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.
● NJ-11, NJ-07: After complaining bitterly throughout her congressional campaign about "career politicians," tax attorney Rosemary Becchi has gone ahead and done exactly what those establishment pols wanted all along: She's dropped her bid for New Jersey's 7th District and instead decided to run in the adjoining 11th.
Becchi made the switch because GOP powerbrokers had lined up behind state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. as their preferred choice to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski in the 7th, a traditionally Republican seat that covers a swath of what Gov. Phil Murphy insists is "Central Jersey." Kean, the son of former Gov. Tom Kean Sr., had already compiled a significant financial advantage, and his institutional dominance made him the heavy favorite for his party's nomination.
So instead of a likely loss in the primary, Becchi's traded that in for a likely loss in the general. The 11th, centered around Morris County (in what is definitively North Jersey) is now represented by another freshman Democrat, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who crushed her Republican opponent 57-42 last year and is one of the strongest fundraisers in the Democratic Party. Republicans actually gave up on saving the seat in 2018 after longtime Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen retired—their major spending arms didn't shell out a farthing—and they hadn't managed to land a credible candidate this year to challenge Sherrill.
Becchi at least gives them that, and in fine establishment fashion, the field's already been cleared for her. Not only did Kean immediately endorse her, but former Kinnelon Councilman Larry Casha dropped out and gave Becchi his backing as well. In addition, state Sen. Joseph Pennachio, who hadn't previously ruled out a bid, praised Becchi's move and said he'd endorse her if asked.
Most importantly of all, the GOP chairs of all four counties in the district lined up behind Becchi, too, guaranteeing her favorable ballot placement in the primary. With the Republican nominations in both the 7th and 11th now effectively sewn up, we're moving them from our Primaries to Watch spreadsheet on to a second tab called "Off the list." Bookmark this continually updated document today to stay on top of every important Senate, House, and gubernatorial primary.
● MI-13: Rashida Tlaib (D-inc): $305,000 raised, $1.2 million cash-on-hand
● PA-07: Lisa Scheller (R): $550,000 raised, $432,000 cash-on-hand
● MI-Sen: Baldwin Wallace University: Gary Peters (D-inc): 42, John James (R): 32
● MS-Sen: Chism Strategies (D) for Millsaps College: Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-inc): 45, Mike Espy (D): 36
● NC-Sen: End Citizens United, which has endorsed former Democratic state Sen. Cal Cunningham, has released a poll from the Democratic firm ALG Research showing Cunningham with a 44-42 lead over GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. This is the first poll we've seen here in months, but every survey that has been publicly available has found a tight race either tied or with Cunningham very narrowly ahead. Cunningham still has to make it through the March 3 primary, but he's the favorite of national Democrats.
● AK-Gov: In a bizarre turn of events, an Alaska judge granted a request on Tuesday by supporters of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy to halt an effort to recall him in anticipation of an appeal challenging the recall before the state Supreme Court, then said the following day that the stay had been "inadvertently issued."
Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth had previously said that he did "not intend on granting a stay," making Tuesday's ruling a surprise. Apparently it was a surprise to Aarseth as well, so much so that Wednesday's order vacating the improvidently granted stay was signed by another judge on his behalf. Neither Aarseth's clerk nor court officials offered any explanation for the error.
Assuming that there isn't some further botch, Aarseth's earlier ruling ordering the Alaska Division of Elections to print petitions that recall supporters can circulate is back in effect. Organizers will need to collect another 71,000 signatures in order to place the recall on the ballot. There's no time limit for gathering petitions, but backers have said they expect a recall to take place this year. If the recall is successful, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who is also a Republican, would replace Dunleavy.
Recall proponents will also have to surive a likely appeal to the Supreme Court, but the Anchorage Daily News reports that no such appeal has yet been filed.
● GA-14: State Rep. Kevin Cooke is the latest Republican to jump into the quickly growing primary for this safely red open seat in northwestern Georgia. Cooke joins a field that includes Air Force veterans Ben Bullock and Clayton Fuller, neurosurgeon John Cowan, and construction company owner Marjorie Greene, while several more candidates are reportedly interested.
● NC-02: Former state Rep. Deborah Ross has released a survey from ALG Research showing her cruising to the Democratic nomination in this Raleigh-based open seat that was recently redrawn to be safely blue. The poll finds Ross, who was Democrats' 2016 Senate nominee, holding a 40-6 lead over Wake County School Board member Monika Johnson-Hostler, while no other candidate tops 2%. Ross only needs to top 30% to win without a runoff, and with a 48-2 favorable rating, she appears firmly in the driver's seat ahead of the March 3 primary if this poll is accurate.
● NY-09: New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch has announced that he's mounting a primary challenge against Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke, joining a contest that includes activist Adem Bunkeddeko, who is seeking a rematch. Clarke defeated Bunkeddeko by a narrow 53-47 margin last cycle, and normally an incumbent might benefit from divided opposition, but Deutsch is not a typical candidate: As a self-described "conservative Democrat," he has a record of consistently opposing LGBTQ rights.
Deutsch's entry into the primary could in fact have an important impact if voting falls along demographic lines. While just under half of this seat's voting-age citizens are black, one third of the district is white, and it also contains a significant population of strictly Orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim. Haredi and Hasidic Jews in New York often vote as bloc for Republican presidential candidates and socially conservative Democrats downballot like Deutsch, who would be the only Orthodox Jew in Congress if he were elected.
Clarke's narrow 2018 primary win saw her perform well in the whiter parts of South Brooklyn, which are home to significant numbers of Orthodox voters, so it's possible that Deutsch could take votes away from the incumbent to Bunkeddeko's benefit rather than simply help Clarke by splitting the anti-incumbent vote. On the flipside, there's also the risk that Deutsch could sneak through with a modest plurality if Clarke and Bunkeddeko, who are both black, divvy up the vote among black voters and white progressives in the district, since New York doesn't hold primary runoffs.
● NY-27: Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has kicked off his campaign for the Republican nomination, joining a field that includes state Sens. Chris Jacobs and Robert Ortt, plus attorney Beth Parlato. County GOP organizations will select the nominee here, and the special election is expected to be held on April 28 and coincide with the presidential primary.
● PA-16: A day after the 10th anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court decision that inspired its name, the progressive campaign finance reform group End Citizens United endorsed teacher Kristy Gnibus in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District. ECU has a reputation for spending real money on behalf of its endorsees, so the move suggests Gnibus is the frontrunner for the nod to take on GOP Rep. Mike Kelly.
● TX-17: Former Republican Rep. Pete Sessions has launched his first TV ad ahead of the March 3 primary, backed by only a mere $35,000. The spot consists almost entirely of conservative boilerplate, attacking the "socialist Democrats" and touting Sessions' record of supporting Trump on policies such as the border wall and the Second Amendment.
Meanwhile, rocket scientist George Hindman is out with another ad. The spot, which is atypically all in black and white, features Hindman speaking to the camera to decry those who run for Congress simply to "be somebody" rather than to "solve problems." Hindman says he'll solve problems such as the border wall and the national debt, and he plays up his outsider background.
● TX-28: A mystery dark money group called "American Workers for Progress" has booked $720,000 in TV time to help Rep. Henry Cuellar ahead of the March Democratic primary, according to data provided by a source with knowledge of media buys in the district. The spot praises Cuellar for fighting "to protect Obamacare" and "standing with Nancy Pelosi to lower prescription drug prices."
The ad is one of those "call your congressman to thank him" commercials, a classic dodge used to elevate a politician's profile without expressly calling for his election—or the defeat of his opponent, in this case attorney Jessica Cisneros. That allows the sponsor to avoid having to disclose its spending to the FEC, since by the barest definition this isn't a campaign ad.
In fact, American Workers for Progress hasn't disclosed a thing: Their website is just a single page that contains exactly one sentence of explanatory text and doesn't describe the group's backers in any way. All we know from the site's registration data is that the domain was purchased on Jan. 8 of this year by a firm called NP Strategy Group.
● UT-04: Republican Thom Carter, who is the executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, has announced that he won't mount a campaign against freshman Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams. Carter had said that national Republicans were trying to recruit him, and his refusal to run leaves the national GOP without an obvious favorite after state Sen. Dan Hemmert unexpectedly dropped out last month.
● WI-03: Army veteran John Garske recently kicked off his campaign for the Republican nomination against longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, but it's unclear if the first-time candidate has what it takes to run a strong race. Although Daily Kos Elections calculated that the 3rd District backed Trump by 49-45 after it had supported Obama 55-44 four years earlier, Kind hasn't had a close race since 2010, and he won by 60-40 over an unheralded foe last cycle.
● WI-07: With Honor Fund, which supported veterans for office from both parties last cycle, has laid down a $117,000 ad buy for Army veteran Jason Church ahead of the Feb. 18 Republican primary. The spot relays Church's biography as a native of the region who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan, arguing that he's the "Trump conservative we need in Congress."
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's special election in Connecticut:
CT-HD-151: Republican Harry Arora defeated Democrat Cheryl Moss 56-44 to hold this seat for his party. This election caps off a stretch of three special elections in two weeks in Connecticut. All three races saw the incumbent party hang on (two for the GOP and one for the Democrats) despite each district trending away from the party in control at the presidential level.
This chamber is now at full strength with Democrats in control 91-60.