Democrats get their first prominent challenger to Minnesota GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen


MN-03: On Tuesday, wealthy and prominent businessman Dean Phillips became the first noteworthy Democrat to launch a campaign against GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen in the suburban-Minneapolis 3rd District. The grandson of famous advice columnist Dear Abby, Phillips is also the heir to the locally well-known Phillips Distilling Company and previously co-owned the Talenti gelato company, while he is also heavily involved with local philanthropic efforts. Despite his personal fortune, Phillips said he wouldn’t self-fund right off the bat or take PAC money of any kind, but he also left the door open to substantial self-funding if he feels he needs to “make up the difference … from the amount [he] would have raised from special interests and lobbyists.”

Although the highly educated and affluent 3rd District favored Clinton by 51-41 in 2016, Obama carried it just 50-49 in 2012 and it has long been a Republican stronghold downballot. Paulsen decisively defeated highly touted and well-funded Democratic state Sen. Terri Bonoff by 57-43 in 2016, meaning he’ll likely be a tough target in 2018. However, Phillips says that unlike Bonoff, his campaign won’t focus mainly on tying Paulsen to Trump’s scandals, but will instead hammer the incumbent over unpopular votes he has taken like supporting the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill. It remains to be seen how strong of a campaigner Phillips will be, but local Democratic leaders reportedly recruited him to run.

Phillips isn’t the only Democratic name to surface though. Brian Santa Maria, a former writer for the Onion and digital ad man has been running for a while, but does not appear have gained much traction yet with his longshot campaign. Former Obama-era acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt has excoriated Paulsen on social media for his health care vote and has been mentioned as a potential candidate. Slavitt had recently cryptically refused to rule out running via Twitter, but Roll Call reports that he is advising Phillips, which would seem to take him out of the mix. It’s unclear whether Phillips or Santa Maria will abide by the party convention process and drop out if they don’t win the party’s endorsement, or if they will proceed to the primary regardless.

Senate

OH-Sen: Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi announced that he would not run for Senate against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018, depriving Republicans of one potential heavyweight challenger to the seemingly vulnerable incumbent. The nine-term suburban Columbus-area congressman is a prodigious fundraiser—indeed, the $1.4 million that he raised in the first three months of 2017 was more than any other candidate nationally except for those running in upcoming special elections—and the $6.3 million that he had in the bank at the beginning of April would have made him a formidable contender.

However, Tiberi’s path to the Republican nomination if he ran was far from clear. State Treasurer Josh Mandel has been running for this seat practically since he was first elected to his current post in 2010, and he’s seeking a rematch with Brown after losing 51-45 in 2012. Mandel’s three bids for statewide office mean he likely starts off with a significant name-recognition advantage over other primary rivals, and the ultra-conservative treasurer has the support of hard-right groups like the Club for Growth. Tiberi could have been vulnerable to attacks from the right as a close ally of dethroned ex-House Speaker John Boehner, and it’s unsurprising that he was reluctant to give up a safe House seat for a potentially daunting Senate campaign.

Gubernatorial

AL-Gov: On Tuesday, state Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan filed to seek the GOP nomination for governor, though he has yet to make an official announcement. Gov. Kay Ivey, who became governor after Robert Bentley resigned in disgrace last month, has yet to announce is she’ll seek a full term in 2018, but McMillan told the National Journal right after Ivey’s promotion that he was still planning to run.

McMillan has had a very long career in Alabama politics, and he was first elected to the legislature in 1974 as a Democrat. McMillan went on to serve in different posts under Govs. Fob James and Bob Riley before being elected agriculture commissioner in 2010. One of the people McMillan beat in that primary was 2010 internet legend Dale Peterson, who endorsed him in the runoff; in a web ad, Peterson fired his gun at someone who tried to steal a McMillan yard sign. Two other notable Republicans, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington, have announced they’re running.

FL-Gov: Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis has been reportedly considering running for governor in 2018, and now Florida Politics’ A.G. Gancarski reports that sources close to DeSantis say he’ll likely make a decision later this summer. DeSantis has yet to speak on the record about his interest in the race, but he had $1.7 million cash on hand for his re-election bid at the end of March and could transfer that amount to an allied political committee for a gubernatorial campaign. However, DeSantis raised a mere $3,000 in the first quarter and notably didn’t commit to running for re-election, so it’s unclear just what he might do.

If DeSantis joins the gubernatorial race, he would face state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the primary. Several other prominent Republicans are also considering it, including state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, state Sen. Jack Latvala, and eccentric wealthy businessman “Alligator Ron” Bergeron.

GA-Gov: In January, Sally Yates made national news when as acting attorney general she balked at enforcing Trump’s executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an order that courts have since repeatedly blocked. Trump fired her immediately afterward, sparking chatter that she might returned to her home state of Georgia to run for governor as a Democrat in 2018. However, in a recent interview with the New Yorker, Yates unequivocally shut the door on that prospect by stating, “I am totally ruling out the governor’s race. I am not running for governor.”

Yates recently testified before Congress about the firing of Trump’s disgraced ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and that scandal investigation could take a while to conclude, which could have been an impediment to any run for political office. No prominent Democrats have formally jumped into next year’s gubernatorial election yet to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Nathan Deal, but state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams recently filed paperwork ahead of what appears to be a likely campaign, while a few other noteworthy Democrats haven’t ruled it out.

IA-Gov: On Tuesday, state Rep. Todd Prichard became the latest Iowa Democrat to announce a 2018 gubernatorial campaign. As one of just 100 state House members, Prichard would start off with little name recognition, but some state party leaders are reportedly keen on him. Prichard is an Iraq War veteran who was able to pull off a 54-46 re-election victory in 2016 even as his rural northeastern Iowa district veered from 56-43 Obama to a punishing 57-38 Trump edge according to our preliminary calculations, meaning he could have some appeal with the same rural and working-class voters who helped flip Iowa from blue to red in 2016.

Prichard joins what has become an increasingly crowded field as Democrats are apparently undeterred by Iowa’s lurch to the right last year. Former state party chair Andy McGuire, ex-Des Moines School Board President Jonathan Neiderbach, state Sen. Nate Boulton, and Polk County Conservation Board director Rich Leopold are already in the race, while a slew of other Democrats are considering it.

NJ-Gov: Former Vice President Joe Biden will head to New Jersey over Memorial Day weekend to campaign and fundraise for Democrat Phil Murphy ahead of the June 6 gubernatorial primary. In addition to Biden’s support, Murphy has the backing of all 21 county parties, a gargantuan campaign spending edge, and a consistent polling lead, making him the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to succeed unpopular term-limited Republican Gov. Chris Christie in this blue-leaning state.

VA-Gov: PPP released a new survey of the June 13 Democratic gubernatorial primary on behalf of the Virginia Education Association teachers union, which is backing Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Their poll finds Northam leading ex-Rep. Tom Perriello by 45-35, which is actually a relative improvement for Perriello since their May survey that placed Northam ahead by 42-28. While there have only been a few polls of this race, recent independent polling from Quinnipiac has found the race to be much closer and with more undecided voters. With exactly four weeks to go until Election Day and with such a large share of voters having yet to make up their minds, this race is still far from settled.

Meanwhile, Northam just released two new TV ads. The first one focuses on the economy, with Northam speaking directly to the camera to argue for higher teacher pay, free community college, better job training, and investment in Virginia’s tech industry. The second spot continues Northam’s emphasis on gun safety issues by featuring a mother of a student who was shot and injured during the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting who praises Northam for fighting for expanded background checks in the legislature and being willing to take on the NRA despite coming from a conservative district.

House

CA-04: Here’s a delightful blast from the past for anyone who closely followed the Democratic wave elections of 2006 and 2008: Air Force veteran Charlie Brown, who twice came oh-so-close to picking up a deep red House seat in Northern California, says he’s “seriously considering” a third bid, in the words of local TV station Fox 40.

Brown first ran against GOP Rep. John Doolittle in 2006 in California’s 4th Congressional District, which at the time stretched from the Oregon border to the Sacramento suburbs. George W. Bush had carried the 4th by a 61-37 margin in 2004 and Doolittle had never taken less than 60 percent of the vote since his first re-election campaign in 1992. However, thanks to a favorable political climate and allegations of corruption surrounding the incumbent, Brown lost just 49-46. Brown then announced he’d seek a rematch, but Doolittle’s fundraising suffered badly thanks to his ties to disgraced (and later jailed) GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and he wound up dropping out.

That catastrophic success looked like it might be the end of the line for Brown, who no longer had the advantage of running against a badly tainted opponent. But Republicans wound up nominating hard-right carpetbagger Tom McClintock, who at the time was representing a state Senate seat in the Los Angeles area, hundreds of miles away. Brown was able to run an exceptionally competitive race, buoyed by another strong climate for Democrats nationwide, but he fell just short and lost by less than half a percentage point in a race that wasn’t resolved until almost a month after Election Day. (Barack Obama, meanwhile, lost the 4th 54-44.)

McClintock hasn’t faced a serious challenge since, winning re-election with over 60 percent of the vote every time, and his district remains reliably red. But in this age of Trump, it’s certainly starting to feel like anything could be possible—a bit like how it felt in those halcyon days in the latter part of the last decade. California’s 4th, which now encompasses a large swath of the Sierra Nevada from the Nevada border near Carson City before sweeping south through Yosemite National Park, did vote 54-39 for Trump, but that’s actually an improvement from 2012, when it went 58-40 for Mitt Romney.

And while its geographic configuration has changed since the days when Brown ran here, its population base didn’t shift quite so much: 71 percent of the new district’s population was drawn from the old district, so Brown should still be quite familiar with what is still fundamentally a seat in the Sacramento suburbs. Of course, it’s been a decade since he last hit the campaign trail, so if he runs, he’d have a lot of new faces to introduce himself to. But given his track record, Brown could stretch the playing field and put a seat in play that Republicans likely never imagined they’d have to worry about again.

FL-27: GOP state Sen. Renee Garcia, a former intern to retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, announced this week that he would not run to succeed her. While Garcia is termed-out of the Senate, his Hialeah base isn’t in the district, and Republicans may have preferred someone more local as their standard bearer in what will be a tough race to hold this 59-39 Clinton seat.

GA-06: With five weeks to go until the June 20 special election runoff, Jon Ossoff is finally going at Karen Handel’s biggest weak spot: Planned Parenthood. If you’re unfamiliar with this ugly backstory, a refresher is in order. In 2011, the year after Handel lost a bid for governor, the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure hired her as a top executive. The following January, Handel announced that Komen was cutting off support for Planned Parenthood, on the entirely pretextual grounds that Planned Parenthood was “under investigation.” (House Republicans, led by then-Rep. Cliff Stearns, had launched a witch-hunt against the organization that, of course, ultimately went nowhere—just like Stearns’ career.)

The move generated an instant, massive backlash, since it was obvious that Handel’s real motivation was her hostility toward abortion. Indeed, during her gubernatorial campaign, she had said, “[S]ince I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.” As a result, Komen reversed itself just four days later; a few days after that, Handel resigned. The entire debacle didn’t just damage Handel: It also caused lasting harm to Komen, which saw its funding drop 22 percent in the ensuing fiscal year.

Meanwhile, despite the GOP’s best efforts, Planned Parenthood remains very popular nationwide in poll after poll, and in a well-educated, affluent district like Georgia’s 6th, you’d expect it to be well-liked there, too. Indeed, it must be, because Ossoff’s newest TV spot just shreds Handel for betraying Planned Parenthood. The ad stars an exceptionally poised and authentic OB-GYN named Mindy Fine, who talks about her job and what Planned Parenthood means to women like her:

Part of a normal exam is screening for breast and cervical cancer.

When we catch it early, we save lives.

But Karen Handel cut off funding for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings when she was an executive at Susan G. Komen.

I don’t usually get involved in politics, but as a doctor and a breast cancer survivor myself, what Karen Handel did is unforgivable.

Even though Handel once happily shouted her hatred for Planned Parenthood from the rooftops—after her implosion at Komen, she wrote a book called, if you can believe it, “Planned Bullyhood”—she now seems to recognize that her strident past is a danger to her future. Last month, in a telephone interview with Fortune magazine, a Handel aide cut the conversation short when reporter Alana Abramson asked about Planned Parenthood. Calling Abramson back 20 minutes later (presumably after a hasty strategy session), Handel still refused to say whether she supports Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Ossoff, obviously, is not going to let her get away with trying to change the subject.

Meanwhile, Handel’s own new ad—her first since the primary a month ago—steers clear of anything controversial. As such, it’s an entirely forgettable spot in which Handel says she’s “been involved in the 6th District for almost 25 years” and offers some pabulum about how wonderful it would be to represent it in Congress.

NJ-07: Businessman Zenon Christodoulou, who is vice chair of the Somerset County Democratic party, is the latest name to surface as a potential 2018 challenger to 7th District Republican Rep. Leonard Lance after Insider NJ reported that there is “considerable speculation” that he could run. Christodoulou had previously been running for state Senate in 2017 against a Republican incumbent, but dropped out in early March. While Christodoulou doesn’t appear to have won elected office before, his party connections could aid him considerably with fundraising, although there’s no word from him directly about running for House.

Lance hasn’t been heavily targeted in years since Republicans turned what had previously been a swingy seat into a light red one in 2011’s redistricting, but after his upscale suburban central New Jersey seat flipped to 49-47 Clinton, Democrats are giving it a closer look in 2018. Bank vice president Linda Weber recently joined the race for Team Blue, while attorney Scott Salmon and teacher Lisa Mandelblatt are also running. Social worker Peter Jacob, who was the Bernie Sanders-endorsed 2016 nominee, has also filed paperwork to run, but hasn’t formally declared yet.

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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