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.
● GA-Gov: Donald Trump tweeted out his endorsement for Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Wednesday, a move that comes less than a week before the GOP's July 24 primary runoff for governor of Georgia. There was little indication before this that Trump preferred Kemp over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has the support of termed-out Gov. Nathan Deal, and Trump's tweet only offered the usual "tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration" platitudes that he gives out to pretty much all his endorsed candidates.
However, it's possible the White House has decided that Kemp is likely to win next week, and they want to take credit for his victory. And while a recent independent poll from the University of Georgia gave Kemp only a small 44-41 lead, there's a good reason to think he had the edge even before he got Trump's help. Even though Cagle led Kemp 39-25 in the first round of the primary in May, the lieutenant governor has struggled to pick up more support despite decisively outspending his opponent. Trump may also simply prefer Kemp, who used one ad to brag about his "big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself," to the more establishment-friendly Cagle.
On Wednesday, Kemp also earned an endorsement from Clay Tippins, who took fourth place in May with 12 percent of the vote. This move was very unsurprising, since Tippins released a recorded conversation with Cagle last month where the lieutenant governor admitted to supporting a “bad” bill solely to stop a super PAC from backing another candidate, former state Sen. Hunter Hill. Tippins later provided Kemp with more audio of that conversation where Cagle was heard saying that primary voters were too extreme and driven by identity politics. Earlier this week, Kemp also picked up the support of Hill, who took 18 percent of the vote.
Cagle is also out with what his campaign has labeled his closing ad, and let's just say he's not ending the extremely nasty campaign on a warm and fuzzy note. The narrator details what he says are Kemp's victims after 20 years in politics, beginning with, "26 women sexually assaulted during massages." The commercial does not go into any detail about this very explosive charge, but Cagle's allies recently launched a different ad (you know, that spot that resembled a 1970s softcore porn video) arguing that the secretary of state failed to revoke licenses of a business with a "series of sexual assault complaints," and declaring that they and other companies like them contributed heavily to his campaign.
The spot continues by saying that Kemp's legacy also includes "57 farmers stiffed for millions, hundreds of seniors hurt by abusive nurses, [and] 6 million Georgians exposed to identify theft." The narrator then asks what Kemp has to say about "20 years of failures," and it shows a clip from his last ad where Kemp says, "I say merry Christmas." The rest of the ad declares that NRA head Oliver North, Trump's state chair, and Deal support Cagle.
● IN-Sen: Republican Mike Braun has debuted a new TV ad to defend himself from attacks on his company stemming from a prior Associated Press report that his business was repeatedly cited for workplace safety violations and wage theft. Workers attest that Braun treats them fairly, and the narrator claims that Braun pays "nearly double the [$7.25 per hour] minimum wage" starting off. However, as Indiana Democrats noted, Braun’s company had job listings notably below that level, and he voted against raising the minimum wage to $10.10 in the state House in 2015.
● MI-Sen: Republican firm National Research has polled Michigan's GOP Senate primary on behalf of Outsiders PAC, which is supporting businessman John James. Their first publicly available survey of the race finds him trailing venture capitalist Sandy Pensler by 28-21 ahead of next month's primary, which is consistent with every poll so far showing an advantage for Pensler. However, that margin is much narrower than a Strategic National internal poll that Pensler released earlier this month that found him with a 33-18 edge.
● MO-Sen: The Koch-aligned Americans for Prosperity has dropped $1.8 million on a TV and digital ad buy to attack Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Their spot accuses her of trying to fool voters by claiming she was taking an RV tour around Missouri when instead they contend she was using her private jet. They also hit her for opposing Trump's tax cut and supposedly favoring $1 trillion in new taxes. However, McCaskill has repeatedly noted that she only used the private plane to make additional unscheduled stops on her recent veterans tour and that she paid for all the flights on her own dime.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority PAC has gone up with another TV ad opposing Republican Josh Hawley, which National Journal reports is backed with a $1.3 million buy. Their latest commercial portrays him as a stooge for businessman David Humphries, who together with his family gave $4.5 million to Hawley's 2016 state attorney general race, which accounted for the vast majority of his individual donations. SMP blasts Hawley for subsequently refusing to investigate Humphries when the latter was accused of a "pay-to-play" corruption scheme.
● ND-Sen: Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's latest ad features the former longtime police chief and deputy sheriff of West Fargo, North Dakota, who says he voted for Trump but Republican Kevin Cramer "must have misled the president" on Heitkamp's record. He asserts that Heitkamp voted several times for "tougher border security" and to "deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes."
● NJ-Sen: Republican Bob Hugin's latest TV ad hits Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez for being a "career" politician who violated Senate ethics rules. The narrator calls Hugin someone who has devoted his life to service via the Marine Corps and later working to develop cancer-fighting drugs, but the spot of course doesn't mention that he made millions as his pharmaceutical company jacked up prices on prescriptions like those very same cancer drugs.
● AK-Gov: On Tuesday, former Gov. Sean Parnell endorsed former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy in the Aug. 21 GOP primary. Dunleavy is running against Mead Treadwell, who served as Parnell's lieutenant governor for four years.
● AZ-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in for all the candidates from the last three months. GOP Gov. Doug Ducey took in $750,000 during the quarter and ended June with a hefty $3.5 million on-hand. Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is waging a longshot bid against Ducey in the Aug. 28 primary, is trying to qualify for about $840,000 in public funds by raising $20,000 in $5 donations by Aug. 21. However, Bennett had only raised $5,650 by the end of the month, putting him well short of that goal. Bennett raised a separate $8,200 in donations and self-funded $31,000, and he had only $8,200 on-hand.
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Steve Farley raised $340,000 during the quarter and had $491,000 on-hand. That's quite a bit larger than Arizona State University Professor David Garcia, who raised $302,000 and had $246,000 in the bank. Activist Kelly Fryer brought up the rear with $48,000 raised and $41,000 on-hand. A recent poll from the GOP firm Data Orbital gave Garcia the lead with 32 percent, while Farley and Fryer each took 11.
● CT-Gov: On Wednesday, the State Elections Enforcement Commission voted to give businessman Steve Obsitnik $1.35 million in public financing ahead of the Aug. 14 GOP primary. Obsitnik had qualified for the program by raising $250,000 in small donations, but the commission delayed him from receiving the grant while they investigated allegations that he violated campaign finance rules. The investigation is still ongoing.
Along with Obsitnik, fellow Republicans Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst successfully qualified for public financing. Each candidate received $1.35 million in state money, but they can't spend more than $1.6 million in the primary. Wealthy businessmen David Stemerman and Bob Stefanowski did not seek this money and instead are mostly self-funding their campaigns, and Stemerman recently went up with a negative TV spot against Stefanowski.
The narrator argues that Stefanowski "was a Democrat until just last July," when he decided to run for the GOP nod. The spot goes on to argue that he didn't vote for Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, or John McCain, and has contributed thousands to Democratic candidates. Stefanowski did indeed not vote over the last 16 years, which he said was because he was living abroad for many years. Stefanowski also did contribute to at least one Democrat, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.
However, as the Connecticut Mirror's Mark Pazniokas notes, Stemerman is vulnerable to some of the very attacks he leveled in this ad. Stemerman was a registered Democrat when he lived in New York City, and he donated to Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2007. Most of Stemerman's donations have gone to Team Red, including to Mitt Romney's 2012 bid and to Obsitnik's campaign against Democratic Rep. Jim Himes that cycle.
● FL-Gov: St. Pete Polls recently released their first survey of next month's Republican primary, and they're the latest outfit to find Rep. Ron DeSantis' stock rising. Their poll gives DeSantis a wide 50-30 advantage over state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
That's DeSantis' largest margin in any survey to date, but every poll released this month has found him surging into the lead. Some of those surveys earlier in July have been from DeSantis or his allies instead of disinterested parties, but if Putnam has any better numbers, he hasn't released them yet.
● NY-Gov, NY-AG: Quinnipiac's new poll of New York's Democratic primary for governor shows Gov. Andrew Cuomo maintaining a wide advantage over actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, whom he leads 59-23. That's actually a bigger gulf than when Quinnipiac last surveyed the race in April and found Cuomo up 50-28. (One thing to note, though, is that Quinnipiac sampled registered voters rather than likely voters, even though the Sept. 13 primary is now just two months away.) In the general election, Cuomo would beat Republican Marc Molinaro 57-31; a Nixon-Molinaro matchup wasn't tested.
The Democratic primary for the open attorney general's post is much tighter. There, New York City Public Advocate Tish James holds a 26-15 lead on Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, while law professor Zephyr Teachout is at 12 and former Cuomo administration official Leecia Eve takes just 3 percent. With 42 percent of voters undecided, this race could wind up with many different outcomes.
● PA-Gov: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has released his first negative TV ad against Republican Scott Wagner. The spot calls Wagner the "ultimate Harrisburg insider" and argues he does the bidding of the oil and gas industry after they spent millions lobbying the legislature. They also claim he sides with Wall Street over state retirees and that he's against closing corporate tax loopholes.
● RI-Gov: The Democratic Governors Association has announced that it has sent $1 million to the Alliance for a Better Rhode Island PAC to support Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo this fall, which is a sizable investment for such a small state.
● WI-Gov: Marquette's newest poll of Wisconsin's Aug. 14 primary continues to show state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers with a wide lead in the Democratic primary for governor. Evers, the only statewide official in the race, sits at 31 percent; his nearest opponents, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell are far back at 6 apiece. Last month, Evers was at 25 percent while a trio of rivals were at 7. There hasn't been any other recent polling, but three older surveys also put Evers comfortably in first. While a 38 percent plurality in this latest poll are still undecided, there's little time left for other candidates to make a move.
Marquette also tested the upcoming GOP Senate primary, but their sample fell below the minimum of 300 we require for inclusion in the Digest.
● FL-25: Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart just went up with his first TV ad of the election cycle, which surprisingly goes negative on his Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores. The spot attacks Barzee Flores for "strongly oppos[ing] sanctions on the terrorist anti-American regime in Iran" because she opposes Donald Trump ripping up the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. The ad then engages in trickery to suggest that Flores is in it for the money, because on the website "BarzeeFlores.com, the firm brags of handling international arms conspiracy cases." Only that's not Mary Barzee Flores' website. Rather, it belongs to the law firm where her brother, Bill Barzee, and her husband, Hector Flores, work.
This spot does two things we loathe: (1) attack lawyers for representing criminal defendants and (2) fault a woman for the decisions of male family members. It's also a contradictory mess. The narrator goes on to say that the firm "boast[s] about defending criminals that arranged millions of dollars of arms shipments to Iran in violation of the U.S. arms embargo," but that arms embargo remains in place despite the 2015 nuclear agreement—and if it went away, wouldn't all that criminal defense work go, too?
What's more telling about this incendiary attack is that Diaz-Balart is even making it in the first place: Candidates who are in a solid position to win typically begin by airing positive ads to introduce themselves to the electorate, especially an incumbent like Diaz-Balart who hasn't faced a competitive race in eight years.
But this district has been moving sharply away from the GOP at the presidential level for years: It went just 50-48 for Trump after voting 55-45 for Mitt Romney and 59-41 for John McCain. Diaz-Balart's decision to immediately go negative is a sign he could be feeling the heat. Indeed, he's fundraising like he's vulnerable, bringing in a hefty $507,000 in the last quarter and finishing with $1.6 million on-hand at the end of June. But Barzee Flores, who previously switched from a bid in the bluer 27th District, raised a solid $444,000 even though she had a smaller war chest of $642,000.
● GA-06: On Wednesday, Atlanta Rep. and Civil Rights Movement hero John Lewis endorsed gun-safety activist Lucy McBath ahead of next week's Democratic primary runoff. McBath faces businessman Kevin Abel, whom she led 36-31 in May, in the contest to take on GOP Rep. Karen Handel.
● MI-09: On behalf of attorney Andy Levin, Lake Research is out with a poll of the Aug. 7 Democratic primary that gives him a wide 51-12 lead over former state Rep. Ellen Lipton. This is the only poll we've seen since filing closed in April, but it makes sense that Levin, who is the son of retiring Rep. Sandy Levin and a nephew of former Sen. Carl Levin, would have a big edge.
However, Lipton does have the resources to get her name out in the final weeks of the race. While Levin outraised her $353,000 to $251,000 during the second quarter, Lipton self-funded another $290,000 and ended June with a $625,000 to $431,000 cash-on-hand edge.
● NC-13: SurveyUSA has polled North Carolina's 13th District on behalf of the conservative Civitas Institute, and their results shouldn't exactly be reassuring for freshman Republican Rep. Ted Budd in a district Trump won by 53-44. The poll has him leading Democrat Kathy Manning by just 40-35, with the Green and Libertarian candidates each taking 3 percent apiece. This is the first head-to-head poll we've seen of this race in months, but an April poll from the Democratic firm PPP had previously found Budd up by a similarly small 43-40 edge.
Polling isn't the only sign that this race is competitive, since the DCCC had previously added Manning to their Red-to-Blue list of top candidates to watch in April. Manning has proved to be a prodigious fundraiser, and she raised a huge $727,000 in the second quarter, self-funded $21,000, and finished June with $1.3 million on-hand. That was nearly double the $373,000 that Budd took in and the $779,000 that he had in the bank at the start of July.
● NH-01: On Wednesday, businessman Bruce Crochetiere dropped out of the September GOP primary for this swing seat, citing only "recent developments with his family and business." Crochetiere, whose name will remain on the ballot, said he would not take sides in the contest between state Sen. Andy Sanborn and former state Liquor Commission official Eddie Edwards.
There’s no obvious frontrunner as between the remaining candidates. Sanborn held a wide $715,000 to $215,000 cash-on-hand edge over Edwards at the end of June, but Edwards outraised him $207,000 to $66,000 during the second quarter. However, Sanborn threw down another $200,000 of his own money on top of the $311,000 he'd already invested, helping him maintain his financial lead.
But he may face some trouble of his own making. Last week, interview transcripts released by the state attorney general’s office included comments from elected officials and staffers saying Sanborn had made inappropriate comments to an unidentified former intern (it's not clear what he said). They also suggested that a different staffer had been reassigned from Sanborn to a different office by legislative leaders in 2014 because of concerns about other things Sanborn had said.
The attorney general had been investigating whether the former intern had been bribed to stay quiet after he received $200 and a part-time job from the Senate chief of staff three months after Sanborn's outburst. The investigation ended last week without any accusations of wrongdoing regarding the bribery allegations.
However, with the revelations about Sanborn’s apparent penchant for inappropriate remarks, Edwards is trying to give the story legs. Edwards brought up the story at the end of a debate on Thursday declaring, "Sen. Sanborn has two allegations right now that he needs to answer. Why? Because we can’t afford to lose this seat." Afterwards, Sanborn doubled down and said the establishment and his enemies were out to get them, insisting that "never in my life, I have never been inappropriate, said something disrespectful. It’s not who I am as a person.”
● SC-01: It's been a month since Katie Arrington unseated Rep. Mark Sanford in the GOP primary, but the defeated incumbent is continuing to make trouble for her in the general election.
Arrington has been on the defensive over whether or not to allow oil drilling off the coast of South Carolina, a very big issue in a coastal district that relies heavily on tourism and fishing. Arrington, who was trying to tie herself as closely to Trump as possible, said during the primary campaign that she supported the administration's plan to drill baby drill, but her campaign now says that she's always opposed it.
Democrat Joe Cunningham is hoping this issue will give him an opening in this 53-40 Trump seat, and two Republican mayors from small coastal communities endorsed him last month because of his opposition to local drilling. Sanford, who has also consistently opposed drilling, is not exactly giving Arrington a lifeline either. He told McClatchy on Tuesday that her new stance is "a complete lie," adding, "Let me just say emphatically, that is the opposite of what she said on the campaign, that is the opposite of what she said in multiple debates and public forums that we held together. Period."
● AL-02: On Tuesday, Rep. Martha Roby beat former Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright by a convincing 68-32 margin in the GOP primary runoff. Back in 2010, Roby unseated Bright by a narrow 51-49 in the general election.
Roby had infuriated Trump supporters in 2016 when she said she wouldn't vote for him after the Access Hollywood tape emerged, and while she quickly cozied up to the White House after the election, the GOP base wasn't quite ready to forgive and forget. Roby took just 39 percent of the vote in early June to Bright's 28, but Trump soon endorsed her campaign. Roby also badly outspent Bright and ran commercials reminding the audience that, when he was a conservative Democrat, he'd voted to make Nancy Pelosi speaker in 2009. This Montgomery-area seat backed Trump 65-33, and Daily Kos Elections rates the general as Safe Republican.