Morning Digest: Trumpworld’s favorite pollster is pushing unhinged election conspiracy theories

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

WY-AL: Donald Trump's "Save America" PAC is trying to put the hurt on Republican Rep. Liz Cheney by publicizing a poll of next year's primary purporting to show the congresswoman in dire straits, but there are some serious problems we’re obligated to address.

We’ll spare a quick look at the numbers first, though as we’ll show in just a moment, there’s good reason to question their veracity because they’re from the notorious firm McLaughlin & Associates—and not just for the usual reasons.

The survey shows Cheney trailing both state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (who's already announced a bid) and state Rep. Chuck Gray (whose name hasn't come up previously) by the same 50-23 margin, and it even has her losing a three-way matchup, with Bouchard taking 28, Cheney 21, and Gray 17. McLaughlin’s track record for sheer wrongness is so well-known we don't even need to get into it, but there’s something else we do want to get into.

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In particular, we need to shine a spotlight on recent comments made by the firm's principal, John McLaughlin, who's veered deep into the land of election conspiracy theories. In promoting a poll his firm conducted last month, McLaughlin tried to buttress support for a number of long-debunked lies:

  • "It is concerning that in this poll where a majority of voted for Biden, they still can't say it was an honest election."
  • "Since Election Day, and despite media spin the election fraud story is a big nothing, belief among voters of serious vote fraud has grown."
  • "Weeks have passed since the presidential election, but in spite of Big Media and Big Tech's promotion of Joe Biden, more American voters believe the election was marred with fraud — and it's growing."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that McLaughlin happily obliged a rage-filled Trump with similarly unhinged polling after the election, including numbers that—impossibly—showed him with a positive job approval score. (The article memorably featured one White House adviser comparing Trump to "Mad King George, muttering, 'I won. I won. I won.'" It listed McLaughlin first among aides “happy to scratch [Trump’s] itch” for validation.)

Most extreme of all, on the night of the Georgia Senate runoffs, McLaughlin approvingly retweeted a Trump tweet that read, "Looks like they are setting up a big 'voter dump' against the Republican candidates. Waiting to see how many votes they need?" Pointing to heavily Democratic DeKalb County, McLaughlin wondered aloud, "Are they deciding how many votes the Democrats need to win?" and later that night grimaced, "The big dump came." Needless to say, no such thing happened.

As we said when we recently surveyed similar statements by the head of another Republican polling outfit, Trafalgar Group:

We take a heterodox approach to polling—there are many ways to get it right, and no one has a monopoly on the truth. But the truth is what we all must seek. Excluding polls is not something we do lightly, but when a pollster espouses beliefs about elections that are demonstrably false, we are unable to conclude that such a person does in fact believe in seeking the truth.

So too with McLaughlin. While he's long been an object of ridicule, he's now demonstrated that it's not just incompetence that lies behind his many errors but a fundamental disregard for the truth—and we’ll treat him accordingly.

Senate

FL-Sen: Politico reports that the DSCC and Joe Biden are working to recruit either Rep. Val Demings or Rep. Stephanie Murphy to run against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio next year, though both have been "noncommittal." Demings said last month she was considering a bid while Murphy declined to rule out the race in December.

IN-Sen: In a new interview, former Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly didn't rule out a possible challenge to Republican Sen. Todd Young next year, saying that "we'll see what the future holds." However, Donnelly cautioned that he has "not made any kind of decisions on those types of things" and declined to specify any sort of timetable. Donnelly, who won a remarkable upset in 2012, lost his bid for a second term to Republican Mike Braun by a 51-45 margin in 2018.

NH-Sen, NH-Gov: WMUR's John DiStaso reports that Republican operatives believe that former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whose name has more frequently come up as a possible gubernatorial candidate if Gov. Chris Sununu decides to run for Senate, will herself "take a hard look" at a bid against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. DiStaso notes, though, that Ayotte and Sununu are "very unlikely" to run against one another, so presumably Ayotte would be more inclined to consider the governorship if Sununu goes for the Senate but would have greater interest in the Senate race if Sununu seeks re-election.

OH-Sen, OH-Gov: Far-right Rep. Jim Jordan’s team said Thursday that he would not run to succeed his fellow Republican, retiring Sen. Rob Portman. Buckeye State Republicans had speculated that if Jordan, who has long been a key Donald Trump ally, had run, he would have been able to deter many of his would-be primary opponents. That won’t be happening now, though, and Jordan’s decision could encourage the many Republicans eyeing this race to make the jump.

Jordan’s spokesperson did not mention a Cleveland.com report from November that the congressman was considering challenging Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who fell out with Trumpworld after he recognized Joe Biden's victory. However, we haven’t heard anything new about a potential Jordan gubernatorial campaign in the ensuing two months, and it’s not clear if the congressman is even still considering the idea.

DSCC: Democrats have chosen Michigan Sen. Gary Peters to lead the DSCC for the coming cycle. Peters has experience winning difficult elections, holding off Republican John James by a close 50-48 margin last year.

Governors

FL-Gov: Politico reports that Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is "maneuvering with the governor's mansion in mind," which is the first time we've seen reporting that the former governor might actually be considering a bid. The only other hint we've seen from Crist came in November, when he ran some unusual post-election ads thanking voters for re-electing him. That prompted observers to wonder if he was laying some early groundwork for another statewide bid, a possibility that he appeared not to rule out.

Crist won the governorship in 2006 as a Republican but waged an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2010 (during which he left the GOP to become an independent) rather than seek re-election. Crist became a Democrat two years later, and, after falling just short in a gubernatorial comeback bid in 2014, won the St. Petersburg-area 13th Congressional District in 2016.

IL-Gov: Wealthy businessman and Trump megadonor Gary Rabine, the founder of a paving company, is "expected" to launch a bid for governor next month, according to Politico. It's not clear just how much Rabine is worth, but a 2016 report described his business operations as "a $210 million dollar conglomerate of 11 companies," so if he still owns a large chunk of that enterprise, it's likely he could at least partly self-fund a campaign.

MD-Gov: Ashwani Jain, a 31-year-old former Obama administration official and son of Indian immigrants, just became the second Democrat to enter next year's primary for governor, joining state Comptroller Peter Franchot. In 2018, Jain ran for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council and finished eighth in a 33-candidate field (the top four vote-getters won seats). Maryland Matters described the showing as "relatively strong" and said Jain "impress[ed] political professionals" during his bid.

OH-Gov, OH-Sen: Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley says he'll report raising $350,000 in the second half of 2020 and has $500,000 on-hand ahead of a likely gubernatorial bid against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine next year. Cranley is the only Democrat who's filed paperwork so far, and while he hasn't announced a campaign, he says he's "extremely serious about running." He also just ruled out a run for Ohio's newly open Senate seat.

House

MD-01: Former Del. Heather Mizeur formally announced a challenge to Republican Rep. Andy Harris on Thursday, a few weeks after saying she might do so in response to Harris' role in inciting the Jan. 6 assault on Congress. Maryland's 1st Congressional District, which voted for Donald Trump 59-39 in November, is safely red, but because Democrats control the redistricting process, they could adjust the lines to make it competitive.

MI-08: Real estate agent Mike Detmer has announced he'll once again seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan's 8th Congressional District. Detmer lost last year's primary to former ICE official Paul Junge just 35-29 despite raising almost no money. He did, however, gain attention for a Facebook post defending the far-right white supremacist group the Proud Boys.

NM-01: Democratic state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, who filed paperwork the other day, officially joined the likely special election for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District on Wednesday.

WA-04: Republican state Rep. Brad Klippert has launched a challenge to Rep. Dan Newhouse, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump, though in a lengthy statement announcing his bid, he didn't actually use the word "impeachment" once.

Morning Digest: Darrell Issa thought he had an easy path to a comeback. A new poll says guess again

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

CA-50: While California Republican Darrell Issa looked like a sure bet to return to the House after he narrowly prevailed in the March top-two primary, a new SurveyUSA poll finds him locked in an unexpectedly close open seat contest with Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. The poll, which was done for KGTV-TV San Diego and the San Diego Union-Tribune, shows Issa up just 46-45. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the sample finds Joe Biden ahead 48-45 in California's 50th Congressional District, an ancestrally Republican seat in inland San Diego County that backed Donald Trump 55-40 in 2016.

This is the first independent poll we've seen since the top-two six months ago. Last month, Campa-Najjar released numbers from Strategies 360 that found him down 47-43, but his campaign did not mention any presidential results. So far, though, no major outside groups on either side have booked air time here, though that could always change over the next two months.

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Issa infamously decided to run here the cycle after he retired as the congressman from the neighboring and more Democratic 49th District just ahead of the 2018 blue wave, and it's possible that his weak connections to this area are hurting him. SurveyUSA finds Issa with an even 32-32 favorable rating, while Campa-Najjar sports a 37-26 score.

If SurveyUSA is right, though, then there's also been a big shift to the left in this seat over just the last two years. Back in 2018, then-Rep. Duncan Hunter managed to fend off Campa-Najjar 52-48 even though the Republican incumbent was under indictment at the time for misusing campaign money. That was a much better performance than Democrats usually pull off in this area, but the fact that this district still decided to return Hunter to Congress even in a terrible year for Republicans didn't seem to bode well for Campa-Najjar's second campaign, especially after Hunter took a plea deal in late 2019 and resigned.

We'll need to see if more polls find a close race, and we'll also be keeping an eye out to see if major outside groups spend here. However, if this contest is tight, Campa-Najjar will have the resources to run a serious campaign. The Democrat ended June with a $890,000 to $516,000 cash-on-hand, though Issa is more than capable of self-funding if he needs to.

Senate

AK-Sen: A newly formed PAC called Independent Alaska has launched an ad campaign supporting Al Gross, an independent who won the Democratic nomination last month. The commercial touts Gross' time as a fisherman and a doctor and informs the audience, "Dr. Al's father was Alaska's AG [attorney general], and his neighbor and fishing partner growing up was Republican Gov. Jay Hammond." The narrator concludes, "We're in a pandemic. It's time to send a doctor to D.C." There is no word on the size of the buy.

GA-Sen-B: Republican Rep. Doug Collins is running his first ad on broadcast TV, and he begins by saying of the appointed GOP incumbent, "Kelly Loeffler spent $30 million on slick ads telling lies—now it's my turn to tell the truth."

Collins continues, "I'm not a billionaire. I'm a state trooper's kid, a husband, a father, an Air Force chaplain and Iraq War veteran." He adds, "I'm President Trump's top defender against the sham impeachment, and yes, his preferred pick for the Senate." Trump reportedly did very much want Collins to be appointed to this seat, but he hasn't taken sides in the Nov. 3 all-party primary between the congressman and Loeffler.

On the Democratic side, pastor Raphael Warnock, who would be the state's first Black senator, is using his newest commercial to talk about his experiences with systemic racism. The narrator begins, "1982. A 12-year-old is accused of stealing and dragged out a store, told he looks suspicious because his hands are in his pockets." The audience then sees it's the candidate speaking as he continues, "I'm Raphael Warnock and that boy was me."

Warnock goes on, "Back then I didn't understand how much the system works against those without power and money, that the rules were different for some of us. Too often that's still true today, especially in Washington." Warnock ends by saying that it's time for this to change.

MI-Sen: The Glengariff Group's new poll for WDIV and the Detroit News finds Democratic Sen. Gary Peters leading Republican John James 44-41, while Joe Biden is ahead 47-42. Glengariff's last poll was all the way back in January, and it showed Peters up by a similar 44-40 spread.

MN-Sen: Citizens United (yes, the Citizens United) has launched what the National Journal's Dylan Wells reports is a six-figure buy supporting Republican Jason Lewis. The commercial, like Lewis' own ads, promotes Lewis as a supporter of the police and an opponent of violent mobs; both Lewis and Citizens United's spots also ignore racism and police brutality.

NC-Sen: Democrat Cal Cunningham has the first commercial we've seen anywhere focusing on allegations that the Russian government put out a bounty on American troops in Afghanistan. Cunningham says that his fellow veterans are the first ones to answer the call and continues, "So when [Republican Sen.] Thom Tillis fails to act while the Russians pay bounties for dead Americans, something is deeply wrong in Washington."

TX-Sen: Democrat MJ Hegar is airing her first TV ad of the general election as part of what her campaign says is a $1.5 million buy in six media markets that are home to 80% of the state's voters. As faint sounds of explosions are heard, the candidate tells the audience, "It was my third tour in Afghanistan. I was flying a medevac mission when I was shot through the windshield and we went down."

The camera gradually pans out to reveal a smoking helicopter in the canyon behind Hegar as she continues, "So I strapped myself to the skids of the helicopter that rescued us and returned fire on the Taliban as we flew to safety. For that I was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor." The candidate goes on, "I'm MJ Hegar, and we fought like hell to get everyone home safe that day. And I approved this message because my mission isn't over while Texas families are still in danger."

Gubernatorial

WV-Gov: Democrat Ben Salango is airing his first TV spot since he won the primary three months ago. As old photos from his childhood fill the screen, the candidate says, "I grew up in a two-bedroom trailer in Raleigh County. It was a big deal when we got our first washer and dryer."

Salango then goes after Republican Gov. Jim Justice, declaring, "My family worked hard to build a business and even harder to pay the bills. Jim Justice is a billionaire who's been sued over 600 times for not paying his bills. And who made a secret deal with the government he controls to give himself tax breaks." Salango concludes, "I mean c'mon. I'll never betray West Virginia like that. I was raised better."

House

CA-25: Democrat Christy Smith is running her first commercial since her defeat in the May special election. Smith talks about how her mother survived domestic violence and "rebuilt our lives" with a nursing degree from the local community college. The candidate says she went on to work three jobs to pay for her education at that same institution and went on to found an education nonprofit.

CA-48: In its opening TV spot for this race, the DCCC declares that Republican Michelle Steel's allies were at the center of a major corruption scandal, but she "voted to defund the anti-corruption unit in Orange County."

The ad is also running in Vietnamese, which makes this one of the very rare examples of an American political commercial that's aired on TV all or mostly in a language other than English or Spanish. Back in 2018, Democrat John Chiang ran a spot entirely in Mandarin in his unsuccessful bid for governor of California, while Republican Ed Gillespie added Korean subtitles to a commercial during his 2017 primary for governor of Virginia.

There have been a few instances of American political ads airing on the radio in a language other than English or Spanish (and obviously, without subtitles.) In 2016, Arizona Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick recorded some ads in Navajo, which she speaks, for her unsuccessful Senate bid. That same year, Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman's campaign did a Ukrainian radio ad for his re-election campaign.

IA-01: Back in July, Republican Ashley Hinson blamed her campaign staff after the New York Times reported that several op-eds credited to her, as well as material on her campaign site, were full of passages plagiarized from other sources, and the DCCC is using its first TV spot to go after Hinson over this.

The narrator begins, "In tough times, we need leaders we can trust. But Ashley Hinson was caught plagiarizing—word for word—from the Des Moines Register, the New York Times, even her opponent's own policy positions." He then focuses on Hinson's record, declaring, "And Hinson took thousands from the nursing home industry. When the Coronavirus struck—Hinson voted to protect them with special legal immunity. Instead of protecting seniors and workers."

OH-01: House Majority PAC has released a survey from the Democratic firm Normington Petts that shows Democrat Kate Schroder leading Republican Rep. Steve Chabot 50-46, while Joe Biden has a tiny 48-47 edge in this Cincinnati-based seat. We've seen a few other polls this year from Schroder and her allies that have found a tight race, while Republicans have yet to drop their own numbers.

HMP is also running a commercial that targets Chabot over the truly strange scandal that engulfed Chabot's campaign last year, a story that Schroder has also focused on in her ads. The spot begins by reminding viewers that Chabot became a member of Congress in 1995 when "[b]aseball was on strike" and "Toy Story debuted. The first one." The narrator continues, "But now, a confirmed FBI investigation into $123,000 missing from Chabot's campaign. And Chabot's campaign paid his son-in-law's company nearly $200,000." The narrator concludes, "Twenty-four years in Congress has taken its toll on Steve Chabot."

PA-01: Democrat Christina Finello's first general election ad focuses on her own struggles with college loans and healthcare. She says that, while she "understands the struggles of the middle class," Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick "votes with Trump. Giving tax cuts to the rich and ending protections for people with pre-existing conditions."

Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, uses his own ad to tout his endorsements from groups that usually pull for Democrats like the AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters, and Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as the local police and firefighter unions. The congressman's mom also makes it clear she's backing Fitzpatrick.

SC-02: EMILY's List has endorsed Adair Ford Boroughs' campaign against Republican Rep. Joe Wilson.

TX-21: While freshman Republican Rep. Chip Roy has shown absolutely no desire to actually vote or behave like anything other than the far-right Freedom Caucus member that he is, the former Ted Cruz chief of staff is using his opening ad to portray himself as a bipartisan figure. Roy declares he'll "hold my party accountable if they're wrong, and work across party lines when it's right for Texas."

TX-23: Republican Tony Gonzales uses his first general election commercial to talk about how he went from growing up in an abusive home where he was abandoned by his father to the Navy.

Meanwhile, VoteVets has launched a $533,000 ad campaign against Gonzales. The ad stars an injured veteran who tells the audience that Gonzales "supports taking away health coverage from half a million veterans."

UT-04: The Congressional Leadership Fund is running a very rare positive TV commercial promoting Republican Burgess Owens, whom House Majority PAC recently began attacking.

CLF promotes Owens as a "pro-football star, political outsider, conservative, successful businessman, and mentor to troubled kids." As the ad shows footage of a football game, the narrator declares Owens will "heal our nation, tackling a virus and protecting the vulnerable." Those feel good themes are not, shall we say, the type of things that CLF likes to fill its ads with.

VA-02: This week, a third staffer from Republican Scott Taylor's 2018 campaign was indicted for allegedly submitting fraudulent signatures in order to get a former Democrat on the ballot as an independent that year. Special prosecutor John Beamer predicted that he would seek at least one additional indictment, and he said of Taylor, "He's part of the campaign and the whole campaign is under investigation."

Taylor is seeking a comeback against freshman Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who narrowly unseated him in 2018. Last month, Taylor sent a cease-and-desist letter to Luria demanding that she stop making statements claiming that he is under investigation for ballot access fraud only for Beamer to publicly contradict him. Luria soon began running commercials focused on the ongoing scandal.

VA-05: Democrat Cameron Webb is up with two commercials that decry the "lies and dirty tricks" being waged by Republican Bob Good, who recently ran a truly racist spot against Webb.

In Webb's first ad, the narrator declares that the candidate "is not for defunding the police," and adds that "a senior Trump official is praising Webb." The commercial highlights the law enforcement officials backing Webb before the candidate himself appears and talks about his work in the Obama and Trump administrations and support for "free market solutions to bring healthcare costs down."

The second Webb spot stars several former sheriffs as well as Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Hingeley, who praise Webb and implore the audience not to let "Bob Good scare you from electing a good man."

Ballot Measures

CA Ballot: Probolsky Research has released the first poll we've seen of Prop. 15, the so-called "split roll" initiative that would scale back a significant part of the law passed by anti-tax crusaders in 1978, and finds it down 49-41. Probolsky has worked for Republicans in the past, but it says this survey was not done for a client.

The poll was taken just before the pro-Prop. 15 group Schools & Communities First launched its opening TV commercials. One ad declares that wealthy corporate tycoons "think they're entitled to tax handouts. Prop. 15 closes the loopholes." The narrator continues, "The richest 10% of corporate properties provide 92% of the revenue, while homeowners, renters, and small businesses are protected." The second spot argues, "Prop. 15 would raise billions of dollars that our communities and schools need" and would make "wealthy large corporations pay their fair share, while small businesses get a tax break."

As David Jarman has written, Prop. 15 would dramatically alter California's property tax landscape and lead to a massive increase in tax revenue by repealing a portion of 1978's Prop. 13. That measure limits the annual property tax on a particular property to no more than 1% of its assessed value and, most importantly, limits the increase in a property's assessed value to no more than 2% per year—even if its actual market value has soared. This has resulted in municipalities and school districts taking in revenues far smaller than they ought to be.

However, voters finally have their chance this fall to modify the system Prop. 13 set up decades ago. This year's Prop. 15 would essentially split the "roll" of properties every municipality maintains by requiring commercial and industrial properties to be reassessed at actual market value while keeping residential and agricultural properties under Prop. 13's rules.

Mayoral

Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: On behalf of the Miami Herald, the Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International is out with a survey that finds Democrat Daniella Levine Cava leading Republican Steve Bovo 39-32 in this November's officially nonpartisan contest. This sample also found Joe Biden ahead 55-38 in a county that supported Hillary Clinton 63-34.

Primary Result Recaps

NH-Sen: Corky Messner, a wealthy attorney endorsed by Donald Trump, beat retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc 51-42 in the Republican primary. Bolduc responded to his defeat by declaring that he wouldn't back Messner in the general election against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. "I will not support a man who is being investigated for fraud by the attorney general," Bolduc said, "No. I will not support him. I will not disgrace my name to support a man like that."

Last month, Mary Mullarkey, a former chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, asked that state's attorney general and secretary of state to investigate the charitable foundation run by Messner, who lived in Colorado until last year. Mullarkey's request came after the Washington Post reported that the Messner Foundation, whose stated purpose is to provide college scholarships to low-income students, had only awarded a grant to one student in its first 10 years of existence. However, despite what Bolduc said, there are no reports that a legal investigation is underway.

No matter what happens with this story, Messner will be in for a difficult race against Shaheen, a longtime figure in New Hampshire politics. A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire found Shaheen beating Messner 54-36, and no major groups have booked ad time here. Messner's ability to self-fund could still give him an opening if Donald Trump performs well in this swing state, though, so Daily Kos Elections is keeping it on the big board at Likely Democratic.

NH-Gov: State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu by defeating Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky 52-48. On the GOP side, Nobody lost.  

Sununu has polled well during his tenure, and a recent survey from the University of New Hampshire found him beating Feltes 57-33. However, Sununu's allies at the RGA don't seem to think the governor is a lock in this swing state, since they reserved $3.6 million in television time for the general election earlier this year. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Likely Republican.

NH-01: Former Trump aide Matt Mowers, who had his old boss' endorsement in the Republican primary, beat former state party vice chair Matt Mayberry 60-26. Mowers will face freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in the fall.

The 1st District, which includes eastern New Hampshire, has been very competitive turf for a long time, and both Barack Obama and Donald Trump only narrowly won it. Pappas, however, prevailed 54-45 during the 2018 blue wave, and he holds a huge financial edge over Mowers with less than two months to go before voting concludes. A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire also showed Pappas up 52-34, though we haven't seen any other numbers here.

Still, Team Blue isn't leaving anything to chance in this swing seat, and House Majority PAC has reserved $2 million for this race; Republicans have not yet booked any air time. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Lean Democratic.

NH State Senate, Where Are They Now?: Former Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes lost Tuesday's Democratic primary for New Hampshire's 15th State Senate District to Becky Whitley, a disability rights attorney, 41-33. This seat backed Hillary Clinton 58-37, and Whitley will be the clear favorite to succeed state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who is the Democratic nominee for governor.

Ad Roundup

Morning Digest: Justin Amash’s presidential bid opens up potentially competitive Michigan House seat

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

MI-03: On Tuesday evening, Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for president as a member of the Libertarian Party. Michigan doesn't allow candidates to run for president and for Congress at the same time, and Amash soon confirmed that he was giving up his seat in the Grand Rapids area. Amash, who left the GOP last year, also said that he'd be informing the House clerk that he's now a Libertarian, which would give the party its first-ever member of Congress.

The Libertarian Party is scheduled to award its presidential nomination in late May, so Amash will soon know if he'll be its standard bearer. However, he does have a backup option if delegates reject him: While Michigan's filing deadline for major party candidates is May 8, everyone else has until July 16 to turn in their paperwork.

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For now, though, we have an open seat race in an area that's been friendly to the GOP for a long time. Gerald Ford himself represented Grand Rapids for decades, and the current 3rd District went from 53-46 Romney to 52-42 Trump. However, Democrats may still have an opening if 2020 turns out to be a favorable year. 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette took the seat by a very slim 48.6-48.2 margin while he was losing statewide 53-44, while GOP Senate nominee John James carried the district by a modest 51-47 that same year while he was going down 52-46.

Several candidates were already running against Amash, and while the deadline to run in the August primary isn't until next month, it's unlikely the field will expand. Congressional candidates need to turn in 1,200 valid signatures to make the ballot this year, and social distancing makes that task especially difficult. The main GOP candidates are Army veteran and wealthy businessman Peter Meijer and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, while attorney Hillary Scholten has the Democratic side to herself.

Amash's decision to leave Congress will mark the end of a 10-year career defined by fights with GOP leaders. Amash first ran for the House in 2010 as a first-term state representative who had already established a reputation for libertarian principles: Notably, Amash was the only state lawmaker to oppose 59 different bills, and he posted explanations for each negative vote on his Facebook page. Amash was one of several Republicans to campaign to succeed retiring Rep. Vern Ehlers, and he earned the support of the anti-tax Club for Growth and local conservative powerplayers Dick and Betsy DeVos. Amash won the primary 40-26, and he had no trouble in November.

Amash brought to D.C. his habit of voting no on any bills that didn't pass his personal purity test, as well as a reputation for being difficult to work with. In late 2012, Amash was one of three GOP House members who were removed from their committees for, as one unnamed member put it, being "the most egregious a—holes" in the caucus. Amash refused to vote for John Boehner in the following year's speakership election, and he opposed him again two years later. Amash had more success with the GOP's emerging tea party wing, though, and he was one of the founding members of the nihilist House Freedom Caucus.

Amash's establishment enemies backed wealthy businessman Brian Ellis in the 2014 primary in what turned into an expensive and nasty race. Ellis attempted to portray Amash as weak on abortion issues and even labeled Amash, who is of Palestinian and Syrian descent, as "Al Qaeda's best friend in Congress," while the Club for Growth spent heavily to defend the incumbent. Amash won 57-43, though, and he was never again seriously threatened.

Amash's final break with the GOP came from his frustration with Donald Trump. Amash was the rare Republican who never fell into line with the administration, and he openly started musing about a third-party or independent presidential bid in March of last year.

Two months later, Amash took to social media and wrote that, after reading the Mueller Report he believed that Trump "has engaged in impeachable conduct." That attracted a typically belligerent response from Trump, and a number of candidates soon entered the GOP primary against Amash as his old allies almost all abandoned him. Amash announced on July 4 that he was leaving the GOP to become an independent, and he voted to impeach Trump at the end of last year.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.

California: The Board of Supervisors in Los Angeles County, which is the largest county in the nation, has voted to mail a ballot to every voter for the November general election. The county is home to more than 10 million people and has more than 5.5 million registered voters. While voting by mail is very popular in California, it's been less so in Los Angeles: 45% of L.A. voters cast ballots by mail in 2018, compared to 72% in the rest of the state.

New York: Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has sued the New York State Board of Elections, asking that New York's June 23 Democratic primary for president be reinstated. Earlier this week, the board canceled the presidential primary (but downballot primaries remain scheduled that day).

Rhode Island: Democratic Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea says every voter will be sent an absentee ballot application for Rhode Island's June 2 presidential primary. The effort does not appear to apply to the state's downballot primaries, which will not take place until Sept. 8.

South Carolina: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has postponed a number of local elections that were set to take place on May 5 and May 12. New dates have not yet been set.

Texas: A group of Texas voters, supported by the National Redistricting Foundation, have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the state's practice of allowing all voters 65 or older to cast absentee ballots without an excuse while requiring an excuse for anyone younger violates the Constitution. Specifically, the suit charges that the law in question violates the 26th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age." Six other conservative states have similar provisions in place, all but one of which is also located in the South.

Two other cases on the issue of Texas' excuse requirement are still pending. In one, filed in state court, a judge ruled that all voters can cite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to request an absentee ballot, though Republicans have said they will appeal. A second similar case in federal court awaits a ruling.

Separately, commissioners in Harris County have allocated $12 million in new election funds, which would allow the county to mail ballots to every voter for the November general election. Harris is home to Houston and is the largest county in the state, with more than 2.3 million registered voters.

Senate

CO-Sen: On Tuesday, Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann ruled against placing climate activist Diana Bray in on the June Democratic primary ballot. Bray had only turned in just over 2,700 of the necessary 10,500 signatures, and Baumann argued that she had not demonstrated a "significant modicum of support" from the state's voters.

KS-Sen: Rep. Roger Marshall's allies at Keep Kansas Great PAC recently ran a spot against former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ahead of the August GOP primary, and Advertising Analytics reports that the size of the buy was at least $35,000.

NC-Sen, NC-Gov: SurveyUSA is out with a poll for WRAL-TV that has some good news for Team Blue. Democrat Cal Cunningham posts a small 41-39 lead over GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper leads Republican Dan Forest by a massive 57-30. This sample also shows Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 50-45.

April polls have consistently shown Cooper, who has received strong marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, leading Forest by double digits, but there's less agreement on the state of the Senate race. The conservative Civitas Institute released numbers two weeks ago from the GOP firm Harper Polling that showed Tillis ahead 38-34, while the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Cunningham ahead 47-40 around that same time.

Senate: On Tuesday, the DSCC announced its first wave of TV and digital ad reservations for the fall. The Democratic group's initial bookings consists of $30.6 million in four GOP-held Senate seats:

Arizona (Martha McSally): $6.4 Million Iowa (Joni Ernst): $7.3 Million Montana (Steve Daines): $5.2 Million North Carolina (Thom Tillis): $11.7 Million

The DSCC's reservations come weeks after its allies at Senate Majority PAC, as well as the GOP organizations NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund, made their own first wave of bookings.

All four groups made their largest reservations in North Carolina, a race that could very well decide control of the U.S. Senate in 2020. What's more surprising, though, is that all four organizations also booked millions for Iowa, which has long looked like a reach target for Democrats. The state swung hard to the right in 2014 and 2016, and while Democrats did considerably better last cycle, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds still won a close contest for a full term.

We haven't seen a single poll of the Senate race since December, so we don't have a good sense for how vulnerable incumbent Joni Ernst is. However, this quartet of well-funded groups is at least acting like this race is very much in play.

House

CA-25: Democrat Christy Smith is out with what Politico describes as her "closing TV spot" ahead of the May 12 special election. The narrator goes after Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis and argues that Republican Mike Garcia "attacks anyone who doesn't agree with Trump." The commercial then shows a clip of Garcia saying that "everyone should have to figure out how to fend for themselves." The rest of the spot praises Smith's work during the pandemic.

GA-09: State Rep. Matt Gurtler picked up an endorsement this week from the radical anti-tax Club for Growth ahead of the crowded June GOP primary for this safely red seat. Gurtler has spent his two terms in the legislature fighting with party leaders, which makes him an ideal candidate for the Club.

IA-04: State Sen. Randy Feenstra is out with a poll from American Viewpoint that shows him trailing white supremacist Rep. Steve King by a modest 41-34 in the June 2 GOP primary; another 8% opt for another candidate. While Feenstra is down, the memo says that this is a big shift in his favor from late January, when a previously-unreleased poll found King up 53-22. We haven't seen any other surveys of the contest for this rural western Iowa seat all year.

Feenstra is using his huge financial edge over King to air a spot contrasting the two candidates. The narrator declares, "Steve King couldn't protect our farmers, and couldn't defend President Trump from impeachment." He continues, "King lost his congressional committees, can't do his job, can't protect us." The rest of the commercial praises Feenstra as an effective and pro-Trump conservative.  

Election Result Recaps

MD-07: The almost all-mail general election for the final months of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings' term took place on Tuesday, and former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume won 73-27 in a seat that Hillary Clinton carried 76-20. Mfume represented a previous version of this Baltimore-based seat from 1987 until he resigned in 1996 to lead the NAACP. However, former Rep. Rick Nolan still holds the record for the longest gap in congressional service: The Minnesota Democrat retired in 1981 and returned 32 years later in 2013.

Mfume does have one more contest in his near future, but it doesn't look very competitive. The primary for the full two-year term is on June 2, and Mfume faces former state party chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is Elijah Cummings' widow, state Sen. Jill Carter, and Del. Jay Jalisi. This group faced off in the February special election primary, which ended with Mfume decisively defeating Rockeymoore Cummings 43-17; Carter and Jalisi took 16% and 2%, respectively.

P.S. In a tweet encouraging people to vote on Tuesday, Rockeymoore Cummings wrote, "A lot of people have asked me if you can write my name in. The answer is yes." Only about 1% of voters ended up writing in another candidate's name, though, and it's not clear how many of them selected Rockeymoore Cummings.

Ohio: After an abrupt cancellation, Ohio's primaries, originally scheduled for March 17, took place on Tuesday. The election took place almost entirely by mail, and only voters with disabilities or those who lacked a home address were allowed to vote in person. Ballots will still be accepted through May 8 as long as they were postmarked by Monday, so the margin may shift in some races.

OH-01: Former healthcare executive Kate Schroder defeated retired Air Force pilot Nikki Foster by a decisive 68-32 margin in the Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Steve Chabot. This seat in the Cincinnati area was heavily gerrymandered to keep Chabot from losing again after he had lost re-election in a bluer previous version of this district in 2008 (Chabot returned two years later). However, Donald Trump only carried the current 1st District by a modest 51-45 margin, and Chabot himself won an expensive re-election campaign 51-47 in 2018.

Chabot's campaign was also thrown into turmoil last summer when the FEC sent a letter asking why the congressman's first-quarter fundraising report was belatedly amended to show $124,000 in receipts that hadn't previously been accounted for. From there, a bizarre series of events unfolded.

First, Chabot's longtime consultant, Jamie Schwartz, allegedly disappeared after he shuttered his firm, called the Fountain Square Group. Then Schwartz's father, Jim Schwartz, told reporters that despite appearing as Chabot's treasurer on his FEC filings for many years, he had in fact never served in that capacity. Chabot's team was certainly bewildered, because it issued a statement saying, "As far as the campaign was aware, James Schwartz, Sr. has been the treasurer since 2011." Evidently there's a whole lot the campaign wasn't aware of.

The elder Schwartz also claimed of his son, "I couldn't tell you where he's at" because "he's doing a lot of running around right now." Well, apparently, he'd run right into the arms of the feds. In December, local news station Fox19 reported that Jamie Schwartz had turned himself in to the U.S. Attorney's office, which, Fox19 said, has been investigating the matter "for a while."

Adding to the weirdness, it turned out that Chabot had paid Schwartz's now-defunct consultancy $57,000 in July and August for "unknown" purposes. Yes, that's literally the word Chabot's third-quarter FEC report used to describe payments to the Fountain Square Group no fewer than five times. (Remember how we were saying the campaign seems to miss quite a bit?)

We still don't know what those payments were for, or what the deal was with the original $124,000 in mystery money that triggered this whole saga. Chabot himself has refused to offer any details, insisting only that he's been the victim of an unspecified "financial crime." There haven't been any public developments since December, but until there's a resolution, this story always has the potential to resurface at exactly the wrong time for Chabot.

OH-03: Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty won renomination in this safely blue Columbus seat by defeating Morgan Harper, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau adviser, 68-32.

Harper, who is 36 and a first-time candidate, had contrasted herself against Beatty, who is 69 and has held elected office for two decades, by calling for generational change. However, while Harper raised a credible amount of money, she was always at a big disadvantage against the well-funded incumbent. Beatty also had considerably more cash left to use than Harper when the race was unexpectedly extended, and the incumbent kept up her spending advantage over the final weeks.

OH State House, Where Are They Now?: Former GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost renomination in a 2012 upset against now-Rep. Brad Wenstrup, looks to be on-track to return to her old stomping grounds in the Ohio state House.

Schmidt ended Tuesday evening with a 44-42 lead―a margin of 287 votes―in the GOP primary for House District 65, which is based in Clermont County to the east of Cincinnati. There are close to 3,000 absentee ballots left to tally countywide (HD-65 makes up just over 60% of the county), so it may be a little while before we have a resolution. This seat backed Donald Trump 66-29, so the GOP nominee should have little trouble in November.