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.
● KS-02: The Aug. 7 Republican primary in Kansas' open 2nd District has been slow to take shape, but one Republican has gained attention for all the wrong reasons. State Sen. Steve Fitzgerald has repeatedly compared abortion to the Holocaust, including when he likened Planned Parenthood to a Nazi concentration camp last year. After he did so again at a debate last month, a group of Kansas rabbis sent him a letter to demand he stop making such an offensive comparison, but Fitzgerald recently said he wouldn't make any promises.
Despite voting for Trump by a wide 57-36, Republicans appear to have a very vulnerable hold on this eastern Kansas seat, and none of them raised much money in the first quarter, including Fitzgerald. He brought in just $25,000 and had $200,000 in the bank. Fellow state Sen. Caryn Tyson didn't do much better by raising a mere $41,000, but she also loaned her campaign $90,000 to end up with $333,000 on-hand. Meanwhile, state Rep. Kevin Jones looks like he'll struggle to get his message out after only having $48,000 in the bank.
One Republican whom we previously had not written much about is Army veteran Steve Watkins, who joined the race back in November. Watkins raised just $40,000 in the first quarter, but he finished the period with $218,000 on-hand thanks to a $175,000 loan to himself in late 2017. It's unclear if he's wealthy enough to write himself any more big checks, but it could have a major impact if his rivals continue to raise little money.
On the Democratic side, former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis certainly did not have trouble raising funds: He brought in $338,000, more than the Republican field combined, and finished March with a solid $669,000 war chest. David has no noteworthy primary rivals, so he'll be able to continue stockpiling his resources while Republicans will have to keep spending theirs on the late summer primary.
● AZ-Sen, NV-Sen, TN-Sen: Online pollster SurveyMonkey has polled three key Senate races for Axios, and they yield great news for Democrats if they're correct. The polls were conducted over three weeks starting near the beginning of April, a period that is relatively unusual in length. Nevertheless, the results below show Democrats ahead in three Republican-held seats, with three hypothetical general election match ups in Arizona and one each in Nevada and Tennessee:
AZ-Sen: Kyrsten Sinema (D): 51, Martha McSally (R): 42
AZ-Sen: Kyrsten Sinema (D): 51, Kelli Ward (R): 43
AZ-Sen: Kyrsten Sinema (D): 61, Joe Arpaio (R): 32
NV-Sen: Jacky Rosen (D): 50, Dean Heller (R-inc): 44
TN-Sen: Phil Bredesen (D): 48, Marsha Blackburn (R): 47
● IN-Sen: A super PAC called Hoosiers for Conservative Values that's backing Rep. Luke Messer in the May 8 GOP primary has spent at least $300,000 against wealthy businessman Mike Braun. Their spot charges that "Tax Hike Braun" voted to raise taxes 45 times, including for the state's largest tax increase. They also hit him for voting in Democratic primaries for years, arguing he must have either voted for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in 2008. The super PAC doesn't seem to have hit the third primary candidate, Rep. Todd Rokita, anytime recently.
● MT-Sen: Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is currently the front-runner in the June GOP primary, rips off Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in his first TV spot. Back in 2006, Tester made waves with a campaign ad showing him getting a buzz cut at a barbershop. The premise for Rosendale's ad is that he's so frugal, he gets his buzz cut by his wife in his kitchen. That can't be hygienic.
● NJ-Sen: While the Justice Department dropped their charges against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez months after his corruption trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict, his colleagues on the Senate Ethics Committee unanimously voted to admonish him on Thursday.
The committee's letter said that Menendez had "knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value" from his friend and donor Dr. Salomon Melgen "without obtaining required Committee approval," adding that he had "failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law." They also told him that he'd "used your position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen's personal and business interests."
Menendez is up for re-election this year, and his likely GOP foe is wealthy businessman Bob Hugin, the former executive chairman of the pharmaceutical company Celgene. A pair of recent polls gave Menendez double-digit leads, and while the Ethics Committee's report certainly won't help him, it probably won't be enough to damage the senator enough to give Hugin an opening in this blue state. Still, Hugin will have all the money he needs to run ads on this.
● TN-Sen: Democrat Phil Bredesen has released a mid-April poll from Garin-Hart-Yang showing him leading Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn 51-41. An independent poll from Mason-Dixon recently gave the former governor a smaller 46-43 edge, while PPP for the progressive Group Protect Our Care had him ahead 46-41. The last poll we saw showing Blackburn ahead was a February survey from WPA Intelligence from her allies at Committee to Defend the President that found her up 44-39, although that was still a drop from the wide 43-34 edge they gave her in December.
● WV-Sen: While recent polls show disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship firmly in third place ahead of the May 8 GOP primary, the party establishment is taking no chances. Politico reports that Mountain State PAC threw down $700,000 on anti-Blankenship ads over just a little more than a week, and they're continuing their assault. On the other side, Senate Majority PAC is out with another spot touting Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for fighting for West Virginians on everything from saving Medicaid to combating the opioid epidemic.
● AK-Gov: Alaska Survey Research, which is owned by local Democratic pollster Ivan Moore, is out with a late March survey giving independent Gov. Bill Walker a 51-44 lead in a head-to-head with Republican Mike Dunleavy, a former state senator. That's a bit better for Walker than a February survey his campaign recently unveiled showing him ahead only 36-33 in a two-way general election. Alaska Survey Research gives Walker a 44-35 favorable rating, a bit different from the 29-52 approval score Morning Consult's quarterly poll found for him over the first months of 2018 (though favorable ratings and approval ratings are not the same thing).
● CT-Gov: On Friday, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris announced he was dropping out of the August Democratic primary and endorsing businessman Ned Lamont.
Harris' move comes a month before the statewide party convention, where Lamont is competing against former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, former Commissioner of the Department of Veterans Affairs Sean Connolly, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. The candidates need the support of at least 15 percent of the delegates to make the ballot; if they don't meet this threshold, they'll need to turn in signatures from 2 percent of registered Democrats in the state (about 15,500 people) by the June 12 filing deadline. A fifth candidate, businessman Guy Smith, is skipping the convention and just collecting signatures.
● GA-Gov: On behalf of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, the University of Georgia takes a look at the May 22 GOP primary. They find Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle far ahead with 41 percent, which is a bit less than the majority he'd need to win without a July runoff. Secretary of State Brian Kemp edges former state Sen. Hunter Hill 10-9 for second, while wealthy businessman Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams grab 4 and 3, respectively.
Polls have universally shown Cagle far ahead of the others and a competitive race for second place. Interestingly, a March poll for Hill actually had Cagle at 48, dangerously close to a majority. Cagle himself has publicly said there's little chance he wins outright next month, though the Journal-Constitution writes that his supporters think he has an outside shot.
Because there are only two candidates running in the Democratic primary, Team Blue's nomination will be decided next month. EMILY's List and Black PAC Georgia have kicked off a statewide TV spot for former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, though we don't have a size of the buy.
Their ad declares that Abrams believes all children deserve access to a quality public education and wants an economy where everyone can get ahead. The narrator also reminds the audience she was the "first African-American leader in the Georgia House of Representatives." The University of Georgia released a survey about a week ago giving Abrams a 33-15 edge over former state Rep. Stacey Evans, who began running TV ads earlier this month.
● OH-Gov: On Thursday, former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich announced he was returning the $20,000 in speaking fees he's received last year from a group supportive of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad that he had previously failed to disclose on financial forms. Kucinich had defended the Syria Solidarity Movement as a "civil rights advocacy group" when the news broke a week ago, and he claimed that the news about his involvement with them was a "smear attack" from primary rival Richard Cordray.
But on Thursday, he insisted they'd never identified themselves "as having any interest other than human rights and never specifically mentioned to me their interest in or position regarding the Syrian regime," and said if he'd known what they stood for, he wouldn't have given a paid speech for them. He also very belatedly denounced the Assad regime's "repressive practices," but considering Kucinich's years-long cozying up to Assad and his insistence that "foreign powers" (including the U.S.) are responsible for Syria's civil war, we don't believe him.
Meanwhile, Cordray picked up the support of Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz on Thursday. The two are longtime friends, so his move was hardly a shock.
● OR-Gov: In a very unusual move, businessman Sam Carpenter is out with a poll of the May 15 GOP primary to face Democratic Gov. Kate Brown that shows him going from a tie to a 15-point deficit over the course of a month. A March poll from Triton Polling & Research that we missed at the time showed Carpenter and state Rep. Knute Buehler, the presumptive front-runner, deadlocked 23-23, while retired Navy pilot Greg Wooldridge took 4. But Carpenter's new poll from Triton has Buehler beating him 39-24, with Wooldridge now at 12.
Carpenter is arguing that, while the poll shows him moving quickly in the wrong direction, he's hoping it will persuade Wooldridge and other candidates opposed to abortion rights to drop out of the primary and consolidate behind him in order to beat Buehler, a self-proclaimed "pro-choice" Republican. And indeed, minor candidate Bruce Cuff (who took all of 3 percent in the April poll) did drop out recently, but he endorsed Wooldridge instead.
● WI-Gov: Republican Gov. Scott Walker has reserved $121,000 in TV ad time between now and July 8. There's no copy of the ad available yet, but it will run in the Green Bay and La Crosse markets, which don't reach a majority of the state's voters.
● CA-49: Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, who is one of several Republicans running in the top-two primary, is up with her first TV spot. The narrator calls her "Southern California's tax-fighting champion" (which just sounds like a lame superhero), before Harkey says she'll fight to make tax policy "a little more fair."
● CO-05: GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn's day of destiny is Monday, when his attorneys will argue in federal court that he should be on the June primary ballot. The secretary of state threw the six-term congressman off the ballot last Monday when they ruled that his campaign had hired a circulator to collect petitions who did not meet the state's residency requirements, which meant that the signatures he collected were "invalid and may not be considered." Lamborn's team is arguing that those residency requirements for circulators are unconstitutional. No matter what happens to Lamborn, the GOP is favored to keep this 57-33 Trump seat.
● CT-05: Two Republicans have entered the race for this open 50-46 Clinton seat, at least one seems to have some useful connections. Retired psychology professor Ruby O'Neill, a state GOP activist who is married to state Rep. Arthur O'Neill, kicked off her campaign with the support of a number of state legislators. In O'Neill's corner are state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and state Rep. William Petit, whom national Republicans unsuccessfully tried to recruit.
Simsbury Town Committee member Liz Peterson also jumped in. Peterson ran several campaigns in California before she moved back to Connecticut in August; somehow, she managed to get elected to local office just months after relocating to the state. But Peterson calls herself a "moderate, true New England Republican," which is not exactly what most primary voters like to hear anymore.
● IL-06: Democrat Sean Casten is out with a poll from Hart Research showing GOP Rep. Peter Roskam leading him 45-44. The survey was conducted April 21-23 among 400 likely voters. This is the first poll we've seen testing Casten, who won the March primary in a bit of an upset, against the five-term incumbent in this suburban Chicago seat.
● NJ-02: It's no secret that the GOP had a hard time finding a viable candidate to run for retiring Rep. Frank Lobiondo's seat, but it's still remarkable that NRCC chief Steve Stivers is publicly admitting how bad things are there now that the filing deadline has passed. On Thursday, Stivers said that "the LoBiondo seat is still a recruiting hole for us, I'll be honest," adding, "I wish we had a better recruit in the LoBiondo seat but we don't." While this seat swung from 54-45 Obama to 51-46 Trump, it sounds like national Republicans are already preparing to triage it and focus their efforts elsewhere.
That's not going to please wealthy engineer Hirsh Singh, the likely GOP nominee for this South Jersey seat. Local party leaders have largely consolidated behind Singh, who reportedly told them he'd use $2 million of his own money for the race. But as of March 31, Singh had only given his campaign $54,000 while raising an additional $48,000 from donors, leaving him with $83,000 in the bank. And Singh isn't acting like he's running in a competitive general election, either. Singh has repeatedly called for firing special prosecutor Robert Mueller, which a recent national Quinnipiac poll found that even Republicans oppose doing by a 59-25 margin.
National Democrats are also excited about their likely nominee, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew. While the highly-touted candidate had some trouble fundraising early in his campaign, he brought in $408,000 for the first quarter and ended with $456,000 on-hand. By contrast, none of Van Drew's primary foes had more than $50,000 in the bank.
● NM-01: The state American Federation of Teachers has endorsed former state party chair Deb Haaland in the crowded June Democratic primary.
● NY-25: Former TV journalist Rachel Barnhart is out with a new poll of the Democratic primary for New York's vacant 25th District, but what's more notable than the results is her choice of pollster to begin with. The survey is from Gravis Marketing, a firm that is infamous for producing results that are wildly optimistic for their clients.
For what it's worth, the results have Barnhart trailing by 36-21 against Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morrelle, while Rochester City Councilor Adam McFadden earns 10 percent and Brighton Town Board Member Robin Wilt takes 7 percent. While Barnhart is pointing to the results to argue she has room to grow, Gravis' terrible track record just doesn't make this release convincing, and it raises the question of why she hired them in the first place.
● PA-05: State Rep. Greg Vitali is out with a PPP survey of the very crowded May 15 primary for this blue seat that shows attorney Mary Gay Scanlon edging him 18-17; entrepreneur Theresa Wright, whom we had not mentioned before, took 8, while none of the other five candidates tested took more than 6 percent of the vote. The poll did not include teacher Larry Arata, financial advisor Lindy Li, or a few other minor candidates.
This is the first poll we've seen here, and this is a very tough contest to handicap. However, even if Vitali is close to the front of the pack, he may have a tough time staying there. Vitali had only $47,000 on-hand at the end of March, considerably less than many of his rivals. However, Wright's report showed her with exactly zero dollars in the bank.
● PA-07: While former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild has considerably less money than her two main Democratic primary rivals, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and pastor Greg Edwards, she's getting some outside help. EMILY's List has announced that they'll be airing TV ads for Wild in the final week of the May 15 primary for this competitive Lehigh Valley seat.
● PA-07 (old): On Friday, Republican Rep. Pat Meehan, who decided in January that he'd retire amid a sexual harassment scandal, instead announced that he was resigning from Congress, effective immediately. Meehan's resignation will require yet another special election (the third in Pennsylvania this cycle!), though it'll likely get consolidated with the regular November general elections.
However, the special will take place under the state's old district lines that were found to be an impermissible GOP gerrymander by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It's therefore possible that the race in the old 7th District could produce a different winner (or even different nominees) than the contest in the new 5th District, which is the successor to Meehan's seat but is much bluer. Under this scenario, though, the special election victor would only serve out the final two months of Meehan's term, so the electoral consequences would be minimal.
● PA-09: Former state Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser is going up with a negative TV ad against Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage ahead of the May 15 GOP primary for this 65-31 Trump seat. The spot charges that "serial tax-increaser George Halcovage" came in and raised property taxes, and he used some of the money to give himself a pay raise. The rest of the ad says that Meuser has a plan to "eliminate all school property taxes."
Meuser has been running ads for weeks, and he's been dominating the money race so far. Meuser, who has done some considerable self-funding, held a $518,000 to $73,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of March over Halcovage, who entered the race last month. Former CIA officer Scott Uehlinger had just $4,000 in the bank.
● TX-02: The super PAC With Honor, which says it aims to elect a bipartisan slate of veterans, has begun a $350,000 cable and digital buy for former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw ahead of the May 22 GOP runoff. Their spot promotes Crenshaw as an alternative to the politicians in Washington, and reminds the audience that he lost an eye in Afghanistan but still "went on to deploy twice more."
● TX-27: The House Freedom Action Fund, a super PAC allied with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, has begun a $93,000 media buy for former Victoria County party chair Michael Cloud ahead of the May 22 GOP runoff. It's not clear if they'll be airing TV spots, but the group, which is partially funded by megadonor Richard Uihlein, seems to have plenty of resources if they want to throw down more money here.
● WI-01: The state AFL-CIO has endorsed ironworker Randy Bryce in the August Democratic primary.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: The nonpartisan special election for the final year-and-a-half of former Mayor Megan Barry's term has been set for May 24, and there will be a June 28 runoff if no one takes a majority in round one. However, the city will first hold a high-profile referendum on May 1 to determine if the city will raise four taxes to fund a $5.4 billion transit plan that includes upgrades to city buses, light rail, and rapid transit.
Mayor David Briley, who took over after fellow Democrat Barry resigned in March, is an energetic supporter of the yes side, and he's the only major candidate to support the referendum. Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore and state Rep. Harold Love, two prominent African-American Democrats who are the only two other current office-holders running, are both supporting the no side; so are two conservatives, former Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain and talk radio host Ralph Bristol.
The outcome of Tuesday's referendum will be closely watched, and a defeat could do Briley some damage at the polls three weeks later, just as a win would be perceived as a big accomplishment for the new mayor. However, the transit referendum may not be the be-all, end-all when it comes to Briley's re-election chances. Local political scientist John Geer suggested that, while a no vote could do Briley some damage, he may not be the one who got most of the blame. Voters may view former Mayor Barry, who resigned as part of a plea deal for felony theft related to an affair with the former head of her security detail, as more responsible for a failure than the incumbent.
● Deaths: Philip Hoff, whose 1962 win made him the first Democrat to serve as governor of Vermont in 108 years and only the second one ever, died Friday at the age of 93. Hoff had been elected to represent the entire city of Burlington in 1960: At the time, every one of the state's 246 towns and cities had its own state representative. He launched a bid against GOP Gov. F. Ray Keyser not long after, and the freshman legislator looked very much like a longshot. Keyser had won his first term 56-44 in 1960 as Richard Nixon was beating John F. Kennedy 59-41 in the state, and the GOP looked as strong as ever in a state that they had never lost in a presidential election since the party was formed.
However, Hoff benefited from his own Kennedy-esque charisma as well as a big split in the state GOP. A group of party leaders were frustrated with Keyser, and they were furious when he awarded a key contract for the Green Mountain Racetrack to an out-of-state firm. The group created the Vermont Independent Party and nominated Hoff (Vermont allows candidates to be nominated by multiple parties), which allowed Republicans unhappy with Keyser to vote for Hoff without actually having to vote Democratic. Hoff won 50.5-49.5 and shouted on election night, "A hundred years of bondage broken! A hundred years of bondage broken!"
As governor, Hoff successfully pushed to have the state House expanded to 150 members, abolished the poll tax, and increased state funding for education. Hoff also was a vocal supporter of the Civil Rights movement and started the Vermont-New York Youth Project, where black teenagers for Harlem were brought to the state for summer programs. The project was controversial in the Green Mountain State, where many white residents claimed he was just bringing inner-city problems to their backyard. He would later say he'd gone further than voters wanted, but said he had no regrets.
Hoff was close to President Lyndon Johnson, who became the first Democratic presidential candidate to ever carry the state in 1964 as Hoff was being re-elected 65-35. Hoff won his third term 58-42 against Republican Richard Snelling, who would eventually become governor. But Hoff would split with his friend Johnson over the Vietnam War when he came out against escalating the conflict. Hoff did not seek re-election in 1968, and he briefly was touted as a possible vice presidential candidate; however, he took his name out of consideration when he learned his friend, Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, was being eyed for the post.
Hoff ran for the Senate in 1970 against GOP incumbent Winston Prouty, but the campaign did not go well. By 1968, it was well-known in political circles that the governor had a drinking problem, and the GOP very much reminded voters about it. At a fundraising dinner, state House Majority Leader Walter Kennedy mentioned Hoff's heavy advertising and joked, "You've seen him plastered -- all over the landscape." Days later, Hoff acknowledged he had a problem as governor, but said he'd overcome it. Hoff ended up losing 59-40.
Hoff did get elected to the state Senate in 1982, where he would serve until 1989. The next year, Hoff was the first mainstream politician to back former Burlington Mayor Bernie Sander's successful independent bid for the U.S. House. While retired, Hoff remained active in politics, and he was an early supporter of both civil unions and later same-sex marriage.