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.
● NY-27: Plenty of Republicans were pissed when party leaders awarded state Sen. Chris Jacobs the party's nomination for the upcoming special election for New York's 27th Congressional District, and now the GOP's usual allies in the state's small but influential Conservative Party are also taking their whacks.
New York law allows candidates to accept nominations from multiple parties, and it's rare for the Conservatives not to support Republican picks. However, Conservative leaders said in late January that, rather than back the apparently squishy Jacobs, they would not nominate anyone for the upcoming special election, which is expected to be held on April 28.
This seat backed Trump 60-35, so Jacobs is still the favorite even without Conservative help. Because the election will likely take place on the same day as the presidential primary, though, disproportionate turnout on the left could give Democrats a boost.
But if Jacobs manages to win the special, the Conservatives are gearing up to make his life hell soon thereafter. The GOP primary for the regular two-year term will take place just two months later on June 23, and there Jacobs will face attorney Beth Parlato, who has earned enough support from local party officials to receive the state Conservative Party's endorsement.
The Conservatives also promised Parlato their party's line for the November general election, but don't expect to see her on the fall ballot if she loses in June. "I'm confident I will win the primary," she said. "But if by some chance I lose, I would never split the vote."
The Conservative Party isn't the only right-wing group that wants to beat Jacobs once the special is wrapped up. Last month, a spokesperson for the Club for Growth called the senator "too moderate" and added, "We are prepared to spend seven figures opposing Jacobs." The Club, though, hasn't endorsed either Parlato or Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who also decided to challenge Jacobs after losing the GOP nod for the special election.
So, why does Jacobs inspire this much far-right disgust? Jacobs has long had a reputation as a moderate and even identified as pro-choice during his failed 2006 run for lieutenant governor. It doesn't help that his running mate that year was none other than Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who is currently challenging Donald Trump in the presidential primary. Jacobs' enemies also remember that he refused to take sides in 2016 when Trump was running against Hillary Clinton, the same year Jacobs first won his seat in the state Senate.
Once he got to Albany, Jacobs did put together an ardently conservative voting record, which included opposition to expanding access to abortion. Jacobs also has tried to reinvent himself as a proud Trumper, and has insisted that he "ran for re-election to assure that President Trump had an ally in this seat." (We wonder if Jacobs' constituents, who voted for Hillary Clinton 50-45, knew that when they gave him a second term him in 2018.) However, it seems that conservative fanatics simply don't believe his conversion is sincere and want to replace him with a purer strain of wingnut.
● GA-Sen-B: While 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter expressed interest in running here back in late August, he took himself out of contention on Thursday by endorsing pastor Raphael Warnock.
● MT-Sen: Politico reports that national Democrats haven't given up trying to convince Gov. Steve Bullock to challenge GOP Sen. Steve Daines despite his consistent denials of interest, but they don't seem to be making any progress. Barack Obama even met with Bullock privately on Thursday, but the governor's team publicly reaffirmed afterwards that he would not run. Montana's filing deadline is March 9, so the field will be set here soon.
A few Democrats are already challenging Daines in this 56-35 Trump state, and one of them ended 2019 with a big fundraising edge over the rest of the June primary field. Nonprofit founder Cora Neumann took in $460,000 during her opening fundraising quarter and had $292,000 to spend, while neither Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins nor Navy veteran John Mues had so much as $40,000 on-hand. Daines, though, had an imposing $5 million war chest at the close of December.
● NC-Sen: Politico reports that VoteVets is spending $2.5 million on a new two-week ad campaign supporting former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in the March 3 Democratic primary. VoteVets' affiliated nonprofit has already spent $3.3 million to help Cunningham win the nod to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.
● TN-Sen: Mason-Dixon is out with a new poll for local media organizations that unsurprisingly finds Republicans in good shape to hold this open Senate seat. Former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, leads Army veteran James Mackler 55-33 in a hypothetical general election, while physician Manny Sethi beats the Democrat 46-35.
● AZ-01: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed 2018 candidate Tiffany Shedd on Thursday in the August Republican primary to face Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran. Shedd, who took third in the primary last cycle, had more money by far at the end of December than any other Republican running here, but her $91,000 war chest still wasn't good. However, McCarthy seems to have decided that Team Red isn't going to get a better contender for this competitive Northeastern Arizona seat.
O'Halleran does face some primary opposition from the left, but neither of his opponents look very threatening. Former Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova had just $15,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, while former state Sen. Barbara McGuire still hasn't reported raising any cash. O'Halleran, by contrast, had $919,000 on-hand to defend a district that narrowly backed both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.
● IL-03: Activist Rush Darwish is up with what Politico reports is his second TV spot of the March 17 Democratic primary against conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski.
Darwish says that the district can't just "keep electing the same people and expect a different result," though he doesn't mention Lipinski directly. Darwish describes himself as a "lifelong humanitarian and father who spends time volunteering to raise money for medical procedures on children affected by violence," and says he supports "Medicare for all who want it."
● IN-05: Former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi announced Thursday, just one day before the filing deadline, that he would compete in the May GOP primary for this open seat.
Brizzi had been out of office since 2011, and the intervening years haven't been good for him. He was reprimanded by the state Supreme Court in 2017 for a conflict of interest between his real estate business and a 2009 criminal case his office prosecuted. That reprimand included a 30-day suspension of his law license for "professional misconduct" after he intervened to reduce the severity of a plea deal given to a client of his real estate partner, who was the client's criminal defense attorney at the time.
Brizzi kicked off his new campaign by acknowledging, "I certainly made some mistakes." He continued, "And I own them. Secondly, there's nobody in the race that's more vetted than me."
● MD-07: Dels. Terri Hill and Talmadge Branch and law professor Michael Higginbotham have each announced that they will not compete in the April Democratic primary for the regular two-year term. All three were on the ballot in Tuesday's special primary and finished far behind former Rep. Kweisi Mfume. The filing deadline for the April primary passed in late January, but candidates had until Thursday to remove their names from the ballot.
Mfume, who represented a previous version of this Baltimore seat from 1987 until he resigned in 1996 to lead the NAACP, won the Democratic nod on Tuesday by beating former state party chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings by a lopsided 43-17 margin. Rockeymoore Cummings and state Sen. Jill Carter, who was in third place with 16%, have each said that they'll keep running in April, but it's going to be very tough for anyone to beat Mfume after his decisive victory.
● PA-01: Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress recently picked up an endorsement from 2018 Democratic nominee Scott Wallace for her bid to take on GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in this 49-47 Clinton seat. Wachspress also recently earned the backing of 2018 primary candidates Rachel Reddick and Steve Bacher, while Bucks County Prothonotary Judi Reiss is supporting Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello. (Update: In a previous version of this post, we incorrectly wrote that Reiss had endorsed Wachspress.)
Wachspress' local endorsements come a little less than three months after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that national Democrats, including the DCCC and EMILY's List, were dissatisfied with the field. However, no other serious candidates have entered the race since then, and with the Feb. 18 filing deadline coming up fast, it looks unlikely that any will.
While it remains to be seen how national Democrats feel about Wachspress now, she very much looks like the frontrunner in the April primary. Wachspress ended 2019 with $355,000 on-hand while her intra-party opponents, Finello and businessman Skylar Hurwitz, each had less than $12,000 in the bank.
Whoever wins the nod is going to be in for a difficult race against Fitzpatrick. The incumbent held off Wallace 51-49 during last cycle's Democratic wave, and he ended 2019 with a strong $1.4 million war chest.
● TN-01: State Sen. Rusty Crowe announced Thursday that he would join the August GOP primary for this safely red open seat in East Tennessee.
Crowe has a very long career in state politics going back to 1990, when he was elected to the state Senate as a Democrat: Crowe recently said that he ran with Team Blue back then because he'd missed the deadline to file as a Republican and decided to launch a write-in campaign for the Democratic nod. He explained that it was "difficult" serving in the legislature as a Democrat and that he was unpopular with his party's leadership, though Crowe waited until 1995 to switch to the GOP.
The only other notable Republican who has entered the race to succeed retiring Rep. Phil Roe so far is former Kingsport Mayor John Clark. A number of other local politicians did express interest in getting in after Roe announced his retirement in January, and they still have a while to decide before the early April filing deadline.
● TX-10: For the second quarter in a row, GOP Rep. Michael McCaul has pretended that he raised considerably more money for his re-election campaign than he actually raised.
Last month, before FEC reports were due, McCaul put out a press release saying he raised "nearly" $500,000, but he actually brought in $378,000. The congressman ended 2019 with $984,000 to spend, which is also short of the $1 million he said he had. The Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston writes that McCaul's half a million figure included money from his affiliated PACs, which she explains is not standard operating procedure when announcing fundraising numbers.
Back in October, McCaul also announced that he'd brought in $400,000 during the third quarter of 2019, but his FEC report soon revealed that he'd actually raised $334,000; we're not sure what McCaul was including to get that extra $64,000 back then, but it was not money for his campaign. Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzales recently put out a great Twitter thread about how journalists view candidates' FEC reports, and we'll take particular note of his final point: "If you play games with one report, then it will just invite more scrutiny on future reports."
In past cycles no one would have cared how much McCaul did or did not raise his safely red seat, but his seat isn't safely red anymore. Donald Trump's 53-42 win in 2016 was a noticeable drop from Mitt Romney's 59-39 performance four years before, and Team Red also had a rough ride here in 2018: McCaul fended off Democrat Mike Siegel by a surprisingly close 51-47 margin, and Beto O'Rourke narrowly carried this district 49.6-49.5 against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.
Siegel is running again in the March 3 primary, but two other Democrats have considerably more money than him. Attorney Shannon Hutcheson held a small $456,000 to $451,000 cash-on-hand edge over medical school professor Pritesh Gandhi, while Siegel had $152,000 to spend. If no one takes a majority of the vote next month a runoff would take place in May.
● TX-28: Immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros is out with a new TV spot ahead of her March 3 Democratic primary with conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar. Cisneros begins, "Today in South Texas, it seems like no one is helping people afford health care. So we sell plates of chicken, we have loterías, we go to Mexico." The candidate then talks about how her aunt died of stomach cancer because she was unable to pay for treatment and continues, "Unlike Congressman Cuellar, I don't take money from health insurance lobbyists or corporate PACs."
We also have a copy of a commercial that Texas Forward, which is allied with EMILY's List, is running to support Cisneros as part of its $1.2 million buy. The narrator argues there's "a damn big" difference between the candidates and takes Cuellar for task for having refusing to sponsor raising the minimum wage and voting "with Republicans to oppose unions, to cut funding for Planned Parenthood." The second half of the ad pledges that Cisneros will stand up for women, workers, and families.
● WI-07: Campaign finance reports are out for this special election covering the period of Oct. 1 to Jan. 29, and Army veteran Jason Church and state Sen. Tom Tiffany are in a similar position ahead of the Feb. 18 special GOP primary.
Church outraised Tiffany $653,000 to $463,000 during this time, though the state senator outspent Church $510,000 to $464,000. Tiffany also had a small $208,000 to $189,000 cash-on-hand advantage for the final weeks of the race. The Club for Growth and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been running commercials on Tiffany's behalf, while With Honor Fund has aired some ads for Church.
On the Democratic side, Wausau School Board president Tricia Zunker took in $145,000 during the fundraising period and had $64,000 to spend, while businessman Lawrence Dale didn't report bringing in anything. The general election for this 58-37 Trump seat is May 12.