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-06: In one final bid to make life as painful for his party as possible, retiring Rep. Ryan Costello announced on Tuesday that he was yanking his name from the May 15 GOP primary ballot for Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District. A few hours later, Costello officially notified the state that he had withdrawn from the race.
The only Republican who is running for this now-open suburban Philadelphia seat is attorney Greg McCauley, a veritable Some Dude with no known support network and very uncertain finances. As such, he's far from the ideal GOP nominee for a seat that got significantly more Democratic due to court-ordered redistricting: While Costello's old seat (also numbered the 6th) support Mitt Romney 51-48 and Hillary Clinton by just half a point, the new version of the 6th backed Barack Obama 51-47 and Clinton 53-43. However, Team Red may just have to suck it up.
Costello frustrated Republicans when he filed to run for re-election, only to announce days later that he wouldn't seek a third term. If Costello had stayed in the ballot just long enough to officially win the GOP nomination, local Republicans would have been able to choose a new nominee after he dropped out.
But now, their options are fewer, and none are good. Republicans could consolidate behind McCauley and hope he can run a good campaign with their help; they could instead attempt to convince him to drop out after he wins the GOP primary so that they could still belatedly pick another candidate; or, perhaps toughest of all, they could run a write-in candidate against McCauley in May.
For what it's worth, it seems like they're going with door number one. Val DiGiorgio, who chairs both the state and Chester County GOP, said Tuesday, "We've got a candidate in the race, Greg McCauley, I think we've got to get to know him a little bit better and [put] a team around him," adding, "We've got some hard work ahead of us." He's not kidding about that last part: No matter what, businesswoman and Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan is now a heavy favorite to turn this seat blue in November.
In any case, by infuriating state Republicans and probably costing them his seat, Costello has probably ensured that he'll never have their support if he ever chooses to run for office again. It's a surprising end for a guy who was viewed by both parties just a few months ago as a very formidable candidate and had always been well-regarded by the GOP. Indeed, when Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach unexpectedly decided to retire in 2014, the party very quickly consolidated behind Costello, who was chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners at the time.
Costello proved himself a strong fundraiser in that race, and he honed a moderate image that played well in this competitive district. While Team Blue hoped to target the seat with Gerlach leaving, D.C. Democrats weren't happy when physician Manan Trivedi, who'd been the party's nominee in both 2010 and 2012, won the primary again. Major Democratic outside groups canceled their ad reservations in October to focus on more competitive races, and Costello won 56-44.
Democrats had no more luck against him the next cycle. National Democrats were initially pleased when they landed businessman Mike Parrish, whom they had wanted as their nominee back in 2014, but his fundraising was awful. Outside groups once again focused their attention on other races, and Costello won 57-43. Houlahan stepped up early to challenge congressman in 2017, but it seemed like the well-funded incumbent with the right profile for his seat was still favored to win again. NRCC chair Steve Stivers even issued a dare of sorts, calling Costello a "bellwether" and saying that if Democrats could beat him—something he obviously didn't believe would happen—"they've got a shot to take the majority."
However, there were signs that Costello wasn't ready for a serious challenge even before redistricting altered his seat. Back in January, he accused two "associates" of Houlahan of trespassing on his property to take photos of his home and "intimidate" his wife. Not so, said the police, who investigated the matter and determined there had been "no crime committed." Apparently, two Planned Parenthood canvassers had come to his house and left when his wife asked them to. But when a reporter explained this to Costello, he replied, "I think that just makes it all the more weird and creepy, to be honest with you."
The weird behavior was Costello's, but that was nothing compared to how he reacted when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated his gerrymandered district, along with the rest of the state's congressional map. Even though the 6th became bluer, there was still plenty of reason to think Costello could win again, if he was in fact the strong, "moderate" candidate he was reputed to be: Republican Sen. Pat Toomey narrowly carried the new 6th during his 2016 re-election campaign, and the GOP has traditionally done well in this area down the ballot.
But Costello instead decided to throw a tantrum, calling the new lines "1,000 percent partisan," a Democratic gerrymander in "disguise," and even "racist"—the first time, it seems, Costello ever showed any concern for minority voting rights. Pitching his "moderate" image right out the window, Costello then joined in with other Pennsylvania Republicans in thuggishly calling for the impeachment of the Supreme Court justices who ordered the state to adopt its new map.
And while Costello could have done his party a small favor and just retired then and there to give Republicans time to find another contender, he went about filing his petitions to get on the ballot while refusing to say if he was running again. Costello ended up announcing his retirement only after the filing deadline, which is how we've arrived at this point.
There's a lesson to be learned from the brief career of Ryan Costello. There are plenty of incumbents in the House who hold competitive seats but seem so formidable that they almost never attract a credible opponent. Sometimes, these incumbents actually do live up to their reputation and run strong campaigns in tough election years and win. But often, you get people like Costello, who have the good fortune run their first races in wave elections and only show their true colors when they're finally in trouble.
Costello is an unusual case, since the district that he won so easily in no longer exists. However, he's still a good reminder of why it's always essential to run strong candidates even against seemingly tough opponents, because sometimes, those opponents turn out not be so tough after all.
● IN-Sen: Rep. Todd Rokita is up with a spot arguing that both of his May GOP primary rivals, Rep. Luke Messer and wealthy businessman Mike Braun, aren't really conservatives.
The narrator first goes after Braun, labeling him a life-long Democrat. Braun consistently voted in Democratic primaries until 2012, and while he argues he only did so because he lived in a blue county and wanted to vote for the most conservative Democrat, Rokita's campaign is plainly unmoved. The narrator hits Braun for casting a ballot in the 2008 Democratic primary, declaring he must have supported "Obama or Hillary," and then says he voted to "hike our taxes 45 times" in the state House.
Messer, meanwhile, is identified as a "never-Trump lobbyist," though it's not clear what that means, since Messer had been serving in Congress for years when Trump kicked off his campaign for president in 2015. The spot also charges that Messer supported "amnesty for illegals" and voted to raise taxes. The ad concludes by saying what a great "pro-Trump conservative" Rokita is, as the candidate is briefly shown reading to his kids and firing a rifle while wearing what looks like a "Make America Great Again" hat.
● MT-Sen: In Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's second TV ad, an Air Force veteran who says he fell into a coma due to PTSD after leaving the military praises Tester for fighting for veterans and helping him "get my life back."
Meanwhile, Republican Troy Downing's gonzo new spot features him flying a fighter jet over a Tester look-alike who sits atop a tractor in the middle of a field … playing a trumpet. Tester, you see, "was an elementary school music teacher, plays the trumpet, and fights against our president every day." So, asks the narrator, "Whom should we send to the Senate: the trumpeter, or the Trump supporter"—as Downing's plane knocks "Tester" off his tractor. Is it really a good idea to mock farmers in a state where agriculture is one of the biggest sectors of the economy?
● WI-Sen: In a new spot, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin slams "a hedge fund in New York City" for taking over "a great Wisconsin business," shutting down a factory, causing 450 people to lose their jobs, and ultimately bankrupting the town of Brokaw. Baldwin excoriates "these predators," saying she's "working to stop these Wall Street hedge funds from destroying another town." You can read much more about this story in this CNBC piece, including the legislation that Baldwin is co-sponsoring with Republican Sen. David Perdue that would require greater disclosures from hedge funds about their investment activities.
● AK-Gov: On behalf of Dunleavy for Alaska, which confusingly is a super PAC supporting former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy rather than his actual campaign, GOP pollster Dittman Research takes a look at a hypothetical general election matchup. They give Dunleavy a 47-41 lead over independent Gov. Bill Walker, with 12 percent undecided; they did not release any other questions or matchups with any other Republican (or Democratic) candidates.
● CA-Gov: David Binder Research is out with another poll of the June top-two primary for governor of California on behalf of Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and it does show some small but notable changes from their survey from just a few weeks ago. While their last poll showed a tight four-way race to join Newsom in the general, this one has the two Republicans a bit further ahead of the non-Newsom Democrats.
The results are below, with the numbers from DBR's last poll in parentheses.
Lieutenant Governor/Businessman Gavin Newsom (D): 29 (26)
Businessman/Taxpayer Advocate John Cox (R): 16 (16)
Assemblyman/Businessman Travis Allen: (R): 13 (10)
California State Treasurer John Chiang (D): 9 (13)
Public Policy Advocate Antonio Villaraigosa (D): 7 (12)
Education/Youth Advocate Delaine Eastin (D): 2 (7)
COO, Department of Justice, Amanda Renteria (D): 2 (4)
In California, candidates are allowed to choose a three-word description of themselves that appears below their name and party on the ballot (here's an example from the 2014 gubernatorial election). The titles you see above for each candidate are those that DBR's poll used to identify them to respondents, which match the ballot designations that will appear on June primary ballots (though candidates still have time to challenge their opponents' descriptions).
The memo says that this is DBR's first poll to use the candidates' actual ballot designations, and they could explain some of the changes from the firm's last survey. While seemingly a small matter, these designations often are a big source of conflict for campaigns. For instance, in 1994, Democratic congressional candidate Zoe Lofgren tried to list her title as "County Supervisor/Mother." Lofgren got plenty of attention when the secretary of state blocked her from identifying herself as a mother; Lofgren went on to win the nomination in an upset, and she still represents the San Jose area in Congress.
More recently, in 2012, Republicans tried to stop Democrat Jose Hernandez from listing his profession as "Astronaut" because he'd left NASA the year before he sought California's 10th District. Hernandez's campaign responded by releasing an awesome web video of him blasting into orbit on the space shuttle and working in zero G on a mission to the International Space Station, relishing the free press. A judge ruled in his favor, saying Hernandez was an astronaut for "more than the time spent riding a rocket," though he ultimately lost his bid for Congress.
That decision was somewhat surprising, though, because the lengthy and quirky law governing ballot designations explicitly prohibits candidates from describing their prior occupations. That can lead to some unusual identifications. Most notably, Villaraigosa can't be listed the way everyone regards him, as "Former Los Angeles Mayor. Instead, he's chosen to call himself a "Public Policy Advocate." By contrast, as current office-holders, Newsom, Allen, and Chiang can and will go by their job titles, though Newsom and Allen have both chosen to buff theirs up by adding "Businessman."
● CO-Gov: The GOP pollster Magellan Strategies takes a look at the June Democratic primary for this open seat, and they give Rep. Jared Polis a 27-23 edge over former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston takes a distant third with 8, while Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne has 5. Magellan, which recently polled the GOP field, says they aren't working with any candidate or group involved on either side.
This is the first poll of the Democratic race we've seen all year, so we don't have much else to work with. However, even if Johnston and Lynne are as far back as this survey shows, they both may have room to grow once they start communicating with voters. Johnston in particular seems to have the resources to get his name out: He had considerably more cash-on-hand than any of his primary rivals at the end of last year, and a super PAC supporting him recently received a $1 million donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
● FL-Gov: On behalf of an unidentified labor group, PPP takes a look at the August Democratic primary. They give Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine a 22-19 edge over former Rep. Gwen Graham; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and businessman Chris King take 8 and 5, respectively.
Levine, who has already spent $6 million on TV ads, has had the airwaves to himself for months. His three Democratic rivals don't have the resources to match the very wealthy mayor, so they're holding off on spending much on ads until closer to the primary. Graham had $3.7 million in the bank at the start of March, while King had $1.8 million and Gillum just $800,000. Levine had $3.1 million in his campaign account, but he can easily reload.
● MD-Gov: Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker has picked up an endorsement from influential House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who represents part of the Washington suburbs and is the second-ranking Democrat in the House, in the June Democratic primary.
● SC-Gov: On Tuesday, state Rep. James Smith announced that Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's only Democratic member of Congress and one of the most senior members of the leadership, would be joining him for a statewide tour. Neither Smith nor Clyburn has announced that the congressman is endorsing him, but this doesn't leave much ambiguity about where one of the most powerful Democrats in the state stands.
Clyburn's move is part of a broader trend, as state and national Democratic leaders have largely consolidated behind Smith, an Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Afghanistan. However, he doesn't have the June primary to himself. Businessman Phil Noble is running with the support of Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, and attorney Marguerite Willis is also in the race.
We haven't mentioned Willis before, and it's not clear if she has the connections to run a serious campaign. But notably, Willis announced this week that her running-mate would be state Sen. John Scott, a 28-year veteran of the legislature who briefly mulled a bid of his own.
● IA-Gov: On Tuesday, Iowa's State Objection Panel (which is made up of the state's auditor, attorney general, and secretary of state) ruled that former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett did not have enough valid signatures to make the June GOP primary ballot, where he was to face Gov. Kim Reynolds. Corbett said after the ruling that, while he would examine his legal options, he didn't think he had the resources to go to court.
Corbett needed 4,005 petitions to qualify and he turned in 4,088, which gave him almost no room for error. Conservative blogger Craig Robinson, who said he was a Reynolds supporter but claimed he wasn't acting on her behalf, argued that about 100 of Corbett's signatures were duplicates. The panel agreed that several signatures were indeed invalid, leaving Corbett with eight fewer petitions than required.
The former mayor faced long odds against Reynolds, who had both the national party and plenty of influential state Republicans on her side. Corbett had begun airing negative ads against Reynolds last month, but he had nowhere near as much money as his opponent. Still, Reynolds will be relieved that she can focus on the general election a few months earlier than planned.
● AZ-08: Republicans are stepping up their outside spending ahead of the April 24 special election in Arizona's dark red 8th District, but they don't seem to be panicked—not yet, anyway. Politico reports that the NRCC launched a $170,000 TV ad buy, coordinated with former state Sen. Debbie Lesko's campaign, earlier this week, while the Congressional Leadership Fund is set to pour in $100,000 of its own on telephone and digital outreach. That comes on top of $280,000 the RNC is spending on a field program—a healthy $550,000 in total, with early voting set to begin on Wednesday.
But that's still barely a ripple compared to the more than $10 million the GOP spent in Pennsylvania's 18th District, and Republican body language isn't nearly as pained as it was in that race. For one, there are no reports of seekrit polls showing a close race. In fact, Politico says two "senior" GOP officials say Lesko has a "double-digit lead" on Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, whose own recent internal polling had Lesko ahead 48-34. For another, we have yet to see any reports brimming with anonymous Republican attacks on their own candidate, something that's practically become a tradition in special elections this cycle.
But half a million bucks is not nothing, so why would Republicans spend that money? Even if the odds of an upset are extremely low, the cost of one would be extremely high—to Republican fundraising, morale, recruitment, you name it. Hell, they may have even lost an additional seat thanks to their Pennsylvania debacle, since GOP Rep. Ryan Costello (see our lead item) only began floating the possibility of retirement after Rick Saccone's humiliating defeat. Republican money-men may simply have decided that parting with some cash now could stave off a much bigger set of problems in the future.
● CA-45: UC Irvine professor Dave Min, one of several Democrats running in the crowded race to unseat GOP Rep. Mimi Walters, is out with his first TV ad, which he narrates himself. Min touts his endorsement by the California Democratic Party, then says that "our kids shouldn't be stuck with Trump's mess" (illustrated by a plate of food his young son drops on the floor). That mess doesn't contain much red meat, though: Min cites a failure to invest in "education, the environment, and healthcare for everyone." The campaign says the spot is airing on cable and digital platforms.
● CO-06: Retired Army Ranger Jason Crow has picked up an endorsement from Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents a neighboring seat, in the June primary to take on GOP Rep. Mike Coffman.
● IA-02: On Tuesday, a panel of three Iowa officials unanimously ruled that evangelical activist Ginny Caligiuri didn't have enough valid signatures to make it to the June GOP primary to face Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack. Caligiuri's camp says they'll go to court to challenge the decision. However, the campaign admitted they had made mistakes and argued that the panel should show them "mercy" because this review board supposedly often errs in favor of letting candidates on the ballot; they also insisted the state was at fault for not notifying them about problematic ballots before the filing deadline. That's probably not going to get them back on the ballot.
The challenge was brought by the campaign of surgeon Christopher Peters, who now has the primary to himself. Peters challenged Loebsack in 2016 and lost 54-46 even as this eastern Iowa seat was swinging from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump. But Peters had just $12,000 in the bank at the end of 2017, so it looks very unlikely that he'll give Loebsack a tough challenge this time around.
● MI-09: EMILY's List has endorsed former state Rep. Ellen Lipton in the August Democratic primary for this seat in the Detroit suburbs. Lipton faces attorney Andy Levin, the son of retiring Rep. Sandy Levin, and state Sen. Steve Bieda.
● MI-11: The state branch of the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed state Rep. Tim Greimel in the Democratic primary for this competitive open seat.
● MN-08: State Rep. Jason Metsa has picked up an endorsement from the United Steelworkers union, which represents miners in the Iron Range, in his bid for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Rick Nolan.
● NV-03: State Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is the likely GOP nominee for governor, has endorsed businessman Danny Tarkanian for Nevada's swingy 3rd District. Gov. Brian Sandoval, the man Laxalt hopes to succeed, is supporting state Sen. Scott Hammond.
● NY-25: State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle entered the June Democratic primary with the support of a number of prominent Rochester politicians, but he doesn't have a clear path to the Democratic nod. While Rochester City School Board president Van White, who'd previously said he was considering, now says he's circulating petitions to get on the ballot and will run if he collects enough signatures. White sounds like he doesn't expect any establishment support, saying he's used to being dismissed by party leaders.
The Hill also reports that EMILY's List is eyeing Sarah Clark, who serves as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's deputy state director. Clark, who also worked for Hillary Clinton when she was in the Senate, has not publicly expressed interest. The filing deadline is April 12.
● PA-01: Wealthy Democrat Scott Wallace is reportedly spending $230,000 to air his first two TV ads ahead of the May 15 primary. The first is a biographical spot, narrated mostly by his daughters, who praise their father for leading the fight against climate change as steward of his charity (the Wallace Global Fund).
The second is very different. Wallace, who narrates this one himself, promises he'll "stand up to Donald Trump and every lie he tells," attacking him for lying from "the day he took office" (about the size of the crowds at his inauguration), for his "war on the truth" and "war on science," and finally for "offering his thoughts and prayers to gunshot victims" while standing with the NRA.
● PA-10: On Tuesday, the deadline for Pennsylvania House candidates to challenge their opponents' signatures, nonprofit consultant Christina Hartman announced she was dropping her bid against GOP Rep. Scott Perry in the state's redrawn 10th District. In a statement, Hartman would only say that "this is not the right time for me," but the day before, fellow Democrat George Scott had objected to Hartman's petitions, claiming that most of her signatures were invalid.
It's not clear what happened, but Hartman only joined the race for the 10th District a few weeks before petitions were due, after court-ordered redistricting made the 11th (the successor of the old 16th, where she had been running a second time) considerably redder. The compressed timeframe plus Hartman's lack of ties to the 10th may have made the job of getting on the ballot harder, but Hartman had enough money in the bank to ensure this most critical task was handled correctly, so it's hard to explain this one.
Fortunately, epidemiologist Eric Ding entered the race last month and says he raised $50,000 in his first week, so Democrats might yet have a credible contender. Scott, for all his bragging about knocking Hartman off the ballot, raised less than that all of last year, despite kicking off his campaign in May. Air Force veteran Alan Howe, who also launched last May, has likewise raised very little, while former Obama administration staffer Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson has yet to file any reports with the FEC.
But while the 10th, when went for Donald Trump by a 52-43 margin, is much bluer than Perry's old 4th District (which supported Trump 59-37), this is still very much a reach for Democrats. However, if Ding can prove himself, this district could flip in a strong wave.
● TX-31: On Tuesday, VoteVets endorsed Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar in the May 22 Democratic runoff to take on GOP Rep. John Carter. Hegar outpaced physician Christine Eady Mann 45-34 in the first round in March. This suburban Austin seat narrowed from 60-38 Romney to 54-41 Trump, and Democrats hope that Carter isn't prepared for a tough campaign.
● WI-01: Democrat Randy Bryce is airing his second TV ad, describing the bonds forged during his time spent in the Army. The campaign says it is spending "approximately $100,000 to air the ad over the next several weeks."
● WV-03: State Del. Carol Miller, one of several Republicans running for West Virginia's open 3rd District, is airing her first TV ad, and it's narrated by that highly recognizable voice-over artist whose over-the-top tone makes him sound like the guy who did this classic Miller High Life spot. As for the content, there can be no mistaking who it's aimed at. Miller High Life man's cousin explains that Miller "worked to make the Bible our state book" and "prays before every vote," saying "she'll do the same in Congress." She also raised two boys "while running a bison farm" and will stand with Trump.