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.
NY-22: Wow: This is the kind of nasty garbage that, when they stoop this low, politicians usually let their surrogates whisper. Instead, GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney has outright decided to throw the "mafia" card at her Democratic opponent all by herself. In a recent interview with USA Today, Tenney saw fit to bring up the career of Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi's father, whom she claimed was "very heavily involved with the organized crime in Utica for many years, representing them."
What the hell does this have to do with Brindisi? Less than nothing—especially since the elder Brindisi ceased doing criminal defense in 1983—but in Trumpian fashion, Tenney transmuted hoary anti-Italian slurs from subtext to text, spitting out:
"Anthony's father represented some of the worst criminals in our community. You have to question ... some of things that have happened in his family. The voters make that decision. I'm not saying Anthony is part of any of that but that's the family you come from.
"His background is significant. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me in my community and said, 'Wow, I don't feel comfortable about some of the background that he has.'"
Brindisi, of course, called this all a load of bollocks, and the Italian-American community (which is sizable in New York's 22nd District) went appropriately ballistic: A former president of the local Sons of Italy declared, "Anytime your name ends in a vowel people feel it's fair to take the mafia shot at you. It's really horrible."
And Tenney? Totally unapologetic. Her campaign retorted that Brindisi was "feigning outrage" in order to "distract voters"—which, you know, is exactly what Tenney is trying to do by peddling this trash. Trump hasn't just given his fellow Republicans license to spew obscene personal insults, he's also a role model for projecting your sins onto your opponents.
● AL-Sen: The well-funded Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seems to have settled on its line of attack against Rep. Mo Brooks ahead of the Aug. 15 GOP primary. SLF's second commercial once again accuses Brooks of repeatedly attacking Donald Trump. The narrator argues that Brooks "thinks Donald Trump's border security plan is worse than Barack Obama's," and insists Brooks "repeatedly refused to endorse Trump for president." The spot then plays footage of Brooks, who was supporting Ted Cruz in the presidential primary at the time, declaring, "I don't think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says."
The SLF is supporting appointed Sen. Luther Strange in next month's primary. As the Montgomery Advertiser's Brian Lyman recently noted, Strange, who was Alabama's attorney general until earlier this year, wasn't a Trump supporter during the primary either. But unlike Brooks, Strange kept his mouth shut and didn't publicly disparage any of the candidates. Strange is now running as an all-out Trump ally, even calling Trump's presidency "a biblical miracle." A few other Republicans, most notably ex-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, are also running, but SLF has ignored everyone but Brooks so far. If no one takes a majority, there will be a primary runoff in September.
Strange himself is out with a new TV ad that features nothing but clips of Brooks criticizing Trump. The audience sees Brooks argue that Trump "has alienated so many people in Republican Party ranks with his callous insults," and that Trump is "one candidate that is so belittling, so insulting, I was just asked if I'm going to endorse Donald Trump after things unfold with Donald Trump having this so-called 'insurmountable lead,' and I said, 'No, I'm not.'" The commercial concludes with Brooks telling the camera, "Donald Trump voters, 12 to 18 months from now, they're going to regret their votes for Donald Trump."
● AZ-Sen: On Wednesday night, Republican Sen. John McCain, who recently underwent cranial surgery to remove a blood clot, announced that following the procedure, he was also diagnosed with glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. According to CNN, which first reported the news, glioblastoma is a "very aggressive" cancer and is the same sort of tumor that the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy died of in 2009.
McCain is currently at home in Arizona and says he's considering treatment options. If he is unable to serve out his term, Arizona's governor (currently Republican Doug Ducey) would appoint a replacement, who by law has to be a member of the same party. A special election for the remainder of McCain's term would be held at the same time as the next general election.
● IN-Sen: Neither GOP Reps. Luke Messer nor Todd Rokita have announced that they're challenging Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly yet, but both are stocking up their war chests ahead of their likely bids. Messer's team has released a mid-July OnMessage primary poll to Howey Politics that shows the two congressmen tied 23-23. State Attorney General Curtis Hill, who hasn't ruled out a bid, sits at 4 percent, while state Rep. Mike Braun, who says he'll decide by Aug. 1, grabs 2. It's not really clear why Messer released this poll, unless he's actually trying to deter Hill or Braun from running.
While neither congressman has jumped in yet, the Messer-Rokita pre-primary has already become a nasty affair. This week, Messer released a statement arguing, "For months, Todd Rokita has spread lies and halftruths about my family, claiming we are not Hoosiers and attacking my wife's legal career." A few days ago, Rokita criticized Jennifer Messer for making $20,000 a month for legal work for the city of Fishers (population: 90,000), arguing that the Messers are benefiting financially from their political connections, and that Donnelly will use that story against Luke Messer in a general election. Rokita has also accused Messer of not actually living in Indiana. Back in May, Rokita accused Messer of planting a story in Politico that revealed that he had used $100,000 in campaign funds on a private plane, which doesn't violate any ethics rules.
While Rokita's people are openly spreading rumors that Messer is "getting cold feet," there's no sign that either congressman is backing down. Although Rokita outraised Messer $1 million to $578,000 over the last three months, Rokita has a relatively small $2.35 million to $2 million cash-on-hand lead. Messer himself also said that he'd be talking to his family about his political future "[i]n the coming days." Donnelly certainly won't mind if Rokita and Messer spend the next ten months nuking each other, though he's in for a challenging re-election in this conservative state regardless.
● ME-Sen: Um, ok. Termed-out GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who has publically said he thought he "wouldn't make a very good legislator," ruled out a bid against Sen. Angus King in May. But on Thursday, LePage said that if state Sen. Eric Brakey's campaign against King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, "doesn't start resonating pretty quick, there's a possibility I might change my mind." Of course, this is LePage, who said earlier this month that he likes to mess with the state media by "sit[ting] in my office and mak[ing] up ways so they'll write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it's awful," so who knows.
● MO-Sen: As GOP elites continue to court Attorney General Josh Hawley, another Republican is talking about a potential bid. Aaron Hedlund, a University of Missouri economics assistant professor who served as an unpaid campaign adviser to now-GOP Gov. Eric Greitens, says he's spoken to party leaders in D.C. and Missouri.
● OH-Sen: This is some seriously sick shit. Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has been busy running for the same Senate seat for more than six years now, has decided to throw his lot in with the absolute worst right-wing scum living in America today. Mike Cernovich is a conservative cult figure who is most infamous for pushing "Pizzagate," the breathtakingly psychotic conspiracy theory that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria housed a child sex ring frequented by top Democrats.
It was enough to make flat-earthers look sane, but the fact that Pizzagate was of course a total lie hasn’t stopped Cernovich. In his latest bugout, he claims that the Anti-Defamation League, a century-old organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, has targeted him for murder. Yep, you read that right. The ADL, you see, just released a report naming 36 leading purveyors of hate from both the “alt-right” and the closely linked "alt-lite," a movement that purports to eschew the overt white supremacy of the "alt-right” but yet somehow manages to be just as hateful toward women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and blacks.
That prompted Cernovich to tweet that the ADL has created a "Hit List of Political Opponents, Inciting Terrorism," which in turn inspired Mandel to rush to the defense of Cernovich and Jack Posobiec, another hate-peddler highlighted by the ADL. Astoundingly, Mandel declared:
Sad to see @ADL_National become a partisan witchhunt group targeting people for political beliefs. I stand with @Cernovich & @JackPosobiec
Not only that, when called on it, Mandel's campaign stood by the tweet and shamelessly used his own family's suffering to issue a further attack on the ADL:
"As the grandson of Holocaust survivors and as a Marine who defended our freedom, Treasurer Mandel believes the ADL is dead wrong for creating hit lists on American citizens. Of all organizations, the ADL should know that making target lists of people based on their political beliefs is a dangerous practice and slippery slope."
This is as disgusting as it is terrifying. The GOP's top Senate candidate in a major race is siding with an insane conspiracy theorist and engaging in a baseless, histrionic assault against the leading organization devoted to protecting Jews from the very kinds of hatred that Cernovich and his ilk promote. This only further cements Mandel as the very worst that Republicans have to offer.
● CA-Gov: Apparently, ex-GOP Assemblyman David Hadley has decided that he has better things to do with his life than lose a race for governor. Two weeks after he entered the race, Hadley dropped out on Wednesday.
● NV-Gov: State Treasurer Dan Schwartz has been talking about seeking the GOP nomination to succeed termed-out Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval for a while, and while he hasn't declared he's in yet, he came very close this week. Schwartz says it's "virtually certain" he'll run, and that he'll "probably announce sometime in September and have an exploratory committee in mid-August.
If Schwartz runs, he'll almost certainly need to get past Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the early primary favorite. While Laxalt has not announced he's in yet, there's very little doubt he'll run, and that he'll have more than enough money to run a tough race. But Schwartz, whom the Reno Gazette-Journal writes is "purported to be a millionaire," insists that he's not afraid, and argues that local billionaire GOP donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson "has bought" Laxalt. And indeed, Schwartz has not been shy about making enemies within his party. In 2015, lawmakers from both parties trashed his alternative budget proposal, and Schwartz has a bad relationship with Sandoval.
Last month, Schwartz said he'd self-fund at least $500,000 for his bid, and unveiled a poll showing him trailing Laxalt just 34-30 in a hypothetical primary. However, that poll was done by Doug Schoen, whose professional reputation is … less than stellar.
On the Democratic side, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani recently told the Nevada Independent that she'd decide no later than mid-fall. Fellow Commissioner Steve Sisolak has already announced he's seeking the Democratic nod, and he starts with $3.8 million on-hand. However, Giunchigliani may be able to run to the left of Sisolak, a self-described moderate who has a bad relationship with labor.
If either Giunchigliani or Sisolak becomes governor, they'll be breaking a long political curse. As columnist Steve Sebelius wrote back in 2014, very few Clark County commissioners have won election to higher office. Back in 2002, then-Sen. Harry Reid reportedly warned his son Rory Reid about running for the commission, calling it a political graveyard. The younger Reid didn't listen and eventually became the commission's chair, but he badly lost the 2010 gubernatorial race to Sandoval. Giunchigliani herself ran for mayor of Las Vegas from the commission in 2011 and lost the general 61-39. Sebelius wrote that the last Clark commissioner to graduate to higher office was Republican Lorraine Hunt-Bono, who was elected lieutenant governor in 1998.
It's not clear if the curse is just the product of bad luck or if there's more to it, but for better or worse, it looks like the 2018 Democratic nominee will be a Clark commissioner. The only other notable Democrat who has made noises about running is wealthy businessman Stephen Cloobeck, whose consultant said was considering as recently as June. However, Cloobeck endorsed GOP Sen. Dean Heller, the top Democratic Senate target, back in April, which ought to be a disqualifier. There was talk earlier this cycle that state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford could run, but he seems far more likely to run for attorney general.
● SC-Gov: Republican Kevin Bryant, who was promoted from the state Senate to lieutenant governor earlier this year, formed a fundraising committee for a possible gubernatorial bid this week. Bryant says he's still a couple of weeks away from deciding if he'll challenge Gov. Henry McMaster, a fellow Republican who was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor at the beginning of the year.
● FL-07: On Wednesday, GOP businessman Scott Sturgill announced that he would challenge first-term Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy in this Orlando-area seat. Sturgill, whose company makes work-safety equipment, immediately earned an endorsement from Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who didn't rule out running last month.
Sturgill has run for office before, losing a 2014 primary to now-state Rep. Bob Cortes 57-43. Sturgill's kickoff was attended by several local elected officials and Sanford Regional Chamber of Commerce members, a sign he has some connections. State Rep. Mike Miller is also seeking the GOP nomination for this district, which was almost tied in 2012 but backed Clinton 51-44.
● IA-01: Democratic state Sen. Jeff Danielson has been talking about challenging GOP Rep. Rod Blum for a while, and he told Bleeding Heartland this week that he was forming an exploratory committee. Danielson said he would make his decision in either August or September. However, another local Democrat quietly took his name out of the running for this seat. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson endorsed Thomas Heckroth, a former U.S. Labor Department staffer. State Rep. Abby Finkenauer is also seeking the Democratic nod against Blum in this eastern Iowa seat, which went from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump.
● ME-02: Earlier this week, construction company owner Jonathan Fulford, a Democrat who lost two tight races to GOP state Senate President Mike Thibodeau in 2014 and 2016, announced that he would challenge sophomore GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Fulford was the first notable Democrat we'd heard so much as express interest for this northern Maine seat, which flipped from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump, but he may not be the last. Roll Call's Simone Pathé reports that the DCCC has spoken to three local elected officials "who have all been talked up locally in the state." This trio consists of state Rep. Jared Golden, a Marine veteran and the chamber's assistant majority leader; Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague; and state Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson. None of them have said anything publicly yet.
Golden, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, served as a Senate Homeland Security Committee staffer under Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins before winning his Lewiston seat in 2014. Sprague, who considered running last cycle, currently serves as a local bank vice president.
Jackson ran for what was an open seat back in 2014. He won praise for a fiercely populist speech at Maine's Democratic convention the month before the primary. However, Jackson's fundraising was pretty weak, and the League of Conservation Voters also spent money against him, arguing that he was too close to polluters. Jackson's primary foe, fellow state Sen. Emily Cain, also hit Jackson for his 2009 vote against same sex marriage and portrayed him as an opponent of abortion rights. Cain ended up winning 71-29, before losing to Poliquin in November.
During last year's presidential primary, Jackson was a top Maine surrogate for Bernie Sanders, who decisively won the caucus. Jackson also won back his Allagash seat, and became minority leader. In addition to his well-regarded speaking style, Jackson's background as a logger could be an asset in this rural seat. However, if Jackson is interested in trying again, he'll want to see what he can do differently to avoid a repeat of his 2014 defeat.
● NJ-11: EMILY's List has taken sides in another Democratic primary. This time, they're backing former Navy helicopter pilot Mikie Sherrill, who also served as a federal prosecutor. Sherrill is hoping to unseat longtime GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in a seat that swung from 52-47 Romney to just 49-48 Trump.
● NY-01: A few potential Democratic candidates are considering challenging GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin for the eastern Long Island seat, and one may be a bit more interested than he originally sounded. Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a registered Independence Party member who caucuses with the Democrats, said back in March that he was considering, but put his odds of running at less than 50-50. However, a recent article in the East End Beacon reports that Thiele said he was going to D.C. to talk to the DCCC about a possible run. Thiele declared that he was "dedicated to the proposition of removing Lee Zeldin from Congress," but added that, "We can't have a primary this time. We need the best candidate possible and we need to rally around that candidate."
This seat had been close in most recent presidential races, but it swung from 50-49 Obama all the way to 55-42 Trump. Still, there may be a primary here regardless of what Thiele does. Newsday's Rick Brand writes that termed-out Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning has been mentioned as a possible candidate, though there's no word on her interest. Brand says that Browning is popular and "could cut into Zeldin's hometown political base."
A few other Democrats are eyeing this seat, and one quietly went ahead and entered the race. Ex-Suffolk Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher set up a campaign committee back in April and said she was considering, but "not quite there yet." Viloria-Fisher's website identifies her as a candidate for this seat, so she seems to have decided to run. However, Viloria-Fisher raised just $26,000 from April to June and loaned herself another $10,000, a very tiny haul for a seat in the ultra-expensive New York City media market.
Perry Gershon, a real estate and finance businessman, recently filed with the FEC, and his team says he'll likely announce later this summer. However, Gershon only changed his voter registration from Manhattan to Suffolk County last May. Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist Elaine DiMasi expressed interest back in April, but she doesn't seem to have said anything recently about her plans. We can cross one Democrat off the list, however: This week, venture capitalist Dave Calone told Newsday that he would not seek the Democratic nod next year to face Zeldin. Last year, Calone lost a very tight primary to Anna Throne-Holst, who lost to Zeldin 58-42.
● Deaths: On Wednesday, ex-Ohio GOP Rep. Ralph Regula died at the age of 92. Regula won a Canton-area House seat in 1972, and he never took less than 58 percent of the vote in any of his re-election campaigns. Regula had a reputation as a moderate in D.C., and he notably was much more liberal on abortion rights than most of his caucus. Regula retired in 2008 after 18 terms.
● Statehouse Action: It's that time of week again… This Week In Statehouse Action: Enter The Commonwealth (34 Districts) edition highlights Democrats' fundraising accomplishments in Virginia House races, special elections in New Hampshire, and our unique data on presidential performance in legislative districts across the country.
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