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.
● NC-09: In a shocking development, North Carolina's state board of elections, which includes both Democrats and Republicans, unanimously voted not to certify the results of the election for the state's 9th Congressional District on Tuesday—and no one's quite explained why. According to current tallies, Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes, or 0.3 percent, making this the third-closest House race of 2018.
But whether that outcome holds up is now a huge question. One member of the board, Democrat Joshua Malcolm, offered only this cryptic statement:
"I'm very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state. And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place to the best of my understanding which has been ongoing for a number of years that has repeatedly been referred to the United States attorney and the district attorneys for them to take action and clean it up. And in my opinion those things have not taken place."
Malcolm hails from Robeson County, which is located in the 9th District, but whatever problems may exist don't seem to be coming from there. Rather, the chair of the county GOP, Phillip Stephens, offered on Tuesday, "We are not aware of any incidents specifically in Robeson. Our understanding is some questions were raised regarding Bladen County."
Exactly what may have transpired in Bladen County, which is home to 35,000 people and appears to have voted 58-41 for Harris, is unknown. Prior to Tuesday's vote, there'd been no reports of any issues, which is why the elections board's action came as such a surprise, and neither campaign so far has issued any sort of comment. A local NPR station reports that an investigator for the board seized absentee ballots from Bladen shortly after Election Day, but it's not clear why, and as election expert Michael McDonald notes, there weren't enough absentee votes to change the outcome of the race.
McDonald thinks the board itself may wind up ordering a recount, even though McCready himself opted not to seek one (as was his right). But given the mystery surrounding the situation, it's possible something much bigger is afoot: Gerry Cohen, a widely respected expert on North Carolina election law, says that Bladen County was, quite dramatically, "America's arson capitol for decades as politicians burned down each other's warehouses." Yow!
We may not know more, however, until Friday, when the board of elections will reconvene. If the election remains uncertified, though, things could get really crazy. One option would be a new election, which the board is authorized to order. Alternately, the House itself could decide whether to seat Harris or McCready, a power that it's granted by the constitution.
The last time a disputed race was resolved this way followed Democrat Loretta Sanchez's narrow defeat of Republican Rep. Bob Dornan in southern California in 1996; Sanchez was seated provisionally, and after a 14-month investigation in which Dornan claimed non-citizens had illegally voted, the House overwhelmingly voted to dismiss his challenge.
● CA-21: On Wednesday, Democrat TJ Cox declared victory over GOP Rep. David Valadao after the final ballots out of Fresno and Kings Counties took his lead from 436 votes on Monday evening to 529 votes now.
Valadao, who held a lead until Monday, has yet to concede, but his prospects are looking incredibly grim. As we wrote on Monday, the Republican was hoping that the remaining ballots out of conservative Kings County would lift him back into the lead. That already looked unlikely to happen, but his math got even worse when the final Kings County ballots were counted on Wednesday and Cox ended up netting 70 votes from the pile.
The Fresno Bee writes that there are about 3,000 ballots left to be counted countywide in Cox-friendly Kern County (about 45 percent of the county is in this seat). There are slightly fewer than 8,000 ballots remaining in conservative Tulare County, but since just about 5 percent of the county is in the 21st, very few of them are likely to be for Valadao.
● AL-Sen: GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne's team recently said that he didn't expect to decide if he'll challenge Democratic Sen. Doug Jones "until next spring at the earliest," but the congressman isn't leaving much ambiguity about what he plans to do. AL.com recently asked Byrne if he "could envision a scenario where he decided not to run for Senate," and he responded, "Not at this point in time."
That's far from an iron-clad declaration that he's in, of course. There are plenty of other Republicans eyeing this race, and it's always possible Byrne will decide over the next few months that he'd rather stay in his safe House seat than risk his career on an unpredictable Senate bid.
● AZ-Sen: While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly been pushing Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint Rep. Martha McSally to the Senate ahead of the November 2020 special election, the Washington Post reports that some members of Ducey's inner circle have reservations about this idea.
McSally lost the contest for Arizona's other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema by a 50-48 margin this month. While that was a close defeat, the Post writes that some Republicans in both D.C. and the state are now skeptical that McSally should be their nominee again in two years. These Republicans gripe that McSally didn't do a better job utilizing opposition research about Sinema's past as an anti-war organizer and a member of the Green Party. They also complain that McSally distanced herself too much from the late Sen. John McCain, who is utterly despised by Donald Trump but has his fans among local swing voters.
McSally pushed back on the perception that she dropped the ball, and her campaign strategists provided the Post with a copy of their post-election memo in which they blamed her defeat on circumstances largely beyond her control. These included Trump's unpopularity among moderate Republicans; an expensive GOP primary that concluded just over two months before Election Day; and a big spending edge for Sinema and her allies. The memo doesn't address a possible 2020 campaign, but it seems to be a not-so-subtle argument that if McSally was appointed to the Senate, she could hit the ground running and avoid some of the problems that dragged her down this year.
But no matter whom Ducey wants to appoint, we'll need to see what Sen. Jon Kyl does first. Ducey picked Kyl to replace McCain in September, and while Kyl has made it clear that he won't run in the 2020 special, he's being very cagey about whether he'll serve even that long. The Post writes that most Republicans are convinced Kyl will resign this seat before the Senate reconvenes in January, but some are speculating he could surprise everyone and end up sticking around for the next two years.
● CO-Sen: This week, nonprofit director Lorena Garcia became the first Democrat to kick off a bid against GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. The Colorado Springs Independent writes that Garcia is "active in the nonprofit world and on women's and Latina rights," and that she would be the state's first gay senator. A number of other Democrats are considering running here, and it's unclear at this early point in the race if Garcia has the connections she'll need to run a serious campaign.
● GA-Sen: While former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates has been mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate for office in Georgia since early 2017, when Donald Trump fired her when she balked at enforcing Trump's executive order banning refugees and immigrants coming from seven predominantly Muslim countries, it doesn't sound like she's interested in running for anything anytime soon. Yates said Wednesday that she has "to confess running for office is just not anything I've ever felt drawn to," adding, "You know what feels like you or doesn't."
● MS-Sen-B: Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith defeated Democrat Mike Espy 54-46 in Tuesday's special election for the Senate in Mississippi, giving the GOP a 53-47 Senate majority come January. Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to replace longtime Sen. Thad Cochran earlier this year, will be up for a full six-year term in 2020.
While Team Red held this seat, Republicans ended up working harder here than they probably planned to just three weeks ago. In the officially nonpartisan primary on Nov. 6 (under state law, candidates aren't identified by their party in special elections), Hyde-Smith and fellow Republican Chris McDaniel took a combined 58 percent of the vote, while Espy and a little-known second Democrat won 42 percent. However, the runoff quickly attracted the bad kind of national attention when progressive journalist Lamar White posted footage of Hyde-Smith saying of a supporter, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."
Hyde-Smith didn't apologize for showing eagerness to witness a lynching, and Espy, who is black, ran a commercial going after her over her comments, as well as her "joke" that it should be harder for liberal college students to vote. Several major companies, including Walmart and Major League Baseball, also publicly asked Hyde-Smith to return donations they'd made to her campaign. In a familiar scene, national Republicans reportedly became worried about Hyde-Smith's prospects, and the NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund ended up spending a combined $2.8 million here, while Espy's allies at Senate Majority PAC threw down a total of $874,000.
It was always going to be extremely difficult for Democrats to win in a state this red, and particularly one where voting is so heavily polarized along racial lines. Hyde-Smith's 54-46 victory was nevertheless the worst performance for Team Red in a Mississippi Senate race since 1988, when Republican Trent Lott flipped an open Democratic-held seat by the same 54-46 margin.
The runoff also gives us the opportunity to see how Mississippi's politics have evolved in recent years. In 2008, the last time the Magnolia State hosted a nonpartisan Senate special, appointed GOP Sen. Roger Wicker held off former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by a similar 55-45 spread. Miles Coleman has put together some illustrative county-level maps that compare the 2008 special to this year's race, finding that many areas in the Memphis suburbs and Jackson area, as well as the Mississippi Delta, got bluer over the last decade, while the Gulf Coast and rural northeast moved in the opposite direction.
● MT-Sen: While plenty of Democrats would love for termed-out Gov. Steve Bullock to challenge GOP Sen. Steve Daines in 2020, Bullock really doesn't seem to want to do it. The governor, who has flirted with a possible presidential bid, told Politico that when it comes to the Senate race, "I've said earlier that really doesn't interest me. But—well, no. I won't even say 'but.'"
● TX-Sen: GOP Sen. John Cornyn announced last year that he'd seek a fourth term in 2020, and the senator declared again this week that there's "no doubt that I will run for re-election in 2020, and I'm preparing to do so." Cornyn may have to do a lot more preparing than usual, though. While "Big Bad John" won his first three terms by double digits, Beto O'Rourke's 51-48 loss against Sen. Ted Cruz earlier this month gives Democrats reasons to be optimistic that they can give Cornyn a serious challenge.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Candidate filing closed Monday for next year's open-seat race to succeed retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and 21 people turned in petitions to run. All the candidates will run on one ballot on Feb. 26, and in the very likely event that no one won a majority of the vote, there would be an April 2 runoff. The contest is officially nonpartisan, but every major candidate identifies as a Democrat in this very blue city.
Of the 21 candidates who filed, about 10 of them look credible at this early point in the race:
- Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown
- Former Chicago Board of Education President and 2011 candidate Gery Chico
- Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley
- Attorney Amara Enyia
- State Rep. La Shawn Ford
- Former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot
- Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy
- State Comptroller Susana Mendoza
- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
- Former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas
The first test for any candidate in Illinois politics is always to make it onto the ballot in the first place. That's because petition challenges are a way of life here: Barack Obama himself won his state Senate seat in 1996 by getting all his Democratic primary foes—including the incumbent—thrown off the ballot for a lack of sufficient signatures. Petition challenges are due by Dec. 3, and the Chicago Sun- Times writes that the process could last through most of December and could get very expensive for the candidates involved.
Candidates for mayor of Chicago need to submit 12,500 signatures from registered voters, but they always try to turn in a whole lot more than that so they have plenty of room for error in case some of their petitions get thrown out. The Sun-Times writes that candidates try to submit at least three times the minimum number of petitions required—in this case, 37,500 signatures. Most of the candidates hit or exceeded this number, but Brown and Mendoza turned in just about 25,000 signatures each. Both insist that they have enough valid petitions to make the ballot, but we can expect at least some of their rivals to test whether or not that's true.
● Deaths: Former Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor, who was Arizona's first Latino member of Congress, died this week at the age of 75. Pastor represented much of the Phoenix area from 1991 until he retired in 2014.
Pastor grew up in a working-class mining family, and he was the first member of his family to go to college. He got his start in politics after he got interested in the Chicano Movement and its goal of empowering Mexican-Americans, as well as in its leader, Cesar Chavez. Pastor worked for Raul Castro's successful 1974 campaign for governor, which made Castro Arizona's first (and to date only) Latino governor. After a stint as a Castro aide, Pastor was elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 1976.
Pastor got his chance to run for Congress in 1991, when Democratic Rep. Mo Udall resigned his safely blue seat after 30 years in the House when his Parkinson's disease worsened. Pastor ran for what was then Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, which included part of Phoenix as well as part of the Tucson area and much of the state's border with Mexico, including Yuma.
Pastor benefited from facing two serious Tucson-based opponents in the Democratic primary, Mayor Tom Volgy and local abortion-rights activist Virginia Yrun, who split the area's vote. Pastor also was the race's top fundraiser thanks in part to his connections to state GOP donors, while Volgy announced that he would only spend $1.25 per Democratic primary voter. Pastor ended up beating Volgy 37-32, and he fended off a GOP opponent 56-44. Pastor never had another competitive primary or general election again. The 2002 round of redistricting took southern Arizona out of his district and gave Pastor a seat centered around his Phoenix base.
Pastor was always a low-key House member, though he earned a place on the powerful Appropriations Committee and rose to become chair of its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. Pastor was also lauded for securing funding for the local light-rail system and improvements to Phoenix's airport.
Pastor showed some interest in seeking higher office in 2011 when he considered running for the Senate, but he passed on the contest. Pastor decided to retire from his safely blue seat three years later, and his daughter, Phoenix City Councilor Laura Pastor, expressed interest in running to succeed him. However, the younger Pastor didn't end up running, and the congressman backed Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox in the primary. However, former state Rep. Ruben Gallego defeated her 48-36.