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.
We'll have more coverage of Tuesday’s primaries in the next Digest. In the meantime, you can find results here.
● MN-Gov: In an upset on Tuesday night, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson derailed a comeback bid by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, winning the Republican primary by a 53-44 margin with 69 percent of precincts reporting when we put the Digest to bed. Democrats, meanwhile, nominated Rep. Tim Walz, who comfortably defeated his closest opponent, state Rep. Erin Murphy, 43-33.
Johnson, the GOP's unsuccessful nominee in 2014, was making a second go of it and had been out on the campaign trail nearly a year when Pawlenty made a late entry into the race back in April. However, while Johnson’s 50-45 loss to Democratic incumbent Mark Dayton was respectable for a contest that attracted so little attention, GOP leaders weren’t impressed by his second campaign and worked hard to recruit Pawlenty.
But while Pawlenty, who'd served as governor from 2003 to 2011, had far more cash and much greater name recognition, Johnson refused to defer to him. Pawlenty had his weaknesses, particularly the fact that he'd left Minnesota to become a lobbyist for Wall Street in D.C. following his failed presidential bid in 2012. And Johnson had his strengths: Thanks to his popularity with the conservative base, he easily won the state party's endorsement, which Pawlenty didn't even bother competing for.
Pawlenty seemed concerned enough that he ran TV ads attacking Johnson, but nonetheless, limited polling showed him well ahead. Still, the fact that Republican primary voters favored a true believer over a pragmatist who'd "gone Washington" is by no means the most shocking primary outcome we've seen.
Walz's victory was less surprising, given that he and his allies had outspent the competition. Murphy, though, had the support of Dayton and the endorsement of the state Democratic Party. She also ran to Walz's left, which ordinarily might've juiced her standing with primary voters.
However, she may have been undercut by the last-minute entry of state Attorney General Lori Swanson, who finished third with just 23 percent of the vote. While Swanson led in limited polling, her brief campaign met with a great deal of trouble, particularly when her running-mate, Rep. Rick Nolan, became embroiled in a #MeToo scandal involving his handling of a former staffer accused of sexual harassment.
Now Walz and Johnson will square off in one of the rare races this year where the GOP has the chance to flip a governorship from the Democrats. The number one question now is whether Republicans are actually better off with Johnson, who lacks Pawlenty's baggage, or whether he's too conservative for this swingy but typically light-blue state. A BuzzFeed report from June, citing an unnamed GOP operative, said it was "likely" the RGA would cancel its $2.3 million fall TV ad reservation (made just before Pawlenty jumped in) if Johnson captured the nomination. We'll be watching for this potential development closely, but for now, we still rate this contest a Tossup.
Race Ratings Changes
● ME-02: (Lean R to Tossup): This northern Maine district is one of the most heavily white working-class seats in the country, and as a result, it flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016. However, special elections in demographically similar areas have seen voters snap back toward Democrats thanks to Trump's unpopularity. The Democratic nominee, state Rep. Jared Golden, is a former Marine combat veteran with a profile well-suited to his district. Both national parties have reserved considerable TV ad time here, and Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin failed to release any data contradicting a recent poll for Golden that found the race dead even.
● WV-03: (Likely R to Lean R): It seems improbable that a seat that backed Trump by a 73-23 margin could ever be in play for Democrats, but this district in the former heart of coal country is a very unusual one. Though heavily white working-class, a long history of unionization made this seat a Democratic stronghold downballot for decades. Even as voters here have moved sharply to the right in presidential races in recent years, they voted Democratic in every single House and Senate election from 1930 until 2014 and still backed multiple Democrats at the state level in 2016,
Democratic state Sen. Richard Ojeda, who in 2016 won a seat in the legislature that's even Trumpier than the congressional district he's now seeking, has proven to be a pitch-perfect candidate, with a blue-collar appeal that stands in contrast to the usual caricatures of D.C. Democrats. The lone poll we've seen here had Ojeda narrowly ahead, and Republicans never countered it. GOP state Del. Carol Miller is still favored given this district's long-term lurch to the right. But with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin poised to carry this district no matter how his re-election goes, an upset by Ojeda doesn't appear to be such a distant possibility anymore.
● AZ-Sen: With two weeks to go before the GOP primary, Rep. Martha McSally is going up with her first negative spot against former state Sen. Kelli Ward. The ad tries to argue that it's Ward, who is trying to appeal to anti-establishment conservatives, who is too liberal, with the narrator charging that "former Democrat Kelli Ward" doesn't stand with Donald Trump. She also charges that Ward dared to say that Trump made a mistake when it comes to "cracking down on illegal immigration," before the spot features audio of Ward declaring, "People who are here should not have to live in fear."
The last poll we saw of this race was a late-July survey from the GOP firm OH for ABC15 that had McSally leading Ward 35-27, with disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at 15. That's far from a secure lead, and there have been plenty of commercials aiming to weaken McSally over the last few weeks from both a pro-Ward super PAC funded by GOP magadonor Robert Mercer and a Democratic group called Red and Gold.
NRSC chief Cory Gardner reportedly has been concerned that Ward could win the nomination and jeopardize this seat, and Politico recently wrote that he personally asked Trump to endorse McSally. Trump has remained noncommittal, and while he did take the time to praise McSally at a recent event in upstate New York, he has yet to lend her a critical endorsement tweet.
● MS-Sen-B: The NRA has endorsed appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith ahead of the Nov. 6 nonpartisan primary.
● MT-Sen: The conservative super PAC Senate Reform Fund has dropped another $375,000 into ads against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
● WV-Sen: Well this is interesting: Politico reports that Republicans are privately worried about GOP nominee Patrick Morrisey, who it turns out doesn't dispute that he's trailing right now against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. Morrisey has been on the receiving end of a barrage of negative ads since winning the May primary, but he hasn't had the resources to fight back on the airwaves yet. Indeed, those ads paint a very negative image of Morrisey's lobbying on behalf of big pharmaceutical companies that have gouged patients on prices and contributed to the opioid-abuse epidemic in West Virginia.
While outside groups have been coming to Morrisey’s aid, Republicans are reportedly concerned that those super PACs and donors will turn their attention elsewhere after Labor Day if he can't turn things around. There have only been a handful of polls since Morrisey won the nomination in May, but every single one of them has found him trailing and by more than just a few points. Indeed, a July survey from the GOP firm Trafalgar Group had Manchin up by 50-40, and a Monmouth poll in June had Morrisey down 49-42.
● FL-Gov: Billionaire developer Jeff Greene went up with a negative spot against former Rep. Gwen Graham a few weeks ago, and he's now hitting former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine on TV. Greene's commercial, which comes two weeks ahead of the Democratic primary, charges that Levine has turned Biscayne Bay "into a cesspool" because he installed faulty pumps in a rush job in order to protect his own property. The commercial goes on to argue that Levine has responded by bullying scientists just like Donald Trump.
Levine's campaign noted that the ad actually used stock video from Asia, Russia, and Serbia to represent a polluted Biscayne Bay. They also quickly put up a response commercial featuring Levine telling the audience, "A billionaire who bet against the middle class is attacking me and the city I love for fighting against sea level rise." Levine then argues the Miami Beach has taken on sea level rise "like no other city in the world," and the spot features a photo of him receiving the French Legion of Honor from French President Emmanuel Macron.
On the other side Trump-endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis is posting sizable leads in the GOP primary over state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and major state Republican donors are betting that DeSantis is likely to triumph on Aug. 28. While Putnam was long the favored candidate of the state GOP money class, Politico reports that his Florida Grown committee has not reported any contributions since July 27. By contrast, DeSantis' committee has taken in $780,000 in August so far.
● KS-Gov: On Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded last week’s GOP primary, making infamous voter-fraud peddler Kris Kobach the 2018 nominee. However, Kobach isn't just a threat to the GOP's general election chances, he's a threat to free and fair elections themselves. For years, Kobach has crusaded against voter fraud as an excuse to suppress Democratic leaning demographics like young voters and Latinos. Kobach also headed up Trump's now-defunct "Election Integrity" commission, which Trump shut down last year in reaction to numerous lawsuits that ultimately revealed it was merely a pretext for new federal voting restrictions.
● MD-Gov: Gonzales Research's new poll gives GOP Gov. Larry Hogan a wide 52-36 lead over Democrat Ben Jealous. The only other poll we've seen since the late June Democratic primary was a Jealous internal from mid-July that had the incumbent ahead by a smaller 49-40 margin.
● CA-22: The Democratic firm Tulchin Research has conducted a survey presumably on behalf of Democrat Andrew Janz that has him down by just a modest 48-43 against Republican Rep. Devin Nunes. The only other poll we've seen here since the June top-two primary, where Nunes led the Democratic field 58-40, was a June poll from the Democratic pollster PPP that found Janz trailing by a wider 49-41.
● CA-25: Team Red is betting that Proposition 6, a ballot measure to repeal a gas tax increase that was passed by the state legislature to fund vital transportation improvements, will motivate conservatives to turn out in competitive House seats and convince Trump-skeptical voters to support Republican candidates. The Congressional Leadership Fund is out with what we believe is the first, but by no mean the last, TV spot that tries to use the gas tax against Democratic candidates.
The narrator argues that Democrat Katie Hill's campaign against GOP Rep. Steve Knight "is backed by Sacramento liberals who raised the gas tax," and that Hill "supports radical environmental regulations" that would hike gas prices. The commercial notably doesn't actually accuse Hill of supporting the legislature's transportation program or opposing Proposition 6, it simply links her to the people that do and calls her environmental plan "radical." It's a tactic the GOP is likely to use in competitive races across the state regardless of the Democratic candidates actual stance on Proposition 6.
● FL-17: The Club for Growth, which is supporting state Sen. Greg Steube in the Aug. 28 GOP primary, is out with a poll from WPA Intelligence that gives him a 39-16 lead over state Rep. Julio Gonzalez. The memo says that a previously unreleased survey from last month had Steube ahead of Gonzalez, who has the support of Sen. Marco Rubio and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 24-12. This is the first poll we've seen of this contest.
● NJ-03: Monmouth has polled New Jersey's 3rd District, and they have GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur holding a razor-thin 41-40 lead over Democrat Andy Kim. This is just the latest poll we've seen here showing a very tight race; a July survey from the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group had the contest tied 42-42, and a June internal poll for Kim by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner even had him down 48-44, meaning this independent poll is even better than Kim's own polling was two months ago. If MacArthur has his own polling with any contradictory numbers, now would be the time to release it.
● TX-32: Democrat Colin Allred has released an internal poll from GBA Strategies that has him trailing by just 47-45 against Republican Rep. Pete Sessions. This is the first poll we've seen since Allred won Team Blue's nomination in this contest, which Daily Kos Elections rates as a Tossup.
● WA-08: Pediatrician Kim Schrier claimed victory in last week's top-two primary on Monday evening after attorney Jason Rittereiser conceded defeat to his fellow Democrat. Former GOP state Sen. Dino Rossi took first place with 43 percent, while Schrier edged out Rittereiser 18.7-18.1 for the second spot in the general election; another Democrat, former Center for Disease Control and Prevention official Shannon Hader, was further behind with 12.5 percent. As of Monday evening, the four Democrats on the ballot had a combined 50.2 percent of the vote compared to the three Republicans' 46.9, with independents and third-party candidates taking the balance.
This suburban Seattle seat went from 50-48 Obama to 48-45 Clinton, and GOP Rep. Dave Reichert's retirement has made it a top Democratic target. Rossi, who very narrowly lost the 2004 race for governor and also was defeated in the 2008 gubernatorial contest and 2010 Senate race, is a very strong fundraiser who has always done well in this area. However, while his showing earlier this month was disappointing for Team Red, both parties are likely to fight hard for this swing seat. The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has reserved $3.5 million in TV time, while the Democratic group House Majority PAC has invested $1.7 million here. Daily Kos Elections rates this as a Tossup.