Highlights from The Downballot: Ben Wikler on how Democrats can win big in Wisconsin

This week on The Downballot, hosts David Nir and David Beard recapped recent elections, including a special election for a congressional seat in Texas and primaries in South Carolina that saw one pro-impeachment Republican go down in defeat. The pair also discussed an unusual Saturday special election in Alaska for the seat that had been held for decades by the late Republican Rep. Don Young.

Nir and Beard welcomed the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, as this week’s guest. Wikler shared more about what a state party like his does and the key races they're focusing on this November.

You can listen below or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!

Beard kicked off the program with the top headlines from Tuesday night.

Texas held a special election to fill the remaining term for Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who resigned earlier this year to take a job with a lobbying firm. Conservative activist Mayra Flores flipped this Rio Grande Valley-based district to the GOP, winning about 51% of the vote. There were four candidates on the ballot, but just one major Republican and one major Democrat. Flores won 51% of the vote, and the major Democratic candidate, former Cameron County commissioner Dan Sanchez won about 43% of the vote.

Beard noted that there wasn't a ton of investment in trying to hold this seat on the Democratic side and that Republicans noticed an opportunity and spent heavily on the race:

Republicans spent over a million dollars on this race. They really invested. Democrats only began airing TV ads in the final week. They didn't spend very much money. This district is changing a significant amount. Biden won the current district, which is still from the 2010 redistricting cycle, by a 52-48 margin, but Biden wins the new district that will go into effect this November by a 57-42 margin, so it's getting noticeably more Democratic.

“That being said, that's definitely a shift in the margin from 52-48 Biden to—if you combine the Democrats and the Republicans—about 53% voted Republican and 47% voted Democrat, so that's a noticeable shift. It's certainly in line with a more Republican-leaning year, which is what we've been seeing with the polling and with other information that's been coming in,” Beard added. “The other factor here that's certainly worth noting is that it was very, very low turnout, so that can also be a factor in why there was somewhat of a shift. So you don't want to take this and just say, ‘Oh, we saw this shift. It'll translate all the way to November in every way,’ but it's certainly a signal worth acknowledging that it is certainly a sign of a Republican-leaning environment right now.”

The hosts then recapped primaries in South Carolina, which some have framed as “Trump's revenge.” Trump did, in fact, exact revenge against a Republican congressman in the 7th district, Tom Rice, who was one of the ten GOP House members who voted for impeachment. Rice was soundly defeated by state Rep. Russell Fry, who beat him 51-25. “What was even more remarkable about this is there were five Republicans total challenging race so for Fry to get a majority of the vote was pretty unexpected. Even Fry claimed that his own polling showed the race going to a runoff,” Nir said.

The other South Carolina race that was really closely watched this week was in the 1st District, where Rep. Nancy Mace beat former state Rep. Katie Arrington 53-45, thus avoiding a runoff. Trump endorsed Arrington, as he was furious at a few of Mace’s critical comments of him after Jan. 6, even though she very quickly backed off.

On Saturday, Alaska held a special election for Alaska's at-large congressional seat, which has been vacant since GOP Rep. Don Young passed away earlier this year. Alaska has a fairly distinct electoral system: all of the candidates were on the ballot in this first round, and the top four candidates will advance to a second round on Aug. 16. That ballot will use ranked-choice voting to determine the winner. Ballots are still being counted, but the AP has declared three of the four candidates who will advance to the second round, the first being former Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a clear lead so far with about 30% of the vote.

Beard summarized the outcome so far:

Of course, Palin is a Republican, as is the so far second-place candidate, businessman Nick Begich, who has about 19% of the vote. And then independent Al Gross, who is also the former 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate but is running now as an Independent; he's also been called to advance. He has about 13% of the vote so far. And then, the fourth slot hasn't been called yet, but former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola is currently in that spot and will likely advance as well, unless late-breaking ballots are radically different than what's been counted so far.

Palin's strong first-round showing, getting over 30% of the vote, makes it likely that she will be one of the last two candidates standing when this ranked-choice voting takes place. The big question, Beard points out, is: Who is going to make it into that other slot where the fourth-place candidate and then the third-place candidate are eliminated?

While Palin has always been a polarizing figure, she has Donald Trump's endorsement, which makes it much more likely that Begich would pick up Independents and Democrats, if it is those two facing off against each other at the very end of the instant runoff tabulations.

At this point, Wikler joined the hosts to discuss the crucial work of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“Let's talk a little bit about what that rollercoaster ride has been like. I'm sure that some of our listeners are probably pretty plugged into their own state Democratic parties. But I'll bet that many folks aren't necessarily all that familiar with what their state parties do. And of course, the goal of any party organization is to get its candidates elected. But what exactly does the Wisconsin Democratic Party do to make that happen?” Nir asked.

The biggest part of the organization’s budget and its crown jewel, Wikler asserts, is its organization model, which allows it to reach voters in every corner of the state:

Our state party unusually uses the Obama campaign model, where our organizers actually build teams of volunteers that run door-to-door canvassing and phone banking operations in their own communities. And when you do that on a continuous basis, as we've done now since my predecessor, who launched these neighborhood teams in the spring of 2017, and we've built and built and built them; we now have hundreds across the state. When you do that continuously, you actually build momentum over time. So, every dollar you spend on organizing goes further, because you can have one organizer who's working with multiple teams to coach and support them and make sure they have the data they need.

A robust voter protection operation that is run on a year-round basis is now a mainstay of the organization’s work, as well. Wikler highlighted how the party has increasingly focused on voting rights over these last few years to make sure that local clerks aren't rolling back voting rights. The state Democratic Party also recruits and supports poll workers, poll observers, and lawyers who are able to help voters resolve issues. A voter protection hotline is also available for anyone in Wisconsin to call at 608-DEM-3232.

Last, but not least, the party’s data team helps make sure they’re figuring out where the voters they need to mobilize are and who they need to persuade.

Next, the trio delved into Wikler and his team’s plan to defeat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson this fall. As Wikler put it, “Ron Johnson is so, so appallingly extraordinarily bad”:

It’s not just that he says that COVID can be cured with mouthwash or says that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were patriots who love their country and love law enforcement—which is something he actually said. He said he would've been scared if it had been Black Lives Matter protestors, but he wasn't scared with the protestors that were actually there. It's not just all that stuff. It's that he's profoundly self-serving. His claim to fame as a senator is that he insisted on an extra tax break on top of Trump's giant tax scam that personally benefited him and his biggest donor massively. It's one of the most regressive tax cuts ever passed through the United States Congress that he insisted on putting in, and that he's been billing taxpayers to fly him back to Congress from his vacation home in Florida.

So we've been making this case against him, and so many independent and grassroots organizations have done the same thing. His approval rating is now 36%, which is stunning in a year that's supposed to be tough for Democrats and good for Republicans. The Political Report called him the most vulnerable incumbent from either party in the Senate in 2022. And meanwhile, on the Democratic side, there's a contested primary. There's a bunch of candidates who've made the ballot, but we won't know our nominee until Aug. 9. And so this is a perfect kind of case in point for why having a strong party matters, because we have to build the whole general election apparatus before Aug. 9. It's like building a spaceship right on the launchpad. And then once we have the nominee, they jump into the cockpit and they hit ignition.

“Can you tell us a little bit more about this spaceship that you're building on the launchpad for the eventual Democratic nominee for the Senate race?” Nir asked.

Wikler discussed the intersection of the digital, the data, the organizing, the voter protection, the communications—all the different elements. He also mentioned that, due to state party rules, the Wisconsin Democratic Party is bound and committed to remaining neutral in the primary. “So we're not putting our thumb on the scale, but all the candidates have told us that once we have a nominee, they will work with the infrastructure that we've put in place,” he added. “As opposed to doing what has often happened in different states around the country, which is: you get a Senate nominee, and they decide they want to reshuffle all the staff and reshape how the program works and all this kind of stuff.”

As far as goals from the point of view of the state party for the state legislative elections that are coming in November, and candidates to highlight for those races, Wikler had the following to say:

Republicans have managed to re-gerrymander the maps, at least for now, with some help, I should mention, from the U.S. Supreme Court, which unlike in other states, decided to reach down and strike down our state legislative maps for reasons that will puzzle constitutional scholars for decades. So we have really, really tough maps this cycle.

Republicans are explicitly trying to get supermajorities in both chambers yet again, and we are explicitly determinedly working to stop them. We have great Democratic leaders in both chambers that we're working closely with: Greta Neubauer in the Assembly, Janet Bewley in the state Senate. We have strong candidates across the state. ...

Then next year, just to squeeze this in, in April of 2023, we have a state Supreme Court race. There will not be a lot happening across the country in elections that spring, but that race will be for the majority in Wisconsin state Supreme Court. If we can sustain the governor's veto and if we have a non-hyper right wing majority in our state Supreme court, that sets us up to have a secure and fair and legitimate election in 2024, when Wisconsin will probably be the tipping point state yet again.

Lastly, Beard asked Wikler how listeners could help: “So how can our Wisconsinite listeners get in touch with the Democratic Party in their state and get more involved?”

Wikler replied:

Wherever you might be, you can support Democrats and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in fighting for victory for Gov. Evers and defeating Ron Johnson. I think Dems up and down the ballot, including defeating Derek van Orden, who's an insurrectionist currently on probation for trying to bring a gun on a plane. He's running for Congress in the third congressional district, which is an open seat. We need help across the board, and you can get involved. You can become a monthly donor. That is the single, my favorite thing you can do.

If you go to wisdems.org/monthly, you can sign up to give a few bucks a month; that helps us to hire and know that we'll be able to keep our staff on month over month, year over year, and that in turn allows us to do the kind of deep, long term organizing, building neighborhood teams … that help us win, especially in these tough elections like the spring state Supreme Court race next year. And finally, I'll give the link wisdems.org/volunteer. You can join our virtual phone banks. You can join our volunteer operation to turn out every possible Democratic voter. Races here are so close, so often.

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter: @DKElections.

Our all-time favorite loser prays the fifth time will be the charm on his endless quest for Congress

We have more primary action Tuesday as voters in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Carolina select their party’s nominees. Additionally, there will be an all-party primary in Texas’ 34th District to replace Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who resigned early to take a job at a lobbying firm. 

Below you'll find our guide to all of the top contests, arranged chronologically by each state’s poll closing times. When it’s available, we'll tell you about any reliable polling that exists for each race, but if we don't mention any numbers, it means no recent surveys have been made public.

And of course, because this is a redistricting year, every state on the docket has a brand-new congressional map. To help you follow along, you can find interactive maps from Dave's Redistricting App for Maine, Nevada, and South Carolina. (North Dakota retains its lone congressional district.) 

Listen and subscribe to Daily Kos Elections’ The Downballot podcast with David Nir and David Beard

Note that the presidential results we include after each district reflect how the 2020 race would have gone under the new lines in place for this fall—except in Texas’ 34th, which is being conducted using the existing boundaries. (The state held its regularly-scheduled primary for the new district earlier this year.) And if you'd like to know how much of the population in each new district comes from each old district, please check out our redistribution tables.

Our live coverage will begin at 7 PM ET at Daily Kos Elections when polls close in South Carolina. You can also follow us on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates, and you’ll want to bookmark our primary calendar, which includes the dates for primaries in all 50 states.

South Carolina

Polls close at 7 PM ET. A June 28 runoff will take place in any contest where no one takes a majority of the vote.

SC-01 (R) (54-45 Trump): Freshman Rep. Nancy Mace infuriated Donald Trump last year when she blamed him for the Jan. 6 attacks, and he responded by endorsing former state Rep. Katie Arrington's primary campaign in February. The winner will go up against pediatrician Annie Andrews, a well-funded Democrat who has no primary foes in a seat along the state's southern coast that Republican map makers made more conservative.

Mace, who has the support of former Gov. Nikki Haley, has pushed back against Arrington’s attempts to portray her as disloyal to the GOP by touting her own conservative values. She’s also reminded voters that Arrington denied renomination in 2018 to then-Rep. Mark Sanford, only to lose the general election to Democrat Joe Cunningham, arguing the challenger would jeopardize the seat again. (Mace herself unseated Cunningham, who is now running for governor, two years later.)

The incumbent has enjoyed a huge financial advantage, and a pro-Mace group released a late May poll showing her ahead 44-24. That survey still put Mace below the majority she’d need to avoid a runoff, which is a real possibility since a third candidate named Lynz Piper-Loomis remains on the ballot even though she dropped out weeks ago and endorsed Arrington. Trump, though, seems pessimistic about beating Mace, as Politico recently reported he’s avoided returning to the state out of fear that Arrington is about to lose.

SC-07 (R) (59-40 Trump): Rep. Tom Rice shocked political observers last year when he became one of the 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump, and he now faces six primary opponents in a northeastern South Carolina seat that changed little after redistricting.

Trump's endorsed candidate is state Rep. Russell Fry, whom Rice’s side has argued isn’t actually the conservative he presents himself as. The field also includes former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, Horry County Schools Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson, physician Garrett Barton, and pharmacist Spencer Morris, who have all attracted far less attention than Fry but could each take enough of the vote to force a runoff.

Maine

Polls close at 8 PM ET. While Maine will host competitive races for governor and the 2nd Congressional District this fall, there's little action in the primaries: Former Gov. Paul LePage has the GOP nod to take on Democratic incumbent Janet Mills sewn up, while former Rep. Bruce Poliquin is all but certain to face Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in a rematch of their 2018 race.

North Dakota

Polls close at 7 PM local time, which is 8 PM ET in the eastern part of the state and 9 PM ET in the western part of the state.

Texas

Polls close at 8 PM ET / 7 PM local time.

TX-34 (special all-party primary) (52-48 Biden): Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela resigned from this Rio Grande Valley constituency earlier this year to take a job at a lobbying firm, and two Democrats and two Republicans are competing to replace him in an all-party primary taking place under the old district lines. A runoff would be necessary if no one takes a majority of the vote, though a second round won't be scheduled unless it's actually needed. 

The Republican frontrunner is Mayra Flores, who is already the GOP nominee for the new version of the 34th District. (The redrawn 34th is significantly more Democratic at 57-42 Biden.) The Democrats have consolidated behind former Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez, who is not running for a full two-year term anywhere. The other two contenders, Republican Janie Cantu-Cabrera and Democrat Rene Coronado, have gained little notice.

While this battle won’t directly impact control of Congress, Republicans hope a victory will demonstrate that Trump’s 2020 gains in heavily Latino areas like this were no fluke. Flores could also benefit from a few months of incumbency going into her general election contest against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who represents the existing 15th District. Flores and her allies have spent over $1 million, while the first Democratic commercials came during the final week of the race when House Majority PAC began a $120,000 ad campaign tying Flores to the Jan. 6 rioters.

Nevada

Polls close at 10 PM ET /7 PM local time.

NV-Sen (R) (50-48 Biden): While Trump’s endorsed candidate, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, remains the undisputed frontrunner in the Republican primary to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the 2018 gubernatorial nominee has had to deal with an unexpectedly expensive primary against Army veteran Sam Brown.

Brown, who's framed himself as a political outsider, has faulted Laxalt for waiting too long to file litigation trying to overturn Biden's win in 2020. Laxalt’s allies at the Club for Growth appear to be taking this contest seriously, since the group has spent over $1 million to boost him. A poll for the nonpartisan Nevada Independent found Laxalt ahead 48-34 just ahead of the primary. 

NV-Gov (R) (50-48 Biden): Republicans have a crowded contest to take on Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, but Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo had long looked like the frontrunner even before Trump backed him in April. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a former conservative Democrat who defected to the GOP last year, has outspent Lombardo on the airwaves, but the sheriff’s allies have made up the gap by spending $3 million to promote him. The Democratic Governors Association, meanwhile, has invested about $2.5 million on ads aimed at stopping Lombardo from advancing, or at least hoping to weaken him for the general election.  

However, the Nevada Independent’s poll finds Lombardo well-positioned to win the nomination by defeating attorney Joey Gilbert, a former professional boxer who has bragged that he was "definitely on the Capitol steps" on Jan. 6, 34-21. Both Lee and former Sen. Dean Heller, who lost a very competitive re-election bid in 2018, were in third with 10% each, while venture capitalist Guy Nohra trailed further behind.

NV-01 (D & R) (53-45 Biden): Democrats in the legislature made this seat in the eastern Las Vegas area considerably more competitive in order to make the 3rd and 4th Districts bluer—enraging Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the process. The congresswoman, who represents just over half of the redrawn seat, now faces notable primary and general election opposition after a decade of easy wins.

Titus’ lone intra-party foe is progressive activist Amy Vilela, who ran in the 4th in 2018 and took third place in the primary with 9%. Vilela, who is arguing that the incumbent has done little to advance priorities like Medicare for All, has brought in a credible sum of campaign cash, while a group called Opportunity for All Action Fund has spent $240,000 to promote the incumbent. 

Eight Republicans are competing to take on the winner. The one with the most national name recognition is former 4th District Rep. Crescent Hardy, who won that seat in a 2014 upset before losing competitive races there in 2016 and 2018. Only about 4% of the new 1st’s denizens live in Hardy’s old constituency, though, and the former congressman has barely raised any money for his latest comeback attempt. The other notable contenders are conservative activist David Brog, Army veteran Mark Robertson, and former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano.

NV-02 (R) (54-43 Trump): Republican Rep. Mark Amodei is seeking renomination in a reliably red northern Nevada seat that changed little under the new map against a field of four challengers led by the one and only Danny Tarkanian. Tarkanian has lost bids for the Senate (2010) and the House (2012, 2016, and 2018), not to mention two campaigns for state office in the aughts plus an abortive run for the Senate and the state board of regents.

But Tarkanian, who was a longtime resident of the Las Vegas area well to the south, finally ended his legendary losing streak in 2020 by winning the job of county commissioner in his new rural home of Douglas County. Amodei, of course, is still portraying his opponent as an interloper. The incumbent’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the main super PAC of the House GOP leadership, have spent $240,000 on ads slagging Tarkanian as a perennial loser, while a group called the Police Officers Defense Alliance has invested $860,000 on pro-Amodei spots; the With Honor Fund has also come to the congressman’s aid with $260,000 in support.

Tarkanian, who has received little outside help of his own, is using his personal funds to largely finance his latest campaign. The challenger has gone after Amodei for showing some openness to impeaching Trump in 2019 and for blaming the GOP's master for the Jan. 6 attack, though the congressman never voted for impeachment in either situation.

NV-03 (R) (52-46 Biden): Democratic legislators sought to protect Rep. Susie Lee in this southern Las Vegas area seat by extending Biden’s margin of victory up from just 49.1-48.9, but her five Republican foes are betting she’s still vulnerable. The frontrunner is attorney April Becker, who narrowly failed to unseat state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro last cycle and has the support of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Becker has also far outspent her intra-party rivals, though Army veteran Noah Malgeri and self-funder John Kovacs each also deployed a notable amount.

NV-04 (R) (53-45 Biden): Three Republicans are campaigning to take on Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, whose constituency in the northern Las Vegas area became bluer under the new map. The only elected official of the trio is Assemblywoman Annie Black, who attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

Sam Peters, an Air Force veteran and businessman who took second place in the 2020 primary to face Horsford, is also trying again, and he’s touted support from two of the far-right's loudest members of Congress, Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar. The third contender is Chance Bonaventura, who works as an aide to another far-right politician, Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore (Fiore herself is campaigning for state treasurer), but has raised very little money.

NV-AG (R) (50-48 Biden): Democrat Aaron Ford made history in 2018 when he became the first Black person elected to statewide office in Nevada, and two Republicans are now campaigning to unseat the attorney general. For months, the only candidate was Sigal Chattah, an attorney who has sued to undermine the state's pandemic response measures and who has complained that the attorney general has done a poor job investigating (baseless, of course) voter fraud allegations.

February, though, saw the entrance of Tisha Black, who lost a 2018 race for Clark County Commission and who founded a cannabis industry trade group. Chattah has attacked Black for a donation she made to now-Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2015, a contribution Black has denied making despite the unambiguous evidence that she had. A Democratic group has run radio ads slamming Black over her donation while calling Chattah a "MAGA conservative." (Unlike similar efforts by Democrats elsewhere seeking to choose their opponents, these ads don't merely "attack" Chattah in a backhanded way but openly call for her election.)

NV-SoS (R) (50-48 Biden): Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who was the only Nevada Republican to prevail statewide during the 2018 Democratic wave, is termed out, and Republicans are likely to nominate an extremist in the race to succeed her. The GOP nominee will go up against former state Athletic Commission member Cisco Aguilar, who has no Democratic opposition. A recent GOP primary poll for the Nevada Independent showed a 21-21 deadlock between former Assemblyman Jim Marchant and developer Jesse Haw, with former Judge Richard Scotti far back at 8%.

Marchant, who was the 2020 nominee against Rep. Steven Horsford, is a QAnon ally who has said he would not have certified Joe Biden's 2020 victory; he's also attracted notoriety allying with conspiracist candidates in other states running to become chief election officials. Haw, who briefly served in the state Senate for a few months in 2016, hasn’t focused nearly as much on the Big Lie, but he’s very much alluded to it by saying that last election “had a lot of shenanigans and potential fraud.”

A lonely Republican: Tom Rice says he regrets voting against Biden certification

South Carolina Republican Rep. Tom Rice said publicly Thursday that he now regrets voting against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory this January, an important admission from a member of a party that has largely pledged unshakeable alliances with former President Donald Trump.

Rice made the admission to reporters at Politico. To be clear, the Republican legislator still maintains that he has reservations about the 2020 election outcome. He holds those reservations despite the fact that dozens upon dozens of courts found fraud claims to be baseless and despite the fact that Trump’s own former attorney general William Barr found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Trump’s remarks on the morning of Jan. 6 led to an insurrection at the Capitol. Multiple people died and hundreds of police officers were injured. Millions upon millions of dollars in damage were exacted.

On Wednesday, Rice said plainly that he “should have voted to certify because President Trump was responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

Rice holds the odd distinction of being one of only 10 Republicans that voted in favor of impeaching Trump for incitement of insurrection. But he is the only Republican who did that and also voted against certifying Biden’s victory.

“In the wee hours of that disgraceful night, while waiting for the Capitol of our great country to be secured, I knew I should vote to certify. But because I had made a public announcement of my intent to object, I did not want to go back on my word. So yeah, I regret my vote to object,” Rice said on Dec. 22

Around this time last year, Rice signed his name alongside a bevy of House Republicans who filed an amicus brief, or a supporting statement, in effect, to the Supreme Court expressing reservations about the integrity of the 2020 election. 

I joined @RepMikeJohnson and several other House members in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court expressing my concerns with election integrity. pic.twitter.com/vdZJwoRAdz

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) December 11, 2020

By Jan. 4, Rice posted to Twitter and Facebook again. This time, though the apprehension was still there, there was a lingering doubt expressed as well. 

 “The vote to certify electoral votes is momentous, perhaps the most so of my entire tenure. I do not plan to commit to a position until the evidence is weighed and the debate concluded. I take my job seriously, and will consider it carefully,” he said. 

But in that same message two days before the insurrection, Rice went on to tout claims of election improprieties in multiple states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

Friends, I have heard from many of you across the political spectrum regarding the upcoming vote to certify the vote of the electoral college in the presidential election. (1/8)

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 4, 2021

During the siege, Rice posted a video from the House floor, noting that “’protesters’” were trying to break in as the chaplain prayed. The footage was shot moments before the legislators were evacuated.

The riot raged into the late afternoon but by 3:30 PM, Rice was safely at home while D.C., he said, was in “chaos.” Rice called on Trump to act. 

To all my friends back home, I am fine. Capitol Police evacuated us from the Capitol Building. DC is in chaos. This will accomplish nothing. Where is the President!? He must ask people to disperse and restore calm now.

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 6, 2021

On Jan. 13, Rice voted to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection. 

I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable.https://t.co/SCWylYEER0

— Congressman Tom Rice (@RepTomRice) January 13, 2021

“I’ve excused his [Trump’s] foibles because I love his policy. But this last week, in my mind, is inexcusable. The fact that he gathered up the crowd and fired them up, and whether his speech or manner to incitement I don’t know, I’m not a criminal lawyer. But I know this, I know that once the people were inside the Capitol ransacking the place and trying to make their way to the Senate floor and House floor and Vice President Pence was in there in the Senate chamber, President Trump was tweeting that Vice President Pence didn’t have the courage to do what was right, and just further angering the crowd… The President offered only very tepid requests for restraint…” Rice said on Jan. 14 after impeaching Trump. “I think it was a complete failure of leadership… I wish that they hadn’t brought the impeachment vote, I want calm now.…but I’m not gonna hide behind procedure here. If my vote is yes or no on whether he should be President, I think the actions of last week disqualify him.”

Two weeks later on Jan. 31, Rice shared his Republican bonafides on Facebook. According to a post just after 6 AM that day, Rice emphasized how he stood with the Republicans of South Carolina and helped raise some $2 million for the national party. He added:

“I personally witnessed the insurrection in the Capitol on Jan. 6. I saw the rioters who were demanding to hang Vice President Pence. I heard the gunshots and smelled the tear gas. I was on Capitol Hill when the Capitol Police were overrun and Officer [Brian] Sicknick gave his life at the hands of the mob, to honor the oath he took to defend the Constitution,” Rice wrote. “I saw as we all did, the President’s lack of leadership in not stopping the mob, his callous actions saying Mike Pence had no courage and his comments in the middle of the riot that ‘These are the things that happen when victory is viciously stripped from these great patriots… remember this day forever.” 

Morning Digest: The next stop on our tour of 2020’s presidential results by district: South Carolina

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

Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 congressional districts nationwide makes its second stop in South Carolina, where Team Red enjoyed a stronger-than-expected year. You can find our complete data set here, which we're updating continuously as the precinct-level election returns we need for our calculations become available. You can also click here to learn more about why this data is so difficult to come by.

Campaign Action

While most Palmetto State polls showed Donald Trump running well behind his 55-41 2016 margin of victory, Trump ended up taking South Carolina by only a slightly smaller 55-43 last week. Trump once again carried six of the state's seven congressional districts, with Joe Biden winning House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's heavily Democratic 6th District.

The closest constituency, not surprisingly, was the 1st District along the coast, where Trump moved downward from 53-40 to only 52-46. This shift to the left, though, wasn't quite enough for freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham, who lost re-election 51-49 against Republican Nancy Mace.

Trump carried his other five seats by double digits. The closest was the 2nd District in the Augusta and Columbia suburbs, which supported him 56-39 in 2016 but by a smaller 55-44 in 2020. Democrats hoped before Election Day that veteran Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican who infamously screamed "You lie!" at Barack Obama during a congressional address in 2009, could be vulnerable there against well-funded Democrat Adair Ford Boroughs, but Wilson won by a comparable 56-43. The 6th District, meanwhile, moved from 67-30 Clinton to 67-32 Biden.

Georgia Runoffs

GA-Sen-A, GA-Sen-B: Though the Georgia runoffs are little more than a week old, Advertising Analytics reports that $45 million has already been spent on the airwaves in both races, with $31 million coming from the campaigns themselves.

Republicans so far make up most of that spending: David Perdue has shelled out $19 million and Kelly Loeffler $6 million, while Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have spent $4 million and $2 million, respectively. Meanwhile, two super PACs aligned with Mitch McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund and American Crossroads, are each reportedly putting in $4.5 million.

Loeffler, unsurprisingly, is using her airtime to launch attacks against Warnock, who largely avoided getting targeted with negative ads during the first round of voting since Loeffler was pre-occupied with staving off fellow Republican Doug Collins. Now she's amping the usual GOP playbook to 11.

The first of her two new spots starts with a shot of young school kids (all but one of whom are white) with hands on hearts, presumably reciting the pledge of allegiance. A scary-sounding narrator declares, "This is America—but will it still be if the radical left controls the Senate?"

It gets predictably worse from there. Among other things, the ad claims Warnock "hosted a rally for communist dictator Fidel Castro" while showing some grainy footage from 1995. Warnock doesn't appear in the clip, though: His campaign says he was only a junior member of the staff at the church where Castro spoke and wasn't involved in the decision to invite the late Cuban leader.

The second ad resurfaces Jeremiah Wright, the former Chicago pastor whose incendiary sermons attracted great scrutiny during Barack Obama's first presidential campaign in 2008. It features footage of Wright angrily orating from the pulpit, interspersed with clips of Warnock defending Wright. The spot concludes with the narrator spitting, "Raphael Warnock: a radical's radical."

Warnock was one of several Black clergyman who spoke out on Wright's behalf at the time, saying his most inflammatory remarks had been divorced from the full context of the sermons from which they were drawn. Earlier this year, he stood by his past statements, saying, "Any fair-thinking person would recognize that everything a government does, even the American government, is not consistent with God's dream for the world."

Uncalled Races

Quite a few contests remain uncalled, but we’re tracking all of them on our continually updated cheat-sheet, and of course we’ll cover each of them in the Digest once they’re resolved.

IA-02: Democrat Rita Hart announced Thursday that she'd seek a recount in this open seat contest; Hart trailed Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by 47 votes as of Thursday afternoon. Miller-Meeks, for her part, has declared victory while refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden's win.

NJ-07: While the Associated Press called this contest for freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski just after Election Day, the race has dramatically tightened over the following week and plenty more ballots remain to be counted.

Malinowski went from holding a 28,400 vote lead over Republican Tom Kean Jr. on Nov. 4 to an edge of 6,275 as of Thursday afternoon. The New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein projects that there are close to 38,800 ballots left to count at the very minimum, and "that number could be as high as around 60,000." The AP, though, has not retracted its call.

Called Races

IL-14: On Thursday, the Associated Press called the race for this seat in Chicago's western exurbs for freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. The congresswoman's victory also means that Republican Jim Oberweis has yet another high-profile defeat in his ledger.  

NY-11: Republican Nicole Malliotakis reclaimed this Staten Island-based seat for her party, and freshman Democratic Rep. Max Rose conceded on Thursday.

CA Ballot: The Associated Press has called a victory for Proposition 19, known as the Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions, and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and Counties Amendment. CBS San Francisco describes Prop. 19, which passed 51-49, as a measure that "gives exemptions to older homeowners, the disabled and wildfire victims and strips breaks from people who inherit homes but don't live in them."

Maricopa County, AZ Recorder: Republican Stephen Richer reclaimed this post for his party by unseating Democratic incumbent Adrian Fontes 50.1-49.9, and Fontes conceded on Thursday. The recorder is tasked with administering elections in Maricopa County, which is home to more than 60% of the state's population and whose 4.5 million residents make it the fourth-largest county nationally. However, Republican county Board of Supervisors members took control of key powers from Fontes' office following his 2016 victory.

NC Auditor: The AP has called this race for Democratic incumbent Beth Wood, who turned back Republican Anthony Street 51-49.

Gubernatorial

AR-Gov: Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is termed-out in 2022, and the GOP primary to succeed him has been underway for well over a year now. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who previously represented central Arkansas in the U.S. House from 2011 to 2015, announced that he was running all the way back in August of 2019. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose 2014 victory made her the first woman and the first Republican to ever hold this post, also entered the contest in July of this year.

There may also be more takers for Team Red before too long. The potential candidate who has generated the most chatter for years is former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee: When Sanders was asked about her interest in this post in a September appearance on "Good Morning America," she only replied, "We'll see."

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren was more direct this month, and he acknowledged he was considering a gubernatorial bid on election night. Political columnist Steve Brawner recently wrote that Hendren could be a hard sell for GOP primary voters, though, saying he "made the career-killing mistake of trying to craft workable bipartisan solutions to challenging problems."

AZ-Gov: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is ineligible to run for a third term in 2022, and this swing state is very likely to be a major battleground. One Democrat who has gotten plenty of attention as a possible candidate is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, and she expressed interest in running at the end of 2019. Hobbs also predicted at the time she'd decide "probably in early '21."

On the Republican side, the Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts wrote last month that state Treasurer Kimberly Yee seemed to be positioning herself for a bid. Yee, Roberts noted, appeared in commercials this year opposing Proposition 208, a ballot measure to create a new tax on high earners to fund schools.

Prop. 208 ultimately passed 52-48, but Yee's campaign against it may have boosted her name recognition. Indeed, Roberts notes that then-state Treasurer Doug Ducey himself increased his profile in 2012 by chairing the successful campaign against a referendum to fund education, a campaign that took place two years before Ducey was elected governor. Republican politicos also speculated last month that Ducey was behind Yee's anti-Prop. 208 campaign, with one consultant saying, "It's Ducey's attempt to anoint somebody in the next cycle because we know he's not happy with other elected officials in this state."

Roberts added that the Republican that Ducey seems to want to block is state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whom she says is "expected to make a run" for governor in 2022. Brnovich, who will be termed-out of his current post that year, has repeatedly clashed with Ducey; in September, Brnovich notably challenged Ducey's order closing bars in order to stop the spread of the pandemic.  

MN-Gov: Republicans have struggled statewide in recent years in Minnesota, which Joe Biden took 52-45 last week, but they're hoping that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz will be vulnerable in two years. Retiring state Sen. Scott Jensen recently told the Star Tribune's Patrick Condon that he was thinking about running, and Condon adds that state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is "seen as a likely candidate."

A few other Republicans aren't closing the door. Rep. Pete Stauber responded to speculation by saying he was flattered but focused on his current job, which is not a no. State Sen. Carla Nelson, who lost the 2018 GOP primary for Congress to now-Rep. Jim Hagedorn, also said when asked if she was interested in running for a statewide post, "I never closed any doors." Last week, Minnesota Morning Take also relayed, "Other names from solid sources on the 2022 Republican short list for Governor" include state Rep. Barb Haley and NBC sportscaster Michele Tafoya as possibilities, though there's no word if either are actually thinking about it.

Finally, it seems we're in for another cycle of trying to decipher My Pillow founder Mike Lindell's political intentions. A reporter tweeted last month that Lindell had told the crowd at a Trump event that he'd run, but KTTC quoted him at the time as saying, "Absolutely, if the president wins I'm gonna run." (Emphasis ours.)

Later on Nov. 4, Lindell told the Minnesota Reformer he had planned to run if Trump carried Minnesota, something that the far-right pillow salesman acknowledged at the time didn't end up happening. Lindell added, "But now I've gotta debate and I've gotta pray about it and see what happens with the presidential election. (They) might need me now more than ever." Days later, Lindell baselessly accused Joe Biden of only winning Minnesota through fraud.

NE-Gov: There will be a wide-open race to succeed GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts in 2022, and there are plenty of Republicans who could campaign in this very red state. The only one we've heard publicly express interest so far is state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who acknowledged he was considering in November of last year.

On the Democratic side, 2018 nominee Bob Krist announced in April of 2019 that he was running again, a move that came months after he lost to Ricketts 59-41. Krist went on to endorse Republican Rep. Don Bacon in his successful re-election campaign this year.

PA-Gov: While there are plenty of Democrats who could run to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey said this week that he'd stay out of the 2022 contest.

SC-Gov: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster's campaign chief said in May of 2019 that the incumbent would seek a second full term in 2022. McMaster was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor in 2017 when Nikki Haley resigned to become Donald Trump's first ambassador to the United Nations, and he was elected in his own right the following year.

He’s a monster. He’s their monster. But suddenly Senate Republicans have never heard of him

Donald who, now? Oh yeah—that crazy loon. Cut him from my ad rotation months ago.

That's what nearly every Senate Republican in a dogfight for their seat could say right now when it comes to Donald Trump, the president they all coddled and refused to criticize and even acquitted of impeachment charges without hearing from a single witness.

Let’s give Senate Republicans the heave-ho! They sold out the American people—give $2 right now to take back the Senate.

In seven states where incumbent GOP senators are either trailing their Democratic opponent or running neck and neck, the Republican senator has failed to give Trump so much as a mention in any single TV ad over the past week, according to The New York Times. That's 48 ads across Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and zero Trump mentions.

It's almost like they're embarrassed or something about the guy to whom they handed their spines after they had them surgically removed. And whether they say it or not, almost all of them are trying to overcome the deficit of voting to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without any viable path to maintaining preexisting conditions coverage. Here's a brief look at what these Senate Republicans are throwing at voters in hopes of Trump mercifully fading from memory. Ha! As if—we could all do with a few less ALL CAPS tweets. Oh, and much of what these GOP senators are selling are bold-faced lies.

Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona: The ad her campaign has run most consistently claims she has “always supported protecting anyone with a pre-existing condition, and I always will.” Lie. As the Times points out, "The only national law that protects people with pre-existing conditions is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Ms. McSally voted to repeal it." Lie away, McSally—the jig is likely up for you.

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana: Daines is almost identically claiming that he has “always fought to protect Montanans with pre-existing conditions, and I always will.” Lie. Daines also voted to repeal the ACA without providing any alternative plan to protect people with preexisting conditions. Yet he says Gov. Steve Bullock is unfairly attacking that vote. Truly, these people have no conscience whatsoever—first voting to strip the protections, then flat-out lying about it after the fact. For that very reason, Bullock does have a chance of unseating Daines if Democrats have a big night on Election Day.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina: Tillis is hoping a texting scandal that has beset his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham can salvage his ailing bid for reelection. He has leaned most heavily on an ad that edits together press reports concerning Cunningham's flirtatious texts with a woman who isn't his wife. The best that can be said for Tillis, who was getting trounced due to his wanting record on the pandemic, is that he didn't lie through his teeth about his record like Daines and McSally. Cunningham, however, has maintained his lead in recent polling.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: Gardner also hopes to capitalize on a misstep by his Democratic opponent John Hickenlooper, who skirted ethics laws by his use of a private jet and some other perks. Gardner personally recounts those reports in an ad that closes with, “You and I may not always agree, but you know I honestly work hard for Colorado.” Except for his votes to repeal the ACA, cut taxes for the wealthy and giant corporations, and clear Trump after he tried to steal the election with help from a foreign government. The polls still heavily favor Hickenlooper, the former governor of the state.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: Graham, who is getting absolutely crushed in fundraising, is slamming his Democratic opponent Jamie Harrison for being "too liberal" in ads heavily studded with appearances by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But it’s telling that Graham, who has become Trump’s chief bootlicker, isn’t playing up the alliance he very actively cultivated with Trump. Polls have shown Harrison in striking distance of unseating Graham in what has traditionally been a very conservative state.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa: Ernst is featuring an ad in which a supposedly former Democrat rants about "the radical left," says he wants "nothing to do with [Democrats] anymore," and claims Democrat Theresa Greenfield is a pawn of the left. Ernst is also trying to paper over her vote to repeal the ACA and kill preexisting conditions coverage with an ad in which Ernst's sister, who has diabetes, talks up Ernst's loyal support for her. The race has been tight, but Greenfield appears to have built a several-point edge

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine: Collins is leveraging the reputation of a retired TV personality, Bill Green, to account for her record of consistently enabling Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the state. Green calls attacks against Collins a "ridiculous smear campaign" and then encourages voters to split their ticket. “No matter who you are voting for for president, Susan Collins has never been more important to Maine," says Green, who recently hung up the reins after a 47-year career as a broadcast journalist in the state. Democrat Sara Gideon has been maintaining a several-point edge in the state and appears poised to capitalize on Trump's unpopularity there.

Morning Digest: How a brazen campaign finance scandal led to this Florida Republican’s downfall

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.

Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming held their primaries on Tuesday. You can find current results at the links for each state; we’ll have a comprehensive rundown in our next Digest.

Leading Off

FL-15: Republican primary voters in Florida’s 15th Congressional District on Tuesday denied renomination to freshman Rep. Ross Spano, who has been under investigation by the Justice Department since last year due to a campaign finance scandal, and instead gave the GOP nod to Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin.

With all votes apparently counted, Franklin defeated Spano 51-49. Franklin’s next opponent will  be former local TV news anchor Alan Cohn, who beat state Rep. Adam Hattersley 41-33 for the Democratic nomination.

Campaign Action

This central Florida seat, which includes the mid-sized city of Lakeland and the exurbs of Tampa and Orlando, moved from 52-47 Romney to 53-43 Trump, and Franklin is favored to keep it in Republican hands. Still, the general election could be worth watching: In 2018, before news of Spano’s campaign finance scandal broke, he won by a modest 53-47 margin.

Spano’s defeat ends a short, but unfortunately for him quite eventful, congressional career. Spano, who was elected to the state House in 2012, had been waging a campaign for state attorney general in 2018 until Republican Rep. Dennis Ross surprised everyone by announcing his retirement. Spano switched over to the contest to succeed Ross, which looked like an easier lift, but he nonetheless faced serious intra-party opposition from former state Rep. Neil Combee.

Spano beat Combee 44-34 and went on to prevail in the general election, but he found himself in trouble before he was even sworn into Congress. That December, Spano admitted 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 anyone who loans money to a congressional candidate with the intent of helping their campaign still has to adhere to the same laws that limit direct contributions, which in 2018 capped donations at just $2,700 per person.

The House Ethics Committee initially took up the matter but announced in late 2019 that the Justice Department was investigating Spano. The congressman variously argued that he'd misunderstood the law governing campaign loans but also insisted his campaign had disclosed the loan "before it became public knowledge" in the financial disclosure forms all federal candidates are obligated to file.

That latter claim, however, was 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.

Despite his scandal, most of the party establishment, including Sen. Marco Rubio and most of the neighboring Republican congressmen, stood by Spano. However, he had trouble bringing in more money, and Franklin used his personal wealth to decisively outspend the incumbent. The anti-tax Club for Growth dumped $575,000 into advertising attacking Franklin, but it wasn’t enough to save Spano from defeat on Tuesday.

P.S. Spano is the fifth House Republican to lose renomination this cycle, compared to three Democrats. The good news for the rest of the GOP caucus, though, is that none of them can lose their primaries … because the remaining states don’t have any Republican members. (Louisiana does host its all-party primaries in November, but none of the state’s House members are in any danger.)

Senate

AL-Sen: In what appears to be the first major outside spending here on the Democratic side, Duty and Honor has deployed $500,000 on an ad buy praising Sen. Doug Jones. The commercial extols the incumbent for working across party lines to protect Alabamians during the pandemic and "fighting to expand Medicaid to cover Alabama families who need it." The conservative organization One Nation, meanwhile, is running a spot hitting Jones for supporting abortion rights.

GA-Sen-A: The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC is running an ad going after a Georgia Republican senator's stock transactions … just not the senator you might expect. The commercial begins, "Jan. 24, the U.S. Senate gets a private briefing on the coronavirus. Georgia Sen. David Perdue gets busy." The narrator continues, "That same day, he buys stock in a company that sells masks and gloves. Then sells casino stocks and winds up buying and dumping up to $14.1 million dollars in stock."

Perdue, like homestate colleague Kelly Loeffler, has argued that these trades were made by advisers who acted independently. Perdue has also said that he was not part of that Jan. 24 briefing.

Meanwhile, SMP's affiliated nonprofit, Duty and Honor, is airing a spot that uses Perdue's own words to attack his handling of the pandemic. "Very, very few people have been exposed to it," the audience hears Perdue say, "The risk of this virus still remains low." The narrator continues, "No wonder Perdue voted against funding for more masks, gloves, and ventilators. And voted to cut funding at the CDC to combat pandemics."

GA-Sen-B: Georgia United Victory, which supports Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, is airing another commercial attacking Republican Rep. Doug Collins, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that its total buy now stands at $6 million.

As pigs fill the screen, a truly bored-sounding narrator begins, "Another talking pig commercial? Good grief. We all know pigs are wasteful." She goes on to ask, "Is that the best comparison to Doug Collins? Oh sure. Collins loves pork for things like wine tasting and the opera." She goes on to say the congressman is too close to lobbyists and concludes, "He's laid quite a few eggs. Ever seen a pig lay an egg? Didn't think so." We really don't understand why this spot decided to go into the details of pig reproduction for no apparent reason, but ok.

IA-Sen, NC-Sen: Politico reports that Everytown for Gun Safety is launching an ad campaign this week against two Republican senators: The group will spend $2.2 million against Iowa's Joni Ernst (here and here), and $3.2 million opposing North Carolina's Thom Tillis (here and here).

Both ads argue the incumbents are too close to special interests, including the "gun lobby" and the insurance industry. The Iowa commercials also reference Ernst's infamous 2014 "make 'em squeal" spot by arguing, "She said she'd go to Washington and make them squeal. Joni Ernst broke that promise to Iowa and made the special interests her top priority." The narrator concludes that Ernst has actually left Iowans to squeal.

MA-Sen: Priorities for Progress, a group that the Boston Globe says is affiliated with the pro-charter school and anti-teachers union organization Democrats for Education Reform, has released a SurveyUSA poll that shows Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey narrowly leading Rep. Joe Kennedy 44-42 in the Democratic primary. Neither group appears to have taken sides in the Sept. 1 contest.

This is the third poll we've seen in the last month, and the others have also shown Markey in the lead. However, while the Republican firm JMC Analytics gave the incumbent a similar 44-41 edge in an early August crowdfunded survey, a YouGov poll for UMass Amherst and WCVB had Markey ahead 51-36 last week.

MI-Sen: Republican John James has publicized a poll from the Tarrance Group that shows him trailing Democratic Sen. Gary Peters "just" 49-44; the survey, like most Republican polls this cycle, did not include presidential numbers.

There isn't any ambiguity about why James' team is releasing this survey, though. The memo noted that, while the Democratic group Duty and Honor has been airing commercials for Peters, there has been "no corresponding conservative ally on the air against Gary Peters," and it goes on to claim the Republican can win "[w]ith the proper resources." Indeed, as Politico recently reported, major Republican outside groups have largely bypassed this contest, and neither the NRSC or Senate Leadership Fund currently has any money reserved for the final three months of the campaign.

James is getting some air support soon, though. Roll Call reports that One Nation, a nonprofit affiliated with SLF, will launch a $4.5 million TV and radio ad campaign against Peters on Wednesday.

NC-Sen: While most Republican downballot candidates have largely avoided tying their Democratic opponents to Joe Biden, Sen. Thom Tillis tries linking Democrat Cal Cunningham to Biden in a new spot.

Polls: The progressive group MoveOn has unveiled a trio of new Senate polls from Public Policy Polling:

  • GA-Sen-A: Jon Ossoff (D): 44, David Perdue (R-inc): 44 (June: 45-44 Ossoff)
  • IA-Sen: Theresa Greenfield (D): 48, Joni Ernst (R-inc): 45 (June: 45-43 Greenfield)
  • ME-Sen: Sara Gideon (D): 49, Susan Collins (R-inc): 44 (July: 47-42 Gideon)

The releases did not include presidential numbers.

House

OH-01: Democrat Kate Schroder is running a TV commercial about the truly strange scandal that engulfed Republican Rep. Steve Chabot's campaign last year. The narrator accuses the incumbent of lying about Schroder to draw attention away from his own problems, declaring, "Chabot is facing a grand jury investigation for $123,000 in missing campaign money."

The ad continues, "After getting caught, Chabot blamed others. And his campaign manager went missing." The narrator concludes, "We may never learn the truth about Shady Chabot's missing money, but we do know that 24 years is enough. (Chabot was elected to represent the Cincinnati area in Congress in 1994, lost a previous version of this seat in 2008, and won it back two years later.)

As we've written before, Chabot's campaign was thrown into turmoil last summer when the FEC sent a letter asking why the congressman's first-quarter fundraising report was belatedly amended to show $124,000 in receipts that hadn't previously been accounted for. From there, a bizarre series of events unfolded.

First, Chabot's longtime consultant, Jamie Schwartz, allegedly disappeared after he shuttered his firm, called the Fountain Square Group. Then Schwartz's father, Jim Schwartz, told reporters that despite appearing as Chabot's treasurer on his FEC filings for many years, he had in fact never served in that capacity. Chabot's team was certainly bewildered, because it issued a statement saying, "As far as the campaign was aware, James Schwartz, Sr. has been the treasurer since 2011." Evidently there's a whole lot the campaign wasn't aware of.

The elder Schwartz also claimed of his son, "I couldn't tell you where he's at" because "he's doing a lot of running around right now." Well, apparently, he'd run right into the arms of the feds. In December, local news station Fox19 reported that Jamie Schwartz had turned himself in to the U.S. Attorney's office, which, Fox19 said, has been investigating the matter "for a while."

Adding to the weirdness, it turned out that Chabot had paid Schwartz's now-defunct consultancy $57,000 in July and August of 2019 for "unknown" purposes. Yes, that's literally the word Chabot's third-quarter FEC report used to describe payments to the Fountain Square Group no fewer than five times. (Remember how we were saying the campaign seems to miss quite a bit?)

We still don't know what those payments were for, or what the deal was with the original $124,000 in mystery money that triggered this whole saga. Chabot himself has refused to offer any details, insisting only that he's been the victim of an unspecified "financial crime."

There haven't been any public developments since December, though. The Cincinnati Inquirer's Jason Williams contacted Schwartz's attorney last week to ask if Schwartz had been informed of any updates, and the reporter was only told, "No, not yet." Unless something big changes in the next few months, though, expect Democrats to keep pounding Chabot over this story.

OK-05: State Sen. Stephanie Bice is going up with a negative commercial against businesswoman Terry Neese just ahead of next week's Republican primary runoff. The winner will face Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn in what will be a competitive contest for this Oklahoma City seat.

Bice accuses Neese of running "the same fake news smears she always sinks to." Bice continues by alluding to Neese's unsuccessful 1990 and 1994 campaigns for lieutenant governor by declaring that in her 30 years of running for office Neese has been "mastering the art of dirty politics but never beating a single Democrat." (Neese badly lost the general election in 1990 but fell short in the primary runoff four years later, so she's only had one opportunity up until now to beat a Democrat.) Bice then sums up Neese by saying, "Appointed by Clinton. Terrible on gun rights. Neese won't take on the Squad, because she can't beat Kendra Horn."

Neese outpaced Bice 36-25 in the first round of voting back in late June, and Neese' allies have a big financial advantage going into the runoff. While Bice did outspend Neese $290,000 to $210,000 from July 1 to Aug. 5 (the time the FEC designates as the pre-runoff period), the Club for Growth has deployed $535,000 on anti-Bice ads this month. So far, no major outside groups have spent to aid Bice.

SC-01: The NRCC has started airing its first independent expenditure ad of the November general election, a spot that seeks to attack freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham on the issue that powered his upset victory in 2018: offshore drilling. The ad tries to question Cunningham's commitment to opposing such drilling in a move straight from Karl Rove’s dusty playbook, but given how closely his image is tied to the cause—he defeated his Republican opponent two years ago, Katie Arrington, in large part because of her support for offshore oil extraction—it's a tough sell.

And while Nancy Mace, his Republican challenger this year, might welcome the committee's involvement, the move doesn't come from a position of strength. In fact, the NRCC's own ad seems to acknowledge this at the outset, with a narrator saying, "Your TV is full of Joe Cunningham" as three images from prior Cunningham spots pop up on the screen. It's not wrong: The congressman has been advertising on television since the first week in July, and he recently released his fifth ad.

Cunningham's been able to blanket the airwaves because of the huge financial advantage he's locked in. Mace raised a prodigious $733,000 in the second quarter of the year, but Cunningham managed to beat even that take with an $845,000 haul of his own. It's the campaigns' respective bank accounts that differ dramatically, though: Cunningham had $3.1 million in cash-on-hand as of June 30 while Mace, after a costly primary, had just $743,000.

As a result, she hasn't gone on the air yet herself, which explains why the NRCC has moved in early to fill in the gap. Interestingly, the committee didn't bother to mention that this is its first independent expenditure foray of the 2020 elections in its own press release, whereas the DCCC loudly trumpeted the opening of its own independent expenditure campaign in New York's 24th Congressional District a month ago.

TX-21: Both Democrat Wendy Davis and the far-right Club for Growth are running their first commercials here.

Davis talks about her life story, telling the audience, "[M]y parents divorced when I was 13. I got a job at 14 to help mom. And at 19, I became a mom." Davis continues by describing her experience living in a trailer park and working two jobs before community college led her to Texas Christian University and Harvard Law. She then says, "As a state senator, I put Texas over party because everyone deserves a fair shot."

The Club, which backs Republican Rep. Chip Roy, meanwhile tells the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek that it is spending $482,000 on its first ad against Davis. The group has $2.5 million reserved here to aid Roy, who ended June badly trailing the Democrat in cash-on-hand, and it says it will throw down more.

The Club's spot declares that Davis is a career politician who got "busted for using campaign funds for personal expenses," including an apartment in Austin. However, while the narrator makes it sound like Davis was caught breaking the rules, Svitek writes, "Members are allowed to use donors' dollars to pay for such accommodations—and it is not uncommon."

This topic also came up during Davis' 2014 campaign for governor. The campaign said at the time that legislative staffers also stayed at the apartment, and that Davis followed all the state's disclosure laws.

Polls:

  • AZ-06: GQR (D) for Hiral Tipirneni: Hiral Tipirneni (D): 48, David Schweikert (R-inc): 45 (50-48 Biden)
  • MT-AL: WPA Intelligence (R) for Club for Growth (pro-Rosendale): Matt Rosendale (R): 51, Kathleen Williams (D): 45
  • NJ-02: RMG Research for U.S. Term Limits: Jeff Van Drew (R-inc): 42, Amy Kennedy (D): 39
  • NY-01: Global Strategy Group (D) for Nancy Goroff: Lee Zeldin (R-inc): 47, Nancy Goroff (D): 42 (46-42 Trump)
  • WA-03: RMG Research for U.S. Term Limits: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-inc): 44, Carolyn Long (D): 40

The only other numbers we've seen from Arizona's 6th District was an early August poll from the DCCC that had Republican Rep. David Schweikert up 46-44 but found Joe Biden ahead 48-44 in this Scottsdale and North Phoenix constituency; Donald Trump carried this seat 52-42 four years ago, but like many other well-educated suburban districts, it's been moving to the left in recent years.

The Club for Growth's new Montana survey comes a few weeks after two Democratic pollsters found a closer race: In mid-July, Public Policy Polling's survey for election enthusiasts on Twitter showed a 44-44 tie, while a Civiqs poll for Daily Kos had Republican Matt Rosendale ahead 49-47 a few days later. PPP and Civiqs found Donald Trump ahead 51-42 and 49-45, respectively, while the Club once again did not include presidential numbers.

U.S. Term Limits has been releasing House polls at a rapid pace over the last few weeks, and once again, they argue that Democrats would easily win if they would just highlight the Republican incumbents' opposition to term limits; as far as we know, no Democratic candidates have tested this theory out yet. These surveys also did not include presidential numbers.

The only other poll we've seen out of New York's 1st District on eastern Long Island was a July PPP internal for Democrat Nancy Goroff's allies at 314 Action Fund. That survey gave Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin a 47-40 lead, which is slightly larger than what her poll finds now, though it showed the presidential race tied 47-47. This seat has long been swing territory, though it backed Trump by a 55-42 margin in 2016.

Mayoral

Honolulu, HI Mayor: Former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who finished a close third in the Aug. 8 nonpartisan primary, announced Monday that she was endorsing independent Rick Blangiardi over fellow Democrat Keith Amemiya. Blangiardi took 26% in the first round of voting, while Amemiya beat Hanabusa 20-18 for second.

ELECTION CHANGES

Minnesota: Republicans have dropped their challenge to an agreement between Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon and voting rights advocates under which Minnesota will waive its requirement that mail voters have their ballots witnessed and will also require that officials count any ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within a week.

In dismissing their own claims, Republicans said they would "waive the right to challenge [the agreement] in any other judicial forum." That likely moots a separate federal case in which Republicans were challenging a similar agreement that a judge had refused to sign off on.

North Dakota: An organization representing county election officials in North Dakota says that local administrators are moving forward with plans to conduct the November general election in-person, rather than once again moving to an all-mail format, as they did for the state's June primary.

South Carolina: Republican Harvey Peeler, the president of South Carolina's state Senate, has called his chamber in for a special session so that lawmakers can consider measures to expand mail voting. Legislators passed a bill waiving the state's excuse requirement to vote absentee ahead of South Carolina's June primary, and Peeler says, "I am hopeful we can do it again."

However, Republican House Speaker Jay Lucas is refusing to convene a special session for his members, who are not due to return to the capitol until Sept. 15. That would give the state significantly less time to prepare for a likely influx of absentee ballot requests should the legislature once again relax the excuse requirement.

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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. 

Trump is doing everything possible to make safe red-state Senate seats competitive

Senate Democrats are looking like winners in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina. Their leads are so large at this point that it’s hard to see, absent scandal, how they won’t win. Democrats are also looking good in the next tier of races, tied or leading in Iowa, both Georgia seats, and Montana. Kansas and Texas are in the third tier, which is lean or likely Republican, but within the realm of possibility. 

And then there are the fourth-tier races—those that are “likely or safe Republican.” While some early polling looks encouraging, it would be really tough for Democrats to pick up absent a massive Democratic wave. And here, I’m mostly talking about challenges in Kentucky and South Carolina, and our incumbent senator in Alabama. And yet, Trump’s national polling collapse threatens Republican holds on these seats even if they remain safely red in the presidential race. 

Alabama has been considered a lost cause almost from the moment that Democratic incumbent Doug Jones won the seat in a 2017 special election 50-48.3—a margin of just 22,000 votes—against a child predator, someone who even admitted approaching teenage girls while he was in his 30s. It has seemed inconceivable that Democrats would ever hold that seat during a presidential year in a state that gave Trump a 61-34 victory in 2016. 

And certainly Civiqs’ daily tracker of Trump’s job approvals in Alabama shows his job approval rating hovering in the 60-40 range for the last three years. But look what suddenly happened: 

That’s a fall from +20 net approvals during impeachment to single digits +9 today, or a net 11-point drop. That outpaces the drops we’ve seen nationally (around a net 5-point drop). 

The drop is even bigger in Kentucky, the third most pro-Trump state after Wyoming and West Virginia. 

That’s a drop from his high-water mark of around +25 net approvals (60-35) to +13 today (54-41), or a net 12-point drop.

The last of these three tough fourth-tier Senate states is South Carolina:

The drop here is actually in line with national results: a 5-point drop from +8 net approvals to +3 (50-47). 

Now, Trump will win all three of these states. And he’ll win them all easily. That’s not the point here. 

The point is that for Democrats to have any chance, they’ll need ticket splitters or voters who don’t fill the ballot past the presidential contest. The stronger the pro-Trump vote is, the tougher that task becomes.

In 2008, incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is the current Republican leader in the Senate, won his election race 53-47. That same year, on the same ballot, John McCain defeated Barack Obama 57-41. McConnell ran 10 points behind the top of the ticket. 

So yeah, if Trump wins Kentucky along the same lines as his 63-33 victory in 2016, then the Democrats won’t defeat McConnell, period. But as we’ve seen in recent polling, Trump’s share of the Biden versus Trump vote is closely correlated to his personal ratings. If Trump’s popularity continues to falter in the state (and the pandemic and job losses aren’t going anywhere any time soon), that presidential race could tighten, and that hill Democrats must climb gets easier and easier. Same goes for Alabama, South Carolina, and pretty much every single other state. 

Can Democrats win these three states? If the election were today, they wouldn’t. But given Trump’s inability to show anything akin to leadership in these critical times, the more he falls, the better our chances. 

You want to chip in and help? It wouldn’t be a bad idea, so here you go!

Democrats will win the Senate (only question is by how much)

No one should count their chickens before they hatch. This is not what I’m doing. What I’m saying is that if we keep doing what we’re doing, and that guy cowering in the bunker in the White House keeps doing what he’s doing, and Senate Republicans keep carrying water for the guy in the bunker … then yeah, Democrats will pick up the Senate. And I’m not going out on a limb in saying so. 

The big picture: Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Trump is going to lose. Therefore, Democrats need to pick up a net three seats to get to 50 seats, with the vice presidential tiebreaker putting the chamber in Democratic hands. 

We are probably going to lose the Senate seat in Alabama. That was a temporary gift won in a special election against a child molester. And we still barely won. In a normal year, against a normal Republican, with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket? If Democratic Sen. Doug Jones wins reelection, we’ve got a 60-seat majority landslide. So we assume he loses. 

The Daily Kos Elections crew just moved Arizona into “lean Democratic,” but that is probably still too kind.  

McSally (R) Kelly (D) Fox News (5/30-6/2) Highground (5/18-5/22) OH Predictive Insights (5/9-11)
37 50
41 51
38 51

Appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally already lost in 2018, and the whole state of Arizona seems to be moving strongly against Republicans. In that Fox News poll, Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden is leading 46-42. 

In Colorado, no one is pretending that Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has any chance. Even he realizes it—he spent his impeachment time aggressively defending Trump in a state in which Trump will lose by double digits. And so will Gardner. Two polls in early March had former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper leading by 17 and 18 points. No one has wasted time polling there ever since. 

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins saw her “moderate” veneer shorn off after voting both to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial, and voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A poll last month had Democratic candidate Sarah Gideon with a 51-42 lead. The race has been underpolled, but Collins ranks amongst the most unpopular senators in the country in a state that will solidly go blue this fall. She can’t count on ticket splitters anymore. 

And in North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis is looking weak, weak, weak:

Tillis (R) Cunningham (D) PPP (6/2-3) Meeting Street Insights (5/9-13) Civiqs (5/2-4) Meredith College (4/27-28)
41 43
44 46
41 50
34 44

Any incumbent below 45% is generally considered to be toast. People are looking for an alternative. 

Losing Alabama but winning Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina gets us to a 50-50 Senate. At this stage of the cycle, given current trends, this is the most likely outcome. 

TIER TWO RACES

These are races in which Republicans currently have the edge, but are in play. 

Georgia has two Senate seats in play: a regular election and a special one. The only recent polling is courtesy of Civiqs, which found both Senate seats effectively tied. The reason the GOP has the edge is that Georgia has a Jim Crow-era law that requires candidates to win with 50% of the vote. If none get it in November, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election in January. 

Historically, the GOP has done much better in those runoff elections. I suspect this time will be different, but gut feelings don’t trump history. This is a true tossup for both seats. 

Montana pits an incumbent Republicans against the current popular Democratic governor. Montana is notoriously difficult to poll, but the only one to try recently—a sketchy-looking Montana State University effort—had Democrat Steve Bullock ahead 46-39. Trump will win the state, so we’re relying on ticket splitters to carry the day. Luckily, 1) Montana has a long history of split tickets—it currently has a Democratic governor and Democratic U.S. Senator despite being solidly red at the presidential level, and 2) Trump’s approvals in Montana have been in a steady decline over the last 12 months, from a net +12, to +4 today. And the worse Trump does in the state, even if he wins it, the fewer crossover votes Bullock needs to win. 

Depending on how these two states shake out, the Democrats can end up anywhere from the barest 50-50 majority to a better-looking 53-47 one. 

TIER THREE RACES

Incumbent Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst had appeared relatively safe earlier this year. Lily-white Iowa looked like another 10-point Trump win, and Ernst seemed to be doing whatever it was that was necessary to cruise to reelection. But the coronavirus has hit Iowa hard, and the trade wars with China have hammered its farmers. And now, any hope of a positive resolution has evaporated as Trump has decided to blame China for his own failures. In fact, Trump’s approvals are underwater in Iowa 47-50, according to Civiqs’ daily tracker. 

Polling has been scant, but just yesterday Public Policy Polling released a poll showing the Democratic challenger up 45-43. Civiqs has a poll in the field right now and we’ll have results next Tuesday or Wednesday. This one may be soon graduating to the second tier. 

Kansas. Kansas! Yes, Kansas. I explain Kansas here. Botton line: It’s tough, but given Kansas’ high education levels and an ongoing civil war between the state Republican Party’s moderate and crazy wings, we have a shot. 

Texas also gets included in this tier. Incumbent Republican John Cornyn isn't as hated as Ted Cruz, who was almost defeated in 2018. And there is no public polling to give us a sense of the state of this race. But the state is trending blue, and a Public Policy Polling poll released today showed the state a 48-48 tie in the presidential election. Honestly, not sure I buy it, not without additional confirmation. But the demographic trends are certainly in our favor. Have they moved enough to put this Senate seat in contention? I’m hopeful but skeptical.  

TIER FOUR RACES

These are races in which we have great candidates who are raising buttloads of cash, but they are in tough Republican states. 

In Kentucky, odious Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unpopular, but 1) he delivers more bacon than anyone else in the Senate—Kentucky is the ultimate mooch state, and 2) Kentucky gives Trump some of his highest approval ratings in the country (a rough count says seventh highest). 

Those are some pretty strong headwinds to fight no matter how good your candidate is and how much money she has. 

And in the same vein, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is protected by the partisanship of his state—the only one on both coasts that gives Trump a positive approval rating. Civiqs has the race tied 42-42, but undecideds are heavily Republican and the state suffers from extreme racial polarization. Southern whites, in general, just don’t vote Democratic. 

The Senate will be at least 50-50. Our job is to drag as many of these races across the finish line as we can. Can we make it 55-45? Or even more than that? 

Donate to our slate of Senate races. And if you live in any of these states, fight hard! 

Morning Digest: Nevada Democrats won big in 2018. Our new data shows they may again in 2020

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

Senate-by-LD, Governor-by-LD: Nevada was a huge success story for Team Blue in 2018, with Democrats making big gains in both houses of the legislature at the same time that the party was flipping the U.S. Senate seat and governor's office. And as our new data, which was crunched for us by elections analyst Bill Coningsby, illustrates, Democrats have opportunities to pick up more seats this fall.

Democrats currently hold a 13-8 majority in the Senate, which is just one seat shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass certain revenue-related measures that the GOP blocked in the previous sessions of the legislature without any GOP votes. In the state Assembly, though, Team Blue has a 29-13 supermajority.

We'll start with a look at the Senate, where half the chamber was up in 2018 while the rest of the seats will be on the ballot this fall. Democrat Jacky Rosen carried 15 of the 21 seats while she was unseating GOP Sen. Dean Heller 50-45, while Democrat Steve Sisolak took those very same districts while he was being elected governor 49-45 over Adam Laxalt. The median district backed Rosen by 53-43 and Sisolak by 52-44, placing it somewhat to the left of the state overall.

Two Republicans sit in Rosen/Sisolak seats, while no Democrats hold Heller/Laxalt districts. The only one of that pair of Republicans up this year is Heidi Gansert, who holds Senate District 15 in the Reno area. This constituency supported Rosen 51-45, while Sisolak took it 50-45; four years ago, the district also backed Hillary Clinton 47-44 while Gansert was winning by a convincing 53-42. This cycle, the Democrats are fielding Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, who lost a close primary for Washoe County assessor last cycle.

The other Republican on unfriendly turf is Keith Pickard, who won a four-year term in 2018 by 24 votes. That year, Rosen and Sisolak carried his SD-20 50-47 and 50-46, respectively.

Democrats do have a few potentially competitive seats to defend this year. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro won SD-06 51-49 as Clinton was pulling off a 50-45 victory. Last cycle, though, the seat backed Rosen 53-44, while Sisolak took it by a similar 52-44 spread. Democrats will also be looking to keep the open SD-05, which supported Clinton just 48-46 but went for Rosen and Sisolak 53-43 and 52-44.

We'll turn to the 42-person Assembly, where members are elected to 2-year terms. Both Rosen and Sisolak carried the same 29 districts, while Heller and Laxalt took the remaining 13 districts. The two median districts backed Rosen by 54-42 and Sisolak by 53-41, placing them several points to the left of Nevada overall.

One assemblymember from each party holds a seat that was carried by the other side's statewide nominee. On the Democratic side, incumbent Skip Daly won 52-48 in a seat Heller and Laxalt took 49-47 and 49-45; Trump won by a larger 49-43 margin here in 2016. Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick is termed-out of a seat that backed both Rosen and Sisolak 49-48 but where Trump prevailed 49-46.

We'll also take a quick look at the state's four congressional seats. The 3rd District, which is located in Las Vegas' southern suburbs, backed both Rosen and Sisolak 50-46, which was a shift to the left from Trump's 48-47 win. The 4th District supported Rosen 51-44, while Sisolak took it 50-44; the seat went for Clinton by a similar 50-45 margin in 2016. The 1st District went overwhelmingly for the Democratic ticket, while Republicans had no trouble carrying the 2nd District.

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. Additionally, you can find all our data from 2018 and past cycles here.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our litigation tracker spreadsheet for a compilation of the latest developments in major lawsuits over changes to election and voting procedures, along with our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, all of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.

Alabama: Civil rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to loosen Alabama's restrictions on mail voting during the pendency of the pandemic. The plaintiffs want the court to order the state to suspend requirements that voters present an excuse to request an absentee ballot, have their ballot envelope notarized, and include a photocopy of their ID with their ballot. Additionally, the plaintiffs want 14 days of in-person early voting, which Alabama currently offers none of, along with drive-through voting and other measures to make voting safe for those not voting by mail.

Florida: Officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, which are home to the greater Tampa area and one in every nine registered voters in Florida, have announced that both counties will pay for postage on mail-in ballots. Officials in the southeastern Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach, which are home to around a quarter of Florida voters, had previously announced measures to implement prepaid postage and also mail out applications for mail ballots to voters or households who had yet to request one.

Montana: Montana's Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that had allowed absentee mail ballots to count if they were postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward. As a result, voters in the June 2 primary, which is taking place almost entirely by mail, will have to make sure election officials receive their ballots by Election Day.

The Supreme Court, however, did not rule on the merits of the plaintiffs' request but rather explained that it was reinstating the original deadline to avoid voter confusion and disruption to election administration. Plaintiffs will still have a chance to make their case that the ballot receipt deadline should be extended for the November general election.

New Jersey: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that he has no further plans to alter procedures for the July 7 primary. Murphy recently ordered the election to take place largely by mail with active registered voters belonging to a party being sent ballots and inactive or unaffiliated voters getting sent applications, while municipalities operate at least one in-person voting each.

New Mexico: Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for Senate in New Mexico, is urging Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to delay the deadline to return absentee mail ballots, saying he has heard reports of voters failing to receive a mail ballot in time even though the primary is taking place just days away on June 2.

A spokesperson for Toulouse Oliver says that extending the deadline, which currently requires ballots to be received by Election Day rather than simply postmarked by that date, would require legislative action. However, the state legislature isn't in session, and there's no indication yet whether Luján or anyone else will file a last-minute lawsuit instead.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Republican-run state House has almost unanimously passed a bill that would make it easier to vote absentee by mail. In particular, the bill would ease—though not eliminate—the atypical requirement that absentee voters have a notary or two witnesses sign their ballot envelope by allowing only one witness instead.

However, the bill also makes it a felony for election officials to mail actual ballots to voters who haven't requested one, which would prevent Democratic officials in charge of running elections from conducting elections by mail. Activists had also called on lawmakers to make other changes such as prepaying the postage on mail ballots or making Election Day a state holiday, but Republican legislators refused.

Even if it becomes law, this bill is not likely to be the final word on voting changes in North Carolina. Two separate lawsuits at the federal and state levels are partially or wholly challenging the witness requirement, lack of prepaid postage, and other absentee voting procedures.

South Carolina: South Carolina's all-Republican state Supreme Court has rejected a Democratic lawsuit seeking to waive the requirement that voters under age 65 provide a specific excuse to vote absentee by mail in June's primary. The court ruled that the issue was moot after the Republican-run state legislature recently passed a law waiving the excuse requirement for the June 9 primary and June 23 runoffs. However, that waiver will expire in July, so Democrats are likely to continue pressing their claim in either state court or a separate federal lawsuit for November.

Texas: Texas' all-Republican Supreme Court has sided with Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton in determining that lack of coronavirus immunity doesn't qualify as an excuse for requesting a mail ballot under the state's definition of "disability." Consequently, all voters must present an excuse to vote by mail except for those age 65 or older, a demographic that favors Republicans.

While the ruling did note that it's up to voters to decide whether or not to "apply to vote by mail based on a disability," that may not be much of a silver lining, because Paxton has repeatedly threatened activists with criminal prosecution for advising voters to request mail ballots. If campaigns and civic groups limit their outreach as a result of Paxton's threats, then even voters still entitled to mail ballots may not learn about the option.

However, in one positive development for voting access, the court ruled that Paxton couldn't tell officials in five counties not to send absentee ballots to voters citing disability even for coronavirus, since Texas' absentee application doesn't ask what a voter's disability is. In addition, separate federal litigation remains ongoing after a lower court blocked the absentee excuse requirement. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule soon on whether to in turn block that ruling for the state's July 14 primary runoff.

Virginia: Conservatives filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month seeking to block Virginia from implementing its absentee voting plan for the state's June 23 primary, specifically targeting instructions that voters "may choose reason '2A My disability or illness' for absentee voting." Although a new law was passed this year to permanently remove the excuse requirement, it doesn't go into effect until July. Consequently, the plaintiffs argue that the current law is being impermissibly interpreted to let those concerned about coronavirus cite it as an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot when they aren't physically ill themselves and don't otherwise qualify.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin's bipartisan Elections Commission has unanimously voted to send applications for absentee mail ballots to all registered voters, which requires a photo ID. However, the commissioners still must decide on the wording of the letter sent to voters, and a deadlock over the language could prevent the commission from sending anything at all. Notably, the Republican commissioners' votes to mail applications comes after the major Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee and some other Democratic-leaning cities had already moved to do so, so the GOP may face pressure to extend the practice statewide.

Senate

GA-Sen-A: Investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff talks about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in his new ad for the June 9 Democratic primary. Ossoff tells the audience that his business involves investigating corruption, "And when a young black man in Georgia is shot dead in the street, but police and prosecutors look the other way? That's the worst kind of corruption." He continues by pledging to "work to reform our criminal justice system" in the Senate.

KS-Sen: On Thursday, just days ahead of the June 1 filing deadline, state Senate President Susan Wagle announced that she was dropping out of the August GOP primary. Wagle's move is good news for state and national party leaders, who are afraid that a crowded field will make it easier for former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to win the primary.

Wagle's decision came weeks after Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman asked her to leave the race in order "to allow our Party to coalesce behind a candidate who will not only win, but will help Republicans down the ballot this November." Wagle's campaign responded to Kuckelman's appeal at the time by saying she wasn't going anywhere and adding, "Others can speculate on his motives, but it may be as simple as he doesn't support strong, pro-life conservative women."

On Thursday, though, Wagle herself cited the party's need to avoid a "primary fight that will divide our party or hurts my colleagues in the state legislature" as one of her main reasons for dropping out. Wagle also argued that a competitive nomination fight would help Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier in the fall.

Wagle's departure came hours after Rep. Roger Marshall, who looks like Kobach's main rival, picked up an endorsement from Kansans For Life, a development the Kansas City Star's Bryan Lowry characterized as a major setback for Wagle.

The organization, which Lowry called the state's "leading anti-abortion group," notably backed both Kobach and then-Gov. Jeff Colyer in the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Kobach won that contest by less than 350 votes before losing the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly, and Lowry says that plenty of state Republican operatives believe things would have turned out very differently if KFL had only supported Colyer.

Meanwhile, Bollier's second TV ad touts her as a "sensible centrist" and a "leading moderate voice."

ME-Sen: A progressive group led by former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is out with a survey from Victory Geek that shows Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon leading GOP Sen. Susan Collins 51-42. The poll also tested 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betty Sweet, who is a longshot candidate in the July Democratic primary, and found her edging Collins 44-43; Strimling disclosed that he was close to Sweet and had contributed to her campaign.

This is the first poll we've ever seen from Victory Geek, a firm Strimling characterized as "a non-partisan data and telecom provider with mostly conservative clients." Strimling called this survey a "joint left/right partnership" between Victory Geek and his progressive organization, "Swing Hard. Run Fast. Turn Left!"

The is also the first poll we've seen here in close to three months, so we don't have a good sense if Collins really is badly trailing. Indeed, the only other numbers we've seen from Maine all year were a February SocialSphere poll that had Gideon up 43-42 and an early March survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had her ahead 47-43. While it's very clear that Collins is in for the fight of her career, we need more data before we can call her an underdog.

Gubernatorial

MO-Gov: The conservative pollster We Ask America finds GOP Gov. Mike Parson leading Democrat Nicole Galloway 47-39, while Donald Trump edges Joe Biden 48-44. The only other poll we've seen here in the last month was a late April survey from the GOP firm Remington Research for the Missouri Scout tipsheet that showed Parson ahead 52-39.

VT-Gov: On Thursday, which was the candidate filing deadline, GOP Gov. Phil Scott confirmed that he'd seek a third two-year term. While Scott waited until now to make his plans official, there was never any serious talk about him stepping aside. Scott also pledged that he wouldn't bring on "a campaign staff or office, be raising money, or participating in normal campaign events" until the current state of emergency is over.

House

HI-02: On Thursday, VoteVets endorsed state Sen. Kai Kahele in the August Democratic primary. Kahele currently faces no serious intra-party opposition for this safely blue open seat, though it's always possible someone could launch a last-minute campaign before the filing deadline passes on Tuesday.

IA-04: Politico reports that Iowa Four PAC, a group run by former GOP state House Speaker Christopher Rants, has launched a $20,000 TV buy against white supremacist Rep. Steve King ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary. The commercial declares that it's "sad that Steve King lost his committee assignments in Congress and embarrassed Iowa." The narrator also says that "President Trump stopped allowing Steve King to fly on Air Force One." The rest of the ad touts state Sen. Randy Feenstra as a reliable Trump ally.

Meanwhile, 2018 Democratic nominee J.D. Scholten, who doesn't face any intra-party opposition next week, has launched what Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin reports is a $50,000 TV buy. The 60-second ad, which is narrated by "Field of Dreams" star Kevin Costner, is a shorter version of Scholten's launch video. The spot features images of western Iowa and its people and declares that the area is "rooted within us. Within him."

IN-01: Former Sen. Joe Donnelly endorsed Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott on Monday ahead of next week's Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the Voter Protection Project has announced that it will spend "six figures" on mailers supporting state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon.

IN-05: The anti-tax Club for Growth began targeting former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi a little while ago, and it recently went up with a commercial targeting businesswoman Beth Henderson, who is another candidate in next week's GOP primary. Roll Call's Jessica Wehrman writes that the Club, which backs state Sen. Victoria Spartz, has spent $400,000 on ads for this contest.

The ad shows an old clip of Henderson from just before the 2016 Indiana presidential primary saying of Donald Trump, "I don't like his outbursts and his inappropriateness with the public and … his scruples." The narrator goes on to argue that Henderson "even went on Facebook to support a liberal group that called for Trump's impeachment."

Spartz, who has self-funded most of her campaign, has decisively outspent her many opponents in this competitive open seat. A recent poll for the Club also showed her leading Brizzi 32-14 as Henderson took 13%, and no one has released any contradictory numbers.

Henderson is also acting like Spartz is the one to beat here. Henderson made sure to inform voters in a recent ad that she was born in the United States in what appears to be a not-very subtle shot at Spartz, who has discussed leaving her native Ukraine in her own commercials.

NY-24: 2018 nominee Dana Balter is out with her second TV spot ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. John Katko.

Balter tells the audience that she has a pre-existing condition and continues, "I know the fear of living without insurance, so it's personal when John Katko repeatedly votes to sabotage Obamacare and put coverage for pre-existing conditions at risk." Balter declares that she came closer to defeating Katko last cycle than anyone ever has, and pledges "we'll finish the job so everyone has good healthcare."

NV-03: The conservative super PAC Ending Spending recently launched an ad against former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz ahead of the June 9 GOP primary, and Politico reports that the size of the buy for the TV and digital campaign is $300,000.

UT-04: Former Rep. Mia Love has endorsed state Rep. Kim Coleman in the June 30 GOP primary to take on freshman Rep. Ben McAdams.

DCCC: The DCCC has added another six contenders to its program for top candidates:

  • AK-AL: Alyse Galvin
  • AR-02: Joyce Elliott
  • MT-AL: Kathleen Williams
  • NC-08: Pat Timmons-Goodson
  • NE-02: Kara Eastman
  • OH-01: Kate Schroder

Kathleen Williams, who was the 2018 nominee for Montana’s only House seat, does face a primary on Tuesday against state Rep. Tom Winter. However, Winter has struggled with fundraising during the contest.

Judicial

MI Supreme Court: On Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party announced its endorsements for the two state Supreme Court seats on the ballot in November, backing Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and attorney Elizabeth Welch. Both Democratic-backed candidates will face off against two Republican-supported candidates in elections this fall that are nominally nonpartisan and let voters select up to two candidates elected by plurality winner. If McCormack is re-elected and Welch wins office to succeed a retiring GOP justice, Democrats would gain a 4-3 majority on the bench.

A Democratic majority would have major implications for battles over redistricting and voting access, two topics that are currently the subject of active lawsuits at both the state and federal levels in Michigan. While Michigan has a new independent redistricting commission, Republicans are currently suing in federal court to strike it down, something that isn't outside the realm of possibility given the conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority, but a Democratic state court could serve as a bulwark against unfair maps in such a scenario.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican who represented Dallas' northern suburbs from 1991 to 2019, died Wednesday at the age of 89. Johnson was the last Korean War veteran to serve in Congress, as well as a founding member of what later became the influential Republican Study Committee.

Johnson was serving as a fighter pilot in Vietnam in 1966 when his plane was shot down and he was captured by North Vietnamese forces. Johnson spent almost seven years as a prisoner of war, a period that included physical and mental torture. Johnson and another future Republican politician, John McCain, also shared a tiny cell for 18 months.

Johnson was released in 1973, and he went on to become a homebuilder back in Texas. Johnson was elected to the state House in 1984, and he sought an open U.S. House seat in a 1991 special election after Republican Steve Bartlett resigned to become mayor of Dallas. Johnson took second in the all-party primary against a fellow Vietnam veteran, former Reagan White House aide Tom Pauken, and the two met in an all-Republican general election. Johnson emphasized his military service and won 53-47, and he never had trouble winning re-election for the rest of his career.

In 2000, Johnson notably endorsed George W. Bush over McCain, saying of his former cellmate, "I know him pretty well … and I can tell you, he cannot hold a candle to George Bush." Three years later, though, McCain would say of the Texan, "I wasn't really as courageous as Sam Johnson." Johnson would ultimately back McCain in the 2008 primaries, arguing it was "time to get behind the front-runner."