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.
● TX-17, TX-32: Former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost re-election last year after 22 years of representing the Dallas-based 32nd District, confirmed on Wednesday that he’d be moving 100 miles to the south to run for the open and considerably more conservative 17th District. Sessions was born and raised in Waco, the city he said he hopes to relocate to later this month, but he hasn’t lived there since he was in eighth grade.
Sessions (who, by the by, looks like he's about to get dragged into the Trump-Ukraine impeachment morass) argued that he had ties to the area he wants to represent. The former congressman recounted his memories of when Baylor University, which is located in Waco, won high-profile football games in 1966 and 1974.
Sessions also mentioned that he’d once represented at least part of six of the seat’s 12 counties before redistricting, which is true. However, the last time Sessions was on the ballot anywhere in what is now the 17th District was 2000, before the 2002 round of redistricting left him with a seat based entirely in the Dallas area. Only about 3% of the 17th District is in the Dallas media market, so not many voters have seen much of Sessions on TV over the years either.
Meanwhile, Sessions’ would-be predecessor, retiring Rep. Bill Flores, was very unhappy with his former colleague’s move. Flores told the Austin-American Statesman that he spoke to 50 to 60 local GOP leaders to see what they thought about Sessions running in the 17th District, and “feedback I got was overwhelmingly negative.”
Flores continued, “This district is blessed with a deep bench of local leadership talent that has lived, worked, raised families and served in our local communities, and so the feedback is that it’s insulting to them that someone from outside the district would come in and tell them to stand aside while he attempts to jump to the front of the line.”
Flores reiterated that Sessions hadn’t called him before deciding to run in his turf. However, Flores seemed determined to make sure that the former congressman―as well as the rest of the political world―got to hear what he would have told him if he’d asked. Flores read one email from a GOP leader about Sessions that went, “I think his even considering running here is disturbing. His reputation in Dallas among people I know to be reasonable was — inaccessible. His constituents did not believe their interests were considered.” The missive continued, “He shows up at election time, kind of. That is not the kind of second-hand representation I would support.”
Flores didn’t stop there. He showed the Statesman another message he said was sent to him from a business leader in McLennan County, which contains Sessions’ once-and-future home of Waco. He read, “In response to your email concerning Pete Sessions. Terrible idea. Period. Sessions needs to win back his seat if he want [sic] to continue serving.” The email went on, “He would hang his hat on being ‘from’ Waco, but truth is few would claim him and those that would are likely to change their position after getting to know him. Pete’s time has passed and he needs to move on.”
Flores himself said that he’d do what he could to make sure that a local Republican wins the nomination next year. So far, though, Sessions has the field almost to himself. The only other declared candidate is Marine veteran Trent Sutton, an Iraq War veteran who entered the contest on Tuesday. Flores’ district director, James Edge, considered getting in, but he said on Wednesday that he wouldn’t run to succeed his old boss.
Texas’ candidate filing deadline is in early December, so potential contenders have a bit longer to decide. Flores insisted on Wednesday that the current dearth of local contenders wasn’t anything to be concerned about, though. He said, “I announced four weeks ago today that I was not going to run, and then I immediately reached out to our local leaders and said, ‘I am in session for the next three weeks, but I will set up workshops for prospective candidates just as soon as we get back into Texas.’”
Flores said he had the first of these workshops Monday, which was just one day before the news broke that Sessions would run here. He added that he and other leaders had met with over 15 prospective candidates, though he didn’t identify any of them.
Whoever ends up running will likely face one serious disadvantage against the carpetbagging former congressman, though. Sessions still has about $330,000 left in his campaign account that he somehow didn’t manage to spend during his 2018 contest to keep his old 32nd District (Sessions lost that battle to Democrat Colin Allred 52-46), which will give him a big head start.
Sessions also chaired the NRCC during the 2010 and 2012 cycles, so he has access to plenty of donors. Indeed, one of the Republicans Sessions’ committee aided in 2010 was none other than Bill Flores, who does not seem particularly grateful for the $475,000 that the NRCC deployed to help him unseat Democratic incumbent Chet Edwards.
However, unlike in most other states, Sessions can’t just claim the GOP nod with a plurality of the vote in a crowded field. If no one takes a majority in early March, there would be a GOP primary runoff nearly three months later in late May. That means that, if Sessions is forced into a second round, his opponent will have quite a while to consolidate support from voters and donors who aren’t enthusiastic about a Sessions comeback in a completely different seat.
● GA-Sen-A: Sarah Riggs Amico (D): $710,000 raised (note: Amico's campaign would not tell the Atlanta Journal-Constitution how much of her haul came via self-funding)
● NC-Sen: Cal Cunningham (D): $1 million raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
● SC-Sen: Jaime Harrison (D): $2.1 million raised, $2.6 million cash-on-hand
● NH-Gov: Dan Feltes (D): $120,000 raised (since June 5)
● CA-22: Bobby Bliatout (D): $200,000 raised
● NJ-05: Arati Kreibich (D): $100,000 raised (in two months)
● TX-12: Chris Putnam (R): $500,000 raised (in six days)
● AZ-Sen: Blake Masters, who leads prominent Trump donor and would-be vampire Peter Thiel's Thiel Foundation, said this week that he was interested in competing in the GOP primary. Appointed Sen. Martha McSally already faces a primary challenge from skin care company executive Daniel McCarthy.
Masters told the Arizona Republic that he has been considering whether to run for months and is now in the final stages of his deliberations. Masters cited McSally's narrow loss in last year's race for the state's other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and argued, "Martha McSally lost a winnable race last year. If I come to believe that she can't win next November, I'll run." Masters is originally from Arizona, but he only moved back to the state in 2018 after several years of living in California.
Meanwhile, on behalf of Crooked Media, the Democratic firm Change Research is out with a poll giving Democrat Mark Kelly a 47-45 lead over McSally. Frustratingly, the horse race numbers came after a barrage of issue questions that queried respondents about impeachment and how much they agreed with various pro and anti-Trump statements.
● GA-Sen-B, GA-Sen-A: Businessman Matt Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut for Lieberman Sen. Joe Lieberman, announced Thursday that he would run in next year's special election. Lieberman had considered seeking the Democratic nod earlier this summer to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue in Georgia's regularly scheduled election, but his plans changed after GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson announced that he would resign last month.
Lieberman is the first notable Democrat to enter the all-party primary, which will take place in November of 2020. If no one takes a majority of the vote, the top-two vote-getters would advance to a runoff the following January. Several other Democrats are considering running, so it's extremely unlikely that one Democrat will be able to win a majority in the first round.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Lieberman was the founder of "one of the nation's first homelessness voucher programs" back in Connecticut, and he moved to Atlanta in 2005. Lieberman went on to start two tech startups as well as write a 2018 novel called Lucius that the AJC describes as a story focused "on race and friendship in the South."
The paper also says that Lieberman, who is running for office for the first time, won't have support from party leaders, who prefer a more experienced contender. Lieberman argued, though, that he can quickly prove he's a credible candidate, and he said he would "hit the ground running" with a six-figure campaign account. Lieberman also said that he expects his father to advise the campaign in an informal capacity.
● LA-Gov: Campaign finance reports are out covering the period of Sept. 3-22, and they show Rep. Ralph Abraham, the one-time GOP frontrunner, in bad shape heading into the Oct. 12 all-party primary.
Abraham actually outraised fellow Republican Eddie Rispone, a wealthy businessman who has self-funded the vast majority of his campaign, $195,000 to $61,000, and the congressman threw in an additional $300,000 of his own money. The problem for Abraham, though, is that Rispone outspent him by a massive $3.6 million to $986,000 during the first three weeks of September.
To make matters worse for Abraham, he had just $319,000 left to spend compared to the $2.7 million Rispone had available. Abraham self-funded an additional $50,000 after the reporting deadline, which won’t do much to close that gap. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, by contrast, raised $1 million and spent $3.3 million, leaving him with $3.2 million in the bank.
Abraham spent most of the race leading Rispone in the polls, but that began to change once Rispone started to use his fortune to saturate the airwaves. Three different conservative pollsters—including one working for Abraham himself—released surveys last week that found the congressman in real danger of finishing out of the money. Unfortunately for Abraham, it looks like he’s going to continue to be widely outspent by his intra-party rival during the most crucial phase of the campaign.
Those three polls each showed Edwards with 47-48% of the vote, which is tantalizing close to the majority he needs to win in round one. However, national Republicans are doing whatever they can to prevent this disaster from befalling them, which is why the RGA is out with a new spot that focuses on Johnny Anderson, a former Edwards administration official who resigned in 2017 after one of his subordinates accused him of sexual harassment.
The narrator declares that Edwards hired Anderson to serve as his “deputy for women’s issues and sexual harassment complaints” even though he had “already been investigated for sexually harassing six women.” The spot continues, “It happened again. Anderson was accused of forcing a woman into sex acts to keep her job.”
Back in 2006, several employees of Southern University accused Anderson, then the chair of the university’s board, of sexual harassment. Anderson, who also worked for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco at the time, was investigated by the administration, and the inquiry concluded without any charges. However, the attorney in charge of the probe said that Anderson wasn’t actually exonerated because the lack of cooperation from Southern made it difficult to determine whether or not the allegations had merit.
Anderson was hired about a decade later by the Edwards administration for a post that, among other things, oversaw the governor’s office of women’s policy. In 2017, an employee in the governor’s office named Juanita Washington who worked under Anderson accused him of having sexually harassed her for over a year. Anderson resigned hours after the news broke, and the administration said it had only learned of the allegations the previous evening.
Edwards recently was asked about Anderson at a debate and responded that he thought he was a “good, competent public servant” because the previous investigation had ended without any findings of wrongdoing. The governor continued, “What I would also like to point out is that when the new allegations came forward, it was about 12 hours later that he was no longer employed in the governor’s office” and added, “We took that issue very, very seriously, not just with respect to him but more generally, and I ordered a survey of all the policies of the executive branch agencies across the state of Louisiana.”
The RGA ad goes on to claim that Edwards response to the scandal was to spend “a hundred thousand taxpayer dollars to keep it quiet.” However, as The Advocate points out, that’s not what happened. The media reported Anderson’s departure, as well as the circumstances behind it, immediately after he resigned in 2017. A settlement with Washington was reached later, and while it included a non-disparagement clause, the agreement didn’t prevent her from identifying herself and publicly faulting Edwards in August of 2018 for hiring Anderson in the first place.
● MT-Gov: On Thursday, businesswoman Whitney Williams announced that she would seek the Democratic nod for this open seat. Williams joins Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and state House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner in next year's primary.
Williams used to work in the Clinton White House as Hillary Clinton's trips director and for Clinton's 2008 campaign. She went on to found williamsworks, which advises foundations, companies, and individuals on philanthropic projects; the firm's clients have included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Williams and actor Ben Affleck also co-founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, which describes itself as "an advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo."
Williams is also the daughter of two former Montana Democratic politicians. Her father is former Rep. Pat Williams, who served from 1979 to 1997, while her mother is former state Senate Majority Leader Carol Williams. In 2013, Democrats reached out to all three Williams about running for the House or Senate, but they each decided to stay put.
● UT-Gov: Businessman Greg Miller announced this week that he would not join next year’s GOP primary.
● CA-50: SurveyUSA is out with a poll of the March top-two primary in California's 50th Congressional District for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and they find indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter in very bad shape.
2018 Democratic nominee Ammar Campa-Najjar earns first place with 31% of the vote while former conservative radio host Carl DeMaio edges fellow Republican Darrell Issa, who represented the neighboring 49th District until January, 20-16 for the second general election spot.
Hunter, who is scheduled to stand trial in January on corruption charges, is in fourth place with just 11%, while GOP state Sen. Brian Jones earns 4%. Hunter held off Campa-Najjar just 51.7-48.3 last year to keep this inland San Diego County district, but Democrats will almost certainly have a much tougher time flipping this 55-40 Trump seat if the incumbent isn't on next year's ballot.
It doesn't help Hunter that, while he has been using much of what's left of his campaign account on legal expenses, two of his most prominent intra-party rivals will have access to plenty of money. DeMaio, who narrowly lost a 2012 contest for mayor of San Diego and a 2014 race in the neighboring 52nd District, reported raising a massive $1.3 million during his first two months in the race. Issa only entered the contest last week just before the fundraising quarter ended, but the former congressman is extremely wealthy and likely can self-fund if he chooses to.
● CO-04: On Thursday, GOP Rep. Ken Buck confirmed that he'd seek re-election to his safely red seat despite months of speculation to the contrary. Back in May, Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzales reported that the congressman had told people at a fundraiser that he was considering hanging it up, and Buck's office did not deny the report. Buck was named chair of the Colorado Republican Party earlier this year, and some party activists have griped about him trying to do both jobs at once.
● MA-04: Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss, a Marine veteran who served as an infantry commander in Afghanistan, announced on Thursday that he was joining the Democratic primary for this reliably blue open seat. Auchincloss is the son of Laurie Glimcher, who is the head of the prominent Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Auchincloss is the fourth Democrat who has entered the race since Joe Kennedy III announced that he would run for the Senate in late September. The field consists of City Year co-founder Alan Khazei; former Alliance for Business Leadership head Jesse Mermell; and Becky Walker Grossman, a fellow Newton city councilor. Former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey also launched a longshot primary bid against Kennedy earlier in the year and remains in the race.
More Democrats may also get in especially now that state Treasurer Deb Goldberg has announced that she won't run. So far all the declared candidates hail from Brookline or Newton in the Boston suburbs, which could leave a big opening for a contender from the southern part of the district.
● MN-08: Diabetes advocate Quinn Nystrom announced on Thursday that she would seek the Democratic nod to take on freshman GOP Rep. Pete Stauber. Nystrom, whose term on the Baxter City Council ended earlier this year, was also Team Blue's nominee in 2016 for a state House seat: Nystrom lost that contest 59-41 as Donald Trump was carrying the seat by a larger 61-32 margin. Trump carried Minnesota's 8th District, which includes the Iron Range in the northeast corner of the state, 54-39.
● NY-27: State GOP chair Nicholas Langworthy said that he and the district's eight county party leaders have agreed not to interview any potential candidates until after this year's local elections take place on Nov. 5. Under New York law, the county parties will pick their nominees for the special election to succeed former Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who pleaded guilty to insider trading charges on Tuesday. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet scheduled the special election for this 60-35 Trump seat.
● OK-05: This week, former state School Superintendent Janet Barresi and businessman David Hill each announced that they would seek the GOP nomination to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn. They join state Sen. Stephanie Bice and businesswoman Terry Neese in the contest to face Horn, who pulled off a shocking victory last year in this 53-40 Trump seat in the Oklahoma City area.
Barresi, who owns an oil and gas company, is wealthy and may be able to self-fund, but her 2014 re-election campaign ended in an ignominious primary defeat. Barresi inflamed the party base by supporting Common Core, the national academic standards that were the subject of numerous conservative conspiracy theories during the Obama era.
Barresi found herself in a difficult race against a well-funded opponent named Joy Hofmeister, and while Barresi loaned her campaign $1.25 million to keep pace, she badly lost: Hofmeister took first place with 58% of the vote while another candidate edged Barresi 21.4-21.0 for second place.
Hill owns a company that makes parts for classic cars and trucks. He also previously ran Kimray, which manufactures oil-field equipment. This appears to be Hill's first run for office.