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.
● WI Supreme Court: Both the Republican State Leadership Committee and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, an industry group that regularly supports conservative judicial candidates, went up with ads last week falsely attacking progressive Judge Jill Karofsky over a prosecution and plea agreement she had no involvement in whatsoever.
Both groups tried to smear Karofsky by claiming she had let sexual predators off lightly, relying on the 2000 sentence of a man named Donald Worley to make their point. Worley was charged the previous year with sexually assaulting a child, and he was later sentenced to three years of probation without jail time as part of a plea bargain. However, as PolitiFact notes, Karofsky only took over as prosecutor for the case more than a year after Worley was sentenced and had absolutely nothing to do with his plea deal.
Karofsky’s campaign responded by sending a cease-and-desist letter to TV stations, the RSLC, and the WMC demanding the false advertisements be removed from the airwaves. Karofsky is running to unseat conservative incumbent Dan Kelly in next week's election for a key seat on Wisconsin's Supreme Court.
● Georgia: Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has rejected a request by state House Speaker David Ralston, a fellow Republican, to delay Georgia's May 19 presidential and downballot primaries a second time to a date "no earlier than" June 23. Ralston replied with a second letter asking Raffensperger to postpone the primaries until June 16, acknowledging the secretary's point that a June 23 primary would potentially result in runoffs "too close to the November election" for ballots to be sent to overseas voters in compliance with federal law.
Ralston also once again expressed displeasure with Raffensperger's plan to send absentee ballot applications to all active registered voters in the state. "Any type of change in the format in which a primary or election is conducted should be discussed by the General Assembly and approved," Ralston wrote, "not decided upon without its consent." In Georgia, the legislature has the power to call a special session, so Ralston could simply do so and pass whatever legislation he sees fit to address his concerns.
● Idaho: Republican Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Idaho's 44 county clerks have asked Gov. Brad Little, a fellow Republican, to delay Idaho's May 19 downballot primaries to a date "no earlier than" June 16. Denney says that such a delay would allow officials "to develop an extensive voter outreach program and ensure all registered voters have access to an absentee ballot request form."
● Kansas: Kansas Democrats have canceled all in-person voting for their May 2 presidential primary. The party had previously said it would send mail ballots with postage-paid return envelopes to all registered Democrats in the state. Anyone who does not receive a ballot can, starting on April 10, request one online through April 24. Ballots must be received by May 2 in order to count.
● Maryland: Maryland's Board of Elections will finalize its plan for conducting the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries on Thursday before forwarding it to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but unless it's modified, it may face a lawsuit. The board previously voted to eliminate all in-person voting and conduct the election entirely by mail, even though its own counsel warned that doing so would prevent many voters from casting ballots.
Among the many voters likely to be affected are those:
- with certain disabilities, particularly the visually impaired;
- without housing;
- with language barriers;
- who should have received a ballot but do not;
- who are displaced due to the pandemic;
- who currently can't obtain a state ID necessary to register to vote because the DMV is closed; and
- who are simply difficult to reach by mail.
Of that last group, known as "inactive" voters because mail sent to them is undeliverable, the board's counsel says that up to 4% wind up participating in a typical election. The ACLU and advocates for the blind have expressed serious concerns about the board's plans.
● New Mexico: Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says that "an all-mail election is not likely" and says that "there are no plans to change the date or the procedures" for New Mexico's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries. Previously, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham planned to call a special session of the legislature to address the state's coronavirus response, but no such session has been called.
● New York: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order consolidating New York's April 28 presidential primary with the state's June 23 primaries for downballot office. The order also applies to several special elections that had been set for April 28, including the race for the 27th Congressional District and four seats in the legislature. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says that the city also plans to reschedule the special election for Queens borough president, which had been set for March 24 before it was canceled, to June 23, "pending state approval."
● North Carolina: North Carolina's Board of Elections has partnered with the state's DMV and will now, for the first time, allow voters with state IDs to register to vote online. Nine states representing 1 in 7 Americans still do not allow online registration along the lines that North Carolina now will.
● South Dakota: A bill has been introduced in South Dakota's Republican-run legislature that would allow local governments to postpone any local elections scheduled between April 14 and May 26 to any Tuesday in June. The measure would not apply to the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries.
● Wisconsin: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the city of Green Bay seeking to delay the state's April 7 elections, saying that the city lacked standing. However, Judge William Griesbach emphasized that his decision was "not intended to minimize the serious difficulties the City and its officials are facing in attempting to conduct the upcoming election" and specifically took note of a similar case filed last week by voters and civic groups that should not face similar procedural problems.
That lawsuit, led by the voter engagement group Souls to the Polls, was also consolidated with two other pending suits by a different federal judge, William Conley. One, brought by voting rights advocates, seeks to prevent the enforcement of a state law that requires voters to have a witness sign their absentee ballots; the other, brought by the state and national Democratic parties, is asking that certain voting-related deadlines be extended.
Separately, the state's bipartisan Elections Commission has declined to investigate the county clerks in Milwaukee and Dane counties, who have advised voters that they do not need to upload a copy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot online due to the difficulties posed by the state's lockdown. Republicans on the panel pressed for an inquiry, but the evenly divided commission deadlocked along party lines. The state GOP has asked the state Supreme Court to bar the clerks from relaxing the ID requirement.
● Senate: The well-funded Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC announced Monday that it had reserved $69.2 million in late summer and fall TV time across five GOP-held Senate seats:
- Arizona (Martha McSally): $15.7 million
- Colorado (Cory Gardner): $5.2 million
- Iowa (Joni Ernst): $13.1 million
- Maine (Susan Collins): $9.6 million
- North Carolina (Thom Tillis): $25.6 million
The Washington Post writes that the commercials "are set to begin as soon as early August" for Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina. The reservations in Colorado and Iowa, by contrast, are set to start just after Labor Day.
SMP's announcement comes one week after the conservative Senate Leadership Fund booked $67.1 million for all of these five states as well as Kentucky. As we've noted before, major outside groups like to reserve well ahead of time so they can lock in cheaper ad rates before high demand for TV time brings prices up. That's especially true in a presidential year where both major party nominees and their allies will be spending massive amounts in many, if not all, of these states.
These early reservations also give us an early window into what SMP expects the major battlegrounds to be in the contest to control the Senate, but they don't tell us everything. For instance, SMP head J.B. Poersch suggested to the Post that his group was holding off on purchasing ad time in Montana, where GOP Sen. Steve Daines faces a challenge from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, because the state is unlikely to attract much presidential spending. And as we've written before, major outside groups can also always reduce or completely cancel reservations if a race looks like it's already won or is too far gone to be salvaged.
Both SMP and SLF made by far their largest reservations in North Carolina, which isn't a surprise. Six years ago this seat hosted what was the most expensive Senate contest in American history at the time, and if Democrat Cal Cunningham unseats GOP incumbent Thom Tillis, that means there's a good chance Team Blue will have won enough seats elsewhere—likely in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine—to flip the Senate
What's a bit more surprising is that each group has booked about $13 million in air time for Iowa, where Republican incumbent Joni Ernst appears to have a clear advantage. While the Hawkeye State has been competitive turf for generations, Ernst herself won by a surprisingly lopsided 52-44 margin in 2014, and Donald Trump did slightly better there two years later. Iowa did move back towards Democrats last cycle when Democrats unseated two GOP House members, but Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds still won a full term 50-48 in a bad year for her party.
Unfortunately, no one has released a single survey this year of the likely matchup between Ernst and her likely Democratic rival, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. The last poll we saw was a December Public Policy Polling survey for Greenfield's allies at End Citizens United that showed Ernst ahead by a modest 47-41 margin. Both SMP and SLF, though, almost certainly have more recent numbers, and they're each acting like they expect this to be a competitive race.
By contrast, SMP and SLF's smallest reservation, at a bit over $5 million each, was in Colorado. The state supported Hillary Clinton 48-43, and several polls taken last year showed GOP Sen. Cory Gardner trailing former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper by double digits in a likely matchup. (We haven't seen any new numbers since October.) However, while neither group has booked a huge amount of air time, neither is acting like the well-funded incumbent is doomed.
● KS-Sen: Businessman Bob Hamilton announced on Monday that he would join the August GOP primary for this open Senate seat. Hamilton runs a Kansas City-area plumbing and heating repair company, and he's starred in its TV commercials for a long time. (We're told that his "Better Call Bob!" tagline predates Saul Goodman's "Better Call Saul!" catchphrase.) The Wall Street Journal wrote that it remains to be seen if Hamilton will do any serious self-funding.
● NC-Sen, GA-Sen-B: CNN reported Monday that the U.S. Department of Justice, in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is investigating stock trades made by senators just before the markets tanked as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. CNN writes, "It is routine for the FBI and SEC to review stock trades when there is public question about their propriety."
The FBI reportedly has spoken to GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who chairs the Intelligence Committee and received intelligence briefings on the threat posed by the virus well before Donald Trump declared a state of emergency: Burr sold a large portion of his stock portfolio in more than 30 separate transactions, including hospitality companies who later saw their share prices plummet. His attorney responded to news of the investigation with a statement saying that Burr had used public information to make his decisions and "welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate."
A spokesperson for Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who sold stocks worth as much as $3.1 million in 30 different transactions between the end of January and mid-February, said that the senator had not been contacted by investigators.
● UT-Gov: Utah Policy has obtained a Dan Jones & Associates poll from mid-March for the Salt Lake Chamber that gives former Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman a small 30-27 edge over Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in the June GOP primary. Former state House Speaker Greg Hughes is in third with 12%, while ex-state party chair Thomas Wright and businessman Jeff Burningham are at 7% and 6%, respectively. Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton takes 4%, while businesswoman Jan Garbett brings up the rear with just 1%.
The results are a bit different from a recent Scott Rasmussen poll that showed Huntsman beating Cox 32-20, while Hughes was taking just 7%. However, as we've noted before, not all of these candidates will make it past the April 25 convention and onto the primary ballot. Huntsman, the former governor who has the lead in both these polls, may even watch his campaign come to an end at the convention if he fails to collect enough signatures to have an alternate route to the primary.
● CA-25: The National Journal reports that the NRCC is launching a $690,000 cable TV buy that will begin Tuesday and will last until the May 12 special election. We do not have a copy of the spot yet, but we do have a link to the coordinated ad buy that the committee is running with Republican nominee Mike Garcia for what Politico says is a $90,000 buy. The commercial promotes Garcia's military career and vows he'll lower taxes and "clean up homelessness in our cities."
● CA-50: Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar is out with a poll from Strategies 360 that shows Republican Darrell Issa leading him by a small 48-45 margin. This inland San Diego County seat backed Donald Trump 55-40.
● FL-15: Rep. Ross Spano recently picked up endorsements from Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Greg Steube, and Dan Webster, who each represent neighboring House seats, in his August GOP primary. Spano, who is under investigation by the Department of Justice over loans made to his 2018 campaign, faces an intra-party challenge from Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin. Franklin, who announced in mid-March, told the Tampa Bay Times that he can self-fund if necessary, but he didn't reveal how much he's willing to put down.
● NY-24: 2018 Democratic nominee Dana Balter is out with a poll of the June primary from GBAO that gives her a wide 64-21 lead over Navy veteran Francis Conole. This is the first survey we've seen of the contest to take on GOP Rep. John Katko, who defeated Balter 53-47 last cycle.
● TX-24: Local school board member Candace Valenzuela picked up an endorsement on Monday from former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro for the July Democratic primary runoff. Valenzuela faces 2018 state agriculture secretary nominee Kim Olson, who outpaced her 41-30 in the first round of the contest on March 3. The winner will take on former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who won the GOP nomination outright, in this open 51-44 Trump seat.
● Virginia: The deadline to file to run in Virginia's June 9 primary was Thursday, but the state does not yet have a list of candidates available.
Virginia allows parties to nominate candidates through party conventions or through a party-run firehouse primary, so not every November matchup will be decided in June. Both parties are holding primaries for Senate, but the situation varies in House seats: The GOP is hosting primaries in only five of the 11 congressional districts, while Democrats are doing primaries everywhere except for the safely red 9th Congressional District.
● Deaths: Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, who served in the House from 1995 to 2001 and in the Senate from 2005 until 2015, died Saturday at the age of 72 after a battle with cancer. Coburn was best known during his Senate term for fighting with his party, including home state colleague Jim Inhofe, over what he saw as wasteful government spending, and he earned the nickname “Dr. No” for blocking bills. Coburn also struck up a close friendship with then-Sen. Barack Obama, and the two worked together to pass a bill creating an online database of groups that received government money.
Coburn, who worked as an obstetrician, decided to challenge Democratic Rep. Mike Synar in 1994 after learning about the congressman’s support for the Clinton administration’s healthcare reform plan. Synar’s 2nd Congressional District, which then as now is located in the eastern part of the state, was dominated by conservative Democratic voters, and the area had not sent a Republican to the House in 70 years.
However, Synar was considerably more liberal than many primary voters, and he faced an unexpectedly tough intra-party challenge from Virgil Cooper, a 71-year-old retired teacher. The NRA, tobacco companies, and cattle interests spent millions attacking Synar, and Cooper ended up narrowly beating him in the primary runoff. Cooper put up a fight in November against Coburn, but the Republican won 52-48.
Coburn made a name for himself in the House as a vocal supporter of term limits and for his far-right social views. Among many other things, Coburn attracted national attention when he opposed a 1997 airing of Schindler’s List on prime-time TV, an event he called television’s “all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity.” Coburn, who was also involved in the failed 1997 coup against Speaker Newt Gingrich, was also the rare congressman who stuck to his term-limits pledge, and he retired in 2000.
Coburn got a chance to return to Congress in 2004 when GOP Sen. Don Nickles retired. Coburn’s main opponent in the GOP primary was former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who had the backing of Nickles and fellow Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, while the anti-tax Club for Growth was on Coburn’s side. Coburn, who had written a book only the previous year arguing that GOP leaders cared more about pork barrel projects than responsible spending, pledged to serve just two terms, and he ended up beating Humphreys 61-25.
Coburn faced a competitive general election that fall against Democratic Rep. Brad Carson, who had succeeded him in the House. Republicans worried that Coburn’s social views, including his support for “the death penalty for abortionists,” could cost them this seat even with George W. Bush set to easily carry Oklahoma. However, the Republican won 53-41 as Bush was taking the state 66-34. Coburn was easily re-elected six years later, but he ended up resigning in 2014 for health reasons.