Morning Digest: Daily Kos Elections moves Wisconsin governor's race rating to Tossup
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● WI-Gov: Fresh off his dominant victory in last week's Democratic primary, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers has released a new poll from PPP giving him a 49-44 lead over Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The survey, which was conducted in the two days after the primary, is very similar to PPP's prior poll for Evers, taken in May, that has him up 49-45. It's also considerably closer—but likely far more realistic—than a Marist survey last month that found Evers ahead by a giant 54-41 margin.
Republicans haven't bothered to respond with any contrary data, but Walker did try to pre-butt any Democratic polling ahead of the primary. «You could have Daffy Duck on the ballot for the Democrats,» Walker argued, «and they'll start out with at least 48 percent of the vote.» Thing is, though, Walker's been on the ballot three times, and his Democratic opponents have won 46, 46, and 47 percent of the vote, so no one, not even Daffy Duck (D), has ever managed 48 percent against him.
Walker's been voluble in his panic this year: After Democrats won a special election on dark red turf in January, Walker tried to cancel another set of special elections—but Democrats won another one anyway. The primary should have him worried, too, since 54 percent of all ballots were cast on the Democratic side. Walker still has access to endless money, and naturally his allies have gone on the attack, viciously so. But with all signs showing the Midwest snapping back toward Democrats this cycle, Evers has a strong shot, so we're changing our rating on this race from Lean Republican to Tossup.
● Primaries: Tuesday brings us primaries in Wyoming and Alaska, and Jeff Singer has a preview of what's in store. The GOP battle for Wyoming's open governorship is the marquee contest. There, ultra-wealthy megadonor Foster Friess is trying to use his money to overcome his lack of involvement in local politics to beat back a field of several credible opponents. (Friess, you'll recall, is the guy who once explained his preferred approach to birth control thusly: «Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it a between their knees and it wasn't that costly.»)
There's also an interesting new twist in Alaska: For the first time, independents can now run in Democratic primaries, and if they win, they'll be identified both as independents and as the Democratic nominee on ballots. Independent Alyse Galvin, who is hoping to unseat GOP Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving member of the House, is the most prominent candidate testing out this approach.
Race Ratings Changes
● MN-Gov (Tossup to Lean D): Democrats wound up nominating their strongest candidate last week when they chose Rep. Tim Walz, while Republicans … did not. Though Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson lacks former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's lobbyist baggage, he's a pitiful fundraiser, and he upset his much better-known rival by proving he was the Trumpiest candidate. That's not a message that will resonate with a broader electorate.
But really, it's the turnout that tells the tale. Both parties held competitive primaries, but an astonishing 65 percent of all votes were cast for Democrats. Even a stronger candidate than Johnson would be in trouble; it wouldn't be a surprise if he wound up getting triaged. Democrats shouldn't get cocky, but Walz has the advantage now.
● SD-Gov (Safe R to Likely R): Democrats haven't won South Dakota's governorship since 1974, but they have an unusual candidate this year in state House Senate Leader Billie Sutton, a former professional rodeo rider who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident a decade ago. Sutton has experience winning in a very red district, and he's raised credible sums. He also released a poll several weeks ago finding GOP Rep. Kristi Noem with just a 46-42 lead for this open seat. The response from the Noem campaign was telling: «It's funny that Democrats are excited about a poll that shows their candidate losing,» sniffed her campaign manager.
Even if Sutton's poll is spot-on, it's still a very long way from 42 percent to victory for a Democrat running statewide in South Dakota. But it's 2018, and Republicans aren't behaving as though they have a mortal lock on this race.
● NJ-03 (Lean Republican to Tossup): While New Jersey's 3rd District has historically been tough for Democrats, the two polls we've seen since the primary—one for a progressive group, and one more recently from Monmouth—have shown a dead heat between Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur and Democrat Andy Kim. MacArthur is personally wealthy and can spend limitless sums to save his career, but he's also uniquely flawed as the author of the key GOP amendment to repeal Obamacare. Kim, meanwhile, reached rare air last quarter, raising over $1 million, so he'll have what he needs to compete. This race is a serious one.
● NY-24 (Likely Republican to Lean Republican): It's been a few weeks and, in a pattern that's now quite familiar, Republicans have failed to respond to an internal poll for a progressive group that had Democrat Dana Balter leading GOP Rep. John Katko by a 47-43 margin. Since then, Balter, who launched her campaign as a political outsider, has been embraced by both EMILY's List and the DCCC. Katko has always looked like a strong incumbent and still is, but he'll have to defy both his district, which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and an emerging blue wave.
● MT-Sen: The hardline anti-tax Club for Growth has expanded its existing ad buy in support of Republican Matt Rosendale with an additional $397,000 (here and here).
● FL-Gov: St. Pete Polls has conducted another survey of next week's Democratic primary for governor, and they continue to find a tight race. Their latest poll gives former Rep. Gwen Graham a 27-25 lead over former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, but they have Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum surging into third place with 21 while billionaire developer Jeff Greene falls to 15.
That result represents a major improvement for Gillum, who trailed in fourth with 12 percent in St. Pete's late-July survey, where Graham bested Greene by 29-23. This is the first survey in ages to have Gillum breaking 20 percent, and several pollsters had been finding him in fourth place. However, Gillum and his allies recently began airing TV ads, which could be boosting his standing.
Indeed, Gillum is getting a last-minute $3.5 million boost from a coalition of progressive groups, including Dream Defenders Action, FLIC Votes, New Florida Majority, the New Florida Vision PAC, and Organize Florida. Gillum has already benefited from the Collective PAC spending nearly $750,000 to attack Graham.
● IL-Gov: Democrat J.B. Pritzker has self-funded another whopping $20 million in his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has also self-funded his campaign into the several tens of millions, but the billionaire Pritzker has so far given his campaign a huge $126.5 million. Both Pritzker and Rauner can afford to give their campaigns whatever they need, and it's a good bet that this race will break the all-time $144 million record for self-funding set by Republican Meg Whitman in her failed 2010 California gubernatorial campaign.
● KS-Gov: On Friday, Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office announced that wealthy independent Greg Orman submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the general election ballot, where he'll face Kobach and Democrat Laura Kelly. However, Democrats filed an objection, which will be heard by an all-Republican board comprised of the lieutenant governor, attorney general, and … the secretary of state. There's no telling whether Kobach will recuse himself here, particularly since he only stepped aside from overseeing the count in his own tight primary for governor after a storm of criticism.
The far-right Kobach as the GOP nominee gives Team Blue an opening in this strongly Republican state. However, as the former de facto standard-bearer for Democrats in his 2014 Senate campaign, Orman could spoil those chances if he is on the ballot and takes too much support from centrist and left-leaning voters.
● MI-Gov, MI-Sen: The GOP firm Strategic National has polled Michigan's major statewide races for WJML, and they have good news for Democrats. In the governor's race, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer leads Republican Bill Schuette by 45-36, and in the Senate contest, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow holds a 50-35 edge over Republican John James. Strategic National says they don't have a client in this race, but they were notably employed by this month's GOP primary losers in both contests. Both Whitmer and Stabenow have led in every general election poll released this year.
● AZ-08: Democrat Hiral Tipirneni has released a Lake Research Partners poll that finds her down 49-40 in her rematch against GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko, who won the April special election for this 58-37 Trump seat by just a surprisingly close 52-48. However, even if Tipirneni's poll is on target, she still has a long way to go in a contest that Daily Kos Elections currently rates as Safe Republican.
● FL-27: Former University of Miami president Donna Shalala has unveiled a recent internal poll from Bendixen & Amandi International that has her with a sizable 36-18 lead over state Rep. David Richardson ahead of next week's Democratic primary, while former Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman takes 10 and former Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez earns 9. That's a modest improvement for Richardson from their June poll, where he trailed by 43-16, but it’s still worse than Richardson's recent Frederick Polls internal that had him down by only 32-20.
● KY-06: Republican Rep. Andy Barr's latest TV ad uses footage of Democrat Amy McGrath at a Massachusetts fundraiser to portray her as a too-libruhl cultural outsider. The commercial plays a segment where McGrath says, «I am further left, I'm more progressive, than anybody in the state of Kentucky,» along with another clip where she elicits laughs when mentioning the Kentucky Coal Museum has solar panels. The ad of course doesn't provide any context for the remarks.
● MN-01, MN-02, MN-03, MN-08: The GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund is running nearly identical attack ads (here, here, here, and here) against Democrats Dan Feehan, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, and Joe Radinovich following their primary victories last week in each of Minnesota's four competitive House races. The spots try to tie each Democrat to Rep. Keith Ellison, who is the Democratic nominee for state attorney general, in the wake of Ellison facing allegations of domestic abuse.
● NJ-05: Tel Opinion Research has good news for Republican John McCann, but it may be a little too good to be true. Indeed, McCain released an internal poll that has him up 39-36 over Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, but that's only after they asked if respondents favored re-electing the incumbent or not.
Notably, the poll has McCann with a higher 45-21 favorable rating compared to just 36-27 for Gottheimer, but it beggars belief that McCann has the resources to get his name recognition up that much in this district, which is located in the exorbitant New York City media market. Indeed, at the start of July, Gottheimer held a massive $4.5 million to $6,000 cash-on-hand edge over McCann, and no, we didn't leave off any zeroes.
● House: Thanks to recently filed FEC independent expenditure reports, we now have dollar amounts for a slew of House races where the GOP-aligned Conservative Leadership Fund has been bludgeoning Democrats on the air with recent or imminent TV spots. Those districts and Democratic candidates are:
CA-25: Katie Hill: $138,000
CA-39: Gil Cisneros: $830,000
CA-45: Katie Porter: $269,000
CA-48: Harley Rouda: $752,000
IL-06: Sean Casten: $700,000
KS-03: Sharice Davids: $885,000
ME-02: Jared Golden: $417,000
MN-08: Joe Radinovich: $319,000
NJ-03: Andy Kim: $470,000
NJ-07: Tom Malinowski: $787,000
NY-19: Antonio Delgado: $819,000
WI-01: Randy Bryce: $72,000
● MI-LG: Following her gubernatorial primary victory earlier this month, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has named former Detroit technology director Garlin Gilchrist as her running mate this fall. Races for lieutenant governor rarely make the Digest, especially when they aren't separately elected. However, regular readers may recall that Gilchrist himself challenged Detroit's longtime incumbent city clerk in the 2017 elections after her office had been blamed for «an abundance of human errors» administering the 2016 elections and failed recount that year, but he lost by a painfully close 51-49.
● Deaths: On Friday, former Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell died at age 84 after a battle with cancer. Boswell represented the Des Moines-area 3rd District from his initial 1996 election until the loss of one of Iowa's congressional seats following 2010 reapportionment threw him into the same district with longtime GOP Rep. Tom Latham, who defeated him in 2012. Before then, Boswell had a history of winning tough races despite long holding a swingy district.
As a two-decade veteran of the Army who rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before his career in politics, Boswell's fighting spirit also extended beyond elections. Indeed, as longtime Digest readers may recall back, a man armed with a pistol broke into Boswell's farmhouse one night in 2011 and held his daughter and then his wife at gunpoint, demanding money. But the 77-year-old congressman physically fought off the intruder long enough for his grandson to grab a loaded shotgun to scare the man away.
A few days later, police caught up to the assailant, a young man named David Dewberry, who had done work for the Boswells before. But despite sustaining two broken ribs, Boswell himself refused to give up, and he was back at work in Washington just three days afterward.
● Polling: Polls are very important to election analysts, since they can tell us a great deal about a given race. But they also have their limitations, which is why we at Daily Kos Elections have strict requirements before we'll write up a poll and analyze it in the Digest. Over the years, we've developed a set of criteria that centers accuracy and transparency in polling, and now we've compiled our approach into one comprehensive document. There are also a number of other factors that go into our analysis of polls, which we explore as well. So if you've ever wondered about our thought process when we look at polls, this guide covers all the details.
ND-Sen: Senate Majority PAC (D) (against Kevin Cramer); Kevin Cramer (R); Christians United for Israel (R) ($225,000 ad buy against Heidi Heitkamp)
NV-Sen: Dean Heller (R-inc)
WV-Sen: 35th PAC (R) (against Joe Manchin)
FL-Gov: Gwen Graham (D)
MA-03: Lori Trahan (D)