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.
● KY-Sen: On Tuesday, retired Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McGrath gives Team Blue a strong candidate, but as we'll discuss, she'll need a lot to go right in order to beat McConnell in this very red state.
Last year, McGrath challenged GOP Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky's 6th District, a seat in the Lexington area that had backed Donald Trump 55-39. Thanks in part to viral ads focused on her service, McGrath raised a massive $8.5 million, and outside groups on both sides ended up spending heavily for a seat that hadn't been seriously contested during the prior two election cycles. However, Barr and his allies did everything they could to portray her as too progressive for this conservative area, and he defeated McGrath in a close 51-48 contest.
National Democrats reportedly spent months trying to recruit McGrath to take on McConnell, and she opened her new campaign on Tuesday with another strong video that highlighted her service. McGrath tells the audience that when she was 13, she "wrote a letter to my senator telling him I wanted to fly fighter jets in combat, to fight for my country, and that women should be able to do that." McGrath then declares, "He never wrote back."
McGrath continues, "I've often wondered how many other people did Mitch McConnell never take the time to write back or even think about." She goes on to blame McConnell, a man who was "elected a lifetime ago," for turning "Washington into something we all despise."
McGrath gives Democrats a candidate with a strong story and a large fundraising network, but she may not have the primary to herself. Matt Jones, the host of the popular Kentucky Sports Radio, said Tuesday that he was still considering running for this seat. Jones declared, "The national Democratic Party has decided that they believe Amy McGrath is the person to run against (McConnell) and I respect that," but he added, "But I want you to know that hasn't made my decision for me. I am going to think about it and still make my own decision."
Whoever emerges with the Democratic nod will face a very uphill battle against McConnell. While the majority leader has been unpopular at home for years, McConnell has proven to be a very aggressive campaigner in the past, and he'll also have absolutely no trouble fundraising.
Most importantly, McConnell will also be sharing a ballot with Trump, who carried Kentucky 63-33 in 2016 and will likely win the Bluegrass State again with ease next year. The Democratic nominee will need to convince a multitude of Trump voters to fire the senator who is perhaps the White House's most important ally, and that's not going to be an easy case to make.
McGrath gave a preview of her argument on Tuesday, declaring that Trump wanted to pass legislation that would provide jobs to Kentucky and lower drug prices. McGrath continued, "Who stops them along the way? Who stops the president from doing these things? Mitch McConnell." She added, "And I think that that's very important and that's going to be my message—the things that Kentuckians voted for Trump for are not being done. He's not able to get it done because of Senator McConnell."
● KS-Sen: Jake LaTurner (R): $200,000 raised
● MN-Sen: Tina Smith (D-inc): $1.5 million raised, $2 million cash-on-hand
● CA-10: Josh Harder (D-inc): $750,000 raised, $1.3 million cash-on-hand
● CA-25: Mike Garcia (R): $250,000 raised
● GA-07: Carolyn Bourdeaux (D): $279,000 raised, $527,000 cash-on-hand
● IL-14: Lauren Underwood (D-inc): $700,000 raised, $750,000 cash-on-hand
● MI-03: Jim Lower (R): $200,000 raised (in six weeks)
● MI-06: Jon Hoadley (D): $315,000 raised
● MN-02: Angie Craig (D-inc): $560,000 raised, $700,000 cash-on-hand
● NC-02: Scott Cooper (D): $300,000 raised, $175,000 cash-on-hand
● NY-10: Lindsey Boylan (D): $265,000 raised, additional $75,000 self-funded, $242,000 cash-on-hand
● SC-01: Joe Cunningham (D-inc): $616,000 raised, $980,000 cash-on-hand
● TX-07: Lizzie Fletcher (D-inc): $565,000 raised, $930,000 cash-on-hand
● TX-10: Michael McCaul (R-inc): $525,000 raised, $700,000 cash-on-hand
● TX-21: Chip Roy (R-inc): $400,000 raised, $654,000 cash-on-hand
● TX-23: Gina Ortiz Jones (D): $571,000 raised (in seven weeks)
● CO-Sen: On Monday, state Sen. Angela Williams announced that she was joining the crowded Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. Williams, who represents a safely blue seat in Denver, is the first sitting elected official to enter the primary. If she won next fall, Williams would be state's first black senator as well as the first woman to represent Colorado in the upper chamber.
Colorado Politics writes that Williams, who is chair of the Business, Labor and Technology Committee, "has developed a reputation as a business-friendly Democrat." She's also known for her attempts to reform Colorado's criminal justice system. In 2013, Williams successfully pushed for a law that compensates people who were wrongfully convicted with $70,000 for each year they spent in prison. This year, Williams led an unsuccessful effort to repeal the death penalty. She also championed a high-profile bill to create a state parental and family leave program, but her legislation was shelved for the year.
We also got our first poll of the primary this week from the Democratic firm Keating Research on behalf of the newly formed group Next Senate PAC. The survey finds former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the lead with 23% of the vote while Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who has not entered the race, takes second with 15%. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston is at 12%, while former House Majority Leader Alice Madden, former U.S. Attorney John Walsh, and former ambassador Dan Baer each take 2%; the survey does not appear to have tested Williams. There's no information about Next Senate PAC's rooting interest in this contest.
● GA-Sen: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, who lost a tight general election for lieutenant governor last year, has "sent word through allies that she's preparing to enter the race within weeks."
● KY-Gov: The DGA has now gone on the air with their first buy in this fall's gubernatorial race in Kentucky, joining their counterparts at the RGA, which went up on TV right after the state's late May primary.
The committee's new spot is a mostly positive ad that touts Democrat Andy Beshear's work as state attorney general to fight the opioid epidemic, prosecute sex offenders, and "stand up to Matt Bevin to protect pensions and public schools." There's also a second, subtler shot at GOP Gov. Bevin at the very end, as the narrator declares that Beshear's "Kentucky roots run deep" (Bevin was born in Colorado and grew up in New Hampshire, though he moved to Kentucky in 1999).
According to Politico, the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics says the buy is for $500,000 "over the next month." As of last week, the RGA had spent $1.5 million to help Bevin, according to local media.
● LA-Gov: Following Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' first major TV foray on Monday, the RGA launched its own initial round of advertising on Wednesday with a negative hit on Edwards. The spot starts by praising Donald Trump for "cutting taxes" and "creating jobs," then goes on to attack Edwards for "rais[ing] taxes" and making Louisiana the "worst state for jobs."
Of course, the ad fails to mention that the new revenues Edwards is responsible for have finally put Louisiana's perpetually dire finances on more solid footing for the first time in ages. What's more, those new taxes—chiefly a 0.45% sales tax hike—were passed by the state's Republican-dominated legislature. This seems to be a fight Edwards is ready for: In his own ads, he's touting his sound financial stewardship, in contrast to the years of mismanagement under his predecessor, Bobby Jindal.
An RGA spokesman says the committee's ad run is backed by a "mid-six figures" buy but wasn't any more specific than that. Meanwhile, Edwards is reportedly spending $270,000 through July 21, though that may only reflect an initial outlay as Edwards' campaign previously said his first ad was part of a "seven-figure" buy.
● MS-Gov: Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is out with a positive spot ahead of the Aug. 6 GOP primary starring his wife, Elee Reeves.
● WV-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in for the second quarter of 2019, and in a bit of a surprise, Democrat Stephen Smith raised considerably more cash from donors and also has a larger war chest than any of the Republicans. Smith, who previously led a group of West Virginia nonprofits that work to combat poverty, took in $146,000 and had $122,000 in the bank. No other notable Democrats are running at the moment, though Sen. Joe Manchin is keeping everyone guessing about his plans.
On the GOP side, Gov. Jim Justice raised $58,000 from donors, the entirety of which came from a June fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr. Justice self-funded another $132,000, but he ended the quarter with just $13,000 in the bank. Former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, whom Justice fired last year, raised $36,000 and self-funded an additional $374,000, and he had $53,000 on-hand. Thrasher began running ads last month and he spent a total of $123,000 on advertising through June; so far, no other candidates have spent more than $200 on ads.
Former Del. Mike Folk brought up the rear by raising only $14,000, and he had $16,000 left to spend. That's only slightly more money than Justice has available, but that didn't stop Folk from crowing, "It's apparent he runs his campaigns the way he runs his businesses—in the hole."
● GA-07: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that state Sen. Zahra Karinshak is considering joining the Democratic primary for this competitive open seat, though there's no quote from her.
Karinshak was an intelligence officer during the Gulf War, and she later became legal counsel to Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes when he successfully fought to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Georgia's state flag in the early 2000s. Karinshak ran for office herself last year, and she won an open GOP-held Senate seat by a 54-46 margin. The paper also writes that Karinshak was one of the leading foes of the state's new law that bans abortion after just six weeks.
● IA-02: On Monday, former GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling kicked off his second attempt to return to Congress, though this time he's trying it in a different state than the one he briefly represented almost a decade ago.
Schilling is seeking Iowa's open 2nd Congressional District, which is, well, in Iowa. That's notable because Schilling was a lifelong resident of Illinois and ousted Democratic Rep. Phil Hare in that state's 17th District during the tea party wave of 2010. His career only lasted a single term, though: Illinois was the rare state where Democrats controlled redistricting following the 2010 census, and they made the 17th several notches bluer. That helped Cheri Bustos—now chair of the DCCC—give Schilling the boot in 2012, 53-47.
Schilling tried to reclaim the new-look district the following cycle, but his effort went poorly, as Bustos defeated him by an even bigger 55-45 margin. Since then, he contemplated a couple of comeback options that went nowhere before giving up on his home state to move across the Mississippi River to LeClaire, Iowa, in 2017.
Despite his rather glaring dearth of ties to his new district, though, Schilling could very well wind up as the GOP's nominee. At the moment, in fact, he's the only Republican running: Osceola Mayor Thomas Kedley dropped out last month after just a seven-week campaign, and other, more prominent local figures, like state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, have taken a pass. A couple of other potential contenders have expressed interest, but no one's spoken up lately.
Democrats, meanwhile, have rallied around state Sen. Rita Hart—a lifelong Iowan.
● IL-14: GOP Sen. Sue Rezin announced Tuesday that she would take on freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. Rezin joins fellow state Sen. Jim Oberweis, who has lost a number of high-profile races, in the primary for this 49-44 Trump seat.
Unlike Oberweis, Rezin actually has experience prevailing in competitive races. Rezin won a state House seat in the 2010 GOP wave by unseating a Democratic incumbent 57-43. Two years later, Rezin won a promotion to the Senate by beating Democrat Christine Benson, the sister of 3rd District Rep. Mike Quigley, 54-46 as Mitt Romney was taking the seat by a small 50-48 margin. Rezin beat Benson 58-42 in their 2016 rematch, a victory that came as Trump was carrying the district 55-39. She also had no trouble winning again last year.
However, not many of the people who supported Rezin in those contests can vote for her next year. Rezin began her congressional campaign by acknowledging that she lives in the neighboring 16th Congressional District, which is held by Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, but she insisted that she's quite familiar with the 14th District since she already represents much of it in the legislature. However, as we've written before, Rezin only actually represents about 4% of the 14th District compared to about a quarter of the 16th District.
● KS-02: Former legislative staffer Abbie Hodgson announced this week that she would seek 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 Kansas City Star that she was angry with the way her now-former boss had failed to combat sexual harassment at the capitol. Burroughs responded by saying that he'd 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 many weaknesses of Watkins. Among many other things, Watkins was repeatedly exposed during that campaign as a serial liar about his resume and much more. Still, it will be difficult to unseat Watkins in a seat this red now that he's the incumbent.
● MI-03: Businessman Joel Langlois, who owns the DeltaPlex Arena in the Grand Rapids suburbs, announced on Tuesday that he would join the crowded GOP primary to take on Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash. Langlois, who also owns real estate and manufacturing companies, played up his support for Donald Trump, and the new candidate made sure to point out that he hosted a Trump rally at the DeltaPlex all the way back in 2015.
● NJ-07: Tax attorney Rosemary Becchi announced this week that she would seek the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski. Becchi will face state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., who is one of Team Red's most prominent House candidates in the nation, in the primary.
Becchi began her campaign by attacking "career politicians," but while this appears to be her first run for office, she's hardly a political outsider. As we've noted before, Becchi spent her career as a tax lobbyist in D.C. And as such, though she's largely given to Republicans in her career, she's made a few political contributions to Democrats over the years, including a $500 donation to the DCCC in 2010—which Kean hit her on all the way back in April when she formed an exploratory committee.
Becchi responded by claiming "the donation was to support the late Tom Boggs, who had given me paid time off from work to care for my sick daughter." That's quite the insider's defense, since Boggs was the founder of the giant lobbying firm Patton Boggs, where Becchi was employed from 2010 to 2014. She currently works for a different D.C.-based lobbying firm.
● NY-01: On Tuesday, Stony Brook University professor Nancy Goroff kicked off her campaign for New York's 1st Congressional District, making her the second Democrat seeking to unseat Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.
Goroff recently took an 18-month leave of absence from her position as chair of the chemistry department at Stony Brook, where she's worked for 22 years, and in the first sentence of her campaign bio, she emphasizes that Long Island's Suffolk County, where the 1st District is located, is her "home." That's a contrast to her primary opponent, wealthy businessman Perry Gershon, a longtime Manhattan resident who only switched his voter registration to his vacation home in East Hampton just before his first bid for this seat last cycle.
Zeldin regularly berated Gershon as "Park Avenue Perry" and ultimately won a third term by a 51-47 margin. Local Democrats may therefore be looking for a candidate with deeper ties to the district this time around.
A key reason why Gershon was able to win the Democratic nomination in 2018 was his extensive self-funding: He gave his own campaign at least $430,000 prior to the primary and ultimately almost $2 million by the general election. It's possible, though, that Goroff may be able to match him financially: She's been a big donor to Democratic causes, and her ex-husband, whom she recently divorced, used to work at Renaissance Technologies, one of the most profitable hedge funds of all time.
And the primary field could yet grow, as several other names are still in the mix, but whoever wins will be running on turf that's shifted sharply to the right in recent years. While Barack Obama carried the 1st District by a narrow 50-49 margin, Trump won it 55-42 just four years later, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo prevailed there by just a 49.1 to 48.6 spread in 2018 despite winning a 23-point blowout statewide.
● PA-01: On Tuesday, Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress filed paperwork to set up a campaign committee with the FEC, making her the second Democrat, following Bucks County Prothonotary Judi Reiss, to do so in Pennsylvania's 1st District in the past week. Neither potential candidate appears to have publicly commented yet about their intentions. The 1st, located in the Philadelphia suburbs, is represented by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, one of just three Republicans who holds a seat won by Hillary Clinton.
● WA-03: Democrat Carolyn Long's campaign said Tuesday that she raised $150,000 in first 12 hours of her second campaign against GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.
● Netroots Nation: The Daily Kos Elections team is heading to Philadelphia, PA, this week for Netroots Nation, the annual progressive conference, and we'll have two panels this year!
Our first event will be on Thursday at 2:30 PM ET and will consist of redistricting practitioners discussing the lessons they have learned from actively participating in the process to draw fair maps for courts or commissions, and where reform efforts go from here after the Supreme Court recently refused to limit gerrymandering.
The panel will feature Daily Kos' Stephen Wolf and Carolyn Fiddler, who will be joined by Princeton University's Sam Wang, California redistricting commissioner Maria Blanco, and Campaign Legal Center's Christopher Lamar.
Our second event will be on Friday at 1:30 PM ET, where we'll be hosting our traditional elections Q&A panel. We dispense with the PowerPoints and proceed directly to questions from the audience about the races they're most interested in. And the great news is, if you can't attend in person, you can watch our livestream, which we'll be crossposting at our Facebook page. We'll also be taking questions online, so please join us.
This panel will feature Wolf and Jeff Singer from Daily Kos, and they'll be joined by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee's Claire Low, Sister District's Lala Wu, and longtime Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Arjun Jaikumar.
If you're a regular reader, please come say hello after our panels! See you in Philly!