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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● AK-AL: Alaska election officials carried out the instant-runoff process Wednesday for the Aug. 16 special election for the state’s only House seat, and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola has scored a dramatic pickup for her party by defeating Republican Sarah Palin 51-49.
Peltola, who will replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young, will be the first Democrat to represent the Last Frontier in the lower chamber since Young won his own special election all the way back in 1973. The new congresswoman, who is of Yup’ik ancestry, is also set to become the first Alaska Native to ever serve in Congress.
The outcome was in doubt for so long because the state allows all mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be received for another 15 days. Peltola went into Wednesday with 40% of the vote while two Republicans, Palin and businessman Nick Begich, took 31% and 28%, respectively. (Write-in ballots made up the balance.) While the two Republican candidates together outpaced Peltola 59-40, Democrats hoped that Palin wouldn’t pick up quite enough Begich voters to overtake the leader when their second-choice preferences were tabulated.
Everyone was kept guessing through Wednesday, especially the candidates, who appeared together at an Alaska Oil and Gas Association forum just before the results were announced. They learned there that, while Begich voters went for Palin 50-29, a crucial 21% didn’t express a preference for either finalist. All of this was just enough for Peltola to keep her edge in the final round of tabulations and give her party a crucial win in a state that Donald Trump had carried 53-43 just two years ago.
Peltola’s victory on such red turf, though, looked improbable before the polls closed two weeks ago. Indeed, national Democrats didn’t even commit serious resources to the contest, a decision the former state representative called “bizarre” just before Election Day. Peltola, however, benefited from voters’ lingering apathy toward Palin, whom the Anchorage Daily News last year described as "nearly invisible within the state" and "almost entirely absent from Alaska politics" since she resigned the governorship in 2009.
While Palin had Donald Trump’s backing for her comeback campaign, the 2008 vice presidential nominee showed little interest in reintroducing herself to her old constituents. Palin made only a few public appearances in the Last Frontier, while she used the weeks before Election Day to hold a Minneapolis fundraiser with far-right pillow salesman Mike Lindell and speak at CPAC's confab in Dallas.
Begich was only too happy to portray Palin as a terrible governor who only cared about being a celebrity, and he ran commercials showing photos of her 2020 appearance on The Masked Singer where she performed "Baby Got Back" disguised as a pink and blue bear. Palin herself hit back in the final days of the race by castigating Begich, who is the rare Republican member of Alaska's prominent Democratic family, for supporting relatives like former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
Peltola, by contrast, avoided attacking either of her GOP rivals, and neither Palin nor Begich went after her either: Both Republicans instead smiled in selfies with their Democratic opponent, and Palin even went so far as to call her a “sweetheart.” All of this made it harder for conservative leaders to make the case that Begich's and Palin’s supporters needed to look past their brutal intra-party fight and rank the other Republican in order to keep Peltola out of Congress.
Republicans, though, will have the chance to regain this seat in a few months. Peltola, Palin, and Begich, as well as Libertarian Chris Bye, will be on the ballot again in November for another instant-runoff election, and the dynamics could be very different for this second round.
● GA-Sen: Georgia Honor, which is an affiliate of the Democratic group Senate Majority PAC, opens its new ad against the Republican Senate nominee by informing viewers, "Herschel Walker has repeatedly threatened to kill his ex-wife." The narrator continues, "He held a razor to her throat and threatened to kill her. He's accused of choking her until she passed out. He threatened a shoot out with police outside her home."
The spot goes on to feature an old clip of Walker, who says he suffered from dissociative identity disorder, recounting, "And, um, I put a gun to her head." It also plays 2008 footage of his former spouse, Cindy Grossman, telling an interviewer, "The first time he held the gun to my head … He held the gun to my temple and said he was going to blow my brains out."
The story surfaced a year ago when the Associated Press reported that Grossman secured a restraining order against Walker for allegedly threatening to kill her and her boyfriend. This account, as well as many other critical stories about his past, convinced some Republicans that Walker would be a disastrous general election nominee against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, but his critics were deep in the minority: A planned multi-million primary ad campaign to derail Walker never materialized, and the former football star went on to take the nomination in May with 68% of the vote.
A few weeks ago, a group called the Republican Accountability Project launched the first TV commercial about the domestic allegation violence against Walker. The Republican responded to that buy, which had only $100,000 behind it, by emailing supporters, "In 2008, my former wife, Cindy, and I gave a TV interview to share our story — not about the glory days of football but about the pain of my mental health struggles and their effect on our marriage." He continued, "The ad makers took something designed to do good and turned it into something evil, which will harm innocent people."
AZ-Sen: RMG Research: Mark Kelly (D-inc): 50, Blake Masters (R): 43
CO-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D): Michael Bennet (D-inc): 46, Joe O'Dea (R): 35, Brian Peotter (L): 7
FL-Sen: Impact Research (D) for the DGA: Marco Rubio (R-inc): 49, Val Demings (D): 46
IN-Sen: Change Research (D) for Thomas McDermott: Todd Young (R-inc): 45, Thomas McDermott (D): 42
NC-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D): Cheri Beasley (D): 42, Ted Budd (R): 41, Shannon Bray (L): 5
PA-Sen: Susquehanna Polling and Research (R): John Fetterman (D): 49, Mehmet Oz (R): 44
The Colorado Senate race has received plenty of attention especially after Democrats unsuccessfully tried to stop O'Dea from winning his late June primary, but this is the first survey we've seen here from a reliable firm in nearly three months.
This Florida survey is part of the same poll the DGA released last week of the race for governor: Those numbers showed incumbent Ron DeSantis leading Democrat Charlie Crist 51-46.
This is the very first poll we've seen from Indiana, where both parties have acted like Young is a sure bet to claim a second term.
● FL-Gov: Democrat Charlie Crist announced Wednesday that he was resigning from the House, effective at the end of that day, to focus on his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis himself quit the House four years ago during his ultimately successful bid, and his constituency remained vacant until the new Congress took office the following January.
● MD-Gov: New campaign finance numbers are in covering the five weeks following the July 19 primaries, and they show that major GOP donors very much agree with Gov. Larry Hogan's assessment of far-right Del. Dan Cox's chances in the general election. Democrat Wes Moore outpaced Cox $1.7 million to $204,000, and he holds a massive $1.5 million to $141,000 cash-on-hand edge.
● OH-Gov: Democrat Nan Whaley's new ad against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine focuses on the infamous story of a 10-year-old rape survivor who had to travel to Indiana for an abortion. "In Mike DeWine's Ohio, 10-year-old rape victims forced to flee the state," says Whaley's narrator, who continues, "Women and doctors arrested for routine healthcare. The freedom to make our own personal medical decisions banned."
● RI-Gov: Former CVS executive Helena Foulkes uses her new commercial to try to position herself as an alternative to Gov. Dan McKee and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who have been airing negative ads against one another ahead of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. The audience for Foulkes' spot sees brief parts of each rivals' attack ads against the other: Gorbea's narrator uses the words "criminal investigation" to describe the governor, while McKee's team says of Gorbea, "She got caught lying." Foulkes herself then appears and pledges that as governor, she'll "attack our problems," especially failing public schools.
AZ-Gov: RMG Research: Kari Lake (R): 46, Katie Hobbs (D): 44
CO-Gov: Remington Research Group (R) for Heidi Ganahl: Jared Polis (D-inc): 49, Heidi Ganahl (R): 42
SC-Gov: Blueprint Polling (D): Henry McMaster (R-inc): 50, Joe Cunningham (D): 39
Ganahl's poll argues that she will make up ground after Polis is attacked on his "positions on fentanyl, crime, and education." So far, though, major outside groups have shown little interest in aiding Ganahl, who faces a huge financial deficit against the self-funding governor.
● NH-01, NH-02: The University of New Hampshire takes a look at the last two competitive House GOP primaries in the nation, the Sept. 13 contests to go up against 1st District Rep. Chris Pappas and his fellow Democrat, 2nd District incumbent Annie Kuster.
Over in the 1st, UNH gives 2020 nominee Matt Mowers a tiny 26-24 edge over former White House staffer Karoline Leavitt, with another 16% going to former TV reporter Gail Huff Brown. Two more contenders, former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott and state Rep. Tim Baxter, take just 4% each, while another 26% are undecided.
Every poll that was released in August showed Mowers at least tied for first, though there was quite a lot of disagreement over how far ahead he was. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is spending on Mowers' behalf, had its man beating Leavitt 37-16, while a survey for the conservative NH Journal showed him ahead 31-16. A Leavitt internal, though, had the two deadlocked 21-21, with Brown and Baxter each grabbing 9%.
Turning to the west, UNH's survey of the 2nd District shows former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns defeating Keene Mayor George Hansel 32-18. Another 10% goes to Lily Tang Williams, who was the 2016 Libertarian Party nominee for Senate in Colorado, with a 37% plurality undecided. A Democratic group called Democrats Serve recently launched a small ad buy aimed at helping Burns pass Hansel, a self-described "pro-choice" candidate backed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
● TX-23: Democrat John Lira is out with a late July internal from Public Policy Polling that finds freshman GOP Rep. Tony Gonzalez leading him 42-26, with conservative independent Frank Lopez at 6%.
National Democrats haven't shown much interest in this contest ever since the new GOP map widened Trump's margin of victory from 50-48 to 53-46, but Lira is arguing that grassroots anger at Gonzalez could put this seat in play. Two county GOP groups recently censured the congressman for casting a vote for the Biden administration's gun safety bill after the massacre in Uvalde, which Gonzalez represents, as well as for supporting same-sex marriage and acknowledging Biden's victory.
● WI-03: Democrat Brad Pfaff has publicized a survey from Public Policy Polling showing him trailing Republican Derrick Van Orden 45-40 in a southwestern Wisconsin-based seat that Trump would have taken 51-47. Those numbers were released about a week after Van Orden's allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund dropped their own internal from Cygnal putting their man ahead by a wider 50-38 margin.
● Suffolk County, MA District Attorney: On Wednesday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu all said that they were withdrawing their support from Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo over a pair of sexual assault allegations leveled against him while he was in high school. Arroyo is challenging appointed District Attorney Kevin Hayden in next week’s Democratic primary.
The announcements came the day after the Boston Globe published a story where the woman who accused Arroyo in 2005 told the paper that she stood by what she’d recounted to the police back then, saying that he’d repeatedly pressured her into performing sexual acts on him when they were teenagers and later sent her threatening messages. “As the potential DA, women are not going to feel safe calling his office,” she argued, adding, “Their cases won’t get heard. ... All those people will be afraid to come forward.” Last week, another woman who accused the councilman of wrongdoing in 2007 said he “did not assault me ever.”
Arroyo previously told the Globe that "I never did what has been alleged, then or ever,” and he reaffirmed his innocence on Tuesday. The candidate has also insisted that he'd only learned about both investigations, neither of which resulted in charges, when the paper contacted him, though police records say he was questioned in 2005. Arroyo has also argued that Hayden's side leaked the police files to the paper, something the incumbent denies.
Wu used her announcement Wednesday to make it clear that, while she could no longer support Arroyo, she still saw Hayden as an unacceptable choice in this two-candidate race. The mayor referenced what the Globe called “a coverup by Transit Police officers that raised questions about how prosecutors handled the case,” saying she still has “serious concerns about Mr. Hayden’s judgment in prosecuting cases, his handling of media scrutiny of pending cases and his conduct in office.”
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.