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, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● VA State House: On Thursday morning, the outcome of a key Virginia House of Delegates election was determined by the drawing of lots (specifically, in this case, via old-school film canisters placed in a stoneware bowl), and Republican Del. David Yancey won the tiebreaker for the 94th District.
But this race may not yet be over. Another provision of Virginia law allows the loser of a drawing of lots to seek a second recount, which could allow Democrat Shelly Simonds to rechallenge the disputed vote that threw the race into a tie in the first place. A federal lawsuit is also possible. Following the drawing, Simonds did not concede the race but did not say what course of action she might pursue.
And Simonds very much should challenge this. Simonds secured a one-vote win in the recount on Dec. 19, but questionable Republican actions resulted in the three-judge recount panel counting an additional vote for Yancey the following day, yielding the tie that ended up being broken in Yancey’s favor.
For the moment, though, Yancey's win means that Republicans will just barely retain their majority in the House, with 51 seats to the Democrats' 49. If further action shifts the balance to 50-50, though, Republicans would be forced to share power with Democrats. Whatever happens, Democrats made extraordinary strides in the November elections, picking up 15 seats and setting the stage for more gains around the country this year.
Click here for our chart rounding up all Senate fundraising numbers. As per usual, we'll have a chart of House numbers after the reporting deadline, which is Jan. 31.
● TN-Sen: Marsha Blackburn (R): $2 million raised, $4.6 million cash-on-hand; Stephen Fincher (R): $1.45 million raised, $3.7 million cash-on-hand
● AZ-Gov: Steve Farley (D) $513,000 raised (in 2017)
● NV-Gov: Chris Giunchigliani (D): $800,000 raised (since Oct.), $1 million cash-on-hand
● CA-49: Mike Levin (D): $307,000 raised
● IA-01: Abby Finkenauer (D): $302,000 raised
● MI-09: Andy Levin (D): $123,000 raised (in less than one month), $118,000 cash-on-hand
● MI-11: Suneel Gupta (D): $500,000 raised (in one month)
● MN-02: Angie Craig (D): $550,000 raised (no self-funding), $430,000 cash-on-hand
● NH-02: Annie Kuster (D-inc): $400,000 raised, $2.3 million cash-on-hand; Stewart Levenson (R): $100,000 raised, $300,000 cash-on-hand
● NJ-07: Tom Malinowski (D): $525,000 raised (no self-funding), $440,000 cash-on-hand; Lisa Mandelblatt (D): $265,000 raised
● VA-07: Dan Ward (D): $280,000 raised
● AZ-Sen: Steve Bannon instantly became persona non grata in Trumpworld on Wednesday after an excerpt from journalist Michael Wolff's new book captured Bannon dissing Trump and his family. While it remains to be seen how the Breitbart chief's rift with Trump will affect the many candidates he's supporting, however, there's at least one person who has everything to lose and not much to gain from his fall.
Bannon and billionaire Robert Mercer were prominent supporters of ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward while she was running in the GOP primary against Sen. Jeff Flake, and they remained in her camp after Flake decided to retire in the fall. However, the Washington Post writes that, even before Wednesday, Bannon's alliance with the Mercer family was in real trouble. Robert Mercer's daughter, Rebekah Mercer, who had been Bannon's main financial backer, has reportedly been angry with Bannon for a while, especially over some of his moves to support Roy Moore's losing Senate bid in Alabama last month. But the final straw apparently came when Bannon allegedly bragged to other prominent conservative donors that the Mercers would help him if he ran for president.
According to the Post, the Mercers have now decided to stop supporting any of Bannon's projects, which could be very bad news for Ward. The former state senator is a notoriously bad fundraiser, but the Mercers have been funding a super PAC to support her. If that money stops flowing in, she could be left without any outside help.
But while Ward's fortunes might genuinely suffer over this rift, too many pundits have overestimated how much influence Bannon has in other GOP primaries. After Moore won the Alabama runoff in September against appointed Sen. Luther Strange, plenty of national observers were quick to credit Bannon for the outcome. Bannon certainly enjoyed portraying himself as a kingmaker, and after Moore's general election campaign self-destructed, Bannon's enemies in the party were also glad to point to Moore as an example of what kind of candidates the GOP would get saddled with when Bannon gets his way.
However, as plenty of frustrated Alabama journalists have explained, Moore's win over Strange had everything to do with Moore himself and the political climate in Alabama. Bannon, in fact, was a johnny-come-lately who only endorsed Moore when he was already about to win. And in other Senate primaries elsewhere, Bannon's involvement has been minimal to date. A few campaigns are engaged in slapfights with one another over his support (or lack thereof), but these skirmishes—mostly in Nevada, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—are only being fought with press releases and are unlikely to have any electoral impact.
If anything, Ward is the outlier: Thanks to her particular weakness as a campaigner, she was unusually dependent on the Bannon-Mercer axis for its largesse. But stronger candidates in the Bannon orbit may survive just fine because Bannon's power was never a be-all, end-all for them.
● MN-Sen-B: The political world is watching to see if ex-GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty will challenge appointed Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who was sworn in on Wednesday, but Republican leaders may already have a Plan B in mind if he says no. Roll Call writes that Rep. Tom Emmer is considering, and the local tip sheet Morning Take relays that the "buzz" is that "Emmer is feeling pressure" to run if Pawlenty doesn't. Emmer has not publicly expressed interest yet.
Emmer ran for governor back in 2010 and lost a very close race to Democrat Mark Dayton. Democrats took advantage of Emmer's very conservative rhetoric, which likely cost him victory in the GOP wave year. Notably, after Emmer complained that there were Minnesota service employees who "are earning over $100,000 a year" off their tips, a man showed up at a campaign town hall and dumped 2,000 pennies in front of his face exclaiming, "I have a tip for you too, Emmer!"
However, Emmer has largely kept his head down since he was elected to the House in 2014, and he actually faced a primary challenge from the right two years later. Emmer won with 69 percent of the vote, which the University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier wrote was the first time since 1962 that a Republican House incumbent failed to crack 80 percent in a Minnesota primary. Emmer said as recently as August that he wasn't ruling out another bid for governor, but he's shown no other interest since then. The only notable Republican who has announced a bid against Smith is state Sen. Karin Housley.
As for Smith, most notable Democrats have deferred to her. State Sen. Melisa Franzen, who has a reputation as a moderate, said a few weeks ago that she was considering running and would decide by the end of 2017, but we've heard nothing from her. Smith also got an endorsement on Thursday from EMILY's List.
● ND-Sen: This week, state Rep. Rick Becker announced he would not seek the GOP nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp. Becker is a libertarian-flavored Republican whose signature issue is curtailing the use of surveillance drones by police, and he never looked like he'd be a very formidable candidate.
● UT-Sen: Evan McMullin, who took 21 percent of the vote in Utah in 2016 as a conservative independent presidential candidate, expressed interest in early 2017 about challenging GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch. However, Hatch announced this week that he would retire, and McMullin said he wanted Mitt Romney to run here. The former Massachusetts governor has not yet announced if he'll run, but he's reportedly very interested.
● WI-Sen: It's been 10 years since uber-hawk John Bolton unwillingly left his job as George W. Bush's U.N. ambassador, but… well, we're still writing about him. John Bolton SuperPAC is spending $1 million on an ad campaign for veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson, who is competing in the GOP August primary to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. And yes, his group is called "John Bolton SuperPAC" instead of some super vague name like "Liberty's Freedom Mustache Fund."
The TV spot starts with Bolton rolling out his greatest hits and telling the soon-to-be terrified audience, "Today, here in America, a mailbox or even a bicycle could become a terrorist weapon." Bolton then goes on to say that in Iraq, suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices accounted for two-thirds of American casualties, but Nicholson risked his life to defuse "these tools of terror." Bolton concludes by declaring, "It's time to send a Marine to the U.S. Senate."
● CO-Gov: Candidates from both parties are starting to reveal which route they'll take to reach the June primary ballot. In Colorado, candidates either need to take 30 percent of the vote at their April party assembly or they need to collect 1,500 valid signatures from each of the state's seven congressional districts, and both methods have risks. But Democratic Rep. Jared Polis has announced that he'll circulate petitions and go through the assembly.
● NY-Gov: This week, two more prospective Republican candidates made their 2018 plans known. Joel Giambra, who left as Erie County executive a decade ago, announced he was in, while Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said he would stay out. New York Republicans aren't exactly optimistic about beating Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, especially now that wealthy businessman Harry Wilson has decided not to run. Still, they want a viable candidate to spur turnout for more winnable contests down the ballot. Giambra, however, may be more trouble than he's worth.
In 2005, the state appointed a financial control board to monitor Erie's finances and two years later, Giambra decided not to seek a third term. Giambra since worked at a lobbying firm started by Al D'Amato, a former GOP senator who was ousted in 1998, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. And just last month, Giambra said that if GOP leaders don't consolidate behind him, he may run as an independent. State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb has also announced he's in, and he's already complained party insiders may "rig" the race against him.
● OK-Gov: Last month, a super PAC began a $100,000 ad campaign in support of Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett well ahead of the June GOP primary, and another Republican candidate has already joined in. Wealthy attorney Gary Richardson, whose 2002 independent bid likely cost the GOP victory in a close race, began advertising last month as well. There's no word on the size of the buy, though the National Journal says his ad ran during the Rose Bowl between the University of Georgia and the University of Oklahoma.
Richardson's ad begins with Vic Feazell, a former district attorney in Texas (though he is not identified by name in the ad) telling the audience, "I was a district attorney facing 84 years for a crime I did not commit because I dared to go after corrupt officials" (there's a brief shot of Feazell standing behind bars). Feazell praised Richardson as "one man who would stand up to corruption and save me from life imprisonment." Richardson then vows to audit every agency and end the corruption. It goes unsaid in the ad, but Richardson is trying to succeed a fellow Republican, Gov. Mary Fallin. Several other Republicans are also in.
● MS-03: On Thursday, GOP Rep. Gregg Harper, a pretty low-key member of the House, announced he would not seek a sixth term in his safely red seat. Harper brings the total number of House GOP retirements to 27, compared to 15 Democrats.
Harper was active in state GOP politics for years before he ran for office for the first time in 2008. Harper narrowly made it past the first round of a four-way primary, and he defeated Club for Growth backed-state Sen. Charlie Ross, who was considered the favorite at the beginning of the race, 57-43 in the runoff. While Democrats won three of Mississippi's four congressional districts that year, the blue wave passed this seat over, and Harper won his general election easily.
Harper became a reliable vote for the leadership, and he never faced a serious primary threat. This year, Harper was appointed chair of the House Administration Committee, which the Clarion Ledger describes as a job that "conducts investigations and provides oversight on telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health and research, energy policy, interstate and foreign policy and any other matters under the jurisdiction of the full committee." That may sound kind of dull, but McClatchy's Emma Dumain says that chairing administration was "his dream," which… is actually kind of adorable. However, Harper also has been tasked with addressing sexual harassment complaints, especially in recent months.
This central Mississippi seat, which includes part of the Jackson suburbs as well as Natchez, Meridian, and Starkville, backed Trump 61-37, and it's unlikely to be a Democratic target. The candidate filing deadline is March 1 for the June primary. If no one takes a majority of the vote in the first round, there will be a primary runoff.
● OH-12: Longtime Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi, who said back in October that he'd resign by the end of this month to take a job leading the Ohio Business Roundtable, an industry lobbying group, has now announced that his last day in office will be Jan. 15. Gov. John Kasich will now call a special election, including primaries, to fill the remainder of Tiberi's term. A number of candidates on both sides have already declared their intention to run for this seat, which is located in the Columbus suburbs and voted for Donald Trump by a 53-42 margin.
● PA-08: Last month, the New York Times reported that Democrat Scott Wallace, a lawyer and philanthropist who co-chairs the investment fund the Wallace Global Fund, was considering entering the primary to face GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, but Wallace hadn't said anything publicly. However, Wallace recently Philadelphia radio network WHYY that he is thinking about it, and has the money to self-fund much of a campaign. Wallace did not say when he'd decide, but reporter Dave Davies writes that "many Democrats expect him to enter the race soon."
Navy veteran and JAG attorney Rachel Reddick has been running for the past few months, and upcoming quarterly campaign finance reports (due Jan. 31) will give us an idea if she has the connections to run a serious race in a seat that narrowly backed both Romney and Trump but is friendlier to Republicans down-ballot. Another Democrat also jumped in this week when Steve Bacher, who has co-founded two environmental groups in suburban Philadelphia's Bucks County, announced he was in. Bacher worked in the Clinton-era Department of Housing and Urban Development and ran for local office in New Jersey in 2007. However, Bacher tells Davies he's been active in local Bucks County Democratic politics over the last decade.
● PA-15: This week, ex-Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning joined the GOP primary for this open Lehigh Valley seat. Browning has served as chief financial officer at the aircraft management company New World Aviation and on the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority, so he may have some useful connections.
Things haven't gone too well for him in recent years, however. Browning lost renomination to the county commission in 2011, and lost a 2013 primary for county executive 56-44. Two years later, Browning narrowly lost another GOP primary to return to the commission. Last year, Browning withdrew his renomination to the Airport Authority in part due to opposition from some members of the Lehigh County Commission.
Browning joins state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie; Lehigh County Commissioner Marty Nothstein; Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries; and former CIA officer Scott Uehlinger in the primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Charlie Dent. This seat moved from 51-48 Romney to 52-44 Trump, but Democrats are hoping they'll have a shot with Dent gone.
● PA-18: Republicans are reportedly jittery that state Rep. Rick Saccone is weak enough to cost them the March special election for this 58-39 Trump seat outside of Pittsburgh, and one prominent outside group isn't taking chances. Ending Spending, which is largely funded by the billionaire Ricketts family, has launched a $1 million buy to boost Saccone. Their spot is pretty dull, with a narrator promising that Saccone will "support tax reform that cuts middle class taxes" and extolling him as an Air Force and counter-intelligence veteran "who knows how to keep us safe."
● TX-27: This week, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry endorsed Bech Bruun, the former head of the Texas Water Development Board, in the GOP primary for this safely red open seat. As governor, Perry picked Bruun to chair the board, so his support is hardly a surprise. Bruun is the frontrunner in the March primary to succeed Rep. Blake Farenthold, who pulled the plug on his re-election campaign after more former staffers accused him of harassment.
● WV-03: On Thursday, state Del. Marty Gearheart announced he would join the GOP primary for this southern West Virginia seat. Gearheart ran for this seat four times before he was elected to the legislature in 2010 so… fifth time's a charm?
In 2004, back when this area was considerably more Democratic up and down the ballot, Gearheart lost 58-42 to Rick Snuffer, who went on to lose to then-incumbent Nick Rahall in the fall. Gearheart lost another primary two years later, got crushed by Rahall 67-33 in 2008, and narrowly took second in the 2010 primary. But Gearheart got lucky later that year when the local Republican committee picked him to be their nominee for a state House seat after the incumbent was appointed to the state Senate, and he won without opposition.
Several other Republicans are competing to succeed Senate candidate Evan Jenkins, who beat Rahall in 2014, including two old Gearheart rivals. In the running are Snuffer, a former state delegate who lost to Rahall again in 2012; former state party chair Conrad Lucas, who took a close third to Gearheart in the 2010 primary; Del. Carol Miller; and Del. Rupie Phillips, who left the Democratic Party just over a year ago. Miller had $135,000 on-hand at the end of September while Snuffer and Phillips barely had anything, and Lucas had yet to enter the race. This seat backed Trump 73-23, but Democrats hope that its long tradition of voting for Democrats isn't quite over.
● NY State Senate: Alessandra Biaggi, a former attorney for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a staffer on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, has formed a campaign committee that would allow her to raise money for a bid against state Sen. Jeff Klein in this September's Democratic primary. Biaggi herself hasn't yet said anything publicly, however, though the Daily News reported last month that state Sen. Mike Gianaris, who heads the campaign arm of the Senate's mainline Democrats, had met with Biaggi about a possible challenge to Klein, the leader of a renegade faction of Democrats called the IDC that allows the chamber to be controlled by the Republican minority.
Thanks to his extreme eagerness to please moneyed business interests, as well as New York's weak campaign finance laws, Klein is a formidable fundraiser, and he easily defeated a primary opponent, former New York City Councilman Oliver Koppell, by a 65-35 margin in 2014. However, anti-IDC sentiment among progressive activists in New York has exploded in the Trump era, and if a challenger were to receive serious institutional support (of the kind Koppell was promised but never got), Klein could face a real race.
One difficulty, though, is that there's already another Democrat running, attorney Lewis Kaminski. In a race with multiple challengers splitting the anti-incumbent vote, Klein would be almost impossible to beat, so if Biaggi does intend to move forward, she'd have to reach some kind of understanding with Kaminski first.
● Statehouse Action: This Week in Statehouse Action: Schroedinger's Ballot Box edition features the latest on the complicated and confusing election in Virginia HD-94, Republicans trying to make voting harder for college students in New Hampshire, Senate shenanigans in Minnesota, 2018 Democratic game plans in Wisconsin, and more!
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