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-02: This week, the crowded GOP primary to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Peter King in this competitive Long Island seat began to take shape … sort of.
On Thursday, state party chairman Nick Langworthy endorsed Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino in the June primary, a move that came days after Garbarino picked up endorsements from the party chairs of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. However, while the powers that be are lining up behind Garbarino, he’s not going to avoid a primary.
Suffolk County Director of Health Education Nancy Hemendinger announced Wednesday that she would run despite failing to get the endorsement of the county party chairs the previous day. Hemendinger has worked in the department for 36 years, and this appears to be her first run for office.
Assemblyman Mike LiPetri also said the following day that he would remain in the race. Another candidate, Suffolk County Board of Elections member Nick LaLota, said Tuesday that he was still deciding whether to keep running after the county chairs backed Garbarino.
Garbarino, whose father is the GOP chair in the large town of Islip, only announced he was running this week. However, he began quietly raising money last quarter, and he ended 2019 with the largest war chest on the GOP side. Garbarino led LaLota in cash-on-hand $218,000 to $145,000, while LiPetri only opened up his fundraising committee on Jan. 1. Another Republican, Islip Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, announced she was running back in November, but she didn’t report raising any money in 2019.
By contrast, there’s only one notable candidate on the Democratic side. Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon began running against King months before he announced his retirement in November, and her fundraising spiked after this became an open seat. Gordon took in $261,000 during the fourth quarter compared to the $76,000 she raised during the preceding three months, and she ended 2019 with $290,000 in the bank. The DCCC recently added Gordon to its Red to Blue list for top candidates, so national Democrats don’t seem to be expecting her to have a serious primary.
King always won re-election with ease during his decades representing this area until his final campaign last cycle, and his departure gives Democrats the chance to finally flip the seat. New York’s 2nd District, which is home to Babylon and most of Islip, swung from 52-47 Obama to 53-44 Trump, but it lurched back to the left in 2018. While Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 60-36 statewide win was very similar to Hillary Clinton's 59-37 victory, Cuomo carried King's seat by a 51-47 margin.
● MI-Sen: Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is out with his first TV spot, which will run during Saturday's men's basketball game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. The commercial touts Peters' time in the Navy Reserve and work helping veterans.
● NC-Sen: A mysterious new PAC called Faith and Power recently launched what CNN reports is a two week $1.56 million TV buy to aid state Sen. Erica Smith in the March 3 Democratic primary, and there's good reason to think that Republicans are behind it. There's no information about who runs or funds the organization, but The Hill's Reid Wilson reports that Faith and Power is banking with a firm that frequently does business with GOP groups, including Donald Trump's campaign. The ads were also purchased by a media buyer that has plenty of conservative clients.
National Democrats are supporting former state Sen. Cal Cunningham over Smith in the contest to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, and Cunningham also has benefited from millions in spending from VoteVets. Cunningham, who ended December with a lopsided $1.7 million to $95,000 cash-on-hand lead over Smith, also recently began airing commercials, and a new survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling indicates that the pro-Cunningham media campaign is having an impact. PPP finds Cunningham leading Smith 29-10, which is an improvement from his 22-12 edge last month.
Republicans seem to believe that the underfunded Smith would be easier to beat than Cunningham in November, though, and Faith and Power's new ad campaign could give her a boost next month. The commercial begins with a narrator asking, "Who's the Democrat for US Senate endorsed by progressives and unions? Erica Smith." It continues, "Who's got the courage to vote for 'Medicare for All'? Erica Smith. The number one supporter of the Green New Deal? Erica Smith again."
Whoever wins the nomination will be in for an expensive race against Tillis in this light red state. The incumbent, who does not face a serious primary challenger, ended December with $5.3 million in the bank.
● IN-Gov: On Wednesday, businessman Josh Owens dropped out of the Democratic primary to take on GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb and endorsed former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers. The deadline to turn in signatures to make the primary ballot is on Friday, so it's incredibly unlikely that Myers will face any serious intra-party opposition.
● CA-16: Rep. Jim Costa has launched his first TV spot against Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, a fellow Democrat who is running to his left in the March 3 top-two primary. The narrator accuses Soria of saying "she's living paycheck to paycheck" when she "gets $96,000 a year from taxpayers and paid perks and benefits."
The narrator goes on to declare that Soria not only gave herself a pay raise but that her "fiancé and business partner received city contracts worth millions." What the ad doesn't mention is that Soria recused herself from the City Council's discussion and votes on matters concerning her significant other, developer Terance Frazier.
While Costa's decision to go negative less than a month before Election Day could be a sign that he's worried that Soria could take enough support to join him in the November general election, she'll still need a lot to go right to advance past the top-two. Costa has been a weak fundraiser in past cycles, but the incumbent outpaced Soria $506,000 to $135,000 during the fourth quarter (Soria self-funded an additional $13,000), and he ended December with a huge $904,000 to $149,000 cash-on-hand lead.
It doesn't help Soria that there's just one Republican, real estate agent Kevin Cookingham, on the top-two ballot, while former Foreign Service diplomat Kim Williams is also running as a Democrat. This seat, which includes Merced and part of Fresno, backed Clinton 58-36, so even though Cookingham has very little money, he will have a good chance to advance to November if he can just consolidate the conservative vote.
● FL-13: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed attorney Amanda Makki this week in the crowded August GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist.
Makki had by far the most money in the bank on the Republican side at the end of December, but she still trailed Crist in cash-on-hand by a lopsided $2.8 million to $470,000. This St. Petersburg seat backed Hillary Clinton by a small 50-46 spread, but national Republicans haven't made defeating Crist, a former Republican governor who is utterly detested by his old party, a priority so far.
● GA-14: Former state Rep. Bill Hembree and Army veteran Andy Gunther each announced this week that they would join the May GOP primary for this safely red open seat. Gunther, who works as inspector for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, appears to be running for the first time. Hembree, by contrast, has a long history in Georgia politics, though not a lot of local voters may be aware of him.
Hembree was first elected to the lower house in 1992 from a seat in Douglas County, which is located just outside of this northwestern Georgia congressional district. Hembree served for the next two decades, apart from a two-year absence following his unsuccessful 1996 run for the state Public Service Commission, but he gave up his spot to run for a state Senate seat in 2012. Hembree lost the GOP runoff for Senate District 30, which contains a very small portion of the 14th Congressional District, and he was defeated in another primary there two years later.
Former state School Superintendent John Barge also filed to run here this week, but he hasn't said anything publicly yet. 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, one familiar name is reportedly on his side. 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.
● IA-01: The conservative Future Leaders Fund, which is supporting GOP state Rep. Ashley Hinson, is out with a mid-January survey from the GOP firm Harper Polling that shows Hinson trailing freshman Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer by a small 44-40 margin. This is the first poll we've seen from this 49-45 Trump seat in northeastern Iowa.
● IL-03: Businesswoman Marie Newman is out with her first TV ad ahead of her March 17 Democratic primary rematch against conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski.
The narrator touts Newman's local ties and how she "scrubbed floors to pay for college and went without health insurance when she couldn't afford it." The commercial only mentions the incumbent at the end when the narrator declares, "Now Marie is running for Congress to do what Dan Lipinski won't: raise wages for working people and ensure health care is a right for everyone."
● IL-14: State Sen. Jim Oberweis is out with a survey from McLaughlin & Associates that gives him a clear lead in next month's GOP primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. McLaughlin finds Oberweis leading fellow state Sen. Sue Rezin 46-16 in this seat in the western Chicago exurbs, while former Trump administration official Catalina Lauf is at 6%.
McLaughlin has a bad reputation even in GOP circles, but so far, no one has released any other polls here. And while Oberweis has a terrible electoral history, his large financial advantage over his intra-party rivals could help him win the March 17 primary. Oberweis, who has self-funded most of his campaign, ended December with a $1.1 million war chest, while businessman Ted Gradel was well behind with $649,000 in the bank. (Gradel took 2% of the vote in that McLaughlin poll.) Rezin had $329,000 to spend, while Lauf had a mere $32,000 on-hand.
Even if the GOP avoids nominating Oberweis, though, Team Red will be in for a serious fight against Underwood. The incumbent, who flipped this 49-44 Trump seat in an upset last cycle, ended December with $1.7 million in the bank.
● IN-05: On Wednesday, just two days before the filing deadline, state Sen. Victoria Spartz announced that she was joining the crowded May GOP primary for this open seat. Originally hailing from Ukraine, Spartz would be one of a handful of immigrants serving in Congress if she were elected.
Spartz's 20th Senate District is located entirely in the 5th Congressional District, but she's never had to face the voters before. In mid-2017, local party officials chose Spartz to fill a vacancy in the Senate (Indiana does not hold special elections for the legislature) for a term that doesn't expire until the end of this year.
● NC-01: Back in December, farmer Sandy Smith ditched her extremely longshot GOP primary campaign against Sen. Thom Tillis and filed to challenge veteran Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield. Smith, who spent most of the fourth quarter running for the Senate, raised just $90,000 from donors but self-funded another $170,000, and she ended 2019 with $202,000 in the bank. Butterfield, by contrast, had $566,000 to spend.
Redistricting moved this inland northeastern North Carolina seat to the right quite a bit: While it supported Hillary Clinton 68-30 under the lines used in 2016 and 2018, the new constituency backed her by a smaller 55-44 spread. However, this is still blue turf that hasn’t voted for a Republican in any federal or statewide partisan election since likely the 1980s, and it will be very difficult for Smith to defeat Butterfield.
● NY-22: Former Rep. Claudia Tenney got some good news last week when former Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell dropped out of the GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, and it looks very unlikely that she will face any serious intra-party opposition now.
George Phillips, who lost the 2016 primary to Tenney, ended December with just $57,000 in the bank, while high school teacher Franklin Sager didn't have so much as one cent to spend. As a result, we've removed this contest from our Primaries to Watch spreadsheet and on to a second tab called "Off the list."
Tenney, though, ended last year at a huge financial disadvantage against Brindisi, who narrowly unseated her in 2018. Brindisi outraised Tenney by a massive $903,000 to $297,000 during her opening quarter, and he enjoyed a $1.85 million to $287,000 cash-on-hand edge. However, Democrats can take absolutely nothing for granted this fall in an upstate New York seat that supported Donald Trump 55-39.
● San Diego, CA Mayor: On Monday, GOP San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob crossed party lines and endorsed Democratic City Councilwoman Barbara Bry over Republican City Councilman Scott Sherman. Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria very much looks like the most likely candidate to advance past the March 3 nonpartisan primary, while Sherman and Bry appear to be competing for the second spot in the November general election. Sherman may have the chance to pull ahead of Bry if he can consolidate the city's Republican voters, but Jacob's support for Bry could make his task harder.