- IL-Sen: PPP’s first Illinois poll of the cycle finds GOP Sen. Mark Kirk in a dire position. He currently trails his top Democratic challenger, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, by a 42-38 margin and sporting a plug-ugly 25-42 job approval rating. That’s down from a 28-32 score back in February (that survey did not include any general election numbers), leading Tom Jensen to conclude that Kirk’s astonishing and seemingly endless series of verbal debacles has harmed him with voters. It’d be nice to believe that, though generally speaking, few normal people are paying attention to this kind of thing so far out (15 months!) from Election Day. Still, these numbers do suck for the incumbent, and here’s another reason: Kirk still only takes 38 percent of the vote against Duckworth’s little-known primary opponent, Andrea Zopp, who manages just 29 percent. (Duckworth leads Zopp 59-10 for the Democratic nomination.) And here’s the crazy thing: Kirk’s performance against Duckworth is actually better than in the only other poll we’ve seen this year, an Ogden & Fry survey last month that had him trailing 44-27! But like we asked last time, is this poll too good to be true? Maybe, but it’s hard to see how it is. On the presidential side, Hillary Clinton leads by anywhere from 48-39 (over Jeb Bush) to 51-33 (against Donald Trump). If anything, that might seem soft, but bear in mind that Barack Obama’s election results in the Land of Lincoln were inflated thanks to his favorite son status. John Kerry carried Illinois by “only” 10 points, and a Feb. 2008 poll pitting Clinton against John McCain (the only legitimate one of the entire race, as it happens) found her ahead 48-37. And it’s not just PPP who thinks Kirk is in trouble. Ron Gudwitz, a top Republican fundraiser in Illinois, just publicly called on Kirk to step aside, saying his big mouth has been damaging the party and could cause “collateral damage” to other GOP candidates. Gudwitz, who was finance chair for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s successful campaign last year, later tried to “retract” the remarks because he didn’t “want to take the heat” he immediately started getting—after all, Republicans don’t really have a better option than Kirk. But no incumbent facing a difficult re-election wants this kinds of headache—or this kind of polling result.
- FL-Sen: Just a day after the right-wing Sunshine State News reported that GOP Rep. Ted Yoho was considering a Senate bid, the congressman himself clarified matters on C-SPAN. Actually, no, wait, he didn’t. He just said a bunch of conflicting things:
Yoho: “I have no intention to run for the Senate.” […] Yoho: “It is ruled out.” […] Host: “The story says, ‘looking at entering the race but is far from making a final decision.’ ” Yoho: “Real far.” Host: “Okay, so it’s done—you’re not gonna do it.” Yoho: “It’s done.”
“Ruled out” and “it’s done” sound like definite “nos,” but “no intention” and “real far” from making a decision are definitely not “nos.” Whatever, people change their minds all the time. If Yoho wants to be crystal clear about his plans, he can issue a clarification. If he doesn’t, then we will still continue to view him as a possible Senate candidate. And given how unsettled the Republican field is, that only makes sense. A new survey from St. Pete Polls confirms what we’ve seen elsewhere, finding Rep. David Jolly as the only contender in double digits in the five-man field (with just 10 percent); over 60 percent of GOP voters are undecided. If Yoho does indeed wind up with a new district that removes his rural base and would make it difficult for him to win renomination, as Matthew Isbell has theorized, then the Senate race might look a lot more appealing.
- IN-Gov: Businessman Jim Schellinger, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor back in 2008, hadn’t entirely ruled out another try this cycle. But the guy he’d have had to run against, GOP Gov. Mike Pence, just appointed him to run the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, so a gubernatorial bid is definitely out of the question now. However, the Democrats already have a solid option in former state House Speaker Jim Gregg, who lost to Pence by just 3 points in 2012 and actually managed to outraise the incumbent in the first six months of the year.
- CA-24: It’s not too surprising to see Roll Call report that establishment Democrats would like to see Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider drop out of the race to succeed Rep. Lois Capps: Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal has crushed her on the fundraising and endorsement fronts, even earning the support of Capps herself, and no one wants to see a disaster in the top-two primary that involves two Republicans advancing to the fall general election. And, says Emily Cahn, operatives also think Carbajal would be better at holding this seat down in midterm years, when things can get hairy. But as soon as stories like these become public, that means that private efforts have already failed. And Schneider’s pushing back in at least a semi-convincing way by releasing a poll from Lake Research that has her ahead of Carbajal. In her survey, Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadijan leads with 24 percent, while Schneider grabs 16, Carbajal 11, Republican businessman Justin Fareed 10, and Bill Ostrander, another Democrat, takes just 1. Now, a 5-point lead isn’t all that impressive, especially when both you and your competition are both in the teens. But the point here is that Schneider has no intention of folding. Let’s see if she still feels that way, though, six months from now.
- FL-02: While most folks seem to want to wait until redistricting takes its course before announcing their plans, not everyone is so patient. Physician Neal Dunn, who seems to be both well-connected and to have rubbed local Republicans the wrong way with his past support of Democrats, had previously expressed interest in running in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. Now he’s gone and filed with the FEC, though he hasn’t yet made any kind of formal announcement. One other Republican is already in the race, former state Department of Elder Affairs general counsel Mary Thomas, but there are undoubtedly others who are privately considering.
- IA-01: As we expected, the Democratic primary in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District has already turned negative. EMILY’s List, which is backing Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon, kicked things off shortly before former state House Speaker Pat Murphy launched his campaign a week ago, saying Murphy wanted to “restrict women’s access to health care.” Murphy disputed the accusations, which centered on his record over a decade ago, when he described himself as “pro-life” and earned a 100 percent rating he earned from the Iowa Right to Life Committee. However, when he ran for Congress last year, he received endorsements from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL. EMILY ratcheted up the firefight on Wednesday, sending out an “annotated” version of a fact-sheet Murphy had previously issued about his stance on reproductive freedom. Next to Murphy’s own bullet points like “Murphy votes to prevent insurers from denying contraceptive coverage,” EMILY’s penciled in things like “listed as an ‘All Star Pro-Life Democrat.'” Murphy’s response was so predictable that, in fact, we predicted it. His campaign released a bunch of documentation testifying to his Democratic bona fides over the last 25 years: political donations he’s made, candidates he’s voted for, and even a copy of his original voter registration form from 1977 with the box checked for “Democrat.” While that might not sound like scintillating stuff, Murphy’s trying to contrast himself to Vernon, who switched parties back in 2009 when she was reportedly considering a mayoral bid (she never ran). While it’s dismaying as a partisan to see two Democrats blast each other to pieces when there’s a Republican who needs unseating (Rep. Rod Blum), it will at least be interesting to see which attack has more resonance: “You used to be a Republican” versus “You said you were pro-life.” In neither case, though, are the charges particularly recent. Vernon, as noted, changed sides six year ago, while the newest quote EMILY unearthed to ding Murphy dates back to 2007. So it’s certainly possible voters won’t really care at all.
- IN-09: Several Republicans are already seeking Rep. Todd Young’s House seat (he’s running for Senate), up to and including state Attorney General Greg Zoeller. But one more name is ready to make a go for this safely red district: The Hotline says that Jim Pfaff, a former chief of staff to Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, has been telling local GOP leaders that he’s going to run.
- NJ-03: New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District is sort of a microcosm for Democrats and the House: They really need to win it, but it’s really hard to win. The seat went for Barack Obama by a 52-47 margin, and the president actually did slightly better there in 2012 than he did four years earlier (a real rarity), but voters there have shown serious resistance to electing Democrats further down the ballot. Indeed, when a very similar version of this seat became open in 2008, Democrat John Adler only prevailed with 52 percent of the vote, despite his exceptional fundraising and a big blue wave at his back. (Unsurprisingly, he lost re-election two years later.) But Democrats keep trying, because they have to: Adler’s widow (he died tragically not long after his defeat), Shelley Adler, lost by 9 points in 2012; another well-regard candidate, Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, lost by 10 last year when the seat was open again. Still, the fight must go on, and according to PolitickerNJ, congressional Democrats are talking to Assemblyman Troy Singleton about a possible bid against freshman GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur. We don’t need to repeat ourselves about how difficult a race this would be, especially since MacArthur is rich and willing to self-fund, but you’ve got to take your chances somewhere.
- NJ-05: According to Bloomberg Politics, GOP Rep. Scott Garrett is actually paying a price for his retrograde views on gays: Major Wall Street donors, including Goldman Sachs, have reportedly stopped giving to the congressman, and the so-called “Big Four” accounting firms cancelled a fundraiser that had been planned on his behalf. As chair of a Financial Services subcommittee that oversees capital markets, Garrett had grown accustomed to heavy-duty corporate support over the years. Indeed, says Bloomberg, Garrett’s position is known as the “ATM” because it “almost guarantees endless streams of cash from the financial firms that have business before the panel.” (Yay for democracy!) But he made headlines (the bad kind) a few weeks ago when he insisted that he hadn’t paid his dues to the NRCC because the committee supports gay candidates. In 2015, that ain’t a good look, even for the GOP. And not only has this hurt Garrett, it’s also helped his Democratic opponent, Microsoft executive Josh Gottheimer. Steve Elmendorf, a top Democratic lobbyist, decided to host a high-dollar fundraiser in DC this week for Gottheimer, who’s already shown he can rake in the bucks. If Garret’s bigotry-fueled parsimony turns out, at long last, to lead to his undoing in this light red seat, it won’t be a moment too soon.
- NV-03: Democrats are pretty desperate for a candidate in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, an evenly split seat that’s open now thanks to GOP Rep. Joe Heck’s Senate bid. But so far, they’ve come up empty, and that sad state of affairs doesn’t seem like it’s about to change. Columnist Steve Sebelius mentions that Democrats are supposedly considering Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen as an option, but then he makes a convincing and dispiriting case that Hafen’s penchant for nepotism—six of his relatives work for City Hall, including his son—makes him unsuitable. And other Henderson political figures who could also run, he says, have similar issues. Back to square zero?
- PA-02: It’s the end of the line for Rep. Chaka Fattah. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors indicted the Philadelphia Democrat and several top associates on a broad array of corruption charges. Fattah had long been under investigation and now he faces 29 counts of wrongdoing that include a racketeering conspiracy (better known as RICO), bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and more. The Department of Justice alleges, among other things, that Fattah fraudulently tried to conceal campaign debts and even tried to steer public money to pay off private debts to one of his creditors:
Specifically, the indictment alleges that, in connection with his failed 2007 campaign to serve as mayor of Philadelphia, Fattah and certain associates borrowed $1 million from a wealthy supporter and disguised the funds as a loan to a consulting company. After he lost the election, Fattah allegedly returned $400,000 to the donor that the campaign had not used, and arranged for Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), a non-profit entity that he founded and controlled, to repay the remaining $600,000 using charitable and federal grant funds that passed through two other companies, including one run by Brand. To conceal the contribution and repayment scheme, the defendants and others allegedly created sham contracts and made false entries in accounting records, tax returns and campaign finance disclosure statements. In addition, the indictment alleges that after his defeat in the mayoral election, Fattah sought to extinguish approximately $130,000 in campaign debt owed to a political consultant by agreeing to arrange for the award of federal grant funds to the consultant. According to the allegations in the indictment, Fattah directed the consultant to apply for a $15 million grant, which he did not ultimately receive, on behalf of a then non-existent non-profit entity. In exchange for Fattah’s efforts to arrange the award of the funds to the non-profit, the consultant allegedly agreed to forgive the debt owed by the campaign.
Fattah vowed to appear on the 2016 ballot just hours after his indictment was announced, but it’s impossible to see an easy way out for the congressman, who has held office for over 20 years. Fattah did manage to win re-election last fall to Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District, one of the most heavily Democratic in the nation, without any serious opposition, even though the government’s investigation into his dealings had already been made public and several confederates had already been charged. But other ambitious Democrats who’ve been hovering around this seat will now be able to press forward. Recently, the nonpartisan website CrowdPAC, which allows ordinary citizens to pledge money toward potential candidates for office as a way to encourage them to run, floated the names of 18 possible replacements for Fattah. When a local reporter followed up with many of them, all but one refused to rule out a bid, so you know that interest is intense. It’s unfortunate that Philadelphia Democrats have to endure this spectacle, but in the end, the city will have a chance to elect some better representation.
- Nashville Mayor: Until recently, polls had almost universally shown real estate tycoon and former Tennessee Democratic Party Treasurer Bill Freeman easily taking first place in the Aug. 6 non-partisan primary, with a tight race for the second runoff spot. However, a recent survey from the unaffiliated Tennessee Laborers PAC showed a tight three-way race for the two runoff spots between Freeman, former Metro Nashville School Board Chairman David Fox (the only Republican in the contest) and Councilor Megan Barry (a favorite of the city’s progressive block). Fox is out with a new survey arguing the same thing, though we don’t know the name of the pollster. His poll has Freeman taking 20 percent and Fox and Berry tied with 18, with Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry all the way back at 12. It’s unclear what, if anything, has endangered Freeman’s chances. Ad spending has increased as the primary has approached, so some of Freeman’s opponents may just have made up some ground as they became better known. However, it’s worth noting that we haven’t seen a single independent poll of this contest. With the exception of the Tennessee Laborers PAC survey, all the polls have come from campaigns, so we don’t exactly have a clear picture of the primary.