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.
● WV-Gov: At a rally with Donald Trump on Thursday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was switching parties and returning to the GOP after two years as a Democrat. Justice’s switch gives Republicans control of the governor's office for the first time since Gov. Cecil Underwood lost in 2000, and it gives the GOP simultaneous control of the governor’s office and legislature for the first time since 1930. However, the state's Republican-dominated legislature has always been able to override Justice's veto with just a simple majority, so this switch won't represent any sort of sea change in West Virginia politics.
In fact, the move will simply bring Justice into closer alignment with Trump, a man he's always shared deep similarities with and praised just last week. Justice, a coal billionaire and the wealthiest man in West Virginia, had never run for office until last year, and in fact had been a registered Republican until shortly before launching his gubernatorial bid in 2015. Relying on his personal wealth and unusual appeal, Justice defeated Republican Bill Cole 49-42, even as Trump romped to a massive 68-26 victory on the very same day.
But even though Cole and his allies ran ads arguing both that a Cole victory would be a boon to Trump and that Justice was too close to unpopular national Democrats, it was actually Justice who had a decidedly Trump-like appeal. Both Trump and Justice built up cults of personality as outsider populist billionaires, which helped Justice reach out to Trump voters who were otherwise done voting for Democrats. Justice's indelible association with the state's totemic coal industry also made it tough for the GOP to caricature him as a typical Democrat.
However, Justice's party switch still comes as a surprise. Not only did D.C. Republicans spend plenty of money last year trying to defeat him, a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association shelled out $1.3 million to aid Justice. Justice has also spent his first months in office continually feuding with Republican legislators, calling the Senate majority leader a "poodle" and even dropping an actual pile of bull manure on a copy of the GOP's budget when he vetoed it—because Republicans refused to raise taxes!
We'll see if Justice’s switch does anything to improve his relationship with the Republicans he's been at war with all year. Given the bad blood, though, Justice, who's up for re-election in 2020, could nevertheless find himself on the outs with his new party—a fate that's befallen plenty of aisle-crossers before him.
● CO-Gov: Local political observers have expected state Treasurer Walker Stapleton to join the GOP primary for a long time, but he hasn't made his move even as other candidates have jumped in. However, The Denver Post's Mark Matthews argues that it's fundraising, rather than any actual indecision, that's keeping Stapleton out of the race for now.
Stapleton, who is ineligible to run for treasurer again, has been raising money for an independent expenditure committee known as Better Colorado Now. As long as Stapleton isn't a candidate, he can attend events for BCN, a group whose stated mission is to "oppose Democrat candidates for governor." And while gubernatorial candidates can't take more than $1,150 from a donor, there are no contribution limits for BCN. At the end of June, BCN had raised only $123,000, though there is at least one major fundraiser coming up.
If this sounds familiar, it's because Jeb Bush—who just happens to be Stapleton's second cousin—tried this in 2015. Bush spent the months where he was publicly undecided about running for president raising over a hundred million for his super PAC. Bush's campaign of course went horribly, though it's a stretch to argue that he would have done much better if he hadn't gone this route.
● MD-Gov: John Grasso, the chair of the Anne Arundel County Council, announced this week that he would run for county executive rather than challenge Gov. Larry Hogan in the GOP primary. Grasso has long been angry with the governor over his decision to reappoint the head of the county liquor board, and he threatened to run against Hogan over it last week. Alas, it is not to be.
● NV-Gov: This week, Vince Juaristi, a consultant who served with the State Department in Iraq, wrote that "several powerful and wealthy Nevadans have reached out to persuade me to toss my hat" into the Democratic primary, and that he is considering. Juaristi, who says he'll decide this month, also wrote that he'd likely self-fund a campaign.
Juaristi, who is a native of Elko in rural northern Nevada, currently runs a managing consulting company in Northern Virginia. He did serve as a policy advisor to Bob Miller, the state's last Democratic governor, in the late 1990s, but it's unclear if he has any other connections to Nevada Democratic politics. Juaristi has often returned to the Elko area to promote local Basque programs (he's also written several books about Basque culture), but it sounds like he's been away a long time. It doesn't help that Juaristi isn't from Clark County, which is home to most of the Democratic primary vote. If Juaristi actually has serious money behind him maybe he can make things interesting, but he looks very much like a longshot.
● OR-Gov: On Thursday, state Rep. Knute Buehler announced that he would seek the GOP nod to challenge Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. Buehler has looked like a likely candidate for a while, especially after he raised $100,000 in a week back in February. This would be the second time Buehler and Brown have faced off. Back in 2012, when Brown was running for re-election as secretary of state, she beat him 51-43.
Buehler is the first notable Republican to enter the race, but he may not have the field to himself. The Bend Bulletin's Gary Warner recently wrote that state Rep. Bill Post "has hinted at his interest during his frequent Twitter broadsides against Democrats." Buehler describes himself as "a pro-choice Republican" and he has criticized Trump, so he could have issues in a primary.
Brown, who became governor in early 2015 when incumbent John Kitzhaber resigned in the midst of an ethics scandal, doesn't look incredibly vulnerable. Last year, Brown won the special election for the final two years of Kitzhaber's term 51-43, a bit behind Clinton's 50-39 victory in Oregon, but not exactly a nail-biter.
● IN-06: Even before GOP Rep. Luke Messer announced that he was giving up this safely red seat to run for the Senate, there were reports that businessman Greg Pence was being approached to run to succeed him. Pence, the older brother of Mike, currently chairs Messer's fundraising committee, and he's insisted that he's too busy to think about a bid for this eastern Indiana seat. However, Pence told Howey Politics that he'll take a look at the 6th District after Messer's big Aug. 12 campaign kickoff.
If Pence runs, he'll almost certainly have all the fundraising help he could possibly ask for, as well as a very well-known last name. Some Republicans aren't waiting on Pence, however: Jonathan Lamb, who owns a company that provides battery-powered farm equipment, has joined state Sen. Mike Crider in the primary. State Sen. Jean Leising also told Howey that she is considering. In addition to acknowledging that Pence would be very tough opponent, though, Leising also speculated that Messer would drop out of the Senate race and seek re-election!
Leising's only argument is that Messer insisted that he was undecided just before he announced last week. Messer had been raising serious money for months before he jumped in, however, so his "indecision" was almost certainly just him waiting for an opportune time to announce. Leising ran for Congress twice in the 1990s, losing narrowly to Democratic incumbent Lee Hamilton in 1994 and by double digits in 1996. Howey also writes that Henry County Councilman Nate LaMar is considering, though LaMar hasn't said anything yet.
● NM-02: Another Republican has joined the primary for this open 50-40 Trump seat in southern New Mexico. The newest candidate is pharmacist Jack Volpato, who served as an Eddy County commissioner from 2006 to 2014 and is a former president of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.
● NV-03: On Wednesday, ex-Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman announced that she was joining the GOP primary for this open suburban Las Vegas swing seat. Seaman won her only term in the legislature during the 2014 red wave after her Democratic foe was disqualified from the ballot over a residency issue. Seaman quickly established a reputation as an ardent conservative, and she blasted GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval's successful tax hike as "one of the worst things that ever happened in Nevada history."
Seaman soon announced that she would run for a swingy state Senate seat, even if she needed to unseat appointed incumbent Mark Lipparelli. After Lipparelli decided not to run, Sandoval and other GOP leaders rallied behind Assemblyman Erv Nelson. However, Seaman went after Nelson for backing the tax package, and she beat him 63-37 despite being outspent. In November, Seaman lost the general election 51-49 to Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro as Clinton was winning the seat 50-45; Seaman's defeat gave Democrats the seat they needed to flip the Senate.
State Sen. Scott Hammond is already running in the GOP primary. Seaman is picking right up where she left off with Nelson and castigating Hammond for supporting "the largest tax hike in Nevada history," arguing that, "We don't need another person in D.C. who's going to go up and raise taxes." Hammond's team understands they can't let this label stick, and they quickly said that Seaman was a "phony who's voted repeatedly to raise taxes." Should be a fun race. A few other Republicans are eyeing this seat, which backed Trump 48-47.
● NY-11: Mike Grimm was always a delusional nut, so this isn't as shocking as it ought to be. Despite the fact that he had to resign from congress after pleading guilty to tax fraud three years ago, and despite the fact that he served seven months in prison as a result, and despite the fact that the House seat he left behind is now held by a fellow Republican, Dan Donovan, Grimm is reportedly planning to run for Congress again—and he's not disputing the story.
Grimm, stoking the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that his home borough of Staten Island is known for, always maintained that prosecutors were engaging in some sort of baseless political persecution—an outlandish claim that appealed to his constituents and allowed him to handily win re-election in 2014 while under indictment. In the end, though, reality reared its head, and what had been a long-running investigation into Grimm's dodgy campaign finance practices resulted instead in the tax charges, which ended the congressman's career just a couple of months after his final victory.
Donovan, who earned notoriety as the Staten Island district attorney who declined to bring charges in the Eric Garner police brutality case, was easily elected in Grimm's place in a special election in mid-2015 and won a full term without trouble last fall. However, he's never run in a single GOP primary in his entire political career, so perhaps the angry Grimm, with his penchant for violent rhetoric, could light a fire under agitated Trump voters that Donovan wouldn't be able to douse. Hell, we've almost managed to convince ourselves that Grimm could pull this off, so maybe the joke's gonna be on all of us.
● NY-19: On Thursday, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein announced that he wouldn't run against freshman GOP Rep. John Faso, seemingly depriving Democrats of a top recruit. Hein similarly debated then declined a bid last year when New York's 19th District was open, however, so his reticence isn't terribly surprising. And last cycle, Hein waited until late December to announce his plans, so at least he's getting out of the way much earlier this time.
But more importantly, Democratic enthusiasm here is intense: Eight different Democrats have filed for this seat, and four have raised at least six figures. Beyond that, two Democrats, attorney Antonio Delgado and self-funding businessman Brian Flynn, both have more cash-on-hand than Faso. Of course, this points to an expensive and potentially bloody primary, but it also means that Democrats won't lack for a credible candidate to rally around come the general election.
● Statehouse Action: This Week in Statehouse Action: Lawmaker, Lawmaker, Make Me A Match edition features North Carolina Republicans creating their ideal districts and dragging their feet when courts order them to part ways, terrible GOP behavior in an Iowa special election, great Democratic performance in a Washington Senate primary, and more!
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