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.
● TN-Sen: When former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen decided to make this race for Tennessee’s open Senate seat his first campaign for office in more than a decade, we were initially skeptical of his chances in a state that backed Donald Trump by a giant 61-35 margin, particularly given the recent failures of other similar comeback bids in red states (Evan Bayh’s attempt to reclaim his Senate seat in Indiana was top-of-mind). However, a Bredesen upset doesn't look like the remote possibility it once did.
Unlike unsuccessful comeback candidates such as Bayh, who became a D.C. lobbyist before trying to reclaim his Senate seat, Bredesen doesn't appear to have any easily exploitable vulnerabilities from his time as governor or his activities since he left office, a position he departed from with strong approval ratings. What’s more, polling has consistently found Bredesen competitive. Notably, a survey earlier this month from a PAC supporting GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the likely Republican nominee, could only muster a 38-35 lead for her in the face of a series of polls showing Bredesen ahead.
However, Bredesen has yet to face the inevitable onslaught of Republican attacks that will try to tie him to unpopular national Democrats, so we think Blackburn is still favored thanks to Tennessee's deep-red lean. But both national parties are behaving like they expect this race to be competitive; indeed, national Republicans have already reserved more than $4 million here for future ads. For these reasons, we're changing our rating on this race from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
● MI-Sen: Donald Trump has endorsed businessman and retired Army Capt. John James in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, where he faces venture capitalist Sandy Pensler for the nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
● MO-Sen: A new report from the Daily Beast has revealed that Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill was the target of Russian hacking efforts last year that were likely intended to damage her and help elect Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley this fall. Fortunately, McCaskill said the Russian phishing attempt was thwarted with the help of Microsoft, which had recently disclosed that three unnamed congressional candidates had been the targets of Russian hacking attempts ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Unfortunately, congressional Republicans recently rejected a Democratic amendment to increase funding for election security measures. And not only have they refused to rule out using hacked materials to their electoral advantage, Republicans already did that very thing when Russia hacked Democratic campaign organizations in 2016. Despite Donald Trump incredulously proclaiming that Russia isn't trying to interfere with the 2018 elections, this latest news shows the security threat is very real.
● MT-Sen: The Senate Reform Fund is spending $370,000 for a TV ad to attack Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. Just like their previous ad from earlier this month, this newer spot hits Tester for taking a $25,000 trip to Israel and supposedly voting to keep earmarks and against repeal of the "death tax."
However, as Tester's campaign previously noted, the Israel trip was by an education nonprofit that had taken Republicans on similar trips, and he claimed he voted the way he did on the relevant earmarks and estate tax bills to secure additional education funding and stop the estate tax from increasing on Montana farmers.
● NV-Sen: Democrat Jacky Rosen is out with another ad hitting GOP Sen. Dean Heller's months of waffling over repealing Obamacare before finally and enthusiastically supporting it.
The commercial begins with Rosen bemoaning how most D.C. politicians "just go wherever their party tells them to," including Heller. She hits him for promising "to vote against the plan to repeal Obamacare because it would hurt Nevada," but doing it after Trump "put the pressure on." The spot then shows footage of Trump telling the smiling senator, "You weren't there, but you're gonna be!" The spot then features news clips saying that Heller reversed himself before it goes back to Rosen pledging to fix Obamacare rather than just walking the party line.
● WI-Sen: Wisconsin Next, a super PAC primarily funded by billionaire Diane Hendricks, is spending $500,000 on a new TV ad hitting businessman Kevin Nicholson and praising state Sen. Leah Vukmir ahead of the Aug. 14 GOP primary. The spot reminds viewers that Nicholson "spoke at the same Democratic National Convention as Hillary Clinton," and ever wrote a letter praising her. The commercial also shows a clip of Nicholson's 2000 speech where the then-president of the College Democrats of America proclaims, "The Democratic Party shares our values." The second half of the ad lauds Vukmir as an ardent conservative who is backed by the NRA.
● CT-Gov: Hedge fund founder David Stemerman's latest TV ad ahead of next month's Republican primary again sees him turning his fire on businessman Bob Stefanowski. Stemerman goes after Stefanowski's business record, criticizing him for running a predatory payday loan company that was fined millions of dollars. He also hits Stefanowski for having registered to vote as a Democrat shortly before the 2016 elections.
● FL-Gov: Mason-Dixon has returned to survey the field ahead of next month's gubernatorial primaries, and just like the vast majority of polls this month, they find Rep. Ron DeSantis pulling into a sizable 41-29 lead over state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination. That advantage is a large swing toward DeSantis from their February survey, where Putnam led 27-23, but that was before DeSantis started running ads this summer featuring Trump’s endorsement.
Meanwhile on the Democratic side, Mason-Dixon has former Rep. Gwen Graham winning by 27-18 over former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. They also find billionaire developer Jeff Greene taking 12 percent and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum earning 10 percent. Graham led Levine by just 20-17 in their February poll, but several other pollsters this month have found Graham with a plurality.
While Greene jumped into the Democratic primary much later than his rivals, he's making the most of it by booking $5.3 million in ads for the first week of August, bringing his total TV ad spending to more than $18 million. His latest commercial features a survivor of the Parkland school shooting recounting her harrowing experience, and the spot promises Greene will take on the NRA to implement gun-safety reforms.
● ME-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in, and you may be surprised to learn that the candidate who had by far the most cash-on-hand on July 17 was independent state Treasurer Terry Hayes. That's because Hayes received $891,000 in public financing through the Maine Clean Election Act, and she had $477,000 in the bank in mid-July. Hayes' camp also argues that its owned another $250,000 through the program, but that LePage has illegally held up the funding for her and for over 100 legislative candidates. (A judge will rule soon whether LePage can singlehandedly withhold the public funds.)
Of the two major-party candidates, Republican Shawn Moody held a $319,000 to $213,000 cash-on-hand lead over Democrat Janet Mills. Mills has actually outraised Moody by about $1 million to $500,000 throughout the campaign, but Moody has self-funded another $500,000. Businessman Alan Caron, another independent, has self-funded $485,000 and raised another $70,000 from donors. Caron had less than $2,000 left on-hand after launching an early ad campaign, but he may have the capacity to do more self-funding over the next few months.
● TN-Gov: On Friday, Mike Pence endorsed Rep. Diane Black in Thursday's competitive GOP primary for governor of Tennessee. Pence's move came a day after termed-out Gov. Bill Haslam, who leads the Republican Governors Association, publicly urged the White House not to take sides.
Haslam has remained neutral in the primary to succeed him, but his committee reportedly is wary of having Black as their nominee. The New York Times recently wrote that party officials have been trying to deter Donald Trump from endorsing Black, an administration ally who has been trying to win over his support. The paper said that unnamed Republicans fear that Black would at the very least force them to spend money in this conservative state, and may even give Team Blue an opening.
It's not clear why they think Black would be so problematic, though it's possible that they wary that her time in D.C. would give Democrats a strong line of attack against her. Black faces businessmen Randy Boyd and Bill Lee and state House Speaker Beth Harwell in a contest without a clear frontrunner.
● FL-06: While the NRA had backed former state Rep. Fred Costello in the Aug. 28 GOP primary, they've confirmed that they've yanked their endorsement. The group expressed their disgust with Costello's vocal support for the bill GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed after the Parkland school shooting that raised the age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21.
● FL-17: A group called National Horizon PAC, which has received money from the anti-tax Club for Growth in the past, is spending $112,000 on a media buy against state Rep. Julio Gonzalez in the Aug. 28 GOP primary. The Club previously endorsed state Sen. Greg Steube.
● IL-06: The GOP firm Victory Research, which says they do not have a client in this contest, is out with a poll giving GOP Rep. Peter Roskam a 44-37 lead over Democrat Sean Casten. The same sample also gives Democrat J.B. Pritzker a slight 42-41 edge over GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.
This is the first poll we've seen of the contest for this suburban Chicago seat, which swung from 53-45 Romney to 50-43 Clinton. However, as we've noted before, there are huge red flags when it comes to the pollster's principle, Rod McCulloch, who once falsified signatures for a candidate seeking to get on the ballot in 2008 and was convicted of perjury in connection with the case, receiving a sentence of probation. While we have no way of saying whether McCulloch has since redeemed himself, his past is worth bearing in mind as you consider the results.
● MN-02: CNN has dug up another slew of offensive and racist comments made by Republican Rep. Jason Lewis several years ago when he was a right-wing radio host, this time focusing on his disgust with civil rights laws and dehumanization of his political opponents. Lewis once said welfare recipients were "parasites," and that the black community had "traded one plantation for another," the government.
Lewis also called the parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that ban discrimination in the private sector "unconstitutional," and he labeled the Americans with Disabilities Act "one of the worst" civil rights laws. The congressman even blamed the ADA for workplace shootings, and he likened it to Jim Crow. Most outrageously, Lewis said Indiana's so-called "religious freedom" law "doesn't go far enough in allowing discrimination" against LGBTQ people and others.
Finally, after Mitt Romney made his infamous "47 percent" remarks during the 2012 presidential campaign, Lewis defended him by saying, "His only error was he probably guessed too low," and calling Democratic voters "parasites." Just as he did on the other two recent occasions where CNN had unearthed racist and misogynist remarks, Lewis didn't even pretend to offer an apology, and House Speaker Paul Ryan said he won't call for one.
● OH-12: Fundraising reports are now available for the period of July 1 through July 18, and Democrat Danny O'Connor dominated over Republican Troy Balderson. O'Connor raised a huge $607,000, while Balderson brought in just $167,000. O'Connor also heavily outspent his rival, dropping $625,000 compared to Balderson's $234,000. However, Balderson has been getting plenty of support from outside groups, and the Congressional Leadership Fund just added another $399,000 for ads on his behalf, bringing their total spending up to $2.4 million.
● VA-05: The Cook Political Report's description of GOP nominee Denver Riggleman is really something:
Riggleman ran a short-lived campaign for governor last year and has a libertarian streak. He says he'll join the Freedom Caucus, but supports decriminalizing marijuana and opposes the locally polarizing Atlantic Pipeline project. However, the most curious element of Riggleman's background may be a recently-deleted Facebook author page appearing to promote a self-published book titled "The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him."
At least one Republican attributes Riggleman's literary musings to his offbeat sense of humor. After all, his Instagram account profile reads: "Own a distillery, consult on DoD matters and had a fun run for Governor. Love whiskey, hate tyranny and embrace liberty. Whiskey Rebellion always!" But that account, since set to private, was once peppered with images of what can only be described as Bigfoot-themed erotic art.