The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● WI Supreme Court: The battle lines for a crucial race for Wisconsin's Supreme Court have now been set following the results of Tuesday's primary, with incumbent Justice Dan Kelly facing off against Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky on April 7.
The officially nonpartisan election featured three candidates running on the same ballot: Kelly, a conservative appointed to his post by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2016, as well two progressives, Karofsky and law professor Ed Fallone. Kelly took 50.1% of the vote and Karofsky 37.2%, advancing both of them to the general election; Fallone, who was badly outspent, finished a distant third with just 12.7%. Combined, however, Karofsky and Fallone were less than 2,000 votes behind Kelly.
That tight outcome suggests another very close contest in April. Last year, in a race for a Supreme Court seat held by a retiring liberal justice, conservative Brian Hagedorn slipped past progressive Lisa Neubauer by just 6,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast overall. It was a painful loss for the left, as Hagedorn's win shifted the court from a 4-3 majority in favor of conservatives to a 5-2 advantage.
Karofsky now has the chance to slim that back down to a one-vote edge for conservatives and put liberals in a position to flip the court in 2023, when Chief Justice Patience Roggensack's current term ends. April's vote will coincide with the Democratic primary for president, which could give Karofsky a boost. In fact, Republicans had sought to move the presidential primary during the lame-duck session of the legislature after Walker lost to Democrat Tony Evers in 2018, precisely to help Kelly, though they ultimately abandoned the idea despite passing legislation to grab power from Evers before he took office.
But by no means will the GOP give up on Kelly, who so far has outraised Karofsky $988,000 to $414,000. In last year's race, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which aids candidates in state races at all levels of the ballot, parachuted in at the last minute with a seven-figure expenditure on behalf of Hagedorn that may have proved critical to his victory. While some progressive groups stepped up for Neubauer, Democrats lack an equivalent "DSLC"—there's no formal party organization devoted to winning state supreme court elections—so they'll need to find a way to match resources with the right if Karofsky is to win.
● AZ-Sen: The GOP pollster HighGround Public Affairs is out with a poll of their home state that gives Democrat Mark Kelly a 46-39 lead over appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally. The only other poll we've seen of this race this year was a January survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had Kelly ahead by a smaller 46-42 margin. HighGround did not identify a client for this poll.
McSally recently began running TV ads ahead Kelly, and she's now up with another spot. The commercial is titled "Bernie Bro," which pretty much tells you all you need to know about its content.
● KY-Sen: Retired Marine pilot Amy McGrath launched her first TV ads of the year last week well ahead of the May Democratic primary to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the Democratic firm Amplify Media reports that she's spending another $418,000 from Feb. 18 through Feb. 24.
● ME-Sen: On behalf of Colby College, SocialSphere is out with the first poll we've seen here in months, and they give Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon a narrow 43-42 edge over GOP Sen. Susan Collins. SocialSphere also takes a look at the June primary and finds Gideon, who has the support of the DSCC and other national Democratic groups, leading 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet by a 60-8 margin.
The last poll we saw testing Collins against Gideon was a July survey for the AARP from the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward that had the incumbent up 52-35, but no one is acting like Collins is well ahead. Both the Collins and Gideon campaigns, as well as outside groups from both sides, have already spent heavily on ads, and they don't show any sign of stopping. Indeed, Majority Forward has launched a new three-week $550,000 TV ad campaign, and they're out with another commercial hitting Collins for refusing to vote for legislation to lower prescription drug costs.
Collins herself also didn't dispute the idea that her once mighty approval rating has taken a dive back in July, and more recent polls have continued to show her struggling. Morning Consult gave Collins an underwater 42-52 approval rating for the final quarter of 2019, which was worse than any senator in the country but Mitch McConnell himself, while SocialSphere put her favorable rating at 42-54.
● NC-Sen: On behalf of WRAL-TV, SurveyUSA is out with a poll off the March 3 Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, and they give former state Sen. Cal Cunningham a 42-17 lead over state Sen. Erica Smith. This result is considerably better for Cunningham than the 29-10 lead he posted in separate February surveys by High Point University and from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.
The poll comes as the GOP-connected super PAC Faith and Power has been running a $2.9 million ad campaign praising Smith, who doesn't have much money to get her name out. National Democrats, who are supporting Cunningham, very much believe that Faith and Power is getting involved because they think Smith will be much easier for Tillis to beat, and they're devoting more money towards helping Cunningham.
Carolina Blue, a super PAC that was only recently created, has reserved over $3 million in ads, and Advertising Analytics reports that its first commercials began airing on Wednesday. Politico reports that VoteVets is also spending an additional $1.5 million on pro-Cunningham ads: The group's new commercial praises Cunningham's record in the legislature and progressive agenda and declares he "won't let anyone repeal Obamacare."
● TX-Sen: The newly-formed Lone Star Forward PAC has launched a TV spot in support of nonprofit head Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary to face GOP Sen. John Cornyn, and the group says that the initial buy is in the "low six figures." The ad tells the audience that Tzintzún Ramirez is "running to be our first Latina senator" and will be a progressive voice on healthcare and gun safety issues.
● AK-Gov: Stand Tall With Mike, the main group fighting to prevent GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy from being removed from office, announced on Tuesday that it would drop its legal opposition to the recall campaign. However, the Alaska Division of Elections is still challenging a lower court ruling that allowed the recall to proceed, and the state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 25.
Dunleavy's allies, though, say that they very much expect the justices to allow the recall campaign to reach the ballot. Stand Tall With Mike put out a Trumpy statement declaring that "it is clear that the Court is determined to let the recall effort go forward before it has even reviewed the parties' legal briefings."
While the Alaska Supreme Court has yet to rule on the legality of the recall, it has allowed Recall Dunleavy to collect the petitions they need to get a recall measure on the ballot. If Recall Dunleavy prevails in court, it will have to collect more than 71,000 signatures, which is 25% of the votes cast in 2018, to advance to the ballot. There's no time limit for gathering petitions, and a recall election would take place 60 to 90 days after the Division of Elections verified that enough valid signatures have been turned in.
If Dunleavy is removed from office, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a fellow Republican. No matter what, though, Alaska's regularly-scheduled gubernatorial election will take place in 2022.
● NC-Gov: SurveyUSA is out with a poll of the March 3 GOP primary on behalf of WRAL-TV, and it gives Lt. Gov. Dan Forest a hefty 60-8 lead over state Rep. Holly Grange. High Point University also recently found Forest ahead by a similar 54-10 spread in the contest to take on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
● IA-02: State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks picked up an endorsement this week from Sen. Joni Ernst ahead of the June GOP primary for this open southeastern Iowa seat. Miller-Meeks also recently earned the support of a number of state legislators including fellow state Sen. Chris Cournoyer, who talked about running here in April, and Roby Smith, who was also once mentioned as a prospective candidate.
Miller-Meeks announced in early October that she would run to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who beat her in 2008, 2010, and 2014. Her main opponent in the primary is Bobby Schilling, a former one-term congressman from across the Mississippi River in Illinois who has struggled to raise money for his first Iowa race. Miller-Meeks outpaced Schilling $250,000 to $26,000 during her opening quarter, and she ended December with a $215,000 to $50,000 cash-on-hand lead.
National Democrats are backing former state Sen. Rita Hart, who doesn't face any serious intra-party opposition, in the race to hold this 49-45 Trump seat. Hart raised $336,000 during the last quarter, and she closed the year with $648,000 in the bank.
● NY-02: Suffolk County Director of Health Education Nancy Hemendinger announced on Wednesday that she was dropping out of the June GOP primary and endorsing Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino.
● NY-27: On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted out his "Complete Endorsement" for state Sen. Chris Jacobs for the April 28 special election. Normally it wouldn't be remotely newsy that Trump is supporting the GOP nominee in an election, but this is an odd case.
That's because Jacobs, whose detractors fault him for refusing to back Trump in the 2016 general election, faces opposition in the June primary from both attorney Beth Parlato and Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. While Trump's tweet explicitly referred to the April special, his message will allow Jacobs to tell voters he's the White House's pick from now until late June.
● Pennsylvania: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Pennsylvania's April 28 primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here. However, challenges to nominating petitions are common in the Keystone State, and candidates are sometimes knocked off the ballot, so expect some changes.
● PA-01: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick prevailed last cycle 51-49 in a Bucks County seat that Hillary Clinton had carried 49-47 in 2016, and he's now just one of two Republicans seeking re-election in a Clinton district (the other is New York Rep. John Katko). Fitzpatrick is a strong fundraiser, and he ended December with $1.4 million in the bank.
Three Democrats filed to take him on, but Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress was the only one who had brought in a credible amount of money at the end of 2019. Wachspress had $355,000 on-hand while her intra-party opponents, Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello and businessman Skylar Hurwitz, each had less than $12,000 in the bank.
Fitzpatrick does face a primary challenge of his own from businessman Andrew Meehan, but Meehan had a tiny $6,000 war chest at the end of last year. Fitzpatrick's allies at EDF Action also released a poll on Wednesday from the GOP firm WPA Intelligence that showed the incumbent beating Meehan 59-19.
● PA-06: Democrat Chrissy Houlahan easily flipped this 53-43 Clinton seat last cycle after GOP incumbent Ryan Costello dropped out after the filing deadline, and the GOP doesn't seem to be making much of an effort to take it back. The only Republican who ended up filing is businessman John Emmons, who has been self-funding almost his entire campaign but still trailed Houlahan in cash-on-hand by a wide $2.1 million to $221,000 at the end of 2019.
● PA-07: Democrat Susan Wild decisively won an open seat race last cycle after national Republicans abandoned their nominee, but 2020 could be a more difficult year for her. This Lehigh Valley seat shifted from 53-46 Obama to just 49-48 Clinton, and this time, national Republicans have a candidate they're more excited about.
Former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller entered the race in October and quickly earned an endorsement from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Scheller has already begun self-funding. Wild outraised Scheller $516,000 to $250,000 during the final three months of 2019, but Scheller poured in an additional $300,000 of her own money. Wild ended the year with a $1.06 million to $432,000 cash-on-hand lead over Scheller.
Two other Republicans who have previously run for Congress are also campaigning here. Former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning narrowly lost the 2018 primary despite being badly outspent, and he had $225,000 available at the end of December after self-funding a little more than half of his campaign. Race car driver Matt Connolly, a perennial candidate who most recently lost a 2016 contest to Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in the old 17th District by a 54-46 margin, had only $4,000 to spend.
● PA-08: This seat in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area swung from 55-43 Obama to 53-44 Trump, but Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright turned back a self-funding opponent last cycle by a convincing 55-45 margin. Republicans are hoping that Cartwright will be in much more danger with Trump on the ballot, though, and six candidates have filed to take him on.
Earl Granville, an Army veteran who lost part of his left leg in Afghanistan, entered the race in mid-December and earned an endorsement the following month from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Granville only had $5,000 on-hand at the end of 2019, though his other rivals weren't exactly drowning in cash either. Former police officer Teddy Daniels had $65,000 to spend, while Luzerne County Councilor Harry Haas had just $8,000 available. Cartwright, by contrast, had $1.3 million on-hand to defend his seat.
Jim Bognet, who served in the Trump administration as a senior vice president for communications for the Export-Import Bank, entered the GOP primary in January after the new fundraising quarter ended. Two other Republicans, 24-year-old businessman Mike Cammisa and former Hazelton Mayor Mike Marsicano, are also in. Marsicano is a former Democrat who lost re-election all the way back in 1999 and has unsuccessfully run for office as a Democrat several times since then.
● PA-10: This Harrisburg-based seat backed Trump 52-43, but GOP Rep. Scott Perry only won re-election last cycle 51-49 in an unexpectedly expensive contest. Democrats are talking Perry, who is a prominent member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, and the DCCC is supporting state Auditor Eugene DePasquale.
The other Democrat running here is attorney Tom Brier, who trailed DePasquale $468,000 to $203,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of December. DePasquale recently released a primary poll that showed him beating Brier 68-16, while Brier has not yet responded with better numbers. Perry had $622,000 available at the close of 2019 to defend his seat.
● PA-16: GOP Rep. Mike Kelly won re-election last cycle just 52-47 even though Donald Trump carried this Erie-area seat by a strong 58-39 margin two years before, and he's repeatedly been busted by the local media since then for selling used cars that were subject to safety recalls. However, the only Democrat who ended up filing to run here, teacher Kristy Gnibus, only had a mere $15,000 available at the end of 2019, so it's not clear if Team Blue can take advantage of Kelly's weaknesses. Two other Democrats who previously announced bids, customer service supervisor Daniel Smith and auto salesman Edward DeSantis, did not end up filing.
● PA-17: Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb decisively beat Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus 56-44 after court-ordered redistricting threw the two incumbents into the same suburban Pittsburgh seat, but Republicans are hoping to target Lamb this year in this 49-47 Trump district.
Trump has endorsed Army veteran Sean Parnell, an author who frequently appears on Fox News, and Parnell brought in a credible $255,000 during his opening quarter. Lamb still raised a considerably larger $585,000, though, and he ended 2019 with a $979,000 to $219,000 cash-on-hand lead.
Only one other Republican, businessman Jesse Vodvarka, is running, and he's unlikely to put up much of a fight. Vodvarka has served as campaign manager for his father, Joe Vodvarka, during his four forgettable Senate bids as both a Republican and a Democrat. Another Republican, Green Beret veteran Brian Thomsen, announced he was running last year but didn't end up filing.
● TX-07: Army veteran Wesley Hunt is up with a new TV spot telling GOP voters that he has Donald Trump's endorsement (true), and that socialists "have a Green New Deal that would ban Texas oil and gas" (a lie). Politico reports that this is part of a new $100,000 buy from Hunt ahead of the March 3 primary to face Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher.
● VA-05: Republican officials decided last year to nominate their candidate through a party convention rather than through a primary, and we now know that the gathering will take place on April 25. Freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman faces a notable intra-party challenge from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, and he could end up having trouble winning.
GOP conventions tend to be dominated by delegates who prize ideology above all else, and Riggleman infuriated plenty of social conservatives at home in July when he officiated a same-sex wedding between two of his former campaign volunteers. This quickly resulted in a homophobic backlash against the congressman, and local Republican Parties in three small 5th District counties each passed anti-Riggleman motions.
This seat, which includes Charlottesville and south-central Virginia, backed Trump 52-41, and Riggleman defeated a well-funded Democrat 53-47 last cycle. A few Democrats are campaigning here already, though, and a messy GOP fight could give the eventual nominee more of an opening. While Team Blue also held a convention to pick its nominee last year, this time around, Democrats have opted to hold a traditional primary in June.
● WI-07: On Tuesday, state Sen. Tom Tiffany defeated Army veteran Jason Church 57-43 to win the GOP nod for the May 12 special election for this conservative northwestern Wisconsin seat. On the Democratic side, Wausau School Board president Tricia Zunker, who would be the state's first Native American member of Congress, defeated underfunded businessman Lawrence Dale 89-11.
Tiffany had the support of former Rep. Sean Duffy, who resigned from this seat last year, as well as former Gov. Scott Walker. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth, two groups that often end up on opposite sides in GOP primaries, also both spent plenty of money to back Tiffany. Church raised a comparable amount of money as Tiffany and benefited from heavy spending from With Honor Fund and newly formed Americans 4 Security PAC, but the first-time candidate still fell short.
This seat was competitive turf a decade ago, but it's been moving sharply to the right ever since thanks to a high proportion of white voters without a college degree. Barack Obama actually carried the 7th (adjusting for redistricting) in 2008 by a 53-45 margin, but four years later, Mitt Romney won it 51-48. The bottom did not truly fall out until 2016, though, when Donald Trump prevailed by a giant 58-37 margin.
Things didn't get much better for Democrats in 2018 despite the blue wave: Walker carried the 7th 57-41 despite narrowly losing statewide, and even Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin lost it 52-48 while cruising to a 55-45 re-election victory. Given the trends in the 7th District, Tiffany will be favored in May, but as Nathan Gonzales put it after Duffy announced his resignation in August, it's "another potential special election for Republicans to mess up."
● Milwaukee, WI Mayor: Wisconsin's largest city held its nonpartisan primary on Tuesday, and incumbent Tom Barrett and Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor advanced to the April 7 general election. Barrett, who has served as mayor since 2004 and was Team Blue's nominee for governor in 2010 and 2012, took first with 50%, while Taylor beat self-funding Alderman Anthony Zielinski 31-16 for second.
Barrett has argued that the city has made progress during his tenure and that he can continue to improve things. But Taylor, who would be the city's first woman or African American mayor, is insisting that Barrett is "disconnected" from issues like race and jobs. Barrett held a massive $896,000 to $7,000 cash-on-hand lead over Taylor on Feb. 3.
● Milwaukee County, WI Executive: Milwaukee County also held its nonpartisan primary on Tuesday for the race to succeed retiring incumbent Chris Abele, and two Democratic state legislators advanced to the April 7 general election. State Sen. Chris Larson took first with 37%, and state Rep. David Crowley led Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr., who doesn't affiliate with either major party, 34-17 for second place. The balance went to businesswoman Purnima Nath, a self-described conservative.
Both general election candidates have very different relationships with Abel, a Democrat who has often worked with the GOP legislature. Abel is supporting Crowley, who would be Milwaukee County's first black executive, and the incumbent's Leadership MKE group has spent $240,000 on ads for him. Larson, by contrast, challenged Abel in 2016 and lost 56-44. Larson held a $56,000 to $30,000 cash-on-hand lead over Crowley on Feb. 3.
● Demographics: We're about to enter a vexing new stage in the Democratic presidential primary: a whole lot of states having elections where we have little or no polling data. Knowing which states are demographically similar to each other can help fill in some of those data gaps, though, and David Jarman has put together a state similarity index using "nearest neighbor" analysis to guide that conversation. (In case you were wondering whether this year's candidates will play in Peoria, that's actually a good question, because Illinois is the nation's most demographically average state!