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.
Programing Note: Daily Kos Elections will be taking a short break for Memorial Day. The Live Digest will return Tuesday, and the Morning Digest will be back Wednesday.
● WA-Gov: SurveyUSA is out with a new poll for KING 5 News that finds Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee decisively beating four GOP candidates in hypothetical general election scenarios:
- 56-34 vs. state Sen. Phil Fortunato
- 56-31 vs. Republic police chief Loren Culp
- 57-30 vs. developer Joshua Freed
- 60-31 vs. conservative activist Tim Eyman
This sample shows Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 57-31 in a state that Hillary Clinton won 53-37.
SurveyUSA also takes a look at the August top-two primary and finds that none of the GOP candidates have broken off from the pack. Inslee takes first with 50% to Eyman's 8%, while Fortunato and Freed are just behind with 6% each.
The firm also finds that Inslee's approval rating has shot up from just 41-39 in late January to 61-29 now. SurveyUSA didn't directly ask respondents how they rate Inslee's response to the coronavirus pandemic, but other recent surveys have found strong majorities of voters approving of the governor's handling of the situation.
● Connecticut: Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont issued an order allowing all voters to request absentee ballots for Connecticut's Aug. 11 primary, a move Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill had been urging him to make since mid-March. The order waives the state's excuse requirement to vote absentee as long as there is "no federally approved and widely available vaccine for prevention of COVID-19."
Merrill had previously announced plans to send absentee ballot applications to all voters. In response to Lamont's order, Merrill called on the legislature to also allow all voters to vote absentee for the November general election.
● Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Democratic Party and the DCCC have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Oklahoma's new law requiring that absentee ballots be notarized. Earlier this month in a separate case, the state Supreme Court ruled that a previous law that officials had interpreted to require ballot notarization did not in fact apply to absentee voting. However, the state's Republican-run legislature quickly responded by passing a new law reinstating the notarization requirement.
Unlike the prior suit, which said that state law had been misapplied, the Democrats' new challenge argues that the notarization requirement violates the Constitution by unduly burdening voters' right to vote. The plaintiffs also note notaries are forbidden from notarizing more than 20 ballots unless they do so at their place of business. With many businesses closed, however, Oklahoma likely does not have enough notaries to go around: There are just 76,458 registered in the state, meaning they could notarize 1.5 million ballots following the 20-ballot limit, but there are 2.1 million registered voters.
In addition, the plaintiffs are asking the court to order the state to prepay postage for absentee ballots and to require election officials to count all ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days. Under current state law, ballots must be received by Election Day.
● Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico Democrats have rescheduled their presidential primary for July 12. The primary had originally been set for March 29 but was postponed in late March until April 26. In early April, it was delayed indefinitely.
● IA-Sen: Senate Majority PAC is up with another TV spot supporting businesswoman Theresa Greenfield in the June 2 Democratic primary to face GOP Sen. Joni Ernst. The narrator declares, "Raised on a farm during the farm crisis, Greenfield worked her way through college. She lost her husband to an accident at work and raised two boys as a single mom." The ad goes on to proclaim, "The grit that made Theresa Greenfield the successful businesswoman she is today."
● ME-Sen: Senate Majority PAC's newest commercial against GOP Sen. Susan Collins features a local mother named Alyce telling the audience, "Sam has chronic kidney disease, he's on three different meds." Alyce says that Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon "ensured that insurance companies couldn't deny people coverage because of their pre-existing conditions."
A narrator then declares, "Susan Collins? She voted against protecting coverage for kids like Sam. Collins pocketed $1.4 million dollars from the big drug and insurance industry." Alyce comes back and says, "I can't imagine that someone could look at him and say, 'we're not going to cover you because you're too expensive.'"
● MI-Sen: Two new polls show Democratic Sen. Gary Peters leading Republican John James, though by considerably different margins. The latest survey from the GOP pollster Hodas & Associates, which was commissioned by James' allies at Restoration PAC, shows Peters ahead 49-37, while Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump 52-44; in April, the firm had the incumbent up 46-37. The progressive media organization Crooked Media, meanwhile, is out with a poll from the Democratic firm Change Research that shows Peters ahead by a modest 48-43 margin, while Biden leads just 49-46.
It's always odd to see a group like Restoration PAC, which has spent $1.3 million so far on anti-Peters ads, release a survey showing their candidate badly losing. The super PAC has been dropping monthly polls of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin for a while, which is also something we don't think we've seen a super PAC do.
Restoration PAC said last month that it was doing monthly polls of the crucial swing states 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."
● UT-Gov: Outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert stars in a new TV spot for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox ahead of the June 30 GOP primary. Herbert says of his second-in-command, "He is a proven leader and a true conservative who is deeply committed to our state and its future. I trust his judgment and vision, especially in challenging times." Herbert continues, "This recovery is too important to leave to chance. Spencer helped me lead our economy into the most prosperous period in state history. I trust him to do it again."
● WV-Gov: GOP Gov. Jim Justice's new ad for the June 9 primary features him skeet shooting as the narrator praises him as a conservative straight shooter.
● CA-10: On Wednesday evening, shortly after Politico reported that Republican Ted Howze had more ugly social media posts in his recent past, the NRCC removed him from its Young Guns program. The committee confirmed the following day that it had unendorsed Howze, who is the party's nominee against freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Harder in a seat that Hillary Clinton carried 49-46.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who backed Howze just ahead of the March top-two primary, isn't burning his bridges yet, though. McCarthy put out a statement on Wednesday night saying, "These posts are unacceptable and do not reflect the Mr. Howze that I have briefly interacted with." (That briefly is doing a whole lot of work here.) McCarthy, who said he'd take action if Howze "is found to be the originator of these posts," has yet to yank his endorsement.
Earlier this month, Politico's Ally Mutnick reported that Howze's Twitter and Facebook accounts had written or shared messages in 2017 and 2018 attacking both Muslims and one of the survivors of the Parkland high school massacre; Howze's page also used a racist stereotype against Rep. Maxine Waters, who is one of the most prominent Black members of Congress. All of those posts were removed from Howze's pages the very day he launched his unsuccessful 2018 campaign to unseat GOP incumbent Jeff Denham, who went on to lose to Harder in the fall.
Howze responded to the story by saying these "negative and ugly ideas" were written by people he had allowed to access his accounts. However, the candidate did not respond to Mutnick's inquiries about who could have written or shared these posts or why they were only removed the day he launched his 2018 bid. McCarthy and the NRCC also remained silent after that initial story went live on May 6.
Two weeks later, though, Mutnick reported that more Howze posts written around the same time contained far-right conspiracy theories, and that one of his missives was signed, "Ted Howze American citizen." These newly-uncovered writings also remained on the candidate's personal Facebook account as recently as Tuesday.
Rather than again deny that he was the author, Howze's campaign responded by saying, "It's the policy of the campaign to not comment on fake news or redundant stories by the same insider online blog." Later on Wednesday, Howze's team belatedly declared that the candidate agreed with NRCC chair Tom Emmer and McCarthy "that these are disgusting and he absolutely disagrees with the negative and ugly ideas." The statement also again argued that these messages "do not represent who Dr. Howze is, nor or ever."
● GA-07: Businessman Mark Gonsalves has launched what he says is his first TV spot ahead of the June 9 GOP primary for this open seat, though that's not quite true. Last fall, Gonsalves started airing a half-hour campaign infomercial on several local channels during the wee hours of the morning. His new offering, though, may be the first TV ad anyone actually watches.
Luckily for Atlanta-area viewers, this commercial, which Gonsalves says is running on Fox, is a mere one minute. The ad begins with actors playing two of his primary foes, emergency room physician Rich McCormick and state Sen. Renee Unterman, standing next to a Donald Trump cutout and yelling, "We want to be in Congress!" ("McCormick" is holding a Captain America shield for reasons that go unexplained.)
The McCormick character puts his arm around cardboard Trump and says, "I love Trump more than Melania does! I just didn't vote for him because I was on vacation! Dog ate my ballot or something." Faux Unterman then expresses her love for Trump and urges the audience to ignore that she said "he was my absolute last choice" and that she's been in office for 20 years. Gonsalves then lays out his conservative credentials as his two opponents fight over the Trump cutout behind him.
● IA-02: State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is out with a TV spot hitting former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling, who is her main opponent in the June 2 GOP primary for this open seat. The narrator argues, "As an Illinois politician, Schilling supported Nancy Pelosi's call to undermine Trump." The commercial then shows a clip of Schilling saying, "I think they should have a special prosecutor." After taking Schilling to task for running in Iowa after losing twice in Illinois, the narrator then praises Miller-Meeks as "pro-life, pro-Trump."
Shortly after this ad debuted, Schilling announced on Wednesday night that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. Schilling said that he would undergo surgery the following day and that he would remain in the race.
● IA-04: Iowa Political Fund, an organization that is run by allies of Gov. Kim Reynolds, is the latest outside group to air ads supporting state Sen. Randy Feenstra's June 2 GOP primary campaign against white supremacist Rep. Steve King. The super PAC is spending $204,000 on ads here.
The commercial stars former state House Speaker Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative power player in western Iowa who used to be a King supporter. Vander Plaats tells the audience, "Whatever you think of Steve King, it's clear he's no longer effective. He can't deliver for President Trump, and he can't advance our conservative values." Vander Plaats spends the rest of the commercial praising Feenstra as an ardent and effective conservative.
● NY-01: College professor Nancy Goroff is out with another spot ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin. Goroff talks about her time chairing Stony Brook University's chemistry department and pledges "to use science to guide us out of this crisis, rebuild our economy, and move Suffolk County forward."
● NY-15: New York City's Police Benevolent Association has endorsed conservative New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz in the June 23 Democratic primary. The PBA has been one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's most high-profile enemies during his tenure: Last year, the group issued resolutions of "no confidence" for both de Blasio and police commissioner James O'Neill after O'Neill fired the officer who was filmed choking Eric Garner to death in 2014.
● NY-24: Navy veteran Francis Conole is out with his first TV ad for the June 23 Democratic primary to face GOP incumbent John Katko. Several people tout Conole's local roots and military service and praise him for having the support of Democratic groups across central New York.
● PA-07: Businesswoman Lisa Scheller is using her first broadcast TV spot to attack 2018 candidate Dean Browning, a fellow former Lehigh County Commissioner, ahead of their June 2 GOP primary. The narrator declares, "On the Lehigh County Commission, Dean Browning sided with liberal Democrats and cast the deciding vote for a $16 million tax hike." The ad goes on to praise Scheller for having "passed permanent tax cuts for Lehigh County, saving taxpayers over $40 million."
Scheller and Browning are competing to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in a Lehigh Valley seat that backed Clinton 49-48. Scheller, who has the support of state House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has decisively outraised Browning, and she's long looked like the frontrunner here. Browning, though, came surprisingly close to winning his 2018 primary despite having little money or outside support, so Scheller may have reason to view him as a threat.
● TX-04: On Thursday, the Senate voted along party lines to confirm GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence. Ratcliffe's departure from the House will open up a 75-22 Trump seat in rural northeast Texas, and since the primary has already passed, local GOP officials will choose a new nominee for the November general election. However, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott's spokesperson confirmed that there would not be a special election for the final months of Ratcliffe's term, so this seat will remain vacant until the next Congress convenes early next year.
Team Red's new standard bearer will be selected at an Aug. 8 gathering of the Congressional District Executive Committee, a group that is made up of local county and precinct chairs. State party chair James Dickey said earlier this month that the Committee can nominate anyone at its meeting, so we could see some last-minute campaigns. A few Republicans have already put their names forward, and Rockwall City Councilman Trace Johannesen also announced that he'd run last week.
Ratcliffe's resignation will end, at least for now, an eventful career in electoral politics. Ratcliffe became mayor of the small community of Heath in 2004 and also served as the local U.S. attorney during the final years of the Bush administration (according to his official congressional biography, Ratcliffe remained mayor during his time as the area's top federal prosecutor).
Ratcliffe rose to national prominence in 2014 when he waged a primary challenge against 17-term Rep. Ralph Hall, a former conservative Democrat who had switched parties in 2004. Hall, who at 91 was the oldest person to ever serve in the House, had turned in underwhelming performances in 2010 and 2012 against a weak set of intra-party foes, but he decided to seek what he said would be his final term.
Ratcliffe had the connections and personal wealth to put up a strong fight, and he quickly emerged as the incumbent's main opponent in the crowded primary. Hall ended up taking 45% of the vote in the first round, which was a few points short of the majority he needed to win outright, while Ratcliffe led 29-16 to secure the second runoff spot.
A number of national anti-establishment groups, including the anti-tax Club for Growth, rallied behind Ratcliffe in the second round of the campaign. One group, Now or Never PAC, even ran ads portraying Hall as an aged earmarker who was out of touch with GOP values. Hall sought to portray his age as a positive with an ad where he showed the audience all the wrinkles he'd gotten from fighting for conservative priorities and told them, "By gosh I've got room for a few more wrinkles."
However, it wasn't enough. Ratcliffe beat Hall 53-47, a defeat that gave Hall the unwelcome distinction of being the second Texas Republican congressman to ever lose renomination. (The first, Greg Laughlin in 1996, was a former Democrat who had switched parties just months before his primary defeat.) Ratcliffe had no trouble winning the general election to win a seat made up of some of the turf that was once represented by the legendary Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn, and he was easily re-elected over the next several years.
Ratcliffe soon emerged as a favorite Donald Trump ally, and Trump tried to reward him in the summer of 2019 by tapping him for director of national intelligence. However, Ratcliffe withdrew his name after less than a week in the face of bipartisan Senate opposition: Republican senators had immediately made it clear that they weren't excited about confirming Ratcliffe, and his situation deteriorated over the following days as he was found to have dramatically inflated his resume as U.S. attorney.
Several months later, though, Trump nominated Ratcliffe for this very same position. The same Republicans who had objected to Ratcliffe the previous year didn't put up a fight this time, and he was confirmed to the post on Thursday.
● House: The Progressive group End Citizens United has endorsed a trio of candidates running in contested primaries for competitive GOP-held seats:
ECU is also backing Democratic nominee Kara Eastman in Nebraska’s 2nd District.
● OH State House, Where Are They Now?: Final results are in from the April 28 GOP primary, and former Rep. Jean Schmidt won the nomination 44-41 for a safely red seat east of Cincinnati.
Schmidt previously served in the state House from 2001 to 2004, the year she very narrowly lost a primary for the state Senate. Schmidt revived her career the following year by winning an unexpectedly close special election for a reliably red U.S. House seat, though she struggled to hold it the following year. Schmidt's time in Congress came to an end after she lost the 2012 primary election for the redrawn 2nd Congressional District in a 49-43 upset against now-Rep. Brad Wenstrup.