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.
● TX-07: On Wednesday, Donald Trump endorsed Army veteran Westley Hunt, who is one of the national GOP’s favorite candidates, in the March 3 GOP primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher. Hunt had already been running ads tying himself to Trump as well as Sen. Ted Cruz, who had already endorsed him, so he’ll certainly welcome this development.
However, Hunt is taking a big risk in the general election by embracing both the White House and Cruz in a West Houston seat that has been moving hard to the left in the Trump era. This seat swung from 60-39 Romney to 48.5-47.1 Clinton, and Beto O'Rourke beat Cruz here 53-46 last cycle. Fletcher also unseated longtime GOP incumbent John Culberson 52.5-47.5 in their very expensive 2018 race.
Hunt has been one of the GOP’s stronger House fundraisers this cycle, but he still faces a big cash disadvantage against Fletcher. The incumbent outraised him $545,000 to $343,000 during the final quarter of 2019, and she ended 2019 with a $1.8 million to $808,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● AL-Sen: Mason-Dixon is out with a survey for the Alabama Daily News that finds Democratic Sen. Doug Jones trailing each of the three main GOP candidates in hypothetical general election matchups:
41-54 vs. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
42-51 vs. Rep. Bradley Byrne
42-50 vs. former college football coach Tommy Tuberville
The only other general election poll we've seen was a late December survey from the GOP firm JMC Analytics. That poll, which JMC said they conducted independent of any client, found Jones in better shape in this very red state but still trailing each of these Republicans by 4-7 points.
Mason-Dixon is also the first independent pollster to take a look at the March 3 GOP primary since Sessions entered the race in November to reclaim his old Senate seat. They find Sessions at 31%, which is well below the majority of the vote he'd need to avoid a March 31 runoff, while Tuberville leads Byrne 29-17 for the second place spot.
Roy Moore, who lost this seat to Jones in 2017, is a distant fourth with just 5%. The release didn't name state Rep. Arnold Mooney, though his support may have been included in the 2% that backed Other.
The firm also tested Sessions in potential primary runoff marches and finds him beating Tuberville and Byrne 49-42 and 48-35, respectively. Those are hardly secure leads, though, especially since Sessions' intra-party rivals haven't spent many resources yet attacking him over his terrible time as Trump's attorney general. If Sessions does get forced into a runoff, though, his opponent will only have four weeks to win over the defeated candidates' supporters.
Byrne also dropped his own primary survey from Harper Polling a day before the Mason-Dixon numbers were released that shows him in better shape to advance to a runoff with Sessions. Harper finds Sessions ahead with the same 31% of the vote, but they show Byrne narrowly leading Tuberville 26-24 for second place. Moore is again far behind with 5%, while Mooney also went unmentioned.
The memo also includes the numbers for a previously unreleased mid-December poll to argue that Byrne has picked up support over the last two months. Sessions led that survey with 36%, while Tuberville outpaced the congressman 29-16. The memo did not include runoff numbers.
The only other GOP primary we've seen this year was a late January poll for Sessions from On Message, and it also showed Byrne and Tuberville locked in a close race for second place. It gave Sessions the lead with 43% as Byrne edged the former coach 22-21.
● AZ-Sen: GOP Sen. Martha McSally made plenty of headlines last month when she dismissed longtime CNN reporter Manu Raju as "a liberal hack," and she continues her trip through MAGA Land in her first TV spot of the race. The narrator declares, "The Washington liberals are obsessed with President Trump. They wasted three years and millions of dollars trying to overturn the last election and steal the next one." The commercial then says that Democrat Mark Kelly "supported their impeachment sham."
● ME-Sen: The outside group Maine Momentum has launched another ad that features several people taking GOP Sen. Susan Collins to task for voting for a massive tax break that's "hurting everyday Mainers."
● NC-Sen, NC-Gov: High Point University is out with a survey of North Carolina's March 3 primaries which includes questions about the Democratic Senate primary and the GOP gubernatorial contest.
High Point finds former state Sen. Cal Cunningham leading state Sen. Erica Smith 29-10 among registered voters in the race to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, while none of the other contenders break 5%. A recent survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling also found Cunningham ahead by that exact 29-10 spread, while no one else has released numbers here this year.
In the GOP primary to face Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, High Point finds Lt. Gov. Dan Forest leading state Rep. Holly Grange by a massive 54-10 margin. This is the first poll we've seen of this contest in 2020, but the results are quite plausible. Grange, who has never run statewide before, almost certainly started the campaign with low name recognition over the summer, and she hasn't raised much money to get her message out since then.
P.S. High Point also included versions of these matchups using likely voters instead of registered voters. However, both likely voter questions sampled fewer than 300 people, which is the minimum that Daily Kos Elections requires in order to write up a poll.
● WA-Gov: On behalf of KING-TV, SurveyUSA is out with a poll of the August top-two primary. It gives Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee the lead with 39%, while conservative independent Tim Eyman leads Republic police chief Loren Culp 11-5 for the second place spot. Two other Republicans, state Sen. Phil Fortunato and developer Joshua Freed, are each at 4%.
SurveyUSA also takes a look at Inslee's approval rating and gives him a narrow 41-39 score, while another 20% say they aren't sure how they feel about the incumbent after seven years in office. This isn't the only poll that's given Inslee only a slightly positive rating, though. A January survey from the local firm Elway Research found that 40% of registered voters gave Inslee an excellent or good score while 34% rated him as poor and another 22% ranked him as "only fair." Morning Consult also found him with a 44-38 job approval for the final quarter of 2019.
Democrats have controlled the governor's office since 1985, and it's possible that a strong opponent could make the argument that it's time for a change and give Inslee a serious challenge. However, it remains to be seen if any of Inslee's opponents will have the resources to get their name out and put a serious fight this fall, especially with Donald Trump likely to drag down the ticket in this blue state.
The GOP candidate with the most money at the end of January was Freed, who had just $62,000 on-hand; Freed had previously loaned his campaign $500,000 only to repay it in January. The candidate texted the Seattle Times' Jim Brunner this week that he "decided recently that I didn't need that liability on my campaign books" and would "put that amount… or more.. in as a direct contribution." Washington candidates regularly file campaign finance reports, so we'll see soon if Freed self-funds again. For his part, Inslee ended last month with $1.7 million in the bank.
● CA-53: On behalf of KGTV-TV and the San Diego Union Tribune, SurveyUSA is out with the first poll we've seen of the March 3 top-two primary for this safely blue open seat.
Former Hillary Clinton presidential campaign policy adviser Sara Jacobs, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran in the nearby 49th District last cycle, leads with 23% as one of the Republicans, pilot Chris Stoddard, takes the second place general election spot with 10%. Republican Famela Ramos and Democrat Georgette Gómez, who is president of the San Diego City Council, are at 5% each, while no one else breaks 4%.
Gómez, who is the only local elected official in the race, has the support of the state Democratic Party, but she ended December with a bit less money than Jacobs. Gómez actually outraised Jacobs $263,000 to $141,000, but Jacobs self-funded an additional $530,000 and held a $471,000 to $349,000 cash-on-hand lead. Two other Democrats, Marine veteran Janessa Goldbeck and UC San Diego professor Tom Wong, had just over $100,000 to spend.
● GA-09: State Rep. Matt Gurtler announced this week that he was joining the GOP primary for this safely red open seat.
Gurtler was elected to the legislature in 2016 at the age of 27, and he quickly made a name for himself by opposing GOP Speaker David Ralston. Gurtler, who describes himself as an advocate for limited government, also developed a habit of voting against all manner of bills that came before him, and by May of 2018 he had racked up more "no" votes than anyone else in the 236-person legislature.
Ralston responded by backing a 2018 primary challenge to Gurtler, but the incumbent won 60-40. Gurtler was already facing another primary opponent when he decided to call off his re-election bid and run for Congress.
● NC-11: On Wednesday, retiring Rep. Mark Meadows endorsed businesswoman and party activist Lynda Bennett in the crowded March 3 GOP primary to succeed him. However, there are plenty of reasons to think that Meadows was pulling for Bennett before this week.
Meadows announced his departure in December one day before the filing deadline and after it was too late for anyone running for another office to switch to this race. Meadows' decision came as a shock to everyone except for maybe Bennett, who set up a Facebook campaign page five hours before the congressman broke his own news. Meadows, though, insisted to Roll Call this week, "It was my original intent to stay neutral in the race. However my silence in the primary was being misused by some candidates to present [an] inaccurate picture for political gain."
Meadows' endorsement did seem to take one of the contenders off guard. Wayne King, who resigned as Meadows' deputy chief of staff to run here, said, "Meadows told me he was not endorsing anybody in the race" when they spoke just a few weeks ago.
● NY-16: Middle school principal Jamaal Bowman received an endorsement this week from the Working Families Party, a small but influential party with ties to labor groups, in his June Democratic primary against longtime Rep. Eliot Engel. Engel has consistently received the WFP’s support in past contests.
Bowman is one of a few candidates challenging Engel for renomination in this safely blue seat, a diverse district that includes southern Westchester County and the northern Bronx, and he was already looking like the congressman’s main opponent before this week. Bowman raised $162,000 during the fourth quarter of 2019 and had $186,000 in the bank, while none of the other candidates had more than $25,000 to spend. Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, brought in $630,000 during this time, and he had $806,000 on-hand.
Bowman has been arguing that voters should oust Engel because he’s too moderate and too close to special interests. The challenger used his kickoff to go after Engel for taking donations from lobbyists and voting for the Iraq War.
● TX-12: Veteran Rep. Kay Granger is up with her first negative TV spot against businessman Chris Putnam ahead of their March 3 GOP primary. The narrator begins by describing Granger’s conservative record and reminds the audience that she has Donald Trump’s endorsement. The narrator then calls Putnam “a millionaire who moved here four months ago” and says that “[i]nvestors sued his company for fraud. And he voted to raise property taxes twice.”
The primary for this safely red Fort Worth seat has attracted heavy spending in recent weeks, with the anti-tax Club for Growth and their allies airing ads against Granger while the establishment-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund is supporting her. However, Putnam himself didn’t bring in much money during the final months of 2019. Granger outraised him $414,000 to $71,000 during the fourth quarter, and she ended the year with a $774,000 to $407,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● TX-22: A recently formed super PAC called Texans Coming Together has launched an ad campaign in support of nonprofit CEO Pierce Bush in next month’s GOP primary, though there’s no word on the size of the buy. The group’s spot, it won’t shock you to learn, refers to Donald Trump four times while not mentioning anyone from the candidate’s famous family once.
● TX-28: Conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar has launched a TV ad against immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros ahead of their March 3 Democratic primary showdown that could easily pass for a Republican campaign commercial.
The narrator begins by declaring, “Two candidates for Congress. One stands with families. One supports allowing minors to have an abortion without parents' knowledge.” The GOP frequently uses this line of attack against pro-choice candidates, and Cisneros responded to it in her fact-check of the spot by writing, “Jessica Cisneros supports allowing women to make their own healthcare decisions, not the government or politicians like Henry Cuellar.”
The commercial goes on to say that Cisneros is someone “who gets her money from outsiders, and who just moved here six months ago.” Cisneros, though, grew up in the Laredo area and even interned for none other than local congressman Henry Cuellar in 2014. The Cisneros camp also notes that, while Cuellar’s ad makes it sound like he’s being supported by local donors, he’s received more than half of his money from PACs and committees.
The commercial then takes one more page from the GOP playbook and insists that Cisneros, who backs the Green New Deal, wants to “shut down the oil and gas industry.”
● WI-07: The special GOP primary is on Tuesday, and Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman reports that there’s been plenty of outside spending on behalf of both veteran Jason Church and state Sen. Tom Tiffany.
Church has received a total of about $1 million in support mostly from two groups, With Honor Fund and the newly formed Americans 4 Security PAC. Tiffany, meanwhile, has benefited from a total of $789,000 in spending largely from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth, two groups that are often on opposite sides in Republican primaries.
Both Church’s and Tiffany’s campaigns have spent comparable amounts, and since we haven’t seen any polls, there’s no indication which candidate is favored next week.