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-Sen: On Thursday, three weeks after Sen. Thom Tillis published an op-ed in the Washington Post declaring that he would vote for a resolution rolling back Donald Trump’s bogus emergency declaration because it was his “responsibility” to “preserve the separation of powers” and to “curb” “executive overreach,” the North Carolina Republican decided it wasn’t his responsibility after all. Instead, Tillis joined most of the GOP caucus in voting against the resolution.
Tillis is up for re-election in 2020, and he pissed off plenty of conservatives at home when he temporarily said he was against the emergency declaration—so much so that he managed to stir talk of a primary challenge. In a Wednesday piece in The Hill, published the day before the vote, Rep. Mark Walker confirmed that he wants to run for the Senate at some point, and while he might wait until GOP Sen. Richard Burr retires in 2022, Walker he added that he “won’t rule out” taking on Tillis.
Tillis’ allies reportedly think that Walker could just be trying to get attention ahead of a 2022 bid, but even if they’re right, he’s hardly the senator's only potential primary foe. David McIntosh, the head of the radical anti-tax Club for Growth, said earlier this week that “Tillis is in danger of becoming a dead man walking” and predicted that either Walker or fellow Reps. Mark Meadows or Ted Budd would beat him.
The Hill writes that Meadows, the head of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told them he has “no plans” to run, which is every politician’s favorite way of not saying “no.” There is, however, no direct quote from Meadows, and we also haven’t heard anything from Budd, who won his seat in 2016 with the Club’s backing.
The Hill adds that businessman Garland Tucker is considering taking on Tillis in the primary, but he doesn’t appear to have said anything publicly. Tucker founded the multi-million dollar investment firm Triangle Capital Corporation, which was sold for almost $1 billion last year. However, that sale came months after TCC’s stock crashed, an event that the company’s CEO blamed on Tucker and other former managers.
It remains to be seen if Tillis’ vote on Thursday will convince some of his would-be primary challengers to back off, or if they’ll just see him as even weaker. Walker notably did not close the door on a campaign after Thursday’s vote, with his communications director saying that the congressman “is humbled to have the support and consideration of conservatives across North Carolina, but is not planning to primary Thom Tillis.”
And there’s good reason to think Tillis’s spinelessness won’t improve his standing with hardliners. He’s also inflamed some Republicans by authoring legislation to try to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from Trump—and wouldn’t you know it, he even wrote an op-ed titled “Why I want to protect Robert Mueller.” Tillis’ problems with the party base in fact stretch back many years, to his time as speaker of the state House, and he’s repeatedly been formally “censured” by local county GOP organizations on issues ranging from voter ID to immigration.
Team Blue is also hoping to target Tillis next year. National Democrats have yet to land a recruit, but now that Tillis has both irrevocably tied himself to Trump’s most extreme fantasies and demonstrated just how feeble he is, that job should get easier.
● CO-Sen: Politico reports that former diplomat Dan Baer has met with the DSCC about a possible bid against GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. Baer, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, did not rule out running last month. If elected, Baer would be Colorado's first gay senator.
Baer has only run for elected office once before. Last cycle, he sought Colorado's 7th Congressional District after Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter entered the race for governor. However, Baer ended his House campaign after Perlmutter dropped out of the gubernatorial race to seek re-election, but that was only after Baer had raised a strong $365,000 during his lone quarter spent running.
The Denver Post's Nic Garcia also reports that state Sen. Angela Williams is also considering entering the Democratic primary. Williams, who represents a safely blue Denver seat, doesn't appear to have addressed the Senate race when asked. Instead, she told Garcia that she was focusing on getting her bills, which include a proposal to abolish the death penalty, passed. Williams would be the state's first black senator.
Garcia also gives us some updates on a few other potential Democratic candidates. State Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents a competitive seat in the Aspen area, has been publicly eyeing this seat for the last few weeks, and she told the paper that she won't decide until they legislative session ends in early May.
Garcia also adds that freshman Rep. Joe Neguse "is getting pressure to run," though there isn't any more information about who is applying the pressure. Neguse, who represents a safely blue Boulder-area seat, has been mentioned as a possible candidate in several media reports, but he hasn't said anything publicly about his interest. Neguse made history this year by becoming Colorado's first black member of Congress, and he had previously run statewide, narrowly losing as Team Blue's secretary of state nominee in the 2014 GOP wave.
● KY-Sen: The Courier-Journal writes that Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is one of a few Democrats who has been mentioned as a possible candidate against GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell. Fischer, who leads the commonwealth's largest and bluest city, has not shown any obvious interest in entering this race.
● MT-Sen: Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has shown very little interest in running for the Senate, and he finally explicitly ruled it out this week. Bullock, who has been eyeing a White House bid, said that he "just wouldn't enjoy" the Senate, adding that he's "ruled it out." We don't understand why he couldn't have been this blunt months ago, but be that as it may, we're choosing to take him at his word now. If he changes his mind at some later point, that'll be a big story—and you can count on us to cover it
● NH-Sen, NH-01: Earlier this week, GOP Gov. Chris Sununu refused to rule out challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, but he declined to say when he'd decide between this contest and running for re-election. Sununu insisted that he hasn't "thought about it too much," though the Concord Monitor's Paul Steinhauser writes that it's "doubtful" the governor would decide on anything before the legislative session ends in late June.
Senate Republicans are mostly on the defensive next year, but there's good reason to think that Sununu could make this race competitive. Sununu won re-election 53-46 during last year's Democratic wave, and a mid-February poll from YouGov for UMass Amherst found Shaheen leading Sununu just 45-42 in a hypothetical contest. The same sample gave Shaheen a 41-36 edge over former Sen. Kelly Ayotte in a hypothetical contest, though Ayotte hasn't shown much public interest in running again.
A few other Republicans are also eyeing this race, though Sununu might be able to clear the field. WMUR writes that 2018 House nominee Eddie Edwards is considering a Senate bid, though there's nothing from Edwards about his plans. Edwards lost last year's open-seat contest to Democrat Chris Pappas by a wide 54-45 margin, which was not a great showing for a district that very narrowly backed both Obama and Trump. Back in January, WMUR also reported that Edwards was eyeing a rematch with Pappas, and their newest report says he's still considering another House campaign.
● TX-Sen: This week, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke confirmed he would seek the Democratic nomination for president rather than run for Senate against GOP Sen. John Cornyn.
● NH-Gov: Democrats will want to target this race whether or not GOP Gov. Chris Sununu runs for re-election or launches a Senate bid (see our NH-Sen, NH-01 item), and the National Journal's Madelaine Pisani writes that state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes is "expected" to run either way. Feltes has said little in public about his plans, but he reportedly met with the DGA last month about a possible campaign.
● KY-Gov: A super PAC called Kentuckians for a Better Future that was formed last year to aid former state Auditor Adam Edelen is about to launch their TV ads of the May Democratic primary. Medium Buying reports that the size-of-the-buy is $50,000, and that the spot will start on Friday.
● MN-05: Some Minnesota Democrats have begun talking about a primary challenge to freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, who's recently sparked controversy by repeatedly using language that invokes anti-Semitic tropes, but there are no obvious challengers on the horizon. The Hill's Reid Wilson writes that some Democrats are "eyeing" state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who didn't respond to requests for comment. Champion briefly ran for this safely blue Minneapolis seat last year but dropped out after about a week.
State Transportation Secretary Margaret Anderson Kelliher is also mentioned in the article. A spokesperson said in response that Kelliher is "entirely focused" on her post, which isn't a no. Last year Kelliher, a former state House speaker, lost the primary to Omar 48-30.
A few other local Democrats did explicitly say no to running. State Sen. Ron Latz said he considered "for all of a half a second" before deciding not to challenge Omar. Minneapolis City Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins also says she's supporting Omar, even though Wilson writes that some of the congresswoman's detractors "hope to entice" Jenkins into running.
● NC-09: On Thursday, state Sen. Dan Bishop joined the GOP special election primary for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. Bishop is best known as the author of House Bill 2 in 2016, also known as the anti-LGBT "bathroom bill."
The law, which required anyone using bathrooms at schools or public facilities to use the restroom associated with the sex on their birth certificate, caused a national backlash and led a number of businesses to cancel planned expansions into North Carolina, and it also contributed to GOP Gov. Pat McCrory's 2016 defeat. Bishop's career survived, though, and last year, he was re-elected 53-47 in a seat that Trump carried 50-47.
WBTV reported last week that Bishop would self-fund at least $250,000, which he did not dispute days later. The filing deadline is on Friday.
● OH-07: This week, a spokesperson for GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs confirmed that the congressman would run for a sixth term this cycle. The Plain Dealer writes that Gibbs' announcement came in the midst of speculation that state Senate President Larry Obhof could run if Gibbs retired; however, Obhof told the paper that he wouldn't run against the incumbent. This seat backed Trump 63-33, and Gibbs turned back a well-funded challenge from Democrat Ken Harbaugh by a 59-41 margin last year.
● OH-13: Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan has been considering running for president for a while, and he said this week that he believed "the next few weeks we're going to make a decision one way or the other." Ryan is notorious for talking about running for higher office but never going through with it, but since Ohio does allow him to run for president and for re-election at the same time, it's possible this time will be different. Ryan's Youngstown-area seat went from 63-35 Obama to 51-45 Clinton, but the GOP didn't field a credible candidate last year.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: This week, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot picked up endorsements from Gery Chico and Paul Vallas, who took 6 and 5 percent of the vote in the February primary, respectively.
● Kansas City, MO Mayor: On Thursday, City Councilor Jolie Justus picked up an endorsement from termed-out Mayor Sly James. Justus, a former state Senate Democratic leader who would be the city's first gay mayor, is one of several candidates competing in the April 2 nonpartisan primary to succeed James.
● Tampa, FL Mayor: Former police chief Jane Castor is out with a survey from Frederick Polls that gives her a 58-24 edge over wealthy retired banker David Straz in the April 23 general election. Castor led Straz 48-16 in the early March nonpartisan primary.
● Deaths: Former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, a Democrat who served from 1963 until his defeat in 1980, died Thursday at the age of 91. Bayh is remembered for introducing what became the 25th Amendment, which clarified the presidential line of succession and established procedures for appointing a new vice president, and the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The senator also authored the Equal Rights Amendment and played a prominent role in establishing Title IX, which banned gender discrimination in school programs and activities that receive federal assistance.
Bayh got his start in politics by claiming a seat in the Indiana state House of Representatives in 1954, and four years later, he became its youngest speaker at the age of 30. Bayh ran for the U.S. Senate in 1962 against Republican incumbent Homer Capehart and won 50.3-49.7, a victory that Walter Cronkite dubbed the "political upset of the year." Even President John F. Kennedy was impressed, calling Bayh and asking, "Birch, you old miracle maker. How the hell did you do it?"
Bayh had several more tough races in store for him. In 1968, as Richard Nixon was carrying Indiana 50-38, Bayh won re-election 52-48 against Republican state Rep. William Ruckelshaus, a future EPA administrator. National Republicans were in dire shape six years later after the Watergate scandal, and Bayh turned back Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar 51-46; Lugar got to the Senate two years later by decisively unseating Vance Hartke, Indiana's other Democratic senator.
Bayh entered the very crowded 1976 Democratic presidential primary, but that campaign did not go well. Bayh, who was chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, had alienated anti-abortion forces when his committee refused to clear any proposed amendments to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Bayh said on the campaign trail that he was "the only senator who held 15 months of hearings on abortion and I came to the conclusion I wanted to oppose abortion because really we are talking about life" but didn't want to impose his beliefs through an amendment, which only seemed to inflame pro-choice voters. Bayh's campaign ended after he performed badly in early primary states.
Bayh sought a fourth term in 1980 in what was an incredibly tough year for Democrats nationally. Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter 56-38 in Indiana and GOP Rep. and future Vice President Dan Quayle unseated Bayh 54-46. Bayh never sought elected office again but his son, Evan Bayh, went on to serve as Indiana's governor and senator.
● Deaths: Former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, a Democrat who served from 1979 to 1987, died Wednesday at the age of 92. Hughes is remembered for helping restore trust in the state government after high profile scandals involving former Govs. Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel, and for legislation to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution. The last years of Hughes' governorship were dominated by a savings and loan industry crisis that hit the state hard and badly damaged his popularity and contributed to his loss in a 1986 Senate primary.
Hughes, who played as a pitcher in the minor league baseball team the Eastern Shore Baseball League, got his start in politics by winning a seat in the state House of Delegates in 1954. Hughes joined the state Senate four years later, and he distinguished himself as one of just two lawmakers from the Eastern Shore to vote for desegregation bills. In 1964, Hughes lost the general election for the 1st Congressional District, which was at the time located entirely on the Eastern Shore, 53-47 to GOP incumbent Rogers Morton, but he remained in the legislature.
In 1971, Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed Hughes the state's first secretary of transportation. He served until 1977 when he announced he was resigning as a "matter of principle" because an influential contributor was getting preferential treatment for a Baltimore subway contract. Hughes entered the primary for governor weeks later and began the 1978 race as a longshot, with one pundit dubbing him a "lost ball in high grass."
Hughes faced Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III, who had been acting governor since the previous year when Mandel relinquished his own powers following a stroke. Mandel, who remained governor, was also facing a federal corruption investigation, and while most observers saw Lee as honest, he had trouble distancing himself from Mandel.
Hughes bid picked up steam just before the primary after The Baltimore Sun backed him with a rare front-page endorsement. Hughes, who ran on a platform of restoring the state's integrity, ended up beating Lee 37-34, and he won the general election against former Sen. John Glenn Beall, Jr. 71-29.
Hughes was easily re-elected in 1982, but his numbers took a dive years later in the mist of the S&L crisis. Hughes, who was termed-out of office, entered the Democratic primary for an open GOP-held Senate seat against two U.S. House members, Barbara Mikulski and Michael Barnes. Mikulski defeated Barnes 50-31 while Hughes took third place with just 14 percent of the vote.