KS-04: Now this is interesting. Despite the fact that Kansas’ 4th Congressional District is dark red (Trump won it 60-33), and despite the fact that Republican Ron Estes’s soft fundraising certainly hasn’t suggested he’s worried about Tuesday’s special election, the NRCC has jumped in with about $90,000 in last-minute spending, on both digital and television ads.
In the TV spot, a narrator hits Democrat James Thompson on abortion, accusing him of a litany of sins: supporting “late-term abortions,” “using your tax dollars to pay for abortions,” and “abortion even if the parents don’t like the gender of their baby.” Politico’s Elena Schneider explains that local Republicans “are fretting that Estes’ margin is closer than expected,” and one unnamed GOP consultant even says, “Kansas should not be in play, but Kansas is in play.”
Amusingly, an NRCC spokesman tried to make it sound as though the committee was pleased about this turn of events, preposterously saying, “We’re happy to help in this small way and show our support for Ron Estes.” Uh no, no they’re not happy at all. Frustratingly, though, if there’s an opportunity here, local Democrats don’t seem to be taking advantage of it. Thompson’s campaign recently asked the Kansas Democratic Party to spend $20,000 on mailers to boost Thompson, but the party declined to get involved.
An upset here would be extraordinary beyond measure, but in this strange, unprecedented political environment, even the NRCC isn’t willing to rule one out. A lot of Kansas Democrats, though, don’t seem to feel the same way.
• FL-Sen: Bill Nelson (D-inc): $2 million raised, $3.6 million cash-on-hand
• CT-Gov: Dan Drew (D): $100,000 raised
• MN-01: Jim Hagedorn (R): $220,000 raised
• NJ-05: Josh Gottheimer (D-inc): $752,000 raised
• FL-Sen: Last week, after GOP Rep. Tom Rooney tried picking a fight with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, Rooney’s office said the congressman was “weighing all his options for 2018 and doesn’t know for sure what he is doing yet.” Rooney is backing down a bit, telling reporter Ledyard King that he’s “99 percent” sure he won’t challenge the senator. Rooney cited his family, though it’s also very likely that Rooney just wants to avoid a primary with Gov. Rick Scott. If Scott surprises us all and stays out of the Senate race, we’ll see if Rooney’s math changes.
• IN-Sen: While GOP Rep. Luke Messer maintains that he’s still deciding whether to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, his fundraising says he’s in. Messer brought in $700,000 during the first quarter of 2017, and he has $1.6 million on-hand; he can transfer all this cash from his House account to a Senate campaign if he so chooses. Fellow GOP Rep. Todd Rokita is also flirting with a Senate run, and we’ll be awaiting his first quarter report as well.
• MO-Sen: A few months ago, GOP Rep. Ann Wagner signed on to run the NRCC’s fundraising program after initially stepping down from the post, and we wondered if that meant she’d decided to stay in the House rather than challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill after all. However, the NRCC has announced that Wagner has once again left behind her gig with them, a probable prerequisite for a Senate campaign. Several other Republicans are eyeing this race, and Wagner may need to get through a competitive primary if she runs.
• PA-Sen, PA-Gov: GOP Rep. Mike Kelly has been flirting with a bid against Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for a while, but he seems to have turned his eyes toward a Senate run instead. Kelly recently told the Daily Caller that he’s considering challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, though he also said that he is still considering a gubernatorial bid.
Kelly, who was elected to an Erie-area seat during the 2010 GOP wave, is a vocal Trump supporter, and like Trump, Kelly likes to entertain conspiracy theories. The congressman recently got some attention when he suggested that Barack Obama was staying in D.C. “for one purpose only. And that is to run a shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda.”
While a number of Republicans are talking about challenging Wolf, Casey hasn’t attracted the same level of attention. State Rep. Rick Saccone kicked off a campaign last month, but he doesn’t seem like a particularly tough opponent. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos, who made a brief bid for the state’s 16th Congressional District last cycle, is considering, and state House Majority Leader Dave Reed is reportedly being encouraged to run. Wealthy businessman Paul Addis has also talked about running for Senate or for governor.
• UT-Sen: Longtime Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch has repeatedly said that he’s leaning towards seeking re-election but hasn’t committed to it yet, and last week, he said that he might step aside if the right replacement candidate came along. When asked who that could be, Hatch replied, “Mitt Romney would be perfect.” A few months ago, Romney didn’t rule out a Senate bid in Utah, and The Atlantic‘s McKay Coppins reports that, even before Hatch’s comment, Romney had been seriously talking about going for it in private. However, he says that Romney is only interested if the incumbent retires, and even then, there’s no guarantee that Romney would run anyway.
While Hatch later dismissed his own statement about Romney as just “musing aloud on the subject,” Coppins writes that Utah political figures really believe it was very much deliberate. If Hatch retired and Romney ran in his place, the former Massachusetts governor likely would have little trouble winning. Utah was Romney’s best state in 2012, and the first Mormon major-party presidential nominee is a popular figure with voters. Coppins says that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has encouraged Romney to run for an open seat, and that Beehive State GOP figures would be onboard. Indeed, at least one potential Senate candidate, World Trade Center Utah leader Derek Miller, says he wouldn’t run against Romney.
If Hatch does seek an eighth term, he presumably wouldn’t need to worry about Romney, but his renomination would not be guaranteed at all. In particular, ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman has not ruled out challenging Hatch. A month ago, Donald Trump reportedly chose Huntsman to be his ambassador to Russia, but there still has not been any public announcement, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Trump to pick someone else at the last moment.
Coppins also writes that Hatch’s allies are worried that someone could challenge Hatch from the right and win, though it’s not clear who might. One unnamed Utah Republican tells Coppins that while the party would back Hatch if he did run, they “really hope he doesn’t.” But in dark red Utah, the GOP nominee should have little trouble winning the general no matter who it is.
• AL-Gov: How bad are things for GOP Gov. Robert Bentley? On Wednesday, the the Alabama Ethics Commission found that there was probable cause that Bentley violated campaign and ethics laws by allegedly using state money “to further his personal interest” and referred his case to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office. And still, this may not be the worst news the governor will get this week.
For over a year, Bentley has been facing accusations that he used state resources to conceal an affair with a staffer named Rebekah Mason, and the GOP-led state legislature has been conducting a long-running, slow-moving impeachment investigation. Last week, the special counsel overseeing the probe said that he planned to issue a public report to the state House Judiciary Committee on April 7, though he cautioned that his schedule is tentative. The legislature is waiting for the report, but if the Ethics Commission’s move is any indication, Bentley isn’t going to like it—and in any event, impeachment hearings are already set to begin in the state House on Monday.
The GOP’s legislative leaders aren’t exactly circling the wagons around Bentley, either. Del Marsh, who leads the state Senate, called for Bentley to resign on Thursday, which the governor quickly said he would not do. State House Speaker Mac McCutcheon didn’t go that far, but when asked if the governor should leave voluntarily, he just said, “That’s Gov. Bentley’s decision.” It takes 60 percent of the state House to vote to consider impeachment; if this threshold is met and a majority votes to impeach Bentley, he would lose all his powers unless the state Senate voted to acquit him. Based on Marsh’s comments, Bentley shouldn’t hold out much hope for that.
• CO-Gov: Right after ex-Sen. Ken Salazar announced that he would not run for governor, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter said he probably would. Perlmutter’s camp has scheduled “an announcement” on Sunday and unveiled a new logo titled “Perlmutter for Colorado,” so there’s not much doubt about what they’re planning. We at Daily Kos Elections remember the infamous 2011 Trent Franks for Senate announcement that never was and don’t consider someone a candidate until they actually declare, but it looks like it’s on.
• GA-Gov: Yet another Peach State Republican is reportedly considering a bid for this open seat. Politico’s Shane Goldmacher reports that Nick Ayers, a former executive director of the RGA who most recently was a senior advisor to Mike Pence during his vice-presidential campaign, is looking at getting in. Ayers, who served as campaign manager in 2006 for then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, has yet to say anything publicly.
Ayers is very well-connected and could presumably raise plenty of cash for a campaign. However, he’s spent pretty much all his professional life in partisan politics, which usually isn’t the most appealing resume to voters. Neither is this: Back in 2006 during the Perdue campaign, Ayers was arrested for drunk driving, and the whole incident was captured on camera. Making matters worse, was recorded in handcuffs trying to use his political position to try to get out of the arrest. This matter will be 12 years old by the time the election rolls around, but his opponents could very well use this unflattering footage against Ayers in a few ads.
• IL-Gov: On Thursday, venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker announced that he would enter the crowded Democratic primary to face GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Pritzker is reportedly worth $3.4 billion, far more than even the wealthy governor’s supposed $1 billion, and he’s said in the past that he will self-fund any campaign.
Pritzker, who is an heir to Hyatt hotels, comes from a locally prominent family. Pritzker’s sister, Penny Pritzker, was Barack Obama’s secretary of commerce, and Chicago is full of things named for the Pritzkers. However, Hyatt has drawn anger from labor groups: UNITE HERE has run a boycott campaign against the chain, characterizing Hyatt as “the worst hotel employer in America.” J.B. Pritzker himself has only run for office once, taking a distant third in the Democratic primary for a suburban Chicago House seat against now-Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
Pritzker also enters a very crowded field. Also running are wealthy real estate developer Chris Kennedy, who is a son of Robert F. Kennedy; state Sen. Daniel Biss; Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar; and Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber. Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers is also publicly considering, while state Sen. Kwame Raoul and ex-Gov. Pat Quinn have not ruled it out. Chicago Rep. Robin Kelly also talked about getting in back in November, but she hasn’t said much since then.
Kennedy and Pritzker probably are the frontrunners due to their families’ name recognition and their personal resources. Indeed, Summers himself shared an internal poll showing Kennedy leading Pritzker 44-11, though the treasurer argues that he can win if he becomes better known. There may very well be an opening for another candidate who has the resources to get his or her name out in this expensive state, especially if the well-funded Kennedy and Pritzker concentrate their fire on one another.
But whoever emerges with the Democratic nod will have a good chance to beat Rauner, who is not exactly popular in this blue state. However, Rauner is a nasty campaigner who will use his money to make life uncomfortable for his eventual opponent, and he won’t go out quietly.
• MN-Gov, MN-08: Both Democratic Reps. Tim Walz and Rick Nolan have been mulling bids for governor, and Walz made the jump last week. But that doesn’t seem to be deterring his House colleague: Nolan says he’s leaning towards running and will probably decide by the end of the month.
Nolan’s seat, which is located in the Iron Range in the northeastern corner of the state, swung hard to the right last year, going from 52-46 Obama to 54-39 Trump. Nolan only narrowly beat wealthy Republican Stewart Mills during the 2014 GOP wave and during their 2016 rematch. The congressman says that, while national Democrats are pressuring him to stay and defend his seat, he thinks that this cycle may actually be a good time for a different Democrat to run here. Noland says that with Trump unpopular already, 2018 is looking like “an exceptionally good year …. If I save the 8th District for one more term, then we didn’t have a Democratic governor and we lost it in reapportionment for the next 10 years, that’s a factor in my consideration, a big factor.”
Indeed, there’s good reason to think that another Democrat could keep this seat blue. While Nolan ran far ahead of Hillary Clinton, so did plenty of legislative candidates. The excellent Minnesota secretary of state’s site has the results for all races within MN-08’s borders (if a seat is split with another congressional district, they only include the results for the portion in MN-08). Altogether, 2016 legislative Republican candidates won the two-party vote 50.7-49.3, while Nolan won the two-party vote 50.3-49.7.
In other words, Nolan ran about 2 points ahead of Democrats as a whole: A helpful (and consequential) advantage, but not one so large that it suggests Nolan alone could hold this seat. Of course, it’s almost always easier to defend a competitive seat with an incumbent, and it makes sense for D.C. Democrats to hope Nolan runs for re-election rather than taking their chances on an untested candidate. Still, Nolan isn’t the only Democrat who can still win the Iron Range.
Meanwhile, several Republicans have talked about running for the open governor’s office next year, but no one has entered the race quite yet. However, Blake Huffman, a county commissioner in St. Paul’s Ramsey County, is expressing interest for the first time, and says he’ll decide within a few weeks.
• SC-Gov: Former state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Templeton kicked off her GOP primary bid against Henry McMaster, the newly-elevated governor of South Carolina, on Tuesday, and she quickly announced that she had raised $700,000 since the start of 2017. Campaign finance reports are still due from McMaster and ex-state Sen. Yancey McGill, who left the Democratic Party ahead of his GOP gubernatorial bid.
McMaster, a former state party chair, attorney general, and lieutenant governor, is very politically connected and should have little trouble fundraising. However, McMaster’s close allies at the powerful GOP consulting firm Richard Quinn & Associates are reportedly under investigation; the governor has not been implicated in anything, but other Republicans who covet the governor’s office hope that the unfolding investigation will hurt him. Ex-state Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor seems to be watching to see what happens, and he said on Thursday that he would decide on a bid by June.
It’s unclear if other Republicans are eyeing this race, though if things get considerably worse for RQ&A, they may small blood and jump in. Importantly, South Carolina requires primary candidates to win a majority in order to avoid a runoff. The Palmetto State is usually reliably red, but Democrats hope that any problems for McMaster will also give them an opening. State Rep. James Smith, a veteran of Afghanistan, recently said he was “preparing to run,” though he didn’t commit to anything.
• CA-45: Republican Rep. Mimi Walters started this week with zero Democratic foes, but she picked up her third one on Thursday. Kia Hamadanchy, who left his job as a legislative assistant to Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown a month ago, jumped into the contest for this Orange County seat, a historically red district that shifted from 55-43 Romney all the way to 50-44 Clinton. Hamadanchy, whose parents fled the Iranian Revolution, says that this seat has the nation’s second-largest Iranian population, and that he thinks he will get significant financial backing from other Iranian-Americans.
Interestingly, the two other Democratic candidates also used to work for U.S. senators. Katie Porter, a law professor at UC IRvine who worked for California Sen. Kamala Harris when Harris was state attorney general, entered the race with endorsements from Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And Dave Min, a fellow Irvine law professor, was an aide to now-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer from 2007 to 2009.
• GA-06: So Jon Ossoff raised a little bit of money last quarter—a mere $8.3 million, from 195,684 donors, breaking the all-time record for a quarterly haul for a House campaign from a non-self-funder. Pretty good, perhaps you’ll allow?
Okay, yeah, that’s flippin’ bonkers, and it speaks to the insane levels of enthusiasm we’ve seen for Ossoff’s campaign ever since Daily Kos first endorsed him back in January, sparking a massive influx of donations and a huge wave of media attention, neither of which have let up. It’s a big part of the reason why Ossoff himself now says that he’s going for a knock-out win in the April 18 primary (just a week-and-a-half away!), in the hopes that he can clear 50 percent and avoid a runoff altogether.
And Ossoff’s spending shows this isn’t idle talk. He has “just” $2.1 million left over—far more than any of his Republican rivals, and an enviable sum for the stretch run of any House race. That means, therefore, that he’s spent more than $6 million so far. He’s aiming for the kill-shot, and if GOP panic is any indication, he might just hit bull’s-eye.
Meanwhile, those Republican candidates are still fighting amongst themselves for the second slot—which might be worth less than nothing, if Ossoff wins a majority. Businessman Dan Moody, who’s making a belated argument that he’ll be the runner-up, has a soporific new TV spot in which he ties himself to Trump in every way possible (term limits, cutting government, “replacing Obamacare,” etc.). In a way, it’s a strange move, since Trump did poorly here in last year’s presidential primary, but Moody has to be hoping the field is split enough for him to consolidate Trump’s supporters behind him.
• IN-09: Monroe County Councilor Shelli Yoder raised a credible amount of money last cycle for her bid for this southern Indiana House seat, and national Democrats spent on her behalf late in the race. However, while Yoder and her allies attacked wealthy Republican Trey Hollingsworth for only moving to the area from Tennessee just in time to run for Congress, this district shifted from an already tough 57-41 Romney to a horrific 61-34 Trump. Hollingsworth won 54-40, running far behind Trump but not coming close to defeat in the end.
Still, Howey Politics reports that Yoder is thinking about mounting a third campaign for this seat (she lost to now-Sen. Todd Young 55-45 in 2012) but adds that she’s also being encouraged to run for secretary of state next year. This has become very red turf, and now that Hollingsworth is the incumbent, the carpetbagging charges may be a lot less effective. But Yoder has proven that she can raise cash, and Team Blue doesn’t seem to have many other viable options here.
• NM-01: Earlier this week, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis set up a campaign with the FEC to seek this open seat, and he’s now confirmed that he’s running. Davis, who heads the progressive group Progress Now New Mexico, is the first Democrat to kick off a campaign for this 52-36 Clinton district, but others have expressed interest.
• NY-19: This Hudson Valley seat was a big disappointment for Team Blue last cycle. While law professor Zephyr Teachout raised a massive amount of cash, this seat swung from 52-46 Obama to 51-44 Trump, and Republican John Faso won his first term 54-46. Teachout has reportedly told people she won’t run here this cycle, but a few other Democrats have quietly begun raising money. On Wednesday evening, attorney Antonio Delgado said that he had brought in $300,000 since the beginning of the year, even though Delgado says his campaign is still in the “exploratory phase.”
Another Democrat, businessman Brian Flynn, entered the race a little while ago and says he’s raised $175,000 in about a month. Flynn, whose company manufactures medical products, lost his brother in the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing, and he got involved in lobbying on international issues afterwards. Steve Brisee, who works for a regulatory firm, is also in, but he says he hasn’t raised $5,000 yet. This area is ancestrally Republican, and Faso will be well-funded. However, if a 2018 backlash erases Trump’s gains, Faso could have problems against a credible opponent.
• MT-AL: Democrat Rob Quist has released his second ad, and it strikes populist themes similar to those he hit in his first. Quist plays up his career as a folk singer (tuning past classical and rock until he reaches a country station on his car radio, he says, “You just know when something sounds right”) and vows to protect Social Security and fight for farmers over millionaires, as he greets supporters while wearing his guitar slung over his back. Quist faces wealthy Republican businessman Greg Gianforte in the special election for Montana’s lone congressional seat.
• SC-01: Rep. Mark Sanford is one of Donald Trump’s most vocal intra-party critics, and he’s likely to face a tough GOP primary in this safely red Charleston seat. Wealthy businessman Ted Fienning, a Marine veteran who has already gotten the attention of the South Carolina GOP chattering class, kicked off his bid a while ago, and said he’d self-fund $250,000. Another Republican, defense analysis Tom Perez (who if he’s lucky will come to be known as “No, not that Tom Perez”) is also in, though it’s unclear if Perez has the same type of personal funds and connections as Fienning. If no one takes a majority in the primary, there will be a runoff.
• VA-10: Both parties spent heavily in this Northern Virginia seat in 2016, but GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock still defeated Democrat LuAnn Bennett 53-47 even as her district swerved from 51-49 Romney all the way to 52-42 Clinton. Comstock is a formidable opponent, but Democrats hope that, with Trump now in the White House, Comstock won’t be able to win over nearly as many Trump-skeptical voters in 2018. With that in mind, the Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy takes a look at the potential field, and there are a lot of names to discuss.
Last month, the local blog Blue Virginia reported the DCCC was trying to recruit state Sen. Jennifer Wexton to run, and there’s a general consensus that she would be Team Blue’s top recruit. Wexton has now confirmed that she is considering, though she told the Post nothing beyond that. One Democrat, teacher Kimberly Adams, has entered the race so far. Adams is a past president of the Fairfax Education Association, so she may have the connections she’d need to get her name out in what will be a very expensive race. Another Democrat, Army veteran Daniel Helmer, recently filed with the FEC to set up a campaign account, though the Post says he’s still considering it.
And there are plenty of other Democrats who could get in. Dorothy McAuliffe, Virginia’s first lady, is reportedly considering, though she has not said anything publicly. McAuliffe’s husband, termed-out Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is incredibly well connected, and if she ran, money would be no problem.
Former Obama Veterans Administration senior advisor Lindsey Davis Stover, who has since founded a communications group specializing in defense and veteran’s issues, says she’s interested as well. The Post also says that attorney Jimmy Bierman is considering, though there’s no quote from him. And Bennett, Comstock’s 2016 opponent, says she isn’t planning to run again, though she didn’t rule it out. Finally, Blue Virginia reported a little while ago that Fairfax County Supervisor Kathy Smith had been approached by labor groups to run, but Smith did not comment for the Post.
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.
To advertise in the Morning Digest, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.