The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● AZ-Gov: We have radically different takes on next week's Republican primary for Arizona's open governorship from two different GOP pollsters, though neither is exactly an impartial observer.
First up is Data Orbital's survey showing Trump's candidate, former TV anchor Kari Lake, with a wide 43-32 lead over Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, a considerable surge from her 39-35 edge in previously unreleased numbers from the same firm gathered earlier this month.
Data Orbital did not mention a client or any link to any of the candidates, but the Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts noted that the company’s head, George Khalaf, is the son of Lake's campaign treasurer in a column that dubbed the firm "Lake's unofficial pollster." The younger Khalaf is also working with his dad, Youssef Khalaf, for a PAC called Securing Arizona that's working to beat state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who detailed Trump's attempts to steal the election before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol. (More on that PAC later.)
Robson, who is backed by termed-out Gov. Doug Ducey, responded to the Data Orbital poll by releasing an internal from Public Opinion Strategies that found her deadlocked with Lake 43-43. This is the best showing we've seen for Robson since late June, when former Rep. Matt Salmon publicized a Moore Information poll conducted just before he dropped out that had her up 38-37; Salmon has since endorsed Robson, though his name remains on the ballot.
Robson, who is mostly self-funding her campaign, has enjoyed a massive spending advantage, and she outpaced Lake $1.9 million to $420,000 during the first 16 days of the month. Lake, however, has received $2 million in outside support from a PAC called Put Arizona First ostensibly funded entirely by a California medical supply business called SPH Medical. That development, however, was news to the firm's owner.
"Oh my gosh, no," said SPH owner Tony Coleman when the Republic's Richard Ruelas asked if his company had contributed to the PAC. Coleman, who said he'd never even heard of Lake, went on to tell The Verge, "No, we did not make the donation. No, we're not involved in any political races anywhere."
A financial report for Put Arizona First listed the same suburban Phoenix UPS Store as the address for both itself and SPH Medical, but the Arizona Corporation Commission has no records for the company. Coleman added that not only does his group lack a physical presence in the state, "I don't use UPS … I use FedEx." Deepening the mystery, the PAC only identified this UPS location as its address after Axios asked why its website initially said it was based in Alabama; Nick Jones, a former Alabama mayor whose home was previously identified as the PAC's headquarters, also said he had no knowledge of the group.
There are similar questions surrounding the aforementioned Securing Arizona, which says that its money comes entirely from another California-based business called Yellow Dog Sales. Its owners likewise denied they or their company were funding the PAC, though, with one saying, "Somebody's just impersonating us for the purposes of making a donation, figuring it would fly."
What the PACs have in common is that they each hired state Rep. Jake Hoffman, who runs several companies involved in production and consulting. One of Hoffman's enterprises was banned by Facebook in 2020 for running a pro-Trump "troll farm," while the state representative himself was later one of Trump's fake electors. Hoffman, who has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, did not respond when both the Republic and the Verge asked him about these donations.
Youssef Khalaf, meanwhile, has insisted that the issues surrounding his group were "a clerical error and nothing more." Khalaf said that an Arizona-based company that was also called Yellow Dog Sales actually was financing his PAC, though Ruelas writes that the state Corporation Commission doesn't have any current company with that name in its records either.
● MO-Sen: The political tipsheet MO Scout has released a new poll from the GOP firm Remington Research Group that shows Attorney General Eric Schmitt leading Rep. Vicky Hartzler 32-25 in next week's Republican primary, with disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens at 18%. Last month Remington had Schmitt outpacing Greitens 25-20, while it was Hartzler who took third with 19%. Remington's parent company, Axiom Strategies, serves as a consultant for Schmitt.
The new survey comes at a time when Greitens is getting utterly blasted on the airwaves. NBC reports that Show Me Values PAC, a group set up to stop the former governor, has spent $6.2 million on ads over the last few weeks. Missouri First Action PAC has been defending the governor, but it's so far deployed a far-smaller $900,000 on TV. A different pro-Greitens group, Team PAC, currently isn't running ads.
● PA-Sen, PA-Gov: Blueprint Polling, a Democratic firm that has released some ugly numbers for Team Blue in other states this cycle, shows the party well-situated in both of the commonwealth's statewide races. The poll, which was not done on behalf of a client involved in the race, finds John Fetterman beating Republican Mehmet Oz 49-40 for Senate, while fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro enjoys a 51-39 advantage over Doug Mastriano.
This is the first poll we've seen to find Shapiro doing better than Fetterman, and it also represents Shapiro's best survey to date. Blueprint is also the first firm to release numbers in over a month: The last poll was from the GOP firm Cygnal in mid-June, and it showed Fetterman and Shapiro ahead only 44-40 and 48-45, respectively.
● HI-Gov: Mason-Dixon, polling on behalf of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, shows Lt. Gov. Josh Green with a huge 55-19 lead over businesswoman Vicky Cayetano ahead of the Aug. 13 Democratic primary, with Rep. Kai Kahele at 16%. The only other recent survey we've seen was a late-June poll from MRG Research that showed Green defeating Kahele 48-16. Mason-Dixon also took a look at the GOP primary but only sampled 133 respondents, which is far below the 300 minimum we require to report on a poll in the Digest.
● KS-Gov: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly outraised Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who faces only minor opposition in next week's GOP primary, $1.5 million to $710,000 from Jan. 1 to July 21, though it was Schmidt who finished with a $1.5 million to $1.3 million cash-on-hand lead. State Sen. Dennis Pyle, a former Republican campaigning as a conservative independent, had $35,000 to spend after raising about that same amount; Pyle has until Monday to turn in the 5,000 signatures he needs to make the ballot.
● MN-Gov: New fundraising reports covering the time from June 1 to July 18 show Democratic incumbent Tim Walz outpacing his likely Republican rival, former state Sen. Scott Jensen, $870,000 to $550,000. Jensen essentially secured the GOP nod on the first day of this period when filing closed without any other serious candidates getting in, and his newest haul represents an improvement from the $470,000 he took in during the first five months of the year. Still, Walz maintains an intimidating $5 million to $580,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● PA-Gov: While Democrat Josh Shapiro enjoys a massive financial edge over Republican Doug Mastriano, a prominent conservative megadonor is now putting aside his earlier animosity for Mastriano and taking action to flip the governor's office. Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin reports that Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a group funded by conservative billionaire Jeff Yass, has launched an $8.5 million ad buy tying Shapiro to Joe Biden, which makes this the first time the attorney general has been on the receiving end of a TV attack ad during this campaign.
Yass, a financier with a reportedly long record of avoiding taxes, was no fan of Mastriano, a QAnon ally who tried to overturn Biden's 2020 victory, during this spring's primaries. He even tried to convince former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, a rival candidate who Yass spent millions to promote, to drop out in order to stop Mastriano; Yass relayed to the New York Times that he told McSwain, "This is about the cause, not about you," and that his departure would give the party a better chance to stop "wealthy Democrats like Josh Shapiro." McSwain stuck around, though, and took a distant third in May against Mastriano.
Yass has now gone further than other old Mastriano skeptics to try to stop Shapiro, but as the Associated Press' Marc Levy reports, he's far from the only one who's now falling into line. Just before the primary, two unnamed sources told the National Journal that the RGA was "unlikely" to spend on Mastriano in a general election. But the group's co-chair, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, this month very much didn't rule out coming to his aid, while Mastriano himself spoke at an RGA donor event last week.
Still, Levy writes that plenty of members of "the party's traditional donor community" are holding off on helping Mastriano at a time when he badly needs the cash. NBC reports that Shapiro has spent $8.5 million on ads since the primary ended, while Mastriano has deployed a mere $40,000 on digital spots.
By contrast, Media Matters highlights that Mastriano spent $5,000 in April on "campaign consulting" from Gab, a website that has become a haven for neo-Nazis and other openly extreme-right groups, and that new accounts automatically follow him. Gab founder Andrew Torba, who regularly traffics in antisemitic conspiracy theories, proudly said of the Mastriano campaign, "This isn't a big tent. This is a Christian movement. Full stop."
Shapiro is also now running a new spot reminding viewers how Mastriano in 2020 sponsored a bill in the state Senate "to overturn the election results and declare Trump the winner." The narrator continues by warning, "Mastriano doesn't care about your vote. He wants to pick the winner, a frightening preview of how he'd run Pennsylvania as governor." That statement is accompanied by a clip of the Republican nominee bragging, "As governor, I get to decertify any or all machines in the state."
● MN-01: In a surprise, state Rep. Jeremy Munson announced Tuesday that he would wage a real campaign against former Department of Agriculture official Brad Finstad in the Aug. 9 Republican primary for a full term, a contest that will take place on the same day that Finstad is the GOP nominee in the special election for the final months of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn's term. Finstad edged out Munson 38-37―a margin of 427 votes― in the May special primary.
Munson filed to run in the regular contest days after that narrow defeat, but until now, it looked like the state representative was merely running a ghost campaign so he could raise money to pay back a $200,000 loan. He declared this week, though, that he was really trying to beat Finstad because "over the last few weeks Brad has failed to show he's the conservative to fight inflation." Munson finished June with $210,000 on hand, which was only a bit less than the $270,000 that Finstad had at his disposal; unlike Finstad, Munson also has just one race to worry about in two weeks.
The state representative, however, acknowledged that he'd vote for Finstad in two weeks in his special election contest against the Democratic nominee, former Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger. The day's two contests will take place under different maps, though 90% of the new 1st's denizens live within the boundaries of the existing constituency. Trump carried the old version of this southern Minnesota seat 54-44, while he took the revamped district by a slightly smaller 53-44 margin.
Ettinger, who ended June with $250,000 on hand, began running negative ads against Finstad before Munson kicked off his rematch. The Democrat's newest spot argues that "Finstad is a politician and lobbyist who voted with his party leaders down the line," while Ettinger is a businessman who "know[s] how to get stuff done." Ettinger faces only a few little-known foes in the regular Democratic primary, so he'll likely be on the ballot again this fall no matter how the special turns out.
P.S. If Finstad does lose the primary on the same day he wins the seat in a special general election, he'll have some company in political nerd trivia. In 1986, Hawaii Democrat Neil Abercrombie won the special election for the 1st District by defeating Republican Pat Saiki 30-29, while fellow Democrat Mufi Hannemann took 28%. (All the candidates competed on one ballot without any sort of a primary or runoff, a system that cost Democrats this seat in a 2010 special to succeed none other than Abercrombie.) Hannemann defeated Abercrombie 40-39 in the regular primary, though, only to badly lose the general election to Saiki months later.
Abercrombie won a full term when Saiki left to wage a failed 1990 campaign for the Senate, and this time he remained in the House until he resigned to focus on his victorious 2010 bid for governor.
● NJ-01: Republican Claire Gustafson, a perennial candidate who has attracted little attention for her second campaign against Democratic incumbent Donald Norcross, has released an internal from Grassroots Targeting that shows the congressman ahead only 49-44. Norcross defeated Gustafson 62-38 in 2020 as Biden was carrying the old version of this South Jersey seat 62-37; the redrawn constituency would have favored the president by that same margin.
Gustafson had only $22,000 on hand at the end of March, and the New Jersey Globe notes she still hasn't filed FEC reports for the June primary or the rest of the second quarter.
● NY-10: City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera has earned an endorsement for the crowded Aug. 23 Democratic primary from 15th District Rep. Adriano Espaillat, whose constituency includes another portion of Manhattan.
● NY-22: The crypto-aligned Protect Our Future is dropping nearly $400,000 to promote Navy veteran Francis Conole, who ended June with a huge financial edge over his three Democratic primary rivals. This is the first outside spending we've seen for either primary to replace retiring GOP Rep. John Katko.
● VA-02: Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who is a member of the Jan. 6 committee, is running one of the first general election ads we've seen this cycle focused entirely on the attack. Most of the ad shows footage of last year's violence and conservatives either downplaying or bragging about what happened, with the congresswoman concluding the spot by saying that "it will take all of us to protect our democracy."