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.
● IA-04: State Sen. Randy Feenstra is out with another poll of the June 2 GOP primary that shows him gaining ground, though still narrowly trailing, white supremacist Rep. Steve King. The new survey by the firm American Viewpoint gives King a 39-36 edge over Feenstra, while the rest of the field takes a combined 9% of the vote. This is an improvement for Feenstra from the late April poll he released that showed the incumbent up 41-34.
The House GOP leadership stripped King of all of his committee assignments early last year after he mused to the New York Times, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” Both Feenstra and his allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which recently went up with a $200,000 ad buy, have run ads portraying King as completely ineffective and unable to look out for his rural western Iowa seat now that he’s lost his posts, including his spot on the "vital" House Agriculture Committee. However, King has been arguing in recent weeks that his exile is only temporary.
In late April, King said that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had reached “an understanding.” He continued, “The only barrier in the way of putting back all my committees, perhaps incrementally as there are openings that can be created, is to get a formal meeting of the steering committee because they're officially the ones who make that decision.”
McCarthy didn’t say anything to confirm or deny this claim, and King made a similar one at a forum on Monday. “On April 20, Kevin McCarthy and I reached an agreement that he would advocate to the steering committee to put all of my committees back, all of my seniority.” McCarthy has remained silent through Wednesday afternoon, but unnamed sources close to him told Politico that he’d only allowed King to make his argument “at some point” to the GOP steering committee, which handles committee assignments, for why he should be reinstated in the next Congress.
There are 35 votes on the committee (McCarthy has four, Minority Whip Steve Scalise has two, and the remaining members have one vote each), and two members have already come out and said they oppose restoring King. Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, who chaired the NRCC last cycle, declared that King “will not be serving on any committee,” while a spokesperson for Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who is the third-ranking Republican in the leadership, said she also didn’t support King.
While King is arguing he deserves to be rehabilitated, he characteristically isn’t showing the slightest bit of contrition for his pro-white supremacist comments. King has constantly argued that the Times misquoted him, and at a recent debate he said of his opponents, “They’re all here because they believe the New York Times.”
● Minnesota: Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is not ruling out the possibility of issuing an executive order mandating that Minnesota's August primary or November general election be conducted by mail, after the Republican-run state Senate rejected a proposal to do so. Lawmakers recently passed a compromise measure appropriating additional funds to accommodate an expected surge in absentee voting, which Walz signed this week.
● South Carolina: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a new bill passed by South Carolina's Republican-run legislature that will allow any voter to request an absentee ballot for the state's June 9 primaries and June 23 runoffs. Under state law, voters must present an excuse in order to apply for an absentee ballot; all voters can now select the option of "state of emergency" in making their requests. The new law does not apply to the November general election, and multiple state and federal lawsuits over the requirement remain ongoing.
● GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: The GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies is out with a survey on behalf of an unidentified group supporting Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, and it shows a close contest for both Senate seats.
GOP Sen. David Perdue leads 2017 House nominee Jon Ossoff, who is the best-funded Democrat competing in the June primary, 43-41, while Libertarian Shane Hazel takes 7%; the sample also finds Joe Biden narrowly edging Donald Trump 47-46. The only other poll we've seen of this contest was a Cygnal survey for the state House GOP Caucus that showed Perdue winning 45-39 and Trump ahead 45-44. Neither poll included numbers for the other Democrats running for this Senate seat.
POS' new survey, though, finds a very different state of affairs than Cygnal in the November all-party special election. Republican Rep. Doug Collins leads with 19%, while appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler edges Democratic businessman Matt Lieberman 18-17 for the second spot in a likely January runoff. Pastor Raphael Warnock, who has the backing of national Democrats, takes fourth place with 9%, while none of the other candidates took more than 5%. Cygnal, by contrast, showed Collins well ahead with 29% and Lieberman second with 12%, while Loeffler and Warnock were just behind with 11% each.
While neither of these surveys were commissioned by any of Republicans running for Senate, both polls’ sponsors may have a particular interest in the special election: Kemp appointed Loeffler to this seat, while state House Speaker David Ralston, who leads the House GOP Caucus, is a Collins ally.
● IA-Sen: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling is out with a survey of the June 2 Democratic primary for the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, a group that advocates for universal basic income. Businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who has the backing of national Democrats, posts a 43-12 lead over retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken, while attorney Kimberly Graham and businessman Eddie Mauro each take 4%. This is the first poll we've seen all year of the contest to face GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.
Despite Greenfield's clear lead here, though, her allies at Senate Majority PAC aren't taking any chances. SMP is out with another commercial that praises Greenfield as someone who can be trusted "to stand up to big insurance companies, to protect coverage for pre-existing conditions, and be fearless taking on big drug companies to lower prescription drug prices."
● KS-Sen: Rep. Roger Marshall is out with a survey of the August GOP primary from Public Opinion Strategies that gives him a 33-26 lead over former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. State Senate President Susan Wagle is a distant third with 7%, while wealthy businessman Bob Hamilton and Kansas Turnpike Authority chair Dave Lindstrom are at 6% and 4%, respectively. The memo includes the numbers from an unreleased March survey that showed Kobach ahead 34-28, with Wagle at 7%.
The poll also unsubtly argues that Marshall would have a better chance of beating Kobach, who many Republicans fear could cost them this seat, if the other candidates dropped out. POS shows Marshall besting Kobach by a wide 48-34 margin in a two-person race, which is a big shift from the congressman's 42-40 edge in March. The survey also shows Marshall leading Kobach 41-29, with Hamilton at just 10%, in this three-person scenario.
This survey, which is the first poll we've seen of the primary since February, was released weeks after Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman tried to convince both Wagle and Lindstrom to drop out. Kuckelman did not mention Kobach in his pitch, but there's little question that he was trying to reduce the field to make it tougher for the ex-secretary of state to win.
Kuckelman's attempt hasn't worked so far, though, and both Wagle and Lindstrom are still in the race. Hamilton, who was not asked to exit the primary, also recently launched his opening ad campaign, so he doesn't seem interested in going anywhere. Kansas' candidate filing deadline is June 1.
● MI-Sen: Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is out with two new TV commercials focused on the coronavirus pandemic. In his first ad, Peters declares that "our workplaces need to be safe: that means more testing and protecting our health care. That's why I am fighting to help Michigan's small businesses keep people on payroll—and survive this crisis."
Peters says in his other spot, "I've always been tough on the Chinese government: Supporting the China travel ban. Demanding the truth about the spread of COVID-19." He continues, "And I'm fighting to take back production of life-saving drugs and medical supplies from China so we'll never be held hostage."
● MS-Sen: The GOP firm Impact Management Group, polling on behalf of the conservative blog Y'all Politics, shows GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith leading Democrat Mike Espy 58-31. Hyde-Smith beat Espy by a much smaller 54-46 margin in the 2018 special election.
● GA-09: Gun store owner Andrew Clyde, a candidate whom we hadn't mentioned before, is using his first TV spot ahead of the crowded June 9 GOP primary to talk about his time in the Navy and attack state Rep. Matt Gurtler. Clyde, who is shown sitting on a stool in the middle of a dark warehouse, tells the audience that when he redeployed to Iraq he gave his church a letter. "In that letter I asked the church choir to sing 'Jerusalem' as my final request if I didn't return," Cycle continues, "Obviously, I made it home, but many fine men and women didn't, and that's war."
Clyde goes on to argue that he and Gurler are the two "viable conservatives" in the contest, but that "Matt voted with Democrats against a resolution praising President Trump for the killing of terrorist Gen. Soleimani." Clyde goes on, "Matt said President Trump was wrong when he chose to have a terrorist killed. But Matt doesn't understand war." Clyde lays out his conservative views and concludes, "I approve this message because we're fighting for the future of our country. And this is war."
Gurtler, who racked up more "no" votes than anyone else in the 236-person legislature through mid-2018, was the one Republican member of the chamber to oppose a January resolution commending Trump for ordering the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Gurtler told the local news site Fetch Your News at the time that, while he agreed with Trump's decision, he had a number of issues with this resolution, which he called a "political stunt." Among other things, Gurtler argued, "The legislative branch holds the sole power to declare war," and that "we obviously won't always have presidents who make good decisions unilaterally."
Meanwhile, another candidate, former Forsyth County party chair Ethan Underwood, is out with a TV ad of his own. The narrator refrains of mentioning any of his opponents and instead argues that Underwood will be a leader Trump can count on to stand up to "radical liberals." The commercial also compares Underwood to Rep. Doug Collins, who is giving up this seat to run for the Senate.
● NY-15: Former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito picked up an endorsement this week for the June 23 Democratic primary from the United Federation of Teachers, which is one of the “big four” unions in New York City politics. Assemblyman Michael Blake already had the backing of SEIU 32BJ and 1199 SEIU, which represent building workers and healthcare workers, respectively, while the Hotel Trades Council is supporting New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres.
Mark-Viverito also unveiled endorsements from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
● TX-04: Texas Republicans have scheduled an Aug. 8 gathering for the Congressional District Executive Committee to pick a new nominee for this safely red seat in the event that the Senate confirms Rep. John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence. Three candidates are already running: Jason Ross, who served as Ratcliffe’s chief of staff; former Navy SEAL Floyd McLendon, who badly lost the GOP primary in March in the neighboring 32nd District; and Navy veteran TC Manning, who took third in this year’s primary for the safely blue 18th District well to the south.
State party chair James Dickey said that the Congressional District Executive Committee, which is made up of local county and precinct chairs, can nominate anyone at its August meeting, so we could see some last-minute campaigns. One Republican who said he wouldn’t compete here, though, is state Rep. Justin Holland.
● TX-23: This week, Navy veteran Tony Gonzales picked up an endorsement from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the July GOP runoff to succeed Rep. Will Hurd in this swing seat. Gonzales faces businessman Raul Reyes, who launched a quixotic primary campaign against Hurd months before the incumbent retired.
The winner will take on Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who lost to Hurd in a surprisingly close 2018 race. Gonzales initially struggled with fundraising during his first months in the race, but he improved during the new year: Gonzales took in a notable $418,000 during the first quarter of 2020, and he ended March with a $272,000 to $45,000 cash-on-hand lead over Reyes. However, that’s still well behind the $2.4 million that Ortiz Jones had in the bank.
Election Result Recaps
● CA-25: On Wednesday, Democrat Christy Smith conceded the previous day's special election to Republican Mike Garcia. Garcia held a 56-44 lead in the contest to succeed former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, and while there are more ballots to count in this mostly mail-in election, it's very unlikely that Smith could overcome a gap that wide.
Garcia's victory gives Republicans a pickup in an ancestrally red district that they lost to Hill in the 2018 wave, and it's also the first time the California GOP has flipped a U.S. House seat since 1998. (Though as David Jarman points out, Republican David Valadao "de facto flipped" the 21st District in 2012 because 79% of that newly drawn seat was made up of constituents represented by Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, who ran for re-election in a safer nearby seat.)
Garcia and Smith will face off again in November for a regular two-year term, and the electorate could look very different then. While Democrats enjoy a 38-32 party registration edge in this northern Los Angeles County seat, Political Data Inc. reports that 46% of the ballots received through Tuesday were from Republicans, compared to just 32% from Democrats. (These totals may shift some as more ballots come in.) However, there's good reason to think Democratic turnout will be considerably higher in the fall with the presidency on the line.
Garcia is also unlikely to benefit from sharing a ballot with Donald Trump here. This seat swung from 50-48 Romney to 50-44 Clinton, and while Garcia will enjoy the advantages of incumbency, he may have a difficult time finding voters willing to split their tickets now that he's holding Hillary Clinton's best seat of any House Republican seeking re-election this fall.
Still, while Smith has a chance to avenge her defeat, she's in for a tough fight. While this district turned away from the GOP in 2016 and 2018, this is still an area where Republicans do well downballot. Garcia, unlike so many House GOP candidates, also proved to be a strong fundraiser during this contest, and he'll have plenty of money to defend himself now that he's the incumbent.
● NE-02: 2018 nominee Kara Eastman decisively won Tuesday's Democratic primary by defeating attorney Ann Ashford 62-32 in this competitive seat in the Omaha area. Minutes after the Associated Press called the race, the DCCC released a survey from its in-house polling team that showed Eastman narrowly leading GOP Rep. Don Bacon 48-47. The sample also found Joe Biden beating Donald Trump 52-41 here, which would be quite the shift from Trump's 48-46 victory in 2016.
As Politico's Zach Montellaro notes, the DCCC may have dropped these numbers in part to show that it would be giving Eastman more support against Bacon this time than it did last cycle. Back in 2018, the committee backed former Rep. Brad Ashford, the husband of Ann Ferlic Ashford, in the primary. However, Eastman surprised the political world when she narrowly defeated the moderate former congressman by running to his left.
Polls taken during the fall, including some Democratic surveys, consistently showed Bacon ahead of Eastman, and national Democrats directed resources elsewhere. The DCCC and House Majority PAC didn't end up running TV ads here at all (though the DCCC said after the election that they'd spent "almost $100,000" to help Eastman pay to air a commercial), while the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund deployed a hefty $1.4 million against her. However, Eastman did better than almost anyone expected when she held Bacon to just a 51-49 win.
This seat will almost certainly attract far more outside spending this year than it did last cycle, and not only because of the Bacon-Eastman rematch. Aside from Maine, Nebraska is the only state that awards an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and both sides will try to score a win in the 2nd District.
For now, though, Bacon looks like the favorite here. The incumbent, who is a retired Air Force brigadier general, is a tough opponent, and the DCCC's poll does show him running well ahead of Trump. Bacon also begins the general election with a huge financial lead over Eastman, though she narrowly outraised him last cycle. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Lean Republican.
● WI-07: Republican Tom Tiffany defeated Democrat Tricia Zunker 57-43 in Tuesday's special election for a northwest Wisconsin seat that Donald Trump carried 58-37.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's special election in California.
CA-SD-28: As of Wednesday afternoon with about 171,000 votes counted, Republican Melissa Melendez holds a 56-44 lead over Democrat Elizabeth Romero in the race for this light red Riverside County seat. Similar to the special election for California's 25th Congressional District that also occurred Tuesday, late arriving mail ballots have the potential to change the complexion of this race. However, the election night results show Melendez in a good position to hold this seat for her party, which would leave the makeup of this chamber at 29-11 in favor of the Democrats.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Rep. David Rivera seems to always be under investigation for something, but this is new even for him. On Wednesday, the New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei reported that a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-run oil company called PDV was suing the Florida Republican for having “performed no meaningful services” when it employed his firm in 2017 for “strategic consulting services.” PDV is trying to recover the $15 million it paid Rivera, plus interest.
Rivera has always defined himself as an ardent opponent of socialist governments, including the Venezuelan regime that ran PDV when he was consulting for it. (The subsidiary has since come under the control of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.) Rivera suggested to the Times that he was helping the Venezuelan opposition during the time he was employed by PDV, but Mazzei writes “there was no way to immediately confirm that.”