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Morning Digest: Minnesota House election pushed to February after pro-cannabis candidate dies

Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig's race for a second term has been moved from November to February.

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

MN-02: Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon announced on Thursday that the race for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District would not be decided until a Feb. 9 special election because the recent death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks triggered a state law requiring the election to be delayed. As a result, the outcome of Democratic Rep. Angie Craig's bid for a second term against Republican Tyler Kistner will not be known until after the 117th Congress convenes, barring a legal challenge.

Minnesota mandates a postponement when a so-called "major-party" nomination becomes vacant within 79 days of a November election. Weeks rather improbably qualified for this designation because the state grants major-party status to any political party that wins at least 5% in a statewide election, which Legal Marijuana Now's candidate for state auditor, Michael Ford, managed in 2018 when he took 5.3% of the vote. (Believe it or not, a second pro-cannabis party called the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party also achieved the same milestone in the midterms, capturing 5.7% in the race for attorney general.)

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Simon says that November ballots will not be altered but that no votes will be tallied or reported for the 2nd District, an historically Republican seat in the Minneapolis suburbs. No substitutions would be permitted for the special election, so Craig and Kistner would remain their parties' nominees, though Legal Marijuana Now would have the opportunity to name a new candidate. Neither campaign commented on the developments except to express condolences to Weeks' family.

While Craig is favored to win (Daily Kos had rated the original election as Likely Democratic), a delayed election could complicate life for her. In 2018, Craig capitalized on high Democratic enthusiasm to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Jason Lewis—two years after Lewis had narrowly defeated her—which she'd likely enjoy again in November but might not in February. However, recent trends in the district, which is relatively affluent and well-educated, have favored Democrats: After supporting Donald Trump 47-45 in 2016, Democrat Tim Walz won the 2nd 52-45 two years later.

The unusual law that's scrambled the picture came into being in 2013, more than a decade after Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone's untimely death 11 days before the 2002 elections, when Democrats replaced Wellstone with former Vice President Walter Mondale. With little time to campaign, Mondale narrowly lost to Republican Norm Coleman, 50-47. The change took so long to enact because Republicans opposed it, leaving Democrats unable to pass it until they won full control of state government in 2012. The bill's author, incidentally, was none other than Steve Simon.

It's possible, though, that Simon's law might not survive legal scrutiny. The Constitution grants Congress the power to set election dates, and in 1872, it passed legislation fixing Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (click here for more on why that particular timeframe was chosen). Election law expert Gerry Cohen thinks that the federal law in question "would seem" to pre-empt Minnesota's law, so we could see a return to a normal timetable if a lawsuit is successful.

Race Ratings

Donald Trump is continuing to harm his party downballot, which is why Daily Kos Elections is moving three more contests in the direction of the Democrats. You can find all of our Senate, gubernatorial, and House ratings at each link.

CA-50 (Safe R to Likely R): Republican Darrell Issa looked like a sure bet to return to the House after he narrowly prevailed in the March top-two primary for California's 50th Congressional District, but two polls taken over the summer have shown him locked in a surprisingly tight race with Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar.

A late July Campa-Najjar internal from Strategies 360 had Issa ahead 47-43, while an early September SurveyUSA poll showed the Republican up just 46-45. And while Campa-Najjar's team did not disclose the presidential results, SurveyUSA showed Joe Biden ahead 48-45 in an ancestrally Republican seat in inland San Diego County that backed Donald Trump 55-40 in 2016.

Issa, who infamously decided to run here two years after he retired as the congressman from the neighboring—and much bluer—49th District just ahead of the 2018 blue wave, is still favored to prevail here. Despite those numbers from SurveyUSA, it would be a big surprise if Trump lost a seat where Republicans have done well across the ballot for decades. Indeed, it was only two years ago that then-Rep. Duncan Hunter managed to fend off Campa-Najjar 52-48 even though Hunter was under indictment at the time for misusing campaign money.

Still, Campa-Najjar has the resources to run another strong campaign, and these polls give us a good reason to watch this contest.

ME-02 (Tossup to Lean D): Democrat Jared Golden narrowly flipped Maine's 2nd Congressional District following an instant runoff two years ago, but he's run well ahead of former Republican state Rep. Dale Crafts in every poll that's been released in 2020.

Golden also got some encouraging news on Sept. 21 when the Republican ad tracking firm Medium Buying reported that the DCCC was scaling back its TV reservation here in an apparent sign of confidence, though Daily Kos Elections has not been able to confirm the specifics. What we can say for sure, though, is that major Republican groups haven't booked any ad time to aid Crafts, who faces a major financial deficit.

But while Golden may have the edge now, his victory is not a foregone conclusion. Though polls show that Donald Trump is running well behind his 51-41 victory here from four years ago, he could still carry this district, and its electoral vote, again. Both presidential campaigns are targeting the 2nd, and Trump's spending could end up giving the entire Republican ticket, including Crafts, a boost.

MT-AL (Likely R to Lean R): We've seen an unusually large number of polls of the contest for Montana's At-Large Congressional District, and they almost all show a competitive race. As of Sept. 24, the Daily Kos Elections polling average gives 2018 Democratic nominee Kathleen Williams a 46-44 edge over Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale, who was the party's losing candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

Williams is still the underdog in Montana, which hasn't given its electoral votes to a Democrat since Bill Clinton narrowly won it in 1992. However, as Rosendale found out the hard way last cycle, voters are still open to backing Democrats for downballot contests. Multiple polls have also found that, while Donald Trump is still ahead in the state, he's coming nowhere close to matching his 56-36 showing from four years ago, which reduces the number of crossover voters that Williams would need to win in order to prevail.

Senate

CO-Sen: Democrat John Hickenlooper is the first candidate we've seen from either party to air a TV ad that directly mentions Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacant Supreme Court seat, though he certainly won't be the last. Hickenlooper says of the Republican incumbent, "Cory Gardner has taken no action to lower health care costs, lower prescription drug prices, rebuild our infrastructure, fight climate change, or provide economic relief in this pandemic for five months. But boy oh boy, Cory's ready to rush through a Supreme Court justice in lightning speed."

Hickenlooper continues, "The next court will decide whether to rip up protections for people with pre-existing conditions, whether women still have a right to choose, and really what justice means in this country."

Hickenlooper also has another commercial focused on healthcare that stars a woman named Jeanne Swaim who tells the audience, "I was battling cancer when Cory Gardner voted to repeal Obamacare, and it was scary. Fighting cancer and watching my own senator vote to take healthcare away from me." Swaim goes on to say how disgusted she is with Gardner's commercials "pretending he's going to protect me" before telling the senator, "You voted nine times to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions."

IA-Sen: The League of Conservation Voters has launched a new $2 million TV campaign tying Republican Sen. Joni Ernst to the oil industry. The ad begins, "Here's a map of every single working oil well in Iowa. There aren't any." The narrator continues by faulting the incumbent for having "voted to give big oil tax breaks totaling $25 billion," tax breaks that don't help her constituents.  

SC-Sen: While Security is Strength, an Orwellian-named super PAC supporting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, reserved TV time back in the early spring for October and early November, the group is returning to the airwaves a bit sooner than planned. Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin reports that the PAC has reserved $2.6 million for the next month, which is $1 million more than it reportedly booked back in April.  

The ad's argument against Democrat Jaime Harrison relies on the xenophobic attacks against China that Republican campaigns have adopted across the country. Somehow, though, the spot manages to go even further by proclaiming, "We're at war with China," a development that should come as a massive surprise for the audience, except for Inner Party members devoted to the teachings of Ingsoc.

Polls:

  • AZ-Sen: Ipsos for Reuters: Mark Kelly (D): 50, Martha McSally (R-inc): 41 (47-46 Biden)
  • GA-Sen-A: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: David Perdue (R-inc): 43, Jon Ossoff (D): 41, Shane Hazel (L): 2 (45-45 presidential tie)
  • GA-Sen-A: Siena for the New York Times: Perdue (R-inc): 41, Ossoff (D): 38, Hazel (L): 5 (45-45 presidential tie)
  • GA-Sen-B: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Raphael Warnock (D): 26, Doug Collins (R): 22, Kelly Loeffler (R-inc): 21, Matt Lieberman (D): 14 (45-45 presidential tie)
  • GA-Sen-B: Siena for the New York Times: Loeffler (R-inc): 23, Warnock (D): 19, Collins (R): 19, Lieberman (D): 7, Tarver (D): 4 (45-45 presidential tie)
  • IA-Sen: Monmouth: Joni Ernst (R-inc): 47, Theresa Greenfield (D) 47 (50-44 Trump): (Aug.: 48-45 Ernst)
  • IA-Sen: Siena for the New York Times: Greenfield (D): 42, Ernst (R-inc): 40 (45-42 Biden)
  • KS-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Barbara Bollier (D): 40, Roger Marshall (R): 40, Jason Buckley (L): 5 (48-42 Trump)
  • KY-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Mitch McConnell (R-inc): 46, Amy McGrath (D): 39, Brad Barron (L): 3 (55-35 Trump)
  • ME-Sen: Moore Information (R) for NRSC: Susan Collins (R-inc): 42, Sara Gideon (D): 42 (June: 45-37 Collins)
  • MI-Sen: Baldwin Wallace University: Gary Peters (D-inc): 46, John James (R): 41 (50-42 Biden) (Jan: 42-32 Peters)
  • MI-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media and Indivisible: Peters (D-inc): 47, James (R): 42 (48-42 Biden)
  • TX-Sen: Quinnipiac: John Cornyn (R-inc): 50, MJ Hegar (D): 42 (50-45 Trump) (July: 47-38 Cornyn)
  • TX-Sen: Siena for the New York Times: Cornyn (R-inc): 43, Hegar (D): 37 (46-43 Trump)

Data for Progress offered one a version of its presidential and Senate polls with third-party candidates included and a separate version with just the major-party contenders. As always when both these options are presented, Daily Kos Elections will use the one that includes the third-party candidates, as long as they're listed on that state's ballot.

GA-Sen-B: Most recent polls, including Siena's new survey, have found appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in first place in the all-party primary with Republican Rep. Doug Collins and pastor Raphael Warnock, who is the choice of national Democrats, in a tight contest for the crucial second spot. Data for Progress, though, is the very first poll we've seen that's given the top spot to Warnock: Even a recent GBAO survey for Warnock's own campaign had Loeffler in the lead with 29%, while Warnock edged out Collins 25-19.

There's one possible reason Warnock does so well here, though. While two other Democrats, businessman Matt Lieberman and former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver, are on the ballot, Data for Progress did not include Tarver as an option. Tarver has consistently polled far behind the other four candidates, but his presence on the ballot could end up costing Warnock some crucial Democratic votes he'd need to advance to the inevitable January runoff.

Data for Progress is also the first firm to release numbers finding Collins leading Loeffler, even if only narrowly, since early July, when the congressman dropped a Battleground Connect poll that showed him up 26-17 and in first place.

KS-Sen: This is the first poll we've gotten since Republican Roger Marshall and his allies began running negative ads against Democrat Barbara Bollier two weeks ago, yet it's not too different from earlier numbers we'd seen.

ME-Sen: While Moore Information's poll for the NRSC is better for Republican Sen. Susan Collins than any other survey we've seen since late June, it's ominous for the incumbent in one big way. That last good poll for Collins also from Moore (and also conducted for the NRSC), but it gave Collins a far stronger 45-37 edge over Democrat Sara Gideon, so even the senator's allies find her losing altitude as Election Day draws closer.

Even if Moore is on-target and Collins and Gideon are deadlocked, though, that's probably bad news for Team Red. Maine uses instant-runoff voting, and several other recent polls have found Gideon gaining a point or two once the minor candidates are eliminated and their supporters' votes redistributed.

House

CA-21: Freshman Democratic Rep. TJ Cox has launched a commercial starring a local business owner identified as Louie, who argues that the congressman is the one candidate who has been a friend for "small businesses like ours." Louie then says of Cox's GOP foe, "David Valadao is a failed businessman who stuck taxpayers and small businesses with a $13 billion bill. And by the way, a worker lost his arm at Valadao's business, and the jury ruled Valadao's business was to blame."

FL-15: On Thursday, the DCCC added Alan Cohn to its Red to Blue program.

GA-06: The NRCC is up with a new ad attacking Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath that attempts to portray her as "soft on crime." The spot shows a white woman jogging in a park while a voiceover bemoans crime levels that have allegedly grown "out of control" in this suburban Atlanta district. The commercial goes on to claim that McBath voted to release criminals from prison including "murderers and rapists." As the woman jogs, heavy breathing can be heard from behind her amidst the narration, as if to suggest she is being stalked.

In addition to playing on the ostensible racial fears of white voters, however, the commercial's claims about McBath's voting record are simply untrue. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the vote in question was for the HEROES Act, a COVID-19 relief bill. Among several other provisions, the legislation called for releasing inmates who are nonviolent or at high-risk from coronavirus, to ease crowding during the pandemic. The measure was not taken up in the Senate.

McBath's campaign responded to the ad by pointing out that her opponent, Republican Karen Handel, supported a criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act when she was in Congress in 2018. That bill, which did become law, specifically allowed for the release of certain inmates to help reduce the prison population.

MI-06: Democrat Jon Hoadley's newest commercial features a nurse named Lori who describes herself as a former supporter of Republican Rep. Fred Upton who has now soured on the longtime incumbent because of healthcare issues.

Lori tells the audience, "When I was 18 years old, the year was 1988. I voted for Fred Upton. As time went on, Fred was getting large donations from large corporations and insurance companies and that coincided with the changes in his voting record." She goes on to talk about her work during the pandemic and concludes, "The constant roadblocks that Fred Upton puts up to affordable healthcare just makes me so angry."

TX-06: On Wednesday evening, Republican Rep. Ron Wright's office announced that the congressman been released from the hospital, adding, "Under orders from his physicians, Wright will remain at home to recover from a bout with pneumonia." The Wright's team also said that, after he recovers, he will "resume his duties in Washington and his treatment for cancer."

TX-21: House Freedom Action has thrown down $340,000 for a buy against Democrat Wendy Davis, though we do not have a copy of the commercial yet.

WI-03: Politico's Ally Mutnick reports that the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has launched a $2 million TV and digital buy against Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, a 12-term incumbent who hasn't been seriously targeted since the 2010 GOP wave. This is the first major outside spending from either side in this southwestern Wisconsin seat.

Kind's 3rd District was drawn up by Republicans in the legislature to be safely Democratic turf in order to protect Republican incumbents elsewhere, but it's become more competitive in recent years. The area swung from 55-44 Obama to 49-45 Trump, though Kind won re-election in 2016 without opposition. Things got a better for Team Blue in 2018, as Democrat Tony Evers carried it 50-48 as he was unseating Republican Gov. Scott Walker by a similar margin statewide. That year, Kind also turned back an underfunded foe 60-40.

The NRCC made an early attempt to recruit state Sen. Pat Testin to take on Kind this cycle, but Team Red didn't seem to have a viable backup candidate after he turned them down last year. However, Navy SEAL veteran Derrick Van Orden raised a credible $725,000 through late July, so he may have the resources needed to give Kind his first real race in a decade. Quarterly fundraising reports are due Oct. 15, so we'll know more about Van Orden's fundraising capabilities soon.

CLF's expensive advertising campaign indicates that the PAC thinks Van Orden can put up a real fight, and its introductory ad praises him as "a patriot, not a politician." The narrator goes on to argue that Kind, meanwhile, has "become another liberal politician." While the intervention comes as a surprise, Kind seems to have been preparing for a potentially difficult race. The incumbent had over $3 million stockpiled two months ago, and he began running positive commercials in mid-August.

Mayoral

Boston, MA Mayor: On Thursday, Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell announced that she would challenge Mayor Marty Walsh in next year's nonpartisan contest. She launched her bid declaring, "In this profound moment of reckoning for our country and our city, as people rise up to demand change, Boston needs leadership that not only understands, but has lived the systemic inequities facing our residents every day."

Campbell, who holds one of the City Council's nine district-level seats, would be the first woman to hold this office, as well as the city's first Black mayor. She joins colleague Michelle Wu, who would also be the first woman of color to lead the city, in the 2021 contest. Campbell, Walsh, and Wu are all Democrats.

New York City, NY Mayor: On Thursday, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced that he would not compete in next year's contest to succeed termed-out Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat. The development came as something of a surprise as Johnson had previously begun fundraising for a possible bid.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: CBS Miami reported Wednesday that federal prosecutors were investigating former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who retired last cycle, for allegedly misusing campaign money to pay for personal trips. Ros-Lehtinen's attorney put out a statement saying, "We are gathering the information requested by the Department of Justice and are confident that, if bookkeeping errors were committed, they were due to negligence, and not willful or intentional misconduct by the former congresswoman or anyone on her staff, or her accountants."

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