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.
● KY-Gov: Former Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who lost re-election to Democrat Andy Beshear in 2019, is not ruling out a rematch next year despite an unresolved pardon scandal. The Courier Journal's Joe Sonka writes that Bevin "has not spoken to the media and has made few public appearances" since his close 2019 defeat, but the paper managed to catch up with him at a party event last week. However, when Bevin was asked if he planned to run again, he merely responded, "I am planning to eat ham."
Bevin was similarly blithe when the paper inquired if he was being encouraged to enter the race, saying, "You get a lot of encouragement to do a lot of things in life, I'm sure you guys do, too. So, it's all good." State Auditor Mike Harmon, who is running, says that the former governor was a little more direct with him several months ago, though. "(Bevin) had told me that he had no intention of getting in," Harmon relayed, "but he paused and said, 'But, you know, I didn't have any intention of getting in in 2015.'"
Bevin alienated plenty of conservative voters and state legislators during his chaotic tenure leading this dark red state, but his biggest vulnerability may stem from a decision he made just before leaving office. In late 2019, the outgoing governor granted clemency to 670 people including Patrick Baker, who had been convicted in a 2014 homicide. Media outlets soon reported that Baker's brother and sister-in-law held a fundraiser for Bevin in 2018, though the Republican ardently denied this had anything to do with the pardon.
Last year, however, the federal government revealed that the FBI was investigating whether this was really the case. There have been no public developments since then, though Baker was sentenced to almost 40 years in prison in January after being convicted on federal murder charges for that 2014 slaying.
Bevin isn't the only potential Republican candidate who was too fixated on a pig to provide a straight answer about his plans. Sonka writes that former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, who is one of the national GOP's most prominent donors, "is widely expected to announce her candidacy in September," but she refused to confirm that herself. Craft, who was in the process of co-purchasing the Kentucky State Fair's grand prize country ham for a record $5 million, instead said, "I'm not gonna give you my game plan ... I am focused on buying this country ham."
But while Craft, who also co-bought last year's grand prize for $4.8 million, may have access to the best gammon in the race, she very much won't have next May's primary to herself. In addition to Harmon, who has struggled to raise money, the GOP field already includes Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has Donald Trump's endorsement; state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; and state Rep. Savannah Maddox. State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, who was Bevin's running mate in 2019, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck have also expressed interest in joining in, and it's possible more names will surface in the coming months.
If recent history is any guide, however, we're going to be guessing exactly who else is or isn't running until filing closes on Jan. 6. In 2015 Bevin, who had just badly failed to deny renomination to Sen. Mitch McConnell, announced his ultimately successful bid on the very last day possible.
Four years later, the unpopular governor delayed filing to run again despite announcing he was in, which led to plenty of talk that he'd pull the plug on his re-election campaign. Bevin did indeed make it clear he was running just days before the 2019 deadline, though he also used that occasion to announce he was dropping Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton from his ticket in favor of adding Alvarado.
● AK-Sen: The Senate Leadership Fund announced last week that it was canceling $1.7 million in ad time meant to aid Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a move the super PAC said it made because she "is in a very strong position" in her intra-party battle against Trump's choice, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski outpaced Tshibaka 45-39 in the Aug. 16 top-four primary: Another 6% went to a Democrat, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission member Pat Chesbro, while little-known Republican Buzz Kelley grabbed the fourth general election spot with just 2%.
● AZ-Sen: While the Senate Leadership Fund may be hoping that billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel will make up for the $8 million it just canceled in TV reservations intended to help Republican Blake Masters, an unnamed source suggests that national Republicans have the opposite goal in mind. CNBC writes that this person relays that in a call with Masters, "a veteran GOP financier 'read him the riot act' and told him, in part, that he must start raising money from more wealthy Republican donors and stop relying on" Thiel.
● MO-Sen: Remington Research, whose parent company consults for Republican Eric Schmitt, finds him leading Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine 51-40 in its newest poll for the political tipsheet Missouri Scout. A recent YouGov survey for Saint Louis University gave Schmitt a very similar 49-38 edge.
● AK-Gov: Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce announced last week that he was resigning his post on Sept. 30 in order to focus on his campaign for governor, but the Alaska Landmine soon reported that the Republican was quitting because his community is investigating him "for workplace harassment of a Borough employee." Pierce's spokesperson and borough officials did not comment when asked if there was a probe into the departing mayor.
Pierce made it into the instant-runoff general election by taking fourth place in the Aug. 16 top-four primary, though he clocked in with just 7%. GOP incumbent Mike Dunleavy grabbed first with 40% while two opponents, former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara and former independent Gov. Bill Walker, each earned 23%.
● LA-Gov: The Advocate name-drops state Sen. Jay Luneau as a potential Democratic candidate for next year's all-party primary, though Luneau doesn't appear to have said anything about his interest publicly. Numerous Republican candidates are eyeing this race including Rep. Garret Graves, who says he'll wait until after the midterm elections before talking to his advisors about the idea.
● NM-Gov: Research and Polling Inc.'s new survey for the Albuquerque Journal gives Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham a 47-40 lead over Republican rival Mark Ronchetti, with Libertarian Karen Bedonie snagging 5%. These are the first numbers we've seen since mid-July, when a GQR poll for the governor’s allies at the Environmental Defense Fund showed her ahead 48-44. (This item incorrectly dated this poll to mid-June.)
● RI-Gov: Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea last week had to edit her attack ad against Gov. Dan McKee after it initially cited an unrelated editorial in the right-wing National Review, and McKee is now trying to cultivate a backlash with his own response spot.
McKee’s narrator denounces Gorbea for "using extreme MAGA Republicans to make false attacks" ahead of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary and says that the piece "was taken off the airwaves because she got caught lying." The governor's commercial does not mention the actual substance of Gorbea's ad, which focused on an FBI investigation into the McKee administration over a since-canceled education consulting contract.
Gorbea got some better news last week when she earned an endorsement from the state SEIU. The Providence Journal writes that the labor group is "locked in a dispute with McKee over state-paid benefits for the private contractors who provide child day-care in their own homes."
● NH-01: The Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $290,000 so far in a campaign to boost 2020 nominee Matt Mowers ahead of the Sept. 13 Republican primary. Mowers has the support of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise as he seeks a rematch against Democratic Gov. Chris Pappas; the third-ranking Republican in the leadership, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, has broken off and backed one of her former aides, Karoline Leavitt.
● House: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has booked $28.5 million more in fall TV time and another $8.5 million for digital ads, and we've collected the information here. On the Democratic side, House Majority PAC also announced that it was reserving another $1.2 million across four markets.
In a break with past practice, CLF announced most of its new reservations by district rather than media market. We've therefore sought to assign districts to media markets for inclusion on our main tab that lists total for all four groups, but for districts that stretch across more than one market, we've simply labeled them as "[Multiple]." Note that even though the PAC says it's booking time for specific districts, the actual reservations are still made at the media market level, meaning the sums here could still be shifted to other seats.
CLF is the first super PAC to explicitly say it will spend money in two Democratic-held seats, Indiana's 1st District and New York's 17th. HMP, though, booked nearly $4 million earlier this year for the Chicago media market, and some of that money could be used to protect Rep. Frank Mrvan in the Hoosier State. CLF also previously reserved $4.4 million for the massive New York City market, which includes Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's new constituency.
CLF also is the first major outside group to book any money in Iowa's 2nd, where Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson is defending a seat that Trump would have carried 51-47.
● MI-AG, MI-SoS: Michigan Republicans held their party convention on Saturday and officially nominated Matt DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state. Both far-right candidates essentially clinched the nod at the party's endorsement convention back in April, which left them with several months to fundraise before this weekend's gathering. However, they didn't use that time especially well: Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel held a $2.5 million to $130,000 cash-on-hand lead early this month, while Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson enjoyed a $3.2 million to $280,000 advantage.
Under party rules, it would have taken an affirmative vote from three-fourths of Saturday's delegates to overturn the results of the endorsement convention and select different nominees. No one seriously seems to have considered trying this, though, even though DePerno is under state investigation for allegedly being part of a scheme to illegally acquire and tamper with voting machines early last year.
State Rep. Ryan Berman, who lost to DePerno back in April, still used the convention to reiterate his old fears about his former opponent's prospects. "Like I said, there's a chance maybe he gets disbarred," Berman said, adding, "Maybe there's a criminal indictment, and that wasn't theoretical."
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.