteran. This seat went 59-37 for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 64-36 for Jeanne Shaheen in 2014, and 61-38 for Barack Obama in 2012. Feeley ran for this seat in 2016 and lost 56-44.