VA-10: The DCCC and EMILY’s List have reportedly been trying to convince state Sen. Jennifer Wexton to challenge GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and on Thursday, Wexton announced she was in.
Wexton attracted national attention in early 2014 when she was the Democratic nominee for a special election to the state Senate that would help decide control of the chamber. While Obama had carried that Northern Virginia district 59-39, Team Blue was worried that weak turnout in a January special election would give the GOP the chance to flip it. In the end, Wexton won 53-38, and she was re-elected decisively the next year. Wexton is not up for re-election until 2019, so she doesn’t need to sacrifice her seat to run for the House.
Comstock’s very affluent and well-educated Northern Virginia seat reacted badly to Trump, swinging from 51-49 Romney all the way to 52-42 Clinton. However, Comstock still defeated Democrat LuAnn Bennett 53-47 in an expensive race, and she’s a tough fundraiser who won’t be easy to unseat. But if Democrats want to flip the House, they need to get through a lot of tough incumbents in competitive seats. And if Trump remains unpopular, Comstock may have a very difficult time distancing herself far enough from the White House.
Wexton doesn’t have the Democratic field to herself. Ex-Obama Veterans Administration senior advisor Lindsey Davis Stover; Army veteran Daniel Helmer; and teacher Kimberly Adams, a past president of the Fairfax Education Association, all jumped in before Wexton made her announcement. Wexton has more name recognition than any of them and almost certainly more connections, but she wouldn’t be the first favored candidate to surprisingly lose a nomination. Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe has also been reportedly mulling a bid, and if she’s still interested, she may be able to give Wexton a race. Virginia also allows local party leaders to choose their nominees through means other than a primary, which could complicate things. However, while Bennett didn’t rule out a rematch with Comstock earlier this month, she tells the Loudoun Tribune that she won’t run.
1Q Fundraising: Be sure to check out our first quarter Senate fundraising chart, which we’ll be updating as new numbers come in. We’re also including the totals for House members who are publicly or reportedly considering a Senate bid.
• MO-Sen, MO-04: Vicky Hartzler (R): $145,000 raised, $357,000 cash-on-hand (note: has not declared yet)
• WY-Sen: John Barrasso (R-inc): $1.16 million raised, $3.72 million cash-on-hand
• FL-Sen: While GOP Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, he’s in absolutely no hurry to make his plans official. In fact, Scott says he won’t make a decision (or at least a public decision) until next year. Scott has no shortage of the money and name recognition, and he can afford to wait a while before getting in. However, in the odd chance that Scott backs down, he’ll leave other potential Republican candidates with a lot less time to organize a campaign.
• NM-Sen, NM-Gov: While GOP Lt. Gov. John Sanchez originally sounded interested in running to succeed his termed-out boss, Gov. Susana Martinez, his attention seems to have shifted to a possible Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich. Local political analyst Joe Monahan notes that Sanchez has been picking fights with Heinrich, and he reportedly told a local group of Republicans that he went to D.C. and met with Sens. Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Ted Cruz. Sanchez also reportedly said that he’s consulted with none other than Kellyanne Conway, who has worked with him in the past.
New Mexico backed Clinton 48-40, and Heinrich doesn’t look very vulnerable. Sanchez ran for this seat in 2011 but dropped out long before the primary after he raised very little money. Businessman Mick Rich recently kicked off his own Senate bid, and he may be able to do some self-funding.
Monahan speculates that Rich may as well switch to the gubernatorial race if Sanchez runs for Senate, because the GOP is having a tough time finding anyone. While Martinez decisively won in 2010 and 2014, her approval ratings are not good anymore, and she’s been locked in a nasty fight with the Democratic legislature over higher education funding. (The Washington Post‘s headline from a few days ago: “New Mexico Gov. Martinez vetoes higher education funding. All of it.”) With Martinez likely to be a liability for the GOP, it’s not a surprise that few credible candidates seem very likely to run. While Rep. Steve Pearce expressed interest last year, he’s gone quiet, and Monahan says he’s expected not to run. Pearce was Team Red’s 2008 Senate nominee and got crushed by Tom Udall, so the GOP probably wasn’t exactly pining for him to get in.
Outgoing Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry hasn’t ruled out a bid, but he’s also been very quiet for months. Berry decisively won re-election in this large blue city in 2013, but Monahan also says that his popularity has suffered. We haven’t heard of any other Republicans interested in a gubernatorial bid.
• AL-Gov: State Auditor Jim Zeigler has been thinking about a gubernatorial bid for a while, and he’s apparently going to be thinking for a while longer. Zeigler, a Republican, says he’ll make his decision “just as soon as the Senate election is over.” The special Senate general election, which new GOP Gov. Kay Ivey recently moved from 2018 to 2017, will take place on Dec. 12.
• CT-Gov: Comptroller Kevin Lembo is one of the many Democrats who has expressed interest in running to replace retiring Gov. Dan Malloy, and he says he plans to establish an exploratory committee soon, something the CT Post reports could happen as early as next week. Lembo has clashed with Malloy in the past but he’s close to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, and he reiterated that he’d support her if she ran for governor. Wyman has yet to say anything about her 2018 plans. If Lembo gets in, he would be the first openly gay candidate for governor in state history.
• GA-Gov: State Sen. Burt Jones is one of many Republicans who have been mentioned as a possible candidate for this open seat, but until recently, Jones said little about his plans. However, Jones told the Union-Recorder that he is interested, and will decide in a couple of months.
If Jones does get in, he does have one potentially strong selling point to voters. Jones was the co-captain of the University of Georgia’s football team when they won the 2003 Sugar Bowl, which came just after the Bulldogs won their first SEC championship in 20 years. However, Secretary of State Brian Kemp is already running while Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is raising money for his likely bid, and a number of other Peach State Republicans are considering. By the time Jones makes up his mind, other campaigns may have a huge organizational head start.
• NH-Gov: Ex-Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes hasn’t sought elected office since his punishing 60-39 defeat to Republican Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 Senate race, but he may be looking at a comeback soon. WMUR reports that Hodes is “[a]mong those being talked about” for a possible bid against new GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, and Hodes didn’t rule anything out. All Hodes said in response to questions about his political future: “I continue to talk to people, and when I talk to people, they say they miss me, which is nice.” Hodes has shown some interest in getting back in the fray before: Two years ago, Hodes didn’t rule out a rematch with Ayotte if then-Gov. Maggie Hassan declined to run, but she ultimately did get in and won.
WMUR also mentioned Stonyfield Farms chairman Gary Hirshberg as another person being talked about for a gubernatorial bid, though Hirshberg doesn’t appear to have said anything publicly. Ex-Portsmouth Mayor and 2016 primary candidate Steve Marchand is already running, while fellow 2016 candidate Mark Connolly, a former state securities regulator, has not ruled it out, and 2016 nominee Colin Van Ostern may also be positioning himself for a rematch with Sununu.
• WI-Gov: Democrats so far have yet to land a credible candidate to challenge Gov. Scott Walker, but they haven’t exhausted their options yet. State Rep. Dana Wachs has been considering, and he says “You’ll hear something soon.” Wachs hails from Eau Claire in western Wisconsin, a region that swung hard from Obama to Trump (though Clinton still handedly carried Wachs’ own Assembly seat), and Democrats may benefit from having a candidate from this area if Wachs gets in.
Walker hasn’t officially announced he’s running for a third term, and he’s said in the past that he won’t decide until after the state budget is done. But Walker has been raising money for a re-election bid for a long time, and, when he was recently asked if he’d run again, bragged about the state economy and concluded, “Why wouldn’t I run?”
• GA-06: The DCCC, which prior to Tuesday’s primary had sent nine field operatives to turn out the vote in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, is now directly aiding Democrat Jon Ossoff on the airwaves. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Greg Bluestein, the committee is spending $450,000 to run a new TV spot hitting Ossoff’s Republican opponent in the June 20 runoff, former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
The ad hits a simple theme: Branding Handel a “career politician,” the narrator berates her for spending taxpayer money on expenses like a “luxury SUV” while her office’s budget “went up 42 percent,” “all while $1 billion was cut from Georgia schools.” Bluestein notes that the same SUV was also featured in attack ads during 2014’s GOP Senate primary, in which Handel finished in third place and missed the runoff.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s #unitybreakfast (that’s the name of the second studio album released by our Hillcore band, Democrats in Disarray, btw) isn’t coming together all that well. Businessman Bob Gray, the most Trumpy of the four major Republican candidates, endorsed Handel in his concession speech, but as the Washington Post reported, “No one cheered; there was no applause for party unity.” And the other two top Republicans, Dan Moody and Judson Hill, don’t appear to have said anything at all as yet.
Which points to Handel’s fundamental problem: Can she actually win over all those Republican voters who showed up in the primary? If you’re a big-time Trump guy and cast a ballot for Gray, are you now going to turn around and show up for the very establishment-y, milquetoast Handel, who until now has made sure to keep Trump at arm’s length? And if Handel goes the other direction now—she’s gingerly said she “would hope” Trump comes down to campaign with her, which sounds like she means the opposite—then she’ll risk alienating even more moderate Republicans in the district, many of whom voted for Ossoff on Tuesday.
Trump did send out a fundraising email on Handel’s behalf Thursday, so we’ll have to see if she embraces him further. But she might not have any choice. If Trump starts tweeting about this race again like the madman he is, Handel’s going to have to answer for him. And that would only fire up Ossoff’s massive legion of supporters even further.
• MN-01: National Republicans didn’t show much interest in businessman Jim Hagedorn when he challenged Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in 2014 and 2016, but Hagedorn’s third try may be the charm. Hagedorn, who announced that he would run again soon after his surprisingly close 2016 loss (well before Walz announced that he would run for governor), raised $222,000 during the first three months of 2017; by contrast, he raised $360,000 total during the 2016 cycle.
On Thursday, Hagedorn earned an endorsement from Rep. Tom Emmer, who was also Team Red’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee. More importantly, Emmer is an NRCC deputy, so his endorsement is a strong sign that, at the very least, national Republicans are fine with the idea of Hagedorn being their nominee again. A few Republicans and Democrats have talked about running for this southern Minnesota seat, which swung from 50-48 Obama to 53-38 Trump, but Hagedorn remains the only declared candidate.
• MT-AL: In an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle a few months ago, Democrat Rob Quist bragged about his history as a hunter but also noted his support for registering assault weapons, declaring, “They’re only meant to kill people. So maybe there should be some legislation to register those types of things. You register your car to drive, why not register guns?” The NRCC predictably responded with an ad warning voters that Quist wants a “national gun registry.” Quist is up with a new commercial, which features him extolling his 2nd Amendment bona fides and firing his family rifle.
As the candidate loads the gun, he tells the audience how it has protected his family’s ranch for generations. Quist then pledges to protect Montanans’ right to bare arms “because it’s my right too.” Quist then goes after Republican Greg Gianforte without naming him, declaring that he “won’t stand by while a millionaire from New Jersey tries to attack my Montana values.” As a TV plays a GOP attack ad, Quist aims his rifle at the monitor and declares that he “approves this message to defend your rights, but I’m sending this message to defend mine,” before he fires and destroys the tube.
• UT-03: On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz shocked Republicans in Utah and D.C. when he announced that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term next year in his very red seat. On Thursday, Chaffetz himself hinted that he may be gone a whole lot sooner than January of 2019, telling KSL Newsradio that he “might depart early.” While Chaffetz said later that day that reports he may resign in days are “absolutely not true,” the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker reported later that Utah Republicans think he may leave as early as Friday. Later on Thursday, Chaffetz once again denied he was about to resign, telling Politico, “I might depart early. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next week. If it is, it’s going to be in the months to come.” It’s far from clear why Chaffetz is looking to get out of dodge this soon, though unnamed Republicans speculated to Drucker that he may be about to accept a well-paying job offer.
If Chaffetz resigns, Utah law requires that “the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy.” That is all it says: There’s nothing about when the special needs to be called, how the parties will choose their nominees, or even if the parties are allowed to nominate anyone. In fact, right now it’s theoretically possible to imagine all the candidates just competing on one ballot, and the plurality winner going straight to Congress without any sort of runoff.
Back in January, when there were reports that Rep. Chris Stewart may become secretary of the Air Force, state legislators recognized that they needed to clear up this incredibly vague law. However, after Stewart wasn’t picked, the GOP-led legislature decided to just procrastinate further, and nothing happened. But with a special election now looming, Utah Policy says that they hear that the legislature hold a special session next month to fix the law. If nothing ends up happening and the state needs to hold a special, all the pesky details may be left to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
With everything in chaos, it may take a while for the GOP field to succeed Chaffetz to sort itself out. Last fall, conservative independent Evan McMullin took 24 percent of the vote in the presidential election for this Provo-based seat, edging out Hillary Clinton for second place. McMullin expressed interest in challenging either Chaffetz or Sen. Orrin Hatch next year before Chaffetz ran for the exit, and he has reaffirmed that he’s still looking at a bid for this seat. McMullin tells the Washington Examiner that he was thinking about a GOP primary bid, so presumably if he runs, it will be as a Republican. However, if there’s a special election and the legislature decides to require party leaders or convention delegates to choose the nominees (several states, including New York and Pennsylvania, have this type of law), it’s incredibly tough to see GOP insiders or activists selecting such a prominent Trump critic.
A few local Republicans have also made noises about jumping in. State Sen. Curtis Bramble, who led the drive to clarify the special election law back in January, says he’s considering. State House Speaker Greg Hughes says that, while he doubts D.C. is a good fit for him, he’s not “a firm no.” We’ve also previously heard interest from state Sen. Deidre Henderson, who used to be Chaffetz’s campaign manager, and state Rep. Dan McCay, while Provo Mayor John Curtis didn’t say no. We’ve also heard ex-state party chair Thomas Wright mentioned, but he has yet to say anything about his interest; Wright considered a primary campaign against Sen. Mike Lee last cycle, but stayed out. However, while state Rep. Mike McKell was name-dropped, he says he won’t run.
• TX Redistricting, TX State House: Late on Thursday, a federal district court struck down the state House map that Texas Republicans drew in 2011 on the grounds that it violated the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment, and the “one person, one vote” principle. This ruling comes just over a month after a separate lawsuit saw the same court panel invalidate the Texas GOP’s congressional districts for very similar reasons. Crucially, both rulings and a recent blow against the GOP’s voter ID law held that they intentionally engaged in racial discrimination, which could be grounds for forcing Texas to seek Justice Department approval for all new voting-law changes.
There’s still a long way to go before this litigation concludes and it will also have to survive a likely appeal to the Supreme Court, but given swing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s recent hostility to racial gerrymandering, there’s a good chance of success. Although a new map might not take place before the 2018 elections even if the plaintiffs prevail, Texas could ultimately be forced to draw new state House districts that give black and Latino voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates in more districts. Consequently, Democrats could gain seats.
• Cleveland, OH Mayor: Mayor Frank Jackson is seeking an unprecedented fourth term this fall, but he won’t have a smooth path to victory. City Councilor Jeffrey Johnson, a fellow Democrat, jumped into the race before Jackson made his announcement; Jackson has a poor relationship with local labor groups over his opposition to raising the city minimum wage, and the SEIU endorsed Johnson a few months ago. This week, another Democrat, City Councilor Zack Reed also joined the race, and he made improving public safety the centerpiece of his announcement.
However, Reed also apologized on Wednesday for the three drunk driving convictions he got in office, the most recent of which was in 2013. Johnson also has had trouble with the law in the past: In the late 1990s, he was indicted during a race for accepting campaign contributions in exchange for helping grocers get state licenses, and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Johnson re-launched his political career with his successful 2009 run for the council. All the candidates will compete in the Sept. 12 primary, and the top two vote-getters will face off in November.
• Where Are They Now?: bqhatevwr.
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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