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.
● NY-27: On Saturday, Republican leaders in the eight counties that make up New York's 27th Congressional District awarded the party's nomination for the upcoming special election to state Sen. Chris Jacobs. The GOP did not release vote totals for the meeting, though The Buffalo News' Robert McCarthy reports that Jacobs prevailed after "what was termed a close call" over fellow state Sen. Robert Ortt. Jacobs also beat out attorney Beth Parlato, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, and White House aide Jeff Freeland to claim the nomination.Campaign Action
Democrats have not yet picked a candidate in the race to replace former GOP Rep. Chris Collins, who was sentenced to 26 months in prison earlier this month on charges related to insider trading. However, McCarthy says that Team Blue's leaders are expected to choose 2018 nominee Nate McMurray "in coming days." Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet scheduled the special, though the state attorney general's office told a court that Cuomo intends to set the date for April 28, which is the same day as New York's presidential primary.
While a competitive presidential primary will likely bring out Democratic voters in disproportionate numbers, it's still going to be tough to beat Jacobs in this suburban Buffalo seat, which backed Donald Trump 60-35. However, Jacobs won't be able to rest even if he wins in April. Parlato, who is also a Fox News contributor, said Saturday that she would run in the late June primary for the full two-year term.
Ortt, Mychajliw, and Freeland also each said that they were considering their options, with Mychajliw sounding particularly pissed with how things went down over the weekend. The comptroller pointed out that state GOP chair Nicholas Langworthy's wife is doing fundraising work for Jacobs, saying, "The process is compromised by the fact that the state chairman's wife is on the payroll of one of the candidates …. A reasonable person could infer the fix is in." Mychajliw also took issue with GOP leaders keeping the location of their meeting a secret even from the candidates until the morning of their deliberations.
The filing deadline for the regular term is April 2, so all of Jacobs' would-be foes will need to decide what they're doing before the special election. However, Jacobs will have the advantage in the June primary as long as he wins in April: No member of Congress has won a special election and then immediately lost their first primary in a traditional election since New York Democrat Alton Waldon in 1986.
And while Jacobs' intra-party critics, including Collins and the extremist Club for Growth, have attacked him for refusing to publicly support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, Jacobs will have several months to proclaim his fealty to the White House (and possibly earn a coveted Trump tweet). Jacobs also won't need to worry about money either. His family founded and still owns the food service giant Delaware North, allowing him to self fund $425,000 through the end of September.
P.S. By nominating Jacobs, GOP leaders are opening up a state Senate seat that supported Clinton 50-45. However, Team Red has for some time given up hope of reclaiming power in a chamber that they controlled almost nonstop from just after World War II until the end of 2018 but where Democrats now hold a 40-22 majority. Eight Republicans, including Jacobs, have announced their retirement, while another GOP seat is vacant.
● GA-Sen-A: Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry announced Sunday that he was dropping out of the Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue and would instead run for a seat on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners. Terry acknowledged that he was switching races in large part because he wasn't raising enough money for Senate.
● TN-Sen: Former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty is out with his first TV spot ahead of the August GOP primary for this open seat. The ad begins with a narrator blasting impeachment before Hagerty appears to tell the audience that he has Donald Trump's endorsement.
● AL-02: Former state Attorney General Troy King's first TV spot for the March GOP primary stars the candidate and his mother talking about why liberals don't like him. (Spoiler alert: It's because of guns and abortion.) King concludes by telling the audience that liberals in Alabama have never liked him, to which his mom responds, "That's okay, honey. The liberals in Washington are not going to like you either."
Another GOP candidate, businessman Jeff Coleman, is also up with a commercial starring a family member. The candidate's wife, Tiffany, tells the audience that her first reaction to calls for him to run for office was "absolutely not," but that she came to realize that campaigning "seems like that's where God's calling us." Tiffany adds that this is "terrifying ... but I'm for it."
● IL-03: Conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski is out with a poll from the Democratic firm Expedition Strategies that shows him leading 2018 opponent Marie Newman 50-27 in the March Democratic primary, while activist Rush Darwish takes just 2%. Lipinski beat Newman by a narrow 51-49 last year, and this is the first survey we've seen looking at their second bout.
Attorney and Marine veteran Sheila Bryant kicked off her Democratic primary bid against Rep. Anthony Brown last year in this safely blue seat, but she doesn't appear to have gotten much traction. Bryant hasn't announced her fundraising for the final three months of 2019 yet, but she had just $18,000 on-hand at the end of September.
Mckayla Wilkes, who works as an administrative assistant at the Pentagon, has attracted some national attention, but she had a mere $63,000 in the bank at the end of September. That's actually considerably more money than what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had at that point in her ultimately successful primary campaign against incumbent Joe Crowley, but AOC had one big advantage Wilkes doesn't have: While Ocasio-Cortez was Crowley's only primary foe, three other Democrats are running against Hoyer.
As we've noted before, this seat has been solidly blue since the current Democratic-drawn map took effect in 2012 save for one election—the 2014 GOP wave. That year, former Democratic Rep. John Delaney survived a challenge from Republican Dan Bongino (who went on to become a looney tunes Fox commentator) by just a single point. Barring a similar wave, the wealthy Trone should have no problem winning a second term.
● MD-07: The filing deadline to run for the regular two-year term representing this safely blue seat passed on Friday, but the special primary to fill the final months of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings' term won't take place until Feb. 4. This means that whoever wins the Democratic nod next week will need to compete for it again on April 28, which is the same day as the special general election. However, it's possible that some of the candidates who end up losing next Tuesday will decide to stop campaigning if they don't think they'll be able to win in April.
● NJ-02, NJ-03: Wealthy businessman David Richter announced Monday that he was ending his GOP primary bid against party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District and would instead challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim in the neighboring 3rd District. Richter also endorsed Van Drew as he swapped races.
Richter was the only notable Republican challenging Van Drew, and it looks very unlikely that the incumbent will face any serious opposition in the June primary. While local Republican leaders initially sounded reluctant to support Van Drew, who spent 17 years in the state legislature as a Democrat before he was elected to Congress in 2018, they started to warm up to him after Donald Trump endorsed the defector.
Richter, who began running while Van Drew was still a Democrat, spent another month arguing that he was the true conservative in the race, but both national and local Republicans made it clear that they wouldn't tolerate any opposition to Trump's chosen candidate.
By challenging Kim in the 3rd District, though, Richter is entering a very different race. The primary frontrunner, at least until Monday, was former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs, who has the support of party leaders in her home county. Gibbs told the New Jersey Globe just ahead of Richter's announcement that she wouldn't be dropping out, saying, "Anyone who thinks they can push me around doesn't know anything about South Jersey women."
However, Gibbs had a mere $138,000 on-hand at the end of December after five weeks in the race, which is an especially underwhelming war chest in a district that's split between the pricey Philadelphia media market and the ultra-expensive New York City market. Richter, by contrast, had a considerably larger $515,000 to spend, though almost all of that was self-funded. Barnegat Township Mayor John Novak and former Hainesport Mayor Tony Porto are also seeking the GOP nod.
One major test for Richter is whether he'll be able to do what he failed to do in his race against Van Drew and win the important support of local party leaders. In New Jersey primaries, a candidate endorsed by the county party appears in a separate column on the ballot along with other party endorsees, a designation known colloquially as the "organization line." Leaders in Ocean County, which is home to 55% of the 3rd District's 2016 Trump voters, have not yet awarded their organization line, and county chair Frank Holman says this won't happen until the March party convention.
Holman told the New Jersey Globe last week that he was open to supporting Richter, but he didn't commit to anything. However, if Richter can claim the Ocean County GOP line, it will give him a geographic edge over Gibbs, whose Burlington County base contains a smaller 45% share of the seat's prior Trump voters.
● TX-28: On Sunday, the state AFL-CIO endorsed immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros over conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar in the March Democratic primary. The AFL-CIO also took sides in several other primaries:TX-02: Sima Ladjevardian TX-10: Mike Siegel TX-22: Sri Preston Kulkarni TX-31: Donna Imam
● TX-28: Texas Forward, a PAC affiliated with EMILY's List, is spending $34,000 on advertising in Texas' 28th Congressional District, where EMILY has endorsed attorney Jessica Cisneros over Rep. Henry Cuellar in the March Democratic primary. According to paperwork filed with the FEC, the advertisement will both support Cisneros and oppose Cuellar. Texas Forward's filing does not indicate what media this buy will air on, and the group does not appear to have a website or any social media presence.
● Special Elections: There are four special elections on tap for Tuesday, headlined by a high-profile race in the Houston suburbs.
TX-HD-28: All eyes will be on Fort Bend County on Tuesday, where we'll get our first look at the upcoming battle for control of the Texas state House. This chamber is the top legislative target for Democrats in 2020, as winning it would give Democrats a significant role in redistricting in the nation's second-largest (and one of the fastest-growing) states.
While the 28th District isn't one of the top pickup opportunities for Democrats in the Texas House—the Texas Democratic Party ranked it 16th out of the 22 seats that it's targeting in November—it's still a compelling target. It fits the now-classic mold of a suburban seat that lurched leftward in the Trump era: Mitt Romney won by a wide 65-34 spread, which was shaved to a 53-43 win for Trump four years later.
Ted Cruz would go on to to carry this district by an even smaller 51-48 clip over Beto O'Rourke in 2018. Democrats can win this chamber without this district, especially since there are nine other GOP-held seats that O'Rourke carried, but a win here Tuesday would whittle the number they need to take the House down to eight.
This special election came about when former Rep. John Zerwas resigned last year to take a position at the University of Texas, following the closest election of his career. Democrat Eliz Markowitz and Republican Gary Gates will face off in what has become a hotly contested special election. Markowitz was the only Democrat in the Nov. 5 all-party primary and led the way with 39% of the vote. Gates took 28% and finished ahead of five other GOP candidates. Overall, however, Republicans led in the first round of voting 61-39.
The runoff has attracted national attention, as Markowitz has been endorsed by 2020 presidential candidates Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren. Her most visible supporter, though, has been O'Rourke, a former presidential candidate himself who has appeared alongside Markowitz several times and backed her during the first round of voting. Gates has the support of high-level Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, though Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick only offered a tepid endorsement.
Both sides have made serious investments in this race. In addition to strong fundraising, Markowitz has received significant financial support from outside groups such as the DLCC and Forward Majority, who have been running TV ads on her behalf. O'Rourke has continued to lend vigorous support to Markowitz, and he's been joined by another former presidential candidate, Julián Castro, on the campaign trail.
Gates has run a comparatively low key race but has dumped hundreds of thousands of his own money into the campaign, in part to defend himself against negative ads launched by Forward Majority that have hammered him over an incident when his 13 children were removed from his home over allegations of child abuse.
The increased attention and piles of money that have flowed into this race appear to have had an impact: Early voting for the runoff outpaced the clip in the primary 16,332-14,270, even though the time period and voting locations were more limited for the second round.
The current makeup of the Texas state House stands at 82-64 in favor of Republicans with this seat and two others vacant (both of which we preview below).
TX-HD-100: This is a Democratic district in Dallas, which became vacant when former Rep. Eric Johnson won election as mayor of Dallas last year. This district is safely Democratic, having supported Hillary Clinton 77-19 and Barack Obama 78-21, and, unsurprisingly, the two candidates on the ballot are Democrats.
Community advocate Lorraine Birabil and businessman James Armstrong will face each other after emerging as the leading vote-getters in the all-party primary, with 33 and 21% respectively. Armstrong earned the right to advance by edging out third-place finisher Daniel Clayton by just five votes.
TX-HD-148: This is a Democratic district in Houston, which became vacant when former Rep. Jessica Farrar resigned last year after 25 years in office. Democrat Anna Eastman and Republican Luis LaRotta will face each other after leading the way in a very crowded 15-candidate all-party primary. Democratic candidates collectively outpaced Republicans 69-27 in the first round, with an independent taking 4%.
As the first round of voting indicates, this is a solidly Democratic district that backed Clinton 64-35 and Obama 57-41.
GA-HD-171: This is a Republican district in south Georgia, centered around the Bainbridge area. This seat became vacant after former Rep. Jay Powell died last year. Three candidates are competing for this seat; farmer Tommy Akridge and businessman Joe Campbell are the Republicans, and retired educator Jewell Howard is the lone Democrat. Howard ran for this seat once before in 2012, falling to Powell 59-41.
This is a strongly Republican district that backed Donald Trump 62-37 in 2016. If no candidates take a majority of the vote in this election, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held on Feb. 25. The current makeup of the Georgia State House is 104-74 in favor of Republicans with two seats vacant, including this one.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: Jack Young was elevated from City Council president to mayor last May after Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace, and he's seeking a full four-year term in the April Democratic primary. It only takes a plurality of the vote to win the Democratic nod, and the winner should have no trouble in the November general election in this very blue city.
The only poll we've seen of this crowded contest in months was a late December Gonzales Research survey for FOX45 News that showed former state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah and City Council President Brandon Scott tied 18-18 for first place, while former Mayor Sheila Dixon and Young were just behind with 16% and 15%, respectively. Former police spokesman T.J. Smith took 11% to state Sen. Mary Washington's 8% while another candidate, former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller, entered the contest after this survey concluded.
● Deaths: Former Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat who represented part of the Bay Area from 1973 until 2013, died Friday at the age of 88. Stark made a name for himself for his work writing healthcare legislation, including the COBRA program and the Affordable Care Act. Stark also made history in 2007 when he became the first member of Congress to publicly identify as an atheist.
Before he ran for office, Stark founded a bank that the Washington Post writes was “reportedly the first in the country to offer free checking.” Stark, who had previously served in the Air Force, also expressed his vehement opposition to the Vietnam War by putting peace signs on both on the bank’s checks and on the building’s headquarters.
In 1972, after selling his bank for millions, Stark challenged 14-term Rep. George Miller (not to be confused with another former California Democratic congressman with the same name) in the primary. Stark, who was 41 at the time, contrasted himself with the 81-year-old incumbent and portrayed himself as the anti-war candidate. Stark won by a lopsided 56-21 margin, and he went on to prevail in the general election 53-47.
While Stark was an influential member of Congress during his 40 years in office, he also became infamous for his temper and insults. Among many other things, Stark said that Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who was a black doctor, was “as close to being a disgrace to his race as anyone I've ever seen,” called a GOP congresswoman a “whore for the insurance industry,” and said in 2007 that House Republicans wanted to send young people to Iraq “to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.” In 2010, Stark’s behavior likely cost him the chance to chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Stark never faced a close re-election during all of this time in his seat, but that changed in 2012. California’s independent redistricting committee gave Stark a seat, now numbered the 15th District, that included a little less than half of the constituency that he’d represented over the prior decade and included more Republicans and independents. That may not have been a problem if Stark had been able to keep competing in party primaries, but the state’s new top-two system further complicated his re-election prospects.
Most Democrats were content to wait for Stark to retire, but Eric Swalwell, a little-known member of the Dublin City Council and an Alameda County prosecutor, decided to take his chances and challenge the 81-year-old incumbent. Stark quickly drew negative headlines on the campaign trail when he accused Swalwell of taking bribes without providing a shred of evidence and labeled him a “fucking crook.” The two each advanced to the general election, and in a contest where more and more stories about Stark’s behavior kept surfacing, Swalwell won 52-48.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Rep. Zack Space, a Democrat who represented part of eastern Ohio from 2007 to 2011 and lost a close 2018 race for state auditor, is running for a seat on the Franklin County Probate Court. Space, like all of the Democratic candidates for this office, doesn't have any primary opposition, so he'll be competing on the November general election ballot. Space didn't represent any of Franklin County in Congress, but The Plain Dealer reports that he now works in Columbus.