● AL-Sen: With less than a month to go before the Aug. 15 GOP Senate primary, we finally have a proper poll. Cygnal, on behalf of several unnamed "businesses and associations," gives appointed Sen. Luther Strange the lead with 33 percent, while Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, beats Rep. Mo Brooks 26-16 for second. In the likely event that no one takes a majority, there will be a primary runoff in September.
Aside from rumored tidbits, this is the first and only complete poll we've ever seen here, so we don't have anything to compare it to. However, Strange and his allies at the Senate Leadership Fund, a well-funded super PAC close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been spending aggressively while Brooks and Moore have little outside support, so it's not unreasonable to see the senator ahead.
At least one of those seekrit polls, though, indicated that the real battle was between Brooks and Strange for the second runoff spot, which explains why Team Strange has been training its fire on Brooks while ignoring Moore. That assault has come in the form of running ad after ad featuring footage of the congressman dissing Donald Trump during last year's presidential primary. The commercials have even argued that Brooks, who was backing Ted Cruz, sided with Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren over Trump.
Brooks seems to have finally decided that there's no way he can win a "who loves Donald the mostest" contest, so he's switched tactics and instead come to the defense of former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's "beleaguered" attorney general—with some truly remarkable rhetoric:
"I support President Trump's policies, but this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of Alabama who know Jeff Sessions so well and elected him so often by overwhelming margins."
Brooks even offered to drop out of the race if all the GOP candidates agreed to do the same and push for Sessions' name to get on the ballot, an outcome that has about zero percent chance of happening.
Until now, this primary has been a referendum on which candidate is the Trumpiest, and Brooks is hoping that there's is a contingent of loyal Beauregardistas who aren't happy with how Trump is treating his attorney general. It's certainly possible there are: A new report in the New York Times warns of "conservative revolt" brewing against Trump over Sessions, though it may not go any further than Capitol Hill, where Sessions' former colleagues are finally upset with Trump only because he's gone after one of their own.
And unluckily for Brooks, only two senators get to vote in this election, and neither is backing him. No one has made much money underestimating how much Republican voters support Trump, so if Cygnal's poll is anywhere close to the mark, Brooks really has to shake things up if he wants to survive until September, much less win the nomination.
We haven't forgotten the third man in the race, though. Moore is up with his first TV commercial, which is pretty unexciting stuff. The narrator recounts Moore's service in Vietnam and extols him for having "fought for the sanctity of marriage." The camera shows a heterosexual couple being married by a minister, but oddly, the shot cuts everyone off below the neck. It's a strange directorial choice, unless Moore is actually running on a pro-guillotine platform. (He probably is.)
The narrator then pledges that Moore will "stand with President Trump against the weak-kneed Republican establishment." The rest of the ad features a bunch of conservative talking points. There's no word on the size of the buy, though Moore had just $261,000 in the bank at the end of June.
● IN-Sen: Just days after he insisted that he was "genuinely undecided" about a bid against Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, third-term GOP Rep. Luke Messer tweeted "We're in!!" on Wednesday (with two exclamation points, which just looks weird), with an "I Like Luke U.S. Senate 2018" graphic attached. Messer's team says his formal announcement will come on Aug. 12, but this is an unambiguous declaration of candidacy in our book. Messer has been raising money for his likely campaign all year, and he ended June with $2 million in the bank.
Messer thus becomes the first noteworthy Republican to announce that he'll challenge Donnelly, who is one of the most vulnerable Democrats up next year, but he's very unlikely to be the last. Fellow Rep. Todd Rokita has also unsubtly been preparing to run, and the two congressmen have been trading insults for months. Rokita celebrated Messer's announcement by releasing a GS Strategy Group poll that gave him a 21-14 lead over Messer in a hypothetical matchup, with "others" taking another 11 percent. In a one-on-one fight, Rokita's poll gives him a 28-20 advantage. (Last week, Messer's team dropped a poll showing the two men tied at 23 apiece.)
An unnamed Rokita advisor also told WIBC reporter Eric Berman on Wednesday that Rokita's decision was "imminent," and Rokita's already previewed how he plans to attack Messer. Earlier this month, Rokita criticized Messer's wife, Jennifer, for making $20,000 a month for legal work for the small city of Fishers (population: 90,000), arguing that the Messers are benefiting financially from their political connections. Rokita has also insisted that Messer doesn't actually live in Indiana and argued that Democrats would attack Messer over both stories in a general election.
● NV-Sen: Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who has been mulling a bid against GOP Sen. Dean Heller, has released a month-old poll from Anzalone Liszt Grove that gives Heller a slim 47-45 lead. The memo did not, however, include a matchup between Heller and Rep. Jacky Rosen, who launched a campaign earlier this month with top-to-bottom backing from the Democratic establishment. (A late June PPP poll had Rosen up 42-41.)
Titus also didn't release any data on a possible primary bout, though she acknowledged that of course she did test herself against Rosen and, predictably, Titus says she's "confident I could win" after seeing the primary numbers. Any results that Titus is sitting on, though, are already somewhat stale, since they wouldn't reflect the positive attention that Rosen has received since kicking off her bid at the start of July.
Titus, who represents a safely blue Las Vegas seat, has been talking about running for a while, and she recently said she would decide over the August recess. As recently as Tuesday, Titus said she was "torn" between running for re-election and taking her chances on what for her would be a very risky Senate campaign. If Titus does challenge Rosen for the Democratic nomination, she wouldn't just be taking on her own party's establishment, she'd be facing off against ex-Sen. Harry Reid, who remains a powerful force in the state. At the end of June, Rosen held a relatively small $416,000 to $324,000 cash-on-hand lead over Titus, but Rosen is likely to have a much easier time bringing in cash than her colleague, and she's certain to have much more outside support.
● WI-Sen: On Wednesday, businessman and Iraq veteran Kevin Nicholson became the first major Republican to kick off a bid against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Nicholson starts off with little name recognition, but he has one very powerful ally in his corner: GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein set up a super PAC for Nicholson months ago, and he's already contributed $3.5 million to it.
While Nicholson is a first-time candidate, he's not exactly a political outsider. Nicholson is a former president of the College Democrats of America, and he spoke at the 2000 national convention in support of Al Gore. Nicholson addressed his past in his campaign kickoff video, saying he "was a Democrat. I used to do nothing and know everything. But since then, we've had three kids, I've fought in two wars, and I've worked in businesses around the world. And after you've been hit in the face with that much reality, you cannot help but become a strong conservative."
However, it's not clear when Nicholson's conversion took place. Nicholson definitely registered as a Democrat in North Carolina in 2005 and remained so at least until 2008, when he voted in the presidential primary in the Tar Heel State. Nicholson says he voted "no preference," but thanks to some good sleuthing by Milwaukee TV news station Fox6, even that appears to be untrue. How could anyone but Nicholson know? It turns out only one person in Nicholson's precinct voted "no preference," but that person cast an early ballot, while Nicholson is recorded as voting on Election Day.
Nicholson responded by pulling a page from the Kris Kobach playbook, claiming—without proof—that the state's voting records were wrong. He also insists he voted for John McCain that November and released a photo—undated—of himself at a McCain rally.
Whatever excuses he tries to make, Nicholson's GOP rivals are almost certain to try casting him as a heretic. State Sen. Leah Vukmir, who has been considering a bid of her own, was not impressed, telling a reporter just after Nicholson's launch that "I'm not familiar with Kevin's conservative track record at this point, other than him saying he's a conservative."
However, one very ideological group does seem to like Nicholson quite a bit. The powerful anti-tax Club For Growth put out a statement welcoming Nicholson into the primary (they didn't mean it sarcastically, the way so many politicians "welcome" their opponents into a race) and proclaiming that it's "good to see that the out-of-touch liberal Tammy Baldwin is finally getting a serious challenger." The Club did not formally endorse Nicholson, but it doesn't sound like his past will be an objection for them at least.
● MI-Gov: This week, fundraising reports were due in Michigan for the first half of 2017. On the Democratic side, former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, the early frontrunner, took in $1.5 million and has $1.1 million in the bank. However, former Detroit health department director Abdul El-Sayed isn't too far behind, taking in $1 million and ending up with $644,000 on-hand. But the biggest war chest belongs to businessman Shri Thanedar, who self-funded $3.3 million and has $3.2 million in the bank. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who badly lost the 1998 campaign and is considering another try, also did some self-funding: Fieger donated $5 to the 1998 campaign account that he never closed. Nope, we're not missing any zeroes there.
Neither of the GOP's two most likely candidates, state Attorney General Bill Schuette nor Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, have entered the race yet, but they're nevertheless raising money. Schuette brought in $900,000 for the year and has $1.6 million available, while Calley took in just $478,000 but has $1 million on-hand. Physician Jim Hines, a declared candidate who claims he's willing to self-fund "millions", has so far contributed $389,000 of his own money, but he has just $6,000 on-hand. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who announced in early June, raised only $61,000 so far, and he has $23,000 in the bank.
● VA-Gov: Republican Ed Gillespie is out with his first three general election TV ads. To sum them all up, Gillespie emphasizes his humble origins (he really wants you to know that one of his early jobs was parking cars) and argues he'll improve the economy.
● CA-09, CA-10: Back in 2012, former astronaut Jose Hernandez lost to Republican Rep. Jeff Denham 53-47 in California's swingy 10th Congressional District. Hernandez, a Democrat, expressed interest in another bid against Denham last year, but on Wednesday, after a Twitter user encouraged him to run again, he sent a very surprising response. Hernandez tweeted back, "Thanks! But I'm actually considering #CA09. This is where I was born, grew up, have my offices and farm grapes."
The neighboring 9th District, which includes Stockton and a slice of the Bay Area's Contra Costa County, is considerably bluer than the 10th, but there's a major problem here: The seat is held by Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney, who has shown no sign of retiring. It's not clear if Hernandez thinks the six-term incumbent will call it quits soon, or if he's interested in challenging McNerney.
If Hernandez does decide to run against McNerney, it's not at all clear what argument he'll use against the congressman, who doesn't seem to have offended many people since first picking up a GOP-held seat in the 2006 blue wave. At the end of June, McNerney had just $328,000 in the bank, a pretty meh sum. However, McNerney, who faced an expensive general election as recently as 2012, should be able to raise a lot more if he needs to. Hernandez brought in about $1.5 million during what was a top-tier contest against Denham, but most of his donors would be a lot less keen on helping him oust a Democrat.
This seat backed Clinton 57-38 and it should stay blue, though McNerney had a shockingly close 52-48 win during the 2014 GOP wave. But because of California's top-two primary rules, it's possible that if Hernandez decides to challenge McNerney, both Democrats could make it to the general election, and things could get chaotic from there.
● FL-27: This week, former state judge Mary Barzee Flores joined the Democratic primary for this open Miami-area seat that both parties are determined to compete for. In 2015, Barzee Flores was nominated by Barack Obama for a federal judgeship, but she was successfully blocked by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who, ever the schmuck, refused to even explain why.
Finally, after waiting a year, Rubio claimed that he was blocking Barzee Flores because she hadn't fully disclosed her ties to the ACLU and EMILY's List, a prominent group that helps elect pro-choice Democratic women. Rubio also pointed to a criminal 2001 trial where Barzee Flores served as a public defender, though not the lead attorney; years later, her client's conviction was overturned after he argued he had ineffective council.
South Florida's legal community, including many Republicans, strongly supported Barzee Flores and was very displeased with Rubio. One fellow Republican, a former U.S. attorney, even berated Rubio for engaging in "extreme political partisanship." Barzee Flores, meanwhile, remains in good standing, and the Miami Herald's Patricia Mazzei writes that her legal connections should help her raise money. A number of candidates from both parties are running for to succeed Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a 59-39 Clinton seat that still often favors the GOP downballot.
● IN-06: GOP Rep. Luke Messer's decision to run for the Senate opens up his 6th Congressional District, which includes the eastern Indianapolis suburbs, Muncie, and several communities along the Ohio and Kentucky borders. Trump carried the seat 68-27, and even disastrous 2012 Senate nominee Richard Mourdock, who lost statewide 50-44, won the 6th 49-44.
Messer's Senate bid has been expected for months, so local Republicans have had plenty of time to consider bids here. The biggest potential name is businessman Greg Pence, whose younger brother Mike represented the last version of this seat until he successfully ran for governor in 2012. Greg Pence, who chairs Messer's statewide finance committee, has refused to rule anything out over the last few months. Last month, Pence told the Indianapolis Star that, while he's been encouraged to run, he's focused on helping Messer, which is far from a no.
Pence had a brief stint in state government in 2005, when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels hired him for a senior position at the Department of Environmental Management. Pence had no environmental credentials, and it didn't help that his old oil company was cited by that very agency for environmental violations. Pence ended up leaving after just two-and-a half months, though this probably isn't the type of controversy that would piss off GOP primary voters. In any case, Pence is close to his powerful brother, and if he runs, he could end up scaring off potential rivals.
Howey Politics also recently wrote that state Sens. Mike Crider and Jean Leising are considering, though we haven't heard anything from them publicly yet. Leising was Team Red's nominee for a district that included some of this turf in 1994 and 1996, losing both times to Democratic incumbent Lee Hamilton.
● LA-01: On Wednesday, a month after he was shot by an Illinois man at the batting practice being held by the congressional Republicans' baseball team, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was released from the hospital and will begin "intensive inpatient rehabilitation."
● MD-06, MD-Gov: For the last few months, Democratic Rep. John Delaney has been publicly debating whether he should challenge GOP Gov. Larry Hogan or seek re-election to his suburban D.C. seat, but he may just do neither. Local political blogger Ryan Miner, citing an unnamed "source close to" the congressman, says that Delaney is "expected" to announce on Saturday that he won't be on the 2018 ballot at all.
If Delaney bails on the House, Team Blue shouldn't have much trouble holding his 55-40 Clinton seat outside of a GOP wave year. And in fact two Democratic legislators already started raising money for a potential open seat race months ago to get a jump on their potential primary foes: At the end of June, Del. Aruna Miller had a $351,000 to $187,000 cash-on-hand lead over state House Majority Leader Bill Frick.
● NM-01: Another Democrat has entered the crowded primary for this open seat in the Albuquerque area that favored Clinton 52-36. The newest contender is Annie Chavez, who served as a government relations officer for Sandia National Labs and previously was an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
There's no clear frontrunner at all here, though the recent campaign finance quarter does give us some clues about what's going on. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a former administrator at the University of New Mexico's law school, had the largest war chest at $174,000. Deb Haaland, who recently stepped down as state party chair, wasn't too far behind with $132,000. There's a big drop off after that: Attorney Damian Lara had $75,000 in the bank, while Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis had just $44,000. Ex-U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez only announced at the end of June, and he didn't file with the FEC until July 10.
● NV-03: Earlier this month, GOP state Sen. Scott Hammond filed paperwork with the FEC to prepare for a bid for this open swing seat in suburban Las Vegas. Hammond have formally announced he's in, but his website identifies him as a candidate, which is good enough for us.
● NY-01: Last week, Newsday name-dropped Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, who is termed out of office this year, as a potential Democratic challenger for sophomore GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin. Browning recently told 27east that she is in fact considering. Newsday's Rick Brand described Browning as popular and argued that she "could cut into Zeldin's hometown political base" in this eastern Long Island seat. Browning has consistently won the Democratic nomination for her seat in the county legislature, though she only switched her voter registration from the Working Families Party to the Democratic Party recently.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a registered Independence Party member who caucuses with the Democrats, also said last week that he was meeting with the DCCC about a possible bid. Thiele has since told 27east that he expects to decide sometime after Labor Day or Columbus Day. Thiele said that, while he would welcome the D-Trip's endorsement, he won't be changing his party registration, arguing, "If I'm endorsed by the Democrats, I think all of that [funding] would follow." Thiele and Browning both sound very reluctant to run against one another, and Thiele said he hopes there won't be a contested Democratic primary at all.
However, there may be one no matter what Thiele does. Businessman Perry Gershon recently filed to run, and he told the Suffolk Times that he's raised $100,000 during his first week on the trail. Gershon hadn't announced he was in before, but he referred to "my candidacy" and "[t]his campaign," so there's no ambiguity that he's running.
However, as we noted last week, Gershon only changed his voter registration from Manhattan to Suffolk County in May, and his potential opponents could cast him as a carpetbagger. Democrat Elaine DiMasi, a physicist at the prestigious Brookhaven National Laboratory, also sounds likely to run. This seat swung from 50-49 Obama to 54-42 Trump.
● PA-01: This looks very, very bad for Rep. Bob Brady, the longtime Democratic powerbroker who's dominated Philadelphia politics like an old-school machine boss for decades. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced a plea deal with a woman named Carolyn Cavaness, who says she helped orchestrate a secret $90,000 payment in 2012 from Brady to retired local judge Jimmie Moore in order to get Moore to drop his primary challenge to the congressman. (Cavaness was working for Moore, who did indeed wind up quitting the race.)
Cavaness pleaded guilty to submitting false statements to the FEC, because Moore's campaign never reported the payments. Neither Brady nor Moore have been charged with any crime, though both were referred to in the Department of Justice's press release announcing the plea (not by name but instead as "Candidate A" and "Candidate B"). Moore hasn't commented yet, while an attorney for Brady said the congressmen "maintain[s] his innocence."
But Brady didn't issue any kind of denial himself. Directing the Philadelphia Inquirer to his consultant, Ken Smukler, Brady said only: "You have to talk to Kenny. They did all that. That's five years ago. I don't remember none of that. Whatever they did, I don't know." Usually, criminal lawyers advise their clients to shut the hell up and stop talking to the press once an investigation starts, but Brady, a guy used to being at the center of things, is evidently going to make life difficult for his legal team—and himself.
And things only seem likely to get worse. We don't know if Cavaness' deal requires her to testify against either Brady or Moore, but it likely does. In cases like this, prosecutors aren't interested in frying the small fish—they want a big target, and there are few in Philly bigger than Brady.
If Brady ends up departing before his term is over, there would be a special election for this extremely blue seat, which backed Clinton 80-18. Crucially, though, there would be no Democratic primary. Instead, local Democratic ward leaders would chose the nominee, who would almost certainly wind up becoming the next congressman. Seventy-five percent of the 1st District is in Philadelphia, so the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee would have the most influence in selecting the nominee. (The balance is in Delaware County.) And who has chaired the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee since 1986? Bob Brady.
● Special Elections: On Tuesday night in New Hampshire, Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh defeated former Republican state Sen. David Boutin to keep the swing 16th Senate District in the Democratic column. This win maintains the current 14-10 GOP majority in the chamber and keeps Democrats within striking distance of flipping it in 2018.
Moreover, this win continues the trend of Democrats winning and/or over-performing in special elections held since Trump's election. Not only did Cavanaugh prevail, he outperformed Clinton by 11 points, defeating the Republican 55-44 percent (Clinton won this seat by just 100 votes last fall—47.7-47.4 percent).