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.
● NC-02, NC Redistricting: In a very telling quote, Republican Rep. George Holding revealed that he hasn't been focused on fundraising—in the third quarter, he raised just $175,000 and had only a single donor from his district—because he feels "fairly certain we will have new districts to be running in" next year in North Carolina.
Last month, Democrats filed a lawsuit asking a state court to strike down the GOP's congressional gerrymander and put a new map in place for 2020. There's a strong chance they'll succeed, which would result in some Republicans such as Holding finding themselves in much bluer districts.
In September, a bipartisan panel of three state court judges unanimously struck down Republicans' legislative gerrymanders for violating the state constitution and ordered they be redrawn. Those same judges were appointed to hear the lawsuit over the congressional map, which was drawn by the exact same GOP lawmakers with the exact same goals, making it highly likely the court will issue a similar ruling.
The evidence against the congressional map is, in fact, overwhelming: Republicans explicitly stated that it was a "political gerrymander" drawn to maintain the GOP's 10-3 advantage in the state's 13-member congressional delegation—and admitted they didn't go further only because they thought it was literally impossible to draw a map that would guarantee them 11 seats.
Republicans made this admission in a perverse defense of a new map they created in 2016 after their previous districts were invalidated for illegally diminishing the power of black voters. In other words, said the GOP, we didn't draw a racial gerrymander—we drew a partisan gerrymander (never mind that race and party are strongly correlated).
That display of chutzpah already came close to derailing Republicans last year, when a federal court found that partisan gerrymanders did indeed violate the U.S. Constitution. The GOP was bailed out, though, when conservatives on the Supreme Court ruled that claims of excessive partisanship in electoral maps couldn't be litigated in the federal court system. However, the justices acknowledged, such arguments could still proceed in state courts—and plaintiffs took that advice to heart.
With the GOP's smoking gun confession in hand, Democrats have asked for a preliminary injunction to block the map immediately while the case proceeds on the merits. The court has set a hearing for Thursday to address that request, meaning there could be a ruling within weeks.
Republicans' only option has been to stall for time until it's too late for a new map to be implemented in time for next year's elections. Recently, they tried to remove the case to the friendlier federal judiciary but saw their ploy swiftly rejected on Tuesday. With the possibility of an injunction coming within weeks, Holding and his fellow Republicans could finally be out of luck.
● ME-Sen: Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jon Treacy announced Tuesday that he was dropping out of the Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins. Treacy, who entered the race about a month ago, acknowledged that "the vast sums of money necessary to fund a competitive campaign are, realistically, 'a bridge too far.'"
A few candidates are competing in the June Democratic primary, but one contender ended September with a massive financial lead over her opponents. State House Speaker Sara Gideon, who has the support of national Democrats, raised $3.2 million for the quarter and had $2.8 million in the bank. Progressive lobbyist and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet was a distant second with $102,000 raised and only $88,000 in the bank.
Gideon's haul was actually quite a bit larger than the $2.1 million that Collins raised during the quarter, though the incumbent had a huge $7.1 million war chest at the end of September. However, there's a real possibility that Collins' eventual opponent will outspend her: Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will benefit from about $4 million that several organizations, including Daily Kos, raised after Collins became the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
● NC-Sen: Wealthy businessman Garland Tucker began airing TV ads against Sen. Thom Tillis all the way back in May, and the incumbent is hitting back with a spot accusing his GOP primary foe of lying "like a dog." (And yes, there is a dog in the commercial.) There is no word on the size of the buy.
● KY-Gov: Democrat Andy Beshear is out with another ad arguing that GOP Gov. Matt Bevin wants to take away health care from Kentuckians with pre-existing conditions. Beshear tells the audience he won't let that happen and will instead work to lower healthcare costs.
● MS-Gov: Mason-Dixon, polling on behalf of several Mississippi media outlets, is out with a rare survey of the Nov. 5 race for governor, and they give Republican Tate Reeves a 46-43 edge over Democrat Jim Hood. The firm's last poll was taken all the way back in February, and it gave Hood a 46-44 edge.
Around the same time that this survey came out, Hood's team released their own poll from Hickman Analytics. This one showed Hood with a 46-42 lead over Reeves, which is a small increase from the Democrat's 45-42 edge last month.
While plenty of Republicans have made it clear how little they like Reeves (his intra-party detractors have liberally used the word arrogant to describe him), Mason-Dixon finds that statewide voters view him a bit better than they view Hood. The poll gives Reeves a 41-26 favorable rating, while Hood has a 39-29 score. While that's not a huge gap, it's going to be very tough for Hood to prevail in a state as red as Mississippi if Reeves is seen as an acceptable choice by most voters. Hood's polling memo said that his "personal popularity rating remains higher than Reeves," but it didn’t disclose either of their scores.
Unfortunately, even if Hickman is right and Hood is ahead, that may not be enough to win him the governorship next month. Mississippi's 1890 state constitution contains a Jim Crow-era provision that requires gubernatorial candidates to win both a majority of the statewide vote and a majority of the 122 districts that make up the state House; if someone fails to hit both of these benchmarks, the state House picks the new governor from the top two finishers.
As we have previously shown, Mississippi's current system discriminates against black voters and consequently Democrats, and not just because Republicans gerrymandered the legislature. If the GOP-led House gets to choose the new governor there's little question that they'd pick Team Red's nominee no matter which candidate actually won the most votes. Several black voters are currently suing to overturn this law and the case went before a federal judge earlier this month, but a ruling has not yet been issued.
Meanwhile, Hood is out with another ad here focused on health care. The narrator declares that Reeves "did nothing while our rural hospitals closed, and he "sided with big drug companies, letting healthcare costs increase." The spot goes on say that Hood and leading Mississippi Republicans share the same bipartisan healthcare plan.
● NH-Gov: Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky announced Wednesday that he would seek the Democratic nod to take on GOP Gov. Chris Sununu.
Volinsky came to prominence in 1997 as the lead attorney for the successful plaintiffs in the Claremont School District v Governor of New Hampshire lawsuit, which ended with the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling that the state wasn't providing children with adequate access to education. The decision led to more school funding for communities in need, though major disparities still remain. Volinsky emphasized his background in his kickoff and declared, "We need to call out people who, like our governor, go around offering phony giant-sized checks without any understanding of how school funding works and how uneven it is across the state."
In 2016, Volinsky won a seat on the state's Executive Council, a five-member body that, among other things, approves gubernatorial appointments. Democrats took a 3-2 majority on the Council after the 2018 elections and in July, Volinsky and his colleagues voted along party lines against confirming Sununu's choice for chief justice of the state Supreme Court, state Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, citing MacDonald's history of partisanship and lack of any experience as a judge.
That appointment would have given Sununu appointees and thus Republicans a chance to gain a 3-2 majority on the bench. The angry governor responded by declaring that he wouldn't make any more judicial appointments until he had "confidence there's appropriate perspective from the Council on their responsibilities to the process and to the state."
The September primary will pit Volinsky against state Senate Majority Feltes, who has also repeatedly tangled with Sununu this year. (The governor has vetoed more than 50 bills passed by the Democratic legislature.) The biggest difference between the two Democrats so far seems to be over taxes. Feltes, like Sununu, has taken what is commonly referred to as “the Pledge”, which is a promise to veto any broad-based sales or income tax. Most gubernatorial nominees from both parties have taken this pledge since the 1970s, but Volinsky says that he won't do it.
Volinsky explained that, while he wouldn't propose a tax as governor, he believed that "if you take the pledge, you shut down honest conversation." Volinsky continued, "We have some real problems in this state to address – income inequality, access to good educational programming around the state, paying for our infrastructure improvements. We can't talk about any of those things if we take the pledge, so I'm refusing to take it."
Other candidates may also join the primary ahead of the June filing deadline. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who is up for re-election on Nov. 5, has also been mentioned as a possible contender, but she says she's "not considering" running for governor.
● UT-Gov: On Wednesday, Salt Lake County Councilor Aimee Winder Newton announced that she would join the GOP primary for this open seat. Winder Newton became the first woman to ever serve as Council chair last year, and she currently is the only woman competing for the GOP nod.
Winder Newton joins Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and businessman Jeff Burningham in the June primary, and several other Republicans are also considering getting in. The biggest name to watch is former Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, a former governor who recently said that he'd probably decide in "the second week of November."
● MN-01: This week, VoteVets endorsed 2018 Democratic nominee Dan Feehan's second bid for this southern Minnesota seat.
● OH-03: Morgan Harper, a former senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, kicked off her Democratic primary bid against Rep. Joyce Beatty in early July, and she had a very good opening fundraising quarter. Harper outraised Beatty $333,000 to $247,000, though the incumbent had a huge $1.4 million to $239,000 cash-on-hand at the end of September. The primary for this safely blue Columbus seat is in March.
Harper, who is 36 and a first time candidate, has contrasted herself against Beatty, who is 69 and has held elected office since 1999, by calling for generational change. The challenger recently told HuffPost, “I consider myself part of a group of bold leaders ready for this next generation of work to make sure we have an economy that’s really for everyone.” Harper also criticized Beatty for taking donations from corporate PACs.
Beatty has been a reliably Democratic vote during her five terms in Congress, and Harper hasn’t focused much on her voting record. However, the challenger recently took issue with a House bill co-sponsored by Beatty that would create a commission to study and create proposals for reparations for African Americans. Harper, who like Beatty is black, said, “We don’t need to study anymore. We need to talk about solutions and how we implement them.”
Beatty has argued in turn that Harper hasn’t presented any workable plans and is raising “false hope.” Both candidates have also already been portraying the other as out-of-touch with the district. Beatty reminded the New York Times that, while her opponent was born in Columbus and grew up there, Harper only moved back late last year after spending years in New York and D.C. Beatty also said that, while Harper worked for a corporate law firm while on the East Coast, she has no record doing community service in Columbus.
Harper quickly responded by telling the paper, “I was born here in Columbus, Ohio, at The Ohio State University Hospital. I was given up for adoption. I lived in a foster home for nine months in this district.” Harper also emailed the paper that Beatty “tells her constituents (who live in the second-most economically segregated region in the country) that she’s fighting for them,” and, “To me, that’s false hope.”
● SC-01: The GOP firm First Tuesday Strategies is out with a survey of the June GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham, and they give state Rep. Nancy Mace the lead with 19%. Three other candidates each take 3% of the vote: Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox, and Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing. The pollster tells us that this survey was not done for any client.
Mace, who was the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military academy, also has a huge cash advantage over her intra-party rivals. Mace raised $332,000 during the last quarter, and none of the other Republicans took in more than $100,000. Mace ended September with $452,000 while Landing, who has self-funded most of her campaign, had $304,000 to spend. Neither Covert nor Cox had more than $40,000 in the bank.
For his part, Cunningham took in $525,000 for the quarter and had $1.3 million in the bank. The Democrat won this 53-40 Trump seat in coastal South Carolina in an upset last year, and he'll be a top GOP target this cycle.
● WI-07: Former GOP Rep. Sean Duffy has joined former Gov. Scott Walker in breakfasting at Tiffany's. Duffy, who recently began his new career spreading pro-Trump conspiracy theories as a CNN commentator, and Walker will headline a fundraiser next month for state Sen. Tom Tiffany.
● Aurora, CO Mayor: Republican Mike Coffman, a former Colorado congressman who lost his seat last year, is seeking a comeback on Nov. 5 in the open seat race for mayor of Aurora, and he has by far the most cash of any of the five candidates. There is no runoff here, so whoever has the most votes will win.
The only Democrat in this officially nonpartisan contest is local NAACP head Omar Montgomery, who benefited from $50,000 in web ads from the gun safety group Giffords last month. Also in the hunt are Republican City Councilwoman Marsha Berzins, who filled in as temporary mayor last year when incumbent Steve Hogan became ill (Hogan died in May of last year, and another Republican took over as mayor), as well as former City Councilman Ryan Frazier, who became an independent after losing several races as a Republican. A fifth candidate, Renie Peterson, has raised very little cash.
Coffman was a strong fundraiser during his 10 years in Congress, and that hasn't changed even after his 54-43 defeat last year against Democrat Jason Crow. Coffman raised a total of $542,000 through the end of September, which was about the same as the combined total of his four opponents. Frazier has taken in $227,000, though about $100,000 of that was self-funded. Berzins and Montgomery have raised $181,000 and $128,000, respectively, while Peterson has brought in just $10,000.
While Republicans may hold the mayor's office next month, they may face a hostile City Council. Team Blue achieved a big breakthrough in 2017 when four Democratic candidates won seats on the Aurora City Council and created the first progressive bloc on what has generally been a conservative body. Five incumbents who identify as conservatives and centrists will be on the Nov. 5 ballot, and progressives need to beat three to take control of the Council.