Morning Digest: Eyeing gains this fall, Democrats have candidates in nearly every House race

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There were no unexpected developments in the state’s lone open House seat in the 5th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham decided to retire after an unsuccessful bid for governor last year. The best-funded candidate by a wide margin is Luke Letlow, a former Abraham chief of staff who has his old boss’ endorsement, but two other notable Republicans are running: state Rep. Lance Harris and Ouachita Parish police juror Scotty Robinson. (In Louisiana, a parish police jury is similar to a county commission or board of supervisors.)

This dark-red district in the state’s northeast is sure to stay in the GOP’s hands, but there’s a chance the race won’t get resolved until a Dec. 5 runoff in the event that no one takes a majority in November. Challengers meanwhile filed to run against incumbents in every other Louisiana House seat, all of which are held by Republicans except the 2nd, which is represented by Democrat Cedric Richmond. Thanks to a GOP-drawn gerrymander, none of these districts will be competitive in the fall.

While some states will still allow independents to qualify for the general election, the roster of major candidates is now set. Both parties have left comparatively few seats uncontested. Republicans will not field anyone in 19 races, which is their lowest total since 2010, when they contested all but five seats and retook the House. Democrats, meanwhile, have failed to put up candidates in only eight districts, which follows on the extremely low three seats they left unchallenged last cycle—the fewest since the post-Watergate election of 1974, when the party tied its modern record by leaving only Ohio Rep. Charles Whalen without an opponent.

As you can see from our list of all 25 uncontested seats—which is reflected in the map at the top of this post—virtually all are in territory that is safe for one party or the other. There is one exception, though: Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart is guaranteed a 10th term in Florida’s 26th District, which Donald Trump carried by just a 50-48 margin four years ago. However, this area still often votes for Republicans downballot, and Díaz-Balart beat a credible challenger in 2018 60-40, despite the blue wave.

One final note: The number of districts without a Republican on the November ballot could tick up a bit after next week’s primaries in Washington state. That’s because Washington, like California, uses a top-two system, where all candidates from all parties run together in the primary, and the top two vote-getters regardless of party advance to the general election. That’s already the case in half a dozen dark blue California districts this year, and it could happen again in the Evergreen State, mostly likely in the open 10th District.

ELECTION CHANGES

Florida: A state court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a trio of Florida voters seeking to have election officials mail ballots to all voters and prepay the postage on return envelopes. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to allege they had been harmed, concluding they had not demonstrated any difficulty “in requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or otherwise voting by mail.”

Georgia: Election officials in Cobb County, a populous county in the Atlanta suburbs, have asked the county’s Board of Commissioners to appropriate funds so that they can send absentee ballot applications to all voters ahead of the November general election. Officials in nearby DeKalb County, another large jurisdiction in the Atlanta area, are considering a similar plan.

Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has added six days of early voting ahead of the November general election, meaning that the early voting period, which was slated to begin on Oct. 19, will instead run from Oct. 13 through Oct. 30. Texas, however, still does not permit all voters to request absentee ballots, prompting the state Democratic Party to call Abbott’s move “the bare minimum.”

Senate

AZ-Sen, MI-Sen, NC-Sen: CNN and NBC have each released a pair of new Senate polls in key battlegrounds. For CNN, which uses pollster SSRS, it’s the news outlet’s first foray into both states; NBC, meanwhile, relying on Marist, finds Democrats improving their standing in both Arizona and North Carolina:

  • AZ-Sen: Marist College for NBC News: Mark Kelly (D): 53, Martha McSally (R-inc): 41 (50-45 Biden) (March: 48-45 Kelly)
  • AZ-Sen: SSRS for CNN: Mark Kelly (D): 50, Martha McSally (R-inc): 43 (49-45 Biden)
  • MI-Sen: SSRS for CNN: Gary Peters (D-inc): 54, John James (R) 38 (52-40 Biden)
  • NC-Sen: Marist College for NBC News: Cal Cunningham (D): 50, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 41 (49-45 Biden) (Feb.: 48-43 Cunningham)

GA-Sen-A: Democrat Jon Ossoff is airing a new TV ad that blisters Republican Sen. David Perdue by featuring almost identical comments Trump and Perdue have made downplaying the coronavirus pandemic as a chart tallying the number of American deaths sharply rises on-screen. When Trump says, “The risk to the American people remains very low,” Perdue echoes him with, “The risk of this virus still remains low.”

Trump: “We’ve had flus before.”

Perdue: “We’ve had ordinary flu seasons with more deaths.”

Trump: “Those numbers are nowhere near what was projected.”

Perdue: “The numbers projected were supposed to be much worse”

The ad concludes with both men saying the exact same words: “It’s going very well.” Ossoff’s wife, physician Alisha Kramer, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, though Ossoff himself tested negative.

MA-Sen: The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which represents 110,000 members, has endorsed Sen. Ed Markey over Rep. Joe Kennedy III in the Democratic primary. NBC Boston describes the get as “significant” and notes that Markey already has the backing of another teachers’ union it calls “influential,” the American Federation of Teachers.

SC-Sen: Democrat Jaime Harrison has released an internal poll from Brilliant Corners showing Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham with a small 43-41 lead while two minor candidates combine for 7% of the vote. In a matchup featuring just Graham and Harrison, the incumbent has a smaller 49-46 edge. Donald Trump holds a wider 50-43 advantage on Joe Biden. In March, an earlier Harrison internal from the same pollster had Graham ahead 47-43. The most recent reliable poll, conducted by Democratic pollster Civiqs in May, found the two candidates tied at 42.

Gubernatorial

NC-Gov: The first reputable poll of North Carolina’s gubernatorial election we’ve seen in about a month, courtesy of Marist College for NBC News, finds Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper crushing Republican Dan Forest 58-38. Cooper also enjoys a healthy 59-35 job approval rating (a similar question was not asked about Forest). Prior to this poll, the Daily Kos Elections average of all polls of this race had Cooper up 49-39.

House

CO-03: Restaurateur Lauren Boebert, who upset Rep. Scott Tipton in last month’s GOP primary, has released her first TV ad of the general election and she goes after … her own mother? Boebert, who narrates the spot herself, begins by saying, “My mom was a lifelong Democrat, stuck in a cycle of poverty. As a kid, I felt helpless buying groceries with her welfare card.” Can’t say we’ve seen this line of attack before.

This familial resentment is not a new theme: As the Denver Post reports, in a video she posted earlier this year, Boebert declared, “My mom was a true blue Democrat and she believed all of the lies that she was told—that she could not support me and my brothers on her own.” In her new ad, she continues to throw shade at her mother: “At 15, my first job at McDonald’s taught me I could take better care of myself than government ever could,” she says.

She then transitions, claiming “Now, I’m a proud business owner, providing good-paying jobs that help build self-esteem, pride, and dignity.” However, as the Post notes, her notorious gun-themed restaurant, where servers openly carry firearms, has faced “dire financial straits”: It lost $ 242,000 in 2018 and had liens worth almost $ 20,000 filed against it over the last several years due to unpaid property taxes.

Shooters Grill was also responsible for a food poisoning outbreak in 2017 that sickened 80 people after it served tainted pork at a rodeo. In addition, health authorities shut down the restaurant earlier this year after Boebert sought to defy an order banning indoor dining due to the coronavirus pandemic.

FL-26: The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the largest player in House races on the Republican side, has released a new poll of Florida’s competitive 26th Congressional District, but there’s a notable omission. While the survey, the first of this race, finds Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez leading Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell 47-42, CLF apparently did not see fit to include any numbers on the presidential contest, which Donald Trump lost 57-41 four years ago in this district.

In fact, this is something CLF has now done in three polls it’s put out recently. Along with Florida’s 26th, the super PAC has declined to share presidential numbers in surveys of both Pennsylvania’s 1st District and Virginia’s 2nd that it released in the past month. If the results were positive for Trump, you can bet we’d have heard about them.

IA-01, IA-03: Iowa’s two freshmen Democrats, 1st District Rep. Abby Finkenauer and 3rd District Rep. Cindy Axne, have both released their first ads of the general election. Axne’s spot focused on the coronavirus, with a narrator praising her for securing money for testing and for fighting to make COVID treatment free.

Finkenauer, meanwhile, narrates her own ad. She highlights a sweatshirt—complete with “burn holes”—worn by her father, a union welder, which she says she took with her to Washington “to remind folks there that we work for hardworking Americans like my dad.” She then emphasizes her support for increasing American manufacturing.

KS-02: A mystery super PAC called the Heartland PAC is running a new TV ad attacking state Treasurer Jake LaTurner with a week to go before the Republican primary. The spot slams LaTurner for voting to raise taxes and says he voted “to make it easier for the government to seize your private property.” The group behind the ad is reportedly spending at least $ 56,000 to air it.

MO-01: Veteran Rep. Lacy Clay is running his first negative TV ad ahead of next week’s Democratic primary, where he faces a rematch with registered nurse Cori Bush. The ad comes out swinging, with a narrator inveighing, “Her name may be Bush, but she acts more like Trump.” She then claims that Bush “took $ 22,000 from out-of-state campaign donors—$ 22,000 in her pocket.” It is in fact true that Bush has paid herself a wage from her campaign funds, which is entirely permissible (the “out-of-state” business is baseless, since all campaign contributions are fungible).

The ad concludes by arguing Bush has “lied about being pastor of a church that doesn’t exist anywhere.” During this segment, we see a screenshot from an obscure site called KeyWiki, which bills itself as “Unlocking the covert side of U.S. and Global politics” but is in fact a disturbing right-wing site that compiles invasive profiles of anti-Trump activists—most of them just ordinary citizens. Unsurprisingly, there is no source listed for its claim about Bush’s church.

Clay’s decision to attack Bush is somewhat unexpected, given that he dispatched her challenge by a 57-37 margin two years ago. However, Bush outraised Clay both in the second quarter and again during the first two weeks of the month, and the incumbent is no doubt mindful of what just happened to his colleague Eliot Engel in New York. Clay still had a $ 390,000 to $ 127,000 advantage in cash-on-hand as of mid-July, but without any polling, it’s impossible to rule out an upset. Whoever wins this the primary is guaranteed of victory this fall in this dark blue St. Louis-based district.

TX-25: To showcase just how extensively Trump’s decline has shifted the playing field, the DCCC shared details of an in-house poll it conducted of Texas’ deep-red 25th Congressional District with the Washington Post that finds Joe Biden edging out Donald Trump 47-46 and puts Republican Rep. Roger Williams up just 45-43 on his Democratic challenger, attorney Julie Oliver.

That’s a huge shift from 2016, when Williams’ district went for Trump by a wide 55-40 margin. And that’s exactly what Republicans intended: The 25th is part of a careful gerrymander that cracked the Austin area six ways and allowed the GOP to win five of those seats. One of those is Williams’ district, which stretches far to the north toward Dallas-Fort Worth, combining a slice of the state capital with rural regions well outside of it.

As a result, the 25th is more rural (and whiter) than most of the suburban seats in Texas that are at the top of Democrats’ target list. As DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn put it, the district had only been “maybe on the outer edges of our battlefield,” but that may now change. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz only carried this seat 52-47 over Beto O’Rourke, so it’s plausible that the leftward march here is continuing.

The biggest difficulty for Oliver, though, may be getting her name out: She had just $ 90,000 in her campaign account as of June 30, versus $ 1.3 million for Williams. If the DCCC’s poll is accurate, Oliver’s been buoyed by the rising tide that has lifted so many Democrats, but to get past the incumbent, she’ll need the resources to effectively communicate with voters.

Legislative

Special Elections: Here’s an update on the special state Senate election in Texas that took place on July 14:

TX-SD-14: There will be no runoff Texas’ 14th State Senate District, after state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, the runner-up in the July 14 election, conceded the race to former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. The pair had been slated to face each other a second time, after Eckhardt finished ahead of Rodriguez 49.7-33.8 in the first round of voting. Texas state law, however, allows a candidate who was scheduled to participate in a runoff to drop out instead, with the remaining candidate automatically declared the winner.

A similar situation unfolded after the Mar. 3 Democratic primary for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District. Sima Ladjevardian led Elisa Cardnell after the primary but Cardnell suspended her campaign, forgoing the runoff, and leaving Ladjevardian as the winner.

Eckhardt’s win puts this chamber back at full strength with Republicans maintaining a 19-12 advantage.

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, Daily Kos reports

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