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.
● VA-Gov: On Monday, state Sen. Amanda Chase became the first notable Republican to join the 2021 race for governor of Virginia, but she may not be sticking with Team Red. Chase, who has a famously awful relationship with her party's leadership, said that she would "fully run" as an independent if there are "any shenanigans that are pulled" in the nomination contest. No matter what Chase does, though, GOP leaders won't want to see her name on the general election ballot next year.
Chase made news in the spring of 2019 when she swore at and berated a police officer at the state capitol who told her that she couldn't park her car in a secure area. Chase, according to the officer's report, also referred to the state Senate clerk as "Miss Piggy" and angrily demanded, "Do you know who I am?" Chase refused to apologize and posted on Facebook that the report looked like it had been written by "a democrat operative."Campaign Action
State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment responded to the incident by putting out a letter praising the Capitol Police and saying the GOP caucus members "share your exasperation." Karl Leonard, who serves as sheriff of Chase's Chesterfield County, also withdrew his support for her re-election campaign after she wouldn't apologize to the officer.
Chase responded to Leonard's snub by backing his independent opponent's unsuccessful campaign and falsely accusing the incumbent of making Chesterfield a "sanctuary city." The Chesterfield County GOP in turn voted to eject her from the party.
Chase was still re-elected to her reliably red seat, but the Senate GOP found itself in the minority. After her Republican colleagues elected Norment as minority leader, though, Chase announced that she'd leave the party caucus in protest.
Chase still remains a Republican, but one without much influence: The senator only serves on one minor committee, and every bill she's sponsored by herself this year has been killed. However, Chase has continued to garner attention by ardently opposing gun safety measures and continuing to bring her pistol into Senate buildings in defiance of new legislative rules prohibiting firearms.
A few other Republicans are also eyeing next year's race to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is prohibited from seeking a second consecutive term. State Sen. Bill Stanley has expressed interest in running for governor or for attorney general, while the Washington Post writes that businessman Pete Snyder has publicly talked about a potential gubernatorial bid.
● GA-Sen-B: While there's been plenty of speculation that Donald Trump could back Rep. Doug Collins over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Collins himself seems pessimistic that he'll be waking up to any endorsement tweets. Speaking to the Georgia Recorder, the congressman said of Trump, "He's not getting in this race," and continued that Trump "respects the senator and her position and he knows me intimately." Collins added, "I respect the fact that he's staying out of it."
● NC-Sen: Faith and Power, a PAC with extensive GOP ties, is spending an additional $500,000 to promote state Sen. Erica Smith ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary. This takes the group's total investment here up to $2.9 million to date.
● WY-Sen: Converse County Commissioner Robert Short announced this week that he'd join the August GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Enzi. Short is a self-described "centrist Republican," which is unlikely to be a compelling pitch to GOP voters in this extremely red state.
Former Rep. Cynthia Lummis has been the clear primary frontrunner ever since Rep. Liz Cheney announced last month that she'd stay out of the race, and both Enzi and Sen. John Barrasso endorsed her on Tuesday. The only other notable Republican who has expressed interest in this race in recent months is conservative mega donor Foster Friess, who said this week that he was still considering. Wyoming's filing deadline isn't until late May, so Friess could keep us waiting a while longer.
● VT-Gov: On behalf of Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS, Braun Research is out with the first poll we've seen of this race, and they have good news for GOP Gov. Phil Scott. The incumbent posts a hefty 52-29 lead in a hypothetical general election match with Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a member of the Progressive Party who is also competing for the Democratic nod. Braun also finds Scott leading another Democratic contender, former state education secretary Rebecca Holcombe, by a larger 55-20 spread.
Vermont is a reliably blue state in presidential elections, but it's been more than willing to elect moderate Republican governors. Scott decisively won his 2016 and 2018 races, and Braun gives him a 57-26 favorable rating. Morning Consult also found Scott with a 65-22 job approval score during the final quarter of 2019.
● AL-01: Over the last few weeks we've gotten new ads from state Rep. Chris Pringle and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who are both competing in the March 3 GOP primary.
Pringle's commercial begins features him building a brick wall in front of what's made to look like Nancy Pelosi's D.C. office as the candidate tells the audience, "Walls protect us from America's enemies, and I have the perfect place for another." After calling Democrats "radical socialists," Pringle engages in some extra McCarthyism by walking off and uttering the word "commies" under his breath.
Carl's considerably more generic ad, by contrast, praises him as a pro-Trump conservative problem solver who opposes abortion and gun safety measures.
● GA-09: GOP activist Ethan Underwood announced this week that he would run for this safely red open seat. Underwood is a former party chair in Forsyth County, which makes up about 8% of this district.
● MA-04: Former state Comptroller Thomas Shack announced on Tuesday that he would join the crowded and expensive September Democratic primary for this reliably blue open seat. Shack was appointed comptroller in 2015 by GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, and he stepped down early last year. (Unlike in many other states, Massachusetts does not elect comptrollers.)
Shack came into conflict with Baker during the last months of his tenure over who would be in charge of designing the computer system that would impact all state agencies. Shack said in 2018 that the administration was "subjecting the apolitical and independent comptroller's office to a political arm of government" and withholding money for security updates and new software.
A number of well-funded candidates are already seeking to succeed Senate candidate Joe Kennedy III in this seat, which includes the Boston suburbs of Brookline and Newton and stretches south to Bristol County on the Rhode Island border. The candidate with the most money at the end of 2019 was City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, who had $663,000 on-hand. Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss wasn't too far behind with $554,000 in the bank, while fellow Newton City Councilor Becky Walker Grossman had $318,000 to spend.
Former Alliance for Business Leadership head Jesse Mermell and Dave Cavell, a former senior adviser to Attorney General Maura Healey, had $248,000 and $173,000 on-hand, respectively. Former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey had just $52,000 available while another contender, attorney Ben Sigel, announced after the end of the quarter.
● MI-03: Attorney Nick Colvin announced on Tuesday that he was dropping out of the August Democratic primary to take on independent Rep. Justin Amash because of fundraising challenges. Colvin's decision leaves fellow attorney Hillary Scholten as the only notable Democratic candidate competing for this seat in the Grand Rapids area.
Amash left the GOP in July and while he has not ruled out a bid against Donald Trump, he's said that he plans to seek re-election without a party label this year. While Amash only brought in $150,000 during his first fundraising quarter as an independent, he nearly quadrupled that in the final three months of 2019 by hauling in $592,000. Amash ended the year with $722,000 on-hand, which was more than any of his opponents.
Two notable Republicans are challenging Amash in this 52-42 Trump seat. Army veteran Peter Meijer, who hails from a wealthy family, raised $235,000 and self-funded another $78,000, and he ended December with $557,000 in the bank. State Rep. Lynn Afendoulis was well behind with $101,000 raised and another $11,000 self-funded, and she had $199,000 to spend. Scholten, now has the Democratic side to herself, raised $124,000 and had $207,000 in the bank. Michigan's filing deadline is in April, so there's still a bit of time for this race to take shape no matter what Amash ends up doing.
● TX-02: Attorney Sima Ladjevardian rolled out endorsements this week from Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, who each represent nearby Houston-area seats, for the March 3 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
● TX-11: A new group called Energy Security PAC is up with a TV spot praising the military record of Air Force veteran August Pfluger, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, ahead of the March 3 GOP primary. There is no word on the size of the buy.
Pluger ended 2019 with a massive financial edge over all of his primary foes, but two of them are also getting outside help. Fired Up PAC is spending at least $186,000 on a TV spot promoting Brandon Batch, a former staffer for retiring Rep. Mike Conaway, though we don't have a copy yet. Keep Texas Great, which supports Midland City Councilman J.Ross Lacy, is spending at least $30,000 on a commercial that promotes Lacy as someone who understands West Texas and isn't just "another carbon copy Republican."
● TX-12: The Congressional Leadership Fund is spending a hefty $850,000 on a new TV ad campaign targeting businessmen Chris Putnam, who is challenging veteran Rep. Kay Granger in the March 3 GOP primary.
The CLF's narrator begins by proclaiming that the people spending millions against Granger "spent millions attacking President Trump. They lost. America won." All of that is reference to the extremist Club for Growth, which goes unnamed in this commercial but has been airing ads hitting the incumbent. The Club, which did indeed spend millions to try and deny Trump the 2016 GOP nomination, has refashioned itself since then as an ardently pro-Trump organization, but their intra-party foes don't especially care.
The CLF's ad continues by going after Putnam directly, saying he's "best known for raising property taxes and as a leader of a company that outsourced good paying jobs to Asia instead of hiring Texans." The narrator never actually accuses Putnam of opposing Trump but instead argues, "It's Trump against them. Again. And he's backing Kay Granger." The spot concludes by asking the audience, "Whose side are you on?"
But in case anyone was worried that Bush had forgotten what animates GOP voters in this day and age, he goes on to claim that “liberals want to rip the American system apart and bring socialism out of the trash heap of history.” In case that was too subtle, the ad also features images of Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Nicolás Maduro, and … Putin? We’re not sure the last time we saw Trump’s BFF used as a villain in a GOP ad, but there he is!
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: Incumbent Jack Young recently launched his first commercial ahead of the April Democratic primary, while former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller also began a $500,000 opening ad buy.
Young, who was elevated to this office last year after Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace, features a narrator praising him for working to “clean up City Hall.” The spot goes on to laud Young for working to require police to wear body cameras, lower the city’s crime rate, and open city recreation facilities on Saturdays. Young’s team said that the buy was “sizable,” but they did not reveal more.
Miller’s first ad also features her talking about public safety. Miller tells the audience that the police force is understaffed and burdened with outdated technology, and she pledges that Police Commissioner Michael Harrison will have “the resources and support to succeed with his plan, because everyone in Baltimore has a right to be safe.” Her second commercial shows a mother talking about Miller’s work helping her son graduate from school, and the candidate declares that “wherever you live in Baltimore, you deserve a quality education with a path to success.”
● Los Angeles County, CA District Attorney: On Tuesday, Sen. Kamala Harris endorsed former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón's campaign against incumbent Jackie Lacey in the March 3 nonpartisan primary. Gascón was appointed to succeed Harris as SF's top prosecutor after she was elected state attorney general in 2010, and she praised him as a "proven leader" for criminal justice reform.
Former public defender Rachel Rossi is also challenging Lacey from the left next month. If no one takes a majority of the vote, the top-two candidates would compete in the November general election.
● Where Are They Now?: Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he was commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has been in prison since 2012. Blagojevich made global headlines in December 2008 after he was arrested on corruption charges, which included trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.
The Illinois legislature almost unanimously removed him from office the following month, and he was later convicted. (Before he was found guilty, Blago found time to appear on Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice" show.) Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and had Trump not commuted his sentence, he would not have been eligible for parole for another four years.