Morning Digest: Alabama Republicans air each other’s dirty laundry ahead of nasty Senate primary

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.

Leading Off

AL-Sen: Two Republican firms are out with new polls from Alabama of the March 3 GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, and they both show former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville advancing to a runoff.

WT&S Consulting, which tells us that their poll was not done for any client, gives Sessions the lead with 32% as Tuberville leads Rep. Bradley Byrne 30-22 for the second spot in a likely March 31 runoff. Roy Moore, who lost this seat to Jones in 2017, is a distant fourth with 7%, while state Rep. Arnold Mooney takes 3%. This is the first poll that WT&S, which is run by state party official John Wahl, has released of this contest.

Campaign Action

The anti-tax Club for Growth, which has been running ads against Byrne, is also out with another survey from WPA Intelligence that shows the congressman failing to advance to a second round. WPA gives Tuberville the lead with 32%, which makes this the first time we've seen him in first place since Sessions entered the race for his old seat in November. Sessions outpaces Byrne 29-17 for second, while Moore barely registers with 5% and no one else breaks 1%.

These results show some small improvements for Tuberville at Sessions' expense from the poll the Club released one week ago. That WPA survey found Sessions edging Tuberville 34-29, while Byrne was in third place with the same 17% he takes in the new poll.

The new numbers come as Sessions, Tuberville, and Byrne and their allies have been launching negative ad after negative ad at one another while ignoring the other contenders. Sessions' new spot declares that Tuberville and Byrne "are desperate, telling lies about Jeff Sessions." The narrator then reminds the audience that Sessions was the one senator to back Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, which is true.

The ad glosses over Sessions' miserable tenure as Trump's attorney general, which ended with Trump unceremoniously firing him, and instead continues to rehash the 2016 election. The narrator argues, "Byrne stood with the liberals, said Trump was 'not fit' to be president and stabbed Trump in the back right before the election."

Byrne did indeed say after the Access Hollywood tape was released a month before Election Day that Trump, who was recorded bragging about sexually assaulting women, was "not fit to be president of the United States and cannot defeat Hillary Clinton." The congressman also called for Trump to "step aside" and allow Mike Pence to lead the GOP ticket.

Byrne, like almost everyone in the Republican Party, fell in line right after Trump won a month later, though, and like all of his primary opponents, he's been emphasizing his unquestioning loyalty to the White House. Byrne recently addressed his 2016 remarks in an interview with the New York Times Magazine's Jason Zengerle by saying that Trump has never mentioned them because, "He just doesn't care. He's more interested in what we're doing now." Sessions cares, though, and he's betting that GOP primary voters do too.

Sessions is also hoping that his party will care about some of Tuberville's non-Trump issues. His ad continues by calling the former Auburn coach "a tourist in Alabama. He lives, votes, and pays taxes in Florida." Tuberville is originally from Arkansas, and he coached at the University of Mississippi until he arrived at Auburn in 1998. Tuberville had a mostly successful tenure, but he resigned in 2008 after a bad season and went on to coach out of state at Texas Tech and Cincinnati. During those years he unsuccessfully tried to sell his home near Auburn multiple times.

Tuberville later moved to Florida as Sessions' ad alleges. The former coach did say that he'd relocated to Alabama in August 2018 as he considered a Senate run, though he remained registered to vote in the Sunshine State that year and cast his ballot in Florida's elections.

Sessions also released a new TV ad on Wednesday that targets just Tuberville. After declaring that the former coach is "shameful" for lying about Sessions, the narrator says, "Tuberville is trying to trick you, hiding his support for immigration amnesty." An audio clip then plays where Tuberville is heard saying, "There are people coming across the border that need jobs … And we want them to come over here." He continues, "And we let 'em come in and become citizens like we all became citizens." The rest of the commercial again casts Tuberville as a Floridian who is in Alabama as a tourist.

Tuberville, meanwhile, is out with his own ad attacking both Sessions and Byrne. The commercial begins by going after Byrne for calling Trump "not fit" to serve before the narrator declares that Sessions "deserted President Trump, sticking us with the Russian witch hunt." The spot then throws in a shot at Sen. Mitt Romney, who is … not running for Senate in Alabama, by saying he "voted for the liberal impeachment sham." Tuberville appears and promises he'll be a Trump ally while "weak-kneed career politicians aren't tough enough to stand with President Trump."

Tuberville's allies at GRIT PAC are also running a commercial that casts both of his intra-party adversaries as "two career politicians who are out of touch with Alabama." The narrator also declares that Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation while serving as attorney general was a betrayal of Trump, while Byrne "didn't even want Trump in the White House."

Two cows then appear on screen along with a picture of Romney in the shape of manure as the narrator explains, "In a place where Mitt happens, we need to watch our step." Perhaps fearing that that joke was too subtle, the narrator declares, "No bull," which is followed by a censor's beep, "no weak knees. It's Tommy Tuberville time for U.S. Senate."

Byrne, it will not shock you to learn, is also out with an ad that hits both Sessions and Tuberville. The commercial features a trio of actors interviewing the Senate candidates, and they begin by giving this negative rating: "Tommy Tuberville? Says he wants illegals here. Paid him not to work. He can't keep a job." An actor portraying Tuberville then angrily slams down his clipboard and walks out, and the committee stamps his resume with the word "Fired."

A Sessions look-alike then arrives sporting a red cap without anything written on it. The committee is no more impressed with him than they were with Tuberville and says, "He let the president down and got fired. And Hillary still ain't in jail." The committee, which apparently believes that Sessions' refusal to send political adversaries to prison without a trial is a massive character flaw, also delivers the dreaded failure stamp to his file.

The rest of the ad shows Byrne, whom the committee actually allows to talk, talking about his conservative pro-Trump record. The trio is pleased, though his resume goes unstamped. Byrne is also the only one in any of these commercials to mention Jones, saying that he should be the next one to get fired.

Byrne's allies at Fighting for Alabama Fund also are up on the air with a spot that ignores Sessions and just tears into Tuberville. After showing clips of Trump thanking Byrne, the narrator argues that Tuberville "attacked Trump's agenda. Even attacked Trump's immigration plan." The same audio of Tuberville from the Sessions commercial then plays where Tuberville sounds happy to welcome "people coming from across the border that need jobs."    

Senate

AZ-Sen: Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who faces no serious Democratic primary opposition, is up with his first TV commercial. The minute-long spot features Kelly working on his motorcycle and talking about his struggles in school and career in the Navy and NASA.

Kelly continues, "My parents didn't have a lot of extra money, but you could comfortably raise a family on a middle-class income, and it doesn't work so well today." He declares, "Now my hope for Arizona is that everybody has the conditions and an environment that allows anybody to accomplish anything they want, if they're just willing to work hard at it." Kelly does not mention appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally, who recently began airing negative spots against him.

GA-Sen-B: Former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver kicked off his long-awaited campaign on Wednesday, a move that makes him the third noteworthy Democrat to enter the November all-party primary.

Tarver, who pitched himself as a moderate, represented a state Senate seat in the Augusta area until he became the first black U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia in 2009. Tarver remained at his post until early March of 2017, when Donald Trump ordered him and another 45 Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys to resign.

National Democrats have consolidated behind pastor Raphael Warnock, who like Tarver would also be Georgia's first black senator, while businessman Matt Lieberman is also running. Appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins are duking it out on the GOP side, and there's a risk that they could both advance to a January 2021 runoff if the three Democrats split Team Blue's vote enough.  

ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins is up with another TV ad against state House Speaker Sara Gideon, who is the favored candidate of national Democrats, and the Bangor Daily News reports that she's putting at least $90,000 behind the buy.

The narrator argues that Gideon is a hypocrite for saying she's rejecting corporate PAC money while "taking tens of thousands from groups funded by corporate PACs." The commercial also tries to stir up some trouble on Gideon's left by featuring photos of two of her June primary foes, attorney Bre Kidman and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet, and saying that her opponents "criticized Gideon for laundering corporate money into her own campaign. And Maine's Ethics Commission fined Gideon for breaking campaign finance laws."

The paper took a look at the backstory to this ad back in December. Gideon has accepted contributions from groups like Senate Majority PAC that take money from corporations, but only about 2% of her total donations came from PACs as of the end of the third quarter. Collins, by contrast, received 22% of her donations from PACs through late September.

The part about the Maine Ethics Commission is from a completely separate matter. The commission fined Gideon's now-defunct PAC in December all of $500 for reimbursing her that same amount for donations Gideon made to two state-level political committees in 2016.

As we wrote back then, reimbursements like these run afoul of federal and state laws that forbid anyone from making campaign contributions in another person's name. Gideon, however, didn't try to conceal her efforts; rather, they were discovered because her PAC publicly disclosed the reimbursements. For that reason, the commission declined to investigate further, concluding Gideon's disclosure meant it was unlikely she had knowingly sought to violate the law.

MI-Sen: Quinnipiac University is out with a poll giving Democratic Sen. Gary Peters a 45-39 lead over 2018 GOP nominee John James. The margin is very similar to the 44-40 Peters edge that the local Glengariff Group found in early January, though Baldwin Wallace University gave the incumbent a larger 42-32 lead last month.

Gubernatorial

UT-Gov: Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton announced this week that she would try to gain enough support at the April state GOP convention to advance to the June primary rather than continue to gather signatures. One other Republican, former state House Speaker Greg Hughes, is competing at the convention and not collecting petitions to make the primary ballot, but the two candidates made this choice under very different circumstances.

Winder Newton acknowledged that she couldn't afford to hire a firm to collect the 28,000 valid signatures she needed, an undertaking she estimates could cost more than $200,000, and that her volunteer-led effort wouldn't be able to gather enough petitions in time. Hughes, though, has access to plenty of money, but he still decided to focus on the convention in January.

House

CA-16: Democratic Rep. Jim Costa is out with an ad ahead of the March 3 top-two primary that features old footage of his intra-party rival, Fresno City Councilor Esmeralda Soria, praising him.

CA-25, TX-02: The progressive group End Citizens United has endorsed Assemblywoman Christy Smith in California and attorney Sima Ladjevardian in Texas, who each face notable intra-party opposition in their March 3 races.

Progressive political commentator Cenk Uygur, who is Smith's main intra-party rival in California's 25th District, is also out with a new ad where he proclaims he's "new to politics." Uygur continues, "They say it's rude for me to say that other politicians are corrupt. They say it's rude to point out that lobbyists don't give money to politicians for charity, they give it to bribe them." He then implores the audience, "Send me to Washington, so I could be rude to more lobbyists and politicians."

MN-01: Freshman GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn announced on Wednesday that he has been receiving treatment for Stage 4 kidney cancer over the last year, but that this would not prevent him from running for re-election this year.  

NY-02: Suffolk County Board of Elections member Nick LaLota announced this week that he was dropping out of the June GOP primary and would instead challenge Democratic state Sen. John Brooks. LaLota made his decision a few weeks after local party leaders, including retiring Rep. Peter King, threw their support behind Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino's bid for this open seat.

The only other Republican who is still running an active campaign for this competitive Long Island district is fellow Assemblyman Mike LiPetri. Another local elected official, Islip Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, announced she was running back in November but didn't report raising any money through 2019 and still doesn't appear to have a campaign website or social media account. On the Democratic side, Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon doesn't face any serious opposition.

OH-01: Air Force veteran Nikki Foster and former healthcare executive Kate Schroder are each up with new TV spots ahead of the March 17 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Steve Chabot.

Foster tells the audience she's not once backed down from a fight from "serving as a combat pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan to fighting for my son's life in the intensive care unit." Foster declares that her next fight is making health care more affordable, and that Donald Trump and Chabot would "slash coverage for people with pre-existing conditions" like her son.

Schroder uses her commercial to talk about solving problems she's told are impossible. She describes how she helped expand dental care while she was on the Cincinnati Board of Health and dramatically reduced drug prices while working abroad. "As a cancer survivor," Schroder continues, "healthcare is personal."  

OH-03: The progressive group End Citizens United is supporting Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty in her March 17 primary against former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advisor Morgan Harper.

Harper has proven to be an unexpectedly strong fundraiser for someone challenging an uncontroversial incumbent, though Beatty still holds a huge financial advantage here. Beatty outraised Harper $315,000 to $221,000 during the fourth quarter, and the incumbent ended 2019 with a $1.7 million to $273,000 cash-on-hand lead. Whoever wins the Democratic nod will have no trouble prevailing in November in this safely blue Columbus seat.

PA-01: Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress announced Thursday that she was dropping out of the April Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a development that could have very bad implications for Team Blue's attempts to put up a serious fight in this 49-47 Clinton seat, one of just two districts nationally that voted for Clinton in 2016 and has a Republican incumbent seeking re-election.

Wachspress made her decision two days after candidate filing closed and one day after LevittownNow.com reported that she'd been accused in a lawsuit against the school district of using racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic language at a meeting. Wachspress responded by saying that she had been recounting when she was subjected to an anti-Semitic slur decades ago, but that “[n]ever in my life have I denigrated anyone with words like that.”

Wachspress put out a statement the following day saying she "now find[s] myself in a situation where my family is going to suffer - with this recent offensive and completely false narrative of who I am - and my candidacy will also. It is clear to me that these lies and distortions will be too big a distraction to overcome."

Wachspress exited the race by endorsing Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello, who faces businessman Skylar Hurwitz in the primary. Unfortunately, though, both Finello and Hurwitz each had less than $12,000 on-hand at the end of December compared to the $355,000 that Wachspress had available. Democrats will need to hope that one of their two remaining candidates can bring in a whole lot more cash now that the apparent frontrunner is out if they want to have a real chance at beating the well-funded Fitzpatrick in this swing seat.

TX-12: Businessman Chris Putnam is up with another TV spot against Rep. Kay Granger ahead of their March 3 GOP primary showdown. Putnam tells the audience, "President Trump, he drives liberals nuts. And I drive Kay Granger nuts." Putnam, though, does not get around to informing the viewer that Trump is actually supporting Granger.

Putnam continues by accusing Granger of lying about him and "even making fun of my cowboy hat—but that's what we wear in Texas, Kay." The challenger mystifyingly never bothers to actually put on a cowboy hat during this commercial (so much for Chekov's Hat), though the ad shows pictures of two of Putnam's most prominent supporters, the sheriffs of Tarrant and Wise Counties, decked in some massive headwear.  

TX-23: Future Leaders Fund, an organization started by retiring GOP Rep. Will Hurd, is up with a TV commercial supporting Navy veteran Tony Gonzales ahead of the March 3 primary. Politico reports that this is a "five-figure buy" on Fox News.

VA-05: EMILY's List has endorsed Marine veteran Claire Russo in the June Democratic primary for this 52-41 Trump seat. The GOP nomination will be decided at an April 25 party convention, where freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman is trying to fend off a challenge from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good.

Morning Digest: GOP legislator threatens an independent run for VA governor if ‘shenanigans’ occur

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.

Leading Off

VA-Gov: On Monday, state Sen. Amanda Chase became the first notable Republican to join the 2021 race for governor of Virginia, but she may not be sticking with Team Red. Chase, who has a famously awful relationship with her party's leadership, said that she would "fully run" as an independent if there are "any shenanigans that are pulled" in the nomination contest. No matter what Chase does, though, GOP leaders won't want to see her name on the general election ballot next year.

Chase made news in the spring of 2019 when she swore at and berated a police officer at the state capitol who told her that she couldn't park her car in a secure area. Chase, according to the officer's report, also referred to the state Senate clerk as "Miss Piggy" and angrily demanded, "Do you know who I am?" Chase refused to apologize and posted on Facebook that the report looked like it had been written by "a democrat operative."

Campaign Action

State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment responded to the incident by putting out a letter praising the Capitol Police and saying the GOP caucus members "share your exasperation." Karl Leonard, who serves as sheriff of Chase's Chesterfield County, also withdrew his support for her re-election campaign after she wouldn't apologize to the officer.

Chase responded to Leonard's snub by backing his independent opponent's unsuccessful campaign and falsely accusing the incumbent of making Chesterfield a "sanctuary city." The Chesterfield County GOP in turn voted to eject her from the party.

Chase was still re-elected to her reliably red seat, but the Senate GOP found itself in the minority. After her Republican colleagues elected Norment as minority leader, though, Chase announced that she'd leave the party caucus in protest.

Chase still remains a Republican, but one without much influence: The senator only serves on one minor committee, and every bill she's sponsored by herself this year has been killed. However, Chase has continued to garner attention by ardently opposing gun safety measures and continuing to bring her pistol into Senate buildings in defiance of new legislative rules prohibiting firearms.

A few other Republicans are also eyeing next year's race to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is prohibited from seeking a second consecutive term. State Sen. Bill Stanley has expressed interest in running for governor or for attorney general, while the Washington Post writes that businessman Pete Snyder has publicly talked about a potential gubernatorial bid.

Senate

GA-Sen-B: While there's been plenty of speculation that Donald Trump could back Rep. Doug Collins over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Collins himself seems pessimistic that he'll be waking up to any endorsement tweets. Speaking to the Georgia Recorder, the congressman said of Trump, "He's not getting in this race," and continued that Trump "respects the senator and her position and he knows me intimately." Collins added, "I respect the fact that he's staying out of it."

NC-Sen: Faith and Power, a PAC with extensive GOP ties, is spending an additional $500,000 to promote state Sen. Erica Smith ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary. This takes the group's total investment here up to $2.9 million to date.

TX-Sen: Nonprofit director Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from Rep. Joaquin Castro ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

WY-Sen: Converse County Commissioner Robert Short announced this week that he'd join the August GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Enzi. Short is a self-described "centrist Republican," which is unlikely to be a compelling pitch to GOP voters in this extremely red state.

Former Rep. Cynthia Lummis has been the clear primary frontrunner ever since Rep. Liz Cheney announced last month that she'd stay out of the race, and both Enzi and Sen. John Barrasso endorsed her on Tuesday. The only other notable Republican who has expressed interest in this race in recent months is conservative mega donor Foster Friess, who said this week that he was still considering. Wyoming's filing deadline isn't until late May, so Friess could keep us waiting a while longer.

Gubernatorial

VT-Gov: On behalf of Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS, Braun Research is out with the first poll we've seen of this race, and they have good news for GOP Gov. Phil Scott. The incumbent posts a hefty 52-29 lead in a hypothetical general election match with Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a member of the Progressive Party who is also competing for the Democratic nod. Braun also finds Scott leading another Democratic contender, former state education secretary Rebecca Holcombe, by a larger 55-20 spread.

Vermont is a reliably blue state in presidential elections, but it's been more than willing to elect moderate Republican governors. Scott decisively won his 2016 and 2018 races, and Braun gives him a 57-26 favorable rating. Morning Consult also found Scott with a 65-22 job approval score during the final quarter of 2019.

House

AL-01: Over the last few weeks we've gotten new ads from state Rep. Chris Pringle and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who are both competing in the March 3 GOP primary.

Pringle's commercial begins features him building a brick wall in front of what's made to look like Nancy Pelosi's D.C. office as the candidate tells the audience, "Walls protect us from America's enemies, and I have the perfect place for another." After calling Democrats "radical socialists," Pringle engages in some extra McCarthyism by walking off and uttering the word "commies" under his breath.

Carl's considerably more generic ad, by contrast, praises him as a pro-Trump conservative problem solver who opposes abortion and gun safety measures.

GA-09: GOP activist Ethan Underwood announced this week that he would run for this safely red open seat. Underwood is a former party chair in Forsyth County, which makes up about 8% of this district.

MA-04: Former state Comptroller Thomas Shack announced on Tuesday that he would join the crowded and expensive September Democratic primary for this reliably blue open seat. Shack was appointed comptroller in 2015 by GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, and he stepped down early last year. (Unlike in many other states, Massachusetts does not elect comptrollers.)

Shack came into conflict with Baker during the last months of his tenure over who would be in charge of designing the computer system that would impact all state agencies. Shack said in 2018 that the administration was "subjecting the apolitical and independent comptroller's office to a political arm of government" and withholding money for security updates and new software.

A number of well-funded candidates are already seeking to succeed Senate candidate Joe Kennedy III in this seat, which includes the Boston suburbs of Brookline and Newton and stretches south to Bristol County on the Rhode Island border. The candidate with the most money at the end of 2019 was City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, who had $663,000 on-hand. Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss wasn't too far behind with $554,000 in the bank, while fellow Newton City Councilor Becky Walker Grossman had $318,000 to spend.

Former Alliance for Business Leadership head Jesse Mermell and Dave Cavell, a former senior adviser to Attorney General Maura Healey, had $248,000 and $173,000 on-hand, respectively. Former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey had just $52,000 available while another contender, attorney Ben Sigel, announced after the end of the quarter.

MI-03: Attorney Nick Colvin announced on Tuesday that he was dropping out of the August Democratic primary to take on independent Rep. Justin Amash because of fundraising challenges. Colvin's decision leaves fellow attorney Hillary Scholten as the only notable Democratic candidate competing for this seat in the Grand Rapids area.

Amash left the GOP in July and while he has not ruled out a bid against Donald Trump, he's said that he plans to seek re-election without a party label this year. While Amash only brought in $150,000 during his first fundraising quarter as an independent, he nearly quadrupled that in the final three months of 2019 by hauling in $592,000. Amash ended the year with $722,000 on-hand, which was more than any of his opponents.

Two notable Republicans are challenging Amash in this 52-42 Trump seat. Army veteran Peter Meijer, who hails from a wealthy family, raised $235,000 and self-funded another $78,000, and he ended December with $557,000 in the bank. State Rep. Lynn Afendoulis was well behind with $101,000 raised and another $11,000 self-funded, and she had $199,000 to spend. Scholten, now has the Democratic side to herself, raised $124,000 and had $207,000 in the bank. Michigan's filing deadline is in April, so there's still a bit of time for this race to take shape no matter what Amash ends up doing.

TX-02: Attorney Sima Ladjevardian rolled out endorsements this week from Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, who each represent nearby Houston-area seats, for the March 3 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw.

TX-11: A new group called Energy Security PAC is up with a TV spot praising the military record of Air Force veteran August Pfluger, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, ahead of the March 3 GOP primary. There is no word on the size of the buy.

Pluger ended 2019 with a massive financial edge over all of his primary foes, but two of them are also getting outside help. Fired Up PAC is spending at least $186,000 on a TV spot promoting Brandon Batch, a former staffer for retiring Rep. Mike Conaway, though we don't have a copy yet. Keep Texas Great, which supports Midland City Councilman J.Ross Lacy, is spending at least $30,000 on a commercial that promotes Lacy as someone who understands West Texas and isn't just "another carbon copy Republican."

TX-12: The Congressional Leadership Fund is spending a hefty $850,000 on a new TV ad campaign targeting businessmen Chris Putnam, who is challenging veteran Rep. Kay Granger in the March 3 GOP primary.

The CLF's narrator begins by proclaiming that the people spending millions against Granger "spent millions attacking President Trump. They lost. America won." All of that is reference to the extremist Club for Growth, which goes unnamed in this commercial but has been airing ads hitting the incumbent. The Club, which did indeed spend millions to try and deny Trump the 2016 GOP nomination, has refashioned itself since then as an ardently pro-Trump organization, but their intra-party foes don't especially care.

The CLF's ad continues by going after Putnam directly, saying he's "best known for raising property taxes and as a leader of a company that outsourced good paying jobs to Asia instead of hiring Texans." The narrator never actually accuses Putnam of opposing Trump but instead argues, "It's Trump against them. Again. And he's backing Kay Granger." The spot concludes by asking the audience, "Whose side are you on?"

TX-22: Nonprofit CEO Pierce Bush talks about his famous family’s history in the Houston area in his newest ad and actually refrains from name-dropping Donald Trump.

But in case anyone was worried that Bush had forgotten what animates GOP voters in this day and age, he goes on to claim that “liberals want to rip the American system apart and bring socialism out of the trash heap of history.” In case that was too subtle, the ad also features images of Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Nicolás Maduro, and … Putin? We’re not sure the last time we saw Trump’s BFF used as a villain in a GOP ad, but there he is!

TX-31: Rep. Marc Veasey, who serves as the regional vice chair for the DCCC, has endorsed Round Rock City Councilor Tammy Young in the crowded Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. John Carter.

Mayoral

Baltimore, MD Mayor: Incumbent Jack Young recently launched his first commercial ahead of the April Democratic primary, while former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller also began a $500,000 opening ad buy.

Young, who was elevated to this office last year after Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace, features a narrator praising him for working to “clean up City Hall.” The spot goes on to laud Young for working to require police to wear body cameras, lower the city’s crime rate, and open city recreation facilities on Saturdays. Young’s team said that the buy was “sizable,” but they did not reveal more.

Miller’s first ad also features her talking about public safety. Miller tells the audience that the police force is understaffed and burdened with outdated technology, and she pledges that Police Commissioner Michael Harrison will have “the resources and support to succeed with his plan, because everyone in Baltimore has a right to be safe.” Her second commercial shows a mother talking about Miller’s work helping her son graduate from school, and the candidate declares that “wherever you live in Baltimore, you deserve a quality education with a path to success.”

Other Races

Los Angeles County, CA District Attorney: On Tuesday, Sen. Kamala Harris endorsed former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón's campaign against incumbent Jackie Lacey in the March 3 nonpartisan primary. Gascón was appointed to succeed Harris as SF's top prosecutor after she was elected state attorney general in 2010, and she praised him as a "proven leader" for criminal justice reform.

Former public defender Rachel Rossi is also challenging Lacey from the left next month. If no one takes a majority of the vote, the top-two candidates would compete in the November general election.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he was commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has been in prison since 2012. Blagojevich made global headlines in December 2008 after he was arrested on corruption charges, which included trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.

The Illinois legislature almost unanimously removed him from office the following month, and he was later convicted. (Before he was found guilty, Blago found time to appear on Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice" show.) Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and had Trump not commuted his sentence, he would not have been eligible for parole for another four years.

Morning Digest: GOP House candidate welcomes Trump endorsement. His district’s voters probably won’t

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.

Leading Off

TX-07: On Wednesday, Donald Trump endorsed Army veteran Westley Hunt, who is one of the national GOP’s favorite candidates, in the March 3 GOP primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher. Hunt had already been running ads tying himself to Trump as well as Sen. Ted Cruz, who had already endorsed him, so he’ll certainly welcome this development.

However, Hunt is taking a big risk in the general election by embracing both the White House and Cruz in a West Houston seat that has been moving hard to the left in the Trump era. This seat swung from 60-39 Romney to 48.5-47.1 Clinton, and Beto O'Rourke beat Cruz here 53-46 last cycle. Fletcher also unseated longtime GOP incumbent John Culberson 52.5-47.5 in their very expensive 2018 race.

Hunt has been one of the GOP’s stronger House fundraisers this cycle, but he still faces a big cash disadvantage against Fletcher. The incumbent outraised him $545,000 to $343,000 during the final quarter of 2019, and she ended 2019 with a $1.8 million to $808,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Senate

AL-Sen: Mason-Dixon is out with a survey for the Alabama Daily News that finds Democratic Sen. Doug Jones trailing each of the three main GOP candidates in hypothetical general election matchups:

41-54 vs. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

42-51 vs. Rep. Bradley Byrne

42-50 vs. former college football coach Tommy Tuberville

The only other general election poll we've seen was a late December survey from the GOP firm JMC Analytics. That poll, which JMC said they conducted independent of any client, found Jones in better shape in this very red state but still trailing each of these Republicans by 4-7 points.

Campaign Action

Mason-Dixon is also the first independent pollster to take a look at the March 3 GOP primary since Sessions entered the race in November to reclaim his old Senate seat. They find Sessions at 31%, which is well below the majority of the vote he'd need to avoid a March 31 runoff, while Tuberville leads Byrne 29-17 for the second place spot.

Roy Moore, who lost this seat to Jones in 2017, is a distant fourth with just 5%. The release didn't name state Rep. Arnold Mooney, though his support may have been included in the 2% that backed Other.

The firm also tested Sessions in potential primary runoff marches and finds him beating Tuberville and Byrne 49-42 and 48-35, respectively. Those are hardly secure leads, though, especially since Sessions' intra-party rivals haven't spent many resources yet attacking him over his terrible time as Trump's attorney general. If Sessions does get forced into a runoff, though, his opponent will only have four weeks to win over the defeated candidates' supporters.

Byrne also dropped his own primary survey from Harper Polling a day before the Mason-Dixon numbers were released that shows him in better shape to advance to a runoff with Sessions. Harper finds Sessions ahead with the same 31% of the vote, but they show Byrne narrowly leading Tuberville 26-24 for second place. Moore is again far behind with 5%, while Mooney also went unmentioned.

The memo also includes the numbers for a previously unreleased mid-December poll to argue that Byrne has picked up support over the last two months. Sessions led that survey with 36%, while Tuberville outpaced the congressman 29-16. The memo did not include runoff numbers.

The only other GOP primary we've seen this year was a late January poll for Sessions from On Message, and it also showed Byrne and Tuberville locked in a close race for second place. It gave Sessions the lead with 43% as Byrne edged the former coach 22-21.

AZ-Sen: GOP Sen. Martha McSally made plenty of headlines last month when she dismissed longtime CNN reporter Manu Raju as "a liberal hack," and she continues her trip through MAGA Land in her first TV spot of the race. The narrator declares, "The Washington liberals are obsessed with President Trump. They wasted three years and millions of dollars trying to overturn the last election and steal the next one." The commercial then says that Democrat Mark Kelly "supported their impeachment sham."

ME-Sen: The outside group Maine Momentum has launched another ad that features several people taking GOP Sen. Susan Collins to task for voting for a massive tax break that's "hurting everyday Mainers."

NC-Sen, NC-Gov: High Point University is out with a survey of North Carolina's March 3 primaries which includes questions about the Democratic Senate primary and the GOP gubernatorial contest.

High Point finds former state Sen. Cal Cunningham leading state Sen. Erica Smith 29-10 among registered voters in the race to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, while none of the other contenders break 5%. A recent survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling also found Cunningham ahead by that exact 29-10 spread, while no one else has released numbers here this year.

In the GOP primary to face Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, High Point finds Lt. Gov. Dan Forest leading state Rep. Holly Grange by a massive 54-10 margin. This is the first poll we've seen of this contest in 2020, but the results are quite plausible. Grange, who has never run statewide before, almost certainly started the campaign with low name recognition over the summer, and she hasn't raised much money to get her message out since then.

P.S. High Point also included versions of these matchups using likely voters instead of registered voters. However, both likely voter questions sampled fewer than 300 people, which is the minimum that Daily Kos Elections requires in order to write up a poll.

Gubernatorial

WA-Gov: On behalf of KING-TV, SurveyUSA is out with a poll of the August top-two primary. It gives Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee the lead with 39%, while conservative independent Tim Eyman leads Republic police chief Loren Culp 11-5 for the second place spot. Two other Republicans, state Sen. Phil Fortunato and developer Joshua Freed, are each at 4%.

SurveyUSA also takes a look at Inslee's approval rating and gives him a narrow 41-39 score, while another 20% say they aren't sure how they feel about the incumbent after seven years in office. This isn't the only poll that's given Inslee only a slightly positive rating, though. A January survey from the local firm Elway Research found that 40% of registered voters gave Inslee an excellent or good score while 34% rated him as poor and another 22% ranked him as "only fair." Morning Consult also found him with a 44-38 job approval for the final quarter of 2019.

Democrats have controlled the governor's office since 1985, and it's possible that a strong opponent could make the argument that it's time for a change and give Inslee a serious challenge. However, it remains to be seen if any of Inslee's opponents will have the resources to get their name out and put a serious fight this fall, especially with Donald Trump likely to drag down the ticket in this blue state.

The GOP candidate with the most money at the end of January was Freed, who had just $62,000 on-hand; Freed had previously loaned his campaign $500,000 only to repay it in January. The candidate texted the Seattle Times' Jim Brunner this week that he "decided recently that I didn't need that liability on my campaign books" and would "put that amount… or more.. in as a direct contribution." Washington candidates regularly file campaign finance reports, so we'll see soon if Freed self-funds again. For his part, Inslee ended last month with $1.7 million in the bank.

House

CA-53: On behalf of KGTV-TV and the San Diego Union Tribune, SurveyUSA is out with the first poll we've seen of the March 3 top-two primary for this safely blue open seat.

Former Hillary Clinton presidential campaign policy adviser Sara Jacobs, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran in the nearby 49th District last cycle, leads with 23% as one of the Republicans, pilot Chris Stoddard, takes the second place general election spot with 10%. Republican Famela Ramos and Democrat Georgette Gómez, who is president of the San Diego City Council, are at 5% each, while no one else breaks 4%.

Gómez, who is the only local elected official in the race, has the support of the state Democratic Party, but she ended December with a bit less money than Jacobs. Gómez actually outraised Jacobs $263,000 to $141,000, but Jacobs self-funded an additional $530,000 and held a $471,000 to $349,000 cash-on-hand lead. Two other Democrats, Marine veteran Janessa Goldbeck and UC San Diego professor Tom Wong, had just over $100,000 to spend.

GA-09: State Rep. Matt Gurtler announced this week that he was joining the GOP primary for this safely red open seat.

Gurtler was elected to the legislature in 2016 at the age of 27, and he quickly made a name for himself by opposing GOP Speaker David Ralston. Gurtler, who describes himself as an advocate for limited government, also developed a habit of voting against all manner of bills that came before him, and by May of 2018 he had racked up more "no" votes than anyone else in the 236-person legislature.

Ralston responded by backing a 2018 primary challenge to Gurtler, but the incumbent won 60-40. Gurtler was already facing another primary opponent when he decided to call off his re-election bid and run for Congress.

NC-11: On Wednesday, retiring Rep. Mark Meadows endorsed businesswoman and party activist Lynda Bennett in the crowded March 3 GOP primary to succeed him. However, there are plenty of reasons to think that Meadows was pulling for Bennett before this week.

Meadows announced his departure in December one day before the filing deadline and after it was too late for anyone running for another office to switch to this race. Meadows' decision came as a shock to everyone except for maybe Bennett, who set up a Facebook campaign page five hours before the congressman broke his own news. Meadows, though, insisted to Roll Call this week, "It was my original intent to stay neutral in the race. However my silence in the primary was being misused by some candidates to present [an] inaccurate picture for political gain."

Meadows' endorsement did seem to take one of the contenders off guard. Wayne King, who resigned as Meadows' deputy chief of staff to run here, said, "Meadows told me he was not endorsing anybody in the race" when they spoke just a few weeks ago.

NY-16: Middle school principal Jamaal Bowman received an endorsement this week from the Working Families Party, a small but influential party with ties to labor groups, in his June Democratic primary against longtime Rep. Eliot Engel. Engel has consistently received the WFP’s support in past contests.

Bowman is one of a few candidates challenging Engel for renomination in this safely blue seat, a diverse district that includes southern Westchester County and the northern Bronx, and he was already looking like the congressman’s main opponent before this week. Bowman raised $162,000 during the fourth quarter of 2019 and had $186,000 in the bank, while none of the other candidates had more than $25,000 to spend. Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, brought in $630,000 during this time, and he had $806,000 on-hand.

Bowman has been arguing that voters should oust Engel because he’s too moderate and too close to special interests. The challenger used his kickoff to go after Engel for taking donations from lobbyists and voting for the Iraq War.

TX-12: Veteran Rep. Kay Granger is up with her first negative TV spot against businessman Chris Putnam ahead of their March 3 GOP primary. The narrator begins by describing Granger’s conservative record and reminds the audience that she has Donald Trump’s endorsement. The narrator then calls Putnam “a millionaire who moved here four months ago” and says that “[i]nvestors sued his company for fraud. And he voted to raise property taxes twice.”

The primary for this safely red Fort Worth seat has attracted heavy spending in recent weeks, with the anti-tax Club for Growth and their allies airing ads against Granger while the establishment-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund is supporting her. However, Putnam himself didn’t bring in much money during the final months of 2019. Granger outraised him $414,000 to $71,000 during the fourth quarter, and she ended the year with a $774,000 to $407,000 cash-on-hand lead.

TX-22: A recently formed super PAC called Texans Coming Together has launched an ad campaign in support of nonprofit CEO Pierce Bush in next month’s GOP primary, though there’s no word on the size of the buy. The group’s spot, it won’t shock you to learn, refers to Donald Trump four times while not mentioning anyone from the candidate’s famous family once.

TX-28: Conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar has launched a TV ad against immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros ahead of their March 3 Democratic primary showdown that could easily pass for a Republican campaign commercial.

The narrator begins by declaring, “Two candidates for Congress. One stands with families. One supports allowing minors to have an abortion without parents' knowledge.” The GOP frequently uses this line of attack against pro-choice candidates, and Cisneros responded to it in her fact-check of the spot by writing, “Jessica Cisneros supports allowing women to make their own healthcare decisions, not the government or politicians like Henry Cuellar.”

The commercial goes on to say that Cisneros is someone “who gets her money from outsiders, and who just moved here six months ago.” Cisneros, though, grew up in the Laredo area and even interned for none other than local congressman Henry Cuellar in 2014. The Cisneros camp also notes that, while Cuellar’s ad makes it sound like he’s being supported by local donors, he’s received more than half of his money from PACs and committees.

The commercial then takes one more page from the GOP playbook and insists that Cisneros, who backs the Green New Deal, wants to “shut down the oil and gas industry.”

WI-07: The special GOP primary is on Tuesday, and Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman reports that there’s been plenty of outside spending on behalf of both veteran Jason Church and state Sen. Tom Tiffany.

Church has received a total of about $1 million in support mostly from two groups, With Honor Fund and the newly formed Americans 4 Security PAC. Tiffany, meanwhile, has benefited from a total of $789,000 in spending largely from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth, two groups that are often on opposite sides in Republican primaries.

Both Church’s and Tiffany’s campaigns have spent comparable amounts, and since we haven’t seen any polls, there’s no indication which candidate is favored next week.