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-Gov: Even though the Democrats won't choose their nominee to take on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey until Aug. 28, Politico reports that the RGA is launching a $1 million ad campaign targeting two hopefuls, Arizona State University professor David Garcia and activist Kelly Fryer. So far at least, the RGA appears to be ignoring state Sen. Steve Farley, the third candidate in the contest.
Both spots try to argue that the Democrats want to abolish ICE and put Arizonans in danger, a theme we're almost certainly going to see a whole lot more of both here and in other races across the country. However, as we'll explain, Democrats have a good model to follow to push back and prevent Trump and his allies from caricaturing them this way.
Both the RGA's anti-Garcia and anti-Fryer ads are almost identical. The narrator in each case declares that even though ICE officers are guarding against gangs and keeping the country safe from drugs, as well as rescuing young girls from sex trafficking, the Democrat being attacked "and other radicals demand we abolish ICE." The only real difference between the two spots is that the anti-Garcia ad features a clip of him saying, "ICE is committing some historic atrocities," while there is no comparable footage of Fryer.
However, Fryer recently said at a debate that she has wanted to abolish ICE for years, adding that Trump's family detention policies won't end "until we dismantle ICE—and the racist, fear-based culture that led to its formation in 2003, allowed it to continue under Obama, and has given it horrific powers now under Trump." By contrast, Farley said he favors fixing the agency rather than scrapping it.
Garcia, who's decisively led in recent primary polling, has said the United States must "rebuild our immigration system top-to-bottom and start by replacing ICE with an immigration system that reflects our American values." Garcia, however, has argued that the issue is too complex to be reduced to a simple debate about whether or not to abolish ICE, saying, "It's a false choice between Trump's cruelty towards families and towards separating children and Ducey enabling that cruelty and this open borders discussion."
Of course, as these ads and about every other Trump tweet will tell you, the GOP very much wants to frame this election as a referendum between guarding the border or allowing drugs and crime to flourish. And while it's not clear why the RGA is airing ads against two of the Democratic candidates this far from the primary rather than just waiting to train their fire on whomever wins the nod in six weeks, it's very possible they're hoping to caricature them early.
Democrats who find themselves needing to push back against this type scurrilous attack—in other words, just about every Democrat this year—would do well to follow the example of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. In his bid for governor last year, Northam faced a barrage of racist Republican attack ads arguing that his election would lead to more gang violence by MS-13 (a group that has also become one of Trump's favorite boogymen), and that he was generally weak on crime. In the final weeks of the contest, Republican Ed Gillespie even took Northam's support for restoring voting rights to felons who had served their sentences and twisted it to claim Northam wanted to "restor[e] the rights of unrepentant sex offenders," which of course made it sound like he wanted to restore their right to engage in sex crimes.
Northam responded to the GOP's attempts to portray him as a pro-crime monster with a spot of his own where the narrator quickly dismissed Gillespie's many attacks as "false" and "absurd" and switched gears to remind viewers that Northam attended the prestigious Virginia Military Institute "and was an Army doctor for eight years," then went on to help pass "mandatory life sentences for violent sexual predators." Northam himself appeared in the final segment direct to camera, noting that he's a pediatrician and saying, "For Ed Gillespie to say I would tolerate anyone hurting a child is despicable." Northam ended up winning the election a few weeks later by a strong 54-45 margin.
While every state and candidate will be different, Northam's ad is a good guide for Democrats looking to respond to the type of attacks the RGA just launched in Arizona and that Republicans will certainly deploy around the nation. To begin with, Northam's campaign importantly did not repeat the GOP's charges against him, which would have immediately put him on the defensive and given those false allegations more exposure as he tried to refute them. Instead, the ad pushed back by reminding viewers about Northam's biography and work, with the candidate himself forcefully declaring that the idea he would tolerate anyone hurting a child "despicable."
Democrats will want to study this strategy so they can flip the script when Trump and his allies try to paint their disgust with the administration's family detention policies as dangerous.
● Fundraising: Daily Kos Elections is once again pleased to bring you our quarterly House fundraising roundup chart, with data on every major race for the second quarter of 2018. In total, we cover 423 candidates in 169 different contests. That's shrunk from our first-quarter coverage, but that's because many states have held primaries over the last few months, narrowing down the playing field.
What's not down are the fundraising numbers themselves—at least for Democrats. For candidates seeking GOP-held seats, the hauls are like nothing we've ever seen in the many years we’ve been doing this. An astounding 18 such challengers raised more than $1 million in the second quarter, an almost unheard-of sum for a House race, and twice as many more brought in over $500,000. Money, it hardly need be said, is not everything in elections. But the totals across the board, including races almost no one would have predicted would be contested a year ago, are so enormous that they represent an unmistakable sign of progressive enthusiasm. Check them all out here for yourself.
P.S. You can also find our Senate fundraising chart here. Because Senate campaigns still file their reports on paper (hard to believe but true), full data isn't available yet, but we'll keep updating the numbers as they come in.
● CA-Sen: Dianne Feinstein (D-inc): $1.1 million raised, additional $4.75 million self-funded, $3.76 million cash-on-hand
● MI-Sen: Sandy Pensler (R): $104,000 raised, $2.28 million cash-on-hand
● MN-Sen-B: Tina Smith (D-inc): $2.5 million raised, $1.8 million cash-on-hand
● TX-Sen: Ted Cruz (R-inc): $4.1 million raised, $9.3 million cash-on-hand (previous announcement included money from joint fundraising committee and leadership PAC)
● AZ-Sen: We now have a copy of the new TV ad that KelliPAC, which recently received a $500,000 donation from billionaire megadonor Robert Mercer, is airing as part of a recently reported $447,000 buy to support former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the GOP primary. The ad tries to cram in as many words as it can into 30 seconds, blasting Rep. Martha McSally as "one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress" and claiming she favors "big spending, special interests, and amnesty." The narrator accuses her of opposing Trump's border wall.
Meanwhile, hard-right Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar has rebuked his House colleague and endorsed Ward.
● MO-Sen: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's latest ad is a minute-long spot that highlights her fight against big pharmaceutical companies that hurt Americans by jacking up prices on critical prescription drugs and contributing to the opioid epidemic.
● MT-Sen: Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's newest TV ad highlights his background as a lifelong farmer and touts his work to pass a farm bill that helps protect the interests of Montana farmers.
● NV-Sen: Clean Air Moms Action, which is affiliated with the Environmental Defense Fund, has announced a $500,000 TV buy against GOP Sen. Dean Heller, with slightly different spots airing in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets.
The Las Vegas commercial begins with a news anchor saying how the city has worse air quality than Los Angeles, while the Reno version has a narrator describing how Nevada has some of the worst pollution in America. Both ads then say the bad air puts families at risk, but polluters are propping up Heller. They go on to accuse him of taking their money and backing their agenda, including "voting to eliminate limits on air pollution causing smog."
● OH-Sen, OH-Gov: TRZ Communication, a firm we’ve never heard of before, has polled Ohio's major statewide races on behalf of the tea party-aligned We the People Convention, but it comes with a major caveat that warrants skepticism of its results. Before getting to the horse race, the pollster asked:
"This fall, Democrats are attempting to take back majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives on the pledge to repeal the tax cuts, to fight to keep U.S. borders open and bring in millions of more immigrants, to restore Obamacare, and to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Do you support this Democratic plan?"
That line of right-wing messaging can only help prime respondents in a way they won't be when they fill out their ballots for November, and it's a great example of how it's a bad idea to ask such leading questions before testing candidate matchups.
That being said, the results still aren't even bad for Democrats, given this priming and the partisan affiliation of the source. They find Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown up by 45-41 against GOP Rep. Jim Renacci, but Republican Mike DeWine leads by 42-38 over Democrat Richard Cordray in the governor's race. Every other poll for months has shown Brown with a much firmer lead, and it's telling that even after priming respondents, DeWine only musters a 4-point edge in a race multiple independent pollsters have found to be up for grabs.
● TN-Sen: On behalf of the Committee to Defend the President, WPA Intelligence is out with a survey that gives Republican Marsha Blackburn a small 38-35 lead over Democrat Phil Bredesen. The survey came days after a Democratic group dropped a PPP survey that had Bredesen up 44-41. Interestingly, WPA released a poll in February for this organization that gave Blackburn a stronger 44-39 lead, and that five-month-old survey curiously had fewer undecided voters than this new one does.
● WI-Sen: The NRA has endorsed state Sen. Leah Vukmir in the Aug. 14 GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
● Senate: Politico reports that the DSCC has reserved a combined $30 million in TV time in six states: Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and West Virginia. They did not reveal how much cash was being allocated to each race.
● FL-Gov: Bad news continues to mount for GOP state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam as new details emerge over how his office failed to properly handle background checks and permits for firearms and concealed weapons. The Tampa Bay Times now reports that Putnam settled a lawsuit in 2016 brought by former licensing supervisor Xenia Bailey, who alleged "gross misconduct" in how gun permit applications were handled and that the department’s high approval quotas "guaranteed abuse." The Department of Agriculture didn't admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, but it did pay $30,000 to Bailey, who claimed she was retaliated against for whistleblowing.
In her suit, Bailey said she warned her supervisor of "many operational deficiencies including the improper issuing of gun licenses to convicted felons that had been going on for years in the division." Rather than evince concern, Bailey alleged that her boss told her "that she worked for the NRA" and demanded the department process 75 applications a day for concealed weapons permits. When Bailey cut the quota down to 60, her superiors reversed her.
Last month, the Times broke the story of Putnam’s office failing to conduct full background checks on certain applications for concealed weapons permits for more than a year because an employee couldn't log into an FBI database used to review such applications. That breakdown led to at least 291 people getting wrongly approved.
Putnam has been an avid supporter of loosening gun-safety restrictions, and the self-proclaimed “proud NRA sellout” has boasted about how much easier he has made it to acquire a concealed weapons permit. If these latest allegations are true, however, that label could more accurately describe how his department actually sold out to the NRA by recklessly approving too many weapons permits at the expense of public safety.
It's hard to say just how much damage this story has done to Putnam, however. Some recent polls have begun to find his early advantage withering against his GOP primary foe, Rep. Ron DeSantis, but those polls have come after DeSantis finally began airing television ads touting his endorsement from Trump, which probably is a lot more meaningful to Republican voters than Putnam’s lackadaisical approach to his job duties. The latest such survey comes from GOP firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, which polled on behalf of an "unspecified political group that's not involved in the governor's race." This is their first foray into this contest, and they give DeSantis a 42-30 edge.
Putnam seems to be feeling the heat, since he has begun to go negative on DeSantis. His latest TV ad features several seniors who claim Trump will supposedly stand up for Social Security and Medicare but say they oppose DeSantis for voting to cut both programs and raise the retirement age. However, as Democrats quickly noted, Putnam himself supported proposals that would have cut both programs when he served five terms in Congress a decade ago.
Meanwhile on the Democratic side, former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has endorsed former Rep. Gwen Graham. Sink lost by a razor-thin margin as Team Blue's nominee in the 2010's and is the only Democrat to have won a statewide executive office in the last two decades.
● GA-Gov: Secretary of State Brian Kemp is up with what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes as his closing ad ahead of next week's GOP primary runoff. Unlike in past spots, the candidate does not make anyone praise him at gunpoint, nor does he blow anything up or brag about his "big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself." Instead, as soft piano music plays in the background, Kemp pitches himself as a guy who "believe[s] in God, family and country – in that order."
Kemp goes on to hit some conservative culture war touchstones as he adds that he says "[m]erry Christmas and God bless you," backs Trump and "ironclad borders," and stands for the National Anthem. Kemp continues by saying that "If any of this offends you, then I'm not your guy," and ends by describing himself as a "politically incorrect conservative who will end corrupt pay-to-play politics."
● KS-Gov: On Monday, the NRA endorsed Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Aug. 7 GOP primary.
● MI-Gov: The GOP firm JMC Analytics, which does not have a client, takes a look at the Aug. 7 GOP primary and gives Attorney General Bill Schuette a 25-17 lead over Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, while state Sen. Patrick Colbeck takes 10. Every single poll we've seen of this contest has found Schutte ahead, but this is the smallest lead he's ever posted. The last survey we saw here was a late June Target-Insyght poll for MIRS News that gave Schutte a considerably stronger 45-16 lead, while Colbeck was at 8.
● NY-Gov: New York's candidate filing deadline for state and local office passed late last week (a complete list of all filings is here), and campaigns were also obligated to submit reports detailing their fundraising for the first half of the year on Monday. There were no surprises in terms of candidacies in the major contests: Last-second entries are impossible thanks to the state's onerous petition requirements, and no one bailed unexpectedly. Petition challenges are always possible but are uncommon at the statewide level.
In the race for governor, incumbent Andrew Cuomo faces a one-on-one matchup in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary with actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo from the left over his years-long resistance to progressive reforms. Nixon's already had an impact, driving Cuomo to adopt more liberal stances on a whole range of issues, but the governor retains a wide lead in all public polling to date.
Cuomo maintains a gigantic financial advantage, too. During the first six months of 2018, he raised $6 million dollars and still sat on a $31 million stockpile after spending $5.3 million. Nixon brought in $1.6 million since entering the race in March and spent just under $1 million, leaving her with $660,000 in the bank. Nixon is hoping that grassroots enthusiasm on her side can make up the difference: She's received over 30,000 total donations, with 97 percent of contributions $200 or less. Cuomo, by contrast, had just 1,939 donations, with an average gift of $3,017.
In November, the winner is almost certain to square off against Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who's the heavy favorite to win the GOP nomination and has $887,000 in his campaign account after raising $1.1 million. Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat who had considered a primary bid against Cuomo herself, is running as an independent. She took in just $410,000 and has $163,000 remaining.
● WI-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in for the first six months of 2018. GOP Gov. Scott Walker took in a hefty $5.5 million during this time and ended June with $5.9 million on-hand, far more than any of the Democrats competing in the Aug. 14 primary. The Democratic hauls are below:
State Schools Superintendent Tony Evers: $396,000 raised, additional $100,000 self-funded, $307,000 cash-on-hand
Attorney Matt Flynn: $197,000 raised, additional $100,000 self-funded, $403,000 cash-on-hand
Activist Mike McCabe: $96,000 raised, additional $60,000 self-funded, $68,000 cash-on-hand
Firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell: $524,000 raised, $368,000 cash-on-hand
Former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys: $422,000 raised, additional $255,000 self-funded, $668,000 cash-on-hand
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: $116,000 raised, $58,000 cash-on-hand
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout: $75,000 raised, additional $15,000 self-funded, $21,000 cash-on-hand
A bit surprisingly, Roys had by far the most cash in the bank at the end of June. A June Marquette poll found Evers far ahead of the rest of the field with 25 percent of the vote, while Roys barely registered with just 2. However, Roys will have the resources to get her name out in the next month.
● WY-Gov: Attorney Harriet Hageman is out with what we believe is her first ad ahead of the Aug. 21 GOP primary. Hageman stands in the ranch she grew up in and pledges to "push back against job killing regulations." Hageman also brags that she's "only candidate that has fought against the federal government and won." It's an unremarkable spot aside from how Hageman goes from sentence to sentence without pausing at all.
● CA-48: Monmouth ventures to this coastal Orange County seat for their latest House poll, and they give Democrat Harley Rouda a small edge against GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher under all of their three various models of the electorate. Using their "potential voters" model, Rouda leads 46-43; under the "standard midterm" it's 47-45; and the "Democratic surge" model has it at 48-44.
It's been clear for pretty much the entire cycle that Rohrabacher, who still gives Donald Trump a run for his money when it comes to sucking up to Vladimir Putin, is in for an expensive fight in a seat that swung from 55-43 Romney to 48-46 Clinton. However, both Rohrabacher and Rouda emerged from a very expensive and crowded June top-two primary, and Rouda only learned he'd made it to the general election in the final week of June. At the end of June, Rouda held a small $483,000 to $479,000 cash-on-hand edge over the incumbent.
However, Rouda did outraise Rohrabacher $770,000 to $282,000 during the quarter, so he could end up with a whole lot more cash soon enough.
● OH-12: The GOP has begun their ritual of trashing their candidate just ahead of a House special election. This time, Troy Balderson is the guy who gets pre-spun as a weak candidate ahead of his Aug. 7 showdown with Democrat Danny O'Connor. The Washington Post's Dave Weigel writes that Balderson "has underwhelmed his party's strategists and lagged in fundraising," and that Republicans privately gripe that O'Connor beat him “to the general election airwaves and built up his favorable numbers with ads about rejecting [Nancy] Pelosi and wanting to protect health-care coverage."
That's actually pretty mild stuff compared to what some previous House special election nominees, even ones who ended up winning their races, had to endure. Most notably, Republicans bashed Florida Republican David Jolly's 2014 campaign as "a Keystone Cops operation, marked by inept fundraising," and they faulted the 41-year-old recently-divorced candidate for campaigning with his girlfriend, who was 14 years younger than him.
Last year, we also heard Republicans complaining about Ron Estes in Kansas' 4th; Greg Gianforte in Montana (and this was before he assaulted a reporter); and Karen Handel in Georgia's 6th, though they weren't quite so mean to them as they were to Jolly. The guy who got it the worst was Pennsylvania's Rick Saccone before the special election in the 18th District that he actually did lose in March.
As we noted about Saccone, while the GOP did seem to have some very serious anger towards their candidate, Team Red seems to have settled into a pattern of lowering expectations ahead of closely watched races. If they win, they can just go back to crowing how Trump is awesome and how everything is going great, and if they lose, they can try to put all the blame on an extraordinarily awful candidate the way they ended up doing with Saccone. The only poll we've seen in weeks was an O'Connor poll that found Balderson ahead 48-43, so it seems quite likely that, private griping aside, the GOP is ahead here.
However, O'Connor is up with a new ad that takes aim at the GOP's tax bill, which Team Red once thought would give them a huge lift in November. The narrator frames the race as a choice between O’Connor and Balderson, who backs "a corporate tax giveaway that racks up two trillion in debt, forcing massive tax hikes on our kids or deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare." The spot also quotes the Republican declaring, "I have no problems raising the retirement age." The rest of the ad features footage of O'Connor pledging to stand against any attempts to cut Social Security and Medicare.
● NY-AG: The position of New York attorney general, which is one of the most powerful perches in the country for a progressive eager to take on the Trump administration, became open in a shocker when Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in May, hours after he was accused of sexual assault by multiple women. The woman the legislature chose to replace him, Barbara Underwood, is not seeking a full term, and four notable Democrats have filed to run in the race to succeed her: New York City Public Advocate Tish James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, law professor Zephyr Teachout, and Cuomo appointee Leecia Eve.
James, the favorite of the political establishment, is looking to make history as the first black woman to win statewide office in New York. Maloney, who'd be the Empire State's first gay statewide elected official, came into the race with a big advantage in money: He had $3 million stockpiled in his congressional account, which his lawyers say he can use for a state bid.
Teachout performed much better than expected in a primary challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 but then lost a race for Congress in 2016. Like Cynthia Nixon in the governor's race, she's banking on the excitement of rank-and-file progressives, but against heavyweight rivals like James and Maloney who will embrace rather than spurn progressives, it'll be harder for her to gain traction than it was against the reactionary Cuomo four years ago. Eve ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 but didn't make it to the primary. The Republican nominee will be attorney Keith Wofford.
P.S. Maloney says that if he loses the primary, he'll seek re-election to the House; if he wins, however, that would leave Democrats scrambling to find a replacement candidate with less than two months before Election Day in a potentially vulnerable suburban district that swung from Obama to Trump in 2016.