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.
● AL-Sen: While every GOP primary for major office in the Trump era has turned into a contest to see who can suck up to the White House the most in exchange for an endorsement tweet, Alabama's March 3 Senate contest may be the grossest of them all.
In a must-read piece in The New York Times Magazine, Jason Zengerle has a detailed dispatch from the race to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, and he includes some notable, if depressing, new details from the GOP candidates' quest to convince voters they are, as Zengerle puts it, the most "slavishly devoted to Trump."
The two contenders who are most actively competing for Trump's backing are Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. Both have been running plenty of TV ads promoting their fealty to the administration, and Byrne has a new spot out featuring a clip of Trump thanking him.
Each man has also tried to get some one-on-one time with Trump to make his case for his support, though with decidedly limited success so far. Zengerle reports that back in early November, just before Jeff Sessions entered the race to reclaim the Senate seat he gave up to become attorney general, Tuberville received word that he could speak directly to Trump if he called his White House assistant.
Tuberville made the call, but he never got put through to Trump. A few days later, after Sessions announced his bid despite Tuberville's advisers’ predictions that he'd stay out, the former coach fired them and hired a new group.
Byrne, by contrast, managed to get a spot in Trump's box at the Alabama-LSU game around that same time; Tuberville, as Zengerle writes, was "stuck in a luxury box a few doors down." Byrne, who said in 2016 that Trump was "not fit to be president," did his best to impress his party's leader at the event by imploring the already raucous stadium crowd to cheer louder for Trump by standing up, wildly waving his arms, and shouting, "More! More! More!" The congressman's enthusiastic performance, which an unnamed Sessions adviser compared to a seizure, didn't get him much time to talk to Trump, though.
Sessions, who had a famously awful relationship with Trump as his attorney general, probably won't be getting an endorsement from him, but he may still avoid getting any Twitter abuse before the primary. While an unnamed Alabama Republican relays that Trump jokingly told him, "If Jeff Sessions is nominated, I'm going to come to Alabama and campaign for the Democrat," Zengerle reports that intervention by Sen. Richard Shelby and others has made him less wary of a Sessions victory. Byrne and Tuberville's teams are still holding out hope that Trump will see something on Fox News that reignites his hatred of Sessions, a prospect that absolutely no one can rule out.
One candidate who has already been on the wrong end of a Trump tweet is 2017 nominee Roy Moore, who is running again despite his loss against Jones. Back in May, Trump told his followers that, while he had "NOTHING against Roy Moore," whom multiple women have said preyed on them when they were teenagers, Moore "cannot win!" Trump's missive may have made a difference: Only a few polls have been released in recent months, but they all show Moore performing poorly in the primary.
No matter what Trump does in the next month, though, whoever wins the GOP nod in March will have a strong chance to beat Jones in this very red state. Jones, though, won't be going down without a fight. The incumbent raised $1.9 million for the fourth quarter and ended 2019 with a hefty $5.5 million war chest, which is far more than what anyone else had available.
Sessions only raised $312,000 during the first two months of his comeback campaign, but he had $2.5 million on-hand thanks to left over cash from his last Senate stint. Byrne took in a smaller $217,000 for the quarter but had a similar $2.2 million on-hand, while Tuberville raised $531,000 and had $1.5 million to spend.
State Rep. Arnold Mooney, who hasn't attracted much attention during this campaign, actually outraised Byrne by bringing in $246,000, though he only had $322,000 on-hand. Moore, who has always been a poor fundraiser, took in only $45,000 and had a small $44,000 war chest.
● GA-Sen-B: The ultraconservative Club for Growth, which is supporting appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has unveiled its second TV ad as part of its $3 million TV and digital buy against Republican Rep. Doug Collins. Their latest ad hits Collins for voting to raise the debt ceiling and for voting for spending bills that contained "taxpayer funding for the San Francisco opera."
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson has endorsed Rev. Raphael Warnock, who also has the support of national Democrats.
● KS-Sen: The Democratic firm DFM Research has conducted a poll for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union on public opinion regarding rail transportation in Kansas, and they also included a portion on the 2020 elections. In the Senate race, DFM finds a generic Republican favored 39-31, but Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier ties former Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach 43-43 in a hypothetical general election match up.
● KY-Sen: Marine veteran Amy McGrath is putting $437,000 behind her first TV ad of the Democratic primary since November, airing the ad on both broadcast and cable. The minute-long spot highlights McGrath's military service and sees her speaking to the camera to advocate for affordable health care, college, and technical education instead of tax cuts for the rich. McGrath says she opposes "free college and Medicare for All," but she wants to improve the Affordable Care Act and calls for "national service" to help pay for college.
● MO-Gov: Uniting Missouri PAC, which is the main super PAC supporting GOP Gov. Mike Parson, is out with its first TV spot of the contest. The commercial touts the governor as a "conservative, tough-on-crime governor" and notes that Parson used to be a county sheriff. The PAC's chairman said that the commercial would air statewide, but he refused to reveal the size of the buy.
● CA-25: Political commentator Cenk Uygur, a Democrat, has launched his first TV ad, which focuses on how 45,000 people die every year because they lack healthcare coverage. Uygur says we must do something to fix that problem but doesn't offer any specific solutions.
● CA-50: 2018 Democratic nominee Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is Team Blue's only noteworthy candidate competing in the March 3 top-two primary, is out with his first TV spot of the contest. Campa-Najjar begins by describing himself as "a son of East County raised by a single working-class mom," and he pledges to fight back against politicians who "give billionaires and big corporations all the breaks while we're working hard for less."
● FL-15: The Florida Bar confirmed on Monday that it was investigating Republican Rep. Ross Spano over loans made to his 2018 campaign that have embroiled him in legal trouble since before he was sworn in as a member of Congress last year.
Spano, who has practiced law in the state for decades and initially ran for attorney general last cycle, could face punishment from the bar, but that might be the least of his worries. In November, the House Ethics Committee announced that the Justice Department was looking into whether Spano violated campaign finance laws during his successful bid for the House in Florida’s 15th District.
In December of 2018, not long before taking the oath of office, Spano admitted he might have broken federal election law by accepting personal loans worth $180,000 from two friends and then turning around and loaning his own campaign $170,000. That's a serious problem, because if you loan money to a congressional candidate with the intent of helping their campaign, you have to adhere to the same laws that limit direction contributions, which in 2018 capped donations at just $2,700 per person.
Spano recently offered a new excuse for his actions by telling WTSP that he thought what he did was permissible because he believed that then-state Rep. Frank White, who was one of his opponents during his short-lived run for attorney general, had done something similar.
“There was a headline in the Tampa Bay Times: Frank White borrows $1 million from his wife,” Spano said, apparently referring to this article from February of 2018. “I had never borrowed money for my campaign before, so based on our own series of events and our minds, we’re looking at each other in our campaign circles, ‘Man it’d be nice to have a wife with $1 million bucks, wouldn’t it?”
Instead of a rich wife, he found some wealthy friends. Spano told WTSP that during the congressional contest he “had a buddy say, 'Would it help if I …' and I said, 'Well you know, yeah. Let me check.'” He continued, “So we believed we could do it based on experience. I'd never done it before, and got some counsel that we could. And we moved forward with it and operated under the assumption that we could.”
However, experts consulted by the Times opined at the time that White’s spousal assistance might in fact have been illegal—and in any event, White’s race for state office would have been governed by Florida law rather than federal statutes. (White later lost the primary).
Spano also insisted in his new interview that his congressional campaign had disclosed the loan “before it became public knowledge” in the financial disclosure forms all federal candidates are obligated to file. That, however, is flat out false: As the Times’ Steve Contorno explains, Spano has failed to file those disclosures by the July 2018 deadline, only submitting them just before Election Day—after the Times had asked about them. Only once those reports were public did the paper learn that the money for Spano’s questionable loans came from his friends.
● GA-14: Former state School Superintendent John Barge has announced that he's joining the crowded Republican primary. Barge was elected statewide in 2010, but he quickly came into conflict with GOP Gov. Nathan Deal by opposing the party leadership's charter school amendment. Barge went on to wage a very longshot primary challenge against Deal in 2014 that went absolutely nowhere: Deal secured renomination with 72% while another candidate led Barge 17-11 for second.
Barge defied his party again months later by endorsing a Democrat over Republican Richard Woods in the contest to replace him as school chief. Woods won the general election, though, and Barge decided to challenge him for renomination in the 2018 primary. This campaign also went badly for Barge, and Woods won 60-40.
While Barge seems to have burnt bridges with almost everyone in Peach State GOP politics, The Rome New-Tribune writes that former Rep. Jack Kingston, who now works as a Washington lobbyist and serves as a pro-Trump TV talking head, has been talking to people on Barge's behalf. Barge enters a primary field that includes state Rep. Kevin Cooke, former state Rep. Bill Hembree, Air Force veterans Clayton Fuller and Ben Bullock, Army veteran Andy Gunther, neurosurgeon John Cowan, and construction company owner Marjorie Greene. In the probable event that no one wins a majority, there would be a runoff between the top-two contenders.
● IL-03: The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 have endorsed conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski ahead of next month's Democratic primary. Both unions had endorsed Lipinski in the 2018 cycle.
● MO-02: On Tuesday, EMILY'S List endorsed state Sen. Jill Schupp's bid to take on GOP Rep. Ann Wagner in this suburban St. Louis seat.
Schupp, who is the only noteworthy Democrat in the race, kicked off her campaign in early December, and yet she still managed to bring in more money than Wagner during the fourth quarter. Schupp outpaced the incumbent, who has a reputation for being a strong fundraiser, $480,000 to $471,000, though Wagner ended 2019 with a large $2.5 million to $457,000 cash-on-hand advantage.
Missouri's 2nd District has been safely red turf for a long time, but this well-educated seat has been moving to the left during the Trump era. Trump won the district 53-42, which was a drop from Mitt Romney's 57-41, and the University of Virginia's Miles Coleman calculated that the 2nd backed Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill by 50-48 in 2018 even as she was losing statewide by 51-46. Wagner herself only turned back her Democratic challenger by 51-47 last cycle.
● NJ-05: Assemblyman Robert Auth recently joined the Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, and Auth now says he'll drop out if he doesn't win the party endorsement in all-important Bergen County, which contained a hefty 64% of the district's 2016 Trump voters. Insider NJ writes that the Bergen County GOP endorsement will be made on March 23.
● NY-14: Former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera has announced she's challenging Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the right. However, it's unlikely that Caruso-Cabrera's views, which include a 2010 book that the local NBC affiliate describes as a "paean to limited government and fiscal conservatism" will play very well in a Democratic primary. Furthermore, New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera is already challenging the incumbent, and a divided field could make defeating the nationally prominent first-term congresswoman even more difficult.
● NY-27: GOP state Sen. Rob Ortt announced on Tuesday that he would seek re-election to the legislature rather than run for this seat in the regular election after he failed to win the party nomination for April's special election.
● PA-01: In a previous Digest, we incorrectly wrote that Bucks County Prothonotary Judi Reiss had endorsed Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District. Reiss is supporting Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello.
● TN-01: While state Rep. David Hawk blew past his initial timeline to decide on a bid for this safely red seat by mid-January, he said this week that he was still considering entering the August GOP primary. Hawk said that he'd decide soon and added that he was "leaning" towards running to succeed retiring Rep. Phil Roe.
● TX-10: Physician Pritesh Gandhi has debuted his first TV ad ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary. The spot features Gandhi touting his background as a doctor, saying he took an oath to protect his patients but never imagined he'd have to protect them from the president. The spot notes how Gandhi helped found Doctors Against Gun Violence, and Gandhi promises to stand up to Trump.
● TX-24: Air Force veteran Kim Olson, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee for state agriculture commissioner, is out with her first TV spot ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary. Olson tells the audience she's running "because President Trump is destroying the America we battled for. And I know about battles." Olson continues, "I was in the first generation of women military pilots, among the first women to command in combat, and I led the fight to care for women veterans and their families right here in Texas."
Olson is the best funded Democrat in the primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant in a seat located in the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth. Olson ended 2019 with a large $505,000 to $142,000 cash-on-hand lead over Candace Valenzuela, a member of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board who has the support of EMILY's List. Jan McDowell, who held Marchant to a shockingly close 51-48 win in 2018, had just $8,000 on-hand.
Former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne continues to look like the clear frontrunner on the GOP side, but she faces an opponent who is doing some serious self-funding. Van Duyne ended December with $435,000 on-hand while businesswoman Sunny Chaparala, who has supplied almost all of her campaign's cash, had $301,000 in the bank. Businessman Desi Maes had only $47,000 to spend, though.
This seat has been safely red turf for a long time, but it's been getting more competitive during the Trump era. The district moved from 60-36 Romney to 51-45 Trump, and Marchant himself only narrowly won re-election as Democratic Senate nominee Beto O'Rourke was carrying his seat 51-48.
● Where Are They Now?: Tennessee Republican Jimmy Duncan retired from the House last cycle as the House Ethics Committee was investigating allegations that he'd inappropriately used at least $100,000 in campaign donations to benefit himself, as well as his family and friends, and his legal troubles don't seem to be over.
The Ethics Committee lost its jurisdiction over Duncan after he left the House early last year, but the Tennessee Journal recently reported that federal investigators have interviewed several of his old staffers. They also relayed that Duncan used $116,000 from his old campaign account in 2019 to pay for attorneys. The Knoxville News Sentinel's Tyler Whetstone wrote that one of Duncan's lawyers told the paper "there is no pending litigation regarding Duncan. He declined to comment further."
● Ireland: After nearly a century of elections won by one of two center-right parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin narrowly beat out its main competitors to finish first for the first time in its modern history. Sinn Féin took 25% of the vote, above Fianna Fáil's 22% and Fine Gael's 21%, with the Green Party taking 7% and four other center-left to left-wing parties collectively taking another 10%. Ireland's variant of proportional representation resulted in parties winning a relatively equivalent share of the seats.
Sinn Féin has historically been highly controversial in Ireland as it acted as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army during The Troubles. However, it has lost much of that stigma in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the party's ability to share power with the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. The party's longtime leader, Gerry Adams, stepped down in 2018 and was replaced by Mary Lou McDonald, further distancing the party from its pre-Good Friday Agreement past.
Despite its past and ongoing support for Irish unification, Sinn Féin won the election on other issues, in particular health care and the country's housing crisis. In the decade since the Great Recession hit Ireland particularly hard, it has gone from having one of the highest rates of homeownership in the world to increasing rates of homelessness, evictions, and shortages of rental units. Dublin has become one of the 10 most expensive cities in the world in which to rent, having seen a 23% increase in rent in five years. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's responses had been seen as inadequate, while Sinn Féin promised to build 100,000 new public homes and cap mortgage rates and freeze rents for three years.
Although the outgoing Fine Gael minority government backed by Fianna Fáil is no longer possible on its own, Sinn Féin will likely struggle to form a government. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had vowed not to enter into a coalition with Sinn Féin, though in the wake of the election Fianna Fáil has cracked the door open to the possibility.
Sinn Féin has announced that they would like to form a left-wing government, but even with the Green Party and smaller center-left and left-wing parties, they would need 14 of the 21 independents to scrape a bare majority. The most likely outcome would be for Fianna Fáil to allow Sinn Féin to form a minority government by abstaining on the vote or for no government to be formed and new elections held later in the year.