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.
● Senate: With the close of candidate filing in Mississippi on Friday, Democrat Mike Espy officially locked in a rematch with Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who defeated him last year in the state's tightest Senate race in many years. If Espy can beat Hyde-Smith this time, he'd make history in many ways. Chief among them: He'd become the first black Democrat who served in the House to ever win a promotion to the upper chamber. In fact, only half a dozen other black House Democrats have ever trod this path.
In a detailed new essay, Matt Booker explores how each of these seven contests unfolded to help us better understand why none have been successful. He takes a particular look at the role that race did—or did not—play in each campaign, from the GOP's infamous "Call me, Harold" ad to Donna Edwards' biting observation that most U.S. leaders don't look "like me."
As Booker concludes, however, another similarly powerful force has also predominated in most of these races: raw partisan politics. That points the way, though, for this streak to end, and for the Senate to one day welcome its first black Democrat from across Capitol Hill.
Read the full piece here.
● HI-02: Kai Kahele (D): $217,000 raised
● MN-07: Michelle Fischbach (R): $263,000 raised, $203,000 cash-on-hand
● MT-AL: Kathleen Williams (D): $365,000 raised, $800,000 cash-on-hand
● NY-01: Nancy Goroff (D): $360,000 raised
● NY-11: Max Rose (D-inc): $1.2 million raised, $2.5 million cash-on-hand
● NY-14: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-inc): $1.97 million raised, $3 million cash-on-hand
● PA-07: Susan Wild (D-inc): $500,000 raised
● TX-28: Jessica Cisneros (D): $513,000 raised
● TX-32: Genevieve Collins (R): $430,000 raised, $780,000 cash-on-hand
● VA-10: Jennifer Wexton (D-inc): $500,000 raised, $1.5 million cash-on-hand
● GA-Sen-B: Politico reported on Friday that Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan has decided not to run in this year’s special election.
● KS-Sen: GOP Rep. Roger Marshall unveiled an endorsement Monday from former Sen. Bob Dole (Bob Dole!), who served from 1969 until he resigned in 1996 to focus on his unsuccessful White House bid. (Amazingly, Dole's 1996 presidential campaign site is still online.)
● KY-Sen: Candidate filing closed Friday for Kentucky's May 19 primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is seeking his seventh term, and despite his years of unpopularity, he'll be the clear favorite in a state that backed Donald Trump 63-33. McConnell's only notable primary foe is former state Rep. Wesley Morgan, and he hardly looks like a threat: Last cycle, Morgan lost his primary for a third term 57-43.
On the Democratic side, the most prominent candidate is retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who raised millions last cycle for her unsuccessful bid against GOP Rep. Andy Barr. McGrath remains a strong fundraiser, but she faces a challenge on her left from state Rep. Charles Booker. McGrath would be the first woman to represent Kentucky in the Senate, while Booker would be the state's first African American member.
● MA-Sen: While there was some speculation last year that Rep. Ayanna Pressley could enter the Democratic primary against Rep. Ed Markey, she announced this week that she would seek re-election to the House.
● MS-Sen: Filing also closed Friday for Mississippi's March 10 primary, and the state has a list of contenders here. Runoffs will take place March 31 in races where no one takes a majority of the vote.
Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate last year, and she defeated Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 54-46 in a special election for the final two years of the term. Espy, who would be the state's first black U.S. senator since Reconstruction, is running again, and he faces only minor primary opposition. A few Republicans showed some interest in challenging Hyde-Smith in the primary last year, but no one ended up filing to take her on.
Trump carried Mississippi 58-40, and Hyde-Smith will be the clear favorite in November.
● NJ-Sen: Sen. Cory Booker announced Monday that he was dropping out of the Democratic presidential contest, and his team says that he plans to run for re-election this year. The incumbent is unlikely to face any serious primary or general election challengers in this very blue state.
● WV-Sen: In a surprise, former state Sen. and 2018 House nominee Richard Ojeda announced on Monday that he would seek the Democratic nod to take on GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. Donald Trump carried West Virginia in a 68-26 landslide, though, and there's little indication that Capito is in danger.
Ojeda, an Army veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, won elected office in 2016 by unseating a state senator in the primary before prevailing in the general election 59-41 even as Trump carried his seat 78-19. Ojeda announced a few months later that he would run for the open 3rd Congressional District, a southern West Virginia seat that had favored Trump 73-23 but still elected conservative Democrats like Ojeda to local office and had decades of Democratic roots.
Ojeda, who volunteered during the 2016 campaign that he had voted for Trump, attracted plenty of national attention, and several polls showed Ojeda in a competitive race, or even leading, Republican Carol Miller. Ojeda also ended up outraising her $2.8 million to $1.8 million, while the DCCC spent $678,000 here in the fall. However, Miller ended up prevailing 56-44.
Days after that defeat, Ojeda launched a presidential bid. The state senator was universally considered to be among the longest of long shots, but he announced in January that he was resigning from the legislature and spending more time in Iowa. Just days later, though, Ojeda dropped his White House campaign. He said Monday that he quickly tried to "get my state Senate seat back," but that it was too late because the chamber's leader had already gotten his resignation letter.
● AK-Gov: On Friday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth overturned a decision by the Alaska Division of Elections that had halted the recall campaign against GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Aarseth's ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but the judge did not block the Recall Dunleavy campaign from collecting the signatures that they need to get a recall measure against the governor on the ballot. However, Aarseth noted that the higher court might issue a stay that could halt the petition gathering effort.
Under Alaska law, an official can only be recalled for "(1) lack of fitness, (2) incompetence, (3) neglect of duties, or (4) corruption." This provision, which recall expert Joshua Spivak calls a "malfeasance standard," differs from the practice in many other states, where only voters' signatures are needed for a recall to go forward.
Recall Dunleavy is focusing on the first three grounds for recall, but in an opinion for the state Division of Elections, Republican state Attorney General Kevin Clarkson argued that the stated allegations listed on the campaign's petitions "fail[ed] to meet any of the listed grounds for recall." Aarseth saw things differently, though, and he ruled that the recall campaign could proceed because all but one of their stated grounds was valid.
If the Alaska Supreme Court allows the recall campaign to go forward, Recall Dunleavy will have to collect over 71,000 signatures, which is 25% of the votes cast in 2018, to advance to the ballot. If Dunleavy is removed from office, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a fellow Republican.
● UT-Gov: GOP Rep. Rob Bishop announced Monday that he would not run for governor and would instead support former state party chair Thomas Wright.
Bishop, who had already decided to retire from Congress, spent the last year giving decidedly mixed signals about his interest in this race, but he sounded very likely to get in in late December. Bishop told the Salt Lake Tribune at the time that he’d decided what to do but added, “I'm not telling you what I'm going to announce.” As we always caution, though, a candidate isn’t running until they definitively say they’re running, and Bishop said Monday that he had decided not to enter the race after Wright launched his own campaign earlier this month.
Still, we may not have heard the last of Bishop, because after he announced that he wouldn’t run for the state’s top job, he declined to rule out a bid for lieutenant governor. However, gubernatorial candidates in Utah pick a running mate before the primary, and Bishop noted that a candidacy for lieutenant governor would not be “my decision or choice to do. Somebody else has to answer that question.”
Whether anyone would want to pick Bishop, who described himself months ago as a “horrible” candidate, to be their running mate in a competitive primary is an open question.
● VT-Gov: On Monday, Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Gov. Phil Scott. Zuckerman will face former state Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, who has been running since July, in the August Democratic primary.
Zuckerman spent 14 years in the legislature as a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, a third party that often allies with the Democrats, before he ran to succeed Scott as lieutenant governor in 2016. Vermont allows candidates to claim multiple party nominations, and Zuckerman competed in the primaries for both the Progressives and the Democrats. He continued to identify as a Progressive during the campaign, saying on the night of the primary, "I come from the Progressive side, but I'm running as a Democrat in the system, and I'll try to change it as I go."
Zuckerman picked up a late endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders and ended up winning the Democratic nod 44-38, and he won the Progressive primary by a wider margin. In November, Zuckerman, who was identified on the ballot as a "Prog/Dem," defeated his Republican foe, 2012 gubernatorial nominee Randy Brock, 52-45. Two years later, Zuckerman, who had the same "Prog/Dem" ballot listing, won the general by a larger 58-40 margin. If Zuckerman wins this fall, he would be the state's first Progressive governor.
While Vermont is a very blue state in federal races, voters have been very open to sending Republicans like Scott to the governor's office. Scott has been popular during his tenure, and he won his second two-year term in 2018 by a wide 55-40 margin in a contest that didn't attract much attention.
● GA-14: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday that state Rep. Kevin Cooke and auto dealer Matt Laughridge were each considering running for this safely red open seat. Laughridge ran in a 2013 special election for the state Senate and lost the all-GOP runoff 69-31.
● KY-04: All six of Kentucky's U.S. House members (five Republicans and one Democrat) are seeking re-election, and most of them should have no trouble in the primary. One possible exception, though, is GOP Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian-leaning ultraconservative who often votes against his party's leadership.
On Friday, Massie earned a last-minute intra-party challenge in his safely red northern Kentucky seat from attorney Todd McMurtry, who represented local high school student Nick Sandmann in his high-profile defamation lawsuit against CNN. Last week, a few days before McMurtry entered the race, CNN and Sandmann settled for an undisclosed amount over the network's reporting of Sandmann's encounter with an Omaha tribe elder last year on the National Mall.
McMurtry told The Courier Journal, "Amongst all Republicans in Washington, Thomas Massie is considered the most anti-Trump Republican, the person that votes with the president the least." McMurtry in particular went after the incumbent for being one of just three Republicans to vote for last week's House resolution to require Trump "to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran."
Some of Massie's colleagues have also shown an interest in ousting him. Last summer, state Rep. Kim Moser told the paper that national Republicans were trying to recruit her, though she ended up running for re-election instead. However, the anti-tax Club for Growth has backed Massie since his initial 2012 primary win, and they reaffirmed their support for him in July.
● KY-05: While GOP Rep. Hal Rogers has been on the retirement watchlist for years, the 82-year-old incumbent is running for a 21st term this year. Rogers faces no serious primary opposition, and he'll have no trouble in the general election in what Daily Kos Elections’ calculations show is one of the most conservative seats in the entire country.
● KY-06: GOP Rep. Andy Barr won his fourth term last cycle 51-48 in an extremely expensive race against Democrat Amy McGrath, but this year's campaign hasn't attracted too much national interest so far. Barr's most notable Democratic opponent is attorney and Marine veteran Josh Hicks, a former Republican who says he left the party in 2016 because of Donald Trump and the GOP's policies favoring the wealthy.
Last year, Hicks challenged GOP state Rep. Stan Lee in a seat that had backed Trump 52-41, and he lost in a close 51-49 contest. Kentucky's 6th District, which includes Lexington and surrounding rural areas, went for Trump 55-39, though it has favored Democrats in downballot races. According to the University of Virginia's J. Miles Coleman, Democrat Andy Beshear defeated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in this seat by a wide 56-42 last year.
● MS-04: All four of Mississippi's House members (three Republicans and one Democrat) are seeking re-election, and all of them should have no trouble winning in November. The only member of the delegation who may have an interesting primary is GOP Rep. Steven Palazzo, who earned a primary challenge days before filing closed from Biloxi City Councilman Robert Deming.
Deming argued that Palazzo, who was first elected in 2010, hadn't done enough to aid Donald Trump. Deming also insisted that the incumbent was too passive, saying, "We just don't have anyone who is leading on any issues." Deming told the Associated Press he'd self-fund $50,000.
Two other Republicans are running in this safely red Gulf Coast seat, so it's possible that no one could take the majority of the vote needed to avert a runoff. However, it would take a lot to give Palazzo a tough race. The incumbent has been a reliable vote for the Trump administration, and there's no indication he's alienated prominent conservatives. Last cycle, though, Palazzo turned back a primary challenge from an underfunded opponent by a 69-31 margin, which wasn't an impressive showing.
● NJ-02: Wealthy businessman David Richter has insisted on staying in the June GOP primary even though party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew now has the White House's support, but he learned the hard way over the weekend what happens to Republicans who say a single bad word about Donald Trump.
Richter recently told the New York Times, "Donald Trump did what was in the best interest of Donald Trump," though the paper noted he made sure to say he understood why Trump made his decision. That was too much for Atlantic County GOP Chairman Keith Davis, though, who hails from what is by far the largest county in the district. The Press of Atlantic City reports that Davis, whose organization has not backed anyone, sent an email to other Atlantic County party leaders encouraging anyone who has endorsed Richter to reconsider.
As we've noted before, county party endorsements play a big role in New Jersey primaries, and it will be difficult for Richter to overcome opposition from both Trump and local party leaders. However, he reiterated on Saturday that he was staying in the race, and he declared, "I have fully supported President Trump and will continue to do so throughout this campaign and in Congress." Richter also sought to prove he was a true Trump-era Republican by attacking the media and claiming, "The Times reporter clearly had an agenda, and several quotes were taken out of context or came across differently in print than I intended in person."
● NY-02: Newsday reports that several potential Republican candidates recently met with party leaders from Nassau and Suffolk Counties, including some people we hadn't heard mentioned as possible contenders. The new names are Suffolk County Director of Health Education Nancy Hemendinger, business consultant Thomas Kehoe, and real estate developer Robert Kudler, though none of them appears to have said anything publicly yet about their plans. Kehoe lives well outside this central Long Island district in Manhattan, while Kudler resides in Merrick in the neighboring 4th District.
● NY-19: Chronogram Magazine’s Andrew Solender reported over the weekend that former New York National Guard adjutant general Anthony German told county party leaders that he was dropping out of the GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado because of weak fundraising.
The GOP has struggled to find a viable contender for this swing seat, though Solender writes that an unnamed “high-level Republican source” has mentioned a few possible candidates. The source names Millbrook Village trustee and veteran Kyle VanDeWater as well as Bartle Bull, the former editor of the British magazine Prospect and the Middle East Monitor. There is no word from either of them, though Bull reportedly says he can self-fund $500,000.
● OR-02: Businessman Jimmy Crumpacker announced Monday that he would join the May GOP primary for this reliably red open seat in eastern Oregon. While Crumpacker, who founded and runs an asset management company, only publicly launched his campaign this week, he started fundraising late last month. Politico reports that Crumpacker raised $385,000 from donors during the last 11 days of the year and self-funded an additional $200,000.
● TN-01: Air National Guard veteran Ashley Nickloes, who unsuccessfully ran last cycle in the GOP primary for the 2nd District, said over the weekend that she was considering seeking the open 1st District. Nickloes, who lives about 12 miles outside of this seat, said she knew she had to decide soon but was still waiting to see who ran.
Back in 2018, Nickloes raised $240,000 for her campaign for the 2nd District, and she benefited from another $100,000 in spending from the establishment-oriented group the Republican Main Street Partnership. However, Nickloes ended up taking a distant third place in the primary with 11% of the vote. Since that campaign, Nickloes finished another deployment to the Middle East.
The only notable Republican running to succeed retiring Rep. Phil Roe so far is former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, though two other candidates sound likely to get in. State Sen. Rusty Crowe said Thursday he was “99.99% ready to go,” while former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden said earlier this month that he “intends” to run.
● TX-13: The anti-tax Club for Growth has endorsed businessman Chris Ekstrom in the very crowded March GOP primary for this safely red seat.
● Special Elections: The first special elections of 2020 are here! We have five races across four states, including two in swingy districts in Connecticut.
AR-HD-34: This is a Democratic district located in Little Rock. This seat became vacant after former Rep. John Walker died in October. There are four Democratic candidates running here but no participants in the GOP primary. The winner of the Democratic nomination will officially take part in the March 3 general election but will be assured of the seat upon winning the primary.
The four Democrats running are nonprofit director Ryan Davis, former Little Rock School Board member Joy Springer, attorney Lee Miller, and retired University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences dean H. Otis Tyler. If no candidate takes a majority, the top two vote-getters will head to a runoff on Feb. 11.
We don’t have 2016 presidential results for Arkansas, but in 2012 Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney 77-21 in this district. Republicans have a 75-23 supermajority in this chamber, with this seat and one other vacant.
CT-HD-48: This is a Democratic district located in the Colchester area. This seat became vacant after former Rep. Linda Orange died in November. In Connecticut, candidates are selected by the parties rather than chosen via primaries. The Democratic nominee is former Colchester Board of Finance member Brad Smith and the Republican is Mark DeCaprio. DeCaprio was the GOP nominee in 2018 against Orange but lost 55-45.
Orange first won this seat in 1998 and, save for a close call in 2010, never had any trouble holding it. However, this race could be competitive as an open seat as it swung from 56-42 Obama to a much narrower 48-46 win for Hillary Clinton. In addition, Connecticut Democrats have faced some unusual difficulties when playing defense in special elections, losing two on home turf last year.
CT-HD-132: This is a Republican district based in the Fairfield area. This vacancy was created by former Rep. Brenda Kupchick’s election as first selectwoman of Fairfield (a post similar to mayor). The Democratic nominee is Fairfield Board of Education member Jennifer Leeper while the Republican is Fairfield Representative Town Meeting member Brian Farnen (representative town meetings are a type of municipal legislature common in New England). Democrats have an opportunity to play offense in this seat, as this district has moved sharply from 49.7-49.3 for Romney to 57-39 for Clinton.
The current makeup of the Connecticut State House is 90-51 in favor of Democrats, with three vacancies, including these two seats. The outcome of these special elections could have an impact on Democrats’ chances of taking a supermajority in the chamber (for which they'd need 101 members) in November, when all seats will be up.
KY-SD-38: This is a Republican district located in Jeffersontown. This seat became vacant after former Sen. Dan Seum resigned in November, citing his age (he's 80) and his disgust with his own party. Seum meant it, too: He made headlines when he endorsed now-Gov. Andy Beshear over fellow Republican Matt Bevin in the election last year.
The Democratic nominee here is teacher Andrew Bailey and the Republican is former state Rep. Mike Nemes, who has been endorsed by Seum. This district is strongly Republican, having gone for Trump 67-28 and Romney 63-35. It will nonetheless be interesting to see how the first election of the Beshear era plays out, especially in a district where the current governor received a cross-party blessing.
Republicans have a 28-9 advantage in this chamber, with this seat as the only vacancy.
PA-SD-48: This is a Republican district in the Lebanon area. This vacancy was created by former Sen. Mike Folmer’s resignation in September after he was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography. The candidates were chosen by the parties: History professor Michael Schroeder is the Democrat while Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold is the Republican.
This is a heavily Republican district that went for Trump 61-35 and Romney 59-40. Republicans have a 27-21 advantage (with one independent who caucuses with Republicans) in the Pennsylvania Senate with just this seat vacant.