New poll finds Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally could be vulnerable

AZ-02: Another PPP poll pitting a generic Democratic challenger against a Republican House incumbent from the new progressive group Save My Care once again—as you’d expect—finds dismal news for Republicans. This time, the target Save My Care has in its sights is Rep. Martha McSally, who became the poster child for the GOP’s reckless charge to repeal Obamacare when she reportedly exhorted her colleagues just before the vote with the Leeroy Jenkins-style battle cry, “Let’s get this fucking thing done!”

McSally could wind up done next year, too, since she currently trails an unnamed “Democratic opponent” 50-43. Now, don’t get too excited: The other day, after Save My Care released a similar poll in Nevada, we explained why generic tests like these must be viewed with great caution. However, there’s another result from this survey that should actually worry McSally even more: her job approval rating, which stands at an awful 35-56.

Now, it’s still extremely early, and plenty of politicians have turned around terrible numbers by Election Day before. But data like these could still be meaningful, because they might inspire strong challengers to run against McSally. Indeed, we’ve seen a huge upsurge in interest among Democrats compared to last year, when the party struggled to land worthy recruits.

And now we have word that one of those potential challengers—perhaps the biggest name of all—is indeed considering: Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who represented the neighboring 1st District until this year, and had reportedly been considering a comeback bid in the 2nd, just confirmed that she has indeed moved to Tucson and is thinking about the race.

Would Kirkpatrick make a good candidate, though? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, she won difficult races in the 1st, a seat that had gone for Mitt Romney, even managing to hang on in the 2014 GOP wave. On the other, she badly lost her challenge to Sen. John McCain last year by a 54-41 margin, and the carpetbagger charges would be obvious. However, it very much looks like we’re headed toward a contested primary, so local Democratic voters will have the chance to hash these issues out ahead of the general election.


AL-Sen: In a recent interview, Sen. Richard Shelby announced that he was supporting his home state colleague Luther Strange in the special 2017 GOP primary. While the two have only served in the Senate together since February they have been friends for more than 30 years, so the move was no surprise.

AZ-Sen: Earlier this month, Arizona Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema caused a huge stir when she appeared to announce that she would seek re-election rather than challenge GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. But when the dust settled, it became clear Sinema had ruled nothing out. In that brief time when it looked as if Sinema wasn’t going to run, Roll Call reported that state Rep. Randall Friese’s name was being floated, which made him the first notable non-Sinema Democrat we’d even heard seriously mentioned for this seat. There was no word on whether Friese was interested, but he recently told the Arizona Daily Star‘s Tim Steller that he is considering a Senate bid. It’s unclear what impact Sinema’s calculations would have on Friese’s plans.

As we mentioned when his name came up earlier this month, Friese was a trauma surgeon who operated on then-Rep. Gabby Giffords and others after they were shot in early 2011 in Tucson. Friese got into politics a little while later and narrowly unseated a GOP incumbent to win a Tucson-area state House seat in 2014. Running for Senate against an incumbent in what is still a GOP-leaning state is very much a different task than running for the state legislature, but if Friese got in, he’d have an interesting story to tell.

However, while Sinema’s games are incredibly irritating, there’s one reason Democrats may want to put up with them. Sinema is a strong fundraiser, and at the end of March, she actually led Flake $2.8 million to $1.8 million in cash-on-hand. Because Sinema can transfer all her House money to a Senate campaign, she can afford to keep fundraising while she decides. Friese and almost every other Arizona Democrat would need to start from scratch.

However, Team Blue may need to wait a long time for Sinema to make up her mind. McClatchy’s Alex Roarty said that D.C. Republicans think that Sinema is waiting to see if Flake will attract a strong GOP primary rival before deciding on a Senate run, noting that Arizona has a late filing deadline. Flake upset plenty of Republicans by speaking out against Trump during last year’s campaign, and state Treasurer Jeff DeWit has made noises about challenging him. However, Flake is still potentially vulnerable in a general election, especially if 2018 is a good Democratic year. But if Sinema freezes the Democratic field for months (or perhaps another year) and decides not to run in the end, Team Blue won’t have much time to get a strong campaign together, and Flake could end up skating by.

MI-Sen: GOP Rep. Fred Upton sounded very lukewarm about a bid against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow last month, though he declined to rule it out. However, unnamed GOP operatives close to Upton tell Politico that he’s actually very interested. Upton played a key role in getting Trumpcare through the House, and if the bill remains anywhere as unpopular nationwide on Election Day as it is now, it’s hard to see that being an asset.

NJ-Sen: Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur has previously been mentioned as a possible challenger to Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in 2018, and Politico reports that an unnamed Republican said he would consider it. MacArthur didn’t rule out a statewide bid in a recent interview either, stating that he is “not actively” considering it, but that he’s “always open to where [he] thinks he can accomplish the most good.” Of course, a statewide run might mean governor in 2021 instead of Senate next year.

MacArthur has represented the central South Jersey 3rd District since 2015, and as one of the wealthiest Congress members, he could bring some substantial self-funding to this expensive state if he runs for Senate. While New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1972, Menendez will go on trial for corruption this fall and could be vulnerable if he remains the Democratic nominee. However, MacArthur has received blistering criticism over his indispensable role in passing the House GOP’s health care bill that will likely deprive millions of their insurance if it passes the Senate. Being Team Red’s standard-bearer in a state where Trump is decidedly unpopular could make him a tough sell to New Jersey voters.


CA-Gov: While billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer sounded unlikely to run for governor after the 2016 election, he never ruled out the idea. Steyer recently reaffirmed his interest and told the Los Angeles Times that he’ll decide over the “next few months.” If Steyer gets in, he’ll face a competitive race with three fellow Democrats: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Steyer won’t need to worry about money in this extremely expensive state, but a late start (Newsom announced in 2015) could still hold him back.

IA-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Nate Boulton, a labor lawyer by trade, is close to unions, and he made his name by speaking out against the GOP legislature’s moves to weaken labor. So it’s not a surprise that on Friday, 10 different Iowa unions endorsed Boulton in the crowded primary. Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard says that two of those groups, the Laborers and the Operating Engineers, have made large financial contributions to past campaigns. He also points out that Boulton may highlight his support from the Des Moines firefighters and police in campaign ads.

MI-Gov: Prominent Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger has reportedly been considering another bid for governor, and he confirmed his interest to the Detroit News recently. Fieger, who may be most famous for defending physician-assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian, ran for governor back in 1998 and beat a labor-backed candidate in the Democratic primary. Fieger made news with his very personal attacks on GOP Gov. John Engler, whom he labeled “racist,” “fat” and a “moron.” However, while Fieger spent $3.5 million of his own money, state and national Democrats largely stayed away from him, and he lost 62-38.

It doesn’t sound like Fieger has changed much since then. While ex-state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is the early primary frontrunner, Fieger insisted he doesn’t “even know who she is,” adding, “If she was so dynamic, I’d at least know who she is.” Fieger also had some choice words about University of Michigan Regent Mark Bernstein, another wealthy lawyer who is mulling a Democratic primary bid, and even compared him to Donald Trump. Fieger argued that while he is a self-made man, Bernstein “has his dad’s money. Mr. Trump was supported by his dad, who was a racist.”

But while Fieger cast Trump as “mentally ill,” he argued that he could appeal to the same angry voters who helped Trump win Michigan last year. And indeed, Fieger won his 1998 primary by appealing to white voters upset with the status quo, and also reaching out to African Americans by reminding them that his father was a Freedom Rider in the 1960s. However, this formula didn’t work so well for Fieger in the general. Fieger says he’s in no hurry to decide, but said that if he becomes governor, he wouldn’t rule out a 2020 presidential bid.


FL-18: Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes Port St. Lucie and part of Palm Beach County, swung from 51-48 Romney to 53-44 Trump last year, and Republican Brian Mast won an expensive open seat race 54-43. However, Democrats are hoping that Mast’s vocal support for Trumpcare, including his floor speech where he accused Democrats of lying about the bill, will give them an opening here. Politico reports that retired Army Major Corinna Robinson is talking to state and national Democrats about getting in, and she confirmed her interest.

Robinson has run for Congress once before … but in South Dakota. In 2014, Robinson challenged GOP Rep. Kristi Noem in a campaign that generated very little outside attention, and lost 67-33. Robinson relocated to Florida in January for what Politico describes as “a Pentagon job and Brookings congressional fellowship to support the counter-terrorism program at Joint Special Operations University at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa.” (Tampa is nowhere near this seat.) While one enthusiastic unnamed Democratic strategist praised Robinson as a “fucking unicorn,” Mast, who is also a veteran, would likely assail her as a carpetbagging non-unicorn.

So far, this race has yet to come into focus. Veteran Pam Keith, who took 15 percent of the vote in the 2016 Senate primary, recently formed an exploratory committee. It’s unclear what other Democrats are interested in challenging Mast.

FL-27: On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho attended a local awards ceremony, and several people there tell the Miami-Herald that he announced that he vowed to remain at his post for years. Carvalho had expressed interest in running for the House, and Democrats had reportedly spoke to him. However, Carvalho is a registered independent, and he said he wasn’t ready to join a party. In any case, it looks like Carvalho won’t be going anywhere.

IL-06: Last month, Crain’s Chicago Business’s Greg Hinz reported that the DCCC was talking to Maura Sullivan, a Marine veteran who went on to be a senior public affairs official at the Defense Department, about a possible bid against GOP Rep. Peter Roskam. However, Sullivan recently told Hinz that she’s unlikely to run. Sullivan lives outside the district in Evanston, a famously liberal college town that’s very different from this ancestrally Republican western Chicago-area suburban seat, and Roskam wouldn’t need to work hard to portray her as an outsider. A few Democrats are already running for this seat, which swung from 53-45 Romney to 50-43 Clinton.

MT-AL: While Democratic outside groups have run ads portraying Republican Greg Gianforte as a greedy rich guy who wants to fence Montanans off from public lands and water, this is the first time Democrat Rob Quist has run this kind of commercial himself. Quist’s first spot starts with a picturesque view of local rivers and declares, “In Montana, this belongs to all of us.” As the camera pans over a big house, Quist continues, “But here, next to his estate, Greg Gianforte blocked access to the East Gallatin. Fences, intimidating signs, it’s against the law, and it’s against our values.” In his other ad, Quist walks past what he says is Gianforte’s estate, and he continues to assail him for “trying to take our land for himself. And he gave big money to groups working to sell public lands to private developers.”


El Paso, TX Mayor: Ex-state Rep. Dee Margo led businessman David Saucedo 45-24 in the May 6 primary, and he’s likely the frontrunner heading into the June 10 non-partisan runoff. On Wednesday, Margo earned endorsements from outgoing Mayor Oscar Leeser as well as six city representatives, including third-place primary finisher Emma Acosta. While El Paso is usually a reliably Democratic city, both Margo and Saucedo identify as Republicans.

Seattle, WA Mayor: After Tuesday’s bombshell announcement by incumbent mayor Ed Murray that he wouldn’t seek a second term, the expanded field in this suddenly-competitive race is starting to come into shape. Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny Durkan made her interest known right away, and on Friday confirmed that she’s running. Local media have already dubbed her as frontrunner (though maybe more “a” frontrunner than “the” frontrunner), which seems a bit of a leap of faith since she has never run for office before; it’s more a reflection of how well-connected she is within the state Democratic party—for instance, she was lead attorney in the court battle over a prolonged recount that confirmed Christine Gregoire’s 2004 gubernatorial election victory—and the financial backing she can expect from both the business establishment and the local LGBT community.

A more more surprising entry is state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, a progressive up-and-comer who represents a legislative district in the northeast part of the city. Farrell’s specialty is urban planning, and she doesn’t need to give up her ultra-safe seat for an off-year mayoral run. Durkan and Farrell join ex-mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Bob Hasegawa in the race, and it’s likely that more prominent names will join the field before the May 19 filing deadline.

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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