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.
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● MS-Sen-B: A couple of late polls—our first and only of the race—snuck in ahead of Tuesday’s special election in Mississippi, and both give Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith the edge over Democrat Mike Espy. On behalf of the conservative site RRH Elections, the Democratic pollster Bold Blue Campaigns and the GOP firm JMC Analytics released a survey giving Hyde-Smith a 54-44 lead. Separately, the Democratic outfit Change Research found the incumbent ahead by a smaller 51-46 spread.
One thing to note, though: The candidates won’t be listed with their party affiliations on Tuesday’s ballot, per the Mississippi laws that govern special elections. However, the RRH survey nevertheless identified Hyde-Smith as a Republican and Epsy as a Democrat. This could have an impact on the results, since it’s possible that some voters will vote differently than they would have if the candidates’ party labels were right in front of them. Indeed, Espy’s best hope rests on otherwise conservative voters who aren’t sure about Hyde-Smith deciding it’s easier to cross party lines and back the Democrat since, officially at least, they wouldn’t be crossing party lines at all.
But in a race that’s gotten this much attention, it’s unlikely many voters are genuinely unaware of which party each candidate belongs to. In fact, Change tells us that, while they left out the candidates’ party affiliation, they also quizzed respondents about Hyde-Smith and Espy’s party membership; about 98 percent correctly identified both.
While Espy is the underdog in this very red state, he did pull ahead in the fundraising contest in the final week of the race by outraising Hyde-Smith $749,000 to $480,000. However, GOP outside groups are still pouring in far more cash than Democrats. The NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund have spent a combined $2.8 million here, while Espy’s allies at Senate Majority PAC have thrown down a total of $874,000.
Both candidates also went up with new spots in the final week of the race. Espy released several new ads, the most notable of which goes after Hyde-Smith for her infamous “jokes” about wanting to watch a public lynching and her desire to make it harder for liberal college students to vote. Hyde-Smith’s closing spot features video of Donald Trump attacking Espy at a rally last month; Trump also made an election eve trip to Mississippi on Monday night for two more events for Hyde-Smith.
● AL-Sen: Several Republicans are considering challenging Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in 2020, and last week, state Auditor Jim Zeigler went further than anyone else when he formed an exploratory committee. However, don't mark Zeigler down as a Senate candidate just yet. In 2017, Zeigler also created an exploratory committee for a possible campaign for governor, but he announced he wouldn't run seven months later.
Zeigler was one of Gov. Robert Bentley's loudest intra-party critics before Bentley resigned in disgrace last year, and he has a reputation for picking fights with powerful Alabamians. But one can't accuse Zeigler of lacking big ambitions: In 2017, back when it looked like Bentley would just be termed-out of office the following year, Zeigler self-published a novel titled, "The Making of the People's Governor 2018." The tome's description states that, "Several of the usual suspects ran for governor with no track records of having stood up against the abuses of the Bentley administration. But one candidate had stood up in the Bentley years and, in 2018, stood out from the rest."
In reality, that "one candidate" instead sought re-election and won his primary by a not-so impressive 56-33 margin. So far, we haven't seen "The Making of the People's Auditor 2018" on sale anywhere.
One Republican with whom Zeigler did get along just fine, though, was 2017 Senate nominee Roy Moore. Last year, after multiple women accused Moore of preying on them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Zeigler defended him in perhaps the worst way possible. Zeigler declared, "Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus," and added, "There's just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual." Alabama voters didn't agree, and Jones narrowly defeated Moore in this very red state.
Other Republicans also have shown some interest in jumping in. State Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh told Politico that he's considering, though he didn't have a big sense of urgency about deciding this early in the race. Politico also writes that Marsh has told state lawmakers that he plans to step down as the Senate's leader at some point in the next two years, which many Republicans think is a sign that he's planning a timeline for a Senate bid.
Marsh very badly wanted to run in the 2017 special, and he sounded all but certain to do it. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was intent on protecting appointed Sen. Luther Strange, and they did everything they could to scare off potential primary challengers like Marsh. Politico reported last year that the Senate Leadership Fund, which is run by McConnell allies, was "very openly digging up dirt on … Marsh's ties" to Bentley, who had just resigned as part of a deal with prosecutors.
The NRSC also threatened to blacklist any consulting groups that work with Strange's opponents, something Marsh cited as part of why he didn't jump in. Those heavy-handed tactics had no impact on Moore, though, whose underfunded campaign defeated Strange and soon cost the GOP this seat.
But wait, there's more! Politico writes that unnamed Republicans have also reached out to Lt. Gov.-elect Will Ainsworth about running, but there's no word on if he's interested. Rep. Bradley Byrne has also shown plenty of interest for a while, and his spokesman told CNN that he doesn't expect to decide "until next spring at the earliest."
However, many local Republicans expect Byrne to run, including Rep. Mo Brooks. Brooks, who took third place in that infamous 2017 primary after national Republicans spent plenty of money attacking him, responded to questions about his interest in another campaign with, "Bradley Byrne looks like he's running — talk to him." An unnamed Republican close to Brooks also told CNN that he was "unlikely" to run against Byrne.
Still, Brooks doesn't seem to have ruled out a bid. Politico also asked Brooks about a possible Senate run, and he texted back, "Too many uncertainties," adding, "Senate? My intention right now is run for re-election to the House." However, while Rep. Gary Palmer doesn't seem to have said anything about his plans, Republicans tell Politico that they doubt he'll go for it now that he's been elected chair of the House Republican Policy Committee.
Meanwhile, one big name looms large over everything. Earlier this month, after Donald Trump sacked him as U.S. attorney general, reports began to surface that Jeff Sessions was interested in reclaiming his old Senate seat. Sessions still hasn't said anything publicly, but potential candidates are taking his possible comeback bid into account. Marsh said he was hoping to talk to him before the end of the year and said he's "always had a good relationship [with Sessions] and I would have to think real [sic] hard if I would run against him if he were to seek it again." However, Byrne's team maintains that Sessions' possible comeback bid "doesn't change Congressman Byrne's plans one bit."
● AZ-Sen: Arizona's November 2020 special election for the last two years of deceased Sen. John McCain's term is likely to be one of Democrats' top offensive opportunities this cycle, and CNN reports that unnamed Democratic strategists have mentioned Rep.-elect Greg Stanton and retired astronaut Mark Kelly, whose wife is former Rep. Gabby Giffords, although there's no indication if either is interested in a campaign. Rep. Ruben Gallego and former state Attorney General Grant Woods have previously said they're considering running.
● CO-Sen: Outgoing Democratic state House Speaker Crisanta Duran previously hadn't ruled out challenging Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, and CNN now reports she told them she is indeed considering the prospect, although there's no direct quote. Term limits barred Duran from seeking a fifth two-year term in the state House this year, and she will finish her two-year stint as speaker in January.
● KS-Sen: Republican Sen. Pat Roberts hasn't indicated whether he'll seek a fifth term in 2020, and there will likely be no shortage of interested Republicans if he decides to hang it up when he'll be 84-years-old. Indeed, Republican Rep. Roger Marshall confirmed to CNN that he would consider running, but Marshall maintained that he would "never, ever" run against Roberts, claiming he doubted the incumbent would retire in the "near future."
● ME-Sen: Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon faces term limits in 2020, and her spokesperson recently confirmed that Gideon is "seriously considering" challenging Republican Sen. Susan Collins that year. Gideon, whose father immigrated from India and whose mother immigrated from Armenia, would be the first person of color elected to Congress from Maine if she were to run and win.
● MI-Sen: Democrat Abdul El-Sayed attracted a passionate following as a progressive insurgent despite ultimately going on to lose this year's primary for governor by a wide margin to Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, and it's unlikely we've seen the last of the former Detroit city health commissioner. However, in a recent exchange with The Atlantic's Edward-Isaac Dovere, El-Sayed at first said he wouldn't run in the 2020 primary against sitting Sen. Gary Peters before cracking open the door a little by calling it "highly unlikely" and saying he is not "intending" to primary Peters, which of course isn't a no.
El-Sayed may have helped generate goodwill with the party establishment by immediately rallying around Whitmer after the primary to maintain a united front against Republicans, and he spent the fall campaign helping to boost candidates running for lower state offices. However, if he primaries an uncontroversial Democratic incumbent who has no obvious ideological apostasies in this swing state in 2020, the 34-year-old El-Sayed may quickly burn the very bridges he helped build over the course of 2018.
● NC-Sen: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is likely to be one of the top Democratic targets as North Carolina shapes up to be a heavily contested swing state for the fourth presidential election in a row, and state Democratic strategist Gary Pearce recently told CNN that "the name people talk about most" as a Democratic challenger is Charlotte state Sen. Jeff Jackson. Pearce also added that other candidates could crop up, including those who are women or candidates of color.
An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and continues to serve as a JAG captain in the North Carolina National Guard, Jackson had been talked up as a challenger to Republican Sen. Richard Burr in the 2016 election, but he declined to run after having only won his first elected office in 2014. However, he has taken a prominent role opposing the power grabs of North Carolina's infamous Republican-run state legislature, and he spent a notable amount of energy for an incumbent helping to elect other Democratic legislative candidates this year, only further fueling speculation that he could seek higher office.
● OK-Sen: GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe recently turned 84, and he sounds iffy about seeking re-election in 2020. Inhofe told CNN that he's "not necessarily" going to run again, though he played down the idea that his age would lead him to retire. Inhofe said that, when people told him in 2014 that he too old to serve, he replied, "when I'm too old to fly airplanes upside down, then I'm too old to fly in the United States Senate." The senator declared that he still can fly his plane upside down, so, "That's right—I qualify," and "I have not made any plans to leave."
Inhofe is a loud conservative who is most infamous for his tirades declaring that global warming is a hoax, and he's unlikely to face much primary opposition if he runs again. No matter what Inhofe does, Team Red should have little trouble holding his seat in this extremely red state.
● TN-Sen: GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander recently told The Tennessee Star that he'll decide if he'll seek a fourth term by the end of 2018. Alexander sounds like he wants to run again, though, declaring that if he seeks re-election he doesn't "expect that I would walk across the state, but I can come pretty close to it. And if I don't, I need to get out of the way and let somebody else run."
Alexander is unlikely to face much trouble in a general election, but a primary could be another story. Alexander, who occasionally voted with the Obama administration, only won his 2014 primary 50-41 against underfunded state Rep. Joe Carr. However, unlike departing colleague Bob Corker, Alexander doesn't appear to have alienated Donald Trump. Trump usually backs Senate Republicans who have done his bidding, and if the White House is in Alexander's corner in 2020, he could be in better shape than he was last time.
● CA-21: On Monday night, in the last uncalled House race in the nation, Democrat TJ Cox took the lead over Republican Rep. David Valadao for the first time, after a new batch of ballots from Kern County put him up 50.2 to 49.8 in California’s 21st Congressional District. Prior to this update, Valadao had been ahead by that same margin, though the spread between the two candidates has almost continuously narrowed since election night, when Valadao led by over 7 points.
At this point, though, the incumbent looks unlikely to reclaim that lead. If there are any remaining ballots in Kern or Fresno Counties, where Cox has performed well, it should be lights out for Valadao, but even if the only untallied votes are in Republican-friendly Kings and Tulare Counties, Cox is still probably favored to win narrowly. If he does succeed, he'd give Democrats an even 40-seat pickup in the House, good for a 235-200 majority come January.
Kings says it expects to provide a new update on Tuesday, while Fresno says it will do so on Wednesday. Tulare typically issues daily updates, though very few ballots are left there that are in the 21st District. As for Kern, we may not see another ballot drop until Monday, so we might not get our final answer on this race until next week.
● GA-07: Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux conceded the day before Thanksgiving after a recount concluded and still left her trailing Republican Rep. Rob Woodall by just 433 votes, a margin of only less than 0.2 points.
● NM-02: Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, who badly lost this month's gubernatorial race, announced last week that he will run for state party chair next month, but a spokesman subsequently clarified that the congressman is not ruling out another run for southern New Mexico's 2nd District after Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small narrowly won to succeed him. After sweeping every statewide and congressional race in 2018, state Democrats are the most dominant they have been since the 1964 LBJ landslide, and Pearce will have his work cut out for him if he becomes GOP chair.
Pearce previously won a comeback effort in 2010 after having given up re-election to run for Senate in 2008 only to lose in another rout and see Democrats also win the race to succeed him that year in this conservative-leaning district, so it wouldn't be that surprising to see him seek to return to Congress in 2020 in a district that voted 50-40 for Trump. However, Pearce has now attempted two campaigns for higher office despite both races having looked like uphill challenges even at the time, which could be a sign he has simply grown tired of serving in the House.
● NY-27: On Monday, Democrat Nate McMurray formally conceded to indicted Republican Rep. Chris Collins after the final count had him trailing by roughly half a point. After running what had been an unheralded campaign in this strongly Republican district, McMurray surged into contention for an upset after Collins was arrested in August on charges of insider trading, and he said he will run again when the time is right. However, whenever that happens to be, McMurray may not be so lucky as to face the badly damaged Collins again, who is strongly at risk of losing the 2020 primary or even resigning before then.
● Deaths: Former GOP Rep. Mac Collins of Georgia died Tuesday at the age of 74. Collins served in the House from 1993 until he gave up his seat to unsuccessfully run for the Senate in 2004. Collins ran for the House again in 2006, but he narrowly lost the general election to Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall.
Collins won his first office in 1976, when he was elected to the Butts County Commission as a Democrat. He joined the GOP in 1981 at a time when there still weren't many Republican elected officials in rural Georgia, and he narrowly lost his first two state Senate bids later that decade. Collins finally succeeded in 1988, which made him just one of 11 Republicans serving in the state Senate.
Collins got his chance to run for Congress in 1992 after Democrats' congressional gerrymander scrambled Georgia's districts in an overreach that swiftly backfired and ended up helping Republicans so badly that it spawned the term "dummymander." The Democratic legislature targeted Rep. Newt Gingrich, who was the House minority whip and already a conservative power in D.C., by splitting up his House seat. Much of Gingrich's base in the southern Atlanta suburbs wound up in the new 3rd District, which was represented by five-term Democratic Rep. Richard Ray.
Gingrich ended up running for the 6th District, while Collins challenged Ray. Collins won the GOP nod by defeating Paul Broun, who would later serve in Congress, 55-45; that same day, narrowly prevailed in his own primary in the new 6th District to the north. Ray only won renomination in the redrawn seat 51-32 against David Worley, the Democrat who had almost toppled two years before, and a few months later, Collins dispatched him 55-45.
Collins never had trouble winning re-election over the next decade, and he earned a spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Collins gave up his seat in 2004 to run for an open seat, and he faced a primary with fellow Rep. Johnny Isakson and businessman and future presidential candidate Herman Cain. Both Collins and Cain tried to portray Isakson, who was the frontrunner throughout the race, as too liberal because he didn't want to outlaw abortions in the event of rape or incest.
Several prominent social conservative groups backed both Collins and Cain, but their inability to unite behind one anti-Isakson candidate may have helped him. Isakson avoided a runoff by taking a majority with 53 percent of the vote, while Cain led Collins 26-21 for second place. Collins never conceded to Isakson, who still serves in the Senate.
Collins soon had a chance to regain his place in the House. In 2004, the GOP seized complete control of Georgia's state government for the first time since Reconstruction, and they quickly redrew congressional and legislative districts for the 2006 elections. Collins challenged Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall in the new 8th District, which had backed George W. Bush 61-39 in 2004.
This was one of the GOP's few pickup opportunities in the Democratic wave year, and Team Red spent heavily to try to win it. Collins ran ads tying Marshall to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, with one spot declaring that Pelosi would "reward illegal aliens with welfare, food stamps and free education." Collins also utilized another GOP tactic that would still be in use 12 years later as he warned crowds that if Democrats took control of Congress, "The next two years [would be] bogged down in investigations, with a judiciary chairman who wants to impeach the president."
However, while Bush stumped for Collins twice in the final weeks of the contest, Marshall hung on 50.55-49.45—a margin of 1,752 votes. Collins also never conceded this narrow loss.
Collins never ran for office again, but his son, trucking company executive Mike Collins, ran for the 10th District in 2014 in a bid to succeed Senate candidate Paul Braun, Mac Collins opponent in the 1992 campaign. While the safely red northeast Georgia seat included Mac Collins' old Butts County base, it otherwise had little in common with the district that he'd had last run for eight years before. But that didn't stop the younger Collins from running ads featuring his father, who was shown sporting a black cowboy hat and his member of Congress pin.
Braun, who had lost his Senate primary, backed pastor and conservative talk radio host Jody Hice, declaring that Mike Collins would "do whatever the leadership wants." Hice ended up winning the runoff 54-46.
● Polling: There was a lot of hand-wringing about a polling crisis after 2016's abysmal results, with some pundits worrying that we'd never be able to trust polls again. The polls in 2018, however, performed generally well. A post-mortem analysis by the New York Times' Nate Cohn finds that final polls in aggregate were the most accurate they've been in a decade, and that the errors weren't consistently in favor of one party or the other. On the whole, the results are pretty encouraging.
There was, however, some disparity in terms of which states had bigger polling errors than others. And that shows that the problems that pollsters had in 2016 haven't been totally solved. The problem in 2016 seemed at its core to be with not anticipating how big a role educational attainment played in voter choices, and not adequately weighting for education (or, even when weighting for education, underestimating the size of the white, no-college-degree voting bloc).
The biggest errors were in states that are mostly white that are also disproportionately rural and non-college: Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee (not coincidentally, some of the year's biggest Senate races, where the Democratic candidates wound up losing), as well as Ohio. (Indiana wound up being the "wrongest" in our own polling aggregation, finishing with a 2-point lead for Joe Donnelly. The losses in Florida and Missouri shouldn't have been as surprising to people: our polling aggregates had both of those races tied heading into Election Day.)
By contrast, the states that loom large in the public imagination as where the polling errors were most severe in 2016—Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—were much closer to being accurate this year (though, again, that might be a factor of them having larger suburban, college-educated blocs of voters when compared with, say, Indiana or Missouri). And there were notable errors going the other direction in states with large Latino populations, where Democratic strength was underestimated: especially California, but also Nevada and to a lesser extent, Texas. (Cohn points out, though, that in these states it seemed like less of a problem of reaching Latino voters, than the harder-to-fix problem of them remaining undecided until the end, when they broke heavily in the Democratic direction.)