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.
● WA-SoS, OR-SoS: Democrats are looking to flip two secretary of state offices in the Pacific Northwest this fall, and both of Team Blue's candidates have been outraising their Republican rivals in these critical but often overlooked races.
We’ll start with Oregon, where we have an open seat contest between two state senators, Democrat Shemia Fagan and Republican Kim Thatcher, for an office that Team Red flipped in 2016. Dennis Richardson, who had been the Republican nominee for governor in 2014, won this post 48-43, but he died in office last year. State law requires appointees to be members of the same party as the deceased office-holder, prompting Democratic Gov. Kate Brown to choose Republican Bev Clarno after she agreed not to seek a full term this year.
Unusually, Oregon gives the public access to campaign financial activity in almost real time, so we have very up-to-date fundraising numbers for both candidates. Fagan has outraised Thatcher $1.2 million to $345,000 from Jan. 1 through Thursday and also held a $242,000 to $148,000 cash-on-hand lead.
As Oregonians were reminded in 2015, whoever holds this office isn't just Oregon's chief election official, they're also first-in-line for the governorship. Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned that year due to a strange scandal, and then-Secretary of State Brown was elevated to succeed him. Brown won a subsequent special election for governor in 2016 and a full term four years later, but she's now termed-out in 2022.
Oregon’s secretary of state can also play a very big role in redistricting. Under the state constitution, if lawmakers fail to pass new legislative maps, the task then falls to the secretary, who drafts her own. This has in fact happened several times during redistricting cycles, and given Republicans’ propensity to simply walk out and bring the legislature’s work to a halt—something they did five times in 2019 and 2020—it could very well happen again.
In Washington, meanwhile, Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman is seeking a third term for a post that her party has held since the 1964 elections. (Joel Connelly explained last year in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Republican Lud Kramer won despite the LBJ landslide "by tossing out cardboard cutouts to represent the 11 family members that Democratic incumbent Vic Meyers put on the payroll.") State Rep. Gael Tarleton outraised Wyman $170,000 to $66,000 from July 28 to Aug. 31, though Wyman ended that period with a small $259,000 to $255,000 cash-on-hand lead.
Washington is a reliably blue state, but as the GOP's longevity in this office shows, voters have been more than happy to keep electing Republicans as their top election administrators. Wyman prevailed 55-45 in 2016 as Donald Trump was losing the Evergreen State 53-37, and she's made national news this year by repeatedly touting mail-in voting as Trump tries to undermine it. Tarleton, though, has argued that Wyman hasn't done enough to oppose voter suppression and has hammered the incumbent for testifying against H.R. 1, the landmark measure House Democrats passed last year to expand voting rights and end gerrymandering.
● AK-Sen: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski stars in a new ad supporting her state's junior senator, Dan Sullivan. Murkowski claims that attacks by independent Al Gross are just "flat-out wrong," insisting that Sullivan "is fighting hard to lower healthcare costs, protect our fisheries, and support our Postal Service." Sullivan, however, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017—an effort Murkowski famously helped sink as one of just three Republican votes against the measure.
Meanwhile, a super PAC with ties to Democrats called Independent Alaska has launched another TV ad, this time highlighting Gross' experience as a physician. "Dan Sullivan just does what his party tells him to do," says one nurse featured in the spot, while the narrator declares, "It's time to send a doctor to D.C." So far, the group has spent $1 million in support of Gross.
VoteVets is also sticking with a healthcare theme: The progressive veterans organization is running a new ad attacking Sullivan on drug prices, backed by a reported $684,000 buy.
● AZ-Sen: Monmouth's new Arizona poll finds Democrat Mark Kelly leading Republican Sen. Martha McSally 50-44, which is identical to the lead it found all the way back in March, the last time Monmouth surveyed the state. The sample favors Joe Biden 48-44.
● GA-Sen-A: Republican Sen. David Perdue, who has been hammered by Democrat Jon Ossoff and allied groups over charges that he used confidential information from a congressional briefing on the coronavirus to profit in the stock market, has released an ad in response calling Ossoff a liar and insisting he's been cleared by the SEC, the Justice Department, and the Senate Ethics Committee. But while Perdue did produce a letter showing that the Senate had closed its investigation into his trades, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that his campaign could provide "no formal documentation to back up the claim" that the SEC and DOJ had exonerated the senator.
● KS-Sen: Former Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, who served in Congress from 1978 to 1997, has endorsed Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier over Republican Rep. Roger Marshall for the same Senate seat Kassebaum herself once held. Kassebaum, who has long had a reputation as a moderate, also backed Democrat Laura Kelly in her successful bid for governor in 2018.
P.S. For political trivia nerds, Kassebaum is the daughter of one-time Gov. Alf Landon, who got crushed by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election, winning only eight electoral votes to FDR's 523.
● NC-Sen: The Senate Majority PAC has released a new ad attacking Sen. Thom Tillis over allegations that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy pressured his employees at his former company to donate to Republican candidates, including Tillis, then illegally reimbursed them to get around campaign finance limits.
The spot is centered on a news clip in which an anchor says, "Officials reportedly donated $37,600 in total in a single day to Senator Thom Tillis." According to the Washington Post, which broke the story over Labor Day weekend, Tillis received almost $300,000 from employees of New Breed Logistics, which DeJoy ran for three decades until 2014.
Meanwhile, a super PAC called Patients for Affordable Drugs has also launched a reported "seven-figure" ad campaign targeting Tillis. The group's initial spot features a man named Steve who says he lives with a rare blood cancer that costs more than $130,000 to treat each year. He attacks Tillis for authoring a bill "that would let drug companies keep raising their prices."
Last year, Tillis introduced legislation called the "Lower Costs, More Cures Act" that, according to WBTV's Nick Ochsner, "omitted a key provision opposed by the pharmaceutical industry that would cap drug prices at inflation." Ochsner reported this week that Tillis received more than $20,000 in donations from pharmaceutical PACs in the two weeks after he unveiled his bill and has refused to provide any comment.
● NC-Sen, NC-Gov: Suffolk's first North Carolina poll of the cycle finds Democrats ahead in each of this year's three major statewide contests. Cal Cunningham holds a small 42-38 edge over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, while Libertarian Shannon Bray takes 6%. In the gubernatorial race, Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper leads Republican Dan Forest 50-38, with another 5% going to Libertarian Stephen DiFiore. The sample also favors Joe Biden 46-43.
● SC-Sen: The DSCC announced Thursday that it would be making a "seven-figure investment" in South Carolina’s Senate contest that will "support TV ads as well as polling, field organizing and data tools, and other resources." This makes the DSCC the first major national group to get involved in the clash between Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison, though a pro-Graham super PAC called Security is Strength announced all the way back in late April that it had booked $1.6 million in TV time for October and early November.
Graham began the year looking secure in a state that hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2006 and hasn't sent one to the Senate since 1998, but this race has turned into a serious affair. Harrison has been a very strong fundraiser, and while there haven't been many polls of the Palmetto State, most of the numbers we've seen have found the contenders tied or Graham just barely ahead. The most recent came on Wednesday, when Quinnipiac released a survey that had Graham and Harrison deadlocked 48-48 and Donald Trump up only 51-45 in a state he carried 55-41 four years ago.
● Ad Reservations: Politico's James Arkin reports that groups run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made new reservations in three GOP-held states. The Senate Leadership Fund is booking an additional $3.2 million in Georgia and $2 million in Montana, while American Crossroads has reserved $2.6 million in Maine.
● AK-AL, AK-Sen: A judge has ordered Alaska officials to temporarily halt printing ballots pending a Friday hearing after independent Alyse Galvin filed a lawsuit challenging elections director Gail Fenumiai's decision not to include candidates' party registration on the forms voters will use. The Anchorage Daily News reports, however, that 800,000 ballots have already been printed, making it unclear what impact Galvin's suit might have.
On Monday, Fenumiai, an appointee of Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, released sample ballots listing Galvin only as the "Democratic Nominee" without showing that she's registered as "nonpartisan," as she was identified on primary ballots last month. (Following a 2018 state Supreme Court decision, Alaska began allowing independents to run in Democratic primaries.)
Galvin argues that state law requires ballots to include this identifying information and says that her affiliation is "a critical component of her campaign and her identity." She also charges that Fenumiai waited until the last minute to make the change in order to "avoid a court challenge" because the deadline to mail ballots to overseas and military voters is this Saturday. Independent Al Gross, who won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan and is also affected by Fenumiai's decision, is not participating in the suit.
● CO-03: The Democratic group House Majority PAC has released a poll from Expedition Strategies that finds Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush edging out Republican Lauren Boebert 46-44; the survey also finds the presidential race deadlocked 47-47 in a western Colorado seat that backed Donald Trump 52-40 four years ago.
We've only seen one other poll of the contest between Mitsch Bush and Boebert, who has expressed sympathy for the bonkers QAnon conspiracy theory, and it showed almost the same result: In mid-August, Mitsch Bush released a survey from GQR that had her leading Boebert by a tiny 43-42 margin with Biden and Trump tied at 48.
There was one notable difference between those two polls, though. Mitsch Bush's earlier survey had independent Robert Moser, Libertarian John Keil, and Critter Milton of the Unity Party of Colorado taking a combined 10% of the vote. Moser has since dropped out of the race, and this new Expedition Strategies poll finds Keil and Milton's support totaling just 4%.
● FL-13: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is up with his opening general election ad, and it's legitimately funny. Crist tells the audience, "When you serve the Florida people as long as I have, you get called a lot of names." He then gets friendly greetings of "Congressman," "Mr. Crist," Gov," before Crist continues, "But, most everyone just calls me Charlie." A skateboarder then glides by and tells him, "Move it, boomer," to which the congressman responds, "Well, almost everyone." Crist spends the rest of the spot talking about his work on Social Security, veterans benefits, and healthcare.
● MN-02: In his first general election commercial, Republican Tyler Kistner, who is taking on freshman Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, talks about his career in the Marines and says he's running "[s]o Minnesota families have a defender in Congress."
● MN-07: Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson's new commercial features his sisters talking about the congressman’s local roots and how he "played in a band with Willie Nelson to raise money for farmers." (Yep, that happened.) They go on to say how Peterson has gone from being a 4H kid to the leader of the House Agriculture Committee and declare, "There are too many lawyers in Congress. Not enough farmers."
● TX-03: On behalf of Democrat Lulu Seikaly and the DCCC, Global Strategy Group has conducted a survey that finds freshman Republican Rep. Van Taylor leading Seikaly by just a 44-43 margin, with another 5% going to Libertarian Chris Claytor. The same sample also shows Joe Biden ahead 49-46 in a district that backed Donald Trump 55-41 in 2016 but supported Sen. Ted Cruz only 51-48 two years later.
This well-educated district, which includes Plano in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, looked safely red until recently, but that appearance has been changing. In July, a GSG poll for Seikaly had Taylor ahead just 43-37 (with Claytor also at 5%) and Biden in front 47-45. Taylor responded a month later with numbers from Public Opinion Strategies that had him ahead by a stronger 48-34 spread, with 8% going to Claytor. Still, that survey, which did not include presidential results, suggested that Taylor isn’t a lock for a second term, two years after he won an open seat contest with little trouble.
● Boston, MA Mayor: MassINC Polling Group takes an early look at next year's mayoral race for the NPR affiliate GBH and finds incumbent Marty Walsh leading City Councilwoman Michelle Wu, a fellow Democrat who launched her campaign this week, by a 46-23 margin. Another 4% goes to City Councilwoman Andrea Campbell, who has not yet announced her 2021 plans.
In Boston, all candidates will run on one nonpartisan ballot next September, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a November general election; candidates cannot avert a second round of voting by winning a majority in the first round, which is known locally as the preliminary election. While Massachusetts may vote this fall to adopt instant-runoff voting for congressional, legislative, and countywide offices, it would not impact elections for city and town posts.
● Richmond, VA Mayor: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney holds a financial lead over the rest of the field in this fall's contest, but new fundraising reports show his two main challengers both have the resources they’ll need to run a serious race in this very blue city.
Stoney, who is a prospective Democratic candidate for governor next year, took in $250,000 in July and August and had $232,000 on-hand at the end of last month. City Councilwoman Kim Gray, meanwhile, raised $162,000 during this time, leaving her with $175,000 in the bank, and Alexsis Rodgers, a former state director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, took in $122,000 and had $149,000 left to spend. Two other minor candidates are also running.
As we've noted previously, Richmond uses an unusual electoral system. All the contenders will face off on one nonpartisan ballot in November, and a candidate needs to win a plurality of the vote in at least five of the nine City Council districts in order to avoid a runoff. This means that, just like in a presidential election, it's very possible for a candidate to win the mayor's office while coming in second (or potentially even further back) in the popular vote.
If no one wins outright, then the two candidates with the most votes citywide would compete in a runoff six weeks later. However, the winner still isn't the candidate with the most votes. Rather, it's the candidate who wins a majority of Council seats. If no one manages to pull this off (that is, if there's an unlikely tie that prevents anyone from winning at least five districts), only then would the popular vote determine the winner.
● CA Ballot: The Public Policy Institute of California's newest statewide poll takes a look at several ballot initiatives, including Prop. 15, the so-called "split roll" initiative that would scale back a significant part of a property tax freeze passed by anti-tax crusaders in 1978, and finds it ahead 51-40. The only other survey we've seen of this ballot question was an early September poll from the Republican firm Probolsky Research, and it had Prop. 15 losing 49-41.