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.
● PR-Gov: After nearly two weeks of massive protests, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced on Wednesday evening that he would resign from office, effective Aug. 2.
Rosselló has been besieged ever since a series of online chats between the governor and his allies leaked in which participants lobbied violent, misogynist, and homophobic insults at their enemies and joked about Puerto Ricans who died during Hurricane Maria.
Rosselló, who is both a member of the island's pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and a Democrat, is the first Puerto Rican governor to ever resign, but it's not clear yet who will succeed him for the final year-and-a-half of his term. Normally the commonwealth's secretary of state would take over, but Luis Rivera Marin resigned from that very post earlier this month because of his own role in the chat scandal.
The next person in the line of succession is Justice Minister Wanda Vázquez, a Rosselló appointee and fellow PNP member. However, the New York Times reports that there's been speculation that a new secretary of state could be nominated and confirmed by the legislature before Aug. 2, meaning that person would take over as governor instead of Vázquez. There's also talk that Vázquez could become governor and then appoint a new secretary of state who would quickly replace her in the island's top post.
Vázquez herself hedged, saying she was ready to become governor "if necessary," so she seems aware that there's a chance someone else will succeed Rosselló. And it may be for the best if Vázquez is passed over, as she's made a number of enemies during her long tenure in politics, including women's advocacy groups who have faulted her handling of gender violence issues. Critics have also accused Vázquez of being too slow to investigate the Rosselló administration over missing relief money that was intended to help Maria victims.
The new governor, whoever it is, will be in for a very challenging tenure. Rosselló, the son of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, was elected in 2016 and inherited an already-precarious situation. Puerto Rico was in the midst of a years-long debt crisis that has resulted in pension cuts, school closures, and the mass migration of hundreds of thousands of residents to the U.S. mainland. In 2017 the commonwealth essentially filed for bankruptcy, and a federal board was put in charge of its finances.
Matters grew worse later that year when Maria led to the deaths at least 2,975 Puerto Ricans. The hurricane also resulted in a further exodus of hundreds of thousands more residents. Rosselló attracted widespread criticism at home for his handling of the crisis and the slow recovery, including his refusal to challenge Donald Trump's assertion that the storm was not a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina was.
Rosselló's situation deteriorated further earlier this month when two former senior officials in his administration were arrested by the FBI for allegedly directing federal funds to contractors they had ties to. Days later, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism released hundreds of pages of incendiary chats sent between Rosselló and his top allies and cabinet members from 2018 into January of this year.
These conversations, nicknamed the "Ricky Leaks," featured Rosselló attacking former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (who is from Puerto Rico), saying that people should "beat up that whore." They also included an exchange in which Chief Fiscal Officer Christian Sobrino Vega said he was "salivating to shoot" San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has announced that she'll run for governor in 2020 as a member of the rival Popular Democratic Party. The governor responded, "You'd be doing me a grand favor."
Sobrino Vega also lobbed homophobic insults at pop icon Ricky Martin, who is gay, and joked about the bodies filling the morgues after Maria. In addition, the participants discussed government contracts, prompting law enforcement to begin investigating whether they'd illegally revealed confidential details.
Rosselló announced on Sunday that he wouldn't seek a second term in 2020, but that did nothing to appease the hundreds of thousands of protestors calling for his resignation. Pressure escalated on Wednesday when a leaked report from attorneys commissioned by Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Méndez Núñez concluded that Rosselló had committed five impeachable offenses, including using public resources for political purposes and letting government officials misuse public money.
In response, Méndez Núñez, a member of Rosselló's PNP, told the governor that if he did not resign, the legislature would begin impeachment proceedings. On late Wednesday evening, after hours of confusion about the governor's plans, Rosselló finally confirmed that he would quit on Aug. 2.
P.S. Rosselló's departure extends the commonwealth's decades-long streak of one-term governors. The last governor to win a second term was Rosselló's father, Pedro Rosselló, whose 51-45 re-election win in 1996 gave him the island's widest margin of victory in 32 years. However, the elder Rosselló is himself a controversial figure, and his expensive development projects helped spark Puerto Rico's long-term debt crisis. Pedro Rosselló attempted a comeback in 2004 but was narrowly defeated; four years later, he badly lost the PNP primary for governor.
● ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins told Bloomberg on Thursday that, while she was getting ready to seek a fifth term, she wouldn't make her final decision until the early fall. Collins used similar language back in January and has been raising money like she plans to run again, so it's not clear if she's seriously thinking about retiring.
However, Collins didn't dispute the idea that her once mighty approval rating has taken a dive in recent months. A late May poll from the local firm Critical Insights showed the senator slightly underwater at 41-42, while Morning Consult found Collins collapsing from a 52-39 approval rating during the first three months of 2019 to a 45-48 rating for the second quarter. The latter poll even found that the only senator in the whole country with a higher disapproval rating at home was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Collins didn't argue that these polls were wrong and that she remained popular. Instead, she told Bloomberg, "The divisiveness of our country and the unceasing attacks by dark money groups in Maine have clearly had an impact," though she predicted she'd "be fine" once she got her message out.
● NH-Sen: While national GOP groups haven't taken sides yet in the primary to take on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the Union Leader's Kevin Landrigan notes that there's plenty of signs that they prefer retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc.
Landrigan reports that the NRSC held a "Meet and Greet" at their headquarters for Bolduc recently, and the candidate also got the chance to sit down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bolduc acknowledged, "I just sat with Senator McConnell and Senator McConnell was supposed to be a 10-minute meeting, it turned into a 40-minute meeting because he was interested in what I had to say about things."
Bolduc faces a primary with former state House Speaker Bill O'Brien, while attorney Bryant "Corky" Messner has formed a fundraising committee. However, Landrigan writes that neither of them has gotten the chance for a face-to-face with the Senate GOP leader. Messner reportedly has also told an unnamed "leading Republican" that he's met with NRSC officials, but he's convinced that they're gravitating toward Bolduc.
● TN-Sen: On Thursday, physician Josh Gapp joined the GOP primary for this open seat. Gapp, who owns a Knoxville-based private practice specializing in treating skin diseases, joins orthopedic trauma surgeon Manny Sethi in the contest. Former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty has not yet announced he's in, but Donald Trump endorsed him earlier this month.
● MS-Gov: The Aug. 6 GOP primary is coming up quickly, but we still have yet to see a negative TV spot from anyone. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller's newest ad stars his wife, Charlotte Waller, who praises his character.
● FL-15: The Tampa Bay Times reports that Democratic state Rep. Adam Hattersley will announce a bid against freshman GOP Rep. Ross Spano on Monday. They add that Navy veteran Andrew Learned will drop out of the congressional contest and run for Hattersley's competitive seat in the legislature.
● IL-13: Last week, a volunteer with GOP Rep. Rodney Davis’ campaign named Nick Klitzing pretended to be a college newspaper reporter in order to crash a press call with Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and ask her hostile questions—a stunt that has now raised difficult questions for Davis.
Davis’ team initially denied having any knowledge of Klitzing’s shenanigans, but Klitzing, who was deputy campaign manager for then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s unsuccessful 2018 re-election campaign, admitted to WCIA reporter Mark Maxwell that he hadn’t acted on his own. Davis’ staff stopped responding when Maxwell inquired further.
Last week, Londrigan held a call with the progressive group End Citizens United and invited the local media to join. Klitzing phoned into the conference and identified himself as “Jim Sherman,” saying he was a reporter from The Alestle, the student paper at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “Sherman” then proceeded to ask Davis questions about campaign finance issues that were meant to embarrass her.
It didn’t take long, however, for Klitzing’s story to fall apart. The Alestle’s editor told Maxwell that not only was the entire student staff away for the summer, but that there was, of course, no one named “Jim Sherman” who worked there. The university also said that no one by that name is currently enrolled as a pupil.
WCIA determined that Klitzing was the faux student by analyzing the conference call’s log and matching “Sherman’s” cell phone number with Klitzing’s. Klitzing quickly acknowledged what he’d done and added, “I was willing to help.” He also confessed that someone had asked him to crash the call and harass Londrigan, though he wouldn’t say who was behind the scheme.
Maxwell then asked Davis’ campaign manager, Matt Butcher, about the call. Butcher initially denied that he’d had any knowledge about what happened. However, the reporter gave Butcher 24 hours “to explain how an unpaid volunteer living in Chicago could have possibly been aware of a closed press call happening downstate, and how that volunteer might have known to parrot Congressman Davis’ talking points.” Butcher not only declined to say anything, but Davis’ staff quickly stopped responding to any communication from WCIA’s political reporters or even sending the station its standard press releases.
This isn’t the first time that someone with the Davis campaign has gotten hostile with Londrigan, who narrowly lost to the incumbent last year and is now back for a rematch. Back in August, Davis’ field director, Levi Lovell, showed up drunk at a bar where Londrigan was holding a fundraiser and was recorded harassing the candidate, her husband, and others.
When bartenders told Lovell to leave, he accused them of being “racist” because he was black. He later got into an altercation with someone outside the building. Lovell was charged with aggravated battery, and Butcher, who was also Davis’ manager for that campaign, said the campaign quickly fired him. Lovell later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and was sentenced to a year of court supervision.
● NV-04: On Wednesday, Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo announced that he would seek the GOP nod to take on Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford. Nye County makes up just 7% of this district (the vast majority of the district is located in Clark County in the Las Vegas area), so Blundo likely won't start with much of a geographic base of support. Hillary Clinton carried this seat 50-45.
● PA-01: Christina Finello, an official with the Bucks County housing department, announced Thursday that she was joining the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. Finello is also a member of the council of Ivyland, a borough with a population just over 1,000. She joins Bucks County Prothonotary Judi Reiss and Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress in the primary for this 49-47 Clinton seat.
● SC-01: While 2018 GOP nominee Katie Arrington sounded very likely to seek a rematch against freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham right after her defeat, her career seems to be moving in a very different direction. Arrington took a job with the Defense Department in January, and this week, the Pentagon announced that she would lead a new cybersecurity office.
● TX-22: Huge news: Late on Thursday afternoon, Republican Rep. Pete Olson announced he'd retire rather than seek a seventh term next year. Democrats will be extremely happy about this announcement, as Olson's suburban Houston district has moved sharply to the left in recent years: In 2012, it voted for Mitt Romney by a 62-37 margin, but in 2016, it only gave Donald Trump a 52-44 win, and last year, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz prevailed by just a hair, 50.0 to 49.3. Olson, meanwhile, only beat Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni 51-46 in his last race, despite the fact that outside spenders offered little help for his opponent.
Kulkarni is already back for a rematch, and he even outraised Olson in the second quarter of the year, $420,000 to $373,000. Naturally, the congressman's departure means we can expect to see lots of local Republican names surface as possible successors in the coming days, and it's also possible other Democrats could join the race as well. Whatever unfolds, though, a seat that was already at the top of Democratic target lists just shot up even higher.
● Queens County, NY District Attorney: The New York City Board of Elections completed its recount Thursday for the tight June 25 Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, and while official results will not be announced until the vote is certified on Tuesday, multiple media organizations report that Queens Borough President Melinda Katz leads public defender Tiffany Cabán by about 60 votes. That’s an increase for Katz, who entered the recount with just a 16-vote lead.
Cabán is not giving up, and she said Thursday that she’d sue if the BOE doesn’t count more votes that she believes were improperly ruled as invalid.