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-09: On Monday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections set the schedule for the special election for the 9th Congressional District, a contest that’s being held because the original race was marred by election fraud intended to help Republican Mark Harris. The candidate filing deadline will be on March 15, and party primaries will take place May 14.
North Carolina requires a primary runoff for contests where no one takes at least 30 percent of the vote. The runoffs would take place on Sept. 10, and the general election would be Nov. 5. However, if no such runoffs are required, the general would be held on Sept. 10.
Note that this special election is taking place on a different schedule than the contest for the 3rd District. Board director Kim Strach said this is because the state wants to make sure election officials have time to deploy staff to Bladen and Robeson counties, which were at the center of the election fraud scandal last fall. (In the 3rd, primaries are set for April, with the general election in September unless there are no runoffs, in which case it would take place in July.)
Democrat Dan McCready, a Marine veteran and businessman, is running again, and he’s unlikely to face any serious opposition in the primary. However, the GOP will probably face a crowded contest for the nomination in this suburban Charlotte district. Two Republicans, former Charlotte City Councilor Kenny Smith and Union County party chair Dan Barry, both recently announced that they would not run, but more are on the way.
WBTV reports that state Sen. Dan Bishop is in and will self-fund $250,000, though Bishop has not yet announced he’s running. 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 gender 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.
The only notable declared Republican candidate so far is Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, who has the endorsement of 2018 nominee Mark Harris. It’s unlikely that national Republicans will want to nominate someone who can be tied to Harris, but Rushing may have his own issues. On Sunday, Rushing posted to Facebook that that he’d “[h]ad a very nice reporter from Washington ask me about my sexual history today. I made a deal with him and I will make it to others in the media.”
The deal, according to Rushing, is that he’d “give an exclusive interview about my sexual history from loss of virginity to today to the reporter who can get Dan McCready to answer these three questions.” Those questions were about McCready’s support for abortion rights, the Green New Deal, and something difficult to parse about an alleged tip regarding the board’s election fraud investigation.
So, what led Rushing to put forward this bizarre challenge? In a jaw-dropping story in Popular Information, Judd Legum (formerly of ThinkProgress) writes that in 2015, Rushing filed a complaint on behalf of his pre-teen daughter, accusing a woman named Tracy Wesolek of stalking her and requesting a no-contact order. Rushing provided few details, though, and in court, he admitted that he’d had an affair with Wesolek. (Rushing is married to another woman.)
Rushing also had little evidence to support his accusations that Wesolek had stalked his daughter, something he admitted after insisting on taking the matter to trial. The judge soon dismissed the case. Wesolek’s attorney told Legum that he believed Rushing went to court in the first place because he wanted “political cover” for the affair and sought to depict Wesolek as a “psycho stalker.”
In an interview with Legum, Rushing said he’d sought the no-contact order because Wesolek was “saying things about my daughter.” He did not elaborate and instead claimed that the judge had ordered him not to talk about it, which Legum says is false. Rushing also refused to say if he had an affair with Wesolek but would give Popular Information an exclusive interview about “everyone I had sex with from virginity to today” if they’d ask McCready, Rushing’s would-be Democratic foe, his list of questions. Legum says that Rushing then ended the interview and immediately posted his challenge to Facebook.
● AL-Sen: Rep. Robert Aderholt doesn't sound very interested in joining the GOP primary for the Senate, but he didn't quite rule it out on Friday. Aderholt said he was "very honored to serve in the 4th District, and so I'm not really looking at it at this point." Aderholt also added that he "would not be shocked" if former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who held this seat from 1997 until he joined Trump's cabinet in 2017, ended up running. Sessions hasn't said no to a comeback, but he didn't sound very enthusiastic about the idea in December.
● CO-Sen: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper never sounded very interested in challenging GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, so it came as little surprise on Monday when he announced he would run for president. However, The New York Times wrote over the weekend just ahead of Hickenlooper's launch that operatives close to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and DSCC chair Catherine Cortez Masto, who unsuccessfully tried to recruit Hickenlooper for a Senate run, still viewed him as a "soft 'no'" thanks in part to how vulnerable Gardner is.
Still, even if Hickenlooper surprises everyone and decides to run for the Senate after all, he may have to go through a competitive primary. Two notable Democrats—former state Sen. Mike Johnston and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff—are already running, and others may jump in.
● GA-Sen: Stacey Abrams, who was Team Blue's 2018 gubernatorial nominee, has said that she'll decide on her 2020 plans by the end of March, and an unnamed "person with direct knowledge of her planning" tells The New York Times she'll likely announce what she's doing in mid-April. This source adds that, in addition to the 2020 Senate race and a 2022 rematch with GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, Abrams is also "seriously examining" a presidential run.
● NC-Sen: The New York Times writes that state Attorney General Josh Stein is Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer's "top pick" to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, but so far, party leaders haven't been able to convince him to get in. Stein, who is up for re-election in 2020, has not yet said anything about his interest, or lack of it, in running for the Senate.
● TX-Sen: The Huffington Post reports that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer invited retired military combat pilot MJ Hegar to meet with him, and that the two conferred over the weekend. Hegar, who narrowly lost a 2018 bid against longtime Rep. John Carter, is one of a few Texas Democrats who has expressed interest in taking on GOP Sen. John Cornyn.
● MS-Gov: Candidate filing closed Friday for Mississippi's Aug. 6 party primaries, and Mississippi Today has a list of contenders here. There will be a runoff on Aug. 27 for any races where no one takes a majority of the vote, and the general election will be Nov. 5.
GOP Gov. Phil Bryant is termed-out, and he's endorsed Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves' bid to succeed him. Reeves, who leads the state Senate, ended 2018 with a massive $6.7 million in the bank, and he begins the race as the frontrunner. However, Reeves has made his share of enemies, and he could be vulnerable in a primary.
Reeves' main primary foe looks like former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who entered the race last month. Waller is the son of the late Bill Waller Sr., a Democrat who served as governor in the 1970s. The younger Waller begins the race without much money, and one of the big questions will be whether he can raise enough to get his message out against the well-funded lieutenant governor.
On Friday, Waller gave his first interview since he entered the race and told the Clarion-Ledger that his differences with Reeves were "philosophical," faulting him for taking "the position there should be no taxes and he has been reluctant to try new things to advance this state." Waller also took aim at the status quo, declaring that "the state of our roads and bridges is the equivalent of your house being on fire."
Also in the running for Team Red is state Rep. Robert Foster, a freshman legislator who may be best known for his social media outbursts. Foster entered the race in December and had just $12,300 on-hand at the end of 2018.
Nine Democrats have filed to run for governor, and the frontrunner is Attorney General Jim Hood. Until recently, it looked like Hood would be able to easily claim the Democratic nod, but he picked up a challenge in late February from Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith. Smith is the top prosecutor in Mississippi's largest county, and he and Hood have a truly awful relationship: The attorney general's office has tried to criminally prosecute Smith three times, but they haven't been able to convict him.
In September, a jury found Smith not guilty of robbery and couldn't reach a verdict on aggravated stalking charges; two earlier trials for conspiracy to hinder prosecution met with a hung jury and a subsequent acquittal. Smith is still under indictment for two counts of domestic violence, which Hood's prosecutors could still pursue, and the attorney general's office hasn't said whether they will retry Smith on the stalking charge.
An acrimonious primary could damage the eventual nominee if battle lines break down down along racial lines (Smith is African-American and Hood is white), and so far, it looks like this will be a messy contest. Y'all Politics published an interview with Smith on Monday where he argued the attorney general's case against him was "racially and politically motivated."
The general election will be challenging for Democrats no matter how the primary goes. The Magnolia State backed Trump 58-40, and Hood is the only Democrat who has won a statewide race in over a decade. To make matters even worse, Mississippi's 1890 state constitution contains a Jim Crow-era provision that requires gubernatorial candidates to win both a majority of the statewide vote and a majority of the 122 districts that make up the state House; if someone fails to hit both of these benchmarks, the state House picks the new governor from the top two finishers.
The law was explicitly designed to undermine the power of black voters—the same voters who now make up much of the Democratic base in Mississippi—and it might do just that once again this year. The GOP took control of the state House after the 2011 election and quickly drew a gerrymander that will make it very difficult for any Democrat to win a majority of the state House seats.
Some observers have argued that this law, while still on the books, would either go unenforced or simply be unenforceable. However, that's far from guaranteed, especially since it's come into play as recently as 1999 yet apparently never been litigated. Since Mississippi Republicans aren't going to repeal this racist relic of the Jim Crow era, the only way for voting rights advocates to defang it is to challenge it in court now—before it's too late.
● CA-21: Roll Call wrote last month that some Republicans were encouraging former Rep. David Valadao to seek a rematch with Democratic Rep. TJ Cox, but Valadao may be preoccupied dealing with other matters. The local Central Valley site The Business Journal reports that Valadao and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection last week because of debts exceeding $13 million from their cattle and dairy business.
● CA-48: On Saturday, former Orange County Republican Party Chair Scott Baugh announced that he would not challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda next year. Baugh, who ran in 2018 and came close to costing Rouda a spot in the general election, only said the "timing and circumstances aren't right" for another try. Baugh's decision came as a surprise, especially since he formed a fundraising committee back in December for another campaign. Of course, as we always like to remind our readers, forming a committee with the FEC is not the same thing as announcing a campaign.
● MA-03: Last year, Rep. Lori Trahan loaned her campaign $371,000 for the final two weeks of the Democratic primary for Massachusetts' open 3rd District that she ended up winning by 122 votes, but the Boston Globe's Andrea Estes reports that her financial disclosures from last summer show that she didn't have the resources to contribute anywhere close to that amount of money. Trahan has amended her financial reports four times since she was elected to the House in November, but the math still doesn't add up.
A Trahan spokesperson says that the congresswoman has "enjoyed professional success that allowed her to support her own campaign," claiming the loan came from three sources: bank accounts owned jointly with her husband, a home equity loan, and income from a consulting firm she runs. The problem is that, according to Trahan's own amended disclosures, these sources only totaled a maximum of $336,000—$35,000 less than the amount of the loan.
Trahan's husband, home builder David Trahan, is very wealthy, and the congresswoman's campaign hasn't said if any money came from him. However, David Trahan's assets appear to be solely under his name, which would prevent him from legally contributing more than $2,700 to his wife's campaign.
Trahan's campaign has denied any wrongdoing, but Adav Noti, a campaign finance expert with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told the Globe, "The discrepancies between the supposed personal loans and her financial disclosures seem unlikely to have an innocent explanation."
● MI-03: GOP Rep. Justin Amash has never had it easy with Donald Trump, and over the weekend, he didn't rule out running against him as a member of the Libertarian Party. Amash said he "would never rule anything out," but a presidential bid is "not on my radar right now."
Amash's Grand Rapids-area seat went from 53-46 Romney to 52-42 Trump, but it could be competitive under the right circumstances. According to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, the 3rd District backed 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette by a very slim 48.6-48.2 margin, and GOP Senate nominee John James carried it 51-47.
● NC-03: Candidates have until Friday to file for the April 30 primaries for the special election to succeed the late GOP Rep. Walter Jones, and two new contenders kicked off campaigns over the last few days. On the GOP side, Michele Nix announced she was in and said she was stepping down as vice chair of the state party.
Nix opened a fundraising committee a few weeks ago to raise money for a potential bid. As we wrote back then, Nix made news in October when she posted an image to social media with the slogan "Jobs not Mobs" that featured a white hand making an "OK" gesture to represent Republicans and a dark fist to represent the Democrats. The News & Observer noted that some white supremacist groups have appropriated the "OK" sign, while the dark-colored fist Nix employed was similar to the imagery used by the Black Panther Party. The image also described Democrats as "globalist," which is a common anti-Semitic dog whistle.
Nix took umbrage with the idea she was engaged in some not-so-subtle race baiting, tweeting that "the raised fist was a #COMMUNIST symbol now adopted by the #Democrats." State House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson was firmly unconvinced, calling Nix's post "so despicable," and adding, "These dog whistles of black/white hands are disgusting." Nix's boss, state GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse, leapt to her defense in characteristic fashion and tweeted at Jackson that Nix "does not see race in EVERYTHING! YOU DO."
On the Democratic side, New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw announced he was in over the weekend. This seat backed Trump 61-37, but it's always good to field a credible candidate just in case lightning strikes.
● NJ-02: Over the weekend, the New Jersey Globe reported that Republican David Richter, the former CEO of the construction giant Hill International, was considering challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew in this South Jersey seat. Richter shared the article in a LinkedIn update where he confirmed he was thinking about getting in and concluded, "More coming in the next few months ..."
The Globe says that Richter is a multi-millionaire who can self-fund a bid. However, they add he "has never lived anywhere near" the 2nd District. This seat swung from 54-44 Obama to 51-46 Trump.
● NJ-07, NJ-05: GOP state Sen. Mike Doherty didn't quite rule out running against freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski this week, but he doesn't sound very enthusiastic about it. Doherty, who lives in the neighboring 5th District, told the New Jersey Globe that a campaign for the 7th is "not really something I'm looking to do. I'm not totally going to rule it out, but like I said, I don't even live in the district." Doherty added, "If you see me move into the 7th, then I guess that's an early indicator that I'm thinking about it."
However, Doherty explicitly said that he wouldn't challenge his own congressman, Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Doherty, who hails from Warren County, said he didn't "want to be representing folks in Bergen County," adding, "We have a totally different area of the state, so that's something that certainly doesn't appeal to me."
● PA-12: On Saturday, GOP party delegates picked state Rep. Fred Keller to be the party's nominee in the May 21 special election to succeed Tom Marino in this 66-30 Trump seat located in central Pennsylvania. Keller will face Democrat Marc Friedenberg, who lost the 2018 race to Marino 66-34.
There was some drama in the lead up to the party gathering thanks to some outside spending from the radical anti-tax Club for Growth. Politico writes that the Club spent $16,000 on targeted mailers and an opposition research packet targeting another GOP candidate, state Rep. Jeff Wheeland. PoliticsPA adds that an email was sent to delegates on Friday night that "contained a message, purportedly from someone in Wheeland's family, opposing his bid."
On Saturday, just before the party assembly began, Wheeland announced that he was removing his name from contention because of the negative attacks. Keller went on to win the GOP nomination on the fourth round of balloting.
● Special elections: There are two special elections Tuesday, one in Rhode Island and one in Kentucky.
RI-HD-68: This is a Democratic district located in Rhode Island's East Bay region, including the town of Bristol. This special election became necessary after Democrat Laufton Ascencao, who first won this seat last year, declined to take the oath of office—and in a bizarre twist, the seat isn't even vacant.
Ascencao became embroiled in controversy after it was revealed post-election that he'd lied to the local Democratic town committee about a mailer in support of other local Democrats he was supposed to prepare. Ascencao claimed he'd sent out the mailer but never did, then falsified an invoice for his work to make it appear as though the literature had in fact gone out. Democrats pressured Ascencao not to take his seat, and he complied.
There are four candidates on the ballot for this race: one Democrat, one Libertarian, and two independents. The Democrat is political science professor June Speakman, who handily won a primary last month. William Hunt, the Libertarian, also ran for this seat in the 2018 election and was Ascencao's lone opponent. The two independents are James McCanna Jr. and Kenneth Marshall.
Marshall held this seat as a Democrat for three terms but decided not to seek re-election in 2018 due to a campaign finance scandal of his own. However, the state secretary of state allowed him to stay in office through the special election because of Ascencao's decision to step aside before getting sworn in, and he is again seeking this seat.
Marshall didn't seek the Democratic nomination for the special election, apparently due to lingering bitterness over his fate last year: He recently emailed his constituents to accuse "self-proclaimed 'Progressive Democrats'" of manipulating "Rhode Island voter's minds in a quest for power." That appears to be a shot at Ascencao, whose primary challenge to him from the left last year may have been a contributing factor in Marshall's decision not to run for a fourth term.
Despite the campaign finance controversy and unique setup of candidates, this is solidly blue territory that voted for Hillary Clinton 56-38 and Barack Obama 61-37.
KY-SD-31: This is a Democratic district located in eastern Kentucky, anchored by Pikeville. This vacancy was created by former state Rep. Ray Jones' election as Pike County judge-executive. The candidates for this race were selected by the parties: the Democrat is businessman Darrell Pugh and the Republican is attorney Philip Wheeler.
At the federal level, this is one of the most strongly Republican districts in Kentucky, voting for Donald Trump 80-18 and Mitt Romney 74-25. However, Jones had held this seat since 2001 and in the last two elections, he ran unopposed. Additionally, Democrats are dominant at the local level in the counties that make up this ancestrally Democratic district.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: On behalf of a group called Stand for Children Illinois, the Democratic firm FM3 is out with the first poll giving former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot a 58-30 lead over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the April 2 general election. Politico writes that the group hasn't backed anyone in this contest, but the Chicago Sun-Times notes that they're ardent opponents of the Chicago Teachers Union, which is one of Preckwinkle's biggest allies. Back in 2011, before his single term as governor, Republican Bruce Rauner convinced Stand for Children to come to the state to combat the CTU.
Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle are also out with their first ads of the general election. Lightfoot's spot, which features footage from her speech on primary night, shows her calling for an "independent, accountable City Hall that serves the people, not the political machine," and it doesn't directly mention her opponent. The campaign says they're putting $117,000 behind the opening buy.
Preckwinkle's commercial goes right after Lightfoot, with the narrator calling her a "wealthy corporate lawyer." The spot goes on to say Lightfoot was "reprimanded for professional misconduct," defended "a Wall Street bank being sued for racial discrimination, and worked for Republican politicians trying to protect their power." The spot also declares that Lightfoot "overruled investigators to justify police shootings." Preckwinkle's team says the ad is airing for $300,000.
The Chicago-Tribune provides background on the attacks leveled against Lightfoot in this ad. They wrote that 20 years ago, a judge reprimanded Lightfoot for "professional misconduct" after finding that she'd mislead another judge. Janet Reno, who was U.S. attorney general at the time, wrote a contrite letter to the judge who had reprimanded the future mayoral candidate and also opened an internal investigation that ultimately cleared Lightfoot.
The paper also took a look at the charge that Lightfoot "overruled investigators to justify police shootings." In the early 2000s, Lightfoot worked for an agency investigating police shootings. In one incident, the paper says she "sided with high-ranking officers over her investigators, who had recommended that a cop be fired for lying repeatedly about a fatal shooting they found unjustified." The Tribune adds that Lightfoot declared that the shooting was justified and confirmed the officer's 30-day suspension.
● Tampa, FL Mayor: St. Pete Polls is out with a poll of Tuesday's nonpartisan primary for mayor of Tampa on behalf of Florida Politics. They give former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor the lead with 36 percent of the vote, which is a drop from their February poll that showed her at 45 percent.
In the very likely event that no one takes a majority of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes would advance to an April 23 general election. St. Pete finds wealthy businessman David Straz narrowly edging former Hillsborough County Judge Dick Greco Jr., the son of former Mayor Dick Greco, 14-13 for second. Just behind is City Councilor Harry Cohen at 11. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik takes 8, while City Councilor Mike Suarez is at 7.
A recent survey from Bold Blue Campaigns had Castor at 39 while Straz edged Suarez 17-15 for the second general election spot.
● International Digest: After several members of parliament defected from the Labour Party to form an independent grouping over their opposition to Brexit and Labour's perceived failure to lead on the issue, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn finally announced his party would indeed push for a new referendum to soften or possibly stop Brexit as the deadline to reach a deal is quickly approaching. However, even that may be too late to stop the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union. Read more about this story, Nigeria's presidential election, Israel's parliamentary election, and more in March's edition of the International Elections Digest.