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.
● NV-04: Back in December, Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen announced that he wouldn't seek a second term after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment. With not long to go before the March 16 filing deadline, however, the Nevada Independent's Jon Ralston reports that he's considering running again. When Kihuen was asked about the report he said, "If you're talking about the reconsideration, I have no comment," which is very far from a no. This seat, which includes Las Vegas' northern suburbs, shifted from 54-44 Obama to a smaller 50-45 Clinton.
Ralston writes that Kihuen has been contacting his donors as well as the all-important Culinary Union and former Sen. Harry Reid, who both played a key part in his 2016 primary win. However, while Kihuen says he's been encouraged to run again, Ralston doubts that state power players want him to stick around. Ralston writes that the Culinary Union plans to support former Rep. Steven Horsford no matter what (as far as we know, they have yet to endorse him publicly in the June primary), and Reid doesn't seem to want his old protégé back.
Horsford and state Sen. Pat Spearman are both running in June, and other notable candidates could still jump in. Ralston also relays that, while Democratic strategists doubt that Kihuen is likely to win renomination, it's not impossible. Republican Cresent Hardy, who unseated Horsford in 2014 and lost to Kihuen in 2016, is running again, and Team Blue is taking him seriously already; it would be catastrophic if Kihuen somehow managed to win the primary.
● RI-Gov: In a surprise to Rhode Island political observers, former Secretary of State Matt Brown has filed to run for governor this fall and said he is exploring a bid as an independent. Brown was elected way back in 2002 as a Democrat, but he ran into legal trouble when he sought the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2006 against then-incumbent Republican Lincoln Chafee. Brown's campaign had directed donors who had already given the maximum to him allowed by federal law to instead donate further funds to Democratic Party committees in other states, which then gave large contributions to Brown's campaign despite the fact that he was of course running in Rhode Island. He ultimately dropped out of that race and endorsed eventual winner Sheldon Whitehouse, who went on to defeat Chafee that November.
Brown has been relatively absent from the Rhode Island political scene over the last 12 years, but he became an independent at some point since 2006. Rhode Island has seen a significant chunk of votes go to independent or third-party candidates in the last two gubernatorial elections—indeed, Chafee himself dropped the GOP label to become an independent after his 2006 defeat and won the 2010 governor's race with a plurality. However, it's unclear just what the impact of a potential Brown candidacy would be. Limited polling shows Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo appears to be facing a real threat from Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican whom she narrowly defeated to win her first term in 2014. If Brown were to campaign toward the left of center, he could cost her crucial votes.
Speaking of Chafee, he recently said he will decide by late May whether to run in the Democratic primary against Raimondo. Chafee switched from independent to Democratic while serving as governor, but he declined to run for re-election in 2014 amid horridly low approval ratings. And after his quixotic 2016 presidential primary campaign, it's doubtful that many Democratic voters are eager to ditch their incumbent for the man she replaced.
● TX-Gov: Unsurprisingly, the Democratic primary to take on GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is going to a May runoff. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez took first with 43 percent of the vote, while businessman Andrew White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, took 27. Team Blue isn't at all optimistic about beating Abbott, but they're hoping for a nominee who can turn out voters for more competitive contests down the ballot.
● CA-44: It looks like freshman Rep. Nanette Barragan will pick up a high-profile challenger in this safely blue seat, and no, we're not talking about Stacey Dash. On Tuesday, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, who like Barragan is a Democrat, filed with the FEC, and her spokesperson says there will be an announcement on Thursday. The top two primary is just three months away, though it's likely that two Democrats will advance to the general election in this 83-12 Clinton seat. It's not clear exactly why Brown is running, especially this late in the cycle. However, The Los Angeles Times reports that former state Sen. Isadore Hall, who lost to Barragan in a 52-48 upset last cycle, is helping the mayor behind the scenes.
● FL-27: On Wednesday, former University of Miami president Donna Shalala officially jumped into the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in this Miami district. Shalala has extensive ties to the Clinton political network, having served as president of the Clinton Foundation from 2015 to 2017 and as Bill Clinton's secretary of health and human services throughout his eight years as president.
Shalala joins a primary that includes state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, state Rep. David Richardson, former state judge Mary Barzee Flores, Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, former Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman, and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. Shalala likely starts with higher name recognition than many of the other candidates, and her campaign recently released a poll that showed her with a 36 percent favorable rating and just 9 percent unfavorable among primary voters. She may be the closest thing to a front-runner this race has, but several of her rivals have already raised several hundred dollars thousand apiece, meaning the race could change significantly once the rest of the field starts running ads to get their names out.
Shalala was widely praised for her leadership of the University of Miami when she stepped down in 2015, but she did have some controversies. Perhaps most notably, a prominent donor named Nevin Shapiro provided expensive gifts to football players before he went to jail for a $930 million Ponzi scheme. Environmentalists were also unhappy with Shalala for selling land to a developer for a Walmart rather than setting it aside for preservation. It's likely that we'll hear more about this ahead of the August primary.
Another potential factor here is Shalala's age: She recently turned 77, and she would become one of the oldest first-term House members of all time if she were to win. Democrats finally have a strong chance to flip this seat now that Ros-Lehtinen is retiring after almost three decades in office, and party leaders would probably prefer to have someone who will be here for a while to defend it and accrue seniority. It could be difficult, however, for her rivals to go after Shalala on this issue without appearing ageist or even sexist. But at a time when plenty of Democratic voters are wary of the party establishment, we may see some of her rivals score points by arguing that Shalala represents the status quo.
This heavily Cuban-American seat swung from 53-46 Obama all the way to 59-39 Clinton, and the GOP has had a tough time finding a viable candidate, though they did get a few new contenders in recent weeks. But no matter who emerges from the primary, this will likely remain one of Team Blue's best pickup opportunities in the nation.
● NJ-02: This week, former Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi announced that he would seek the GOP nod to succeed retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo. Fiocchi, a former Cumberland County Freeholder, was elected to his only term in the legislature in 2013 in a very tight race. Two years later, Fiocchi was narrowly unseated. It's not clear if Fiocchi has any support from any of the important county party leaders here.
● PA-18 (special): The NRCC has dumped another $620,000 into an already expensive ad campaign against Democrat Conor Lamb, bringing their total up to $3.5 million. Their latest ad accuses Lamb of being soft on crime by cutting plea deals in a gun-running scheme when he was serving as a federal prosecutor.
● TX-02: The GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. Ted Poe in this 52-43 Trump seat went in an unexpected direction on Tuesday. State Rep. Kevin Roberts claimed first place with 33 percent, which wasn't the surprise. Roberts was the only elected official on the ballot in this suburban Houston seat, he had the support of the NRA and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett (a position akin to county executive), and he spent considerably more money in the first 45 days of 2018 (which the FEC defines as the "pre-primary period") than all but one of his foes.
What was unexpected is that retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw appears to have edged major GOP fundraiser Kathaleen Wall for the second spot in the May 22 runoff. With all precincts reporting, Crenshaw has a 27.4-27.1 lead over Wall, a margin of 145 votes. Wall may be able to seek a recount, but it's unclear if she'll do it.
Until the results started rolling in, it looked likely that Wall would at least have enough support to reach the runoff. Wall used her personal wealth to run ad after ad on TV: Wall spent close to $4 million during the pre-primary period, well ahead of the $300,000 Roberts shelled out. Wall also had the support of Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, something she didn't hesitate to inform voters about. Most of her ads played on her last name and told viewers that Kathaleen Wall supported Trump's border wall.
However, there were at least some signs that Wall's campaign didn't really have their finger on the pulse of the GOP electorate. Abbott appeared in an ad for Wall late in the race calling her "a behind the scenes mover and shaker in Houston politics for years." In this era where almost every candidate is tripping over each other to portray themselves as the real enemy of the establishment whether they actually are or not, it was quite jarring to hear someone embracing a label like that.
By contrast, Crenshaw looked like a candidate with a strong biography but few resources. Crenshaw lost an eye in Afghanistan after being hit by an IED blast in 2012, and he returned to service overseas after surgeries restored his vision. Crenshaw also had an endorsement from none other than Buzz Aldrin. Crenshaw only spent $84,000 during the pre-primary period, so it looked like he'd have a tough time getting his story out to primary voters, but he pulled it off.
This seat was heavily gerrymandered to protect the GOP, but Trump's 52-43 win was considerably weaker than Romney's 63-36 performance. Nonprofit executive Todd Litton was running against Poe before he retired, and he managed to win the five-way Democratic primary outright with 53 percent of the vote.
● TX-03: GOP Rep. Sam Johnson announced he would retire from this Plano-area seat a year ago, and state Sen. Van Taylor essentially cleared the field long before he announced he was in. On Tuesday, Taylor took 85 percent of the vote, and he shouldn't have much to worry about in the general election for this 55-41 Trump seat.
We can also add Taylor to the list of nominees who seem poised to go to the House over a decade after losing a race for Congress. Taylor, who is an Iraq War veteran, challenged Democratic incumbent Chet Edwards back in 2006 for the old 17th District, a seat around College Station that didn't overlap at all with this district. Edwards had pulled off a miraculous win in 2004 after the GOP redrew his seat to try to get rid of him as part of their infamous mid-decade gerrymander (the "Delaymander’), and in a cycle where the GOP was on the defensive almost everywhere, Taylor lost 58-40. He would win a seat in the state House in 2010, the same year that Edwards lost re-election to now-Rep. Bill Flores.
However, Taylor hasn't waited nearly as long as Democrat Sylvia Garcia, who won the primary for the safely blue 29th (we covered her victory in detail in our last Morning Digest). Garica lost a primary to now-Rep. Gene Green all the way back in 1992, and she won on Tuesday with his endorsement.
● TX-05: Longtime GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling decided to retire in the fall from this 63-34 Trump seat, and he threw his support behind fundraiser Bunni Pounds, who is his former campaign manager. On Tuesday, state Rep. Lance Gooden took first in the primary with 30 percent of the vote, while Pounds edged veteran Sam Deen 22-17 for the second spot in the May runoff. Former state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, who was the only Republican in the state House to lose re-election to a Democrat in 2016, was fourth with 12; former Ted Cruz aide Jason Wright, who had his old boss' support, finished with 11.
Pounds immediately picked up an endorsement from the anti-tax Club for Growth, which hadn't supported anyone in the primary but had run ads against Gooden and Sheets. However, it's possible that geography will give Gooden a lift in May. While this seat is often described as a suburban Dallas district, Dallas County only made up 21 percent of the GOP primary vote on Tuesday, with the rest coming from rural East Texas. Gooden represents a rural seat, while Pounds is from the Dallas area. Gooden notably took a majority of the vote in both the counties that make up his state House district, even though he actually narrowly lost renomination in 2014 and only barely won the primary in 2016.
● TX-06: Ron Wright has long been viewed as retiring Rep. Joe Barton's heir apparent in this Fort Worth-area seat, and he looks like the clear frontrunner going into the May GOP runoff against veteran Jake Ellzey. Wright, who resigned as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector to run here, finished first with 45 percent of the vote. Ellzey was far behind with 22 percent, though none of the other candidates took more than 8 percent of the vote each. Wright also picked up an endorsement from the anti-tax Club for Growth on Wednesday.
Wright, who used to be Barton's chief of staff, probably expected to run for Congress in a few years with Barton's support. However, while Barton originally planned to seek an 18th term, he chose to retire in late November after a nude photo of him circulated on Twitter and the public learned about some very unsavory aspects of his personal life. Wright soon picked up support from a number of local elected officials, and while Barton half-jokingly suggested his endorsement would hurt a candidate, he said he'd probably vote for Wright.
Wright did seem to understand that being labeled as the establishment candidate would be a problem, and he rolled out an endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz late in the campaign and pledged to join the nihilist Freedom Caucus if he won. Ellzey, a Navy vet who serves on the Texas Veterans Commission, also tried to run as the anti-establishment candidate, and he kicked off a primary bid against Barton just before the congressman retired. (Ellzey claimed he was planning to run even before Barton's scandal.) Ellzey had the support of Secretary of Energy and former Gov. Rick Perry, but it doesn't seem to have helped nearly enough in round one.
This seat backed Trump 54-42, and it's likely to stay red. Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations consultant, has gotten some national press, but she didn't do too well in the first round of the primary. Sanchez and 2016 nominee Ruby Faye Woolridge, who lost to Barton 58-39, each took about 37 percent of the vote.
● TX-07: Despite a very unusual and controversial attempt by the DCCC to sabotage her candidacy, activist Laura Moser advanced to the May Democratic runoff for this suburban Houston seat. Attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher took first place with 29 percent of the vote, while Moser outpaced cancer researcher Jason Westin 24-19 for the second spot. Nonprofit director Alex Triantaphyllis decisively outspent the field during the pre-primary period, but he took fourth place with just 16 percent of the vote. This seat has been in GOP hands since George H.W. Bush won it in 1966, and longtime GOP Rep. John Culberson is accustomed to easy re-elections. However, after this district swung from 60-39 Romney to 48-47 Clinton, Democrats had their first seriously contested primary in a long time.
The contest attracted national attention at the last possible minute when the DCCC posted some opposition research online showing Moser making disparaging remarks about the city of Paris, Texas. The committee argued that Moser, who rose to prominence as the creator of a text-messaging activism app called Daily Action, amounted to a "truly disqualified general election candidate that would eliminate our ability to flip a district blue." The move inflamed Moser's supporters and other national observers who were already skeptical of the party establishment, and Moser said it boosted her fundraising.
Fletcher has the support of EMILY's List, but she also has some high-profile intra-party opposition. Local organized labor groups dislike Fletcher because her law firm once represented a commercial cleaning company that won a $5.3 million suit against a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Fletcher says she was uninvolved in the case, but that hasn't assuaged her detractors in the labor movement. The state AFL-CIO notably announced a month before the primary that they were opposing her, though they didn't back any of her rivals.
● TX-21: The 18-way GOP primary (no, that's not an exaggeration) to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Lamar Smith has played itself out. Longtime party operative Chip Roy, who was Sen. Ted Cruz's first chief of staff, took first place with 27 percent of the vote, but there was a surprise for the second runoff spot. Perennial candidate Matt McCall, who lost the 2016 primary to Smith 60-29 and lost 60-34 the previous cycle, edged former CIA agent William Negley 16.9-15.5.
This election cycle has been nothing if not unpredictable, but the May primary looks like Roy's to lose. Roy has the support of Cruz and the Club for Growth, which aired ads for him. By contrast McCall, who self-funded most of his campaign, doesn't seem to have many, if any, influential allies. Still, no matter how the runoff goes, McCall did beat a few noteworthy people on Tuesday. Former Bexar County GOP chair Robert Stovall took just 5 percent of the vote, even though he had campaign help from none other than Brad Parscale, the guy Trump just chose to be his 2020 campaign manager (or knowing Trump, his first of many 2020 campaign managers).
Former Rep. Quico Canseco did even worse, taking just 3.5 percent of the vote in his second comeback bid. Canseco was elected to the House in the 2010 GOP wave in a swing seat and lost re-election 50-46 two years later even as Mitt Romney was carrying his 23rd District 51-48. Canseco ran for the 23rd again two years later and lost the GOP primary runoff to now-Rep. Will Hurd 59-41. Canseco unexpectedly decided to run here even though the seat he had represented until 2012 had almost no overlap with district; it was not a good idea.
This seat, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and takes in part of the Texas Hill Country (where LBJ grew up), is usually very red, but it went from 60-38 Romney to a smaller 52-42 Trump. National Democrats showed some interest in Army veteran and businessman Joseph Kopser, who decisively outspent all his rivals, but he did not do well on Tuesday. Mary Wilson, an openly-gay pastor who spent less than $50,000 during her entire campaign, took first with 31 percent, while Kosper edged former congressional staffer Derrick Crowe 29-23 for the other runoff spot. Crowe immediately endorsed Wilson. Kosper has been arguing that he has the moderate background to win a tough seat, but that message doesn't seem to be resonating at all so far.
● TX-23: There was yet another surprise in the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Will Hurd in this West Texas swing seat. Former federal prosecutor Jay Hulings and former Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones looked like the clear frontrunners throughout most of the race, and Jones indeed did take first place with 42 percent of the vote. But with all precincts reporting, teacher Rick Trevino seems to have outpaced former Department of Agriculture official Judy Canales 17.5-17.0 for the second runoff spot, while Hulings took fourth with just 15.
Jones, who would be the first lesbian veteran to serve in Congress as well as the body's first Filipina-American, picked up the support of EMILY's List and VoteVets during her campaign. Jones and her allies also argued that her military background could help her in a general election against Hurd, who is a former CIA agent. Hulings had the support of Rep. Joaquin Castro, who represents a neighboring district, and his brother, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, as well as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. However, Hulings also had an endorsement from the Blue Dog Coalition, which may have helped turn off progressive voters.
And while Trevino and Canales barely raised any money, they each had a niche. Trevino, who narrowly lost a city council race in San Antonio last year, has been trying to win over other Bernie Sanders supporters. Trevino also wasted no time after the votes were in arguing that Jones was "just another D.C.-chosen candidate with powerful friends who picked her even before speaking to the people who live in the district." Canales, by contrast, was the only candidate who hailed from outside San Antonio (She is from Eagle Pass, a small community near the border). Jones begins as the favorite against Trevino in the May runoff, but he certainly did better than we expected to get this far.
● TX-27: We had another front-runner who didn't do so well in his primary. Bech Bruun, who resigned as chair of the state Water Development Board to run, did take first place, but he led former Victoria County GOP Chair Michael Cloud just 36-34 in the first round of the primary for this safely red Corpus Christi-area seat; the two will face off again in May. None of the other candidates took more than 12 percent of the vote.
Until December, both Bruun and Cloud had planned to run against Rep. Blake Farenthold in the primary. Farenthold had only won 56-44 against a weak 2016 primary foe after he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit the previous year that was filed against him by his former communications director. Cloud entered the race in the fall, but he raised little money. However, while the lawsuit against Farenthold was public knowledge in 2016, voters only learned the next year that he had settled it with $84,000 in public money. Bruun soon entered the race against Farenthold, but the congressman still decided to run again. Farenthold finally dropped out of the race after the filing deadline passed, however, after more former aides accused him of bullying and sexual harassment, and the state GOP successfully kept his name off the ballot.
Until Tuesday, it appeared that Bruun was on a glide path to Congress. Bruun outspent Cloud $180,000 to $36,000 during the pre-primary period, and GOP power players seemed to prefer him. Cloud did have the support of former Rep. Ron Paul, who used to represent a portion of this seat and is very much not a member of the party establishment, which may have given him an unexpected boost.
● TX-32: The Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Pete Sessions was widely expected to go to a runoff, but it was still a surprise who emerged as the frontrunner. Colin Allred, a one-time NFL player turned civil rights attorney, took first with 39 percent of the vote. Lillian Salerno, a former Department of Agriculture official who has the support of EMILY's List, edged former TV investigative reporter Brett Shipp 18-16 for the other spot in the May runoff. Former Obama State Department official Ed Meier decisively outspent the rest of the field, but he took just 14 percent. This seat, which includes part of the Dallas suburbs, swung from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton, and Democrats are seriously targeting Sessions for the first time in over a decade.
When Allred entered the race in May, we took notice of his atypical background. Allred had played football at a local high school and at Baylor, and he was on the Tennessee Titans before becoming a civil rights lawyer. Allred had the support of support from his old boss, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, but for a time, he struggled with fundraising. However, Allred did spend $165,000 in the pre-primary period; that was less than the $306,000 that Meier spent but more than his two other rivals, and it seems to have helped him do what he needed to do to get his name out.
● Special Elections: Via Johnny Longtorso:
Oklahoma HD-51: Republicans held on to this seat with no trouble, though they still underperformed Trump and Romney's margins here. Brad Boles defeated Democrat Charles Murdock by a 72-28 margin. This seat went 80-15 for Trump in 2016 and 78-22 for Romney in 2012.
● TX Land Commissioner: There's at least one member of the Bush family who still has a political career. Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a son of Jeb! Bush, defeated predecessor Jerry Patterson 58-30. Patterson, who left this post behind to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor in 2014, entered the GOP primary in December, arguing that Bush had mishandled the housing recovery after Hurricane Harvey. Patterson also blasted his successor for turning the Alamo preservation project over to secretive nonprofit entities. However, Bush had no trouble outspending him, and he picked up an endorsement from Donald Trump in the final days of the race.