HI-Gov: Almost three years ago, then-state Sen. David Ige defeated Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie by a massive 67-31 margin in the Democratic primary. While Ige had entered the race with little name recognition and little money, Abercrombie had managed to upset pretty much every major faction in the state Democratic Party during his tenure. Ige looks to be in better shape than Abercrombie with more than a year to go before the next Democratic primary, but a new Merriman River Group survey for Civil Beat indicates that Ige does have good reasons to at least be prepared for a primary.
The Merriman poll gives Ige a meh 35-38 approval rating, while Democratic voters give the governor a better, but not incredible, 44-26 score. Hawaii is a notoriously tough state to poll and we don’t have much data to work with, but at least some local Democrats are acting like they think Ige is beatable in a primary. Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa said in April that Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho “is going to run for the governor’s office, and he will be probably be the next governor.” Carvalho, who is termed-out of his current job, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s Kevin Dayton recently that he “appreciate[s] the many people who have approached me to run for governor. I am considering various options and have not made a final decision,” and adds he “will be making an announcement in the near future.”
A few other Aloha State Democrats also are making noises about running. State Sen. Jill Tokuda told Dayton that she’s seriously considering running for governor or lieutenant governor, arguing that Ige’s administration “still feels like they’ve got the training wheels on.” Hawaii News Now General Manager Rick Blangiardi dodged any questions about his plans, saying it “would be really premature for me to even comment on right now.”
One person we hopefully won’t see on the 2018 ballot in any form is ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a longtime Democratic politician who took 12 percent of the vote as an independent in 2014. Hannemann took some shots at Ige, but says that, while he’s been approached about running again (though it’s unclear for what party), he’s “very happy with the causes that I’m engaged with right now.” Unfortunately, that’s not a no.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who lost an excruciatingly close 2014 Democratic primary to appointed Sen. Brian Schatz, also has been mentioned, and Hanabusa did not comment on her 2018 plans. However, while Dayton writes that her supporters have encouraged her to get in, some political observers don’t expect her to run. They note that Hanabusa just returned to Congress last year after freshman Rep. Mark Takai died, and it would be awkward for her to quickly run for governor so soon after getting back to D.C. The 2018 Senate race may also factor into her plans. Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, who is up for re-election, also recently was treated for kidney cancer. Hirono says she’ll run again, but if her health forces her to change course, Hanabusa might be interested in running to succeed her.
It’s rare for a sitting governor to lose renomination, but there are reasons to think that Ige at least needs to watch his back. Civil Beat’s Nathan Eagle writes that, while Ige has avoided any major scandals, he “has not produced many tangible results to please voters,” arguing that Ige has instead focused on “important objectives that don’t make for easy sound bites or snappy headlines, such as eliminating unfunded liabilities and updating the tax system.”
Ige may also have made some of the same types of mistakes that ended up costing Abercrombie re-election. As Daily Kos Elections community member Skaje wrote in an excellent 2014 piece just after the primary, Abercrombie didn’t have any notable scandals either, but he alienated major Democratic groups like the powerful teachers unions and environmentalists. In Ige’s case, Eagle writes that teachers and parents have complained for years about hot classrooms, arguing that they’ve made it tougher for students to learn. However, while Ige set a goal to provide air conditioning to 1,000 classrooms by early 2016, only about 200 classrooms have had the promised air-cooling installed a year-and-a-half later.
Ige also got off to a rough start with environmentalists after failing to fill several key posts during the first half of his governorship, but he’s had more successes recently. Dayton also suggests that Ige’s relatively weak fundraising—he had just $286,000 on hand at the end of 2016—makes it look like he’s complacent ahead of what could be a challenging campaign. Dayton also says that angry lawmakers, lobbyists, and Democratic activists believe that Ige is just an indecisive leader, a criticism that Tokuda echoed.
Still, it’s certainly too early to say that 2018 is shaping up to be a repeat of 2014. Despite some missteps, Ige doesn’t appear to have made the legion of enemies that the last governor made, nor do Democratic primary voters appear ready to oust him. It’s also possible that, if enough people challenge Ige, they’ll split the vote enough to secure him renomination.
Hawaii is a very Democratic state, and Team Blue’s nominee will likely be the clear favorite in November. State Rep. Bob McDermott, one of the very few Republicans who holds elected office, is running, but he doesn’t look like an especially intimidating foe. Still, it’s always possible that someone more recognizable will get in if they smell an opportunity.
• AZ-Sen: Sen. Jeff Flake has been preparing for a serious GOP primary challenge from a Trump loyalist for a while, but that challenge has yet to materialize. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who served as the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, would likely be Flake’s strongest foe, but he’s remained coy about his plans, only telling the National Journal’s Kimberly Railey, “No comment.” Ex-state party head Robert Graham, another Trump fan, has been mentioned as a possible candidate if DeWit passes, and he’s being a little more open about his interest.
Graham recently told Railey that both he and DeWit have been encouraged to run by people in “close proximity” to Trump, but says he’s not leaning towards getting in “right now.” However, Graham did not rule the idea out, saying he’d decide by December, though he said he would be “fully supportive” of DeWit if the treasurer got in. Several GOP operatives, however, said they doubt either man will run. There is some speculation in GOP circles that Rep. Paul Gosar could be persuaded to run, though Gosar shot the idea down in January. Gosar’s spokesman acknowledged that “there has been a lot of interest by people in Arizona to draft him,” but he says his boss is seeking re-election.
Flake does already have a primary challenger, but she’s not the most intimidating contender. Ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward’s underfunded 2016 primary campaign lost to John McCain 51-40, and her second bid isn’t exactly bringing in cash. Of course, if Trump decided to get involved and backed Ward, things could change.
Things have also not yet taken shape on the Democratic side. Democrats speculate to Railey that Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton could be a strong candidate, but while Stanton may be interested in running for governor, there’s no sign that he’s looking at a Senate bid. State Rep. Randall Friese has expressed interest in running, while Rep. Kyrsten Sinema seems content to wait and see if Flake gets a tough primary foe before deciding.
• WV-Sen: GOP Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hasn’t done much to hide that he’s very interested in a Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, and Rep. Evan Jenkins’ decision to run doesn’t appear to have deterred him. On Tuesday, Morrisey released a statement acknowledging he is “seriously considering,” and that he intends to decide “[o]ver the next two months.”
If Morrisey runs, the GOP primary may be an unusual affair. Jenkins spent 18 years in the legislature as a Democrat, and he only joined the Republican Party in 2013 as he was kicking off his successful bid against incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall. Morrisey’s allies have made it clear that if the attorney general runs, they’ll attack Jenkins relatively recent conversion and the donations he made to Manchin before switching parties. While West Virginia has a large share of registered conservative Democrats who back Republicans in general elections and might not mind Jenkins’ conversion, they can’t participate in closed GOP primaries.
By contrast, Morrisey did run for the U.S. House in 2000 as a Republican, so his GOP credentials aren’t in question. The problem is, that race was in Morrisey’s native New Jersey. Morrisey moved to West Virginia six years before his successful bid for attorney general, but it’s a good bet that if there’s a primary, Jenkins and his allies will paint him as an outsider.
• AL-Gov: Last month, state Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan filed paperwork to seek the GOP nomination, but he did not announce he was in. However, McMillan very much sounds like a candidate, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that he needed to get “staffed up” for a long race, because “[t]his governor’s race is a marathon-type deal. We’ve got to get started.”
Several other Republican candidates are also running, though Kay Ivey, who became governor in April following Robert Bentley’s resignation, has yet to announce her 2018 plans. One Republican contender we’ve heard little about, businessman Josh Jones, notably did seed his campaign with $250,000 of his own money. However, it’s not clear if Jones has the wealth or connections to bring in more cash for what will be an expensive race.
• IL-Gov: On Tuesday, the powerful state AFL-CIO threw its backing behind wealthy venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker ahead of next year’s crowded Democratic primary. The move wasn’t a surprise, since a number of trade labor unions on the group’s board, which are close to state House Speaker Mike Madigan, backed Pritzker a little while ago. The AFL-CIO was evidently undeterred by a recording of a 2008 telephone call recently obtained by the Chicago Tribune in which Pritzker asked now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich if he’d consider appointing him state treasurer.
The primary field also got a little larger on Tuesday when state Rep. Scott Drury announced that he would run. This year, Drury was the one Democrat to vote against giving Madigan another term, essentially ensuring that he won’t have any support from the state’s powerful Democratic establishment.
• ME-Gov: On Tuesday, ex-state Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced that she would seek the GOP nomination to succeed termed-out Gov. Paul LePage. Mayhew is a LePage ally, and Democrats have criticized her for pushing for cuts to vital programs.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins, a frequent LePage antagonist, has been flirting with a bid for a while, but Mayhew sounds ready to forge on ahead regardless of what Collins does. After the senator suggested that Maine should adopt the same sort of Medicaid expansion model as Indiana, Mayhew argued that it was “concerning to me that she would come out and endorse a plan without understanding the challenges of our state budget,” and that Medicaid would actually harm vulnerable Mainers.
• NM-Gov: Last week, local political writer Joe Monahan reported that businessman and foreign affairs expert Joshua Cooper Ramo was considering joining the Democratic primary. However, Monahan says that “a family member and numerous others near his circle” say that Ramo is not running, though Romo himself has been quiet during all of this.
• VA-Gov: Both parties hold their primaries next week, and campaign finance reports covering the period from April 1 to June 1 are in. During this period on the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam outraised ex-Rep. Tom Perriello just $2 million to $1.9 million, but he’s been outspending him $3.8 million to $2.9 million. Politico’s Kevin Robillard says that Northam’s advantage on the airwaves is even larger, with the lieutenant governor outspending Perriello $3.7 million to $2 million. Northam has also reserved $1.2 million on TV for the final week to Perriello’s $367,000, though the Perriello camp says they’ll reserve more. At the beginning of June, Northam led Perriello $1.3 million to $734,000 in cash-on-hand.
Northam is also up with another commercial as Election Day closes in. The ad features progressive groups praising Northam for standing up to the NRA, fighting the GOP’s transvaginal ultrasound bill, and support for expanding pre-K education. Northam concludes by assuring the viewer that he “won’t let Donald Trump stand in our way.”
On the GOP side, ex-RNC head and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie has lapped both his opponents in the money race several times over. Gillespie raised $1.1 million over the last two months, spent $1.7 million, and has $2.5 million in the bank.
While Corey Stewart, the Trump-loving chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, has spent untold hours on Twitter trying to refight the Civil War and defending Nazi frogs, his extracurricular activities haven’t helped his dire financial state. Stewart raised just $179,000 over the last two months, spent $402,000, and had only $187,000 left over. State Sen. Frank Wagner hasn’t made much of an impression during this campaign, nor has he brought in much cash. Wagner raised only $134,000, spent $253,000, and has $59,000 left.
• WI-Gov: Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, who was Team Blue’s 2014 nominee for attorney general, has made noises about another statewide run, but she hasn’t said much publicly. Wis Politics reports Happ has confirmed she is thinking about running for governor, but she’s also mulling a bid for lieutenant governor or a second campaign for attorney general. Happ acknowledged she had no timeline for deciding, though she hopes to soon.
• AZ-01: Mere days after former Pinal County deputy sheriff Kevin Cavanaugh joined the Republican primary, GOP state Sen. Steve Smith unveiled the endorsement of the last three Republican nominees for this seat, which sprawls across northern and eastern Arizona to include both Flagstaff and much of Pinal County. Both Smith and Cavanaugh are challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the 1st District, which Trump carried 48-47 and Romney 50-48.
Smith represents the greater Tucson area and is an immigration hardliner who has nonetheless had some high-profile legislative failures, so it’s unclear if this show of force will help him deter any other prominent challengers. At the very least, we can cross off the potential candidate list the names of his three endorsers: former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, former state House Speaker Andy Tobin, and ex-state Sen. Jonathan Paton, who lost in 2016, 2014, and 2012, respectively.
• CA-04: California Democrat Charlie Brown, who narrowly lost two surprisingly competitive races in 2006 and 2008 for a previous iteration of this conservative suburban Sacramento-area seat, said last month that he was considering a third bid in 2018, but the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel told Politico on Monday that it was no longer in the cards. Brown did maintain that he might still join the contest if other candidates don’t run a strong race, but given how Republican Rep. Tom McClintock has cruised to re-election in this 54-39 Trump seat ever since he first barely defeated Brown in 2008, it wouldn’t be surprising if Brown stayed away from such a tough contest regardless.
• FL-27: On Tuesday, state Rep. David Richardson became the latest noteworthy Democrat to join the race to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in this heavily Cuban-American Miami district that favored Hillary Clinton 59-39 but has long been more hospitable to Republicans downballot. Before his election to the state House in 2012, Richardson had spent three decades as a forensic auditor, which the Miami Herald says saw him investigate corporate and financial wrongdoing. Richardson joins state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez in the primary, while a who’s who of other Miami Democrats are also considering the race.
Former state judge Mary Barzee Flores, who is one of those Democrats currently thinking about running, might reveal her plans this week, according to Politico. Barzee Flores was blocked from the federal bench by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio during Obama’s presidency, and Politico speculates that she might be able to capitalize off of her connections to trial lawyers and potentially earn an EMILY’s List endorsement.
One Democrat who won’t be running anymore is businessman Scott Fuhrman, who dropped out on Tuesday. Fuhrman garnered no major outside support as the 2016 Democratic nominee, but spent over $800,000 of his own money to hold Ros-Lehtinen to her narrowest-ever re-election margin when he lost just 55-45 last year. Fuhrman’s past history of arrests and his lack of political experience could have simply made him too unappealing of an option in a primary where several more-seasoned Democratic Miami-area officeholders are either running or thinking about it now that there isn’t an entrenched GOP incumbent to face.
• GA-06: We’re down to just two weeks (two weeks!) until the June 20special election runoff in Georgia’s Congressional District, and the television ads are just flying. America First Policies, the pro-Trump group with the oh-so-lovely name that just announced it would spend seven figures on the race, is now out with their first spot, and it’s true to form. The ad features footage of the British terror attacks (yes, already, because nothing is sacred to these people), then berates Democrat Jon Ossoff for allegedly “misleading us” about his national security experience.
Republican Karen Handel, meanwhile, has a new spot narrated by an Army veteran, who complains, “Jon Ossoff said he sent a team to the front line against ISIS. I fought for our country. Jon Ossoff hired a film crew. For him to say that’s being on the front lines is disgraceful.” Ossoff did in fact say this in a recent ad of his own, but of course Handel leaves out the second half of what Ossoff said, which is that he sent this crew “to expose [ISIS’s] atrocities against women and girls.” That sounds like a pretty worthy cause, and a pretty brave crew.
Ossoff, by contrast, is mixing in a new positive ad, featuring sunny soundbites from “entrepreneurs” who “keep Metro Atlanta’s economy growing” (including one guy who’s identified as the “Creator of the Super Soaker,” which is awesome). The DCCC, though, is sticking with pretty much the one theme they’ve hit so far, which is to berate Handel as a self-serving “career politician” who’s enjoyed lavish perks at taxpayer expense.
All of these ads, by the way, were helpfully gathered up by a shop called Medium Buying, which also points out something else interesting: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is no longer on the air. That’s notable because the Chamber was one of Handel’s biggest supporters right after the April primary, pouring in $1 million to attack Ossoff on her behalf. But since then, nothing.
• IA-01: Thomas Heckroth, who worked in the U.S. Labor Department during the Obama administration, is the latest Democrat to express interest in challenging two-term Republican Rep. Rod Blum in 2018, telling Bleeding Heartland that he’s considering the race and will decide in the third quarter. Heckroth does not appear to have run for office before, but he previously worked for former longtime Sen. Tom Harkin and is the son of an ex-state senator, so Heckroth might have the connections needed to run a strong race.
The disproportionately white working-class 1st District in northeastern Iowa swung hard to 49-45 Trump after favoring Obama 56-43. Blum comfortably dispatched a well-funded challenger last year, but Democrats are not giving up easily on the seat, since they need similar light-red ones to gain a House majority in 2018. State Rep. Abby Finkenauer jumped into the race last month, while state Sen. Jeff Danielson is also considering it.
• IL-13: Back in April, Democratic state Rep. Carol Ammons formed an exploratory committee for a possible challenge to GOP Rep. Rodney Davis. Ammons tells The News-Gazette that she hasn’t decided if she’ll run yet, but will announce her plans by June 15.
Ammons told the paper that “[i]f we can’t raise enough money to outspend Americans For Prosperity, which is supporting Rodney Davis and giving him the money, it makes it difficult for me to be competitive.” Ammons, who is black, also said that she “need[s] to count the number of people who are absolutely committed to walking and knocking on doors in places where people may not be accustomed to voting for someone who looks like me or who has a record like mine.” This seat, which includes Decatur and stretches through the Champaign, Bloomington, and Springfield areas, backed Trump 50-44.
• MN-01: On Tuesday, GOP state Sen. Jeremy Miller announced that he would not run for this open southern Minnesota district. The Pioneer Press‘ Rachel Stassen-Berger says that Miller was a top recruit for this seat, which swung from 50-48 Obama to 53-38. However, if Miller ran and won, there would have been a special election for his open state Senate seat, and a Democratic pickup would have flipped control of the chamber.
• SC-05: The special election in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, which voted for Donald Trump 57-39 last year, is also taking place on June 20, the same day as the Georgia runoff. It’s been a much quieter affair, but for the first time, the two big national party committees are getting involved. Late on Monday, the DCCC said it would spend $275,000 for organizing staff, ads on African-American radio, and mail and digital outreach on behalf of Democrat Archie Parnell, while the NRCC will reportedly chip in $97,000 to help Republican Ralph Norman with a new ad buy.
Neither of these sums, though, suggest an upset is in the offing. Indeed, even the D-Trip itself seems to acknowledge this, saying in a statement to the Post and Courier that the purpose of its spending is to “help turn out—and provide key lessons on—crucial voters,” which reporter Emma Dumain identifies as “faith communities.” Dumain further opines that “while the DCCC may be serious about party-building in traditionally red states ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, it doesn’t necessarily see a clear pathway for victory.” We saw the committee spend similarly modest amounts in the Montana special, which it openly admitted it did not view as winnable, so we’ll wait to see if there’s any further outside involvement before drawing conclusions about whether the competitiveness of this contest has shifted.
• TX-16: El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar has been mulling a bid for this safely blue open seat for a while, and she still only says that she’s “looking closely” at this race. However, Escobar has announced that she will not seek re-election as county judge next year, which may be a sign that she’s planning to run to succeed Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.
As we’ve mentioned before, Escobar’s post functions as both a county executive and legislator. All of the 16th District is in El Paso County, so if Escobar ran, she may start out with plenty of name recognition. However, Escobar reportedly has a poor relationship with the local party, although she does appear to be an ally of O’Rourke. The only other noteworthy Democrat who has made noises about getting in so far is El Paso school board chair Dori Fenenbock, who set up an exploratory committee last month but has yet to announce if she’ll run.
• UT-03: Plenty of Republicans are running in this year’s special election to succeed Jason Chaffetz, but attorney Stewart Peay initially looked like just Some Dude. However, KUTV reports that Ann Romney, the wife of would-be Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, was scheduled to appear at a Tuesday event for Peay aimed at winning over delegates ahead of the June 17 GOP convention; Romney is the aunt of Peay’s wife.
We may not get much time to become acquainted with Peay, who is depending on the convention to send him onward to the primary. If one candidate wins over at least 60 percent of the convention delegates, that person advances to the August primary; if no one clears 60, the two candidates with the most support will make it to the primary. A few candidates are collecting signatures that would assure them a place on the primary ballot if the convention does not go well, but Peay is not one of them.
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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