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-50: Late on Tuesday, federal prosecutors indicted Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, on charges that they filed false FEC reports to disguise the fact that they spent $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. Hunter had been under FBI investigation since at least last year for, among other things, allegedly spending $1,300 of donor money on video games and $600 to transport his kid’s pet rabbit on an airplane flight.
Hunter inherited his seat in Congress from his father, Duncan Hunter Sr., in 2008, and his San Diego-area district has always been reliably red. (In 2016, it voted for Donald Trump by a 55-40 margin.) But Hunter has drawn a credible opponent in Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, and now that he’s under indictment, he could fall amidst a blue wave. And unlike fellow indicted GOP Rep. (now there’s a phrase!) Chris Collins of New York, there’s no way for Hunter to get his name off the November ballot, unless he dies.
Hunter shares one other thing in common with Collins, incidentally: Collins was the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign. Hunter was the second.
• MO-Sen: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s latest TV ad cites independent fact checkers to call out GOP attacks on her family as bogus smears, and it wisely doesn’t repeat the details of their claims regarding her husband. The narrator blasts “dark money special interests” for funding those false attacks and supporting Republican Josh Hawley’s campaign.
• MT-Sen: Like several Republican Senate candidates in red states, Matt Rosendale is filling his new commercial pretty much entirely with footagefrom a recent rally with Donald Trump. The spot shows Trump attacking Democratic Sen. Jon Tester on immigration and declaring that Rosendale is “a Montana fighter.” If nothing else, it’s an effective way for GOP candidates to make use of Trump rallies while being able to cut out the many Trump tangents and improvisations that tend to generate the lion’s share of attention.
• ND-Sen: Intriguing: While national Republicans have made Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp one of their top targets this fall and increasingly feel sanguine about GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer’s chances, two prominent Republican outside groups have notably opted out of backing Cramer: the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity and the hardline anti-tax Club for Growth. Both groups typically spend big for Republican candidates, and that money could have gone a long way in a small state like North Dakota. However, Cramer likely won’t be lacking for outside support from official party organizations like the NRSC.
• WV-Sen: The NRSC’s latest TV ad tries to portray Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin as a corrupt insider for sitting on subcommittees that oversee his family’s business interests in the coal brokerage company Manchin helped run until handing it off to his son when he got elected secretary of state in 2000. The spot contends that Manchin made $5 million in profits since joining the Senate in 2010, but Manchin placed his holdings into a blind trust when he became governor in 2005, precisely to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, 35th PAC has debuted an ad to support GOP state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, which is part of a $439,000 ad buy. Their spot blasts Manchin for allegedly using his “Washington swamp connections” to get his daughter a job at a pharmaceutical company that contributes to the opioid overdose crisis. However, 35th’s ad elides the fact that the job was a low-level position Manchin’s daughter took two decades ago, from which she later rose through the ranks. The ad then praises Morrisey for supposedly leading the fight against opioid abuse and winning what they call the largest “largest verdict against the drug companies in West Virginia history,” although that $36 million award is a pittance for an industry with billions in profits.
And as the Senate Majority PAC’s latest ad illustrates, the GOP’s charges are a classic case of political hypocrisy. Their spot uses a clip from a GOP primary debate where Fox News host Bret Baier addressed Morrisey, “This is not your first attempt to get elected. You first ran in your native New Jersey. Joe Manchin grew up here and never left. You worked as a big money lobbyist in D.C. How are you not a creature of the swamp?” Indeed, as previous Democratic ads have detailed, Morrisey himself was a drug company lobbyist who has since come under fire for not standing up enough to big pharma, with the state’s largest newspaper even calling his actions “woefully negligent.”
Lastly, the Susan B. Anthony List, a group opposed to abortion rights, has dropped $750,000 for their second TV ad and $186,000 on radio spots to attack Manchin, bringing their total ad buy up to $1.6 million. The TV spot hammers Manchin for voting against defunding Planned Parenthood despite calling himself “pro-life.”
• AZ-Gov: Local Republican firm OH Predictive Insights has polled next week’s Democratic primary on behalf of ABC15, and they have Arizona State University professor David Garcia holding a 40-25 lead over state Sen. Steve Farley. Garcia has led in every one of the handful of polls so far in this contest.
• FL-Gov: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is out with a Change Research poll of next week’s Democratic primary that’s very different from what other polls have been showing. They give him the lead with 33 percent, while former Rep. Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are each a distant second with 22 percent each. A recent St. Pete Polls survey for Florida Politics found Graham leading Levine 27-25 while Gillum took third with 21, and that was the first survey in a long time that showed the Tallahassee mayor even breaking 20 percent.
• NH-Gov: University of New Hampshire: Chris Sununu (R-inc): 48, Molly Kelly (D): 32 (April: 51-24 Sununu)
• NM-Gov: Stronger New Mexico, a group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, has launched what we believe is the first TV spotfrom an outside group during the general election. They argue that GOP Rep. Steve Pearce is “in the pocket of big oil,” and that he’s voted to weaken laws protecting New Mexico from pollution. They also declare that he was twice named “one of the most corrupt members of Congress by an independent watchdog group.”
• NV-Gov: Democrat Steve Sisolak has made his first TV ad reservationsfor the general election, placing $438,000 for a Sept. 11 through Oct. 1 ad buy. Meanwhile, Republican Adam Laxalt’s latest TV ads (here and here) attack Sisolak over rape kits going untested and letting rapists get away with their crimes. Laxalt blasts Sisolak for supposedly letting a huge backlog of kits go untested when he voted for funding cuts as Clark County commissioner, but Laxalt takes credit for reducing that backlog after taking office as state attorney general in 2015.
However, as the Nevada Independent pointed out, many kits in the backlog had seen cases go cold because there was no suspect, the victims chose not to press charges, or cases were resolved without needing DNA evidence. Even Laxalt’s own former assistant attorney general stated in 2016, “I don’t want to misrepresent that there’s a bunch of rapes that are occurring and people aren’t being brought to justice.” Furthermore, Laxalt benefitted from taking office right as the Justice Department launched a national initiative to provide funds to test old rape kits, and even reducing the backlog since 2015 only led to 12 arrests.
• OR-Gov: Priority Oregon’s latest ad against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has led to Brown sending a letter to TV stations demanding they take downthe commercial, although Oregon law doesn’t hold stations liable for airing false campaign statements. The spot features a mother reading her small children a “scary” bedtime story from a book labeled “Kate Brown’s Oregon.” The woman flips the pages as the book contains pictures including “homeless camps everywhere” and “foster care children don’t get enough to eat,” but it’s the last claim that Brown is taking action against: the claim that, “You can sell drugs while running a daycare.”
That charge refers to a Portland man, Samuel Watson, who was found to be running a licensed store selling marijuana—which is legal under state law—while also hiring others to operate a daycare out of his home. Of course, Oregon law already prohibits people from growing or dispensing marijuana at a child care facility, but the ad makes it sound like Watson was doing that very thing. Watson later closed his daycare after it was investigated, but state officials found no evidence he was storing marijuana at his home daycare business in violation of the law.
• WI-Gov: A DGA-backed group called A Stronger Wisconsin has launched a TV ad as part of a $1.8 million buy that counters a recent GOP attack on Democrat Tony Evers that he failed to protect students in the classroom by not revoking the license of a teacher who had viewed pornography at school. The DGA ad calls out Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s lies without repeating them, and it notes that Wisconsin state law had prohibited teachers from being fired for inappropriate conduct in situations like this one. The commercial praises Evers for working with both parties to change the law, and it blasts Walker for cutting funding for schools, health care, and roads.
The DGA isn’t the only one bashing the GOP for this bogus attack. The Greater Wisconsin Committee is putting $400,000 behind their own spot that hits Walker as a 25-year career politician who is sliming a lifelong educator. They also praise Evers for working to change the law that barred the state from firing teachers who viewed pornography at school.
Meanwhile, Evers is out with his own ad featuring Peter Bildsten, who previously served as financial institutions secretary in Walker’s cabinet. Bildsten decries the Walker administration for making every decision with “pleasing the donors” in mind, and he says he had to meet with special interests who donated heavily to Walker, including lobbyists for the predatory payday loan industry.
Finally, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity has put $1.8 millionbehind a spot that touts Walker’s supposed “pro-growth” policies for letting him invest “millions in our schools.” They use statements from Evers that praised a 2017 increase in education funding to argue he’s a hypocrite who “knows” Scott Walker is supposedly improving the state education system. However, that budget increase still fell short of Evers’ own proposal.
• CA-25: House Majority PAC has launched what they say is a $430,000 buy against GOP Rep. Steve Knight that aims to make him pay for his 2016 declaration that Social Security was “a bad idea.” The commercialbegins with footage of Knight musing, “I think that Social Security was a bad idea. I do. I absolutely think it was a bad idea,” before the narrator says his voting record is even worse.
• CA-49: So, it begins: On Monday evening, Donald Trump took a short break from ranting about rigged witch hunts to tweet out an endorsement of Republican Diane Harkey, who is hoping to hold California’s open 49th District for the GOP. Trump’s brief words of support were his usual boilerplate (something something crime and military—though oddly nothing about the Second Amendment), but this marks a new phase for his, ah, “endorsement program” because he actually lost the 49th to Hillary Clinton, 51-43.
Previously, Trump had usually confined himself to Republican primaries or solidly red districts, so that makes his involvement here seriously risky for Harkey. Even if Trump can fire up the GOP base, there are more voters in this district who oppose him than like him—and those folks might just get fired up by this move, too. At the very least, Democrat Mike Levin should be able to raise a boatload of cash off this.
And knowing Trump, it’s certainly possible he fired off his tweet without Harkey’s assent. Indeed, here’s a tell Harkey knows she’s just been handed something very dangerous: Her campaign Twitter and Facebook pages make no mention of Trump’s backing, though the latter does feature a post written a day after Trump’s tweet touting an endorsement from … the Carlsbad Police Officers’ Association.
• CO-06: Politico reports that the progressive group End Citizens United has reserved $625,000 for a TV buy in support of Democrat Jason Crow that will start Sept. 4, as well as an accompanying $150,000 digital ad campaign.
• FL-06: St. Pete Polls takes another look at next week’s Democratic primary for Florida Politics, and they find national party favorite Nancy Soderberg leading radiologist Stephen Sevigny 50-19, with travel agency owner John Upchurch at 12. St. Pete’s July poll had Soderberg edging Upchurch 30-13, with Sevigny at 10.
• FL-07: On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls takes a look at next week’s GOP primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and they give state Rep. Mike Miller a 42-26 lead over businessman Scott Sturgill.
• GA-07: Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux faces a tough battle against GOP Rep. Rob Woodall in a suburban Atlanta seat that moved from 60-38 Romney to 51-45 Trump, but she’s out with a poll from Tulchin Research that gives her a small 46-44 edge. No major outside groups have announced any ad reservations here, and Bourdeaux may be releasing this poll to encourage national Democrats to come to her aid.
• IL-13: EMILY’s List has launched a $155,000 TV buy in support of Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan.
• KS-03: Democrat Sharice Davids has released a poll from Global Strategy Group giving her a small 46-43 lead over GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, while Libertarian Chris Clemmons takes 4. This is the first poll we’ve seen of this race since Davids won the very crowded primary earlier this month.
• MA-07: Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is going up with her first TV ad ahead of her Sept. 4 Democratic primary with Rep. Mike Capuano. However, in an unusual move, her opening spot is entirely in Spanish. Pressley’s spot highlights her support for immigrants, and features several local Latino activists praising her. Capuano, who enjoys a large cash-on-hand edge, began his TV advertising campaign several weeks ago.
• NC-02: Now this is unusual. GOP Rep. George Holding is trying to raise money by telling his supporters he’s losing: In a fundraising email sent on Monday, Holding claimed he’s trailing Democrat Linda Coleman by 3 pointsin an internal poll. No other details of this supposed poll were made public, though Holding’s campaign manager “confirmed” the results to the News & Observer, saying, “George has always won by a pretty comfortable margin. This is a completely different election.”
That may be true, but whether or not this poll is real, this is a dangerous game to play. There’s an old saw that candidates for office “should run like you’re 10 points down,” but that doesn’t mean you should communicate that kind of desperation to supporters. For incumbents in particular, who are generally assumed to be leading unless shown otherwise, saying you’re down in the polls risks demoralizing the people backing you.
There is one sign that Holding might really be in trouble, though: He went on the air two months ago with TV ads attacking his opponent. Now, we’ve seen a number of Republican incumbents with varying degrees of electoral vulnerability go on offense since then, so it’s not necessarily dispositive. But Holding won his last election 57-43, and Trump won here 53-44, so if the congressman truly is behind, that a very worrisome sign both for him and the GOP at large.
• NH-01: Former Gov. John Lynch, who served from 2005 to 2013, has joined much of the state Democratic establishment and endorsed Executive Councilor Chris Pappas ahead of the Sept. 11 primary.
• NV-04: Last week, former GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy and the NRCC released a poll from Moore Information showing him in a 41-41 deadlockwith former Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in this 50-45 Clinton seat. However, Horsford has now released a mid-July survey from Global Strategy Group that gives him a wide 42-32 lead, with a trio of independent and third party candidates taking 3 percent of the vote each.
The Hardy poll did not include those three contenders, but Horsford’s memo indicates they’re drawing from both former congressmen almost evenly. In a two-way matchup, the GSG poll gives Horsford a 49-40 lead.
• TX-32: Back in October, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions made it very clear that he didn’t want major GOP outside groups coming to his aid, bragging that he “begged the NRCC, even when I was chairman, ‘Keep the hell away from Dallas, Texas,'” and that, “We need to go in somewhere else, it’s up to me to win in Dallas, Texas. It’s not up to some other group.” Well, 10 months later, the Congressional Leadership Fund has decided to get the hell into Dallas, Texas, and they’ve announced that they’ve reserved $2.7 million for TV ads that will start next month. CLF chief Corry Bliss also declared that, “This is only the beginning, not the end of our investment.”
Even a few months ago, it looked like Sessions, who is a strong fundraiser, could hold his own in this race without outside help. However, while Sessions held a wide $1.87 million to $943,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of June over Democrat Colin Allred, that’s a considerably smaller gap than the $1.5 million to $220,000 lead that Sessions enjoyed three months before. National Democrats also have smelled blood, and House Majority PAC reserved $2.2 million in March to go after Sessions in the fall.
It also doesn’t help that, despite his earlier bravado, Sessions very much doesn’t appear to have what it takes to win on his own. The congressman, who is facing his first competitive general election since 2004, made news last month when he bizarrely blamed a woman for her own murder at the hands of her husband, saying it was because she was being “unfair.”
And for all his experience leading the NRCC during the 2010 GOP wave and in 2012, Sessions also doesn’t seem to have settled on a basic strategy for how to deal with Donald Trump, who lost this seat 49-47 four years after Mitt Romney carried it 57-41. In May, Sessions told McClatchy that he’d welcome a visit from Trump “with open arms,” adding, “Can you invite him for me?” However, it was only two months later that Sessions refused to tell Politico if he’d even campaign as a Trump ally, though he did add he didn’t “think there’s any question that from time to time the president’s numbers are not where I’d like them to be.” National Republicans also seem to have decided that Sessions’ numbers aren’t where they’d like them to be.
• House: If it seems like we’re seeing a lot of commercials from the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund over a sudden, it’s because we are. CNN reported last week that the group has launched a $10 million pre-Labor Day ad campaign across 14 different House races. According to CNN, the Republicans they’re hoping to help are:
CA-25: Rep. Steve Knight
CA-39: Young Kim
CA-45: Rep. Mimi Walters
CA-48: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
IL-06: Rep. Peter Roskam
KS-02: Steve Watkins
KS-03: Rep. Kevin Yoder
KY-06: Rep. Andy Barr
ME-02: Rep. Bruce Poliquin
MN-08: Pete Stauber
NJ-03: Rep. Tom MacArthur
NJ-07: Rep. Leonard Lance
NY-19: Rep. John Faso
NY-22: Rep. Claudia Tenney
CLF leader Corry Bliss says that his well-funded group is hoping that, by going on the offensive early, it will force Democrats to start spending on their own commercials earlier than they’d planned. Team Red is also betting that an early ad blitz will help them caricature their Democratic opponents before they can get their own messages out.
- AZ-Sen: DefendArizona (R) ($136,000 buy for Kelli Ward)
- FL-Sen: Rick Scott (R)
- IN-Sen: Mike Braun (R); One Nation (R) ($1 million buy against Joe Donnelly)
- MO-Sen: Club for Growth (R) (against Claire McCaskill)
- NE-Sen: Jane Raybould (D)
- NJ-Sen: Bob Menendez (D-inc)
- NV-Sen: Majority Forward (D) (Spanish ad against Dean Heller)
- WI-Sen: Tammy Baldwin (D)
- CT-Gov: Change PAC (RGA affiliate) ($461,000 buy against Ned Lamont)
- FL-Gov: Gwen Graham (D); Adam Putnam (R)
- MI-Gov: State Solutions (RGA affiliate) (for Bill Schuette)
- NM-Gov: Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)
- OR-Gov: Kate Brown (D-inc)
- CA-45: Katie Porter (D)
- FL-05: Alvin Brown (D)
- FL-26: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D)
- IA-01: Abby Finkenauer (D)
- IA-03: House Majority PAC (D) ($200,000 buy against David Young)
- IL-13: Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D)
- KS-03: Sharice Davids (D)
- KY-06: VoteVets (D) ($156,000 buy against Andy Barr)
- MN-02: Angie Craig (D)
- NC-09: Dan McCready (D)
- NC-13: Kathy Manning (D)
- NY-22: Claudia Tenney (R-inc); Congressional Leadership Fund (R) (against Anthony Brindisi)
- NY-25: Joe Morelle (D)
- SD-AL: Tim Bjorkman (D)
- UT-04: Ben McAdams (D)
- VA-02: Elaine Luria (D)