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.
● IN-AG: Former Rep. Todd Rokita announced Wednesday that he would challenge scandal-ridden state Attorney General Curtis Hill, whose law license is suspended until June 17, for renomination in next month's GOP convention. The Indiana Supreme Court sanctioned Hill earlier this month after determining he groped several women in 2018 and "committed the criminal act of battery," but that didn't stop the incumbent from proceeding with his plan to seek a second term.
Two other Republicans, attorney John Westercamp and Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter, have been running against Hill for a while, but a crowded field of opponents won't necessarily help the attorney general. GOP rules require candidates to win a majority of the vote to be nominated, and the over 1,000 party delegates who will be voting will receive a ranked-choice ballot in the mail. The ballots will be tabulated on July 10, which is one day after they are due.
Rokita is Hill's most high-profile intra-party challenger, and he does have experience winning GOP conventions. Rokita was nominated for secretary of state at an intra-party gathering in 2002, and he prevailed in the general election that fall. Rokita, though, angered the party establishment by unsuccessfully attempting to make it a felony for the legislature to take into account partisan considerations during redistricting. (Talk about a fierce opponent of gerrymandering!)
Rokita decisively won the 2010 GOP primary for a safely red seat, but as Politico wrote back in 2017, the bad blood between the new congressman and the powers that be in Indiana never went away. The following cycle, the lawmakers tasked with redistricting drew Rokita's home 500 yards outside of his seat: Legislators called it a coincidence, but Rokita called it "comeuppance."
This poor relationship may have cost Rokita the chance to become governor in 2016 after Mike Pence dropped his re-election campaign to become Donald Trump's running mate. The 22-member state party central committee was tasked with choosing the new nominee, and Rokita reportedly won just two votes. The GOP nod instead went to Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who defeated both Rokita and Rep. Susan Brooks at the committee meeting and later prevailed in November.
Rokita tried for a promotion again in 2018 when he gave up his seat to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. Rokita's main intra-party opponent appeared to be his former college classmate, fellow Rep. Luke Messer, and the two old adversaries waged a nasty and protracted fight amongst themselves. However a third candidate, wealthy former state Rep. Mike Braun, unexpectedly picked up support when he ran ads positioning himself as an alternative to two ambitious political insiders. Braun ended up defeating Rokita 41-30, and he went on to win in the fall.
Rokita has the chance to revive his political career this summer, but he'll need GOP delegates to view him a whole lot more favorably than party insiders and primary voters have.
● Minnesota: The League of Women Voters, with the support of the Campaign Legal Center, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to bar enforcement of Minnesota's requirement that absentee voters have their ballots witnessed.
● Missouri: A Missouri state court has rejected a lawsuit brought by the NAACP seeking to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot, saying that the plaintiffs' request was "not limited to Covid-19 and goes far beyond the health concerns they raise." Plaintiffs had asked that any voters who "reasonably fear that they may contract or spread COVID-19 if they vote in person" be permitted to vote absentee, but the court concluded that granting such relief would entitle every voter "who feared catching any illness at the polls, in any future election" to an absentee ballot.
Following the ruling, the plaintiffs appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
● Texas: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily stayed a lower court ruling issued a day earlier that had allowed all voters to cast absentee ballots in any elections that take place "during the pendency of pandemic circumstances." Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately appealed the ruling issued by District Judge Fred Biery, but the appeals court's stay is only short-term in nature, known as an "administrative stay." Such a stay is designed to give the 5th Circuit time to rule on Paxton's request that Biery's decision be paused for the duration of Paxton's appeal.
In his ruling, Biery concluded, among other things, that state law violated the 26th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of age." Texas allows all voters 65 or older to cast absentee ballots without an excuse while requiring an excuse for anyone younger. Biery noted that this practice would grant easier voting access to "those 65 years of age and older but not those 64 years, 364 days and younger," saying such a distinction lacked any "rational basis."
Biery also criticized Paxton for sparking "confusion" due to the "contradictory opinions" he's offered regarding absentee voting, which Biery called "at best duplicitous and at worst hypocritical." He further clamped down on Paxton's repeated efforts at voter intimidation by forbidding him from issuing "any further threats of criminal prosecution" directed against those promoting absentee voting, as he's now done at least twice.
Biery specifically noted that a Republican candidate for the U.S. House that Paxton has endorsed, Kathaleen Wall, has sent out mailers encouraging voters to request absentee ballots but observed that there is "no evidence" that Wall is "being criminally investigated or prosecuted" for doing so. That disparate treatment, ruled Biery, "leave[s] the Democratic Party and its candidates unsure whether only Democrats will be prosecuted."
(Note that this case is separate from proceedings in the Texas state courts, which last week saw the state Supreme Court block a lower court's order that had also allowed all voters to vote absentee.)
While Biery's ruling is on hold for the moment, the appeals court could rule soon and in fact ordered the plaintiffs to respond to Paxton by Thursday afternoon. However, the already conservative 5th Circuit has grown more so under Donald Trump's presidency, and all three judges on the appellate panel were appointed by Republicans. But even if plaintiffs prevail, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that the state is prepared to take the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose conservative majority has long been hostile to the expansion of voting access.
● Wisconsin: Officials in Wisconsin are considering a plan to send absentee ballot applications to all active registered voters who have not yet requested an absentee ballot themselves, about 2.7 million in total. Applications would not be sent to the approximately 129,000 voters who are "believed to have moved."
● GA-Sen-A: Businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico, who was Team Blue's nominee for lieutenant governor last cycle, is out with her first TV spot ahead of the June 9 primary. Amico emphasizes her business background and faith, declaring, "I teach my daughters that faith demands action, not just words. That's why for decades, I've created jobs, paid 100% of my workers' health care."
Amico continues that this is "[w]hy I ran for office with Stacey Abrams, fighting for voting rights." The ad then features a clip of Barack Obama introducing her as, "Your next lieutenant governor, Sarah Riggs Amico!" Amico goes on to declare that "everyone deserves dignity and respect" as the commercial shows a screenshot of a Change.org petition titled, "Justice for Ahmaud Arbery."
● GA-Sen-B: Pastor Raphael Warnock picked up endorsements this week from Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop, Hank Johnson, and David Scott.
● IA-Sen: Businesswoman Theresa Greenfield's new TV ad for the June 2 Democratic primary highlights that she's the endorsed candidate of former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg; Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Dave Loebsack; and former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack.
Meanwhile, businessman Eddie Mauro is out with another spot against Greenfield. The narrator declares, "When Greenfield ran for Congress, her campaign forged signatures and committed felonious election misconduct. That's not leadership." However, while this commercial makes it sound like Greenfield was behind the scandal that cost her a place in the 2018 primary for the 3rd Congressional District, a race that Mauro was also competing in, the reality is quite different.
Greenfield had handed in her petitions a few days before they were due, but her campaign manager, Noah Wasserman, confessed the night before the filing deadline that he'd forged signatures to help her get on the ballot. Greenfield immediately fired Wasserman and chose to throw out all the petitions she'd already turned in—even though it's likely the forgeries would have gone undiscovered if she'd said nothing. Greenfield then engaged in a mad one-day dash to gather the 1,790 signatures she'd need to qualify as a candidate in the hours she still had before the deadline.
Ultimately, Greenfield fell just short of making the ballot, while Mauro went on to lose the primary to now-Rep. Cynthia Axne 58-26. The next year, Wasserman took out an ad in the Des Moines Register where he apologized for his actions and said, "I falsified signatures, lied to Theresa, and told her to submit the nomination documents. Neither she, nor anyone else, knew what I had done." Wasserman was indicted days later, and he later accepted a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to tampering with records.
● Senate: The Democratic group Majority Forward, which is aligned with Senate Majority PAC, has announced summer TV reservations in three GOP-held seats:
- Arizona (Martha McSally): $1.5 million, starts June 1
- Montana (Steve Daines): $3 million, runs June 3 to Aug. 4
- North Carolina (Thom Tillis): $4.2 million, starts July 12
● CA-10: Politico's Ally Mutnick reports that Republican Ted Howze has even more ugly social media posts in his recent history, including several that espouse far-right conspiracy theories.
Howze insisted earlier this month that bigoted posts on his Twitter and Facebook accounts were written or shared by people who had "access to these accounts unknowingly," though one of these newly uncovered missives was signed, "Ted Howze American citizen." His campaign's only response to Mutnick's questions this time was, "It's the policy of the campaign to not comment on fake news or redundant stories by the same insider online blog."
Howze, who is waging a very uphill campaign against freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Harder, earned House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's endorsement just before the March top-two primary. So far, neither McCarthy nor the NRCC has addressed this story, and Howze remains listed on the NRCC's Young Guns site as of Wednesday.
● IA-04: State Sen. Randy Feenstra's allies at American Future Fund are out with a Public Opinion Strategies survey that gives him a narrow 41-39 edge over white supremacist Rep. Steve King in the June 2 GOP primary. Three other candidates are running, but POS finds that none of them are taking more than 4% of the vote.
Last week, Feenstra dropped his own poll showing him trailing King 39-36. King released a survey last October that found him far ahead of Feenstra, but we haven't seen any numbers from the incumbent since then.
● IN-01: State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon is out with an ad contrasting herself with Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who is one of her many opponents in the June 2 Democratic primary. The narrator takes McDermott to task for opposing impeaching Donald Trump and features a clip of the mayor asking, "Why are we going through this exercise?" The rest of the spot touts Candelaria Reardon as an ardent progressive.
● MD-05: Mckayla Wilkes, who has worked as a Pentagon administrative assistant, is out with her first TV spot for her longshot campaign against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in the June 2 Democratic primary. Wilkes' team tells Politico the commercial is running for "mid five figures."
Wilkes tells the audience that the contest between her and Hoyer is a battle "of people versus money." Wilkes continues, "We're going up against someone powerful, someone who is backed by the machine. But we have to show them that we have the people."
● NJ-02: Businessman Bob Patterson is out with a cable TV spot for his July GOP primary against Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who earned Donald Trump's endorsement after he switched parties last year. The narrator declares that the incumbent "voted for amnesty and against President Trump's border wall," and adds that Van Drew supported gun control and enjoyed a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood. The rest of the commercial touts Patterson as a pro-Trump conservative alternative.
● SC-01: The anti-tax Club for Growth has launched a $410,000 TV ad campaign supporting state Rep. Nancy Mace in the June 9 GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. The commercial emphasizes how Mace was the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military academy, as well as her work on the 2016 Trump campaign. The narrator also declares, "Mace fought the internet sales tax here in South Carolina. She'll defend Trump's tax cuts in Washington."
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: OpinionWorks, polling on behalf of WYPR, the Baltimore Sun, and the University of Baltimore, is out with the first independent survey we’ve seen here since March, and it shows a very tight June 2 Democratic primary:
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon: 18
Former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller: 18
City Council President Brandon Scott: 15
Former state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah: 11
Former police spokesman T.J. Smith: 6
Mayor Jack Young: 5
It takes just a simple plurality to earn the Democratic nod, and the winner should have no trouble in November in this very blue city.
This is a particularly dire showing for Young, who was elevated from City Council president to mayor last May after Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace. Polls taken earlier this year also showed Young in bad shape, though an April survey for a pro-Miller super PAC gave him some reason for optimism: That poll found Miller, Dixon, and Scott tied with 16%, which is similar to what OpinionWorks has, while Young was just behind with 13%.
Election Results Recaps
● OR-02: Oregon held its statewide primary on Tuesday, and state Sen. Cliff Bentz won the expensive GOP contest to represent the last Blockbuster on the planet. Bentz defeated 2018 gubernatorial nominee Knute Buehler 31-22, while former state Sen. Jason Atkinson and businessman Jimmy Crumpacker were just behind with 20% and 18%, respectively. Bentz should have no trouble winning the general election to succeed retiring Rep. Greg Walden in this 57-36 Trump seat in the eastern part of the state.
Buehler, who had been one of the GOP's few rising stars in Oregon for a while, lost last cycle's race for governor to Democratic incumbent Kate Brown by a respectable 50-44 margin, and he likely began this primary with the most name recognition. However, Buehler took a number of political stances during his career that, while helpful in a statewide race, were toxic in a competitive GOP primary. Notably Buehler, who has identified as pro-choice, pledged during his last campaign, "Regardless of what happens at the federal level, Oregon will remain a pro-choice state."
Buehler ran ads this year portraying himself as an ardent Trump ally who would stand up to "the D.C. liberals," but his adversaries would not let voters forget his past apostasies. The anti-tax Club for Growth notably ran a commercial featuring an old clip of Buehler saying, "I have spoken out frequently against the Trump administration's policies." Buehler outspent the rest of the field in the final weeks of the race and was aided by $336,000 in spending from a super PAC financed by Oregon's wealthiest resident, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, but it was far from enough.
Bentz, who was the only current elected official in the contest, benefited from outside spending from Defending Main Street, which was set up years ago to stop anti-establishment candidates from winning GOP primaries. Bentz spent considerably less money than Buehler, but unlike his main rival, the state senator didn't get attacked much.
● OR-05: Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader decisively turned away a primary challenge from the left by defeating Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba 71-22. This seat, which includes Salem, backed Hillary Clinton just 48-44, but Republicans haven't seriously targeted Schrader since 2010 and aren't going after him this cycle either.
● Portland, OR Mayor: Portland held its nonpartisan primary for mayor on Tuesday and, as of the following evening, incumbent Ted Wheeler is just short of the majority he needs to avert a second round of voting in November.
While Wheeler had 50.4% of the vote on Tuesday evening, he lost ground as more ballots were counted the following day. Wheeler is at 49.4% with about 214,000 ballots tabulated as of Wednesday evening, while urban policy consultant Sarah Iannarone held a 24-8 lead for second place. There is no word on how many ballots remain to be counted.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Democrats' two flips in the Massachusetts Senate from Tuesday:
MA-SD-2nd Hampden and Hampshire: Democrat John Velis cruised to victory over Republican John Cain 64-36 to flip this seat and break up 25 years of Republican control in this district. Velis' win was large even for a district that leans Democratic at the presidential level: The Democrat ran 18 points ahead of Hillary Clinton's 52-41 win and 9 points ahead of Barack Obama's 59-39 win.
MA-SD-Plymouth and Barnstable: Democrat Susan Moran defeated Republican Jay McMahon 55-45 to flip this seat for her party. Similar to Velis, Moran's win comes in a seat that, while leaning blue in federal contests, has been much friendlier to Team Red downballot. Also like Velis, she overperformed past presidential results in this district, albeit by smaller margins: Moran ran 4 points better than Clinton’s 50-44 win here and 8 points better than Obama's 50-48 victory.
The chamber moves back to full strength with Democrats holding a dominating 36-4 edge, and Massachusetts Republicans are facing the prospect of their share of seats dwindling further in the fall. Politico's Stephanie Murray writes that, of the four remaining GOP-held seats, two (Plymouth and Norfolk and Worcester and Middlesex) are being seriously contested by Democrats, and both were won by Clinton and Obama.
Still, the GOP does have the chance to gain some turf. Democratic state Sen. Anne Gobi is running for re-election in a seat that Trump carried 51-41, though she decisively won in both 2016 and 2018.