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.
● NJ-07: State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. kicked off his long-awaited rematch against Democratic Tom Malinowski on Wednesday accompanied by his counterpart in the U.S. House, Kevin McCarthy. Malinowski won his second term in a very expensive race last year by fending off Kean 51-49 as Joe Biden was taking this North Jersey seat, which was red turf before the Trump era, by a wide 54-44 margin.
The presence of McCarthy represents a shift in tactics for Kean, an ardent party loyalist who in the past has tried to associate himself with more moderate Republicans like his father and namesake, former Gov. Tom Kean Sr., instead of far-right conservatives similar to McCarthy. Indeed, one unnamed party official remarked to NorthJersey.com that “the leading inclusive family in New Jersey is supporting the guy who is a defender of Trump and ‘Stop The Steal.'”
Still, the younger Kean has been more than willing to reap the benefits of his ties to national Republicans during his previous failed bids for federal office, even if he’s been shy about actually being directly linked to them. Most notably in 2006, when Kean waged a failed run against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, he famously showed up at a fundraiser hosted by Dick Cheney 15 minutes after the headliner had left.
Kean argued that he’d been held up by legislative votes and “ended up running down the street” to try to make it on time, though few believed that his decision to drive on the notoriously crowded Route 1 was motivated by anything other than his desire to avoid being seen with the unpopular vice president. (Kean made it to his Wednesday event with McCarthy just fine, though.)
Kean ran for federal office again 14 years later, and he once again found himself trying to avoid being linked to a toxic GOP administration. Kean dutifully avoided mentioning Donald Trump during his new campaign, though Malinowski was more than happy to hit the Republican as a Trump lackey.
McCarthy’s NRCC, meanwhile, was eager to emulate Trump’s tactics by running multiple commercials falsely accusing Malinowski of lobbying against a national sex offender registry, an ad campaign that the congressman said led to death threats from followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Kean himself didn’t have any problem with this line of attack, though, as he’d spread these lies at a debate weeks before.
All this wasn’t quite enough for Kean to win a place in Congress on his third try (he’d lost a 2000 primary for an older version of this seat), but he could have more success in this fourth attempt even if the political climate doesn’t favor the GOP next year. Importantly, it’s far too early to know what this district will look like next year: Historically, the bipartisan commission responsible for congressional redistricting in New Jersey has chosen maps that don’t implement radical changes, though the final map is generally picked by a tiebreaking member based on submissions from the parties that typically prioritize incumbent protection.
Republican operatives have also made a big deal of Malinowski’s failure to disclose stock trades, but it likely won’t be until next year before we find out whether the GOP’s spending matches its rhetoric.
P.S. While 2022 will almost certainly mark the second time that Malinowski and Kean have faced off at the ballot box, their families had a far more amicable relationship a long time ago.
The New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein recently noted that early in the Civil War, powerful Republican insider John Kean received a no-bid contract to make gun gun parts from Abraham Lincoln’s War Department: Kean was the great-great-grandfather of the current state Senate leader, while Lincoln’s first secretary of war, Simon Cameron, was an ancestor of Judge Clark, Malinowski’s step-father. The next two generations of the families would also intersect in national GOP politics, though while the Keans remained Republicans, Clark’s father would work for Democrats.
● IA-Sen, IA-04: J.D. Scholten, who was the Democratic nominee for the 4th Congressional District in 2018 and 2020, said Tuesday that he would not run for anything this cycle and would instead focus on helping Democrats win in rural areas.
● PA-Sen: Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the start of July that he wasn’t ruling out a Senate bid, though he didn’t sound very likely to go for it. The congressman, in the words of reporter Jonathan Tamari, said that he would “never say never.” Fitzpatrick added, though, “I haven’t been actively going down that road.”
● UT-Sen: President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he was nominating former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake to serve as ambassador to Turkey, a development that ends whatever small chance there was that Flake could challenge Sen. Mike Lee in Utah’s Republican primary. Longtime political watchers Frank Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb relayed in late March that Flake was “receiving pressure to run” against Lee and was “spending a great deal of time in Utah,” but that was the first and last we heard about the idea.
● GA-Gov: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that wealthy businessman Ames Barnett, who is a former mayor of the small community of Washington, is “moving closer to a Republican primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp,” though Barnett himself has yet to express interest publicly.
The AJC also notes that Barnett was the subject of a 2011 Washington Post article highlighting the bitter racial divisions in this rural city that noted how then-City Council member Barnett was “designing a replica of the mansion in Mississippi where Jefferson Davis had lived the last decade of his life.” A more recent issue for Barnett is his 2014 tie-breaking vote to stop funding the police department in the face of city budget problems.
● NE-Gov: Republican state Sen. Brett Lindstrom has a “Special Announcement” set for Thursday evening, and News Channel Nebraska reports that he’s “expected” to use the event to launch a campaign for governor.
● OH-11: In her new ad ahead of the Aug. 3 Democratic primary, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown talks about her relief that Joe Biden unseated Donald Trump and declares, “Some just want to attack Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Frankly, I’m sick of it.” Brown does not mention former state Sen. Nina Turner, who has been on the receiving end of outside group ads going after her past criticisms of Joe Biden.
● VA-07: Taylor Keeney, who does strategic communications for the lobbying firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, announced Tuesday that she would seek the Republican nod to take on Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. Keeney is a former press secretary for Bob McDonnell, who is Virginia’s most recent Republican governor, and she also runs a nonprofit.
The current version of this seat takes up historically Republican turf in the Richmond suburbs that shifted hard to the left during the Trump era. Spanberger herself was elected during the 2018 blue wave, and she earned her second term 51-49 as the constituency was swinging from 50-44 Trump to 50-49 Biden. Virginia’s new maps will be drawn by a bipartisan redistricting commission for the first time, though, so it’s anyone’s guess how competitive this seat will be when the process is finished.
● Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s five special elections:
AL-SD-14: Republican April Weaver defeated Democrat Virginia Applebaum 80-20 to hold this seat for her party.
AL-HD-73: Republican Kenneth Paschal defeated Democrat Sheridan Black 75-25 to hold this seat for his party. Paschal becomes the first Black Republican elected to the Alabama State House since Reconstruction (though he’ll be the second to serve in the chamber in that period of time, as former Rep. Johnny Ford was elected as a Democrat but switched to the GOP in 2003).
GA-HD-34: Republican Devan Seabaugh defeated Democrat Priscilla Smith 63-37 to hold this seat for his party. This historically red suburban Atlanta district has zoomed to the left in the Trump era, backing Donald Trump just 51-47 in 2020 after supporting him 55-40 in 2016, but Seabaugh was able to improve significantly on both margins and came much closer to matching Mitt Romney’s 64-34 win here in 2012.
GA-HD-156: Republican Leesa Hagan narrowly turned back fellow party member Wally Sapp 52-48 to win this solidly red south Georgia seat.
WI-AD-37: Republican William Penterman defeated Democrat Pete Adams 54-44 to hold this seat for his party. Adams’ performance was slightly better than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing here, making this the third special election in Wisconsin this year where the Democratic candidate outpaced Clinton’s margin in their district.
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