Morning Digest: This race could give Texas Democrats their first statewide win in 26 years

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

TX Railroad Commission: As Lone Star Democrats seek their first statewide victory in more than a quarter century, their best hope may be Chrysta Castañeda, who's running for a spot on an agency many people haven't heard of: the Texas Railroad Commission.

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Despite the name, the commission doesn't actually oversee trains, but it does have jurisdiction over something even more important in Texas: the state's energy industry (oversight of the rails was handed to the state's Department of Transportation in 2005). The panel, often known as the "RRC," is made up of three members, each elected statewide for six-year terms.

The last time a Democrat won a seat on the board was in 1990, when former Rep. Bob Krueger beat a Republican opponent by 56-40 margin. Krueger wound up resigning to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate when Lloyd Bentsen became Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, and Republicans comfortably beat his appointed successor in 1994.

Ever since, the GOP has held all three seats, but Republicans were already preparing for a serious battle this year—which, ironically, might have made their situation even worse. Republican Ryan Sitton, who first won a slot on the RRC in 2014, had stockpiled $2 million in his war chest for the general election, but in March, he lost his primary in an absolute shocker to an unknown named Jim Wright, the owner of an oilfield waste disposal company who had raised less than $13,000.

The 55-45 loss was so inexplicable that some political observers wondered if Wright benefited from sharing a name with the one-time speaker of the House who hailed from Fort Worth, the late Democrat Jim Wright, who died in 2015. It's not such a crazy theory: Perennial candidate Gene Kelly won multiple Texas primaries in the previous decade because voters had him confused with the beloved dancer.

Whatever the explanation, though, Wright's victory has left Republicans with a suddenly open seat and a badly flawed candidate. The RRC—the very body that Wright wants to join—fined him $182,000 for improper storage of hazardous waste in 2017, and he's been sued by his former business partners for fraud stemming from the mess.

Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney, took aim at Wright for his record in her first ad of the race, which went up last month, but the main topic she's focusing on is the issue of "flaring." That refers to the practice of oil producers burning off unwanted natural gas from their wells rather than capturing it for later use, a process that is both environmentally harmful and economically wasteful.

It's also against the law—unless a driller is granted a special permit, of which 7,000 were handed out last year. As Castañeda notes, such permits can only be granted if all three members of the commission agree, meaning she could single-handedly put an end to flaring even if Republicans still hold a nominal 2-1 majority on the board next year.

With this backdrop, The New Republic recently called this race "this year’s most important election for American climate policy." It could also finally put an end to the longest statewide losing streak for Democrats anywhere in the nation, as Texas last voted Democratic for any statewide race in 1994.

3Q Fundraising

IA-Sen: Theresa Greenfield (D): $28.7 million raised

WV-Gov: Jim Justice (R-inc): $890,000 raised, $263,000 cash-on-hand; Ben Salango (D): $564,000 raised, $153,000 cash-on-hand

CA-25: Mike Garcia (R-inc): $3.2 million raised, $2 million cash-on-hand

CA-48: Michelle Steel (R): $1.8 million raised

MN-03: Kendall Qualls (R): $873,000 raised, $538,000 cash-on-hand

MN-08: Quinn Nystrom (D): $650,000 raised

NH-01: Chris Pappas (D-inc): $700,000 raised, $1.35 million cash-on-hand

NY-02: Andrew Garbarino (R): $771,000 raised

TX-10: Michael McCaul (R-inc): $870,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand

Senate

GA-Sen-A: A pro-Republican group called Georgia Action Fund says it is spending $5 million on digital ads supposedly aimed at swaying undecided voters in the race between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

LA-Sen: Democrat Adrian Perkins narrates much of his first TV ad, which focuses on his biography, including his graduation from West Point and his service in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in an award of the Bronze Star. A voiceover notes that after he fought overseas, "Harvard Law and big job offers came." But, says Perkins, "I chose to come home. To serve my community. Now I'm taking our mission to Washington to get things done for you."

At the end, text appears on-screen noting that Perkins has been endorsed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and Barack Obama, an effort to consolidate Democratic voters to ensure Perkins makes a December runoff against Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.

NC-Sen: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' new ad, unsurprisingly, goes after Democrat Cal Cunningham over the intimate text messages he shared with a woman who is not his wife. The spot mostly features clips of newscasters discussing various angles to the story, and during the "I approve this message" segment—not a section we discuss often—Tillis is shown hand-in-hand with his wife. Tillis' allies at the Senate Leadership Fund also recently went up with a similar ad.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the DSCC is adding $3 million to their existing TV ad reservations for the last two weeks of the race.

Polls: If you click each race tag below, such as "MT-Sen," you'll be taken to the Daily Kos Elections poll aggregator for that race, which displays a trendline for all available public polls and the current polling average.

  • MT-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Steve Bullock (D): 48, Steve Daines (R-inc): 46 (49-43 Trump)
  • NC-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Cal Cunningham (D): 50, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 39 (51-44 Biden) (Aug.: 49-41 Cunningham)
  • SC-Sen: GBAO (D) for the DSCC: Jaime Harrison (D): 48, Lindsey Graham: (R-inc): 47, Bill Bledsoe (C): 3 (49-44 Trump)
  • TX-Sen: Crosswind Media (R) and Pulse Opinion Research: John Cornyn (R-inc): 48, MJ Hegar (D): 39 (51-44 Trump)
  • TX-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Cornyn (R-inc): 45, Hegar (D): 42 (47-45 Biden) (Sept.: 40-38 Cornyn)

MT-Sen: While there hasn't been a ton of polling in Montana—and what we have seen has almost all been very tight—Data for Progress' survey is the first to show Steve Bullock with a lead since an early July poll from PPP that had Bullock ahead 46-44.

NC-Sen: A number of polls taken since Labor Day have shown Cal Cunningham up by double digits, but what's notable about about this Data for Progress poll is that it was in the field from Weds, Sept. 30 through Monday, Oct. 5. That means half of it was conducted after news about Cunningham's affair broke on Friday night, Oct. 2.

SC-Sen: The DSCC's poll included Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Lindsey Graham a few days after the survey concluded. However, Bledsoe's name will still appear on ballots.

Gubernatorial

NC-Gov: Dan Forest is just the latest Republican trying to scare voters with ads showing footage of unrest, even starting his latest spot by saying, "Seems like the only people you see in downtown Asheville these days are rioters." Seems like he should try harder: According multiple local office-holders, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, Forest's clips don't show the city at all but instead were shot in other locales. When asked for comment, the Forest campaign didn't dispute the charge.

Polls:

  • WV-Gov: Strategies Unlimited (D) for WV First: Jim Justice (R-inc): 46, Ben Salango (D): 40, Daniel Lutz Jr. (Mountain Party): 5

This is the closest poll of the three we've seen to date in this race. According to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, WV First is a group opposing Jim Justice's re-election bid, though it does not appear to have any presence the web. The same is true of the pollster, Strategies Unlimited.

House

IN-05: Indiana schools chief Jennifer McCormick has once again stuck her thumb in the eye of her own party by endorsing another Democrat, Christina Hale, who is seeking to flip the open 5th Congressional District. Though elected superintendent of public instruction as a Republican in 2016, McCormick has regularly feuded with the GOP and previously backed Democrat Woody Myers in his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, as well as Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel, who is running for state attorney general. McCormick is not seeking re-election this year after Republicans turned her position into an appointed one starting after 2020.

MI-08: Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin's latest ad features footage from a recent debate that went viral after she shredded her Republican opponent, Paul Junge, on healthcare. Junge had sought to make an issue of a lapse in insurance coverage that befell Slotkin's mother, blaming "undue burdens and regulations." Slotkin's scathing response occupies the bulk of the ad:

"Please don't speak about my mother as if you understand what made her health care unaffordable to her. And I think it's crazy that every time we ask you specific details about the thing that really helps people know that they're going to be protected—their kids are going to be protected—you deflect and start attacking me. And raising my mother? Come on, Paul."

NE-02: Former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford has endorsed vulnerable Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who narrowly booted him after one term in the House in 2016. Ashford sought to reclaim his seat in 2018 but lost a tight the Democratic primary that year to nonprofit executive Kara Eastman, who herself lost a close contest with Bacon later that year—a race in which Ashford supported her.

Eastman sought the Democratic nomination again this year and this time handily defeated Ashford's wife, attorney Ann Ferlic Ashford. Ann Ashford angrily refused to endorse Eastman following the May primary, citing comments Eastman had made blaming Ashford's campaign-trail criticisms of her on "bad blood" stemming from her defeat of Ashford's husband two years earlier.

Bacon's past statements about Brad Ashford, however, have been far harsher. Among other things, Bacon accused Ashford of being soft on the Islamic State during their 2016 race, claiming in an ad, "If Brad Ashford doesn't know ISIS is targeting Nebraska, how can we trust him to keep us safe?"

VA-02: Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria's newest ad stars a COVID survivor named Fred Herrmann who excoriates Republican Scott Taylor for hosting a campaign event over the summer where attendees were maskless and greeted each other—including Taylor—with intimate hugs. Footage of the disturbing gathering rolls as Herrmann pours out his criticism. "Scott Taylor even compared coronavirus to the flu. It's not the flu," he says. "Mr. Taylor, I couldn't see my family while I thought I was going to die, because this virus is dangerous—and sending you back to Congress would be, too."

Polls:

CA-25: Smith's memo didn't include exact figures for the presidential race, but it did say that Joe Biden "is currently beating Trump by 4 points." That would represent the rare district-level poll where Biden's margin is narrower than Hillary Clinton's was in 2016 (she carried the 25th 50-44).

NY-22: Believe it or not, Siena's poll is the very first we've seen of this race, and the findings are a serious whoa-mama-joe moment for the GOP, particularly as regards the presidential race. Upstate New York's 22nd District was one of those rural white areas where the bottom really fell out for Democrats in 2016: While Barack Obama had lost to Mitt Romney by less than a point here, Trump crushed Clinton 55-39.

There's good reason to believe Siena, too. In 2016, the school's polling accurately forecast the district's big shift to Trump, both in late September and just before Election Day, when it had Trump up 14. If Republicans can't beat Brindisi, who exactly can they beat?

Mayoral

Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: The Democratic firm Bendixen & Amandi International's new poll for the Miami Herald gives Democrat Daniella Levine Cava a 45-35 lead over Republican Steve Bovo in next month's officially nonpartisan race, which is an improvement from the 39-32 edge it found last month. Levine Cava also released a Change Research survey in late September that showed her up 45-32, while Bovo's side has yet to publicize its own numbers.

Levine Cava would be the first Democrat to serve as the chief executive of Florida's largest county since Alex Penelas left office in 2004. Penelas himself waged a comeback campaign this year, but he took third in August's nonpartisan primary.

New York City, NY Mayor: Civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, a former counsel to term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio, entered next year's Democratic primary to succeed her old boss on Thursday. Wiley, who is Black, would be the first woman mayor in the city's history. In her kickoff, she took several jabs at the unpopular incumbent. "If I am mayor, you will never have to wonder who's in charge," she said. "You will never have to question ... whether the mayor even wants the job." She also ridiculed de Blasio's hapless presidential bid, saying, "You will never have to wonder whether I'm in Iowa."

Ad Roundup

Morning Digest: New York conservatives gear up to take down GOP establishment-backed House candidate

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

NY-27: Plenty of Republicans were pissed when party leaders awarded state Sen. Chris Jacobs the party's nomination for the upcoming special election for New York's 27th Congressional District, and now the GOP's usual allies in the state's small but influential Conservative Party are also taking their whacks.

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New York law allows candidates to accept nominations from multiple parties, and it's rare for the Conservatives not to support Republican picks. However, Conservative leaders said in late January that, rather than back the apparently squishy Jacobs, they would not nominate anyone for the upcoming special election, which is expected to be held on April 28.

This seat backed Trump 60-35, so Jacobs is still the favorite even without Conservative help. Because the election will likely take place on the same day as the presidential primary, though, disproportionate turnout on the left could give Democrats a boost.

But if Jacobs manages to win the special, the Conservatives are gearing up to make his life hell soon thereafter. The GOP primary for the regular two-year term will take place just two months later on June 23, and there Jacobs will face attorney Beth Parlato, who has earned enough support from local party officials to receive the state Conservative Party's endorsement.

The Conservatives also promised Parlato their party's line for the November general election, but don't expect to see her on the fall ballot if she loses in June. "I'm confident I will win the primary," she said. "But if by some chance I lose, I would never split the vote."

The Conservative Party isn't the only right-wing group that wants to beat Jacobs once the special is wrapped up. Last month, a spokesperson for the Club for Growth called the senator "too moderate" and added, "We are prepared to spend seven figures opposing Jacobs." The Club, though, hasn't endorsed either Parlato or Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who also decided to challenge Jacobs after losing the GOP nod for the special election.

So, why does Jacobs inspire this much far-right disgust? Jacobs has long had a reputation as a moderate and even identified as pro-choice during his failed 2006 run for lieutenant governor. It doesn't help that his running mate that year was none other than Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who is currently challenging Donald Trump in the presidential primary. Jacobs' enemies also remember that he refused to take sides in 2016 when Trump was running against Hillary Clinton, the same year Jacobs first won his seat in the state Senate.

Once he got to Albany, Jacobs did put together an ardently conservative voting record, which included opposition to expanding access to abortion. Jacobs also has tried to reinvent himself as a proud Trumper, and has insisted that he "ran for re-election to assure that President Trump had an ally in this seat." (We wonder if Jacobs' constituents, who voted for Hillary Clinton 50-45, knew that when they gave him a second term him in 2018.) However, it seems that conservative fanatics simply don't believe his conversion is sincere and want to replace him with a purer strain of wingnut.

Senate

GA-Sen-B: While 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter expressed interest in running here back in late August, he took himself out of contention on Thursday by endorsing pastor Raphael Warnock.

MT-Sen: Politico reports that national Democrats haven't given up trying to convince Gov. Steve Bullock to challenge GOP Sen. Steve Daines despite his consistent denials of interest, but they don't seem to be making any progress. Barack Obama even met with Bullock privately on Thursday, but the governor's team publicly reaffirmed afterwards that he would not run. Montana's filing deadline is March 9, so the field will be set here soon.

A few Democrats are already challenging Daines in this 56-35 Trump state, and one of them ended 2019 with a big fundraising edge over the rest of the June primary field. Nonprofit founder Cora Neumann took in $460,000 during her opening fundraising quarter and had $292,000 to spend, while neither Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins nor Navy veteran John Mues had so much as $40,000 on-hand. Daines, though, had an imposing $5 million war chest at the close of December.

NC-Sen: Politico reports that VoteVets is spending $2.5 million on a new two-week ad campaign supporting former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in the March 3 Democratic primary. VoteVets' affiliated nonprofit has already spent $3.3 million to help Cunningham win the nod to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.

TN-Sen: Mason-Dixon is out with a new poll for local media organizations that unsurprisingly finds Republicans in good shape to hold this open Senate seat. Former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, leads Army veteran James Mackler 55-33 in a hypothetical general election, while physician Manny Sethi beats the Democrat 46-35.

House

AZ-01: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed 2018 candidate Tiffany Shedd on Thursday in the August Republican primary to face Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran. Shedd, who took third in the primary last cycle, had more money by far at the end of December than any other Republican running here, but her $91,000 war chest still wasn't good. However, McCarthy seems to have decided that Team Red isn't going to get a better contender for this competitive Northeastern Arizona seat.

O'Halleran does face some primary opposition from the left, but neither of his opponents look very threatening. Former Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova had just $15,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, while former state Sen. Barbara McGuire still hasn't reported raising any cash. O'Halleran, by contrast, had $919,000 on-hand to defend a district that narrowly backed both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.

IL-03: Activist Rush Darwish is up with what Politico reports is his second TV spot of the March 17 Democratic primary against conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski.

Darwish says that the district can't just "keep electing the same people and expect a different result," though he doesn't mention Lipinski directly. Darwish describes himself as a "lifelong humanitarian and father who spends time volunteering to raise money for medical procedures on children affected by violence," and says he supports "Medicare for all who want it."

IN-05: Former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi announced Thursday, just one day before the filing deadline, that he would compete in the May GOP primary for this open seat.

Brizzi had been out of office since 2011, and the intervening years haven't been good for him. He was reprimanded by the state Supreme Court in 2017 for a conflict of interest between his real estate business and a 2009 criminal case his office prosecuted. That reprimand included a 30-day suspension of his law license for "professional misconduct" after he intervened to reduce the severity of a plea deal given to a client of his real estate partner, who was the client's criminal defense attorney at the time.

Brizzi kicked off his new campaign by acknowledging, "I certainly made some mistakes." He continued, "And I own them. Secondly, there's nobody in the race that's more vetted than me."

MD-07: Dels. Terri Hill and Talmadge Branch and law professor Michael Higginbotham have each announced that they will not compete in the April Democratic primary for the regular two-year term. All three were on the ballot in Tuesday's special primary and finished far behind former Rep. Kweisi Mfume. The filing deadline for the April primary passed in late January, but candidates had until Thursday to remove their names from the ballot.

Mfume, who represented a previous version of this Baltimore seat from 1987 until he resigned in 1996 to lead the NAACP, won the Democratic nod on Tuesday by beating former state party chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings by a lopsided 43-17 margin. Rockeymoore Cummings and state Sen. Jill Carter, who was in third place with 16%, have each said that they'll keep running in April, but it's going to be very tough for anyone to beat Mfume after his decisive victory.

PA-01: Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress recently picked up an endorsement from 2018 Democratic nominee Scott Wallace for her bid to take on GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in this 49-47 Clinton seat. Wachspress also recently earned the backing of Bucks County Prothonotary Judi Reiss, who dropped out last month, as well as 2018 primary candidates Rachel Reddick and Steve Bacher.

Wachspress' local endorsements come a little less than three months after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that national Democrats, including the DCCC and EMILY's List, were dissatisfied with the field. However, no other serious candidates have entered the race since then, and with the Feb. 18 filing deadline coming up fast, it looks unlikely that any will.

While it remains to be seen how national Democrats feel about Wachspress now, she very much looks like the frontrunner in the April primary. Wachspress ended 2019 with $355,000 on-hand while her intra-party opponents, Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello and businessman Skylar Hurwitz, each had less than $12,000 in the bank.

Whoever wins the nod is going to be in for a difficult race against Fitzpatrick. The incumbent held off Wallace 51-49 during last cycle's Democratic wave, and he ended 2019 with a strong $1.4 million war chest.

TN-01: State Sen. Rusty Crowe announced Thursday that he would join the August GOP primary for this safely red open seat in East Tennessee.

Crowe has a very long career in state politics going back to 1990, when he was elected to the state Senate as a Democrat: Crowe recently said that he ran with Team Blue back then because he'd missed the deadline to file as a Republican and decided to launch a write-in campaign for the Democratic nod. He explained that it was "difficult" serving in the legislature as a Democrat and that he was unpopular with his party's leadership, though Crowe waited until 1995 to switch to the GOP.

The only other notable Republican who has entered the race to succeed retiring Rep. Phil Roe so far is former Kingsport Mayor John Clark. A number of other local politicians did express interest in getting in after Roe announced his retirement in January, and they still have a while to decide before the early April filing deadline.

TX-10: For the second quarter in a row, GOP Rep. Michael McCaul has pretended that he raised considerably more money for his re-election campaign than he actually raised.

Last month, before FEC reports were due, McCaul put out a press release saying he raised "nearly" $500,000, but he actually brought in $378,000. The congressman ended 2019 with $984,000 to spend, which is also short of the $1 million he said he had. The Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston writes that McCaul's half a million figure included money from his affiliated PACs, which she explains is not standard operating procedure when announcing fundraising numbers.

Back in October, McCaul also announced that he'd brought in $400,000 during the third quarter of 2019, but his FEC report soon revealed that he'd actually raised $334,000; we're not sure what McCaul was including to get that extra $64,000 back then, but it was not money for his campaign. Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzales recently put out a great Twitter thread about how journalists view candidates' FEC reports, and we'll take particular note of his final point: "If you play games with one report, then it will just invite more scrutiny on future reports."

In past cycles no one would have cared how much McCaul did or did not raise his safely red seat, but his seat isn't safely red anymore. Donald Trump's 53-42 win in 2016 was a noticeable drop from Mitt Romney's 59-39 performance four years before, and Team Red also had a rough ride here in 2018: McCaul fended off Democrat Mike Siegel by a surprisingly close 51-47 margin, and Beto O'Rourke narrowly carried this district 49.6-49.5 against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

Siegel is running again in the March 3 primary, but two other Democrats have considerably more money than him. Attorney Shannon Hutcheson held a small $456,000 to $451,000 cash-on-hand edge over medical school professor Pritesh Gandhi, while Siegel had $152,000 to spend. If no one takes a majority of the vote next month a runoff would take place in May.

TX-28: Immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros is out with a new TV spot ahead of her March 3 Democratic primary with conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar. Cisneros begins, "Today in South Texas, it seems like no one is helping people afford health care. So we sell plates of chicken, we have loterías, we go to Mexico." The candidate then talks about how her aunt died of stomach cancer because she was unable to pay for treatment and continues, "Unlike Congressman Cuellar, I don't take money from health insurance lobbyists or corporate PACs."

We also have a copy of a commercial that Texas Forward, which is allied with EMILY's List, is running to support Cisneros as part of its $1.2 million buy. The narrator argues there's "a damn big" difference between the candidates and takes Cuellar for task for having refusing to sponsor raising the minimum wage and voting "with Republicans to oppose unions, to cut funding for Planned Parenthood." The second half of the ad pledges that Cisneros will stand up for women, workers, and families.

WI-07: Campaign finance reports are out for this special election covering the period of Oct. 1 to Jan. 29, and Army veteran Jason Church and state Sen. Tom Tiffany are in a similar position ahead of the Feb. 18 special GOP primary.

Church outraised Tiffany $653,000 to $463,000 during this time, though the state senator outspent Church $510,000 to $464,000. Tiffany also had a small $208,000 to $189,000 cash-on-hand advantage for the final weeks of the race. The Club for Growth and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been running commercials on Tiffany's behalf, while With Honor Fund has aired some ads for Church.

On the Democratic side, Wausau School Board president Tricia Zunker took in $145,000 during the fundraising period and had $64,000 to spend, while businessman Lawrence Dale didn't report bringing in anything. The general election for this 58-37 Trump seat is May 12.

Morning Digest: ‘The fix is in’: Bitter charges follow GOP’s choice to succeed convicted congressman

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

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.

4Q Fundraising

CA-48: Michelle Steel (R): $520,000 raised, $1.3 million cash-on-hand

FL-18: Oz Vazquez (D): $185,000 raised

IN-05: Christina Hale (D): $269,000 raised, $600,000 cash-on-hand

KS-03: Amanda Adkins (R): $208,000 raised, $383,000 cash-on-hand

MN-07: Collin Peterson (D-inc): $157,000 raised, $1 million cash-on-hand

NJ-05: Mike Ghassali (R): $60,000 raised, additional $500,000 self-funded, $728,000 cash-on-hand; Frank Pallotta (R): $52,000 raised, additional $215,000 self-funded, $382,000 cash-on-hand

NV-03: Dan Schwartz (R): $50,000 raised, additional $250,000 self-funded, $447,000 cash-on-hand

TX-10: Michael McCaul (R-inc): $500,000 raised, $1 million cash-on-hand

Senate

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.

House

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."

CA-16: On Saturday, the California Labor Federation endorsed Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria over Rep. Jim Costa, a fellow Democrat, in the March top-two primary.

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.

MD-04: Candidate filing closed Friday for Maryland's April 28 primary, and the state has a list of contenders here.

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.

MD-05: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has never had trouble winning renomination in this safely blue seat, and he once again looks like the heavy favorite.

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.

MD-06: Freshman Democratic Rep. David Trone faces a challenge from GOP Del. Neil Parrott, but he shouldn't have much trouble defending this 55-40 Clinton seat.

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.

One of the many people running here, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, earned an endorsement over the weekend from the state AFL-CIO.

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.

The 3rd District backed Trump 51-45, but Kim very much has the resources to defend this expensive district. The incumbent is a very strong fundraiser, and he ended 2019 with a $2.2 million war chest.

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.

Legislative

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.

Mayoral

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.

Grab Bag

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.