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.
● Where Are They Now?: In court documents released Friday, former North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes, who previously served in the U.S. House from 1999 until 2009, agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI. The Charlotte Observer writes that Hayes, who will enter his plea on Wednesday, faces up to six months in prison.
Back in April, just one day after Hayes announced that he would step down as party chair, he was indicted along with major Republican donor Greg Lindberg and two of his associates, John Palermo and John Gray, for their part in an alleged scheme to bribe GOP state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey last year. Prosecutors alleged that Lindberg made large donations to the state party that Hayes then used to forward $250,000 to Causey's re-election campaign. They also say Lindberg promised Causey he'd set up a committee to make "independent" expenditures on the commissioner's behalf, which he then seeded with $1.5 million.
According to the indictment, these activities were all meant as a bribe for Causey, "in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg's business interests." Chief among Lindberg's desires was the removal of a senior deputy insurance commissioner "who was responsible for overseeing regulation and the periodic examination" of one of Lindberg's companies. Lindberg and Gray asked that Causey replace the deputy commissioner with Palermo, but it doesn't appear any firing or hiring actually took place. (Causey cooperated with federal authorities in the investigation and was not charged.)
In Friday's plea agreement, Hayes acknowledged that he "falsely stated to federal agents . . . that he had never spoken" with Causey "about personnel or personnel problems at the . . . Department of Insurance or about Greg Lindberg or John Gray." The Observer writes that Hayes' plea deal may increase the chances that he testifies against the other defendants in court.
Hayes' fall ends a long career in North Carolina GOP politics. Hayes served in the state House in the early 1990s, and he lost the 1996 race for governor to Democratic incumbent Jim Hunt by a wide 56-43 margin. Two years later, Hayes narrowly won a U.S. House seat in the Charlotte area, but he went on to decisively win his first three re-election contests.
However, Hayes got a nasty surprise during the 2006 blue wave when he only fended off Democrat Larry Kissell by a slim 329-vote margin in a contest that wasn't resolved until well after Election Day. The DCCC had given up on the race well before November, but they didn't make that mistake the following cycle. In 2008, Barack Obama carried the seat 53-47, and Kissell unseated Hayes 55-45 in their 2008 rematch.
Hayes went on to serve as party chair from 2011 until 2013, and he returned to that role in 2016. In a fitting irony, Hayes was one of the many Republicans who ardently defended Mark Harris even as a torrent of damning evidence surfaced about the election fraud committed on his behalf in last year's race for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. Hayes even alleged that the former chair of the state Board of Elections was conspiring with Democrats to steal the seat.
● LA-Gov: The conservative pollster We Ask America takes a look at the Oct. 12 all-party primary and finds Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards at 47%, just shy of the majority he needs to avert a November runoff. They also have wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone leading his fellow Republican, Rep. Ralph Abraham, 23-17 for second place. The firm did not identify a client for this survey.
We Ask America is the third conservative pollster to release numbers in the last week showing Edwards in striking distance of taking a majority of the vote. A JMC Analytics survey for the Louisiana Association of Health Plans had the incumbent at 48%, while a Remington Research survey for Abraham showed Edwards at 47%. (Unlike the other two firms, WAA did not include Democrat Oscar Dantzler, who took 2% in each of those surveys.) JMC also found Rispone leading Abraham for second by a smaller 22-20 spread, while Remington had the congressman ahead 22-20.
● FL-26: Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that national Republicans were recruiting him to run for Congress, and that he would decide later in the fall. While the mayor didn't specify which seat he was eyeing, an unnamed source told the paper he was thinking about challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
Gimenez is termed-out of his current post next year and said that, while he was thinking about running for the House, he was also eyeing other possible campaigns. The paper says that Gimenez has told supporters he's looking at running for his old seat on the county commission, for a spot in the state legislature, or against Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in 2021.
Gimenez's Miami-Dade County base makes up about 90% of this congressional district, and he raised a massive $7 million during his successful 2016 re-election contest. However, Gimenez's long and complicated relationship with Donald Trump could cause him problems in both a GOP primary and the general election in this 57-41 Clinton seat.
The two men were golf buddies in 2014, and in February of the following year, Gimenez successfully convinced Trump to donate $15,000 to his re-election campaign. Trump owns one of the largest hotels in Miami-Dade County, and he was in talks with the Gimenez administration that year to take over a county-owned golf course. The deal collapsed before Trump entered the presidential race, though.
In June of 2015, when Trump launched his White House bid with racist comments about Mexican immigrants, Gimenez announced that he was returning his donation. The following year, Gimenez said that he was voting for Hillary Clinton over Trump.
Gimenez did make Trump happy in early 2017 when he ended Miami-Dade County's status as a "sanctuary" county, and Trump tweeted in response that the mayor was "Strong!" However, Trump still seems pissed at the mayor for what had happened over the last few years. In 2018, Gimenez said that, while he wanted to greet Trump when he visited Miami International Airport, the White House refused to invite him.
Two other Republicans, Miami-Dade County firefighters union president Omar Blanco and restaurateur Irina Vilariño, are currently running. Blanco doesn't sound like he wants to face Gimenez, and he acknowledged that if the mayor ran, "That would not be a good thing for me." Vilariño, though, sounds ready to fight it out. She put out a statement that, while not directly mentioning Gimenez, trashed "politicians" who see "getting elected as a way to secure another taxpayer funded pension."
● MA-04: Politico reports that Democrat Dave Cavell has stepped down from his post at the state attorney general's office ahead of a possible bid for Congress. Cavell, who has served as a senior adviser to state Attorney General Maura Healey, recently expressed interest in running for this reliably blue seat.
Politico also wrote on Friday that 2018 gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez has "made at least one phone call regarding the congressional race in the last several days." Gonzalez served as then-Gov. Deval Patrick's budget chief, and he ran for the state's top post himself last year against GOP Gov. Charlie Baker. However, plenty of state Democrats signaled early in the cycle that they were quite fine with the idea of Baker winning a second term, and the incumbent's strong approval ratings and war chests also scared off most of his would-be opponents. Gonzalez received very little support for his longshot bid, and he lost 67-33.
● MI-06: On Thursday, End Citizens United endorsed state Rep. Jon Hoadley in the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Fred Upton. Hoadley is currently the only notable candidate currently seeking the Democratic nod; Politico reported in late March that Matt Longjohn, who lost to Upton 50-46, was "seriously considering" running again, but we've heard nothing from him over the following six months
● TX-02: Mike Collier, who was Team Blue's 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, told the Texas Tribune on Thursday that national Democrats had approached him about a possible bid against freshman GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and he did not rule it out.
Collier relayed that he'd told the party that he was inclined to focus on helping like-minded candidates in Texas who were focused on public education. However, he continued, "I did say to them that if we find ourselves in midst of a national crisis―and it appears as though we are―and if Dan Crenshaw decides to use this crisis to turn hyperpartisan on us and rocket himself to fame, then I very might well just drop everything and see if I can get all my voters to come back and beat him."
Collier ran for state comptroller back in 2014 and lost by a wide 58-38 in what was a horrible year for Team Blue. Collier challenged GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last year and lost statewide by a respectable 51.3-46.5, and he lost the 2nd District by a similar 51.2-47.0 spread.
● Houston, TX Mayor: On behalf of KHOU and Houston Public Media, Rice University is out with a rare poll of the Nov. 5 nonpartisan primary for mayor of Houston. They find Democratic incumbent Sylvester Turner leading with 37% of the vote, which is well short of the majority he'd need to avert a December runoff, while wealthy attorney Tony Buzbee leads 2015 runner-up Bill King 20-10 for second place. City Councilor Dwight Boykins is a distant fourth with 4%, while former City Councilor Sue Lovell's support rounds out to 0%.
However, Rice finds Turner in much better shape against either of his main opponents in hypothetical runoff scenarios. The mayor leads Buzbee, who has donated to both parties and identifies with neither, by a wide 55-40 margin in a hypothetical second round. Turner has a larger 57-34 lead in a hypothetical rematch against King, a conservative independent whom he beat just 51-49 in 2015.
Buzbee, who may be best known for successfully defending then-GOP Gov. Rick Perry, has invested at least $7.5 million of his own money in his campaign and started airing TV spots well before anyone else. Buzbee's latest ad features local news clips describing ghastly murders, and concludes with the narrator declaring, "We need a safer Houston. We need Tony Buzbee."
Buzbee has been arguing that crime has been on the rise under Turner, but FBI statistics say otherwise. Most categories of crime have fallen or remained about the same since Turner took office in early 2016, and the Houston Chronicle writes that criminologists "scoff" at Buzbee's claims that Houston is "one of the most dangerous cities in the United States."
For his part, Turner recently went up with his own ad praising himself for "[H]iring 200 new police officers and lowering crime rates." The spot concludes "[w]e don't need more tweets, attacks and noise," which is likely a dig Buzbee, who has a Trumpesque habit of insulting his enemies over social media. Turner also aired another commercial earlier this month that took Buzbee to task for donating $500,000 to Donald Trump's inaugural committee.
King only launched his first commercial on Thursday, and the narrator goes after Turner for taking "tens of thousands from strip club owners, including one sued by the city for trafficking." The ad concludes by pledging that King will fight to end human trafficking in Houston. Turner's team quickly responded by pointing to the mayor's efforts to stop trafficking and highlighted a March Associated Press story titled, "Houston earns praise for efforts to combat human trafficking."
● Prince William County, VA Supervisor Chair: Confederate fanboy and frequent GOP statewide candidate Corey Stewart is retiring as chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, and the GOP has nominated another far-right candidate to keep control of Virginia's second-largest jurisdiction on Nov. 5. Accountant John Gray pulled off a surprisingly victory over a county supervisor in the May party-run firehouse primary, and he's loudly embraced Donald Trump in a Northern Virginia county that backed Hillary Clinton 58-37.
However, even Gray seems to have realized that voters wouldn't respond well to his Trump-like tweets, so he paid a company $30 to scrub his account of thousands of posts. Unfortunately for Gray, though, Democrat Ann Wheeler's campaign quickly found and released the tweets that Gray had tried to purge.
Gray said that some of these messages, including one that the Washington Post characterized as "crude comments about Hillary Clinton," were written by a former consultant. However, he wasn't contrite about his 2017 missive saying that "bong and dildo holders" who wanted to impeach Trump would be confronted by a conservative uprising armed with "300 million weapons and an estimated 2 billion rounds of ammo." Grey also has fired off tweets making fun of Muslims and African Americans.