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.
● MN-08: In an out-of-the-blue development on Friday, Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement from Congress, delivering a rare piece of potentially unwelcome electoral news for House Democrats. Nolan's 8th District, which stretches across a wide swath of mostly rural northeastern Minnesota, saw the third-biggest swing toward the GOP of any congressional district in the 2016 presidential race: While Barack Obama had carried this district by a 52-46 margin in 2012, four years later, it veered sharply toward Donald Trump, who won it 54-39. That meant the 8th was always going to be a difficult hold for Democrats, and without Nolan, that task may have just gotten harder— but there's still plenty of reason for hope.
Last year, Nolan weighed a bid for governor but ultimately opted against it and made it sound as though he'd run for re-election. However, his mind evidently changed. "I always said when I lose my energy and enthusiasm for the job, or the prospects for handing the baton looked really good, I would move on," explained the 74-year-old Nolan. "Both of those occurred together." Nolan, who has been very public about his daughter's struggle with incurable lung cancer, also referenced the importance of his family in making his announcement.
Nolan's path to the 8th District was as unusual as they come: He was first elected to Congress in a different seat all the way back in 1974 as a so-called "Watergate baby," serving three terms in what was then the 6th District in central and southwestern Minnesota before declining to seek a fourth in 1980. More than three decades later, though, he decided to make a comeback after Republican Chip Cravaack stunned 18-term Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in the 2010 GOP wave. Nolan, who said fellow Watergate baby Oberstar had encouraged him to run, beat two other candidates in a close primary, then rendered Cravaack a one-term wonder, unseating him by a comfortable 54-45 margin.
But Nolan's next two elections, both against wealthy businessman Stewart Mills, were hair's-breadth affairs. Nolan survived the 2014 wave by less than 1.5 points, but 2016 was even closer, and Nolan escaped by just half a percent. That outcome was fortunate but unsurprising: As we noted that summer, the 8th District is overwhelmingly white and rural, and it's also less affluent and less well-educated than the nation as a whole. In addition, its economy is heavily dependent on extractive industries, particularly mining. In other words, it's almost the archetype of the sort of white working-class area that was primed to respond to Trump's message.
It would be a mistake, however, to write this race off for Democrats. For one, in special elections around the country over the last year, we've seen Democrats recover in districts that swung heavily from Obama to Trump in 2016, including many that are demographically and culturally similar to Minnesota's 8th. For another, the 8th District is ancestrally Democratic—part of the reason why Cravaack's victory was such a shocker— and Democrats have a deep bench here, something we'll address in the next Digest, when we take stock of the field of candidates who might try to succeed Nolan.
The presidential results in this district can, in fact, be quite misleading, as Democrats have continued to do well in the 8th further down the ballot. In 2014, for instance, even though Democrats were generally getting their butts kicked nationwide, Gov. Mark Dayton defeated Republican Jeff Johnson 51-43 in the 8th District, better than his 50-45 statewide margin of victory. The same was true for former Sen. Al Franken, who beat Republican Mike McFadden 54-42 in the 8th and 53-43 overall. And as Nolan himself noted, with the political environment as favorable as it is for Democrats, this might actually have been the best possible moment for him to retire.
But even though Republicans are mostly playing defense this year, they were always going to target Minnesota's 8th, and now that it's an open seat, it'll look that much more inviting to them. However, with a House majority in sight, Democrats will fight like hell to keep this seat in the blue column, so we can expect an intense and hard-fought race here.
● MT-Sen: A new poll from state Auditor Matt Rosendale, conducted by WPA Intelligence, finds him leading the GOP primary for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, but his advantage may be a product of name recognition more than anything else. In his survey, Rosendale takes 28 percent of the vote, while businessman Troy Downing is at 12, former judge Russ Fagg sits at 11, and state Sen. Albert Olszewski earns just 5 percent.
But as the memo itself notes, Rosendale, the only statewide elected official in the bunch, is simply better-known: He has 78 percent name ID, with a 43-14 favorability rating. Meanwhile, only 52 percent of voters know who Downing is and just 45 percent can say the same about Fagg. And given how comparable fundraising has been across the entire field, that edge in name recognition is unlikely to last.
● OH-Sen: In addition to their gubernatorial endorsement (see our OH-Gov item below), the Ohio Republican Party also overwhelmingly gave its support to Rep. Jim Renacci, Trump's hand-picked candidate, in this year's race against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Renacci earned 46 votes compared to just two for investment banker Mike Gibbons, whose longshot campaign hasn't gained much traction.
And Gibbons' hopes probably just got dampened further still, as investor Dan Kiley, who says he'll self-fund an unspecified amount, just joined the GOP primary right before Wednesday's filing deadline. Superficially at least, the two seem to have a similar profile, and Gibbons has likewise been self-funding. However, he's only dumped in about $855,000 to date, not really enough to have an impact.
● WI-Sen: Tammy Baldwin, who has been on the receiving end of more attack ad dollars than any other sitting Democratic senator up for re-election this year, is getting some major-league air support from VoteVets, which is going up with a $1 million buy on her behalf. In VoteVets' new ad, a series of veterans say they know the "real Tammy Baldwin" and say the "political attacks on Tammy from out-of-state billionaires just aren't true" (while smartly avoiding repeating them). They go on to praise Baldwin for helping to fix the troubled veterans' facility at Tomah, and for passing a bipartisan law that changes how the VA prescribes opioids.
● WV-Sen: Rep. Evan Jenkins has released a new survey from Harper Polling showing him with a lead in the May 8 GOP primary, though it's not a particularly big one. Jenkins' poll puts him up 33-25 on state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, with disgraced coal magnate Don Blankenship at 18 and 12 percent of voters undecided. (Three minor candidates are in "the low single digits," per Roll Call's Simone Pathé.) These numbers suggest a nomination that's still very much up for grabs, especially since in a two-way pairing with Morrisey, Jenkins' advantage slips to 6 points, 42-36.
Overall, this poll doesn't project a ton of strength for Jenkins, though it does allow him to say he's "ahead," which might be enough to juice donors, and that may be exactly what he's looking for. Jenkins raised a truly feeble $204,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, compared to a $737,000 haul for Morrisey. Jenkins does still have a small $1.4 million to $1.1 million cash edge, but that won’t last long at this rate.
● IL-Gov: J.B. Pritzker can't not be worried about Daniel Biss: Pritzker just launched his third TV attack ad against his chief opponent in next month's Democratic primary, saying Biss has "taken money from big banks" and voted with Republicans in the legislature "to let the state garnish wages when people fall behind on student loans." And thanks to his bottomless personal wealth, Pritzker will make sure voters see this new spot. According to Politico, he's already spent $25.4 million on the airwaves. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, meanwhile, has spent $13 million, while Rauner's primary rival, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, has spent $1.5 million and just booked another $500,000 for the coming week.
● OH-Gov: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's already-faltering campaign for governor seems to be imploding for real. On Thursday, Taylor declared that she wouldn't support state Attorney General Mike DeWine, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, if he does in fact win the May primary. The next day, the Ohio Republican Party voted to formally endorse DeWine by a 59-2 margin, prompting a vicious tirade from Taylor, who berated her opponent as a "creature of that establishment," a "shill for the entrenched special interests," and a "career politician" with "a liberal voting record as long as the line of babies he has kissed."
That's quite rich coming from Taylor, though, whom the Toledo Blade notes has been in elected office for 16 straight years, starting with the state House in 2002, moving on to state auditor in 2006, and then serving as John Kasich's lieutenant governor ever since 2010. That last bit has been particularly awkward for her, as Taylor has tried to pretend like she doesn't have Kasich's endorsement (she does) and even recently claimed that she hadn't seen the governor in a year (she had).
But between DeWine's name recognition, his higher-powered ticket (Secretary of State Jon Husted dropped his own gubernatorial bid to become DeWine's running mate in late November), his huge financial advantage, and yes, support from the dreaded establishment, it's almost impossible to see a path to victory for Taylor. So it's fair to say that she doesn't need to worry much about DeWine refusing to endorse her.
● TN-Gov: Former state official Randy Boyd is making a $500,000 ad buy over the next two weeks for the duration of the Winter Olympics coverage. His minute-long spot starts off showing athletes interspersed by symbols of American pageantry to praise underdogs who persevere under tough odds. The entire ad has occasional shots of Boyd jogging around his city while a narrator relays his life story. Interestingly, the narrator talks about how Boy'd "risked it all" only to see the business he created fail. The ad then pivots to how Boyd's business career rebounded and he built a company that successfully employed hundreds, attempting to create a comeback story that sports fans can appreciate, while it also praises him for having conservative values.
● CA-50: Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter has received bad headlines over the past year regarding his alleged misuse of campaign money for personal ends, but his spokesperson recently reiterated that his boss is "100 percent in" for re-election to this conservative seat in the greater San Diego area. In another sign that Hunter may end up running for another term after all, the San Diego Tribune had mentioned that GOP state Sen. Joel Anderson, reportedly a candidate who may have run to replace Hunter if he called it quits, had recently filed to run for an open seat on the state Board of Equalization.
● IL-07: How can any American—let alone a longtime member of Congress—not have a serious problem with Louis Farrakhan? Last month, a photo emerged of Barack Obama alongside Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic head of the Nation of Islam, at a 2005 meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus. It's not clear why the two met, but Obama at least has repeatedly denounced Farrakhan. But not so Danny Davis, a Democratic congressman from Illinois and a member of the CBC.
When asked about the incident, Davis declared that Farrakhan was "an outstanding human being." Well, he certainly stands out—for every truly awful reason. In Tablet Magazine, Yair Rosenberg collected a series of Farrakhan's hateful remarks, which someone like Davis should be well familiar with. Here's just the tiniest sampling:
"You are wicked deceivers of the American people. You have sucked their blood. You are not real Jews, those of you that are not real Jews. You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell."
"The Jewish media has normalized sexual degeneracy, profanity, and all kinds of sin."
"In Washington right next to the Holocaust Museum is the Federal Reserve where they print the money. Is that an accident?"
The Anti-Defamation League has compiled a 31-page document filled with far, far more vitriol, including much directed toward gay people, too. Davis needs to rescind his support for Farrakhan and apologize. If he won't, he deserves to lose in next month's primary.
● NC-13: On Friday, EMILY's List added attorney and philanthropist Kathy Manning to its very long roster of House endorsees, which now features 28 non-incumbents. Manning raised an eye-popping $534,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, her first in the race, meaning she out-raised Republican Rep. Ted Budd, who took in just $180,000. She also has a sizable edge in cash-on-hand, $522,000 to $300,000.
While North Carolina's 13th District is decidedly Republican-leaning, thanks to the GOP's unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, Donald Trump's 53-44 margin actually makes it the least red GOP-held district in the state. What's more, Budd is an utterly unproven candidate. After the previous round of court-ordered redistricting (on account of the GOP's unconstitutional racial gerrymander) threw two incumbents together in the 2nd District, the current version of the 13th became an open seat in 2016. Budd, a little-known gun store owner with all the hallmarks of a Some Dude, won an absurd 17-way GOP primary with just 20 percent of the vote, thanks to $500,000 in outside spending from the Club for Growth.
Budd wasn't seriously challenged in the general election, but even then, his 56-44 win was little different from the performance at the top of the ticket. This time around, his anemic fundraising suggests he isn't taking his re-election campaign as seriously as he ought to. And it's not just EMILY's List that's excited about Manning: Last month, the DCCC added her to its "Red to Blue" program for top recruits. This is definitely the sort of sleeper race you'll want to keep an eye on, because if Manning does well here on Election Day, it means Democrats are having a good night nationwide.
● PA-18: Biden Alert! According to the Daily Beast, the former VPOTUS, who originally hails from the Keystone State, will head to Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District to campaign with Democrat Conor Lamb ahead of next month's special election. A specific date has not yet been announced.
Meanwhile, the latest anti-Lamb ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund really goes for broke. It mentions Nancy Pelosi, tax cuts, Obamacare, Barack Obama, sanctuary cities, illegal immigrants, the Iran deal, and terrorism. The spot concludes with a narrator saying, "Lamb and Pelosi: too liberal on too many issues." Well, "too many issues" is exactly right. Cram so much stuff into a single ad and it all blurs together, with no one thing getting through. Usually this is inadvisable in campaign advertising, but since it seems to be the equivalent of just hollering "liberal! liberal! liberal!" for 30 seconds, maybe that'll be effective with the GOP base.
● TX-02: The NRA has endorsed state Rep. Kevin Roberts in the Republican primary for this GOP-leaning open seat in suburban Houston, where Roberts faces several other notable GOP rivals.
● TX-05: The Club for Growth, a hardline anti-tax group that often runs against the GOP establishment, has a new ad in the Republican primary for Texas' 5th District, an open GOP-held red seat located east of Dallas. Their spot bashes state Rep. Lance Gooden and former state Rep. Kenneth Sheets for voting for higher taxes.
● TX-07: Cancer researcher Jason Westin's latest ad in the Democratic primary for this GOP-held seat focuses on health care. Shots of Westin in medical garb meeting with patients fill the screen while he provides narration to blast insurance companies that "put profits ahead of people." Westin calls health care a human right and promises he'll fight against Trump and for single-payer coverage—or in other words, Medicare for all.
● Special Elections: Can you believe it? We have special elections on three separate days this week: Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday. (Minnesota apparently had to schedule its elections for Monday to avoid a conflict; Louisiana holds specials on Saturdays because Louisiana.) Johnny Longtorso tees us up:
Minnesota SD-54: This an open Democratic seat southeast of St. Paul, vacated by Dan Schoen following sexual misconduct allegations. The Democrats have nominated former State Rep. Karla Bigham, while the Republicans have nominated former State Rep. Denny McNamara. Also on the ballot is Libertarian Party nominee Emily Mellingen. This seat went 46-45 for Donald Trump in 2016 but backed Barack Obama 53-45 in 2012.
Minnesota HD-23B: This is an open Republican seat in the southern end of the state, near Mankato. It was vacated by Tony Cornish, also for sexual misconduct allegations. The Democratic nominee is Melissa Wagner, a social worker, while the Republican nominee is Jeremy Munson, a consultant. This seat went 59-33 for Trump in 2016 and 51-47 for Mitt Romney in 2012.