FL-Gov: On Tuesday, Democrat Gwen Graham announced that she would run for governor of Florida. Graham, the daughter of ex-Sen. and former Gov. Bob Graham, was one of the few Democratic success stories of 2014 when she narrowly unseated GOP Rep. Steve Southerland in a conservative Tallahassee-area district. After court-ordered redistricting turned her seat impossibly red, she decided not to seek re-election last year while quickly making it clear she was eyeing the governor’s office.
Graham has plenty of connections, and her 2014 win during the GOP wave proves she’s a tough campaigner. Graham is also likely to be the only credible female candidate in what may be a crowded Democratic primary, and she immediately earned an endorsement from EMILY’s List. Graham is far from assured the nomination, however. During her brief stint in the House, Graham was one of the more conservative votes in the Democratic caucus. Graham voted against Nancy Pelosi in the speaker’s race, and she backed a GOP attempt to weaken Wall Street regulation and supported the Keystone pipeline. These votes could be an asset with swing voters in a general election, but Graham’s Democratic rivals may score points against her in the primary.
At this point there’s no clear frontrunner. Two other notable Democrats, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and businessman Chris King, are in; right now it’s unclear if either will have the resources to run a strong campaign in this huge and expensive state. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is eyeing this race, while trial lawyer John Morgan is also considering, and both wealthy candidates certainly have their eccentricities.
• AL-Sen: Huntsville-area Republican Rep. Mo Brooks is Alabama’s last remaining House member who hasn’t ruled out running in 2017’s upcoming special election to fill the last three years of former GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions’ term, and on Monday he declared that he was indeed “seriously considering the race.” Brooks said he might not reach a decision until shortly before the May 17 filing deadline, but if the hardline House Freedom Caucus member does jump into the Senate race, he would likely campaign in the primary from the right against appointed Sen. Luther Strange and the party establishment.
The unseemly circumstances under which Strange received his Senate appointment from then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who recently resigned in disgrace over a sex scandal, have spurred interest in a primary challenge from several other prominent Alabama Republicans too. Already running against Strange are ex-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, state Rep. Ed Henry, and former Christian Coalition of Alabama chief Randy Brinson, while a handful of others including state Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh are openly considering it.
• ND-Sen, ND-AL: Republicans plan to make North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp a top target, but it may be a little while before we know who will oppose her. GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer represents the entire state in the House and he has expressed interest. However, after several very stupid Cramer comments, national Republicans reportedly aren’t feeling great about him and hope someone else will run. Perhaps some of those Republicans are having some unpleasant flashbacks about ex-Rep. Rick Berg, who ran for what was an open seat in 2012 but narrowly lost to Heitkamp even as Romney was winning the state 58-39.
They may not need to be worried about accidentally nominating the next Rick Berg, however, because they may end up with the original version. Berg has been pretty quiet in North Dakota politics since his defeat, but the local blog Say Anything has heard that the former congressman “had been initiating conversations about a campaign this cycle.” Berg himself didn’t deny it, telling Say Anything, “Never say never.” However, Berg didn’t say what office he was interested in. If Cramer does run for the Senate after all, it’s possible Berg may try to reclaim the House seat he gave up after just one term.
Berg’s 2012 Senate campaign wasn’t an utter train wreck the same way that Missouri’s Todd Akin’s or Indiana’s Richard Mourdock’s were, but he definitely made some mistakes. As we recently noted, Berg’s most prominent flop was a brutally stilted ad he ran featuring four older women sitting at a diner talking made-up smack about Heitkamp. The spot—which Berg quickly tried to hide—was bitingly derided as a “senior citizen remake of Mean Girls,” and the actors’ cattiness toward the sunny and pleasant Heitkamp made Berg look sullen and venomous. In a state that prides itself on being “North Dakota nice,” Berg wound up looking anything but. However, thanks in large part to Heitkamp’s campaign skills, this contest was competitive long before that ad ran. Amazingly, though, Cramer’s brand of women’s outreach may be even worse.
Luckily for Republicans, they have some other options. Wealthy state Sen. Tom Campbell has said in the past that he’ll run for whichever federal office Cramer doesn’t seek, and national Republicans are reportedly hoping to convince him to challenge Heitkamp. State Rep. Rick Becker is also considering, and he recently went to D.C. for meetings about a possible Senate bid. 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. It’s unclear if any major GOP groups are interested in having him as their nominee against Heitkamp.
• WV-Sen: Despite West Virginia being Trump’s second best state, Republicans have yet to land a prominent challenger against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for 2018. Coal miner Bo Copley, who attained brief viral attention in 2016 for confronting Hillary Clinton over her stance on coal at a campaign event, announced his intention to challenge Manchin as a Republican on Tuesday. Like others who won their 15 minutes of fame in conservative media and went on to run for office, first-time candidate Copley might have a hard time attaining the skills and connections needed to run a serious race. National Republicans reportedly prefer Rep. Evan Jenkins, who is considering the race, while state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hasn’t ruled it out.
• CT-Gov: A ton of Connecticut Democrats are mulling a run for governor or have already formed exploratory committees, so what’s one more potential candidate? In a recent interview, Rep. Jim Himes didn’t rule it out with a “[n]ever say never.” This is the first we’ve heard at all about a possible Himes statewide campaign, and it’s unclear how interested he is. If Himes left the House, Democrats should be the clear favorites to hold his affluent 4th District, which went from 55-40 Obama to 60-37 Clinton even as the other four seats shifted to the right.
• ME-Gov: Attorney Eliot Cutler had previously said he would not make a third campaign for governor in 2018, and now he has endorsed independent state Treasurer Terry Hayes, who joined the race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Paul LePage in mid-April. As a left-leaning independent, Cutler narrowly lost the 2010 governor’s race to LePage, but he came in a very distant third behind the Democratic nominee in 2014. Hayes had previously served four terms as a Democratic state House member, but left the party to become an independent when she faced term limits in 2014. She had endorsed Cutler in 2014 instead of LePage’s far more competitive Democratic challenger, so it’s little surprise that Cutler is returning the favor this cycle.
Independent candidates have a long record of doing especially well in Maine gubernatorial elections, and Hayes could prove to be a major contender in 2018. She also stands to benefit considerably from Maine voters’ decision to approve a ballot initiative in 2016 that will implement instant-runoff voting, which could prevent left-leaning independents from playing the role of spoiler to help elect a Republican. However, it’s uncertain if that law will survive litigation; the state Supreme Court heard arguments in April about whether it violates Maine’s constitution.
• NM-Gov: On Tuesday, ex-CBS and Univision executive Jeff Apodaca announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor of New Mexico. While Apodaca’s father, Jerry Apodaca, served one term as governor in the mid-1970s, the younger Apodaca is portraying himself as a businessman/political outsider. In 2015, Apodaca was chosen by the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents to serve on the board of a major Albuquerque research and business park development project that the Santa Fe New Mexican says “has become one of Albuquerque’s marquee economic development initiatives.” It’s unclear if Apodaca plans to do any self-funding. He joins Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who also hails from a prominent political family, and wealthy state Sen. Joe Cervantes in the primary.
• RI-Gov: Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo faces the prospective of a tough general election and possibly a competitive primary, but money won’t be an issue for her. During the first three months of 2017, Raimondo raised $565,000, and she ended March with $2.2 million on-hand. By contrast, WPRI’s Ted Nesi notes that at this point in the 2006 cycle, GOP incumbent Don Carcieri had just $275,000 in the bank: Carcieri won a second term 51-49.
Several Republicans have made noises about challenging Raimondo, but the most formidable potential rival may be a familiar one. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung lost to Raimondo 41-36, and he’s refused to rule out another bid since then. Fung, whom Nesi says is “widely expected to seek the GOP nomination,” reports having just $79,000 on-hand at the end of March, though he could presumably ramp things up quickly if he got in.
Finally: We’re sorry, but we have more news about ex-Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Chafee didn’t rule out a campaign against Raimondo last week, though he didn’t provide more details. Chafee was elected to his single term as an independent in 2010 but he became a Democrat before launching his aborted 2014 re-election campaign, and he sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination for some reason. When the Associated Press asked if Chafee would run as a Democrat or an independent he responded, “I’m getting too far ahead to think about that, but I’m a Democrat,” so … take that for what it’s worth. Chafee insists he doesn’t “have any plans at this time” to run against Raimondo and it sounds like he won’t be making any plans anytime soon: Chafee says he could decide to run anytime between now and the June 2018 filing deadline.
• VA-Gov: Democrat Ralph Northam is out with two new ads (here and here) ahead of Virginia’s June 13 gubernatorial primary. The first one highlights his background as a doctor and a veteran before touting his bona fides as a “progressive Democrat” who fought for a smoking ban in restaurants, opposed a “transvaginal ultrasound anti-choice law,” and “stood up to the NRA.”
The second spot hits even harder on gun safety, with Northam emphasizing his support for an assault weapons ban and closing the gun-show loophole after the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, noting how he saw first-hand as an Army doctor what guns can do to a person. He finishes by lambasting Donald Trump as a “narcissistic maniac” and promises not to let him “bring his hate into Virginia.”
• FL-27: Despite Florida’s 27th District favoring Clinton by 59-39, Republicans aren’t likely to give up on retiring GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s historically red Miami seat without a fight, and we can add another name to the list of potential candidates. Arthur Estopinan, who previously served as Ros-Lehtinen’s chief of staff and is now president of a lobbying firm, declared that he is considering running to succeed his former boss. The congresswoman only announced her surprise retirement on Sunday, but several other prominent Republicans have already expressed interest in running, including Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera and a handful of state legislators and Miami-Dade County officials.
• GA-06: We finally have our first poll of the June 20 runoff in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, courtesy of Democrat Jon Ossoff via Anzalone Liszt Grove, and it finds Ossoff leading Republican Karen Handel 48-47. That’s the same percentage of the vote that Ossoff took in last month’s all-party primary, so at first blush, it seems surprising that his campaign would want to put out numbers showing him making up no ground while Handel jumped all the way up from her 20 percent share to within a point.
But, as some analysts have speculated, this release may have been aimed at exciting donors rather than satisfying hardcore poll nerds: The results were first shared on Monday night by Rachel Maddow, who reported on it favorably. The next day, the Ossoff campaign subsequently provided more data from its poll, and that information helps explain why they felt good enough about it to publicize it in the first place.
The most interesting numbers are the two candidates’ favorables: Despite bearing the brunt of millions of dollars’ worth of GOP attack ads, Ossoff is actually above water with 50 percent favorability score and 44 unfavorable. Meanwhile, Handel is actually somewhat less popular and even less well-known, sporting a 46-45 rating—remarkable, given that Ossoff is a first-time candidate while she’s run statewide three separate times.
Anzalone’s memo also addresses the 5 percent of voters who are undecided. Ordinarily, you’d expected those who haven’t made up their minds in a district that is this historically red to lean Republican, but Anzalone says that this slice of the electorate actually trends “disproportionately female, in communities of color, and in DeKalb County,” all groups that favor Ossoff. (Ossoff took 59 percent of the vote in DeKalb in the primary, by far his best performance in the three counties that make up the 6th District.) However, we’re talking about a sample of just 30 voters, and it’s hard to get an accurate read on such a small group.
It’s also worth noting that all of the polls conducted ahead of the primary badly underestimated Ossoff, predicting he would win just 42 percent. That 6-point miss suggests pollsters didn’t accurately forecast just how intense Democratic enthusiasm would be—something they openly fretted about beforehand. Anzalone of course has the benefit of being able to learn from the errors of others, but this is still a tricky electorate to get a bead on.
And then there’s the matter of the proverbial dog that didn’t bark, one of the most important factors to consider when analyzing internal polls. Handel and the GOP have undoubtedly been polling this race frequently, yet if they have numbers that contradict these, they haven’t released them in response to Ossoff. Sometimes, silence speaks volumes. So if these results are in fact accurate, and if Anzalone’s take on the undecideds is correct, then Ossoff remains in a position to win the runoff.
Both sides are still behaving as though that’s very much a possibility. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ossoff just reserved $5.2 million in television and radio time through the runoff, which, among other things, suggests that he expects his already-intense fundraising to stay strong. Handel herself is also finally going on the air after being dark for two weeks following the primary, narrating a minute-long TV spot in which she describes her humble upbringing and penchant for hard work, but there’s no word on the size of the buy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just launched a $1 million TV buy of its own, featuring an ad that slams Ossoff because he has the support of “Hollywood liberals” who “share the same agenda” as Nancy Pelosi. The second half praises Handel in the most vapid of generalities—”gets results,” “get things done”—then concludes by saying she’s “one of us,” which is yet another unsubtle attempt to “other” Ossoff.
However, not everyone in GOP-land is rallying around Team Handel. While Handel has earned the support of two of the other three main Republican competitors she ran against in the primary, Dave Weigel of the Washington Post notes that one of them, former state Sen. Dan Moody, has “pointedly declined to endorse her.” Moody finished fourth overall with 9 percent of the vote, and with both finalists clawing for every available vote, Handel can ill-afford any defections.
• House: On Tuesday, the NRCC added another 10 Republican House members to its Patriots Program for 2018, which seeks to defend potentially vulnerable incumbents, bringing the total number to 20 after their initial round of additions in February. The list of the recently added members and the 2016 presidential result by district is below:
AZ-02: Martha McSally (50-45 Clinton)
CA-10: Jeff Denham (49-46 Clinton)
CO-06: Mike Coffman (50-41 Clinton)
FL-26: Carlos Curbelo (57-41 Clinton)
IA-01: Rod Blum (49-45 Trump)
IA-03: David Young (49-45 Trump)
ME-02: Bruce Poliquin (51-41 Trump)
MN-03: Erik Paulsen (51-41 Clinton)
NE-02: Don Bacon (48-46 Trump)
NY-24: John Katko (49-45 Clinton)
Most of these districts favored Hillary Clinton last year, while the handful of Trump seats either supported Barack Obama in 2012 or were relatively close in 2016, so none of these names is particularly surprising to see.
• Toledo, OH Mayor: Democrat Paula Hicks-Hudson became mayor in 2015 after incumbent Michael Collins died, and she won a crowded and chaotic special election that fall 36-17 for the final two years of Collins’ term. Hicks-Hudson is up again this year, but it looks like she’s in for another competitive race. Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, a fellow Democrat, announced that he would challenge her on Tuesday in the September nonpartisan primary.
Kapszukiewicz is portraying himself as an outsider to city government and arguing that under the current administration, “People are feeling that they’re not getting the services they should be getting for their taxes,” and he called for consolidating several city and county departments. Kapszukiewicz and Hicks-Hudson also differ over whether to designate Lake Erie as “impaired” over pollution, which would help secure federal clean up funds and would require polluters to take responsibility for nutrient runoff. Kapszukiewicz and many environmentalists back that designation, while Hicks-Hudson says that it would force Toledo to pay more without providing actual enforcement.
Hicks-Hudson has the support of the county Democratic Party and the United Auto Workers, but Kapszukiewicz is reportedly a popular figure among local Democrats. A third candidate, Republican City Councilor Tom Waniewski, kicked off a bid a little while ago. Waniewski’s West Toledo base has a history of high voter turnout, which could make all the difference in what is usually a low turnout race, but he’s a conservative with a history of voting against labor.
All the candidates will compete in the Sept. 12 nonpartisan primary, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the November general election. Toledo is usually a reliably Democratic city and Republicans haven’t won the mayor’s office since the 1980s, but independents have had more luck. In 2009, conservative independent Mike Bell narrowly won the general election. Four years later, two strong Democrats split the vote too much to allow either of them to advance past the primary; labor groups rallied behind Michael Collins, another independent, who defeated Bell in the general. The filing deadline is in July.
• NY State Senate: On Tuesday, former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson officially kicked off his campaign against state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, who defeated him in last year’s Democratic primary 33-31. Alcantara is one of the most vulnerable members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a junta comprised of renegade Democrats who have long handed power to Republicans despite the fact that the GOP now controls just a minority of seats in the Senate. Jackson has pledged to caucus with the chamber’s mainline Democrats.
This time, Jackson is also running with the support of Micah Lasher, a former chief of staff to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who took 32 percent of the vote in the 2016 primary. That should give Jackson a crucial advantage as long as no other candidates enter the race, something his very early entry—the primary is not until September of 2018—is designed to forestall. (This is also why Daily Kos endorsed Jackson right away.)
There’s no chance that this intra-party fight could hand this seat to Republicans: Alcantara’s 31st District, which is based on Manhattan’s West Side, voted for Hillary Clinton by a lopsided 91-7 margin, according to our calculations. Classic New York City politics will be at play here, though. Alcantara, who was born in the Dominican Republic, is heavily backed by Dominican power-players, chief among them Rep. Adriano Espaillat, while Jackson, who is African-American, will be counting on the support of the black community. The key question is whether Lasher’s base, which consists of white and Jewish voters, follows his lead and sides with Jackson.
Jackson is also unlikely to be the last anti-IDC challenger to emerge. A number of other names have surfaced recently, and with grassroots anger white-hot at any Democrats who would provide aid and comfort to the GOP in the age of Trump, the time is right for progressives to strike.
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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