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.
● KY-Gov: On Thursday, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin conceded defeat to Democrat Andy Beshear in last week’s race for governor of Kentucky. Election night returns showed Beshear leading Bevin 49.2 to 48.8, a margin of 5,189 votes, but Bevin responded to his defeat by repeatedly claiming that the election was marred by "voting irregularities." Unsurprisingly, he never produced a shred of evidence.
One prominent GOP leader initially seemed more than willing to try to rob Beshear of the governorship he’d just won. The day after the election, state Senate President Robert Stivers cited a provision in the state constitution that specifies that "[c]ontested elections" for governor "shall be determined by both Houses of the General Assembly"—and hasn't been used since 1899. Stivers even said it was "appropriate" that Bevin hadn't conceded because he thought that most of the votes received by Libertarian John Hicks, who won just under 2% of the vote, "would have gone to Bevin."
However, Stivers began to back down days later, saying that if the upcoming recanvass of the election results didn’t materially change the results, it would be time for Bevin "to call it quits and go home." The Senate leader acknowledged the backlash to his earlier comments, acknowledging he'd "received numerous angry calls and messages from people accusing him of somehow trying to steal the election."
Stivers admitted Bevin had well and truly lost on Thursday during the recanvass, which consists of officials checking the tallies reported by each voting machine and comparing them to the numbers that were reported to the state Board of Elections. Bevin himself then conceded defeat a short time later minutes before the recanvass was done, though he continued to claim there were unspecified irregularities. Soon afterwards, we learned that the recanvass led to one extra vote being counted for a write-in candidate, but absolutely no change in Beshear or Bevin’s vote totals.
Bevin’s defeat ends, at least for now, a short and volatile political career that plenty of his fellow Kentucky Republicans will hope is over forever. Indeed, perhaps the worst thing for Bevin—at least, as far as political obituary writers are concerned—is that his career was filled with so many hideous moments only a Caro-length biography could include them all, but we’ll give you the highlights of the man who will soon be the powerless broker. Bevin, who was the owner of his family’s Connecticut-based bell company, first sought elected office in 2014 by challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell, who was still the Senate’s minority leader at the time, in the GOP primary.
Bevin brought in millions through a mixture of donor support and self-funding, and he was able to rally support from anti-establishment groups who detested McConnell. However, the incumbent fought back hard and went after Bevin’s many weaknesses. Bevin was put on the defensive after it was revealed that he had signed a 2008 letter supporting one of the most hated pieces of legislation in tea party circles, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, and he also struggled to explain what he was doing at a pro-cockfighting rally. McConnell buried Bevin 60-35, and at the time, it looked like this would be the last we’d see of the challenger.
In January of the following year, though, Bevin surprised the political world by launching a bid for governor on the final day of candidate filing. The tardy new arrival very much looked like the underdog in that May’s primary between Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Metro Councilor Hal Heiner. However, he benefited after the two frontrunners went hard negative on one another, and he ended up beating Comer by all of 83 votes.
Bevin spent months running a terrible campaign against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway by doing no fundraising and only going on TV in late September. Bevin’s would-be allies at the Republican Governor’s Association even stopped airing ads just a little over a month before Election Day in what seemed to be an attempt to force Bevin to shape up.
The RGA’s early results were not encouraging, but they came to Bevin’s rescue two weeks before Election Day by returning to the airwaves. Still, despite Bevin’s many flaws, he always had a shot at beating Conway in a state where Barack Obama was incredibly unpopular and where Democrats were struggling to hold on. However, pretty much no one expected Bevin to win by a 53-44 margin, especially since not a single poll showed him ahead.
Bevin got some good news the next year when his party took control of the state House for the first time since the early 1920s, a result that made him the first GOP governor ever to enjoy unified control of the state government. However, Bevin spent his time fighting with just about everyone, including his own party.
Bevin’s approval ratings took a beating over a series of unpopular moves like a set of state pension cuts that the state Supreme Court later unanimously struck down. Before they were invalidated, those cuts prompted a teachers' strike last year that successfully pressured legislative Republicans to appropriate new funding for education, and even his own party turned on Bevin and overrode his veto of that bill.
Republicans spent the first month of 2019 wondering if Bevin would even run again, and true to form, he only made his plans known just before the filing deadline. Bevin hobbled out of the May primary with a 52-39 victory over underfunded state Rep. Robert Goforth, and unsurprisingly, the governor kept fighting with his defeated opponent months later.
Despite all of this, though, Bevin still had plenty of advantages over Beshear. Kentucky had become even tougher turf for Democrats since Bevin’s 2015 win, and the incumbent enjoyed Donald Trump’s support. While Beshear focused on local issues, the GOP did everything they could to tie him to prominent national progressives who were unpopular in the state.
Trump also sought to encourage his base to show up for Bevin by holding a rally the night before Election Day. Trump sought to frame the race around himself, and he said hours before polls opened that a Bevin defeat in this red of a state “sends a really bad message.” Trump implored his fans “you can’t let that happen to me!” but not enough of them listened to keep the Kentucky governor’s office red.
● Election Night: Louisiana Saturday Night: Saturday is Election Day in Louisiana, and Daily Kos Elections will be in the house for the runoff between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican Eddie Rispone. Speaking of the House, we'll also be watching to see if Democrats can prevent Team Red from winning a supermajority in the lower chamber of the state legislature after Republicans already gained a supermajority in the state Senate.
Polls close at 9 PM ET (8 PM local time) and we'll start our liveblog at Daily Kos Elections then; we’ll be tweeting as well. You'll also want to bookmark David Jarman's parish benchmarks as we look for early clues to see if Edwards is racking up the numbers he needs to be the first Democratic chief executive to claim a second consecutive term since Edwin Edwards in 1975, as well as the first incumbent governor to ever win a runoff.
Will high turnout in the city of New Orleans propel Edwards to victory, or will he know what it means to miss New Orleans? Will Rispone's governorship be born on the Bayou, or will Edwards still be the one callin' Baton Rouge? Will a strong performance in St. Bernard Parish have the Republicans praising sweet Chalmette, or will turnout in conservative parishes drop just enough from last month's all-party primary to leave Team Red's voters in the right place at the wrong time? Join us at Daily Kos Elections Saturday at 9 PM ET/ 8 PM local time as we all find out.
Election Result Recaps
● NJ State Assembly: While Republicans appeared to flip both Assembly seats in South Jersey's LD-02 on election night, Democratic incumbents Vince Mazzeo and John Armato prevailed after mail-in ballots were tabulated. Mazzeo and Armato's victories in this district, which backed Hillary Clinton 54-43, means that Democrats will hold a 52-28 majority in the chamber, down slightly from the 54-26 edge they enjoyed before Election Day.
● AL-Sen: Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched a $67,000 Fox News TV buy well ahead of the March GOP primary, and we now have a copy of his spot. The ad begins with footage of Sessions endorsing Donald Trump in the 2016 primary before he brags to the audience that he was the first U.S. senator to do so. Unsurprisingly, Sessions skips over their subsequent falling out and instead dons a Make America Great Cap and pledges to fight for Trump and his agenda.
● LA-Gov: The GOP firm JMC Analytics is out with a final poll of Saturday's runoff, and they give Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards a slim 47-46 edge over Republican Eddie Rispone. This survey, which JMC says was not done for a client, is a small drop for Edwards from the 50-47 edge they gave him in their late October poll for Nextar Communications.
There is one key difference between those two polls, though. The survey released Thursday began by asking voters if they "support or oppose the impeachment inquiry that Democrats have begun against President Trump" right before the horserace number. By contrast, their poll for Nextar began by asking about the gubernatorial race and only quizzed respondents about the impeachment inquiry afterwards. We always encourage pollsters to ask issue questions after the horserace to avoid "priming" voters to lean one way or the other.
● UT-Gov: Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman announced Thursday that he would seek the GOP nomination for governor of Utah, an office he held from 2005 until 2009. Huntsman is running to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor after Huntsman left office a decade ago.
Several other candidates are already running in the June primary including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has Herbert's support; businessman Jeff Burningham; and Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton. Whoever takes the Republican nomination should have no trouble winning the general election in this very red state.
Huntsman, who hails from a prominent Utah family, was elected governor in 2004 and won a second term four years later with 78% of the vote. Politicos quickly began speculating that he could challenge President Barack Obama for re-election, so it was a big surprise when Obama chose him to become ambassador to China in 2009. The move to Beijing hardly ended Huntsman's White House ambitions, though, and he ended up resigning in 2011 and entering the GOP presidential primary.
Huntsman pitched himself to Republican voters who were exhausted with their party's shift to the right. Among other things, he declared, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." That proved to be a very smart way to get media attention but a very bad way to get actual votes, and his campaign quickly ended with a distant third-place showing in New Hampshire. The winner of that contest, as well as the GOP nod, was Mitt Romney, who has had a bad relationship with Huntsman for years and is now Utah's junior senator.
Four years later, Huntsman endorsed Donald Trump just before he secured the GOP nod himself. After Trump won, he picked Huntsman for another ambassadorship, this time to Russia. However, reports began to circulate earlier this year that Huntsman was eyeing a comeback for his old job back home in Utah. (As The New York Times' Alex Burns put it in June, "Plotting a political campaign while serving in a sensitive diplomatic role is very on-brand.") Huntsman announced in August that he would resign, and he began publicly talking about another run for governor soon after his departure took effect last month.
● WV-Gov: While there was some speculation that Democrat Natalie Tennant could campaign for governor after she filed to seek an unspecified statewide race, she announced Thursday that she would run to regain the secretary of state's office. Tennant lost re-election back in 2016 to Republican Mac Warner by a 49-47 margin.
● CA-25: On Wednesday, former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill not only endorsed Assemblywoman Christy Smith in the special election to succeed her, she revealed that she had asked Smith to run before announcing her resignation late last month. This revelation helps explain how Smith, who is still the only notable Democrat in the race, was able to launch such an aggressive campaign the day after Hill made her announcement.
Hill's endorsement also came with a very particular plea: "A local gal flipped a decades-long Rep seat to win by 9 pts. A local gal is the only one who can keep it blue and the only one the community deserves," she tweeted before explaining how she encouraged Smith to get into the race. "Boys, please be gentlemen and step aside. She's got this."
Hill made that exhortation after left-wing political commentator Cenk Uygur filed paperwork with the FEC to create a campaign committee. He's refusing to say anything about his plans, though, tweeting on Wednesday afternoon, "To all reporters: No comment." Uygur also doesn't appear to live in the district he'd be running for: His FEC filing lists a P.O. box in Newport Beach, which is in the 48th Congressional District, far to the south of the 25th, while his LinkedIn profile says he hails from West Hollywood, which would likely put him in the 28th District.
Uygur has flirted with a bid for office once before: In 2017, he said he might challenge Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Just a few weeks later, though, he opted not to and instead endorsed activist Alison Hartson, who took 2% in last year's primary.
● IN-01: While GOP Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas initially ruled out running to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky in this 54-42 Clinton seat, he backtracked a little last week. Costas, who did not seek re-election this year, said, "My position right now is that I don't have any official interest in" a congressional bid. That's very much not a no, and Costas continued by saying he'd only decide on a House bid or a future run for state office after talking to others about it.
However, Costas did acknowledge how tough it would be for a Republican to win in this seat. Indeed, his father, then-state Sen. Bill Costas, badly lost to Visclosky in both 1986 and 1990. The younger Costas also said that Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority head Bill Hanna could make a strong GOP candidate. Hanna didn't rule it out last week, saying instead, "I haven't thought about."
● MD-07: While state Sen. Cory McCray initially expressed interest in entering the special election for this safely blue seat, he took over this week as interim chair of the state Democratic Party after Maya Rockeymoore Cummings resigned that post to run for Congress. Maryland Matters tweeted that this means McCray won't run here, and the senator retweeted that message.
● MN-08: While 2018 Democratic candidate Michelle Lee has been mentioned as a possible opponent for GOP Rep. Pete Stauber, she announced this week that she would run against GOP state Sen. Jason Rarick.
● NY-02: Islip Town Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, a Republican, told the New York Post this week that she had filed paperwork with the FEC. Weichbrodt does not appear to have committed to running for this competitive open seat yet, though.
Bergin Weichbrodt earned herself some bad headlines early last year after she put up a Facebook post responding to reports that Donald Trump had asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Bergin Weichbrodt herself wrote, "I'm looking at warm getaways for kids February break. I'm wondering about El Salvador, Haiti or Somalia #recommendations?" That post drew bipartisan condemnation, but Bergin Weichbrodt initially dug in and wrote, "Are some of my loved ones not getting my joke??" However, even Bergin Weichbrodt's GOP colleagues demanded that she apologize and explain herself.
Bergin Weichbrodt ended up taking down the post and offering a non-apology, saying, "I have learned that my Facebook post yesterday offended some of you. Please accept my sincere apology." She later told Newsday that she spoke to "some of my friends from El Salvador" and "recognized that my sarcasm was hurtful and I recognized that I needed to apologize."
On the other side, Rep. Carolyn Maloney endorsed Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon this week in the Democratic primary.
● NY-24: Navy veteran Francis Conole received an endorsement on Wednesday from Onondaga County Comptroller-elect Marty Masterpole, whose victory last week made him the first Democrat to win a countywide race since 1987. Conole is one of three Democrats competing in the June primary to take on GOP Rep. John Katko.
Onondaga County, which is home to Syracuse as well as about two-thirds of this district's residents, hasn't voted for a Republican presidential nominee since George HW Bush carried it in 1988. However, while the county remains solidly blue in presidential contests (Hillary Clinton won it 54-40), weak turnout in the county's off-year elections as well as GOP downballot strength has hampered Democrats here for decades.
● VA-05: On Thursday, Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, who also works as an athletics official at Liberty University, confirmed that he'd challenge freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman for the GOP nod. Good entered the race with the support of former Rep. Virgil Goode, who lost a previous version of this seat in 2008 and was the Constitution Party's presidential nominee four years later.
The GOP nomination will be decided at a party convention rather than through a primary, which is potentially bad news for Riggleman. GOP conventions tend to be dominated by delegates who prize ideology above all else, and Riggleman infuriated plenty of social conservatives at home in July when he officiated a same-sex wedding between two of his former campaign volunteers.