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.
● New York City, NY Ballot: On Tuesday, New York City will vote on whether to adopt instant-runoff voting for all city primaries and special elections. If a majority votes in favor of Ballot Question 1, instant runoffs would come into effect for races for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and the New York City Council starting in 2021.
The measure would not impact general elections, where it still would take just a simple plurality of the vote to win, but if New York City does adopt instant-runoff voting, it would be by far the largest jurisdiction in America to do so.
The city has long allowed candidates for mayor and other citywide offices to win party nominations with considerably less than a majority of the vote, and that's put Democrats in some rough spots more than once. The most notorious incident arose in 1969, when City Comptroller Mario Procaccino, a conservative Democrat who declared, "We must stop coddling the criminals and pampering the punks," was the beneficiary of a crowded primary.
That year, the liberal and moderate vote split between the party's frontrunner, former Mayor Robert Wagner, and Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo. Procaccino ended up winning the nomination with just 33% of the vote while Wagner and Badillo took 29% and 28%, respectively. (Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer also competed in that race and finished a distant fourth with 5%.)
Procaccino, with his denunciations against "limousine liberals" and calls to "stop coddling the criminals and pampering the punks," alienated the Democratic base, and in so doing, he gave incumbent John Lindsay a boost. Lindsay himself had narrowly lost the GOP nomination to a conservative opponent, state Sen. John Marchi, but he forged on as candidate of the now-defunct Liberal Party and beat beat Procaccino 42-35, while Marchi wound up with just 23%.
With Democrats eager to avoid a repeat, the state legislature passed a new law requiring citywide primary candidates to win at least 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff. Procaccino sued, saying that the new rule "discriminates against poor guys like me." However, the law stood, and it remains in effect today.
But while the new rules have prevented a conservative like Procaccino from winning another Democratic primary, they've still caused headaches for Team Blue. Republican incumbent Rudy Giuliani was termed out in 2001, and Democrats were initially optimistic about retaking the mayor's office after eight years in the wilderness. However, the primary between Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Public Advocate Mark Green went into a nasty second round that ended with a 51-49 victory for Green.
Less than a month later, Republican Michael Bloomberg defeated Green 50-48; while Bloomberg benefited from his massive spending and Giuliani's renewed popularity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the negative Democratic primary likely also played a role in the narrow GOP win.
In 2013, the Democratic primary to succeed Bloomberg almost went to a runoff, but late-counted votes put Bill de Blasio just over the top with 40.8% of the vote. De Blasio will be termed-out in 2021 and if Question 1 passes on Tuesday, what could be a crowded Democratic primary to succeed him will be held under instant-runoff rules.
● KS-Sen: On Thursday, both the DSCC and EMILY's List endorsed state Sen. Barbara Bollier's campaign for this open GOP-held seat. Kansas famously hasn't elected a Democratic senator since 1932, but Team Blue is hoping for an opening next year especially if 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach wins his primary.
Bollier, a former moderate Republican who switched parties late last year, entered the race in mid-October and quickly emerged as the heavy favorite in the Democratic primary. Former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom dropped out just one day after Bollier jumped in and endorsed her, and she also soon earned the backing of both Gov. Laura Kelly and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Bollier still faces Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi in the August primary, but Reddi raised very little money during her first month in the race and has little outside support.
● ME-Sen: Republican Sen. Susan Collins is already going up with two more TV ads after first taking to the airwaves earlier in October. The first spot is positive and touts her as "the most bipartisan senator," while the second ad blasts supposed "extreme-left" groups for spending millions of dollars on ads that the narrator claims are false without specifying any of the attacks against Collins.
● NC-Sen: On Thursday, the DSCC endorsed former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in the primary to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. Cunningham faces a few opponents in the March contest, but none of them have raised much money. Cunningham had $1.1 million in the bank at the end of September while his nearest intra-party foe, state Sen. Erica Smith, had only $13,000 to spend.
● LA-Gov: Edgewater Research and My People Vote are out with a poll of the Nov. 16 runoff that gives Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards a 50-47 lead over Republican Eddie Rispone, which is the same margin that the GOP firm JMC Analytics recently found in their survey for the media company Nexstar Communications. Edgewater Research is run by veteran New Orleans pollster Ed Chervenak.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has announced that he will hold a rally sometime next week for Rispone in Monroe. The city is located in the 5th District, which is represented by defeated all-party primary candidate Ralph Abraham. Abraham endorsed Rispone on the night of his defeat, but Edwards has been running TV spots in the 5th District reminding voters about the ugly contest between the two Republicans.
● AL-02: Citing poor fundraising, state Rep. Will Dismukes dropped out of the GOP primary on Wednesday for this safely red open seat.
● CA-25: Democratic Rep. Katie Hill has confirmed that her resignation will take effect on Nov. 1. Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Julia Brownley and Brad Sherman have endorsed Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who appears to have the inside track with the party establishment ahead of a 2020 special election, the date of which has yet to be announced. However, despite Smith's growing support among prominent state and local Democrats, Politico reports that Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides is considering running as a Democrat, but he has yet to say anything publicly.
● MD-07: On Thursday, Del. Talmadge Branch became the first elected official to announce that he would compete in the special Democratic primary to succeed the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Branch is the chamber’s majority whip, and he is also a former chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
This week, former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Del. Terri Hill also each expressed interest in joining the February primary for this safely blue seat. Rawlings-Blake was a rising star in state and national Democratic politics for years, but she was widely criticized for her handling of the unrest that followed after a black man named Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015.
Rawlings-Blake had initially announced that she would seek re-election as mayor, but several prominent local politicians began making noises about challenging the weakened incumbent in the primary. Rawlings-Blake ended up announcing that she would retire later that year.
A number of other Democrats are also eyeing this race, but state Sen. Antonio Hayes took his name out of contention this week.
● NJ-02, MN-07: On Thursday, the House voted to formalize its impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, with all but two Democrats in favor and every Republican voting against (Republican-turned-independent Justin Amash was an "aye"). The two Democratic dissenters were longtime Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents the reddest district held by a Democrat, and freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was thanked by Trump for his anti-impeachment comments in September.
In explaining himself, Peterson largely echoed discredited GOP talking points about process, and his decision was likely driven by raw political preservation: His once-swingy district in rural northwest Minnesota voted for Trump 62-31 and is likely to keep getting redder. Peterson has also drawn what's likely going to be his toughest challenge ever from former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who recently earned House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's endorsement.
Two decades ago, though, Peterson felt quite differently. In October of 1998, he voted in favor of a Republican resolution opening an impeachment investigation into Bill Clinton, even though the crimes Clinton was alleged to have committed were far less grave than what Trump stands accused of. And while Peterson has always been one of the most conservative members of his caucus, his district had voted for Clinton by a 45-40 margin in 1996. (He ultimately voted against all four articles of impeachment that December.)
Van Drew, meanwhile, faces the opposite political calculus, though he doesn't seem to realize it. Van Drew's district in southern New Jersey also went for Trump, but by a considerably smaller 51-46 margin, and it previously backed Obama twice. In addition, calculations by analyst J. Miles Coleman show that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy carried the district 50-48 during his successful 2017 run.
By virtue of representing swingy turf, Van Drew was always likely to be a Republican target next year, regardless of his vote on impeachment. Now, though, he's upped the likelihood he'll face the wrath of progressives in June's primary.
● TX-13: On Wednesday, businessman and GOP donor Chris Ekstrom announced that he would seek the nod for this safely red open seat in the Texas Panhandle.
Ekstrom has a habit of taking on the state party establishment, and he made news late last year when he and his conservative nonprofit launched a persuasion campaign to try to convince incoming (and now outgoing) state House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to keep a plaque in the state Capitol that lionized the Confederacy and pledged to teach that the Civil War "was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery." Ekstrom’s effort failed, and the historically inaccurate plaque went down earlier this year. Ekstrom’s group also has attacked a Dallas city councilwoman for voting to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park.
While GOP voters probably won’t hold this campaign against Ekstrom, they may not be too keen to support a former Never Trumper. In 2016 Ekstrom was part of the Free the Delegates movement that made a last ditch effort to try to deny Donald Trump the GOP nod at the Republican National Convention. Ekstrom argued at the time, “It’s now our time and our duty to say that this is a conservative platform in the Republican Party, and we simply will not abandon it.” Unsurprisingly, though, Ekstrom now calls himself “a conservative Christian Trump Republican.”
It’s also not clear if Ekstrom has close ties to this seat. Multiple media reports have said that Ekstrom is based in Dallas, and as recently as May, the Texas Observer identified him as a “Dallas Republican donor.” While this seat extends to the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the city of Dallas is about 55 miles away from the border of the 13th District.
● TX-22: Wealthy fundraiser Kathaleen Wall is already launching a cable TV ad well before the March 3 GOP primary, and the ad primarily focuses on touting her Christian faith, along with hitting generic Republican themes of "building the wall" and opposing abortion.
● Wichita, KS Mayor: On Tuesday, Democratic state Rep. Brandon Whipple filed a defamation lawsuit against a man named Matthew Colborn and two unnamed "John Doe" defendants over a web ad that falsely accused Whipple of sexual harassment.
Whipple is running to unseat Jeff Longwell, the Republican mayor of Wichita, and his lawsuit alleges that "supporters of the Mayor entered into a civil conspiracy to publish defamatory claims against the plaintiff with the intent of harming his candidacy." Longwell has condemned the spot and denied any involvement with it.
The ad features several young women describing how they were sexually harassed while they were interns in the Kansas state legislature, and concludes with them all saying in unison, "Stop Brandon Whipple." However, while the stories the women recount come from media reports describing harassment at the state capitol, none of them involved Whipple. The anti-Whipple ad even quotes one intern recounting how a legislator asked her, "Do your panties match your outfit?" but it fails to note that those words were attributed to a Republican state senator.
The web video was paid for by a New Mexico group called Protect Wichita's Girls LLC, but state records don't reveal any information about who's behind the organization. However, one of the actresses who appeared in its ad came forward to tell The Wichita Eagle that she had been paid $50 to read a script for the video and identified GOP operative Matthew Colborn as the producer, saying Colborn told her she was working on "an ad against domestic violence." The actress added that she had no idea who Whipple was when she took part, but said that "knowing that it's a lie now, I just feel terrible."
Colborn has served as campaign manager for Republican state Rep. Michael Capps, and he filmed the ad in an office he shares with Capps and another Republican, City Councilman James Clendenin. Clendenin has acknowledged that he knows Colborn but denied that he had anything to do with the video. Wichita's mayoral election is Tuesday.