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.
● KS-Sen: In an unusual move, Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman sent letters on Thursday to two Senate candidates, state Senate Senate President Susan Wagle and Kansas Turnpike Authority chair Dave Lindstrom, that asked them to drop out of the August primary in order to "to allow our Party to coalesce behind a candidate who will not only win, but will help Republicans down the ballot this November."
Kuckelman did not mention former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race and whom national Republicans fear will endanger their hold on this Senate seat if he's nominated. However, there's no question that the chair sent these messages in order to try to reduce the field and make it tougher for Kobach to win a crowded primary.
So far, though, Kuckelman's efforts aren't working. Wagle's team responded to the news by saying, "Private conversations with Mike Kuckelman over the past year have made it clear he's been opposed to Susan's campaign from the start, and today, he simply put that on paper. Others can speculate on his motives, but it may be as simple as he doesn't support strong, pro-life conservative women."
Lindstrom in turn told the Kansas City Star that, while he didn't think Kuckelman was trying to get him to leave the race, "The polling information I have, it says that I can win." The state's filing deadline is in early June, so the pressure campaign could last for a while longer.
Shannon Golden, who serves as the state party's executive director, confirmed to the paper that Wagle and Lindstrom were the only candidates that Kuckelman asked to quit the race. Golden said that the party leaders wanted to set up a clear choice for primary voters between Rep. Roger Marshall and Kobach, though she denied that they were trying to undermine Kobach. Wealthy businessman Bob Hamilton and a few minor candidates are also in, and while Golden confirmed Hamilton wasn't asked to drop out, she argued that he couldn't win the nod. "He entered the race late," Golden explained, "His name ID is nonexistent outside of Johnson County."
Hamilton, though, has the resources to get his name out thanks to $2 million in self-funding. Hamilton, who also raised $156,000 from donors, ended March with a small $2.15 million to $1.95 million cash-on-hand lead over Marshall, but that margin may get larger. Marshall only raised $373,000 during the first quarter of 2020, and so far, he hasn't done any serious self-funding. Wagle took in just $101,000 during the first quarter with $515,000 on-hand, while Lindstrom was further behind with $79,000 raised and $266,000 in the bank.
Kobach took in a smaller $239,000 during the quarter and had only $317,000 on-hand, but he may very well be tough to beat in a crowded field. Kobach, who has earned national infamy for his voter suppression tactics and anti-immigrant zealotry, also likely retains plenty of name recognition with the party base, and he has some powerful friends.
Notably, far-right billionaire Peter Thiel has given $350,000 so far to the pro-Kobach super PAC Free Forever PAC, with $250,000 of that coming during the first quarter of the year. And while the anti-tax Club for Growth hasn't taken sides in this contest, it reportedly reserved $2.1 million for an upcoming ad campaign against Marshall—a move that could very much benefit Kobach by weakening his main primary foe.
Democrats could also benefit from a Kobach win in August. National Democrats have consolidated behind state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who hauled in $2.34 million during the opening months of 2020, a figure Golden called "extremely shocking." Bollier also ended March with $2.4 million in the bank, which was more than any of the Republicans had. Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi is also seeking the Democratic nod, but she had just $65,000 to spend.
Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.
● Kentucky: Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has issued an executive order after receiving recommendations from Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams that will expand mail voting for Kentucky's June 23 primary. As outlined by election law expert Josh Douglas, the order implements a wide variety of reforms, chief among them:
- All voters may now vote absentee (Kentucky ordinarily requires an excuse).
- All voters will be sent a postcard explaining how to request an absentee ballot, including via a new online portal.
- Ballot requests and ballots will not need to be notarized.
- Voters who need to cast ballots in person will be able to do so during a two-week early voting period (during which they can schedule an appointment to vote) and at limited sites on Election Day.
- Ballots will count as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received three days later.
Douglas notes that final regulations have not yet been promulgated, and in particular, he says he has urged officials to extend the absentee ballot receipt deadline.
● New York: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would issue an executive order directing that all voters receive an absentee ballot application for New York's June 23 primaries. Local news station NY1 had previously reported that Cuomo would order ballots, rather than applications, sent to voters, but a Cuomo aide declined to confirm that report.
● North Dakota: All 53 North Dakota counties say they will conduct the state's June 9 primaries entirely by mail, following an executive order from Republican Gov. Doug Burgum allowing them to do so. Under Burgum's order, voters will be sent absentee ballot applications. However, the counties say that no in-person voting locations of any kind will be open on Election Day, which could run afoul of federal laws requiring that voting be accessible to persons with disabilities.
An all-mail election also poses particular difficulties for Native voters on reservations, where mail service can be limited. The counties say in a statement that "[r]eservation counties have worked with tribal governments in their county to secure agreements to support Vote by Mail" but provide no further details.
● Utah: Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill to conduct Utah's June 30 primaries entirely by mail and cancel in-person voting. The legislation does however require that counties "provide a method of accessible voting" to those voters with disabilities who are unable to vote by mail.
● MI-Sen: The conservative group Restoration PAC, which has been airing ads attacking Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, is out with a new poll from the GOP firm Hodas & Associates that shows the incumbent leading Republican John James 46-37, while Joe Biden beats Donald Trump 49-43. The Senate numbers are similar to the 48-39 lead for Peters that Hodas found last month.
Restoration PAC's release says it's decided to regularly poll Michigan, along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, because "national polling results are disjointed and hard to interpret. By zeroing in on three crucial swing states that President Trump almost certainly needs to win to be re-elected, citizens can figure out how the election is going at a glance." The writeup only noted the Michigan Senate race briefly and mostly focused on Trump's standing in these three states.
● WV-Gov: On Thursday evening, Donald Trump tweeted out his endorsement for Gov. Jim Justice in the June GOP primary. (This is the one time anyone can honestly say that Trump stands for Justice.) Justice, who was elected as a Democrat, switched parties at a 2017 Trump rally, and Trump has gushed over him ever since. Justice faces an expensive intra-party fight against former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher.
● FL-06: In an odd move even for him, bombastic former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson announced Thursday that he would challenge GOP Rep. Michael Waltz in the reliably red 6th District … as a write-in candidate.
Grayson, who tried to return to the House last cycle by unsuccessfully challenging Democratic Rep. Darren Soto in the nearby 9th District, admitted, "I don't expect to win in a write-in campaign as a member of Congress. That's not realistic at all." However, Grayson said he was campaigning in order to limit Waltz's ability to send taxpayer-funded communications to constituents, a practice known as franking.
House members are prohibited from sending out "unsolicited mass mailing or mass communication" within 90 days of any election where their name will be on the ballot. Florida does not include races on the ballot where there is just one person who is registered to run, but by filing to run as a write-in candidate, Grayson says he's ensured that Waltz won't be able to exercise his franking privileges for the final three months of the cycle.
Several other candidates have filed to run against Waltz, though, including two Democrats. When Florida Politics mentioned this to Grayson on Thursday he replied, "It's working out that way. But there was no way to know." Actually, there was: Both Democrats Richard Thripp and Clint Curtis qualified for the ballot on Monday, two days before Grayson.
● FL-25: While GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart represents a South Florida seat that only backed Donald Trump 50-48, he won't face any opposition whatsoever this cycle. Diaz-Balart's sole opponent, Democrat Yadira Escobar, didn't end up filing, and neither did anyone else before candidate qualifying closed on Friday. Florida doesn't list races on the ballot where there is just one person who is registered to run, so Diaz-Balart has won his 10th term by default.
Diaz-Balart would have been very difficult to beat even under the most favorable circumstances, though. While Trump only narrowly carried the district, Republicans still do very well here downballot. Last cycle, Diaz-Balart turned back a well-funded challenge from Democrat Mary Barzee Flores 60.5-39.5, and according to analyst Matthew Isbell, all five members of the GOP's 2018 statewide ticket won at least 57% of the vote here. Still, it's always good to field a candidate in case the unexpected happens, and that's impossible now.
● SC-01: State Rep. Nancy Mace's allies at the anti-tax Club for Growth are out with a WPA Intelligence poll of the June 9 GOP primary that shows her well ahead in the contest to face Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. Mace takes 42%, which is a bit below the majority she'd need to avoid a runoff two weeks later, while Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing is in second with 13%. Two other candidates, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox and Some Dude Brad Mole, take 8% and 3%, respectively.
● East Baton Rouge Parish, LA: Back in October, residents in Baton Rouge's mostly white southeastern suburbs voted 54-46 to create a new city to be called St. George, but the area still remains an unincorporated part of East Baton Rouge Parish six months later. The effort remains stalled in in the legislature and in court, and there's no telling when there will be a resolution.
Last month, GOP state Sen. Bodi White filed legislation to create a transition district that would lay out how the proposed new city would share sales taxes and expenses with the rest of the parish. However, while the Baton Rouge Business Report writes that the bill was "expected" to pass the heavily Republican legislature, the session was put on hold as the coronavirus pandemic got worse. Legislators are able to cast votes remotely, but it remains to be seen when they'll be able to meet again or how much of a priority White's proposal will be when they do.
Meanwhile, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat, is part of an ongoing lawsuit that seeks to prevent the incorporation. The suit charges that St. George's backers have failed to explain how the area, which currently receives services from the parish government, would provide necessary services like sanitation and policing on its own. It also argues that St. George's incorporation would have a "substantial adverse impact" on the city of Baton Rouge, as well as other unincorporated areas of the parish, by necessitating cuts to government operations.
St. George supporters say they were driven to create a new city by a desire to form their own school district. Opponents, which include much of Baton Rouge's political and business establishment, have in turn accused backers of seeking to segregate St. George's white students from the predominantly black East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
The St. George area is also more affluent than the rest of Baton Rouge, so its incorporation could undermine parish schools and government financially: One analysis concluded that St. George's creation could lead to an 18% budget cut unless the rest of the parish raises taxes.
The situation is unlikely to be settled anytime soon, but Broome, who is perhaps the most prominent opponent of the St. George effort, is up for re-election in November. At the beginning of the year it looked like she would face a crowded field of opponents and that the issue could play a role in the campaign. However, several would-be Broome foes acknowledged earlier this month that the ongoing pandemic has them reconsidering whether they'll actually run. The filing deadline is in mid-July, so it may be a while before this contest comes into focus.
P.S. If St. George does eventually win incorporation when all is said and done, it would still be years before a separate school district, which is what its proponents say is driving their effort, could even come into being. The process of creating a new district is a separate process from creating a new city, and St. George organizers said in October that they wouldn't get it started for another two or three years.