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.
● PA-16: Republican Rep. Mike Kelly isn't just a member of Congress representing Pennsylvania—he's also an auto dealer, and, well, this headline from Consumer Affairs says it all:
Congressman who said car dealerships don't sell defective cars is caught selling over a dozen at his own
Credit, however, belongs to reporter Paul Van Osdol at Pittsburgh news station WTAE, who dug deep into a serious issue: used-car dealers who've been selling vehicles that have been recalled due to dangerous safety defects. One such vehicle, a rental car, killed 26-year-old Jewel Brangman in 2014, when a faulty airbag went off after a minor crash, firing a burst of metal fragments into her neck that severed her carotid artery.
Those airbags, made by a company called Takata, are responsible for at least 24 deaths worldwide. A recall began over a decade ago, but last year, Honda said that there were still more than 60,000 vehicles in the U.S. using those same defective airbags.
And how have used-car dealers responded? By pushing copycat laws in at least 11 states to allow them to sell vehicles that have been recalled—as long as they note the recall "somewhere in a stack of sales documents," as an investigative report from USA Today, the Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity put it.
Two states have passed this so-called "model legislation" so far: Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Astoundingly, in the latter, this disastrous anti-consumer measure was approved by a Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, and Mike Kelly's been taking full advantage of it.
According to WTAE's Van Osdol, 17 unrepaired vehicles that were still under safety recalls were up for sale at Kelly's dealerships in early March, including two with the deadly Takata airbags. Kelly has refused to respond to any questions, but even after WTAE repeatedly tried to contact him, he was still selling multiple recalled vehicles as of late April. (Van Osdol also visited a Kelly dealership, only to get stonewalled by an employee who stood in front of a truck emblazoned with "Mike Kelly Congress" on the doors.)
And this is where we circle back to that headline we called out above. Van Osdol managed to unearth a speech Kelly made in the House in 2015 in support of an unsuccessful bill similar to the one Pennsylvania passed, except that it would have applied to rentals rather than sales. Declared Kelly, "There is not a single person in our business that would ever put one of our owners in a defective car or a car with a recall."
Not a single person, that is, except Mike Kelly.
● IA-Sen, IA-04: While 2018 House nominee J.D. Scholten said last month that he expected to decide sometime in mid-May whether he'd seek the Democratic nod for Senate or go for a rematch with white supremacist Rep. Steve King, Scholten told Roll Call recently that he expected that his 2020 announcement would come sometime in the next two months.
● MT-Sen, MT-Gov: Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins has a "special announcement" planned for Monday, and it looks like it will be about his 2020 plans. Collins tweeted, "They said it could never be done. A Liberian refugee elected to office in Montana. Let's prove them wrong again." Collins, who is Montana's first-ever black mayor, didn't say what office he was eyeing, but KTVQ writes that politicos believe he'll challenge GOP Sen. Steve Daines. Collins has never officially identified with a party, but after his 2017 win he explained, "I lean Democrat" but "see myself as a progressive.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that Michael Punke, a former ambassador to the World Trade Organization and the author of the bestselling novel "The Revenant," is considering seeking the Democratic nomination for either Senate or governor, though he hasn't said anything publicly. Punke served as ambassador to the WTO for most of the Obama administration, and he went on to work for Amazon Web Services as their vice president of global public policy. In 2015, "The Revenant" was made into a movie, which secured star Leonardo DiCaprio his first-ever Oscar win.
Punke has not yet run for office, though he wrote earlier this year that he believes Democrats need to beware of "excommunicat[ing] the moderate wing of their party." Politico also adds that his backers classify Punke as "rabidly centrist."
● NC-Sen: National Democrats haven't had any luck landing a credible candidate to take on North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, but that may be about to change. WRAL reported Thursday that multiple unnamed sources "expect" former state Treasurer Janet Cowell to get in, and she'll decide "in the coming days." The local politics blog PoliticsNC reported a few weeks ago that both the DSCC and EMILY's List were trying to recruit Cowell.
Cowell was last on the ballot in 2012, when she won re-election 54-46 as Mitt Romney was narrowly carrying the state. In early 2015, Cowell looked like national Democrats' main backup choice to take on GOP Sen. Richard Burr if former Sen. Kay Hagan turned them down. However, while Cowell reportedly met with the DSCC at the time, she never seemed enthusiastic about a Senate bid, and she announced in April that she would run for re-election (Hagan later also decided not to challenge Burr). Later that year, Cowell pulled the plug on her re-election campaign and decided not to seek office in 2016.
Democrats are hoping that Tillis, who narrowly beat Hagan in 2014 to win this seat, will have to go through a bloody primary before he can focus on re-election, and they may already be in luck. Wealthy businessman Garland Tucker is challenging Tillis for the GOP nod, and he says he's willing to self-fund at least $1 million to finance his campaign before donations arrive.
Tucker seems to be already supplying this cash: On Friday, he launched a TV ad airing on Fox News that assails Tillis over the few times that the senator has defied Trump. Advertising Analytics tells Politico that Tucker's opening spot is running for $200,000.
● AZ-01: So far this cycle, we hadn't heard anything from Republicans interested in challenging sophomore Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran, but one has now filed paperwork with the FEC: Safford City Councilman Chris Taylor. Taylor, who was first elected in 2016, doesn't appear to have spoken publicly about his interest, but he did respond to a couple of folks on Twitter who caught his FEC filing by sending a link to a Facebook page … that isn't working. Safford is a small city of under 10,000 located in the southeast corner of Arizona's sprawling 1st District.
● CA-45: Four Republicans were already running against freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, and now they've been joined by a fifth: Orange County Board of Education member Lisa Sparks, who is dean of Chapman University's communications school. A bit oddly for a professor of communications, though, there didn't seem to be any press coverage of Sparks' announcement in the day after she made it. In fact, aside from her FEC filing, the only indication that she'd actually kicked off a bid came from a lone tweet she sent out on Thursday afternoon.
● IA-02: Former Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling, who served one term in the House representing Illinois, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Thursday that he was "getting close" to announcing a bid for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. Schilling, who moved to Iowa in 2017, added that he was "98% there" when it came to jumping into the race for this competitive open seat.
Schilling won the old version of Illinois' 17th Congressional District, which was located directly across the Mississippi River from Iowa's 2nd, during the 2010 GOP wave. Schilling, who owned and operated a pizza restaurant, entered the race against sophomore Rep. Phil Hare without much fanfare and initially raised very little money, but he gained traction as the cycle got worse and worse for Democrats in Illinois and across the nation. Republicans had not seriously contested this seat in years, but Schilling ended up unseating Hare by a wide 53-43 margin.
However, Schilling's luck quickly ran out. Illinois was one of the few states where Democrats had complete control of the redistricting process, and they made the new 17th District considerably more Democratic. Schilling was a top Democratic target, and he lost to Cheri Bustos 53-47 as Barack Obama was carrying the seat 58-41. During that campaign, Schilling made news when he suggested that many Hispanics were having a hard time learning English "primarily because they don't even know Spanish."
Schilling has made some efforts to return to Congress (from Illinois) since his 2012 loss. Schilling sought a rematch with Bustos the following cycle, but while 2014 was another ugly year for Democrats, Bustos beat him by a stronger 55-45 spread. The following year, Schilling considered running in the special election for the neighboring 18th District after scandal-tarred GOP Rep. Aaron Schock resigned, but he ended up backing Darrin LaHood's successful bid instead.
Later in 2015, Schilling openly mused about challenging Sen. Mark Kirk in the GOP primary. Kirk, who was by far the most vulnerable Senate Republican up that cycle, was also the only Republican in the chamber to vote against defunding Planned Parenthood. Schilling responded by telling a local radio station there were "five or six" Republicans considering taking on Kirk, and that he might be one of them; Schilling then followed up by penning an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune that took Kirk to task over Planned Parenthood at length.
Kirk ended up avoiding a serious primary from Schilling or anyone else but badly lost the 2016 general election to Democrat Tammy Duckworth anyway. The next year, Schilling left Illinois for Iowa, telling the Iowa City Press-Citizen this month that he'd "escaped Illinois" and its taxes, adding, "Things aren't going to get better there. ... Rather than fixing the problems, they prefer to continue driving people out of the state."
● IA-03: Republican state Sen. Zach Nunn, who's in the middle of a 16-county "listening tour," now says he'll take "a very aggressive lean forward" in July in regards to a bid for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District. Nunn kicked off his tour just hours before former Rep. David Young announced a comeback bid against the woman who unseated him last year, Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, and he sounds unafraid of the former congressman: "My philosophy on this is: iron sharpens iron," he said of a possible primary battle.
Nunn, an Air Force veteran who served in combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, won his first election to the Senate last year after two terms in the state House. As Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland notes, he'd be able to challenge Axne without giving up his seat in the legislature since he's not up for re-election until 2022.
● MI-11, MI-Sen: NRSC chair Todd Young said all the way back in January that he wanted 2018 Senate nominee John James to take on Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, and Politico reports that the NRCC is also trying to recruit James to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens. The NRSC is still pursuing James for the upper chamber, though, and there's no word if he's leaning towards either race.
For his part, James has said little about his 2020 plans publicly, though Politico notes he met with Donald Trump at the White House on Monday. Last year, James impressed Republicans by holding Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow to a 52-46 win despite receiving little outside help, and there was almost immediate chatter about his future plans.
The 11th District, which is located in suburban Detroit, favored Trump 50-45, but Democrats pulled off wins here in 2018. According to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, Stabenow beat James in the 11th District by a small 51-48 spread, while Democrat Gretchen Whitmer carried this seat 52-46 in the race for governor. For her part, Stevens won her first term by a 52-45 margin.
● NM-03: In an announcement we missed last month, Dineh Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation and an agricultural official for the tribe, joined the Democratic primary for New Mexico's open 3rd Congressional District. Last year, Benally ran for president of the Navajo Nation, coming in fourth with 11% in a 14-way primary. He also sought the nation's vice presidency in 2014, but his ticket lost 63-37.
In addition, attorney Jaymeson Pegue also filed paperwork with the FEC, identifying herself as a Democrat, but she doesn't appear to have spoken publicly about her intentions.
● NY-27: GOP Rep. Chris Collins is scheduled to stand trial in February for insider trading and says he'll decide whether to run again "early next year," which puts local Republicans who covet New York's 27th Congressional District in an awkward position. However, some local GOP politicians are already taking steps towards a possible bid, and The Buffalo News' Robert McCarthy takes a look at the behind-the-scenes positioning for a conservative upstate New York seat that may or may not be open this cycle.
Of all the Republicans who might run here, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw is being the most transparent about his intentions. Mychajliw, whom McCarthy describes as a "Collins supporter," declared, "When that seat opens up, I'm going to run for it," though it doesn't sound like he'd be willing to challenge Collins in a primary. Mychajliw said that, if the congressman is running for re-election before his legal situation is resolved, Collins "could write himself a three to five million dollar check and win." For now, though, Mychajliw is appearing at events in all six counties in the district.
McCarthy also writes that state Sen. Robert Ortt has also been "making the rounds" throughout the seat. Ortt hasn't said anything publicly about his plans, though Niagara County party chair Richard Andres said the state senator "is always going to be interested in that seat." McCarthy also relays that unnamed sources tell him that fellow state Sen. Chris Jacobs has been "talking to potential donors and studying various scenarios that may or may not unfold," but Jacobs has also not said anything out loud.
McCarthy also name-drops a few other GOP potential candidates: Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, Erie County Legislator Edward Rath, and radio show host David Bellavia. Both Bellavia and Collins ran in the 2012 GOP primary for the right to take on Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul; Collins beat Bellavia 60-40, and he went on to narrowly defeat Hochul.
This seat, which includes some of the Buffalo suburbs, backed Trump 60-35, and it would ordinarily be very safe red turf. However, Collins turned in a weak 49.1-48.7 performance against Democrat Nate McMurray, who says he'll run again if Collins does. If Collins continues to look weak as the cycle progresses, it's very possible that Republican leaders will pressure him to retire or try to encourage a primary challenger to get in. Indeed, Erie County Conservative Party Chair Ralph Lorigo, whose party usually backs the GOP nominee, said he doubted that his organization would endorse a Collins re-election bid. (Update: This post initially misidentified Lorigo as leader of the Erie County Republican Party.)
● TX-23: Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, who by all accounts had been gearing up for a rematch with GOP Rep. Will Hurd following her narrow loss last cycle, emailed supporters Thursday to say, "In the coming days, we will be rolling out a plan to bring real representation for the people of Texas' 23rd Congressional District."
● UT-04: Former Rep. Mia Love didn't rule out a rematch with Democrat Ben McAdams on Thursday, but she doesn't sound especially enthusiastic about trying to reclaim her old seat. Love, who lost a very tight race last year, told the Deseret News' Lisa Riley Roche, "I haven't completely taken it off the table yet," but added later in the interview, "It would take a lot to convince me."
Love, who now works as a CNN commentator, also said that, while the NRCC has asked her "several times" if she'd try again, "I've been very selfish with the time I've had with my family." She also said that if she ran it "would mean I didn't have the confidence that another Republican could win. There are some good names floating out there."
However, Love also made it clear how little she likes McAdams and said he could motivate her to jump in after all. The former congresswoman said that she didn't expect most candidates to announce until the end of this year, which she believes gives her a while to make a decision.
So far, no notable Republicans have entered the race against McAdams. Utah Policy recently reported that Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton had turned the NRCC down because she'd rather run for governor, and Newton confirmed to the Deseret News, "The NRCC has approached me, but right now I'm exploring a run for governor." That may not be quite an iron-clad no on a congressional bid, but Newton added, "My priority has always been improving the quality of life and opportunities for the people in my community and state in a direct way," so it doesn't sound like she has any desire to be in Congress.
● Dallas, TX Mayor: State Rep. Eric Johnson and City Councilman Scott Griggs, a fellow Democrat, picked up some big endorsements the week after they advanced through the May 4 nonpartisan primary.
Johnson earned the support of a trio of former mayors, Democrat Ron Kirk and Republicans Steve Bartlett and Tom Leppert, for the June 8 general election. He also unveiled endorsements from a number of his Democratic legislative colleagues, as well as GOP state Rep. Angie Chen Button. Griggs has a reputation for taking on the establishment, and not too surprisingly, he has considerably fewer local officials in his corner than Johnson. However, Griggs earned the backing of the Dallas Police Association and Dallas Fire Fighters Association.
● Kansas City, MO Mayor: The first campaign finance reports are out since the April 2 nonpartisan primary, and Jolie Justus holds a financial edge over fellow City Councilor Quinton Lucas ahead of the June 18 general election. Justus outraised Lucas $303,000 to $177,000 from April 1 through May 4, and she has a $252,000 to $173,000 cash-on-hand lead. Justus led Lucas 23-18 in the primary, though a late April poll from the GOP firm Remington Research for the political newsletter Missouri Scout had Lucas up 38-31.