The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● OR-06: In an unprecedented move that was greeted with instant fury by local and national Democrats alike, the House Majority PAC began spending at least $1 million this week on TV ads promoting the campaign of Carrick Flynn, one of seven Democrats seeking to represent Oregon's brand-new 6th Congressional District.
The other six candidates released an unusual joint statement condemning the move on Monday, calling out the fact that four of the contenders are women, including three women of color. (Flynn is a white man.) "This effort by the political arm of the Democratic establishment to buy this race for one candidate is a slap in the face to every Democratic voter and volunteer in Oregon," read the press release, "and is especially concerning in a year when all resources must go to protecting the Democratic majority."
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who hasn't backed anyone in the race, piled on as well, calling HMP's actions "flat-out wrong". Meanwhile, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus's BOLD PAC, which has endorsed state Rep. Andrea Salinas, also excoriated HMP, arguing that "Democrats should be doubling-down on their investments to empower Latino and Latina candidates" and pointing out that no Hispanic person has ever represented Oregon in Congress. (One unnamed operative wondered aloud to The Hill's Rafael Bernal whether HMP's decision might "affect the relationship where Bold PAC is no longer a large donor to HMP like they've been in the past." The CHC has given more than $6 million to HMP since 2012.)
In response, a spokesperson for HMP offered a spectacularly unconvincing explanation for the group's new spending. "House Majority PAC is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to secure a Democratic House majority in 2022, and we believe supporting Carrick Flynn is a step towards accomplishing that goal," said communications director CJ Warnke in a statement. "Flynn is a strong, forward-looking son of Oregon who is dedicated to delivering for families in the 6th District."
There's nothing so special about Flynn that he's a must-have nominee—and if there were, he wouldn't need all this help. As Merkley says, Democrats "have multiple strong candidates" who could all win the 6th District, a newly created seat in the Portland suburbs that Joe Biden would have carried by a 55-42 margin.
But what really makes HMP's claim impossible to believe is that the PAC, in its decade-long existence, has never before involved itself in a primary like this. Virtually all of the organization's spending since inception has been devoted to winning general elections. Just twice has HMP reported spending anything to support Democratic candidates in primaries, and in both cases, they were seeking open seats in California where Democrats were worried about getting locked out of the November election due to the state's top-two primary rules: Julia Brownley in the old 26th District in 2012 and then Salud Carbajal in the old 24th in 2016—ironically, a joint effort with the CHC. The PAC has never simply taken sides in a traditional partisan primary.
So why now? Flynn has already been the beneficiary of a $5 million TV and radio ad campaign by another super PAC called Protect Our Future, which is funded by a free-spending 30-year-old billionaire named Sam Bankman-Fried, who made his fortune in cryptocurrency and has lately been seeking to influence policy-making on that front in D.C. (Forbes says he's worth $24 billion. Incidentally, the CEO of the crypto exchange Bankman-Fried founded, Ryan Salame, just this week announced the formation of a similar super PAC aimed at Republicans.)
Bankman-Fried's interest in Flynn is unclear—the candidate claims he has "never met or talked to" his benefactor, and any coordination between the two would be illegal—but Protect Our Future's involvement in the race has prompted a great deal of speculation. As the campaign manager for engineer Matt West, one of the other Democratic hopefuls, put it to OPB's Dirk VanderHart, "Do I know exactly what was exchanged by [Bankman-Fried's] people and [House Majority PAC's] people? No, but I can speculate, as can everyone, that promises have been made."
In other words, goes this line of thinking, HMP is breaking with 10 years of tradition to help Flynn in the expectation that Bankman-Fried will come through with a presumably larger donation to the PAC, which in 2020 eclipsed the DCCC as the largest outside spender on House races on the Democratic side. But if this theory is true, what makes things even more bizarre is that Bankman-Fried could easily dump as much money as he'd like to boost Flynn through his own super PAC. Why go through HMP, then, unless this is a play for winning influence within a major arm of the Democratic Party?
It'll likely be a while before we find out the full story, though. HMP files financial reports with the FEC every month, but the report detailing any transactions in the month of April won't be available until May 20—three days after the Oregon primary.
As for the ad itself, it's narrated by small businessman Quandray "Q" Robertson, who says, "As an owner of a boxing gym, I know a fighter when I see one." Though Robertson is shown prepping and later sparring with a boxer, he means it metaphorically, as the athlete on-screen is not actually Flynn. Instead, says Robertson, Flynn will "stand up to the Trump Republicans" while tackling climate change and prescription drug costs.
Meanwhile, Salinas has also released her first TV ad of the race, which she narrates herself. She says her father "started working the fields" but found a "path to citizenship, and a better life" thanks to his military service in Vietnam. With his experience as inspiration, she says she "passed the country's strongest reproductive rights law," fought for lower drug prices, and "took on polluters to combat climate change."
● NH Redistricting: The New Hampshire Supreme Court has appointed Stanford Law professor Nathan Persily as a special master to draw a new congressional map for the state in the event that a deadlock between the Republican-run legislature and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu remains unresolved. The court, however, cautioned that it was only taking "preliminary steps … in the event that the legislative process fails to produce a fully enacted congressional redistricting plan."
● NY Redistricting: A New York appellate judge has kept in place a stay of a recent lower court ruling that struck down the state's new congressional and legislative maps, allowing this year's elections to proceed under the new lines, for now. However, Appellate Division Judge Stephen Lindley did say that the trial court judge, Patrick McAllister, could proceed with hiring a special master to draw a new congressional map, which could be used in the event that the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, upholds McAllister's decision.
- AZ-Sen: Mark Brnovich (R): $765,000 raised
- OH-Sen: Tim Ryan (D): $4.1 million raised, $6.4 million cash-on-hand
- UT-Sen: Mike Lee (R-inc): $1.35 million raised, $2.42 million cash-on-hand
- WI-Sen: Mandela Barnes (D): $1.7 million raised
- NE-Gov: Jim Pillen (R): $2.3 million raised (through April 5), $2.9 million cash-on-hand
- CA-27: Quaye Quartey (D): $320,000 raised
- IA-02: Liz Mathis (D): $715,000 raised, $1.3 million cash-on-hand
- NJ-07: Tom Malinowski (D-inc): $1.06 million raised, $3.5 million cash-on-hand; Tom Kean Jr. (R): $840,000 raised, $1.5 million cash-on-hand
- NV-01: Carolina Serrano (R): $275,000 raised, $250,000 cash-on-hand
- OR-06: Andrea Salinas (D): $340,000 raised
- PA-12: Steve Irwin (D): $600,000 raised
- PA-17: Jeremy Shaffer (R): $670,000 raised, $615,000 cash-on-hand
- SC-01: Katie Arrington (R): $307,000 raised (in 52 days), additional $500,000 self-funded, $750,000 cash-on-hand
● AZ-Sen: Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly's new spot features footage of the former astronaut in zero-g as he tells the audience, "Compared to Congress, the way NASA operates might seem kind of upside down. Putting the mission first. Working as a team. And getting the job done —no matter what." The senator proclaims that he's "doing things differently" than the rest of the D.C. crowd and will "put aside the party politics so we can accomplish results, together."
● NC-Sen: SurveyUSA takes a look at the May 17 Republican primary on behalf of WRAL and finds Rep. Ted Budd beating former Gov. Pat McCrory 33-23, with just 7% going to former Rep. Mark Walker. Several other recent polls have also given Budd the lead.
● NV-Sen, NV-Gov: The Reno Gazette-Journal has released a poll from Suffolk University testing several different hypothetical general election scenarios for Senate and governor, and it finds things close overall. Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt posts a 43-40 advantage over Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, while Army veteran Sam Brown, who is the underdog in the June Republican primary, edges her out 40-39.
Turning to the governor's race, Suffolk pits Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak against five different Republicans:
41-29 vs. venture capitalist Guy Nohra
39-35 vs. attorney Joey Gilbert
39-39 vs. former Sen. Dean Heller
37-39 vs. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo
37-40 vs. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee
● PA-Sen: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has publicized an internal from GBAO that finds him leading Rep. Conor Lamb 44-19 in the May 17 Democratic primary, while state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta takes 17.
On the GOP side, TV personality Mehmet Oz is trumpeting his endorsement from Trump in his new ad, and he also gets in a swipe at former hedge fund manager David McCormick. "Trump knows who the real conservative is who's gonna shake up Washington," says the narrator. "It's not David McCormick, the liberal pro-Biden, pro-China, Wall Street insider."
● GA-Gov: Gov. Brian Kemp's allies at Hardworking Georgians are out with a Cygnal poll arguing that he's in a strong position both to claim the Republican nod and defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams in the fall. The survey shows Kemp taking 49% of the vote on May 24, which is tantalizingly close to the majority he needs to avoid a July runoff, while former Sen. David Perdue is well behind with 33%; Cygnal also finds the incumbent ahead 52-37 in a two-person contest. The general election portion gives Kemp a 50-44 lead in a rematch with Abrams even as she edges out Perdue 48-47.
Abrams, for her part, is continuing to run positive spots to reintroduce herself to voters. One ad is based around a testimonial from Lara Hodgson, an independent who describes how she partnered with Abrams to build a successful small business. The spot briefly alludes to the candidate's recent cameo on "Star Trek: Discovery" when Abrams explains that she and her co-star are a bit different: "Laura's more Star Wars," says Abrams, to which Hodgson responds, "Stacey's … Star Trek." Another commercial features a Macon restaurateur crediting Abrams for helping her and her community during the pandemic.
● MN-Gov: State Sen. Paul Gazelka has picked up an endorsement from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which is the largest police union in the state, in his quest for the Republican nomination for governor. The Minnesota Reformer described the development as a "blow to former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek," who is one of the many other Republicans who is competing for the state party endorsement at the May 13-14 convention.
● OK-Gov: While Gov. Kevin Stitt had looked secure ahead of his June Republican primary, NBC reports that two dark money groups have together spent a hefty $3.3 million to derail him. The incumbent is now firing back with an ad declaring, "The insiders and casino bosses are spending millions to attack Kevin Stitt because he won't do their bidding, resorting to lies, smears, even actors." The story says that Stitt has spent a total of $468,000 on ads so far, while his allies at the RGA are deploying another $577,000 to support him.
Stitt only picked up a notable intra-party challenger last month when Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Director Joel Kintsel launched his bid to unseat his boss, but the offensive against the governor began well before then. All the way back in December, an organization called Conservative Voice of America began running ads attacking Stitt for approving the 2020 release of an inmate named Lawrence Anderson, who was charged the next year with murdering three people, while another group called Sooner State Leadership has deployed similar messaging. (Public Radio Tulsa said Anderson's release was "apparently recommended by the state pardon and parole board by mistake.")
CVA, per NBC, has spent $1.7 million so far, while SSLF has dropped a similar $1.6 million. A third outfit, The Oklahoma Project, said in December that it would spend $500,000 total to thwart Stitt. The group's messaging has been different from that of the other two, though, as its ads have argued that the governor has failed to achieve results.
Last month, Fox 23 sought to learn more about Stitt's critics. It traced TOP's donations back to George Krumme, an oilman and longtime member of the Democratic National Committee. SSLF, meanwhile, was formed by former GOP state Rep. Trebor Worthen, but the organization is not required to divulge its donors. Worthen, in the words of KOCO, said his group "is made up of business and community leaders dedicated to encouraging strong leadership in Oklahoma," adding that it planned to spend a total of $10 million. There's even less information available about CVA except that it's run by longtime lobbyist and Republican staffer Mike Cys.
● PA-Gov: Tuesday was a truly chaotic day in Pennsylvania's Republican primary for governor that began with Donald Trump urging voters, "Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our Country down." Multiple media sources reported minutes later that state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman was about to drop out of the race, but while Corman himself essentially confirmed those stories in the afternoon by asking that his name be removed from the May 17 ballot, there was one last twist left: Corman announced in the early evening that he'd decided to stay in the contest because of "President Trump's statement on the race and my conversation directly with the president."
We'll start with McSwain, who appeared to be in a good position until Trump declared he'd never endorse the man he'd once appointed as U.S. attorney for the eastern portion of the state. Trump reiterated the Big Lie to pummel the candidate, claiming that McSwain "did absolutely nothing on the massive Election Fraud that took place in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth."
That was dismaying news for McSwain, who had in fact tried to use the Big Lie to gain, rather than lose, Trump's support. His efforts included a letter to Trump last year claiming that his office had "received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities" and alleging that "Attorney General Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities."
Trump was all too happy at the time to use McSwain's missive to backup his own lies and bludgeon Barr, who responded by saying his old subordinate "wanted to not do the business of the department, which is to investigate cases, but instead go out and flap his gums about what he didn't like about the election overall." On Tuesday, though, McSwain got to be the victim of his own words when Trump claimed he "knew what was happening and let it go. It was there for the taking and he failed so badly."
All of this drama inspired Corman to continue a once-promising campaign that he was about to end after several major setbacks. Corman was arguably the primary frontrunner when he entered the race to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back in November, and he raised more money than any of his intra-party rivals in 2021. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that his team initially believed they would bring in considerably more during that time: The state Senate leader seemed to agree as he soon went through an intense staff shakeup, but he never managed to fix things.
Corman ended late March with just over $270,000 left in his campaign coffers, and McSwain ominously didn't even bother to mention him in a recent ad targeting three other opponents. Corman himself seemed to recognize he was doomed on Tuesday when he formally sought to have a state court remove his name from the ballot, but hours later he filed a new petition asking the body to ignore that first request. He explained that he'd spoken to Trump, who "encouraged me to keep fighting, and that's what I'm going to do – keep fighting for the people of Pennsylvania." This saga may not be quite over, though, as ABC27 writes, "It is not guaranteed Corman will be able to remain in the race after his first petition was filed."
● VT-Gov: Republican Gov. Phil Scott reiterated this week that he wouldn't announce whether he'll seek a fourth two-year term until Vermont's legislative session adjourns May 20, and he insisted to NBC 5 that he was truly undecided. "I think a lot depends on what happens in the next month with the Legislature in this legislative session—what we accomplish and what we don't," said the governor, who currently faces no serious opposition from either party. The filing deadline is May 26, so a Scott retirement would give other candidates very little time to make up their minds if he does indeed wait as long as he says he will to make up his mind.
● MN-01: Former Department of Agriculture official Brad Finstad has earned endorsements from Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, who represent the 7th and 8th Districts in the northern part of the state, ahead of the May 24 special Republican primary.
● MT-01: In her opening ad for the June Democratic primary, public health expert Cora Neumann stands in front of her modest childhood home in Bozeman and tells the audience, "But now, houses like this are surrounded by mansions like this. And everyone is paying more." She continues, "In Congress, I'll go after rich outsiders driving up costs, take on price gougers, and fight for housing we can actually afford."
● NC-13: Former state Sen. Sam Searcy says in his inaugural spot for next month's Democratic primary that his family's job and housing struggles motivated him "to help folks." Searcy continues by saying that in the legislature he "fought like hell to expand Medicaid, and stood with Gov. Cooper to stop Republicans from restricting voting rights and a woman's right to choose."
● PA-12: EMILY's List, which is supporting state Rep. Summer Lee in next month's Democratic primary, is out with a poll from GQR that shows her outpacing attorney Steve Irwin 38-13. This is the first survey we've seen of the contest for this open seat.
● WV-02: Rep. Alex Mooney has released a new internal from Public Opinion Strategies that gives him a 42-31 lead over fellow incumbent David McKinley ahead of the May 10 GOP primary. The last survey we saw was a March poll for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce that put McKinley ahead 38-33; the organization had not yet endorsed anyone when that poll was released, but it and the West Virginia Manufacturing Association both backed McKinley this week.
● CLF: The Congressional Leadership Fund, the well-funded super PAC aligned with the Republican House leadership, has endorsed seven more House candidates challenging Democratic incumbents:
- AZ-04: Tanya Wheeless
- NV-03: April Becker
- NY-18: Colin Schmitt
- NY-19: Marc Molinaro
- PA-08: Jim Bognet
- TX-28: Cassy Garcia
- TX-34: Mayra Flores
Two of these candidates face notable intra-party opposition: Wheeless has to get past Chandler City Councilman Rene Lopez before she can take on Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton, while Garcia faces a May 24 runoff against 2020 nominee Sandra Whitten in Texas' 28th District. (Democrats have a far more high-profile contest that day between conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar and attorney Jessica Cisneros.) Flores, meanwhile, is already the GOP nominee, while the other four contenders should have little trouble in their own primaries.
● SD-AG: South Dakota's Republican-run state House voted to impeach state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg by a 36-31 margin on Tuesday, a move that temporarily suspends Ravnsborg from his job while he awaits trial in the state Senate.
Last year, Ravnsborg, a Republican, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for striking and killing a man with his car in September of 2020 but avoided jail time. A special investigative committee recommended against impeaching Ravnsborg last month, saying he had not committed a "crime or other wrongful act involving moral turpitude by virtue or authority of his office" because he wasn't on duty as attorney general at the time of the accident.
However, a majority of lawmakers disagreed with that interpretation, noting among other things that Ravnsborg had identified himself as attorney general in a call to 911 the night of the crash. All eight Democrats were joined by 28 Republicans in favor of impeachment, while 31 Republicans voted against. Ravnsborg would be permanently removed from office if two-thirds of the Senate, which can commence a trial no sooner than May 2, votes to convict him.
● NY-LG: Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday afternoon hours after he was indicted on federal bribery charges, but because it's notoriously difficult to get off the ballot in New York, he will likely still be listed as a nominal candidate in the June Democratic primary. All of this presents a major complication for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who appointed Benjamin to succeed her as lieutenant governor last year and now faces the prospect of winding up with a running mate she's at odds with.
That's because candidates for governor and lieutenant governor compete in separate nomination contests before running as a ticket in the general election, though Hochul and Benjamin had been running together and urging voters to select them both. The remaining candidates for lieutenant governor have likewise each linked themselves with one of the governor's primary foes: former New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna is allied with Rep. Tom Suozzi, while activist Ana María Archila is running alongside New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
The candidate filing deadline passed last week, so it's too late for Hochul to recruit a new number two. It's possible that Hochul could decide to support one of the two remaining candidates for lieutenant governor, though Archila responded to Benjamin's arrest by saying, "The governor announced that she would bring a new day, and I'm not sure that's the case." Hochul to date has been the frontrunner in her own race from day one, as every poll has found her far ahead of Williams and Suozzi, though both of her rivals are hoping that Benjamin's downfall will change the calculus.
Benjamin, for his part, has far more than electoral chemistry to worry about. Federal prosecutors allege that, in his previous position as a state senator, he steered taxpayer money to real estate investor Gerald Migdol in exchange for political contributions. The authorities say that Migdol faked the origins of dozens of donations to Benjamin's 2021 bid for New York City comptroller so that Benjamin could more easily qualify for public financing.
Benjamin badly lost that primary, but his career was temporarily revived months later when Hochul, who had ascended to the governorship after Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace, picked him as the new lieutenant governor. Hochul, a white Democrat from upstate New York, sought proverbial "balance" on her ticket by tapping a Black politico from New York City, though questions had been swirling about Benjamin's campaign finances well before he was selected.
P.S. Hochul will once again be able to fill the now-vacant lieutenant governorship, just as she did when she herself ascended to the top job after Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace. Notably, she can do so unilaterally, with no confirmation vote from the legislature required.