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.
• New Orleans, LA Mayor: On Friday, candidate filing closed for this fall’s race to succeed termed-out New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Eighteen different candidates filed to run, though only five look like they’ll have the resources to make an impact. Former Judge Desiree Charbonnet and City Councilor LaToya Cantrell appear to be the early frontrunners, while ex-Judge Michael Bagneris, who lost to Landrieu in 2014, has also been running for some time.
Businessman Troy Henry, who lost to Landrieu four years before that, launched a late campaign on Friday, and rounding out the main contenders is rich guy Frank Scurlock, who operates a local bounce house empire, though it’s not clear just how serious his candidacy is. All of these contenders are Democrats, though in classic Louisiana party-switching fashion, Scurlock was a Republican as recently as April. Charbonnet, Cantrell, Bagneris, and Henry are all African-American, while Scurlock is white.
All the candidates will compete on one ballot on Oct. 14, and if no one takes a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to a Nov. 18 general election, regardless of party. And there’s one programming note to be aware of: Mayoral elections in New Orleans have traditionally taken place in February, but because they kept coinciding with Mardi Gras season, they were recently bumped up, so the race that otherwise would have taken place in Feb. 2018 will now happen this October (as will future elections, every four years). However, Landrieu’s departure from office still won’t take place until May of next year, as originally scheduled, so the next mayor will have to wait an unusually long time before getting sworn in.
On Monday, fundraising numbers covering the period from April 8 to July 6 were due, giving us a good look at everyone’s financial strength three months out from Election Day. While Charbonnet only entered the race in May, she quickly brought in a hefty $870,000, and she has $645,000 on-hand. As we noted when Charbonnet jumped in, she hails from a well-connected family, and she’s close to plenty of political insiders. She’s also received national attention for her efforts on the bench 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.
Cantrell, who represents about one-fifth of the city on the council, launched her campaign back in March. However, her $156,000 haul over the last three months was considerably smaller than Charbonnet’s, and she has just $193,000 in the bank. Cantrell may have also been hurt by the fact that state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who is both a close ally and the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, started publicly talking about running for mayor shortly before the filing deadline. Peterson ended up announcing that she’d stay out a few days later, but her flirtation with a bid might have frozen up contributions for Cantrell at the very end of fundraising period as donors waited to see what Peterson would do.
Both Charbonnet and Cantrell are African-American Democratic women, and either would be the city’s first female mayor, but there are big differences between the two candidates. During her campaign kickoff, Charbonnet noted her family has “served the city for generations,” which may be a dig at Cantrell, who is originally from Los Angeles.
And while Charbonnet is close to political insiders, Cantrell, who rose to prominence for her work helping her neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina, won her council seat by defeating an opponent who was backed by both Landrieu and local Rep. Cedric Richmond. Cantrell has also earned attention from the national media. In 2015, Cantrell was the subject of an in-depth Politico Magazine profile titled “LaToya Cantrell, Madame Mayor?” that highlighted her post-Katrina work and her successful drive to ban smoking in bars and casinos.
Bagneris, meanwhile, lost to Landrieu 64-33 in 2014 in a pretty uneventful campaign, and it remains to be seen whether he can run a stronger effort this time around. From April to July, Bagneris raised $98,000 and loaned himself another $100,000, leaving him with $180,000. As for Henry, he ran back in 2010 for what was an open seat race to succeed the unpopular departing incumbent Ray Nagin, who is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption. Landrieu entered the race late and soon emerged as the frontrunner, but Henry stayed in the contest—to little avail. He loaned his campaign about $500,000 but lost 66-14.
Scurlock, relying on his personal wealth, loaned his campaign $626,000, and his $500,000 war chest is second only to Charbonnet’s. Scurlock, who channels Trump with his campaign slogan of “Let’s Make New Orleans Fun Again!,” is no stranger to spending freely. Scurlock has, for instance, hired a pilot to write messages in the sky like “LOVE,” “PRAY,” and “JAZZ” during Mardi Gras and Jazzfest, explaining only, “We want to remind people it’s better to be good.”
It’s a message that Scurlock himself, however, has had some trouble following. In May, Scurlock was arrested for protesting against the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis. Last week, the city upgraded the charge against him to assault; a video shows Scurlock arguing with a police officer, and, after being repeatedly told “don’t walk up on me,” getting arrested after defying the order to stay put. It’s unlikely Scurlock has a chance of pulling off a win, but as the only well-funded white candidate and the only contender who opposed taking down New Orleans’ former Confederate monuments, its possible he’ll take enough support in the primary to advance.
But while the removal of those monuments generated high-profile media coverage and some intense anger (as well as a remarkable speech by Landrieu), the city’s high crime rate—always a perennial election issue—is likely to dominate once again. Race also tends to play a significant role in New Orleans politics. In several past mayoral races, two African American candidates have advanced to the runoff, making New Orleans’ white voters the critical swing bloc. The last time this happened was in 2002, three years before Hurricane Katrina, when Nagin, a former Republican, took an estimated 85 percent of white voters while losing predominantly black areas to win his first term 59-41.
It’s still early to say how things will unfold, though. Elections in Louisiana tend to be late-developing affairs, so even though three months might seem like a relatively short window, there’s still a lot of time for this contest in America’s 50th-largest city to take shape.
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.
• PA-Sen: Jim Christiana (R): $28,000 raised, $22,000 cash-on-hand
• CO-Gov: Jared Polis (D): $19,000 raised (in 18 days), $255,000 self-funded, $207,000 cash-on-hand; Noel Ginsburg (D): $103,000 raised, $191,000 cash-on-hand; George Brauchler (R): $191,000 raised, $143,000 cash-on-hand; Lew Gaiter (R): $6,000 raised, $2,000 cash-on-hand
• MO-Sen: This is starting to turn into a game of telephone: Politico says it hears from two Republican operatives who say they’ve heard from associates of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley who’ve presumably heard from Hawley himself that he plans to run for Senate against Democrat Claire McCaskill next year. We’ll wait, though, until we’ve heard from our favorite source: the horse’s mouth. Until then, purple monkey dishwasher.
• UT-Sen: While news broke back in March that Trump was picking ex-GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman to become ambassador to Russia, the nomination was only announced on Tuesday. Jon Huntsman (or “John Huntsman” as the White House’s press release originally spells it) hadn’t ruled out a primary bid against Sen. Orrin Hatch, but this probably takes him out of the running. We say probably because Huntsman is of course the guy who was chosen by Barack Obama to be ambassador to China, then resigned two years later to run in the GOP presidential primary. However, the filing deadline to run for the Senate is less than a year away, and even Huntsman probably wouldn’t leave a high-profile job that quickly. Probably.
• CT-Gov: There’s no clear GOP primary frontrunner in the race to succeed departing Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy, and both of Team Red’s legislative leaders reaffirmed that they are looking at getting in. State House Minority Leader Themis Klarides says she won’t decide until the budget is sorted out, but she told Hearst Connecticut Media that she’s very interested. However, Democrats have just a small 79 to 72 majority, and if Klarides stays put, she may well wind up as the first female GOP speaker before too long. Klarides said she has “to figure out where I can best serve the state of Connecticut,” adding that, “It changes daily.”
State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano also said he would look more closely at a gubernatorial bid after the budget is done. Fasano does seem a bit less excited than Klarides, saying he’s “keeping my options open.” Fasano may have even more to lose if he leaves the legislature. The chamber is currently tied 18 to 18, with Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman supplying the key vote that keeps the Democrats in power. The governor and lieutenant governor are elected on one ticket, so if Team Red picks up the governorship while holding all their Senate seats, Fasano stands to become majority leader.
Meanwhile, another Republican has just decided to dive right into the race. Stamford Director of Administration Michael Handler kicked off his bid this week, skipping the exploratory phase altogether. That’s a bit of an odd move, since exploratory mode confers certain advantages related to how Connecticut provides public financing to campaigns, so many people who have decided to run have an incentive to officially just be exploring for a while.
• IL-Gov: Back in April, GOP state Sen. Sam McCann revealed that he had been approached by unnamed people about a primary bid against Gov. Bruce Rauner, and that he wasn’t saying no. On Tuesday, McCann reaffirmed to Chicago’s NBC affiliate that he is considering. Unnamed sources say that the senator will wait for the state’s school funding issue to resolve before deciding.
There’s certainly no love lost between McCann and Rauner. As we noted back in April, McCann is the rare Republican who is close to organized labor, and Rauner tried to oust him from his downstate seat last cycle. The governor’s allied PAC dropped $3 million against the incumbent, but labor groups came to McCann’s aid and helped him win renomination 53-47. NBC says that McCann wants to run as a pro-union and pro-Trump Republican … good luck with that.
Rauner is extremely wealthy, and if he feels the least bit threatened, he can certainly afford to drop a few million on McCann without a second thought. It’s also pretty unlikely that McCann’s labor allies will spend in force for him in a GOP primary, especially since the Democratic contest will be that same day. Still, if McCann forces Rauner to lurch even further to the right, he could do him some damage heading into a tough general election.
• ME-Gov: On Tuesday, ex-state Sen. James Boyle became the latest candidate to join the Democratic primary for this open seat. Boyle, the owner of an environmental consulting company, was first elected in 2012, and was unseated two years later during the 2014 GOP wave.
• MI-Gov: In late May, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel reportedly said it was more likely than not that he would run for governor, though he said a few days later that he wasn’t quite that interested. Hackel, a self-described “fiscally conservative” Democrat who expressed some interest in running as an independent, still hasn’t said no to a gubernatorial bid, but he did tell the Detroit News on Tuesday that “it more than likely is not something I’m going to pursue,” saying that ongoing progress in county government makes it “kind of hard to step away from this right now.”
• OH-Gov: There’s been renewed chatter over the last few days that Democrat Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general who currently heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in D.C., will leave to run for governor of Ohio. On Tuesday, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Brent Larkin wrote that he believed Cordray was “certain to run,” and “expect[s] him to join the race no later than September,” though he didn’t say why. On Wednesday, Cordray refused to comment on his plans. However, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, a Democrat who has been flirting with a bid, told the paper than an unnamed mutual friend “openly stated” that Cordray would run, and O’Neill reaffirmed that he wouldn’t run against him.
As we’ve noted before, if Cordray wants to run for governor, he’s in a tight spot. The GOP would love to gut or kill the CFPB and if Cordray resigns, he’ll make their job far easier. Cordray can’t run for office as long as he holds his job in D.C., but if he leaves voluntarily, he could anger liberals who want him to stay and save the bureau. Cordray’s term expires in July of next year, so he can’t just wait things out.
However, if Cordray has in fact decided to run, he may have decided he’s found a way to quit without pissing off the base. Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a prominent Senate liberal, may also be able to give Cordray some cover if he resigns. Several Democrats are currently running for governor, and it’s unclear what they’d do if Cordray jumped in.
• FL-06: This coastal seat, which is dominated by Volusia County, has not been friendly turf for Team Blue in recent years. While Obama narrowly defeated McCain here in 2008, Romney carried the seat 52-47, and Trump won it by a hefty 57-40 margin last year. However, Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former deputy national security advisor under Bill Clinton who also served as an ambassador to the United Nations, announced on Wednesday that she would challenge GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has been flirting with running for governor, and he said last month that he’d decide by the fall.
Soderberg currently serves as the director of the University of North Florida’s Public Service Leadership Program, and she has been a frequent presence on MSNBC. However, Soderberg’s only prior run for office did not go very well. Back in 2012, Soderberg sought an open state Senate seat over in the Jacksonville area (that seat does not overlap at all with the 6th Congressional District) and lost 62-38, running a little ahead of Obama’s 65-34 defeat in the district. Still, if Soderberg has the connections to run a serious race, she may be able to pull off a surprise if the political climate reverses a decade of bad trends in this area.
• FL-27: Immediately after Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced that she would retire back in April, Democrat Matt Haggman expressed interest in running. Haggman, a former Miami Herald reporter, has been working for the Knight Foundation, a non-profit that promotes journalism, but he announced he was resigning this week. When he was asked about a House bid Haggman only said to “stay tuned.” A number of candidates from both parties are seeking this Miami-area seat, which backed Clinton 59-39 but often favors Republicans downballot.
• ME-02: On Tuesday, construction company owner Jonathan Fulford announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination against sophomore GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin in this rural northern Maine seat. Fulford lost close races against GOP state Senate President Mike Thibodeau in both 2014 and 2016.
Fulford was a Bernie Sanders backer last year, and the Bangor Daily News wrote back in March that Fulford “wondered aloud if a Sanders-style campaign model built on small donations would be an option against Poliquin.” It’s not clear what he’s decided, but Poliquin is a very formidable fundraiser who already has $1.16 million in the bank. This seat swung from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump.
• MI-07: On Wednesday, Democratic ex-state Rep. Gretchen Driskell announced that she would seek a rematch with GOP Rep. Tim Walberg in this southern Michigan seat. Last cycle, Driskell raised a credible amount of cash against Walberg, but this district swung from 51-48 Romney all the way to 56-39 Trump, and Walberg ended up winning 55-40. If this seat snaps back, the very conservative Walberg could have some problems, but that’s a big if. No other notable Democrats have expressed interest in running yet.
• NM-02: On Tuesday, state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced that he would seek the GOP nomination to succeed Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce in this conservative southern New Mexico seat.
This is actually the second time that Dunn has run to succeed Pearce here. Back in 2008, when Pearce was unsuccessfully running for the Senate, Dunn took third place in the primary with 20 percent of the vote. However, Dunn has won statewide office since then, and he should be a much stronger candidate this time around. The only other notable Republican running so far is state Rep. Yvette Herrell, who was the recipient of the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s 2014 State Chair of the Year Award, though state Sen. Cliff Pirtle says he’ll decide by Aug. 1. Trump won 50-40 here.
• NV-03: Wealthy education activist Susie Lee has reportedly been considering a bid for this open suburban Las Vegas swing seat, and she seems to be the preferred choice of influential Democrats. The National Journal’s Ally Mutnick writes that none other than ex-Sen. Harry Reid, who remains the most influential Democrat in Nevada politics, has encouraged Lee to run, though Mutnick also says that Reid hasn’t settled on a candidate yet.
Neighboring Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Reid protégé, also enthusiastically touted Lee’s debating and fundraising skills to the National Journal. Last year, Kihuen beat Lee in the primary when Lee turned down national Democratic requests and ran for the 4th District rather than in the 3rd, so Kihuen’s praise for his former rival is probably no small thing. State Democrats also say that unnamed legislators are considering running here, but none of them likely has Lee’s name recognition and campaign infrastructure.
Cole has a long career in government: After serving in the Gulf War, she worked for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Russia and central Asia; for the Commerce Department here at home; and most recently for a state agency working to bring international investment to New York. But as the Buffalo News‘ Jerry Zremski quips about Cole, “if resumes win votes, she could be a serious challenger.”
While her experience gives her credibility, Cole would need much more to put this seat in play. Fortunately, Collins wants to give her the opportunity. Last month, Collins earned some brutal headlines when news outlets reported he had lost $17 million investing in an Australian biotech company called Innate Immunotherapeutics whose lone drug had failed in clinical trials—and which he’d spent years evangelizing about to anyone who’d listen.
That included GOP colleagues in the House (several of whom bought in), as well as, it seems, a whole lot of people in his hometown. Back in January, Collins was overheard in the capitol on his cellphone boasting, “Do you know how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months?”
Now Innate’s implosion—the stock cratered on the drug trial news, and the company acknowledged it has no future prospects—likely has un-made a lot of those millionaires. Not Collins, though: Prior to this debacle, he enjoyed an estimated net worth of $66 million. If the guy who pushed a stock on you is still sitting pretty while you’ve lost your nest egg, that’s a pretty hard thing to forgive.
Of course, Collins may have just been bragging about all the wealth he supposedly created, and he’s since claimed that “we all were sophisticated investors who were aware of the inherent risk.” But he also may have sullied his reputation with influential folks back home. Cole now has the chance to find out.
• WV-03: Huntington Mayor Steve Williams announced on Tuesday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for this open southern West Virginia seat. With a population of about 50,000, Huntington is the largest city in the district. Still, it it only makes up about 8 percent of the 3rd, and it’s not clear how much name recognition Williams enjoys outside of his community.
Two other notable Democrats, state Sen. Richard Ojeda and Paul Davis, the CEO of the company that operates Huntington’s bus system, are in. However, Ojeda raised less than $3,000 in the month-and-a-half he’s been in the race, while Davis entered the contest after the quarter ended. This ancestrally blue coal country seat has shifted far to the right over the last decade, and Trump carried it 73-23.
• Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso brings us the results of the latest New Hampshire state House special election:
New Hampshire House, Merrimack-18: Democrats had no trouble holding this seat; Kris Schultz defeated Republican Michael Feeley by a 78-22 margin. This seat went 59-37 for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 64-36 for Jeanne Shaheen in 2014, and 61-38 for Barack Obama in 2012. Feeley ran for this seat in 2016 and lost 56-44.
This was also the 20th special election since Trump’s election where Democrats have run ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, out of 27 total. On average, Democrats are running 12 points ahead of Clinton, whereas in 2013, Democrats ran 12 points behind Obama’s performance the year before.
• Atlanta, GA Mayor: On behalf of the local NBC affiliate, SurveyUSA is out with another poll of November’s non-partisan mayoral race. In the very likely event that no one takes a majority, there will be a December runoff:
City Councilor Mary Norwood: 27
City Council President Ceasar Mitchell: 10
City Councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms: 9
City Councilor Kwanza Hall: 9
State Sen. Vincent Fort: 8
Ex-Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman: 6
Ex-City Council President Cathy Woolard: 6
Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves: 4
Back in March, local GOP pollsters Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone found almost the exact same result: Norwood took first with 29 percent, while no one else broke 10 percent. Norwood, who identifies an independent in this very blue city, ran back in 2009 and took first place in the primary with 46 percent. However, then-state Sen. Kasim Reed surged from 36 percent to defeat Norwood by about 700 votes in December.
Of course, it’s still early, and some of the lesser-known contenders will have the resources to get their names out before November. At the end of the last fundraising quarter, Aman, who has done some self-funding, had an $800,000 war chest, larger than anyone else’s. Norwood edged out Mitchell $653,000 to $529,000 for second. Hall, Woolard, and Bottoms each had a bit less than $400,000 to spend. Fort, a longtime Reed opponent who has Bernie Sander’s support, had $231,000 on-hand, while Sterling had $77,000. Eaves brought up the rear with just $55,000.
Racial politics might also play a role in how this contest turns out: Fort, Eaves, Hall, Mitchell, Bottoms, and Sterling are African Americans, while Norwood, Woolard, or Aman would be the city’s first white mayor since the mid-1970s. Woolard would also be Atlanta’s first openly-gay mayor.
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