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.
● GA-Sen-B, GA-Sen-A: In huge news for the battle for the Senate, Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson announced Wednesday that he would resign from the chamber at the end of 2019 for health reasons. GOP Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement, and that person will need to defend the seat in a 2020 special election if they seek to fill the final two years of Isakson's term, which runs through the 2022 elections.
Georgia’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, will have to run for a full six-year term next year, and Democrats were already targeting him. A Democratic victory in one of the Peach State’s two seats would go a long way toward helping Team Blue turn its 53-47 deficit in the Senate into a majority, and it now has the tantalizing possibility of taking both. Georgia is still a tough state for Democrats, but it’s been moving to the left in recent years and will likely be fiercely contested in next year’s presidential campaign.
While both of Georgia’s Senate races will be on the 2020 ballot, they will operate by different rules. In the special election, which we’ll be referring to as GA-Sen-B from now on, there won’t be traditional party primaries. Instead, all the candidates will run together on one ballot on Nov. 3, and if no one takes a majority, the top-two vote-getters would compete in a Jan. 5 runoff (just like in the 2017 special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District). This means that it’s possible that two members of the same party could wind up competing against one another in January if the other party's field is badly fractured.
By contrast, in the regularly scheduled race to take on Perdue (which we’re calling GA-Sen-A), the parties will hold their primaries in May, and a runoff will take place in July if no one takes a majority of the vote in either primary. The general election would also take place on Nov. 3, but Georgia has an unusual law that also requires a Jan. 5 runoff if no one takes a majority in November. This means that there’s a chance that both Georgia Senate seats could be on the ballot in January of 2021—and possibly control of the Senate along with them.
While there was immediately talk that Stacey Abrams, who was Team Blue’s 2018 nominee for governor, could run in the special, she quickly said no. Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico also each said that they’d continue their campaigns against Perdue rather than switch to the special election.
Jon Ossoff, who was the Democratic nominee for the ultra-expensive 2017 special election for the 6th Congressional District, had been publicly considering a bid against Perdue, and BuzzFeed’s Darren Sands reports that he’s also now considering running in the special. It’s not clear which race Ossoff is leaning towards, but two unnamed sources say that Isakson’s resignation made him more likely to run for the Senate, and Sands says they expect Ossoff to announce his intentions “soon.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also name-drops the Rev. Raphael Warnock, 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter, and 2014 Senate nominee Michelle Nunn as possibilities. However, this trio was mentioned earlier this year as potential candidates against Perdue, but none of them have shown any obvious interest in running for that seat this cycle.
As for possible Republican appointees, we're not going to dive down that rabbit hole just yet. This is an election with only one voter—Kemp—and the results may not be announced for months, so unless the governor himself tips his hand, there's simply no way to know whom he might choose.
Isakson’s resignation announcement, which came about four years after he announced that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, marks the end of a long career in politics that coincided with the GOP’s rise to power in Georgia, a state that Democrats had controlled since the end of Reconstruction. Isakson was first elected to the state House on his second try in 1976, the same year that former Democratic Gov. Jimmy Carter was elected president, and he was one of just 24 Republicans in what was a 182-member chamber at the time.
Isakson became minority leader after the 1982 elections, and he held that post until he ran for governor in 1990. However, he lost that contest 53-45 against Democrat Lt. Gov. Zell Miller, who would have his own long and memorable career. Isakson was elected to the state Senate two years later but left the legislature again in 1996 to run for an open U.S. Senate seat. This time, though, he lost the GOP primary runoff by a 53-47 margin to Guy Millner, who had nearly cost Miller re-election as governor in 1994; Millner would narrowly lose the general election to Democrat Max Cleland.
Isakson bounced back again in 1997 when his old rival Miller appointed him to the state Board of Education. Isakson got another chance to seek a promotion in 1999 in a special election to succeed former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who had just resigned from Congress. Isakson decisively won the all-party primary for what was a safely red seat in the northern Atlanta suburbs with 65% of the vote, and he didn’t have any trouble holding it over the next two elections.
(That House seat, by the way, was the 6th District—the very same seat that Ossoff famously contested in 2017, and that Democrat Lucy McBath flipped last year.)
Isakson once again ran for the Senate in 2004 when Miller, who had been appointed to the chamber in 2000, decided not to seek a full term. In 2002, Republicans had taken control of both the governorship and state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction and also flipped the other U.S. Senate seat, so there was little question that the GOP nominee would prevail.
In the primary, Isakson faced fellow Rep. Mac Collins and businessman and future presidential candidate Herman Cain. Both Collins and Cain tried to portray Isakson, who was the frontrunner throughout the race, as too liberal because he didn't want to outlaw abortions in the event of rape or incest. Several prominent social conservative groups backed both Collins and Cain, but their inability to unite behind one anti-Isakson candidate may have helped him. Isakson avoided a runoff by taking a majority with 53% of the vote, while Cain led Collins 26-21 for second place.
Collins never conceded to Isakson, but that didn’t do him any serious harm in the general election. Democrats nominated Rep. Denise Majette, who would have been the state’s first black senator, but she faced very long odds in a year where George W. Bush was on track to easily carry Georgia; it didn’t help that Miller, who still identified as a conservative Democrat, was loudly backing Bush’s re-election campaign. Isakson won 58-40 at the same time that Bush took the state by a similar margin, and the GOP completed their takeover of state government by winning the state House.
Georgia would gradually move to the left over the next several years, but not fast enough to endanger Isakson. The incumbent had no trouble winning re-election during the 2010 GOP wave, and he decisively won again in 2016 even as Donald Trump was taking Georgia by a modest 50-45 margin. However, Team Red lost ground two years later in the once-safely red Atlanta suburbs, and Democrats now have a chance to take the state’s electoral votes and both U.S. Senate seats for the first time in decades.
● AZ-Sen: On Wednesday, skincare company executive Daniel McCarthy announced that he would challenge appointed Arizona Sen. Martha McSally in the GOP primary. McCarthy argued, "Corruption in our government is to the point to where conservative outsiders like myself must step up and do their best to help fix the situation." McCarthy is reportedly wealthy, but he didn't reveal how much of his own money he intended to spend. All he would say is that a media report saying he could deploy "tens of millions" was not accurate.
McCarthy was a key Donald Trump financial backer in 2016, but McSally and her allies in the Senate GOP leadership successfully convinced Trump to endorse her back in June. However, while it will be tough for McCarthy to beat a Trump-endorsed candidate in the primary, he could still give McSally a big and expensive headache she very much does not need when she'd rather be focusing on the general election against retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Kelly, who faces no serious Democratic primary opposition, already held a $5.9 million to $4.4 million cash-on-hand lead over McSally at the end of June.
Indeed, McSally learned the hard way in 2018 that even a decisive primary win could still be costly. McSally won that year's Senate primary 55-28, but her team argued that the expensive contest, which ended just over two months before the general election, hurt her prospects against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
McSally's allies said after Sinema beat McSally 50-48 that the Democrat, who had no serious intra-party opposition, was able to save up her money for the general election and devote months to reaching out to moderate voters. During that time, though, McSally had to use her resources on the primary and focus her attention on appealing to conservative voters. (McSally ended up making it to the Senate anyway after Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to the state's other seat.)
However, McSally could benefit this time if her national GOP allies weaken McCarthy early, and they seem ready to come to her aid. Politico reported in June that the NRSC compiled some opposition research against McCarthy to try to deter him from running, and he acknowledged this a few weeks ago. We don't know what they found, but McCarthy said earlier this month that national Republicans were digging up information on his business and personal life, declaring, "The establishment are bullies," but insisting, "Frankly, they may have pushed me a little too hard ... I'm not intimidated."
● MA-Sen: Business executive Steve Pemberton said Tuesday that he'd continue his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Ed Markey even if Rep. Joe Kennedy III also runs. Pemberton argued that both men were "reflections of insiders and connections and the candidates of the privileged and the connected."
● MS-Gov: Mississippi held its GOP primary runoff for governor on Tuesday, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. 54-46. Reeves will face state Attorney General Jim Hood, who won the Democratic nomination outright three weeks ago, in the Nov. 5 general election.
Reeves, who was the frontrunner for the entire contest, used his massive financial advantage over Waller to run ad after ad portraying his opponent as too liberal. Reeves focused in on Waller's support for a gas tax to repair the state's damaged infrastructure (nearly 500 bridges have been closed because of safety problems), as well as the former justice's calls for Medicaid expansion, as he argued that Waller was too much like the national Democrats that Mississippi Republicans despise.
Waller was upset with Reeves and his negative campaign on Tuesday night, and he refrained from endorsing him for the general election during his concession speech. Waller declared, "There were some misrepresentations of my positions," and continued, "That is not going to be taken lightly. I am going to meet with my supporters and decide what we need to do."
Reeves has already begun attacking Hood, who favors Medicaid expansion but has not taken a position on a gas tax increase, the same way he hit Waller. Just a few weeks ago, Reeves released a spot during the runoff going after both Hood and Waller by comparing them to the Democratic presidential candidates. Reeves' allies at the RGA also started running an ad a few weeks ago accusing Hood of standing with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the "radical liberal resistance, suing to stop the Trump agenda."
Donald Trump carried Mississippi 58-40, so Republicans will do whatever they can to try to link Hood to national Democrats, but the attorney general may be able to pull off an upset in November. Hood is the only Democrat to have won a statewide election in over a decade, and he claimed his fourth term in 2015 by a 55-45 margin.
Reeves also has made many enemies within the party during his time in politics. The Clarion-Ledger wrote that Reeves, who leads the state Senate, has run the chamber "with an iron fist," which has alienated a number of party regulars. Other Republicans have liberally used the word arrogant to describe him. Hood may also be able to win over some crossover voters if he can make the case that Medicaid expansion is a vital necessity.
Hood's team argued the race was tight on Wednesday when they released a poll from Hickman Analytics, which was conducted Aug. 11-15 during the GOP runoff, that gave the Democrat a 43-42 edge over Reeves. That's actually a drop, though, from the 45-40 lead Hickman found for Hood in May.
We've only seen two other polls since the winter, but they both found Reeves well ahead. A June survey from the GOP firm Impact Management Group for the conservative state blog Y'All Politics gave Reeves a strong 48-36 advantage, while a poll from SurveyMonkey and NBC conducted on behalf of Mississippi Today had the Republican up 51-42.
However, Hood also faces another serious obstacle. Mississippi's 1890 state constitution contains a Jim Crow-era provision that, as long as it remains in force, could make it nearly impossible for him to prevail. This measure requires gubernatorial candidates to win both a majority of the statewide vote and a majority of the 122 districts that make up the state House; if someone fails to hit both of these benchmarks, the state House picks the new governor from the top two finishers.
As we have previously shown, Mississippi's current system discriminates against black voters and consequently Democrats, and not just because Republicans gerrymandered the legislature. If the GOP-led House gets to choose the new governor there's little question that they'd pick Team Red's nominee no matter which candidate actually won the most votes. Several black voters are currently suing to overturn this law. Daily Kos Elections currently rates the general election as Likely Republican.
● CA-08: This week, GOP Rep. Paul Cook's office confirmed that he was considering running for the open 1st District on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors next year instead of for re-election.
California's candidate filing deadline is in December, but Cook really needs to decide if he wants to run for county supervisor by mid-November. That's because the congressman currently lives just outside the 1st District, and California law requires candidates for state or local office to reside in the seat they want to represent at least 30 days before filing closes. The deadline for candidates to run for open seats like the 1st District is Dec. 11, so Cook would need to move sometime over the next two-and-a-half months if he wants to run there.
● CA-21: Former GOP Rep. David Valadao announced Wednesday that he would seek a rematch with freshman Democratic Rep. TJ Cox in California's 21st Congressional District. House Republican leaders have anticipated Valadao's launch for a while, and they scheduled a September fundraiser for him weeks ago before he even had a working website set up.
This seat, which includes the southern Central Valley and part of Bakersfield, moved from 55-44 Obama to 55-40 Clinton, but Cox's 50.4-49.6 win last year was a huge upset. Valadao had decisively won three terms in Congress, and Democrats feared last cycle that they again wouldn't have much of a shot in a district where they'd struggled mightily to turn out Latino voters for elections where the presidency isn't on the ballot.
Cox had launched a campaign the previous year to the north in the 10th District against GOP Rep. Jeff Denham, and he only switched to the 21st in March. However, Cox hardly looked like a giant killer especially after that June's top-two primary, where Valadao led him 63-37. (No other candidates were on the ballot.) While we've observed for years that the results of California's top-two primary often do a bad job predicting how each party will do in November, this still looked like a strong sign that Valadao was in good shape five months ahead of Election Day.
Even in the fall, it seemed as though history would repeat itself. A late September poll from SurveyUSA showed Valadao leading Cox 50-39, and while that was the only public poll we ever saw, major outside groups on both sides very much behaved like they thought the incumbent was well ahead. Valadao's allies at the NRCC slowly began canceling ad time for September and then October, only hanging on to reservations for the final week of the race. The DCCC, meanwhile, had only ever booked time for that final week of the race, but even they eventually axed that small reservation.
But it was in those last days that things finally got interesting. The Democratic group House Majority PAC launched a quarter-million dollar ad buy, their first investment of the entire race. The NRCC then not only declined to cancel their last remaining reservation, they also threw more money into helping Valadao. We don't know what exactly transpired on either side behind the scenes, but it's very possible that both parties realized that the Latino voters who'd sat out midterm races in the past were coming to the polls this time.
On election night, though, that last-minute flurry might have looked like it was a mistake. Results showed Valadao beating Cox 54-46, and major media organizations called the race for the incumbent that evening. However, Cox made up ground as more mail ballots were counted, and on Nov. 26, almost three full weeks after Election Day, Cox took the lead for the first time and never gave it up.
Valadao gives the GOP a candidate with experience running far ahead of the ticket, but Cox proved last year that he was more than up to the task of beating him. Valadao may also have a tougher time winning over the crossover voters he's depended on now that Cox is the incumbent.
● IN-05: GOP state Treasurer Kelly Mitchell filed paperwork with the FEC this week for a possible bid for this open seat, and IndyPolitics says she's expected to announce she's in after Labor Day.
● NC-09: Donald Trump will hold a rally for Republican Dan Bishop on Sept. 9, which is the night before Bishop's special election against Democrat Dan McCready. On the other side, Advertising Analytics reports that the DCCC will spend $598,000 on TV ads in the week leading up to Election Day.
● WI-07: Three more Republicans have expressed interest in running in the upcoming special election to succeed departing GOP Rep. Sean Duffy. Luke Hilgemann, the former CEO of the Koch network's Americans For Prosperity group, confirmed he was eyeing the seat. State Sen. Jerry Petrowski said he would be thinking about a bid over the "next couple of weeks," while state Rep. Romaine Quinn also said he was mulling it over.
On the Democratic side, Wisconsin Public Radio and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel name-dropped a few possible candidates, though none of them have expressed interest yet. The list includes 2012 nominee Pat Kreitlow, a former state senator who lost to Duffy 56-44; attorney Christine Bremer Muggli; Democratic National Committee Secretary Jason Rae; and organic farmer Tony Schultz.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's special election in California:
CA-AD-01: None of the six candidates on the ballot took the majority needed to win outright, so the top two vote-getters will move on to the next round of voting on Nov. 5. Farmer Elizabeth Betancourt, the only Democrat in this race, led the way with 39%. Republican Megan Dahle, wife of state Sen. Brian Dahle, who used to hold this seat, will also advance to the next round after taking 36%. The other three Republican candidates in the race totaled 25%. Overall, Republican candidates outpaced the Democratic candidate 61-39.
This geographically extensive, but sparsely populated northern California district is solidly Republican at the presidential level, having supported Donald Trump 57-36 and Mitt Romney 57-40. This, in conjunction with the total proportion of the vote for each party, bodes well for Republicans in the next round. However, Betancourt's 39% represents the best performance a Democrat has had in this district since its current configuration took effect in 2011.
● Montgomery, AL Mayor: Montgomery held its nonpartisan primary on Tuesday, and Alabama's capital and second-largest city has a good chance to elect its first-ever black mayor in the Oct. 8 general election.
Steven Reed, who made history in 2012 when he was elected Montgomery County's first African American probate judge, took a strong first place with 42% of the vote. David Woods, who owns three local TV stations, beat retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Crowell 24-12 for the second general election spot.
Montgomery's population is about 60% black and 32% white, but the city has never been led by an African American mayor. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, there are only two other cities in the Deep South with a population over 100,000 that have yet to have a black mayor: Columbus, Georgia and North Charleston, South Carolina.
A Reed win in October would also be a pickup for Democrats. In 2009, Republican Todd Strange won a special election for mayor to succeed Bobby Bright, who had been elected as a Democrat to Alabama's 2nd Congressional District. (Bright lost his seat in 2010 and later became a Republican.) Strange decisively won re-election in 2011 and 2015, but he decided not to run again.
Reed was elected as a Democrat to the probate judge post in 2012 by unseating Republican incumbent Reese McKinney in an upset. He's also the son of Joe Reed, a powerful and controversial figure in the state Democratic Party. Woods, by contrast, ran in the 2008 GOP primary for the 2nd Congressional District and placed fourth with 17% of the vote.
P.S.: Former Rep. Artur Davis was also on the mayoral ballot on Tuesday, and things did not go well for the Alabama Democrat turned Northern Virginia Republican turned Alabama Republican turned Alabama Democrat. We're not sure what party Davis identifies with now, but it hardly matters since he took a distant sixth place with just 4% of the vote. Davis campaigned against Strange four years ago and lost 57-27.
● Tucson, AZ Mayor: Tucson held its Democratic primary on Tuesday, and City Councilwoman Regina Romero defeated Steve Farley, a former state senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, by a wide 50-38 margin. While more ballots still need to be counted, Farley conceded defeat on election night. Romero will be the heavy favorite in the Nov. 5 general election in this very blue city against underfunded independent Ed Ackerley. A victory in the fall would make Romero the first woman to serve as mayor of Tucson, as well as the second Latino or Latina elected to this post.