Putin-loving California Republican Dana Rohrabacher tests how red his seat really is

CA-48: California GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has easily won re-election in his coastal Orange County seat for decades, and Democrats haven’t seriously targeted him since he beat Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook 53-43 in 2008. However, while Rohrabacher won 58-42 last year, his well-educated 48th Congressional District rebelled against Trump, shifting from 55-43 Romney to 48-46 Clinton. This area remains very red downballot, but the huge swing gives Team Blue some hope that they can take down Rohrabacher in a good year. However, Trump’s close loss here doesn’t seem to have Rohrabacher remotely concerned. Rohrabacher remains an ardent Trump ally, and he was the only Orange County Republican House member to defend Attorney General Jeff Sessions for covertly meeting with the Russian ambassador.

Rohrabacher, who reportedly was considered as a Trump secretary of state, has also demonstrated some very Trumpy behavior on foreign policy. Rohrabacher remains one of the very few Republicans not named Donald Trump to vigorously defend Vladimir Putin, at least in public. Rohrabacher has also met with French far-right extremist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, gone on Albanian television and declared that “Macedonia is not a state” and should be split up and given to other countries, and gotten involved with his close friend and disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a strange plan ostensibly to help the Republic of Congo defeat the terrorist group Boko Haram.

It’s still going to take a lot of luck for Democrats to beat Rohrabacher in a seat this ancestrally red, but local apathy to Trump and the congressman’s own behavior may give them an opening. A few days ago, real estate company owner Harley Rouda announced that he would run here as a Democrat. The Los Angeles Times‘ Christine Mai-Duc says that Rouda is wealthy, though its unclear how much of his own money he can or will spend, or if he has the connections to raise the sums he’d need to advertise in the expensive Los Angeles media market. Another Democrat, real estate broker Boyd Roberts, is also in. However, Roberts took dead last in a 2012 school board race and launched an aborted campaign against GOP Rep. Ken Calvert in the safely red 42nd District, so he doesn’t seem too serious.

Rohrabacher himself doesn’t begin the 2018 race with a huge financial head start. Rohrabacher had just $238,000 on-hand at the end of last year, and the congressman isn’t anywhere near wealthy enough to self-fund. Last year, Rohrabacher also indicated that he was planning to leave Congress very soon, but he said in December that he’d “probably” run again. It’s almost always more difficult to beat an incumbent than to win an open seat, but Rohrabacher may be tone-deaf enough that Democrats should hope he seeks re-election.


MA-Sen: Famed Red Sox pitcher turned-disgraced video game businessman Curt Schilling has announced that he won’t challenge Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and will instead support Shiva Ayyadurai, who dubiously claims to have invented email but definitely used to be married to actress Fran Drescher.

ND-Sen: Even though GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer seems determined to insult as many women as possible as he mulls a campaign against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, he still likely remains the national GOP’s top choice. Still, state Rep. Rick Becker says he’s “seriously considering” running, but Becker doesn’t seem like a particularly serious candidate. Becker, a libertarian-flavored Republican whose signature issue is curtailing the use of surveillance drones by police, ran for governor last year. However, Becker dropped out before the GOP primary after losing the state party endorsement to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who went on to badly lose the primary to now-Gov. Doug Burgum.

WI-Sen: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a particularly obnoxious Trump supporter who is still technically a Democrat, is currently hawking a new memoir. Clarke has also been mentioned as a potential GOP candidate against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin but his book contains the passage, “I’m not running for mayor, I’m not running for congressman, I’m not running for senator, and I’m not running for governor.” Seems pretty conclusive, right? Well, not according to Clarke, who said on Thursday, days after the book was published, “I never say never; I haven’t totally closed the door, but I think it’s less than 50 percent that I’d run for the Senate.” Not many authors will contradict the very product they’re trying to sell, but Clarke’s a go-getter.


AL-Gov: Several Alabama Republicans are mulling a run to succeed disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley next year, and a new name is expressing interest. Mark Johnston, who has served for 26 years as the executive director of Camp McDowell, a large camp affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, says he’s “decided to explore the possibility of running for Governor of Alabama in 2018.” Johnston did not say what party he belongs to, but it would be a big surprise if he ran as anything but a Republican.

Not many people win major office just after serving as the head of a large Christian camp, but Johnston does have one potential role model to look to. Oklahoma Republican James Lankford spent about 13 years as head of a large Baptist camp, and stepped down just before he ran for an open U.S. House seat in 2010. An early primary poll gave Lankford just 7 percent of the vote and prominent D.C. conservative groups backed another candidate, state Rep. Kevin Calvey. Few political observers took Lankford seriously, including us: Back when Daily Kos Elections was known as the Swing State Project, we repeatedly called Lankford a Some Dude. Even after Lankford earned endorsements from Mike Huckabee and ex-Rep. J.C. Watts, he shocked us all when he not only made it to the primary runoff, he led the far-better funded Calvey 36-33 while brushing past two other state representatives.

At the time, Politico wrote that the fact that Lankford had never held political office helped him stand out in the crowded field. However, Lankford was also credited with running “an aggressive, grassroots-oriented effort that mobilized the local Christian community.” Calvey decisively outspent Lankford in the runoff, but Lankford won 65-35 to take the GOP nod for this safely red Oklahoma City seat. In 2014, when no one could mistake Lankford for a Some Dude, he still beat ex-state House Speaker T.W. Shannon by an unexpectedly wide 57-34 to win the GOP primary for an open Senate seat. Lankford’s background as a Christian camp director was credited with his blowout victory, with Roll Call writing afterwards that his “large network in the Baptist community that knows and respects the congressman” helped give a formidable voter-turnout system.

However, there’s one huge difference between Lankford’s Baptist-affiliated base and Johnston’s potential Episcopal one. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 25 percent of Oklahoma identifies as Baptist, while only 1 percent of Alabamans identify as Episcopalians. Still, if Johnston can emulate Lankford and use his camp credentials to convincingly portray himself as a political outsider, it could be a huge asset during an ugly time in Yellowhammer State politics. To start with, Gov. Bentley is currently facing a possible impeachment for allegedly using state resources to cover up an affair with a staffer.

Bentley recently appointed Luther Strange to the Senate even though as state attorney general, Strange’s office was investigating Bentley, a fact that Strange tried to cover up. Another powerful Republican, state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, was also recently sentenced to prison for illegally using his office to make money for his business. If Johnston can get his name out, he may be able to present himself as a compelling alternative to politics as usual.

CT-Gov: In 2014, then-state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney lost the GOP primary to Tom Foley 56-44, and he’s mostly kept a low profile since then. However, McKinney tells the CTpost that he’s considering another gubernatorial campaign.

McKinney has a reputation as a moderate, which could help him in the general in a blue state like Connecticut, but hinder him in a primary. Most notably, McKinney voted in favor of Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy’s gun safety legislation in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, something the CTpost notes will likely be used against him by another Republican. Back in 2014, Foley also ran ads arguing that McKinney had worked with Malloy to increase taxes, and other Republicans would likely try a similar tactic. McKinney also drew some bad headlines in 2014 after his campaign ran an ad that edited a clip of Foley saying, “I’m not saying I’m going to cut spending; I’m saying I’m going to hold spending flat” into “I’m not going to cut spending.”

Malloy himself hasn’t announced if he’ll seek a third term next year, though he says he’ll decide in the spring after the budget is done. Malloy has posted some very bad approval ratings, and a number of Republicans are mulling this race. We can also add one additional potential candidate to the list: Back in January, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart announced that while she would seek re-election this fall, she wasn’t ruling out a gubernatorial bid. Interestingly, we haven’t heard much from Foley, who narrowly lost to Malloy in 2010 and 2014. In June of 2015 Foley sounded interested in a 2018 bid, but he’s been quiet since then.

FL-Gov: No Republicans have announced that they’ll run to succeed termed-out Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott next year, though state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s huge fundraising doesn’t leave much doubt about his plans. State House Speaker Richard Corcoran has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for a while, but until recently, he never publicly expressed interest. However, Corcoran now tells the Tampa Bay Times that he’ll decide on a gubernatorial bid after the 2018 legislative session ends next March.

Corcoran has a very strained relationship with Scott to say the least. In the past few months, Corcoran has worked to abolish Scott’s $85 million Enterprise Florida program, which gives out business incentives that the speaker calls “corporate subsidies.” The state House has also tried to severely cut Scott’s $76 million tourist marketing bureau Visit Florida, which earned some unwanted headlines after the public learned it had secretly paid the rapper Pitbull $1 million to promote the state, including in his “Sexy Beaches” video. Scott has responded by going to the districts of defiant state House members and publicly shaming them, and he’s been loudly feuding with Corcoran in particular.

Scott seems more than ready to take their battle to the ballot box, and an unnamed ally of Scott’s recently told Politico that if Corcoran runs to succeed him, Scott will get his buddy Donald Trump “to drop the boom on him at just the right time and ruin his chances with Republicans.” However, Corcoran may have one big asset if he gets in next year. The Times notes that Corcoran is very close to the Koch brothers’ political network, which could help him raise the money he’d need to compete in Florida. State Sen. Jack Latvala and eccentric rich guy Ron Bergeron are also talking about getting in, while Scott is reportedly looking for a wealthy candidate to run.

On the Democratic side, things are starting to come into focus. Days after Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the first candidate to announce for this open seat next year, Orlando-area real estate company owner Chris King also joined the primary on Thursday. While King’s father, David King, was the lead attorney in overturning Florida’s GOP-drawn congressional map under the state’s “Fair Districts” laws, the younger King doesn’t seem to have many political connections. Politico says that King is wealthy, but it’s unclear how much of his own money King can or will spend in what will be a very expensive primary. Ex-Rep. Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine both also likely to get in, while wealthy trial attorney John Morgan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn are also looking at the race.

MA-Gov: While it would have been fun to see Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, challenge GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, there was no sign that he was interested. And sure enough, a Kennedy spokesperson tells the Boston Globe‘s James Pindell that Kennedy will run for a fourth term next year. However, businessman Chris Kennedy, the congressman’s uncle, is running for governor in Illinois.


IA-03: Democrat Anna Ryon, an attorney for the state Office of Consumer Advocate (whom we initially misidentified as “Anna Ryan“) announced on Thursday that she would challenge second-term GOP Rep. David Young in this Des Moines-area seat. Ryon’s announcement comes shortly after wealthy investor and defeated 2016 primary candidate Mike Sherzan announced that he would run again.

This seat swung from 51-47 Obama to 49-45 Trump and Young decisively won in 2014 and 2016, but Team Blue can’t write this district off if they want to retake the House next year. Prominent longtime political consultant Pete D’Alessandro has also talked about running, and state Sen. Matt McCoy tells Bleeding Heartland that he’ll decide in the fall of 2017.

McCoy flirted with running last cycle, and Roll Call reported at the time that national Democrats were nervous about him. Back in 2007, McCoy was tried for attempted extortion by federal prosecutors, though he was acquitted by a jury; in 2008, he paid a fine to the state ethics commission for making an illegal campaign contribution; and he had a poor attendance record as a state lawmaker. In response to concerns about him, McCoy said one reason the DCCC was hostile to him is because he is gay. It’s unclear who, if anyone, national Democrats prefer to face Young this time.


Charlotte, NC Mayor: Last year, state Sen. Joel Ford formed an exploratory committee to prepare for a fall Democratic primary challenge against Mayor Jennifer Roberts, and he announced he was in on Thursday. Ford has a reputation as a moderate: Notably, while Ford has expressed opposition to the state’s anti-LGBT law HB2, he’s argued that Roberts and the Charlotte City Council should never have passed its human rights ordinance when it became clear that the GOP-led legislature would act in response.

Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles has also announced that she will challenge Roberts in the Democratic primary. If no one takes more than 40 percent of the vote on Sept. 12, there will be a primary runoff on Oct. 10. No notable Republicans have announced that they’ll run in November yet, though conservative Councilor Kenny Smith says he’s considering.

Omaha, NE Mayor: On Wednesday, Republican Tim Dunning, the sheriff of Omaha’s Douglas County, announced that he was supporting Democratic ex-state Sen. Heath Mello over GOP Mayor Jean Stothert in this spring’s mayoral race.

Dunning backed Stothert during her 2013 campaign, and the two were viewed as political allies for most of her term. However, they’ve recently been in conflict, with Dunning faulting Stothert with trying to annex new neighborhoods into the city without providing an appropriate police presence. Dunning also insists that Stothert’s “attitude” caused problems, claiming that the mayor has called him to yell at him so many times that he’s blocked her number. Stothert responded by saying that it was irresponsible for Dunning to block her, saying that he could put the city in danger if she can’t reach him in an emergency.

All the candidates will compete in the April 4 non-partisan primary, and the top two contenders will advance to the May 9 general. It’s very unlikely that anyone but Stothert and Mello will advance, and the general election cannot be averted if someone takes a majority in the primary. However, Mello is hoping for a strong showing in April to prove to his backers he can win the real contest the next month.


The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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