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.
• KS-Gov: As far back as March, there’ve been reports that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback would bail on his home state of Kansas before his term expires in early 2019 for a Trump administration position. On Wednesday, those reports came to fruition when the State Department announced that Trump had nominated Brownback to serve as his “ambassador for religious freedom.” It’s not the most prestigious job, shall we say, but the incredibly unpopular governor is probably just happy to get out of Dodge. The Senate will need to confirm Brownback, however, so Kansas is stuck with him for at least a while longer.
Assuming the Senate (where Brownback served before his disastrous governorship) signs off, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would take over as governor. Colyer, a close Brownback ally, has not announced if he’ll run for governor next year, but he seems to be leaning in that direction. Colyer, who made a fortune as a plastic surgeon, was Brownback’s running mate during both his campaigns. But while his personal wealth could boost his future prospects, it’s also caused him some trouble. In early 2015, for reasons that were never clear, a grand jury began looking into three loans made to the Brownback-Colyer campaign that added up to $1.5 million. Prosecutors announced that there would be no charges a few months later, but it’s possible this matter could come up again.
A number of other Republicans had already entered the race to succeed Brownback before the ambassadorship news, even though they’ve known for months that they could wind up facing a Gov. Colyer. The most prominent declared candidate is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is spearheading Trump’s infamous “Election Integrity Commission,” and he doesn’t seem at all inclined to defer to Colyer. Just after Brownback’s nomination was announced, Kobach told the New York Times that while Colyer is “a good guy,” he doesn’t think his likely promotion “fundamentally changes the dynamic of the 2018 race regardless.”
And while Kansas is a very conservative state, Democrats may nevertheless have an opening here. Brownback’s reactionary tax cuts—which the Republican-led legislature just repealed over his veto—have done lasting damage to the state budget and have left Brownback as one of the most unpopular governors in the nation. If Colyer takes over the reins and makes it to the general election, his biggest challenge will be to establish an identity independent of the man he’s about to succeed. And if Kansans are still disgusted with the status quo, Colyer may have a very tough time convincing voters that he’s not just a continuation of Brownback’s tenure.
• MI-Sen: Singer-songwriter Robert Ritchie (aka Kid Rock) insists he’s serious about a possible bid against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and says he’ll hold a press conference “in the next 6 weeks or so” to “address this issue amongst others.” In the meantime, the vocal Trump supporter says he plans to launch a non-profit to register voters, including at his concerts.
• WV-Sen: In case there was any doubt, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin confirmed that he would seek re-election this week.
• GA-Gov: While state House Speaker David Ralston made some noise about entering the GOP primary back in March, he’s since then sounded very unlikely to run. Unsurprisingly, Ralston confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that he would stay out of the race.
• IA-Gov, IL-Gov: It’s generic ballot day for Midwestern gubernatorial races! We seldom spend a lot of time delving into generic ballot polling (for reasons we’ve detailed in the past), but data’s been scant, so we’ll take what we can get for now. A good piece of news for Democrats comes in Illinois, where zillionaire Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner just got his butt handed to him in an epic budget showdown with the legislature. There, a Normington Petts survey for the DGA finds Rauner trailing an unnamed Democratic opponent 49-37, with a brutal 34-63 job approval rating.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, newly elevated Gov. Kim Reynolds, who became the state’s chief executive after fellow Republican Terry Branstad was confirmed as Trump’s ambassador to China, has a 44-39 edge versus a generic Democrat in a month-old survey—neither great nor awful. This poll, conducted by 20-20 Insight, wasn’t commissioned with the governor’s race in mind, though. Rather, it was taken for Democrat Jim Mowrer, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in both 2014 and 2016 and is considering a bid for secretary of state. In that contest, he leads GOP incumbent Paul Pate 38-33, but it’s still very early.
In both states, the Democratic field of candidates remains very unsettled, and it’s even possible Reynolds won’t be her party’s nominee next year as she faces a challenge, too. So that’s a good reminder that the kinds of numbers you see in these polls will likely change once we substitute an actual Democrat for a hypothetical one.
• CA-48, CO-06: In a paywalled piece at Politico, Scott Bland observes that the DCCC has steered clear of directly endorsing in House primaries so far this year, seemingly content to let the huge influx of Democratic candidates sort itself out on its own. However, notes Bland, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who chairs the committee, has made donations to half a dozen challengers via his personal PAC, and in a couple of cases, these recipients’ races feature contested primaries. Of course, we can’t know if Lujan’s support actually foretells future D-Trip involvement—it may just be that both of these races will play without with any D.C.-directed effort to pick winners—but for now, here’s what we know.
One beneficiary of Lujan’s largesse is biologist Hans Keirstead, who is running against GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in California’s 48th District—as are at least three other notable Democrats. The roster includes businessman Harley Rouda, architect Laura Oatman, and Nestlé executive Michael Kotick. Keirstead, Rouda, and Oatman all raised between $103,000 and $133,000 in the second quarter of the year, while Kotick only entered the race recently, so there’s no obvious frontrunner. This is a district where Democrats will want to consolidate behind one standard-bearer, though, lest they risk getting locked out of the general electionthanks to California’s top-two primary and the presence of a second, self-funding Republican candidate.
The other person facing a competitive primary who’s earned Lujan’s seal of approval is attorney and Army veteran Jason Crow in Colorado’s 6th District. Crow far outraised the only other Democrat who announced before the end of the quarter, attorney Dave Aarestad, but former Department of Energy official Levi Tillemann joined the race late last month, while state Sen. Rhonda Fields has reportedly spoken to EMILY’s List about a bid. For their part, Republicans have been treating Crow like the leading contender: GOP Rep. Mike Coffman has repeatedly tried to troll Crow and his supporters, to little avail.
• IN-06: With GOP Rep. Luke Messer finally kicking off his long-expected bid for Senate, the race for his southeastern Indiana congressional seat is now getting underway. The first candidate to announce is state Sen. Mike Crider, who joined the Republican primary on Thursday. The biggest name we’re waiting to hear from, though, belongs to Greg Pence, brother of Mike, who has not ruled out a bid. The 6th District voted for Trump by a punishing 68-27 margin, so all the action here will be on the GOP side.
• IN-09: This week, Indiana University professor Liz Watson, who served as a senior Democratic staffer on the U.S. House’s Committee on Education and the Workforce, entered the race to face GOP Rep. Trey Hollingsworth. This southern Indiana seat backed Trump 61-34, though the carpetbagging Hollingsworth won his first term by a considerably smaller, but still not close, 54-40 margin.
• NJ-11: Democrat Al Anthony, a town councilor in Livingston (population: 27,000) is the latest Democrat to express interest in challenging longtime GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. However, unnamed sources tell Insider NJ that Anthony won’t run if Assemblyman John McKeon does.
• Statehouse Action: This Week In Statehouse Action: Bills’ and Laws’ Excellent Adventures edition features a landmark Democratic win in New Hampshire, a redistricting blast from the past in Wisconsin, bathroom bill flashbacks, bad time travel jokes, and more!
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