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.
● Honolulu, HI Mayor: On Friday, former Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa announced her long-anticipated campaign for mayor of Honolulu.
Hanabusa, who has been raising money for months, is one of several candidates competing to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent Kirk Caldwell, but others may jump in ahead of Hawaii's June filing deadline. All the candidates will run on one nonpartisan ballot in September, and a runoff would take place in November if no one secures a majority of the vote in the first round.
Hanabusa has a long history in Hawaii politics, though she lost two high-profile primaries during the last decade. Hanabusa gave up her House seat representing the 1st District, which includes just over 70% of Honolulu, in 2014 to challenge appointed Sen. Brian Schatz, a campaign she very narrowly lost.
Fellow Democrat Mark Takai won the race to succeed Hanabusa, but he announced in 2016 that his battle with pancreatic cancer would prevent him from running for re-election. Hanabusa, who earned Takai's endorsement shortly before he died that summer, went on to win back her old seat with minimal opposition. Hanabusa left the House again in 2018 to challenge Gov. David Ige in the primary, and she was the clear frontrunner for most of the campaign.
However, while Ige's prospects seemed to sink even lower that January when a false ballistic missile alert went out, intense flooding in Kauai and the Kilauea volcano eruption both gave the incumbent the chance to demonstrate the decisive leadership that Hanabusa insisted he lacked. It also didn't help Hanabusa that her duties in the House kept her thousands of miles away from the state for much of the campaign, a problem Ige did not have. Ige ended up winning renomination 51-44, and he carried Honolulu 54-43.
Hanabusa began talking about a mayoral run last year by highlighting Honolulu's ongoing difficulties completing its expensive and long-delayed rail system and the island's struggles with homelessness. The former congresswoman launched her campaign last week arguing that she has the "requisite experience, connections and a history of being able to tackle the hard issues and know what you are doing."
A number of other candidates are already running, and two of them had considerably more money than Hanabusa at the end of 2019. Former insurance executive Keith Amemiya, who is a former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, took in $724,000 and self-funded another $200,000 during the second half of the year, and he had $360,000 on-hand at the end of December.
City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine raised a much smaller $127,000 during this time but already had plenty of money available, and she had $607,000 on-hand. Hanabusa hauled in $259,000 during these six months and had $216,000 in the bank at the close of last year.
The field continued to expand in January when real estate broker Choon James launched her campaign, while former Hawaiʻi News Now general manager Rick Blangiardi entered the race this month. It may get larger still: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser also wrote in mid-February that two prominent politicians, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann and ex-Rep. Charles Djou, had not ruled out running here over the last few weeks.
Hannemann, who has a terrible record when it comes to LGBTQ rights and abortion access, served from 2005 until he resigned to focus on his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the Democratic nod for governor. After losing a 2012 primary for the 2nd Congressional District, Hannemann bolted the party and took 12% of the vote as an independent in the 2014 race for governor. He considered another independent bid for governor last cycle but decided against it, and it's not clear how Hannemann identifies now.
Djou, for his part, is a former Republican who became an independent in 2018 after waging several high-profile, but mostly unsuccessful, campaigns of his own. Djou beat Hanabusa in a fluke in a three-way 2010 special election for the House but lost their rematch several months later, and Djou failed poorly against her the following cycle. However, Djou came close to winning this seat back against Takai in 2014, and he only lost the 2016 mayoral race to Caldwell 52-48.
● GA-Sen-B: On Monday, GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger set the candidate filing deadline for this special election for March 6, which is the same day that the state requires candidates to file for its regularly-scheduled primaries. This move means that anyone who loses in the spring won't be able to just turn around and enter the November all-party primary for this Senate seat.
● IA-Sen: On Monday, Senate Majority PAC began a seven-figure TV and digital ad buy in support of businesswoman Theresa Greenfield well ahead of the June Democratic primary to face GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.
The narrator begins, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do," and he describes how Greenfield worked her way through college. The spot continues by talking about how Greenfield raised her two boys and led a business after her husband died in an accident, and it concludes, "All of it makes Theresa tough enough to take on Washington's corruption and deliver for Iowa."
● KS-Sen: Former Gov. Jeff Colyer endorsed Rep. Roger Marshall on Monday ahead of the August GOP primary. Colyer lost an incredibly close 2018 primary to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who looks like Marshall's main intra-party foe for this race.
● KY-Sen: Retired Marine pilot Amy McGrath, who has the support of the DSCC, is out with two January polls that show her in a tight race with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Garin-Hart-Yang, which was in the field Jan. 8-13, gave McConnell a 43-40 edge over McGrath, while Libertarian Brad Barron took another 5%. A Change Research poll conducted Jan. 17-21 showed McConnell and McGrath tied 41-41, while Barron took 7%. McGrath's memo did not mention state Rep. Charles Booker, who is her main foe in the May Democratic primary.
These are the first polls we've seen of this race since July, when a survey from the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward for the AARP showed McConnell leading McGrath by a similar 47-46 spread. However, while the majority leader has been unpopular in Kentucky for years, he's also proven to be a very tough opponent for Democrats in this very red state. Indeed, some early polls from the 2014 cycle showed McConnell trailing Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, but the incumbent ended up winning by a convincing 56-41 spread.
While the political environment should be considerably better for Democrats this year than it was back then, it's still going to be extremely difficult for McGrath or any other Democrat to beat McConnell in a year where Donald Trump will be leading the ballot.
● NE-Sen: The GOP firm We Ask America is out with a poll giving Sen. Ben Sasse a 65-17 lead over businessman Matt Innis in the May Republican primary. There was some talk at the beginning of the cycle that Sasse, who once made a name for himself by criticizing #BothSides, could face serious intra-party opposition, but that never happened. Donald Trump has joined the state party establishment in supporting Sasse, while Innis has brought in almost no money.
● NJ-Gov: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced over the weekend that he would be treated for a tumor on his kidney early next month. Murphy said, "The expectation is that overwhelmingly, assuming nothing happens on the operating table or you don't get an infection or something, you're back on your feet and back in the game without any impairment going forward."
● AL-01: The GOP firm Strategy Research is out with a poll of next week's Republican primary for News 5, and it gives Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl the lead with 29%. That's well below the majority needed to avoid a March 31 runoff, though, and former state Sen. Bill Hightower leads state Rep. Chris Pringle 21-13 for the second place spot. This is the first poll we've seen here since just before Thanksgiving when Hightower's allies at the anti-tax Club for Growth released a survey showing him ahead with 35% as Pringle edged Carl 16-13 for second.
P.S. Strategy Research also polled the Democratic primary in this 63-34 Trump seat along the Gulf Coast.
● MN-07: While Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson previously insisted that he'd decide by the end of this month whether to seek re-election in his 62-31 Trump seat, he recently told Agri-Pulse that he still hadn't made up his mind. Peterson said that he might make his choice after the March 3 primaries, but he also noted that candidate filing doesn't begin until May; the deadline to file is June 2.
Peterson has flirted with retirement for years, and he said he wasn't sure he wanted to stick around much longer. The congressman argued, "I know I can win. That's not the issue. That's the problem. I'm not sure that I want to win." Peterson didn't give a good indication about which way he was leaning, though he said, "I tell people I'm running until I'm not."
Peterson is almost certainly the only Democrat who could hold this very red seat in western Minnesota, but Team Red will make a strong push for it even if he seeks another term. Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who has House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's endorsement, is the most prominent Republican who has run here in years, and she outraised Peterson $261,000 to $158,000 during the fourth quarter of 2019. Peterson, who does not traditionally raise much money during odd-numbered years, still ended December with a large $1 million to $204,000 cash-on-hand lead over Fischbach, though.
Fischbach also doesn't quite have a clear path through the August GOP primary. Physician Noel Collis, who has been self-funding most of his campaign, had $272,000 to spend at the end of last quarter, which was actually a bit more than what Fischbach had available. Dave Hughes, who held Peterson to unexpectedly close wins in 2016 and 2018, is also trying again, but he had just $19,000 to spend.
● NY-01: Perry Gershon, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, is out with a new poll that finds him well ahead in the June primary in this eastern Long Island seat. GBAO gives Gershon a 42-21 lead over Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, while Stony Brook University professor Nancy Goroff takes 9%.
It's quite possible that Gershon is benefiting from name recognition from his last campaign, which ended in a surprisingly close 51-47 loss against Zeldin. However, his opponents will have the resources to get their names out closer to primary day: Goroff outraised the field during the fourth quarter by bringing in $348,000, while Fleming outpaced Gershon $239,000 to $200,000 during her opening quarter.
Goroff ended 2019 with a $636,000 to $549,000 cash-on-hand edge against Gershon, while Fleming had $202,000 to spend. However, Gershon did plenty of self-funding during his last campaign, and he might be able to throw down more if he feels like he needs to.
Whoever wins in June will be a tough race against Zeldin in a seat that has shifted sharply to the right in recent years. While Barack Obama carried the 1st District by a narrow 50-49 margin, Trump won it 55-42 just four years later, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo prevailed there by just a 49.1 to 48.6 spread in 2018 despite winning a 23-point blowout statewide. Zeldin himself raised $713,000 during the last quarter and had a hefty $1.5 million on-hand.
● TX-13: Wealthy businessman Chris Ekstrom is out with a new TV spot ahead of next week's GOP primary promoting himself as a political outside opposing "the creatures of the swamp."
● TX-17: Rocket scientist George Hindman is going up with a negative TV spot against businesswoman Renee Swann, who has the endorsement of retiring Rep. Bill Flores, ahead of next week's GOP primary. The narrator declares that Swann is "actually a Democrat primary voter" and that she refused to answer whether she'd support additional restrictions on gun owners. The ad goes on to charge that Swanson is "the handpicked candidate of the Washington establishment."
While this ad doesn't actually mention Flores, who is Swanson's most prominent supporter, there's no love lost between the retiring congressman and Hindman. Back in 2012, Hindman challenged Flores for renomination and lost by a lopsided 83-17 margin; Hindman went down in flames in subsequent races for the Austin City Council and for state Senate in 2014 and 2018, respectively. However, Hindman has poured $600,000 of his own money into his newest campaign, and his heavy spending could help him at least advance to a May runoff in this very crowded contest.
● Special Elections: There are three special elections on tap for Tuesday.
KY-HD-67: This is a Democratic district located in Campbell County in the suburbs of Cincinnati. This seat became vacant after Gov. Andy Beshear tapped former Rep. Dennis Keene to be commissioner of the state Department of Local Government.
Candidates were selected by the parties rather than through primary elections, and businesswoman Rachel Roberts is the Democratic candidate while businesswoman Mary Jo Wedding is the GOP standard bearer. Roberts ran for a state Senate seat in this area in 2018 and lost to Will Schroder 57-43, though she still overperformed in a 62-32 Trump seat. Wedding, by contrast, faced legal questions about her residency in this district but was ultimately ruled eligible to seek this seat.
This district is swingy turf that went for Trump 49-44 and Mitt Romney by a narrow 49-48. According to analyst Drew Savicki, Beshear dominated here last year by winning 61-36.
KY-HD-99: This is a Democratic district in rural eastern Kentucky that became vacant when Beshear selected former State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, whom he defeated in the primary last year, to be a senior advisor to his administration.
Democrats picked former Rowan County Board of Education chair Bill Redwine, who was also endorsed by Adkins, to be their nominee, while Republicans chose former Rowan County party co-chair Richard White as their candidate.
At the presidential level, this is a strongly Republican district that backed Trump 68-28 and Romney 57-40. However, this district has been much more favorable to Democrats down the ballot. Adkins had served in this seat since 1987 and, according to analyst Matthew Isbell, Beshear prevailed 50-48 here last year.
Republicans have a 61-37 advantage in this chamber with these two seats vacant.
PA-HD-190: This is a Democratic district in west Philadelphia that became vacant when former Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell resigned after being charged with stealing funds from a charity she ran. Johnson-Harrell had just won a special election last year to replace Vanessa Lowery Brown, who was convicted of bribery.
Just like in Kentucky, the candidates were chosen by the parties: The Democrat is SEIU business agent Roni Green, while the Republican is businesswoman Wanda Logan. This is Logan's fifth run for this seat, though it is her first as a Republican after primarying Lowery Brown in each election from 2012 to 2018.
This district is assured to remain in the Democrats' column, as it backed Hillary Clinton 96-3 and Barack Obama 97-2. Republicans have control of this chamber 107-92 with this and three other seats vacant.