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.
● NH-Gov: Over the weekend, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported that after lobbying firms and corporations helped raise $450,000 for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's inaugural party in 2017, there was still plenty of cash in the kitty once the three-night celebration was over—and it looks like a large chunk of it went to Sununu and his inner circle.
Altogether, Sununu's family, friends, advisors, and the governor himself have received a total of $165,000 from the inaugural fund, which still has $40,000 remaining in its account. Sununu, for instance, was given more than $39,000 by the committee over the last two years, including $1,277 as recently as September of this year.
Paul Collins, a top Sununu advisor and treasurer of the committee, insists that the fund did not have its own credit card, requiring Sununu and his staff to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed later. However, the Union Leader says that Collins "declined to provide receipts or specific explanations for dozens of payments from the committee to himself and Sununu," and Collins himself insisted, "It is not standard practice to turn over receipts, invoices, or those types of things."
Of course, arguing that a lack of transparency represents normal procedure only makes it look like you have something to hide, and what we do know doesn't look great. The limited disclosures the committee has provided, for instance, show a $2,500 donation to an arm-wrestling champion that Sununu is personally fond of.
Sununu's office naturally maintains that all these expenditures are justified, but without more information—which only the inaugural committee can provide—we just can't know. Last month, Sununu won a second two-year term by a softer-than-expected 53-46 margin, so he may draw a stiffer challenge when he goes before voters again in 2020. We'll have to see if he decides whether further stonewalling is conducive to his continued political career.
● CA-52, San Diego, CA Mayor: This week, Democratic Rep. Scott Peters formed an exploratory committee for a potential 2020 campaign for mayor of San Diego. Peters' team said last week that he was considering running for city hall and would "need to make an announcement in the next couple of months." The primary for both Peters' congressional district and for mayor is in March 2020, so he would have to give up his seat to run citywide. California's filing deadline is in December of next year.
While Peters' seat was competitive turf at the start of the decade, Donald Trump has helped make it a lot bluer. The 52nd District moved from 52-46 Obama all the way to 58-36 Clinton, and Peters won his last two terms in Congress with ease. However, while he'll be serving in the majority for the first time in his career, Peters doesn't sound especially happy in D.C. right now.
Peters, who is a leader of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, recently voiced frustration with the idea that progressives would challenge conservative Democrats who hold safely blue seats in primaries. Talking to Politico, he declared that the majority "was not made by turning seats from blue to blue. It was made by those people who turned seats from red to blue." If Democrats want to keep their majority, he added, "We should not be listening to people who don't represent that mainstream voter who's given Democrats the majority." So apparently, the only members of the Democratic caucus who matter are the people in tough seats, a group that Peters apparently still thinks includes him.
However, if Peters is nostalgic for the days he had to run in difficult elections, he may be in luck if he seeks to succeed termed-out Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer, because a crowded field looks very possible. Democratic City Councilor Barbara Bry also recently filed to run for mayor, and her spokesperson says she'll comment in the new year. Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who served as interim mayor for six months after scandal-tarred Mayor Bob Filner resigned in 2013, also reportedly is considering jumping in. Former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who is not registered with any party, says she, too, is thinking about running.
Republicans took some serious lumps in San Diego County last month and their early prospects for holding city hall don't look great, which is a remarkable turn of events give their long string of dominance here. However, the San Diego Union-Tribune's Michael Smolens writes that GOP Councilors Chris Cate and Mark Kersey have been mentioned as possible candidates. All mayoral candidates will face off on one nonpartisan ballot in March, and in the likely event that no one takes a majority of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes would proceed to a November general election.
● NM-02: Local reporter Joe Monahan wrote on Monday that GOP insiders say 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell both wouldn't actually challenge Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small's win and was also preparing to run again in 2020. Now, Herrell's team is pushing back, but only on that first one, telling Monahan the they're still weighing "legal action" over absentee ballots out of Doña Ana County. Herrell herself said the same thing publicly a few hours later. However, Monahan notes that Herrell's campaign (or what's left of it) did not comment on the talk that she was laying the groundwork for another bid.
● SC-01: Last week, Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert, whose Twitter bio describes him as a "Probable candidate for US CONGRESS in 2020," told Bluffton Today that he was planning to challenge Democratic Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham this cycle. Covert doesn't sound at all inclined to defer to 2018 GOP nominee Katie Arrington, who is considering another try.
If anything, Covert seems to have taken the wrong lesson from Arrington's 51-49 loss to Cunningham in this 53-40 Trump seat. Arrington, who tied herself as closely to Donald Trump as possible, wholeheartedly embraced the administration's proposal to drill for oil off the coast of South Carolina during her successful primary campaign against Rep. Mark Sanford.
However, after she secured the Republican nomination, Arrington claimed she'd always opposed such drilling, which is widely unpopular in this coastal district with important tourism and fishing industries. But according to Colvert, Arrington's mistake wasn't supporting drilling in the first place—it was backing away from Trump at all.
Colvert in particular zeroed in on the practice of using seismic testing to detect offshore oil deposits. "Arrington's careless dismissal of seismic testing was a mistake and a failure to support President Trump's move to empower the states," he charged. He pledged instead to "support President Trump for the benefit of all South Carolinians." Cunningham and his allies ran several ads hitting Arrington over her support for drilling, and they'd likely do the same with Covert if were to get through the primary.
● TX-32: GOP Rep. Pete Sessions lost his Dallas-area seat to Democrat Colin Allred by a sizable 52-46 margin last month, but he's not ruling out a 2020 comeback. The outgoing eleven-term congressman recently told the Dallas News that he wasn't done with politics, though he declined to answer questions about his specific interest in another bid in two years. However, Sessions very much did not decline to talk about his 2018 campaign, and he comes across as shockingly thin-skinned.
Sessions lamented to the paper that his loss only came about thanks to "an incredible amount of money and an overwhelming sense of mischaracterization." He only got whinier from there. Like many other Republicans who went down to defeat this year, Sessions complained about high turnout, in this case the voters inspired to head to the polls by Democrat Beto O'Rourke's Senate bid. Why couldn't Sessions attract new voters himself? Well, that was the fault of the "Democratic Party and their allies who smeared" him as a D.C. insider.
Sessions went on to gripe that he "got tattooed this election," but how exactly? "People fell victim to thinking, 'Wow, he's for dog fighting,'" Sessions carped. "'Wow, he does nothing for seniors. Wow, he voted against cancer drugs.'" Sessions didn't seem particularly angry at Allred, though, but rather focused his fury on outside groups, including the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the TV spots they ran hitting him for refusing to "crack down on animal fighting or stop cruel puppy mills."
The outgoing congressman derided the many critical ads that targeted him as "shenanigans" and kvetched, "They did that to harm me." (Yeah, that's what negative ads are supposed to do.) He grumbled about his opponents, "You tend to think they are more honorable than that. But they weren't."
But Sessions is truly one of the last people on the planet who should be complaining about how mean negative campaigning can get. The Texan ran the NRCC from 2009 to 2012, and Sessions certainly did not play by Marquess of Queensberry rules during those four years. Sessions foreshadowed his strategy early in his tenure with a startling analogy. "Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban," he offered, favorably describing how Afghanistan's murderous totalitarian rulers "went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes."
Sessions quickly added that he was "not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban," though he didn't really back off his comparison. Sessions is notorious for his bizarre commentary, so it's a little difficult to understand what he said next, but he insisted that the Taliban offered "an example of how you go about is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message," concluding that House Republicans "need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with."
The NRCC's own commercials during Sessions four years at the helm were also far from the "honorable" attacks he felt he was entitled to in his own race. In just one example, a narrator argued that then-North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre was joining Speaker Nancy Pelosi in "robbing our Social Security trust fund," which very much wasn't true. Sessions was only too happy to authorize this ad and many more like it, but less than a decade later, he's just shocked! shocked! that Democrats and their allies would have the gall to run negative ads against him.
This very year, Sessions' allies also sunk to the bottom to try and save him. A digital ad railing against Allred, who is African American, showed an image of a darkened hand over a white woman's mouth. If Sessions was at all bothered by this, he kept it to himself. His whiny complaints about his own treatment, though, he's only too happy to share.
● Special Elections: Here's our recap of the final two special elections of 2018.
Georgia HD-14: Former Bartow County Judge Mitchell Scroggins easily won this strongly Republican northwest Georgia seat. In an all-GOP field, Scroggins took 65 percent of the vote, while pastor Ken Croomer finished in second with 28 percent. Businesswoman Nickie Leighly was far behind with 5 percent, and businessman Nathan Wilson ended up with just 2 percent.
Virginia HD-24: After winning the GOP primary by a single vote, Republican Ronnie Campbell soundly defeated Democrat Christian Worth 59-40 in this heavily Republican western Virginia district. But while Campbell's 19-point win might appear to be a significant margin, it represents a notable swing towards the Democrats. Worth's performance was a 15-point improvement from Hillary Clinton's 64-31 defeat here and was also 5 points better than Barack Obama's 61-37 loss.
You can keep track of these statistics for all special elections this cycle on our Google doc.
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