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.
● NY-11: Former Rep. Mike Grimm, a Republican who represented Staten Island in the House from 2011 until he resigned in 2015 ahead of a seven-month prison stint for tax evasion, has been talking about running for New York's 11th District again for a while, and he recently told Politico that he was "90 percent of the way there to run." Grimm added that he was very close to launching a campaign against freshman Democratic Rep. Max Rose. This seat, which also includes a portion of Brooklyn, backed Trump 54-44.
If Grimm gets in, he'll face a primary against Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who was Team Red's 2017 nominee for mayor of New York City. Grimm, per usual, is ready for a nasty intra-party campaign. Back in January, the disgraced former congressman posted a video where he declared, "It is comical to expect Republican voters will want someone as unprincipled, unaccomplished, and underwhelming as Nichole to share the ballot with President Trump in 2020."
However, Grimm may deter another Republican. New York City Councilman Joe Borelli has been eyeing this seat, but Politico wrote last week that the potential Grimm campaign was "freezing" him out. Grimm himself said this week that he'd back Borelli if he didn't run himself.
Grimm ran for his old seat last year in the primary against incumbent Dan Donovan, who had won the 2015 special election to succeed him. However, while Grimm had spent his career building up a Trump-like cult of personality by portraying the Obama Justice Department as out to get him, the White House backed the incumbent. Trump even told his Twitter followers that Donovan "will win for the Republicans in November … and his opponent will not," and invoked Roy Moore and his disastrous 2017 Senate campaign with a "Remember Alabama." Donovan did indeed win that primary 66-34, but, contrary to Trump's bold prognostications, he lost for the Republicans in November when Rose beat him 53-47.
Grimm seems to think that, despite how his last campaign turned out, he can portray himself as a local Trump. Grimm told Politico that both he and Trump had the same enemies, rhetorically asking, "Who signed off on my indictment? James Comey." Grimm also claimed that the tax evasion charges against him were the same type of "witch hunt" that Trump has had to endure, though reporter Laura Barrón-López noted that Grimm did indeed plead "guilty to concealing more than $900,000 in gross income and admitted failing to report hiring busboys 'off the books'" for his old health food restaurant "Healthalicious."
Grimm also predicted that the ethics cloud against him "is gone. It's over; it's in the past." He could be right, but he might need to convince the White House of that. If Trump remains convinced that Grimm is an electoral loser and again endorses accordingly, the former congressman might once again have a very tough time prevailing in a primary here.
However, while national Republicans opposed Grimm last year and consolidated behind Donovan, it remains to be seen if they'll back Malliotakis. Still, the assemblywoman did pick up endorsements from two New York members of Congress, Lee Zeldin and Elise Stefanik.
● AZ-Sen: Former Democratic state Rep. Chris Deschene said this week that he was considering challenging GOP Sen. Martha McSally. Deschene was elected to his only term in the legislature in 2008, and he lost the general election for secretary of state two years later by a 58-42 margin.
Deschene sought the presidency of the Navajo Nation in 2014 and advanced to the November general election, but his campaign came to an end when the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled that, because he didn't speak the Navajo language fluently, he was not qualified to serve.
The Navajo Nation Council voted to change the language requirement so that Deschene could continue running, but the bill was vetoed by the outgoing president. The presidential election ended up getting postponed twice as a result, but a special election was finally held in April 2015. That same year, Deschene was appointed to a position in the Obama administration's Department of Energy.
● MN-Sen: GOP state Sen. Karin Housley has been considering a second bid against Democratic Sen. Tina Smith despite her 53-42 loss in last year's special election, but she says she won't be making any decisions before Easter (April 21).
● NH-Sen, NH-Gov: WMUR's John DiStaso reports that Gov. Chris Sununu has privately told high-ranking Republicans that he expects to decide whether or not to run for the Senate soon, and that this could come in as little as two weeks. However, DiStaso writes that, while Sununu plans to inform party insiders of his intentions soon, he may wait to announce his decision to the public.
Sununu would almost certainly be the strongest Republican opponent for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and he might be able to clear the primary field if he gets in. Former state House Speaker Bill O'Brien has been mulling a Senate bid as well, but DiStaso says that if Sununu gets in, O'Brien would be a potential candidate to succeed him as governor.
● NM-Sen: In a surprise, state Attorney General Hector Balderas announced on Thursday that he would not seek the Democratic nod to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Udall. Balderas had run in the 2012 primary for the state’s other Senate seat against then-Rep. Martin Heinrich (who won the general election) and political observers expected him to launch a bid this week. However, Balderas said he had just become the adult guardian for his daughter, who has Down Syndrome, and that he didn’t believe his family could handle all the travel required of a Senate campaign.
A few hours before Balderas made his announcement, Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections reported that Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján would kick off a Senate bid on Monday. Luján, who represents the northern third of the state, chaired the DCCC during the very successful 2018 cycle, and he should have no trouble raising money if he runs.
A few other Democrats are also eyeing this race. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver tweeted on Thursday that she was “seriously considering a campaign for US Senate and will announce my decision in the days ahead.” The Hill also writes that an unnamed “senior New Mexico Democrat” who had spoken to Oliver expects her to get in. Politico reported on Monday that Toulouse Oliver had spoken to Luján and told him she’d still consider running even if he got in.
We also got a surprising potential new name on Thursday when former CIA agent Valerie Plame told local political writer Joe Monahan that she was thinking about joining the race as well. Monahan’s report didn’t explicitly say that Plame would run as a Democrat, though he identified her as progressive.
Plame was at the center of a national firestorm for years during the presidency of George W. Bush after conservative columnist Robert Novak revealed in print that she was a covert agent. Plame argued that Bush administration officials leaked her name to Novak to punish her then-husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, for an op-ed that declared that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”
The whole affair eventually led to the 2007 conviction of Scooter Libby, a former chief of staff for then-Vice President Dick Cheney, for obstruction of justice and perjury in the investigation into who revealed Plame’s identity.
Plame has occasionally attracted attention since the end of the Bush administration. In 2010, a movie was released adapting Plame’s memoir that starred Naomi Watts. In 2017, Plame tweeted out a story titled “America's Jews are driving America's wars.” Plame later deleted her message and said she had “skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest,” even though the headline wasn’t exactly subtle. Plame also was back in the news last year when Trump pardoned Libby.
So far, not many Republicans have shown much excitement about running for the Senate in what’s become a blue state. However, Monahan writes that former state Sen. Rod Adair has been considering. Adair, an ally of then-Gov. Susana Martinez, represented the Roswell area until 2012, when he pulled the plug on his re-election campaign after redistricting threw him into the same seat as another Republican incumbent.
Monehan adds that some Republicans have mentioned state Supreme Court Chief Justice Judy Nakamura, the lone Republican left in statewide-elected office after 2018, as a possible candidate. However, there’s no sign if she’s considering running for Senate instead of for re-election.
● TX-Sen: Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune writes that some Democrats are mentioning state Sen. Royce West as a possible candidate, but "[i]t's unclear how far along in the process West is."
● WV-Gov: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who joined the Republican Party a year after he was elected in 2016 as a Democrat, already faces a GOP primary challenge from former state Del. Mike Folk, and he may be about to face a more familiar adversary. Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews reports that Woody Thrasher, whom Justice hired and later fired as state commerce secretary, is "said to be seriously considering running" against Justice in the GOP primary, though Thrasher declined to say anything publicly.
Thrasher ran a successful engineering firm until Justice appointed him in late 2016, and the two initially got along quite well. Justice said at the time that he'd always felt that if he became governor "without any question, the number one guy I wanted to recruit was Woody Thrasher," while Thrasher said in response, "I wouldn't have done this for anyone other than Gov.-elect Jim Justice."
Their mutual admiration had its limits, though. Thrasher remained in the Justice administration after the governor switched parties, and he scored a high-profile win in 2017 when he announced that China Energy was making an $83 million investment in West Virginia natural gas projects as part of a deal he signed in China in front of Donald Trump. However, Thrasher attracted some bad attention a few months later over his department's handling of federal flood-relief money, and Justice forced him to resign over this in June of last year.
Like Justice, whom Forbes ranked as the richest man in West Virginia, Thrasher is reportedly wealthy, though it's not clear how much he'd be willing or able to invest in a campaign. And just like Justice, Thrasher also has a not-so-distant past as a Democrat. Thrasher was a registered Democrat until he joined the GOP about a month ago, so he might have a tough time winning over Republican primary voters wary about supporting a former Democrat.
● CA-45: This week, Mission Viejo Mayor Greg Raths announced that he would challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, making this the third time the Republican has sought this Orange County seat.
Raths ran in the 2014 top-two primary for what was an open seat and took third place with 24 percent, while fellow Republican Mimi Walters, who was the frontrunner for the entire contest, led a little-known Democrat 45-28. Walters won the general election with ease but Raths decided to challenge her in 2016 and took third with 19 percent, with Walters outpacing another Democrat 41-28.
Raths formed an exploratory committee in 2018 for a potential third bout with Walters, but he didn't end up running; Walters went on to lose the general election to Porter.
● GA-06: Former Rep. Karen Handel has rolled out endorsements from the top U.S. House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Handel also has the backing of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented a previous version of this suburban Atlanta seat before he resigned in 1999.
● IL-06: Roll Call's Stephanie Akin writes that Republicans have mentioned DuPage County board member Greg Hart as a possible opponent for freshman Democratic Rep. Sean Casten. So far, Hart hasn't said anything publicly about his interest in this contest.
● IL-14: Roll Call writes that some GOP strategists have "floated" state Sen. Sue Rezin as a strong potential opponent for freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood, though there's no word on how interested Rezin is. Several candidates, including fellow state Sen. Jim Oberweis, are already running in the GOP primary, but an NRCC spokesperson says they're still "heavily recruiting," so it doesn't sound like they're sold on the current field. That's not a massive surprise given Oberweis' weak electoral track record.
● NC-09: Former Rep. Sue Myrick, who represented a previous version of this seat until she retired in 2013, has endorsed state Sen. Dan Bishop for the May 14 GOP primary.
● PA-10: Democratic state Auditor Eugene DePasquale told PoliticsPA that he wasn't ruling out a 2020 bid against GOP Rep. Scott Perry, but that he also wasn't closing the door on possible 2022 campaigns for governor or the U.S. Senate. DePasquale, who can't seek a third term next year because of term limits, said he "want[s] to continue [his] public service, over the next couple of months and talk to people what will be the best fit."
● Special Elections: Saturday brings three runoff elections in the Louisiana House, which Republicans currently control 62-37. You can find our previews of the first round of voting in these races here.
LA-HD-17: Democrats Pat Moore and Rodney McFarland will face off in the race to replace former state Rep. Marcus Hunter, who became a judge for Louisiana's Fourth Judicial District. Moore narrowly missed winning this race outright in the first round of voting, taking 49 percent to McFarland's 34. Two other Democratic candidates, Anthony Garcia and Rodney Welch, each took 9 percent.
This is strongly blue turf that went for Hillary Clinton 75-23 and Barack Obama 77-23.
LA-HD-18: Democrat Jeremy LaCombe will face Republican Tammi Fabre in the race to replace former state Rep. Major Thibaut. This is the only race in Louisiana this Saturday that will feature a Democrat and Republican head-to-head.
LaCombe led the way with 45 percent to Fabre's 23 in the first round of voting, which featured unusually high turnout for a special election. Overall, Democrats accounted for 75 percent to Republicans' 25 percent in the first round of voting, a huge disparity in a district Donald Trump and Mitt Romney both carried by double digits: 58-40 for the former and 55-44 for the latter.
LA-HD-62: Republican Dennis Aucoin will face independent Roy Darryl Adams in the race to replace former state Rep. Kenny Havard. Aucoin took 45 percent in the first round of voting to Adams' 31. There were three Democrats on the ballot who combined for 24 percent.
While Aucoin will likely be a favorite in a district that went for Trump 57-40 and Romney 56-43, Adams will hope to pry some support from Democrats. He has espoused progressive positions on certain issues such as reversing budget cuts and improving infrastructure.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: With days to go before the April 2 election for Chicago mayor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is launching her first TV spot after going dark for more than a week, but the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the size of the buy is just $50,000.
That, of course, is a tiny amount for an expensive media market like Chicago, especially compared to the $771,000 that opponent Lori Lightfoot is spending for the final week of the contest, but Preckwinkle is almost certainly hoping that her ad will help generate media attention. The spot focuses on Lightfoot’s response to a 2004 fire that killed four children, a tragedy that occurred when Lightfoot was chief of staff and general counsel for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
The narrator tells the audience that the “911 call center run by Lori Lightfoot allegedly botched the response” to the fire, “costing lives.” The ad continues by declaring, “To cover it up, Lightfoot allegedly lied. Became extremely evasive and evidence was destroyed or deliberately withheld.” The spot concludes, “A judge called her actions shocking and ‘very, very troubling.’ If she wouldn’t do what was right then, how will Lori Lightfoot ‘bring in the light’ now?” (That last quip is a reference to Lightfoot’s own tagline.)
There’s a lot to unpack here. Back in 2004, as the Sun-Times’ Robert Herguth explains, neighbors responded to the blaze by asking whether 911 call-takers had been slow to dispatch firefighters. Lightfoot, in her role as general counsel for the emergency management office, was responsible for the internal review of the incident. The parents of three of the dead children filed a lawsuit against the city, and, among other things, alleged in court papers that Lightfoot had lied and been “extremely evasive” when she was deposed.
Herguth writes that the judge overseeing the case, Lynn Egan, also faulted Lightfoot for her “attitude” and called her handling of an order to preserve evidence “very, very troubling.” Egan further concluded that it was reasonable to believe the city had “deliberately” withheld evidence, and records showed that some evidence had even been destroyed, which the city said was inadvertent.
The lawsuit was eventually settled, though the city says it was not required to pay anything to the family. But despite the accusations made by his attorneys, Dwayne Funches, the father of three of the children and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told the paper this week that he doesn’t blame Lightfoot, saying, “I don’t go around bashing people, because you reap what you sow.” Funches added that he wasn’t sure which candidate he’d be supporting on April 2.
Lightfoot struck back at a debate on Monday, where Preckwinkle acknowledged her campaign had “shopped” the story to reporters, declaring that the “fact that President Preckwinkle was using the tragedy of four children killed as a political prop was offensive.” Lightfoot also put out a statement quoting Ron Huberman, who was her boss at the Office of Emergency Management, saying that Lightfoot had handled the investigation well.
● NC-LG, Where Are They Now?: Former Rep. Renee Ellmers announced Wednesday that she would run for lieutenant governor of North Carolina to succeed termed-out fellow Republican Dan Forest. A number of other candidates from both parties are eyeing this race.
Ellmers represented part of the greater Raleigh area in the House from 2011 to 2017 in a brief career that was defined by some very wild swings of fortune. Ellmers, who was a nurse at the time, attracted little attention when she kicked off her 2010 bid against longtime Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge. However, the GOP wave, plus Etheridge's bad response to conservative video trackers, helped Ellmers pull off a 49.5-48.7 upset.
GOP mapmakers soon redrew North Carolina's congressional map in time for the 2012 elections, and Ellmers went from running in a swing seat designed to protect Etheridge to a gerrymandered and reliably Republican district. Ellmers had no trouble winning her next two general elections, including a high-profile 2014 contest against singer Clay Aiken that she prevailed in by a 59-41 margin. However, Ellmers was never very popular with the GOP rank-and-file, and she only won renomination with less than 60 percent of the vote in both cycles.
In 2015, Ellmers pissed off the anti-tax Club for Growth for voting to raise the debt ceiling and reauthorize the dreaded Export-Import Bank, and social conservatives were also unhappy with her for suggesting to congressional leadership that an ultra-extreme measure to restrict abortion access just might be bad for the party. Ellmers was already facing a tough GOP primary before the courts ordered the state legislature to redraw their congressional map. Ellmers was the big loser from this mid-decade redistricting, and she found herself in a 2016 GOP primary against fellow Rep. George Holding for the new 2nd District.
Holding represented about twice as much of the new seat as Ellmers and had far more money and allies, and she always looked like the clear underdog. While Donald Trump gave Ellmers a very late endorsement, Holding prevailed 53-24. Still, Trump did give Ellmers a consolation prize the following year when he gave her the job of running the Atlanta office of the Department of Health and Human Services.