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.
● CA-50: Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter is scheduled to stand trial in September for allegedly using $250,000 in campaign money for personal expenses, and in a Monday court filing, federal prosecutors accused him of spending part of that cash on some decidedly more illicit goings-on than transporting the family’s pet rabbit on an airplane flight: The Justice Department, in a motion to the court seeking to introduce evidence, says that the married California congressman used campaign money to “pursue a series of intimate personal relationships” with at least five different women.
During his first term back in 2009, prosecutors charge, Hunter began having an affair with a lobbyist and used his campaign account to pay for drinks, food, and trips together. One of these expenditures included a “’double date' road trip” to Virginia Beach with another couple, which included an unnamed fellow congressman, where Hunter used campaign funds to purchase drinks and a hotel room. The next month, Hunter and that same date attended a concert by the country singer Jack Ingram, where the Hunter campaign “spent $121 in campaign funds on beer, nachos, and wings.”
Prosecutors also say that in 2015, Hunter used his war chest to pay for Uber trips to and from the home of another lobbyist where the two “engaged in intimate personal activities unrelated to Hunter’s congressional campaign or duties as a member of Congress.” Prosecutors say that the following year, Hunter made similar purchases while he had an affair with a third lobbyist.
That’s not all. In 2015, Hunter’s campaign also allegedly paid for the congressman’s cocktails with a House leadership aide he ended up spending the night with—and for the Uber ride back to his office the following morning. As for Hunter’s fifth dalliance, the Justice Department’s motion also alleges that Hunter used campaign funds to finance his relationship with one of his own aides.
Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, were both indicted together last year. The congressman quickly sought to blame his wife for any improper campaign expenditures, telling a TV audience that she “was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did that'll be looked at too, I'm sure.”
Last week, Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring with her husband to “knowingly and willingly convert campaign funds for personal use.” In her plea deal with prosecutors, Hunter agreed to provide “substantial assistance to the United States in the investigation and prosecution of others” and “to tell everything (she) knows about every person involved.” Apparently, there are quite a few such people.
● AL-Sen: On Tuesday, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill joined the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Merrill has served as Alabama's chief elections officer since 2015, and he's been a strong proponent of its strict voter ID laws while minimizing their consequences.
In 2015, Merrill defended then-Gov. Robert Bentley's decision to close 31 driver's license offices, many located in predominantly black counties, by insisting that the move wouldn't make it harder for black citizens to register to vote. Bentley and his allies argued this was merely a cost-saving move and had no other intent. However, an investigation from the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that this very much caused "a disparate and adverse impact on the basis of race." Those cost savings also reportedly amounted to no more than $300,000, money that was almost certainly lost in the legal battles over the policy.
Merrill has also loudly opposed attempts to make it easier to vote in the Yellowhammer State. In 2016, he blasted the idea of automatic voter registration declaring, "If you're too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and to go register to vote, or to register electronically, and then to go vote, then you don't deserve that privilege." He then went on to argue that this would somehow "cheapen" the sacrifices of civil rights activists, declaring, "I'm not going to embarrass them by allowing somebody that's too sorry to get up off of their rear end to go register to vote―or now, because of what we've done, turn the computer on and register to vote―because they think they deserve the right because they've turned 18."
Merrill also isn't exactly open to criticism about his job performance. The secretary of state has a well-known habit of blocking people on Twitter, and in one Facebook exchange with a member of the state Democratic Party, Merrill wrote, "Anybody that says voting is difficult in Alabama is either ignorant, ill-informed, or a fool." His comments came months after the New York Times published an article titled, "Seven Ways Alabama Has Made It Harder to Vote." Merrill has defended his approach by insisting to AL.com, "Most of these people are trolls. They're not interested in the facts," and that he refused to let them use "my platform to promote their issue."
It may also not surprise you to learn that Merrill remained an ardent defender of Republican Roy Moore during the 2017 special after multiple women accused Moore of preying on them when they were teenagers. Right after the Washington Post broke the news, Merrill responded by suggesting that he thought it was suspicious that these allegations only surfaced shortly before Election Day, and specifically wondered why a D.C. outlet—and not an Alabama publication—broke the story. A month later, after even more women came forward, Merrill remained in Moore's camp.
Moore narrowly lost to Jones, and he announced last month that he would run again despite the virulent opposition of Donald Trump and other GOP leaders. Rep. Bradley Byrne, state Rep. Arnold Mooney, and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville are also seeking the GOP nod, and a few other Alabama politicians have also expressed interest in running. The candidate filing deadline is in early November, so prospective contenders only have a few more months to decide. Alabama will hold its primary in early March, and if no one takes a majority, the runoff will be held four weeks later.
● KS-Sen: Politico reports that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is indeed still considering seeking the GOP nod to succeed retiring Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts. Pompeo said in February that a Senate bid was "ruled out" only to open the door open again a month later, and he's kept quiet since then about this race. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't being so subtle, and he told Politico this week, "He's still my first choice" for this seat.
Senate Republicans have made it very clear that they see Pompeo as their best chance to prevent former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost last year's gubernatorial election, from winning the Senate primary. Politico adds that the ultimate GOP nightmare scenario is a general election between Kobach and former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a race they fear Team Red could well lose.
McConnell and his allies, though, not only think that Pompeo could stop Kobach, but that he could also deter Sebelius from even running. We haven't seen any indication that Sebelius, who resigned in 2009 to become Barack Obama's secretary of health and human services, is considering a Senate campaign. Kobach, though, has been publicly considering running for months, but he hasn't entered the contest yet.
However, while McConnell has made it extremely clear that he wants Pompeo to leave the State Department, not everyone in his caucus is so convinced. Pompeo has been one of the rare high-level officials to survive the Trump administration's many purges, and Sens. Roy Blunt and Joni Ernst both said that they weren't anxious to see him leave.
Some of Pompeo's allies also don't think it's a good idea for him to depart the administration when there's no obvious replacement, with one unnamed confidant calling the idea "irresponsible." Trump himself also doesn't seem to want to lose his secretary of state, and McConnell acknowledged that, while Pompeo was his number one pick for this seat, "I doubt that the president would agree with that."
Kansas' filing deadline isn't until the start of next June; we could be watching this seemingly endless soap opera for a long time to come. So tune in soon for our next edition of "Guiding Mike."
● ME-Sen: On Tuesday, both the DSCC and EMILY's List endorsed state House Speaker Sara Gideon's campaign to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins. Gideon, who kicked off her campaign just the day before, faces 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet in the Democratic primary, and a few other local politicians have expressed interest in joining the race. However, the DSCC's decision to get involved early may scare off some potential candidates.
We can also take a few names off the potential candidate list now. EMILY's List executive director Emily Cain talked about running herself last year but didn't show any further interest, and her organization is now supporting Gideon. Former state House Speaker Hannah Pingree also quickly endorsed Gideon.
● OK-Sen: GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe filed a 2020 statement of candidacy with the FEC Tuesday, though he has not yet announced if he'll seek a fifth full term. If Inhofe runs again, he's unlikely to encounter any serious primary or general election opposition.
● VA-Gov: Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax remains in office months after two women publicly accused him of sexual assault, and he recently told reporters that he's indeed still considering running for governor in 2021. Fairfax argued that the allegations have improved his name recognition in a positive way, saying, "Many people a year ago would not have recognized me, now they really do." Fairfax added, "People come up to me at gas stations, they say, 'Hey, we recognize you. We love you. We know what they are saying about you is false.'"
● WA-Gov: While 2016 GOP nominee Bill Bryant expressed interest in another gubernatorial campaign a few months ago, he seems to have turned his focus elsewhere. Bryant told the Seattle Times' Jim Brunner that, while he didn't plan to run for office again, he wasn't saying no to a bid for lands commissioner. So far, no major Republicans have entered the race for governor.
Meanwhile, the Democratic field remains in stasis. Gov. Jay Inslee hasn't ruled out seeking a third term if his White House bid fails, and while plenty of Democrats are eyeing his seat, no one seems inclined to jump in until he makes his 2020 plans clear. Both state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and King County Executive Dow Constantine said months ago that they are interested in running but content to wait for Inslee to make his decision, and Brunner writes that Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz says she won't run against the incumbent.
Washington's candidate filing deadline isn't until May, so it could be a long time until we know if we'll have an open seat race here or not.
● NC-03: State Rep. Greg Murphy has another low-budget ad out ahead of the July 9 GOP primary runoff, but at least this time it isn't just a minute of a dude standing in a hallway. (Unless you're a fan of those types of commercials. We don't judge.) Murphy tells the audience, "I assure you, the swamp won't change me," and continues, "Around here, we still say ma'am and sir. And when we see an active-duty member or a veteran, we take time to thank them for their service."
● OH-01: 2018 Democratic nominee Aftab Pureval says he hasn't ruled out another bid against GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, though the Cincinnati Enquirer's Jason Williams writes, "The more likely scenario: Pureval will run for re-election as Hamilton County clerk or go for another countywide office." Pureval lost last year by a 51-47 margin.
● PA-10: The National Journal reports that Democratic state Auditor Eugene DePasquale will announce a campaign against GOP Rep. Scott Perry in early July. This seat, which includes Harrisburg, backed Trump 52-43, but Perry only won re-election 51-49 last year against Democrat George Scott. Scott said a few weeks ago that he was considering another bid and expected to decide by the end of the summer.
● TX-24: VoteVets has endorsed 2018 state agriculture secretary nominee Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel who was one of the service's first women pilots, in the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant.
● San Diego, CA Mayor: Over the last few days, Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria has picked up endorsements from former Gov. Jerry Brown and the San Diego City Firefighters Association for his bid to succeed termed-out GOP Mayor Kevin Faulconer next year. Gloria, who served as acting mayor for six months after Bob Filner resigned in disgrace in 2013, would be both the city's first elected gay mayor and mayor of color.
Gloria already had the support of Rep. Susan Davis, who is his old boss and represents about a quarter of the city, and state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Adkins, who served as the city's acting mayor in 2005. So far, Gloria's most prominent opponent is City Councilor Barbara Bry, a fellow Democrat who has the support of freshman Rep. Mike Levin.
While Republicans have controlled this office almost nonstop since the 1992 elections, they took some serious losses at the ballot box last year and don't yet have a serious candidate in the race. City Councilor Mark Kersey has been mentioned as a possible contender for months, and it looks like he will run … just not as a Republican. Kersey announced in late April that he had changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent, and over the weekend, Voice of San Diego reported that he is widely expected to launch a mayoral bid "soon." The filing deadline is in December.
All of the candidates will face off in a March nonpartisan primary, which coincides with California's presidential primary. If no one takes a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to a November general election.
● Radio: Daily Kos political director David Nir spoke with Joe Sudbay on the Michelangelo Signorile Show on Tuesday about their favorite topic: downballot elections, of course. Click here to listen to the full segment, including a discussion of how Matt Bevin's dumpster-level popularity is putting Kentucky's race for governor in play this year, and how Beto O'Rourke's performance in last year's Senate election shows how Democrats can win the Texas state House in 2020.