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.
● GA-07: GOP state Sen. Renee Unterman has expressed interest in running for this competitive open seat before, and while she didn't commit to anything on Tuesday, she sounds likely to jump in.
On Tuesday, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 481, which bans most abortions in Georgia after just six weeks, which is before many women even know that they're pregnant. Unterman was the bill's main sponsor in the state Senate, and she called it the "culmination" of her time in the legislature. When reporters asked Unterman if this meant she'd run to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Rob Woodall, Unterman only smiled and said nothing.
If Unterman runs, her support for this draconian piece of legislation could help her assuage social conservatives who might doubt her loyalty to the party she openly considered leaving as late as January. Back then, after Kemp's allies stripped Unterman of her chairmanship of the powerful Senate Health and Human Services Committee, she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she was actually considering joining the Democrats.
Unterman mused at the time that she agreed with Team Blue "on a lot of social issues," which reporter Jim Galloway interpreted to mean health care and the environment. However, Unterman also declared, "I'm a gun-toter. I'm a hunter. I'm a fisherman. I'm pro-life. I've carried every single abortion bill that's gone through the Senate."
It looks like Unterman's brief flirtations with a party switch are very much over, though her rivals in a GOP primary will still likely use this story against her. And while Unterman's championing of HB 481 may end up helping her win the nomination, it could end up being a liability in the general election for a suburban Atlanta congressional district that has been moving rapidly to the left in recent years.
While Mitt Romney carried Georgia's 7th District by a 60-38 margin, Donald Trump won it just 51-45. Last year, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, despite the taint of Republican voter suppression that marred her election, still managed to narrowly win the seat by a 50-49 margin.
● AL-Sen: Perhaps former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions won't be spending time in the woods after all. On Wednesday, Sessions was once again asked about a possible bid for his old Senate seat against Democratic incumbent Doug Jones, and Sessions responded, "I haven't made a formal announcement about the Senate race, but I am interested in the issues."
There has been speculation that Sessions could run even before Donald Trump gave him the boot in November, but he's never sounded very eager to do it. In December, Sessions told Politico he'd "go to Alabama, do some things and then that will clarify things a little more before I worry about making a statement" about a possible comeback. However, when asked if he missed the Senate the Republican responded, "No. I mean, no," adding, "I could go back and spend time in the woods. I've got 10 grandchildren, oldest is 11." It's unclear if Sessions is more interested now than he was back then, or if he's still just refusing to rule anything out.
Meanwhile, Jones may have gotten a primary challenge on Tuesday, but it's hard to tell. State Rep. John Rogers, who last week labeled Donald Trump Jr. as "evidently retarded" and said his mother "should have aborted him," took to the state House floor on Tuesday and declared, "I'm running for real. I'm not backing down." That seemed like a clear campaign announcement, but Rogers went on to say he'd already received $500,000 in campaign pledges and added, "If I get $500,000 more, I'll be an official candidate." Rogers, who as of Wednesday did not even have an ActBlue account, did not say who was pledging all this money.
● WY-Sen: The Washington Examiner's David Drucker writes that House Republicans very much expect Rep. Liz Cheney to run to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Enzi. Cheney, who ran an aborted 2014 primary campaign against Enzi two years before winning her statewide House seat, hasn't said anything about her plans yet. When reporters asked Cheney about the Senate race on Wednesday, all she would say is, "I don't have any announcements to make."
● KY-Gov: Former state auditor Adam Edelen and his allied super PAC each recently went up with negative TV ads against state Attorney General Andy Beshear in the May 21 Democratic primary, and Beshear is out with two 15-second response spots.
In the first commercial, Beshear denounces negative ads from fellow Democrats as the screen shows a clip of Edelen, though Beshear doesn't say what the negative ads were about. The second spot features a narrator praising Beshear for taking on opioid companies and declares the attorney general "won't take their money," adding, "These ads against Andy Beshear are shameful and false." Both spots conclude with Beshear saying that the only person the negative primary ads are helping is GOP Gov. Matt Bevin.
● LA-Gov: The communications firm Harris, Deville & Associates, which The Advocate writes works for a number of prominent industrial companies, commissioned a poll of this year's race for governor from the GOP firm JMC Analytics and unveiled it at a Louisiana Chemical Association event. The survey, which is the first poll we've seen in nearly two months, gives Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards the lead in the October jungle primary with 38%, while Rep. Ralph Abraham leads wealthy businessman and fellow Republican Eddie Rispone 23-7 for the second spot in a likely November runoff. In hypothetical one-on-one matchups, Edwards edged Abraham 40-36 and leads Rispone 41-28.
This poll, like almost all of the other surveys we've seen so far, finds Rispone with little support in either the jungle primary or a general election, but it's very likely that his problem this far from Election Day is a lack of name recognition rather than voters disliking him. Rispone, who has self-funded most of his campaign, held a massive $10.5 million to $1 million cash-on-hand lead over Abraham in early April, so the wealthy candidate will very much have the resources to get his name out statewide. Edwards, who has no credible intra-party rivals, had $10.2 million in the bank.
● CA-10: Former Rep. Jeff Denham sounded very unenthusiastic about seeking a rematch with Democrat Josh Harder just before Thanksgiving, and the Republican ruled it out on Wednesday. Denham is instead taking a job with a D.C. lobbying firm, and he added, "I have no plans to run for the House again."
● CO-04: Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzales reports that GOP Rep. Ken Buck told several people at a fundraiser last month that he was considering not seeking re-election to his safely red seat. It would be a surprise if Buck retired since, during his successful campaign to chair the Colorado GOP earlier this year, he argued it would be good for the party's fundraising if he led them from Congress.
● FL-07: Republican Jan Edwards, who runs a foundation aimed at combatting human trafficking, kicked off a bid this week against Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. However, Edwards won't have an easy time against Murphy in a suburban Orlando seat that has been moving to the left. While Barack Obama carried this district by an extremely small margin in 2012, Hillary Clinton took it by a stronger 51-44 four years later. Last cycle, Murphy won her second term 58-42 at the same time that, according to analyst Matthew Isbell, all five statewide Democratic nominees were also carrying the seat. Sen. Bill Nelson won it 55-45 and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum took it by a similar 55-44 spread even as both were narrowly losing statewide.
● NC-09: We recently wrote that the Club for Growth was launching a TV spot ahead of next week's GOP primary, and we now know that they're deploying $49,000 on an ad portraying Leigh Thomas Brown, a former official at the National Association of Realtors, as an anti-Trump carpetbagger. The commercial also includes a shot at NAR, which has spent $1.3 million in support of Brown, declaring that "her political pals are spending big to try and buy a seat here."
The Club, of course, is not bothered by heavy outside spending when they're responsible for it, but they're the ones getting outgunned this time. The group, which is backing state Sen. Dan Bishop, has spent a total of $122,000 on this race, which is less than a tenth of what NAR has deployed. However, Bishop outspent Brown by a hefty $315,000 to $93,000 during the first 24 days of April, while the other GOP primary candidates were further behind. If no one takes at least 30% of the vote next week, there would be a Sept. 10 runoff.
● NM-03: This week, Colfax County Democratic Party chair Mark McDonald dropped out of the race for this open seat. McDonald endorsed First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, who has formed an exploratory committee but hasn't announced he's running yet.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's lone special election in Connecticut:
CT-HD-130: 23-year-old Democrat Antonio Felipe won this seat to become one of the youngest lawmakers in Connecticut. Felipe, the official Democratic nominee, took a plurality of the vote with 47%. However, three other Democrats ran as petitioning candidates, with Kate Rivera leading the way with 35%. The other two petitioning candidates, Christina Ayala and Hector Diaz, each took 7%. Republican Josh Parrow was a non-factor, as the GOP usually is in this deep blue district, with just 4%.
Felipe emerged victorious in spite of controversy among Bridgeport Democrats regarding his recent move to the district and his connection to well-known local party officials. Notably, the petitioning Democratic candidates combined for 49% of the vote, which slightly edged out Felipe's total.
This chamber returns to regular capacity with Democrats holding a 91-60 advantage.
P.S. We've also taken this opportunity to make a small modification to our special elections tracker, which compares the results of special elections to presidential results in the same districts. The purpose of this tracker is to aggregate data from special elections in order to understand what they're telling us about the mood of the national electorate, since it turns out they can be quite illuminating.
But some special elections, such as this one, obscure more than they reveal: Comparing a race where the Democrat and Republican combined for just half the vote to the relevant presidential results, where the two candidates combined for 98 or 99%, isn't helpful. To say that Antonio Felipe ran 34 points "behind" Hillary Clinton is entirely misleading.
After much consideration, we've concluded that the simplest approach is to continue including these outlier races on our spreadsheet but exclude them from our averages. Analyzing our data from the previous cycle, it turns out we can expect to include about 95% of all special elections in our average if we exclude those where the Democratic and Republican candidates combine for less than 90% of the vote. Updating our prior chart, we find that this threshold affects five races out of 124, or 4%.
● Denver, CO Mayor: Denver held its nonpartisan mayoral primary on Tuesday, and Mayor Michael Hancock was forced into a June 4 general election after he failed to win a majority of the vote. Hancock, who is seeking a third term, took 39%, while fellow Democrat and urban planner Jamie Giellis beat criminal justice activist Lisa Calderón 26-17 for the second-place general election spot. If Giellis wins next month, she would be the first woman elected mayor.
Under Hancock, Colorado's largest city has seen rapid growth and a generally strong economy, and the Mile-High City is currently rebuilding major cultural and infrastructure projects. However, the city has also been dealing with rising housing costs, and Hancock has been criticized for "homeless sweeps" that clear out homeless encampments on the sidewalks and in parks. Last month, the city auditor also issued a report calling Denver's approach to homelessness "fragmented and understaffed."
Giellis, who has been a key figure in redeveloping the River North Art District (RiNo), has pledged to stop "runaway development," and "pay-to-play," though her primary foes argued that she was too close to developers. Giellis has also focused on rebuilding Denver's streetcar network to improve public transportation.
Hancock has also had to deal with the fallout from a scandal. Last year, texts from 2012 became public where Hancock told a member of his security detail named Leslie Branch-Wise that she looked "sexy" in black and asked her if she had an interest in pole dancing. Hancock apologized for these messages, but argued that he didn't see them as sexual harassment. Branch-Wise didn't agree, and she later said that she believed a $75,000 settlement she received from the city in 2013 to settle another matter was really intended to keep her quiet about this.
However, the City Council announced a year ago that, while Hancock's behavior was "unacceptable," they would not investigate it. The matter has largely been out of the news since last year, but Giellis has hit Hancock over this story, saying in late April that it was "top-of-mind" for voters.
Hancock is the first incumbent mayor to be forced into a runoff since 1995, but that doesn't mean he's doomed. That year, Mayor Wellington Webb took just 43% in his primary, but he won re-election the following month with 54%. Eight years earlier, Mayor Federico Peña earned just 37% in the primary, but he managed to win the general election with 51%.
Hancock, who outraised Giellis $2.1 million to $506,000 for the primary, will likely also have a financial advantage over the next month. However, the mayor only enjoyed a small $139,000 to $109,000 cash-on-hand edge on May 1, so both candidates will at least begin the general election with a similar amount of money.