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-11: North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who chaired the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus from 2017 until October of this year, announced Thursday that he would not seek re-election to his conservative 11th Congressional District.
Meadows' announcement comes one day before the state's candidate filing deadline, so his potential successors have only until noon local time on Friday to decide whether to run for his seat. However, not everyone who wants to enter this race may be able to. Wake County Board of Elections member Gerry Cohen points out that state law prohibits candidates from running for multiple posts at once, and anyone who filed to seek a different office can no longer take their name off the ballot because the deadline to do so passed on Tuesday.
The GOP primary will take place March 3, and there would be a May runoff if no one takes at least 30% of the vote. Whoever wins the Republican nomination for Meadows' constituency, which includes Appalachian North Carolina in the western portion of the state, will be the heavy favorite to keep it red. The state's new court-ordered map did move the 11th District quite a bit to the left from 63-34 Trump to 57-40 Trump, but it's still a heavy lift for Democrats. However, Daily Kos Elections data shows that Republican Pat McCrory carried the seat by a modest 52-45 margin as he was very narrowly losing the 2016 gubernatorial race, so a strong Democratic nominee may be able to make things interesting.
Redistricting also made this a considerably more compact seat. Asheville, which is one of the few pockets of Democratic strength left in western North Carolina, was awkwardly split under the old map between the 10th and 11th Districts, so much so that a Gerrymander 5K was held in 2017 by the League of Women Voters where runners jogged along the border between the two seats. (Jeremy Markovich wrote in Politico, "As a race, the Gerrymander 5K was unsatisfying. We had to run on the sidewalks; one poor woman nearly decapitated herself when she ran right into the guywire of a telephone pole.") The new 11th District contains all of Asheville, but it's still outweighed by the surrounding red counties.
Meadows' decision to retire so soon before the deadline came as a surprise, but his departure wasn't a complete bolt out of the blue. Over the last year there have been rumors that Meadows was in line for a post in the Trump administration, and he said Thursday, "Without getting into any specifics, I've had ongoing conversations with the president about helping with his team in a closer environment." Meadows added, "And I felt like it would be disingenuous to file and then resign at some point in the future and leave my district searching for a nominee."
Meadows worked in real estate and as chair of the Macon County GOP before running for office, and he also served on the State Board for Economic Development in Western North Carolina. Meadows got his chance to run for Congress in 2011 after the GOP state legislature targeted Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler by removing Asheville from his district. Shuler, who was one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus, initially said he'd still seek re-election, and Meadows was one of several Republicans running to take him on.
In February of 2012, though, Shuler decided to retire, and there was little question that the GOP would pick up his seat. Meadows self-funded much of his race and ran a campaign where he promoted himself as a "Christian conservative businessman," saying in his opening ad, "I'm driven by a moral obligation to stop Barack Obama's assault on our values, to protect marriage between one man and one woman."
Meadows took 38% of the vote in the eight-way GOP primary, which was just a little below the 40% he needed to win the nomination outright at the time. During the second round Meadows repeatedly said it was time to send Obama "back home to Kenya or wherever it is," but unsurprisingly, primary voters didn't hold this against him. Meadows defeated fellow businessman Vance Patterson 76-24 to claim the nomination, and he won the general election 57-43 against former Shuler chief-of-staff Hayden Rogers. Meadows never had trouble getting re-elected afterwards even after redistricting moved some of Asheville back into the 11th District in 2016.
Meadows quickly stood out in Congress in 2013 when he helped persuade his colleagues to shut down the government in an unsuccessful attempt to dismantle Obamacare. Meadows co-founded the far-right House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and in July of that year he also made news when he introduced a resolution to force a new vote for speaker, an action Meadows took on Speaker John Boehner's birthday. The vote wasn't ever held, but it helped showcase the conservative anger with Boehner, who later said he was already planning to resign later that year. In 2017, the now-former speaker said of Meadows, "He's an idiot. I can't tell you what makes him tick."
Meadows took over as Freedom Caucus chair in 2017 as Trump was entering the White House, and he quickly established himself as a power player in DC. Meadows initially opposed the original GOP bill to repeal Obamacare because it didn't go far enough, which played a key role in temporarily killing the legislation. Meadows soon supported a new version of the legislation that went on to pass the House, though it died in the Senate. Despite his early battles with Trump on healthcare, Meadows stood out as a loyal and influential administration ally.
● NC-Gov: On Thursday, one day before the filing deadline, former Gov. Pat McCrory announced that he would not enter the GOP primary to regain his old office. However, McCrory did say he was considering a 2022 bid for Senate to succeed Republican incumbent Richard Burr, who has said that he won't run again next cycle. Burr reiterated Thursday that he planned to retire and said of the developing field to replace him, "Boy, the buzzards fly pretty quick, don't they?"
● FL-03: On Wednesday, state Sen. Keith Perry announced that he would stay out of the GOP primary for this reliably red open seat. Perry's decision came around the same time that the Democratic firm ClearView Research released a survey they'd conducted independent of any client that showed him leading 2018 candidate Judson Sapp 34-9 in a hypothetical primary while no one else cleared 5%. However, Politico recently reported that Republican state Senate leaders feared they could lose Perry's seat if he was elected to Congress and opposed his potential candidacy.
● GA-14: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin, who has led his 13,000-person community since 1995, is considering seeking the GOP nod for this safely red open seat.
● NJ-02: On Thursday, New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew finally announced at the White House that he was leaving the Democratic Party and joining the GOP. The news broke over the weekend of Van Drew's pending party switch, but he held off making it official just long enough to be recorded as a Democrat when he voted against impeaching Donald Trump. Van Drew's move gives the GOP control of the 2nd District, a South Jersey seat that swung from 54-45 Obama to 51-46 Trump.
Van Drew had voted with the White House just 7% of the time during his 11 months in Congress as a Democrat, per FiveThirtyEight, and he even endorsed Sen. Cory Booker's campaign to defeat Trump in February. However, while the congressman didn't rule out running as a Democrat the very night before his party switch, he very quickly proved he understood the cultish nature of GOP politics on Thursday when he pledged his "undying support" to Trump. Van Drew was then rewarded with Trump's official endorsement, which, in a rarity, came in person rather than on Twitter.
The NRCC also used Thursday to delete their anti-Van Drew trash talk, much of which we’ve preserved here. (Sample: “Jeff Van Drew has a lengthy record of going all-in on abortion, withdrawing his sponsorship of a bill requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortions and receiving Planned Parenthood’s highest rating.”) They’ve also ejected wealthy businessman David Richter, who is continuing his bid against Van Drew now that he’s switched parties, from their Young Guns program.
A few Democrats have kicked off bids against Van Drew. On Wednesday political science professor Brigid Callahan received endorsements from state Senate President Steve Sweeney, who is close to powerful South Jersey Democratic leaders, as well as endorsements from the party chairs in Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties.
As we've noted before, county party endorsements still play an important role in New Jersey primaries, and these six counties together made up 54% of the vote in the 2018 Democratic primary for this seat. Democratic leaders have not yet taken sides in Atlantic County, where 41% of the primary vote was cast, and Ocean County, which made up 5% of the vote.
● Ohio: Filing closed Wednesday for Ohio’s March 17 primary. Candidates file with the county that makes up the largest proportion of their district rather than with the state, so a list of contenders can be found on county election sites.
● OH-01: GOP Rep. Steve Chabot is arguably the state’s most vulnerable House member a year after he won re-election 51-47 in a suburban Cincinnati seat that backed Donald Trump by a similar 51-45 margin. While there was some speculation that Chabot could retire or face a primary opponent, the congressman is running again without any intra-party opposition.
The two Democrats competing to take on Chabot are former healthcare executive Kate Schroder and former Air Force pilot Nikki Foster, who sought a dark red state House seat last cycle. Schroder has the support of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who is her old boss, while VoteVets is backing Foster. Schroder ended September with a $319,000 to $100,000 cash-on-hand lead over Foster.
Chabot reported having $403,000 to spend, but his campaign finances have been in turmoil since late summer, when the FEC sent a letter asking why the congressman's first-quarter fundraising report was belatedly amended to show $124,000 in receipts that hadn't previously been accounted for. From there, a bizarre series of events unfolded.
First, Chabot's longtime consultant, Jamie Schwartz, shuttered his firm, called the Fountain Square Group, and allegedly disappeared. Then Schwartz's father, Jim Schwartz, told reporters that despite appearing as Chabot's treasurer on his FEC filings for many years, he had in fact never served in that capacity. Chabot's team was certainly bewildered, because it issued a statement saying, "As far as the campaign was aware, James Schwartz, Sr. has been the treasurer since 2011." Evidently there's a whole lot the campaign wasn't aware of.
The elder Schwartz also claimed of his son, "I couldn't tell you where he's at" because "he's doing a lot of running around right now." Well, apparently, he’d run right into the arms of the feds. Earlier this month, local news station Fox19 reported that Jamie Schwartz had turned himself in to the U.S. Attorney's office, which, Fox19 says, has been investigating the matter "for a while."
Adding to the weirdness, it turned out that Chabot had paid Schwartz's now-defunct consultancy $57,000 in July and August for "unknown" purposes. Yes, that's literally the word Chabot's third-quarter FEC report used to describe payments to the Fountain Square Group no fewer than five times. (Remember how we were saying the campaign seems to miss quite a bit?)
We still don't know what those payments were for, or what the deal was with the original $124,000 in mystery money that triggered this whole saga. Chabot himself has refused to offer any details, insisting only that he's been the victim of an unspecified "financial crime." Chabot’s Democratic rivals have used the mess to attack him as “corrupt,” but the real fallout will only come if and when investigators announce their findings—and any charges.
● OH-03: Four-term Rep. Joyce Beatty faces a well-funded Democratic primary challenge from former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advisor Morgan Harper in this safely blue Columbus seat. 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. Beatty has argued in turn that Harper hasn’t presented any workable plans and is raising “false hope.”
● OH-10: Veteran GOP Rep. Mike Turner won re-election last year 56-42 in a Dayton-based seat that backed Trump 51-44, and it doesn’t look like Democrats will be seriously targeting him. One of Turner’s two Democratic foes, attorney Desiree Tims, announced her campaign in August but raised just $42,000 through the end of the following month. The other Democrat, Alzheimer's researcher Eric Moyer, opened a fundraising account just after Thanksgiving but hasn’t attracted much attention yet.
● OH-12: Republican Rep. Troy Balderson won his first full term last year 51-47 last year, and he may be vulnerable again in this 53-42 Trump seat in the northern Columbus area. Balderson’s main Democratic foe looks like businesswoman Alaina Shearer, who entered the race in late October. The other Democrat who filed, nurse practitioner Jenny Bell, reported raising less than $5,000 during the previous quarter.
● OH-13: Former GOP state Rep. Christina Hagan entered the race to take on veteran Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan just ahead of the filing deadline, and it doesn’t look like she’ll face any serious primary opposition. Ryan never had trouble holding this Mahoning Valley seat even after it moved from 63-35 Obama to 51-45 Clinton, but this cycle could be tougher. Ryan spent six months on a failed bid for president that drained most of his resources, and he had just $41,000 on-hand at the end of September.
However, Hagan doesn’t start with much of a geographic base in this seat. While about a quarter of her old 50th State House District is located in Ryan's seat, that portion only makes up about 4% of the 13th District's total population. Hagan ran for the neighboring 16th District last year and lost the primary to now-Rep. Anthony Gonzalez 53-41.
While the 13th District lurched to the right in 2016, it moved back a bit last cycle. According to calculations by Republican election analyst Michael Dawson, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray carried the seat 56-41 even as he was losing statewide 50-47.
● OH-14: Last year, GOP Rep. Dave Joyce turned back a credible opponent 55-45 in a suburban Cleveland seat that moved from 51-48 Romney to 54-42 Trump. Joyce’s only Democratic foe this year is attorney and retired Navy pilot Hillary O'Connor Mueri, who entered the race in October.
● PA-17: Donald Trump has tweeted out his endorsement for Republican Sean Parnell, an Army veteran and recurring Fox News guest who is running against Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb. Back in October, Trump had used an event in Pennsylvania to promote Parnell days before he even publicly expressed interest in entering the race. Parnell doesn't appear to have any serious opposition in the GOP primary for this 49-47 Trump seat in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
● WA-10: Democrat Marilyn Strickland, a former Tacoma mayor who currently serves as CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday that she would run for this open 51-40 Clinton seat. Strickland, who is the first notable Democrat to declare, entered the contest with endorsements from former Gov. Christine Gregoire and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards
Strickland’s 2009 win made her both the first African American and Korean American elected to lead Tacoma, and she would also make history as Washington’s first black or Korean member of Congress. Strickland was re-elected mayor without opposition in 2013, and she was termed-out at the start of 2018. However, only around 39,000 of Tacoma's 198,000 residents are located in the 10th District, so she may not start out with much of a geographic base of support.
Strickland’s time as leader of the local Chamber of Commerce could give her the connections to raise money and get her name out, but it could be a liability with some voters. Last month, the Chamber’s PAC spent millions to try to elect a slate of Seattle City Council candidates who supported policies favored by Amazon, and the company itself contributed $1.45 million to the effort. That expensive campaign went badly, though, and only two of its seven candidates won.
None of the city of Seattle is located in the 10th District, which includes the Olympia area and Tacoma suburbs, but Amazon’s influence in regional politics still may be an important issue here.
● Babka: We're pleased to announced the winners of the Daily Kos Elections 2019 prediction contest, sponsored by the generous folks at Green's Bakery. They'll be sending our top four finishers an amazing prize: the lavish, 52-oz Executive Babka! Without further ado, the winners are:
- dot farmer
Lordpet8 finished in first with an extremely impressive 22 points out of maximum of 23 total, just overestimating the total number of seats Democrats would win in the Virginia state Senate by one. Amazing!
Folks were generally quite bullish on Team Blue this year, and that bullishness was rewarded: We had a 16-way (!) pileup for second place with 21 points apiece. But this is why we always include a tiebreaker: We asked you to guess the exact percentages for Andy Beshear, Matt Bevin, and the Libertarian candidate in the Kentucky governor's race. Mapleyy, Kyleinwa, and dot farmer compiled the lowest total errors among the "21 club," all less than two points apiece. We'll be reaching out to all of you by email to send you your prizes.
We had over 400 entries, so to see how you stacked up, you can check out the complete scoreboard here. Thank you to everyone for participating, our gratitude to Green's Bakery for once again sponsoring this contest, and congrats to the winners!
● Programing Note: The Daily Kos Elections team will be taking a break for the holidays, so our last Live Digest of the 2010s will be on Friday while the Morning Digest will be going out on Monday. The Live Digest will be back Jan. 2 and the Morning Digest will return on Jan. 3. Thank you for joining us for an unforgettable year, and we're looking forward to an exciting 2020 and beyond!
P.S. For a trip down memory lane, you can find our very first Digest of the 2010s from back when we were the Swing State Project here, and it is truly an amazing time capsule.
In a surprising example of how everything old is new again, that Jan. 4 entry included a story about a House member who had just left the Democratic Party for the GOP, appearances by Georgia GOP politicians Brian Kemp and Karen Handel, problems at the NRCC, and former Red Sox player and potential congressional candidate Curt Schilling. It also featured the line, "I never thought I'd see the day when urea formaldehyde would become a campaign issue," a topic we're pretty sure we haven't written about since then.