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.
● GA-Sen-B: On Wednesday morning, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins announced that he would challenge appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a fellow Republican, in this year’s special election. Collins is currently serving as one of Donald Trump’s designated surrogates during his impeachment trial, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that the congressman hopes to have Trump’s inner circle behind him.Campaign Action
As we recently noted, Collins’ decision to run almost certainly crushes the GOP’s hopes of winning outright in November, at least under the state’s current election law. That's because all candidates from all parties will run together on a single ballot, and if no one takes a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters—regardless of party—would be held in January of next year.
Collins’ run could be a mixed blessing for Democrats, though. While Team Blue would very much like a bloody intra-party battle between the Republicans, it’s possible that Loeffler and Collins could each secure enough support to lock Democrats out of a January runoff.
While there’s a chance that Democrats could instead secure both runoff spots and automatically flip this seat from red to blue, it’s not a good one. Businessman Matt Lieberman is the party’s only declared candidate so far, but former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver recently said that he planned to run while the Rev. Raphael Warnock is also reportedly going to get in soon.
This lineup would mean that Georgia’s Democratic voters would be dividing their support among a trio of candidates while Republicans would have just a pair to choose from—a scenario that would give the GOP a very real shot to take the top two spots in the all-party primary.
However, it’s possible that this special election law will change soon. Both Collins’ allies in the state legislature as well as Democrats are backing a bill that would require a partisan primary in May and a general election in November, which are the same rules that govern the state’s regularly scheduled Senate race. Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed Loeffler, has said he’d veto this legislation if it makes it to his desk, though Democrats and Republicans could override him with a two-thirds supermajority.
While it remains to be seen when Loeffler and Collins will compete, it’s clear that the congressman is a serious threat to her chances. While Collins has made a name for himself with the Trump fans across the state by loudly defending the White House from impeachment, Loeffler had very little name recognition when she was appointed in December. A survey from the Democratic firm PPP taken just after Loeffler was selected in December even showed Collins destroying her 56-16 in a hypothetical GOP primary.
However, Loeffler very much has the resources to get her name out and attack Collins. The wealthy senator recently launched a $2.6 million ad campaign to introduce herself to voters and declare her fealty to Trump, and she’s reportedly pledged to spend a total of $20 million of her own money on this race. While Collins might be able to raise a serious amount of cash for this contest, he’s probably going to have a tough time bringing in anywhere near enough to match Loeffler’s self-funding.
Two prominent GOP groups are also making it clear that they’re going to support Loeffler. The NRSC, which endorsed the incumbent right after Kemp appointed her, put out a statement right after Collins announced that contained this angry, though rather ungrammatical, pair of phrases: “Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come.”
The Senate Leadership Fund, a well-funded super PAC run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also blasted Collins as “selfish” and praised Loeffler as “a warrior for the President.” It remains to be seen how much each group will be willing to spend here in a cycle when control of the Senate is on the line, but the SLF said of Loeffler, “We’ll have her back if she needs us.”
The biggest player in GOP politics, though, has not yet taken sides. The White House reportedly made an unsuccessful push to convince Kemp to appoint Collins instead of Loeffler, and Trump no doubt is still happily watching the congressman’s frequent appearances on his behalf on Fox News. (It’s almost certainly no accident that Collins launched his campaign on Wednesday on Trump’s beloved “Fox & Friends.”)
However, while Trump may be inclined to support Collins, Loeffler is doing whatever she can to quickly get into his good graces. She may already be succeeding: Hours after Collins entered the contest, Trump singled Loeffler out at a bill signing and said, “Congratulations, Kelly. They really like you a lot. That’s what the word is.” McConnell, who is arguably both the White House and Loeffler’s most important ally, may also be able to persuade Trump to at least stay out of this contest.
Of course, there’s never any telling what Donald Trump will or won’t do, so both Loeffler and Collins may be kept in suspense for a long time to come.
● MA-Sen: Sen. Ed Markey picked up a Democratic primary endorsement this week from former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was the party's 1988 presidential nominee. Dukakis left office in 1991, though he's occasionally been in the news in recent years as he's pushed for a rail link between Boston's two major train stations. You can stop leaving your leftover Thanksgiving turkey carcasses outside his house, though.
● TX-Sen: Every poll we've seen of the March Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn has found a large plurality of voters undecided, and new surveys from the nonpartisan nonprofit Texas Lyceum and the progressive group Data for Progress each are no different.
Texas Lyceum's poll gives 2018 House nominee MJ Hegar the lead with 11% of the vote while state Sen. Royce West edges nonprofit director Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez 8-7 for the second spot in the likely runoff. Former Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards is just behind with 6 while a group of other candidates, including former Rep. Chris Bell and 2018 Senate candidate Sema Hernandez, take 5% each. The firm finds that 42% are undecided in a contest where no one has aired many ads yet.
Data for Progress' survey finds that more voters have chosen one of the candidates, but 34% are still undecided. The poll has Hegar ahead with 18%, while both West and Ramirez take 13%. Bell is at 8%, while none of the other contenders take more than 4%.
The survey also tests Hegar out in three different primary runoff scenarios:32-33 vs. Ramirez 42-16 vs. Edwards 48-19 vs. West
On Tuesday, West also picked up an endorsement from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who leads Texas' largest city.
● AK-Gov: On Wednesday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth issued a stay preventing the committee trying to recall GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy from gathering signatures. Aarseth had taken this very action last week only to reverse himself the following day because that stay had been "inadvertently issued." However, Aarseth now says that the Alaska Supreme Court should rule on the constitutionality of the recall campaign before it is allowed to collect signatures to reach the ballot.
● MO-Gov: Uniting Missouri, which is the main super PAC supporting GOP Gov. Mike Parson, is out with a poll from the Republican firm American Viewpoint that gives the incumbent a 54-36 lead over Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway. The only other survey of this contest we've seen over the last several months was a November PPP poll for the Democratic Governors Association that gave Parson a smaller 45-36 edge.
● FL-26: While Donald Trump endorsed Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez last week, both former Miami-Dade County firefighters union president Omar Blanco and restaurateur Irina Vilariño say they plan to keep campaigning for the GOP nomination. However, neither of them looks like they'll be much of a threat to Giménez in the August primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
Vilariño didn't even commit to staying in the race, since The Miami Herald writes that "she's evaluating her options." The paper writes that Vilariño raised just $70,000 during the most recent quarter, so she may not be able to put up much of a fight even if she opts to keep running.
Blanco also acknowledged that Giménez has harmed his fundraising, though he hasn't revealed how much he brought in during the last months of 2019. It may not matter much, though, since Blanco said that he didn't plan to go negative on Giménez, who is actually his boss: The mayor oversees the county fire department, where Blanco serves as a lieutenant.
● GA-09: GOP Rep. Doug Collins' decision to run for the Senate opens up Georgia's 9th District in the rural northeastern part of the state. This seat backed Donald Trump 78-19, which was his best performance in any of the state's 14 congressional districts, and there's no question that whoever wins the GOP nod will prevail with ease in the general election.
The primary will take place in mid-May, and there would be a runoff in July if no one takes a majority of the vote. The filing deadline is March 6, so potential candidates have about five weeks to decide whether or not to run.
State Sen. John Wilkinson didn't need anywhere near that long to make up his mind, though, and he entered the race right after Collins announced that he was leaving to run for the Senate. Wilkinson has represented the 50th Senate District, which makes up about a quarter of this seat, since late 2011, and he's spent the last eight years as chair of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.
Several other Republicans are eyeing this contest, including one familiar name. Former 10th District Rep. Paul Broun confirmed that he was considering a comeback here, and Lauren Souther of the local news site Fetch Your News writes that he "indicated" that he'd decide this week. Broun was elected to the House in a 2007 special election, and he quickly emerged as the go-to guy for far-right quips, including his infamous 2012 proclamation that "[a]ll that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell."
It was Broun's career that soon descended into the pit of hell, though. In 2014, Broun gave up his seat representing the neighboring 10th District to run for an open Senate seat, but he finished a weak fifth in the primary with just 10% of the vote. Two years later, Broun relocated to the 9th District and challenged Collins for renomination, but the former congressman failed to raise much money and lost by a lopsided 61-22 margin.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner is also talking about running, and he told Fetch Your News on Wednesday that he would decide in "the next few days." Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jeff Langley called a congressional race "an intriguing possibility" and said he hadn't decided anything yet, but he also said he was very happy at his current post. In addition, Fetch Your News writes that fellow state Rep. Matt Gurtler is reportedly mulling it over, but Gurtler didn't respond for comment. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution mentioned fellow state Rep. Emory Dunahoo as a possibility, though there's no word on his interest.
Another group of Republicans sounds unlikely to run, though they didn't outright say no. Conservative radio host Martha Zoller, who lost the 2012 open seat primary runoff to Collins 55-45, said, "I am certainly going to consider running for this position, but I, at this time, am leaning toward not running."
Chris Riley, a longtime aide to former Gov. Nathan Deal, said Tuesday that, while he wasn't saying no, he was focused on "helping our friends who are seriously considering and helped make the Deal Administration successful." State Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller sounded even less enthusiastic, and he told the AJC that "the likelihood of me running for Congress is very low."
By contrast, Enotah Judicial Circuit Court Judge Stan Gunter and state Sen. Steve Gooch each made it clear that they would sit this race out.
Rockeymoore Cummings begins by telling the audience, "Elijah worked hard, especially for children and youth. I know because I was right there with him." The candidate continues, "Together, we worked for social and economic justice, and we were in the trenches side by side fighting for Baltimore." Rockeymoore Cummings then says she's running "to continue that fight—for more affordable healthcare and prescription drugs, and an end to the gun violence and trauma that is wiping out a generation of black talent."
● NC-11: GOP state Sen. Jim Davis uses his first TV spot for the crowded March GOP primary for this open seat in Appalachian North Carolina to express his hatred for Mondays liberals. Davis, who is situated between a table with a huge plate of cheeseburgers and a black backdrop, begins the commercial wielding a handgun in what could easily be mistaken for an ad for the world's most terrifying fast-food restaurant.
But of course, this is really a political spot, and Davis continues by loading his weapon and telling the audience that liberals want to make his nine-millimeter gun illegal. He then drags his platter of burgers to him and repeats one of the GOP's favorite Trump-era lies by saying that liberals also want to outlaw cheeseburgers. That idea comes from conservatives' deliberate misreading of the Green New Deal, and a similar falsehood has already appeared in ads attacking Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan.
Davis then goes on a rant about how the left "want[s] to tell us how to live, how to worship, even how to eat." Davis never fires his gun during the spot, but he does end it by taking a hardy bite out of Chekov's cheeseburger. Wisely, though, the senator leaves the other dozen or so patties on the table uneaten.
● NY-15: End Citizens United has endorsed New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres in the crowded Democratic primary to succeed retiring Rep. José Serrano.
● NY-22: Freshman Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi uses his first TV spot of the cycle to stress how he's worked across party lines in Congress. The commercial features several clips of news people talking about his accomplishments, including how he got four bills signed by Donald Trump. The ad does not mention the conservative TV commercials that have already run here attacking the congressman, though Brindisi told Politico he was going on the air early "to set the record straight."
● TX-07: Army veteran Wesley Hunt, who is the national GOP's favored candidate in the March primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, is out with a TV spot where he declares that Donald Trump is right to call drug cartels "terrorist organizations." The candidate calls for building the border wall before the narrator notes that Hunt has the endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz.
● TX-22: Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star CEO Pierce Bush is out with a GOP primary ad starring his wife, Sarahbeth Bush. She tells the audience how her father developed a drug addiction when she was 10 and that "[d]rugs smuggled across the border ruin lives and shatter families." Sarahbeth Bush then praises the candidate as someone who understands the border crisis.
● WA-10: Democratic state Rep. Beth Doglio, who'd previously said she'd decide on whether to seek Washington's open 10th Congressional District after the legislature's session ends on March 12, has now filed paperwork to create a campaign committee with the FEC. Several notable Democrats are already running, and a number of others are considering. However, no prominent Republicans have expressed interest in seeking this seat, which voted 51-40 for Hillary Clinton.
● Special Elections: Here's a recap of Tuesday's four special elections:
TX-HD-28: Republican Gary Gates defeated Democrat Eliz Markowitz 58-42 to hold this suburban Houston district for his party. The result is disappointing for Democrats, who aggressively targeted this race as part of a larger effort to flip the Texas House later this year, as Markowitz's performance in this district lagged behind Hillary Clinton's 10-point loss in 2016 and Beto O'Rourke's narrow 3-point loss in 2018.
Democrats will now ask themselves why Markowitz fell well short of what the fundamentals of this district would have augured. One key reason may have been the wealthy Gates' heavy self-funding, which totaled at least $1.5 million. In addition, younger voters and Latinos, who are among Democrats' most important constituencies in Texas, are less apt to turn out for an unusually timed special election as opposed to a November general election.
Markowitz and Gates will likely face off again in the fall, but one important reminder for Democrats is this district is not a prerequisite for taking the state House. The Texas Democratic Party recently ranked this district as its 16th-most attractive pickup opportunity on an initial target list of 22 seats, ranked by O'Rourke's 2018 margins.
TX-HD-100: Democrat Lorraine Birabil defeated fellow party member James Armstrong 66-34 to hold this deep blue Dallas seat.
TX-HD-148: Democrat Anna Eastman defeated Republican Luis LaRotta 65-35 to hold this seat for her party. These three special elections in Texas return this chamber to full strength, with Republicans in control 83-67.
GA-HD-171: Republican Joe Campbell took 58% of the vote in this three-way race to avoid a runoff and hold this south Georgia seat for the GOP. Democrat Jewell Howard was the runner-up with 33%, while Republican Tommy Akridge rounded out the voting with 8%.
This result moves the makeup of the Georgia state House to 105-74 in favor of Republicans with one seat vacant.