Morning Digest: New York Republicans head for the exits as control over the state Senate looks dicey

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.


• NY-Gov, NY State Senate: Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco has finally put his ailing gubernatorial campaign out of its misery—and decided to terminate his long political career, too. Earlier this week, eight different county GOP chairs switched their endorsements from DeFrancisco to Dutchess County Executive Mark Molinaro, giving Molinaro the support of 75 percent of delegates to the party’s convention next month, DeFrancisco initially declared, “I’m still in the race.” But on Wednesdayhe decided to suspend his campaign, though he added, “[I]f the GOP committee members reconsider before the Republican Convention, I will be available.”

And he definitely won’t be busy doing much else. On Thursday, sounding frustrated about his inability to enact “fundamental change,” DeFrancisco declared he wouldn’t seek re-election to the seat he first won in 1992. DeFrancisco is an influential figure in the Republican caucus, serving as deputy majority leader since 2015, so if he’s calling it quits, that’s a worrisome signal for the GOP. His Syracuse-area seat won’t be easy to hold, either, since it voted for both Hillary Clinton (50-45) and Barack Obama (55-43).

And DeFrancisco is in fact the second upstate Republican to bail this week, following state Sen. Kathy Marchione, whose announcement reportedly “stunned” local party leaders. Marchione entered the legislature after beating incumbent Roy McDonald by just 99 votes in the 2012 GOP primary—a challenge she undertook because McDonald was one of four Republicans in the Senate who’d voted to legalize same-sex marriage the year before. Marchione’s district is considerably harder than DeFrancisco’s, since it voted for Donald Trump 49-46, but it did go for Obama by a 53-45 margin four years earlier.


• AZ-Sen: Earlier this week, Arizona Republicans did indeed forge aheadwith a vote on legislation that would have eliminated the possibility of a special election for John McCain’s Senate seat in the event that the ailing senator leaves office this year, but the effort failed. Because the proposal was an “emergency” measure (meaning it would have taken effect immediately), it required two-thirds support in both chambers of the legislature. That meant that Democrats, wise to GOP schemes for cancelling special elections they’re afraid they’ll lose, were able to block the bill by voting against it en masse.

There’s still a debate, though, as to the date by which a vacancy would need to arise in order to trigger a special election this November under existing state law. Election law expert Rick Hasen has opined that the relevant statute is “silent” on the question, while the state’s election services director, Eric Spencer, insists that one would only take place if McCain were to depart by May 30. Given the apparent gaps in the law, litigation would be likely if McCain’s seat became vacant after that date, especially because the regular 2018 primary isn’t even until Aug. 28.

• CA-Sen: U.C. Berkeley is the second pollster this week to find state Sen. Kevin de Leon in danger of missing the general election with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat. They give Feinstein 28 percent of the vote, while de Leon edges Some Dude Republican James Bradley 11-10 for second. They found the other Republican candidates taking a combined 8 percent (the writeup says that none of them took more than 2 percent each), while the other candidates grabbed a total of 6 percent.

A recent poll from SurveyUSA had Feinstein with a stronger 39 percent, while open white-supremacist Patrick Little took second with 18; de Leon and Republican Rocky De La Fuente tied with 8 each. SurveyUSA only tested four Democrats and two Republicans and left out Bradley, which does explain part of the big discrepancy between the two polls.

U.C. Berkeley also included all the candidates’ ballot designations while SurveyUSA only identified them by name and party, which could also make a big difference. For instance, Bradley is identified on the ballot as a “chief financial officer” while Little is depressingly called a “civil rights advocate,” so it makes sense that Republicans who know nothing about any of their candidates would go for Bradley and his impressive-sounding title.

• IN-Sen: Wealthy businessman Mike Braun is out with another ad for the May 8 GOP primary; this time, he takes a walk in an empty warehouse and bemoans career politicians.

• MI-Sen: Candidate filing closed this week for Michigan’s Aug. 7 primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here. Note that it’s not uncommon in Michigan for candidates to challenge their opponents’ petitions to try to get them knocked off the ballot, so it’s possible that not everyone who filed will make it to the primary.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is seeking a fourth term in a state that narrowly backed Trump. National Republicans have largely turned their attention elsewhere, but two well-funded Republicans are competing to face her. Businessman and Army veteran John James raised a credible $1.15 million from donors during the first quarter of 2018, while wealthy venture capitalist Sandy Pensler has loaned his campaign $5 million so far; at the end of March, Pensler had a $4 million to $1.2 million cash-on-hand edge.

Polls have consistently found that neither Republican has much name recognition statewide, though a recently survey from the GOP firm Strategic National had Pensler leading James 26-13. However, it’s going to take a lot for the GOP nominee to come close to unseating Stabenow.

• MT-Sen, NC-13: The American Bankers Association is spending six-figures each on ads to support two very different members of Congress: Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and GOP Rep. Ted Budd. Their Tester adfeatures local bankers praising him for cutting the red tape to end supposedly needless regulations hurting state banks, though they don’t mention Tester until half-way through the ad.

The ad for Budd stars Kelley Earnhardt Miller, a daughter of the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt and the co-owner of a race car team. She talks about her 150-person business and bemoans overregulation for the local bank she’s involved in before she praises Budd for going to bat for them. She adds that Budd was raised like her on a local family farm and is “one of us.”

• WV-Sen: Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is out with a poll of the May 8GOP primary from Public Opinions Strategies giving him a very narrow 28-26 lead over Rep. Evan Jenkins, while notorious coal baron Don Blankenship is at 15. One month ago, Morrisey dropped a poll from Osage Research that found him ahead of Blankenship 24-22, while Jenkins was at 17.

National Republicans have spent heavily to try to stop Blankenship from winning the nod to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, and this is the third poll released this week to show him far behind the other two Republicans. All three polls also agree that the race between Jenkins and Morrisey is tight, though there’s not a consensus on who is ahead. GOPAC, which has not taken sides in the contest, had Morrisey leading Jenkins 24-20, while Blankenship was at 12. Fox News soon released a poll giving Jenkins a 25-21 lead over Morrisey, while Blankenship lagged behind with 16.

Morrisey’s ads have largely gone after Jenkins instead of Blankenship, but his latest spot instead touts his own record as attorney general. This time, Morrisey does not drop any mountains on cities he wants to work in.


• AL-Gov: GOP Gov. Kay Ivey channels Judge Judy in her newest ad: She tells the audience that she learned about more than just cows from growing up on a cattle farm and adds, “Don’t give me a mountain oyster and tell me it’s sea food!” She then says the state is fighting corruption and creating jobs.

• CA-Gov: U.C. Berkeley takes a look at the June top-two primary for governor and finds the two Republicans in a close race for the second general election spot with Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom grabs 30, while businessman John Cox edges Assemblyman Travis Allen 18-16. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is far back with 9, while state Treasurer and fellow Democrat John Chiang is at 7.

While other recent polls have found Villaraigosa in a much closer fight with Cox for second, there’s been a broad consensus that Chiang is pretty far in back. Chiang is hoping to change that as his TV ad campaign begins, and the Los Angeles Times says his first commercial is part of a $500,000 buyin the Los Angeles and San Diego media markets. The opening spotfeatures a news report saying California was about to go bust, before Chiang says he made the tough calls to save the economy. Chiang then says he can defy the doubters again and pass a progressive vision.

• CO-GovOn Wednesday evening, a district judge accepted an agreement between investment banker Doug Robinson and GOP Secretary of State Wayne Williams that puts Robinson back on the June GOP primary ballot.

Last week, Williams announced that Robinson, a nephew of Mitt Romney, had fallen short in one congressional district and could not be on the ballot, but Robinson took the matter to court. Robinson and Williams reached an agreement where the state would accept another 40 signatures that his staff had dismissed because of discrepancies, with the two parties saying that they met the “substantial compliance” standard upon more inspection. That was enough to get Robinson over the the top and qualify him for the ballot.

• FL-Gov: Florida Politics writes that state House Speaker Richard Corcoran is planning to announce he’s joining the GOP primary during the week of May 7.

• MA-GovOn Thursday, former Newton Mayor Setti Warren ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Gov. Charlie Baker. Warren acknowledged that fundraising was an issue, and told the Boston Globe he didn’t think he had the resources to take on Baker. The two remaining Democrats in the September primary are former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez and environmental activist Robert Massie. However, prominent state Democrats don’t seem to have much interest in trying to unseat Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has even said he may endorse the Republican.

• MD-Gov: State Sen. Richard Madaleno became the first candidate in the June Democratic primary to advertise on TV this week. The campaign says the ad will air on CNN and MSNBC stations in his Montgomery County base, where he’s trying to run up the score. The commercial highlights his “progressive priorities,” including banning assault weapons.

• MI-Gov: On behalf of the Greater Detroit Regional Chamber PAC, the Glengariff Group is out with surveys of both parties’ August primaries. With the close of the candidate filing period earlier this week, we’re going to take a look at where things stand in the contest to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Rick Snyder; we’ll look at the Democratic side first.

The poll, which was conducted to determine which candidates the local Chamber of Commerce would invite to their late May debate at the Mackinac Policy Conference, shows wealthy businessman Shri Thanedar edging former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer 30-26. Former Detroit Health Commissioner Abdul El-Sayed takes a distant 7 while former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs, who is now running a write-in campaign after failing to make the ballot, is at 3.

That’s a rather different picture from the only other usable poll we’ve seen lately: One month ago, Target-Insyght found Whitmer leading Thanedar 34-20, with El-Sayed at 6. A few other surveys have been released since then, but they’ve had unacceptably small sample sizes or far too many undecided to tell us much.

Much of the state Democratic establishment, including several influential labor unions, has endorsed Whitmer. It took some time for the party to rally around her though, though: There had been reports, for instance, that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was trying to recruit an alternative candidate, but he ended up endorsing Whitmer at the end of February.

Thanedar, though, has spent millions of his own money to start advertising on TV early, and at least this latest poll indicates it’s helped him pull ahead of Whitmer, who is evidently waiting until closer to Election Day to go on TV. However, like a lot of political newcomers who take their first steps onto a large stage, Thanedar has had his share of stumbles and earned some bad headlines.

The newest comes from the Huffington Post, which reports that when a company Thanedar owned went bankrupt in 2010, the firm ended up shuttering an animal testing facility and leaving the animals behind. At the time, reports said that animal rights activists saved almost 120 beagles and 55 long-tailed macaque monkeys. Thanedar says the bank took control of the facility after his company declared bankruptcy, claiming he had no knowledge or control of what happened to the animals.

In a very different vein, The Intercept spoke to several Democratic consultants in the state earlier this month who all said—on the record—that when Thanedar interviewed them before he entered the race, he expressed interest in running as either a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent. They also charged that Thanedar was uncertain about his own political beliefs: One consultant said Thanedar “admit he was pro-life” while another concluded he was “adamantly pro-choice.” Thanedar himself doesn’t dispute that he “remained noncommittal” but says he did so because he didn’t want to “share any information … until such time as I announced my candidacy.”

El-Sayed, meanwhile, hasn’t really registered in the polls yet, but he has raised a credible amount of money. El-Sayed, who would be the first Muslim to be elected governor anywhere in the country, has been running as a progressive outsider. However, he has faced some serious questionsabout whether he’s even eligible to run for governor in the first place.

A Michigan native who’s spent most of his life in the state, El-Sayed joined the faculty at Columbia University in 2014 and was registered to vote in New York City as recently as March of 2015. El-Sayed didn’t re-register in his home state until March 2016, and that’s a big deal because Michigan’s constitution requires gubernatorial candidates to be “qualified electors”—that is, registered voters— for four years before an election.

The issue is murky, because El-Sayed never terminated his old Michigan voter registration when he left the state. However, he’d been placed on a “cancellation countdown” list after surrendering his Michigan driver’s license to obtain one from New York, and of course, no voter can have a valid registration in two locations at once.

El-Sayed recently petitioned a state judge to issue a declaratory judgment on whether or not he’s eligible to run, but the court has yet to rule. Both of El-Sayed’s primary foes have said that they won’t challenge his eligibility, but Democratic leaders have openly worried that if El-Sayed were to win the nomination, the GOP could then sue and possibly get him knocked off the ballot. Right now, though, El-Sayed looks like a longshot to win the primary.

Meanwhile on the GOP side, pretty much everyone acknowledges that Attorney General Bill Schuette currently leads Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in the August primary, and a new poll from the Glengariff Group gives him a 36-23 edge. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck lags far behind with 4, while physician Jim Hines takes 1. The poll was commissioned by the Greater Detroit Regional Chamber PAC to determine whom they’ll invite to their late May debate, and Hines’ weak showing got him cut.

Other polls have universally shown Schuette beating Calley, but the question is by how much. A recent survey from Denno Research found Schuette up 23-13, while last month, Calley’s allies at Strategic National gave the attorney general a 27-18 edge; in February, a poll for Schuette found him crushing Calley 42-15. Every survey that’s been released also finds that Colbeck and Hines are barely making an impression on voters at all.

Schuette has Donald Trump’s endorsement, while Calley is backed by termed-out Gov. Rick Snyder. Schuette notably stuck with Trump in October of 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape seemed to kill his campaign, while Calley unendorsed Trump. Schuette’s allies are already running ads reminding Republicans about this, and we’ll probably see a whole lot more before the primary is over.

Calley has Snyder’s enthusiastic support, and he’s running ads arguing both that the Synder administration was a huge success for Michigan and that Calley deserves part of the credit. Calley is also arguing that Schuette has used his position to unfairly go after Synder. Just this week, Calley called the attorney general’s prosecution of top officials for the Flint water poising a “gross abuse of power,” declaring that they were “show trials.”

If this primary comes down to whether GOP voters want a Trump-backed candidate or a Snyder ally, Schuette’s going to be very hard to beat. That helps explain why Calley’s allied PAC is trying to portray Schuette, who served in Congress in the mid-1980s and has held plenty of other positions in government, as a career politician who is collecting “fat” government pensions.

There has been little general election polling, and neither party is taking anything for granted. However, Democrats may start with the edge in the fall thanks to the unpopularity of state and national Republicans. Polls have shown Snyder in bad shape, and Morning Consult gave him a 38-48 approval rating for the first quarter of 2018. And unless something very dramatic changes, Trump is also unlikely to be anything but a liability to Team Red here. Republicans have already begun tying the Democrats to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who left office in early 2011 with horrible job approval numbers.

• NM-Gov: State Sen. Joe Cervantes is up with his first TV ad ahead of the June Democratic primary, which Politico says is part of a six-figure cable and broadcast buy. The narrator praises Cervantes for raising his daughters “with New Mexico values,” and says he’ll “fight for working families, better schools, safer neighborhoods and a fair economy with a strong middle class.”

• PA-Gov: State Sen. Scott Wagner argues in his newest ad that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and businessman Paul Mango, his rival in the May 15 GOP primary, are both awful and “more of the same.” Wagner then pledges to use “zero-waste budgeting” (whatever that means).

• SD-Gov: The GOP firm Clout Research, which shall we say is not our favorite pollstergives Rep. Kristi Noem a 49-37 lead over Attorney General Marty Jackley in the June GOP primary. Weirdly, the poll shows that while Noem takes 41 percent without factoring in leaners or soft supporters, Jackley takes an identical 37 percent of the vote. Clout says they don’t have a client here, and are polling races across the country that they find interesting.

• WY-GovOn Wednesday, former Rep. Cynthia Lummis endorsed businessman Sam Galeotos in the August GOP primary. Local politicos considered Lummis a front-runner until she decided not to run, and she’s one of the first big names in state politics to take sides. State Treasurer Mark Gordon, who is arguably the actual front-runner, lost a 2008 House primary to Lummis 46-37.


• CA-45: GOP Rep. Mimi Walters, who faces no intra-party opposition in the June top-two primary is going up early with her first TV ad. The spot features an assault survivor praising Walters for giving “a voice to the voiceless,” and pushing for the Survivors Bill of Rights.

• CT-05: Former state Rep. Dan Carter, who lost the 2016 Senate race to Democratic incumbent Richard Blumenthal 63-35, has announced that he won’t seek the GOP nod for this open seat.

• GA-06, GA-07On Thursday, EMILY’s List endorsed two candidatesrunning in a pair of neighboring congressional districts in the Atlanta suburbs that both swung hard toward Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the 6th District, EMILY is backing gun safety activist Lucy McBath, while in the 7th, they’re getting behind Georgia State public policy professor Carolyn Bourdeaux. The primary is May 22, but early voting, which is very popular in Georgia, begins on April 30. There will also be a July runoff in any primaries where no one takes a majority of the vote.

We’ve recently taken stock of the Democratic field in the 6th, but in the 7th, it’s worth noting that Bourdeaux led the pack in fundraising in the first quarter of the year, and by a considerable margin. Bourdeaux brought in $217,000, far more than either attorney Ethan Pham ($80,000) or businessman David Kim ($39,000), and her $276,000 war chest is also the largest. However, Kim has done some self-funding, leaving him with $186,000 in the bank, while Pham trails with $140,000.

Three other candidates—Kathleen Allen, Melissa Davis, and Steve Reilly—are also running in the primary, but they’ve raised very little. As the best-funded contender and the most prominent woman in a year when the energy around women candidates has been at peak levels, Bourdeaux is likely in the pole position for the right to take on GOP Rep. Rob Woodall. Yet despite the big shift in his district—the 7th went 60-38 for Mitt Romney in 2012 but narrowed all the way to 51-45 Trump—Woodall seems to be snoozing. He raised just $154,000 in the last quarter and had only $472,000 on hand, both weak figures for an incumbent.

• KY-06: While Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s past ads ahead the May 22Democratic primary seem more geared more towards a general election audience in this 55-39 Trump seat, he goes in a little bit of a different direction in his newest spot without abandoning his nonpartisan problem solver image.

Gray says he’s not sure what it means anymore when Kentucky is called a red state, and as footage of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump flashes by, he bemoans that “[w]hat’s going on in Washington, the White House, that’s not what we stand for here in Kentucky, whatever political party you belong to.” Gray then pledges never to “back down an inch to anyone who threatens the values we believe in, whether it’s a party-line politician or a president.”

• MI-01: GOP Rep. Jack Bergman won an expensive contest 55-40 against a touted Democratic opponent as this seat was moving from 54-45 Romney to 58-37 Trump. National Democrats haven’t made this seat, which includes all of the Upper Peninsula and much of the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, a top target, but it may be worth watching in a wave year. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Matt Morgan has the Democratic primary to himself, and he outraised Bergman (who is himself a former Marine general) $158,000 to $145,000 during the first quarter. Morgan self-funded another $42,000, and he had a small $317,000 to $307,000 cash-on-hand edge.

• MI-02: A number of Democrats have been raising a credible amount of money in seats like this that haven’t been seriously contested in a very long time. Physician Rob Davidson, who is taking on four-term GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga, took in $113,000 during the last quarter to Huizenga’s $187,000. Huizenga held a modest $411,000 to $223,000 cash-on-hand edge over Davidson, who has self-funded a total of $40,000 over the course of the campaign. One other Democrat is also in, but he had just over $1,000 in the bank.

This western Michigan seat, which includes Holland, Muskegon, and part of the Grand Rapids area, is going to be tough for Democrats to win under any circumstances. While Barack Obama carried the state by a massive 57-41 margin in 2008, he still narrowly lost the 2nd 50-48 to John McCain. The district went on to back Mitt Romney and Donald Trump 56-43 and 56-38, respectively. But as we always write, it’s good to field credible candidates in tough seats just in case the unexpected occurs.

• MI-06: After spending months flirting with a Senate bid, GOP Rep. Fred Upton decided to seek re-election to the Kalamazoo-area seat he first won in 1986. Six Democrats filed to run for this district, which moved from 50-49 Romney to 51-43 Trump, but only three of them appear to have the money or name-recognition necessary to win the primary.

Political science professor Paul Clements is making his third run at Upton. Clements first challenged him in 2014 and got support late in the race from a well-funded super PAC that favored candidates trying to get big money out of politics. Clements lost 56-40 during the GOP wave and quickly decided to run again. But while Clements got attention from Democratic donors, he lost by a wider 59-36.

Physician and former YMCA national health officer Matt Longjohn and George Franklin, a former Kellogg lobbyist, are also seeking the Democratic nod. At the end of March, Franklin led Longjohn $411,000 to $383,000 in cash-on-hand, while Clements had $167,000 to spend. The only poll of the primary we’ve seen was a March internal for Clements that showed him leading activist Eponine Garrod (who had less than $300 in the bank) 21-12, while Longjohn took 6 and Franklin 5. Upton had a hefty $1.1 million war chest, and the longtime member probably won’t need to worry about bringing in more.

• MI-07: GOP Rep. Tim Walberg faces a rematch this cycle with former state Rep. Gretchen Driskell in this south-central Michigan seat. National Democrats were excited about Driskell last cycle, but she lost 55-40 as the district moved from 51-48 Romney to 56-39 Trump. However, Driskell’s allies seem to be betting that her wide defeat can be avenged in a better political year. The DCCC had added Driskell to their Red to Blue program, and she’s once again brought in a credible amount of money. At the end of March, Walberg held a $971,000 to $620,000 cash-on-hand edge.

• MI-08: GOP Rep. Mike Bishop decisively won re-election 56-39 as this seat based in Lansing and exurban Detroit moved from 51-48 Romney to 51-44 Trump, but Democrats are excited about former Defense Department official Elissa Slotkin. Slotkin, who faces little primary opposition, has been once of the strongest House fundraisers in the country, and she held a small $1.34 million to $1.3 million cash-on-hand edge over the incumbent at the end of March.

Major outside groups are also preparing for a competitive race, even though national Republicans suggested back in March that Bishop wasn’t taking his campaign seriously enough for their tastes. The Congressional Leadership Fund recently reserved $2.2 million in TV time to protect Bishop, while the Democratic group House Majority PAC has also reserved ads in the area. A pair of recent polls does give Bishop a small lead: Target-Insyght for the political tipsheet MIRS News found him ahead 45-39, while PPP for the Democratic group Patriot Majority gave him a similar 46-41 edge.

• MI-09: Longtime Democratic Rep. Sandy Levin is retiring from this suburban Detroit seat. Attorney Andy Levin, the congressman’s son and a former member of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, begins as the clear favorite in the August primary over former state Rep. Ellen Lipton.

A recent poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of an unnamed “interested party”

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