With DSCC backing, Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will run against GOP Sen. Jeff Flake

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, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.


• AZ-SenOn Thursday, Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. Sinema’s decision has been expected for some time, and the DSCC endorsed her the following morning. Sinema also quickly earned an endorsement from EMILY’s List, an influential group dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women. If Sinema wins, she will be the first openly bisexual person elected to the Senate, a distinction she already holds in the House.

Sinema, who has represented a Tempe-area seat for three terms, had $3.2 million in the bank at the end of June, more than Flake’s $3 million war chest. Sinema has spent years considering a bid for statewide office in this light red state, and the former Ralph Nader supporter has developed a reputation as a centrist in the House. Notably, Sinema voted against Nancy Pelosi in the 2015 and 2017 speakership elections, symbolically casting her vote instead for Democratic Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon. Sinema has also argued that national Democrats are moving too far to the left, and she said that it’s “just not real” to promise single-payer health and free college.

It’s possible that Sinema could be vulnerable in a primary, but there doesn’t seem to be a credible opponent on the horizon. A few other Democrats have already announced that they’ll challenge Flake, but none of them has much name-recognition or outside support. State Rep. Randy Friese has previously said he was leaning toward running, but he also announced on Friday that he would support Sinema and seek re-election to the legislature.

Trump carried Arizona 48-45, and Flake is a top Democratic target. Flake has been one of Trump’s most vocal critics in the GOP while voting with him on most major issues, and he may have managed to just piss off voters from across the political divide without making many friends in the process. Flake faces a primary challenge from ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward, who lost her 2016 bid against Sen. John McCain 51-40, and a few recent polls show him badly losing. The local GOP pollster HighGround Public Affairs also recently found Flake losing a hypothetical general election to Sinema 41-33, while a poll for the Democratic group Senate Majority PAC had him down 47-40.


• AL-Sen: On behalf of the election data site Decision Desk HQ, Opinion Savvy is out with the first poll of the Dec. 12 special Senate election in Alabama since Tuesday’s GOP runoff, and they give Republican Roy Moore a 50-45 lead over Democrat Doug Jones. Donald Trump carried Alabama 62-34 and Democrats haven’t won a statewide election there since 2008, so this would be a remarkably close result for Team Blue.

Still, there are plenty of things to keep in mind with this poll. As we said at the top, this is the first survey we’ve seen, and other firms may find a different result. This poll was also in the field just after the primary runoff, where Moore, the infamous former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, was on the receiving end of millions of dollars worth of ads from appointed Sen. Luther Strange and his allies at the Senate Leadership Fund. Those ads didn’t come anywhere close to stopping Moore, who dispatched Strange 55-45, but they could have hurt him with the rest of the electorate.

By contrast, no one has run a single commercial against Jones. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell very much didn’t want Moore, whom he tried to beat in the primary, in the Senate, but he’ll want a Democrat in that seat even less: If the GOP feels like this seat is in any danger, Jones should expect plenty of Republican ads to be aimed at him.

However, this poll at least suggests that Jones could have an opening in this incredibly tough state. Moore, who was thrown off the court in 2003 after he refused to comply with a federal judge’s order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state Supreme Court, does have plenty of enemies. In 2012, Moore successfully ran for the court again, but he only beat his Democratic opponent 52-48 as Mitt Romney was easily carrying Alabama. (Moore was removed again for defying federal court orders regarding same-sex marriage.)

This survey gives Trump a positive 54-43 approval rating, so at least a fair number of Trump voters are on the fence right now. However, the poll does show Moore at 50 percent, if only just; if this survey is right, Moore just needs to hold onto the voters who already plan to support him in order to win. In a state as conservative as Alabama, that’s not a tough task for any Republican.

So far, it’s unclear if national Democrats plan to get involved. A pickup here would be huge, but it’s still very unlikely. Still, if Democrats in D.C. see more polls showing Moore only modestly ahead, they may not be able to say no to coming in and helping Jones.

• MT-Sen: Businessman and Air Force veteran Troy Downing, who is one of a few Republicans challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, has faced questions about his ties to Montana from the beginning of the campaign, and this story is the last thing he needed. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle’sFreddy Monares writes that in July, Downing was cited with seven misdemeanors for allegedly trying to buy or purchase hunting and fishing licenses as an out-of-state resident, which is against the law; he was also hit with another misdemeanor for trying to transfer the hunting license, and one more for “assisting an unqualified applicant in obtaining a hunting license.” The violations span each year from 2011 to 2016. Downing pled not guilty in August.

Monares writes that, in order to buy a resident hunting or fishing license, a person needs to be a Montana resident for at least 180 days, “must register a vehicle in Montana, file state income tax returns as a resident, and not possess or apply for any resident hunting, fishing or trapping privileges in another state.” Downing, who operates a San Diego-based storage company, has residences in California and Montana, though he says he became a full-time Montana resident a few years ago. Downing’s attorney argues these citations are all just “an administrative oversight.”

Back in 2013, Republican Liz Cheney drew some similar headlines during her bid for a Senate seat in Wyoming. Cheney had only moved back to the state from Northern Virginia the previous year, and she soon decided to challenge Sen. Mike Enzi in the primary. A little while later, Cheney posted a $220 bond for trying to buy a resident fishing license the previous summer, even though she had not lived in the state the full year she needed to qualify. Cheney ended up dropping out of the race a few months later, and while her campaign failed for many other reasons, her weak ties to Wyoming did not help. (Cheney won a House seat four years later.)

Over in Montana, Downing faces a few opponents in the primary, most notably state Auditor Matt Rosendale. Even if this legal mess is resolved in his favor, Downing’s foes will have an easier time arguing that he’s only a tourist in the state he wants to represent.

• OH-Sen: Josh Mandel, the state treasurer in name only of Ohio, faces a GOP primary with businessman Mike Gibbons, and he’s out with a new poll from Remington Research arguing he has zero to worry about. Remington shows Mandel leading Gibbons 50-5; with Melissa Ackison, a woman whose healthcare woes Trump has highlighted in denouncing Obama but doesn’t seem to have many allies or much money in this race, also takes 5. This poll was in the field Sept. 26-27.

Gibbons’ camp immediately cast doubt on Remington’s accuracy, but they didn’t respond with their own numbers. Of course, it’s quite likely that Gibbons just has little support at this point in the race; while Gibbons has run some ads, he doesn’t appear to have spent enough to get his name out statewide. It’s unclear if Gibbons will have the wealth or connections to bring in the type of cash he’ll need to boost his support, or if the better-known Mandel will easily advance to the general election with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

• WI-Sen: Back in February, GOP Rep. Sean Duffy announced that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in next year’s Wisconsin Senate race, but he’s reportedly reconsidering. The National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar‏ writes that Duffy raised $550,000 from July to September. Duffy raised a larger $652,000 during the previous quarter, so this may not be notable on its own. But when Duffy’s spokesman was asked about the congressman’s future pans, he responded, “Congressman Duffy has support from all over Wisconsin, and he’s well prepared for whatever is on the horizon.” That’s very much not a no.

Back in February, Duffy likely could have cleared the field if he ran, but two notable candidates have jumped in since then. Businessman Kevin Nicholson, who has the support of the anti-tax Club for Growth, and state Sen. Leah Vukmir jumped in a little while ago. It’s not clear if either of them would be willing to defer to Duffy.

And while Duffy is often portrayed as a top-tier GOP candidate, we’ve noted in the past that he has a history of saying awful or just plain dumb things. Most notably, Duffy said in February that “good things” came out of the 2015 massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, and justified Trump’s travel ban by arguing that white supremacist terrorism doesn’t compare to the “death and destruction in Europe from refugees.”


• IL-GovOn Thursday, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill passed by the Democratic-led Illinois state legislature to expand public abortion funding in Illinois. Rauner essentially had two choices here: Kill the bill and make it easier for Democrats to attack him on abortion in a blue state or allow it to become law and piss off the GOP base, and he choose door number two. That decision could cost him dearly.

Several Republicans didn’t hesitate to bluntly voice their disgust with the governor, with several state legislators, including Assistant Minority Leader Peter Breen, speaking out against his move and saying they could no longer support him. Perhaps worst of all, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich publicly said that Rauner “broke his word to the people, especially those who have continued to speak on behalf of the vulnerable child in the womb.” The local press even started to speculate that Rauner wouldn’t seek re-election next year, enough that his spokesperson felt compelled to respond and say the governor was running.

It’s still unclear how much damage this will do Rauner politically. State Sen. Sam McCann has been talking about running against Rauner in the primary for months, and while he blasted the governor as a liar on Thursday, he tells Politico he’s still undecided. Politico’s Natasha Korecki writes that some other potential names of possible primary challengers circulating around are state Rep. Jeanne Ives, state Sen. Kyle McCarter (who lost a primary challenge to Rep. John Shimkus 60-40 last year), and conservative radio host Dan Proft, who took sixth place with 8 percent of the vote in the 2010 primary.

Ives told Chicago Business’s Greg Hinz that she hopes Rauner gets a primary challenge, and she has not ruled out doing it herself. Hinz writes that Ives “is particularly well connected to key conservative players with access to big campaign cash.” As the governor’s intra-party foes know, they need to have just one strong candidate to avoid splitting the anti-Rauner vote.

Rauner is extremely wealthy and will have the resources to defend himself no matter what. But Korecki writes that possible primary foes aren’t hesitating because they’re afraid of Rauner’s checkbook. Instead, they’re worried that Trump’s unpopularity could take down the Republicans running statewide here. Illinois’ filing deadline is Dec. 4, so possible candidates don’t have too long to decide.

But if Rauner does dodge a primary, or even if he wins renomination, he could still have problems. If conservatives decide to stay home next November over this, it wouldn’t just cost Rauner, it would drag down Republicans in key congressional races. At the very least, Rauner’s future Democratic foe has more than enough clips of Republicans harshly denouncing him to use in ads next year.

• VA-Gov: GOP candidate Ed Gillespie is doubling down on racist anti-immigrant, anti-Latino tropes in his ads. After receiving widespread criticism for a positively Willie Horton-esque ad just last week, Gillespie released a followup spot that will air in the Roanoke market, which covers much of the rural Southside and Southwest parts of Virginia. The new ad again goes hard on the MS-13 fear-mongering, displaying the gang’s “Rape, Control, Kill” motto on-screen before tying Democrat Ralph Northam’s vote against banning “sanctuary cities” to the proliferation of the gang (which actually predominantly targets undocumented immigrant communities).

But Virginia actually doesn’t have sanctuary cities—a fact Gillespie acknowledged in a recent debate but conveniently omits from his ads on the issue. Gillespie hasn’t led in a single poll since March, despite dominating the airwaves with TV ads all summer—a fact that has the campaign spooked and willing to stoop to pushing lies and racism in an attempt to energize the GOP base.


• AZ-09: Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to run for the Senate opens up her 9th Congressional District, which includes all of Tempe and part of Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. This seat was originally quite competitive when it was drawn up at the beginning of the decade, and Sinema won it by a narrow 49-45 as Obama was beating Romney 51-47 here. However, Sinema decisively won during the 2014 GOP wave, and the entire Democratic ticket carried the seat that year as they were losing statewide. Sinema easily beat a weak GOP foe last year as Clinton was winning by a wide 55-38 here. However, via Greg Giroux, Republican Sen. John McCain won 48-47 here in 2016, so Team Red may have an outside shot.

Back in August, before Sinema announced she would leave the seat, local NBC-affiliate KPNX reported that Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a fellow Democrat, would run in her place. Stanton has not said anything yet, but Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman writes that political insiders expect Stanton to run, and The Arizona Republic political columnist Elvia Diaz wrote on Friday that Stanton will jump in “soon.” Ex-state House Minority Leader Chad Campbell has reportedly been considering as well, but an unnamed source tells Bowman that he probably won’t run against Stanton.

Under Arizona’s resign-to-run law, Stanton will need to resign as mayor if he seeks this post because more than a year will remain in his term; Diaz writes that this will probably happen between January and March. (Phoenix’s next mayoral race is in 2019; Stanton cannot seek a third term.) Only about a third of the 9th is in the city of Phoenix, but the entire seat is in the Phoenix media market, so Stanton shouldn’t struggle with name recognition if he runs.

Team Red will have a very uphill climb here, but they seem to have a credible candidate. Retired Navy physician Steve Ferrara raised $253,000 from April to June, and Bowman reports that national Republicans view him as a strong contender.

• MD-06: Wealthy businessman David Trone is already up with his first two cable TV ads months ahead of the Democratic primary for this open seat. Both spots praise the Dreamers as ordinary hard-working Americans, and hits Trump and Congress for considering deporting them. There’s no mention or appearance of Trone in either spot whatsoever except at the very end, where Trone is heard declaring, “I’m David Trone, and I approve this message” as a picture of his logo flashes by.

• PA-11: While Democratic state Sen. John Yudichak expressed interest in seeking this open 60-36 Trump seat, he announced Thursday that he wouldn’t go for it. This Wyoming Valley seat is very much a reach target for Team Blue, though dairy farmer Dennis Wolff, who served as state agriculture secretary under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell from 2003 to 2009, has also talked about running.

Grab Bag

• Statehouse Action: This Week in Statehouse Action: Fall In District Lines edition has it all: special election wins, nonsense Nevada recalls, a Virginia Republican being transphobic and terrible to his opponent, and more!

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on this day 10/2 1967 – Thurgood Marshall was sworn in. He was the first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

1492 – King Henry VII of England invaded France.

1780 – British army major John Andre was hanged as a spy. He was carrying information about the actions of Benedict Arnold.

1835 – The first battle of the Texas Revolution took place near the Guadalupe River when American settlers defeated a Mexican cavalry unit.

1836 – Charles Darwin returned to England after 5 years of acquiring knowledge around the world about fauna, flora, wildlife and geology. He used the information to develop his “theory of evolution” which he unveiled in his 1859 book entitled The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

1869 – Mahatma (Mohandas) K Gandhi was born. He was known for his advocacy of non-violent resistance to fight tyranny.

1870 – Rome was made the capital of Italy.

1876 – The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas opened. It was the state’s first venture into public higher education. The school was formally dedicated 2 days later by Texas Gov. Richard Coke.

1889 – The first international Conference of American States began in Washington, DC.

1908 – Addie Joss of Cleveland pitched the fourth perfect game in major league baseball history.

1919 – U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

1920 – The Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates played the only triple-header in baseball history. The Reds won 2 of the 3 games.

1924 – The Geneva Protocol adopted the League of Nations.

1925 – Scottish inventor John Logie Baird completed the first transmission of moving images.

1929 – “The National Farm and Home Hour” debuted on NBC radio.

1933 – “Red Adams” debuted on NBC radio.

1937 – Warner Bros. released “Love Is on the Air.” Ronald Reagan made his acting debut in the motion picture. He was 26 years old.

1941 – Operation Typhoon was launched by Nazi Germany. The plan was an all-out offensive against Moscow.

1944 – The Nazis crushed the Warsaw Uprising.

1947 – The Federatino Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) formally established Formula One racing in Grand Prix competition.

1948 – The first automobile race to use asphalt, cement and dirt roads took place in Watkins Glen in New York. It was the first road race in the U.S. following World War II.

1949 – “The Aldrich Family” debuted on NBC-TV.

1950 – “Peanuts,” the comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, was published for the first time in seven newspapers.

1955 – “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” debuted on CBS-TV.

1958 – Guinea, the French colony in West Africa, proclaimed its independence. Sekou Toure was the first president of the Republic of Guinea.

1959 – “The Twilight Zone” debuted on CBS-TV. The show ran for 5 years for a total of 154 episodes.

1962 – U.S. ports were closed to nations that allowed their ships to carry arms to Cuba, ships that had docked in a socialist country were prohibited from docking in the United States during that voyage, and the transport of U.S. goods was banned on ships owned by companies that traded with Cuba.

1967 – Thurgood Marshall was sworn in. He was the first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

1988 – Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered free elections.

1989 – In Leipzig, East Germany a protest took place demanding the legalization of opposition groups and the adoption of democratic reforms.

1990 – The Allies ceded their rights to areas they occupied in Germany.

1993 – Opponents of Russian President Boris Yeltsin fought police and set up burning barricades.

1998 – Hawaii sued petroleum companies, claiming state drivers were overcharged by about $73 million a year in price-fixing.

1998 – About 10,000 Turkish soldiers crossed into northern Iraq and attacked Kurdish rebels.

2001 – The U.S. Postmaster unveiled the “Tribute to America” stamp. The stamp was planned for release the next month.

2001 – NATO, for the first time, invoked a treaty clause that stated that an attack on one member is an attack on all members. The act was in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

International Elections Digest: Merkel easily wins again, but Germany’s far right makes huge gains

The Daily Kos International Elections Digest is compiled by Stephen Wolf and David Beard, with additional contributions from James Lambert, Daniel Nichanian, Daniel Donner, and Julia van Hoogstraten, and is edited by David Nir.


• Germany – parliament (Sept. 24)Lower Saxony – state parliament(Oct. 15)

For an election where a long-term leader was widely expected to win re-election and did so comfortably, Germany’s recent vote nevertheless brought significant changes to the country’s politics. Angela Merkel assured herself of a fourth term, but much else beyond that remains cloudy. While Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will lead the country, it lost significant vote share, dropping from 42 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2017. At the same time, its frequent coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), also lost ground, falling from 26 percent of the vote to 21.

Believing that serving as a junior ally with its chief rival has hurt its standing, the SPD terminated its relationship with the CDU following the election and will instead head up the opposition. That leaves the CDU conducting complex coalition negotiations with both the center-left Greensand the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP), two parties that don’t like each other due to their opposing views on business and environmental regulations. Merkel needs the support of both to form a majority, a so-called “Jamaica coalition” because the three parties’ traditional colors (black, green, and yellow) mirror those on the Jamaican flag.

While Merkel tries to balance these two opposing interests, all eyes are on the far-right anti-immigrant Islamophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered parliament for the first time with 13 percent of the vote—and did so as the third-largest party, behind the CDU and SPD. Right-wing nationalism has been taboo in Germany since the end of World War II for obvious reasons, but the same forces at work across Europe and the Western world have found success there as well: Resistance to immigration, opposition to modern social mores, and a preference for nationalism over multilateralism have found strong support among older, less-educated white voters almost everywhere.

Fortunately, AfD itself has not handled the heightened scrutiny the comes with its new prominence very well. The leader of a less extreme faction quit the party days after the election, intending to sit as an independent member of parliament (MP). She may try to peel off additional MPs as well who share her views, though Merkel has ruled out working with any part of AfD, splitters or otherwise. And of course, like other white nationalist parties, AfD is filled with disturbing characters in positions of power, including one who called mixed-race people “unbearable” and another one standing trial for allegedly inflicting “grievous bodily harm” and attempted robbery on a group of soccer fans.

An interesting note about AfD is that its success was largely focused in the regions of the former East Germany. AfD won 21.5 percent of the vote there but just 11 percent in the more populous west, despite the fact that new immigrants and refugees overwhelming settle in the more economically developed west. This is similar to what we see in the U.S., where some of the strongest anti-immigration sentiment is found in places with very few immigrants.

While the CDU looks to govern and AfD looks to make a splash, SPD hopes that its time in the wilderness will revitalize the party. As we’ve seen elsewhere (particularly with the Liberal Democrats in the U.K.), serving as a junior coalition partner with a senior partner who doesn’t match your ideology almost never ends well for the junior partner. Indeed, the SPD’s 21 percent was its worst showing since World War II, prompting the election of a new parliamentary leader, Andrea Nahles, who served as labor minister under Merkel and has ties to the party’s left flank. In addition to providing a strong ideological contrast to Merkel, Nahles is also the first woman to lead the SPD.

Finally, voters in Lower Saxony will have to turn around and head straight back to the polls, with state elections coming up on Oct. 15. These elections had to be called early after the ruling SPD/Green coalition lost its one-seat majority when a Green MP defected to CDU. With AfD likely to enter the state parliament for the first time, just as it did federally, a major question is whether Die Linke (a far-left party whose name literally translates as “The Left”), which is polling right at the 5 percent threshold necessary to win any seats at all, will be able to do the same. If it does, an SPD/Green/Die Linke coalition would have a good shot at forming the next government. If not, CDU will likely form the next government either with FDP (if both parties do well), or in a grand coalition with the old frenemies who just spurned them on the national scene, the SPD.


• Japan – parliament (Oct. 22)

Japan’s next general election had been scheduled for the fall of 2018, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called a snap election this year, hoping to capitalize on a recent boost in popularity. After months of scandalsweighing him down, Abe has been riding high in the polls for his aggressive response to North Korea’s bellicose missile tests that have flown over Japan. Abe and his center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) also hope to benefit from a fractured opposition, though his opponents have recently taken drastic steps to try to prevent that.

And there are warning signs that Abe’s gambit might not pan out in the way he’d like. After a string of positive polls, two surveys taken after Abe ordered new elections have put him back underwater, with only 36 percent of voters expressing their approval of the prime minster. Indeed, Abe’s recent strong numbers may well have been just a temporary bump. And while the opposition Democratic Party (DP) (whose ideology runs from center-left to center-right) is in pitiful shape, the popular governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, has formed a new political party, Kibō no Tō (Party of Hope), to contest the election as reformist conservatives. In Abe’s decision, there is a whiff of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s choice to go to the polls early when she was riding high, only to find the ground far less stable than she believed.

No matter what happens, though, it won’t benefit the Democratic Party, which is on the verge of collapse after holding power earlier this decade. In 2009, the DP ousted the LDP from the dominant position it had held almost continuously since 1955, but ever since then, infighting and incompetence has driven the party to the brink of collapse. After some DP incumbents jumped ship to the Party of Hope, DP leader Seiji Maehara, elected just weeks ago, proposed that his party not run any candidates at all—and his party agreed, effectively disbanding the DP altogether.

Instead, Maehara plans to have DP candidates run under the banner of the Party of Hope, which was originally only looking to run 100 candidates for 465 seats in parliament. Koike has said that she will accept DP candidates on a case-by-case basis, which analysts expect to mean she will accept those from the center-right flank of the party and reject those on the center-left.

There is some sense to Maehara’s plan, at least for the faction that aligns with Koike’s reformist conservative politics. The Japanese electoral system uses both proportional representation (PR) and single-member constituencies (much like districts in the U.S. House), but unlike in countries such as Germany and New Zealand, the PR side isn’t used to balance out disproportionate partisan outcomes in the district-level vote. Instead, they’re two completely separate systems that run in parallel.

That means a large party like the LDP facing a fractured opposition can win an outsized share of the single-member districts while still taking a share of the PR seats commensurate to its share of the popular vote. When the two sets of results are combined, that big party almost inevitably ends up with far more seats than its overall share of the vote, even if such a discrepancy wouldn’t be as bad as under a system that only utilizes districts and has no proportional component.

As a result, what really should be a two-party(ish) system like the U.K., U.S., and Canada winds up with unusual incentives that allow one large party (specifically, the LDP) to dominate for long stretches. Because the proportional side of the vote allows small parties to win some seats, there’s less motivation for the opposition to compromise and unify behind a single set of candidates for the district-based seats, which is what’s needed to become the largest party.

And this disunity has manifested in the DP itself, which has long been torn between center-left politicians and reformist conservatives (which include Maehara). The LDP, by contrast, is made up of establishment conservatives. As a result, it now seems certain that the DP will fracture between those allied with Maehara and the Party of Hope, and those who side with the Japanese Communist Party (the largest purely left-wing party in Japan) and other smaller progressive groups. For all intents and purposes, the Democratic Party as it was constituted between 1996 and 2017 will cease to exist.

But this series of events probably does offer the best chance for opponents of Abe to win large numbers of single-member constituency seats and thus defeat him. The Party of Hope will be able to contest a broad swath of constituency seats, while whatever left-leaning coalition develops will focus the proportional vote (and key seats with a strong lean to the left). Ultimately, the Democratic Party was always too ideologically incoherent to govern the country or provide an effective opposition, but perhaps the new status quo that develops will succeed where the DP failed.

• New Zealand – parliament (Sept. 23)

We wrote about Jacindamania last month, and while Labour’s new leader saw a significant rise in her party’s vote share, the left might end up falling just short. The center-right National Party, which currently runs the country and once again took first place, will likely end up governing in coalition with the populist anti-immigrant New Zealand First Party (usually referred to as “NZ First”).

The Nationals took 46 percent of the vote, down just 1 percent from the last elections in 2014, but it also lost its minor-party allies in parliament, forcing it to find a coalition partner to govern. Labour captured 36 percent, up almost 11 percent from its dismal 2014 showing, while its natural governing partners, the Greens, took 6 percent (weakened some by Labor’s rise). NZ First finished with 8 percent, and no other party surpassed the 5 percent threshold necessary to win seats in parliament.

Conceivably, Labour and the Greens could partner with NZ First and form a three-party alliance, but that would be a more difficult arrangement than a National-NZ First coalition. NZ First has partnered both with the Nationals and Labour in the past, but not with Labour and the Greens together. Such a three-way coalition would also have a bare majority of 61 seats out of 120, putting it at constant risk of falling while a National/NZ First coalition would have 67 seats. NZ First does share some economic positions with Labour (they’re both opposed to privatization and favor raising the minimum wage), but its position on social issues and immigration are significant obstacles. One of the Greens’ co-leaders also called NZ First leader (and party founder) Winston Peters a racist, which isn’t wrong, but neither is not conducive to coalition building.

Minor parties were all but shut out of parliament, largely due to the competitive race between the Nationals and Labour. Voters on both sides flocked to the main party on their side of the aisle, with only the classically liberal ACT New Zealand party holding onto a lone MP.

One final note, the “special vote” (sort of a very broad category of provisional ballots), which amounted to 10 percent of all ballots cast, won’t be counted until Oct. 7. This could adjust the final seat totals, so both Labour and NZ First have said any negotiations should wait until after the count is finished on that date.

Middle East/North Africa

• Iraq: Kurdistan – independence referendum (Sept. 25)

The independence referendum conducted by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq passed overwhelmingly last month, with 93 percent voting in favor. However, the vote was non-binding and was opposed by the Iraqi central government and most foreign powers, so while the outcome was largely a foregone conclusion, the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraq itself now have to wrestle with what comes next.

While Kurdistan is in functional control of its own territory and disputed border regions thanks to its Peshmerga fighters and the weakness of the Iraqi army, it’s still in a weak position to declare independence. The Iraqi central government is resolutely opposed (in contrast with the United Kingdom, which didn’t want Scotland to secede but was prepared to accept the result of the vote), and practically no foreign country is prepared to recognize any independence claim without Iraqi approval.

That international recognition is crucial for any future Kurdistan because most of the region’s wealth comes from its oil, which is useless if it cannot be transported (through Iraq or a bordering country) and sold outside the region. The only Kurdish oil pipeline runs through Turkey, which is strongly opposed to Kurdish independence because it fears that it would stoke separatist sentiments among its own minority Kurdish population. Independence could also see Kurdistan cut off from money that flows through Baghdad, international flights (something that’s already happening), and other benefits of the modern interconnected world. So despite the vote, the status quo is likely to remain, with Kurdistan in many ways enjoying de facto independence but nothing close to de jureindependence.


• Austria – parliament (Oct. 15)

Austria is poised for a dramatic shift toward the radical right in two weeks. The mainstream conservative People’s Party (OVP) has surged into a polling lead after selecting telegenic 31-year-old Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz to lead it. Kurz’s leadership means the OVP is making a play for the same anti-immigrant voters who have contributed to the rise in support for the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) since Europe’s refugee crisis boiled over in 2015. Tired of playing junior partner in a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPO), the OVP under Kurz will almost certainly head the next government.

Polls have OVP taking first place with around 33 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, although the FPO is no longer polling in first place as it ominously was for almost all of 2016, the party is locked in contention with the SPO for second place, with the two regularly tied at around 25 percent each. Meanwhile, the center-left Greens and a splinter faction led by former Green MP Peter Pilz are each fighting to stay above the 4 percent minimum threshold, but neither is likely to achieve much relevance even though the Greens won last year’s runoff against FPO for Austria’s mostly ceremonial presidency.

Consequently, there’s likely no governing coalition that could emerge without the OVP at the helm. Given the gridlock that grand coalitions over the last several years have experienced, Kurz’s leadership is a sign that the OVP is ready to give up on leading its own grand coalition with a center-left partner resistant to conservative economic policies. Instead, the OVP is poised to ally with the radical right and form a coalition with FPO, marking a dramatic rightward shift in policy, particularly in the realm of European integration and immigration. Indeed, FPO has even gone so far as to claim Kurz stole their own campaign ideas—though watch this complaining cease just as soon as they’re offered the chance to join the next government.

An OVP-FPO coalition would thus make Austria the only Western European country with a far-right party as an actual member of a governing coalition, but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this happen in Austria, despite its sad history. Indeed, these two same parties formed a coalition once before, when the FPO reached its all-time high of 27 percent of the vote after the 1999 elections. That alliance drew condemnation and sanctions from fellow European Union member states, and it ultimately ended badly for the FPO in the next election, as its support for conservative economic policies alienated many of its working-class voters.

Nowadays, though, two decades of normalization of the radical right across the north Atlantic distressingly means Austria’s impending lurch toward the extreme is just another story, and a relatively small one compared to the rise of Donald Trump and neighboring Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Even worse, the center-left SPO has also cracked the door open to cooperation with the FPO, and that crack could swing even wider if the left continues to get drubbed in national elections and, like the mainstream right, tries to co-opt nativist policies to win back its former voters.

• Czech Republic – parliament (Oct. 20-21)

Voters in the Czech Republic will go to the polls later this month in what is expected to be a blowout defeat for outgoing Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s Social Democratic Party. The center-left Social Democrats hold just a quarter of the seats in parliament and have governed in an uneasy alliance with ANO (a centrist populist party whose acronym translates as “yes” in Czech) since the 2013 elections. However, that alliance effectively broke down this year as Sobotka increasingly clashed with ANO leader Andrej Babiš, who was replaced as finance minister earlier in 2017 when coalition infighting almost brought down the government.

Babiš is the Czech Republic’s second-wealthiest man and a billionaire media mogul. He is also likely to become the next prime minister, as ANO has won a dominant plurality in every recent poll. However, Babiš has been accused of corruption and of using his party as a way to gain power, drawing some unwanted comparisons to Donald Trump and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, another media mogul-turned-oligarch. Indeed, parliament recently voted to strip Babiš’ immunity so that he can be prosecuted on fraud charges related to his business dealings, though he’d regain that immunity if he becomes prime minister.

ANO burst onto the stage ahead of the 2013 elections ironically in large part due to its anti-corruption stance, though it’s generally a pro-business party (and also somewhat skeptical of further European integration). It’s likely that ANO will form a coalition with some of the small, more traditionally center-right parties following the election, given its unhappy relationship with its current partners.

• Iceland – parliament (Oct. 28)

Politics in tiny Iceland have taken a rollercoaster ride over the last several years, and the country’s latest developments are as dizzying as ever. It’s been just a year since Iceland’s last election, but the center-right governing coalition fell apart in mid-September, forcing new elections this month thanks to a shocking scandal that ensnared Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. Benediktsson’s father, one of Iceland’s wealthiest men, had written a letter on behalf of a friend who is a convicted pedophile to help “restore his honor” so that he could legally seek certain employment again. Although the prime minister didn’t write the letter himself, he and his party stand accused of trying to cover up its existence for months.

Consequently, the centrist Bright Future party exited the coalition led by Benediktsson’s right-wing Independence Party, which led to the collapse of the government. Independence has long dominated Icelandic politics, along with the center-right Progressive Party and center-left Social Democratic Party, but the 2008-09 financial crisis and its aftermath wreaked havoc on Iceland’s economy and its party system, leading to the rise and fall of many small parties over the last decade.

The upheaval has been intense. The Social Democrats came to power with the left-wing Left-Greens in 2009, but the painful economic recovery saw a Progressive-led coalition with Independence wash out the Social Democrats in a tidal wave in 2013. However, the Panama Papers leaks, which included financial information about tax evasion on the part of wealthy individuals and public officials around the world, implicated Progressive Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson in 2016, leading to massive protests and early elections that October. The Progressives suffered major losses, but Independence was able to form a new coalition without them thanks to the rise of minor centrist parties. Fast forward to 2017, and the Progressives themselves have split, with former leader Sigmundur Davíð announcing the formation of a new party.

Polling since the abrupt collapse of the latest Independence-led coalition has been sparse, but it shows the potential for the opposition to gain power. The Left-Greens have long polled as the second-most popular party and could soon displace Independence as the largest following this latest scandal. However, the Left-Greens would likely struggle to form a governing coalition since the Social Democrats are still deeply unpopular.

The other opposition parties are decidedly less traditional. The Pirate Party, a radical pro-direct democracy group that prioritizes digital copyright reform, was an international media darling in the run-up to last year’s election after it polled in first place for months on end, but this party of political amateurs saw its support plummet in the closing months of the campaign. However, its 14 percent of the vote was still a major success, and recent polls indicate the Pirates could once again draw double digits next month.

Another newer party is the People’s Party, which failed to break the 5 percent threshold to win seats in 2016 but has surged to nearly 10 percent in the recent polls. The party is lead by Inga Sæland, who is legally blind and advocates for people with disabilities. Where this populist party fits on the ideological spectrum isn’t clear, though. Inga is a former Social Democrat who left the party after the 2008 financial crisis because she felt it wasn’t doing enough to help the poor, and her economic policies are generally left-wing. However, Inga also authored a Facebook post last March where she bemoaned asylum-seekers, earning comparisons to Trump (she later distanced herself from that post).

Iceland could be in for yet another messy election season followed by months of fraught negotiations to form a multi-party coalition. Although this nation of just 333,000 people is a relatively minor player on the world stage, its politics don’t lack for excitement.

• Norway – parliament (Sept. 11)

As expected, Norway’s conservative governing coalition narrowly won re-election to a second four-year term following last month’s election. The Conservative Party took 25 percent of the vote and will lead another coalition with the right-wing populist Progress Party, which remained steady with 15 percent. Oil exports play a major role in Norway’s economy, and slumping prices had badly hurt the government’s popularity for years, but a late recovery helped buoy its numbers ahead of the election. The coalition’s junior partners, the small center-right Christian Democratic and Liberal parties, will also return to parliament, but both only barely stayed above the 4 percent threshold needed to win seats.

Unfortunately for the left-of-center opposition, that very same threshold helped deny them a majority of seats even though the country’s five left-leaning parties collectively won 49.4 percent of votes compared to just 48.8 percent for the four parties on the right. The center-left Labour Partynarrowly remained the largest party ahead of the Conservatives, just as they have always been since the 1920s, but their 27 percent was their second-worst result since the Great Depression. The centrist Centre Partysaw the greatest increase in vote share of party, running on a platform of populism and decentralizing government, but its 10 percent take still left them short of enough seats for a center-left coalition.

The left-wing Socialist Left Party also grew to 6 percent and remained in parliament. However, the center-left environmentalist Greens and far-left Reds failed to pass the threshold, winning just 3 percent and 2 percent respectively, in spite of polls that had often shown both parties potentially overcoming the threshold for the first time.

This is far from the first time in Norway’s history that one ideological bloc has won the most votes but the other bloc won more seats—in fact, it’s happened in almost half of all Norwegian parliamentary elections since World War II, thanks to Norway’s 4 percent threshold for seats awarded on a national basis and the malapportionment of multi-member districts that give rural areas more weight than urban ones. Left-leaning parties have collectively won more votes but fewer seats in 2017, 1969, and 1965, while the right got similarly screwed over in 2009, 2005, 1993, 1977, and 1973. That represents a remarkable eight post-war elections out of 19 total where an electoral system that ostensibly provides proportional representation failed to equitably balance votes and seats between the left and the right.

• Russia – local elections (Sept. 10)

Russia doesn’t normally qualify for coverage in the digest as the country’s elections are nowhere near free or fair—and the outcome are seldom in doubt: Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party consistently dominates election results regardless of how votes are cast. But recent local results in Moscow are worth noting, because Liberal opposition candidates won numerous local council seats in a number of downtown Moscow districts, including Putin’s own constituency!

This breakthrough will help the opposition nominate a challenger next yearto Sergei Sobyanin, the Kremlin-backed mayor of Moscow who has made himself unpopular through plans to demolish existing residences and replace them with high-rises. Interestingly, among the advisors to the opposition coalition was Vitali Shkliarov, who worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and implemented some campaign practices that are traditional here but almost unknown in Russia, like door-to-door canvassing.

Of course, all of this happens at the whim of Putin and his cronies. If at any point Putin decides this relaxation of local election rigging needs to end, no one would be able to prevent it. But in the interim, any sort of genuine democratic expression is a welcome change for Russia. It’s also interesting to note that Putin, like so many modern authoritarians, feels the need to go through the democratic process, even if it’s usually a complete sham. Indeed, even China’s legislature is technically elected. Only a handful of countries hold no elections of any kind, including Brunei, Eritrea, and Qatar.

Sub-Saharan Africa

• Kenya – president (re-vote) (Oct. 28)

Kenya will have to re-run its presidential election after the Supreme Court invalidated the results of August’s elections, citing irregularities. A new date has tentatively been set for Oct. 28, but it’s unclear if the election will in fact take place then. The losing candidate, Raila Odinga, and his center-left Orange Democratic Movement Party have staged mass protests calling for reform of the national election administration commission before any re-vote takes place, but conservative President Uhuru Kenyatta and his ruling Jubilee Party have so far refused.

The court’s ruling did not specifically fault the incumbent administration or any particular members of the electoral commission, but it did blame the commission for failing to follow the proper procedures for tallying the results in the August election. Kenyatta won that bout by 54-44 over Odinga, and it’s entirely possible that a properly run election could see a similar outcome, since international observers generally did not find problems with the vote. However, both the president and his challenger realize the heightened stakes of a second election, leading to increased tensions.

Kenyatta has respected the court’s order for a new election, at least so far. However, he excoriated the judges over their ruling in statements that appear intended to intimidate, and he’s threatened to pursue changes to the judiciary to curb its independence if he wins another term. This election could nevertheless strengthen Kenya’s fragile democracy if it takes place peacefully and both sides honor the outcome, but in a nation prone to election-related violence, that’s far from guaranteed.

• Liberia – president and legislature (Oct. 10)

Next month, Liberia will conduct its third presidential election since its second civil war ended in 2003. In both 2005 and 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the centrist Unity Party won the presidency in a runoff, but she is not running for a third term. This means that Liberia will hopefully experience its first peaceful democratic transition under its current electoral system.

The Unity Party holds a plurality in both the Liberian House and Senate and is likely to remain the largest party in the legislature (incredibly, Liberian senators serve nine-year terms!). Its presidential candidate is Vice President Joseph Boakai. The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) is the second-largest party in parliament and has also made the previous two presidential run-offs. The CDC is based around its leader George Weah, a former star soccer player and current senator. Weah lost the 2005 election to Sirleaf.

The third notable presidential candidate is Charles Brunskine, the leader of the Liberty Party, the third-largest party in the legislature. Brunskine is a prominent lawyer in Liberia and also ran for president in 2005 and 2011, coming in third the first time and fourth the second. (CDC and the Liberty Party tried to form an electoral alliance in 2011 but it fell apart.) The fourth notable candidate is Alexander Cummings, a former executive for Coca-Cola, who is running as part of a new party called Alternative National Congress.

Other contenders include Prince Johnson, a former warlord (!) and current senator, and Benoni Urey, a telecom executive and the country’s richest man. A total of 20 people are running, but limited polling generally shows that Boakai and one of the other three main candidates will move on to a run-off.

North America

• Canada: Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan Party leadership

Brad Wall, Saskatchewan’s premier since 2007, announced in August that he would resign from office just a year after winning his third term. Wall, as leader of the center-right Saskatchewan Party, was the most high-profile conservative leader remaining in Canada following the defeat of Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives in 2015. He became something of a folk hero to grassroots conservatives after wrestling power from Saskatchewan’s long-ruling and left-leaning New Democratic Party. However, Wall’s popularity in the province began to wane after unleashing a brutal austerity budget earlier in the year, and his party lost two seats in recent special elections to the NDP. Wall will remain as premier until his successor is chosen in a party leadership election next January.

South America

• Argentina – legislature (Oct. 22)

Argentina’s October elections will be the first national elections to take place since conservative President Mauricio Macri won power in 2015 and put an end to 12 years of Peronist rule. The various Peronist factions, who take their name from former three-term President Juan Domingo Perón, have dominated Argentine politics since World War II. Many Peronists, like former President Cristina Kirchner, who was Macri’s immediate predecessor, favored left-wing populist policies, but the divide between the left and the right isn’t particularly straightforward in Argentina, and many Peronists have a strong autocratic streak.

However, Macri has driven Argentina toward a more neoliberal economic policy, bringing an end to the “Pink Tide” of left-wing populism that swept South America last decade. Macri’s pro-business policies have opened up Argentina more to global financial markets by resolving longstanding disputes with American creditors, but they’ve also imposed austerity on the poor.

Macri’s big-tent Cambiemos alliance holds a dominant plurality in the lower chamber of the country’s bicameral legislature, but Kirchner’s Front for Victory alliance still holds a majority in the Senate. Only one third of Argentina’s provinces will hold Senate elections this year, with the winning party earning two of each province’s three seats and the remaining seat going to the runner-up. However, thanks to their landslide in 2011, the Front for Victory is defending 15 of the 24 seats up this year, meaning it could lose its modest majority even if it turns in a decent result. (Half of the lower chamber’s seats are up for election.)

Consequently, the Front for Victory could suffer major losses simply due to the playing field. However, as American election observers are keenly aware, midterms often have a way of benefitting the opposition party, and Macri’s Cambiemos can’t take anything for granted. Kirchner herself is running for a Senate seat in Buenos Aires, the nation’s most populous province, and if she wins, it could be a prelude to a comeback campaign for president against Macri in 2019.

Grab Bag

• United Kingdom: The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the United Kingdom’s Labour Party was built off of 20 years in the wilderness. The New Statesman has a great piece looking at Corbyn’s shocking rise and the years leading up to it.

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