The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Matt Booker, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● TX-AG: Ever feel like you gave out a bunch of beer koozies dissing your own family for nothing? Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush may have an inkling of what that’s like following Donald Trump’s Monday night endorsement of scandal-tarred incumbent Ken Paxton, whom Bush is hoping to unseat in next year’s Republican primary for state attorney general.
Politico had reported months ago that “most insiders” believed that Trump would end up supporting Paxton, who was one of the ringleaders of a failed lawsuit aimed at convincing the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election, but that didn’t stop Bush from trying to prevent such an outcome by groveling before the GOP’s master. The land commissioner, who is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, infamously used his campaign kickoff last month to distribute those beer koozies, which depicted a drawing of Bush and Trump shaking hands above a Trump quote reading, “This is the only Bush that likes me! This is the Bush that got it right. I like him.”
Bush also met privately with Trump, who once tweeted that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife,” Columba, who is also George P. Bush’s mother. An unnamed source informed CNN that Trump personally told the younger Bush that he wouldn’t be taking sides, but the same person added that “that was never going to happen.” That may have been news to the challenger, though, as a different nameless source called Bush “naive” for believe Trump might remain neutral.
Still another anonymous source said, as CNN put it, “Trump endorsing Paxton is like Lucy and the football and Charlie Brown.” The story added that even Bush’s allies correctly predicted what was about to happen and “warned him not to publicly play up to the former President because Trump would once again take glee in embarrassing the Bush family.” Judging by the very existence of those koozies, Bush did not listen.
He still, however, is hoping that Paxton’s multitude of scandals will allow him to pull off a win next year despite the challenger’s own weaknesses with the party’s nativist base. Minutes after Trump made his endorsement, Bush took to Twitter to write, “Texans deserve a candidate without a laundry list of existing and potential criminal indictments.” Paxton was indeed indicted for securities fraud during his first months in office in 2015, though the case soon stalled due to ongoing legal challenges. He was re-elected 51-47 in 2018, but the prosecution remains ongoing.
In November, the AP reported that the FBI was investigating unrelated allegations that Paxton had used his office to aid a wealthy ally named Nate Paul in exchange for favors. He’s also facing a whistleblower lawsuit from four former senior aides who say they were fired after they reported Paxton’s actions to law enforcement. Among other things, these staffers claim that Paul helped their former boss remodel his home and, upon the attorney general’s recommendation, hired a woman Paxton was involved in an affair with. Unsurprisingly, Trump did not find any of this remotely disqualifying.
The GOP primary also features a third candidate, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who doesn’t have either of her rivals’ problems—or their financial resources. Bush outraised Paxton $2.3 million to $1.8 million during the final 10 days of June (the period was so short because state-level elected officials were prohibited from raising money during the regular legislative session), but it was Paxton who ended last month with a huge $6.8 million to $2.7 million cash-on-hand lead. Guzman, who entered the race in late June, hauled in $1.1 million and had $610,000 to spend.
Texas Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994, but Team Blue is hoping that an acrimonious primary could give them an opening. The Democratic field currently consists of former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski and prominent civil rights attorney Lee Merritt. Jaworski raised $450,000 during the first half of 2021 and had $525,000 to spend while Merritt, who only officially announced this month, received $100,000 in donations from the progressive group Real Justice PAC.
● WI-Sen: Rep. Gwen Moore, who is one of just three Democrats in Wisconsin’s House delegation and the only Black member, has endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in his bid to replace Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Barnes is seeking to become the first Black person to win a Senate seat in state history. The state’s other two House Democrats, Reps. Mark Pocan and Ron Kind, have yet to take sides in the primary, with Kind supposedly still considering a bid of his own.
● AL-Gov: State Auditor Jim Ziegler, who previously said he’d decide next month on whether to challenge Gov. Kay Ivey in next year’s Republican primary, has now narrowed his timeframe in new remarks, saying he’ll make an announcement by Aug. 21. Ziegler said that Ivey “needs to be primaried” and called her out for recently saying it was “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks” for the rise in coronavirus cases. “I don’t think the people who made a decision to not be vaccinated don’t like to be called irregular,” said Ziegler.
● CA-Gov: UC Berkeley’s new poll of California’s gubernatorial recall election is a perfect opportunity to repeat our most important credo: Never let just one poll determine your outlook on a race. The survey, which shows Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom fending off the Sept. 14 recall by a slim 50-47 margin among likely voters, is sure to fuel angst in Democratic circles, but so far, Berkley is the only reliable pollster to show the race this tight.
A reason for this tightening, says the school, is greater enthusiasm among Republican voters: When looking at all registered voters, the “no” side is ahead by a considerably wider 51-36 margin. That’s similar to what Berkeley found among registered voters in early May, when it had the recall failing 49-36. It’s a bigger change, though, compared to likely voters in that prior poll, when “no” was ahead 50-42.
Determining who constitutes a likely voter is always difficult, and doing so for an oddly timed special election is even more so. Berkeley’s screen also seems to be particularly tight: A memo from polling director Mark DiCamillo describes “those considered most likely to participate,” which is a fairly high bar.
What’s more, narrowing the landscape in this way hasn’t always benefited recall proponents—according to Berkeley’s own polling. In the school’s first survey of the race, taken back in January, the anti-recall position did better among likely voters, with “no” in front 49-36 with this group versus 45-36 among all voters.
None of this is to dismiss the findings of this latest poll—Newsom could very well be in danger. As DiCamillo notes, expectations that the governor will prevail “may be fostering greater complacency among recall opponents than among supporters.” He also suggests that Republican voters may be more hyped to participate because of interest in the second question on the ballot, which features a host of semi-prominent Republican names eager to replace Newsom but no Democrats of note.
On that question, conservative radio host Larry Elder leads the way with 18%, while businessman John Cox (who was the GOP’s nominee against Newsom in 2018) and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer each take 10% and no other candidates crack double digits among likely voters. However, 40% are undecided, including 66% of Democrats. Many or most, though, may intend to leave the question blank.
If Newsom is in trouble, we’ll know soon, since other polls are sure to follow. But for now, the best thing any analyst can do is wait and see.
● MI-Gov: The leading Republican fundraiser so far in Michigan’s gubernatorial race is someone we hadn’t even mentioned before: Kalamazoo chiropractor Garrett Soldano, who’s best known for his activism against measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. But the $600,000 he raised in the first half of the year (not including a $25,000 personal loan) was dwarfed by the $8.6 million brought in by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has $10.7 million in the bank to just $376,000 for Soldano—and she doesn’t have to fight for her party’s nomination.
Soldano’s haul actually exceeded the entire rest of the GOP field combined, which, for some perspective, includes one candidate we have mentioned previously, conservative radio host Tudor Dixon, who raised just $133,000 and had $87,000 on hand. However, these reports don’t include numbers from former Detroit police Chief James Craig, who announced a campaign after the end of the reporting period.
The shape of the race could change further still if wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke gets in: A spokesman says Rinke, who used to run car dealerships, is “prepared to initially invest $10 million” on his own behalf. He has not yet offered a timetable for announcing a decision, however.
● VA-Gov: GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin is out with two new ads. The first spot finds Youngkin laying out his economic agenda and using his oft-repeated line about creating a “rip-roaring” economy in Virginia.
In the second commercial, Youngkin pokes fun at negative advertising, using a concept that Sen. Raphael Warnock employed in an ad during the Georgia runoffs earlier this year. Youngkin claims that “Terry McAuliffe is gonna try to scare you with lies about me because he doesn’t want to talk about his own extreme views.” He follows this up by saying “What’s next? I hate dogs?”—a line that is almost directly cribbed from the now-famous ad Warnock ran.
● AL-05: Madison County businessman John Roberts, who if he’s lucky will one day rate getting called “No, Not That John Roberts,” has joined the Republican primary for Alabama’s open 5th Congressional District. Notable candidates already in the race include former Department of Defense official Casey Wardynski and Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong.
● GA-10: The latest entrant into the extremely crowded Republican primary for Georgia’s open 10th Congressional District is former Trump administration official Patrick Witt, who was also a member of the Trump legal team that sought to overturn the results of last year’s election in Georgia.
● IA-01: Democratic state Sen. Liz Mathis announced a challenge to freshman Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson in Iowa’s competitive 1st District, which has changed hands twice over the past decade. Whether it might do so again, however, depends in part on whether Republicans in the legislature continue the state’s tradition of nonpartisan redistricting or override four decades of precedent to enshrine a gerrymandered map.
Whatever happens, Mathis at least gives Democrats a credible candidate against Hinson, who narrowly unseated first-term Democrat Abby Finkenauer last year by a 51-49 margin. (Finkenauer is now running for Senate.) That result was a bit tighter than at the top of the ticket in this northeastern Iowa district, where Donald Trump prevailed 51-47.
Mathis first won office in a key special election in 2011, after Democrat Swati Dandekar accepted an appointment from Terry Branstad, the Republican governor at the time, that threatened Democrats’ narrow 26-24 majority in the Senate. She’s since won re-election twice, by double digits both times. Prior to entering politics, Mathis worked as a reporter and news anchor at a pair of local TV stations for 27 years. For a time, she was coworkers with Hinson, who was a morning news anchor at KCRG while Mathis hosted the evening news program.
● VA-07: Former Gov. Bob McDonnell has endorsed communications consultant Taylor Keeney, who was his press secretary during his time in office almost a decade ago, in the GOP primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Also running to take on Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger is nonprofit head Tina Ramirez, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nod here last year.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: SurveyUSA, working on behalf of the 11Alive News, is out with the first poll we’ve seen of the November nonpartisan primary, and it finds former Mayor Kasim Reed out in front with 17%. That’s not a very intimidating showing for the former incumbent, who left office at the start of 2018, though we can’t draw many conclusions from just one poll. Not too far behind for the second spot in an all-but-assured runoff is City Council President Felicia Moore, who sports a 10-6 edge over Walter Reeves, a first time candidate who hasn’t generated much attention yet.
The poll finds almost 40% of respondents are undecided more than three months ahead of Election Day, but recent campaign finance reports indicate that many of the contenders will at least have the resources to get their names out. Reed raised just over $1 million during his first three weeks in the race to regain his old job, and he ended June with $980,000 in the bank.
The most flush candidate, though, is attorney Sharon Gay, who has been heavily self-funding. Gay took in a total of $1.1 million through late June, with about two-thirds of it coming from the candidate, and she had $990,000 available. Moore, meanwhile, raised $725,000 and had $605,000 to spend. Two other members of the City Council, Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown, hauled in $590,000 and $310,000, respectively, and Dickens led his colleague $545,000 to $280,000 in cash-on-hand.
● Hialeah, FL Mayor: Candidate filing closed Monday for the Nov. 2 nonpartisan open-seat race for mayor of Hialeah, a longtime GOP bastion that’s home to the highest proportion of Cuban Americans in the country, and two Republicans look like the frontrunners to succeed termed-out incumbent Carlos Hernandez.
Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Steve Bovo, who lost last year’s race to lead the county 54-46 against Democrat Daniella Levine Cava, is going up against former City Council President Isis Garcia-Martinez. Three other candidates are also on the ballot, and their presence could prevent anyone from taking the majority of the vote needed to avert a Nov. 16 runoff.
While Bovo has infamously compared the Jan. 6 pro-Trump terrorist mob to Black Lives Matter activists, he’s refrained from saying much against his actual opponent so far. Garcia-Martinez hasn’t held back, though, as she’s cast Bovo as a politician who sees Hialeah as his “backup plan” following his countywide defeat.
● Former Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican who represented Wyoming from 1997 until his retirement early this year, died Monday at the age of 77 days after being badly injured in a bike crash. Enzi, who would ultimately head the Senate Budget Committee, was a generally low-profile figure during his 24 years in D.C. However, he rose to prominence during the 2009 healthcare battle as part of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” involved in lengthy talks with the Obama administration, though the White House would eventually criticize him for negotiating in bad faith.
Enzi would recount that he got into politics when, after addressing an event in his capacity as president of the state chapter of the Jaycees civic organization at the age of 29, he was encouraged to run for mayor of Gillette by a fellow speaker, state Rep. Alan Simpson. Enzi won that 1974 race and later was elected to the state House and Senate before he entered the 1996 U.S. Senate campaign to succeed the retiring Simpson.
Enzi’s main rival in the nine-way primary was physician John Barrasso, who was well-known for giving medical advice in his many appearances on local TV and radio. Both frontrunners were viewed as more conservative than the relatively pragmatic Simpson, but like the outgoing incumbent, Barrasso supported abortion rights. Party activist Bill Maiers would later say, “The pro-life wing didn’t like John because he was pro-choice, at that time. So they went and got Enzi to run. And they worked hard for him.” Enzi ultimately pulled off a 32-30 victory over Barrasso, a margin of just over 2,100 votes.
Cowboy State Democrats hadn’t held a Senate seat since Gale McGee’s 1976 loss, but Team Blue hoped that Enzi’s conservative views would give their nominee, former Secretary of State Kathy Karpan, an opening. Karpan had badly lost a race for governor two years before, but even Republicans acknowledged she was a strong contender. Karpan stressed her own pro-choice views and support for access to public lands while also touting her A-rating from the NRA, and the race was competitive enough to attract outside spending from both sides.
Enzi and his allies, predictably, worked to portray Karpan as too liberal for what was already one of the most Republican states in the nation and sought to tie her to Bill Clinton. Enzi at one point mocked Karpan for appearing in hunting gear in an ad, arguing, “She’s all in camouflage, but you can still see right through her.” Enzi ended up winning 54-42 as Bob Dole was carrying the state 50-37; since then, no GOP nominee for Senate in Wyoming has failed to take at least 66% of the vote.
Enzi himself quickly became entrenched in the Senate and faced no serious intra-party opposition during most of his tenure; he was even joined in the chamber in 2007 by his old rival Barrasso, who had by then had abandoned his old moderate profile. Enzi, though, became angry with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell around that time for twice passing him over for committee assignments, acknowledging at one point, “Sure. I’m pissed.” All of this led to months of speculation about the senator’s 2008 plans, and his staffers even admitted they had no idea whether he’d be on the ballot again until mid-way through what turned out to be his re-election announcement.
Enzi easily won that campaign, but for a time, it looked like his next race would be far more challenging, when he drew a prominent primary foe in Liz Cheney in 2013. But Cheney, despite her pedigree as the daughter of former Wyoming Rep. Dick Cheney, struggled from the beginning to make a case for why voters should fire their well-liked senator. Polls always gave Enzi a huge edge over Cheney, who spent the campaign trying and failing to demonstrate that she understood a state she had only recently moved to. Cheney ended up pulling the plug on her disastrous campaign in early 2014, and Enzi secured his final term with ease.