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.
● IA-Sen: Democrats got a prominent Iowa Senate candidate on Thursday when former Rep. Abby Finkenauer announced that she would take on incumbent Chuck Grassley, a seven-term Republican who has not yet revealed his own 2022 plans. No matter what the senator does, though, Team Blue will have a very challenging task prevailing in a longtime swing state that has swung hard to the right over the last decade and where Donald Trump prevailed 53-45 last year.
Finkenauer was elected to the state legislature in 2014 and decided to seek a promotion four years later by campaigning for the 1st Congressional District, a northeastern Iowa seat that had dramatically shifted in 2016 from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump. The Democrat went up against Rep. Rod Blum, a two-term member whom national Republicans left for dead until late in the campaign, and unseated him by a 51-46 margin during that wave year. Finkenauer was 30 when she was sworn in months later, which made her the second-youngest woman to ever serve in the House (New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also prevailed that same cycle, is 10 months younger).
Republicans, though, quickly set out to make Finkenauer one of their top 2020 targets, and they successfully recruited state Rep. Ashley Hinson to take her on. Major outside groups on both sides ended up spending $8 million between them, but while Democrats hoped that this part of Iowa would swing back to the left, that’s very much not what happened: Trump’s 51-47 victory in the 1st District was little different from his 2016 performance, and while Finkenauer ran ahead of the ticket, she still lost 51-49.
Finkenauer kicked off her new campaign by focusing on the Jan. 6 attack in the Capitol and arguing that, after so long in office, Grassley has “lost touch” with both Iowa and democracy. She refrained from focusing, however, on the vast generational gap between her and the incumbent, who will be 89 on Election Day.
Grassley has pulled off landslide victories during each of his six re-election campaigns, but there is some evidence that Iowans may be tired of the veteran senator. Last month, a Selzer & Co. survey for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom Iowa pegged his approval rating at 45-39 among adults―his worst showing in this poll since 1982. President Joe Biden, though, was in worse shape with a 43-52 score, which is the type of negative rating that would present a serious obstacle to any Democratic nominee.
Grassley himself recently said that he’d decide between Labor Day and Nov. 1 if he’d run again, and his recent fundraising doesn’t give us a good idea which way he’s leaning: The senator hauled in $415,000 during the second quarter of 2020, and he ended June with $2.5 million on-hand. That was dramatically better than Grassley’s primary foe, far-right state Sen. Jim Carlin, who had a mere $9,000 in the bank.
The only notable Democrat who entered the race before Finkenauer was former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer, who raised $45,000 from donors during his first quarter in the race, self-funded another $20,000, and had $60,000 to spend. A few others have made noises about running, though: The most prominent potential contender is Rep. Cindy Axne, who has also expressed interest in challenging GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds.
● GA-Sen: Republican state House Speaker David Ralston has at long last said he won’t challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year, a wholly unsurprising decision given that such a bid would have required him to abandon his powerful post atop the legislature. (When asked about the possibility of a Senate run back in 2013, Ralston retorted, “Why would I want the demotion?”) The GOP field remains uncertain as ever, though, as Georgia Republicans are still waiting on former NFL star Herschel Walker to make up his mind.
● NH-Sen: A new University of New Hampshire poll pitting three Republican challengers—two hypothetical and one actual—against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan finds little change from the school’s last survey in February. The new numbers are below, with trendlines in parentheses:
- Gov. Chris Sununu: 49, Hassan: 48 (48-46 Sununu)
- Hassan: 49, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte: 45 (48-43 Hassan)
- Hassan: 51, retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc: 41 (52-39 Hassan)
The good news for Hassan is that Bolduc is the only candidate actually in the race right now, even more so considering he raised just $47,000 in the second quarter of the year (Hassan raised $3.1 million and had $6.6 million in the bank). Sununu, though, has the name recognition to enter the race late if he so chooses, though last month he said he intends to “enjoy having a summer and fall … of just being a governor,” so any launch could come very late indeed.
● CA-Gov: A state court judge has reinstated conservative talk show host Larry Elder on the September recall ballot after finding that Elder was not required to submit five years of tax returns when he filed his candidacy under a new California law because the law only applies to primaries. A final list of certified candidates is available here.
● MI-Gov: Charade much? Just hours after announcing the formation of an “exploratory committee”—a vehicle not recognized under Michigan law—former Detroit police Chief James Craig told Fox host Tucker Carlson, “I am running” for governor.
● VA-Gov: While finance executive Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia GOP’s self-funding nominee in this fall’s race for governor, has been spending freely on television for quite some time, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is only now going up with his first TV ad of the race. The spot, narrated by McAuliffe himself, follows the classic compare-and-contrast formula: “When I was Governor last time, I worked with reasonable Republicans to get things done,” says McAuliffe. “We created thousands of new jobs, put billions into our infrastructure projects and a billion dollars into education.”
But, he warns, “Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump.” The ad switches to showing side-by-side clips of Youngkin wearing a red baseball cap bearing his own name and Trump sporting a similar-looking MAGA hat, then plays an audio clip of Youngkin—surprisingly, from several days after he’d sewn up the GOP nomination—saying, “President Trump represents so much of why I’m running.” (Incidentally, Youngkin only offers caps in white and blue in his campaign store.) Concludes McAuliffe, “Well you know what folks, I’m running because of you.”
The ad tracking firm AdImpact says McAuliffe is putting $452,000 behind this ad, while Youngkin has spent $4 million on TV since early June.
● CT-05: Former state Sen. George Logan, who lost his bid for a third term in the legislature last year, announced this week that he’d challenge Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Logan’s career has been marked by a string of close races: In 2016, he unseated veteran Democratic state Sen. Joseph Crisco in the 17th District by a 51-49 margin to become the Senate’s first Black Republican, but after defeating Democrat Jorge Cabrera just 51.1-49.9 two years later, he lost to Cabrera 52-48 in a rematch in 2020.
Logan’s old Senate district, however, doesn’t actually overlap with the congressional seat he’s seeking, though he said he’d move into the 5th District once new lines are drawn. They aren’t likely to change too much, though, since the next map will probably reflect a compromise between the two parties or be crafted by a court. That’s because Connecticut requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in the legislature for new districts, which Democrats currently lack.
(Also, important reminder: Members of Congress do not have to live in the districts they represent. The Constitution only mandates that they reside in their home states, and courts have said states cannot add further requirements.)
Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, was first elected to Congress in 2018, after Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty resigned following her failure to properly address sexual harassment complaints levied against her former chief of staff. Hayes easily turned back Republican Manny Santos 56-44 to become the state’s first-ever Black member of Congress, then won re-election by a similar 55-44 margin in a race that attracted little outside attention last year—the exact same spread Joe Biden prevailed by.
Republicans had long dominated in the northwestern corner of Connecticut until Democrat Chris Murphy defeated GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson in the 2006 wave. Since then, though, the closest they’ve come was in 2012, when Murphy successfully ran for Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat and Esty won her first term 52-48 over state Sen. Andrew Roraback.
● TX-06: Does anyone else think this is, like, not so great for Susan Wright? The Trump-endorsed wife of the late Rep. Ron Wright has released a poll from American Viewpoint of Tuesday’s special election runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District that shows her up 44-34 on state Rep. Jake Ellzey, which doesn’t look all that dominant with the race just days from concluding.
What’s more, that’s actually worse than an early June poll that had Wright ahead 49-34. And not only does Wright’s own data show a decline in her fortunes, it also shows there’s still a great deal of fluidity left to resolve. Just how unsettled things are is quite unclear, though: American Viewpoint’s memo says that 12% of voters are undecided, but as that tickle in your brain will quickly tell you, those figures only add up to 90%.
So what’s going on with that other 10%? We just can’t say. If they’re people saying they won’t vote, then they should probably just be excluded, especially since the poll says it’s a sample of likely voters. On the other hand, if those are folks declining to state a preference or insisting on some other candidate, well, there are only going to be two names on the ballot, so they probably belong in the undecided pile. And it doesn’t appear to be a typo, either, as Wright’s June survey likewise only totaled 94%.
Ellzey, however, hasn’t released any polling of his own—in fact, the only numbers we have are from Wright—and that’s always a lacuna worth noting. But this contest does seem up for grabs, especially if Ellzey can quietly convince Democratic voters that if they turn out for him, they’ll be sticking it to Trump.
● Boston, MA Mayor: Acting Mayor Kim Janey earned an endorsement on Tuesday from 32BJ SEIU, which GBH writes “represents janitors, security officers and custodial workers,” ahead of the September nonpartisan primary.
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