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 Wednesday evening, Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne became the first notable Republican to announce a bid against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Byrne, who has represented a safely red House seat in the Mobile area since 2013, is very unlikely to have the GOP primary to himself, though. Jones is running for re-election in a state that backed Donald Trump by an enormous 62-34 margin, and a number of other Republicans are eyeing this contest.
Indeed, the radical anti-tax Club for Growth made it clear just before Byrne jumped in that they very much wanted an alternate candidate. The Club released a poll from WPA Intelligence of a hypothetical GOP primary between Byrne and fellow Rep. Gary Palmer, and they showed the two tied 27-27.
Palmer, who won his suburban Birmingham seat in 2014 with the Club’s help, has not yet shown any obvious interest in this contest. Back in November, Republicans told Politico that they doubted he’d run now that he's been elected chair of the House Republican Policy Committee.
However, it sounds like the Club will keep casting around for another candidate to take on Byrne if they don’t get Palmer. Their leader, David McIntosh, declared that “people who know Byrne, know he’s not a conservative,” and added, “The people of Alabama deserve better than a fake politician who says one thing in Alabama and votes the wrong way in Washington.”
The Club often opposes candidates close to the party establishment in GOP primaries, and Byrne very much fits that mold.
The congressman has had a long career in Alabama politics going back to 1994, when he was elected to the state Board of Education as a Democrat. Byrne switched parties in 1997 and, after a stint representing Baldwin County in the Mobile suburbs, he became chancellor of the state's community college system.
Byrne ran for governor in 2010, and he began that open seat contest as the frontrunner. However, he wound up caught in an unusual position where he was successfully attacked from both the right and the left. State Rep. Robert Bentley, who was still years away from the sex scandal that would ultimately define his career, played up his own ties to prominent social conservatives while going after Byrne for having once been a Democrat.
A dark money group also ran ads declaring that Byrne had suggested that the Bible was “only partially true” and that he believed that evolution, rather than creationism, “best explains the origin of life.” The attack on Byrne’s views of the Bible attracted plenty of attention during this campaign and, as we’ll discuss, for years to come.
Byrne had filled out a candidate questionnaire from the Press-Register the previous year that asked, “Do you believe that the Bible is literally true?” and rather than answering yes or no, he sent the paper an email saying that neither response represented his feelings. In a follow-up interview, Byrne said he thought “there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not.” Days later, Byrne stated that he believed “every word is true” in the Bible and that the Press-Register had misrepresented his views. However, this very much did not put the issue to rest.
At the same time, teachers unions—one of the only liberal influences left in Alabama—also had it in for Byrne from his time leading the community college system, and they, too, ran ads against him. The Alabama Education Association encouraged its members to vote in the open GOP primary and Bentley also publicly called for Democrats to vote for him. Byrne lost the primary runoff to Bentley 56-44, and Bentley went on to win the general election.
Byrne got his chance for a political comeback three years later when Rep. Jo Bonner resigned from the 1st Congressional District. Byrne advanced to the GOP runoff with tea partier Dean Young, who had lost the 2012 primary to Bonner 56-24. Prominent groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NRA mobilized behind Byrne, who touted his conservative views but still said it was important “to work with people, in Washington and at home,” a viewpoint that didn’t exactly play well with the conservative base in the tea party era.
Young, by contrast, didn’t raise much money or receive much outside help, but he attracted national attention by declaring that he believed the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. However, Young also directed plenty of acrimony at the establishment-backed Byrne, whom he labeled a “country club Republican.” Young also reused an issue that had dogged Byrne in 2010 when he declared that his opponent was lying when he insisted that he believed the Bible was literally true, an accusation Byrne once again vehemently denied.
Byrne ended up beating Young just 52.5-47.5, though he had no trouble winning the general election. The two faced off again in 2016, and this time, Byrne won 60-40.
Byrne has been a pretty quiet member of the House and he’s usually been a dependable vote for the GOP leadership. In 2016, after the release of the Access Hollywood video where Donald Trump was caught bragging about sexually assaulting women, Byrne was one of several Republicans who called for him to drop out of the presidential race. However, Byrne became a reliable Trump ally after he won, and his old Trump skepticism didn’t cause him any trouble in 2018.
Byrne also seems to have learned from 2016 to never again doubt his party’s standard bearer. During the 2017 special election for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, multiple women credibly accused GOP nominee Roy Moore of preying on them when they were teenagers. Byrne said he had “no reason to doubt the stories that they’ve told, but Judge Moore has denied every one of them,” and he refused to call for Moore to drop out. Jones ended up narrowly beating Moore.
● TX-Sen: Former Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke said on Tuesday that he hoped to decide on his 2020 plans by Feb. 28, though he added that his timeline wasn't "limited by the end of this month." While O'Rourke has shown far more interest publicly in running for president than in another Senate run, he did say this week that his 2020 plans "may involve running for the presidency, it may involve something else," so it at least sounds like he's still considering a bid against GOP Sen. John Cornyn.
● MS-Gov: On Wednesday, termed-out Gov. Phil Bryant endorsed Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves ahead of this August's GOP primary.
Reeves faces an intra-party challenge from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. as well as state Rep. Robert Foster. Last week, the Clarion-Ledger's Sam Hall predicted that some members of Bryant old campaign team would support Waller over Reeves, writing, "The love-loss between the Bryant and Reeves camps is no secret, even if the two top Republican leaders have seemingly buried the political hatchet as of late." However, it seems that at least the governor has let bygones be bygones.
● GA-07: On Wednesday, Democratic fundraiser Nabilah Islam announced that she was joining the primary for this competitive open seat. Islam, who is the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, worked on campaigns in Georgia before she raised money for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. In 2017, just as Islam was about to start a stint at the Democratic National Committee, Florida Politics called her "one of the Florida Democratic Party's top fundraisers." The new candidate also staked out a strongly progressive platform by backing "Medicare-for-all" and a $15 minimum wage.
Islam joins 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux, who narrowly lost to retiring GOP Rep. Rob Woodall, and attorney Marqus Cole in the Democratic primary. Additionally, a trio of Democratic state representatives have said that they'll consider running after the legislative session ends in early April.
● NC-09: In a stunning turn of events, a witness appearing before the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Wednesday testified that he'd warned Republican Mark Harris that McCrae Dowless, the operative accused of orchestrating an absentee ballot scheme on Harris' behalf, was a "shady character" engaged in "illegal" activities.
What made the testimony so remarkable, though, was the fact that it was provided by Harris' son, John Harris, a federal prosecutor in Raleigh. In addition, the younger Harris turned over an email he'd sent to his father two years ago citing the very provision of North Carolina law that makes it a felony to collect or turn in others' absentee ballots, as McCrae has been charged with doing.
John Harris' evidence also contradicts statements made by Mark Harris, who told a reporter last month that Dowless' record "had been looked into" but "everything had come out just perfectly fine." Harris himself is scheduled to testify before the board on Thursday; the hearings had originally been set to conclude Wednesday, but at this point, it's not certain how long they'll last.
It's also not clear what the next steps will be or when they’ll be taken. Previously, board chair Bob Cordle said he'd hoped to wrap up proceedings on Tuesday and then have the board vote on whether to certify the results of last year's disputed election (which currently have Harris up 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial returns), or to order a new election be held.
● New York, NY Public Advocate: New York City's special election for the position of public advocate is coming up on Tuesday, and as we've noted previously, it's an extremely unusual one: All candidates are running together on a single, nonpartisan ballot, and whoever gets the most votes wins without a runoff, no matter how small the plurality in a race that's expected to have very low turnout.
Even though a few hopefuls dropped out or didn't qualify, a giant field of 17 contenders is swarming to fill this post (which became vacant when Democrat Tish James was elected state attorney general last year), in part because current office-holders don't have to give up their posts in order to run. In addition, every candidate is appearing on the ballot under a party line of their own creation, with names like "Livable City," "Unite Immigrants," and "No Amazon" (a label that has probably exceeded Assemblyman Ron Kim's wildest expectations). The labels "Democrat" and "Republican" are not allowed.
Polling such a race is well-nigh impossible, but New York Magazine's David Freedlander reports that political operatives agree the two frontrunners are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito ("Fix the MTA" party) and City Councilman Jumaane Williams ("It's Time Let's Go"), whom we described as "[t]wo of the biggest Democratic names" when we last looked in on this contest. Both were once supporters of Mayor Bill de Blasio but have emerged as sharp critics, which is more or less the role of the public advocate, a position with few fixed duties.
In an election like this, though, truly anything can happen. The insiders who spoke with Freedlander suggest that Democratic Assemblyman Michael Blake ("For the People") is "running third," while "a half-dozen other members of the Council or the Assembly retain a semi-plausible path to victory." One notable Republican, City Councilman Eric Ulrich, is also running, and he could benefit from the fact that he'll be identified as a member of the "Common Sense" party, rather than the GOP.
But whoever prevails won't necessarily get to hold the job for very long: Partisan primaries will be held in June, followed by a general election for the final two years of James' term. It's therefore eminently possible that some of the also-rans in next week's election could try again in just a few months.
● Special Elections:
VA-HD-86: Democrat Ibraheem Samirah prevailed in this Northern Virginia district, taking 60 percent of the vote. Republican Gregg Nelson took 34 percent, and independent Connie Haines Hutchinson rounded out the voting with 6 percent.
This election generated attention after anti-Semitic social media posts written by Samirah five years ago came to light. When the posts surfaced, Samirah apologized, saying, "I am so sorry that my ill-chosen words added to the pain of the Jewish community, and I seek your understanding and compassion as I prove to you our common humanity."
Despite the controversy, Samirah emerged victorious and, at 27, will become one of the youngest (and possibly the youngest) members of the state House. Samirah's performance lagged behind Hillary Clinton's 65-30 margin in 2016 and former Del. Jennifer Boysko's 69-31 margin in her last run in 2017, but was right in line with Barack Obama's 60-39 win here in 2012.