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.
● IL-03: Last year, Democratic leaders in the House made only the most perfunctory showing of support for conservative Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski as he dealt with a primary challenge from businesswoman Marie Newman, but this time, with a rematch underway, he's getting a lot more help. DCCC chair Cheri Bustos, who represents a district in downstate Illinois, is headlining a high-dollar fundraiser for Lipinski in Chicago next month, with tickets starting at $1,000.
And the timing sticks out: Lipinski is implacably opposed to abortion rights, which this very week are under unprecedented attack in state legislatures. Bustos doesn't appear to have mentioned the attempts to ban abortion in Alabama and Georgia on her Twitter account, though she did take the time to call attention to the fact that she founded the "bipartisan Air Cargo Caucus" earlier this year.
While naturally the D-Trip is going to say it'll protect incumbents, Bustos is by no means obligated to do what she's doing. In 2018, Nancy Pelosi went through the motions of saying she supported Lipinski—and then promptly did nothing else. Meanwhile, Bustos' predecessor as DCCC chair, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, didn't even publicly endorse Lipinski.
Bustos, of course, has previously antagonized progressive activists—and a number of members of her own caucus—by needlessly formalizing an unwritten practice political players were well aware of: the committee's refusal to work with vendors who provide services to candidates challenging Democratic incumbents.
Whatever internal politics or misguided notions of loyalty are inspiring Bustos, though, there will always be consultants willing to work with candidates on the outs with the establishment. Indeed, some operatives thrive in that niche. And as for money, Newman's already been outraising Lipinski this cycle, so it's no surprise to see he needs propping up. Given that he squeaked by last year's primary with just a 51-49 escape, Lipinski's gong to need all the help he can get—whether he deserves it or not.
● AL-Sen: GOP Rep. Mo Brooks said this week that he would back state Rep. Arnold Mooney, who served as his campaign chairman during his 2017 Senate bid, in the primary to take on Democratic incumbent Doug Jones.
● IA-Sen: On Wednesday, insurance company owner Eddie Mauro set up a campaign account with the FEC, though he has not yet announced he's seeking the Democratic nod. Last year, Mauro took second place in the primary for the 3rd District, losing to eventual winner Cindy Axne 58-26.
● MN-Sen: MPR's Brian Bakst reports that Bill Guidera, a former executive at 21st Century Fox and News Corp, is considering seeking the GOP nod to take on Democratic Sen. Tina Smith. Guidera, who used to serve as the Minnesota Republican Party's finance chairman, doesn't appear to have said anything publicly yet, but Bakst acquired an email from someone he identified as a "longtime friend and quasi-adviser" who said that Guidera is thinking about running and holding a fundraiser. Bakst also adds that Guidera has been appearing at local GOP events and doing meet and greets.
● NC-Sen: Marine veteran Dan McCready is busy running in the Sept. 10 special election for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, but the Democrat didn't quite rule out a future Senate bid this week. WSOC reporter Dan Bruno writes, "Asked five times, McCready told reporters he is 'not interested' in running for U.S. Senate in 2020 and that his focus is the 9th District race. However, he did not pledge to not run."
● NH-Sen, NH-01: National Republicans got some bad news when Gov. Chris Sununu announced that he wouldn't challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, but Team Red does have a few other options here. While retired Army Brig. General Donald Bolduc sounded unlikely to run just a few weeks ago, he told WMUR's John DiStaso on Wednesday that he was now "seriously considering" a campaign.
Attorney Bryant "Corky" Messner reportedly has also been considering a Senate bid. While he still has yet to publicly express interest, DiStaso writes that Messner has spent the last few weeks attending party events and talking to officials, and that he was on the host committee for a major Sununu fundraiser this week. However, as we've noted before, Messner has apparently lived his entire adult life in Denver, Colorado, and even founded his law firm there in 1995. DiStaso says that Messner has owned a vacation home in New Hampshire for about 12 years but has only been a Granite State resident "for about a year."
Eddie Edwards, who was Team Red's 2018 nominee for New Hampshire's 1st District, had previously expressed interest in both another House bid and a Senate run. Edwards reaffirmed this week he was still considering a run for "federal office," though given his wide 54-45 loss last year to Democrat Chris Pappas, he may not be a particularly strong candidate.
● TN-Sen: Former Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed this week that he is still considering seeking the GOP nod to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, and he told WBIR that his decision could come as early as next month. However, don't be surprised if we end up waiting even longer than that. Haslam said right after leaving office in January that he'd decide "probably sometime in March," which of course didn't happen.
So far, no major Republicans have announced a Senate bid, and it's likely most are waiting to see if Haslam will run. However, the former governor may not get a clear path through a primary. The anti-establishment Club for Growth has made it very clear that they're ready for a fight, and in December, they called for freshman Rep. Mark Green to get in. Green said in March he was indeed considering, though he didn't say anything about whether a Haslam candidacy would influence his decision.
● IN-Gov: GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb has not yet announced if he'll seek re-election next year, but no one seems to think there's much of a chance he'll retire. Between Holcomb and his 2016 running mate, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, the governor has nearly $5 million available, and Morning Consult gave him a 49-22 approval rating for the first quarter of 2019.
Until this week, the only Democrat who had publicly talked about challenging Holcomb in this conservative state is former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers, but state Rep. Karlee Macer is also making her interest known. Macer, who represents a light blue seat in Indianapolis, recently sent out a press release blasting the "culture of corruption and blind governing that has emerged from our decade-long Republican free-for-all." The aide who sent out the release confirmed to Howey that Macer is "definitely taking under consideration a run for governor."
A few other Hoosier State Democrats may also be interested. Howey writes that party chair John Zody recently met with former Rep. Baron Hill, 2012 and 2016 nominee John Gregg, and former state Rep. Christina Hale in addition to Myers and Macer. Howey says that they've heard that Hill and Gregg "haven't ruled out running," but neither has said anything publicly.
Hale, who was Gregg's running mate in 2016, didn't rule out a statewide bid back in January, though Howey said at the time that she'd "long expressed more interest in running in 2024 after a second theoretical Holcomb term," when the incumbent would be term-limited. In February, Hale also didn't say no to a campaign against Rep. Susan Brooks in the 5th Congressional District, but we haven't heard anything from her since then.
● KY-Gov: With just days to go before Tuesday's Democratic primary for governor and no sign that the race has narrowed, a super PAC backing former state Auditor Adam Edelen has sunk to despicable depths to sabotage the frontrunner, state Attorney General Andy Beshear.
The PAC, Kentuckians for a Better Future, began airing a new TV ad on Thursday criticizing Beshear for "defend[ing] some of the worst of the worst" as a lawyer in private practice. The spot specifically referred to a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts that Beshear was able to get dismissed in 2012 by arguing the plaintiffs had waited too long to file it.
This is a completely unacceptable sort of attack that damages the foundations of our criminal justice system. Everyone is entitled to an attorney, and lawyers should never be maligned for representing unpopular clients. Such attacks send a message that some people are less deserving of their right to counsel simply because of the nature of the accusations against them, and they undermine the presumption of innocence. Unfortunately, we're used to seeing this kind of trash from Republicans, but it's truly appalling to see it from Democrats.
Kentuckians for a Better Future, which has largely been funded by a $1 million donation from the mother-in-law of Edelen's running mate, quickly took down the ad in response Edelen's own demand that it stop airing the spot, though the PAC insisted it "stands by the content" of its message. But don't give Edelen too much credit: He lobbed the same filth at Beshear after a debate late last month, bleating that Beshear "has a guilty conscience" about "having represented pedophiles" and adding, "My regret is that he took the case to begin with."
● AK-AL: Alyse Galvin, an independent who was the 2018 Democratic nominee against GOP Rep. Don Young, set out an email Thursday saying she was "consider[ing] whether to launch a 2020 run," though she didn't specify what office she was eyeing.
Last year Galvin, who led a group advocating for more school funding, took advantage of a recent court decision that allows independents to run in party primaries. Galvin, who was listed on the general election ballot with both a "U" for unaffiliated and as the "Alaska Democratic Party Nominee," ended up losing 53-47, which was Young's smallest margin-of-victory in a decade. Galvin also outraised Young, who has represented the entire state in the House since 1973 and is the chamber's most senior member, $1.9 million to $1.2 million.
● AZ-01: On Wednesday, Safford City Councilor Chris Taylor, who served with the Army in Afghanistan, became the first notable Republican to announce a bid against Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran. Safford is a small city of under 10,000 located in the southeast corner of Arizona's sprawling 1st District, so Taylor doesn't start with much of a base here.
Both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump narrowly carried this seat, though Democrat Kyrsten Sinema took it 51-46 during her successful 2018 bid for U.S. Senate. O'Halleran also turned back Republican Wendy Rogers last year 54-46, and on Wednesday, Rogers announced that she would run for a state Senate seat rather than campaign for the U.S. House again. This is the first election cycle since 2010 where Rogers didn't seek a seat in Congress either here or in the 9th Congressional District, though Rogers did lose a state Senate campaign that year.
● CA-15: Democratic state Sen. Bob Wieckowski filed paperwork with the FEC on Wednesday, though the East Bay Citizen points out that whomever filled out the form misspelled his name as "Wieskowski" in one instance. Wieckowski has not yet announced if he'll run to succeed Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is running for president, and it's very possible that Wieckowski won't be on the ballot for this safely blue Bay Area seat by the end of the year.
Swalwell has said that, while he won't run for president and for re-election at the same time, he'll ultimately decide which office to run for when the California filing deadline comes in December. Wieckowski said in March, before Swalwell kicked off his White House bid, "If ultimately Congressman Swalwell decides to not file for re-election, I will consider it then," so it doesn't sound like he's willing to face the incumbent if it comes down to it.
● FL-26: While former GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in late November that he was far more likely to run for Miami-Dade County mayor in 2020 than to seek a rematch against freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, it sounds like he's rethinking that. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee yanked Curbelo's invitation to testify about global warming, a move that Politico reported came because several Democrats, including Mucarsel-Powell, did not like the idea of giving him a platform when he still hadn't ruled out another congressional bid.
Curbelo showed up in the audience for the hearing on Wednesday and said afterwards that the experience "certainly provoked a lot of thought" about his 2020 plans. Curbelo added he was "not ready to make a decision. But needless to say, this institution needs a lot more sobriety and sincerity, as evidenced by this episode." Apparently, Curbelo thinks that a House run by Kevin McCarthy or Jim Jordan would meet his definition of sobriety and sincerity.
Another Curbelo House campaign would be good news for Team Red, and not only because he's a strong fundraiser. Last year, Curbelo made a great effort last year to distance himself from Donald Trump in word (though not in deed) in a Miami-area seat that Trump had lost 57-41, and it was almost enough. Curbelo ended up losing to Mucarsel-Powell 51-49, and he ran ahead of Team Red's statewide ticket. According to analyst Matthew Isbell, all five statewide Democrats carried the 26th District, with Sen. Bill Nelson taking it 54-46 during his unsuccessful re-election bid and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum winning it by a similar 53-46 spread.
However, one prominent Republican may not be so happy to see Curbelo try again. The day after Curbelo lost, Trump mocked him for separating himself from the White House. Trump declared that Curbelo was one of the defeated incumbents who "did very poorly," and he repeatedly mispronounced the outgoing congressman's name.
The good news for Trump and the rest of the MAGA crowd is that they already have a like-minded candidate running here. Restaurateur Irina Vilariño has spoken at Trump events, and earlier this week, Talking Points Memo unearthed recent tweets where Vilariño expressed her support for a number of conspiracy theories. This included a video that was doctored to make Barack Obama sound like he was saying, "I wasn't born in the United States of America. I come from Kenya."
● KS-02: In an interview with the Kansas City Star earlier this week, former legislative staffer Abbie Hodgson said that she was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to take on freshman GOP Rep. Steve Watkins. Hodgson has run for office once before, losing a 2014 primary for state House; she then went on to become chief of staff to then-state House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a post she left in 2016. The following year, however, Hodgson told the Star that she was angry with the way her now-former boss had addressed sexual harassment at the capitol.
At the time, Hodgson said she'd learned that numerous male Democratic legislators, including some whom she believed were "predatory toward women," were relying on female college interns for rides home after events with lobbyists that included heavy drinking. Hodgson went on to say that when she told Burroughs about this, he replied that he wouldn't do anything.
Hodgson also said that when she complained to other Democratic lawmakers, she "was told it wasn't my business" and said two others tried to intimidate her. Burroughs claimed in response that he believed he'd taken quick action to address the problem. However, after this story, a number of other women came forward to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault in Kansas politics.
Kansas' 2nd Congressional District, which includes Topeka and nearby rural areas, backed Donald Trump 56-37. However, it hosted a very tight race last year, thanks both to the strength of the Democratic candidate, former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (who was Burroughs' predecessor), and the weakness of Watkins, the GOP's nominee.
Watkins presented himself on the campaign trail as an adventurer who had built up a defense contracting company called VIAP, but several media reports exposed him as a serial liar. Among many other things, senior officials at VIAP said they didn't even remember Watkins. The candidate ended up admitting that, despite what he'd said many times about his business career, he'd never actually owned or expanded VIAP, but he went back to lying about the same topic weeks later like nothing ever happened.
About a week before Election Day, a woman also publicly accused Watkins of making "unwanted sexual advances" against her 12 years before. Watkins ended up defeating Davis in a very expensive contest, but only by a 48-47 margin. Given the normally conservative lean of this district, though, it'll be very hard for Hodgson or any other Democrat to reverse that outcome.
● KS-03: This week, former Kansas Republican Party Chair Amanda Adkins told the Kansas City Star that she was interested in challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids. Former National Down Syndrome Society president Sara Hart Weir is also considering seeking this competitive seat, and the National Journal said last month that national Republicans were trying to recruit Weir.
Adkins served as Sam Brownback's campaign manager during his uncompetitive 2004 Senate re-election bid, and she chaired the party from 2009 to 2013. Brownback, who was elected governor in 2010, went on to appoint Adkins as chair of the Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund. Those ties could give Adkins, who also serves on the board of directors for the state Chamber of Commerce, some useful political connections. However, Brownback left office last year with horrific approval ratings, and if he remains toxic in 2020, he could be a big liability for an Adkins campaign.
● NJ-03: Earlier this week, the New Jersey Globe reported that GOP fundraiser Frank Sadeghi had planned to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim until he decided to run for Ocean County GOP chair, but Sadeghi lost that leadership election on Wednesday evening. Sadeghi never publicly expressed interest in running for Congress, and there's no word yet if he's interested now that he knows he won't be leading the Ocean County Republican Party.
● VA-05: Good news: Last weekend, Democrats in Virginia's 5th Congressional District voted to hold a primary next year instead of once again holding a convention to select a nominee, as they did in 2018. This approach will allow for vastly greater participation, and it will require candidates to get their campaigns in gear earlier so that they can reach out to a much wider swath of voters.
So far, the only Democrat running against freshman Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman is Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler, who spoke out in favor of a primary last year but conceded to journalist Leslie Cockburn at the convention after releasing his delegates. Cockburn went on to lose to Riggleman by a 53-47 margin in this sprawling, conservative district that occupies a large swath of central Virginia and gave Donald Trump a 53-42 win.
● VA-07: The anti-establishment Club For Growth said in March that if GOP state Del. Nick Freitas challenged freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, they'd support him by "invest[ing] more money there than any House race in the history of the club," and they're not done trying to court him. On Thursday, the Club released a poll from WPA Intelligence of a hypothetical GOP primary that shows Freitas beating all comers.
The survey gives Freitas the lead with 23%, while state Sen. Bryce Reeves is in second with 11%. Behind him is state Del. John McGuire at 9%, while nonprofit director Tina Ramirez and Navy veteran Peter Greenwald are at 4% and 1%, respectively. At the moment, Ramirez is the only one of the five people tested in this poll who is actually running for this suburban Richmond seat. Freitas, who lost a 2018 Senate primary, still doesn't appear to have said anything publicly about his interest in taking on Spanberger. This is also the first thing we've heard of Reeves, McGuire, or Greenwald possibly seeking this seat.
Greenwald did briefly run in 2014 for the previous version of this district, but he dropped out well before the primary. Dave Brat, a little-known economics professor, ended up being House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's only intra-party opponent, and he stunned the political world by toppling the incumbent 56-44. It's plausible that, if Greenwald had stayed in the race, the anti-Cantor vote would have split enough to allow the incumbent to win renomination with a plurality.