The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● NV-02: Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian, a Republican who finally ended his legendary losing streak last cycle, revealed to the Nevada Independent that he's considering challenging Rep. Mark Amodei in the June primary for Nevada's 2nd Congressional District. The congressman quickly responded to the news by telling the site, "[I]t's America. ... If somebody thinks that they've got a better mousetrap, then those are the avenues available to them." The filing deadline is March 18, and whoever wins the GOP nod will be the heavy favorite in a northern Nevada seat that, according to Dave's Redistricting App, would have backed Donald Trump 54-43.
While it remains to be seen what argument Tarkanian might put forward to persuade primary voters to oust Amodei, the congressman's experience last cycle could preview what's to come. In September of 2019, Amodei pissed off conservatives nationwide when he became the first House Republican to identify as impeachment-curious, saying of the inquiry into Trump, "Let's put it through the process and see what happens." Amodei added, "I'm a big fan of oversight, so let's let the committees get to work and see where it goes." Where it went was a firestorm of far-right outrage, with angry conservatives convinced that Amodei had actually called for impeaching Trump.Campaign Action
Amodei quickly responded by protesting, "In no way, shape, or form, did I indicate support for impeachment," though even expressing openness to an inquiry was enough to infuriate not only the rank-and-file but top Republicans as well. The Trump campaign soon rolled out its state co-chairs for 2020, and politicos noticed that Amodei, who was and remains Nevada's only Republican member of Congress, was snubbed.
The far-right Club for Growth joined in the fracas by releasing a poll showing former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt beating Amodei in a hypothetical primary, but all of this sound and fury ended up signifying nothing—for 2020 at least. Amodei joined the rest of the GOP caucus in voting against both the inquiry and Trump's first impeachment, and neither Laxalt nor anyone else of stature ended up running against him.
Things played out in a familiar manner right after the Jan. 6 attack when Amodei told Nevada Newsmakers, "Do I think he [Trump] has a responsibility for what has occurred? Yes." The congressman, though, this time used his interview to say upfront that he'd oppose an impeachment inquiry, and he soon joined most of his party colleagues in voting against impeachment. However, as South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace just learned the hard way, Trump is very happy to back primary challenges to members who dared blamed him for the attack on the Capitol even if they sided with him on the impeachment vote.
Tarkanian, for his part, is also a very familiar name in Silver State politics, though not entirely for welcome reasons. Tarkanian himself comes from a prominent family: His late father was the legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, while his mother, Democrat Lois Tarkanian, was a longtime Las Vegas city councilwoman who now serves on the state Board of Regents. The younger Tarkanian—sometimes distinguished from his more famous father with the sobriquet "Little Tark"—was a resident of Las Vegas' Clark County when he lost the:
- 2004 general for state Senate
- 2006 general for secretary of state
- 2010 primary for U.S. Senate
- 2012 general for the 4th Congressional District
- 2016 general for the 3rd Congressional District
- 2018 general for the 3rd Congressional District
But while Tarkanian's long string of defeats has made him a punchline to state and national political observers for years, his name recognition, personal wealth, and connections to Nevada's hardcore conservative base mean that he was never just another perennial candidate either party could dismiss. Notably in 2016, Tarkanian overcame $1.6 million in outside spending directed against him in the GOP primary to defeat state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the choice of then-Gov. Brian Sandoval and national Republicans, by a surprisingly large 32-24 margin. That result might have cost Team Red the swingy 3rd District, but only just: Tarkanian lost to his Democratic foe, now-Sen. Jacky Rosen, 47-46 as Donald Trump was carrying the district 48-47.
Republicans also took Tarkanian seriously in 2017 when he launched a primary challenge to Sen. Dean Heller and a pair of polls showed him winning. Trump, however, managed to redirect Tarkanian just before the filing deadline when he convinced him to drop out and run for the 3rd District a second time, with his endorsement. Tarkanian, though, lost to Democrat Susie Lee by a wide 52-43 spread as Rosen was unseating Heller.
Tarkanian decided soon afterwards that he'd had enough of Vegas and moved to Douglas County, a small rural community located well to the north, near the Reno area. But he was hardly done with politics: Amodei himself suggested in April of 2019, months before his impeachment inquiry flirtations, that Tarkanian could run against him.
Tarkanian didn’t follow through but instead devoted his efforts to denying renomination to an incumbent with a far lower profile, Douglas County Commissioner Dave Nelson. The challenger joined a pro-development slate of candidates seeking seats on the five-member body, and this time, fortune was, at last, just barely on his side: Tarkanian won the nomination 50.1-49.9―a margin of 17 votes―and he had no opposition in the general election. We'll find out in the next five weeks if, now that he's finally an elected official, Little Tark decides to test out his newfound luck by going after Amodei.
● LA Redistricting: Louisiana's GOP-run state House has passed a new congressional map with two independents joining all 68 Republicans to total 70 votes in favor—exactly the number that would be needed to override a veto by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. However, the plan differs somewhat from the map that the state Senate approved a few days earlier (also with a two-thirds supermajority), so the two chambers will have to iron out their differences. Edwards has indicated he would veto a map that does not create a second Black district, which neither the House or Senate proposals do.
● AZ-Sen: The Republican pollster co/efficient, which tells us they have no client, finds no clear favorite in the August GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Attorney General Mark Brnovich edges out businessman Jim Lamon 17-13, with Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters just behind with 12%. Two other Republicans, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire and state Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson, barely register with 3% and 1%, respectively. The firm also tests out a scenario in which Gov. Doug Ducey runs and finds Brnovich narrowly outpacing him 14-13 as Lamon and Masters each take 11%.
These numbers are quite a bit different than those another GOP firm, OH Predictive Insights, found a few weeks ago. That earlier survey of the current field had Brnovich leading McGuire 25-11; when Ducey was added, he beat the attorney general 27-12.
● OH-Sen: The Republican firm co/efficient has released the very first survey of the May primary that wasn't done on behalf of a candidate or allied group, and it shows businessman Mike Gibbons leading former state Treasurer Josh Mandel 20-18, with state Sen. Matt Dolan in third with 7%; former state party chair Jane Timken takes 6%, while venture capitalist J.D. Vance grabs fifth with 5%.
Gibbons, who badly lost the 2018 primary for Ohio's other Senate seat, also has dropped a Cygnal poll giving him a wider 23-11 edge over Mandel, which is a huge improvement from the 16-13 edge the firm gave him two weeks ago,
Vance's allies at Protect Ohio Values, meanwhile, are going up with their first TV spot since mid-November, a move that come days after Politico reported that the Peter Thiel-funded group's own polls showed that "Vance needs a course correction ASAP that will resolidify him as a true conservative." The commercial seeks to do that with clips of the candidate attacking "elites" and concludes with footage of Fox host Tucker Carlson telling him, "You've really, I think, understand what's gone wrong with the country."
● LA-Gov: Republican state Rep. Daryl Deshotel attracted lots of local attention when he recently gave his own campaign $1 million, and he told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser on Thursday, "I'm open to everything, but I honestly don't have a target right now." While much speculation has centered around next year’s open-seat race for governor, Deshotel, who has described himself as "fiscally conservative but more moderate on social issues," didn’t specifically mention the contest, and he didn't even commit to using the money to aid himself. Deshotel instead said, "It may be that I end up using the money to support other candidates who I believe can help the state."
● MI-Gov: Blueprint Polling, which describes itself as a "sister company" to the Democratic firm Chism Strategies, is out with a survey showing Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer deadlocked 44-44 with former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. Blueprint, which says it did this survey "with no input or funding from any candidate, committee or interest group," did not release numbers testing Whitmer against any other Republican.
● NY-Gov: Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who previously backed Attorney General Tish James during her abortive six-week campaign for governor, has now thrown his support behind Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul.
● CA-03: Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones received an endorsement from Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents an inland San Diego County seat, for the June top-two primary for this open district in Sacramento's eastern suburbs. While Issa's constituency is located hundreds of miles to the south of the new 3rd District, he may have some clout with conservatives more broadly thanks in part to his long history of using his influence in Congress to torment Democrats.
● NJ-07: On Thursday evening, 2020 nominee Tom Kean Jr. narrowly defeated Assemblyman Erik Peterson at the Hunterdon County Republican Convention, which gives him the important party endorsement in the June primary to take on Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski. Peterson is a longtime politician from Hunterdon County, which makes up 17% of the population this six-county congressional district, and he's enjoyed the county's support in past bids for local races.
Endorsements from county parties are typically very important in New Jersey primaries on both sides of the aisle. That's because, in many counties, endorsed candidates appear in a separate column on the ballot along with other party endorsees, a big deal in a state where party machines are still powerful. (This designation is known colloquially as the "organization line.")
You can see an example of this on the 2018 Democratic primary sample ballot from Burlington County. Sen. Robert Menendez and 2nd Congressional District candidate Jeff Van Drew, who was still a year away from his infamous party switch, appeared in the column identified as "BURLINGTON COUNTY REGULAR DEMOCRATS," along with party-backed candidates running for other offices. Lisa McCormick, who was challenging Menendez for renomination, was listed on her own in the second column while the three candidates running against Van Drew each had a column entirely to themselves.
Kean will likely have another line before long: The New Jersey Globe writes that he recently received the unanimous support of the Republican Executive Committee in Warren County, which forms another 14% of the 7th District, meaning "he is the favorite to win the county organizational line there as well."
● PA-18: Nonprofit executive Stephanie Fox, a Democrat who didn't report any fourth quarter fundraising with the FEC, has announced that she'll run for a state House seat rather than continue with her congressional bid.
● RI-02: Allan Fung, a former Cranston mayor who twice was the Republican nominee for governor, announced Friday that he'd run to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin in the 2nd Congressional District. He joins a September primary that includes state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz and 2020 nominee Bob Lancia, who lost to Langevin 58-42.
The current version of this constituency, which is unlikely to change much when redistricting is finished, moved from 51-44 Clinton to a stronger 56-43 Biden. But in between those presidential contests, according to Dave's Redistricting App, Fung lost this seat by a close 47-43 margin in his 2018 general election against then-Gov. Gina Raimondo.
Fung was decisively elected to lead Rhode Island's second-most populous city in 2008 on his second try, an accomplishment that made him the state's first Chinese American mayor, and he quickly emerged as a Republican rising star in the heavily Democratic Ocean State. Fung went ahead with a long-awaited campaign for governor during the 2014 red wave, and while he lost to Raimondo 41-36 (a hefty 21% went to the late Robert Healey of the Moderate, or "Cool Moose," Party), he remained the state GOP’s biggest name following his near miss.
After easily winning re-election in Cranston, Fung soon launched a 2018 rematch with Raimondo, and it looked like he had a real chance to finish what he'd started. While the national political climate very much favored Democrats, Raimondo had posted unimpressive poll numbers throughout her tenure. That was due in part to her turbulent relationship with progressives ever since she pushed through pension reforms as state treasurer and some bad headlines on a variety of topics while in office.
The incumbent, though, enjoyed a huge fundraising lead over Fung, and she and her allies worked to tie him to the toxic Trump administration―a task the mayor made pretty easy the previous year when he posted a picture on Facebook of him at Trump's inauguration smiling and wearing a Trump wool cap. Things got worse for him when national Republicans began canceling their TV ads weeks ahead of Election Day, while Fung himself had to run commercials warning that conservative independent Joe Trillo's presence on the ballot would make Raimondo's re-election more likely. The governor this time captured the majority that eluded her in 2014 by beating Fung by a decisive 53-37, with Trillo taking 4%.
But Fung, while termed-out as mayor in 2020, was far from finished exerting influence in local politics. On his way out of office, Fung put serious effort into supporting his eventual successor, Councilman Kenneth Hopkins, in both the GOP primary and the general election, while Fung's wife, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, scored a huge win in November by unseating state House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. (Many Democrats weren't at all sad to see the conservative Mattiello go, since the party easily hung on to its majority.) Fung himself showed some interest in a third run for governor this cycle but seemed far more intent on campaigning for state treasurer, though all that changed when Langevin announced his retirement last month.
● TX-28: Democrat Jessica Cisneros' newest ad is narrated by a woman named Esther who says she's lived in Laredo for four decades but complains, "Nothing changes—even the problems stay the same." She goes on to say she "used to like Henry Cuellar," the congressman Cisneros is hoping to unseat in the March 1 primary, but criticizes him for "taking money from big insurance and drug companies" even as the cost of medication and insurance has risen for her. "You ask me, Henry Cuellar's been in Washington too long," she concludes.
The left-wing group Justice Democrats is also reportedly spending $78,000 to air a spot on Cisneros' behalf, attacking Cuellar for living it up as a politician (he "got rides in donors' private jets" and "fixed his BMW with campaign cash"). It also mentions the FBI raid of his home last month. "After 36 years in politics," says the narrator, "Cuellar has changed." The spot concludes with the voiceover saying, "We need someone who works for us" and shows a photo of Cisneros along with her name on screen, but for no clear reason, the narrator doesn't actually say her name aloud.
● TX-30: Web3 Forward, a new super PAC with ties to the crypto industry, is out with its first TV spot in support of state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, and the group says it will spend $1 million to aid her in the March 1 Democratic primary. (A different crypto-aligned PAC, Protect our Future, has also pledged to deploy $1 million for Crockett.) The opening ad praises Crockett for leading "the fight to stop voter suppression efforts in Texas" and reminds the audience that she's backed by retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.
● VA-02: In an email to supporters that begins with the line, "I don't know what I'm doing," former Republican Rep. Scott Taylor says he's giving "serious consideration" to yet another comeback bid in Virginia's 2nd Congressional District.
Taylor's tenure in D.C. was short. In 2016, he easily won election over Democrat Shaun Brown following an unusual series of events that began when a federal court threw out much of Virginia's congressional map for illegally diminishing the political power of Black voters. After the court drew new lines, GOP Rep. Scott Rigell announced his retirement, which prompted another Republican congressman, Randy Forbes, to say he'd seek re-election in Rigell's district, since his own had been made unwinnably blue. But Forbes didn't represent any part of the 2nd District, and Taylor, a former Navy SEAL who'd been elected to the state House in 2013, defeated him in the primary 53-41.
Two years later, however, Taylor ran headlong into the blue wave, as shifting demographics in the Virginia Beach area plus a far stronger Democratic opponent in Navy veteran Elaine Luria combined to give him a difficult race. But in the end, Taylor was likely done in by his own hand: His own staffers conspired to put Brown on the ballot as an independent in order to siphon votes from Luria, but they were busted for forging signatures on her petitions. Taylor disavowed all knowledge, but an investigation into the scandal (which resulted in multiple aides getting indicted) consumed his campaign and was the focus of countless Democratic ads.
Luria wound up unseating Taylor 51-49, then beat him again by a wider 52-46 margin in 2020. (In between those two campaigns, Taylor briefly tried his hand at a bid for Senate.) One favorable development for Taylor since then, though, is the fact that the 2nd became a couple of points redder in redistricting: Under the old lines, it voted for Joe Biden by a 51-47 margin, but the new version would have supported Biden by a slightly narrower 50-48 spread.
Taylor, though, would have to contend with a few candidates who are already seeking the Republican nomination, including state Sen. Jen Kiggans and high school football coach Jarome Bell, both of whom are also Navy vets (Virginia Beach is home to a huge Naval air station). Kiggans raised $251,000 in the fourth quarter and had $342,000 on hand, while Bell, who finished third in the primary last cycle, brought in $112,000 but finished with just $121,000 in the bank. Luria swamped them both, however, with a $672,000 haul and a giant $2.3 million cash stockpile.
● WV-02: Republican Rep. Alex Mooney's allies at the Club for Growth have released a new internal poll from WPA Intelligence showing him beating fellow Rep. David McKinley by a 43-28 margin in the May 10 primary. That is similar to a January poll from Mooney's own campaign that had him up 45-32, though a McKinley survey from December featured McKinley leading 40-34.