The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● MI-Gov: The volatile Republican primary took another astounding turn on Thursday when the FBI arrested Allendale Township planning commissioner Ryan Kelley on misdemeanor charges related to his role in the Jan. 6 riot. Kelley, a previously obscure candidate who posted a lead in the only poll we’ve seen since state officials disqualified two major candidates last month, was released on bond hours later and posted on Facebook that he was a “political prisoner.” If convicted, the candidate faces up to a year in federal prison.
Kelley gained prominence organizing rallies protesting COVID-19 restrictions and calling for the arrest of Democratic officials such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, rallies that regularly included far-right paramilitary groups in attendance with Kelley’s support. However, his true moment of infamy came on Jan. 6 when, according to the FBI’s criminal complaint, he “gesture[d] to the crowd, consistently indicating that they should move towards the stairs that led to the entrance of the U.S. Capitol interior spaces.” The person identified as Kelley, continues the FBI, later was recorded using “their thumb to motion towards the doors to the interior of the U.S. Capitol Building.”
Two of Kelley’s leading primary rivals responded to his arrest by defending him. “I respect Ryan Kelley and have met him out on the trail,” said wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke, adding, “My hope is that the FBI is acting appropriately, because the timing here raises serious questions.” Chiropractor Garrett Soldano also closed ranks, arguing, “It’s a sad day in America when the FBI has become an arm of the Democrat Party. Biden’s FBI is busy targeting parents and intimidating Republicans while crime runs rampant across America.” Conservative radio host Tudor Dixon, who is also seeking the GOP nod in August, did not comment on the news in the hours immediately following Kelley’s arrest.
● UT-Sen: Dan Jones & Associates' new survey for the Deseret News and University of Utah finds Republican Sen. Mike Lee fending off conservative independent Evan McMullin only 41-37 in the very first general election poll we've seen since April, when state Democrats opted to support McMullin rather than field their own nominee. The pollster also finds McMullin leading one of Lee's June 28 primary foes, nanotechnology firm executive Ally Isom, 34-23, while he trails former state Rep. Becky Edwards just 29-28. However, previously released numbers have shown Lee far ahead of both Isom and Edwards, so neither of these general election scenarios are very likely.
● IL-Gov: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his allies at the DGA are continuing to spend massive amounts of money to try to get Republicans to nominate far-right state Sen. Darren Bailey rather than Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin on June 28, and a new poll from Irvin's intra-party detractors finds that the meddling may be having its desired effect.
People Who Play by the Rules PAC, which is funded by billionaire megadonor Dick Uihlein, has released numbers from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates that finds Bailey edging out Irvin 27-20, with venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan and businessman Gary Rabine just behind with 13% and 12%, respectively. That's quite a bit different from the 31-25 Irvin lead from his late May internal from 1892 Polling, though both surveys agree that this race is far from settled.
The negative ads are also continuing against Irvin from all sides. Pritzker's spot highlights a Chicago Tribune story from last month detailing how, according to Aurora police records, the mayor was overheard saying that charges against his then-girlfriend "would be taken care of" after she was arrested last year for allegedly striking a marijuana store security guard. Irvin himself told the paper in response, "When I told her that … things 'would be taken care of,' I meant that she would get a lawyer, which is what I helped her to do." The mayor also denied he'd made any attempt to get the charges dropped.
Uihlein's group is also running a commercial that tries to puncture Irvin's law and order image. After detailing the 2020 unrest that took place in the community, the spot plays footage of the mayor saying, "I was conflicted … and I recognize that unless there's some type of disruption in what we want here in our country, things won't change." The narrator is none too pleased with that, declaring, "Richard Irvin is 'conflicted' about rioting and looting? Irvin's confusion about violence makes one thing clear: He's unqualified to be the Republican nominee for governor."
Irvin can expect more attack ads to come his way in the next three weeks, as NBC reports that the DGA has reserved an additional $3 million for June. According to Politico, the DGA has already dropped $15 million against him "and a few million more propping up Bailey." Irvin, thanks to the $50 million he's received to date from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, very much has the ability to defend himself, but his resources may not quite be as limitless as they've seemed. Politico writes that the mayor has cut planned advertising in southern Illinois and has "reduced" his spots in the expensive and populous Chicago market, though his team insists his campaign isn't running out of money.
● AK-AL: Polling is scarce heading into Saturday's special top-four primary, which will mark the first time that this system of voting has ever been used in an American election, but the outside spending has overwhelmingly benefited just one of the 48 candidates. Alaskans for TARA, a super PAC set up by the leaders of the ANCSA Regional Association to support former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney (the name officially stands for True Alaska Representation Alliance), has dropped a total of just over $430,000 here. The only other organization to hit the six-figure mark is Americans for Prosperity Action, which supports GOP businessman Nick Begich III.
● AL-05: The Republican firm Cygnal gives us our first survey of the June 21 Republican runoff, which they tell us wasn't conducted for a client, and it finds Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong beating former Department of Defense official Casey Wardynski 46-31. Wardynski's allies at the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus aren't giving up, though, as they're running a new spot arguing Strong "caved to the woke liberals" and "shunned President Trump." The group used similar messaging during the first round, but it wasn't enough to stop Strong from outpacing his rival 45-23 last month.
● CO-03: State investigators announced this week that they were probing allegations that GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert filed false mileage reimbursements during her 2020 bid and used the money to pay off her restaurant's tax liens. The far-right candidate, the Denver Post reported last year, took $22,000 in reimbursements from her campaign, which, under the IRS's mileage reimbursement rate at the time, would have meant she'd driven about 39,000 miles even though she had almost no events advertised for several of those months. (The circumference of Earth itself is only 25,000 miles.)
The paper took a look at the 80 events she publicized on her Facebook page in 2020 and calculated that she'd driven just 18,000 miles then. Her team argued in response that these represented just a "small sampling" and didn't include each "meeting, fundraiser or campaign event." Boebert's campaign later filed amended paperwork with the FEC bringing her mileage reimbursement down to $17,000, saying that they'd initially included the cost of other travel expenses.
● CO-05: Rep. Doug Lamborn is airing a commercial arguing that state Rep. Dave Williams, who is his main adversary in the June 28 Republican primary, was "fired" by Donald Trump's state campaign and had supported legislation to send fines "to pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood and groups supporting 'defund the police,' like Black Lives Matter" instead of law enforcement.
Williams' attorney, James Cook, responded by calling the attack a "bald-faced lie" and calling for TV and radio stations to pull the offending content, arguing, "Broadcast licensees have a legal and moral responsibility to assess and dismiss any false, misleading, or deceptive materials contained in advertising." However, as multiple station managers pointed out in response, they have a legal responsibility not to "assess and dismiss any false, misleading, or deceptive materials contained in advertising" as long as the ads come from a candidate.
That's because, as we've noted before, federal law forbids broadcasters from censoring or refusing to air commercials from candidates as long as they're paid for. That's created some awkward situations in the past: In 2018, for example, a TV station in New Mexico had no choice but to run a spot from a Democrat who started his piece by saying, "Fuck the NRA." The station even used the 15 seconds before the commercial ran to warn viewers about the offending language they were about to hear.
The same rule doesn't apply to spots from outside groups, as several have already learned the hard way this year, but there's nothing Williams can do to force the Lamborn campaign's spot off the air. Williams can still sue Lamborn for defamation, and he says he's asked a district attorney to investigate the congressman for allegedly violating a state law prohibiting candidates from "knowingly or recklessly" spreading false information "designed to affect the vote." However, Colorado Politics' Ernest Luning writes that, while candidates have often complained that their rivals are violating this 20-year-old provision, it never appears to have been prosecuted.
As for Lamborn's message, Luning explains that Trump's 2020 state campaign ended its association with Williams after he called himself a "Trump surrogate" as he made an endorsement in a primary. Cook, though, argued that, contrary to what Lamborn claims, his client wasn't "fired" because Williams was never employed by the Trump campaign. Luning also writes that the bill mentioned in the spot "would have allowed anyone receiving a minor traffic ticket resulting from a red-light camera to pay their fine to qualified nonprofits." Cook says the legislation, which never became law, didn't mention Planned Parenthood or Black Lives Matter.
● FL-02: Democratic Rep. Al Lawson announced Thursday that he would take on his Republican colleague, Neal Dunn, in the general election for the new Tallahassee-based 2nd District, which would have voted for Trump by a tough 55-44 margin under the new GOP gerrymander. Lawson made his decision a week after the conservative state Supreme Court declined to block the new map, which transformed his reliably blue and plurality-Black 5th District into a very white 57-41 Trump constituency.
Lawson faces a very difficult campaign in what will almost certainly be the only incumbent vs. incumbent general election fight of the cycle, especially since he currently represents only 31% of the redrawn 2nd's population compared to 64% for Dunn. However, the Democrat previously argued his ties to the area are much deeper and broader than a quick glance at the toplines might suggest: Lawson represented much of this area, including several conservative counties outside of Tallahassee, when he was in the state Senate from 2000 to 2010.
● GA-10: The NRA has thrown its support behind former state Rep. Vernon Jones ahead of the June 21 runoff.
● IL-03: State Rep. Delia Ramirez is airing what appears to be the first negative TV spot ahead of the June 28 Democratic primary, where the narrator calls Chicago Alderman Gil Villegas a "lobbyist for big oil, private prisons and for ComEd, which was caught giving out bribes."
● IL-15: Rodney Davis' new commercial for the incumbent vs. incumbent Republican primary begins by arguing Mary Miller "coddles criminal illegals," but things truly escalate when the narrator claims the rival congresswoman "hired a convicted pedophile to be her driver, prowling our neighborhoods, putting our kids at risk."
The spot references a story last month from KSDK's Mark Maxwell about a Miller campaign volunteer named Brad Graven, whom Maxwell writes "pleaded guilty to luring a young boy to a drugstore parking lot for sex acts in 2005." Graven was never on Miller's payroll, but Maxwell notes he "enjoyed virtually unlimited access" to her by serving as the congresswoman's chauffeur, which included driving her family car, and raising money the campaign.
Davis' allies at Illinois Values PAC are also running a spot, which echoes a recent Davis campaign ad, that portrays Miller as anti-military. Miller's supporters at Conservative Outsider PAC, meanwhile, are airing their own piece calling these type of attacks "horse manure" before labeling Davis "a squish" and reminding the audience Trump is for Miller. Altogether, reports NBC, the Davis campaign has spent $650,000 on ads, while Miller has deployed less than $100,000. Outside groups have rushed in to help Miller from getting drowned out, though: According to OpenSecrets, pro-Davis PACs have edged out Miller's supporters $2.8 million to $2.7 million.
● MS-04: Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell on Thursday received endorsements from all five of his defeated intra-party rivals for his June 28 Republican runoff against Rep. Steven Palazzo. The incumbent took only 32% of the vote earlier this week to Ezell's 25%, so he'll need to win over at least a large chunk of the other candidates' supporters if he wants to turn things around.
Ezell is doing his best to make sure that doesn't happen by running an ad reminding voters about the ongoing ethics probe into the incumbent. "Steven Palazzo has been under the cloud of an ethics investigation for a year, accused of using his campaign funds for his own personal benefit," says the narrator, adding, "Mike Ezell has served with honesty and integrity as a law enforcement officer for 40 years fighting crime, cleaning up corruption, saving taxpayers millions." She also gets in a dig at Palazzo's chronic absenteeism, arguing Ezell "will show up to represent our values every day."
● NY-17: Sean Patrick Maloney has publicized an internal from Global Strategy Group giving him a 45-15 lead over state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in their August Democratic primary. This is the first survey we've seen of the contest for this redrawn constituency in the lower Hudson Valley.
● SC-01: While Donald Trump recently used a telerally to urge Republican primary voters to deliver him "a beautiful, beautiful birthday present" on Tuesday by ejecting both 1st District Rep. Nancy Mace and 7th District Rep. Tom Rice, the birthday boy doesn't seem optimistic that Mace's constituents will give him his gift. Trump, writes Politico's Alex Isenstadt, has decided not to physically campaign in person again for former state Rep. Katie Arrington "for fear his candidate may lose." (His team reportedly feels better about their chances against Rice.)
However, Isenstadt says that Trump's network is still funding a super PAC called Our American Century, which is airing a spot that tries to throw in as much far-right red meat against Mace as possible. After opening with a claim that the incumbent votes with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "45% of the time," the narrator attacks Mace for voting to "send an excessive $40 billion to Ukraine." Plenty of Trump favorites, most notably Ohio Senate nominee J.D. Vance, have dismissed the idea that the United States should fund Ukraine's fight against Putin's invasion, though this is the first time we can recall Republicans bringing it up in a campaign ad.
The narrator continues by saying that Mace "cosponsored legislation to open an LGBTQ military center," which he doesn't elaborate on. Mace herself used a similar bigoted line of attack in her victorious campaign last cycle by running ads accusing her Democratic rival, incumbent Joe Cunningham, of working with Nancy Pelosi to pass "a law requiring transgendered [sic] equality in the military." The PAC continues by going after Mace for being the one Republican in the delegation who voted to remove the statue of the 19th century pro-slavery leader John C. Calhoun from the Capitol, which the narrator says explains why Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney raised funds for her.
● WY-AL: Attorney Harriet Hageman's allies at Wyoming Values PAC are out with a Fabrizio, Lee & Associates internal showing her toppling Rep. Liz Cheney 56-28 in the August GOP primary, which is almost identical to the 56-26 Hageman lead that another anti-Cheney group, the Club for Growth, recently publicized. Fabrizio's memo says that an unreleased December poll also had Hageman ahead by a smaller 34-26 spread.
● NRCC: The NRCC announced its first batch of fall TV ad reservations on Wednesday, making it the last to do so of the "big four" outside groups that spend by far the most on House races. We've added the bookings, which total $52 million across 28 different media markets, to our tracker, which also includes reservations from the committee's allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund, as well as their Democratic counterparts: the DCCC and the House Majority PAC.
Unusually, the NRCC also listed the specific districts it says these reservations will be used for; typically, only media markets are included, and we're left to figure out which districts are the likely targets. The listed districts differ very little from our previous guesses for the same markets booked by the other three groups, though, and reservations such as these can be used for any applicable races, regardless of whether they're mentioned in a June press release.
Some may be aspirational. For instance, the addition of the Democratic-held 1st and 3rd Districts in New Mexico alongside the vulnerable, GOP-held 2nd, might fall into that category, since Republicans lack notable challengers in both. (All three are covered by the Albuquerque market.) But of course, an election that turns into a wave can bring along all sorts of flotsam.
There is, however, one absence that is telling. Following far-right extremist Sandy Smith's win in the GOP primary for North Carolina's 1st District last month, the NRCC has pointedly refused to acknowledge her, and it's almost certainly not because of her politics but because two of her ex-husbands have accused her of physical abuse.
That cold shoulder has now extended further, since the committee reserved TV time in the Raleigh market, which makes up more than half of the 1st District, but only listed the 13th District as the reason for the booking. The NRCC sent out a press release on Thursday outlining its latest nationwide target list and did include the 1st, but money, it hardly needs saying, speaks louder than words. Again, Republicans could always change their minds, but it would have cost them nothing to simply add "(NC01)" to their reservations announcement. The fact that they didn't is noteworthy.
● Special Elections: We have one race to watch Tuesday in Maine, which coincides with the statewide primary:
ME SD-07: This Ellsworth-based seat voted for Joe Biden 57-40, but the Bangor Daily News writes that Team Blue especially is taking the race to succeed former Democratic state Sen. Louis Luchini very seriously. Democrats enjoy a 21-13 majority with only this seat vacant, but Republicans are hoping a win next week will give them a better shot to flip the chamber in November.
The Democrats are fielding state Rep. Nicole Grohoski, while the GOP has once again opted for former Sen. Brian Langley, who won his last term in 2016 by a 56-44 margin even as Hillary Clinton was carrying the constituency 53-41. Langley, who had to step down two years later because of term limits, ran again in 2020 when he was again eligible, but Luchini fended him off 55-45. (Luchini resigned in February to take a job in the U.S. Small Business Administration.) The contest also includes Green Party candidate Benjamin Meiklejohn, who won 13% in a 2020 state House race.
Democrats, reports the paper, have spent $200,000 to help Grohoski, while Republicans have deployed a far smaller $23,000. The eventual winner likely won’t cast any votes this year, but Grohoski and Langley will face off again in November for the redrawn SD-07; Meiklejohn will not be in that race.
● San Francisco, CA District Attorney: There's been a good deal of confusion about how the now-vacant district attorney's post in San Francisco will be filled following this week's recall of Chesa Boudin, but fortunately, law professor Quinn Yeargain once again has the answers.
There's no dispute that Mayor London Breed will get to pick an interim replacement, though so far, she's been mum on who that person might be. But there's been some disagreement about how a permanent successor will be chosen. As Yeargain explains, though, a special election for the final year of Boudin's term will be held in November, with a regular election for a full four-year term in 2023.
That's because San Francisco's charter specifies that if the next election for a vacated office is set to take place more than a year after the vacancy arises, a special election for the unexpired term must happen first. That special election must be conducted at the next election that's at least 120 days after the seat officially becomes vacant (which will happen in a month or so, when the results are certified), which in this case would be the Nov. 8 midterms. The special would be held using the city's instant-runoff voting rules.