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.
● PA-Sen: Republican Rep. Lou Barletta made his long-expected Senate campaign official on Tuesday, leaving behind his solidly Republican 11th Congressional District to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. Barletta hadn't completely shut the door on a gubernatorial bid until now, but that prospect hadn't seemed as likely as a Senate campaign.
Barletta first came to prominence as a harsh foe of undocumented immigration while serving as mayor of the small town of Hazleton in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region, making the congressman a sort of proto-Trump. He knocked off scandal-plagued Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski in a blue-leaning congressional district in the 2010 midterm wave after just barely coming up short in 2008. However, Republicans gave him a much redder seat in redistricting, and Barletta hasn't faced a competitive general election ever since.
Barletta joins a crowded Republican primary that includes wealthy real estate developer Jeff Bartos, rich businessman Paul Addis, and state Reps. Jim Christiana and Rick Saccone. Bartos is already putting his money toward attacking Barletta, having recently launched a TV ad to tout his outsider credentials that briefly takes flashes the congressman's picture while Bartos bashes "career politicians," though he doesn't call out Barletta by name.
● AL-Sen: Republican firm Harper Polling ventured into next month's Republican primary runoff in Alabama's Senate special election and relayed relatively good numbers for appointed Sen. Luther Strange. Of course, that relatively good result nonetheless has Strange losing by 47-45 to former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, but that's a far cry better than recent polls from JMC Analytics and Opinion Savvy, which had Moore winning by blowout margins of 51-32 and 50-32, respectively. Harper's outcome is even better for Strange than a poll his own allies at the Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund put out, which still had Moore leading 45-41.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Harper poll wasn't perfectly copacetic: Harper asked a troublesome question before the ballot test of whether respondents thought Moore or Strange was the "most supportive of President Trump." Poll participants gave Strange a 50-40 lead on that question, which could have helped prime respondents toward expressing a more favorable opinion toward him on the subsequent "would you vote for …" question. Best practices for polling typically involve asking the horse race between candidates before any such questions that might influence respondents into skewing more toward a particular candidate than they otherwise might have.
Regardless of what the polls currently say, Strange can likely count on one major advantage with just four weeks to go until the runoff: money. SLF and Strange himself had access to boatloads of campaign funds ahead of the first round, and Moore is a relatively weak fundraiser. This race could consequently dramatically shift once Strange and his allies have dumped millions on ads attacking Moore.
However, Moore likely won't be totally unable to spread a favorable message, and he could have one influential ally in right-wing media: Breitbart News. Steve Bannon returned to running the far-right "news" site following his recent departure from the White House as Trump's chief strategist, and Politico now reports that Bannon declared his support for Moore at a recent private event. If Bannon and other extreme-right media provocateurs decide to go all-in for Moore, they could help blunt the impact of Trump's endorsement of Strange with Trump's more nativist base by tying Strange to McConnell, who likely isn't too popular in Alabama.
● FL-Sen, FL-Gov: Florida Atlantic University released a new poll of next year's infrequently surveyed Senate and gubernatorial races in the Sunshine State, and they found a tight Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who appears to be a likely candidate despite not officially declaring yet. Nelson bests Scott just 42-40, which is consistent with mid-March polls from GOP firm Cherry Communications and St. Leo University that also found Nelson modestly ahead by 48-42 and 39-34, respectively. Scott has previously said he's in no rush to decide, and with millions in personal wealth at his disposal, he can likely afford to wait to jump into the campaign.
FAU also tested the brewing gubernatorial primaries for both parties and unsurprisingly found roughly half of voters in each contest were undecided, meaning both races are far from settled. Among Republicans, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam led with 27 percent, followed by state House Speaker Richard Corcoran at 10 percent, Rep. Ron DeSantis at 9 percent, and state Sen. Jack Latvala at a mere 2 percent. Only Putnam and Latvala are official candidates so far, but Corcoran and DeSantis have both expressed interest in the race before.
On the Democratic side, multi-millionaire trial attorney John Morgan takes first with 19 percent compared to 14 percent for former Rep. Gwen Graham, 9 percent for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, 8 percent for Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and just 4 percent for real estate company owner Chris King. Graham, Gillum, and King are the only announced candidates of the bunch, but Levine looks likely to jump into the race by a self-imposed November deadline, while Morgan says he could wait until 2018 to reach a decision about running.
● AK-Gov: Republican state Sen. Mike Dunleavy had filed to run for governor back in July, and he recently revealed to the Juneau Empire that he will indeed challenge independent Gov. Bill Walker next year. In the midst of a years-long budget crisis brought on by a sharp drop in oil prices, Dunleavy left the state Senate's Republican caucus earlier this year because he felt that their proposed budget cuts didn't go far enough, putting the staunchly conservative legislator firmly on the right side of the spectrum in this Republican-leaning state.
Walker just barely threaded the needle to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell by 48-46 in 2014 by consolidating Democratic and centrist voters after Democratic nominee Byron Mallott agreed to drop out to become Walker's lieutenant governor, and he'll need a lot to go right to win a second term in this conservative state. What scant polls have been available indicate that his popularity has suffered, likely as a consequence of a painful combination of spending cuts, tax increases, and withdrawals from Alaska's Permanent Fund dividend, which normally disperses petroleum royalties to every permanent state resident each year.
Dunleavy is the first noteworthy Republican to challenge Walker, but he may not be the last. Former state Senate President Ben Stevens, former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, state Rep. Mike Chenault, and businessman Scott Hawkins have all previously said that they're considering running in the GOP primary.
● GA-Gov: Republican state Sen. Hunter Hill kicked of his gubernatorial campaign in late April, and he announced on Tuesday that he will resign his legislative seat to focus on his campaign. Much to the chagrin of state Senate Republicans, Hill's highly educated suburban northern Atlanta seat could be tough to hold in a subsequent special election after it swerved left from 53-46 Romney to 56-40 Clinton and Hill only won re-election by 52-48 last year.
● KS-Gov: On Monday, former state Rep. Mark Hutton became the latest Republican to announce his candidacy for next year's gubernatorial contest to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Hutton stepped down from the legislature in 2016 after just four years in office and owns a construction company, though it's unclear if he's wealthy enough or willing to self-fund. In an interview with the Wichita Eagle earlier this year, Hutton said he would try to position himself to bridge the divide between the state GOP's warring factions of ultra-conservatives and relative moderates, the latter of whom have sharply broken with Brownback over his failed budget-busting tax cuts.
Hutton joins a crowded Republican field that already includes candidates from both sides of the party's internal ideological divide. The current primary lineup includes Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, businessman Wink Hartman, and former state Sen. Jim Barnett, who was the 2006 GOP nominee.
● MN-Gov: While GOP state Sen. Michelle Benson said back in November that she was considering running for governor, she confirmed this week that she would stay out of the race.
● NE-Gov: A little while ago, the Lincoln Journal Star's Don Walton wrote that while many Democrats would love to see ex-state Sen. Steve Lathrop challenge GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts, Lathrop looked more likely to try to reclaim his old Omaha state Senate seat. This week, Lathrop announced that he would indeed run for the seat he retired from in 2014. So far, no notable Democrats have expressed interest in challenging the very wealthy Ricketts.
● PA-Gov: Pennsylvania Republican Scott Wagner is very much not apologizing for his recent caught-on-tape anti-Semitic outburst about George Soros, in which he bashed Soros as a "Hungarian Jew" who harbors "hatred for America." If you have a problem with that kind of bigotry, Wagner thinks you can pretty much just go to hell: "Everybody's getting their knickers around their ankles over this," said the wealthy state senator, "and there's no reason for that."
Wagner's defense also keeps evolving. Moments after his Soros comments, Wagner pitifully offered that hoariest of dodges: "I have a lot of friends that are Jewish friends." Then, when questioned by a reporter, he switched to claiming it was all a grand joke, saying, "I'm trying to bring a little humor into it." Now he's trying a third tactic. According to the York Dispatch, Wagner says that "if Soros was Catholic, he'd have called him a Hungarian Catholic, and meant no offense by it."
We'll flip it over to another Republican—former Missouri Sen. John Danforth—to explain why this is such horseshit. Two years ago, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich was, like Wagner, running for governor. But a month after launching his bid, he committed suicide, following a "whispering campaign" by the chair of the state GOP, John Hancock, who had been telling people Schweich was Jewish. He wasn't—Schweich had a Jewish grandfather and spoke appreciatively of his Jewish heritage, but he was a practicing Episcopalian. No matter: It was an unmistakable effort to smear Schweich with Republican primary voters, many of whom are evangelical Christians.
Hancock's defense was identical to Wagner's. He said that his comments about Schweich were no different than remarking, "I'm Presbyterian and somebody else is Catholic." In his eulogy for his friend Schweich, Danforth utterly shredded that nonsense without so much as mentioning Hancock’s name:
"Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry. Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here's how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such-and-such a person is a Presbyterian?"
Wagner is in the exact same place as Hancock, and that sure is some lousy company to keep. Incidentally, the rival candidate Hancock hoped to boost by tarnishing Schweich wound up losing the primary anyway. May Wagner enjoy the same fate.
● CA-10: About a week after she set up a committee with the FEC, Democrat Virginia Madueno announced that she would challenge GOP Rep. Jeff Denham in this Modesto-area swing seat. Madueno is a former mayor of Riverbank (pop. 24,000), and she ran for the state Assembly last year. Madueno, who describes herself as a moderate, took a close third place against two Republicans in a conservative seat. Several other Democrats are already campaigning for this 48.5-45.5 Clinton district.
● PA-11: GOP Rep. Lou Barletta has been talking about launching a Senate bid for a while, so local Republicans have had plenty of time to consider running for his open 11th District. This seat, which contains parts of the Wyoming Valley and Harrisburg areas, went from a tough 54-45 Romney to a brutal 60-36 Trump, and Team Red should have little trouble keeping it. Even Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who lost re-election 55-45 in 2014, carried the seat 53-47. One Democrat did win this district in a recent statewide race, though. In 2012, long before scandal would force her from office, Democrat Kathleen Kane carried the seat 50-48 as she was winning the race for state attorney general 56-42.
Several Republicans talked about running to replace Barletta before he announced his Senate bid on Tuesday, and one did a bit more than talking. State Rep. Stephen Bloom set up a campaign committee with the FEC two weeks ago, and while he didn't commit to running if Barletta left, he said he was "seriously considering." Fellow state Rep. Tarah Toohil also said in mid-August that she would consider getting in.
Andrew Lewis, who is the chief operating officer of his family's drywall business, expressed interest as well. Lewis has run for office once before, losing a 2016 primary to now-state Sen. John DiSanto 51-49. Businessman Dan Meuser, who served as revenue secretary under Corbett, also said he was looking at a bid here.
● Radio: On Sunday night, Jeff Singer appeared on Kudzu Vine to discuss a wide variety of topics, including the Alabama and Arizona Senate GOP primaries and what could happen to Susan Collins' Senate seat if she runs for governor of Maine. Click here to listen to a recording.