Puerto Rico voters back statehood, but opposition boycott results in low turnou

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.

Puerto Rico: On June 11, residents of Puerto Rico voted on the future political status of their island commonwealth, which is currently an unincorporated territory—meaning the Constitution does not fully apply there—whose residents have been U.S. citizens for the last 100 years. Voters faced three non-binding choices: the status quo, statehood, or independence/free association with the U.S. Statehood won a near unanimous majority after opponents boycotted the vote, but preliminary turnout was accordingly just one-fourth of registered voters.

This referendum marks the fifth time that Puerto Rico citizens have had the option to vote for statehood. The most recent opportunity came in 2012, when two questions were on the ballot: The first asked whether voters wanted to change the island’s status, and the second asked what that status should look like if it changed. Most voted in favor of some form of change on the first question, and a larger majority supported statehood on the second question, but statehood failed to attain a majority among all ballots cast thanks to abstentions. With their struggle to beat statehood in recent head-on votes, opponents hope their boycott will deprive 2017’s referendum of political legitimacy.

Given Puerto Rico’s long-running deep financial crisis and economic struggles, statehood is likely to remain an appealing option for many. Congress has the power to admit Puerto Rico to the union with just a simple majority vote. Surprisingly, the national Republican Party platform has long favored honoring the wishes of Puerto Rico voters on this issue, and the territorial GOP strongly supports statehood. However, since Puerto Ricans living on the mainland have long voted overwhelmingly Democratic, it is unlikely that congressional Republicans would admit a new state that could very well elect two new Democratic senators and five Democratic representatives at the federal level.

But even if the GOP remains obstinate following a pro-statehood vote, congressional Democrats could admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state if they regain control of both chambers of Congress in 2018 or 2020. And as a matter of principle, Democrats should embrace statehood if Puerto Ricans themselves do. The island’s 3.4 million people are American citizens who are currently deprived of full voting rights and representation, and its admission as a state would mark a small step toward correcting Congress’ steep structural bias that over-represents white voters and under-represents Latinos compared to their proportions of the national electorate.


IN-Sen: State Rep. Mike Braun is the latest Republican to express interest in challenging vulnerable first-term Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly next year, saying that he expects to decide by Aug. 1 whether to run. Braun is reportedly capable of doing some self-funding. Meanwhile, state Attorney General Curtis Hill refused to rule out running when local political newsletter Howey Politics asked him about it on Tuesday, which is the first we’ve heard from him directly. Republicans currently only have a few relatively unknown candidates running, but Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer have both previously said they’re considering it, and both are widely expected to take the plunge.


VA-Gov: With next Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary almost here, Democrat Tom Perriello’s closing ad is a minute long spot that features nothing but Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders praising Perriello in their own words (with Obama’s endorsement coming from Perriello’s 2010 campaign). As Obama and Sanders speak at rallies and Warren talks to the camera, three of the party’s most popular national figures argue that Perriello will stand up for working families and do what’s right, even when it isn’t easy.

You may also have heard about a last-minute poll from Hampton University showing Perriello with a lead in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, but the survey’s methodology is so flawed that the only right approach is to dismiss it altogether. Hampton asked 741 likely primary voters who they’d back in the Democratic primary … then asked those same 741 likely primary voters who they’d back in the GOP primary. Since it’s illegal to vote in both gubernatorial primaries at once, this poll tells us absolutely nothing about what will happen on Tuesday.


FL-26: Hillary Clinton won Florida’s 27th Congressional District south of Miami by 57-41, making it her second-best seat that Republicans hold, but there has astonishingly been practically no public interest from Democratic candidates about challenging two-term GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2018 … until now. In a recent interview with the Miami Herald, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says that she is considering it and has met with party leaders in D.C. She is the president of a consulting firm that aids nonprofits with fundraising, which could mean she’ll have the chops to fundraise for what will be an expensive contest.

Mucarsel-Powell previously lost a state Senate race last year against Republican incumbent Anitere Flores by 54-46 in a district that Florida political data expert Matthew Isbell calculates favored Clinton 53-43. However, Republicans have long performed much better than Trump did downballot in this heavily Cuban-American region, Flores is relatively moderate and entrenched, and Mucarsel-Powell only entered that race a few months before Election Day. Consequently, Mucarsel-Powell’s 2016 campaign reportedly impressed Democratic operatives, and she might find greater success in 2018 running with more time to fundraise in a congressional seat that’s also bluer.

Curbelo won’t be a pushover after he easily dispatched flawed Democratic ex-Rep. Joe Garcia by 53-41 in an expensive 2016 race. However, his vote for Trumpcare provides Democrats with a major opening next year in a district where Trump is assuredly despised.

GA-06: On Friday, two new polls came out that have good news for Democrat Jon Ossoff in the swiftly approaching June 20 special election in suburban Atlanta’s 6th Congressional District. From GOP firm Landmark Communications on behalf of WSB-TV, the first poll finds Ossoff leading Republican Karen Handel 50-47. Landmark is one of the very few pollsters to release multiple surveys here, giving us a proper trendline. Their prior survey from the very end of May had found Ossoff ahead by 49-48, meaning this latest poll is a very slight improvement for Ossoff.

The other new poll is from Abt Associates for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which says Ossoff is ahead by an eye-popping 51-44 spread. However, when a poll looks too good to be true, it just might be, which is why we should interpret this survey with caution. Ossoff has led in the vast majority of recent polls, but almost all of them have found a much closer race. Furthermore, both parties are spending ungodly sums here, which is a sign that they potentially see the race as closer than a 7-point margin. It’s too soon to say whether Ossoff has indeed opened up a clear lead, but we’ll know soon enough when Election Day comes.

Meanwhile, Republicans are pulling out all the stops for Handel, with Mike Pence heading down to campaign with her on Friday. Judging by the latest fundraising reports, Handel can use all the help she can get. While Handel raised $3.8 million over the last two months—a huge sum for a more typical House race—that number pales in comparison to Ossoff’s $15 million over the same time period.

Republican outside groups have tried to back up Handel by spending heavily on TV ads, but federal law requires vendors give much cheaper ad rates to candidates themselves, meaning super PACs have to spent a lot more to reach the same number of viewers compared to Handel’s campaign itself. A recent Echelon Insights analysis found that, while Democrats have had just a 53-47 ad spending advantage, Team Blue has had a huge 64-36 advantage in “share of voice”—meaning the proportion of ads that actually reach voters.

Speaking of GOP super PACs, the Congressional Leadership Fund has another new ad out on Handel’s behalf. The first half tries to link Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi and wasteful big government spending, while the second half then praises Handel as someone who will protect taxpayers and create jobs.

Grab Bag

Daily Kos Elections: The Kosening: Daily Kos political director David Nir will talk about the upcoming Georgia special election and how Democrats can take back the House next year at a happy hour hosted by the Four Freedoms Democratic Club in New York City on Tuesday evening. The event will be held at Ryan’s Daughter on the Upper East Side and starts at 7 PM. RSVP here today!

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