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.
● House: Four years ago, Daily Kos Elections introduced a map of United States congressional districts that showed each district with the same area. Every district sends just one representative to the House, so our map accurately balanced large rural districts and small urban districts. Now, we've updated that map to make it easier to interpret. States now retain their usual shape, with space for labels. Placement of districts within states is also improved, although states with large urban areas are still dominated by those districts.
We've also included optional non-voting delegate districts, and an electoral college map in the same style. Check out the introduction to the new map, and download the files needed to make maps of your own congressional data here.
● KS-Sen: Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi said Tuesday that she was considering seeking the Democratic nod for this open seat, and that she planned to meet with national Democratic leaders. Reddi, who emigrated from India when she was a child, would be the first woman of color to represent Kansas in the Senate.
Reddi has been mentioned as a possible candidate for months, but she was reluctant to discuss her plans until this week because of her criminal case against her father, Venkata Yeleti. Reddi went to police in Virginia last year and provided them with emails and recordings of calls where Yeleti admitted to raping her when they lived in the state in the 1970s. Yeleti pleaded guilty last week, and Reddi publicly discussed the abuse for the first time on Tuesday.
● MA-Sen: On Tuesday, business executive Steve Pemberton announced that he would challenge Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary. Pemberton argued this week that, while he didn't see himself as "fundamentally different" from Markey on most issues, his struggles growing up will give him a perspective and an urgency to fix problems that the incumbent doesn't have. Pemberton declared, "I'm going to reflect the human toll of what happens when policies don't work."
The son of a black father and a white mother who both abandoned him at a young age, Pemberton grew up in foster care in the 1970s and 1980s, and he spent two years in an abusive household he described as "more like a prison." Pemberton was eventually taken in by one of his high school teachers, and he went on to go to college and work for Monster.com and Walgreens. Pemberton wrote a best-selling memoir called "A Chance in the World" about his life, which was turned into a movie by the same name in 2017. Pemberton is now a senior official at the human resources software company Workhuman.
Pemberton joins prominent labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who has been running since May, in the Democratic primary. Like Pemberton, Liss-Riordan largely hasn't taken issue with Markey's decades-long voting record, but she's argued that she'll present a "fresh perspective" from the incumbent. Liss-Riordan also has declared that Congress needs more women to stand up to Republican attacks on abortion rights.
It only takes a simple plurality to win a primary in Massachusetts so Pemberton and Liss-Riordan may end up helping Markey by splitting the anti-incumbent vote amongst themselves. However, there's no guarantee that both of them will be on the ballot thanks to an unusual state law. Democratic and Republican candidates for statewide office need to compete at a party convention that usually takes place in the late spring, and they have to win the support of at least 15% of the delegates to advance to the primary.
This rule has eliminated several candidates, including some credible contenders, in the recent past. In the 2014 race for governor, for example, five Democratic candidates arrived at the party convention, but two of them were knocked out of the race by the time the proceedings were done: Former Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem took fourth place in the balloting with 12% of the delegates, which was just below the number she needed to stay in the race, while former health care executive Joe Avellone took only 7%.
Beating Markey will also be a very expensive proposition. The incumbent hauled in $1 million during the second quarter of the year, and he had over $4 million in the bank at the end of June. Liss-Riordan raised only $145,000 from donors during her first quarter in the race, but she self-funded another $1 million and had $992,000 to spend.
● NH-Sen: On Tuesday, former New Hampshire state House Speaker Bill O'Brien announced that he would seek the GOP nod to take on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
O'Brien faces retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc in the primary; another potential candidate, Bryant "Corky" Messner, recently formed an exploratory committee. Unlike Bolduc and Messner, who have never run for office, O'Brien has a long history in Granite State politics beginning with his election to the legislature in 2004. That's not necessarily an asset, though, because O'Brien spent many of those years making enemies within his own party.
O'Brien became speaker after the GOP retook control of the House following the 2010 wave, and he quickly developed a reputation even with some fellow Republicans as an extremist and a bully. O'Brien had a well-publicized confrontation early in his tenure with a moderate freshman Republican member named Tim Copeland after Copeland opposed an anti-collective-bargaining measure. Copeland told Seacoastonline.com that the speaker loudly proclaimed that he wouldn't support any of his legislative priorities and that he'd refuse to support him for re-election.
O'Brien denied this confrontation took place as Copeland described it, but he went on to say that the freshman was a "union-orientated Republican" who didn't fit in with the conservative majority. O'Brien continued, "I think those Republicans who don't support our platform or issues like traditional marriage, they need to go back to the voters who put them into office and tell them why they aren't."
Copeland was hardly the only Republican whom O'Brien antagonized. Copeland also recounted that, just before his meeting with O'Brien, he and a nearby group of school children overheard the speaker loudly berating another Republican representative named Susan Emerson. Emerson soon filed an anti-bullying bill to establish a proper code of conduct for lawmakers, though her legislation was defeated. The following year, GOP state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt sent an email to every representative in the 400-member chamber declaring, "We have a liar and a tyrant in the speaker's chair only because Republicans (who know better) allow it."
Also in 2012, GOP state Rep. Tony Soltani revealed that, while he'd supported O'Brien for speaker, he'd regretted his decision within three weeks, adding, "I've asked the voters to forgive me for voting for this clown." Soltani continued, "It's as if he's been planted to undermine the Republican brand in New Hampshire, because no one could do a better job of that than he is doing. If we only lose 40 seats in November we will be very lucky."
The GOP was not lucky in November. Democrats overcame the GOP's gerrymander and took over 100 seats, and with it the majority, and unsurprisingly, some Republicans blamed O'Brien for their defeat.
The bad blood between O'Brien and many members of his caucus also kept O'Brien out of the speaker's chair after the GOP retook the majority in 2014. While O'Brien was the choice of most of his party, a group of renegade Republicans instead sided with the Democratic minority and elected a different Republican, Shawn Jasper, as speaker.
O'Brien and his allies were furious, but they soon tried to direct their wrath in another direction. In November of 2015, O'Brien held a meeting to discuss replacing GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte "with a conservative Republican." However, their movement went nowhere and Ayotte won renomination without much trouble before losing a competitive 2016 general election to Democrat Maggie Hassan. O'Brien ended up retiring from the state House that same year.
While O'Brien may sound like a local version of Donald Trump, the former speaker was hardly a Trump supporter during the 2016 primary. O'Brien instead served as state co-chair for Ted Cruz, and he was reluctant to back Trump even after it was clear to almost everyone that he'd be the GOP nominee. Just before the Republican National Convention, O'Brien said he'd be supporting Cruz because "I just can't vote for someone who is so obviously unfit to be president." We saw many Republicans weaponize those types of anti-Trump quotes during last cycle's primaries, and O'Brien should expect his many enemies to try the same thing on him.
It doesn't help that, despite his well-deserved reputation for extremism, O'Brien actually has a history of donating to Democratic candidates. In 1996, for example, he contributed to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who would become Team Blue's presidential nominee eight years later. He also donated to Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.
Still, O'Brien does have some allies in GOP politics. The former speaker was endorsed by state Rep. Al Baldasaro, who had expressed interest in running for this seat during the winter. Baldasaro may be the one guy in New Hampshire politics who could have been a worse nominee than O'Brien: Back in 2016, Baldasaro declared that Hillary Clinton should be "put in the firing line and shot for treason." Baldasaro refused to apologize, and the Secret Service investigated him.
● LA-Gov: On behalf of the far-right blog The Hayride, Multi-Quest International is out with a poll of the October all-party primary as well as two hypothetical November general elections. (Multi-Quest isn’t a firm we see often, but they did some work during the 2015 gubernatorial race for Raycom Media, as well as for a super PAC funded by wealthy businessman Sidney Torres during the 2017 New Orleans mayoral election.)
The survey gives Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards the lead in October with 44%, while Rep. Ralph Abraham leads wealthy businessman and fellow Republican Eddie Rispone 35-6 for second place. In last place is independent and perennial candidate Gary Landrieu at 4%. This race would go to a general election if no one clears 50% in October, and in hypothetical one-on-ones, Edwards bests Abraham and Rispone 49-39 and 49-29, respectively.
We’ve only seen a handful of polls this year, but they consistently show Abraham far ahead of Rispone in the battle for second place. However, Rispone launched his first major TV ad campaign this week while Abraham has not yet taken to the airwaves, so Rispone has the chance to get his name out and pull ahead.
However, we don’t have enough data to get a good idea about how well Edwards would perform in November against either Republican. The only other survey we’ve seen in nearly three months was an Abraham internal from early June that found him tied with Edwards 45-45, while the Democrat led Rispone 49-38.
If Abraham loses this year in either the all-party primary or the general election he’ll have the option to seek a fourth term in his reliably red northeast Louisiana seat, and he seems to be getting ready to do just that. Abraham filed paperwork with the FEC to run for Congress in 2020, despite pledging during his initial 2014 race to leave after three terms. Abraham, though, has been getting ready to break this self-imposed departure date for a while. In November, the congressman said he’d run for re-election if he ended up staying out of the gubernatorial race, arguing at the time, “Whether it's three or four or five, I'm still a term-limit guy.”
Meanwhile, Edwards is going up with a new TV spot, which the campaign says has more than $1 million behind it. The commercial begins with the governor telling the audience how he grew up in a “law enforcement family.” Edwards goes on to explain how his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were sheriffs, and one of his brothers holds that post now (these four generations of Edwards have served as sheriffs in Tangipahoa Parish, which is located northwest of New Orleans), and another brother is a police chief.
Edwards continues by noting his time at West Point and in the Army Rangers, and he concludes, “And what I’m reminded of every day as governor: that my greatest responsibility is still fighting for and protecting our families.”
● MI-13: Local politicos have speculated for months that Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones could seek a Democratic primary rematch with Rep. Rashida Tlaib next year, but Jones is continuing to keep quiet about her 2020 plans. The Associated Press recently reached out to Jones but wrote that she did not respond for the story.
Thanks to some very unusual circumstances, Tlaib and Jones faced off three times in 2018. In August, Michigan held two different Democratic primaries on the same day for this seat: One for a special election for the final months of former Rep. John Conyers' term, and one for the regular two-year term. Tlaib narrowly beat Jones 31-30 in the six-way primary for the full term. However, there were only four candidates on the ballot in the special election primary, and in that race, it was Jones who beat Tlaib 38-36.
Jones, however, didn't relish the idea of serving just a few weeks in the House and launched a last-minute write-in campaign against Tlaib for the general election. It was a misguided move, though, as she took just 0.32% of the vote. Jones and then-Speaker Paul Ryan ended up working out an apparently unprecedented agreement that allowed Jones to serve a few weeks in the House without resigning as head of the Detroit City Council, letting her take a hiatus from that post then resume it in January after Tlaib was sworn in.
If Jones does run again, she'll be taking on an incumbent who has attracted national attention and cash since before she was sworn in. Tlaib raised $302,000 for the second quarter of 2019, and she ended June with $529,000 to spend. A few weeks after the quarter ended, Tlaib was one of the four women of color in the House whom Donald Trump targeted with his racist tweets.
● NE-02: This week, restaurateur Gladys Harrison set up an exploratory committee with the FEC for a possible bid for the Democratic nod. Last month, a DCCC spokesperson refused to "confirm or deny" that they were trying to recruit Harrison, who is the general manager of the well-known Omaha restaurant Big Mama's Kitchen, to take on GOP Rep. Don Bacon.
● NM-03: Democrat John Blair recently resigned as deputy New Mexico secretary of state, and local political writer Joe Monahan writes that there's plenty of speculation that he could enter the race for this open seat. Blair spent several years working in Congress, and he was a top aide to then-Rep. Martin Heinrich. Blair would be the state's first gay representative.
● NY-15: New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres received an endorsement this week from the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, which is one of the four major unions in New York City politics.
Torres, who would be the first gay Latino member of Congress, is one of a few Democrats who is seeking this safely blue open seat in the Bronx, and he ended June with by far the most money. Torres took in a hefty $522,000 for the quarter, and he ended June with $467,000 in the bank. State Assemblyman Michael Blake was in second place with $121,000 raised and $105,000 in the bank.
Fellow New York City Councilor Ruben Diaz Sr., who has a long and ugly record of homophobia, took in just $74,000 and had $79,000 on-hand. Unfortunately, though, Diaz is a well-known quantity in Bronx politics who has consistently won primaries in some of the bluest constituencies in America. Two other Democrats, nonprofit director Jonathan Ortiz and director of the Bronx River Community Center Tomas Ramos, each had less than $10,000 to spend.
● VA-01: GOP Rep. Rob Wittman's spokesperson said this week that the congressman would seek re-election in this 54-41 Trump seat. Politico writes that there were "swirling rumors" that Wittman was eyeing the exits, but there's no information about what prompted this speculation. Wittman raised $231,000 during the second quarter, a haul that doesn't scream retirement.
● Deaths: Robert Morgenthau, a Democrat who served as Manhattan's district attorney from 1975 until he retired at the end of 2009, died Sunday at the age of 99. Morgenthau was arguably the most famous prosecutor in America during his 35-year tenure, and he was the inspiration for his fictional counterpart Adam Schiff during the first 10 years of the show "Law & Order." The New York Times' Robert McFadden takes a look at Morgenthau's important, and at times very controversial, legacy in a detailed obituary.
Morgenthau never had trouble winning re-election at home until his final campaign, but his two bids against GOP Gov. Nelson Rockefeller didn't go so well. In 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy convinced Morgenthau to resign as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and run for governor. The race went badly, though, and McFadden writes that Morgenthau was "[d]istant and seemingly distracted at campaign stops, from which he sometimes wandered away." Morgenthau lost 53-44, but President John F. Kennedy quickly reappointed him U.S. attorney.
Morgenthau attempted to challenge Rockefeller again in 1970. However, he lost a key battle for the endorsement of the Liberal Party, which was a powerful force in New York politics at the time, to businessman Howard Samuels. Morgenthau withdrew from the Democratic primary just minutes before the midnight deadline, and offered a one-word explanation: "Money." Samuels went on to lose the primary to former U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, who in turn lost to Rockefeller in November.
Morgenthau's electoral fortunes changed in 1974 when he won a special election for Manhattan district attorney by beating the interim appointee, Republican Richard Kuh, in a 78-19 landslide. Morgenthau was never seriously threatened until 2005, when even many former supporters wondered if the 86-year-old incumbent was too old for such an important post. A number of former Morgenthau allies backed former state court judge Leslie Crocker Snyder in the Democratic primary, but he defeated her 59-41. Morgenthau retired four years later.