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.
● TN-02: On Monday, longtime Rep. Jimmy Duncan announced that he would not seek re-election to his safely Republican Knoxville-area seat next year. Duncan, who has represented East Tennessee since 1988, is close to the Paulist wing of the GOP and he is the last remaining one of the few Republicans in Congress who voted against the Iraq War.
Duncan never faced a serious primary challenger, but that may very well have changed if he tried to stick around a bit longer. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has said he will run either for the Senate or for Tennessee's 2nd District. Just before Duncan made his decision to retire public, Burchett said he would announce his 2018 plans on Saturday—and that he was unlikely to run for the Senate.
A few weeks ago, Duncan got some negative attention after the Knoxville Sentinel reported that over the last decade, he had used his campaign treasury to pay family members hefty salaries during his uncompetitive re-election campaigns. We'll never know if this story would have done Duncan any damage at the ballot box, and it's not clear how much Burchett's likely primary challenge convinced the 70-year-old that it was time to call it quits.
Trump won this seat 65-30, and it's not in much danger of going anywhere without Duncan. The last time a Knox County-based House seat elected a Democrat was in 1852, before the Republican Party was even formed. In fact, this seat has had a congressman from the nativist Know Nothing Party more recently than that! East Tennessee was the rare part of the South that was solidly Republican in the century after the Civil War when the Democratic Party dominated almost all of the region, and it's remained that way ever since.
Burchett himself says he'll still announce his plans Saturday. A little more than 60 percent of this seat is in Burchett's Knox County, so if he goes through with a bid, he'll likely start out with plenty of name recognition. However, when Burchett was flirting with a bid for governor earlier this year, he predicted that he'd have trouble raising money. Instead, Burchett indulged in some Loser Speak and argued that his grassroots platform could break through, because "I think my message is pretty clear. And I don't need some New York advertising agency to help me talk to the regular folks, because I am the regular folks and I think that's my appeal."
A bid for the House is a lot less expensive than a gubernatorial campaign would have been, but if Burchett doesn't raise much cash, he could have trouble in what could be a competitive primary. But unlike in most Southern states, it takes just a simple plurality to win a Tennessee primary, so it's not implausible that Burchett could coast to victory on just name recognition in a crowded race.
It didn't take long for other Republicans to start getting the Great Mentioner treatment. State Rep. Jimmy Matlock (all together now: Matlooooock!) acknowledged that he's wanted to run for this seat once it opened, though he says he's still considering. Last year, Matlock tried to unseat fellow Republican Beth Harwell as speaker, but he lost the party nomination vote 40-30. A few months later, Matlock was canned as chairman of the Transportation committee. However, Harwell is giving up her post to run for governor, and if Matlock ran for Congress, he'd give up any chance to succeed her.
Baptist Pastor Chris Edmonds, the son of a local World War II hero, says he's likely to run and could make up his mind within a few weeks. Normally, we'd wonder if Edmonds had the money or political connections to mount a serious race … but Edmonds himself says, "I have no money, no political connections—some would say no sense, to think about running." Still, weird things can happen in crowded races, and sometimes, candidates with a religious background can do well: Just ask Baptist pastor-turned North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, or Baptist camp director-turned Oklahoma congressman-turned Sen. James Lankford, two Southern Republicans who both looked like Some Dudes throughout most of their first primaries but won.
The Knoxville Sentinel also writes that Blount County Sheriff Jim Berrong and state Sen. Richard Briggs are rumored possibilities, though neither man has said anything publicly yet. State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, who is the congressman's sister, doesn't sound likely to get in, though when the Sentinel asked if she was definitively ruling it out, she replied, "I never say never, but I'm not considering it at this point. I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing." This seat has been in the family since John J. Duncan Sr. first won it in 1964, a family reign that's long for anyone who isn't a Dingell.
● AL-Sen: Sen. Luther Strange's latest ad in the swiftly approaching Republican primary features the incumbent touting his work to "drain the swamp," highlighting how he investigated corruption and convicted the state House speaker when he was Alabama's attorney general. Strange then pivots to his frequent themes of building a Mexico border wall to stop illegal immigration and his NRA endorsement, once again showing the senator at a firing range to prove he’s a Big Man With a Big Gun.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mo Brooks' latest ad finds the insurgent challenger writing a $2,500 check to buy a first-class ticket aboard the Trump Train. Well, not literally, of course—Brooks attempts to prove his pro-Trump bona fides by noting he donated $2,500 to Trump's campaign in last year's general election and votes with Trump "95 percent of the time" in Congress. Brooks also makes sure to name-drop the endorsements of several "conservative thought leaders" who have been among the biggest media sycophants for Trump: Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin.
● PA-Sen, PA-03: Following a recent Associated Press story that Republican Rep. Lou Barletta will run for Senate, fellow GOP Rep. Mike Kelly announced on Tuesday that he will seek re-election to the House rather than run for the Senate too. Kelly's move is unsurprising given previous reporting that the two men were unlikely to run against each other, although Barletta still has not yet formally declared his intention to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.
● CA-Gov: Politico recently published the fundraising totals for the first half of 2017 for the major Democratic candidates in California's open 2018 governor's race, which are shown below:
Gavin Newsom (D): $5.4 million raised, $16 million cash-on-hand
John Chiang (D): $2.7 million raised, $9 million cash-on-hand
Antonio Villaraigosa (D): $2.3 million raised, $4.5 million cash-on-hand
Delaine Eastin (D): $321,000 raised, $107,000 cash-on-hand
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom dominated the money chase by raising about as much as his three major opponents combined, leaving him with an auspicious $16 million on hand. Both state Treasurer John Chiang and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa raised respectable amounts. However, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, who left office in 2003, raised a sum that's a mere fraction of what it will take to run a competitive race in this incredibly expensive state.
What little polling exists in this race has typically shown Newsom leading with a modest plurality, but a significant share of the electorate polls as undecided. No candidates have begun advertising on TV yet, but even seven-figure sums only go so far in a state as big as California.
● CO-Gov: On Tuesday, Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne filed the paperwork to mount a campaign for governor next year, but stopped short of declaring she was officially running. Lynne says she's still just "exploring" whether to try to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, but filing now will allow her to raise funds while she hopes to decide by the first week of September. With Rep. Jared Polis having the ability to self-fund tens of millions and other Democratic rivals already having raised significant funds, Lynne or any other aspirants can't afford to wait too much longer if they want to run a competitive primary race.
● CT-Gov: Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democrat, revealed on Tuesday that he will go ahead with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that prohibits him from participating in Connecticut's public financing system because of his past felony convictions for corruption, which saw him serve seven years in prison from 2003 to 2010. Connecticut's strict campaign finance laws have seen most other major candidates from both parties seek to qualify for public funds by raising $250,000 in donations of $100 or less.
Ganim could consequently struggle to raise enough money without access to public financing. Of course, even if he does succeed in getting the provision overturned and successfully qualifies for public funds, convincing the roughly 96 percent of Connecticut voters who reside outside of Bridgeport to overlook his past corruption issues will be an uphill challenge by itself.
● ID-Gov: Fundraising reports for Idaho's open governor's race are now available for the first six months of 2017, and wealthy developer Tommy Ahlquist leads the pack on the Republican side. Alquist raised $575,000 and self-funded $378,000 since kicking off his campaign in early March. The first-time candidate has already spent heavily on TV ads and had roughly just $140,000 in cash-on-hand.
Meanwhile, Rep. Raúl Labrador brought in $309,000 since announcing his candidacy in early May, while he finished the month of June with $288,000 in cash-on-hand. Finally, Lt. Gov. Brad Little raised just $228,000 even though he was the only one of the three candidates who was in the race for the entire six-month reporting period, since he joined the contest shortly after last November's elections.
● MI-Gov: Following the release of their Senate portion on Monday, Target-Insyght unveiled the gubernatorial primary segment of its recent statewide Michigan poll on behalf of MIRS. On the Democratic side, former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and prominent attorney Geoffrey Fieger are tied at 35 percent apiece while former Detroit Health Commissioner Abdul El-Sayed and wealthy businessman Shri Thanedar trail far behind at 4 points and 3 points, respectively. Unlike the other three Democrats, Fieger hasn't joined the race yet, but he likely has substantial name recognition from his long and often notorious legal career; he was also Team Blue's disastrous 1998 nominee for governor.
On the Republican side, state Attorney General Bill Schuette trounces Lt. Gov. Brian Calley by 42-14, while state Sen. Patrick Colbeck earns a minor 4 percent and physician Jim Hines takes a miniscule 1 percent. Neither Schuette nor Calley has officially kicked off his campaign yet, but both men have reportedly been jockeying for the open governor's seat for quite some time. With so many voters undecided on both sides of the aisle, there's still a long way to go until next year's primaries.
● NY-Gov: Republicans still have no notable challenger to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but former hedge fund manager Harry Wilson has been considering running for a while. In a recent interview, Wilson stated that he'll make a decision by late November and is "50-50" on whether to run or not.
Wilson's only previous electoral experience consists of losing the 2010 general election for comptroller, but his 4.5-point loss margin against a Democratic incumbent is nonetheless the closest Republicans have come to winning any statewide race since 2002. Beating Cuomo in this expensive blue state with an unpopular Republican in the White House would be quite difficult, but Republicans are likely eager to mount a credible campaign lest a weak nominee wreak havoc for their down-ballot candidates.
● OH-Gov: Campaign finance reports for the first half of 2017 are now available in Ohio's gubernatorial contest, and both parties feature heavily contested primaries. First, the Republicans:
Jon Husted (R): $2 million raised, $4.3 million cash-on-hand
Mike DeWine (R): $1.3 million raised, $1 million self-loaned, $4.7 million cash-on-hand
Jim Renacci (R): $576,000 raised, $4 million self-loaned, $4.4 million cash-on-hand
Mary Taylor (R): $640,000 raised, $437,000 cash-on-hand
Secretary of State Jon Husted led the field with a hefty $2 million raised, but state Attorney General Mike DeWine actually finished with the most cash-on-hand thanks to a $1 million self-loan. Rep. Jim Renacci raised the least, but as one of the wealthiest members of Congress he was able to loan himself a whopping $4 million. All three men finished the month of June with over $4 million on hand, but Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor lagged far behind with just one-tenth of that amount. Taylor will need to step up her fundraising pace if she hopes to increase her name recognition and remain competitive against her much better-funded rivals.
A recent Tarrance poll gave DeWine a hefty plurality lead, but it also showed how his rivals weren't nearly as well-known, particularly Renacci. That name-recognition deficit almost certainly won't persist after Husted and Renacci unleash their millions on TV ads, and this primary is consequently far from settled.
Connie Pillich (D): $547,000 raised, $721,000 cash-on-hand
Nan Whaley (D): $455,000 raised, $395,000 cash-on-hand
Joe Schiavoni (D): $342,000 raised, $245,000 cash-on-hand
Betty Sutton (D): $275,000 raised, $210,000 cash-on-hand
None of the four major Democratic candidates raised as much money as any of the four notable GOP ones, but former state Rep. Connie Pillich came closest with $547,000 raised. Ohio is an expensive state for campaign ads, and Team Blue's candidates will have to pick up their fundraising pace if they hope to avoid being overwhelmed once the eventual nominee reaches the general election.
● RI-Gov: There have been hints all year that Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo could be vulnerable as she seeks a second term next year despite Rhode Island's blue lean in federal races, but the second quarter fundraising numbers tell a somewhat different story. Raimondo hauled in $547,000 and finished June with $2.7 million on hand, a sizable sum for such a small state.
No notable Republicans have formally jumped into the race yet, but Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who narrowly lost to Raimondo in 2014 and is considering a rematch, raised $80,000 and finished the quarter with $180,000 on hand. Meanwhile, state Rep. Joe Trillo and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan are also considering running, but they ended June with a miniscule $5,000 and $8,000 in cash-on-hand, respectively, meaning they'd effectively have to start from scratch if they decide to run. A handful of other candidates have previously expressed interest in running, but do not have campaign accounts open yet that they could use for this race.
● CA-39: Wealthy businessman Andy Thorburn is the latest Democrat to jump into the race against longtime Republican Rep. Ed Royce in this suburban Orange County congressional seat. Thorburn doesn't seem to have run for office before, but he immediately loaned himself a considerable $2 million, giving him far more money at his disposal than any other Democratic challenger at this point. Thorburn was once a public school teacher in New Jersey and was active in the American Federation of Teachers. In an unusual move to emphasize how he'll advocate for working people, his intro video highlights how he was arrested and jailed for 30 days for participating in an illegal teachers' strike way back in 1970.
Thorburn will first have to get past the top-two primary if he hopes to face Royce in next year's general election. The Democratic field here already includes education consultant Phil Janowicz, pediatrician Mai-Khanh Tran, and Navy veteran Gil Cisneros, who once won $266 million in a lottery and could presumably self-finance his campaign like Thorburn if he wants to. Royce won't be easy to dispatch in this historically GOP-leaning seat, but Democrats sense an opening in this well-educated and diverse seat after it flipped from 51-47 Romney to 51-43 Clinton.
● CO-07: Dan Baer, who served as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, announced this week that he was joining the Democratic primary for this open suburban Denver seat. A few local state legislators are already competing for this open 51-39 Clinton seat, which includes Arvada, Westminster, and Lakewood, and we'll need to see if Baer has the connections to get his name out.
However, none of Baer's primary foes were exactly drowning in money at the end of June. State Rep. Brittany Pettersen had the most cash-on-hand, but her $122,000 is hardly the stuff of legends. Dominick Moreno led his fellow state Sen. Andy Kerr $77,000 to $63,000.
● FL-26: On Tuesday, consulting firm president Debbie Mucarsel-Powell became the first noteworthy Democrat to enter the race against sophomore GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Mucarsel-Powell ran for the state Senate last year against local GOP state Sen. Anitere Flores, and while she lost 54-46, Mucarsel-Powell's campaign impressed Democratic leaders.
Mucarsel-Powell is the first major Democrat we've even heard interested in this seat, which includes Key West and some of the Miami suburbs. While Clinton won here 57-41, this area still often favors Republicans down-ballot. Curbelo himself won a rematch with ex-Rep. Joe Garcia by a brutal 53-41 margin last year in what originally looked like a top-tier race. Garcia was dogged by a 2012 voter fraud scheme and by his own appalling behavior, but Curbelo also managed to badly outspend his opponent. Curbelo remains a formidable fundraiser, and he took in close to $600,000 from April to June of last year and has over $1 million in the bank already.
● FL-27: This week, former Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman became the latest Democrat to join the race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Haggman recently stepped down as Miami program director for the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes journalism. This Miami-area seat backed Clinton 59-39, but the GOP still does well down-ballot here.
● IN-06: Things have been pretty quiet here since Rep. Luke Messer announced last week that he was giving up this safely red eastern Indiana seat to run for the Senate. The only Republican who had even publicly expressed interest was state Sen. Mike Crider, who jumped in right after Messer hit the eject button. However, state Rep. Milo Smith says he's considering, and will decide in the next few weeks. Looming over the field is Greg Pence, the older brother of Mike, who hasn't ruled out a bid.
● KY-06: Recently retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath upgraded her campaign from exploratory to official on Tuesday with a hard-hitting introductory video that quickly generated media buzz. McGrath retired from active duty this year after two decades in the Marines, and her service includes flying 89 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a more recent position as a U.S. Naval Academy instructor. McGrath hasn't run for office before, but she did previously work as a foreign policy advisor to California Democratic Rep. Susan Davis. However, McGrath raised just $36,000 during the month of June when she launched her exploratory campaign.
McGrath will first have to get past state Sen. Reggie Thomas in the Democratic primary if she hopes to oust three-term Republican Rep. Andy Barr in this greater Lexington-area House district. The 6th District backed Trump 55-39 and Romney 56-42, while Barr has not faced a close race since his initial 2012 victory, meaning he likely starts off as a heavy favorite next year.
However, the 6th does have a history of being more amenable to Democrats further down the ballot. Indeed, 2015 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway won the 6th 49-46 while he was losing statewide 53-44, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray carried it 52-48 while he was losing his 2016 Senate bid to GOP incumbent Rand Paul 57-43. Consequently, Barr could be vulnerable in a Democratic wave, especially given how the GOP's health care proposal, which Barr eagerly backed, would likely increase Kentucky's proportion of uninsured people by more than almost any other state.
● MN-01: Two more Democrats have recently entered the race to succeed outgoing Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in southern Minnesota's 1st District. Regina Mustafa is a Rochester-based political activist who serves on various local civic boards. She hosts an interfaith talk show about religious issues, and she would also be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress if she prevails. Meanwhile, Attorney Joe Sullivan works for a nonprofit that focuses on energy policy and related issues. Neither candidate appears to have run for office before; Sullivan says he'll abide by the party convention endorsement process, but Mustafa was undecided.
Mustafa and Sullivan join a Democratic primary that includes former Defense Department official Dan Feehan, businessman Colin Minehart, and former state Sen. Vicki Jensen, but the field has no obvious frontrunner. This relatively rural seat has long been a swing district at the presidential level, but it lurched from 50-48 Obama all the way to 53-38 Trump last year, which could make it tough for Democrats to hold the 1st in 2018.
● NC-09: One year after he lost the GOP primary to Rep. Robert Pittenger by 134 votes, minister Mark Harris announced that he would seek a rematch this week. Harris, who badly lost the 2014 Senate primary, will likely have a much tougher time against Pittenger in this suburban Charlotte seat this time around. As we've noted before, last year, Pittenger was running for a redrawn seat that was 60 percent new to him. Furthermore, the FBI and IRS recently dropped, without any charges, their investigation related to Pittenger's old real estate company over loans he made to his 2012 congressional campaign.
This seat backed Trump 54-43, and Team Red is favored to keep it regardless of what happens in the primary. However, Democrats are fielding a stronger candidate than in past cycles. Dan McCready, who served in Iraq as a Marine and went on to start a business that finances North Carolina solar farms, kicked off his campaign in late May, and he raised a credible $452,000 over the next few weeks. At the end of June, McCready even held a $412,000 to $132,000 cash-on-hand lead over Pittenger.
● NC State House, State Senate: In early June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down nearly 30 of North Carolina's Republican-drawn state legislative districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders and ordered the legislature to redraw them. However, in a disappointing outcome for Democrats, the federal district court overseeing the redrawing of the maps did not order 2017 special elections to take place for the affected districts, meaning Republicans will enjoy their narrowly veto-proof majorities at least until after the regularly scheduled 2018 elections.
This order had some good news for Democrats too, though. The lower court directed the legislature to produce new maps by Sept. 1, rejecting the GOP's proposed deadline of Nov. 15. Republicans could try to replace their illegal racial gerrymander with a legal partisan gerrymander like they did with the congressional map, but the court still reserves the power to draw its own districts if it finds that the GOP-dominated legislature's remedial maps are still deficient.