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.
● Westchester County, NY District Attorney: On Thursday, more than three weeks after New York held its June 23 Democratic primary, Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino conceded defeat to progressive challenger Mimi Rocah. With 41,000 votes tabulated, Rocah, who is a former federal prosecutor, leads Scarpino 68-32. Westchester County is a reliably blue county in most contests and Rocah will be the heavy favorite in November against Republican Bruce Bendish, who lost to Scarpino 70-30 four years ago.
As The Appeal explained before the primary, Scarpino has faced scrutiny over his handling of a scandal involving the police department in Mount Vernon, a suburb of 68,000 right on the Bronx border. Early last year, a Black member of the department, 12-year-veteran Murashea Bovell, provided Scarpino's office with recordings of phone calls that featured an officer accusing one of his colleagues of framing innocent people and using excessive force.
However, no charges have been filed in the ensuing 16 months, and the investigation remains ongoing. Scarpino has argued that the tapes are "nothing but hearsay and uncorroborated" allegations. Rocah retorted, "Those recordings would have lit a fire in my office."
● Massachusetts: Democratic Secretary of State Bill Galvin says that his office is mailing out absentee ballot applications for Massachusetts' Sept. 1 primary after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker advanced the necessary funds while a budget bill is finalized by the legislature. A few days before Galvin's announcement, voting rights advocates had filed a lawsuit asking that the secretary be ordered to comply with a new law requiring that he send out applications by July 15.
● Michigan: The Michigan Court of Appeals has rejected a request by the League of Women Voters that election officials be ordered to accept mail ballots so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within six days. Under current law, ballots must be received by Election Day, but plaintiffs argued that this practice conflicts with an amendment to the state constitution that voters passed in 2018 establishing the right to vote by mail.
By a 2-1 majority, however, the court ruled that the receipt deadline did not conflict with this amendment, even though defendants conceded it did. The plaintiffs have said they will appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.
● AL-Sen: The far-right Club for Growth has begun its reported $1.3 million buy against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones with the latest Republican commercial to fan anti-China xenophobia.
The spot begins with a mushroom cloud as the narrator warns, "China has been preparing for economic war," and argues that Jones "voted to allow billions in taxpayer-funded loans to China's communist government. American green for the red war machine." Jones' campaign responded that the bills the Club is attacking him over were supported by the state's Republican senator, Richard Shelby, which "funded Alabama priorities like investments in infrastructure, agricultural development, and medical research."
● AZ-Sen: Republican Sen. Martha McSally is once again airing a commercial starring a former Republican campaign staffer that does not mention the subject's partisan ties. Whitney Lawrence, who served as former Sen. Jeff Flake's statewide field director before he pulled the plug on his re-election bid in 2017, talks about her medical struggles before arguing that Democrat Mark Kelly and Joe Biden would place "government in charge of our health care."
Back in April, McSally relied on a constituent who just happened to be her former campaign manager to praise the senator's healthcare record.
● DE-Sen: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Delaware's Sept. 15 primary, and the state has a list of candidates available here. The only state where major party candidates can still file for downballot races is Louisiana, which closes on July 24.
Sen. Chris Coons is one of the more moderate Democrats in the caucus, and he faces a primary challenge from the left from businesswoman Jessica Scarane. So far, though, Scarane's campaign hasn't attracted much attention from national donors. Scarane raised just $84,000 during the second quarter of 2020, and she had only $130,000 on-hand at the end of June. Coons, by contrast, had $3.1 million available. Daily Kos Elections rates the general election as Safe Democratic.
● GA-Sen-A: In its opening commercial against Democrat Jon Ossoff, the NRSC uses material from a 2017 item in the conservative Free Beacon to argue that Ossoff "misrepresented his national security credentials." The Washington Post took a look at this attack three years ago during the special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District and concluded that, despite what the GOP claimed, Ossoff had been very careful not to exaggerate his experience.
● KS-Sen: We have less than three weeks to go before the Aug. 4 Republican primary, and the attack ads are flying all over the place.
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's new commercial pushes back on a $3 million campaign from a group called Plains PAC, which depicted him as an electoral loser who once had a white supremacist on his payroll. The spot makes good use of Fox clips of nativist blowhard Lou Dobbs, who declares that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "is trying to kill the frontrunner in the poll."
The ad also tries to refute the establishment's claims that Kobach is "a white supremacist and a loser" (the narrator's words) by arguing that polls show him leading Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier. The commercial also shows a screenshot from FiveThirtyEight of a pair of surveys to try to make its point that Kobach is winning.
What the image in the commercial shows, though, is a May survey for the NRSC from an unidentified firm that had Kobach ahead of Bollier by a tiny 44-43 margin, while Rep. Roger Marshall beat her 46-35; indeed, the NRSC released those toplines to argue that Kobach is a weak candidate who could cost Team Red this race. Why Kobach's team decided to also include Marshall's stronger showing in its spot is left as an exercise for the reader.
Marshall himself, meanwhile, is up with a new ad that opens with footage of an exploding car as the narrator muses, "Everything Kris Kobach touches seems to go up in flames." He continues, "Kobach drove the Kansas Republican Party into the ditch as chairman. Left 100 grand in debt." The commercial goes on to attack Kobach's performance as secretary of state, arguing he "got caught lining his pockets with taxpayer funds, then got destroyed running for governor."
A third candidate, wealthy businessman Bob Hamilton, is in turn continuing his offensive against Marshall. In one ad, the narrator once again goes after Marshall over his 2008 conviction for reckless driving and the charge's subsequent erasure. Hamilton then shows up and portrays himself as the one candidate who isn't part of the establishment.
Another Hamilton commercial against Marshall begins with a narrator proclaiming, "The National Endowment for the Arts funded an obscene exhibit attacking Christ, then staged a play about transsexuals." After that transphobic attack, the commercial goes after Marshall for voting "with Washington liberals to protect the Fund." Hamilton also has a spot out that argues that, contrary to what Marshall claims, "Bob Hamilton never hired an illegal immigrant. Bob's a Trump supporting pro-life plumber."
● LA-Sen: On Wednesday, Democratic Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins did not rule out challenging Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy. Louisiana has become a reliably red state in federal elections in recent years and there's no indication that Cassidy is vulnerable, but it's always good to run a viable candidate in case something unexpected happens. The state filing deadline is July 24.
● TN-Sen: With the Aug. 6 Republican primary for this open seat approaching, both former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who is Donald Trump's endorsed candidate, and orthopedic surgeon Manny Sethi are going up with what appear to be their first negative TV spots.
As footage of a burning American flag fills the screen in Hagerty's ad, a paraplegic veteran named Joseph James tells the audience, "Sethi has donated to the organization that has bankrolled these rioters, aiding liberal extremists." James continues, "Tennessee deserves a senator who respects our sacrifices and honors our flag. That is why I support Bill Hagerty."
The Tennessee Journal's Erik Schelzig explains that the organization James is talking about is the Democratic fundraising powerhouse ActBlue, which, among other things, allows donors to contribute to bail funds and Black Lives Matter groups. The extremely tenuous link the ad relies on between Sethi, who has been running commercials stoking conservative anger at racial justice protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement both candidates despise is that Sethi used ActBlue to donate $50 to Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello's successful U.S. House campaign in 2008.
Sethi quickly responded with his own spot that also tries to paint Hagerty as the real heretic. Sethi begins by asking the audience, "Why is the establishment attacking a nice guy like me? Well, folks are finding out that Bill Hagerty is endorsed by Mitt Romney, donated to Al Gore, made millions off CommonCore, tries to get Tennessee to do trade deals with China." Sethi then emphasizes his own conservative credentials and frames the contest as "a pretty clear choice."
Hagerty did indeed give $1,000 to Gore's presidential campaign back in 1999, and he was later a prominent financial backer of both of Romney's 2008 and 2012 White House bids. Hagerty didn't hesitate to turn on his old ally in February after Romney voted to remove Trump from office, though, saying, "The president and I both talked how about — how we both supported Mitt Romney back in 2012 to defeat Barack Obama. And now it seems he's become indistinguishable from Barack Obama."
● Advertising: While Republican candidates and outside groups have already spent massive amounts of money on primary and general election ads, the Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay notes that one traditionally huge player, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has largely been on the sidelines.
Markay reports that the Chamber has spent just $1.6 million so far, compared to the $16 million it deployed at this point in the 2016 cycle. One longtime party strategist and lobbyist, perhaps speaking for much of the GOP, responded upon seeing those numbers, "Holy shit. That's shocking."
The Chamber has invested heavily on outside expenditures in Republican primaries in past years, but as that relatively low sum demonstrates, it's had a very limited presence this time around. Indeed, the group has only spent money in four nomination contests so far, including for conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas and in support of Republican Rep. Roger Marshall in the upcoming Kansas Senate primary.
By contrast, the radical anti-tax Club for Growth, which has often opposed Chamber-endorsed candidates in Republican primaries, has been involved in numerous intra-party races in 2020, including five that took place just this week.
The Chamber has also taken on a more limited role in defending vulnerable Republicans in general elections than in past years. Still Chamber political strategist Scott Reed insisted that, while the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted "[o]ur natural rhythm of engagement," their "plans are to spend aggressively."
Markay takes a look at why the Chamber has been, as he puts it, "largely missing in action," and the financial uncertainties of the pandemic are certainly playing a role. However, he also notes that the Chamber's pullback from electoral politics began well before this year. While the Chamber deployed $35 million in outside spending for the 2014 midterms and $29 million for the 2016 cycle, it only spent $11 million for 2018.
Markay writes that the Chamber's diminished role in Republican electoral politics very much has to do with its uneasy relationship with the Trump administration, especially on immigration and trade issues. While the Chamber's member organizations have donated to its campaign arm in the past as a way to influence policy, especially on the Republican side, that's changed now that it has found itself on the wrong side of Trump-era orthodoxy. "An awful lot of their members who wanted to make expenditures in the political space did so because of [the Chamber's] influence on the Republican side," one unnamed party strategist said, "and they all a sudden had none."
● KS-01: Both of the leading candidates are out with new TV spots ahead of the Aug. 4 Republican primary for this safely red western Kansas seat. Former Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann echoes Donald Trump; the narrator argues that the candidate will "stop the liberal mob."
Finney County Commissioner Bill Clifford, meanwhile, goes on the attack with a commercial accusing Mann of being an outsider from the Kansas City suburbs who "bankrolled liberal Democrats, even one trying to steal Pat Roberts' Senate seat." The rest of the ad exults Clifford as "the real Kansas conservative."
● MA-03: On Thursday, the House Ethics Committee announced that it was ending the investigation into Democratic Rep. Lori Trahan after it concluded she had not violated any rules during her 2018 campaign.
Trahan had been accused of improperly accepting $300,000 in loans from her husband's personal and business funds when his assets appeared to be solely under his name. However, the Ethics Committee's report said that "the funds from these businesses that were the source for Representative Trahan's loans were not separate property, but instead considered to be the Trahans' joint marital property under the agreement," which allowed her to use them for her campaign. Trahan faces no serious opposition this year in her reliably blue seat.
● MN-05: Attorney Antone Melton-Meaux, who is challenging freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar in next month's Democratic primary, just reported pulling in an eye-popping $3.2 million in the second quarter of the year, fueled heavily by antipathy toward his nationally known opponent. Omar responded to the development by releasing an internal poll from Change Research showing her with a wide 66-29 lead over Melton-Meaux.
Omar herself raised $471,000 over the past three months and has brought in $3.8 million for the cycle, which is similar to Melton-Meaux's $3.6 million overall haul. However, the incumbent's $1.1 million war chest—which would be considerable for almost any primary battle—was only a little over half of her challenger's $2 million stockpile, portending an expensive march to the Aug. 11 showdown between the two.
As both Buzzfeed and the Star Tribune report, Melton-Meaux has received an influx of money from contributors across the country who dislike the high-profile Omar, including Jewish donors unhappy with her remarks invoking antisemitic tropes. A spokesperson for Omar attacked the rush of funds as having been spurred to a "surprising … degree" by "Islamophobia, xenophobia and misogyny."
Melton-Meaux's main criticism of Omar, however, has been what he's described as her inattention to her constituents, calling out her high number of missed votes and saying she hasn't been a presence in her district, a compact patch of dark blue turf that includes the entire city of Minneapolis and the surrounding areas. He's also picked up endorsements from a number of local elected officials and civil rights activists.
Omar, though, retains the support of high-profile Democrats like state Attorney General Keith Ellison, who held this seat for six terms prior to Omar's victory in 2018. She also won the official backing of the Democratic Party (known locally as the DFL, short for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) in May, beating out Melton-Meaux 65-31 among delegates.
Three other Democrats will appear on the primary ballot, though only one, community organizer John Mason, has reported raising any money. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be a lock in November.
● NJ-03: The New Jersey Laborers Union, which has supported the Republican nominee in each of the past four election cycles, has endorsed Democratic Rep. Andy Kim this time around. The New Jersey Globe describes the group as "the state's most politically influential building trades unions."
● NY-02: Democrat Jackie Gordon, who is the party’s nominee in this competitive GOP-held seat, pulled in a strong $737,000 during the second quarter of 2020 (here and here), which is a dramatic improvement from her $400,000 haul during the first three months of the year. The same cannot be said for Republican rival Andrew Garbarino, though, who raised just $120,000 (here and here) during the last three months. Gordon ended June with a huge $1.1 million to $104,000 cash-on-hand lead in this Long Island seat.
● PA-01: Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has released a survey from Public Opinion Strategies that gives him a wide 53-39 lead over Democrat Christina Finello. The poll comes weeks after a pair of Democratic surveys showed a tight race: A Public Policy Polling survey for Finello’s campaign had her ahead 40-38, while Victoria Research’s numbers for House Majority PAC had them tied 46-46.
Notably, though, all three polls do agree that there’s been a huge swing against Donald Trump in this suburban Philadelphia seat in the four years since he only narrowly lost it 49-47. POS finds Joe Biden up 51-42, while PPP and Victoria give him a lead of 56-40 and 53-40, respectively.
Instead, the bigger difference between Fitzpatrick’s internal and the Democratic polls is the level of crossover support they detect for the congressman. POS shows Fitzpatrick running a massive 23 points ahead of Trump’s margin in the district, while PPP and Victoria finds him outpacing his party’s leader by a margin of 14% and 13%. Most incumbents would be thrilled to run 13 points ahead of the top of the ticket, but if Team Blue’s numbers are right, that may not be enough for Fitzpatrick if Trump goes down in flames here.
● WI-03: The GOP hasn’t seriously targeted Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in a decade despite his southwestern Wisconsin seat’s notable swing to the right in 2016, but one Republican did raise a notable amount of money over the last three months.
Navy SEAL veteran Derrick Van Orden, whom we hadn’t written about before, took in $526,000 and had $387,000 on-hand. That’s far more than the $36,000 that public relations professional Jessi Ebben, who is the next-best funded candidate in the Aug. 11 primary, raised from donors; Ebben self-funded another $75,000, and she had $133,000 to spend. Van Orden is also using his large financial edge to go on to the air with a TV spot that highlights his military career.
Kind, for his part, has plenty of money stockpiled if he needs to defend himself. While the incumbent took in only $235,000 for the quarter, he has a $3.1 million war chest. This seat swung from 55-44 Obama to 49-45 Trump, but Democrat Tony Evers carried it 50-48 as he was unseating Republican Gov. Scott Walker by a similar margin statewide. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Safe Democratic.
● House: The DCCC, which is the biggest spender in House races on the Democratic side, has added another six candidates to its Red to Blue program:
- FL-16: Margaret Good
- NJ-02: Amy Kennedy
- OH-10: Desiree Tims
- PA-01: Christina Finello
- TX-02: Sima Ladjevardian
- TX-24: Candace Valenzuela
The most interesting addition is Democrat Desiree Tims, who is challenging longtime Republican Rep. Mike Turner in a race Daily Kos Elections rates as Safe Republican. During last cycle’s blue wave, Turner defeated a credible foe 56-42 in a Dayton area seat that had backed Donald Trump only 51-44 two years before, and he hasn’t looked vulnerable this time around.
However, Tims may be able to change that. She raised a notable $381,000 during the last three months (here and here), which is a huge improvement from her $91,000 haul the previous quarter. Turner, by contrast, raised just $77,000 during the second quarter (here and here), and he held an unimpressive $577,000 to $336,000 cash-on-hand lead over Tims at the end of June.
Meanwhile, the Democratic group House Majority Forward has launched a $4 million buy across 20 House seats. Most of the districts are home to vulnerable Democratic or Republican members, though two safely blue constituencies, Texas’ 16th District and Virginia’s 4th, are also on the list. The ads either praise the Democratic member for supporting an infrastructure bill or condemn the Republican for opposing it.
● Miami-Dade County, FL State's Attorney: Miami-Dade County State's Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle has antagonized criminal justice reformers during her 27 years as the top prosecutor in Florida's largest county, and she's facing a challenge from the left from former local ACLU deputy director Melba Pearson in the Aug. 18 Democratic primary. No other candidates filed for the general election, so whoever earns the nomination next month will win this office.
Fernández Rundle was appointed to this post in 1993 after incumbent Janet Reno resigned to become U.S. attorney general, and as the Miami Herald notes, she has never charged an on-duty police officer for a fatal shooting during that long tenure. Fernández Rundle has defended herself by saying that state law gives cops a great deal of latitude when it comes to the use of lethal force, which makes it incredibly difficult to successfully prosecute police wrongdoing. Indeed, the paper says that until recently, no Florida prosecutor had charged an on-duty officer for a fatal shooting since 1989, a case that resulted in an acquittal.
Fernández Rundle acknowledged that there is "something wrong with the law," but she argued she was still bound by its constraints. She declared, "A lot of people say, 'OK, just do it anyway, just try the case anyway. Are we going to do that for everybody? Teachers, doctors, nurses?" Fernández Rundle continued, "Our obligation says we're not permitted to do that, and it applies to police officers as well. We can't just take our best shot."
Additionally, Fernández Rundle's office has attracted intense criticism for its handling of the investigation into the 2012 death of Darren Rainey, an African American inmate with schizophrenia who witnesses say was killed after prison guards forced him into a scalding-hot shower for more than 90 minutes.
Fernández Rundle's team spent years probing the case only for her to announce in 2017 that there would be no charges because "[t]he evidence fails to show that any correctional officer acted in reckless disregard of Rainey's life." The county Democratic Party called for Fernández Rundle to resign over this decision three years ago, but the incumbent did not go anywhere.
Fernández Rundle has responded to critics by stressing her accomplishments in office, including the recent establishment of a "rocket docket" that allows judges to speedily waive outstanding fines and fees for former felons looking to get their voting rights restored.
Fernández Rundle has also supported the creation of an Independent Civilian Panel to investigate complaints against the police in Miami-Dade County; voters will likely get to decide in a November referendum whether to implement this idea. She has further talked about her work charging officers for misconduct, including her investigation into a group who were framing Black men.
Pearson, by contrast, has focused on criminal justice reform and systemic racism. Pearson, a former state prosecutor who would be the first Black person to hold this post, said of Fernández Rundle, "I don't think she's a racist. But I do think you can be a tool of white supremacy without intending to be." Pearson also said of the incumbent's reluctance to prosecute fatal police shootings, "If you're not going to charge the cases, you're never going to know if a jury would have convicted."
While reformers have scored key wins in races across the country, Pearson has a very difficult task ahead of her. The Herald writes that Republicans and independents will be able to vote in the Democratic primary, which will likely benefit Fernández Rundle. The incumbent also is very well funded, while the paper describes Pearson as "strapped for cash."