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.
● GA-Sen: Former NFL player Herschel Walker, whom Donald Trump has been trying to recruit for months, announced Wednesday that he would take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Walker won the 1982 Heisman Trophy while playing as a running back at the University of Georgia before he joined the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals in the ill-fated United States Football League, and his entrance gives the GOP a prominent candidate in what will be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.
Not every Republican is delighted with Walker's decision to run, though, as the first-time candidate has been on the receiving end of plenty of negative press ahead of his campaign launch. To begin with, the former Dallas Cowboys player and longtime Texas resident only relocated to Georgia this year, a decision he made months after Trump first touted him as a possible Warnock foe. Walker has also faced questions about his past, including allegations that he threatened to kill his ex-wife in 2005.
One of the Republicans who is reportedly most worried about what would happen if Walker is Team Red's standard bearer next year is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been looking for alternatives. At the moment, there are three other notable primary contenders: state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, businessman Kelvin King, and banking executive Latham Saddler.
Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost the January special election to Warnock, also hasn't said no to another campaign, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution speculates she'll "wait a few months and gauge whether Walker soars on the campaign trail or falls flat." The paper adds that, if Walker bombs out, and "the other GOP candidates don't gain traction, she could play the role of the Republican savior by swooping in to qualify just before the March deadline." Another former senator, David Perdue, announced earlier this year that he wouldn't run, but he's reportedly been reconsidering in recent weeks.
Two other Republicans, though, made it clear Wednesday that they'd be backing Walker rather than getting in themselves. Rep. Buddy Carter had previously made it clear he'd only run if the former running back didn't, and he quickly and unsurprisingly endorsed Walker. There were also reports earlier this year that former Ambassador to Luxembourg Randy Evans could campaign, but he's also all-in for Walker.
● NV-Sen: So what point is there in putting out a poll like this? In a word, fundraising. A conservative outfit called Americas PAC has released a survey from Republican pollster VCreek/AMG that finds the GOP's newly minted Senate candidate in Nevada, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, leading Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by a 42-32 margin—utterly useless figures from any analytical perspective.
To put it most simply, there's just no way that Cortez Masto, a scandal-free incumbent seeking re-election in a swing state, enjoys the support of just a third of all voters. No Democratic Senate candidate in state history has ever performed that poorly, in fact. It'd be one thing if a little-known challenger chalked up numbers like that in an early poll, but that's pretty much the opposite of the scenario we have here. There's just nothing this poll can tell us about next year's election.
But what it can do is allow both Americas PAC and Laxalt to raise money by crowing that their side "is up 10 points in a must-win state!!!" Yeah, the old saw says you should "run like you're down 10 points," but donors are far more motivated to give to someone they perceive as a winner, and this poll allows Republicans to portray Laxalt as just that. For anyone looking for real insight into this race, though, you'll have to wait until we get some polling that's more closely tethered to reality.
● VA-Gov: Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin are out with dueling TV ads that try to paint the other candidate as too extreme on the issue of reproductive rights, in very different ways.
McAuliffe’s spot attacks Youngkin for comments he made at a June campaign rally in response to a question about defunding Planned Parenthood. In a leaked recording of Youngkin responding to the question, he claimed that he would not make abortion an issue to avoid alienating moderate voters, but he added that “when I’m governor and we have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense.” Youngkin’s comments generated attention at the time, but this is the first instance of McAuliffe’s campaign seizing on the issue on the airwaves.
Youngkin’s campaign is out with a commercial in response that seeks to portray McAuliffe as “too extreme” on abortion rights by tying him to a 2019 Virginia House bill that would have eased requirements on women seeking a third-trimester abortion. Youngkin also tries to drive home his point by featuring a photo of him holding a baby in the very first frame as he recites the usual "I sponsor this ad" disclaimer.
● AK-Gov: Recall Dunleavy announced Wednesday that it was ending its two-year campaign to recall Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is up for a full term in 2022. Meda DeWitt, who chaired the group, noted that the pandemic had dramatically slowed its efforts to collect the 71,000 valid signatures needed to force a special recall election. She said that, while Recall Dunleavy had obtained 62,000 petitions, it didn't make sense to continue because the regular election is now so close and "we would have to conform to a new set of regulations."
● AL-Gov, AL-Sen: This week, former Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard did not rule out dropping out of next year's open Senate race in order to instead challenge Gov. Kay Ivey in the GOP primary.
Blanchard argued that Alabama voters "want everything Trump. And they want a Trump governor, as well." She continued, "So, I do have people reaching out to me. I'm praying about it, and you know, I'm in the race for U.S. Senate, and love the president and respect anything that he would like." We can say for sure that, regardless of how Donald Trump feels about Ivey, his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks means he doesn't want Blanchard in the Senate.
One person who sounded surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea of Blanchard taking on Ivey was state Auditor Jim Zeigler, who formed an executive committee for a possible gubernatorial run earlier this year but has blown past his self-imposed Aug. 21 timeline to make a decision. Zeigler also said he wanted Tim James, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nod in 2010, to run, which is the first we've heard about the idea.
"I hope Tim James enters the race. He'll reach some people I won't," Zeigler continued, adding, "I hope Lynda Blanchard and her millions of self-funded dollars enters the race." The auditor argued that multiple foes attacking the governor would help in "setting up that runoff situation, Ivey versus Zeigler."
The Alabama Daily News, meanwhile, released a survey from the GOP firm Cygnal this week that showed Ivey taking just 42%, which is below the majority she'd need to avoid a runoff, while Zeigler lagged far behind with 9%. The poll also tested James, whose father, Fob James, was elected governor as a Democrat in 1978 and as a Republican in 1994 but badly lost re-election four years later. The younger James, though, barely registered at third place with only 4%.
● IL-17: Democrats have yet to land a notable candidate in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos, but Politico's Ally Mutnick reports that Rockford Alderman Jonathan Logemann is "likely to run," according to an unnamed source "familiar" with the DCCC's recruitment efforts. She also mentions state Sen. Steve Stadelman as another possible candidate. There's no comment from either man, though potential contenders may be waiting for Democrats in the legislature to unveil a new map, which Mutnick reports is likely to make Bustos' swingy seat bluer.
● WV-02: The Office of Congressional Ethics has found that Republican Rep. Alex Mooney improperly spent more than $40,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including on meals and trips to resorts, according to a copy of an OCE report obtained by Roll Call's Chris Marquette. The OCE also previously voted last month to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee, reports Marquette, which is investigating further and can hand down punishments for ethical violations.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: Former Mayor Kasim Reed has launched what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports is a $590,000 opening TV buy ahead of the November nonpartisan primary, a move that came shortly after attorney Sharon Gay began airing her own introductory ad.
Reed’s spot features various people arguing the ex-mayor is the only contender with the experience to run the city and take on crime. The commercial also argues he will hire 750 more police officers, with Reed adding that “we’re gonna train them in a post-George Floyd way.”
● Birmingham, AL Mayor: Mayor Randall Woodfin earned 64% of the vote in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary, which was well over the majority he needed to avoid a runoff; Woodin’s fellow Democrat, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales was a distant second with 21%.
● Boston, MA Mayor: A new super PAC called Boston Turnout Project has launched a TV commercial in support of City Councilor Michelle Wu ahead of the Sept. 14 nonpartisan primary; there is no word on the size of the buy.
The spot notes that Wu was the first woman of color to serve as City Council president and previously worked for the late Mayor Thomas Menino, whose tenure from 1991 to 2009 made him Boston’s longest-serving leader. After reminding viewers that Wu is endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the narrator pledges she’ll “work to make a Green New Deal,” focus on affordable housing, and make the T, which is the region’s subway and light rail system, free.
● St. Petersburg, FL Mayor: The nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman took place on Tuesday, and Democrat Ken Welch and Republican Robert Blackmon advanced to the Nov. 2 general election. Welch, who is a former Pinellas County commissioner, took first with 39% of the vote, while Blackmon beat Democrat Darden Rice, his Democratic colleague on the City Council, 29-17 for second place. Welch would be the city’s first Black mayor, while Blackmon would restore GOP control of the mayor’s office after eight years.
The GOP held this post for decades until Kriseman’s 2013 win, but Welch very much looks like the favorite in what’s become a very Democratic city. Welch has the backing of two prominent Republicans, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former Mayor Robert Foster. A recent St. Pete Polls survey also showed Welch leading Blackmon by a dominant 53-29 margin in what was still a hypothetical one-on-one matchup.
● Milwaukee, WI Mayor: The White House announced Wednesday that President Joe Biden was nominating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who has led Wisconsin's largest city since 2004, to serve as ambassador to Luxembourg. Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, who leads the local equivalent of the city council, would take over as acting mayor should the U.S. Senate confirm Barrett. A special election would then take place for the remainder of the mayoral term, which ends in 2024.
Barrett's departure would mark the end of his 17 years as mayor of Wisconsin's largest city, which has a long tradition of keeping its leaders in office for a long time. Indeed, Barrett is only the fourth person to be elected to the post since 1945, though his longevity hasn't entirely been by choice. He previously served in the state legislature before he was elected to the first of his five terms in the U.S. House in 1992, but the congressman went on to lose a close 2002 primary for governor to the eventual winner, Attorney General Jim Doyle. Barrett, however, bounced back in 2004 when he won his current post by unseating Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt.
Barrett held that job in 2009 when Doyle decided not to see a third term. Both the Obama White House and Doyle sought to recruit the mayor, who had recently made national headlines after he was badly beaten outside the Wisconsin State Fair while trying to aid a woman who had called for help, and he entered the race the next year. 2010 was an especially horrible year for Badger State Democrats, though, and Scott Walker, the Republican executive of surrounding Milwaukee County, beat Barrett 52-46.
The two faced off again in 2012 when Barrett was again the Democratic nominee in the recall campaign against Walker, but the incumbent kept his job by prevailing by a similar 53-46 spread. Barrett showed some interest in a fourth gubernatorial campaign in 2018, but he ended up running for re-election instead two years later.
● SD-AG: South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who was slated to go on trial Thursday for striking and killing a man with his car almost a year ago, will plead no contest to misdemeanor charges and will reportedly avoid any jail time.
Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors in February after he hit a man named Joe Boever, who'd been walking on the side of a highway, while driving home at night from a Republican fundraiser. Ravnsborg left the scene, later claiming he thought he'd struck a deer, and only returned the next day to find his victim's body.
The state Highway Patrol, however, found Boever's glasses inside Ravnsborg's badly damaged vehicle. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who called on Ravnsborg to resign soon after he was charged, ordered the release of videos of two police interviews with the attorney general in which an investigator said, "His face was in your windshield, Jason. Think about that." (The judge overseeing the case quickly ordered the videos to be taken down and no further investigative materials to be shared.)
Prosecutors said that Ravnsborg could not be charged with vehicular homicide because state law requires a driver to be intoxicated; Ravnsborg said he had not been drinking but was not given a sobriety test that night, only a blood test 15 hours later that showed no alcohol in his system. The three misdemeanor charges carried a possible sentence of 30 days and a $500 fine each, but according to journalist Tom Kludt, Ravnsborg's plea agreement means he won't spend any time incarcerated.
Republican legislators had begun impeachment proceedings soon after Ravnsborg was charged but soon thereafter voted to put them on hold while waiting for his criminal case to conclude. It's unclear whether there's an appetite to resume them, though one lawmaker says he'd like to renew the effort, which would require convening a special session of the legislature. In addition, Ravnsborg faces a wrongful death lawsuit by Boever's family and an intra-party challenge from his predecessor, Marty Jackley, who left office due to term limits in 2018. That contest would not be decided in a primary but instead by Republican delegates at a state party convention.