New York Democrats land top-tier challenger to GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney


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.Daily Kos's profile photo

LEADING OFF

NY-22: On Tuesday, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi became the second Democrat to join the race against first-term Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney in this upstate New York seat, which contains Utica and Binghamton. Brindisi has represented Utica in New York’s Assembly since a 2011 special election victory, and he is reportedly the strong preference of both state and national Democrats.

The assemblyman is known as a moderate, which could prove to be a key asset with swing voters in this historically Republican region. However, his “A” rating from the NRA is unlikely to please progressive Democratic primary voters, but so far Brindisi only faces little-known SUNY Binghamton computer science professor Patrick Madden in the primary, whose campaign has yet to gain traction.

Obama lost New York’s 22nd Congressional District by mere fractions of a percentage point in both 2012 and 2008, but this disproportionately white working-class seat veered rightward to a 55-39 Trump win. However, Tenney prevailed just 46-41 in a heavily contested three-way race last year that featured a self-funding independent who pledged to caucus with the GOP.

Brindisi sits in one of the reddest Assembly seats held by a Democrat, and his district moved further to the right last year, lunging from 51-47 Obama to 54-41 Trump in 2016. However, he’s nonetheless won re-election unopposed every year since 2012, suggesting his crossover appeal has helped deter strong GOP challengers. The 22nd will likely be a tough seat for Democrats to flip, but Tenney’s hard-right image and her support for Trumpcare could give Team Blue an opening.

One major wildcard for 2018, though, is wealthy former Rep. Richard Hanna. As one of the least-conservative House Republicans, Hanna nearly lost the 2014 to primary to Tenney and avoided what would have been a tough rematch by retiring last year. Hanna recently said he was considering challenging his successor as an independent next year, which could help Democrats by stealing away center-right voters from Tenney—something that appears to have happened in 2016 when Martin Babinec took 12 percent of the vote as an independent. However, after Hanna endorsed Hillary Clinton, he might just as easily take more from Democratic voters if he runs, but there’s no indication of how likely he is to get in.

Senate

AL-Sen: Appointed Republican Sen. Luther Strange’s latest ad on immigration continues to throw red meat to the base ahead of the Aug. 15Senate special election primary. The spot features a clip of Trump chanting “build that wall” before segueing to argue how “Big Luther” Strange supports Trump’s agenda. (Strange earned the creative nickname thanks to his 6’9” frame.) Strange says he wants to defund “liberal sanctuary cities” in order to pay for the Mexico border wall, boasts of how he “sued and stopped Obama’s illegal amnesty play,” and closes by urging the deportation of non-citizen immigrants involved in violent crimes.

But while Strange forges ahead, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports that all is not well in the land of the GOP national party organizations. He relays that both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Strange have requested that Trump approve RNC spending in Alabama’s primary, but have so far been frustrated with the lack of a response. Two McConnell-aligned super PACs have already devoted $2.4 million to the race, though, and Democrats certainly won’t be displeased that Senate Republicans are spending resources in a dark-red state that could have otherwise gone toward targeting Democratic incumbents in general elections elsewhere.

IN-Sen: Republican state Sen. Mike Delph previously hadn’t ruled out running against Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, and a recent Howey Politics newsletter finds Delph considering a campaign with piqued interest. Delph, who hails from the True Conservative™ wing of the GOP, previously deferred to other candidates in both the 2012 and 2016 Senate races, ostensibly to prevent a split in the hard-right vote. However, he says he’s already met with the NRSC and true-believer groups like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund about a possible campaign next year. Delph stated that his decision “won’t be a long, drawn-out process. Going into the fall, we’ll know what we’re going to do.”

If he runs, Delph will likely compete in the primary with Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, who have both previously said they’re considering the race and both look very much like candidates in all but name. Meanwhile, state Rep. Mike Braun is also considering it, while a few lesser-known Republican candidates are already formally in the running.

MT-Sen: Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg recently decided to retire from the bench this coming October to start his own law practice, but he had also said he was open to running for office. On Tuesday, Fagg confirmed that the particular office was the Senate, after he formed an exploratory committee for a bid against Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. Fagg stressed that he still won’t resign until the fall, which means we likely won’t get an official announcement of a Senate campaign until then, lest Fagg run afoul of state ethics laws that prevent a sitting judge from participating in a campaign.

Fagg has served as a judge for over two decades and was previously a Republican state legislator before that, so he could have some pull in a Republican primary. (Previously, he’d appeared interested in the GOP nomination in Montana’s May House special election, but ultimately didn’t run.) If Fagg does indeed join the Senate race, he would face businessman Troy Downing, state Sen. Albert Olszewski, and a few lesser-known candidates in the Republican primary. However, some top Montana and national Republicans have reportedly still been looking for a more prominent challenger against Tester, and it’s unclear if Fagg is whom they have in mind.

NV-Sen: Republican Sen. Dean Heller is likely the country’s most vulnerable GOP incumbent facing re-election in 2018 by virtue of being the only one whose state voted for Hillary Clinton, and a new PPP survey for Planned Parenthood finds Heller could indeed lose his seat next year. PPP’s poll, the first publicly released survey of the race, shows Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen beating Heller 42-41, while the incumbent sports an underwater approval rating of just 35 percent and a disapproval rating of 44 percent. Rosen has yet to formally launch her candidacy, but news outlets widely reported last week that she’s expected to do so soon with the support of key national Democrats.

As we always note, any lone poll must be interpreted with caution. However, given the historical tendency for the party in control of the White House to suffer downballot losses in midterm elections, no Republican incumbent wants to find himself already stuck in the low 40s and trailing his prospective opponent over a year ahead of the election in a state Clinton carried 48-46.

Heller could also be facing blowback from the congressional GOP’s healthcare repeal bill, which PPP says Nevada voters oppose 55-31. While Heller recently made waves when he came out against the bill—although with the hugely important caveat of “in this form”—that personal opposition might not be enough to overcome his party’s association with the unpopular measure, which could cost many Nevadans their health insurance.

Nevada’s unique ballot system could also put Heller between a rock and a hard place vis-a-vis swing voters and the hard right, since the Silver State lets voters choose “none of these candidates” as an option. If Heller’s opposition helps sink Trumpcare, angry Trump diehards might opt to vote none of the above in protest, allowing Democrats to prevail with a plurality. That would be a bitter twist of irony for Heller after he only won his initial election by 46-45 in 2012 against a Democrat who faced attacks over ethics troubles, with “none” taking 5 percent.

Gubernatorial

NY-Gov: GOP state Sen. John DeFrancisco, who is the Senate’s deputy majority leader, had previously refused to rule out running for governor next year, and he now says he’s “seriously considering” it. Republicans face daunting obstacles in this dark-blue state next year with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo likely to seek a third term, but a few others have nonetheless also expressed interested in possible campaigns, including Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro; ex-hedge fund manager Harry Wilson, who narrowly lost the 2010 state comptroller’s race; and wealthy businessman Carl Paladino, whom Cuomo trounced in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

House

IL-12: Following a recent New York Times story that reported he was likely to run for Illinois’ 12th Congressional District next year, Democrat Brendan Kelly, the state’s attorney for St. Clair County, confirmed that he’s “strongly considering” a bid on Monday. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the DCCC itself has been recruiting Kelly to run. St. Clair is by far the largest county in this greater St. Louis-area district, making up roughly 38 percent of its population, which could give Kelly a solid base of support.

While Team Blue had drawn this longtime Democratic seat to favor themselves during 2011 redistricting, it lurched from 50-48 Obama to 55-40 Trump as Republican Rep. Mike Bost won his second term by a 54-40 margin against a decently funded Democratic foe last year. It’s unclear just how fruitful of a target this disproportionately white and working-class seat will be for Democrats in 2018, but a potential Kelly candidacy and Bost’s support for Trumpcare could give the party an opening with wayward Obama-Trump voters here.

VA-10: The Washington Post reports that two more candidates recently joined Team Blue’s crowded primary to take on Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock next year. The first candidate, Alison Kiehl Friedman, worked at the State Department from 2009 to 2015 to combat human trafficking and previously served as a staffer to ex-Rep. Jane Harman. The second Democrat, Deep Sran, is the son of Indian immigrants who holds a doctorate in educational psychology and is the founder of the local Loudoun School for the Gifted. Both appear to be first-time candidates.

Comstock won a fiercely contested race 53-47 last year even as her suburban D.C. seat swung from 50-49 Romney to 52-42 Clinton. However, as one of the country’s most highly college-educated districts, the 10th is fertile territory for resistance to Trump next year. In addition to Friedman and Sran, the Democratic field includes state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, who was reportedly recruited by the DCCC and EMILY’s List; former Veterans Administration official Lindsey Davis Stover; former Fairfax teachers union president Kimberly Adams; former Naval intelligence officer David Hanson; and Army veteran Daniel Helmer.

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