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.
● OH-Gov: Former Rep. Jim Renacci unveiled the opening fundraising haul on Friday for his Republican primary bid against Gov. Mike DeWine, and his numbers were not good. Renacci, who launched his campaign on June 9, reported raising a mere $22,000 from donors through the rest of the month.
The former congressman self-funded another $1 million and had about that much on hand, but there’s reason to be skeptical he’ll put it to use. In 2018, when Renacci campaigned against Sen. Sherrod Brown, he loaned his campaign a hefty $4 million, but his fellow Republicans became pissed when they learned how little of it he was actually spending. The then-congressman ended up losing the general 53-47 even as DeWine prevailed 50-47, and his vanquished candidate soon repaid $3.5 million of that loan to Renacci.
It remains to be seen whether a stronger Republican will step up to take on DeWine, who infuriated the far-right early in the pandemic by promoting public health measures, and later alienated Donald Trump when he recognized Joe Biden’s victory. One person who did express interest in a primary bid back in late February is Rep. Warren Davidson, who trashed the governor for his “overbearing” approach to fighting the pandemic.
Davidson doesn’t appear to have said anything new over the last five months, but speculation about his plans has not ended. On Thursday, one day before Renacci publicized his abysmal fundraising numbers, NBC’s Henry Gomez tweeted, “Some Ohio Republicans, even with Renacci already primarying DeWine, have been wondering in recent days if Davidson might still jump” into the race.
● CA-Gov: The Republican firm Medium Buying reported Friday that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has booked a total of $12.3 million in TV and radio time from Aug. 2 through the Sept. 14 recall, which is an increase from the $8.6 million reservation we heard a few days before.
● MN-Gov: State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has been considering joining the GOP primary for governor for a while, and he’ll now reportedly make a decision by late August, around the time of the state fair. Gazelka had previously said he’d make his choice around the end of Minnesota’s legislative session in May, but gave conflicting signals in July when he said he’d decide “in 40 days” as of July 6, which he later moved to a more cryptic timetable of “weeks to months.”
His shifting timeline on a decision may be related to his desire to run, as the Minnesota Reformer relays that he may end up sitting this contest out, partially due to his tenuous support among the GOP base. The Reformer also reports that state Sen. Michelle Benson, another potential Republican candidate considering a bid, is eyeing a mid-August campaign kickoff. Benson did not dispute the report, simply responding “stay tuned.”
● VA-Gov: Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s newest TV commercial features a Danville man named Fred Adams praising the former governor for caring about communities like his at a time when so many politicians ignore rural areas. “When he was governor, Terry focused on bringing good paying jobs everywhere,” says Adams. “Terry cut rural unemployment in half when he was governor.”
This strategy is somewhat reminiscent of fellow Democrat Mark Warner’s, who famously focused on winning over voters in the state’s mountain communities during his successful 2001 campaign. That said, McAuliffe hasn’t yet tried reuniting Warner’s bluegrass band.
● MO-02: State Sen. Trish Gunby, who filed paperwork for a potential campaign against Republican Rep. Ann Wagner the other day, now confirms through a spokesperson that she will in fact run. She joins businessman Ben Samuels in seeking the Democratic nod.
● PA-08: Businessman Teddy Daniels, who is once again seeking the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright, appears to have had “a front-row view” for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, according to new reporting from the Philadelphia Inquirer. On that day, Daniels posted a video of rioters chanting with the caption, “I am here. God bless our patriots.”
As the Inquirer notes, “If Daniels shot the video, he would have been well beyond the police barricades that day,” according to researchers. Daniels, whose Twitter feed is replete with bellicose tweets deriding others as fearful “sissies” and “pansies,” has not responded to questions from the newspaper. Last year, he came in second in the six-candidate GOP primary in Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, losing to 28-24 to former Trump administration official Jim Bognet, who is considering a rematch.
● SC-07: State Rep. Russell Fry, who’d been considering a primary challenge to Republican Rep. Tom Rice ever since the incumbent voted to impeach Donald Trump in January, announced Thursday that he would enter the race. Several other notable Republicans are already running, but when his name was first floated, the Post and Courier described Fry (who is chief whip in the state House) as “an up-and-comer in state GOP politics” with strong fundraising potential.
Most importantly, South Carolina requires runoffs between the top two vote-getters in the event that no candidate wins a majority in the primary. Rice, therefore, can’t count on squeaking through with a plurality.
● Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, whose service from 1979 to 2015 made him the Wolverine State’s longest-serving senator, died Thursday at the age of 87. Levin, who twice led the Armed Services Committee, was an influential figure during his time on Capitol Hill, and he played an integral role in passing the 2010 bill that ended the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The senator was also known for his investigations into corporate wrongdoing, including his 2002 probe of Enron. ‘
Levin, who was the nephew of a federal judge, got his start in public life in 1964 as general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, and then went on to help create the Detroit Public Defender’s Office. Levin’s older brother, Sandy Levin, was the more famous of the two at the time, as he was elected to the state Senate in 1964 before serving as state party chair and as minority leader. Carl Levin soon joined him in elected office when he won the 1968 race for a seat on the Detroit City Council, and he later rose to become council president; during this stint, Levin became well-known at home for protecting the city’s interests from the federal government.
Sandy Levin lost close races for governor in 1970 and 1974 to Republican William Milliken, but his brother had much more success when he ran statewide in 1978. Carl Levin campaigned for the Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Robert Griffin, who had announced his retirement the previous year, saying, “Twenty-two years is long enough.” National Republicans, though, successfully pressured Griffin to reverse course and seek re-election after all, a development that seemed like a huge blow to Democratic hopes for a pickup.
Before he could focus on Griffin, though, Levin had to get through a primary that included wealthy newspaper owner Phil Power; former Rep. Richard Vander Veen, who became nationally famous by winning the 1974 special election for Gerald Ford’s former House seat; and three state legislators. Levin’s strong base in Detroit helped establish him as the frontrunner, and he beat Power 39-20.
Levin spent the general election arguing that “new blood” was needed to replace Griffin, who had missed numerous votes in the Senate. The senator fought back by unconvincingly trying to distance himself from “that Washington crowd” and attacking Levin as “a free‐spending liberal,” but it wasn’t enough. Levin prevailed 52-48, a victory that made him Michigan’s first Jewish senator.
Levin was joined in Congress after the 1982 election by Sandy Levin, who would ultimately retire from the House in the 2018 cycle. (The two kept a “confusion file” listing people who mixed them up.) Two years later, the senator found himself locked in a tough battle to maintain his seat; Levin’s 1984 opponent was retired astronaut Jack Lousma, a Republican who unsubtly touted his good looks in what Levin would describe as a contrast to his own “plump, balding, and disheveled look.” The incumbent, though, decided to play up the physical difference himself, joking, “Our pollsters tell us that it’s a winner because there are more of us than there are of them.”
Lousma stood a good chance in a year when President Ronald Reagan was poised to sweep 49 states, and the Republican made sure to tie himself to his party’s standard-bearer. Lousma, though, made some serious mistakes, especially when he claimed “An average high school boy could sit down and with three hours of briefings could know all you’d want him to know about issues in Michigan.”
Lousma’s biggest gaffe, though, came when he revealed that he owned a Toyota, a remark that went over especially badly in the state that was home to the American automotive industry. Then-Gov. Jim Blanchard would later recount that he had to convince Levin to use this material against his opponent, as the senator initially believed that Lousma’s honesty was hardly damaging. Blanchard was right, though: Reagan ended up carrying Michigan by a wide 59-40 margin, but Levin prevailed 52-47.
Levin would face a few other notable Republican opponents during his long career, but he was never truly close to losing any of them. In 1990, Levin turned back GOP Rep. Bill Schuette 57-41; Schuette would go on to revive his career in Michigan politics, which culminated in his 2018 defeat in the gubernatorial race. Levin’s opponent in 1996 was Ronna Romney, daughter-in-law of former Gov. George Romney and mother of current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. Romney’s brother-in-law, Mitt Romney, had lost the Massachusetts Senate race two years before, and she fell to Levin 58-40.
The senator would win his final two races with more than 60% of the vote before retiring in the 2014 cycle, and Sandy Levin would decide not to seek re-election himself four years later. The family still holds a seat in Congress, though, as Sander Levin’s son, Andy Levin, was elected in 2018 to Michigan’s 9th Congressional District.
● Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm,
who led the state as a Democrat from 1975 to 1987 and unsuccessfully sought the 1996 Reform Party nomination for president, died Thursday at the age of 85. Lamm supported abortion rights and environmental protection legislation during his time in politics, but he infuriated much of the party base in 1981 by supporting the repeal of the state’s Bilingual Bicultural Education Act.
Lamm, who would acquire the nickname, “Governor Gloom,” would also alienate progressives by calling for cuts to immigration and Social Security and for his many attacks on diversity after the end of his career. Lamm infamously served as an adviser to an anti-immigration organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center identified as a hate group, and he was roundly condemned for his 2006 book where he fantasied about waving a wand “across the ghettos and barrios of America and infuse[ing] the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning and ambition.”
Lamm got his start in elected office when he won a 1964 race for the state House, where he proposed what would become the nation’s first law promoting reproductive rights. In 1972, Lamm also was a leader in the movement to reject the 1976 Winter Olympics, which had been awarded to Denver; while he acknowledged he’d originally supported hosting the games, he argued that they’d be an environmental and financial mess that the state could not afford. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum that year that would have provided more state funds for the event, which led Denver to become the first city to ever effectively refuse to host the Olympics after it had already won the games.
Lamm sought a promotion in 1974 when he decided to take on Republican Gov. John Vanderhoof, who had ascended from lieutenant governor to governor the previous year. Lamm, who had drawn attention by walking across the state, decisively won the nomination and soon unseated Vanderhoof 53-46 in that Democratic wave year. Lamm’s party lost its lock on the legislature in 1976 and Lamm would spend the rest of his tenure battling the GOP majority, but he never had trouble winning re-election himself.
Lamm’s career, however, fared poorly after he left the governorship. After turning down Democratic entreaties to run for the Senate in 1990, Lamm decided to enter the 1992 open seat race. The former governor ended up losing the primary to conservative Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell 45-36, though, in what turned out to be Lamm’s last statewide race.
Campbell defected to the GOP in 1995, and Lamm made his own party switch the next year. Lamm declared, “The Democrats are too close to the trial lawyers and the National Education Association. The Republicans are too close to the radical right,” and he soon announced he would seek the Reform Party’s nomination for president. But he was quickly overshadowed by the candidacy of Ross Perot, who had attracted nearly 20% of the vote in 1992 as an independent. Perot decisively won the party’s vote, and Lamm never sought office again. The former governor’s wife, Dottie Lamm, was on the ballot in 1998, though, as the Democrats’ unsuccessful nominee against Campbell.