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.
● AL-Sen: On Thursday, exactly one year to the day after Donald Trump sacked him as U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions announced that he’d run to reclaim the Alabama Senate seat he held for 20 years before joining Trump’s cabinet in 2017.
While the anti-tax Club for Growth publicly encouraged Sessions to join the March GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, other national Republicans are reportedly unenthusiastic at best about his comeback. The New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sees Sessions’ candidacy as a “distraction that could end poorly for Republicans.” The paper adds that McConnell is wary that a crowded primary could make it easier for the disgraced Roy Moore, who lost the 2017 special election to Jones, to win the nomination again.
The bigger problem for Sessions, though, is his … strained relationship with another of his former bosses. Trump lashed out at his attorney general after Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and Sessions spent the rest of his tenure on the receiving end of a non-stop Twitter hate barrage from Trump.
Trump, of course, never forgets a grudge: In June, he declared that the "biggest mistake" of his tenure was appointing Sessions, and the Times writes that White House allies told the former senator that Trump would publicly attack him if he were to enter the race.
However, Sessions’ allies are naturally arguing that he indeed does have a path to victory. The Club for Growth just came out with a late October survey from WPA Intelligence that gives Sessions the lead in next year’s primary with 36% of the vote. Unfortunately for the ex-senator, though, that’s well short of the majority of the vote that he needs to avoid a runoff. WPA shows former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville taking the second place spot with 23% while Moore and Rep. Bradley Byrne are tied for third with 11% each; Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and state Rep. Arnold Mooney bring up the rear with 6% and 2%, respectively.
One thing Sessions won’t need to worry about, though, at least in the beginning, is money. He still has $2.5 million in his old Senate campaign account, and he can instantly use that money for his campaign to regain his former seat. However, Sessions may need every cent of that and more if Trump makes good on his threat to nuke him.
● ME-Sen: On Wednesday, former Google Executive Ross LaJeunesse entered the Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins. LaJeunesse would be the first gay man elected to the Senate, but he will have a difficult time winning his party's nomination in June. National Democrats have coalesced behind state House Speaker Sara Gideon, who ended September with $2.8 million in the bank.
LaJeunesse is a first-time candidate who worked in California state government during the last decade, including as a senior aide to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. LaJeunesse later served as Google's director of international relations but left the company in May, saying this week he felt Google was prioritizing profits over people and principles.
● MI-Sen: VoteVets is going up with a $750,000 buy in support of Democratic Sen. Gary Peters days after Restoration PAC launched a $879,000 TV ad campaign attacking him. VoteVets's spot praises Peter for his service in the U.S. Navy Reserves and for volunteering again after the Sept. 11 attacks. The ad also extols Peters' record on defense issues in the Senate.
● NH-Sen: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Thursday that he'd make up his mind on seeking the GOP nod for Senate by the end of the year. Lewandowski, though, has already shifted his timeline a few times while also sending decidedly mixed signals about his interest in challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
● NM-Sen: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the latest prominent Democrat to endorse Rep. Ben Ray Luján for this open seat.
● KY-Gov: Just a day after state Senate President Robert Stivers floated the idea that statehouse Republicans could overturn the results of this week's election for governor, his counterpart in the state House, Speaker David Osborne, similarly did not rule out the prospect.
Stivers proposed that Gov. Matt Bevin, who currently trails Democrat Andy Beshear by more than 5,000 votes, could contest the election under a provision of the state constitution that would let the GOP-dominated legislature pick a winner. In a statement on Thursday, Osborne would only say that if Bevin "chooses to file a formal election contest, the House Majority Caucus will handle the matter in a legal, ethical, and appropriate manner…." Osborne's invocation of the "House Majority Caucus" as the responsible entity is notable, because it would mean he plans to exclude Democrats from adjudicating any contest of the election.
A few Republican lawmakers have expressed some skepticism about the possibility of intervening to alter the outcome, though none have outright told Bevin to get lost. And as we've seen with congressional Republicans when it comes to Donald Trump's outrageous conduct, it's a lot easier to say something mildly reproving than to actually do anything to put a stop to it, so we'll see if they have the courage of their convictions if and when Bevin actually does file a formal contest.
● LA-Gov: A group called Restore Our Coast PAC is running two ads (here and here) that appear aimed at dissuading conservatives from supporting Republican Eddie Rispone in the Nov. 16 runoff.
Both spots say Rispone supported Common Core, the national academic standards that were the subject of numerous conservative conspiracy theories during the Obama era. One ad begins, "We all know Eddie Rispone is no President Trump," and it continues, "Before running for governor, Rispone championed Common Core education promoted by Washington bureaucrats under President Obama."
These are the first ads of this race from Restore Our Coast, but the PAC was active in a 2016 election for state Supreme Court. The group was backed by a Baton Rouge law firm called Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello, which has frequently opposed oil companies in court. This firm also financed a super PAC called the Louisiana Water Coalition in the 2015 gubernatorial race that ran ads against Republican David Vitter.
● CA-45: While then-Rep. Mimi Walters opened a fundraising account for 2020 two days after she thought she'd won re-election last year (she didn't), it doesn't look like the would-be NRCC chair will be getting any use out of it this cycle. California's filing deadline is about a month away, but Walters recently took a job at an energy company. Several other Republicans are currently running against freshman Rep. Katie Porter, who has raised more money than any other vulnerable Democrat in the House.
● FL-19: Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass announced this week that he would not seek the GOP nod for this safely red open seat now that state House Majority Leader Dane Eagle was running. Fellow Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman also sounds unlikely to run, saying, "I am honored by so many people who have asked me that question and I am very happy being a county commissioner; I get to sleep in my bed every night and kiss my kids good night every night and my wife good night every night and so I'm going to continue to do that every night as long as the voters will have me."
● IN-01: On Wednesday, hours after longtime Rep. Pete Visclosky announced his retirement, North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan entered the Democratic primary for this reliably blue seat. Mrvan is the son and namesake of veteran state Sen. Frank Mrvan, who was first elected in 1978 and has served in the legislature almost continuously since then. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott also entered the primary the same day Visclosky made his plans known.
More Democrats could yet join. State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, 2018 Secretary of State nominee Jim Harper, and state Rep. Ragen Hatcher have all expressed interest in running. Hatcher is notable as the daughter of the late Richard Hatcher, who became the first black mayor of Gary in 1968 and served for the next 20 years.
State Sen. Eddie Melton, meanwhile, announced last month that he would seek the governorship, but his spokesperson very much didn't rule out the possibility that he could run here instead. Melton's team told the National Journal he "has been humbled by the outpouring of support today and looks to continue to advocate for Hoosier families however he best can. Whether that be in Indianapolis or Washington, D.C."
However, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said no to a bid, and one Republican, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, also quickly took his name out of contention.
● MA-06: On Thursday, gun safety activist Angus McQuilken announced that he would challenge Rep. Seth Moulton in the September Democratic primary.
In his kickoff, McQuilken didn't say much about Moulton, who pissed off progressives nationwide last year by trying to keep Nancy Pelosi out of the speaker's chair and later launched a doomed presidential bid. Instead, he assailed the lack of action in Congress on important issues.
McQuilken is an attorney who has been active in politics for years. He previously served as an aide for Cheryl Jacques, who was Massachusetts' first gay state senator, and he also worked for the Democratic National Convention Committee and as an official at the state Planned Parenthood.
McQuilken has run for office twice, losing both campaigns to none other than Republican Scott Brown. In 2004, then-state Rep. Brown beat McQuilken in a special election to succeed Jacques in the state Senate by a narrow 50-49 margin, then won their rematch later that year 51-47. Brown went on to use that seat in the legislature as a launching pad for his successful 2010 special election campaign for the U.S. Senate.
● TX-23: This week, attorney Sharon Thomas announced that she would seek the GOP nod for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, an open swing seat where her party lacks a viable candidate. Thomas was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 to serve on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which is charged with regulating the state's law enforcement officials.
● TX-24: On Thursday, EMILY's List endorsed educator Candace Valenzuela for Texas' open 24th Congressional District, a competitive GOP-held seat in the suburbs north of Dallas. Valenzuela is one of several women seeking the Democratic nomination, with Air Force veteran Kim Olson her most prominent rival. Last year, during her campaign for state agriculture secretary, Olson earned the backing of Annie's List, an organization that, like EMILY's List, supports pro-choice Democratic women, specifically in Texas.
● UT-04: Former NFL safety Burgess Owens announced Wednesday that he would seek the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams.
Owens spent most of his career with the New York Jets but also played for the Oakland Raiders when they won the 1980 Super Bowl. He went on to found a nonprofit mentoring program whose mission is "helping at-risk and incarcerated youth experience the American dream." Owens also is the author such weighty tomes as "Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps" and "Why I Stand: From Freedom to the Killing Fields of Socialism." It probably won't shock you to learn that he's also a Fox News contributor.
Owens joins a busy field where several other Republicans have been competing for months, and one of them ended September with a large financial edge over his intra-party rivals. State Sen. Dan Hemmert raised $232,000 during his first quarter in the race and self-funded an additional $175,000, leaving him with just shy of $400,000 in the bank.
The only other candidate to raise six figures was state Rep. Kim Coleman, who took in $111,000 but had only $89,000 to spend. Former state GOP official Kathleen Anderson raised just $42,000 but self-funded another $130,000, and she had $100,000 in the bank. Two other Republicans, family nurse practitioner Chris Biesinger and former radio host Jay Mcfarland, each had just short of $30,000 available.
McAdams will be one of the GOP's top targets, and he's fundraising accordingly. The Democrat took in $509,000 during the third quarter, and he ended the quarter with a little over $1 million on-hand.
● WA Ballot: Voters in Washington weighed in on two significant ballot measures this week, but given the state's notoriously slow-to-count vote-by-mail system, neither has been decided yet, and we may not know the final results until next week.
One of these two notable measures is Referendum 88, a proposal to restore the use of affirmative action in situations such as college admission and government contractor hiring. After Thursday evening's update, "no" was narrowly leading, 51.2 to 48.9, but the results remain in doubt.
That's because one of the few counties where the measure is passing is populous King County, home of Seattle. There, "yes" is currently ahead by a 62-38 margin, and there are still 277,000 ballots left to be counted in the county, which represents almost half of all outstanding ballots. It's therefore distinctly possible that "yes" could pull into the lead by the end.
Referendum 88's path to the ballot was a complicated one. Initially, supporters of affirmative action sought to place a measure called Initiative 1000 on the ballot this year, a proposal to overturn a 1998 measure called Initiative 200 that banned the use of affirmative action. However, lawmakers liked Initiative 1000 and simply passed it themselves, obviating the need for it to appear on the ballot.
Affirmative action opponents responded by obtaining the signatures needed for a so-called veto referendum of the newly-passed legislation (sometimes known as a "people's veto"), resulting in Referendum 88. So, confusingly, even though the referendum was advanced by affirmative action opponents, a "yes" vote was a vote for affirmative action and a "no" vote was a vote against affirmative action. That allowed opponents to run under the cynical but hard-to-disagree-with slogan "Vote no on discrimination."
The other key measure was Initiative 976, the latest effort from Tim Eyman, a conservative gadfly who makes his living by profiting off his efforts to spearhead anti-tax initiatives every two years. He was, unsurprisingly, also behind the original measure to ban affirmative action back in 1998.
This year's Eyman initiative sought to cap annual vehicle registration fees (known locally as "car tabs") at $30. Two decades ago, Eyman sought to enact a similar cap, but it was struck down by the courts just a few months after it passed. Since that time, car tab fees in many counties have crept up through add-on fees imposed by regional transit taxing authorities. Those add-on fees, though, pay for a variety of large infrastructure projects. Eyman's new measure would cut an estimated $451 million out of the state transportation department's $6.7 billion biennial budget.
As of Thursday's count, I-976 was passing 54-46, though again, King County voters were opposed by a bigger spread, 58-42. Given the measure's current 8-point edge, however, it's unlikely that late-breaking King County ballots could change the result, though it's not impossible. But even though its final status has yet to be determined, the initiative has already had an impact: Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has placed a temporary halt on any transportation projects that are still in the planning stages (anticipating a large and imminent revenue shortfall), though those that are currently underway are not affected.
The long-term solution, however, appears to be simply suing I-976 into oblivion. On a number of previous occasions where an Eyman initiative has passed, the Washington Supreme Court has simply dismantled it. Eyman, it turns out, is not terribly good at drafting initiatives that pass constitutional muster (which is why his previous car tab cap failed), but his personal business model doesn't depend on his initiatives actually having any legal staying power. King County, the city of Seattle, and Sound Transit (the Seattle metro area's regional taxing authority) all already have lawsuits in the works.