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.
● AZ-08: A new poll from GOP pollsters OH Predictive Insights for ABC15 Arizona finds Republican Debbie Lesko with a comfortable 53-43 lead on Democrat Hiral Tipirneni ahead of the April 24 special election for Arizona's vacant 8th Congressional District, but outside GOP groups keep dumping in more money.
The NRCC is the latest to pour it on. The committee's independent expenditure arm just dropped another $250,000 on ads attacking Tipirneni, bringing their total outlay to $383,000. None of their ads appear to have surfaced online, but the NRCC proper is teaming with Lesko to air what's known as a "hybrid" ad (more on how those work here), and we do have a copy of that. The spot slams "Democrats in Washington" for various sins (like "forced taxpayer-funded healthcare for illegal aliens") without mentioning Tipirneni by name, then concludes with a very wooden Lesko staring into the camera and saying she'll "block socialized healthcare."
In addition, the Congressional Leadership Fund has spent a bit over $100,000 here, while the RNC, which doesn't usually get involved in House races, has also shelled out some $400,000. In total, Republican groups have spent just shy of $900,000 on this race—a small fraction of $10 million-plus they lit on fire in the Pennsylvania 18th District special election, but still a considerable sum for a dark red seat that, even in this volatile environment, should be safe for them.
Tipirneni, meanwhile, hit a stumble of her own this week. ABC15 Arizona (the same station that sponsored the poll above) reported that Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician, stopped practicing medicine in 2007 a few months after settling a malpractice lawsuit. Tipirneni says the suit was unconnected to her decision to change careers; rather, she says the deaths her mother and nephew from cancer inspired her to become what she calls a "cancer research advocate."
Be sure to keep our Senate fundraising roundup handy, since we update that as new numbers come in. We'll have a House money roundup in the coming days.
● AZ-Sen: Martha McSally (R): $2.8 million raised, $3.2 million cash-on-hand
● MN-Sen-B: Tina Smith (D-inc): $1.84 million raised; Karin Housley (R): $514,000 raised, $501,000 cash-on-hand
● MT-Sen: Jon Tester (D-inc): $2 million raised; Matt Rosendale (R): $319,000 raised; Russ Fagg (R): $318,000 raised
● WI-Sen: Leah Vukmir (R): $600,000 raised, $650,000 cash-on-hand
● CA-Sen, CA-Gov: The California Labor Federation, which has 2.1 million members, endorsed state Sen. Kevin de Leon for the Senate and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for governor on Thursday. Another prominent union, the state SEIU, also endorsed this pair of Democrats back in February. Newsom is the clear front-runner in his race while de Leon is very much the underdog against incumbent and fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein, but labor support could help him gain some ground ahead of the June top-two primary.
● IN-Sen: On Thursday, the Associated Press' Brian Slodysko reported that as Indiana's secretary of state, GOP Rep. Todd Rokita likely violated state ethics laws in 2009 by repeatedly accessing a party donor database from his government office. Three GOP officials tell Slodysko that party officials proceeded to lock Rokita out of the system and only let him back in after he angrily complained.
State ethics laws prohibit state employees from engaging in political work while on duty, or from doing anything other than official duties while on the clock. Rokita's Senate campaign says that state ethics guidance allowed him to access the database while at work, but neither the campaign nor secretary of state's office could locate any records of this. In any case, it's far too late for anyone to bring any charges against Rokita. But with only weeks to go before the May 8 GOP primary, the congressman certainly isn't welcoming this story.
● MS-Sen-B: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce not only has endorsed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (who was sworn in earlier this month) well ahead of the November nonpartisan primary, they've already launched a six-figure TV ad campaign for her.
The Chamber is a key member of the national GOP establishment, which has been reluctant to get on board with Hyde-Smith. Last month, multiple media outlets reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies were adopting a wait-and-see attitude toward Hyde-Smith, whom they don’t know well, while the White House was also nervous about her prospects against intra-party rival Chris McDaniel. However, it's possible that the Chamber's move means that other big GOP power players will get on board with her, if only to stop McDaniel. It's also worth noting that there's no love lost between the Chamber and McDaniel, whom they spent heavily against during the close 2014 Senate primary.
The Chamber's spot begins by saying that, right after Hyde-Smith was announced as the new senator, she "went home to wrangle a stray cow on her family farm." The narrator then praises her as a strong conservative who "fought against greedy trial lawyers, and helped deliver the lowest unemployment in Mississippi history." He concludes by saying the reason Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith is that she's a strong conservative who will fight for the state" till the cows come home."
● OH-Sen: Rep. Jim Renacci is up with his first TV spot since he switched to the Senate race (he ran some last year before and after he launched his aborted campaign for governor) ahead of the May 8 GOP primary. The commercial features a clip of Donald Trump declaring, "He's been behind me since day one, Jim Renacci," before the narrator praises his business background. It ends with another clip of Trump saying, "Jim, get in there and fight. Get in there and fight. We need you," before showing a dash-cam shot of Renacci while he's driving a motorcycle.
● WV-Sen: The Republican establishment has spent weeks openly fretting that disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship could win the May 8 GOP primary and ruin their chances to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, and it seems that someone's finally doing something to stop him. A group called Mountain Families PAC has launched what Advertising Analytics says is a $357,000 TV ad buy that will last until April 23; the spot is not available online yet. The PAC is registered to Benjamin Ottenhoff, a former RNC former chief financial officer who also created a fundraising committee on behalf of the NRSC to support then-Sen. Luther Strange's unsuccessful campaign in Alabama last year.
On the other side, Senate Majority PAC is up with another spot extoling Manchin. The narrator praises him for fighting "energy regulations costing coal miner jobs," backing safety regulations, and saving miner health benefits. The narrator concludes that Manchin is for hardworking West Virginians, "and will give what-for to anybody who tries to hurt them."
● FL-Gov: Rep. Ron DeSantis has Donald Trump's support in the late August GOP primary, but he's alienated the powerful sugar industry much closer to home, and its allies are now going after him.
A few weeks ago, a group called the National Liberty Federation began airing TV and radio ads attacking him, and Politico's Matt Dixon writes that the group is chaired by Everett Wilkinson, a conservative activist who has been involved in defending U.S. Sugar, one of the largest sugar producers in the country. Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative and Trump confidant, is also involved with the NLF, and U.S. Sugar is one of his clients. While NLF is an "issue advocacy" group that doesn't need to disclose its donors, U.S. Sugar has donated $300,000 this cycle to the political committee of state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is DeSantis' main rival.
As Dixon notes, the company has had a bad relationship with DeSantis since his first year in office. During his 2012 campaign, DeSantis met with U.S. Sugar executives and pledged to support their issues, and he received donations from officials with the industry. But DeSantis went on to vote against their preferred policies, arguing that the federal government’s price supports for the sugar industry were costing too much money. And it seems that big sugar's allies are now exacting their revenge: Dixon writes that the National Liberty Federation has already spent $755,000 on TV and radio ads against DeSantis this cycle.
● GA-Gov: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle infamously played a key role in blocking proposed tax breaks for Delta Airlines earlier this year after the company cut ties with the NRA, so it's not a big surprise that the NRA has endorsed him in the May 22 GOP primary. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is one of Cagle's intra-party foes, wrote a letter to the NRA's chief executive earlier this month urging them to stay neutral and arguing that Cagle was playing them while cutting another secret deal with the airline. His appeals evidently fell on deaf ears.
Cagle also picked up an endorsement from the Georgia Association of Realtors on Thursday. The group was fined $80,000 in 2008 for failing to disclose $585,000 in campaign contributions made two years earlier, including $200,000 to support Cagle's first campaign for lieutenant governor, but they don't seem to have been turned off by the experience. Cagle himself is also out with a new commercial where he takes credit for lowering income taxes.
● IA-Gov: Businessman Fred Hubbell is out with his latest ad ahead of the June 5 Democratic primary. The spot features a mother with a mentally ill child talking about how (Republican-backed) Medicaid privatization hurt families like hers, but she praises Hubbell for having a plan to fix things.
● NH-Gov: EMILY's List has endorsed former state Sen. Molly Kelly in the September Democratic primary to take on GOP Gov. Chris Sununu.
● NV-Gov: Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak is up with a new spot for the June Democratic primary focusing on the October massacre in Las Vegas. Sisolak tells the audience about visiting the scene in the immediate aftermath and starting a victims' fund the next morning. Sisolak continues by saying that "money won't stop the next massacre. Not when Donald Trump protects the NRA and [likely GOP nominee] Adam Laxalt won't enforce background checks." He then pledges to ban assault rifles, bump stocks, and silencers. His campaign says the spot is backed by a six-figure buy.
● NY-Gov: Two new polls of the September Democratic primary each give Gov. Andrew Cuomo big leads over actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. Marist has Cuomo ahead 68-21, while a Remington Research survey for the GOP group Big Dog Strategies has him up 60-20. It's not clear what interest Big Dog has in the contest.
● OH-Gov: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor has launched what the GOP firm Medium Buying says is a new $700,000 TV and radio buy ahead of the May 8 primary. The spot once again goes after Attorney General Mike DeWine's career in the U.S. Senate, which ended when Democrat Sherrod Brown ousted him in 2006. The narrator insists that DeWine voted with Hillary Clinton 962 times, including on "amnesty for millions of illegals," spending, and "gun control that trampled on the second amendment." After each charge, a voice is heard saying, "Mrs. Clinton, aye. Mr. DeWine, aye."
● PA-Gov: Businessman Paul Mango's newest ad for the May 15 GOP primary features him declaring that intra-party rival Scott Wagner and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf have done "nothing" about school shootings. (Wolf very much supports gun safety legislation, but getting it through the GOP legislature is challenging, to say the least.) Mango tells the audience that in Army Ranger training he "learned to identify and neutralize threats before they occur," and pledges to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and give schools the money they need for security.
● RI-Gov: The National Journal reports that Rhode Island Forward, a group linked to the national Republican Governors Association, has reserved $1.5 million in TV time for the final month of the general election. While the Ocean State is very blue in federal races, polls have found that Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is not very popular.
● TN-Gov: Businessman Rand Boyd's latest Republican primary ad features him claiming Tennessee needs someone with business experience as governor and not a career politician.
● CA-48: The California Labor Federation has endorsed real estate company owner Harley Rouda, who is one of several Democrats running in the June top-two primary.
● CA-49: SurveyUSA takes another look at the June top-two primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa. Their February numbers are in parentheses:
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R): 16 (17)
2016 nominee Doug Applegate (D): 12 (18)
Environmental attorney Mike Levin (D): 9 (8)
Board of Equalization Chair Diane Harkey (R): 8 (10)
Real estate investor Paul Kerr (D): 8 (1)
Former Hillary Clinton campaign aide Sara Jacobs (D): 7 (5)
San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar (R): 5 (7)
San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Brian Maryott (R): 5 (2)
The only other poll we've seen in the last month was a Change Research survey for the Democratic group Fight Back CA that had Applegate in first with 23, Chavez at 15, and Levin and Harkey at 11 and 10, respectively.
● NE-02: Nonprofit head Kara Eastman is out with her first TV spot for the May 15 Democratic primary as part of an initial $55,000 buy. Eastman tells the audience that she's tired of hearing that Democrats don't stand for anything, declaring she's the only candidate who supports universal healthcare and ending tax breaks for billionaires.
● WI-01: On Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced that he wouldn't seek the GOP nomination to succeed retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan. Vos may have been prominent enough to scare at least some potential candidates out of the August primary, though he was far from the only well-connected Republican to eye this seat. Attorney Bryan Steil, a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and a longtime Ryan friend, expressed interest in running right after Ryan called it a career, and CNBC reports that he's been talking to some of the state's top party donors about a campaign.
Meanwhile, Democrat Randy Bryce has released a snap poll from the Global Strategy Group that was taken on Thursday, one day after Ryan announced his retirement. The survey has Bryce leading a generic Republican by 42-41, while he beats various other named Republicans and ties former Rep. Mark Neumann 42-42. However, the survey has Trump's approval rating at just 41 percent with 56 percent disapproving, which could mean the sample is too rosy for Democrats in a district Trump won by 53-42.
● Deaths: Former Sen. John Melcher, a Montana Democrat, died Thursday at the age of 93. Melcher narrowly won a 1969 special election to Montana's 2nd Congressional District in the eastern part of the state (the state lost its second House seat after the 1990 Census), and he decisively won the primary and general election for the Senate in 1976.
Melcher was a supporter of federally funded food programs while more conservative on abortion, and he backed Ronald Reagan's 1981 tax bill. While Melcher was decisively re-elected in 1982, he faced a much tougher challenge six years later against Republican Conrad Burns, a well-known founder of an agricultural radio and TV network.
Just days before the election, Reagan vetoed Melcher's bill to permanently designate 1.4 million acres of public land as wilderness while opening another 4 million acres for logging, mining, and drilling, as well as tourism. Democrats accused Reagan of acting to hurt Melcher, and he lost 52-48 in what was the GOP's first Senate victory in Montana since 1946. Melcher sought a rematch in 1994 but lost the primary 47-32 to Jack Mudd, who went on to badly lose to Burns. Melcher never sought office again, and he stayed in D.C. as a lobbyist, most notably for the American Veterinary Medical Association.