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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● NH-Sen, NH-01, NH-02: New Hampshire’s Republican voters closed out the 2022 primary season on Tuesday by defying D.C. and state GOP leaders and nominating a trio of far-right congressional candidates. In the race to face Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, retired Army Brig. General Donald Bolduc holds a 37-36 edge over state Senate President Chuck Morse as of Wednesday morning with 127,000 ballots counted, which the Associated Press estimates represents 87% of the total vote; the AP has not yet called the race, but Morse has conceded.
Over in the 1st District in the eastern part of the state, Karoline Leavitt overcame heavy spending directed against her to beat her fellow Trump administration alum, 2020 nominee Matt Mowers, 35-25. Leavitt will go up against Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas, who defeated Mowers last time, in a 52-46 Biden constituency that has long been one of the swingiest seats in America.
Finally in the 2nd District in western and northern New Hampshire, former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns leads Keene Mayor George Hansel 33-31 in the contest to face Democratic incumbent Annie Kuster; the AP estimates only 77% of the estimated vote is in, but Hansel has also conceded. Biden would have prevailed 54-45 here.
The most prominent member of this bunch is Bolduc, who is now the GOP’s standard bearer in a crucial Senate race whether party leaders like it or not. The retired general, who lost the 2020 primary for New Hampshire's other Senate seat 50-42, quickly began running against Hassan even while national Republicans were unsuccessfully trying to recruit Gov. Chris Sununu.
Bolduc spent his second effort embracing the Big Lie, saying at one debate, “I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying Trump won the election, and damn it, I stand by [it]." Bolduc also has refused to apologize for his 2021 comments accusing Sununu of being a "Chinese communist sympathizer" with a family business that "supports terrorism.” Sununu, unsurprisingly, backed Morse in the last week of the race. But while Bolduc raised less than $500,000 total through Aug. 24, he posted double digit leads in two polls heading into Labor Day thanks in part to name recognition from his earlier race.
Deep-pocketed Republicans responded in the final two weeks by setting up a new group called White Mountain PAC that launched a multi-million-dollar effort to promote Morse and attack Bolduc as a surefire loser with "crazy ideas." It remains to be seen who exactly was behind the PAC, though national observers noticed it showed up on the scene just days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bemoaned that "candidate quality" could keep the GOP from seizing the majority. The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC, in turn, waged its own expensive ad campaign tying Morse to lobbyists, a move aimed at weakening him for the general election if he couldn’t be stopped in the primary.
However, while Team Blue ultimately got the opponent it wanted, everyone acknowledges that even a terrible candidate like Bolduc could still pull off a win in a state that's prone to wild swings. Indeed, his intra-party critics signaled before the primary that they’ll work to beat Hassan even if they have to deal with him. McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund has been preparing for an expensive general election no matter what, and last week it booked $23 million in ads. And while Sununu last month denounced Bolduc as "conspiracy-theory extremist" who is "not a serious candidate,” he acknowledged Monday he’d support him if he took the nomination.
Meanwhile in the 1st District, Mowers looked like the frontrunner for his second try until results came in. Prominent House Republicans agreed that Mowers, who lost to Pappas 51-46 last time, would be able to finish the job in 2022, and he earned endorsements from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Leavitt, by contrast, had the support of New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who is her old boss and the number-three Republican in the leadership, as well as prominent hardliners like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
Mowers’ allies spent close to $3 million to boost Mowers and bash Leavitt: One memorable spot called Leavitt, who is 25, a "woke Gen-Zer," a statement followed with a SnapChat clip of the candidate laughingly exclaiming, "Listen up, ho bags." But while Leavitt’s side had access to far less money, she made sure to run as far to Mowers’ right as possible. Notably, while Mowers refused to say whether he agreed with the Big Lie, Leavitt said her opponent sided “with Joe Biden and the Democrats by refusing to stand for election integrity and support audits.”
Leavitt also made sure to inform primary voters that Mowers once worked for Dr. Deborah Birx, albeit before she became the Trump White House’s coronavirus coordinator and one of the far right’s favorite foils. Additionally, Leavitt went after Mowers for casting ballots in the 2016 presidential primary in both New Hampshire and later in his home state of New Jersey.
Finally in the 2nd District, Sununu endorsed Hansel, a self-described "pro-choice" candidate, over Burns, who took fourth in the 2018 primary. National Democrats, though, saw a chance to meddle in the primary, and they spent over $500,000 on ads promoting Burns as an ardent Trump ally.
Hansel also benefited from outside help from a new super PAC, which Burns, who spent little himself, was none too happy about. “This is coming from McCarthy,” the soon-to-be-nominee argued, continuing, “He’s dead to me at this point. I’m not going to support him.” Burns added, “And quite frankly if it boils down to it, I may run against him.”
● DE Auditor (D): Attorney Lydia York defeated Auditor Kathy McGuiness, who ran for re-election even though she was convicted of conflict on three misdemeanors this summer, 71-29. York, who faces Republican Janice Lorrah in the general, would be the third Black person ever elected statewide.
● RI-Gov (D): Incumbent Dan McKee, who was elevated from the office of lieutenant governor to the top job in March of last year, held off former CVS executive Helena Foulkes 33-30, with another 26% going to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.
Gorbea looked like McKee’s main rival for almost the entire campaign, but Foulkes gained traction as the race closed. However, her surge came just a little too late: WPRI relays that, while Foulkes narrowly won ballots that were cast in person on Election Day, she took third place among early and mail voters.
The first spot from DGA's Alliance for a Better Rhode Island affiliate hits Kalus, who only moved to the Ocean State last year after casting a ballot in Florida in 2020, as an outsider who doesn't understand the state she wants to lead. It goes on to play a clip of Kalus being asked by a reporter, "So you say you're personally pro-life, but policywise, would you have signed" the state's Reproductive Privacy Act, to which the candidate responds, "No, I'm pro-life."
● RI-02 (D): State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who had the support of retiring Rep. Jim Langevin, defeated former state Rep. David Segal 54-16. Magaziner will go up against former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who was the 2014 and 2018 Republican nominee for governor. Biden would have carried this western Rhode Island constituency, which is also home to western Providence, 56-42, but Republicans are hoping that Fung can put it into play.
● AK-Sen: Buzz Kelley, a true Some Dude who advanced to the general election by taking 2% of the vote in last month's top-four primary, announced Monday that he was dropping out and endorsing his fellow Republican, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Kelley will still be on the November instant-runoff ballot because the deadline to withdraw passed last week, though he insists he quit now to make sure that he wouldn't be replaced by the fifth-place finisher, Republican Pat Nolin.
Meanwhile, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Union is spending $1.55 million on ads to tout Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who led Tshibaka 45-39 last month. (Another 7% went to Democrat Pat Chesbro, who took third place.) The union usually backs Democrats, though it ran spots in the June GOP primary for Illinois' 15th District in an unsuccessful effort to help Rep. Rodney Davis against his fellow incumbent, far-right freshman Mary Miller.
● IA-Sen: Democrat Mike Franken has publicized an internal from Change Research that shows him trailing Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley only 48-44, which is nearly identical to Franken's 49-44 deficit in his early July poll. Two other surveys were released later that month, and they gave Grassley a somewhat larger edge: A media poll from Selzer & Company had the Republican up 47-39, while the GOP firm Cygnal showed him winning 52-43.
Grassley, who has always won re-election with at least 60% of the vote, seems to be taking Franken at least somewhat seriously, as he began running ads against him a few weeks ago. However, no outside groups on either side have spent much here so far.
● Polls: The Republican firm Echelon Insights has polled 14 different states for NetChoice, a trade association whose members include tech giants like Amazon, Google, Lyft, and Meta. Most of the questions are related to internet regulation, but each survey first quizzed respondents about any Senate and governor contests happening in their state. We'll start with the Senate results:
AR-Sen: John Boozman (R-inc): 56, Natalie James (D): 32
AZ-Sen: Mark Kelly (D-inc): 52, Blake Masters (R): 37
FL-Sen: Marco Rubio (R-inc): 50, Val Demings (D): 41
GA-Sen: Raphael Warnock (D-inc): 50, Herschel Walker (R): 40
KS-Sen: Jerry Moran (R-inc): 54, Mark Holland (D): 35
LA-Sen: John Kennedy (R-inc): 51, Gary Chambers (D): 16, Luke Mixon, (D): 8, Syrita Steib (D): 6
OH-Sen: Tim Ryan (D): 45, J.D. Vance (R): 39
OK-Sen-A: James Lankford (R-inc): 59, Madison Horn (D): 29
OK-Sen-B: Markwayne Mullin (R): 58, Kendra Horn (D): 28
PA-Sen: John Fetterman (D): 57, Mehmet Oz (R): 36
SC-Sen: Tim Scott (R-inc): 54, Krystle Matthews (D): 37
Next up are the numbers for races for governor:
AR-Gov: Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R): 62, Chris Jones (D): 32
AZ-Gov: Katie Hobbs (D): 50, Kari Lake (R): 40
FL-Gov: Ron DeSantis (R-inc): 52, Charlie Crist (D): 42
GA-Gov: Stacey Abrams (D): 48, Brian Kemp (R-inc): 47
KS-Gov: Laura Kelly (D-inc): 53, Derek Schmidt (R): 41
OH-Gov: Mike DeWine (R-inc): 54, Nan Whaley (D): 35
OK-Gov: Kevin Stitt (R-inc): 55, Joy Hofmeister (D): 36
PA-Gov: Josh Shapiro (D): 55, Doug Mastriano (R): 36
RI-Gov: Dan McKee (D-inc): 51, Ashley Kalus (R): 28
SC-Gov: Henry McMaster (R-inc): 50, Joe Cunningham (D): 44
TX-Gov: Greg Abbott (R-inc): 48, Beto O'Rourke (D): 46
Overall these are some of the very best numbers for Democrats compared to what any pollster has released even though Echelon is a GOP company. In Georgia, for instance, this is the first survey we've seen since April to show Abrams with any sort of lead in her rematch with Kemp.
● FL-Gov: Last week, the Republican pollster Neighborhood Research released an early September survey that shows GOP incumbent Ron DeSantis leading Democrat Charlie Crist 50-41, which is larger than the 3-5 point lead DeSantis posted in several surveys conducted since late August.
Neighborhood Research is run by Rick Shaftan, who has polled for allies of 2017 Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore as well as the campaign of another far-right Senate candidate, 2018 Virginia nominee Corey Stewart. His firm was known as Atlantic Media and Research until 2019 when, after years of legal pressure from the unrelated Atlantic Media, Shaftan changed its name.
● ME-Gov: While Republican Paul LePage spends most of his new commercial attacking Democratic incumbent Janet Mills as a well-connected insider, the Bangor Daily News notes that he devotes a very small portion of it to elevating the third candidate on the ballot, underfunded independent Sam Hunkler.
However, the viewer actually needs to be paying close attention to notice because Hunkler, whom the narrator doesn't even mention, is in and out of the ad in the space of about a second. The spot begins with pictures of all three candidates and text describing them, with Hunkler's brief moment on screen reading "doctor" and "Peace Corp [volunteer]." The rest of the ad goes on to talk about LePage's difficult upbringing and go after Mills, while the independent is not seen or heard from again.
LePage won his 2010 and 2014 races with a plurality of the vote while candidates to his left split the majority, and the former governor likely is hoping that he can do it again by helping Hunkler pry some votes away from Mills. Election reformers once held out hope that the state's instant-runoff law, which passed via ballot initiative in 2016, would end the days when a governor could prevail without a majority. However, the state Supreme Court soon issued a non-binding advisory opinion saying that the state constitution forbade ranked choice from being implemented in general elections for state-level office.
The legislature passed a law later in 2017 making it clear that instant-runoff voting couldn't be used in general elections for governor or the legislature, though it still is the law for all primaries and for general elections to Congress. While ranked choice supporters responded to these developments by calling for a state constitutional amendment that would allow instant-runoff voting for all races, it would require two-thirds support in both legislative chambers to even put this on the ballot. Voters, however, rejected a 2018 referendum that would have scraped instant-runoff voting altogether, so it seems like the new status quo will be in place for a while.
● NM-Gov: New campaign finance reports are in covering the time from July 3 to Sept. 5, and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham narrowly outraised Republican Mark Ronchetti $2.6 million to $2.4 million and finished with a wider $3 million to $2.4 million cash-on-hand edge. The Albuquerque Journal also writes that Lujan Grisham's allies at the DGA have outspent their RGA counterparts $2.2 million to $1.4 million so far.
● NY-Gov: The New York State AFL-CIO has released a Public Policy Polling internal that shows its ally, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, beating Republican Lee Zeldin 54-39. A late August SurveyUSA poll for the local media gave the governor a wider 55-31 edge, while a recent survey from the GOP firm co/efficient put her advantage at just 49-43.
● OR-Gov: Both Republican Christine Drazan and independent Betsy Johnson have been arguing that Tina Kotek has done a poor job on public safety and homelessness, and the Democrat is responding with a spot where a health care and housing leader named Ed Blackburn touts her as the candidate "with a plan to help get people off the streets so everyone is safe." Blackburn argues Kotek supports "expanding treatment programs for addiction and mental health to putting new outreach workers on the ground, plus more shelters and affordable housing."
Johnson, meanwhile, is airing another commercial in this three-way race attacking Kotek on public safety. A separate Johnson ad goes after Drazan on abortion, with a nurse declaring the Republican is "backed by a radical group that wants to make all abortion illegal."
● AZ-02: One of the most surprising expenditures by the NRCC over the last week popped up in Arizona's 2nd District, sprawling rural turf in the state's northeast corner that became considerably redder in redistricting. In fact, at 53-45 Trump—compared to 50-48 Biden under the old lines—this is one of the toughest seats Democrats have to defend this cycle, yet Republicans just threw down more than $900,000 on TV ads to bolster their effort to oust Rep. Tom O'Halleran.
The NRCC's spot is unremarkable, mostly just linking O'Halleran to Nancy Pelosi—perhaps the GOP's most common line of attack against Democrats over the last two decades. What stands out, rather, is the heavy spending in such a red district, though there are many reasons, of course, why Republicans might be taking this step. Above all else, they may simply be playing it safe, especially since their nominee, former Navy SEAL Eli Crane, had just a fraction of O'Halleran's cash-on-hand after an expensive primary that didn't conclude until Aug. 2, and the Phoenix media market is not a cheap one.
But it's also possible they're seeing worrying polls that reflect the changed political environment since the Dobbs decision. Not only have Democrats outperformed Biden's margins by an average of 6 points in the five House special elections since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, TargetSmart's Tom Bonier also says that Arizona is one of the states with the largest increases in the share of women as newly registered voters during that timeframe. If O'Halleran does in fact have a fighting chance to keep his seat, then Democrats may have a shot at retaining the House.
● MI-08: The Natural Resources Defense Council is spending $250,000 on an ad buy in support of Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee that includes a spot starring Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who was key to uncovering Flint's water crisis. Hanna-Attisha commends the congressman, whose constituency includes Flint, as someone who "has done more for safe drinking water than maybe anyone else in the country" and who brought Democrats and Republicans together "to work together on getting lead out of our drinking water."
A separate spot features clean water activist Cathy Wusterbarth accusing Republican Paul Junge of siding with polluters. "Paul Junge attacked the cleanup as 'reckless,'" argues Wusterbarth, adding, "Polluters gave money to Junge's campaign."
● MT-01: Democrat Monica Tranel has released two new ads that attack former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke over the many corruption allegations against him from his time serving as Trump's secretary of the interior.
The first spot plays clips of news coverage noting that Zinke "racked up 18 federal investigations" while in federal office and that a recent inspector general's report found that Zinke had "lied to investigators" and violated ethics rules. That report was released last month and concluded that Zinke had misled investigators about why he had stonewalled two Connecticut tribes' request for federal approval to build a casino by neither granting nor denying approval, which he did after allegedly being improperly influenced by lobbyists for a rival casino (the tribes did eventually receive approval, but the new casino remains on hold due to the pandemic).
The second ad features former state GOP chair Susan Good Geise skewering Zinke over the same aforementioned corruption issues, noting that he resigned from Trump's cabinet "in disgrace." She endorses Tranel and praises her as someone who will take on big corporations and anyone who threatens Montana.
● NC-01: The DCCC is using its first ad against Republican Sandy Smith to remind viewers of the abuse allegations that surfaced against her during the May primary, allegations that likely explain why the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund spent almost $600,000 on an unsuccessful attempt to deny her the nomination.
The narrator quotes from court documents filed by the nominee's daughter: "My mom 'pushed and shoved me …' 'slapped me …' she 'punched me in the face.'" The narrator continues, "Smith's daughter even filed for a domestic violence protection order, claiming her mother violently abused her, sending her to the emergency room."
During the spring primary, rival candidate Sandy Roberson published opposition research that focused on how two of Smith's former husbands accused her of domestic violence. CLF made use of another part of that dossier in ads that didn't mention any abuse allegations and instead declared that "Smith went bankrupt, owing creditors thousands, then failed to pay her taxes on time." Smith, though, went on to defeat Roberson 31-27, and she'll go up against Democratic state Sen. Don Davis in a northeastern North Carolina seat that Biden would have carried 53-46.
● NJ-03: It remains to be seen if national Republicans will air any ads to help Republican Bob Healey unseat Democratic incumbent Andy Kim now that redistricting has transformed his 49.4-49.2 Trump constituency into one Biden would have carried 56-42, but one person very close to Healey is very much getting involved. Politico reports that a group called Garden State Advance, which is funded by Healey's mother, has launched a $410,000 buy against Kim in this expensive South Jersey seat, though we don't have a copy of its spot yet.
● Polls: U.S. Term Limits has released a trio of early September surveys of open seat New York House races from its usual pollster, RMG Research. In all three cases, the poll told respondents after the initial horserace question that the Republican "signed the U.S. Term Limits Pledge and supports term limits" while the Democratic nominee "opposes term limits."
NY-03: Robert Zimmerman (D): 42, George Santos (R): 41
NY-19: Josh Riley (D): 44, Marc Molinaro (R): 41
NY-22: Brandon Williams (R): 43, Francis Conole (D): 40
Riley recently publicized his own internal showing him ahead by that same 47-44 margin, while we haven't seen other numbers from the other two constituencies.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.