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.
● TX Railroad Commission: As Lone Star Democrats seek their first statewide victory in more than a quarter century, their best hope may be Chrysta Castañeda, who's running for a spot on an agency many people haven't heard of: the Texas Railroad Commission.Campaign Action
Despite the name, the commission doesn't actually oversee trains, but it does have jurisdiction over something even more important in Texas: the state's energy industry (oversight of the rails was handed to the state's Department of Transportation in 2005). The panel, often known as the "RRC," is made up of three members, each elected statewide for six-year terms.
The last time a Democrat won a seat on the board was in 1990, when former Rep. Bob Krueger beat a Republican opponent by 56-40 margin. Krueger wound up resigning to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate when Lloyd Bentsen became Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, and Republicans comfortably beat his appointed successor in 1994.
Ever since, the GOP has held all three seats, but Republicans were already preparing for a serious battle this year—which, ironically, might have made their situation even worse. Republican Ryan Sitton, who first won a slot on the RRC in 2014, had stockpiled $2 million in his war chest for the general election, but in March, he lost his primary in an absolute shocker to an unknown named Jim Wright, the owner of an oilfield waste disposal company who had raised less than $13,000.
The 55-45 loss was so inexplicable that some political observers wondered if Wright benefited from sharing a name with the one-time speaker of the House who hailed from Fort Worth, the late Democrat Jim Wright, who died in 2015. It's not such a crazy theory: Perennial candidate Gene Kelly won multiple Texas primaries in the previous decade because voters had him confused with the beloved dancer.
Whatever the explanation, though, Wright's victory has left Republicans with a suddenly open seat and a badly flawed candidate. The RRC—the very body that Wright wants to join—fined him $182,000 for improper storage of hazardous waste in 2017, and he's been sued by his former business partners for fraud stemming from the mess.
Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney, took aim at Wright for his record in her first ad of the race, which went up last month, but the main topic she's focusing on is the issue of "flaring." That refers to the practice of oil producers burning off unwanted natural gas from their wells rather than capturing it for later use, a process that is both environmentally harmful and economically wasteful.
It's also against the law—unless a driller is granted a special permit, of which 7,000 were handed out last year. As Castañeda notes, such permits can only be granted if all three members of the commission agree, meaning she could single-handedly put an end to flaring even if Republicans still hold a nominal 2-1 majority on the board next year.
With this backdrop, The New Republic recently called this race "this year’s most important election for American climate policy." It could also finally put an end to the longest statewide losing streak for Democrats anywhere in the nation, as Texas last voted Democratic for any statewide race in 1994.
● GA-Sen-A: A pro-Republican group called Georgia Action Fund says it is spending $5 million on digital ads supposedly aimed at swaying undecided voters in the race between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff.
● LA-Sen: Democrat Adrian Perkins narrates much of his first TV ad, which focuses on his biography, including his graduation from West Point and his service in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in an award of the Bronze Star. A voiceover notes that after he fought overseas, "Harvard Law and big job offers came." But, says Perkins, "I chose to come home. To serve my community. Now I'm taking our mission to Washington to get things done for you."
At the end, text appears on-screen noting that Perkins has been endorsed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and Barack Obama, an effort to consolidate Democratic voters to ensure Perkins makes a December runoff against Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.
● NC-Sen: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' new ad, unsurprisingly, goes after Democrat Cal Cunningham over the intimate text messages he shared with a woman who is not his wife. The spot mostly features clips of newscasters discussing various angles to the story, and during the "I approve this message" segment—not a section we discuss often—Tillis is shown hand-in-hand with his wife. Tillis' allies at the Senate Leadership Fund also recently went up with a similar ad.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that the DSCC is adding $3 million to their existing TV ad reservations for the last two weeks of the race.
● Polls: If you click each race tag below, such as "MT-Sen," you'll be taken to the Daily Kos Elections poll aggregator for that race, which displays a trendline for all available public polls and the current polling average.
- MT-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Steve Bullock (D): 48, Steve Daines (R-inc): 46 (49-43 Trump)
- NC-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Cal Cunningham (D): 50, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 39 (51-44 Biden) (Aug.: 49-41 Cunningham)
- SC-Sen: GBAO (D) for the DSCC: Jaime Harrison (D): 48, Lindsey Graham: (R-inc): 47, Bill Bledsoe (C): 3 (49-44 Trump)
- TX-Sen: Crosswind Media (R) and Pulse Opinion Research: John Cornyn (R-inc): 48, MJ Hegar (D): 39 (51-44 Trump)
- TX-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Cornyn (R-inc): 45, Hegar (D): 42 (47-45 Biden) (Sept.: 40-38 Cornyn)
MT-Sen: While there hasn't been a ton of polling in Montana—and what we have seen has almost all been very tight—Data for Progress' survey is the first to show Steve Bullock with a lead since an early July poll from PPP that had Bullock ahead 46-44.
NC-Sen: A number of polls taken since Labor Day have shown Cal Cunningham up by double digits, but what's notable about about this Data for Progress poll is that it was in the field from Weds, Sept. 30 through Monday, Oct. 5. That means half of it was conducted after news about Cunningham's affair broke on Friday night, Oct. 2.
SC-Sen: The DSCC's poll included Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Lindsey Graham a few days after the survey concluded. However, Bledsoe's name will still appear on ballots.
● NC-Gov: Dan Forest is just the latest Republican trying to scare voters with ads showing footage of unrest, even starting his latest spot by saying, "Seems like the only people you see in downtown Asheville these days are rioters." Seems like he should try harder: According multiple local office-holders, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, Forest's clips don't show the city at all but instead were shot in other locales. When asked for comment, the Forest campaign didn't dispute the charge.
- WV-Gov: Strategies Unlimited (D) for WV First: Jim Justice (R-inc): 46, Ben Salango (D): 40, Daniel Lutz Jr. (Mountain Party): 5
This is the closest poll of the three we've seen to date in this race. According to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, WV First is a group opposing Jim Justice's re-election bid, though it does not appear to have any presence the web. The same is true of the pollster, Strategies Unlimited.
● IN-05: Indiana schools chief Jennifer McCormick has once again stuck her thumb in the eye of her own party by endorsing another Democrat, Christina Hale, who is seeking to flip the open 5th Congressional District. Though elected superintendent of public instruction as a Republican in 2016, McCormick has regularly feuded with the GOP and previously backed Democrat Woody Myers in his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, as well as Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel, who is running for state attorney general. McCormick is not seeking re-election this year after Republicans turned her position into an appointed one starting after 2020.
● MI-08: Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin's latest ad features footage from a recent debate that went viral after she shredded her Republican opponent, Paul Junge, on healthcare. Junge had sought to make an issue of a lapse in insurance coverage that befell Slotkin's mother, blaming "undue burdens and regulations." Slotkin's scathing response occupies the bulk of the ad:
"Please don't speak about my mother as if you understand what made her health care unaffordable to her. And I think it's crazy that every time we ask you specific details about the thing that really helps people know that they're going to be protected—their kids are going to be protected—you deflect and start attacking me. And raising my mother? Come on, Paul."
● NE-02: Former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford has endorsed vulnerable Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who narrowly booted him after one term in the House in 2016. Ashford sought to reclaim his seat in 2018 but lost a tight the Democratic primary that year to nonprofit executive Kara Eastman, who herself lost a close contest with Bacon later that year—a race in which Ashford supported her.
Eastman sought the Democratic nomination again this year and this time handily defeated Ashford's wife, attorney Ann Ferlic Ashford. Ann Ashford angrily refused to endorse Eastman following the May primary, citing comments Eastman had made blaming Ashford's campaign-trail criticisms of her on "bad blood" stemming from her defeat of Ashford's husband two years earlier.
Bacon's past statements about Brad Ashford, however, have been far harsher. Among other things, Bacon accused Ashford of being soft on the Islamic State during their 2016 race, claiming in an ad, "If Brad Ashford doesn't know ISIS is targeting Nebraska, how can we trust him to keep us safe?"
● VA-02: Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria's newest ad stars a COVID survivor named Fred Herrmann who excoriates Republican Scott Taylor for hosting a campaign event over the summer where attendees were maskless and greeted each other—including Taylor—with intimate hugs. Footage of the disturbing gathering rolls as Herrmann pours out his criticism. "Scott Taylor even compared coronavirus to the flu. It's not the flu," he says. "Mr. Taylor, I couldn't see my family while I thought I was going to die, because this virus is dangerous—and sending you back to Congress would be, too."
- CA-25: Breakthrough Campaigns (D) for Christy Smith: Christy Smith (D): 49, Mike Garcia (R-inc): 47
- NY-22: Siena College for Syracuse.com: Anthony Brindisi (D-inc): 48: Claudia Tenney (R): 39 (45-44 Biden)
- TX-23: Public Opinion Strategies (R) for Tony Gonzales: Gina Ortiz Jones (D): 42, Tony Gonzales (R): 41 (Aug.: 41-40 Ortiz Jones)
CA-25: Smith's memo didn't include exact figures for the presidential race, but it did say that Joe Biden "is currently beating Trump by 4 points." That would represent the rare district-level poll where Biden's margin is narrower than Hillary Clinton's was in 2016 (she carried the 25th 50-44).
NY-22: Believe it or not, Siena's poll is the very first we've seen of this race, and the findings are a serious whoa-mama-joe moment for the GOP, particularly as regards the presidential race. Upstate New York's 22nd District was one of those rural white areas where the bottom really fell out for Democrats in 2016: While Barack Obama had lost to Mitt Romney by less than a point here, Trump crushed Clinton 55-39.
There's good reason to believe Siena, too. In 2016, the school's polling accurately forecast the district's big shift to Trump, both in late September and just before Election Day, when it had Trump up 14. If Republicans can't beat Brindisi, who exactly can they beat?
● Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: The Democratic firm Bendixen & Amandi International's new poll for the Miami Herald gives Democrat Daniella Levine Cava a 45-35 lead over Republican Steve Bovo in next month's officially nonpartisan race, which is an improvement from the 39-32 edge it found last month. Levine Cava also released a Change Research survey in late September that showed her up 45-32, while Bovo's side has yet to publicize its own numbers.
Levine Cava would be the first Democrat to serve as the chief executive of Florida's largest county since Alex Penelas left office in 2004. Penelas himself waged a comeback campaign this year, but he took third in August's nonpartisan primary.
● New York City, NY Mayor: Civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, a former counsel to term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio, entered next year's Democratic primary to succeed her old boss on Thursday. Wiley, who is Black, would be the first woman mayor in the city's history. In her kickoff, she took several jabs at the unpopular incumbent. "If I am mayor, you will never have to wonder who's in charge," she said. "You will never have to question ... whether the mayor even wants the job." She also ridiculed de Blasio's hapless presidential bid, saying, "You will never have to wonder whether I'm in Iowa."
- AZ-Sen: MoveOn - pro-Mark Kelly (D) (here and here)
- ME-Sen: MoveOn - pro-Sara Gideon (D) (here and here)
- SC-Sen: MoveOn - pro-Jaime Harrison (D) (here and here)
- GA-Sen-A: Jon Ossoff (D)
- IA-Sen: Senate Majority PAC - anti-Joni Ernst (R-inc)
- MI-Sen: Senate Majority PAC - anti-John James (R)
- MS-Sen: Mike Espy (D)
- NH-Sen: Jeanne Shaheen (D-inc)
- MI-03: Hillary Scholten (D)
- MN-01: United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters - anti-Jim Hagedorn (R-inc) ($300,000 buy)
- MN-08: Quinn Nystrom (D) (here and here)
- MO-02: Congressional Leadership Fund - anti-Jill Schupp (D)
- PA-01: Congressional Leadership Fund - anti-Christina Finello (D)
- PA-17: Conor Lamb (D-inc); Sean Parnell (R)
- TX-21: Wendy Davis (D) (in Spanish)
- TX-24: DCCC - anti-Beth Van Duyne (R)