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-Gov: Three groups released polls of November's race for governor in Virginia on Tuesday, and … well, it feels like it's Choose Your Own Adventure Week in the Old Dominion (again).
If you think the race is a tossup, turn to page 1. Mason-Dixon gives Democrat Ralph Northam a 44-43 lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in their first poll since January. If you think it’s even closer than that, stay on page 1. Fox, which as usual employs the Democratic firm Anderson Robbins Research and the GOP group Shaw & Company Research, has a 42-41 lead for Northam with likely voters. Among registered voters, it’s 42-38 Northam; when a pollster offers both options, Daily Kos Elections always goes with likely voters. On Monday, Suffolk University also had the two tied 42-42, so this pair of polls seem to back that reading up.
But if you think Northam is blowing Gillespie out of the water, turn to page 10. Quinnipiac gives the Democrat a huge 51-41 lead, even better than the 44-38 edge they found a month ago. According to Larry Sabato, unreleased private polls also have Northam up, but "more modestly" than what Quinnipiac found.
If you think Northam's leading, but not by nearly 10 points, turn to page 5. On Monday, the University of Mary Washington published a poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International that had Northam leading 44-39.
If you think Gillespie is ahead, there's a blank page at the end where you can write whatever you want. But while no released survey has shown Gillespie with any lead in months, wary Democrats and optimistic Republicans will remember that polls gave Team Blue clear leads in the 2013 gubernatorial race and the 2014 Senate race, but the Democrats only narrowly won each race. However, the polls were much better during last year's presidential contest.
● AL-Sen: Following on the heels of recent news that Donald Trump will campaign in Alabama for Sen. Luther Strange this week, the White House also confirmed to Politico that Mike Pence will head down to the Yellowhammer State to join the campaign stump with Strange on Monday. Strange's camp is increasingly pulling out all the stops as he tries to overcome former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore's polling lead in next Tuesday's Senate special election Republican primary runoff.
Fundraising and ad support have always been a major advantage for Strange thanks to the adamant backing of establishment Republicans, and the NRA is the latest GOP-leaning group to air a new ad on his behalf. The NRA calls "Big Luther" Strange the only candidate who will be 100 percent “for our gun rights,” repeatedly emphasizing their endorsement of the incumbent while calling Moore “a little soft on gun rights.” They reportedly plan to spend a "seven figure" sum on the new spot.
Meanwhile, the Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund debuted a new ad that more vigorously attacks Moore. The spot blasts Moore for having "grabbed headlines and cashed in" by paying himself $1 million from a charity ran. SLF excoriates him for laying off 170 court workers while taking two pay raises for himself during his first stint on the state's high court in 2001. They continue by calling Moore out for more recently criticizing Trump's plan to build a border wall, after which they pointedly emphasize that Trump doesn't support Moore in this race.
● TN-Sen: Andy Ogles, the former head of the state chapter of the Koch Brothers-affiliated group Americans for Prosperity, recently announced he will mount a Republican primary challenge against Sen. Bob Corker, and he has already secured the support of one influential Tennessee Republican. Wealthy businessman Lee Beaman announced that he plans to form a super PAC and raise $4 million to support Ogles' candidacy, meaning Ogles should have plenty of cash if he can capitalize on his connections to the Koch donor network and if Beaman's plan bears fruit.
Beaman had reportedly wanted state Sen. Mark Green to challenge Corker a few months ago, and while Green said in August he wouldn’t run, he stated just last week that he was "seriously considering it." However, Beaman has apparently either decided that Green won’t jump in after all, or he has just moved on to Ogles. Corker himself still hasn't decided on whether to seek a third term in this dark-red state, but said last week that he'll make up his mind "very soon."
● IL-Gov: State Rep. Scott Drury finally seems to have come to the realization that his gubernatorial campaign was going nowhere amid a Democratic primary that includes a self-funding billionaire and several other more prominent Democrats. Drury dropped out of the gubernatorial race and will instead run for state attorney general to succeed Democratic incumbent Lisa Madigan, who sent ripples through the world of Illinois politics when she announced recently that she won't seek a fifth term next year.
● MD-Gov: Former state Attorney General Doug Gansler lost the Democratic primary for governor in 2014, and he had refused to rule out running again in 2018 shortly after last November's elections. However, Gansler stated on Monday that "at this point, I have no plans to enter the race." While that isn't exactly a firm "no," Gansler seems quite unlikely to reverse course and take the plunge. Gansler's 2014 bid also went very poorly after he was dogged by scandal and came in a distant second place behind then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who went on to narrowly lose the general election, so this latest news isn't a surprise. The Washington Post report also indicated Gansler said he'd probably decide whom to support among the crowded field of candidates after next February's filing deadline passes.
● NJ-Gov: The Republican Governors Association is out with a new ad in New Jersey's gubernatorial race that does the bare minimum of what might be expected to support Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno's struggling campaign. The 15-second spot hits Democrat Phil Murphy, claiming he wants to raise New Jersey taxes by $1.3 billion.
● SC-Gov: Democratic state Rep. James Smith increasingly looks all but official as a gubernatorial candidate for next year. Smith launched a new website and video on Monday, and says he'll formally decide in October whether to join the race. Smith recently filed his paperwork to run while he still publicly considers it, becoming the first notable Democrat to do so.
● WI-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout filed her paperwork to begin fundraising for a potential gubernatorial bid back in June, but had said she was still considering whether to mount a challenge to Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year. Vinehout announced on Monday that she will be holding an event on Sept. 25 to declare whether she will seek re-election or join the gubernatorial primary, where a handful of other notable Democrats are already running.
● IL-06: Democrat Carole Cheney has earned the endorsement of Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly, who represents the nearby 2nd District in Chicago's southern suburbs. Cheney stepped down earlier this year as chief of staff to neighboring 11th District Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in order to run for House herself, and she had already secured Foster's backing.
Cheney faces a crowded Democratic primary that includes Naperville City Councilor Becky Anderson, attorney Amanda Howland, Barrington Hills Planning Commission member Kelly Mazeski, and clean energy businessman Sean Casten. They're running for the nomination to take on GOP Rep. Peter Roskam in Illinois' 6th District, which covers some of Chicago's upscale western suburbs and voted 50-43 Clinton.
● MA-03: Democrat Lori Trahan recently filed her paperwork to begin raising money for a potential campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas, though she has yet to officially announce that she's running. Trahan is the CEO of a consulting firm, and she once served as chief of staff to former Rep. Marty Meehan, who represented predecessor versions of this district from 1993 to 2007. Trahan doesn't appear to have run for office herself before.
No notable Democrats have formally joined the race yet, but state Sen. Barbara L'Italien and Daniel Koh, the former chief of staff to Boston Mayor Mary Walsh, have both created exploratory committees. This Merrimack Valley seat backed Hillary Clinton 58-35 and should strongly favor Democrats next year.
● MD-06: Emergency-room pediatrician Nadia Hashimi is the latest notable Democrat who has taken steps toward running for the open 6th Congressional District after she filed her paperwork to begin raising money earlier in September. Hashimi has an unusual background that could make her stand out in a crowded primary field: She was born in the U.S. to immigrant parents who left Afghanistan a few years before the Soviets invaded in 1979, and her husband is also an Afghan immigrant who left the country as a teenager amid the end of the Soviet occupation. Hashimi has capitalized on her family's story to become a best-selling novelist whose stories are set in Afghanistan and detail the experiences of immigrants and refugees, particularly women.
Several other major Democrats are already running to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. John Delaney in this western Maryland district, which voted for Clinton by 55-40 and should favor Team Blue next year.
● NC-02: Former state Rep. Linda Coleman announced on Monday that she will run for North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District against Republican Rep. Greg Holding, becoming the highest-profile Democrat in the race so far. Coleman was Team Blue's nominee for lieutenant governor in 2012 and 2016, and performed respectably given the circumstances. She lost by a razor-thin 50.08 to 49.92 margin to Republican Dan Forest for an open seat in 2012 even as Republican Pat McCrory was winning a historic 55-43 landslide in that year's open gubernatorial contest. Coleman sought a rematch against Forest last year, but fell short by 52-45 as Trump carried the Tar Heel State and statewide Republicans performed well in races where their candidates successfully separated themselves from the controversy over anti-LGBT law HB2.
Coleman will first have to get past the Democratic primary, though, where distillery owner Sam Searcy has been running since July. Coleman has been out of office since 2009, but her two statewide runs could give her the name recognition and connections to do well in the primary for this heavily gerrymandered seat, which contains suburban Wake and parts of several counties in the eastern greater Raleigh area. Coleman, who is African American, could also have a leg up in the primary in a district where a solid bloc of the primary electorate will be black.
Republicans adroitly crafted this seat to protect Holding even though the Raleigh area's explosive population growth is moving its politics to the left. The district still favored Trump by 53-44, meaning it won't be easy to defeat the three-term incumbent next year. However, the 2nd is the only GOP-held district in North Carolina that is better-educated than the national average, which could make a Trump-induced backlash among college-educated voters particularly potent if 2018 turns into a truly Democratic-favoring wave election.
● NV-03: Education activist and philanthropist Susie Lee recently joined the race to succeed Democratic Rep. Jackie Rosen in Nevada's open 3rd Congressional District, and she has already rolled out endorsements from the entire Democratic congressional delegation of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Rep. Dina Titus, Rep. Ruben Kihuen, and Rosen, as well as former Senate Leader Harry Reid, who still wields enormous influence with Silver State Democrats. Combined with her ability to self-fund, Lee's support from the party establishment should help make her the betting favorite in the Democratic primary, where she so far faces no major competition in this 48-47 Trump seat located in Las Vegas' southern suburbs.
● PA-16: Nonprofit consultant Christina Hartman, who was the 2016 Democratic nominee for this Lancaster County-based congressional seat, has released a list of endorsements from a slew of top Pennsylvania Democrats as she seeks to win the Democratic primary for a rematch against first-term Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker. Hartman's backers include former Gov. Ed Rendell, Reps. Dwight Evans, Brendan Boyle, and Matt Cartwright, as well as state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, state Auditor Eugene DePasquale, and state Treasurer Joe Torsella. Hartman faces former Warwick schools superintendent John George and nonprofit director Jess King in the Democratic primary for this seat, which backed Trump 51-44.
● New Orleans, LA Mayor: New Orleans' Oct. 14 jungle primary to replace termed-out Mayor Mitch Landrieu is less than a month away, and a new poll indicates that it's an extremely tight three-way race to get to the November general election. Market Research Insight, once again polling on behalf of a group of business people (including John Georges, the owner of the local paper The Advocate), just barely puts City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell in the lead with 27 percent of the vote, while two former judges, Michael Bagneris and Desiree Charbonnet, take 26 and 25 percent, respectively. Businessman Troy Henry, who badly lost to Landrieu in 2010, is a distant fourth with just 4 percent. Like Landrieu and most of the city's voters, all four candidates are Democrats.
Last month, MRI found Charbonnet leading Cantrell 25-23 with Bagneris at 19, so Bagneris may be gaining ground as the campaign marches on. Bagneris challenged Landrieu for re-election in 2014 and lost 64-33, making us quite skeptical that his second bid would go much better, and indeed, his fundraising was pretty meh until recently. However, Bagneris brought in $260,000 from early July through mid-September, a much stronger total than his previous hauls, and he has $103,000 on-hand.
Bagneris seems to be benefiting, at least financially, from a recent controversy over New Orleans' old Confederate monuments. In the spring, the Landrieu administration removed several statues commemorating Confederate leaders and a separate monument to Reconstruction-era violence, and Landrieu himself gave a widely praised speech celebrating their departure. But Bagneris, who like all the major candidates is black, has spoken out against his old rival's actions, arguing that Landrieu's move "divides the races" and saying there should have been a citywide vote before the monuments were removed. By contrast, Cantrell was one of the city councilors who voted for the statues' removal in 2015, while Charbonnet has said the city should move on from the controversy.
Bagneris' stance on the monument issue seems to have helped him make inroads with some influential local business people. Last month, businessman Frank Stewart, who published newspaper ads denouncing Landrieu over the monuments, hosted a breakfast for Bagneris; in attendance were, as The Advocate's Tyler Bridges puts it, "some three dozen friends and associates capable of writing big campaign checks." Stewart, who had been a longtime supporter of the Landrieu family, claims his decision had "no relationship whatsoever" to Bagneris' position on the Confederate monuments, but he almost immediately contradicted himself: In the very same interview with the Times-Picayune, Stewart says Bagneris had told him "that if he were mayor, he would've had a referendum. That's why I'm backing him."
But despite Bagneris' new stable of rich donors, Charbonnet still is very much the leader in the money race. Charbonnet hails from a well-connected family, and she's close to plenty of political insiders, allowing her to quickly amass a large war chest when she resigned from the bench to prepare her mayoral bid. Over the last two months, she's raised another $352,000, leaving her with $507,000 in the bank as of Sept. 4. (In a quirk, Bagneris' fundraising report runs through Sept. 13 while everyone else's' ends on Sept. 4.) Cantrell, by contrast, has struggled financially in comparison to her two main rivals: From July 7 to Sept. 4, she raised $141,000 and has $126,000 on-hand.
MRI also released polls of the three likely runoff pairings. They have Cantrell leading Charbonnet just 41-40, and outpacing Bagneris 44-38. However, Charbonnet laps Bagneris 50-26, which MRI suggests is a sign that the two could be drawing from the same group of voters.
Charbonnet's campaign responded to the MRI survey showing a tight race by dropping an internal poll from a local firm called BDPC that gives her a much more comfortable lead: Charbonnet still takes the same 27 percent, but Cantrell is well behind, edging Bagneris 17-14 for second. It's not surprising to see Charbonnet out in front, since she's been decisively outspending her foes during the campaign: Over the last two months, she's spent $507,000 to Bagneris' $337,000 (though again, Bagneris' report covers an extra nine days), while Cantrell deployed $194,000. And with her sizable bank account, Charbonnet will likely maintain her spending advantage over the last month, but even her own poll shows that this race is far from decided.
However, the main field of contenders does appear to be set, since at this late date it looks unlikely that any other candidates will be able to surge ahead. Henry, who entered the race just before the July filing deadline, brought in just $26,000 over the last two months, and he has very little left over. Businessman Frank Scurlock, the only white candidate with any money, had been doing some self-funding, but in a sign that he lacks confidence in himself, he recently clawed back $270,000 for what he says is a business deal. And finally there's Tommie Vassel, an accountant who used to serve on the city Sewerage & Water Board. He's raised very little cash from donors, though his company loaned him $150,000. Still, this trio isn't going anywhere.
For his part, Landrieu has not taken sides. However, a PAC allied with the outgoing mayor recently interviewed Charbonnet and Cantrell as a prelude to a possible endorsement; Bagneris, unsurprisingly, was not invited. While Cantrell won a spot on the city council in 2012 by beating a Landrieu-backed candidate, she's since praised his legacy on the campaign trail; Charbonnet, by contrast, has been quieter about her views on the mayor. In terms of major players, there's also Rep. Cedric Richmond, who represents most of the city in Congress. He hasn't publicly endorsed anyone yet, though it's no secret that he favors Charbonnet.
The city's high crime rate—always a perennial topic in New Orleans elections—remains the dominant focus of the campaign. However, a new issue was unexpectedly injected into the race in late July, when a strong thunderstorm led to heavy flooding. While city officials originally insisted that all pumps were working properly, residents soon learned how dire the condition of the city's drainage system really is. It's not clear how this issue will play out at the ballot box, but while all the candidates have bemoaned the present state of affairs, they've struggled so far to offer a clear plan to fix things.
● Seattle, WA Mayor: On Monday, Seattle got its third mayor in a week when the city council chose Councilor Tim Burgess to serve the final months of Ed Murray's term. Burgass will serve until the results of the Nov. 7 election between ex-U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and urban planner Cary Moon are certified.
Murray resigned last week after a cousin accused him of sexual abuse in the 1970s. City Council President Bruce Harrell automatically became mayor, but because he would need to give up his council seat to serve out the rest of Murray's term, he unsurprisingly announced he wanted the city council to pick an interim mayor. Burgess had already decided not to seek re-election to the council, so he had nothing to lose by agreeing to become mayor for a few months.
● Pres-by-LD: Daily Kos Elections' project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation comes to Montana and North Dakota, the 39th and 40th states we've done. You can find our master list of states here, which we'll be updating as we add new data sets; you can also find all of our calculations from 2016 and past cycles here.
Montana is usually a reliably red state in presidential races (though Obama only narrowly lost it in 2008), but Democrats have done better down-ballot. For years, both the state House and Senate were closely divided. But the GOP emerged from the 2010 wave with strong majorities in both chambers, and they've kept them ever since. The Republicans control the state House 59-41, and the Senate 32-18; the entire House is up every two years, while half the Senate is up each cycle.
Donald Trump carried Montana 56-36, and he won 72 of the 100 House seats and 39 of the 50 Senate districts. In the lower chamber, 14 Democrats hold Trump seats, and one Republican is on Clinton turf. The reddest Democratic-held seat is HD-03 in Flathead County, where state Rep. Zac Perry won his second term 53-47 as Trump was carrying his district 61-31. Three other Democrats hold seats that Trump carried by at least a 20-point margin. Jon Knokey is the sole Republican in a Clinton seat: He unseated a Democratic incumbent 50.5-49.5 to win a Gallatin County seat that backed Clinton 52-36.
Over in the Senate, seven Democrats represent Trump seats. The reddest is SD-26 in Yellowstone County, where Margaret MacDonald won her seat 50.1-49.9 as Trump was carrying the district 54-36. No Republicans hold Clinton seats here.
We'll turn now to North Dakota. The GOP took the state Senate in 1994 and they've held the House even longer, and they're unlikely to lose either chamber anytime soon. Republicans had a relatively small 26-21 majority after the 2008 elections, but like in so many other places, the 2010 GOP wave devastated local Democrats. Today, the Republicans hold the Senate 38 to nine, and the House 81 to 13.
In North Dakota, state House and Senate districts are exactly the same, with every legislative district getting one senator and two representatives; all legislators also serve four-year terms. Even-numbered seats in each chamber are up in presidential years, while odd-numbered seats are up in midterm cycles. Trump carried the state 64-28 and won 43 of the 47 legislative seats.
Five Democratic state senators and five representatives sit in Trump seats. The Democrat in the reddest district is state Rep. Alisa Mitskog, who won her first term in 2014. In between her elections, her seat swung from 57-42 Romney to 64-27 Trump. State Sen. John Grabinger managed to win re-election last year 59-41 as his seat went from 57-40 Romney to 63-28 Trump. All 10 of these legislators are the sole Democratic member of their seat's three-person legislative delegation, while the four Clinton seats each have all-Democratic delegations.