A Democratic wave pickup of 10 Senate seats is a real possibility

Early in the cycle, the big question was wether Democrats could pick up the net-four seats they needed to get control of the U.S. Senate (assuming they won the presidency, and the tie-breaking vote). It was a tall order, given that only one top pickup opportunity (Colorado) was in a 2016 blue state. But Donald Trump’s disastrous and deadly presidency hasn’t just crushed his own reelection chances, but is now threatening Republican Senate seats no one would’ve ever thought would be at risk, even in some solidly red states. 

Welcome to my inaugural ranking of Senate races, by most likely to flip. 

TIER ONE (expected to switch)

1. AlabamaDoug Jones (D)

Our two-year Democratic rental, thanks to a narrowly won special election against a child predator, should come to an end this November as Alabama’s strong Republican lean and a run-of-the-mill Republican challenger ends Jones’ term. No regrets. It was great while it lasted. 

2. Colorado, Cory Gardner (R)

Joe Biden will win Colorado by double-digits. There’s no way Gardner overcomes that margin, and especially not against former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who remained popular throughout his two terms in office. In fact, Gardner has acted as someone vying for a spot on a second Trump term, reliably defending his president during the impeachment proceedings, rather than a blue-state senator trying to differentiate himself from the top of the ticket. 

3. Arizona, Marth McSally (R)

McSally narrowly lost in the Democratic wave in 2018, and since appointed to fill Sen. John McCain’s seat after his death, she is headed toward another defeat at the hands of Democrat Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband to former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords. Polling is showing both Biden and Kelly pulling away, in a state in which resurgent Latino voters and suburban white women are heavily engaging. 

4. North Carolina, Thom Tillis (R) 

Democratic Iraq and Afghanistan war vet Cal Cunningham has proven a surprisingly strong challenger to first-term Republican Thom Tillis, handily leading him in all recent polling. It’s not even looking close, in a state in which Biden has also led (albeit more narrowly). Tillis runs weakly against Republicans, who see him as a traitor to Trump’s cause. And the double-whammy of Trump losing the state, and Tillis losing Trump voters, looks too much to overcome. 

5. Maine, Susan Collins (R)

Collins survived decades as a Republican in blue Maine by pretending to be a “moderate” independent-minded legislator. The Trump years have torn that facade away, as she’s sided with the wannabe despot in both his Supreme Court nominations, and in voting to acquit him during the impeachment proceedings. Democrat Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House, is leading in all recent polling, and would be the first woman of color (Indian American) elected in Maine. 

These five races would net Democrats the +3 seats they need for a 50-50 Senate, with Biden’s vice-president casting the tie-breaking vote. But what a nightmare that would be, right? We’d have the nominal majority, but well-short of the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and without the Democratic votes needs to eliminate that stupid filibuster. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has already declared he’d vote against any such efforts. So it is imperative that Democrats pad their majority in order to have the votes to get rid of the filibuster and push through critical legislation like statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico (if its residents vote for it), voting right protections, economic stimulus, police reforms, measures to address climate change, and other Democratic priorities. 

TIER TWO (toss-ups)  

6. Montana, Steve Daines (R)

How can Democrats be competitive in a state which Trump won by over 20 points? First, convince popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to run, then watch Trump’s numbers collapse to the point that Biden is actually competitive. Recent polling in this hard-to-poll state show Republicans with the narrow edge, but it’s narrow. 

7. Iowa, Joni Ernst (R) 

This wasn’t a state that was supposed to be competitive, with Trump winning by nine points in 2016. Yet Trump disastrous trade wars decimated Iowa farmers, and the coronavirus pandemic has only added to anti-GOP sentiment. So this state of rural non-college whites—the core base of the modern Republican Party—is suddenly flirting with voting Democratic. Most recent polling shows Trump leading by a hair, the same as Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. 

8. Georgia, Kelly Loeffler (R)

Georgia has a racist Jim Crow-era election system, in which candidates require 50% in the first round, otherwise the race moves to a January runoff. This is a special election, thus features a “jungle primary” in which all candidates, of all parties, run on the same ballot. If none reaches 50% (and none will), this gets decided January next year. Democrats are running several candidates, and would be best served if they rallied around Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where Dr. Rev, Martin Luther King preached). 

While Democrats have traditionally suffered turnout woes during the runoff elections, I doubt that’ll be an issue this cycle. January will be HOT in Georgia. 

9. Georgia, David Perdue (R)

Same as above, except that there’s no jungle primary. Democrats nominated Jon Ossoff to take on the incumbent. Polling has been mixed in this race, with some showing a tied race, and others showing Perdue close to 50%. But at the same time, almost all polling is showing a competitive presidential contest. If Biden can extend his lead in this coronavirus-stricken state, he could very well pull Democrats across the line with him, at least into January runoffs where defeated and demoralized Republicans might just sit things out. 

TIER THREE (lean Republican)

These solidly Republican states shouldn’t be competitive at the Senate level, yet amazingly, they are! 

10. Kansas, Open (R)

The conventional wisdom is that if Republican nominate crazed right-winger Kris Kobach, that this seat in this +20 2016 Trump state becomes far more competitive in November. That would make sense, since Kobach cost Republicans the governorship in 2018. Our own Civiqs polling, actually, found Democrat Barbara Bollier competitive no matter who Republicans nominate. A tough state, for sure but Kansas is one of the few remaining Republican states with high educational attainment (the other being Utah). Given the nation’s partisan stratification based on college education, we can expect Biden to narrow the gap from 2016, improving Bollier’s chances down the ballot. And if Republicans nominate Kobach? That can’t hurt, either. 

11. Alaska, Dan Sullivan (R)

Alaska is competitive at the presidential level (more here), despite the fact that Trump won it by 15 in 2016. No polling has shown the Senate race competitive, but that’s because 1) there is no Democratic nominee—an independent is filling that slot, and 2) that nominee, Al Gross, has a name ID of about zero percent. Gross is now up in the air, and that should boost that name ID in this cheap state. Also, Democrats will now learn that he is their guy, and will answer accordingly the next time they’re polled. 

Without strength at the presidential level, this seat isn’t in play, but Alaska has been trending Democratic for several cycles now, and this year may be the year when that vast swath of land is painted in glorious blue. 

12. South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R)

Pinch me I must be dreaming. Infamous Trump bootlicker Lindsey is vulnerable? Yes. Yes he is. The polling has shown the state tightening at the presidential level, and the pandemic is hitting South Carolina hard, further weakening the state’s dominant Republican Party. Democrats have an awesome candidate in Jaime Harrison. His problem has been that while he’s running even with Graham, most undecideds in the race are conservative voters. It’s a tough hill to overcome. But this is happening: 

Every point Trump falls is a point that could cost him in the presidential election, and every point that presidential race narrows is one point less Harrison needs to overcome to win the Senate seat. The play here isn’t for Biden to win, he doesn’t need South Carolina (as nice as it would be!). We need it close enough to give ourselves a chance down ballot. 

This is a long-shot, by all means, but it’s a real shot. And Harrison has raised record amounts of cash and has the resources to wage a real campaign in this final three-month sprint to Election Day.  

13. Texas, John Cornyn (R)

The big question in Texas is whether it is competitive at the presidential level or not. It’s clear where the state is trending, and no doubt in a cycle or two it will be legitimately purple. But polling is mixed on whether this is the year. And that will inform whether the Senate race is flippable. On its merits, Cornyn should be cruising to reelection. He has none of the baggage Sen. Ted Cruz had in 2018, where he held on to his seat by just 2% of the vote. But if Texas Democrats can get the state’s chronically underperforming Latino vote to activate, then all bets are off—at both the presidential and senate levels. 

CONCLUSION

Of the 13 Senate seats currently in play, 12 of them are held by Republicans. The odds of Democrats picking up 10 or 11 seats are currently low, but the trends just keep getting worse and worse for the GOP. The toll of the pandemic isn’t just worsening nationwide, it’s currently disproportionately affecting some of the very states discussed above, like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Meanwhile, Trump is doing nothing to reverse his precipitous collapse in his national standing, while also refusing to allow Republicans to distance themselves from him. 

So can we get to a double-digit pickup in the Senate? Not today, we wouldn’t, but Republicans still have three months to fall. 

Morning Digest: After years of high-profile defeats, Illinois GOP nominates Jim Oberweis once more

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

IL-14: Whether national Republicans like it or not, state Sen. Jim Oberweis is once again their nominee. Oberweis defeated fellow state Sen. Sue Rezin 26-23 in the crowded primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood; while the Associated Press has not called the race as of Wednesday afternoon, Rezin conceded on election night.

This seat in Chicago's western exurbs moved from 54-44 Romney to 49-45 Trump, and Underwood unseated GOP incumbent Randy Hultgren two years later in an upset. Oberweis, who self-funded $1 million through late February, does give Team Red a nominee with access to plenty of money against the well-funded Underwood, but his electoral history is … not good.

In fact, the wealthy dairy magnate has unsuccessfully run for the House or statewide office a grand total of six times beginning with his 2002 primary defeat to take on Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. We're even going to be nice and not count Oberweis' accidental 2020 Senate campaign against him.

Campaign Action

Oberweis' most prominent loss came in 2008, which came after three failed statewide primary campaigns. That year, Oberweis was the GOP nominee in a high-profile special election to succeed former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. That district, which was also numbered the 14th (but only shared about 40% of the same territory as the seat he's now running for), had been reliably red turf for a long time. George W. Bush carried the seat 55-44 in 2004 and Hastert (whose awful past would not be revealed until 2015), had always won re-election easily.

However, the contest between Oberweis and Democrat Bill Foster was a competitive affair, and Foster's 52.5-47.5 victory was a strong and early sign that 2008 was going to be a very good year for Democrats. Oberweis and Foster had won their primaries for the regular November contest months before the special was decided, and Republicans reportedly tried to convince their nominee to drop out.

Then-state Rep. Aaron Schock, who was the GOP nominee for a congressional seat to the south, loudly threw Oberweis under the bus for his defeat, declaring, "Anybody in Illinois who knows Jim Oberweis knows that was not a referendum on the Republican Party; it was a referendum on Jim Oberweis." Schock, whose own congressional career would self-destruct the next decade, also volunteered that when it came to Oberweis, "The people that knew him best, liked him least." Oberweis didn't listen, and he lost to Foster again 58-42.

Things finally changed in 2012 when Oberweis won both the primary and the general election for an open state Senate seat. But some habits can't be broken: The next year, he launched a second longshot bid against Durbin, which characteristically ended in defeat. Still, Oberweis was re-elected the following cycle 55-45 even as his state Senate seat was swinging from 53-45 Romney to 48-45 Clinton, so it's possible that he's developed some better campaigning skills in the last few years.

Oberweis announced in 2019 that he would challenge Underwood, but strangely, he didn't rule out running for Congress in Florida later that year. Oberweis owns a home in retiring GOP Rep. Francis Rooney's seat in the Naples area, and he's benefited in the past from a homeowner's tax exemption by listing it as his "primary" residence. In October, an Oberweis spokesman acknowledged to Politico, "There's a push from Republicans in that district" for him to run, and he continued, "All he'd have to do is move down there and he'd win."

Oberweis did not move down there and win, though. Instead, he now has another chance to avenge his last six defeats in Illinois in November by taking on Underwood in what will likely be a very competitive race for a seat the GOP very badly wants to take back.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our 2020 calendar, which we will continually update as any changes to election dates are finalized.

Alabama: Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has moved Alabama's March 31 primary runoffs to July 14, and Republican Secretary of State John Merrill says that voters can cite the coronavirus outbreak as a reason for asking for an absentee ballot, regardless of whether they themselves have contracted the disease. Democrats in the legislature have introduced bills to remove the excuse requirement entirely, but Ivey claimed to the Montgomery Advertiser that she was unaware of any discussions about such a move.

Arizona: Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has asked Arizona's GOP-run state legislature to implement all-mail balloting for the November general election, but one key Republican is opposed. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who might challenge Hobbs in 2022, told the Associated Press, "If they want to receive it by mail they can. So why would you mandate it?" Currently, about 75% of Arizona citizens vote by mail.

Kansas: Kansas Democrats are proceeding with their party-run presidential primary on May 2 but will send every registered Democrat in the state a mail-in ballot at the end of the month. Party officials are encouraging all voters to cast mail ballots, which must be postmarked by April 24.

Minnesota: Minnesota Republicans had previously said they'd postpone their upcoming local conventions but have instead decided to hold them online. However, the party hasn't yet decided what to do about its mid-May statewide convention or its congressional district conventions, which are set to begin in the middle of next month.

The conventions will award the GOP's formal endorsement to delegates' preferred candidates, which will be of greatest importance in the 2nd District. There, several Republicans are competing to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, and at least two have said they won't continue on to Minnesota's Aug. 11 primary if they fail to secure the party's backing.

Missouri: Republican Gov. Mike Parson has moved Missouri's April 7 municipal elections to June 2. Missouri has already voted in the presidential primaries, and its statewide primaries for downballot office are not until Aug. 4.

Montana: Several candidates seeking statewide office in Montana this year, including a Democrat and a Republican both running for secretary of state, have called for the state's June 2 primary to be conducted entirely by mail, but a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock says the governor has not made any decisions and is "considering all options." Bullock is himself a candidate in the primary, where he faces Navy veteran John Mues for the right to take on Republican Sen. Steve Daines in the fall.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire's secretary of state's office says it is considering loosening the excuse requirement for voting absentee. However, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan wrongly told NHPR that states that have adopted no-excuse absentee voting or voting by mail "have actually shown a decline in their participation in voter turnout." Studies show the exact opposite: Allowing people to vote at home increases turnout by making it easier to vote.

New Jersey: The New Jersey Globe reports that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is considering moving to all-mail balloting for the state's June 2 primaries for the presidential race and downballot offices, though Murphy's staff declined to comment on the matter. One difficulty posed by such a change involves independent voters, who are permitted to vote in either party's primary. Such voters would have to be sent two ballots, with instructions to return no more than one, as anyone attempting to vote in both primaries would have both ballots rejected.

Ohio: The date of Ohio's presidential and downballot primary remains uncertain following Republican Gov. Mike DeWine's last-minute decision to cancel in-person voting, which had been set to take place on March 17. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who late on Monday issued a memo saying the primary would now take place on June 2, said on Tuesday that he anticipates litigation over the date—and indeed, a lawsuit was filed later that same day by the Ohio Democratic Party.

The party's suit asks the Supreme Court to rescind LaRose's directive regarding a June 2 primary and instead require the state to extend the deadline for requesting absentee ballots until April 25; to allow voters to cast absentee ballots as long as they're postmarked by April 28; and to require the state's Board of Elections to count any such ballots that are received by May 8. Notably, the plaintiffs have not asked for a new date for in-person voting.

Legislative leaders are also unhappy with DeWine and LaRose. Republican State House Speaker Larry Householder issued a statement saying that "the legal authority to change the date [of the primary] rests with the Ohio General Assembly – not the courts and not via executive fiat." He said that lawmakers will address the matter when they reconvene as scheduled next week, but so far, Householder has only said that he'll "consider an extension of absentee voting." Much like the Democratic Party, he has not called for a reinstatement of in-person voting (at least, not yet).

Rhode Island: Rhode Island's Board of Elections voted to ask Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo to reschedule the state's April 28 presidential primary to June 2, and a Raimondo spokesperson said the governor "is open to the idea." Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has said she thinks the state should stay with its current calendar and instead prefers a "predominantly mail ballot" election.

Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has signed an order allowing local governments to delay their May 2 elections until Nov. 3, the date of this year's general election. Abbott previously promised an announcement later this week about any adjustments that might be made to Texas' May 26 primary runoffs.

Virginia: Virginia's Department of Elections says that all voters will be allowed to cast absentee ballots in the state's May 5 local elections. However, the Virginia Mercury reports that no such decision has yet been made regarding the state's June 9 congressional primaries.

Washington: Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman has asked Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to postpone Washington's April 28 special elections and suggested they be consolidated with either the state's Aug. 4 downballot primaries or the Nov. 3 general election. These elections do not involve any candidates but instead feature proposed bonds and levies.

Notably, Washington already conducts all of its elections entirely by mail. However, Wyman wrote to Inslee, "circumstances outside of our control could make it impossible" for local election officials to perform their required duties, citing the possibility of "courthouse closures," "workforce reductions of election staff [or] postal staff," and "disruptions with vendors who support election operations."

West Virginia: Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner says there are no plans for West Virginia to delay its May 12 presidential and downballot primary, but all voters will be allowed to request absentee ballots due to the coronavirus.

Wisconsin: Despite growing calls for Wisconsin to delay its April 7 elections, such a move seems unlikely: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers reiterated his opposition to the idea on Tuesday, and Republican Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald also said he thinks the election should not be postponed. The marquee contests on the ballot are the presidential primaries and a key race for the state Supreme Court, but Evers noted that many nonpartisan local and county-level offices are also up for election. While the term for the Supreme Court post does not begin until August, many terms for local office start in April.

Senate

AZ-Sen: GOP Sen. Martha McSally announced on Wednesday that she was suspending her TV ad campaign for at least 30 days due to the coronavirus situation.

GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: End Citizens United has endorsed 2017 House candidate Jon Ossoff in the May Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue. The group has also thrown its support behind another Democrat, pastor Raphael Warnock, in the November all-party special election primary for Georgia's other U.S. Senate seat.

IA-Sen: Politico reports that the conservative group One Nation is spending $970,000 on a TV, radio and digital ad campaign praising GOP Sen. Joni Ernst for working to lower prescription drug costs.

ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins is using a campaign ad to tell voters how she's "suspending traditional campaign events" because of the Coronavirus.

House

FL-15: Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin announced on Tuesday that he would challenge scandal-tarred Rep. Ross Spano in the August GOP primary. Franklin is the head of a regional insurance agency, so he may have access to money. The city commissioner is the first notable candidate to launch an intra-party bid against Spano, who is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly violating campaign finance laws during his successful bid for the House in Florida's 15th District.

As we've written before, Spano admitted in December of 2018, before he even took office, that he might have broken federal election law by accepting personal loans worth $180,000 from two friends and then turning around and loaning his own campaign $170,000. That's a serious problem, because if you loan money to a congressional candidate with the intent of helping their campaign, you have to adhere to the same laws that limit direction contributions, which in 2018 capped donations at just $2,700 per person.

Spano, who was running for state attorney general before he launched his bid for Congress, argued last month that he'd misunderstood this law. Spano also insisted his congressional campaign had disclosed the loan "before it became public knowledge" in the financial disclosure forms all federal candidates are obligated to file.

That, however, is flat out false: As the Tampa Bay Times' Steve Contorno explained, Spano had failed to file those disclosures by the July 2018 deadline, only submitting them just before Election Day—after the paper had asked about them. Only once those reports were public did the paper learn that the money for Spano's questionable loans came from his friends.

Florida's 15th District, which includes Lakeland and the exurbs of Tampa and Orlando, went from 52-47 Romney to 53-43 Trump. Spano, though, won the seat by a modest 53-47 before his scandal came out, and the GOP could have trouble again especially if Spano wins after a bruising primary.

TX-02: Navy veteran Elisa Cardnell announced Wednesday that she'd withdrawn her name from the May Democratic primary runoff ballot, a move that makes attorney Sima Ladjevardian Team Blue's nominee against GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw. Cardnell had announced last week that she was ending her campaign, but she didn't commit to taking her name off the ballot at the time.

TX-17: Former 32nd District Rep. Pete Sessions picked up an endorsement this week for the May GOP runoff from rocket scientist George Hindman, who took third place in the March 3 runoff. Sessions led that contest with 32% of the vote, while businesswoman Renee Swann beat Hindman 19-18 for the other runoff spot.

Legislative

Special Elections: Republicans won a trio of special election for the Pennsylvania state House on Tuesday night, all in seats the party held, including a contested 18th District in the Philadelphia suburbs that Democrats had hoped to flip.

There, Republican KC Tomlinson, a funeral director and daughter of local state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, defeated her Democratic opponent, union plumber Howie Hayes, by a 55-45 margin. Bucks County officials had asked a judge to delay the election because Gov. Tom Wolf has asked residents in a large swath of the state to stay home to combat the spread of the coronavirus, but their request was denied. According to unofficial returns, 8,145 voters participated, which was on the lower side for a competitive state House special election in Pennsylvania in recent years.

The 18th had looked promising for Democrats, as Hillary Clinton carried it 53-44 in 2016 and Wolf won it 62-37 two years ago, but it's long supported Republicans further down the ballot—a tradition it continued Tuesday night. However, Hayes has the chance to reverse the result in November, when the two will face off again and when turnout will likely be far higher.

Meanwhile, Republican Eric Davanzo beat Democrat Robert Prah 53-41 in the 58th District, with Libertarian Kenneth Bach taking 7%. And in the 8th District, Republican Timothy Bonner easily defeated Democrat Phil Heasley 75-25. The results mean that the GOP maintains a 110-93 majority in the chamber.

Mayoral

Baltimore, MD Mayor: Former Treasury official Mary Miller released a poll from GQR just before GOP Gov. Larry Hogan moved the state's presidential and downballot primary from April 28 to June 2. Miller's survey found Former Mayor Sheila Dixon leading City Council President Brandon Scott 18-17 in the Democratic primary, while Miller was in third with 12%. An unreleased January poll showed Miller at just 2%.

Election Result Recaps

IL-07: Longtime Democratic Rep. Danny Davis decisively won renomination on Tuesday against attorney Kristine Schanbacher, who raised a notable amount of money. With 75% of precincts reporting, Davis leads Schanbacher 66-12 in this safely blue Chicago seat.

IL-11: Democratic Rep. Bill Foster defeated Will County Board member Rachel Ventura 59-41 in a primary that attracted almost no attention before Election Day. Ventura criticized Foster from the left when she launched her campaign in July, but she raised very little money and didn't attract any major outside support. Foster shouldn't have any trouble winning the general election in this 59-35 Clinton seat in the southwestern Chicago suburbs.

IL-15: Farmer Mary Miller decisively beat Vermilion County Treasurer Darren Duncan 57-22 in the GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Shimkus in this safely red seat in downstate Illinois. There are currently only 13 women in the House Republican caucus, and Miller's win gives Team Red a better chance to at least maintain that small number.

Cook County, IL State’s Attorney: Incumbent Kim Foxx won the very expensive Democratic primary by defeating attorney Bill Conway 50-31. Foxx, whose 2016 win was a huge victory for criminal justice reform groups, should have no trouble in the fall in heavily Democratic Cook County.

Los Angeles County, CA District Attorney: While there are still some ballots to be counted from the March 3 nonpartisan primary, there's no question anymore that incumbent Jackie Lacey has been forced into a November general election against former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. Lacey, as of Tuesday evening, is at 48.8% of the vote, which is just shy of the majority she needed to win outright, while Gascón leads public defender Rachel Rossi 28-23 for second.

The Los Angeles Times reported after Tuesday's tabulations that Lacey would need to win 53,000 of the 64,000 ballots that still needed to be counted in order to get a majority of the vote, which is almost certainly not going to happen. The paper also notes that, even if Rossi won every single remaining vote, she'd still be in third place. Both Gascón and Rossi have been running to Lacey's left, so Gascón may be able to pick up most of Rossi's supporters for the fall campaign.

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.

Campaign Action

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: Dems need four seats to flip Michigan’s House. Our new data shows the top targets

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

Gov-by-LD, Senate-by-LD: Republicans have controlled the Michigan House of Representatives since the 2010 GOP wave despite Democrats winning more votes in three of the last four elections, but Daily Kos Elections' new data for the 2018 elections shows that Democrats have a narrow path to win the four seats they need to flip the chamber this fall.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette 53-44 to become governor and carried 56 of the 110 seats in the lower house—exactly the number that her party needs to take a bare majority. You can see these results visualized for the House in the map at the top of this post (with a larger version available here).

Campaign Action

However, because Republicans heavily gerrymandered the map to benefit themselves, the Democrats’ presidential nominee will need to decisively defeat Donald Trump in the Wolverine State to give their party a chance. Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s successful re-election campaign illustrates this hurdle: Even though she beat Republican John James 52-46 statewide, she only took 54 House districts.

The entire state House is up for re-election every two years, and members can serve a maximum of three terms, making Michigan's term limits among the most restrictive in the country. Democrats made big gains in the House last cycle and reduced the GOP majority from 63-47 to 58-52.

Most importantly, four members of the GOP caucus sit in seats that backed Whitmer, making those the four ripest targets for Democrats. At the same time, no Democratic incumbents hold seats won by Schuette. However, three of these GOP-held Whitmer seats also supported Donald Trump when he narrowly carried the state two years before, so sweeping them all be a difficult task.

Team Blue’s best pickup opportunity in the state looks like HD-61 in the Kalamazoo area, which supported Whitmer by a wide 54-43 margin and backed Stabenow by a 53-45 spread. The seat also went for Hillary Clinton 49-45, making it the one GOP-held district in the entire chamber that didn’t back Trump. Republican incumbent Brandt Iden won his third term 51-49 in 2018, but term limits prevent him from running again this year.

Two other Republican seats, both located in Oakland County in the Detroit suburbs, also went for both Whitmer and Stabenow, though Trump carried them both. HD-39 backed Trump 50-46, but it supported Whitmer 53-45 and Stabenow 51-47. Republican Ryan Berman was elected to his first term by a wide 54-42, but that election took place under unusual circumstances: The Democratic candidate, Jennifer Suidan, was charged with embezzlement during the race and was sentenced to five years’ probation after the election.

Nearby is HD-38, which went for Trump 49-46 before supporting Whitmer and Stabenow 52-46 and 51-48. This seat is held by GOP state Rep. Kathy Crawford, who won her third and last term by a narrow 49-48 in 2018.

The fourth and final GOP-held Whitmer seat is HD-45, which is also located in Oakland County, but it supported her just 49.2-48.8, by a margin of 181 votes. Trump took the seat by a wider 51-44 margin, while James defeated Stabenow here 50-49. Republican incumbent Michael Webber won 55-45, but, like Iden and Crawford, he’s termed-out this year.

Democrats have a few potential targets if they fail to take all four of those seats, but they aren’t great. Another five House districts backed Schuette by a margin of less than 2%, but Trump took them all by double digits in 2016. Democrats also will need to play defense in the 10 seats they hold that voted for Trump (though two years later they all went for Whitmer). All of this means that, while Democrats do have a path to the majority, they’ll need essentially everything to go right this fall.

As for the state Senate, it’s only up in midterm years, so the GOP’s 22-16 majority is safe there for almost another three years, barring an unlikely avalanche of special elections. The good news for Democrats, though, is that 2022’s races for the legislature (and Congress) will be held under very different maps than the GOP gerrymanders in force now.

That’s because in 2018, voters approved the creation of an independent redistricting commission to draw the new lines in place of the state legislature. These new maps could give Democrats a better chance to win (or hold) the House as well as the Senate, where the GOP has been in control since it successfully recalled two Democratic legislators in early 1984.

P.S. You can find our master list of statewide election results by congressional and legislative district here, which we'll be updating as we add new states; you can also find all our data from 2018 and past cycles here.

4Q Fundraising

The deadline to file fundraising numbers for federal campaigns is Jan. 31. We'll have our House and Senate fundraising charts available next week.

NC-Sen: Thom Tillis (R-inc): $1.9 million raised, $5.3 million cash-on-hand

VA-Sen: Mark Warner (D-inc): $1.5 million raised, $7.4 million cash-on-hand

AZ-06: Karl Gentles (D): $104,000 raised, $80,000 cash-on-hand

CA-25: Christy Smith (D): $845,000 raised, $592,000 cash-on-hand

FL-27: Maria Elvira Salazar (R): $315,000 raised, additional $50,000 self-funded, $717,000 cash-on-hand

IL-17: Cheri Bustos (D-inc): $531,000 raised, $3 million cash-on-hand

MN-08: Pete Stauber (R-inc): $347,000 raised, $722,000 cash-on-hand

NC-02: Deborah Ross (D): $301,000 raised, $262,000 cash-on-hand

NH-02: Annie Kuster (D-inc): $452,000 raised, $2 million cash-on-hand

NJ-05: Josh Gottheimer (D-inc): $918,000 raised, $7.12 million cash-on-hand

TX-22: Pierce Bush (R): $660,000 raised (in three weeks)

Senate

AL-Sen: The extremist Club for Growth is going back on the air ahead of the March primary with a TV spot they first aired in November against Rep. Bradley Byrne, an establishment-aligned Republican whom they've long hated. The commercial takes aim at Byrne for supporting the Export-Import Bank, which is another favorite Club target.

GA-Sen-B: Pastor Raphael Warnock announced Thursday that he would run against appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler in November’s all-party primary, giving Democrats their first high-profile candidate in Georgia’s special election for the Senate.

Warnock quickly earned an endorsement from 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who was Team Blue’s top choice until she took her name out of the running last year. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote earlier this month that national Democrats, as well as Abrams, wanted Warnock to challenge Loeffler, though the DSCC has not formally taken sides.

Warnock, who would be Georgia’s first black senator, is the senior pastor of the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. once held the pulpit. Warnock has never run for office before, but he’s been involved in politics as the chair of the New Georgia Project, a group founded by Abrams with the goal of registering people of color to vote. Warnock has also used his position to call for expanding Medicaid and reforming Georgia’s criminal justice system.

Warnock joins businessman Matt Lieberman on the Democratic side, and another local politician says he’s also likely to run for Team Blue. Former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver said Thursday that Warnock’s entry hadn’t changed his own plans to run, adding that he plans to kick off his campaign in the next few weeks.

GOP Rep. Doug Collins also entered the race against Loeffler this week, but legislative leaders quickly dealt him a setback. On Thursday, state House Speaker David Ralston, despite being a Collins ally, announced that a bill that would do away with the all-party primary in favor of a traditional partisan primary would be unlikely to apply to this year’s special election. The legislation cleared the Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this week but was returned to the committee for revisions. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has threatened to veto any measure that would change the rules of this year’s special Senate race.

As we’ve noted before, both Democrats and Collins would almost certainly benefit from the proposed rule change, but it looks like the status quo will persist this year. However, Collins is arguing that he’d still have the advantage in a November all-party primary, though the data he released isn’t especially persuasive. Collins released a poll this week from McLaughlin & Associates showing Lieberman in front with 42% while Collins leads Loeffler 32-11 for the second spot in a likely January runoff.

McLaughlin is a firm that’s infamous even in GOP circles for its poor track record, but this survey is also rather stale. The poll was conducted in mid-December, when Loeffler had just been appointed to the Senate and had little name recognition. But the wealthy senator has since launched a $2.6 million ad campaign, and she’s reportedly pledged to spend $20 million to get her name out.

Lieberman was also the only Democrat mentioned in the poll, but Warnock’s Thursday announcement means he’s now no longer Team Blue’s only candidate, scrambling the picture further. And if Tarver does go ahead with his planned campaign, he could complicate matters even more by potentially splitting the vote on the left three ways and allowing Loeffler and Collins to advance to an all-GOP runoff.

Collins, meanwhile, hasn’t been on the receiving end of any negative ads yet, but that’s about to change. Politico reports that next week, the Club for Growth will start a five-week TV campaign targeting the congressman for a hefty $3 million.

IA-Sen: Businessman Eddie Mauro raised just $73,000 from donors during the fourth quarter of 2019, but the Democrat loaned himself an additional $1.5 million and ended December with $1.4 million in the bank. However, during that same quarter, Mauro repaid himself $850,000 that he'd previously loaned to his campaign. It's not clear why Mauro made this move.

The only other Democrat to release fundraising figures so far, real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, previously said she brought in $1.6 million in the final three months of last year and had $2.1 million on hand. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said she raised $1.7 million and had $4.9 million left.

House

FL-27: This week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed 2018 GOP nominee Maria Elvira Salazar's second bid for this Miami-area seat against freshman Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala. Salazar, who lost to Shalala 52-46 last cycle, doesn't face any serious opposition in the August GOP primary.

GA-09: State Rep. Kevin Tanner announced Thursday that he would seek the GOP nod to succeed Senate candidate Doug Collins in this safely red seat. Tanner was first elected to the legislature in 2012, and he serves as the chair of the influential Transportation Committee.

IN-05: Former state Sen. Mike Delph recently told Howey Politics that he would not seek the GOP nod for this open seat.

NY-15: This week, Assemblyman Michael Blake picked up endorsements in the June Democratic primary from SEIU 32BJ and 1199 SEIU, which represent building workers and healthcare workers, respectively. These groups make up two of the "big four" unions in New York City politics along with the Hotel Trades Council and the United Federation of Teachers. The Hotel Trades Council is supporting New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, while the UFT does not appear to have taken sides yet in the crowded primary contest to succeed retiring Rep. Jose Serrano in this safely blue seat in The Bronx.

Last month, Blake also received the backing of District Council 37, which represents municipal workers.

Popular Georgia minister jumps into U.S. Senate race with huge endorsement from Stacey Abrams

When former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams backs someone for office, that candidate is worth a look. That certainly is the case for the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once presided over the pulpit. Abrams announced Thursday she is endorsing Warnock in the race against incumbent U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and conservative Rep. Doug Collins, who also recently announced the launch of his campaign. Abrams pushed for supporters to donate to the pastor’s campaign on Twitter, and called Warnock a “true ally in our fight for justice.” “That’s why I'm proud to endorse him for U.S. Senate here in GA,” she said.

Warnock announced the launch of his campaign Thursday with a video describing an inherited work ethic that took him from a Savannah public housing project to leading the congregation of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. "I had 11 sisters and brothers. We were short on money but long on love and faith," Warnock said. "Our parents taught us the value of hard work." The son of a mother who picked cotton and a father who was a veteran, small-business owner, and preacher, Warnock said simply that he loves his country and has always envisioned a path “to make it greater.”

"Somebody asked why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate. Well, I've committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential," Warnock said in his campaign video. "I've always thought that my impact doesn't stop at the church door. That's actually where it starts." In his campaign announcement, the senior pastor advocated for families who can't afford to pay for treatment for their medical diagnosis, for workers who are underpaid and pushed aside for the likes of  Wall Street, and for struggling families in general. "Like my father used to tell me every morning: Whatever it is, be ready," Warnock said. "And I think Georgia is ready."

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