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.
● PA-01: On Wednesday, Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Brady announced he would not seek re-election in this safely blue seat. Brady had never faced a tough race in his Philadelphia seat since his 1998 special election win, but this year was shaping up to be very different.
In September, retired Judge Jimmie Moore pleaded guilty to concealing a $90,000 payment from Brady to get him to drop out of the 2012 Democratic primary, a few months after a Moore staffer took part in a similar plea agreement for the same crime. The case accelerated as two longtime Brady aides were indicted for helping orchestrate the scheme. While Brady's camp denied any wrongdoing, the FBI announced in November that they were indeed investigating him. Brady had attracted a number of primary challengers, and while he may have survived the May primary in the end, it would have been messy.
This is not a great end for Brady's long career. Brady has served as chair of the Philadelphia Democratic Party since 1986, a post he tells Politico he plans to keep. The Philly Democratic Party was once a force to be reckoned with, and Brady continued to run it while in D.C. However, Brady's power wasn't unlimited at home. In 2007, Brady ran for mayor and took third place in the Democratic primary with 15 percent, well behind eventual winner Michael Nutter's 37 percent.
Still, Brady still used his powerful position in party politics to his advantage, even when it didn't aid his party. In 2011, when it was time to redraw Pennsylvania's political map, Brady called Philadelphia Democratic legislators to ask them to vote for the GOP's gerrymander because it would help him. While Brady would have had a safely blue seat no matter what, the congressman reportedly wanted to make sure his seat had enough white Democrats to protect him from a primary challenge from a future African American opponent.
While Brady was doing just fine for himself in D.C. (he even stole and drank from the water glass Pope Francis had used during his 2015 address to Congress), however, things weren't looking so good for his Philadelphia Democratic machine. In 2016, Brady went all in to help neighboring Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was under indictment as part of an unrelated scandal, win renomination, but Fattah lost 42-34 to now-Rep. Dwight Evans. In November, thanks in part to poor turnout in heavily African-American wards, Donald Trump became the first Republican to carry Pennsylvania's electoral votes since 1988.
Things only got worse in 2017. The party had a high-profile screw-up months later in a safely blue state House district when they nominated a candidate who wasn't actually eligible, and then needed to run a (successful) write-in campaign for the seat. And in May, the party's endorsed candidates for controller and for several judgeships lost their Democratic primaries. These were exactly the type of low-profile races that a well-functioning city machine was supposed to be able to win with ease, and they led to more questions about Brady's future. A few months later, news broke about the investigation into Brady's 2012 primary. Until Wednesday, though, Brady maintained he would run for re-election.
There's no question that Democrats will keep Brady's seat, but there's a whole lot we don't know about the May primary to succeed him. Last week, the state Supreme Court struck down the state's GOP congressional map, though the GOP is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will save them. If the remapping goes forward, this seat will likely change a bit. Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad, financial planner Lindy Li, and minister Michele Lawrence were already running against Brady, but his retirement and the likely court-ordered redistricting will probably shake up the field a bit.
● MO-Sen: Oh boy. It looks like state Attorney General Josh Hawley, the GOP's golden boy in their quest to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill, just made his first unforced error of the campaign. On Wednesday, the Kansas City Star published a recording of a speech Hawley gave to a group of pastors in December, and boy did he ever go off the rails:
"Let me briefly mention one other major area, one other major source of challenge, I think, that we are facing. And this is the effects on our society of the so-called 'sexual revolution.' You know what I'm talking about. The 1960s, the 1970s, it became commonplace in our culture and among our cultural elites—Hollywood, and the media—to talk about—to denigrate the biblical truth about husband and wife, man and woman. To denigrate the biblical teaching about the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of the family. The sanctity of children, and the appropriate place for sexual practice and expression within the family, within marriage.
"And we're living now with the terrible after-effects of this so-called 'revolution,' which was in fact a great step backward. And one of them is, one of those effects is, the crisis in our country that goes by the name of human trafficking. Human trafficking, and more particularly, trafficking in sexual labor. People are willing to purchase women, young women, and treat them like commodities. There is a market for it. Why is there? Because our culture has completely lost its way. The sexual revolution has led to exploitation of women on a scale that we would never have imagined, never have imagined.
"We must ... deliver a message to our culture that the false gospel of 'anything goes' ends in this road of slavery. It ends in the slavery and the exploitation of the most vulnerable among us. It ends in the slavery and exploitation of young women."
We're certainly not the first to point out that Hawley is talking about a topic related to what's been known as "the world's oldest profession" since the 19th century and is, well, pretty damn old, as McCaskill herself jabbed in a tweet. What's more, one expert on human trafficking says there's "absolutely no empirical evidence or research to suggest there was any uptick in human trafficking in the 1960s or '70s." But nevertheless, it looks like Missouri Republicans are once again on track to nominate a candidate who harbors a gnawing obsession with women's sexual freedom.
And that wasn’t the only bad news the GOP got about Hawley on Wednesday. Unlike so many other Republican candidates, he has a good relationship with all the warring factions of the party. So it's a bit surprising that Hawley raised only $959,000 in his first quarter as a declared candidate, leaving him with $1.2 million in the bank. That's not disastrous, but it is underwhelming. By contrast, McCaskill took in $2.9 million during the final three months of 2017, and had $9 million on-hand.
However, Hawley does have at least one very wealthy ally in his corner who can provide him with some air support. A group called CFG Action Missouri raised $2 million during the quarter, and they had about that much in the bank. CFG's only contributor was Richard Uihlein, a conservative mega donor who has been financing a super PAC over in Wisconsin for Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson.
Still, as we've written before, super PAC money doesn't buy as many ads as campaigns themselves. The reason is that super PACs need to spend far more money than campaigns to purchase ad time because FCC regulations give candidates—but not outside groups—discounted rates on TV and radio. Super PACs also can't pay campaign staff salaries, and of course, they are ostensibly barred from coordinating with campaigns (though there are ways to get around these rules). Hawley certainly will benefit from Uihlein's largess, but he'll still want to ramp up his own fundraising operation.
But unlike so many other Senate challengers, Hawley likely won't need to spend much to win his primary in August. While opponent Courtland Sykes made national news over the last few days with a misogynistic statement that, among other things, called feminists "she devils," he has no major allies and had less than $2,000 in the bank. Hawley's other primary foes also each have less than $50,000 in the bank. No credible Republicans seem interested in joining the primary, either. State Rep. Marsha Haefner said in August she was considering and planned to decide in November, but that deadline came and went without a word from her.
● MS-Sen: State Sen. Chris McDaniel has one more month to decide if he'll challenge Sen. Roger Wicker in the GOP primary, but if he goes for it, he at least can count on some very wealthy allies. A pro-McDaniel super PAC called Remember Mississippi raised $1 million in 2017, and almost all of it came from two prominent GOP donors: Robert Mercer and Richard Uihlien. The group had $850,000 in the bank at the end of December, and they say Uihlien has since given them another $250,000.
● ND-Sen: Businessman and former state GOP chair Gary Emineth decided to lose himself in the moment on Wednesday and confirmed he would challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Emineth is close to Rep. Kevin Cramer, who turned down pleas from Trump and Senate Republicans to run here. He will face state Sen. Tom Campbell, a wealthy potato farmer who has been running ads for months, in the June primary.
The conservative state blog Say Anything predicted last month that Emineth would likely "be a bomb-thrower" against Heitkamp, which "will ingratiate him with a Republican base in North Dakota which is thirsty for an aggressive campaign." Emineth also recently said of his primary foe, "I'm not sure Tom will be as aggressive as I will be," and he suggested that Campbell's voting record isn't as conservative as he likes to portray it, though he didn't go into detail. However, Emineth may also have his primary vulnerabilities.
As we recently wrote, while Emineth did speak well of Trump during the 2016 presidential primary at a time when much of the party establishment still opposed him, his pro-Trump credentials aren't perfect. In July of that year, the Republican National Committee successfully pushed for a rule to keep delegates from voting however they wanted regardless of their state's primary or convention results. The move was meant to keep protests against Trump off the convention floor, but Emineth was not happy.
Emineth, whom The Hill described at the time as a "top donor" for the RNC-Trump joint finance committee, resigned his post there in disgust and declared, "If that's how they're doing the Republican Party, they can have it." Most voters don't care about the inner workings of the RNC rules, but if Campbell can portray Emineth as siding with Never Trumpers over Trump, Emineth could have problems.
● NJ-Sen: Despite insisting less than two weeks ago that they would re-try Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges after a first trial ended in a hung jury, federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday that they were dropping their case against Menendez. The about-face came after the judge hearing the case dismissed seven of 18 charges against Menendez related to allegations that his friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, had sought to bribe the senator with lavish gifts. (The charges against Melgen were also dropped.) However, the case had already looked weak after one juror in the original trial said that 10 of 12 members of the jury were prepared to acquit Menendez.
Menendez still has another matter to deal with, though: his re-election campaign. Menendez is seeking a third term this fall, and while getting clear of this prosecution can only help, his poll numbers have taken a dive. A year ago, Quinnipiac measured Menendez' job approval rating at a hale 51-32; by October, that had sunk to a lousy 31-49. Still, New Jersey's Democratic establishment has remained firmly behind Menendez throughout his travails, and the state's blue hue (it hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972), combined with the overall political environment, should be enough to keep Menendez in office.
Republicans, though, always seem to want to make a play in the Garden State's Senate races, and they may be about to get their huckleberry. Bob Hugin, who was reported in mid-January to be "definitely running," just announced that he'll step down as executive chair of pharmaceutical giant Celgene, effective Monday. Hugin is enormously wealthy (in his final year as Celgene's CEO in 2015, he earned $22.5 million) and could self-fund. Menendez, however, has always been a capable fundraiser, though his fundraising was down last year compared to the same period six years earlier. However, he ought to be able to turn that around now that his legal troubles are behind him.
● NV-Sen: GOP Sen. Dean Heller raised only $821,000 during the final three months of 2017, a big drop from his $1.2 million haul in the third quarter. Rep. Jacky Rosen, the likely Democratic nominee, brought in $1.56 million during the fourth quarter, though Heller still had a large $4.2 million to $1.8 million cash-on-hand edge.
But before Heller can face Rosen, he has to get past wealthy perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian in the June primary. Heller is already up with a TV spot against Tarkanian, though there's no word on the size of the buy. And as much as it pains us to say so, Heller's minute-long commercial is actually quite clever and funny, at least to those of us who enjoy ripping on Little Tark. In a scene that invokes Groundhog Day, a man is woken up time after time at 6 AM by the radio, and the announcer details how Tarkanian has lost his latest race for something and various ethical issues surrounding him.
The guy eventually loses it and destroys his radio clock with his bare fists, only for it to be restored as it informs him about Tarkanian's new campaign the next morning. In a nice touch, the early riser is wearing the same clothes each time, implying he's actually caught up reliving the same day over and over, with the only thing changing being what campaign Tarkanian is losing. Now that's a horrifying fate!
● CA-Gov: On Wednesday, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo threw his support behind former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the June top-two primary. Villaraigosa, a Democrat, is one of several candidates from both parties hoping to join Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the general election. Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, has largely attracted endorsements from other Bay Area politicians while Villaraigosa's strength is around Los Angeles, so Liccardo's support could be a nice get for Villaraigosa.
● CT-Gov: State House Minority Leader Themis Klarides announced Wednesday that she wouldn't seek the GOP nomination for this open seat. Oddly, Klarides sounded likely to run just the day before, and she argued at the time that "it will take a certain kind of candidate to win a general election in Connecticut and I'm still looking for that candidate," a diss her would-be primary rivals probably won't appreciate. However, it may make perfect sense for Klarides to stay in the House no matter what. The Democrats hold just a 79-72 majority, and with outgoing Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy so unpopular, it's possible that Team Red could net the four seats they'd need to put Klarides in the speaker's chair.
● IL-Gov: We Ask America gives us our first look at the March 20 Democratic primary in a long time, and they find venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker leading state Sen. Daniel Biss 30-17. Businessman Chris Kennedy takes 12, while three other candidates each take less than 1 percent of the vote. In October, We Ask America found Pritzker leading Kennedy 39-15, while Biss took 6; we haven't seen any other polls in months.
Since we have so little data, it's tough to make conclusions about the state of the race less than two months before Election Day, but these numbers are plausible. Pritzker has been airing ads here for months and he has most of the major endorsements, so it makes sense he's in first. However, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has also been spending millions against him while ignoring the other Democrats, so it makes sense if Democrats aren't flocking to Pritzker. Biss and Kennedy also began airing ads after the October poll, but Kennedy recently attracted some bad headlines after he praised Rauner for standing up to Democratic state House Speaker Mike Madigan. Biss hasn't been seriously attacked by anyone yet, but if Pritzker feels threatened, he has the resources to go after him on TV.
Kennedy's campaign was having trouble even before he awkwardly had to walk back his Rauner comments. He had only $737,000 in the bank at the end of December, not a formidable war chest in a state this expensive. Kennedy recently gave himself another $250,000, but while he's wealthy, he doesn't have the ability to underwrite his entire campaign the way Pritzker does. But Kennedy is out with a new ad that features him giving a speech calling for "radical change" and saying the state can't fund schools by relying so much on property taxes. Kennedy doesn't mention Rauner, Madigan, or either of his primary foes, but he concludes that insiders "will oppose me with everything they've got because they know I'm not afraid to change the system."
● ME-Gov, NV-Gov: On Wednesday, EMILY's List endorsed two candidates for governor on opposite sides of the country. In Maine, they gave their backing to state Attorney General Janet Mills, who faces half a dozen other contenders in the Democratic primary. Two other women in the race, former state Rep. Diane Russell and activist and lobbyist Betsy Sweet, also appear to be pro-choice, so EMILY evidently had a decision to make here.
Out in Nevada, the choice was much simpler. EMILY endorsed Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose only primary opponent is Steve Sisolak. Sisolak, who is also the chairman of the county commission, has the support of Harry Reid.
● TN-Gov: On Tuesday, former state Sen. Mae Beavers suspended her bid for the GOP nomination, and it doesn't sound like she's leaving herself any room to get back in. Beavers, who led the successful drive this year to pass a resolution declaring that pornography is a "public health crisis," had a very tough time raising money or retaining staff, so it's not a surprise she's dropping out.
There are plenty of other Republicans running in the August primary, and two of them are on TV. But while Bill Lee, a businessman and former member of the state Higher Education Commission, only began airing his first campaign commercial in the last week, he's been appearing in television ads a whole lot longer than that. That's because Lee has been staring in spots for his mechanical service company, Lee Company, for years. While Lee announced he was running for governor in April, Lee Company is still running ads staring him, and they began airing another in January.
Lee's campaign ad does have a disclaimer saying it was paid for by Bill Lee for Tennessee, but viewers can be forgiven if they have a tough time telling which spot is for what. As the Nashville Post's Stephen Elliott writes, Lee appeared in a Lee Company shirt in his campaign commercial, and said that, after the death of his wife, "My goal became to create the best place to work for 1,200 hard-working plumbers and pipe-fitters and electricians and welders." Of course, Lee doesn't talk about why he wants to be governor in his Lee Company spot.
Meanwhile, former state cabinet official Randy Boyd is up with what we believe is the first TV spot for anything to star him. The Associated Press's Erik Schelzig says the campaign is putting $300,000 behind the commercial, which features the narrator extolling how conservative Boyd is and concluding he's a "conservative businessman, not a politician." Rep. Diane Black and state House Speaker Beth Harwell are also seeking the GOP nod.
● VT-Gov: Vermont Democrats have come up short in trying to find a credible candidate to take on first-term GOP Gov. Phil Scott, but they may soon land one. Christine Hallquist, who is the CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, says she's "seriously considering" a bid, and the executive director of the state Democratic Party says he's "extremely excited" about the prospect. If she were to run and win, Hallquist would be the first transgender governor (or statewide elected official of any sort) in America.
Still, she faces tough odds. Scott is pretty moderate, especially given today's GOP, and like some other Republican governors in blue states, he's remained quite popular. In fact, Hallquist, who doesn't have any previous political experience, even says that she voted for Scott in 2016, adding, "He's a real likable person. He is a great manager." It's going to be pretty hard to convince voters to fire Scott if even his opponents are saying positive things about him.
Already seeking the Democratic nod are James Ehlers, an environmental activist, and Ethan Sonneborn, that 13-year-old kid that you probably read about on Facebook or somesuch. (Yep, Vermont has no minimum age requirement to serve as governor.)
● FL-06: On Wednesday, St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns announced he was joining the GOP primary for this open Daytona-area seat. (Sadly, there's no word from Volusia County Commissioner Vlad Volusia or state Rep. Arby Subway.) Johns was elected for the first time in 2016, a year after Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to fill a vacancy on the commission. St. Johns only makes up a little more than 5 percent of this seat, so it's not the best launching pad for a run.
Johns joins wealthy businessman John Ward; former Dick Cheney advisor Michael Waltz; and former state Rep. and two-time unsuccessful candidate Fred Costello in the late August primary. This district backed Trump 57-40, but Democrats are excited about Clinton-era national security official Nancy Soderberg.
● IL-04: Three Chicago aldermen originally filed to run in the March primary for this safely blue seat, and all three have now dropped out. Raymond Lopez pulled the plug on his bid shortly after Joe Moreno left the race, and a few weeks after Carlos Ramirez-Rosa also hit the eject button. Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia has unveiled two polls showing him dominating the field, and no one has released any contradictory data. Nonprofit director Sol Flores, who has the support of EMILY's List, and Chicago police sergeant Richard Gonzalez are still running.
● NJ-11: The GOP field for New Jersey’s ancestrally red 11th District is starting to take shape following longtime Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s surprise retirement announcement on Monday. State and national Democrats had already consolidated behind former federal prosecutor and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill before Frelinghuysen bowed out, and she remains the likely nominee. For the GOP, though, it may be a while before things come into focus, as the filing deadline for the early June primary is not until April 2. This seat backed Trump just 49-48, and both parties will fight hard to win it in November.
Before we dive in, there’s an important backdrop to be aware of. In New Jersey primaries on both sides of the aisle, county party endorsements are typically very important. That's because endorsed candidates appear in a separate column on the ballot along with other party endorsees, a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. (This designation is known colloquially as the “organization line.”) However, things are a bit more complicated in the 11th.
Funnily enough, some important details about the race come from a seemingly unexpected source whose name you've heard of: David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges during the Bridgegate scandal but avoided jail time by cooperating with prosecutors. Before Wildstein got busy causing traffic problems in Fort Lee, he was better known by the pseudonym Wally Edge, under which he published the local news website PolitickerNJ. Lately, he's gotten back in the game, and he says that, while Morris County should make up about 60 percent of the GOP primary vote, it has no organization line.
Essex County Republican Committee Chairman Al Barlas and Passaic County GOP power broker Peter Murphy are close allies, however, and their two counties combined are expected to make up roughly one-third of the GOP vote. (The balance is in Sussex, which also has no line.) If Barlas and Murphy settle on a candidate while the Morris vote is split, their choice will be tough to stop in the primary.
With all that said, no noteworthy Republicans have announced they're in just yet, though two have formed exploratory committees. Longtime state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (known as "Jersey Joe" after he ran radio ads with the slogan, "Hey Ho, Hey Ho, It’s Jersey Joe Pennacchio") says he'll decide in the next few weeks, while allies of businessman Joe Caruso say he'll make up his mind in the next two weeks.
Pennacchio, whose seat is mostly located in Morris County, has been in the legislature since 2001. He ran in the primary in 2008 to take on Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, but he drew some very bad headlines after his 1991 manifesto, titled The Nationalist Agenda: A Blueprint for the 21st Century, was unearthed.
The pamphlet called for setting up a new party called "The Nationalist Party," and Pennachio laid out its agenda very clearly. Among other things, this party called for placing homeless people in military camps; freezing Social Security and Medicare benefit rates for a year ("We cannot keep feeding our seniors 72 percent of the entitlement pie while the rest of the citizenship looks on in hunger," Jersey Joe explained); and distributing the abortion drug RU-486 to supposedly eliminate the need for surgical abortions, even though it had not yet been approved for use in the U.S. National Republicans, knowing this smelled like fascism, did not want Pennacchio as their nominee even for a longshot race, and they were relieved when former Rep. Dick Zimmer beat him 46-40.
So, how do local party leaders feel about having Pennacchio as their nominee this year? Insider NJ's Max Pizarro writes that Pennacchio actually has a chance to get the Passaic-Essex alliance on his side. (Shockingly, sounding like a crypto-fascist isn't the liability in GOP politics that it used to be.) If he has their support and does well in his home base of Morris, he'll be formidable come June. However, Wildstein believes the NRCC will still see The Nationalist Agenda as a deal-breaker, though who’s to say whether their opinion would carry much weight these days.
There are fewer details about Caruso, the other Republican who has started to gear up for a possible bid. Caruso’s only prior run for office ended in failure, when he ran for a seat in the state Assembly in 2009 and lost in the primary. However, Insider NJ says he’s wealthy and has "strong ties to Morris County from his business and political fundraising efforts."
Naturally, a number of other Republicans are publicly or privately eyeing this seat. While there were reports that state Sen. Kristin Corrado didn't want to run, she said Wednesday that she is considering. However, Corrado said that if she passes, she wants Essex GOP Chair Al Barlas to get in. Wildstein also describes Corrado as a close ally of Barlas and Murphy, the Essex and Passaic bigshots.
Pizarro also reports that Kate Whitman Annis, who works at a New Jersey prep school and is the daughter of former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, is likewise thinking about running, though there's no quote from her directly. The younger Whitman ran for the House in the 7th District back in 2008 and lost the primary 39-20 to now-Rep. Leonard Lance. Whitman’s mother has become a noted Trump critic, which could help her in a general election but would be a major liability in a primary.
Meanwhile, Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci reportedly has been trying to gauge support for Morris County Freeholder Christine Myers; some Republicans are eager to field a woman in the general election and think she fits the bill.
Assemblyman Jay Webber reportedly is also interested, and Wildstein says he's popular in Morris and has strong fundraising ties to national conservative groups. However, Politico's Matt Friedman wrote on Monday that it's unlikely that Webber and Pennacchio would run against each other. Both men represent the same district in the legislature (each senator is paired with two assemblymembers in the same seat), and Pizarro suggests that Pennacchio also has something he can offer both Webber and Barlas, the Essex GOP chair: If Pennacchio is elected to Congress, Webber could be appointed to his Senate seat (there would be no special election), and Barlas would have a huge say on who would in turn get Webber's seat.
There's also been some chatter that wealthy businessman Tim Smith or car dealer Paul Miller could run, too, and former Morris County Freeholder John Murphy is getting some attention as well. Murphy, a longtime nemesis of former Gov. Chris Christie, carried Morris in the 2005 gubernatorial primary (which Christie won), even though he managed to take just 11 percent statewide, but he's been out of office for a while. Meanwhile, Montclair Township Council member Bill Hurlock gave a rambling answer to The Montclair Times about his own level of interest: "Personally, for myself, if I were fortunate enough to have the opportunity, and I would never rule out a chance to serve the public, but I have two-and-half years left on my council term. And the residents of the First Ward are what I am focused on." So … not a no.
Finally (deep breath!) while state Assemblyman Anthony Bucco expressed interest on Monday, he later sent out an invitation for a fundraiser for his 2019 re-election campaign to the legislature, which Wildstein takes as a pretty definitive sign he won't run for Congress. Of course, plans can always change
● OH-01: As expected, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval kicked off a bid against GOP Rep. Steve Chabot on Wednesday, and he immediately earned the endorsement of another Democrat who'd been recruited to run here, Cincinnati City Councilor P.G. Sittenfeld. While this Cincinnati-based district leans decidedly Republican (it voted for Donald Trump by a 51-45 margin), Pureval has all the hallmarks of a strong candidate and should be able to put this seat into play.
In 2016, Pureval dramatically upset what a local news station called "one of the best-known names in Hamilton County politics" when he edged out Republican incumbent Tracy Winkler 52-48 to win his current post. That made Pureval, the son of Indian and Tibetan immigrants, the first Democrat to get elected as clerk of courts in Hamilton County in over a century and earned him a reputation as a hard-working campaigner. (He also ran goofy but catchy ads with a puppet duck that called out AF-TAB—you know, like AFLAC.)
One potential difficulty for Pureval, though, is that he told reporters that he only “recently” moved into the district from the Cincinnati neighborhood of Hyde Park, which lies just outside the 1st. Chabot’s campaign instantly went on the attack (“Perhaps he needs an escort to show him around town"), but there’s a much smarter way Pureval can push back: The only reason Hyde Park is in the neighboring 2nd District is because Republicans ruthlessly gerrymandered Ohio and deliberately split the city of Cincinnati to create two Republican districts—you can see for yourself right here.
By contrast, any reasonable nonpartisan map, such as this proposal from Stephen Wolf, would unite Cincinnati and almost all of Hamilton County in a single district. Such a district, however, would lean decidedly toward Democrats, which of course is why Republicans didn't draw one that way in the first place. Pureval won his race for clerk of courts by campaigning in favor of good government, so it should be easy for him to make a similar argument in support of redistricting reform now, especially given the growing national outcry against partisan gerrymandering.
Pureval also faces a primary with Rabbi Robert Barr, who would be the first rabbi ever to serve in Congress were he to win. However, while Barr has raised a decent sum of money, Pureval's name recognition and political networks should give him a big advantage in winning the nomination.
● OH-12: In a welcome piece of news for Democrats, Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor has changed his mind and decided that he'll run for Ohio's vacant 12th Congressional District after all. Local Democratic leaders seem enthused about his candidacy, with Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady recently saying, "I would encourage my fellow elected officials to support him no matter what decision he makes."
O'Connor, however, faces an extremely crowded primary that features seven other Democrats. His most notable opponent is former Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, but as we've noted, Scott's feuded with local party officials for years, one reason folks like O'Grady are backing O'Connor. In any event, they—and their rivals—will duke it out on May 8, with the special election to follow on Aug. 7.
● PA-18: Outside GOP groups continue to provide air support for state Rep. Rick Saccone, the lackluster Republican candidate in the March special election for Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. The NRCC just launched its first two ads, one of which features nothing but footage of lambs while berating Democrat Conor Lamb (oh man, did you see that one coming?) as a sheep (zing!) who will do nothing but follow Nancy Pelosi around (of course). Oh, and a wheezy rendition of "Farmer in the Dell" plays in the background. Clever like you've never seen it.
The NRCC's other spot is so over the top it's almost comical. It tries to portray Saccone as "built … American tough" due to his background as an Air Force officer, while showing black-and-white footage of Kim Jong Un that's bizarrely been rendered to look as though it's from an old newsreel, complete with fake visual artifacts. (Isn't the point to make Kim seem like a present threat?) The rest of the ad is all about how he fought off commandos and captured terrorists, so basically, Rick Saccone is the living embodiment of Rambo and James Bond, all in one. Who knows? Maybe this stuff is effective.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan, also has another ad. You won't believe it, but it also stars a flock of lambs! (Did GOP strategists sit around the day Democrats nominated their candidate and just slap their thighs in disbelief at their good fortune in landing an opponent with this name?) This time, Lamb is guilty of dissing the Trump tax cuts, while Saccone of course loves 'em. Man. Let's just hope Democrats never pick someone named Veal.
● SC-04: On Wednesday, GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy announced he would not seek re-election to South Carolina's 4th Congressional District, a seat that backed Trump 60-34. Gowdy, who was a local solicitor (also known as district attorney) when he was elected in 2010, said in his statement said he would be "returning to the justice system," though he didn't give any details about what exactly that meant. Gowdy is best known for serving as chair of the Benghazi committee, which ostensibly existed to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Libya, but devoted its time to going after Hillary Clinton. Gowdy took over as chair of the House Oversight Committee last year after Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who also enjoyed going after Clinton at every chance he got, resigned. Gowdy is the ninth chair to retire this year.
Gowdy was swept into Congress in the 2010 tea party wave when he challenged Rep. Bob Inglis in the primary for this Spartanburg-based seat. Inglis had once been a reliable GOP vote, but he spent his final years in office criticizing the party for denying global warming and opposing the Bush administration's troop surge in Iraq; Inglis further pissed off the seat's large Evangelical population when he opposed giving the phrase "under God" constitutional protection in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Inglis' apostasies caught up with him in a year where conservatives were looking to purge the party of any semblance of moderation. A number of local Republicans challenged Inglis, but Gowdy led the field with 39 percent of the vote to only 27 for Inglis. The incumbent continued to campaign, but Gowdy delivered him a punishing 70-30 defeat in the runoff, one of the worst primary losses for a scandal-free incumbent we can remember.
Gowdy himself never had trouble getting re-elected, and he was very popular with his GOP colleagues. However, there were plenty of signs before now that he wasn't happy in the House. In 2015, then-Louisiana Rep. John Fleming announced that Gowdy "wants to go back to South Carolina" and would not seek re-election in 2016. Then-Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who called himself Gowdy's "best friend," then put out a tweet storm insisting that Gowdy would indeed run for a fourth term—even though, Mulvaney previously claimed, he "had to beg Trey to run for re-election in 2014." After hours of confusion, Gowdy put out a statement saying he had "every intention" of running again, though he didn't commit to anything. Gowdy eventually did run and win a fourth term, but it was clear he was looking for something else to do.
● VA-05: Alone among Virginia House seats with contested nomination battles, the 5th Congressional District will not host a traditional state-run primary this year. Instead, Democrats there have insisted on holding a convention, an approach that sharply limits voter participation. There's also another problem: It's not even clear when the convention will take place or how it will operate.
In fact, there are no details on timing or procedures on the 5th District Democrats' website. The best we could find was a tweet—buried in a reply—from an account called "@democratsva5" saying the convention is scheduled for May 5. A request for further information has not received a response.
What's more, even if we did feel confident about that date, a vague November press release from the organization suggested that local caucuses will be held prior to the convention in order to select delegates. The dates, times, and locations of these preliminary events don't appear to have been publicized either, threatening to further reduce turnout.
It may not be too late for Democrats in the 5th to reconsider: In just the last week, their colleagues in the 2nd and 7th Districts voted to conduct primaries, and one of the leading Democrats in the race, Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler, spoke out in favor of a primary back in October. (His two main rivals, financial adviser Ben Cullop and journalist Leslie Cockburn, should do the same if they haven't already.) But at the very least, local Democratic leaders need to loudly publicize all relevant details about the process, including how voting will work, right away, in order to maximize transparency and participation.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chair and an almost-2012 presidential candidate, was arrested in early January for going through an airport security checkpoint with a loaded handgun. Barbour, who says he forgot he had the gun, has agreed to pay a fine; according to the TSA's website, the penalty for having a loaded firearm at a checkpoint begins at $3,920.