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-16: Democratic Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria announced Friday that she would challenge Rep. Jim Costa, who is one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus, in the top-two primary. Costa responded by underscoring that he has the support of some of California’s most prominent politicians, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.
Soria, who is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and once planned to go into immigration law, declared that immigration will be a major issue for her, saying that “we can’t continue to allow these kids to be in cages.” She also emphasized the importance of affordable college debt and how many local families, including her own, were struggling. Soria declined to directly criticize Costa, but she told the Fresno Bee, “I wouldn’t be running if those issues were fixed.”
Costa has represented part of the Central Valley in the House since 2005. Costa was one of just 28 Democrats who voted to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015, and he defied the Obama administration later that year by backing a bill that would have halted the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
Costa hasn’t changed much in the Trump era, either: According to FiveThirtyEight, Costa voted with the administration 47% of the time in the last Congress. As for his new challenger, the Bee writes, “While Soria vocally supports some progressive issues such as immigration reform and race-related issues, she’s also supported law enforcement and has been recognized for being ‘business friendly’ while on the Fresno City Council.”
Plenty of Democrats also would love to replace Costa with a stronger candidate for electoral reasons. The incumbent infamously came very close to costing Democrats his seat in 2014 when he ran a very complacent campaign and ended up defeating Some Dude Johnny Tacherra just 51-49. However, Costa paid considerably more attention to his 2016 and 2018 races, and he had no trouble winning both of those contests.
Even if Costa ends up sleepwalking his way through 2020, it won’t be easier for Soria or any other Democrat to get through the top-two primary unless the incumbent somehow manages to take third place or worse. This seat, which includes Merced and part of Fresno, backed Clinton 58-36, so it would take a lot to keep a Republican from taking one of the two general election spots. It doesn’t help Soria that another Democrat, former Foreign Service diplomat Kim Williams, is running against Costa.
Republicans also tend to turn out in disproportionate numbers for the top-two primary, though things may be different next year when the March Democratic presidential primary will take place on the same day as California’s top-two primary.
● AL-Sen: Bradley Byrne (R): $750,000 raised, $2.5 million cash-on-hand
● CO-Sen: Cory Gardner (R-inc): $2 million raised, $4.9 million cash-on-hand
● IA-Sen: Joni Ernst (R-inc): $1.1 million raised, $3.4 million cash-on-hand
● MA-Sen: Ed Markey (D-inc): $1 million raised, $4 million cash-on-hand
● NC-Sen: Thom Tillis (R-inc): $1.9 million raised, $4.4 cash-on-hand
● CA-04: Brynne Kennedy (D): $390,000 raised
● CO-06: Jason Crow (D-inc): $430,000 raised, $800,000 cash-on-hand
● IA-03: Cindy Axne (D-inc): $600,000 raised, $835,000 cash-on-hand
● NJ-03: Andy Kim (D-inc): $572,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
● NM-03: Marco Serna (D): $233,000 raised
● NY-19: Antonio Delgado (D-inc): $672,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand
● TX-24: Crystal Fletcher (D): $105,000 (in four weeks)
● WI-01: Bryan Steil (R-inc): $530,000 raised, $700,000 cash-on-hand
● AL-Sen: GOP Sen. Richard Shelby has spent weeks talking up the idea that his longtime Senate colleague, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, could try to return to the Senate in 2020, but it sounds like he’ll have an impossible job convincing a certain prominent Republican to go along with the idea. Shelby told The Hill that he "talked to the president about it to … about if Sessions ran," but "he was not encouraging." Shelby continued, "How do I say it? He was not on board, OK?"
We’re not sure what Donald Trump said behind closed doors to Shelby, but it probably wasn’t much worse than what he’s been saying in public for years. Last month, Trump declared that the "biggest mistake" of his tenure was making Sessions his attorney general.
● TN-Sen: On Friday, Donald Trump tweeted that wealthy businessman and Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty would run for this open Senate seat and that he “[h]as my Complete & Total Endorsement!” Hagerty, who had served as Trump’s Tennessee’s 2016 finance chairman and on his transition committee, had not yet announced that he would be running, though CNN reported earlier in the day that he’d spent months talking to Tennessee Republicans about a potential campaign. Trump’s endorsement came a day after former Gov. Bill Haslam, who had previously appointed Hagerty as commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, decided not to enter the race.
The only notable Republican who was already running was orthopedic trauma surgeon Manny Sethi, who has already self-funded $1 million. A number of other Republican candidates have been eyeing this seat, though they may now have second thoughts about challenging a Trump-backed candidate. On Friday, before Trump made his endorsement, former state Sen. Jamie Woodson expressed interest in running for this first time. Woodson left the legislature in 2011 and became CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a group started by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
● IN-Gov: Howey Politics writes that Democratic state Rep. Karlee Macer "appears to be waiting on a final decision" until after one of her children gets married next month.
● NC-Gov: Republican state Rep. Holly Grange has revealed that she's considering getting into the governor's race, and National Journal reports that a source close to her says Grange could announce as soon as this upcoming week. Grange, who is also a military veteran and an attorney, herself stated that she's focused on the current legislative special session, which lawmakers are hoping to soon end after passing a budget.
Term-limited Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has confirmed that he’ll compete in GOP primary, but National Journal writes that Grange could be a less hardline alternative to Forest, who is a religious fundamentalist reactionary. Forest is an ardent supporter of the anti-LGBTQ "bathroom bill" HB2, which sparked a backlash and boycott threats by major businesses and thus helped cost GOP Gov. Pat McCrory re-election in 2016 against now-Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
By contrast, Grange voted for a compromise that partially repealed that legislation in 2017, and her position on the issue would likely play better in suburban areas like hers that saw Republicans take heavy losses in 2018 thanks to the state GOP's unpopularity there—indeed, Grange won re-election just 53-47 in a Wilmington-area seat Trump carried 56-41 two years before. However, while Grange may be better ideologically suited toward a general electorate than Forest, she'd first have to get through a primary dominated by staunch conservatives.
It's unclear whether there's enough dissatisfaction with Forest among GOP primary voters for a less-extreme Republican to win the nomination. Nevertheless, a June poll by Democratic firm PPP found Forest with only a modest 35-15 favorable rating among Republicans, meaning half of Republicans still haven't made up their minds or even heard about him, so if Grange can run a strong race, she may have a chance to make her case to GOP voters who aren't yet sold on Forest.
● AZ-02: Republican Shay Stautz, who formerly worked as a lobbyist for the University of Arizona, recently kicked off a campaign against Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the Tucson-area 2nd District. Stautz appears to be making his first campaign for elected office, and he played up his ties to southern Arizona in a thinly veiled shot at Kirkpatrick, who's political career originally centered on Flagstaff and the northern 1st District. However, Stautz's LinkedIn profile notes that he's been working in D.C. for at least two decades, which could undermine his message of attacking Kirkpatrick as a supposed outsider.
● CA-21: Former GOP Rep. David Valadao, who had reportedly been considering a comeback bid after getting ousted by Democrat TJ Cox last year, has now publicly confirmed he's "putting a lot of thought into it" and has promised a decision "soon." The National Journal previously reported that the NRCC had been recruiting Valadao for a rematch, and some big names are apparently trying to woo him: Last week, he appeared at an event with Mike Pence, who called Valadao "a great friend of mine." Pence then proceeded to mispronounce his great friend's name, calling him "vuh-LAD-ey-oh" rather than "val-uh-DEY-oh."
● IN-05: Howey Politics writes that Indiana Republican Party chair Kyle Hupfer, who hadn't sounded all that keen in the first place, has now ruled out a bid for the state's open 5th Congressional District. A ton of other GOP names are still in the mix, though no notable candidates have entered yet.
● NY-15: On Friday, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for New York's open 15th Congressional District, despite the fact that he had set up a fundraising committee with the FEC last month. Rivera specifically cited the fact that Democrats finally took the majority in the state Senate last year and have since passed a slew of long-delayed progressive priorities. Noting, however, that "our work is far from done," Rivera, who now chairs the Senate's Health Committee, said he believes he can "best serve" his constituents by remaining in the legislature "for the foreseeable future."
● NY-27: Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who flirted with a bid against indicted GOP Rep. Chris Collins last cycle, said last week that she won't run for New York's 27th District next year. Hochul represented the previous version of the 27th (then numbered the 26th) after winning it in a special election in 2011, but she lost to Collins the following year after redistricting made this already conservative seat even redder.
● Netroots Nation: On Friday afternoon, Daily Kos Elections’ Jeff Singer and Stephen Wolf were joined by National Democratic Redistricting Committee's Claire Low, Sister District's Lala Wu, and longtime Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Arjun Jaikumar for our Q&A session at Netroots Nation, where we answered questions on everything from the major U.S. House races to watch, important state legislative chambers up in 2019 and 2020, and the many implications of the upcoming U.S. Census. If you missed it, you can watch the event here and find out if anyone stumped the panel!