Morning Digest: Trump backs longtime coal operative in Ohio special election for red 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

OH-15: Donald Trump waded into the crowded August Republican primary to succeed former Rep. Steve Stivers by endorsing coal company lobbyist Mike Carey on Tuesday.

Trump's decision came days after Stivers, who officially resigned from this very red suburban Columbus seat last month, backed state Rep. Jeff LaRe. That move, as well as Stivers' decision to use his old campaign committee to air ads for the state representative, briefly made LaRe the primary frontrunner; another candidate, state Rep. Brian Stewart, subsequently dropped out and acknowledged he didn't think he could compete against his Stivers-supported colleague. Trump's support for Carey, though, likely upends this contest.

Carey himself doesn't appear to have run for office since his 1998 defeat in an eastern Ohio state House seat against the late Charlie Wilson, a Democrat who went on to represent that area in Congress from 2007 to 2011, but he's long been influential in state politics.

Campaign Action

Back in 2011, Politico described Carey, who worked as an operative for the state coal industry, as "a one-man wrecking ball for Democrats who have strayed too far green for voters' liking." It noted that Carey's political organization ran TV ads in Ohio in 2004 savaging the Democratic presidential nominee as "John Kerry, Environmental Extremist," and he also targeted Barack Obama four years later.

Carey went on to work as a lobbyist for the coal giant Murray Energy, which was renamed American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc. last year after it emerged from bankruptcy protection. The company and its leadership has long been a major foe of environmentalists in Ohio and nationally, with former chief executive Robert Murray, a close Trump ally, lavishly funding global warming deniers.

Senate

AK-Sen: A new poll from Change Research for the progressive group 314 Action finds Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski faring poorly under Alaska's new top-four primary. In a hypothetical matchup against fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka (who is running) and independent Al Gross (who unsuccessfully ran for Senate last year with Democratic support and is considering another bid), Tshibaka leads with 39%, while Gross takes 25 and Murkowski just 19. John Wayne Howe of the far-right Alaska Independence Party would get 4%, and 12% are undecided.

Murkowski would still advance to the general election in this scenario, since, as the name implies, the four highest vote-getters in the primary move on, but she'd do no better then. To reduce the risk of spoilers, November elections will be decided via ranked-choice voting, but in a simulated instant runoff, Tshibaka would beat Gross 54-46. 314 Action, which endorsed Gross last cycle, is arguing that the poll suggests that Murkowski's weakness offers Democrats an opening, but Tshibaka's performance—and recent history—show just how tough it is for Democrats to win statewide in Alaska.

AL-Sen: The Club for Growth has dusted off a late April poll from WPA Intelligence showing Rep. Mo Brooks leading businesswoman Lynda Blanchard by a wide 59-13 margin in next year's GOP Senate primary, with Business Council of Alabama head Katie Boyd Britt at 9 and 19% of voters undecided. (The survey was conducted well before Britt, who just kicked off her campaign the other day, entered the race.) The Club hasn't endorsed Brooks yet, but sharing this poll is a signal that it may do so.

FL-Sen: On Wednesday, several weeks after a consultant said Rep. Val Demings would run for Senate, Demings herself made her campaign against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio official. Demings, who was a manager during Donald Trump's first impeachment trial and reportedly was under consideration as Joe Biden's running-mate last year, is by far the highest-profile Democrat to enter the race, though she faces Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell and (apparently?) former Rep. Alan Grayson for the nomination.

OH-Sen: A new poll of next year's GOP Senate primary in Ohio from former state Treasurer Josh Mandel unsurprisingly finds Mandel leading former state party chair Jane Timken 35-16, with all other candidates (actual and hypothetical) in the mid-to-low single digits and 34% of voters undecided. The survey, from Remington Research, is likely intended as pushback to a recent set of Timken internals from Moore Information that showed her gaining on Mandel, the newest of which had Mandel up just 24-19.

Governors

MI-Gov: A new poll from the Michigan Republican Party from Competitive Edge finds former Detroit police Chief James Craig (who hasn't actually kicked off a campaign yet) leading Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer 45-38 in a hypothetical test of next year's race for governor. Somewhat strangely, the survey also finds Whitmer beating Army veteran John James, who lost back-to-back Senate bids in 2018 and 2020 (and also hasn't announced a gubernatorial run), by a 50-45 margin.

These numbers are peculiar for two reasons: First, why would the state GOP want to make a prominent potential recruit like James look less electable—unless party leaders actually would prefer he stay out of the race, that is? The second oddity is the data itself. The 12-point difference in Whitmer's share as between the two matchups suggests that Craig, who's never run for office before, has an ability to win over Democratic voters so strong as to be almost unique in American politics today.

This extremely bifurcated take also stands in contrast to an independent poll last month from Target Insyght for the local tipsheet MIRS News, which found Whitmer up 48-42 on Craig and 49-39 on James. We'll need more polling before we can get a better sense of where things stand, but in today's extremely polarized political environment, the results from Target Insyght make much more sense than those from Competitive Edge.

NJ-Gov: Just hours before polls closed in the Garden State for Tuesday's primary, Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics released a poll of a matchup between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and former Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli that showed Murphy comfortably ahead 52-26. The survey found 10% of respondents undecided and an additional 11% who declined to choose either candidate.

The poll only pitted Murphy against Ciattarelli, a matchup that's no longer hypothetical since Ciattarelli secured the GOP nod with 49% of the vote on Tuesday and Murphy faced no intra-party opposition.

OR-Gov: Businesswoman Jessica Gomez has joined next year's race for governor, making her the second notable candidate to seek the Republican nod after 2016 nominee Bud Pierce. Gomez has run for office once before, losing an open-seat race for the state Senate to Democrat Jeff Golden 55-45 in 2018.

PA-Gov: The Associated Press reports that Republican strategist Charlie Gerow is considering a bid for governor, though there's no quote from Gerow himself. Gerow's run for office twice before, losing bids in the GOP primary for Pennsylvania's old 19th Congressional District in both 1996 and 2000. (The closest successor to the 19th is the present-day 10th District, as both are centered around York and Cumberland counties.)

VA-Gov: With the general election matchup between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin now set, Youngkin immediately began attacking his opponent, releasing two ads the day after McAuliffe clinched his party's nod.

The first commercial prominently features former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who finished second in the Democratic primary, and shows several clips of her criticizing McAuliffe. Youngkin appears at the end to call himself "a new kind of leader to bring a new day to Virginia". However, before the ad even had a chance to air, Carroll Foy had already unambiguously endorsed McAuliffe's bid for a second term as governor.  

The second spot follows a similar theme of a "new day". It begins showing a legion of grey-haired white men in suits while Youngkin's voiceover decries "the same politicians taking us in the wrong direction". Youngkin, a younger, less-grey white man wearing a vest, then appears amid the crowd to describe the policies he would pursue as governor.

House

TX-08: Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton, who previously hadn't ruled out a bid for Texas' open 8th Congressional District, says he won't run for the seat held by retiring GOP Rep. Kevin Brady.

Legislatures

NJ State Senate, Where Are They Now?: Michael Pappas, a Republican who represented New Jersey in the U.S. House for a single term from 1997 to 1999, won Tuesday's state Senate primary for the open 16th Legislative District by a 65-35 margin. Pappas will take on Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker for an open GOP-held seat in the west-central part of the state that Hillary Clinton carried 55-41.

Pappas earned his brief moment in the political spotlight in 1998 when he took to the House floor to deliver an ode to the special prosecutor probing the Clinton White House that began, "Twinkle, twinkle, Kenneth Starr/ Now we see how brave you are." Politicos would later blame that bit of awful poetry for Pappas' 50-47 defeat against Democrat Rush Holt that fall. Pappas tried to return to Congress in 2000, but he lost the primary to former Rep. Dick Zimmer, who in turn lost to Holt.

Special elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's special election in New Hampshire:

NH-HD-Merrimack 23: Democrat Muriel Hall defeated Republican Christopher Lins 58-42 to hold this seat for her party. Hall improved on Joe Biden's 55-44 win in this suburban Concord district last year, which was the best showing of any of the last three Democratic presidential nominees.

Republicans control this chamber 213-186, with one other seat vacant.

Mayors

Atlanta, GA Mayor: Former Mayor Kasim Reed filed paperwork Wednesday to set up a campaign to regain his old office, and while he has yet to make an announcement, there's little question he'll be on this year's ballot.

Local NBC reporter Shiba Russell tweeted that Reed "could officially announce he plans to enter the race" at a Thursday birthday fundraiser, a message the ex-mayor retweeted. If Reed wins this fall, he would be the first Atlanta mayor to secure a third term since the city's first-ever Black leader, Maynard Jackson, won back this office in 1989.

Reed himself had no trouble winning re-election the last time he was on the ballot in 2013 (term limits prevented him from seeking a third consecutive term in 2017), but a federal corruption investigation that ultimately resulted in bribery convictions for two senior city officials generated plenty of bad headlines during the end of his tenure. The matter isn't over, as Reed's former chief financial administration officer and director of human services are currently under indictment but unlikely to go on trial before this year's election.

Last month, Channel 2's Dave Huddleston asked Reed whether he was under investigation, to which the former mayor replied, "The Justice Department under [former Attorney General] Bill Barr has looked into every aspect of my life for more than three years and took no action." The former mayor also said of the scandals involving his old staffers, "Anything on my watch, I take responsibility for," adding, "I'm sorry I didn't see it faster."

Reed himself used that interview to argue that he could tackle Atlanta's rising crime rate if he returned to office, declaring, "I do know how to fix crime, and I do know I could turn our crime environment around in 180 days, and I know that I've done it before."

A number of fellow Democrats are already campaigning in this November's nonpartisan primary to succeed incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms, who shocked the city last month when she decided not to seek a second term, and others could still get in ahead of the August filing deadline. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Tharon Johnson, whom the paper identifies as a "veteran Democratic strategist and businessman," is one of the prospective contenders thinking about running.

Boston, MA Mayor: This week, state Rep. Jon Santiago became the first candidate to air TV commercials ahead of the September nonpartisan primary; Politico's Lisa Kashinsky says his "six-figure ad buy is for two 30-second spots that will air on the city's cable systems and Spanish-language broadcast."

Both Santiago's English and Spanish spots focus on his work as an emergency room physician and military service, with the narrator in the former ad asking, "You want a mayor who's got a pulse on Boston and its problems, literally?"

New York City, NY Mayor: Attorney Maya Wiley picked up an endorsement Wednesday from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams ahead of the June 22 Democratic primary. Williams, who was elected in 2019 as an ardent progressive, is one of just three citywide elected officials: The others are termed-out Mayor Bill de Blasio and one of Wiley's rivals, city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Morning Digest: Alaska Democrats cement control over state House as bulwark against GOP governor

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

AK State House: More than three months after the election, a deadlock in the Alaska House of Representatives finally broke when a Democratic-led alliance elected moderate Republican state Rep. Louise Stutes as the chamber's new speaker by a 21-19 margin.

For the prior four years, deep divisions in the GOP caucus had allowed Democrats to assemble what they called the Majority Coalition, which included independents and a handful of Republican pragmatists. But that arrangement appeared threatened after conservative purists ousted several coalition members in primaries last year, and even more so when Republicans emerged from Nov. 3 with a nominal majority of 21 seats.

But the House's 15 Democrats and three allied independents were able to woo a fourth independent to their side, and Stutes, who'd been part of the Majority Coalition from the start, remained in the fold. That left the House evenly divided between the coalition and GOP hardliners.

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After the legislature convened last month, Republicans unsuccessfully tried to elect a speaker from their own ranks several times but each vote failed in a 20-20 tie. That stalemate finally ended when sophomore Republican Kelly Merrick sided with the coalition to elevate Stutes to the top job. The Midnight Sun's Matt Acuña Buxton described Merrick's switch as a "surprise" but noted that she's been "quietly labor-friendly during her time in office."

Another key factor may have been Alaska's adoption of a novel "top-four" primary, which greatly reduces the chances for hard-right ideologues to punish Republicans like Merrick and Stutes. In fact, suggests Buxton, now that the logjam has at last been busted open, other Republicans might yet defect to the Majority Coalition, lured by the possibility of plum committee assignments or leadership posts. Merrick, however, emphasized that she was not joining the coalition but said she’d acted so that lawmakers could finally begin their substantive work.

Most importantly for Democrats and their allies, with the state Senate in GOP hands, this development ensures the House can continue to serve as a bulwark against Republican Gov. Matt Dunleavy, whose ongoing efforts to make draconian cuts to the state budget have played a key role in uniting his diverse array of opponents.

Senate

AL-Sen: Republican Katie Boyd Britt, a former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, says she's considering a bid to replace her old boss, though she didn't offer a timeline regarding a possible decision. Britt is CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, a Chamber of Commerce type organization.

OH-Sen: Josh Mandel didn't even wait 24 hours to prove once again that he's the most mendacious, fraudulent thug in the entire Republican Party. On the very same day he announced his third bid for Senate, Mandel repeated Donald Trump's bald-faced lie that the election was stolen, and even suggested this resoundingly debunked conspiracy theory had inspired him to run in the first place.

"I think over time, we're going to see studies come out that evidence widespread fraud," Mandel baselessly insisted. "You know, what you see with any type of fraud, it usually takes time to investigate it and to dig it out, and it might be months, it might be years, it might be decades. But I think when we look back on this election, we'll see in large part that it was stolen from President Trump."

We've already set a calendar reminder for Feb. 10, 2041 to whip this statement back out and shove it in Mandel's lying face. What makes it even worse is Mandel's further comment: "I've been watching this sham and unconstitutional impeachment, and it's really made my blood boil and it's motivated me to run for the U.S. Senate," he said—a statement that WKYC's Mark Naymik noted was repeated "nearly verbatim from his campaign press release," and indeed it is.

Mandel, in fact, is one of the most extreme examples of a robo-politician who's always on repeat. On his launch day, he also berated Gov. Mike DeWine over his aggressive efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, saying, "The fact that they shut down all these family-owned businesses and restaurants while they allowed conglomerates like Walmart and Target and Costco to stay open makes my blood boil." Someone better get him a transfusion stat—blood type A-hole-positive.

As the Cincinnati Enquirer's Jessie Balmert observes, Mandel's attacks on DeWine are particularly awkward because, at least in theory, Mandel wants to wind up on a ticket with the incumbent governor next-year. On top of that, he echoed the classic line used by anti-vaxxers everywhere, saying he might not get a COVID vaccination because "I'm a strong believer in individual liberty and personal freedom and it should be up to every individual to choose what's best for them." In other words, he'd like to prolong the day we finally (hopefully) achieve herd immunity and cause more needless deaths, even though he himself contracted the virus last year and lost his sense of taste.

And to leave no doubt about exactly whom Mandel would ally with should we have the grave misfortune to see him join the Senate in two years' time, he made sure to announce during his day-one media blitz that he'd have voted to overturn the results of last year's election. "If I was a United States senator, I would have been standing with Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rick Scott in holding up the certification of the election," he told reporters.

Having had the extreme displeasure of covering every moment of his failed 2012 bid, we can guarantee there's going to be much, much more like this from Mandel throughout his campaign. But as distasteful as it is, it's just as critical we document his every dangerous lie and diseased statement—and we will. We guarantee that, too.

OH-Sen: Wealthy businessman Mike Gibbons says he'll decide on whether to join the GOP primary for Ohio's open Senate seat in "the next few weeks" and says he'd self-fund $5 million if he does in fact get in. Gibbons pumped $2.7 million of his own money into his unsuccessful 2018 Senate bid, when he lost the Republican nomination to then-Rep. Jim Renacci 47-32.

Governors

FL-Gov: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who recently confirmed he was considering seeking his party's nomination for governor a second time, now says he likely won't have a decision for "several months." Spectrum News' Mitch Perry adds that Crist expressed "enthusiasm" about a possible bid by state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who was Crist's running-mate in 2014 and said last week that she was thinking about a campaign of her own. However, Perry notes that Crist also offered "praise[]" for three other women who might run for governor: state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Rep. Val Demings, and state Rep. Anna Eskamani.

House

OH-16: You thought you were done with Josh Mandel for this Digest? Well, yeah, so did we. But while you might imagine Mandel would have slightly more important affairs to attend to, he says he's busy trying to recruit former Donald Trump aide Max Miller to run against Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who last month voted to impeach Trump. Miller hasn't yet said anything about his interest.