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.
● UT-Gov: Utah Policy wrote last week that Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman was talking to his allies about a possible 2020 run for his old job as governor of Utah, and according to The Atlantic, he's very seriously considering this option. McKay Coppins adds that the ambassador told Donald Trump back in 2017 that he'd only commit to staying in Moscow for two years, and that he's now "expected to leave his job by the end of the year."
Huntsman hasn't committed to anything yet, but well-connected Utah politico Derek Miller says that the former governor has been "making the rounds and talking to people about his prospects [in the race], doing his due diligence." However, other sources tell Coppins that they're skeptical Huntsman will run when all is said and done, while even some of his allies "stress that any number of outside factors could change his thinking in the coming months." Huntsman himself didn't comment for this article, but back in April, he very much didn't rule out coming back home to run for office. Instead, Huntsman said at the time that there was "nothing to consider until our current commitment is done."
Huntsman was elected governor back in 2004 and served until 2009, when Barack Obama picked him to become ambassador to China. It didn't take long for Huntsman to start planning to run against his boss, though. Indeed, as The New York Times' Alex Burns put it over the weekend, "Plotting a political campaign while serving in a sensitive diplomatic role is very on-brand."
Huntsman ran for president by pitching himself to Republican primary voters who were exhausted with their party's shift to the right. Among other things, he declared, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." That proved to be a very smart way to get media attention but a very bad way to get actual votes, and his campaign quickly ended with a distant third-place showing in New Hampshire. Four years later, Huntsman endorsed Trump just before he secured the GOP nod himself.
While Huntsman's presidential hopes were fatally dashed, he's still shown some interest in running for office again in Utah in the past. In 2017, he didn't rule out a primary bid against Sen. Orin Hatch, and some very early polling showed him destroying the incumbent. However, Huntsman decided to accept Trump's invitation to become ambassador to Russia instead, and Hatch ended up retiring the following year.
If Huntsman does run for his old job, he won't have a clear path through the primary. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has his own history of deviating from Republican orthodoxy, is already in, and a number of other Beehive State Republicans are also considering running.
● NC-Sen: While Rep. Mark Walker said in late April that he wouldn't challenge Sen. Thom Tillis in the GOP primary, he seems to be reconsidering. In late May, Walker's team very much didn't rule out the idea when asked, and Walker himself addressed the possibility at the state party convention over the weekend. The Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill writes that Walker says he talked to Donald Trump in the Oval Office about a possible Senate bid, though the congressman doesn't seem to have said much more about his thoughts. Wealthy businessman Garland Tucker is already running against Tillis in the primary.
● KY-Gov: The RGA is out with their second TV spot against Democrat Andy Beshear, where they try to connect him to a former aide. The spot begins with a number of reporters describing how Tim Longmeyer took "over $200,000 in kickbacks," before a narrator accuses Beshear's office of covering it up.
This attack first surfaced a little more than a month ago during the Democratic primary. As we explained then, no evidence has ever surfaced indicating that Beshear knew of Longmeyer's actions. And while Longmeyer did contribute some of his ill-gotten money to Beshear's campaign (it's unclear how much), the attorney general donated the $14,000 that remained in his war chest at the time to the good-government group Common Cause to make amends for what Longmeyer had done.
● MS-Gov: Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is out with another TV spot ahead of the Aug. 6 GOP primary, where he uses Mississippi's new license plates as an opening to excoriate "out of state liberals." Reeves tells the audience that, because the words "In God We Trust" are on the state license plates, "Liberals from California and Washington are threatening to take Mississippi to court." After a headline from ChristianHeadlines.com reading "Atheist Group Threatens Suit over Mississippi 'In God We Trust' License Plates" splashed across the screen, Reeves declares, "Our next governor must defend our values every single day."
● IA-02: On Friday, Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken announced that he would not run and would instead back former state Sen. Rita Hart in the Democratic primary.
Hart, who was Team Blue's 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, already has a number of endorsements from local Iowa politicos, including retiring Rep. Dave Loebsack, and one influential national Democrat also isn't hiding how much she likes her. While the DCCC hasn't endorsed here, chair Cheri Bustos, who represents a nearby Illinois seat, recently declared, "I think Rita Hart is a perfect, and I do mean a perfect fit for that district."
So far, the only Democrat opposing Hart is engineer Newman Abuissa, who entered the race on Thursday. Abuissa, who immigrated to the United States from Syria, was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and he also used to serve on the Johnson County party central committee.
● PA-07, PA-08: The National Journal reported last month that national Republicans were trying to recruit former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in the 7th District, and Scheller told The Morning Call she is indeed considering it. Scheller did not say where she was in the decision-making process.
The paper also writes that local Republicans have name-dropped John Chrin, who was the nominee last year in the neighboring 8th District, as a possible Wild foe. However, they add that, according to unnamed sources "familiar with his thinking" Chrin is "unlikely to run this election cycle." Chrin, who lost to Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright 55-45, filed paperwork with the FEC for a rematch campaign back in late March, but we've heard nothing else from him since then.
● SC-01: On Monday, Mount Pleasant City Councilwoman Kathy Landing announced that she would seek the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. Landing used her kickoff to declare that she believed that Cunningham won his 2018 upset in this coastal South Carolina seat by opposing oil drilling, and she quickly declared that she was "absolutely and unequivocally against offshore drilling." The local political blog First In the State writes that the Landing campaign said she'd self-fund $250,000 to start, and she was willing to throw down more.
● Special Elections: There’s one special election in Maine on tap for Tuesday:
ME-HD-45: This is a Democratic district located in Cumberland. This seat became vacant after former state Rep. Dale Denno resigned in March due to health issues and died the following month.
There are two candidates in this race: a Democrat and Republican, both of whom were selected by their parties. The Democrat is Stephen Moriarty, who previously served one term in this seat after winning 67-33 in 2012. Businessman Kevin C. Hughes is the Republican nominee.
At the presidential level, this seat has leaned Democratic but got noticeably bluer in 2016. After backing Barack Obama 53-45, Hillary Clinton won here 58-35. This chamber is controlled by Democrats, who have a 88-56 advantage (with six independents). This seat has also hosted a tight race in the recent past, as Denno narrowly lost to Republican Michael Timmons 47.6-47.3 in his first bid here in 2014. However, Denno challenged Timmons again and won 56-44 in 2016. He had no trouble holding this seat in 2018, beating his Republican opponent by 30 percentage points.
● Dallas, TX Mayor: State Rep. Eric Johnson won a four-year term by defeating City Councilor Scott Griggs, a fellow Democrat, 56-44. Johnson had the support of a number of well-known local elected officials, including termed-out Mayor Mike Rawlings, as well as plenty of prominent business leaders. Johnson's victory will make him Dallas' second elected black mayor.
● Kansas City, MO Mayor: On behalf of the local political tip-sheet the Missouri Scout, the GOP pollster Remington Research is out with another poll of the nonpartisan June 18 general election. They give Quinton Lucas a small 42-39 edge over fellow City Councilor Jolie Justus, which is considerably tighter than the 38-30 Lucas lead they found last month. No other pollsters have released numbers of the contest between Justus, who has the backing of termed-out Mayor Sly James, and Lucas, who is more skeptical of the status quo.
● San Antonio, TX Mayor: Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a progressive independent, won a second two-year term on Saturday by a narrow 51-49 margin against conservative City Councilor Greg Brockhouse.
Brockhouse, a former consultant for both the city's police and firefighter unions, entered the race back in February by declaring that Nirenberg was "needlessly" fighting first responders over pensions and other issues. Things got especially nasty in the final weeks of the race as Brockhouse faced renewed scrutiny over two past allegations of domestic violence.
● Salt Lake City, UT Mayor: Candidate filing closed Friday for the Aug. 13 non-partisan primary to succeed retiring Mayor Jackie Biskupski, and eight people will be on the ballot. The two contenders with the most votes will face off in the Nov. 5 general election. Salt Lake City is a blue hub in this very red state, and it's likely that the next mayor will be a progressive.
A few current and former elected officials are in. Former Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who was the only gay member of the legislature when he retired last year, was running even before Biskupski dropped out of the race in March. Another prominent Democrat is state Sen. Luz Escamilla, who was first elected in 2008 and was Team Blue's 2014 nominee for the 2nd Congressional District; Escamilla lost that race Republican Rep. Chris Stewart 61-33.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, who also serves as chair of the Utah Air Quality Board, and former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold are also in. Also worth watching are David Garbett, a former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition, and businessman David Ibarra. Finally, there's freelance journalist Richard Goldberger, a self-described "common-sense cat," and Rainer Huck, who took 5% of the vote as a Libertarian in a 2014 state House race.
The Deseret News' Katie McKellar writes that the biggest issue in this year's race will likely be over the Utah Inland Port Authority, a state-formed agency that has attracted a great deal of controversy. McKellar writes that Biskupski filed a lawsuit earlier this year "challenging the port authority's creation and whether the state had the power to give final land use and taxing authority to the 11-member board." The project's proponents argue it will give the area an economic lift by establishing a global trade hub, while environmental groups have condemned its potential impact on local air quality and the area's wildlife.
Most of the candidates, with the exception of Goldberger, say they want to keep Biskupski's lawsuit going. However, the field differs on how they want to handle the inland port project going forward. Garbett has called for replacing it with a "Utah Clean Air Hub," while others say they want to clarify how much control the city will have over the project.
● Where Are They Now?: On Monday, the Trump administration announced that their new acting director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is none other than former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who lost a tight 2013 general election for governor to Terry McAuliffe.
However, plenty of Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have publicly said that they doubt Cuccinelli could be confirmed as permanent director, and that they don't want him to be. It's not because they have anything against Cuccinelli's long anti-immigration record, including his legal opinion allowing Virginia police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they've stopped, though.
Instead, the GOP establishment remembers how Cuccinelli spent years targeting them or their allies in primaries when he was head of the Senate Conservatives Fund. They also haven't forgiven Cuccinelli for calling for McConnell to resign or for supporting Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. However, their opposition wasn't enough to deter Trump from picking Cuccinelli from this acting job.