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-06: Republican Rep. David Schweikert agreed to pay a $50,000 fine, accept a formal reprimand, and admit to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws in a deal with the bipartisan House Ethics Committee to conclude its two-year-long investigation of the congressman. But while the matter may now officially be closed, Schweikert’s already uncertain political future is now only more endangered.
The Ethics Committee’s wide-ranging findings fell into four categories: (1) “campaign finance violations and reporting errors”; (2) spending government money to support Schweikert’s political campaigns; (3) pressuring government staff to perform campaign work; and (4) Schweikert’s “lack of candor and due diligence in the course of the investigation.”
A special subcommittee convened to carry out the inquiry determined in its own lengthy report that Schweikert had failed to disclose at least $370,000 in campaign donations, expenditures, and loans between 2010 and 2017, and had used at least $1,500 in campaign funds for “impermissible personal purposes.” It also found that Schweikert had falsely claimed he loaned his campaign $100,000 on Christmas Day in 2011, then later made up five fictitious payments to a consulting firm that wound up totaling the same amount in order to get his books to balance.
Why lie like this? At the time, Schweikert was on a collision course with fellow GOP Rep. Ben Quayle, since redistricting made it likely that both would try to seek re-election in the same district. Schweikert had immediately announced his intention to run in the 6th District as soon as new maps were announced in October of 2011, but Quayle dithered, so Schweikert almost certainly inflated his cash-on-hand figures with his fake loan in order to deter Quayle from opposing him. It didn’t work, as Quayle eventually decided to go head-to-head with Schweikert, but Schweikert wound up narrowly winning their primary, 51-49.
This sort of scam was in fact an ongoing occurrence, according to the Ethics Committee. Schweikert’s chief of staff, Oliver Schwab, regularly made outlays on behalf of the congressman’s campaign committee that ultimately totaled $270,000, and Schweikert would delay reimbursing Schwab in order to again pad his cash balance on his fundraising reports. He later would conceal repayments to his aide by listing the recipient as Schwab’s consulting company.
It was Schwab’s behavior, in fact, that helped spur the investigation that ultimately led to Thursday’s settlement. In the fall of 2017, the conservative Washington Examiner published a report alleging that Schwab had taken a trip from D.C. to Arizona for Super Bowl weekend in 2015 that was paid for by taxpayers but included non-official activities, such as a Schweikert fundraiser. The Ethics Committee agreed the use of public funds for this trip was improper, though Schwab had already repaid the U.S. Treasury, leading the panel to conclude that “no further steps are required.”
Schwab was also at the center of investigators’ findings of improper pressure placed on congressional staff to assist Schweikert’s campaigns. The committee determined that Schweikert himself “regularly pressured” Schwab to perform campaign work, especially fundraising, and that Schwab in turn pushed other aides to help raise money. One unnamed former staffer charged that Schwab had told him he “would need to take a 40 percent pay cut and his performance would be judged on fundraising,” an accusation Schwab did not deny. Schweikert’s “lax oversight” of his own office, said the committee, was a violation of House rules because of the atmosphere it created.
Schweikert had a similarly laissez-faire attitude about telling the truth during the course of the Ethics Committee’s investigation. The subcommittee’s report says the congressman made “misleading” statements, took inordinately long to produce documents, and “made statements that could not be reconciled with the evidence” during his interview with investigators, for which had he come “ill-prepared.” The full committee’s briefer report concluded that Schweikert’s dilatory behavior “allowed him to evade the statute of limitations for the most egregious violations of campaign finance laws”–;actions that “were themselves sanctionable misconduct.”
Perhaps the only good news for Schweikert in all this is that he can finally stop hemorrhaging cash to his attorneys: His campaign had spent at least $1.1 million in legal fees as of mid-July. But now his Democratic opponent in the November general election–;likely physician Hiral Tipirneni–;will be able to blast out ads reminding voters that their congressman admitted to almost a dozen ethical violation, paid a huge fine, and was formally sanctioned by the House.
And if Tipirneni wins next week’s primary, she’ll definitely have the funds to do so. While Schweikert’s campaign balance stands at a meager $230,000 thanks to all those expensive lawyers, Tipirneni is sitting on a giant stockpile of $1.3 million.
Schweikert is also facing an electorate that’s grown increasingly hostile to the GOP: While Mitt Romney carried Arizona’s 6th District–;well-educated and relatively affluent turf in the Phoenix suburbs–;by a hefty 60-39 margin, Donald Trump only won it 52-42, and Republican Martha McSally prevailed just 51-47 in her unsuccessful Senate bid in 2018. Given the district’s demographics, it’s far more likely than not that this leftward trend is still underway.
It’s quite an irony: Schweikert engaged in all of this skulduggery in order to help him win his past elections. Now it can only help him lose his next one.
● MA-Sen: New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stars in Sen. Ed Markey’s new TV spot for the September Democratic primary. AOC says of Markey, “He was an original co-sponsor of Medicare For All. He co-authored the Green New Deal with me last year. And he is a stalwart champion for racial justice.” She continues, “When it comes to progressive leadership, it’s not your age that counts. It’s the age of your ideas.”
NC-Sen: Cal Cunningham (D): 43, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 43 (49-47 Trump) (mid-July: 47-44 Cunningham)
NC-Gov: Roy Cooper (D-inc): 46, Dan Forest (R): 46 (49-47 Trump) (mid-July 49-46 Cooper)
Cardinal Point has been around for some time, but we hadn’t seen any surveys from them before earlier this month.
AZ-Sen: Mark Kelly (D): 53, Martha McSally (R-inc): 35 (46-38 Biden) (June: 49-34 Kelly)
MI-Sen: Gary Peters (D-inc): 52, John James (R): 35 (49-37 Biden) (June: 50-32 Peters)
NC-Sen: Cal Cunningham (D): 47, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 36 (43-42 Biden) (June: 45-36 Cunningham)
NC-Gov: Roy Cooper (D-inc): 51, Dan Forest (R): 37 (43-42 Biden) (June: 52-31 Cooper)
Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a British firm that appears to be making its first foray into American electoral polling this year.
● GA-14: Neurosurgeon John Cowan has released a poll from Guidant Polling and Strategy that shows him deadlocked 38-38 with QAnon ally Marjorie Greene in the Aug. 11 Republican primary runoff. That’s actually somewhat worse for Cowan than the 43-40 lead he posted in a late June internal from another firm, Battleground Connect.
Cowan is also airing a new commercial that once again argues that Greene’s construction company “refused to participate in the E-Verify program,” which is meant to screen out undocumented immigrants.
● MI-02: Pastor Bryan Berghoef, who is the only Democrat competing in next week’s primary, has publicized a survey from Denno Research that shows him trailing Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga 49-32 in a race that has attracted almost no national attention.
While the poll shows him far behind, Berghoef is arguing he can pull ahead: The sample finds Donald Trump ahead just 42-40 in an ancestrally red seat along the western Michigan coast that backed him 56-38 four years ago, and Berghoef posts a narrow lead after respondents learn about Huizenga’s ongoing campaign finance investigation.
The sample also finds Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 50-43 in a southern Minnesota district that swung from 50-48 Obama all the way to 53-38 Trump. While the area’s sharp turn to the right back then was worrying for Team Blue, the seat was considerably more competitive in 2018: Democrat Tim Walz, who was the district’s congressman at the time, carried it 50-47 while he was being elected governor 54-42, while appointed Democratic Sen. Tina Smith lost it 50-47 as she was winning her special election 53-42. Hagedorn also won his open seat race against Feehan just 50.1-49.7 that year.
Back in June, Feehan’s campaign released a Garin-Hart-Yang survey that showed him ahead 43-42. Hagedorn’s campaign then responded by dusting off a March poll to argue that he was actually in the lead.
While Hagedorn does have the advantages of incumbency for his second bout with Feehan, the challenger has been decisively outraising him throughout the campaign. Feehan outpaced Hagedorn $704,000 to $292,000 during the second quarter of the year, and Feehan ended June with a wide $1.7 million to $945,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● VA-05, VA-Gov: While Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman appears to have finally accepted that he won’t be on the 2020 ballot for his 5th Congressional District as either a Republican or as an independent, he told Bloomberg this week that he was considering a third-party bid for governor next year.
Riggleman lost renomination at the June 13 Republican convention to Bob Good, and he said shortly afterwards that he was not ruling out a third-party bid or challenging the results of the convention in court. However, the deadline to file as an independent for Congress passed on June 9―four days before the convention―so it seemed extremely unlikely that he could actually attempt this. Riggleman also never filed any lawsuits contesting the convention results over the ensuing weeks.
Riggleman seems to have closed the door on both options since then. In an interview with Bloomberg this week, Riggleman acknowledged that he had indeed lost the convention, and the congressman also did not mention the possibility that he could try to keep his seat without a party label.
However, Riggleman did add that he was thinking about running for governor in 2021 and hoped to decide this September or October. While he didn’t dismiss the possibility that he could still compete as a Republican, Riggleman seemed far more interested in going the independent route. “The Virginia Republican Party is so broken,” the congressman said, “Maybe it is time for a third-party run.”
● LA State House: The Louisiana state House is not up until 2023, but a race for a judgeship this fall could play a big role in determining if Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will be able to veto any Republican gerrymanders the legislature passes over the next few years.
State Rep. Joe Marino, who is one of the two independents in the lower chamber, faces two Democrats and one Republican in a contest for a seat on the court in Jefferson Parish, which is located just outside of New Orleans. If Marino wins this office, either in the November general election or in a potential December runoff, there would be a high-stakes special election for his competitive House seat.
Right now, Republicans control 68 of the 105 seats in the House, which is two short of the 70 they need to override Edwards’ vetoes (Team Red won the required two-thirds majority in the Senate last year). Democrats hold 35 districts with Marino and another independent, Roy Daryl Adams, being the key votes.
Democrats could still maintain Edwards’ vetoes if Marino’s seat flipped to the GOP, but only if they had the full support of the party caucus and Adams. That wouldn’t be a comfortable position to be in, especially since there’s always a possibility that a special election could occur over the next few years in one of the five Democratic-held seats that backed Trump in 2016.
Marino’s House District 85, which includes part of the Westbank of Jefferson Parish (a bit confusingly, the area gets its name because it’s located on the west bank of the Mississippi River even though it’s located to the east of the rest of the parish), is potentially winnable for either party. The seat supported Hillary Clinton 50-46 four years after it backed Mitt Romney 50-49, which makes it the one district in either chamber to back a different party’s presidential nominee in 2012 and 2016.
However, while the trends are good for Democrats, one notable Republican is already talking about running here. Former state Rep. Bryan Adams (no, not the “Summer Of ’69 guy”), said in June that he was considering a bid if there’s a special here. Adams won re-election here in 2015 without opposition, and he resigned the following year to join the state fire marshal’s office.
P.S. If Republicans did override an Edwards’ veto, they’d be doing something that has almost never happened in Louisiana history. According to The Advocate, a gubernatorial veto has been successfully overridden just twice, and the last time was in 1993.
● East Baton Rouge Parish, LA Mayor-President: Democratic incumbent Sharon Weston Broome is seeking a second term this fall as the chief executive of the state’s largest parish, which is home to the state capital of Baton Rouge and some of its suburbs, and seven candidates are competing to take her on. According to The Advocate, no incumbent has had this many opponents in the last three decades. All the candidates will compete in the November all-party primary, and a runoff would take place the following month if no one wins a majority.
● Honolulu, HI Mayor: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser is out with a poll of the Aug. 8 nonpartisan primary from Mason-Dixon that shows businessman Rick Blangiardi in first place with 21%, which is well short of the majority needed to avert a November general election, while former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa leads former insurance executive Keith Amemiya 20-13 for second. Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann is at 10%, while City Councilwoman Kym Pine is at 9%. This is the first survey we’ve seen since Hannemann launched a last-minute bid in late May.
Democrats have long been the dominant force in state and local politics, but several of the leading contenders don’t identify with Team Blue. Blangiardi, who has the support of former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, says he’s always been an independent, while Hannemann left the Democratic Party to mount a failed 2014 bid for governor without a party label. Pine is also a former Republican state legislator, though she says she left the party the day Donald Trump took office and now is running as a candidate who can work across party lines.
Hanabusa, by contrast, is a longtime Democratic politician, while Amemiya also is a Democrat.
● Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat who is competing in the crowded Aug. 18 nonpartisan primary, has released a survey from Dynamic Online that gives her the lead with 26% of the vote.
Two other candidates, Republican County Commissioner Steve Bovo and former Democratic Mayor Alex Penelas, are deadlocked 22-22 for the second spot in an all-but-assured November general election, while independent County Commissioner Xavier Suarez is in fourth with 15%. Thirteen percent of the sample is undecided, while the remaining 2% is divided amongst three other candidates.
● San Jose, CA Mayor: While the San Jose City Council voted at the start of the month to place a measure on the November ballot that would both permanently move mayoral races in the country’s 10th-largest city from midterm cycles to presidential years and greatly expand the mayor’s power, that referendum will not be happening this year after all.
This week, the City Council instead voted unanimously to create a Charter Revision Commission that will explore whether the mayor”;s powers should be strengthened and if the mayoral calendar should be aligned with presidential cycles, as well as some potential campaign finance changes. The group will have until March of 2022 to make recommendations for a potential ballot measure for that year that could include some or all of those issues.
The Council”;s decision means that Democratic Mayor Sam Liccardo will be termed-out in 2022 as head of the country”;s 10th-largest city. Had the earlier proposed ballot measure passed, Liccardo”;s current term would have been extended by two years.
● Orleans Parish, LA District Attorney: Incumbent Leon Cannizzaro, who is one of the most punitive district attorneys in the entire country, announced about 90 minutes before Friday’s filing deadline that he would not seek a third six-year term.
Cannizzaro already faced serious opposition before he made his plans clear, and four candidates, all of whom are Democrats, are competing in the Nov. 3 all-party primary. In the likely event that no one takes a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters would face off in a December runoff. And while Cannizzaro is the only white man who holds a non-judicial citywide post in New Orleans, which is coterminous with Orleans Parish, whoever succeeds him will be the second-ever African American to be elected as the top prosecutor in this predominantly Black constituency.
Cannizzaro’s record has attracted national attention, and widespread scorn, over the last few years. Most notoriously, Cannizzaro’s office has jailed at least one rape victim for not cooperating with prosecutors and has even issued fake subpoenas to compel crime victims and witnesses to testify. And while Cannizzaro is a Democrat, Donald Trump considered appointing him as the area’s U.S. attorney in 2017.
Politicos widely expected Cannizzaro to seek re-election, but there were some indications that he could call it quits. Longtime political writer Clancy DuBos correctly predicted that Cannizzaro would retire in a column in the Gambit published five days before the incumbent’s announcement, with DuBos revealing that unreleased polls showed him “losing to every major challenger in a runoff.”
The four candidates running for what is now an open seat are New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams and former criminal court judges Arthur Hunter, Keva Landrum, and Morris Reed. (Disclaimer: Jeff Singer performed work for a consulting firm employed by Jason Williams in 2014.) All the contenders sound like they will be big improvements over Cannizzaro, though there are differences between them.
The Times-Picayune writes that Williams and Hunter have both framed themselves as “change candidates who promise to stop charging minor offenses, toss faulty convictions and reduce the headcount at the city jail.” The paper also says that Landrum, who served as interim district attorney in 2007 and 2008, “has tacked toward more liberal criminal justice policies in recent years.” However, DuBos wrote earlier in July that Landrum, who would be the first woman elected to this office, “is expected to steer a more moderate course –; embracing reforms in the office and in the system but still emphasizing prosecution of violent offenders.”
Reed, for his part, is a former local NAACP president who has unsuccessfully run for office a number of times since leaving the bench in the 1990s, and there isn’t much information about his platform.
Williams holds one of the two citywide city council seats, and he likely starts out with the most name recognition. Williams, though, was indicted by federal prosecutors in June for alleged tax fraud. The councilman has pleaded not guilty and argued that his tax preparer had misrepresented his credentials and filed error-filled forms with the IRS without Williams’ knowledge.
Williams has also insisted that Cannizzaro and his allies “used that same power and influence to come after me in an effort to scare me away from running for D.A. and interfere with yet another election,” while Cannizzaro has denied having anything to do with the charges. Williams’ trial is tentatively set for Sept. 14, which is less than two months before Election Day.
● Deaths: Frank Kernan, who is the most recent Democratic governor of Indiana, died Wednesday at the age of 74. Kernan was elevated from lieutenant governor to the governorship in 2003 when Frank O’Bannon died in office, and he lost his bid for a full term the following year to Republican Mitch Daniels.
Kernan was elected mayor of South Bend in 1987, and he served as O’Bannon”;s running mate during their successful 1996 and 2000 campaigns. Kernan had been expected to run for governor in the 2004 cycle when O’Bannon was to be termed-out, but he surprised the political world in 2002 when he announced that he”;d sit out the contest.
However, everything changed in September when O”;Bannon died after a stroke. Kernan ended up running for a full term, but while he faced no primary opposition, he had a tough battle in November to keep a seat that Democrats had held for the last 16 years. Daniels, who stepped down as head of the White House”;s Office of Management and Budget shortly before running, argued that Indiana needed change in the midst of a growing deficit and a weak job market.
Daniels”; national connections allowed him to decisively outraise Kennan, who couldn”;t afford to run TV ads during the final week of the contest. Daniels ended up winning 53-45 as his former boss, George W. Bush, was carrying Indiana 60-39.
● Deaths: Herman Cain, who unsuccessfully ran a 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, died Thursday at the age of 74 after he was hospitalized for COVID. While Cain is best remembered for his White House bid, he emerged on the political scene back in 2004 when he ran for an open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia.
Cain joined a primary that included two congressmen, Mac Collins and Johnny Isakson. As Molly Ball wrote in The Atlantic back in 2011, Cain, who would have been the state”;s first Black senator, began the contest with little name recognition, but he emerged as a serious candidate. Cain proved to be a strong speaker, and his $1 million in self-funding helped him get his message out.
Isakson, though, spent the entire race as the frontrunner, while Cain and Collins competed to be his main opponent. Several prominent social conservative groups backed both Collins and Cain, but their inability to unite behind one anti-Isakson candidate may have helped the leader in the end. Isakson avoided a runoff by taking a majority with 53% of the vote, while Cain led Collins 26-21 for second place; Isakson won the seat in the fall, and he resigned last year for health reasons.
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