The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● KS-Sen: Republican Kris Kobach, whose time as Kansas secretary of state mercifully came to an end on Monday, has been considering a Senate run, but he has some more immediate concerns. Grand jury proceedings are set to begin next week investigating allegations of election-related crimes by Kobach's office.
Kansas is one of a few states that allows citizens to collect petitions to initiate grand juries, and a local man named Steven Davis, who unsuccessfully ran for the state House in 2016 and 2018 as a Democrat, did just that in 2017. Davis alleges that in 2016, Kobach's office failed to properly register a number of people who had tried to register to vote when they renewed their driver's licenses or filled out an online form. Kobach's office denies any wrongdoing, saying that the allegations come from a brief period when the online voter registration systems were malfunctioning and claiming that both state and local officials worked to make sure people affected by the problem could vote.
Meanwhile, another potential GOP Senate candidate looks like he's doing anything but preparing for a Senate run. Former Rep. Kevin Yoder, who lost re-election last year to Democrat Sharice Davids by a wide 54-44 margin, just took a job at the lobbying firm HHQ Ventures. Normally, we don't note when a former member of Congress takes a job on K Street (in fact, it's really more notable when a former member of Congress doesn't take a job at a lobbying firm), but Yoder probably wouldn't be doing this if he planned to seek elected office soon.
For what it's worth, Yoder hasn't directly expressed interest in running for the Senate, though he has yet to rule out the idea. Back in November, about a week after his defeat, the Kansas City Star reported that he'd been approached by donors and GOP operatives about a possible bid but said he thought it was too early to decide.
Interestingly, though, one of Yoder's new bosses will be none other than his former GOP House colleague, Ben Quayle of Arizona, who co-founded HHQ Ventures a few years after his 2012 loss (the Q is for potatoe). Between Yoder, who went skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee, and Quayle, who used to write for a gossip site called Dirty Scottsdale under the pseudonym "Brock Landers," we have quite a dream team.
● KY-Gov: GOP Rep. James Comer sure is a subtle dude. After a few weeks of very loudly hinting that he would run if Republican Gov. Matt Bevin retired by the Jan. 29 filing deadline, Comer gave up the hinting and outright said he'd already picked a running mate for a potential campaign, though he wouldn't name who it was. Comer also ramped up the pressure on Bevin to just make his plans clear, declaring, "The governor's repeatedly said that he's going to run again. His numbers are really bad. He has yet to file. I will continue to say the ball is in his court."
Comer, who lost the 2015 primary to Bevin by 83 votes, added, "I'm getting calls from all over the state from people not only asking me to be ready in case he doesn't run but also asking me to run regardless of what decision he makes." While Comer initially said earlier this month that he would only run again if Bevin didn't, he said last week that he was reconsidering his plan not to challenge the governor.
● LA-Gov: GOP state Sen. Sharon Hewitt has been mulling a 2019 bid for governor for a while, and she said that she'll be announcing her plans within a few weeks. LaPolitics also adds that several other GOP state senators are "said to be thinking about the possibility during this year, or at least being encouraged by colleagues," including Bret Allain, Page Cortez, Ronnie Johns, and Rick Ward. We haven't previously heard any of this quartet mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates, and there's no word about how interested any of them are.
● WV-Gov: On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin went on MetroNews to talk about their recent report saying he was interested in challenging GOP Gov. Jim Justice in 2020. Frustratingly, while Manchin refused to outright acknowledge he was considering retaking his old job (despite host Hoppy Kercheval's admirable attempts to get a straight answer out of him), he did give us an idea of when he expects to decide.
Manchin said, "Let's just see what unfolds. There's a lot of good people who have an interest, let's see how that unfolds, let's see what type of support," and concluding, "and by this fall, we'll have an idea of what the pathway is." In other words, Manchin seems to be saying he plans to decide if he'll try to retake the governorship by this fall.
However, Manchin still won't outright just acknowledge that's what he means. When Kercheval told Manchin he was putting him down as interested, the senator once again didn't deny it, merely saying, "I love my state, and I'm always interested [in] anything and everything that happens in my state. That is an absolutely truthful statement."
● CA-52, San Diego, CA Mayor: In a surprise, Democratic Rep. Scott Peters announced on Wednesday that he would seek re-election rather than run for mayor of San Diego in 2020. Peters had reportedly been considering a campaign to succeed termed-out GOP Mayor Kevin Faulconer for a while, and he even formed an exploratory committee for a mayoral bid in December. However, as we always caution, forming an exploratory committee is not the same thing as announcing a campaign, because someone isn't running for office until they announce they're running for office. Until that magic moment, they can always back down, as Peters did on Wednesday.
Now that Peters has committed to seeking re-election, he should have little trouble winning a fifth term in the House. While California's 52nd District was very swingy tuft early in the decade and Peters only won narrowly in 2012 and 2014, Donald Trump has helped push it further into the blue column. The well-educated suburban seat moved from 52-46 Obama all the way to 58-36 Clinton, and Peters won his last two terms in Congress with ease. Team Red may have tried competing for it in 2020 had Peters left, but it probably won't be too high on their target list now.
By seeking re-election, Peters is also avoiding a potentially crowded contest for mayor. Two Democrats, City Councilor Barbara Bry and Assemblymember Todd Gloria, have already announced they're in, and there are plenty of other potential candidates eyeing this race.
● HI-01: From the Department of Nope:
"I'm an Asian trapped in a white body."
That's from Democratic Rep. Ed Case, at an event celebrating Asian-American and Pacific Islander members of Congress on Tuesday night. It's not clear why Case spoke at the reception—or why the hell he said what he did—though he does represent the only district in the country where a majority of eligible voters are Asian-American or Pacific Islander. But wait'll you see his "apology":
"Like so many others from Hawaii who treasure our multicultural heritage, I have absorbed and live the values of our many cultures. They and not my specific ethnicity are who I am, and I believe that this makes me an effective advocate on national issues affecting our API community.
"I regret if my specific remarks to the national API community on my full absorption of their concerns caused any offense."
Only a white guy would even dare to say that the cultures he's "absorbed," and not his "specific ethnicity," truly represent who he is. Everyone else doesn't quite have that—what's the word?—privilege. Case, a conservative Democrat who previously served in the House from 2002 to 2007, returned to Congress last year by winning a seven-way primary with a 40 percent plurality. Hopefully someone stronger will soon come along and send him packing once again.
● IA-04: Former state Sen. Rick Bertrand recently told the Washington Post that he was considering a second GOP primary bid against white supremacist Rep. Steve King. Back in 2016, Bertrand took on King but ran a rather weak campaign. Bertrand only entered the race less than three months before the primary and raised very little cash in that short timeframe, and he ended up losing by a wide 65-35 margin. Last year, Bertrand lost re-election 51-49 in a seat that had swung from 57-42 Obama to 50-45 Trump.
State Sen. Randy Feenstra and Army veteran Bret Richards are already challenging King in the primary, while Story County Supervisor Rick Sanders is also considering. If too many King foes run, there's a serious risk that the congressman could win renomination with just a plurality. However, Iowa also has an unusual primary law that also complicates things. If no one takes at least 35 percent of the vote, the nomination would be decided at a party convention.
● MA-06, MA-Sen: Fresh off his humiliating failure to stop Nancy Pelosi from becoming House speaker again, Rep. Seth Moulton is reportedly heading to New Hampshire in two weeks to speak with local Democrats, a possible sign that he's considering a bid for president. Moulton also hasn't ruled out a bid for Senate next year, so now that he's burned all bridges in the House, he may just be looking for the exits before he can clown on himself any further.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: On Thursday, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons became the first candidate to announce a bid against Mayor David Briley, a fellow Democrat. Clemmons argued that the incumbent had fallen short when it came to addressing transportation, education, and affordable housing. Clemmons also contrasted himself with the low-key Briley, saying that, "People do expect a level of charisma from their mayor," and that he hadn't done a good job "selling the city."
A number of other local politicians have been eyeing this race. The filing deadline is May 16, and all the candidates will face off on one nonpartisan ballot on Aug. 1. If no one takes a majority, there would be a runoff at a later point, though a date does not appear to have been scheduled yet.
● Tucson, AZ Mayor: Last month, Democratic Mayor Jonathan Rothschild announced that he would not seek re-election in 2019 as mayor of Arizona’s second-largest city. The city will hold its partisan primaries on Aug. 27, and the general election will be Nov. 5; the filing deadline is May 29. Tucson is usually a reliably blue city, and Democrats should be favored to keep city hall.
As of Wednesday, seven people have filed to run or announced they’re in. On the Democratic side, the main contenders look like Tucson City Councilor Regina Romero and former state Sen. Steve Farley, who ran for governor last year. Farley lost the primary 51-32, though he carried Tucson’s Pima County 43-39.
Romero, by contrast, has been elected citywide three times even though she only represents one of the city’s six wards. That’s because Tucson has long used a bizarre method to elect its city council: Primary voters in each ward nominate candidates, and those nominees then run citywide in the general election. Local Republicans hate this system because it makes it very tough for them to elect anyone to the city council, but past attempts to change it have failed.
● Las Vegas, NV City Council: On Tuesday, disgraced former Rep. Ruben Kihuen announced that he would run for an open seat on the Las Vegas City Council this year. Kihuen, a Democrat who retired after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, opened a campaign committee last month just before his term in the House ended.
Kihuen was a rising star in the state legislature, and he won a competitive House race in 2016. In late 2017, multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, and he soon announced he would retire after just a single term. Kihuen vehemently denied doing anything wrong at the time, and after the Ethics Committee released their report in November, he still didn't acknowledge the extent of his transgressions. Kihuen told the Nevada Independent that while he disagreed with some parts of the report, it "saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence. I extend my sincere apologies to each of these women."
According to the women who testified against him, what Kihuen called "immaturity and overconfidence" includes (but is not limited to) suggesting to a firm's employee that he would help advance her career if they were in a relationship, touching a campaign staffer's thigh and suggesting they get a hotel room, and telling a lobbyist that they should make a sex tape.
Witnesses also told the Ethics Committee that he'd called a primary foe a "slut" in front of his campaign staff and asked a woman who was employed at a firm working for him if she'd consider cheating on her husband. None of this seems to have stopped Kihuen from deciding that he should return to elected office, either.
A number of other candidates are competing for this seat including former Democratic Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, who resigned last month to run here, and former parks commissioner David Lopez. All the candidates will compete on one nonpartisan ballot on April 2, and if no one takes a majority, there would be a runoff June 11.
● Where Are They Now?, OH State House: This week, former GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt announced that she was re-entering politics by seeking a seat in the Ohio state House in 2020. Schmidt served in the state House until she was elected to a conservative southern Ohio House seat in a 2005 special, where she began a short but memorable career that lasted until she was ousted in the 2012 primary by now-Rep. Brad Wenstrup. Schmidt struggled to win Ohio's 2nd District in the first place, and she narrowly beat Democrat Paul Hackett 52-48 in a district that George W. Bush had carried 64-36 the previous year.
Schmidt then generated headlines in her first months in D.C. by taking to the House floor after Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Jack Murtha, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, had submitted a resolution calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. Schmidt told the House that a former legislative colleague and Marine veteran named Danny Bubp had told her "asked me to give Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run; Marines never do."
Schmidt withdrew her comments from the record after Democrats loudly protested. Bubp later said that he'd never mentioned Murtha by name to Schmidt and "I wish she never used my name." Schmidt would only win re-election the next year 51-49, and her 45-37 victory in 2008 was hardly impressive.
In a surprise, Schmidt ultimately lost her 2012 primary 49-43 against former Army doctor Brad Wenstrup. Schmidt found a way to alienate conservatives when she gave President Barack Obama a kiss on the cheek at the State of the Union, a pretty innocent gesture that played badly in the tea party era. The House Ethics Committee also ruled before the primary that she'd improperly taken $500,000 in legal services from a Turkish group. It didn't help that Schmidt was seeking a seat that was about a quarter new to her. Despite all this, she reportedly didn't take her primary seriously.
● Where Are They Now?: On Wednesday evening, former Republican Gov. John Engler resigned as interim president of Michigan State University ahead of his likely ouster by unhappy members of the school's board. Engler was appointed to the position last year after MSU's previous president, Lou Anna Simon, quit in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal, but his own brief tenure has been marked by nonstop turmoil.
Matters, however, came to a head last week when Engler told the Detroit News that there were some Nassar survivors who were "in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition." Nassar, a physician at MSU and for USA Gymnastics, had been accused of sexually assaulting over 200 young women and girls under his care, and last year, he was sentenced to more than a hundred years in prison. Engler's comments infuriated his critics on the board, who had never wanted him for the job in the first place.
In fact, he'd been forced on the university in appalling fashion. After Simon's departure, the board had considered two candidates: Engler, and another former governor, Democrat Jim Blanchard, whom Engler had unseated in 1990, but Republicans in the state legislature threatened to yank millions in funding from the school if Engler didn't get the nod. Though the board had been deadlocked, with four Republican members and four Democrats, the Democrats ultimately caved in the face of this threat.
But Engler's cloak of protection was stripped from him in November, when Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won the job he'd once had: the governorship. That meant Republican lawmakers could no longer hold MSU's funding hostage. In addition, Democrats flipped two seats on the school's board, giving them a 6-2 majority.
As a result, when the board announced Wednesday morning that it had scheduled an emergency meeting for Thursday to address Engler's future in the wake of his recent remarks, Engler had to know he was doomed. The board even reportedly asked Engler to resign before firing him, and he has complied.