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.
● Special Elections: Candidate filing closed last week for what should be a highly competitive special election in an extremely important legislative chamber this November.
Texas Democrats, who need to pick up just nine seats in the 150-member state House next year to win a 76-74 majority, are hoping to whittle that target number down by one by flipping the vacant 28th District in the Houston suburbs. That seat had been held for many years by Republican John Zerwas, who will resign at the end of September to become executive vice chancellor for health affairs of the University of Texas system.
Zerwas was first elected in 2006, easily defeating Democrat Dorothy Bottos 63-37. From then on, he coasted to re-election every two years, three times facing no competition. That abruptly changed in 2018, though, when Zerwas faced the first and only close call of his career. Zerwas beat back Democrat Meghan Scoggins 54-46, while Sen. Ted Cruz was just narrowly carrying this seat 51-48 over Beto O’Rourke—factors that may have played a role in Zerwas' decision to bail on the legislature.
Now, this once reliably Republican seat is in play, and it could offer Democrats a road map for retaking the state House next year for the first time since 2002. A large group of seven candidates is seeking this seat, six Republicans and one Democrat. The GOP field features attorney Tricia Krenek, physician Anna Allred, businesswoman Sarah Laningham; and three businessmen: Gary Gates, Gary Hale, and Clinton Purnell.
On the Democratic side, educator Eliz Markowitz is the sole candidate running. Markowitz ran for the state Board of Education last year and lost by 59-41 in a district that Cruz won by 56-44 over O’Rourke for Senate. Local Democrats have coalesced around her, which may have played a role in other contenders staying out of the race.
On the Republican side, the most credible candidates appear to be Krenek, Allred, and Gates. Krenek has a history in local politics from her time on the City Council in Fulshear, a fast-growing town with a population of 12,000. Allred, meanwhile, could have an inside track: While Zerwas has not publicly expressed a preference, he and Allred are partners in an anesthesiology practice.
Gates is perhaps the best-known commodity of the candidates, though not for good reasons. He has run for office before: In 2014, he finished second in a special election for the 18th District in the state Senate. Later, in 2016, he made a run for statewide office as a candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, losing a primary runoff just 51-49.
During that race, elements of Gates’ checkered past were brought to the surface. In 2000, Child Protective Services removed his 13 children from his home, saying they were in “immediate danger.” Soon after, a judge returned the kids and the case was dropped, but not before serious accusations were levied against Gates, including allegations that he made his children miss meals as a form of punishment.
All candidates will run together on a single ballot on Nov. 5. If no one takes a majority in that election, a plausible outcome given the size of the field, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff on a date that has yet to be determined.
As the 2018 results showed, this district has followed the classic pattern of suburban areas shifting toward Democrats in the Trump era. Mitt Romney easily carried this district 64-35 in 2012, while Ted Cruz won it by a similar 64-34 margin that year. By 2016, however, this district had moved sharply toward Democrats, as Donald Trump won by a much smaller 53-43 spread, a gap that collapsed to just 3 points in Cruz's re-election bid last year, the same as his statewide margin.
● GA-Sen-B: Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, who'd reportedly been considering a bid for Senate, explicitly did not rule out the prospect at a town hall in her district on Sunday.
When asked about her intentions by an attendee, McBath would only say, "I'm sure you've heard all of the chatter and all of the conversation. … What I will tell you is that I am dedicated to you. … I am invested in you, and I hope to be able to continue to be invested in you in this manner." But McBath also praised Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, whose impending resignation due to health issues will trigger a special election next year, for his leadership in advocating for veterans, and added, "I hope to be able to assume that role."
● MA-Sen: A new poll from Suffolk University on behalf of the Boston Globe finds Rep. Joe Kennedy III beating Sen. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary in a pair of different configurations.
In a five-candidate matchup, Kennedy leads Markey 35-26, with no one else even clearing 1% (36% are undecided). Head-to-head, Kennedy's advantage grows to 42-28, with 29% unsure. Kennedy also sports a 73-6 favorability rating among Democratic voters, while Markey sits at 59-16. And voters don't seem to have any reservations about political dynasties such as the Kennedys: When asked what they "think about the Kennedy name in Massachusetts," 64% of respondents expressed positive feelings while just 7% said they felt negatively.
Kennedy has not yet announced a campaign, but in mid-August, the New York Times reported he would make a decision "in the coming weeks."
● TN-Sen: Businessman Bill Hagerty, who stepped down as Donald Trump's ambassador to Japan in July, kicked off his long-awaited campaign for Tennessee's open Senate seat on Monday.
Just before Hagerty's resignation, Trump had tweeted that Hagerty would indeed run and gave him his "Complete & Total Endorsement." With that smooch of approval, it'll be hard for any other GOP contenders to gain traction, though self-funding physician Manny Sethi has pledged to forge ahead regardless. No other notable Republicans are running or even known to be considering bids, while attorney James Mackler so far has the Democratic field to himself.
● KY-Gov: In his third TV ad ahead of the November general election for governor, Democrat Andy Beshear, along with his running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, warns that Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's education cuts could lead to communities with just a single school seeing those institutions get shuttered.
● LA-Gov: Businessman Eddie Rispone is out with a new, minute-long TV ad in which he highlights his humble upbringing, his success as a businessman, and his large family. He also warns that Louisiana's economy is "the slowest in America" because "insurance and taxes" are "out of control," though he doesn't actually offer any solutions.
● MO-Gov: As expected, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who was elevated to his post last year when Eric Greitens resigned due to a sexual assault scandal, announced on Sunday that he'd seek a full four-year term next year.
Parson faces only state Rep. Jim Neely in the Republican primary, a challenge that doesn't seem particularly serious. (When he kicked off his campaign, Neely couldn't identify any issues that he had with the incumbent but instead cited his desire to keep serving in public office once term limits force him out of the legislature next year.) A bigger threat looms from state Auditor Nicole Galloway, the likely Democratic nominee, though Missouri's strong conservative lean means Parson is the heavy favorite.
● CA-50: Former Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who fled Congress last year ahead of the blue wave but is now considering a comeback in a different district, says he'll make a decision "by the middle of September," according to Politico.
● FL-15: On Monday, local TV news anchor Alan Cohn announced a bid for Florida's 15th Congressional District, where he'll seek to take on freshman Republican Rep. Ross Spano. First, though, he'll have to face off in the Democratic primary against state Rep. Adam Hattersley, who has consolidated the support of a number of local Democrats, including the two main candidates who ran here last year. Cohn himself ran for this seat once before, losing to GOP Rep. Dennis Ross by a 60-40 margin in 2014.
● KS-01: Businessman Tracey Mann, who briefly served as lieutenant governor last year after Gov. Sam Brownback's resignation led to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer's temporary promotion, will reportedly announce a bid for Kansas' newly open 1st Congressional District this week. Mann ran for this seat once before in 2010 but came in third in the GOP primary with just 21%.
● ME-02: Former Republican state Rep. Dale Crafts says he's "seriously considering" a bid for Maine's 2nd Congressional District and would decide in two weeks. Crafts served in the legislature from 2009 to 2017, representing the 56th State House District, which, like the seat he's now weighing, swung sharply from Obama to Trump. The Bangor Daily News says that Crafts has "deep ties to Maine's evangelical right" and is a cousin of former state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, who finished second in the GOP primary for governor last year.
The BDN also spoke with real estate agent Adrienne Bennett, who was once a spokesperson for former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Bennett didn't appear to directly express interest in running, though she did say it "would be exciting to see a strong woman step into this race." Bennett, however, refused to answer questions about whether she actually lives in the 2nd District, and the paper noted that she works for a company based in the 1st District.
● MT-AL: Former state GOP chair Debra Lamm announced she'd run for Montana's open House seat on Monday, making her the first woman in the busy Republican field seeking to succeed Rep. Greg Gianforte, who's running for governor. Lamm served a single two-year term in the state House, ousting a Democratic incumbent in the 60th District in 2014 only to lose her first bid for re-election two years later, even though Trump carried the district.
● TX-13: Longtime GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry, when asked in an interview on Sunday whether he'll run for a 14th term in Congress, said, "I don't know" but promised "a final decision and announcement on that before too long." Thornberry also tried to downplay the recent flurry of Republican retirements from the House, saying "people should not make too much" of the exodus because departing members "may well be replaced by added skills and perspectives that will be good for the party and the country." That sure sounds like someone preparing to offer a defense for quitting.
And there's good reason to think Thornberry will indeed call it a career. As Abby Livingston noted all the way back in November when retirement rumors first cropped up, he's the most senior Republican in the state's congressional delegation, having been in office so long that his predecessor was actually a Democrat he ousted from office in the 1994 Gingrich wave. Furthermore, Thornberry is also term-limited as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee due to party rules.
As Thornberry himself alludes, Texas' filing deadline is Dec. 9, so he doesn't have a whole lot of time left to decide. But even if he does say goodbye, his seat, located in the Texas Panhandle, is guaranteed to stay in GOP hands since it's now one of the reddest in the entire country.
● WI-05: Republican Matt Walker, whose chief claim to fame is that his father is Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars board of trustees chair Scott Walker, confirmed over the weekend that he is "actively exploring" a bid for Wisconsin's open 5th District. Last week, the elder Walker ensured his 25-year-old son would be the coolest candidate for Congress when he held him up as the conservative answer to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, explaining, "He's 25 and he feels there needs to be a counter voice to that."
Meanwhile, state Sen. Dale Kooyenga, another potential Republican contender, has taken his name out of the running.
● Redistricting: In a new deep-dive, Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf details the rules that will govern 2020s redistricting in all 50 states and maps what the partisan outlook looks like if redistricting happened right now. Despite Democratic gains in 2018, Republicans would still be poised to draw states with three to four times as many congressional districts as states that Democrats could draw, and the GOP would maintain a similarly large advantage at the state legislative level.
However, elections in 2019 and 2020 give Democrats a critical opportunity to make further inroads against GOP gerrymandering, and we'll explore in a subsequent story how voters and activists can fight for fairer maps in all 50 states.