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.
● MI-06, OH-01, TX-22, TX-24: House Republicans are about to serve in the minority for the first time in eight years, and speculation is already swirling that some members will dislike it so much that they'll choose to retire in 2020. After Democrats took the House in 2006, over two dozen Republican incumbents decided to depart in 2008—a record until 2018—and some GOP operatives fear a similar exodus this cycle. In particular, Roll Call's Bridget Bowman names four Republicans who are rumored to be considering jumping ship: Michigan's Fred Upton, Ohio's Steve Chabot, and Texas' Pete Olson and Kenny Marchant.
So far, only Upton is publicly entertaining the idea that he might retire. The congressman said Wednesday that he'd wait "until next year" to decide whether he'll run again, but added, "I'm happy with what I'm doing." Last month, Upton won his 17th term in Michigan's 6th District by defeating Democrat Matt Longjohn 50-46 in what was easily the closest race of his career—a tight result that came in spite of the fact that this Kalamazoo-area seat widened from 50-49 Romney to 51-43 Trump. While Democrats would probably have an easier time winning it with Upton gone, he should expect another tough contest if he seeks re-election.
Chabot, by contrast, seems more interested in staying around, declaring that he would run again "as long as I'm healthy and my constituents continue to love me as much as I love them." But there may not be as much love in the air in Cincinnati as Chabot would like to think, since he only defeated Democrat Aftab Pureval by a fairly close 51-47.
Chabot is currently the top Republican on the Small Business Committee, but party term-limits mean that he'll need to give up this post come 2021, which could give him an incentive to leave soon. Ohio's 1st District is red but not especially so: It went for Trump 51-45 and backed Romney by a similar margin, so Chabot also may be in for another tough race if he sticks around.
As for Olson, Bowman says he's also rumored to be interested in retiring, though his chief of staff denied such claims. Olson, like so many other Republicans, was used to easy re-election campaigns, but last month, Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni held him to a 51-46 win in a race that attracted very little national attention. Kulkarni expressed interest weeks later in trying for this Houston-area seat again, he's likely to get much more outside help this time if he does. And like lots of other suburban areas, Texas' historically conservative 22nd District did not take kindly to Trump, giving him just a 52-44 win after going 62-37 for Romney four years earlier.
But Republicans might actually be better off if Olson bails, because in 2018, he did not handle himself well on the campaign trail. In late October, the incumbent called Kulkarni, who is partially of Indian descent, a "liberal, liberal, liberal Indo-American who's a carpetbagger," and speculated without any evidence that donations raised through the progressive site ActBlue were "coming from overseas."
When Olson was immediately asked why he had mentioned his opponent's race, he offered an incredible response. "I didn't mention his race" he insisted, Trump-like. "Carpetbagger's not a race." Making this racist dog-whistling even more absurd is that Kulkarni is a descendant of Texas founding father Sam Houston via his mother, Margaret Preston. It wasn't quite enough to cost Olson his seat this time, but if he behaves like this in 2020, he could be in for an even tougher time.
Finally, Marchant, who represents a seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs, rejected retirement speculation by outright declaring that he was "absolutely" running again. In a way, though, Marchant might be the weakest incumbent on this list, since he only beat Democrat Jan McDowell 51-48 last month. While there were plenty of surprises amidst the blue wave, this performance stands out as shockingly bad, since McDowell brought in barely more than $100,000 during her entire campaign. (Kulkarni, by contrast, raised $1.6 million.)
After this narrow escape, Marchant should anticipate drawing a tougher opponent in 2020 … but he isn't: Though he'd never taken less than 56 percent of the vote in any of his previous seven races, Marchant blithely dismissed his weak showing as an "anomaly." But while he may still think of Texas' 24th District as the red bastion it had been for decades, it's behaved much like the 22nd, backing Trump just 51-44 after favoring Romney by a far-wider 60-38 spread. A challenger's best friend is a clueless incumbent, so Democrats should hope Marchant sticks with his plans to run again.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Marchant—or Chabot or Olson for that matter—will be as determined to seek re-election in a year as they are now. For one thing, Republicans still have a few more weeks left in control of the House, so they haven't yet gotten a refresher course on the agony of life in the minority. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole put it well when he told Bowman that House Republicans are "going to figure out in the first three months it's not nearly as much fun" to no longer be in charge. And he would know: Cole chaired the NRCC during the GOP's miserable 2008 cycle, when so many Republican members decided to pull the ripcord.
And even members of Congress who loudly insist that they're running again very well may change their minds. We saw that happen in 2018 with not one but two California Republicans in vulnerable seats. In mid-September of last year, an aide to Rep. Ed Royce responded to rumors that he'd retire by saying that his boss was "100 percent running for re-election." That November, Rep. Darrell Issa also told CNN that he was "100 percent certain" that he'd run again.
In early January, the two congressmen announced within days of each other than they were actually zero percent running for re-election, and Democrats went on to flip both their seats. Royce reportedly didn't even tell his party's leaders that they were about to be stuck defending an open seat: They apparently only found out along with the rest of the world when he posted his retirement announcement to Twitter. And as bad as that may sound, Royce isn't even the only departing member who has done this kind of thing.
If Republicans are convinced that they have a good chance to regain the majority in two years, many of them may decide to stick it out. But as political scientist Jacob Smith wrote in an analysis of party recruitment and retention efforts in early 2017, the first step toward winning back the House is believing you can. If the GOP's prospects don't look so hot as we get further into the 2020 cycle, a lot of NRCC staffers are going to be spending the next 18 months anxiously checking their Twitter feeds.
● CO-Sen: On Thursday, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff filed paperwork with the FEC for a possible 2020 Senate run against GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, but don't count him in just yet. A Romanoff representative soon told Colorado Politics' Ernest Luning that the filing was just to update previous information from his unsuccessful 2010 Senate bid, and that he wasn't doing this to launch another campaign. However, Luning writes that Democratic operatives say that Romanoff and his representatives "have been contacting potential supporters and operatives ahead of an anticipated announcement of a campaign."
This is the first we'd heard about another Romanoff bid. In 2010, Romanoff challenged Sen. Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to the Senate the previous year, in the Democratic primary. Romanoff had the support of Bill Clinton, while Barack Obama and the DSCC backed Bennet. Ultimately, Bennet won the expensive race 54-46 and held on in November.
Romanoff ran for office again in 2014 when he challenged GOP Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado's 6th District. Both candidates raised a massive amount of money and got plenty of outside help, but the GOP wave helped Coffman pull off a wide 52-43 win. The DCCC reportedly began recruiting Romanoff for another run just weeks after his defeat, but he ended up taking over as CEO of a non-profit called Mental Health Colorado, and he still continues to lead the organization.
● TN-Sen: GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander hasn't announced if he'll seek re-election yet, though his recent decision to release a poll from North Star Opinion Research that gives him a 65 percent approval rating among likely GOP primary voters indicates that he's laying the groundwork for another campaign. A number of Republicans would likely jump in if Alexander surprised us and didn't run, and there's some early chatter about orthopedic surgeon Manny Sethi.
Longtime Tennessee GOP operative Chip Saltsman tells the Nashville Post that he's discussed a possible run with Sethi, who is reportedly close to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. However, Saltsman adds that he only encouraged Sethi to jump if if Alexander retires. Sethi himself doesn't appear to have addressed his plans directly but seems very disinclined to challenge the incumbent, declaring that, "As I see it, there is no vacancy," and calling Alexander "my friend and a great friend of Tennessee."
● LA-Gov: On behalf of GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham, Remington Research Group is out with a survey of next year's contest for governor. In the October jungle primary they give Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards the lead with 43 percent of the vote, while Abraham leads wealthy businessman and fellow Republican Eddie Rispone 31-9 for the second spot in a November runoff. The poll also tests Edwards in hypothetical one-on-one contests with each Republican and finds him tied with Abraham 44-44 and leading Rispone 46-39.
This is a considerably better result for both Abraham and Rispone than Remington's September survey, which was conducted for the conservative blog The Hayride. Back then, they gave Edwards a wide 48-35 edge over Abraham, while the governor crushed Rispone 52-29. That same September sample found GOP Sen. John Kennedy, who announced last week that he won't run, leading Edwards 47-43, so it doesn't seem that Remington was just finding an especially pro-Edwards electorate back then. An October poll for Kennedy from SurveyUSA also had Edwards beating Abraham 45-37 and leading Rispone 47-33.
There is one thing we want to note about this new Remington poll. The very first question the survey asked was "Do you think Louisiana is headed in the right direction or is it on the wrong track?" Respondents selected wrong track by a narrow 43-42 margin, after which they were asked their opinions on Donald Trump and the candidates for governor and then the horserace question. We always encourage pollsters to ask questions like right track/ wrong track after the horserace to avoid "priming" voters to lean one way or the other.
● CO-06, Aurora, CO Mayor: GOP Rep. Mike Coffman lost his suburban Denver seat last month by a wide 54-43 margin against Democrat Jason Crow, so it's not a huge surprise that the outgoing congressman says he won't seek a partisan office again. However, Coffman isn't ruling out a bid for mayor of Aurora next year, a contest that is officially nonpartisan.
● HI-02: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard recently confirmed that she was considering seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Hawaii state law would allow Gabbard to appear on the ballot for both president and for re-election to her safely blue House seat, though she doesn't seem to have addressed if she'd also seek to stay in Congress if she sought the White House.
Unfortunately, while Gabbard has alienated plenty of national Democrats for cozying up to murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and for her long refusal to criticize Trump, she seems very popular at home. In 2018, Gabbard won renomination 84-12 win over environmental scientist Sherry Campagna, who was supported by the influential Hawaii State Teachers Association but had little cash.
● ME-02: On Thursday, a federal judge rejected Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin's challenge to Maine's new instant-runoff voting system, which the congressman had contended violated the Constitution. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker had previously denied Poliquin's request that state officials be barred from conducting the runoff, which he lost to Democrat Jared Golden last month, so his latest ruling did not come as a surprise.
Walker concluded that Poliquin's complaints about instant-runoff voting (also known as ranked-choice voting, or RCV) amounted to nothing more than "policy considerations," explaining, "Whether RCV is a better method for holding elections is not a question for which the Constitution holds the answer." Rather, said Walker, the "proper question for the Court is whether RCV voting is incompatible" with the Constitution. His answer was a firm "no."
Walker was particularly harsh on Poliquin's expert witness, University of Maryland professor James Gimpel, finding his testimony to be "to be unpersuasive in its entirety." Walker sounded particularly astonished that Gimpel repeatedly opined on the behavior of Maine voters without interviewing a single one himself, or even consulting any studies about them. In the end, the judge said Gimpel's testimony left him "with the impression of a panel debate among political scientists" and therefore had "no weight on the constitutional issues" presented in the case.
The dispute isn't over just yet, though. An attorney for Poliquin said he'd appeal, and Poliquin is also pursuing a recount, which is still ongoing and should be finished within two weeks. However, neither avenue is likely to change the outcome, particularly since Secretary of State Matt Dunlap recently said that the tallies in the recount so far have not differed materially from the initial count.
● NC-09: It looks likely that there will be a new election for North Carolina's 9th District as well as a new primary, and while Democrat Dan McCready should have little trouble winning his party's nomination again, things are a whole lot less predictable on the GOP side. While state Republicans publicly maintain that 2018 nominee Mark Harris had no knowledge of any electoral fraud schemes on his behalf, both local and national GOP operatives have been grumbling that Harris is "toxic" and that they very much want a new candidate.
The most obvious alternative candidate is outgoing Rep. Robert Pittenger, who narrowly lost renomination to Harris in a May primary that may have also been tainted by electoral fraud. Pittenger's team recently declined to rule anything out.
The News & Observer recently took a look at who else could run for Team Red. Outgoing Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, who narrowly lost re-election last month in what the paper called a "surprise sweep by Democrats," acknowledged that he was interested, but said that he wouldn't oppose Pittenger. Like McCready, Ridenhour is also a Marine veteran, and some Republicans think he could help counter one of the Democrats' big strengths.
The paper also says that Union County Republican Party Chair Dan Barry, whom they describe as "well-connected," has been mentioned in GOP circles as a possible candidate, but Barry declined to comment. Former Charlotte City Councilor Kenny Smith has also been mentioned, but there's no word if he's interested. Smith was the 2017 GOP nominee for mayor of Charlotte, but he lost to Democrat Vi Lyles 59-41.
Outgoing state Rep. Scott Stone, who lost re-election 52-48, also isn't saying no. He told WFAE reporter Steve Harrison that since there wasn't an election yet he wasn't giving running "any consideration." He added that "any potential consideration" would probably be based on what Harris does.
Finally, there's been some speculation that former Gov. Pat McCrory, who lives in the district, could run, and while he's acting like he's not interested, he just won't say no even though he's repeatedly been given the chance to.
On Tuesday, McCrory told the New York Times that he had "no plans to run for that office." The Charlotte Observer's Taylor Batten tweeted that on Wednesday he'd asked the former governor if he would run and McCrory "dodged and redirected by joking that another guy at our table should run," before saying that the GOP nominee would need a lot of money to handle McCready.
On Thursday morning, McCrory told listeners on his radio show that a national reporter had asked him if he was interested in the congressional race and "I said 'do you want an answer in one word or two words?'" We got a whole lot than one or two words from him later that day when WFAE asked the former governor if he was interested in a congressional bid. McCrory first said "no," but then added, "I haven't even thought about it." This is at least the third time a reporter has asked McCrory about this very topic, so yes, he has thought about it and has just decided not to say no.
● NJ-07: The New Jersey Globe reports that local Republicans are mentioning tax attorney Rosemary Becchi, a former U.S. Senate staffer, as a possible opponent for Democratic Rep.-elect Tom Malinowski. Becchi, who currently runs a conservative 501(c)4 group, didn't rule it out when asked. Becchi said she was "absolutely flattered that my name is kicked around" and said she was focusing right now on "developing some good policy that will hopefully aid some of our candidates in the future and help some of our current members in the Assembly and the Senate."
● House: In the 2018 election cycle, Republicans defended 41 open seats. Will 2020 see a similar rush to the exits? James Lambert takes an early look at 2020's House open seat watch. So far, we've identified 19 Republican and 12 Democratic incumbents who may retire for one reason or another, and we'll be tracking additions (and deletions) to the retirement watch list all cycle long.
● Las Vegas, NV City Council: On Wednesday, less than a month after the House Ethics Committee released a report sanctioning him for sexually harassing multiple women, outgoing Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen set up a committee to raise money for an unnamed "municipal election campaign" in Las Vegas. Kihuen hasn't announced anything, but Nevada politicos have speculated for months that, despite the scandal that ended his congressional career, he was eyeing a campaign to succeed retiring Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin in April's local elections.
Multiple women accused Kihuen of sexual harassment last year, and he soon announced he would retire after just a single term. Kihuen vehemently denied doing anything wrong at the time, and after the Ethics Committee released their report last month, he still didn't acknowledge the extent of his transgressions. Kihuen told the Nevada Independent that while he disagreed with some parts of the report, it "saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence. I extend my sincere apologies to each of these women."
According to the women who testified against him, what Kihuen called "immaturity and overconfidence" includes (but is not limited to) suggesting to a firm's employee that he would help advance her career if they were in a relationship, touching a campaign staffer's thigh and suggesting they get a hotel room, and telling a lobbyist that they should make a sex tape.