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.
● OH-Sen: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown's newest spot against GOP Rep. Jim Renacci invokes the Republican's connections to wealthy businessman Ben Suarez, who spent over a year in prison after a campaign finance scandal. The narrator says that Renacci "used his office to try and get a lawsuit dropped" against Suarez, and then received $100,000 in campaign donations from Suarez days later. The ad further asserts that while Renacci publicly claimed he wasn't close to Suarez, court records revealed the two had "exchanged 40 calls surrounding the donations."
That "$100,000" figure, of course, is far beyond the maximum contribution to congressional campaigns allowed by law (currently $2,700), but even Renacci wouldn't have been dumb enough to cash a check that size from a single supporter. Rather, in 2012, Suarez was accused of using his employees as straw donors to direct $200,000 in campaign contributions to Renacci, who was seeking re-election at the time, and Republican Josh Mandel, who was running for Senate that year (and in fact was the candidate Renacci replaced earlier this year when Mandel abandoned his second bid against Brown).
Suarez ended up getting indicted that year, and a month later, a top executive at his company killed himself the day before he was to testify before the grand jury that was investigating his boss. At a jury trial in 2014, Suarez was ultimately found not guilty of violating campaign finance laws, but he did receive a 15-month prison sentence for tampering with a witness in the case. The story resurfaced again last month when a Dayton Daily News report revealed the 40 calls exchanged between Renacci and Suarez between 2010 and 2012 that Brown's ad refers to. Renacci dismissed the story as "old news," but Brown is betting that's not the case.
Suarez, who got out of prison in 2016, is also far from "old news." To retaliate against Brown and Steve Dettelbach, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted him, Suarez put together something he dubbed "The Justice Association," which released a memo in June laying out plans for an investigation, lawsuit, and ad campaign against both Brown and Dettelbach, who is currently running for state attorney general. The "association" even claimed it would offer "rewards" of up to $100,000 for supporting evidence that could be used to request a grand jury investigation.
Days later, Suarez spoke on the record about this alleged ad campaign, declaring it would "consist of, generally, a parade of victims of all the damage that it [the federal investigation] caused," and that "[w]e're going to call Sherrod Brown and Steve Dettelbach the job-killer team." So far, these ads have yet to materialize.
● AZ-Sen: The local GOP firm OH Predictive Insights is out with another poll of the Aug. 28 GOP primary for ABC15, and they find Rep. Martha McSally leading former state Sen. Kelli Ward 47-27, with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at 13. Their last poll in late July had McSally ahead of Ward only 35-27, and we haven't seen any other surveys from anyone in the intervening weeks.
McSally's allies aren't acting like this race is put away, though. The super PAC DefendArizona has launched another $730,000 in ads, taking their total investment in the primary to $2.8 million so far.
● MO-Sen: EMILY's List has deployed $1.9 million on an ad campaign against Republican nominee Josh Hawley.
● MS-Sen-B: Former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy is out with a poll from The Mellman Group arguing he very much has a path to victory in this special election. They first take a look at the Nov. 6 nonpartisan special election and find appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith leading with 29 percent, while Espy edges GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel 27-17 for the second place spot in a likely runoff three weeks later. They also test Espy against both Republicans in hypothetical runoff scenarios and finding him leading Hyde-Smith 41-38 and defeating McDaniel 45-27.
It does feel unlikely that Espy could ultimately defeat Hyde-Smith if the two GOP candidates outpace him by anything like 46-27 in the primary. McDaniel has been trying to run to Hyde-Smith's right, so it seems too much to hope for that enough of his voters would be very open to backing a Democrat like Espy (even in an officially nonpartisan race) over Hyde-Smith, or that they would just overwhelmingly choose stay home in a runoff. However, we don't have many other polls to work with.
McDaniel's own campaign doesn't seem to be going too well, though. While he almost toppled then-Sen. Thad Cochran in a tight and expensive 2014 GOP primary runoff, the major outside groups that supported him then have largely stayed away this time. McDaniel's own fundraising has been weak, and Hyde-Smith held a huge $1.4 million to $156,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of June. But hey, there's always his allied super PAC Remember Mississippi, which raised $1.4 million last winter thanks to conservative megadonors Richard Uihlein and Robert Mercer … right?
Well, some people have very much been benefiting from Remember Mississippi's money, but the AP's Brian Slodysko reports that none of them happen to be named Chris McDaniel. The PAC has spent $792,000 on consultants and operating expenditures, almost three times the $265,000 they've invested in expenses like video production, ads, and other forms of communication. FCC records also say that a mere $5,500 of the group’s spending has gone into TV ads. Remember Mississippi had just $300,000 in the bank at the end of June, and the only major donation they've received since then was $25,000 from beer mogul August Busch III.
● CT-Gov: Democrat Ned Lamont is hoping to get ahead of the GOP's coming ads trying to tie him to unpopular departing Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy by using his first general election commercial to bemoan the state of Connecticut's economy and pledge to turn things around. Lamont tells the audience that "after a generation of failed political leadership by Republican and Democratic governors, too many of our kids and businesses are fleeing the state." Lamont vows to change that by "investing in education, good paying jobs, and cutting the property tax," declaring that "the middle class has paid enough."
● FL-Gov: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who spent months mulling a bid for governor himself, has endorsed former Rep. Gwen Graham ahead of the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. Buckhorn has openly expressed interest in serving as Graham's running mate should she win the nomination, so his move is hardly a surprise.
● IL-Gov: Victory Research (R): J.B. Pritzker (D): 41, Bruce Rauner (R-inc): 30, Sam McCann (I): 9 (June: 45-30 Pritzker)
● LA-Gov: Businessman Eddie Rispone not only expressed interest in running as a Republican against Democratic Gov. Jon Bel Edwards next year, he's already gone ahead and formed an exploratory committee. Rispone is a longtime GOP donor who has spent years involved in a campaign to separate several Baton Rouge neighborhoods from the city and incorporate them into a new community to be called St. George. Rispone's allies say this is a good way to address crime and inefficient government in the city, while critics argue this is simply an attempt by wealthy white residents to secede from predominantly black Baton Rouge and its public schools.
● RI-Gov: Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has continued her heavy spending over the last six weeks as she prepares for a tough general election campaign. Raimondo deployed an additional $1.3 million from July 1 to Aug. 14, with $761,000 of that going to TV ads —a huge sum for a Rhode Island campaign. The governor took in another $244,000 during that time, and she had $2.8 million on-hand as of Tuesday.
Raimondo has to fend off a primary challenge from former Secretary of State Matt Brown on Sept. 12 before she can concentrate on the general. Brown loaned his campaign $81,000 and raised another $51,000 over the last six weeks and spent $123,000 during this time, leaving him with $49,000 on-hand.
On the GOP side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung took in $98,000 during this time and spent $200,000, leaving him with a $335,000 war chest. State House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan raised just $5,000 and spent $34,000, and she had only $82,000 on-hand. A recent Morgan poll found her trailing Fung, who was Team Red's 2014 nominee, 44-33.
● WY-Gov: We have an incredibly rare poll of Tuesday's GOP primary from the Republican firm Trafalgar Group, and they show a tight contest. They give wealthy megadonor Foster Friess a bare 21-20 lead over state Treasurer Mark Gordon, with attorney Harriet Hageman not far behind with 16. Businessman Sam Galeotos takes 10, while physician Taylor Haynes and businessman Bill Dahlin are at 6 and 2 percent, respectively. The only other poll we've seen at all here was a June survey from the University of Wyoming that had Gordon leading Galeotos 19-11.
Friess, who unexpectedly entered the race in the spring, has used his personal wealth to outraise each of his opponents. Friess took in $2.5 million since Jan. 1, with almost all of that coming from himself or his family. Gordon was a bit behind with $2 million collected, with $1.5 million of that coming from loans. Galeotos took in $1.8 million, and surprise! $1.5 million of that was self-funded. Hageman was further back with $923,000 raised (only $155,000 of that was self-funded), while Haynes took in $71,000 and Dahlin just $3,000. Former state House Minority Leader Mary Throne, who faces little opposition in the Democratic primary, raised $151,000.
● FL-06: A group called the American Jobs and Growth PAC that supports businessman and Navy veteran John Ward is spending another $50,000 on a cable TV buy against businessman and Green Beret veteran Michael Waltz, who is Ward's chief rival in the Aug. 28 GOP primary.
● House: The DCCC has added another six candidates to their Red to Blue list:
CT-05: Jahana Hayes
MN-08: Joe Radinovich
OH-12: Danny O'Connor
PA-10: George Scott
SC-01: Joe Cunningham
WA-08: Kim Schrier
The most noteworthy addition is George Scott, who is challenging GOP Rep. Scott Perry in Pennsylvania's 10th District. Despite raising very little money, Scott was the surprise winner of the May primary. However, Scott took in a credible $259,000 during the second quarter, and Perry held only a modest $554,000 to $208,000 cash-on-hand lead. This Harrisburg-area seat went from 53-46 Romney to 52-43 Trump.