MT-AL: On Wednesday evening, the day before Montana hosts a long-awaited special election for its lone seat in the House, Republican Greg Gianforte assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian after Jacobs attempted to ask Gianforte a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the GOP’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Jacobs tweeted that Gianforte “body slammed me and broke my glasses,” an account backed up by a team of reporters from Fox News who witnessed the encounter, which took place at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters:
During that conversation, another man—who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian—walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if him if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”
The Guardian released audio of the incident, which also confirms Jacobs’ version of events:
Jacobs: … the CBO score. Because, you know, you’ve been waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill, and it just came out …
Gianforte: We’ll talk to you about that later.
Jacobs: Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious …
Gianforte: Okay, speak with Shane, please.
Jacobs: But, you gotta …
[loud crunching noises]
Gianforte [screaming]: I’M SICK AND TIRED OF YOU GUYS!
Jacobs: Jesus Chr …
Gianforte: THE LAST GUY THAT CAME IN HERE—YOU DID THE SAME THING. GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!
Gianforte: GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! The last guy did the same thing. You with the Guardian?
Jacobs: Yes, and you just broke my glasses.
Gianforte: The last guy did the same damn thing.
Jacobs: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.
Gianforte: Get the hell out of here.
Jacobs: You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police. Can I get you guys’s names?
Man: Hey, you gotta leave.
Jacobs: He just body-slammed me.
Man: You gotta leave.
Jacobs was taken to a local hospital for X-rays. Gianforte’s campaign issued a statement claiming that Jacobs had “grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.” This also contradicts the Fox News crew, which said, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
The local police department also announced that it would investigate the matter, and late on Wednesday night, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault. Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who is leading the investigation, was elected to office as a Republican and donated $250 to Gianforte’s congressional campaign in March.
While the electoral consequences of an event like this are unknowable, early voting is very popular in Montana, and rough estimates suggest that two-thirds of the electorate has already voted. However, early voters are more likely to be firm partisans while those casting ballots on Election Day tend to be more persuadable. Montana also allows same-day registration, so new voters can register up until polls close at 8 PM local time.
● OH-Sen: Last week, Rep. Pat Tiberi announced that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, leaving state Treasurer Josh Mandel as the only credible Republican in the race. No other notable Republicans have made noises about running, and Sen. Rob Portman is doing his best to make sure that doesn’t change. Portman endorsed Mandel on Wednesday, and he unsubtly urged fellow Republicans to do the same.
Mandel, who lost the 2012 race to Brown 51-45, doesn’t have a solid relationship with all Ohio Republicans, though. Even as Tiberi was announcing his decision not to run, he declared that unlike Mandel, he did not “have the baggage of losing to the current incumbent already,” a very obvious parting shot at the only challenger in the race. However, unless something changes, the well-funded Mandel will get his second chance at Brown soon enough.
● GA-Gov: Well, we still don’t have Lynn Westmoreland to kick around any more. The former Republican congressman announced on Wednesdaythat he would not join Georgia’s crowded GOP primary for governor. When Westmoreland announced one year ago that he would not run for re-election to the House, it looked like he was preparing for a bid to succeed termed-out Gov. Nathan Deal, and Westmoreland launched a statewide “reconnect tour” at the end of 2016. However, Westmoreland sounded reluctant to run in spite of his preparations, so his decision to stay out didn’t come as a major surprise.
If this is the end of Westmoreland’s political career, we won’t shed many tears. In 2006, Westmoreland co-sponsored a bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in Congress, but he proved embarrassingly unable to name all 10 commandments on the Colbert Report (he tapped out at just three). Two years later, Westmoreland described Barack and Michelle Obama as “part of an “elitist-class … that thinks that they’re uppity,” then claimed he didn’t know the word uppity had any racial connotations.
Westmoreland didn’t get much better with time. In 2015, he defended the presence of Confederate flags in federal cemeteries, declaring, “You can’t make an excuse for the things that happened. But a majority of people that actually died in the Civil War on the Confederate side did not own slaves. These were people who were fighting for their states. I don’t think they even had thoughts about slavery.” Seeya, buddy.
● VA-Gov: Ex-RNC Chair and June GOP primary frontrunner Ed Gillespie’s second TV spot has a very throwback feel. From the jump, the candidate brags that he “helped author the Contract with America,” as a picture of a younger Gillespie that’s presumably from around 1994 flashes by. The Contract with America … now that’s something we haven’t heard in GOP campaign ads in a long time. A long time. Gillespie then says he “advised the president” as he’s shown with George W. Bush. Gillespie goes on to talk about growing up in a “hard-working family, watching my parents earn whatever we had,” before he finishes by pledging to stand up to special interests and cut taxes.
● CO-07: On Wednesday, state Sen. Dominick Moreno announced that he was joining the Democratic primary for this open suburban Denver seat. Two other Democratic legislators, state Sen. Andy Kerr and state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, kicked off their bids right after Rep. Ed Perlmutter announced that he would run for governor rather than seek another term.
Kerr and Pettersen both hail from Lakewood in Jefferson County while Moreno represents the Adams County portion of the 7th District in the state Senate. Jefferson makes up about 54 percent of the seat while the balance is in Adams, so if Moreno can consolidate the vote at home while his rivals split their turf, he could benefit. The only other notable Democrat who has expressed interest in running here, state Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, is also from Jefferson, though it’s still possible that more people will get in and scramble things.
Clinton carried this seat 51-39 and Team Blue is favored to hold it, though the GOP is hoping they can convince Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo to run.
● FL-27: On Tuesday, former Miami-Dade County school board member Raquel Regalado, the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, announced that she would seek the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. This Miami-area seat backed Clinton 59-39, but Republicans have a history of doing well further down the ballot here, and Team Red might be able to hold on if they field a strong candidate. Regalado, a self-described moderate, is pitching herself as just that candidate, and she may not be bluffing. Regalado hosts a well-known Spanish-language radio show, and her family is well-known.
However, her last bid for office did not go well. Regalado challenged Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, last year, but lost 56-44. Regalado may have been hurt by news that she owed $4,000 in property taxes and fees, though Gimenez also worked hard to portray her as inexperienced. Regalado also hasn’t always followed the party line, going so far as to endorse Democrat Alex Sink over Republican Rick Scott in the 2010 race for governor, though she backed Scott in 2014. (Her father also made headlines last year by refusing to support Trump.) Her family apostasies could harm Regalado in a primary, but if she makes it to the general, she might be able to convince voters that she’s different from Trump.
So far, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is the only other notable Republican who has entered the race. And in what the Miami Herald‘s David Smiley describes as an example of the Miami “Game of Thrones,” Barreiro’s wife is currently running against Regalado’s brother for a seat on the Miami City Commission. Several other Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, are considering. Regalado herself even dropped a new name, saying she expects to face former Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall in the primary, which is the first we’ve heard about MacDougall’s interest in this seat. In 2014, MacDougall ran for the neighboring 26th District and lost the primary 47-25 to eventual winner Carlos Curbelo.
● GA-06: As the hotly anticipated Georgia special election heads into its final month, the DCCC says it will spend another $2 million on behalf of Democrat Jon Ossoff. According to The Hill, $1.5 million will go toward TV ads while the balance will pay for digital advertising and ads in African-American media outlets.
Meanwhile, Ossoff himself has some new ads, including one going after wasteful spending and another in which he talks about bolstering the tech sector in the Atlanta area. Republican Karen Handel is also running a new TV spot in which a narrator claims that Ossoff “intentionally misled” voters about his credentials and has been “caught lying” about Handel herself.
● KY-06: Team Blue wants to target GOP Rep. Andy Barr in this conservative Lexington-area seat, which still backs some Democrats down-ticket, and another Democratic politician is making noises about getting in. State Sen. Reginald Thomas recently told Pure Politics on Tuesday that he hopes to decide within the next 60 days.
Thomas is one of the few Democrats in the legislature to represent a safely blue seat, but he had an eventful 2013 race to take it. That year, Thomas defeated Democrat-turned-independent Richard Moloney 54-35 in a competitive contest. State Democrats say that Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, who is retiring from active duty on June 1, is also considering, while state Rep. James Kay and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray haven’t ruled out running.
● NY-23: Back in 2012, GOP Rep. Tom Reed pulled off a shockingly close 52-48 win in a race that attracted little attention at the same time as Romney was carrying this upstate seat 50-48. National Democrats tried to target Reed over the next two cycles, but the 2014 GOP wave and Trump’s 2016 55-40 win helped him decisively prevail both times.
As a result, Reed is looking a lot safer this time, but this week, teacher Rick Gallant announced that he would seek the Democratic nod. Gallant is a former member of the New York State United Teachers Board of Directors, so he may have some useful connections. Still, Team Blue is almost certainly going to need for this area to turn against Trump to have a shot at Reed.
● NC-09: At 54-43 Trump, this suburban Charlotte seat is far from a tempting target for Democrats, but Team Blue may have a stronger than usual candidate. Dan McCready, who served in Iraq as a Marine and went on to start a business that finances North Carolina solar farms, announced that he would challenge GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger on Wednesday. McCready was a business school classmate of Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who has been actively trying to recruit veterans.
This is a tough seat, though, even if a wave were to materialize. However, if Pittenger unexpectedly finds himself in a real race, he may have a lot of rust to shake off. Back in September, after protests and violence broke out in Charlotte after police killed Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man, Pittenger argued that the unrest was due to protestors who “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”
Pittenger offered a weak no-pology, tweeting that what he said “doesn’t reflect who I am. I was quoting statements made by angry protesters last night on national TV. My intent was to discuss the lack of economic mobility for African Americans because of failed policies.” The incident didn’t do Pittenger much damage at the ballot box, as he won an uncompetitive re-election campaign 58-42, but his undisciplined style could cause him trouble in a tougher race.
● SC-01: This week, defense analyst Tom Perez suspended his intra-party challenge to Rep. Mark Sanford, citing his upcoming military deployment abroad. However, Perez says he won’t be back before next year’s GOP primary, so it’s probably safe to say his campaign is over. The never-boring Sanford, a former governor, frequent Trump critic, and noted hiker, still faces a primary against wealthy businessman and Marine veteran Ted Fienning.
● TX-30: Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who recently turned 81, raised just $1,000 during the first three months of 2017, setting off speculation that she wouldn’t seek another term in her safely blue Dallas seat. In April, though, unnamed people close to the congresswoman told the Dallas Morning News‘ Gromer Jeffers that she plans to seek one more term, and that an announcement would come within 10 days.
However, those 10 days came and went without any announcement, and there hasn’t been any word from Johnson’s camp since then. Jeffers says that a Johnson campaign office is “in the works,” so she may in fact be planning to run in 2018. However, until Johnson makes an announcement, we’re going to keep her on the retirement watch list.
● UT-03: Provo Mayor John Curtis is the latest Republican to jump into this special election ahead of Friday’s filing deadline. Curtis, who runs the district’s largest city, is a self-described conservative, but he volunteered that he didn’t back Trump. Curtis was actually the Democratic nominee for a state Senate seat in 2000 before switching sides in 2006, though he says he’s “been asked to run in all three parties.” The GOP primary is in August, and the general election for what is usually a very red seat is in November.
● WA-08: For the first time ever, a Democratic elected official has announced a challenge to GOP Rep. Dave Reichert, who has long remained stubbornly ensconced in his suburban Seattle House district even though it voted for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by narrow margins. On Tuesday, Tola Marts, a city councilor in Issaquah (pop. 30,000) who also says he “built rockets and worked on public health in Africa,” entered the race, though he noted that he was not recruited by national Democrats, so it’s still possible that the DCCC is looking for another candidate.
Despite never previously facing anyone who’s held public office, Reichert fended off three tough challenges in 2006, 2008, and even during the GOP wave of 2010. But his seat was made appreciably safer in redistricting and he hasn’t had much competition since. Still, this is the type of district—one of just eight held by Republicans that Obama and Clinton both won—that Democrats have to contest seriously in order to have a shot at retaking the House next year.
● Special Elections: On Tuesday night, Democrats picked up not one but two state legislative seats in special elections, the first such flips of the Trump era. What’s more, both wins came in deep red territory. In New Hampshire, Democrat Edie DesMarais defeated Republican Matthew Plache by a 52-48 margin in the state House’s 6th Carroll District, a seat Donald Trump won 51-44 last fall. Meanwhile, in the New York Assembly’s 9th District, Democrat Christine Pellegrino beat Republican Thomas Gargiulo 58-42, even though Trump romped to a 60-37 victory there in November.
This means that DesMarais moved the needle 11 points in the Democratic direction while Pellegrino did the same by an astounding 39 points. Making both these outcomes all the more amazing is that both areas had been Republican strongholds for a very long time. According to the town’s clerk, a Democrat hasn’t represented Wolfeboro (where 6th Carroll is located) since all the way back in 1913. (Mitt Romney keeps one of his many homes there.) New York’s 9th, similarly, is based in the GOP stronghold of Massapequa, on Long Island, and according to Newsday, Pellegrino is the first Democrat ever to win the seat.
And while these are the first two seats to actually change hands from Republicans to Democrats since Trump’s election, Democrats have consistently outperformed the 2016 presidential results in special elections across the country.
We always urge caution when looking at the results of individual special elections, but at this point, we have a fairly sizable batch of data to work with. In all, there have been 17 congressional and legislative specialspitting one Republican against one Democrat since November, and Democratic candidates have exceeded Hillary Clinton’s vote share in 11 of them. One further race was flat while in two others, Democrats were just 1 point behind Clinton’s margin.
Overall, Democrats have beaten the presidential results by 11 points on average—an enormous turnaround from 2013, when Democrats trailed Barack Obama’s performance the prior year by an average of 12 points. You can see how stark the difference is in the charts Daniel Donner has put together. His assessment: “Democrats are showing up—and in a way they haven’t in years.” And why? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Donald Trump is motivating Democrats as never before.
P.S. Two other seats stayed put on Tuesday. Johnny Longtorso recaps:
New Hampshire House, Hillsborough-44: Republicans held on to this one, with Mark McLean defeating Democrat James Morin by a 55-45 margin.
New York SD-30: Surprising absolutely nobody, Democrat Brian Benjamin won this seat in a landslide with 92 percent of the vote. Republican Dawn Simmons got 3 percent, while Reform Party candidate Ruben Vargas got 2 percent, and write-ins accounted for the remainder.
● New Orleans, LA Mayor: This fall’s race to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been slow to develop, but with a little less than two months to go before the July 14 filing deadline, potential candidates still have time to make up their minds. On Monday, Desiree Charbonnet, who recently resigned as a municipal court judge to prepare her campaign, announced that she would run.
Charbonnet, who like almost everyone involved in New Orleans politics is a Democrat, comes from a prominent political family. Charbonnet has also received national attention during her time on the bench for working to steer repeat offenders in drug and prostitution cases, as well as offenders with mental illnesses, towards treatment programs rather than sending them back into the criminal justice system.
While Charbonnet has been elected citywide several times, most of New Orleans’ many judges don’t attract much notice from the public. However, Charbonnet has some connections that could help her get her name out. At her campaign kickoff, Charbonnet earned an endorsement from state Sen. Troy Carter, who initially considered running for mayor himself but demurred. Carter is reportedly close to Rep. Cedric Richmond, who represents most of New Orleans in Congress, and his support could be a sign that Richmond and his allies are on board with Charbonnet. (Richmond enthusiastically tweeted when Charbonnet resigned from the court last month ahead of her expected bid.) And as The Advocate‘s Stephanie Grace notes, several influential political insiders attended Charbonnet’s kickoff event.
So far, three other candidates are running. City Councilor LaToya Cantrell jumped in a few weeks ago, and she looks like an early frontrunner in the developing field. Both Charbonnet and Cantrell are African-American women, and either would be the city’s first female mayor. However, as Grace also points out, while both are Democrats, there are big differences between them. Charbonnet noted her family has “served the city for generations,” which may be a dig at Cantrell, who is originally from Los Angeles. And Cantrell, who first won elected office in 2012 by defeating a city council candidate backed by Richmond and Landrieu, is more of a political outsider than Charbonnet, though she has some well-connected people involved with her campaign.
The other two declared candidates are ex-Judge Michael Bagneris and rich guy Frank Scurlock. Bagneris, a Democrat, challenged Landrieu in 2014 and lost 64-33, and it’s unclear if he has much support behind his second bid. Scurlock, who as of April was a Republican (he says he’ll change his party registration), may be best known for operating a local bouncey-house empire and trying to redevelop the site of an abandoned Six Flags amusement park. Scurlock doesn’t seem like an especially serious candidate, though his recent arrest for protesting against the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis could help him appeal to voters upset with the city’s decision to remove monuments to the Confederacy (a topic that Landrieu, who supported the move, just delivered a memorable oration on).
It’s unclear who else might jump in before the July 14 deadline, though Grace notes that Landrieu and his last two predecessors entered the race late. (In fact, Landrieu jumped in just days before the deadline back in 2009.) Two Democratic state legislators, state Sen. J.P. Morrell and state Rep. Walt Leger, have both expressed interest, though they’re both distracted with the legislature in session. Bombastic rich guy Sidney Torres IV, who hosts a reality TV show, also has been considering. However, Torres was already being compared to Donald Trump before people learned his firm had donated $50,000 to Trump’s inauguration, which will not be an asset in this very blue city. It’s also possible more local politicians will express interest before July.
All the candidates will compete on one Oct. 14 ballot, and if no one takes a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 18 general election regardless of party.
● ME Ballot: While the Maine Supreme Court handed down an advisory opinion earlier this week saying that a ballot measure passed by voters last year to implement instant-runoff voting would violate the state’s constitution, the fate of the law is very much unclear. Legislators could simply repeal it, or, much less simply, they could move to amend the constitution to remedy the problem. There’s even a murky third option that we’ll get to in a moment.
An amendment almost certainly isn’t in the cards, since such changes require approval from two-thirds of each chamber in the legislature and Republicans remain largely opposed to instant-runoff voting (also called ranked-choice voting). But even a straight repeal wouldn’t be easy, because Democrats control the state House while Republicans are in charge of the Senate, meaning some sort of bipartisan agreement would be necessary.
That leaves door number three: doing nothing. The high court’s ruling only applies to state elections, which the constitution specifies are won with a mere plurality of all votes cast. (Instant-runoff voting essentially requires winners to obtain a majority.) It doesn’t cover primaries or federal elections, which could still be conducted under an instant-runoff system. Some supporters of the law would therefore like to see the secretary of state use instant runoffs for federal races, but opponents, including the Republican president of the state Senate, say that two separate systems would confuse voters.
Maine’s legislative session is not scheduled to end until June 14, so it may be a few more weeks before we have any clarity. And if the two sides can’t reach a deal, litigation may well ensue.
● Site News: Daily Kos is thrilled to announce that in just a couple of weeks,