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Montana Republicans keep searching for Senate option, may settle on state auditor


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.

Leading Off

● MT-Sen: National Republicans were disappointed when ex-Rep. Ryan Zinke took a Trump cabinet post rather than challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and they weren’t happy when Attorney General Tim Fox also announced that he would stay out of the Senate race. Their attention has since turned to Matt Rosendale, who was elected state auditor just last year. Roll Call‘s Simone Pathé reports that Rosendale is “expected” to decide within the month, and an unnamed person close to Rosendale insists he’s “95 percent there.”

However, Republicans aren’t unanimous in how they feel about him. On the one hand, Rosendale was born in Maryland and still has the accent to prove it. As a counterpoint, his defenders note that Rosendale lived in Montana for years before first seeking office in 2010. Some Republicans also think that Rosendale could help neutralize Tester’s everyday Montanan image, noting that the auditor shares the same buzzcut that Tester has emphasized in his campaign ads.

But Rosendale’s fundraising ability may also be an issue. During his 2014 House race, where he took a close third place to Zinke in the GOP primary, Rosendale loaned his campaign $1.3 million, but raised only $187,000 from donors. Still, though a few other Republicans are already running or considering, no one seems to be standing out yet, so despite his weaknesses Rosendale would have the chance to become his party’s frontrunner.

2Q Fundraising

Be sure to check out our second quarter Senate fundraising chart, which we’ll be updating as new numbers come in. We’re also including the totals for House members who are publicly or reportedly considering Senate bids.

● AL-SenTrip Pittman (R): $300,000 raised

● MT-SenJon Tester (D-inc): $2 million raised, $4.7 million cash-on-hand

● WI-SenTammy Baldwin (D-inc): $2.5 million raised, $3.9 million cash-on-hand

● CA-GovJohn Chiang (D): $2.6 million raised (in six months), $8.8 million cash-on-hand

● CT-GovJonathan Harris (D): $89,000 raised (since mid-April), $47,000 cash-on-hand; Joe Ganim (D): $36,000 raised (since late April), $33,000 cash-on-hand; Toni Boucher (R): $16,000 raised; Mark Lauretti (R): $145,000 raised (since early April), $102,000 cash-on-hand; Steve Obsitnik (R): $93,000 raised (in second quarter), $110,000 cash-on-hand; Prasad Srinivasan (R): $66,000 raised (in second quarter), $179,000 cash-on-hand

● GA-GovStacey Evans (D): $410,000 raised (in one month), $360,000 cash-on-hand; Michael Williams (R): $50,000 raised (in one month), $1 million self-funded

● IL-GovDaniel Biss (D): $1 million raised, $2.3 million cash-on-hand

● WI-GovScott Walker (R-inc): $3.5 million raised (in six months), $2.4 million cash-on-hand

● CA-25Bryan Caforio (D): $223,000 raised (since mid-May)

● FL-26Carlos Curbelo (R-inc): $705,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand

● IA-01Abby Finkenauer (D): $155,000 raised

● ID-01Russ Fulcher (R): $54,000 raised (in seven days)

● NM-01Deb Haaland (D): $150,000 raised (in two months)

● TX-07Lizzie Fletcher (D): $365,000 raised (in seven weeks); Alex Triantaphyllis (D): $450,000 raised (in eight weeks), $400,000 cash-on-hand

Senate

● AL-Sen: The NRSC and GOP Sen. Luther Strange are out with a joint adahead of next month’s primary. It’s pretty generic, with Strange going to a diner and shaking hands as the narrator extols what a great Christian conservative and Trump supporter he is. For some reason, the camera focuses twice on a cook when Strange isn’t in the shot, and once at the meat that’s being fried. And per Alabama law, the narrator refers to the 6-foot-9-inch former college basketball player as “Big Luther” no fewer than three times.

● VA-Sen: One month after his much closer-than-expected GOP gubernatorial primary loss, Corey Stewart, the Trump-worshipping chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is hinting that he’ll announce his 2018 plans soon. Stewart has expressed interest in challenging Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, and he says he’ll be “discuss[ing] his future plans on Thursday.”

Gubernatorial

● CO-Gov, CO-07On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter shockingly announced that he was dropping his bid for governor of Colorado and that he would not turn around and seek re-election to the House. Perlmutter explained that after his colleague, wealthy Rep. Jared Polis, entered the race a month ago, he wondered if he still had the “fire in the belly” to run a strong race. Evidently, he concluded the answer was “no.”

Perlmutter acknowledged that a statewide campaign “takes time and it takes money and it takes energy—and putting all those together, I found looking down deep it was going to be a tough row to hoe.” As for leaving behind his House seat, which he first won during the 2006 Democratic wave, Perlmutter opined that there are already “a lot of good people in my race,” adding, “Sometimes you need to move on and somebody else needs to bring in new insights.”

After word of Perlmutter’s decision leaked late on Monday, observers began speculating that the congressman could challenge GOP Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020. while Perlmutter, who is 64, did not rule out a future run for office, it doesn’t sound like he’s champing at the bit to launch another tough campaign.

Perlmutter’s decision still leaves Centennial State Democrats with a large field of contenders eager to replace termed-out Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, and it may get larger. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne publicly acknowledged her interest in running for the first time on Tuesday, telling the Denver Post‘s Bruce Finley that she would not decide until after this month. In addition to Polis, ex-state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston, and businessman Noel Ginsburg are all running in the primary.

● FL-Gov: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat who has threatened to run as an independent, has been eyeing the governorship for a while, and his recent fundraising indicates he’s leaning strongly towards getting in. Levine’s allied political committee brought in $1.7 million from donors during June, as well as an extra $300,000 from Levine himself. With this latest haul, Levine’s committee has brought in far more cash than that of any of the declared Democratic contenders. A spokesman recently said that the mayor will announce his plans by Labor Day.

● IL-Gov: Wealthy businessman Chris Kennedy has lately been feeling the heat from much wealthier businessman J.B. Pritzker, his chief rival in the Democratic primary, which is why Kennedy just released a new poll from Garin-Hart-Yang arguing that he’s still in the pole position. Kennedy’s numbers have him up 44-38, which GHY says demonstrates his “ability to maintain a competitive position” even though, the memo states, Pritzker has already spent $8 million on paid media while Kennedy hasn’t spent anything.

Kennedy acknowledges, though, that his lead has shrunk since December, when he was up 34-18 on Pritzker, whose campaign trolled in responsethat it was “exciting” to see Kennedy’s poll showing “surging support” for Pritzker. Note as well that this matchup also excludes all the lesser-known candidates, even though the memo itself states that the poll tested the name recognition of state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar. It’s possible, then, that Kennedy’s margin is smaller when facing the full field.

The memo further tries to argue that Kennedy’s image is in stronger shape: Even though the candidates have virtually the same favorability score (46 Pritzker, 45 Kennedy), Kennedy’s is “nine-to-one positive” while Pritzker’s is “3.8-to-one.” But not so fast: The memo suggests that “FBI recordings” of Pritzker (here’s our background on that) have hurt him, but that scarcely seems to be the case. Do the math and there’s little difference: Kennedy’s full rating is 45-5 while Pritzker’s is 46-12.

The real problem for Kennedy is that Pritzker’s spending onslaught just isn’t going to stop. As we’ve noted before, J.B. Pritzker’s is reportedly worth $3.4 billion; Kennedy hasn’t revealed his net worth, but one estimate suggests it’s probably between $40 million and $175 million. Yeah, we’d all like to be “only” worth a hundred mil, but the reality is that Kennedy can’t afford to match Pritzker dollar-for-dollar from now through the primary next March.

● SC-Gov: Kevin Bryant, a former state senator who became lieutenant governor after fellow Republican Henry McMaster took over the governor’s office in January, has been considering running for the top job for a while. Bryant now tells The Post and Courier that he will make his decision by the end of the month. Bryant raised $100,000 over the last three months even though, as the result of a ballot measure passed in 2012, the lieutenant governor will no longer be elected separately from the governor starting next year.

No matter what Bryant does, McMaster is in for a competitive GOP primary. Over the last three months, McMaster only barely outraised Catherine Templeton, a former state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief. Several other Republicans have also made noises about running. South Carolina requires a primary runoff if no one takes a majority in the first round.

● WI-GovOn Tuesday, businessman Andy Gronik announced that he would enter the race against GOP Gov. Scott Walker, making him the most prominent Democrat to join the fray so far. Gronik, a first-time candidate, is reportedly wealthy, but he’s sent some very mixed signals about whether he’s willing to self-fund his campaign.

The Associated Press quotes Gronik declaring, “I think that self-funding political campaigns is wrong. I think it makes you your own special interest, and that’s not where I’m coming from.” Seems clear, right? However, local CBS reporter David Ade‏ also quotes Gronik saying, “I would never ask you … to invest in my campaign unless I was willing to invest in it myself.” Those sound like pretty contradictory statements, unless Gronik is using the word “invest” in some irritatingly metaphorical way. However, he doesn’t seem to have much experience dealing with the press, so who knows?

House

● IA-01: Former U.S. Labor Department staffer Thomas Heckroth kicked off his campaign on Monday, joining the Democratic field to take on two-term GOP Rep. Rod Blum in this northeastern Iowa seat. Heckroth does not seem to have run for office before. However, he previously worked on ex-Sen. Tom Harkin’s staff, and his father is a former state senator, which could give him some useful connections.

Heckroth will first have to get past state Rep. Abby Finkenauer and a few other Democrats if he wants the party’s nomination to take on Blum, though Finkenauer only raised $155,000 in her first quarter in the race. This seat swung hard toward Donald Trump in 2016, favoring him 49-45 after having gone for Obama by 56-43 in 2012. Blum defeated two touted Democratic foes in his last two elections, but the 1st District is the type of light-red seat that Democrats likely need to make competitive next year to win the House.

● IL-06: Carol Cheney is the latest Democrat in the running to take on Republican Rep. Peter Roskam next year after she recently announced her candidacy for the 6th District, which is centered on DuPage County in Chicago’s western suburbs. Cheney is the chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in the neighboring 11th District, which could give her some solid connections to run a strong race in this historically GOP district. She joins a Democratic primary that already includes Barrington Hills Planning Commission member Kelly Mazeski, former Naperville school board member Suzyn Price, and attorney Amanda Howland, who was Team Blue’s 2016 nominee.

Illinois was one of the rare states where Democrats had control of redistricting after the 2010 census, and they gerrymandered the 6th District to be safely Republican in order to make nearby seats like Foster’s securely blue. As a result, under the current lines, Roskam has never won with less than 59 percent under the current lines. However, this suburban district is one of the most educated in the country, and it flipped from 53-45 Romney in 2012 to 50-43 Clinton in 2016, which could give Democrats an opening next year.

● MN-08: Although St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber recently launched his campaign, ostensibly giving the GOP a top-tier recruit to take on Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, rich businessman Stewart Mills says he’s still considering whether to make his third straight bid for Team Red. Mills faced Nolan in two exorbitantly expensive matchups in 2014 and 2016 only to fall short by a slim margin both times.

However, Mills doesn’t sound overly eager to run again, insisting that he might wait as late as next February before deciding whether to run or not. He also intimated that his decision would be heavily dependent on which way the political winds are blowing nationally. So far, they aren’t favorable.

Still, Nolan is likely one of the most endangered incumbents after his Iron Range 8th District in northeastern Minnesota lurched from 52-46 Obama all the way to 53-39 Trump. Regardless of whom the GOP nominates, Nolan can likely expect to face fierce opposition next fall in this historically working-class district.

● NM-02, NM-Gov: GOP Rep. Steve Pearce’s recent decision to leave his southern New Mexico congressional seat vacant and run for governor next year is already setting off dominoes in the world of New Mexico GOP politics. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, who had expressed interest in succeeding Pearce following the congressman’s move, will now make an announcement of some sort on July 18, according to his son/campaign spokesman. Meanwhile, state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, who had also recently suggested he could run in the 2nd, says he’ll decide by Aug. 1.

This relatively rural seat backed Trump 50-40 last year, but Democrats did win a similar previous version of the district in 2008. And with a Latino population that’s actually larger than the white population here, the GOP’s effort to hold Pearce’s open seat next year is by no means guaranteed.

● NV-04: Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony kicked off his campaign on Monday, making him the first prominent Republican candidate to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen in Nevada’s 4th District, which covers the northern Las Vegas metro area. Anthony has served on the council since 2009 and previously ran for mayor in 2015, but lost 55-42 to independent incumbent Carolyn Goodman. He is also a retired captain in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

While Anthony has easily won his last two city council races, and his performance against Goodman was respectable, he could very well find that a partisan contest against Kihuen will prove much tougher than his prior elections, which were nominally nonpartisan. The 4th District backed Clinton 49-45 in 2016, and Kihuen won by a similar margin to oust GOP then-Rep. Cresent Hardy. Kihuen is also a protégé of former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid and, at just 37 years old, has the hallmarks of a rising star in state politics. However, the swingy nature of this district means he can’t take this seat for granted.

● NY-24: Two-term Republican Rep. John Katko drew his first noteworthy Democratic challenger for 2018 when Anne Messenger recently announced that she would run against him in this Syracuse-based seat. Messenger hasn’t run for office before, but Syracuse.com describes her as “well known for her volunteer work in Central New York and her work as a small business entrepreneur,” adding that she has previously served on various civic boards in the local community.

Katko is the lone House Republican in New York whose seat favored Hillary Clinton, with it having done so by 49-45. However, that marked a stark drop from Obama’s 57-41 edge in 2012, and Katko has won landslides against well-funded Democratic opposition in his past two races for this historically GOP seat. Katko was also one of the rare vulnerable Republicans to vote against the House GOP’s health care bill, making the Democrats’ task here harder, though this is unquestionably a seat the party has to compete in.

● PA-16: Will Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker find himself in a jam next year? Democrat Christina Hartman is hoping so after she announced on Tuesday that she would seek a rematch against the first-term incumbent next year. Hartman works as consultant to nonprofits and was Team Blue’s unsuccessful nominee for what was a then-open seat in 2016.

While she lost 54-43, Hartman raised a substantial amount of money in her first bid for public office, and she also received some DCCC support. Hartman doesn’t have the Democratic primary to herself, however. Nonprofit director Jessica King jumped into the race late in June, while former Warwick schools superintendent John George is also running.

Located in Lancaster County and the outer Philadelphia metro area, the 16th District and its predecessors have been in GOP hands for many generations, making Hartman’s performance last year relatively strong for such a historically Republican seat. Trump won this district 51-44 and Romney by a similar 52-46, but it did actually favor Obama 50-49 in 2008 (according to the new district lines), so it could come into play under the right circumstances.

● WA-08: Republican Rep. Dave Reichert stubbornly defied several vigorous Democratic efforts to defeat him during the aughts in this swingy eastern King County-centric district. However, he hasn’t had a close race since his seat was redrawn after the 2010 census to protect him (partly by adding Ellensburg and heavily GOP rural territory east of the Cascade Mountains). Nonetheless, employment attorney Jason Rittereiser is hoping that 2018 will bring a change in fortune to Democrats, and he kicked off his bid on Tuesday.

Rittereiser doesn’t appear to have run for office before, but his background could be an asset to help bridge this seat’s east/west divide. He grew up in Ellensburg, where his mother once served on the city council, but now lives in suburban Issaquah east of Seattle. He previously served as a King County deputy prosecutor and now advocates for employee rights at his current job. However, Rittereiser will first have to make it past the top-two primary if he wants to face Reichert, and Issaquah City Councilor Tola Marts is already in the running as a fellow Democrat.

Although Reichert has never won with less than 60 percent under the current lines, the 8th District nonetheless backed Clinton 48-45 and Obama 50-48. Thanks to upscale eastern King County, this relatively suburban district ranks above average in terms of educational-attainment levels, potentially making it fertile ground for a backlash against Republicans in the Trump era.

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