Morning Digest: Arizona Senate race moves toward Mark Kelly after string of polls finds him favored

Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly

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.

Leading Off

AZ-Sen: The Democratic pollster Beacon Research and the Republican firm Shaw & Company Research are out with a survey for Fox News that finds Democrat Mark Kelly leading GOP Sen. Martha McSally by a huge 50-37 margin. The poll also shows Joe Biden carrying Arizona 46-42, which is a big shift from Donald Trump's 48-45 victory four years ago.

After losing the 2018 Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema 50-48, the appointed incumbent looks to be in far worse shape this cycle. Every single poll we've seen in 2020, with the exception of a single McSally internal from January, has shown her trailing Kelly.

Campaign Action

And ominously for McSally, this new survey for Fox is the third poll released in the last two weeks that's shown her losing by double digits. OH Predictive Insights recently found Kelly up 51-38 and Biden ahead 50-43, while a second Arizona Republican pollster, HighGround Public Affairs, gave Kelly a 51-41 advantage along with a 47-45 Biden edge.

Notably, all three of these recent surveys have shown Kelly running between 6 and 9 points ahead of Biden, which is another big problem for McSally. If that sort of gap persists into November, then Kelly would have a very good shot at winning even if Trump comes from behind to win Arizona, which has backed Republicans in 16 of the last 17 presidential elections (Bill Clinton carried it with a narrow plurality in 1996).

With McSally the underdog now, Daily Kos Elections is changing our rating here from Tossup to Lean Democratic. However, the senator does still have time to turn things around, especially if Trump's standing improves over the next few months. The NRSC, which began airing its first TV spot this week, is also taking action early in an effort to dent Kelly's lead. In addition, major outside groups on both sides have reserved millions in fall TV time, so neither side is acting as though McSally is done despite her current deficit.

McSally, though, needs something to change in order to finally win a Senate race. Kelly doesn't, and that makes him the favorite.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete compilation of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to election and voting procedures.

Indiana: Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson have suggested they are not inclined to allow Indiana voters to cast absentee ballots without an excuse for the November general election, even though the state Election Commission eliminated the excuse requirement ahead of this week's primary. A federal lawsuit asking that the excuse requirement be waived for November remains pending.

Mississippi: Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson says he opposes a "blanket expansion" of mail voting, saying instead that local clerks should decide whether voters can request absentee ballots due to the coronavirus under a state law that allows those with a "temporary disability" to vote by mail.

Texas: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked a lower court ruling that would have allowed all Texas voters to request an absentee ballot without an excuse. The appeals court rejected plaintiffs' arguments that a Texas law waiving the excuse requirement for voters 65 and over violates the 26th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."

The decision was swiftly criticized by legal experts such as Rick Hasen, who criticized the judges for basing their decision on a Supreme Court case that did not involve the 26th Amendment. In fact, as Joshua Douglas noted, the case in question was decided in 1969, two years before the 26th Amendment was ratified. Douglas also concluded that the 5th Circuit panel, which was made up of three Republican appointees, failed to apply the proper heightened level of scrutiny to the Texas law.

The Texas Democratic Party, one of the plaintiffs, suggested in a statement following the ruling that it might appeal, saying, "Ultimately, we’re going to need direction from the United States Supreme Court." Hasen, however, questioned the wisdom of a possible appeal to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, saying it "could do much more harm than good" by inviting the justices to establish a nationwide precedent that militates against expanding access to mail voting.


GA-Sen-A: The GOP firm Landmark Communications is out with a poll of next week's Democratic primary for WSB-TV that shows investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff taking 42% of the vote, which is a bit below the majority he'd need to avoid an August runoff. Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson holds a 14-9 lead over Sarah Riggs Amico, who was Team Blue's 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, for second place.

The only other recent poll we've seen here was a survey from the GOP firm Cygnal for an unidentified client that found Ossoff at 49%, while Tomlinson led Amico 16-8 for second.

IA-Sen: Democrat Theresa Greenfield is already up with her first general election spot just days after winning the primary. Greenfield talks about growing up on a farm and caring for her two children after her husband died, as well as how she "worked my way up to running a small business."

KS-Sen: Rep. Roger Marshall's newest TV spot for the August GOP primary touts him as "a pro-life doctor" and "Trump's trusted ally" and mentions the groups that are endorsing him. The commercial also features a clip of former Sen. Bob Dole (Bob Dole!) telling the audience, "Roger Marshall has the best interests of Kansas at heart."

MA-Sen: Environment Massachusetts has announced that it will spend $200,000 on digital and print ads backing Sen. Ed Markey in the September Democratic primary.

ME-Sen: 1820 PAC, a pro-Susan Collins super PAC, recently ran a new spot attacking Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon. The ad, which is part of a $1.1 million buy that began a few weeks ago, goes after Gideon over an allegedly "costly energy tax." Specifically, the ad claims that Gideon co-sponsored a bill that would "raise taxes on home heating oil and gasoline by 40 cents per gallon". The commercial shows images of ostensible Mainers (despite its name referencing the year Maine was admitted as a state, 1820 PAC is based in D.C.) outside covering up with blankets as the voiceover says, "Sara Gideon would leave more Mainers out in the cold."

The ad does not mention that the legislation in question never passed. A fact-check by local news station WGME concludes that the spot "fails to give a complete picture of [Gideon's] record on taxes," noting that she has supported lowering other taxes.

NC-Sen, NC-Gov: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling takes another look at its home state and finds Democrat Cal Cunningham leading GOP Sen. Thom Tillis 43-41. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also outpaces Republican Dan Forest 50-39, while this sample favors Joe Biden 49-45. PPP's last Senate survey in mid-April found Cunningham up by a larger 47-40 margin, while a separate survey taken for the progressive group Protect Our Care a week later had Cooper ahead 53-40.


VT-Gov: The conservative firm We Ask America is out with a survey showing GOP Gov. Phil Scott far ahead of two prospective Democratic foes. WAA, which released numbers from Missouri last week, says that its Vermont poll is the "second in a series of 2020 statewide public opinion polls from across the country."

Scott leads Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman 60-25, while he holds a larger 62-20 edge over former state education secretary Rebecca Holcombe. The only poll we've seen here was from Braun Research in February, and it also showed Scott decisively winning.


MA-04: Newton City Councilor Becky Walker Grossman is out with a survey from Beacon Research that gives her the lead in the crowded September Democratic primary, though it finds that most voters are undecided.

Grossman takes 13%, while two opponents, former head of the Alliance for Business Leadership head Jesse Mermell and fellow Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss, are tied for second with 7% each. Two other contenders, attorney Ben Sigel and City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, both take 4%; Dave Cavell, who served as former senior adviser to Attorney General Maura Healey, and businessman Chris Zannetos are at 2% and 1%, respectively. The poll did not include former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey or Natalia Linos, another candidate who hasn’t raised much money.

NC-11: Donald Trump tweeted out an endorsement on Thursday for businesswoman Lynda Bennett in the June 23 GOP primary runoff. Bennett already had the support of former Rep. Mark Meadows, who resigned from this seat to become Trump's chief of staff.

NY-01: Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming is out with a survey from Honan Strategy Group that shows a tight June 23 Democratic primary for the right to go up against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin. This poll, which was in the field May 28-30, finds Fleming tied 29-29 with Stony Brook University professor Nancy Goroff, while 2018 nominee Perry Gershon takes 22%. This is the first survey we've seen here since February, when a Gershon internal found him well ahead.

NY-02: Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino uses his first TV spot for the June 23 primary to emphasize that he's backed by retiring Rep. Pete King. Garbarino continues by throwing out some Trump-era rhetoric, saying, "I'm a conservative, who thinks China's been getting away with murder and gangs like MS-13 should be put away."

Garbarino then takes a shot at his primary foe, fellow Assemblyman Mike LiPetri. Garbarino argues, "My opponent, Michael LiPetri, was a Democrat and worked for [New York City Mayor] Bill de Blasio. And he doesn't support term limits. I do." Garbarino concludes by pledging he'll "fight the AOC-de Blasio liberals in Congress, not work for them."

NY-15: Data for Progress' new survey finds that there's a terrifyingly real possibility that one of the worst Democrats in the entire county, New York City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr., could win the June 23 primary to represent this safely blue Bronx seat. The poll, which was not done for any client, gives Díaz a 22-20 edge over his colleague, Ritchie Torres. We have a three-way tie for third place between Assemblyman Michael Blake, former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and activist Samelys Lopez with 6% of the vote each.

Díaz, as we've written before, has spent his decades in politics attacking the LGBTQ community in word and deed, and he's shown no signs of change. Just last cycle, Díaz was stripped of his committee chairmanship after declaring the council was "controlled by the homosexual community" in a radio interview, which set off widespread calls for his resignation.

Díaz has also aided Republicans in recent years. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Díaz, sporting his familiar cowboy hat, campaigned in the Bronx with Ted Cruz (a total of a dozen people showed up). Around that same time Díaz also said "I do like Donald Trump" and added, "He's like me, making enemies everywhere he goes."

Unfortunately, while the Bronx is one of the most Democratic areas in the nation, Díaz has won primary after primary in the borough. In 2017, one year after he retired from the state Senate, Díaz won the five-way primary for City Council 42-21. And as this poll shows, Díaz has a chance to once again win a crowded nomination contest with just a plurality of the vote.

Torres, though, has the resources to get his message out over the next few crucial weeks. Torres, who would be the first gay Latino member of Congress, ended March with a huge $939,000 to $125,000 cash on hand lead over Díaz, while Blake was a distant third with just $77,000 in the bank.

NY-16: Middle school principal Jamaal Bowman picked up an endorsement on Wednesday from freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for his June 23 Democratic primary challenge against Rep. Eliot Engel. AOC famously toppled a longtime incumbent, Joe Crowley, last year in a neighboring seat, and Bowman is hoping to do the same thing later this month.

One big difference between those two races, though, is that while well-funded groups stayed out of Ocasio-Cortez’s contest, outside organizations are now spending big to help Bowman. The Working Families Party and the Justice Democrats announced Wednesday that they would deploy $500,000 on advertising, including cable and digital spots, and phone outreach.

The two opening commercials from the Justice Democrats both portray Engel, who spent months holed up in his DC-area home even as the coronavirus pandemic was hitting his district hard, as an absentee representative. The first ad calls for “someone who actually cares about us” before touting Bowman as someone who is “here for us.”

The second spot shows footage from this week of Engel pleading with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for the chance to speak at a press conference, telling Diaz, "If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care." The congressman was referring to his lack of a speaking slot at the event, which was convened after a night of looting along the Fordham Road retail corridor, but that gaffe was quickly refracted as a commentary on Engel's feelings about his race and his constituents. Indeed, the Justice Democrats’ commercial declares, “Engel only came back to win re-election. To help himself. To save his job, not our lives.”

NY-17: Westchester County Executive George Latimer endorsed Assemblyman David Buchwald this week in the crowded June 23 Democratic primary.

NY-24: Navy veteran Francis Conole's newest ad for the June 23 Democratic primary slams politicians like GOP Rep. John Katko and Donald Trump for "failing to lead, feeding us misinformation, costing us lives." Conole continues, "We shouldn't have to fight over relief for our families or send our doctors and nurses to the frontlines without the equipment they need."

OK-05: GOP state Sen. Stephanie Bice is out with a new TV spot for the June 30 primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn … kind of. Politico writes that Bice is asking her supporters which of her two commercials should run but, aside from the music, the spots are almost exactly the same. The only other difference we found is that one ad has a bunch of Facebook like and love icons floating up as various people thank Bice for being such an awesome conservative, while the other one is free of this weird effects decision.

SC-01: The anti-tax Club for Growth has launched a negative spot against Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing ahead of next week’s GOP primary. The narrator charges that Landing “voted to hand investors big economic incentives. Like what? You're not supposed to know.” After saying that Landing went to great lengths to keep this information hidden, the narrator declares that she also voted to increase local town fees.

Politico reports that the Club has spent a total of $600,000 so far to help state Rep. Nancy Mace advance to the general election against freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham. If no one takes a majority of the vote, a runoff would take place on June 23.

TX-17: Businesswoman Renee Swann is out with her first TV spot for the July 14 Republican primary runoff for this reliably red seat.

Swann embraces what has quickly become one of the GOP's favorite talking points and tells the audience, "President Trump is absolutely right. This pandemic is communist China's fault, and we all know it." She continues, "Career politicians talk tough, but they gave China unfair trade deals and refused to hold them accountable. It's got to end." Swann doesn't mention her intra-party opponent, former 32nd District Rep. Pete Sessions, though she's almost certainly alluding to him as she calls for "new leaders with a new vision."


Honolulu, HI Mayor: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for the Aug. 8 nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Kirk Caldwell, and the state has a list of contenders available here. In the likely event that no one takes a majority of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes will advance to the Nov. 3 general election.

Fifteen contenders ended up filing, and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Gordon Y.K. Pang writes that at least six of them have a “legitimate shot” to win. The most familiar name to readers is probably former Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who lost the 2018 primary to Gov. David Ige. Another veteran politician in the running is ex-Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a former conservative Democrat who lost the 2014 general election to Ige as an independent. The only current elected official in the contest, though, is Councilwoman Kym Pine.

One well-connected newcomer to watch is Rick Blangiardi, the former general manager of Hawaiʻi News Now. Blangiardi has the backing of former Republican Gov. Linda Lingell as well as the local police union, and he led in a poll taken just before Hannemann joined the race over the weekend. Another first-time contender is businessman Keith Amemiya, who raised the most money through February and recently earned the support of the state’s largest union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association. Also in the contest is community advocate Choon James, whom Pang writes “brings her own following” to the contest.

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