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.
• CA-Sen: On Monday, longtime Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein confirmed what had long appeared likely: She will seek another term after 25 years representing California in the Senate. The former San Francisco mayor became the state’s first woman senator following a 1992 special election, and she has easily won re-election ever since her last close call during the 1994 Republican midterm wave. However, at 84 years old, there had been ample speculation that Feinstein would call it quits this cycle, but she dashed those suspicions with her recent announcement.
Although Feinstein hasn’t had to seriously worry about a Republican opponent in a near quarter-century, an intra-party challenge from Democrats may be in the works. The incumbent is relatively within the party’s mainstream at the national level, but she is a relative centrist compared to California’s more progressive Democrats. That’s been revealed as particularly true on national security issues and foreign policy over the course of her service as the the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Intelligence and Judiciary committees. She also voiced skepticism about single-payer health care proposals earlier this year.
As a consequence of Feinstein’s relative moderation in this staunchly progressive state, signs of possible campaigns have begun to appear from a few California Democrats who may oppose Feinstein from the left. State Senate President Kevin de León refused to rule out running in early September, and he’ll be looking for a new gig anyway, thanks to term limits forcing him out of his current office after 2018. Jonathan Martin at The New York Times reports that an unnamed party insider tells him that de León was set to “imminently” join the race and that Feinstein wanted to get ahead of his announcement with her own.
Wealthy financial entrepreneur Joseph Sanberg, who is active and well-connected in progressive political circles, has hired consultants and launched a new website, steps that could portend a statewide campaign. However, Sanberg has yet to publicly address whether he’s interested in running.
California’s unusual top-two primary system also gives a relatively centrist incumbent like Feinstein a huge leg up over opposition from both the left and the right. All candidates run on a single primary ballot, and the top two finishers advance to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. A progressive Democratic challenger would likely have to edge out any Republican candidates to face Feinstein, which is no small task unless there’s a split field of multiple GOP candidates and only a single progressive challenger.
Even if a more progressive Democrat makes it to the general election against Feinstein, the incumbent may be able to count on the support of Republicans and centrist voters if they view her as the more centrist option. However, that’s not guaranteed, since there’s evidence that a same-party general election causes participation to plummet among voters who backed the party that got shut out in the primary. When there was an all-Democratic general election in 2016’s open Senate race, Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s attempts to reach out to GOP voters fell flat as she lost to now-Sen. Kamala Harris in a 62-38 landslide.
Nevertheless, it isn’t even clear that Feinstein has lost the support of many progressive Democrats, and it may take a lot to convince them that it’s time for change in this incredibly expensive state. Indeed, Harris immediately reiterated her support for Feinstein, and many other prominent California Democratic officeholders will likely follow suit.
3Q 2017 Fundraising
Because we’re so close to the Oct. 15 reporting deadline, this will be the last Digest where we feature House fundraising numbers; we’ll have our House fundraising chart after Oct. 15. We’re continuing to report Senate and gubernatorial numbers, and we’ve began collecting the Senate reports in our quarterly fundraising roundup chart, which we’ll update continuously.
• AZ-Sen: Jeff Flake (R-inc): $1.1 million raised, $3.4 million cash-on-hand
• MT-Sen: Jon Tester (D-inc): $1.2 million raised, $5.4 million cash-on-hand
• AZ-02: Ann Kirkpatrick (D): $350,000 raised (in two months), $270,000 cash-on-hand
• IA-03: Theresa Greenfield (D): $190,000 raised, $11,000 self-funded
• NC-02: Sam Searcy (D): $550,000 raised, $500,000 cash-on-hand; Ken Romley (D): $250,000 raised (in two weeks)
• AL-Sen: Democrat Doug Jones is up with his first TV spot of the general election. The narrator begins by asking if “both parties need a reality check” before Jones appears and argues that leaders have “lost sight of what it means to serve” and that “continuing to divide us won’t make a positive difference in people’s lives.” Jones then calls for more voices of reason “who will listen to us. We need leaders people can talk to and trust, even if they don’t agree on everything.”
• ME-Sen: Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, appears to be heavily favored for another term in this fiercely independent state, but he may end up lucking out in terms of a GOP opponent if some influential Republicans get their way. The New York Times recently reported that Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who runs the white supremacist Breitbart “news” site, has been pushing for Maine first lady Ann LePage to challenge King. A Bangor Daily Newsreport from an anonymous GOP operative relays that LePage didn’t want to join the campaign “in a million years,” but Bannon is “hard to say no to.”However, there’s no confirmed quote from her on the matter.
Ann LePage hasn’t run for office before, and it’s unclear if she agrees with her husband on major issues. However, Gov. Paul LePage’s history of racism and offensive statements have made him an extremely divisive figure—sort of a proto-Trump. A candidate cut from the same cloth would thus draw a sharp contrast with King. Nevertheless, state Sen. Eric Brakey has been already been running for the Republican nomination since the spring, but he hails from the Ron Paulist-wing of the party and may not be a suitable option for hardcore xenophobes like Bannon and his influential media empire.
• TN-Sen: Former Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher had recently said he would announce relatively soon whether he would run for GOP Sen. Bob Corker’s open Senate seat. Instead, Fincher declared on Monday that he was launching a statewide listening tour and did not give a timeline for when he might decide.
On the Democratic side, Nashville state Sen. Jeff Yarbro is reportedly considered “a top star among a depleted bench for Tennessee Democrats,” according to The Tennessean’s Joey Garrison. However, Yarbro stated recently that he will not join the race, leaving attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler as the only notable Democrat in the race so far.
• WY-Sen: Think Republicans can’t possibly get any worse when it comes to whom they send to the Senate? Two recent articles indicate that Blackwater founder Erik Prince and billionaire mega-donor Foster Friessmay put that assumption to the test by launching primary campaigns against GOP Sen. John Barrasso in Wyoming.
Prince is the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and previously served as an informal Trump advisor during the transition phase, giving him strong ties to the administration. He also could reportedly earn the backing of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who runs the white supremacist “news” site Breitbart. However, Prince is best known as the founder of mercenary company Blackwater, which became the focus of much outrage over its role in carrying out the Iraq War under the George W. Bush administration.
Prince has pushed hard for the government to replace its soldiers with mercenaries, which of course would benefit people like himself financially and increase their power over the conduct of wars in places like Afghanistan. Blackwater mercenaries were infamously responsible for a 2007 massacre in Baghdad where they killed 14 Iraqi civilians, resulting in long prison sentences for four Blackwater personnel. Those war crimes led to Blackwater being kicked out of Iraq and deemed a mercenary force by the U.N. (Blackwater refered to themselves by the euphemism of “contractors”), but the company had already made billions off of its dealings with the federal government.
While Prince’s odiousness may be an asset with the party’s Bannon-aligned faction of the GOP, his ties to Wyoming are tenuous, to say the least. Prince has lived in Michigan in recent years, and he reportedly acknowledged the difficulties of facing an incumbent Democratic senator in that swingy state. He once had an address in Wyoming around the turn of the 21st century, so he would have to move to Wyoming almost immediately to launch any campaign.
Meanwhile, Billionaire mega-donor Foster Friess recently told The Washington Post via email that he is considering a campaign, a very unusual development for a 77-year-old who has wielded so much clout behind the scenes. Friess almost single-handedly kept alive Rick Santorum’s 2012 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination after bankrolling his super PAC to the tune of millions. However, he generated a firestorm over birth control during that campaign when he stated “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
Like Prince, Friess also has ties to Trump, and the Post reports that Bannon and fellow billionaire mega-donors Robert Mercer and Rebekah Mercer are keen on Friess’ candidacy, which could give him a substantial boost if he runs. Neither Prince nor Friess fits the profile of a typical insurgent challenger, but in the age of Trump and Republicans’ dissatisfaction with their congressional leadership, no incumbent should expect to rest easy against foes who could self-fund their campaigns.
Barrasso has compiled an orthodox conservative voting record, but that may not be enough for GOP primary voters in an era where Republicans have given into reactionary white identity politics. Daily Kos Elections’ David Nir aptly described this dynamic during the 2009 Tea Party surge, and it holds even truer today:
It’s important to remember that to remain a member in good standing of the conservative movement, it isn’t enough just to vote a certain way. You have to evidence a very particular tribal belonging—you need to hate the right people, be ignorant of the right facts, be fearful of the right bogeymen, and be arrogant about the whole enterprise. If you somehow fail this tribal litmus test, it doesn’t matter how right-wing you are—that’s how, for example, a wildly conservative guy like former Rep. Chris Cannon could lose a primary to another wildly conservative maniac.
• IL-Gov: On Monday, Rep. Cheri Bustos, the only Illinois Democrat who represents a seat outside the Chicago area, endorsed venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker.
• SC-Gov, SC-AG: Until now, Attorney General Alan Wilson had refused to rule out a GOP primary bid against Gov. Henry McMaster, who assumed office early this year after Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to become Trump’s U.N. ambassador. But over the weekend, Wilson’s team confirmed that he would seek a third term instead. However, all is not smooth sailing for Wilson, who is the son of Rep. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson.
Wilson faces a primary challenge from attorney William Herlong, who has thrown down $500,000 of his own money. Herlong is making the attorney general’s connections to powerful political consultant Richard Quinn, who is the potential target of a huge unfolding corruption investigation, the centerpiece of his campaign. McMaster’s primary opponents are hoping to use the governor’s own longstanding ties to Quinn against him as well.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. James Smith still has the primary to himself. Smith is close to ex-Vice President Joe Biden, and unsurprisingly, Biden endorsed him over the weekend.
• VA-Gov, VA-LG, VA-AG: Christopher Newport University returned to poll the field in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. Their latest survey finds Northam leading Gillespie 49-42, which is a slight uptick from their mid-September survey, where Northam led 47-41. These numbers are right in line with those from every other recent poll, which have typically ranged from a high single-digit Northam lead to no worse for the Democrat than a tie.
Of course, it was as recently as Virginia’s last gubernatorial election in 2013 when we saw Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe considerably underperform his polling lead, and Democrats can’t take anything for granted next month. Nevertheless, this latest CNU survey also finds Democrat Justin Fairfax ahead by 48-40 over Republican Jill Vogel in the contest for lieutenant governor, while Democratic incumbent Mark Herring sports a 51-40 lead over Republican foe John Adams for state attorney general.
With Election Day quickly approaching, Northam also rolled out his latest two TV ads. The first one attempts to fight back against a race-baiting smear from Gillespie and Republicans that tries to tie Northam’s positions on immigration policy to gang violence by the group MS-13. Northam speaks directly to the camera to decry the attack and note that, as a pediatric neurologist and former Army doctor, he has treated victims of gang violence and terrorism. Northam touts how he “voted to give gang members tougher prison sentences” in Richmond, and calls out Gillespie’s attack as taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook.
Northam’s second spot repeatedly blasts “Lobbyist Ed Gillespie” for “making millions selling out to the highest bidder.” Northam hammers Gillespie for fighting to keep student loan rates high, to ship jobs overseas, and to “give billions to Wall Street Banks.”
Finally, Gillespie continues to receive support from top party officials. Mike Pence will head to Virginia to campaign with Gillespie on Saturday.
• GA-06: Bobby Kaple, who anchored the morning and noon shows on Atlanta’s local CBS affiliate from 2015 until last month, announced on Monday that he would seek the Democratic nod to challenge GOP Rep. Karen Handel. A few months ago, Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff 52-48 to win the most expensive House race in American history in a suburban Atlanta seat that went from 61-37 Romney to 48-47 Trump. Ossoff has been considering a second run, but doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to announce his plans. For his part, Kaple says he’s spoken with Ossoff about his campaign, and will run no matter what he does.
Next year’s regular election almost certainly won’t be anywhere near as pricey as the June special was, but it still won’t be cheap to oust Handel in what’s previously been a reliably red seat. However, Kaple may start the race with some good apolitical name-recognition, and if he has the connections to raise money, he could be one to watch. But Kaple only moved to Atlanta in 2015 after TV gigs around the nation. Ossoff was a Georgia native who didn’t live in the 6th; the GOP worked hard to hit Ossoff as a carpetbagger, and they may open that playbook back up no matter who wins the Democratic nod here.
• IN-06: On Friday, Henry County Council President Nate LaMar announced that he would not join the GOP primary for this safely red eastern Indiana seat, and he did not beat around the bush as to why he was staying out. LaMar said that with the “impending entry of Greg Pence,” a brother of Vice President Mike Pence, it was “prudent” to kill his exploratory committee. Greg Pence has been flirting with a bid for a while, and if he gets in like LaMar thinks he will, he will likely have all the money and connections he could possibly want.
• MI-11: On Monday, GOP state Sen. Marty Knollenberg announced that he would stay out of the primary for this 50-45 Trump open seat.
• MN-08: Democrat Leah Phifer, a counter-terrorism expert who used to work for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, has been talking about challenging Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan for a while in this competitive rural seat, and she announced over the weekend that she was in. Phifer didn’t explicitly announce she would challenge Nolan in the Democratic primary, though.
Instead, Phifer kicked off her bid by saying she was challenging the incumbent in the April 14 party convention. As we’ve mentioned before, while winning the party’s endorsement at a convention is not the same thing as winning the nomination, it’s common for Minnesota candidates in both parties to drop out of the primary if someone else gets their party’s endorsement. It’s unclear if Phifer is willing to continue to the primary if she’s denied the endorsement in April.
Phifer also did give one reason for why Democrats should replace Nolan. Phifer said she opposed a Nolan bill that would push a land exchange that’s required to set up a copper-nickel mining project near Hoyt Lakes, arguing that Nolan’s proposal would cut locals out of the decision-making process and bypass several lawsuits against the exchange. Phifer instead said that the state should be making these decisions, rather than the federal government.
This seat, which includes the Iron Range in its northeast corner, was Democratic turf for a long time. However, the 8th swung from 52-46 Obama to 54-39 Trump, and Nolan pulled off tight wins in 2014 and 2016 against rich guy Stewart Mills. Other Democrats are still competitive in local legislative races, so it’s possible a Democrat other than Nolan can still win here. Still, this will be a top GOP target, and the last thing Team Blue will want is an ugly primary. So far, St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber has the GOP primary to himself, though Mills is talking about a third bid.
• NH-01: Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s unexpected decision not to seek a second consecutive term representing eastern New Hampshire’s 1st District has consequently led to a flood of names of potential Democratic candidates who might run to succeed her in this 48-47 Trumpseat.
Perhaps the biggest name in the mix is Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, who confirmed on Monday that he was “actively exploring” a bid and will be talking to people about what he should do “In the coming weeks.” Pappas was a sought-after candidate last cycle but ultimately deferred to Shea-Porter’s successful attempt at a comeback bid against the GOP incumbent at the time, Rep. Frank Guinta. Pappas won a conservative-leaning seat on New Hampshire’s five-member Executive Council in 2012, and he impressively held onto it even in 2014 and 2016. That election track record will almost certainly make him a prize recruit for many national Democrats, and he could start off with ample name recognition and connections if he runs.
State Rep. Mark MacKenzie has also recently acknowledged that he is thinking about running. Although he’s just one of 400 state representatives, MacKenzie led the state chapter of the AFL-CIO from 1990 to 2015, and his ties to organized labor could help provide him with a crucial boost. Two other state representatives who have expressed interest are Mindi Messmer, who was elected last year, and six-term incumbent Renny Cushing.
Meanwhile, former Somersworth Mayor Lincoln Soldati also has talked about running, according to Boston Globe reporter James Pindell. Soldati previously served as Strafford county attorney and is well-known in the Seacoast area of southeastern New Hampshire. Strafford County makes up about 19 percent of the 1st District, and he could start out with decent name recognition.
Another Democrat who is reportedly interested is Marine veteran Maura Sullivan, who was an official in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs under Obama. The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that Sullivan will likely form an exploratory committee soon, according to an unnamed source, but she has yet to say anything publicly. WMUR’s John DiStaso writes that Sullivan only moved to New Hampshire this year, though she spent time in the state volunteering for Obama and Shea-Porter’s campaigns. Sullivan, who served in Iraq, is an Illinois native who reportedly spoke to the DCCC about a possible bid against suburban Chicago GOP Rep. Peter Roskam in the spring, though she later said she was unlikely to run.
Lastly, WMUR’s DiStaso and Kristen Carosa put on their Great Mentioner caps and listed off some Democrats who may be interested but haven’t spoken out yet. They include former state House Speaker Terie Norelli, state Sen. Donna Soucy, and former Portsmouth City Councilor Stefany Shaheen, who is the daughter of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. The Globe’sPindell also brings up former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, who is currently running for governor and could switch races, although he wouldn’t be able to transfer money he has raised from a state campaign to a federal contest.
• PA-08: Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District was one of just a handful of potentially competitive House seats where Democrats still lacked a candidate, but that changed this weekend when Navy veteran and JAG attorney Rachel Reddick announced she’d take on freshman GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. This suburban Philadelphia seat has the distinction of being the second-closest district on the presidential level anywhere in the country in both 2016, when Donald Trump carried it 48.2 to 48.0 percent, and 2012, when Mitt Romney won it 49.4 to 49.3 percent.
The results for the House were quite different last year, though. Fitzpatrick, who had a familiarity advantage thanks to the fact that he was seeking to succeed his brother Mike Fitzpatrick, defeated Democrat Steve Stantarsiero by a considerably wider 54-46 margin, even though Democrats had made the district a target. But Fitzpatrick should well know he’s not invulnerable: Mike Fitzpatrick had represented this same seat once before but narrowly lost it after a single term in the Democratic wave of 2006 to netroots hero Patrick Murphy, who, like Reddick, was also a first-time candidate and military veteran.
• PA-18, PA-Sen: GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone’s Senate bid had looked headed for nowhere, so it’s not surprising that he’s now suspended his campaign and says he’ll run for the House seat that Republican Rep. Tim Murphy will resign from in disgrace later this month. However, there won’t be a primary for the as-yet-unscheduled special election to replace Murphy, so Saccone’s political future will rest in the hands of local Republican leaders, who will pick a nominee. It’s very possible, then, that he could wind up with bupkis, though presumably he could always seek re-election if all else fails.
• SC-05: As expected, Democrat Archie Parnell kicked off a rematch on Monday against GOP Rep. Ralph Norman, who won a much-closer-than-expected 51-48 victory in a special election in June. It’s exceptionally rare for a special election winner to immediately lose their very first re-election bid, and Parnell will face long odds thanks to the strong red lean of this district. But the only way to find out whether his narrow loss was a harbinger or a fluke is to try.
• Special Elections: As always, Johnny Longtorso brings us up to speed:
Florida HD-44: This is an open Republican seat in Orange County. The Democratic nominee is Eddy Dominguez, an executive at a staffing firm; however, he will not be on the ballot. The Democrats originally nominated Paul Chandler, who was forced to withdraw due to questions surrounding his eligibility to run. Due to the late stage at which Chandler withdrew, his name remains on the ballot, but votes for him will count for Dominguez. The Republican nominee is Bobby Olszewski, a former Winter Garden city commissioner. This seat went 51-45 for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but backed Mitt Romney 53-46 in 2012.