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.
● CO-Sen: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Thursday that he would challenge GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, a decision that gives Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer his long sought-after candidate after months of recruiting attempts.
Hickenlooper, who was seeking the Democratic presidential nod until last week, had sounded utterly uninterested, if not downright hostile, to the idea of serving in the Senate for months, which is something he addressed in his announcement video. Hickenlooper told the audience, "Look, I'm a straight shooter. I've always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done." The former governor continued, "But this is no time to walk away from the table. I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot."
Gardner already had a challenging task ahead of him as he seeks re-election in a state that backed Hillary Clinton 48-43, and Hickenlooper's campaign could further complicate things. Hickenlooper managed to win re-election 49-46 during the 2014 GOP wave even as Gardner was unseating Democratic incumbent Mark Udall 48-46, so the former governor has experience winning tough races.
However, Hickenlooper does have some potential liabilities. Hickenlooper left the governor's office at the start of this year, and two recent Democratic polls found that, while he's viewed positively by voters, he's not exactly beloved. A July survey from Public Policy Polling for 314 Action Fund, a group that was recruiting Hickenlooper for the Senate race, gave him a modest 45-38 favorable score. A more recent survey from Global Strategy Group for former state Sen. Mike Johnston, who is one of the many Democrats who was already running for the Senate, gave the former governor a similar 46-42 favorable rating.
Both Democratic polls did find that both Donald Trump and Gardner were very unpopular and showed Hickenlooper beating the senator by double digits, so Hickenlooper still looks to be in much better shape than the incumbent. However, Gardner could gain ground if he can effectively attack the former governor, and his job will be easier if Hickenlooper begins the race only modestly liked.
Gardner also demonstrated during his 2014 race that he's quite good at going on the attack while still maintaining a nice-guy image, which is a talent that could serve him again this time. Gardner is also a well-connected senator who served as the NRSC's chair last cycle, so he'll likely have all the resources he'll need to go on the offensive.
Gardner also could benefit if Hickenlooper sticks to his old promise not to run negative TV ads. Hickenlooper has long detested negative campaigning, and he even stuck with his pledge to stay positive even during his tight 2014 campaign against Republican Bob Beauprez.
Hickenlooper's allies at the Democratic Governors Association didn't hesitate to attack Beauprez back then, and if Hickenlooper is the Democratic Senate nominee, major outside groups would once again make sure that his GOP foe doesn't escape scrutiny. Still, if Hickenlooper sticks with his positive playbook in 2020 and refrains from going on the attack, he could give Gardner a bigger opening to boost his own image.
A number of other Democrats were already running for the Senate, and several have already said that they won't defer to Hickenlooper. The aforementioned Johnston, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, state Sen. Angela Williams, and former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden previously said they'd keep running no matter what Hickenlooper did, and former Ambassador Dan Baer also said Thursday that he wouldn't be going anywhere. Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh, though, didn't commit to staying in the race, and he said Thursday he'd be reviewing his "next steps."
However, it's going to be difficult for anyone to stop the well-known former governor from winning the Democratic nod. A July PPP survey for an unidentified client found Hickenlooper leading Romanoff 44-12, while no other candidates broke 4%. A Garin-Hart-Yang poll that was reportedly leaked by Schumer found Hickenlooper dominating with 61% of the vote, while Johnston was a distant second with 10%. It's tough to get on the ballot in Colorado so some of Hickenlooper's primary rivals may not end up facing him, but he'll still likely benefit if enough candidates run and split whatever anti-Hickenlooper vote there is.
One prospective Democratic candidate did take her name out of contention, though. On Thursday, state Sen. Kerry Donovan announced that she would support Hickenlooper rather than run herself.
● AL-Sen: Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville is out with another GOP primary poll from Moore Information that shows him taking first place with 33% of the vote, while three other candidates are in a tight race for the second spot in the likely runoff. Rep. Bradley Byrne edges 2017 nominee Roy Moore 17-15, while Secretary of State John Merrill is at 13%; state Rep. Arnold Mooney barely registers with 1% of the vote. In June, Moore gave Tuberville a smaller lead with 23%, while Moore edged Byrne 18-16.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones got some good news this week when state Rep. John Rogers announced that he wouldn't challenge him in the primary after all.
● AZ-Sen: Republican Sen. Martha McSally has once again been fined by the FEC for failing to properly disclose past campaign donations—the second time this summer she's been hit for the exact same violation.
The latest instance, reports Dan Desai Martin at Shareblue, concerns some $54,000 that McSally raised in the final two weeks of her successful 2014 campaign for the House. During that timeframe, all federal candidates are required to report any donations of $1,000 or more within 48 hours, but McSally, of course, did not file those 48-hour notices. As a result, she was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine to the FEC—a payment she cutely labeled as "compliance fees" in an April report she filed on behalf of her otherwise defunct House committee.
Last month, McSally told the FEC she'd pay an even larger fine of $23,000 because she'd taken $319,000 in excess contributions during that same 2014 race, exceeding the $2,600 per donor limit in effect at the time. The commission also found that McSally, who has a very long history of serious campaign finance violations, hadn't correctly disclosed $33,000 in donations from PACs during that campaign.
As we noted last time, McSally unseated Democratic Rep. Ron Barber by just 167 votes out of 219,000 cast in 2014, making hers the closest House race in the entire nation that year. We'll never know if McSally's improper fundraising made the difference, but we can certainly say that it might have.
● MN-Sen, MN-02: On Thursday, former Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis announced that he would seek the GOP nod to take on Democratic Sen. Tina Smith rather than try to reclaim the 2nd Congressional District. That same day Doug Wardlow, the GOP's 2018 nominee for attorney general, said he'd endorse Lewis rather than run himself. MyPillow founder Mike Lindell had also occasionally been mentioned as a prospective candidate, but he's also backing Lewis.
Lewis is a former conservative radio shock-jock who spent his career firing off racist and misogynist tirades. In his long career, Lewis has said, among other things, "If you don't want to own a slave, don't, but don't tell other people they can't," "Since women are ignorant, they are simply ignorant of the important issues in life. Somebody's got to educate them," and, "A mass majority of young single women who couldn't explain what GDP means. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about 'The View.' They are non-thinking."
Lewis won the GOP nod for the competitive 2nd District in 2016, and Democrat Angie Craig and her allies aired ad after ad highlighting Lewis' long and ugly history. However, Lewis pulled off a 47-45 victory as Donald Trump was carrying the district by the same margin.
Craig soon announced that she'd seek a rematch, and this time, she focused her efforts on attacking Lewis' voting record, including his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, and stayed away from his talk radio past. Craig kept up this strategy even after Buzzfeed and CNN unearthed more of Lewis' old offensive comments, including a 2012 broadcast where he asked "are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can't call her a slut?"
This time, Craig turned the tables and beat Lewis 53-47. Smith also carried the 2nd District by a similar 51-45 spread as she was winning her special election statewide 53-42. Lewis, true to form, published an op-ed the next week in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Who Lost the House? John McCain," where he savaged the late Arizona GOP senator for stopping the party's drive to repeal Obamacare.
Donald Trump narrowly lost Minnesota 46-45 in 2016, and Lewis is counting on him to carry the state this time. That will be a very challenging proposition, though, unless suburban seats like Lewis' old 2nd District shift back towards Trump after rejecting Republicans last year or Trump can further increase his already historic margins in rural minnesota. But Lewis is making it clear that he'll run as a Trump ally anyway, and he said in June, "You're in for a penny, you're in for a pound. I don't think it pays to run away from a Trump presidency."
● NC-Sen: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling is out with a GOP primary poll that gives Sen. Thom Tillis just a 38-31 lead over wealthy businessman Garland Tucker. The only other survey we've seen of this contest was a July Tucker internal from Diversified Research that showed the incumbent ahead by a comparable 40-30 spread. PPP did not identify a client for this new poll.
PPP's sample finds Tillis underwater with a 34-38 favorable rating with primary voters, while Tucker is still largely unknown at 28-12. However, Donald Trump endorsed Tillis over Twitter two months ago, and the incumbent may be able to claw back some of his support closer to the primary once he starts reminding the conservative base that he's the White House's pick. Tillis and his allies have also made it clear that they'll attack Tucker for writing in 2016 that Trump was "a twice-divorced, self-acknowledged adulterer who has, in the course of this campaign, uttered some of the most unkind, disgusting comments ever made by any American politician."
● KY-Gov: On behalf of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, Clarity Campaign Labs is out with a very rare poll of this fall's gubernatorial contest, and they give Democrat Andy Beshear a 48-39 lead over Republican incumbent Matt Bevin; Libertarian John Hicks takes 5% of the vote. This is the first poll we've seen of this contest all year other than a June survey from the unreliable Gravis Marketing. Clarity poll also shows Democrat Greg Stumbo leading Republican Daniel Cameron 46-39 in the contest to succeed Beshear as attorney general, while Heather French holds a 52-37 lead over Republican Michael Adams in the race for secretary of state.
Beshear is also going up with a new TV spot featuring the candidate with his wife and two young children. Beshear tells the audience that three of the four of them have a pre-existing condition, and declares that he's fighting to stop insurance companies and the government from taking away coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
● LA-Gov: GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham apparently wasn't content to just run a racist campaign, since he's up with a transphobic new TV spot.
Abraham begins by telling the audience, "Here's the truth." These "truths" include that "[l]ife begins at conception," taxes are too high, car insurance costs too much, "President Trump is doing a great job," and, "Facts matter more than feelings." Abraham then declares, "And as a doctor, I can assure you, there are only two genders." Abraham finally thwarts the fact-checkers at the very end when he says, "I'm Republican conservative Ralph Abraham. I'm running for governor, and that's the truth."
● MS-Gov: Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ latest TV spot once again argues that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., his rival in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff, is really a progressive, but Reeves tries a different approach this time.
Instead of employing an ominous narrator to demonize Waller, Reeves himself begins by telling the audience, “Here’s something you won’t see often in politics: I’m here to tell you my opponent Bill Waller is a nice guy.” Actually, we have seen this before: This spot begins almost exactly the same as a 2014 Senate commercial by Colorado Republican Cory Gardner where he declared that Democratic incumbent Mark Udall was “a real nice guy.”
Just like in Gardner’s commercial, though, Reeves’ nicefest doesn’t last long. He continues saying of Waller, “I respect him. But I disagree with his ideas.” The lieutenant governor says that Waller would expand Obamacare, which would mean “300,000 more people on the rolls.” Reeves also warns that Waller would “raise the gas tax $500 a family.” Reeves concludes, “If you want more Obamacare and higher taxes, Bill Waller’s your candidate. But if you’re a conservative, I’m your guy.”
Waller himself is out with a commercial where he defends himself from Reeves’ attacks. He tells the audience, “By now you've seen a lot of political TV ads. Some are so spooky, you think they were selling tickets to a haunted house.” As someone in a dress shirt puts on a Jason Voorhees mask and creeps up behind Waller (now that’s something we actually haven’t seen in a political ad before!), the candidate explains, “I support health care reform like Mike Pence did in Indiana. Not Obamacare.”
Jason gives up and throws his hands up after that sentence. However, he’s somehow had time to head back outside and don a skeleton mask within the span of a second, and he re-enters through the window. Waller wards him off the same way, though, after he says, “To finish our roads and bridges like President Trump wants, I’m for a tax swap. Not higher taxes.”
The attacker, who is now wearing a scary clown mask, tries to get the drop on Waller one more time by coming down from the top of the stairs. He gets close, but then the candidate declares, “We need conservative solutions now. Now that wasn’t so scary, was it?” That last line makes Public Domain Joker clutch his eyes, call off his offensive, and walk up the stairs in defeat clutching all three of his masks.
● WA-Gov: On Thursday, hours after he ended his Democratic presidential bid, Jay Inslee announced that he would run for re-election as governor of Washington. Inslee is the first Evergreen State governor to seek a third term since Republican Dan Evans successfully did so in 1972, but he begins the race as the clear favorite.
A number of Democrats had expressed interest in running for governor, but only if Inslee didn't. And sure enough, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and King County Executive Dow Constantine each quickly announced that they wouldn't challenge the incumbent. (Constantine even joked, "I'm looking forward to finally starting that book club that Hilary Franz, Bob Ferguson and I have been talking about.") No notable Democrats have talked about opposing Inslee.
Republicans last won the governorship in 1980, their longest losing streak of any state. While some Washingtonians may be fatigued with decades of Democratic rule, it will be tough for Team Red to appeal win crossover voters in this blue state next year with Donald Trump leading their ticket. Morning Consult's poll gave Inslee a 47-35 approval rating for the second quarter of 2019, a good sign for the incumbent.
Two Republicans are already running, but neither state Sen. Phil Fortunato nor Republic police chief Loren Culp looks very strong. There is still time, though, for more Republicans to enter the race ahead of the May filing deadline.
● WV-Gov: Former state Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher is out with a survey from WPA Intelligence of next year's GOP primary, which makes this the first poll we've seen of this contest. They give Gov. Jim Justice a 38-23 lead over Thrasher, while former state Del. Mike Folk is in third place with 11%. The memo says that in March, this same group of respondents backed Justice over Thrasher 58-5, while Folk also took 5%.
WPA also argues that Justice's favorable rating with GOP primary voters has plunged over the last few months, going from 62-26 in March to 37-40 in mid-August. Justice's job-approval rating is in better shape, but it still collapsed from 67-24 to 45-34.
● IL-17: This week, real estate attorney Esther Joy King launched a bid for the GOP nod to face DCCC chair Cheri Bustos. In addition to serving in the U.S. Army Reserves in the JAG Corp, King served as then-Gov. Bruce Rauner's liaison between the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the tech industry. This northwestern Illinois seat swung from 58-41 Obama to 47.4-46.7 Trump, but Bustos has never had trouble winning re-election.
● PA-08: Former GOP Rep. Lou Barletta told PoliticsPA he'll announce his 2020 plans "[r]ight after Labor Day." Barletta once again said that a bid against Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright is "not something that I am looking into," though he added he hasn't "closed the door completely."
● TN-05: Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper has frustrated progressives for a very long time, and the Nashville Post's Stephen Elliott writes that some local activists are hoping to deny him renomination in this reliably blue Nashville seat. However, the only potential candidate named in the article is Stand Up Nashville co-chair Odessa Kelly, whose organization is a coalition of unions and community groups. Elliott writes that Kelly "insists she's focused on her work here in Nashville," which doesn't sound quite like a no.
● TX-22: The Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek writes that attorney Felicia Harris, who is a former member of the Pearland City Council, is considering seeking the GOP nod for this open seat and will decide in a few weeks. Back in 2012, Harris ran in the primary for the neighboring 14th District, but she lost the runoff 63-37 to now-Rep. Randy Weber.
● Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: Former GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo announced on Thursday that he would not enter the 2020 race for mayor of Miami-Dade County. The decision comes a few weeks after Curbelo said that he would also not seek a rematch with freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida's 26th District.