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.
● VA-10: Well, this is garbage. Democrats in Virginia's 10th Congressional District—a highly educated seat in the D.C. suburbs that swung sharply against Donald Trump last year—have been enjoying a surge in progressive energy, as at least four different serious candidates have all stepped up to challenge the incumbent GOP congresswoman, Barbara Comstock. But now Democratic leaders in the district are suggesting they might do an end-run around democracy by eliminating next year's Democratic primary and instead pick a nominee at a party convention, which means only a tiny fraction of a fraction of the electorate would get to participate.
What makes this even more distressing is that this potential move might be aimed at helping one candidate in particular, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton. Wexton came into the race highly touted and quickly locked up some major establishment endorsements, but in a major surprise, she turned in the weakest second-quarter fundraising report of all the top contenders, trailing former State Department official Alison Friedman, Army veteran Daniel Helmer, and former Veterans Administration official Lindsey Davis Stover. Wexton is the only elected official among the bunch, so she could benefit if the nomination is decided by a handful of party insiders, and tellingly, her campaign is the only one open to a convention. Her three top rivals all emphatically insist on a primary.
As well they should. A vigorous primary will engage voters and compel all the candidates to get their campaigns operating at full capacity—a crucial shakedown test. By contrast, switching to a convention would deprive voters of a chance to make their voices heard and would (quite fairly, for once) open the local Democratic Party up to charges that the process is indeed "rigged." It would also yield a nominee who's spent months talking to just a handful of convention delegates rather than to the broader electorate, which is a recipe for producing a weak candidate (just ask Kansas Republicans how they felt about Ron Estes). And since a primary would be held in June, that would give the winner plenty of time to regroup for the general election campaign against Comstock.
Party leaders are set to make a final decision in November, but there's only one choice that's right, both for Democrats and democracy: a primary.
● AL-Sen: With less than two weeks to go before the GOP primary runoff between Sen. Luther Strange and ex-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, the pro-Strange Senate Leadership Fund is out with another poll arguing that all is not lost for their man. The Voter Surveys & Consulting poll gives Moore just a 41-40 lead over Strange, not a huge difference from the 45-41 Moore edge they found in late August. Still, with most polls giving Moore a double-digit lead, it's the best result anyone has found for Strange so far.
The SLF is also very much putting their money where their mouth is. Politico reports that they've increased their ad buy by $200,000, and they're now set to spend a total of $1.6 million during the final two weeks of the race. Strange also has plenty of money at his disposal, while Moore and his allies haven't deployed much on TV. However, even the SLF's own poll indicates that their spending spree isn't allowing Strange to pull ahead, or at least not yet.
● ND-Sen: Wealthy state Sen. Tom Campbell originally sounded very unlikely to seek the GOP nomination for the Senate if Rep. Kevin Cramer decided to run, and Campbell even reportedly said he would just run for whichever position in Congress Cramer did not campaign for. But Campbell announced in August that he was challenging Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and he recently told the National Journal's Kimberly Railey that he'd stay in the race even if Cramer gets in.
However, Campbell says that he very much doubts that Cramer will leave the House after all, saying that Cramer sounded supportive of his Senate campaign when they talked just before Campbell announced. Railey does report that businesswoman Kathy Neset, who is mulling a bid, would defer to Cramer.
● TN-Sen: This week, Sen. Bob Corker picked up his first notable GOP primary challenger when Andy Ogles stepped down as head of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity and announced he would try to unseat Corker. As the local leader of AFP, which is part of the Koch brother's political network, Ogles was part of the successful fight to stop Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. However, Ogles was unable to stop GOP Gov. Bill Haslam from passing the state's first gas tax increase since 1989. It's unclear how much support Ogles can expect from the Koch brothers and their allies.
Ogles may not be the only Republican who decides to take a shot at Corker, who said on Thursday that he would decide whether to run for a third term "very soon." While state Sen. Mark Green announced a month ago that he wouldn't run, he recently told the Times Free Press that he is now "seriously considering it." Green was not happy with Corker's statement about Donald Trump's reaction to last moth's violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. After Corker said that Trump "has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," Green told Breitbart that he's "already told Sen. Corker my thoughts about his comments about the President and that's as far as I intend to go at this point."
Back in July, the Washington Examiner's David Drucker reported that wealthy businessman Lee Beaman and his allies were looking to finance a viable primary challenge against Corker, and that Green was their first choice. Green dropped his campaign for governor after Trump picked him for secretary of the Army earlier this year, but Green's nomination failed due to his long history of disparaging remarks about Muslims and LGBT people.
Corker is reportedly torn whether or not to run again, though he's been beefing up his war-chest as he decides. If Corker runs and gets to face both Ogles and Green, that could be a huge help for the incumbent. Tennessee has no primary runoff, so if the anti-Corker vote is split, the senator could claim the GOP nod with just a plurality. Ex-state Rep. Joe Carr, who lost the 2014 GOP primary to Sen. Lamar Alexander just 50-41 but badly lost a 2016 House primary, is also considering running.
However, even if Corker does get to face multiple opponents in the primary, he has some powerful enemies he may have a tough time shaking. White supremacist Steve Bannon, who has returned to lead Breitbart after a stint in the Trump White House, is reportedly hoping to unseat Corker, along with a few other senators, in next year's GOP primaries. Bannon is close to billionaire mega-donor Robert Mercer, who has the resources to make life tough for Corker and his colleagues.
Trump is also not a fan of Corker. Notably, Trump tweeted last month that Corker's words about his performance after Charlottesville was a "[s]trange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy!" If the incumbent runs again and Trump keeps tweeting about him, Corker could be the one who’s not happy.
● AL-Gov: This week, Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington dropped out of the race for the GOP nod. Carrington did not give a reason for his departure, only saying that his "decision has nothing to do with health or relationship issues; it just wasn't meant to be." A number of other Republicans are still challenging Kay Ivey, a Republican who became governor after Robert Bentley resigned in disgrace in the spring.
Meanwhile, former camp director Mark Johnston announced earlier this week that he would run as an independent. Johnston recently finished a 26-year stint as the executive director of Camp McDowell, a large camp associated with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, and he expressed interest in running back in March. Johnston sounded quite liberal in a March interview, with Bham Now identifying him as "a leader in Alabama's conservation and nature education communities for decades." According to the Public Religion Research Institute, only 1 percent of Alabamans identify as Episcopalians, so it's likely that not many voters know of Johnston and Camp McDowell. Johnston loaned his campaign $25,000 in August, and it's not clear if he has the wealthy or connections to bring in much more.
● MA-Gov: This week, Barnstable County Commissioner Ron Beaty filed paperwork for a possible bid for governor, and told capecod.com's David Beatty that he was "seriously giving consideration" to a primary campaign against GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, and says he expects to decide by the end of the year. Beaty faulted Baker for being insufficiently conservative and for not supporting Trump enough.
However, if Beaty runs, he'll need a lot to go right. Massachusetts parties hold conventions months before the primaries, and candidates need to win at least 15 percent of the delegates' support to even make it to the primary ballot. Baker is a strong fundraiser, while it's unclear if there are enough intra-party Baker detractors to give Beaty an opening.
Beaty is also… an interesting guy. In 1991, Beaty served time in prison for death threats against George H.W. Bush and Ted Kennedy. Beaty also has some enemies in local Cape Cod GOP politics. Earlier this year, Beaty got into a public spat with state Rep. Randy Hunt over, of all things, Hunt parking in Beaty's parking space. The two traded insults over social media, with Beaty publicly declaring, "BEACON HILL ATTITUDE OF ENTITLEMENT? Why does Republican MA State Representative Randy Hunt believe it is ok to improperly park in front of the Barnstable County Superior Courthouse?" Beaty has also been mocked for a proposal to bait and kill great white sharks, and he's drawn both scorn and admiration for going after any violations of open meeting laws.
● VA-Gov: Last week, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity launched a TV ad campaign accusing Democrat Ralph Northam of "miss[ing] nearly 60 percent of meetings for a board that could have prevented cronyism and corruption. Instead, he let a fake Chinese company with a false address and phony website take $1.4 million of our money." Republican Ed Gillespie's new TV spot picks right up with that line of attack, arguing that "taxpayers lost everything" to the scam.
As we noted last time, the spots are referring to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, where Northam was one of 24 board members. The Washington Post explained that members were "not directly involved in grant decisions"; rather, "grants were recommended by staff and approved by the governor." However, it's pretty easy for the GOP to just ignore all this and argue that problems happened on Northam's watch because "Ralph Northam didn't do his job."
● MA-03: On Wednesday, Democratic state Sen. Barbara L'Italien announced that she was forming an exploratory committee for a possible bid for this open Merrimack Valley seat. No notable Democrats have announced that they're running to succeed retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas yet, but Daniel Koh, a former chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, has also created an exploratory committee. However, Koh already resigned his post to prepare for a bid, while L'Italien still needs to decide if she wants to give up her Senate seat next year to run for Congress.
Several other Democrats have also talked about running here, and a few of them are giving some new information about their plans. State Rep. Juana Matias publicly expressed interest for the first time, telling Politico's Lauren Dezenski that she expects to decide in mid-October. Matias, who was born in the Dominican Republic, surprised political observers last year when, at the age of 29, she unseated a longtime Lawrence politician in the primary to win her state House seat.
Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini also tells Dezenski that he'll decide after this November's local elections, where he is running for re-election unopposed. Steve Kerrigan, who was Team Blue's 2014 nominee for lieutenant governor and has also served as CEO of the 2012 Democratic National Convention and of Obama's second inauguration, also says he'll be deciding over the "coming weeks." Clinton won 58-35 here, though a few Republicans are also considering running.
● MI-11, MI-Sen: Businesswoman Lena Epstein entered the GOP primary to face Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in May, but she told her email list on Wednesday that she's considering running to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Dave Trott instead. Epstein, who co-chaired Trump's Michigan campaign and whose family owns an automotive and industrial lubricant company, says she's "going to spend a very short time seriously considering this option." Epstein raised $211,000 during her first five weeks in the Senate race and loaned herself another $250,000, money that she could transfer to a House campaign. Several other Republicans are considering a bid for this 50-45 Trump seat in suburban Detroit.
● NV-02: In late April, GOP Rep. Mark Amodei sounded very undecided about running for re-election. Amodei did tell Talking Points Memo this week that he was likely to run again, but he still seems pretty half-hearted about it. Amodei told Cameron Joseph that some days being in Congress "feels discouraging," and that his final decision in March was "a long ways away." Amodei faces a primary challenge from 2010 Senate nominee Sharron Angle, who badly lost the 2016 Senate primary. Amodei's seat, which includes most of Nevada north of the Las Vegas area, backed Trump 52-40, and it would probably stay red absent him without too much trouble.
● NV-03: On Thursday, wealthy education activist and philanthropist Susie Lee announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for this open swing seat. Democratic leaders, including then-Sen. Harry Reid, tried to recruit Lee to run here last cycle, but she decided to campaign for the neighboring and more Democratic 4th District. Lee came in distant third in the primary behind now-Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who had Reid's support, but she once again emerged as the top choice for Democratic leaders when freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen announced she was leaving the 3rd behind to run for the Senate.
Kihuen spoke highly of his former rival while Lee considered a 2018 bid, and Reid once again encouraged her to run. An unnamed Democratic strategist also told Roll Call that even in defeat, Lee established a fundraising network and some name identification from her last race that could carry over to a new race for the 3rd District, which shares the same media market. Lee, who loaned her campaign $655,000 in 2016, says she's willing to do some self-funding again.
No other notable Democrats have expressed interest in this seat, which takes up Las Vegas' suburbs, while several Republicans are seeking this 48-47 Trump district. The NRCC wasted no time portraying Lee as an out of touch rich person and recycling a 2016 primary attack that noted Lee and her husband owned 17 homes and rental properties. Lee quickly responded by highlighting her working-class upbringing and how she got through college on Pell Grants and work study; Lee also noted her work with nonprofits that help the homeless and try to keep teenagers in school.
● PA-01: Oh boy. The pincers sure seem to be closing around Democratic Rep. Bob Brady, a longtime power-broker in Philadelphia politics. On Wednesday, an attorney for former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore—who resigned from the bench just last week—said that his client will admit that he concealed a $90,000 payment from Brady to abandon a primary challenge in 2012 … and will plead guilty to making false statements on his campaign finance reports as soon as next week.
This comes on the heels of a similar plea agreement made in late July by a former Moore staffer who confessed to helping to hide the bribe, a move that brought this case into the public eye and put Brady in the crosshairs. Brady's attorneys have emphatically denied any wrongdoing, but Brady himself offered something less than an outright denial, saying only, "I don't remember none of that."
Assuming matters proceed as Moore's attorney envisions, Moore now will likely be a witness against Brady, who is the sort of corrupt career politician that prosecutors crave bringing down. The question will then become whether the 72-year-old Brady chooses to fight, or offers to resign in exchange for a deal of his own. With jail time possible, the latter option might start looking very appealing.
● WV-01: On Tuesday, attorney Ralph Baxter announced that he would seek the Democratic nod to face GOP incumbent David McKinley. This northern West Virginia seat has moved hard to the right up and down the ballot in recent years, and Trump won 68-26 here. However, Baxter is the former head of national law firm Orrick, and he may have the resources and connections to run a serious race. Baxter drew local acclaim a decade ago when he moved Orrick's back-office operations to Wheeling, and his family hails from the area. However, the GOP probably won't hesitate to mention that Baxter was born in and used to reside in—gasp—San Francisco.
● Statehouse Action: This Week in Statehouse Action: It Takes a District edition highlights how recent Democratic special election wins are even worse news for Republicans than everyone thought, some good news for New Hampshire voters and Mainers in need of health care, and more!
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