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.
● TX-Sen: Texas hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994, the longest such streak of any state, but there are signs 2018 could bring that streak to an end. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz initially looked like a daunting target, particularly given how expensive Texas is to campaign in. But the biggest factor that's put this race in play has also gone a long way toward mitigating that problem: the dynamic campaign of Rep. Beto O'Rourke, whose compelling candidacy has driven a massive influx of grassroots support, allowing him to outraise Cruz by a considerable margin.
Stunningly, that unexpected financial disparity has forced outside groups to devote precious resources to defend Cruz, who shouldn't have needed any help in the first place. National Republicans, including Cruz's home-state Senate colleague John Cornyn, have also fretted about this race. Adding to Cruz's difficulties, Trump's 52-43 victory in Texas was the weakest for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years, thanks in part to changing voter demographics and an ongoing revolt against Republicans by college-educated suburban white voters.
Nevertheless, Cruz has led almost every poll by modest margins, and he's still favored, given Texas' strong Republican lean and the fact that turnout among Hispanic voters still tends to lag those of other, more conservative-leaning groups. However, Cruz's potential defeat no longer appears as shocking as it once had, and Daily Kos Elections is changing our race rating from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
Race Rating Changes
● WV-Sen: (Tossup to Lean D) Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin appeared to be in deep trouble at the beginning of the election cycle thanks to West Virginia's love for Donald Trump, whom it backed by a 68-26 landslide in 2016. However, Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has struggled to gain traction in this ancestrally Democratic state and has faced hard-hitting attack ads eviscerating him for his previous career as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry—a potent attack in a state ravaged by the opioid epidemic.
Manchin has led in every poll since the May primary except for one survey from a GOP firm that same month, and even a Harper Polling survey for Morrisey's allied 35th PAC still had Manchin up 47-41 in August. National Republicans had worried this summer that Morrisey wasn't doing what it would take to win, and despite West Virginia's tough terrain, Manchin has emerged as the modest favorite.
● FL-27 (Likely D to Lean D): This open Miami seat has long appeared to be one of Team Blue's best pickup opportunities in the nation, but the GOP now very much has a fighting chance to hold on. Donna Shalala won her late August Democratic primary by an unexpectedly small 32-28 margin, and local Democrats have privately fretted that she's running an unfocused campaign; they've also worried that Shalala's inability to speak Spanish will hold her back in this heavily Cuban-American seat. By contrast, Republicans nominated Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV reporter who is is also Cuban-American.
Salazar recently released a poll giving her a wide 51-42 lead. While we have reasons to be skeptical she's ahead by anything like that margin, Shalala's own poll only gave the Democrat a 46-42 edge, which doesn't fill us with confidence. This seat backed Hillary Clinton 58-38, and we still believe Donald Trump's unpopularity gives Shalala the advantage, but Republicans very much can end up holding on here.
● NC-02 (Likely R to Lean R): Last week, the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund announced that they'd reserved $1.4 million in ad time to protect GOP Rep. George Holding in this 53-44 Trump seat in the Raleigh suburbs. That's also not the only sign that Holding is in for the first tough general election of his career: Both a recent poll for Democrat Linda Coleman and a poll for SurveyUSA for the conservative Civitas think tank gave Coleman a 1-point edge, and Holding's own campaign has claimed he's trailing in his own unreleased surveys. This is also the type of well-educated suburban seat that Republicans are worried about holding. (No pun intended.)
For now, we're still giving Holding the edge. Coleman's fundraising through the end of June wasn't especially strong, and national Democrats haven't announced any TV reservations for her. Trump's decisive win in 2016 also still does give Holding some room for error. However, Republicans are acknowledging in both word and deed that Holding very much is in for a real fight.
● OH-01: (Lean R to Tossup) In contrast to most of Ohio, this light-red Cincinnati district has a considerable share of college-educated white suburban voters, the type who have been abandoning Republicans across the country. National Republicans have been pouring resources in to help GOP Rep. Steve Chabot fend off Democrat Aftab Pureval, and they've openly agonized that the incumbent isn't prepared for a contested campaign. But that's exactly what he's been getting, as both parties are treating this seat as highly competitive.
● TX-02: (Safe R to Likely R) Republican Dan Crenshaw has no obvious flaws and is still heavily favored this open Houston-area district that backed Trump by 52-43 and Mitt Romney by an even tougher 63-36, but the 2018 political environment has seen highly educated suburban voters like those who comprise much of the electorate here flocking to Democrats. With the DCCC starting to take more of an interest in Democrat Todd Litton by adding him to their Red to Blue list of top-level races, and the unpredictability of an open suburban seat in Texas this year, we're putting this contest on the board.
● TX-23 (Tossup to Lean R): Republican Rep. Will Hurd got two pieces of very good news over the last few weeks as he defends his 50-46 Clinton seat that sprawls from San Antonio to El Paso. First, Siena released a poll in mid-September giving Hurd a 51-43 lead over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, and Democrats have yet to counter with better numbers. And last week, Republican Pete Flores defeated former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego, who lost two tight races to Hurd, by a 53-47 margin in a special election for a Texas state Senate seat that overlaps considerably with the 23rd District. Democrats have usually run well ahead of Clinton's presidential numbers in special elections this cycle, so it was particularly jarring to see them lose a 54-42 Clinton seat.
Ortiz Jones is an impressive and well-funded candidate, and she's putting up a real fight here. However, both the Siena poll and the special indicate that Team Red has an advantage in this area that they don't have in many other competitive districts. Democrats have also worried about turning out Hispanic voters for a midterm race even with Trump in the White House, and they can be hurt in this heavily Hispanic seat if they struggle with turnout. Finally, Hurd has also been smart about breaking with Trump on key issues like immigration (a very important topic in a district that stretches along much of the border with Mexico) while still backing most of his agenda, which could help him survive a wave.
● AZ-Sen: Republican Martha McSally continues to try to falsely portray Democrat Kyrsten Sinema as anti-veteran, with her latest ad highlighting a flyer Sinema circulated for a 2003 protest against the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. The flyer in question showed skeleton soldiers emblazoned with dollar signs and the caption, "You can help us push back U.S. terror in Iraq and the Middle East."
Just as with a previous ad where Sinema is shown protesting the war in a tutu, McSally's latest ad deceptively claims Sinema was protesting the troops themselves. But of course, there's no record of her making disparaging remarks about actual soldiers, because she was protesting the war itself, not the service of the troops.
● FL-Sen: University of North Florida: Bill Nelson (D-inc): 45, Rick Scott (R): 45 (January: 48-42 Nelson)
● IN-Sen, MS-Sen-B, NJ-07: The political arm of the National Association of Realtors has endorsed Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana. NAR often spends heavily on races for candidates on both sides of the aisle, and they're also out with new TV spots for two Republican incumbents. In the Mississippi Senate race, NAR is putting $352,000 behind an ad for appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, and they're spending $377,000 on a TV ad for Rep. Leonard Lance in New Jersey.
● MO-Sen: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and her allies have run several ads hitting Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley for being part of a lawsuit to try to overturn Obamacare and end protections for pre-existing conditions, and Hawley is going up with a response spot. The Republican tells the audience that one of his young sons has "a rare chronic disease … a pre-existing condition. We know what it's like." Hawley argues he wants to force insurance companies to cover all pre-existing conditions, and supposedly McCaskill knows it, but of course his lawsuit would eliminate that very protection.
● ND-Sen: Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer's case of foot-in-mouth disease continues to run rampant as the Senate candidate doubled down on his effort to discredit Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, calling it "even more absurd" than Anita Hill's allegation against Justice Clarence Thomas 27 years ago. Last week, Cramer sparked an outcry when he downplayed the allegation against Kavanaugh by emphasizing that he and his accuser were just teenagers, and channeling The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob by arguing the attempted rape "never went anywhere."
● NJ-Sen: Patients For Affordable Drugs is spending another $747,000 against Republican Bob Hugin.
● IA-Gov: We have a very rare poll of this contest from the Iowa-based Selzer & Company for the Des Moines Register, and they give Democrat Fred Hubbell a narrow 43-41 lead over GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, with 7 percent backing Libertarian Jake Porter. Back in January, well before Hubbell won the nomination, Selzer gave Reynolds a 42-37 lead.
The new survey gives Reynolds a 46-38 approval rating, a drop from her 47-33 score In January. (Reynolds’ favorable rating stands at a similar 45-37.) By contrast, Hubbell posts a 42-27 favorable rating, while he was largely unknown early this year.
This is the first time the University of North Florida has tested Gillum against DeSantis, but Gillum has similarly led in every other poll since the Aug. 28 primary by a modest margin.
Meanwhile, polls of Georgia have been released far less frequently, but GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp has only ever led in a single SurveyUSA poll back in July, where he was ahead 46-44. Abrams' latest survey astonishingly has her earning more support than the rest of the field combined, which if accurate would mean she could end up taking a majority outright and avoid a December runoff. However, a University of Georgia survey from early September had the race tied 45-45 with a Libertarian taking 2 percent, and there have been few other independent polls.
● AZ-04: Republican Rep. Paul Gosar is an overwhelming favorite to win re-election in his 68-28 Trump district in northwestern Arizona, but his Democratic opponent David Brill just released one of the most devastating attack ads we have ever seen—just watch it. The commercial starts with the testimonial of Grace, a rural physician who says Gosar is doing nothing to help rural Arizona. Then David, a lawyer, contends the congressman isn't working for his district. Grace then continues by saying if voters care about health care and jobs, they would hold him to account.
The next person shown is Jennifer, described as a medical interpreter, who says if Gosar "actually cared about people in rural Arizona," he would be fighting for Social Security, access to health care, and pro-environmental water policies. Subsequently, a private investigator named Tim says the congressman doesn't listen to his constituents and doesn't have their interests at heart.
Finally, the ad delivers its Mortal Kombat-style "FINISH HIM!" blow by having Grace, David, Jennifer, Tim, and two other people named Joan and Gaston sequentially reveal their shared last name: Gosar. Indeed, this spot features no fewer than six of the congressman's nine siblings excoriating him and endorsing his opponent, Brill. This isn't the only ad along those lines, and another one features David Gosar saying, "We gotta stand up for our good name. This is not who we are," and Tim Gosar declaring, "It's intervention time."
So just what did Congressman Gosar do to so badly alienate most of his family? David Gosar revealed that it's largely because his brother is a far-right conspiracy theorist and a racist who endorsed birtherism. Paul Gosar also spread an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that billionaire philanthropist George Soros was behind the neo-Nazi "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville last year, baselessly claiming that the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor had collaborated with the original Nazis in World War II.
One more Gosar sibling named Pete, who was the Democratic nominee for Wyoming governor in 2014, didn't appear in the ads, but he did stand with his brothers and sisters who rebuked the congressman. We've seen cases of a family member supporting a candidate's opponent, but we've never seen anything like this before. One can only imagine how awkward family gatherings must be at the Gosar household.
● IA-01: Medium Buying reports that the DCCC has canceled all of its remaining TV spending in the Cedar Rapids media market, which covers 85 percent of this seat. Its move comes days after Siena released a poll showing Democrat Abby Finkenauer leading GOP Rep. Rod Blum by a hefty 52-37 margin.
The Democratic group House Majority PAC has also been airing ads against Blum, and as far as we know, they haven't canceled any airtime. Meanwhile, Blum's would-be allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund and the NRCC have yet to reserve or run commercials to help him.
● NY-27: Indicted Rep. Chris Collins is out with the first TV spot of his re-election campaign since he unsuspended his campaign last week, and even by the standards of the Trump-era GOP, it's some real xenophobic trash. The commercial shows footage of Democrat Nate McMurray speaking in Korean, and the on-screen text alleges that the candidate "[h]elped American companies hire foreign workers" and led to fewer jobs for American and more jobs "for China and Korea."
McMurray used the original video, which he's since pulled down, to talk about his hopes for peace between North and South Korea, but of course the Collins ad doesn't mention that. In fact, it strongly implies that McMurray was instead bragging about shipping jobs overseas, since the text concludes, "You can take Nate McMurray at his word." The ad is also put together so there's an image of North Korean dictator and Trump pal Kim Jong-Un over McMurray's shoulder.
As the Buffalo News explains, McMurray, who was a corporate attorney in South Korea, worked to help American companies that were trying to sell goods in South Korea hire Korean workers. That's hardly the same thing as sending American jobs to Asia, but Collins doesn't really care about that. Instead, he's almost certainly hoping that some footage of McMurray speaking the Korean tongue, paired with an image of Kim Jong-Un, will hurt the Democrat in this very Republican and overwhelmingly white district.
● PA-01: Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick recently went up with a spot that tried to link Democrat Scott Wallace to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, and Wallace is up with a response ad.
The narrator dismisses the attacks as smears without repeating them, before Bucks County Sheriff Milt Warrell appears and tells the audience he knows Wallace "and knows what he's done to keep our families safe." Warrell praises Wallace for his work as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he worked for a GOP senator and "wrote major crime legislation, including the Missing Children's Assistance Act."
● House: We have more size-of-the buys for committee spending. First up is the DCCC:
- CA-25: $37,000
- MN-02: $402,000
- MN-08: $204,000
- NM-02: $75,000
Their allies at House Majority PAC have also deployed $227,000 in MN-03.
The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund also has new expenditures:
- CA-10: $358,000
- CA-25: $197,000
- CA-39: $247,000
- CA-45: $265,000
- CO-06: $347,000
- IL-06: $185,000
- KS-02: $325,000
- KS-03: $316,000
- KY-06: $185,000
- ME-02: $256,000
- MN-08: $786,000
- NJ-03: $105,000
- NJ-07: $210,000
- NV-03: $949,000
- NY-19: $174,000
- OH-01: $283,000
- TX-07: $104,000
- VA-02: $153,000
- WA-08: $297,000
- CA-49: Siena for the New York Times: Mike Levin (D): 51, Diane Harkey (R): 41
- KS-03: Siena for the New York Times: Sharice Davids (D): 51, Kevin Yoder (R-inc): 43
- NJ-07: Siena for the New York Times: Leonard Lance (R-inc): 45, Tom Malinowski (D): 44
- OH-01: American Viewpoint (R) for the Congressional Leadership Fund: Steve Chabot (R-inc): 46, Aftab Pureval (D): 39
- TX-31: Anzalone Liszt Grove for MJ Hegar (D): John Carter (R-inc): 46, MJ Hegar (D): 42
This is the first poll we've seen from California's open 49th District since July. Back then, Levin released a poll giving himself a small 49-46 lead, while Harkey responded with her own survey that showed her up 46-43. If Harkey does have better numbers, it's in her best interest to release them, since major outside GOP groups aren't doing much to help her right now.
According to FEC filings, neither the NRCC nor the Congressional Leadership Fund has aired any ads here during the month of September, which is pretty glaring given how much they've already deployed to defend other House seats in Southern California. On the other side, House Majority PAC has spent only $56,000 on direct mail and web ads, while Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA super PAC has deployed $138,000 on digital advertising. This seat hosted the tightest House contest of 2016, but so far at least, both parties seem to be acting like they think this Siena poll is on-target and Levin is well ahead.
By contrast, both sides have been spending plenty in Kansas' 3rd, so it's quite surprising that Siena shows Davids considerably ahead. The only other poll we've seen was a Davids internal from last month that gave her a narrow 46-43 lead. We certainly hope this poll is right and Davids is well ahead, but right now, all the major players are behaving like this contest is a lot closer than it appears here.
Siena's New Jersey survey comes days after Monmouth's poll showed Malinowski up 46-43. However, while Siena is a little more pessimistic for Team Blue, they give Malinowski some reasons to think he has some room to grow. The sample gives Trump a bad 42-53 rating in a suburban seat he narrowly lost and gives Democrats a small 49-45 edge on the question of which party should control the House. They also find that Lance isn't particularly popular, with a 36-33 favorable rating, while Malinowski has a 32-20 score.
The CLF memo says that an unreleased August poll showed a tie, and they argue their ads have helped Chabot pull ahead. The only other poll we've seen over the last few months was a recent Pureval internal that showed the Democrat ahead 49-47, which they say is an improvement from a 45-45 tie in August.
Finally, Hegar's memo says that she's made gains since late July, when an unreleased poll showed her down 48-39. This is the first poll we've seen all year for this 54-41 Trump seat in the Austin suburbs.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley announced over the weekend that he would not run for mayor next year.