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.
● GA-Sen-B: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tapped wealthy businesswoman and major donor Kelly Loeffler for Sen. Johnny Isakson's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat at a press conference Wednesday, potentially igniting a war with Donald Trump and movement conservatives.
Trump had relentlessly pushed Kemp to tap Rep. Doug Collins, who, from his perch as the top-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has been a vocal Trump defender on impeachment. Conservative leaders, meanwhile, have attacked Loeffler as insufficiently pure, citing her donations to Democratic candidates who've supported abortion rights as well as the fact that the Atlanta Dream, the WNBA team she co-owns, publicly opposed a so-called "religious liberty" bill that would have permitted discrimination against LGBTQ people.
To combat these attacks, Loeffler declared her fealty to Trump at Wednesday's event, calling herself "pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-wall, and pro-Trump" and pledging to "proudly support President Trump's conservative judges." That obeisance could hurt her in a general election, though, while doing little to assuage her right-wing critics.
Collins, in fact, had previously said he would "strongly" consider a Senate bid even if Kemp passed him over, and after the governor's announcement, he didn't rule out the possibility. "I appreciate the support I have received from the president and many others," Collins said in a statement, “and right now, my primary focus is defending our president against partisan impeachment attacks."
Loeffler's campaign sought to pre-empt an intra-party battle in a blunter way as well: An unnamed "person with direct knowledge" says that Loeffler intends to spend $20 million of her personal fortune on her own campaign, a monster sum that could deter Collins or anyone else from seeking to take her on. (Mitch McConnell of course also said the NRSC, which protects all incumbents, would back Loeffler.)
If Collins or another disaffected Republican does get in, though, that would almost certainly crush GOP hopes of winning outright in November. That's because all candidates from all parties will run together on a single ballot, and if no one takes a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) would be held in January of 2021. The Democratic field, meanwhile, is still taking shape. So far, the only entrant is businessman Matt Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, but a number of other potential contenders are considering the race.
● CA-22: Republican Rep. Devin Nunes has finally denied a claim he met with disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin last year in order to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in the most Devin Nunes way possible: by filing a defamation lawsuit.
Nunes is suing CNN, which first reported that an attorney for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani's, said his client was prepared to tell congressional investigators that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna late last year for the purpose of obtaining information that might damage Biden.
Earlier in 2018, Giuliani had sent Parnas to Ukraine to do the same thing—look for muck that could be used to smear Biden. It was there that he connected with Shokin, who was dismissed by his country's parliament early in 2016 after an international pressure campaign to secure his ouster on the grounds that he'd thwarted efforts to fight corruption. According to Parnas' attorney, Shokin himself told Parnas he'd met with Nunes, though Shokin has denied such a meeting took place.
Bizarrely, in an interview just days after the CNN story broke, Nunes refused to issue a similar denial and would not answer a direct question on Fox News as to whether he'd met Shokin. Now, though, in his lawsuit, he says he was not in Vienna at the time in question but instead was visiting Libya and Malta on an official congressional trip.
But Nunes' further denials have already gotten him in trouble. In his suit, he insisted he'd "never met Parnas" and "never worked with Parnas, other Ukrainians, or anyone else to dig up dirt on Biden or other Democrats in Ukraine."
However, on Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released phone logs showing that Parnas and Giuliani repeatedly spoke with Nunes in April of this year, when Giuliani was at the center of an effort to push out conspiracy theories about Ukraine and Biden. Nunes responded by saying of Parnas, "I don't really recall that name" but allowed that it was "possible" the two had talked.
After CNN's original story first came out late last month, one senior Democrat, Washington Rep. Adam Smith, said that a House ethics investigation into Nunes was "quite likely." Since then, however, there have been no reports that such an inquiry has been opened.
● CA-25: Rep. Adam Schiff, who's recently become a household name for many Democrats thanks to his stewardship of impeachment hearings as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, joined the long list of California politicians who've endorsed Assemblywoman Christy Smith on Wednesday. Smith represents the neighboring 28th District, which, like the 25th, is based in Los Angeles County.
● FL-13: The NRCC has found itself under pressure to cut ties with GOP primary candidate George Buck after Buck sent out a fundraising email calling for Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar to be hanged for "treason," and the NRCC removed him from its "Young Guns" program used to fundraise for candidates in competitive House races. Buck was the 2018 nominee for this seat and lost to Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist by a wide 58-42 last year, but he had raised $130,000 in the third quarter this year, a non-trivial sum. Buck is currently running in the primary against attorney Amanda Makki, Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna, and businessman Matt Becker.
● FL-19: State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen kicked off her campaign on Tuesday, joining what has become an increasingly crowded primary for this safely red open seat. Fitzenhagen will face state House Majority Leader Dane Eagle, Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson, and former Minnesota state House Minority Whip Dan Severson in the primary.
● IL-03: The Illinois SEIU endorsed businesswoman Marie Newman this week in her bid to oust conservative Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski. The timing of the union's involvement is notable: Last year, SEIU only got involved on Newman's behalf six weeks before the primary. This time, it's taking action more than three-and-a-half months in advance. A spokesperson for the union, which is known for its grassroots organizing, says that over 11,000 members live in the 3rd Congressional District.
SEIU's support for Newman in 2018 was a breakthrough because Lipinski's chief support had long come from organized labor. Tellingly, the congressman responded to this latest development by citing a list of unions that had backed him last year—not this time out—and saying he "looks forward to earning their support again in his upcoming election." It's possible these other unions are just moving less quickly than SEIU, but their delay could also presage further cracks in Lipinski's once-solid base.
● KS-02: Add this bonehead maneuver to Republican Rep. Steve Watkins' long list of woes: He gave as his address on his voter registration form the location of a UPS store in Topeka and then proceeded to cast a November ballot as though he lived there—a move that could expose him to felony voter fraud charges.
In fact, law enforcement officials are already looking into the matter. The day after the Topeka Capital-Journal first reported the story, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said his office would open an inquiry into Watkins and further asked the county's sheriff's office to conduct its own investigation.
Watkins' campaign tried to wave away the matter, calling it an "inadvertent" error and insisting the congressman had "no improper purpose" because the UPS store and his supposed residence are both in the same county and congressional district.
However, the locations are in different city council districts, and Watkins voted in a race this fall in the 8th District that was decided by just 13 votes. (The winner, Spencer Duncan, said Watkins had no involvement in his campaign. The election was officially nonpartisan but Duncan calls himself an independent while the incumbent he defeated, Jeff Coen, identifies as a Republican.)
Ironically, Watkins had never voted anywhere before November of 2017, the very month he first kicked off his bid for Congress. Watkins has also been bedeviled by questions about his residence: Before running for the House, he'd lived most of his adult life in Alaska and Massachusetts. Now, apparently, he lives in a UPS store.
Watkins spent the end of the summer dogged by rumors that he'd resign from office due to an unspecified (and still unrevealed) scandal. Soon thereafter, he drew a serious challenge in the GOP primary from state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, who outraised him by a wide margin in the third quarter. Many Kansas Republicans already seemed quite eager to rid themselves of Watkins, and a bunch more have likely joined that cohort today.
● MI-07: Former state Rep. Gretchen Driskell has announced she'll seek the Democratic nomination for the third consecutive cycle against Republican Rep. Tim Walberg. Driskell was Team Blue's nominee the last two cycles, and she lost to Walberg by 54-46 last year.
That loss margin was a fairly decent showing for this 56-39 Trump district, which Bloomberg's Greg Giroux has calculated as voting against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow last year by a similar 53-45 margin as she won by 52-46 statewide. However, this district's red lean will still be a lot to overcome even if 2020 is as favorable to Democrats as 2018, which is hardly guaranteed.
● MO-02: On Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Jill Schupp kicked off her campaign against Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, giving Wagner her most prominent challenger to date in her quest for a fifth term.
Schupp flipped an open GOP-held seat during the 2014 red wave by defeating Republican Jay Ashcroft 50-47 in a district that had backed Barack Obama by the same spread two years before (Ashcroft, whose father John Ashcroft is a former senator and Bush administration attorney general, was elected secretary of state that same year). Senate District 24 went on to support Hillary Clinton 53-42 in 2016, and Schupp won re-election in 2018 61-37 after raising what the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described as a "menacing $1 million."
Republicans drew the 2nd District to be safe for their party. However, it has an almost-entirely suburban population where 49% of adults hold a college degree, making it the second-most educated district Republicans hold nationally after Texas' 3rd District.
Consequently, the St. Louis suburbs in the district have not taken so kindly to the Trump-era GOP. Trump won the 2nd by 53-42, which was a drop from Mitt Romney's 57-41, and the University of Virginia's Miles Coleman calculated that the 2nd backed Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill by 50-48 in 2018 even as she was losing statewide by 51-46.
Wagner only turned back her Democratic challenger by 51-47 last year, and although she is a prodigious fundraiser who had $2.2 million in her war chest at the start of October, Schupp's candidacy could mean the incumbent will face her toughest test yet.
● NC-13, NC-Sen, NC-02: Republican Rep. Mark Walker's 6th District was scrambled in recent redistricting to become solidly blue, and the Hill reports that he's looking at challenging Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in the primary or running against fellow GOP Rep. Ted Budd in the redrawn 13th District, which includes the largest proportion of Walker's current seat. Walker has reportedly polled both contests, and the Hill relays that he held a big lead over Budd in the new 13th District. As we noted in the previous Digest, roughly 47% of the new 13th District's 2016 Republican primary voters are currently Walker's constituents and only 39% are currently in Budd's district, which could favor Walker in a primary.
However, the hardline anti-tax Club for Growth is intent on avoiding just such a primary, and they pre-emptively endorsed Budd and declared they would spend over $1 million on his behalf if necessary. The Club has previously been friendly with Walker and had urged him to challenge Tillis earlier this year after an episode where the senator incurred the ire of the party's right flank by flip-flopping on Trump's bogus emergency declaration over his border wall. Tillis had subsequently drawn a primary challenge from self-funding businessman Garland Tucker, but Tucker surprisingly dropped out on Monday despite having already spent $1.5 million of his own money.
While it looked like Tillis dodged a major headache when Tucker dropped out, redistricting could have the effect of landing him an even more prominent primary challenger if Walker decides to go through with it. Walker has said he's in no rush to make a decision, but the filing deadline is coming up on Dec. 20.
Meanwhile in the newly redrawn 2nd District, Republican Rep. George Holding almost sounds ready to announce he's not running again after the court-supervised redistricting made his Raleigh-area district significantly bluer. Holding called it a "safe Democrat seat," saying, "I would never run in a race just to run. You got to run to win and you wouldn’t undertake something that you couldn’t win."
Although Holding didn't outright announce his retirement yet, he vowed not to run against any fellow GOP incumbent. Consequently, since neither Rep. David Rouzer in the redrawn 7th District nor Rep. Richard Hudson in the redrawn 8th District have given any indication that they won't run in their red-leaning districts, that leaves Holding without any viable shot at re-election given where things currently stand.
Taking Holding's place in the 2nd District could be former Democratic state Rep. Deborah Ross, who kicked off her campaign on Tuesday. Ross was the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2016, when she lost to Republican Sen. Richard Burr by 51-45 in an expensive contest, but she easily carried the 2nd District in that race. Other Democrats are also likely to take a look at running here now that this redrawn district supported Hillary Clinton by a wide 60-36.
● TX-10: Despite speculation that he could join the Texodus of Republican House members not seeking another term next year, GOP Rep. Michael McCaul has filed for re-election for a ninth term. McCaul only won by a modest 51-47 margin in 2018 against underfunded Democrat Mike Siegel while Democrat Beto O'Rourke carried this district by a slim 49.6-49.5 margin over Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, making this seat a top target for Texas Democrats. Siegel is running for a rematch, and the Democratic primary also includes attorney Shannon Hutcheson and medical school professor Pritesh Gandhi.
● WA-10: On Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Denny Heck unexpectedly announced he'd retire after four terms in office. In an unusually candid letter, Heck described both the many things he'd loved about serving in Congress but also admitted he'd grown "discouraged," explaining that "countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary."
"I will never understand how some of my colleagues, in many ways good people," Heck wrote, "could ignore or deny the President's unrelenting attack on a free press, his vicious character assassination of anyone who disagreed with him, and his demonstrably very distant relationship with the truth."
Heck's career in public service began in 1976, when he won the first of five two-year terms in the state House. In 1988, he narrowly lost a bid for state schools superintendent but went on to serve as chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner during his second term in the late '80s and early '90s. After Gardner left office, Heck founded the state equivalent of C-SPAN, called TVW, and even won an Emmy for a documentary he produced about the Supreme Court.
Heck sought to return to office in 2010, when he ran for Washington's swingy 3rd Congressional District, which had been left open by Democrat Brian Baird's retirement. Thanks to the GOP wave, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler picked up the seat but Heck held her to a respectably close 53-47 margin.
Following that year's census, the state gained a seat during the reapportionment process. The legislature approved a new, considerably bluer district covering the Tacoma suburbs and the area around Olympia, Heck's back yard. Heck quickly emerged as the leading Democrat in the race for the new 10th District in 2012 and handily beat Republican Dick Muri 59-41. He never faced a serious threat in subsequent terms.
A big reason Heck's departure came as a surprise was because late last year, he sought to run the DCCC, the House Democrats' campaign arm—not the sort of move someone eyeing the exits normally makes. (Heck lost a vote of his colleagues to Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos 117-83, with fellow Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene earning 32 votes.) But as he noted, governing in the Trump era has changed the calculus.
Democrats should not have much problem holding his district, which voted 51-40 for Hillary Clinton and 56-41 for Barack Obama. According to data from the state, it also went for Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell 56-44 last year. However, because of Washington's top-two primary system, Democrats will have to be vigilant to avoid getting locked out of the general election, a disaster that allowed Republicans to win the state treasurer's office in 2016 even though Democrats collectively won more votes in the primary.
● Des Moines, IA Mayor: Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie narrowly won the runoff on Tuesday against former state Sen. Jack Hatch, a fellow Democrat, by a 51-49 margin to secure an unprecedented fifth four-year term as the city's longest-serving mayor.
Hatch was the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor and entered the race just before the mid-September filing deadline. Hatch, who works as a developer and ended up self-funding most of his campaign, had argued that the city needed to do a better job improving infrastructure and mental health care. He also attacked Des Moines' new zoning code for "fast-tracking" development projects, saying they would mean less input from the neighborhoods that would be impacted.
However, Cownie's campaign countered those attacks by labeling Hatch "a career politician and a big developer who fills his pockets with your tax dollars," and voters narrowly sided with the incumbent.