● MD-01: Forget any clever ledes—we’re just going to give this one to you right up front: Republican pollster Gravis Marketing blew a race by 96 points on Tuesday night. Yep, 96 points. It’s by far—by far—the biggest polling disaster we’ve ever seen, so let’s talk about it a little.
Back in January, Gravis conducted a poll for former state Del. Mike Smigiel, who was challenging Rep. Andy Harris in the GOP primary in Maryland’s conservative 1st Congressional District. Smigiel’s poll gave him an impossible 58-29 lead on Harris, and we knew, just knew, that those numbers had to be total bullshit, but we didn’t find out why until Politico’s Steve Sheppard discovered that Gravis had conducted a so-called “informed ballot” poll.
In such a poll, respondents are given information about each candidate before asking which they’d prefer in a direct matchup. That’s contrasted with an “initial ballot” test, where voters are asked for their preferences without hearing any candidate information; usually you ask both, with the initial ballot, as you’d expect, coming first.
Informed ballots are common practice, but if you’re releasing informed ballot numbers, you simply have to explain that that’s what they are. Ordinarily, in fact, we wouldn’t even bother to assess how well informed ballots stack up against actual election results, since they represent some Platonic ideal of a campaign rather than reality. We also usually don’t evaluate polls taken four months before Election Day, because circumstances can change. But it’s doubtful they did in this case, and we have good reason for making an exception here.
That’s because Smigiel went out of his way to conceal the fact his numbers did not represent an initial ballot test. Indeed, in his press release, Smigiel presented his numbers as though they were totally normal. The fact that they weren’t only surfaced after Sheppard went digging. This sort of shenanigan would have prompted any legitimate pollster to flip its lid and cut ties to such a shady client, but Gravis did no such thing. So that means this poll is on Gravis, and they have to live with the results.
And the results were beyond brutal. Harris wound up obliterating Smigiel by a 78-11 margin, a net clobbering of 67 points. Remember, though, that Gravis showed Smigiel ahead by 29 points. That means they were off on the final margin by that astounding figure: 96 points. To put this tire fire in context, the worst poll we’ve ever come across prior to Tuesday was a 52-point miss.
If Gravis wants to try to redeem itself even a little, it can admonish Smigiel for the stunt he pulled (though boy would that be belated), and it can also release the initial ballot numbers that almost certainly were a part of the poll but were just never shared, probably because they looked awful for Smigiel. But really, Gravis’ track record is so pitiful, there’s really no coming back for this. Just remember, the next time you see any data from them: 96 points.
● CO-Sen: Former state Rep. Jon Keyser, who was denied a spot on the Republican primary ballot after Colorado’s secretary of state said he failed to file a sufficient number of signatures,has filed a legal challenge asking a judge to overturn the ruling. From the sound of it, it appears that Keyser has a pretty decent chance of success. Election officials rejected hundreds of signatures collected by one man, Tyler Gonzalez, because the address he listed on his petition affidavits didn’t match the one associated with his voter registration record. (Signature-gatherers have to be registered voters.) But Gonzalez explained the discrepancy by saying he had recently moved and failed to update his registration.
Even the secretary of state’s office seemed to concede that this was a highly technical grounds for invalidating signatures, telling the court that it was simply following rigid guidelines under the law but acknowledging that the judge hearing the case could apply a more relaxed standard. What’s more, laws like Colorado’s that require people who collect petitions to themselves be registered voters have been found unconstitutional under the First Amendment in other states; in fact, Michigan Rep. John Conyers overcame a similar issue on similar grounds two years ago. (Keyser doesn’t appear to have raised this concern, though.) In any event, the judge says she’ll decide by Friday, when the final ballot must be certified.
● IN-Sen: In what passes for good news for tea partying Rep. Marlin Stutzman these days, a GOP establishment group is still bothering to attack him ahead of next week’s GOP primary. The Senate Leadership Fund, an organization founded by allies of Mitch McConnell, isspending $203,000 on a TV spot arguing that Stutzman “makes big government work… for himself.” The narrator accuses Stutzman’s family of taking over $1 million in farm subsidies even as the congressman spoke out against such payments; the ad also claims Stutzman voted to double his pay in the legislature and backed a tax increase.
Stutzman faces fellow Rep. Todd Young on Tuesday. The SLF and other groups have been spending heavily here for Young, while Stutzman’s nominal allies at the Club for Growth haven’t done anything to help him fight back; Young also has been outspending Stutzman. A recent poll gave Young a 43-31 edge, and there’s little reason to think that he doesn’t have a clear lead going into Election Day.
● NC-Sen: PPP’s latest poll of their home state of North Carolina finds GOP Sen. Richard Burr leading his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Deborah Ross, by just a 40-36 margin, little changed from Burr’s 40-35 advantage a month ago. (In both surveys, Libertarian Sean Haugh took 7.) In a way, that’s almost good news for Burr, since it suggests that the conflagration over HB2, the state’s new anti-LGBT law, hasn’t quite singed the senator. But that doesn’t mean it won’t, especially since Burr has, quite contrary to fact, insisted HB2 “does not discriminate” and would not deter businesses from moving to the Tar Heel State.
● PA-Sen: Just hours after Katie McGinty won the Democratic nomination to face Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, two well-funded conservative groups launched TV campaigns to help keep this seat red. The Club for Growth, which Toomey used to lead, quickly went up with a $500,000 spot attacking McGinty’s time in state government.
The Club’s spot features an actress who resembles McGinty going through a revolving door over and over again as the narrator criticizes her for “profiting from” (wait for it) “the revolving door of government and politics.” The ad goes on to accuse McGinty of “giving millions in grants to her husband’s company” while working for the state (hey, out-of-touch DC elites: Pennsylvania’s a commonwealth) before becoming a lobbyist, then returning to government and supporting “the largest tax increase in Pennsylvania history.” The spot ends with “McGinty” wearing a fur coat and getting trapped in the revolving door after it stops spinning. Nathan Gonzales says that the Club also had an ad ready to run against Joe Sestak if he had won the Democratic primary.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is often the Club’s nemesis in GOP primaries, but when it comes to Toomey, the two rivals see eye-to-eye. The Chamber is spending $750,000 on a positive spot that stars former Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale. Papale praises Toomey as “one of us” and someone who cuts through red tape. In 2014, the Chamber ran several ads featuring conservative-friendly celebrities like singer Randy Owen and football star Herschel Walker, and we’re likely to see more pop up this cycle.
● AL-Gov: Despite the white-hot controversy that has engulfed Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley over allegations that he used state resources to conceal an affair with one his top aides, Bentley’s fellow Republicans in the legislature are moving to protect him from possible impeachment. Eleven lawmakers had already signed articles of impeachment introduced by GOP state Rep. Ed Henry, but on Tuesday, the state House adopted new rules that would require 21 legislators to sign on before any impeachment proposal would be presented to the chamber’s Judiciary Committee. Henry accused the House of wanting to “stall, and prolong and eventually prevent the impeachment” of Bentley, but the questions remains, why?
Nothing we’ve come across has really provided much of an explanation, though we can offer a few theories. It’s possible Republicans don’t want to see Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, whose competence has been under attack for years, ever since she presided over the collapse of the state’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program during her tenure as state treasurer. And why give her a leg up on winning a full term, when Bentley is barred by term limits from running again, and the next election is in just two years?
It’s also not as though the governorship is a great prize in Alabama, since gubernatorial vetoes can be over-ridden by a simple majority. What’s more, this is the same bunch of Republicans who voted to give Mike Hubbard another term as House Speaker even after he was indicted on 23 counts of felony corruption in 2014. But perhaps the truest reasoning comes not from a Republican but from a Democrat, state Rep. Alvin Holmes, who announced on the House floorhis opposition to impeachment, saying that he could name a dozen fellow lawmakers who were married but carried on affairs. Declared Holmes, “There’s no law against having a girlfriend.”
Actually, that’s not true: Adultery is still a misdemeanor in Alabama. Apparently, though, legislators don’t want to set any sort of precedent that it could also be an impeachable offense.
● MT-Gov: The RGA is out with their first TV spot in Montana, and they’re reportedly putting $93,000 behind it. The narrator begins: “Gov. Steve Bullock, caught in a scandal.” The spot of course doesn’t live up to that dramatic opening: It turns out the Democrat’s alleged transgression was using the state plane to fly to some 20 campaign fundraisers. The narrator goes on to accuse Bullock of trying to “shield the truth from the public” before concluding the governor is “another liberal politician, covering up in a scandal.”
Not mentioned, naturally, is that Bullock’s campaign events coincided with trips for official business, a practice previous governors had employed. In response to criticism, though, Bullock instituted a new policy requiring that he reimburse the state for any additional expenses due to such “ancillary” events, and he paid back $2,700 last month. Bullock is preparing to face wealthy Republican Greg Gianforte in a race Daily Kos Elections rates asLean Democratic.
● WV-Gov: The RGA is out with their second spot, and they’re still going positive for state Senate President Bill Cole. The narrator bemoans “Washington’s war on coal” before promoting Cole as someone who will “stand up to the bad policies of Obama and Hillary that are killing our jobs.” The spot is part of a $600,000 ad buy that began two weeks ago and will last until the May 10 primary; Cole faces no opposition, while three Democrats are duking it out. So far, national Democrats have yet to launch a different sort of “War on Cole” and attack the Republican candidate on the airwaves.
● CA-24: This week, Republican businessman Justin Fareed went up with his first TV spotahead of the June top-two primary, and it’s something. The ad features various people calling for someone new instead of the usual politicians before Fareed appears and argues he’s “[t]he one who cares more about the next generation than winning my next election,” before he blithely proclaims, “That’s because I am the next generation.” Dude, enough people already think millennials are full of themselves. You don’t need to make it worse.
But of course, he does make it worse. If it wasn’t clear yet that you’re supposed to realize Fareed is a fabled handsome youthful conservative, the very next shot suddenly features Fareed riding a horse. The horse just comes out of nowhere and is never commented upon. Fareed does the required “I approve this message” but adds, “We’ll talk later.” Personally, we would have preferred him to end with “I’m on a horse,” but maybe he wanted to sound like he was asking the audience to meet behind a sketchy dive bar in half an hour.
Fareed is competing with Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, a fellow Republican, for a spot in the general election in this 54-43 Obama seat. At the end of March, Fareed held a strong $728,000 to $401,000 lead in available cash. However, Achadjian represents about two-thirds of this seat in the legislature, and he recently received endorsements from GOP Reps. Paul Cook and Steve Knight; our sources tell us that none of this trio was, however, on horseback when the endorsements were unveiled. However, both congressmen represent seats located in the Los Angeles media market while most of the 24th watches Santa Barbara TV, so neither Cook nor Knight probably has much pull with voters here. On the Democratic side, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the national party favorite, and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider are fighting for the other general election spot.
● FL-13, Sen: The other day, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos publicly suggested that GOP Rep. David Jolly end his Senate campaign and defend his redrawn House seat against ex-Gov. Charlie Crist. Apparently, reporters have been asking Jolly about this for almost a week, which is a strong indicator that Jolly hasn’t ruled it out—otherwise people would stop asking. Jolly’s campaign finally put out a statement on Tuesday, and it doesn’t exactly close the door on another House bid, either. Jolly’s spokeswoman simply said, “Jolly is focused on passing the Stop Act, doing his day job, and winning the U.S. Senate race.” Notice that she didn’t remotely address the idea that her boss could drop back down to the House. There are ways to make your plans clear, and this isn’t one of them. The filing deadline is in late June.
● KY-01: James Comer is out with his first spot ahead of the May 17 primary for this safely red western Kentucky seat. The commercial stars Comer’s wife, T.J., who praises the candidate as a conservative Christian political outsider. (Comer served a decade in the state House and four years as state agriculture commissioner, and he came 84 votes short of becoming his party’s gubernatorial nominee last year. If he’s not an insider, no one is.)
The whole thing is pretty standard except for the brief bit where T.J. mentions that Comer was endorsed by the NRA as a video of Comer instructing his young son how to aim a rifle plays. Comer’s main primary opponent is Mike Pape, who ran an already-infamous ad featuring three “Mexican” men, complete with bogus mustaches and accents, sneaking across the U.S. border at night to stop Trump, Cruz, and their number one ally, Mike Pape.
● MD-04: On Tuesday, ex-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown achieved his political comeback. Brown defeated former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey in the Democratic primary by a wide 42-34 margin, with state Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk taking a distant 19 percent. This suburban DC seat backed Obama 78-21, and Brown’s victory in November is a foregone conclusion.
Brown’s victory came less than two years after he lost the governorship to Republican Larry Hogan in a shocker. While outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s unpopularity and the GOP wave played a big role in the result, many Democrats also felt that Brown ran a weak campaign. Specifically, they criticized Brown for allowing Hogan to define the prior eight years of Democratic governance as a failure, and for focusing on social issues at a time when economic anxiety was the defining issue. Brown’s role in managing the state’s chaotic Obamacare rollout also worked against him, and his 2014 defeat probably hurt his fundraising for his House bid: Ivey outraised him $1 million to $618,000, while Peña-Melnyk took in $789,000.
However, early polls (including an Ivey survey) gave Brown the edge, a good indication that primary voters still liked him despite what happened in 2014. Brown also took out a $400,000 loan late in the contest that allowed him to outspend his opponents in the homestretch. Weirdly, Brown wrote the check even though he still hasn’t paid off the $500,000 loan he owesto the Laborers Political Education Fund from his last race, but his move seems to have paid off on Tuesday.
● MD-08: On Tuesday, wine mogul David Trone learned the expensive way that flooding the airwaves is no guarantee of victory in politics. Trone, who owns a chair of wine stores, spent an insane $12.75 million of his own money in the Democratic primary for this suburban DC seat; even after adjusting for inflation, no other candidate in American history had ever spent this much of his or her own fortune on a House race. Despite this tidal wave of cash, state Sen. Jamie Raskin defeated Trone 34-27, with ex-hotel executive Kathleen Matthews at 24.
While Raskin and Matthews had nowhere near the kind of money that Trone had at his disposal, they both spent enough to air ads in the expensive DC media market. Crucially, as an elected official, Raskin had a geographic base of support in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, extensive labor support, and a following with local progressives, all advantages that Matthews and Trone didn’t have. Trone and Matthews also might have cost each other votes with more business-oriented voters. Obama carried this seat 62-36, and Raskin should have little trouble in November.
● PA-02: On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah became the first House member to lose renomination this cycle. State Rep. Dwight Evans defeated Fattah 42-34, and he’ll have no trouble winning this safely blue Philadelphia district in the general election.
Last summer, Fattah was indicted on corruption charges, with prosecutors alleging, among other things, that Fattah fraudulently tried to conceal campaign debts and even tried to steer public money to pay off private debts to one of his creditors. Fattah decided to seek re-election and plenty of powerful local politicians were in his corner. (Had Fattah had resigned or been expelled after winning re-election, Democratic ward leaders, led by neighboring Rep. and Philadelphia Democratic Party head Bob Brady, would have chosen the party’s nominee for a special election.)
But Evans, a power player in northwest Philadelphia, stepped up to challenge Fattah. Evans had been an important supporter of Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney during their primary campaigns, and they repaid the favor by endorsing him. Evans raised $878,000, far more than Fattah’s other two primary foes. Fattah himself barely brought in any cash, and Evans had the airwaves to himself. Evans chose not to hit Fattah for his legal woes in his ads, and that strategy seems to have paid off. Evans had lost two bids for mayor of Philadelphia (he and Fattah both unsuccessfully ran in 2007), and now he’s finally earned a promotion. Meanwhile, Fattah’s trial is scheduled for May 16.
● PA-07: Republican Rep. Pat Meehan sits in a suburban Philadelphia seat that Romney only won 50-49 and until Tuesday, he was a longshot Democratic target. National Democrats consolidated behind pastor Bill Golderer, who made the DCCC’s “Emerging Races” list andreceived fundraising help from House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. However, the local county parties threw their endorsements behind 2014 nominee Mary Ellen Balchunis, who had lost to Meehan 62-38. On Tuesday, Balchunis demolished Golderer 74-26.
Given how badly Golderer lost, it’s very unlikely that he had the skills to actually beat Meehan, and yet Balchunis is almost the opposite of what you’d call a strong candidate: At the beginning of April, she had just $17,000 in the bank to Meehan’s $2.5 million. To add insult to injury,several prominent local Democrats are supporting Meehan, who has tried to portray himself as a moderate. (On Tuesday, Meehan beat conservative primary foe Stan Casacio 76-24.)
If Donald Trump utterly destroys the GOP ticket this fall, it’s possible that this light red seat, and others like it, will come into play even with Some Dudes running for the Democrats. But that’s still a very big “if,” and Meehan, who has had a long and successful career in local politics, may be strong enough to withstand even the mightiest Democratic wave. Daily Kos Elections is therefore changing our rating for this race from Likely Republican to Safe Republican.
● PA-08: State Rep. Steve Santarsiero decisively defeated businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton 60-40 in the Democratic primary for this open swing seat. Santarsiero had extensive support from labor as well as the endorsements of both county parties in the district. Santarsiero initially struggled with fundraising and over the summer, and national Democratsreportedly tried to get him to drop out. However, while Naughton still outspent him, Santarsieroeventually started to raise serious cash, and the DCCC did not express a preference for either candidate when they added this seat to their “Red to Blue” list in February.
Both parties are likely to make this suburban Philadelphia district one of their top priorities. While Team Red couldn’t convince Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick to abandon his self-imposed term-limits pledge, the congressman’s younger brother, Brian Fitzpatrick, eventually jumped in. Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, easily won the GOP nod against two weak opponents, and he had a good opening fundraising quarter. Daily Kos Elections rates the general election as a Tossup.
● PA-09: On Tuesday, House Transportation Chair Bill Shuster defeated businessman Art Halvorson in the GOP primary by an almost disastrously close 50.5 to 49.5 margin, a difference of just 1,009 votes. Shuster took just 53 percent in 2014 against Halvorson and another candidate, so his near-death experience didn’t come completely out of nowhere. Shuster’s record of securing appropriations for his rural Altoona-area district simply hasn’t played so well in the tea party era.
Still, Halvorson was a very weak opponent. Back in 2014, Halvorson infamously explained away his bad fundraising by arguing that, “We are out door-to-door and we are touching people and voters, and we are buying love with touches, and Mr. Shuster’s big money doesn’t buy love.” Halvorson seemed to employ a similar touching strategy this time, and he only spent $144,000 during the first few months of the year. Shuster himself spent $744,000 during this time and ran numerous ads arguing he was a true conservative. The American Action Network, which is close to House leadership, also aired an ad for Shuster, while anti-establishment groups did little to help Halvorson beat the powerful Transportation Committee chair.
However, to the apparent surprise of House leadership, Shuster’s massive spending edge was only just enough to get him across the finish line. Shuster was already weak going into the cycle, and that was before voters learned last year that the congressman had helped pass a bill favorable to the airline industry while dating an airline lobbyist. The story continued to dog Shuster on the campaign trail, and if he’d gone up against a stronger opponent, there’s little question that he would have lost. A win is a win, and Shuster won’t have trouble holding this very red rural seat in November. Still, after two weak victories, Shuster will probably need to really watch his back in 2018—if he runs again, that is.
● PA-16: On Tuesday, state Sen. Lloyd Smucker defeated self-funding businessman Chet Beiler 54-46 in the GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Pitts. Beiler, who happens to be Smucker’s second cousin, outspent Smucker in the lead-up to the primary and portrayed the state senator as a dreaded moderate. But Smucker had the backing of the Lancaster County Republican Party, the NRA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he also dipped into his personal funds to avoid getting drowned out. Smucker shouldn’t have much trouble in the fall, though this 52-46 Romney seat could be competitive for Democrat Christina Hartman if there’s a blue wave.
● TX-19: The May 25 runoff for this safely red Panhandle seat isn’t too far away, and former George W. Bush aide Jodey Arrington is airing an ad starring ex-Gov. Rick Perry. The spot features Perry praising Arrington to a crowd of supporters, and mercifully, Perry doesn’t try to sell the well-connected candidate as some sort of political outsider. Instead, Perry describes how he knew Arrington as “a passionate young man working for George W. Bush,” and the commercial shows a picture of Arrington with Dubya in the Oval Office. (Weirdly, the photo the campaign used has Bush looking at his papers instead of at Arrington, but maybe that’s all they had available.)
Perry then tells the assembled that Arrington understands that the federal government should do a few things and do them well. Perry himself doesn’t say what those few things are, though a graphic pops up reading “rebuild our military” and “secure the border.” Perry concludes by vouching for Arrington’s character and instincts. Arrington will face Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson next month. Robertson edged Arrington 27-26 in March, and it’s far from clear which contender has the advantage here. At the end of March, Robertson held a small $292,000 to $237,000 cash-on-hand edge. However, Robertson has mostly been self-funding his bid, and he likely has the personal resources to keep outspending his opponent.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: On Tuesday, state Sen. Catherine Pugh defeated ex-Mayor Sheila Dixon 37-34 to win the Democratic nomination for mayor. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s decision not to seek another term set off a crowded contest, but Pugh and Dixon quickly emerged as the frontrunners. Lawyer Elizabeth Embry took a distant third with just 12 percent while DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, took only 2 percent of the vote.
Dixon had resigned in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, but she still had a solid base of support from voters who fondly remembered her tenure. In the final weeks of the campaign, a number of local political figures, most notably Rep. Elijah Cummings, endorsed Pugh. Victory in the November general election should be automatic for Pugh in this very blue city.
● Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso gives us the goods on Tuesday’s results:
Connecticut HD-75: Democrat Geraldo Reyes took 80 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Raymond Work and Independent Party candidate Lisa Lessard in an easy hold for Democrats.
Pennsylvania SD-09: Republican Tom Killion had little trouble defeating Democrat Marty Molloy, winning by a 57-43 margin.
The Pennsylvania seat backed Obama 54-45, but it’s been in Republican hands for a long time. The GOP posted a 30-to-1 fundraising edge, which helps explain the special election results. But this district will be on the November ballot; while Killion will have incumbency, presidential year turnout should give Team Blue a better shot than they had on Tuesday, when more Republicans than Democrats cast ballots in the presidential primary in both of the counties that make up SD-09. Molloy, a non-profit director, will also be the Democratic nominee for the full four-year term.
● Where Are They Now?: On Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced former Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert to 15 months in prison for illegally attempting to conceal cash withdrawals that he was using to pay $3.5 million in restitution to a former student he had sexually abused years earlier when Hastert served as a high school wrestling coach. Following accusations from other victims, which Hastert ultimately acknowledged in open court, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin called him a “serial child molester” and expressed regret that he could not sentence him as a sex offender because the statute of limitations on any abuse charges had long since passed.
Indeed, Durkin went beyond the term sought by prosecutors, who had recommended a sentence of no more than six months as part of a plea deal reached with Hastert last year, saying, “Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is.” To grasp the truly extraordinary nature of the sentencing proceedings, particularly the breathtaking charges made by Hastert’s victims and their family members, we urge you to read this report from CBS Chicago. It’s a stunning conclusion to a stunning case.