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.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Chicago's Feb. 26 nonpartisan primary is coming up quickly, and with over a dozen candidates on the ballot, it can be extremely tough to get a handle of what all the contenders are for or against. Luckily, the local NPR affiliate WBEZ has come up with a creative way to convey this information. WBEZ sent the candidates a question with 20 specific yes-or-no questions on various issues, and they were given limited space to explain their answers. It's a very useful tool, and one we hope will be utilized in other races across the country.
For instance, WBEZ asked, "Will you force developers of new projects to build affordable housing units in gentrifying communities where long-time residents are being displaced?" The images of the 13 candidates are then color-coded based on whether they answered yes, no, or didn't directly answer.
Among the 13 candidates who finished the questionnaire (only Neal Sales-Griffin, who received no support in a recent poll for the Chicago Sun-Times, did not turn in a completed questionnaire), nine answered yes. The two noes were former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico and state Rep. LaShawn Ford, while former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and attorney Jerry Joyce did not answer yes or no. Users can then select any of the candidates to read their explanations for their stance. Other topics include cutting pension benefits, affordable housing, an elected school board, and a casino in Chicago.
Campaign finance reports were also due last week. Below is the total amount each candidate has raised through Jan. 22 (these reports do not separate self-funding from the total raised).
- Former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico: $1.7 million raised
- Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley: $4.5 million raised
- Attorney Amara Enyia: $648,000 raised
- Former Alderman and perennial candidate Bob Fioretti: $543,000 raised
- State Rep. LaShawn Ford: $43,000 raised
- Attorney Jerry Joyce: $509,000 raised
- Former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot: $1 million raised
- Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: $1.2 million raised
- State Comptroller Susana Mendoza: $1.6 million raised
- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: $2.9 million raised
- Former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas: $856,000 raised
- Businessman Willie Wilson: $1.1 million raised
● AL-Sen: Republican Robert Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama in disgrace in 2017, and one old intra-party rival seems to think he has his eyes set on a 2020 bid against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. However, as we'll discuss, this may just not be possible thanks to the plea deal that ended Bentley's time in office.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who announced in November that he was forming an exploratory committee (but still doesn't appear to have done so as of Monday), noted on Thursday that Bentley had been invited to Gov. Kay Ivey's inauguration earlier this month. Zeigler continued by saying that, while he believed Bentley had only been invited because he was a former governor, Bentley "thinks and he said to the media that he was invited because he was a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate for the Doug Jones seat and people in Montgomery don't want to irritate a potential winner in the U.S. Senate race." Zeigler added, "Well, I think he is delusional. I don't think he's a potential winner, though he is openly talking about running."
We haven't heard much from Bentley about him running for the Senate in 2020 apart from one August interview. Back then, the local political site Yellowhammer asked him if he would "consider a return to public office? Maybe the U.S. Senate in 2020?" Bentley didn't directly address the Senate race, only saying how much he loved serving the public and if "God shows me a new avenue where I can do that, I'll do it." However, Bentley previously did rule out running for office again, and unlike so many other politicians who have made that kind of pledge, he can't easily reverse himself.
Back in 2017, Bentley was under investigation for allegedly using state resources to cover up his affair with a top staffer, and the GOP state legislature was getting ready to impeach him. However, prosecutors ended up reaching a deal with the governor where Bentley resigned from office and pleaded guilty to some campaign finance violations. AL.com notes that, as part of that deal, Bentley agreed "not seek or serve in any public office," which would seem to lock the door on a Senate bid in 2020 or any other year.
However, it's not clear that the plea deal actually could stop Bentley from running. Last year, Yellowhammer asked former Montgomery County prosecutor Richard White about this, and White told them that, based on his reading of the text of the plea deal, the so-called "Bentley-ban" might be unenforceable now that his one-year probation sentence is over. White, who cautioned that he only had access to the publicly available information, said that, "As long as he's paid his money and it's been over a year, I don't think the court has any jurisdiction over him."
Yellowhammer went on to ask White if prosecutors could just charge Bentley with more serious charges if he reneged on his plea agreement and ran again. White admitted that, while he didn't know and that there "might be other documents that I haven't seen," there's nothing in the plea agreement that says "that if this is violated, then [the prosecution] can bring back charges."
It's not clear what Zeigler thinks Bentley's planning, but it's always possible that the state auditor is just hoping to pick another fight with the former governor. In 2017, when it still looked like Bentley would just be leaving office due to term limits rather than scandal, Zeigler self-published a novel titled "The Making of the People's Governor 2018." The tome's description states that, "Several of the usual suspects ran for governor with no track records of having stood up against the abuses of the Bentley administration. But one candidate had stood up in the Bentley years and, in 2018, stood out from the rest."
Zeigler ended up running for re-election instead, but unlike his 2018 campaign for governor, his hatred of Bentley was hardly fictional.
● NC-Sen: On Saturday, state Sen. Erica Smith announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. Smith, a former engineer and an ordained Baptist minister, has served in the state Senate since 2014. Last year, she won her third term 54-46 in an eastern North Carolina seat that Clinton carried 54-45 two years before.
Smith joins Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller in the primary. If either Fuller or Smith won, they would become the state's first black U.S. senator.
● NH-Sen: On Sunday, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen announced that she would seek a third term in 2020. So far, no noteworthy Republicans have shown much interest in taking on Shaheen, who previously served as governor of this swing state.
● LA-Gov: Education Reform Now Advocacy, a pro-charter school group that's supporting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, is out with a poll from LJR Custom Strategies that gives Edwards a big lead over his GOP rivals in this year's campaign. Edwards takes 45 percent of the vote in the October jungle primary, a little below the majority he would need to win outright, while Rep. Ralph Abraham leads wealthy businessman and fellow Republican Eddie Rispone 17-4 for second place. In hypothetical November runoff scenarios, Edwards leads Abraham 47-27 and defeats Rispone by a wider 47-19 margin.
This is the first poll we've seen in 2019. A December survey for Abraham from the GOP firm Remington Research found him tied with Edwards 44-44 in a runoff, while Edwards led Rispone 46-39.
● MO-Gov: On Thursday, Democratic state Sen. Scott Sifton told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was preparing to challenge GOP Gov. Mike Parson next year, though he stopped short of announcing he was in. Sifton said he was "focused on the legislative session that just began, but it's my present intention to run." The state senator holds a competitive seat in St. Louis County that backed Clinton 49-46 four years after supporting Obama by a similar margin. Sifton won re-election 53-47 in 2016, and he'll be termed-out of office in 2020.
The paper adds that Sifton was "thought by party insiders to be the only major Democrat eyeing the party's nomination." State Auditor Nicole Galloway, the only Democrat who holds statewide office, didn't quite rule anything out on Thursday, but she doesn't sound especially interested. When she was asked on if she had no desire to jump in she said, "Yeah, I'm here focused (on) being auditor."
Parson will not be an easy target for Team Blue in this conservative state. Parson was promoted from lieutenant governor to governor last May after fellow Republican Eric Greitens resigned in disgrace as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, and he's avoided the high-profile fights with the legislature (not to mention the scandals) that defined Greitens' time in office. Morning Consult gave Parson a 44-18 approval rating in their poll from the final quarter of 2018, though we haven't seen any other recent surveys.
● NC-Gov: On Monday, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest announced that he was forming an exploratory committee ahead of his likely bid against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. While Forest still hasn't announced he's in yet, he left little ambiguity about his plans in August when he denounced a tolls project on I-77 and declared it "would be fixed by a Forest administration." The Charlotte Observer also notes that every North Carolina lieutenant governor over the last 50 years has tried to claim the top job, though with decidedly mixed success.
● MO-01: On Sunday, nurse and activist Cori Bush announced that she would seek a rematch against longtime Rep. Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for this safely blue St. Louis City seat. Last year, Bush raised very little money but held Clay to a 57-37 win.
● NC-03: On Saturday, GOP Rep. Walter Jones' office announced that he was in hospice care. Jones, who announced last year that he would not seek re-election in 2020, has missed every vote in the House since November because of an undisclosed illness, and he was sworn into his final term in the House back home in North Carolina because he was too ill to make it to D.C. Jones' team said over the weekend that his health declined after he broke his hip on Jan. 14.
● House: On Monday, the DCCC released their opening 2020 target list, with a total of 33 GOP-held House seats making an appearance. The roster includes plenty of districts that saw close races in 2018, including a few seats, like Missouri's 2nd (held by GOP Rep. Ann Wagner) and Texas' 24th (Kenny Marchant), that did not attract much national money. It also includes some reaches like Colorado's 3rd (Scott Tipton) and Indiana's 5th (Susan Brooks).
Of course, just because a seat is on the list doesn't guarantee that the DCCC will spend there in 2020, nor does a district's absence mean that it won't later come into play. We only need to take a look at the DCCC's initial list from last cycle, which was released in late January of 2017.
Democrats ended up flipping 36 of the 59 districts on the list, as well as an additional six that didn't make the cut: New Mexico's 2nd, Oklahoma's 5th, Pennsylvania's 7th (a district that was redrawn a year after the DCCC's target list came out), South Carolina's 1st, Utah's 4th, and Virginia's 7th. Additionally, Democrat Conor Lamb won the old version of Pennsylvania's 18th in a special election in March of 2018.
On the other side of the ledger, the DCCC included a few districts two years ago that wound up never getting any love in the general election, including Alabama's 2nd (Martha Roby) and North Carolina's 8th (Richard Hudson).
● Special Elections: Texas has two special elections on tap for Tuesday.
TX-HD-79: This is a Democratic district located in eastern El Paso. This vacancy was created by the longtime Rep. Joe Pickett’s resignation in December due to health issues. There are three candidates on the ballot: El Paso Community College Board chair Art Fierro and former El Paso City Council member Michiel Noe are both Democrats, while retired engineer Hans Sassenfeld is the lone Republican. Fierro has been endorsed by several prominent El Paso elected officials.
If no candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff on a date that has yet to be announced. This is a strongly Democratic district that went for Hillary Clinton 67-27 in 2016 and for Barack Obama 65-34 in 2012.
TX-HD-145: This is a Democratic district located in the Houston area. This vacancy came about as a result of some proverbial "special election musicals chairs." Carol Alvarado was the representative for this district but ascended to the Texas State Senate after winning a special election in December to replace Sylvia Garcia, who was elected to the U.S. House in November.
This election features a crowded field of eight candidates, with six Democrats, one Republican, and a Libertarian. The Democrats are city planner Christina Morales, former Houston City Council member Melissa Noriega, insurance agent Elias De La Garza, Oscar Del Toro, community activist Ruben Gonsalez, and Alfred Moreno. Martha Fierro, who ran against Carol Alvarado in the December special election, is the Republican and Clayton Hunt is the Libertarian. This is also a heavily Democratic district, having gone for Clinton 67-29 and Obama 60-38.
● Salt Lake County, UT Mayor: On Saturday, the local Democratic Party chose Salt Lake County Councilor Jenny Wilson, who was Team Blue's 2018 Senate nominee against Mitt Romney, to succeed Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams as mayor of Salt Lake County. Wilson will be sworn in this week as head of Utah's largest county, which is home to about a third of the state's population (there is no special election), and she will be up for election to a full term in 2020.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2016 and 2018, was elected chair of the state Republican Party over the weekend by unseating incumbent Jonathan Lines. Ward may be best remembered for hosting a 2014 town-hall meeting about "chemtrails," a bonkers conspiracy theory that holds that the vapor contrails produced by airplanes are actually mind-control chemicals. Sen. John McCain, whom Ward challenged in 2016, dubbed her "Chemtrail Kelli," and the name stuck.
Last year, while Ward was competing in the primary for the state's other Senate seat, she suggested that the McCain family decided to announce that the senator was ending his treatments for brain cancer at a time when it would hurt her bid; McCain died hours later. Ward insisted her comments were misunderstood, and she displayed her lack of compassion two days after McCain's death when, on the eve of the primary, Ward tweeted out, "Political correctness is like a cancer!" Ward lost the primary to Martha McSally by a wide 55-28 margin, but that didn't stop her from defeating Lines, an ally of McCain, to lead the Arizona Republican Party.