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.
● AZ State Senate: Democrats are making a strong effort this fall to flip the Arizona state Senate, where Republicans hold a small 17-13 majority, and Tuesday’s primary results gave Team Blue some potentially great news. Veteran Republican state Sen. Sylvia Allen lost renomination 59-41 to perennial candidate Wendy Rogers in Legislative District 6, a competitive seat located in the Flagstaff area in the northern part of the state, and GOP leaders are very much afraid that they’ll now lose control of the district in November.
This seat backed Donald Trump 52-42, but Republican Martha McSally defeated Democrat Kyrsten Sinema just 49-48 here two years later; Allen also won re-election in 2018 by a close 51-49 margin. Republicans already were in for a tough race this fall against Democrat Felicia French, who has been a strong fundraiser, but Rogers’ victory complicates things even further.
Rogers, who is an Air Force veteran, has unsuccessfully run for office every cycle beginning in 2010 when she sought a state Senate seat based around Tempe, which is located near Phoenix about 150 miles south of Flagstaff. Rogers then waged two campaigns for the 9th Congressional District, which includes all of Tempe, before she announced in 2016 that she’d run from her other home in Flagstaff for the more competitive 1st Congressional District.
Rogers lost that year’s primary but won Team Red’s nomination in 2018 to face Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran. National Democrats took Rogers seriously and spent $1 million against her, but stopped a month before Election Day in an apparent sign of confidence. O’Halleran ended up beating Rogers 54-46 in a seat that Trump had carried 48-47 in 2016. After that loss, Rogers soon announced that she’d challenge Allen rather than run for Congress again.
Allen herself was far from a moderate, and she made news last year for a racist speech where she lamented how the “Browning of America” would make the United States “look like South American countries very quickly.” However, the Arizona Republic’s Andrew Oxford writes that Rogers managed to campaign far to Allen’s right, which could make it easier for French to appeal to swing voters.
Rogers’ victorious primary bid has indeed left Republicans feeling both angry and uneasy about their prospects against French. Julia Shumway reports in the Arizona Capitol Times that Rogers’ nomination has left some Republicans so dispirited that they’re ready to “write off the Senate seat as a lost cause.”
Local state Rep. Walt Blackman was also upset over Allen’s loss and told Shumway that, while he wouldn’t vote for French, he didn’t plan to support Rogers at the moment. Blackman said of his party’s nominee, “When she went to my neighbors, people I go to church with, people that I serve as a sitting representative and lied about their endorsements, it’s really hard for me to hitch on to someone’s wagon and really effectively campaign with them.” He added, “If I don’t agree with the type of representation that she is going to give, based on her history, then, I’m not going to vote for her either,” and, “The main goal for Wendy Rogers is to get to Congress, and you can put that in your paper.”
Blackman also talked about allegations that Rogers actually still lives in Tempe and the party’s fears that French could successfully challenge Rogers”; residency in the district court and get her thrown off the ballot. (Arizona requires state legislative candidates to live in the county they’d represent for at least a year, and Tempe and Flagstaff are in different counties.) He even said that some local Republicans are “actively engaged” in going to court first so that, if Rogers is found not to be a Flagstaff resident, the party will have time to pick a new nominee.
However, the courts have been very reluctant to disqualify legislative candidates over residency issues in the past, so this may be a longshot move for either party. Still, Blackman added, “If the residency was not a question and we knew that we were going to get the proper type of representation at the Senate from Rogers, I don’t think there’d be groups out there challenging …; But since that is an issue and the majority of the people in the district understand what her motives are, she’s gonna get challenged.”
Not all Republicans are ready to write off Rogers, though. She has raised a credible amount of money so far, and the seat is conservative enough that even a weak Republican can still hold it.
However, if Republicans do lose LD-06 in the end, it could have serious implications for the fall. Last cycle, Sinema beat McSally in 16 of the 30 legislative districts, and Republicans will have a difficult time maintaining their majority without all their McSally seats.
P.S. There’s a realistic chance that neither party will control the Senate next year. Arizona is one of five states that doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, and if the chamber is deadlocked 15-15, there would be no one to break ties for either party. If this outcome came about, then the two parties would presumably work out some sort of power sharing agreement.
● Georgia: The DeKalb County Commission approved funding last month to send absentee ballot applications to the county’s 523,000 registered voters, following a vote in favor by the county elections board. DeKalb, located in the Atlanta suburbs, is the fourth-largest county in the state and is home to a Black majority. It voted for Hillary Clinton by a 76-19 margin in 2016, making it Georgia’s second-bluest county.
With DeKalb now moving forward, we’re unveiling our newest spreadsheet that tracks which major counties in presidential battlegrounds or in states with key Senate races are proactively mailing ballot applications, 10 in all. Five swing states are sending applications statewide: Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, with Republican officials in Iowa and Wisconsin in particular taking action after large Democratic-leaning jurisdictions said they’d do so on their own.
In addition, a number of the biggest counties in Florida, as well as two important counties in Nebraska (which apportions some of its electoral votes by congressional district), will also send out applications. As other top counties move forward with similar plans, we’ll update this spreadsheet, and if you have any updates or additions, please let us know.
● Louisiana: Voting rights advocates have filed a new federal lawsuit in Louisiana asked that the state’s excuse requirement to vote absentee be waived after two similar suits were dismissed in June. The plaintiffs, who include the NAACP, argue in their newest case that the pandemic has worsened dramatically in the state in the weeks since their earlier challenge was rejected. They want the court to allow excuse-free absentee voting for both the November general election and the December runoff. They’re also requesting that early voting be extended from seven days to 13 for both elections.
● AL-Sen: Republican Tommy Tuberville has been relentlessly linking himself to Donald Trump in this dark red state, and in a surprising move, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is also tying Tuberville to the leader of the Republican Party. Jones’ new commercial accuses Tuberville of backing Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans to cut social security and Medicare. The spot also uses footage of Tuberville saying, “I’ll always have President Trump’s back,” to which the narrator responds, “In this crisis, who has your back?”
● GA-Sen-B: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia United Victory, a newly formed group run by people close to Gov. Brian Kemp, has booked an additional $5 million to help appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler fend off her fellow Republican, Rep. Doug Collins, in the November all-party primary. The PAC (whose initials happen to spell out G-U-V) recently began a $1.5 million ad campaign attacking Collins.
Loeffler, meanwhile, is running a commercial connecting Collins to 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who is one of the most prominent Black politicians in the state. The spot shows multiple pictures of Collins with Abrams as the narrator declares that the two voted together a number of times when they were in the legislature, including to “raise taxes.” The AJC writes that Collins and Abrams both supported a 2010 bill backed by Republican leaders that “paved the way for regional referendums of a 1 percent sales tax to finance infrastructure projects and road improvements.”
The ad’s narrator declares, “Kelly’s never voted for a tax increase and never will.” However, the paper notes that in 2012, Loeffler herself called for voters in the Atlanta region to back this proposed sales tax, saying, “There is no other option for creating jobs in this way right now.” The measure ultimately lost 62-38.
● ME-Sen: Politico’s James Arkin reports that the conservative Senate Leadership Fund has reserved $1.7 million in TV and radio time for the weeks before Labor Day to aid Republican Sen. Susan Collins. The SLF originally planned to begin its advertising campaigns in Maine and in other states right after the holiday, but it recently announced that it was booking millions more so it could go on the air sooner in a number of contests.
● MT-Sen: Republican Sen. Steve Daines’ new commercial links Democrat Steve Bullock to Joe Biden, which is a tactic that, as Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin notes, not many other Republican Senate candidates have tried this cycle. While downballot Republicans have been happy to tie their rivals to other national Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they’ve largely ignored Biden.
IA-Sen: RMG Group for U.S. Term Limits: Theresa Greenfield (D): 40, Joni Ernst (R-inc): 36 (Trump 41-40)
KS-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D) for EMILY’s List (pro-Bollier): Roger Marshall (R): 43, Barbara Bollier (D): 42 (Trump 50-43)
MI-Sen: EPIC-MRA: Gary Peters (D-inc): 50, John James (R): 40 (Biden 51-40) (June: 51-36 Peters)
U.S. Term Limits hasn’t taken sides in the Iowa Senate race, but it says that Republican Sen. Joni Ernst opposes its U.S. Term Limits pledge. The survey argues that Greenfield would “jump out to a 17-point lead” if she would embrace the group’s cause: Let’s just say we’re skeptical.
This is the first poll we’ve seen from Kansas since June, when a survey from the Democratic firm Civiqs conducted on behalf of Daily Kos had Republican Roger Marshall leading Democrat Barbara Bollier by an almost identical 42-41 spread. PPP’s memo says that an unreleased March poll had Marshall ahead by a larger 47-37 margin.
PPP finds Marshall’s favorable rating slightly underwater at 32-36, while Bollier posts a positive 35-22 score. A big reason for this gap may be that Bollier, who has been running positive ads for months, has yet to be attacked on TV, while Marshall just went through an ugly Republican primary. If national Republicans think Bollier is a threat, though, we can count on them to take action to try to bring down her favorables.
● CA-39: On behalf of Republican Young Kim, Public Opinion Strategies is out with the first poll we’ve seen here all cycle, and it shows her narrowly trailing freshman Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros 47-45.
As per usual with Republican surveys in this day and age, the campaign did not disclose the presidential numbers, and we’re betting they’re not good for Donald Trump at all. This seat, which includes the San Gabriel Valley and northern Orange County, backed Hillary Clinton 51-43, and diverse and well-educated districts like this one have only become more hostile to Trump over the last few years.
Cisneros beat Kim 52-48 in a very expensive open seat race last cycle, and while Kim now has the added challenge of trying to unseat an incumbent, she has the resources to once again wage a strong campaign. Kim outraised Cisneros $1.2 million to $557,000 during the second quarter of 2020 (Cisneros self-funded an additional $100,000), though the incumbent maintained a small $1.7 million to $1.6 million cash-on-hand lead at the end of June. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Lean Democratic.
● GA-14: State Rep. Kevin Cooke, who competed in the first round of the GOP primary back in June, recently endorsed neurosurgeon John Cowan over QAnon ally Marjorie Greene in Tuesday’s runoff for this safely red northwest Georgia seat. Cooke himself only took sixth place with 6% during the first round, but as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, four other defeated candidates have also thrown their support behind Cowan over the last two months.
Greene led Cowan 40-21 back in June. Days later, though, state and national Republican leaders distanced themselves from Greene after Politico reported on her litany of racist and antisemitic rantings. This included House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whose spokesperson called Greene’s words “appalling,” but McCarthy refrained from actually taking sides.
Cowan, though, doesn’t seem to think that many Republican voters will be turned off by Greene’s bigotry. He’s notably focused his ad campaign instead on allegations that her construction company didn’t take part in a federal program meant to screen out undocumented immigrants. The only poll we’ve seen in the last month was a late July survey for Cowan from Guidant Polling and Strategy that showed the race deadlocked 38-38.
● MI-13: The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it had ordered Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib to repay her committee nearly $11,000 for improperly using campaign funds by paying herself after her election in 2018 had concluded. The report concluded that Tlaib had merely made a mistake and had not deliberately broken campaign finance rules.
Federal law allows candidates to use campaign money to pay themselves a salary, but they have to stop after they win or lose. The Ethics Committee concluded that Tlaib’s campaign paid her a total of $17,500 after Election Day, which she and her team described as “back pay” for work she’d done over the previous months but had not yet been compensated for, and it ruled she needed return a large part of it.
● MN-07: Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach is the heavy favorite in Tuesday’s Republican primary, but the Trump-backed challenger still needs to get past one well-funded intra-party rival before she can focus on veteran Democratic incumbent Collin Peterson.
Physician and self-funder Noel Collis narrowly outspent Fischbach $196,000 to $188,000 from July 1 to 22, which the FEC defines as the pre-primary period, and he’s been running commercials against her. In one ad, Collis calls for giving Washington a colonoscopy (his acting is beyond superb), and argues that Fischbach is the type of out-of-touch politician, lobbyist, and attorney that Washington already has too much of.
Another Collis commercial focuses on Dave Hughes, who held Peterson to unexpectedly close wins in 2016 and 2018 and is running yet another underfunded campaign this cycle. Two women agree that, while Hughes is a “nice guy,” he’s lost twice already and doesn’t have the funds to prevail this time. They agree that Collis, though, will defeat Fischbach and Peterson.
● SC-01: In his new commercial, freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham admits to his “rookie mistake” during his first weeks in Congress when he tried to bring a six-pack of local beer onto the House floor.
Cunningham, who is seated at a bar, explains, “The thing is, I was promoting our local breweries, and the thousands of jobs that come with them. Because whether it’s bringing home money for our bases, or even protecting your tax dollars by shutting down the pay raise for politicians, there’s nothing I won’t do in D.C. to put the Lowcountry first.” After a glass of beer slides across the bar, Cunningham raises it as a toast.
● San Diego, CA Mayor: Assemblyman Todd Gloria has released a Strategies 360 poll of the November all-Democratic general election that shows him beating City Councilwoman Barbara Bry 41-26, which is very similar to his 41-23 lead in the March nonpartisan primary.
The only other survey we’ve seen here was a late June poll from the Republican firm GS Strategy Group for the conservative San Diego Lincoln Club, and it had Gloria up only 34-31. (The horserace numbers were asked after several local questions.) The group has not taken sides in this contest.
● Fulton County, GA District Attorney: District Attorney Paul Howard has been re-elected as the top prosecutor in Georgia’s largest country without opposition for well over a decade, but the 24-year incumbent very much looks like the underdog going into Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff. No Republicans are running in the general election in this very blue county, which is home to most of the city of Atlanta (the balance is in neighboring DeKalb County) and some of its suburbs.
Fani Willis, a former local judge who previously worked for Howard, led him 42-35 in June, and things don’t seem to have gotten any better for the district attorney since then. The Republican firm Landmark Communications recently released a survey for WSB Channel 2 that showed Willis up 47-31, and a short time later, Howard agreed to pay a $6,500 fine for not disclosing his role as the CEO for two nonprofits. Howard remains under criminal investigation for allegedly using one of his groups to funnel $195,000 in grant money from the city of Atlanta to himself.
Willis, who would be the first woman to hold this post, has focused on sexual harassment and workplace discrimination allegations against Howard and argued, “It’s unfortunate that we aren’t talking about public safety but instead the conduct of the county’s chief law enforcement officer.” Willis has also said she’d devote more resources towards investigating cases before she’d decide on charges.
Howard, who has been arguing that the county has become much more safe under his watch, has said he’d make police reform a major priority. The incumbent notably made news days after the first round of the primary when he charged Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with the murder of Rayshard Brooks. Willis, though, said that Howard has a history of waiting years to take action in use-of-force cases and acted quickly on this high profile one for electoral reasons.
Primary Result Recaps
● TN-Sen: Bill Hagerty, a wealthy businessman who served as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Japan, defeated physician Manny Sethi 51-39 in Thursday’s Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Hagerty, who had Trump’s endorsement even before he officially entered the race last year, always looked like the favorite, but he and Sethi spent the last several weeks engaged in a nasty fight. Hagerty notably also repeatedly mispronounced Sethi’s name as “Set-ee” rather than “Seth-ee” on the campaign trail and in ads, which very much seemed to be his attempt to make Sethi, who is the son of Indian immigrants, sound as foreign as possible. Tennessee has become a reliably red state especially over the last decade, and Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Safe Republican.
Still, there was an unexpected development worth noting on the Democratic side. While the DSCC and former Gov. Phil Bredesen had endorsed Army veteran James Mackler, he ended up finishing third place with just 24%. The winner with 36% was activist Marquita Bradshaw, who spent less than $9,000 to Mackler’s $1.5 million; another underfunded candidate named Robin Kimbrough finished in second with 27%. While most Southern states use primary runoffs, it only takes a simple plurality to win the nomination in the Volunteer State, so Bradshaw is Team Blue’s nominee.
Mackler’s defeat means that he’s the first DSCC-backed candidate to lose a primary since Cal Cunningham was defeated in the North Carolina runoff in 2010. (Cunningham is now Team Blue’s nominee for his state’s other U.S. Senate seat.) Part of Mackler’s problem is that, according to the Tennessean, he was already focusing on the general election, while Bradshaw was using that time to appeal to progressives.
Demographics also likely played a role in the outcome. Both Bradshaw and Kimbrough, like much of the state’s Democratic electorate, are Black, and they performed well in the state’s large blue counties; Bradshaw also won much of West Tennessee outside Memphis, and Mackler even took fourth place in some counties in the area.
● TN-01: Pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, who self-funded over $1.3 million, narrowly defeated Club For Growth-endorsed state Rep. Timothy Hill 19-17 in the 16-way Republican primary to succeed retiring Rep. Phil Roe. This Northeastern Tennessee district has been in Republican hands since 1881, one of the longest such streaks in the entire country, and Team Red isn’t going to lose this 77-20 Trump constituency anytime soon.
Harshbarger will be part of a very small number of sitting House members to win a primary with less than 20% of the vote right before prevailing in the general election. Indeed, as far as we’re aware, there are just two congressmen, both Republicans, who are part of this club: Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn Thompson won his 2008 Republican primary 19-18, an even smaller margin than Harshbarger, while Ted Budd won the 2016 nomination for North Carolina’s 13th District with 19.996% in an election where the usual primary runoff was suspended due to court-ordered redistricting.
As Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux notes, though, Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District has a long tradition of very crowded and tight open seat primaries. In 1996, Bill Jenkins prevailed 18.3-18.0 in the 11-way contest. Jenkins retired in 2006 and David Davis, who had taken fourth place against him a dozen years ago, won that 13-way primary 22-21; Roe also ran in 2006 and finished fourth against Davis. Unlike Davis, though, Roe didn’t wait for his victorious primary opponent to retire, and he defeated Davis 50-49 in 2008.
● TN-05: Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper won renomination 57-40 against public defender Keeda Haynes, which was a surprisingly underwhelming primary showing for a veteran incumbent running against an underfunded opponent. Cooper shouldn’t have any trouble in November, though, in this 57-38 Clinton seat in the Nashville area.
Cooper has long been one of the most moderate members of the Democratic caucus, but he’d never had trouble with Nashville progressives after he was first elected to represent the city in 2002. (Cooper’s congressional career goes back far longer than that, though: He won the race to succeed none other than Al Gore in 1982 in a rural seat located well to the east of Nashville, and he gave it up in 1994 to mount an unsuccessful Senate bid.)
Cooper won his 2010 primary 89-7, and he didn’t face any other intra-party opposition until this year. Cooper’s brother, John Cooper, also won last year’s race for mayor of Nashville in a 69-30 landslide against the more progressive incumbent, which appeared to be another indication that the Cooper family’s brand was faring just fine at home.
Haynes, by contrast, was a first-time candidate who had become a public defender after completing a five-year prison sentence for allegedly being part of a conspiracy to distribute marijuana, a charge she’s consistently denied. However, while Haynes had a compelling life story, she lacked the money or outside support needed to get her name and message out to most voters.
Cooper’s showing could foreshadow a tougher primary in 2022, but he may have even greater concerns. Republicans will once again draw the congressional map next cycle, and Team Red could gerrymander this seat to make it far harder for Cooper or any other Democrat to win.
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