Morning Digest: Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams says she’ll run for office again after slim 2018 loss

Monday Calls

TX-23: On Monday, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones conceded defeat to GOP Rep. Will Hurd. Ortiz Jones had unsuccessfully sued to try and get Bexar County, which is the largest county in the district, to release a list of provisional voters and to extend its deadline for voters to resolve any issues.

Hurd’s lead stands at 49.2-48.7, a margin of 1,150 votes, a much closer result than we’d expected. Several polls found Hurd well ahead: The last survey we saw, a mid-October Siena poll, gave him a 53-38 edge. National Democratic groups were initially reluctant to spend much money on what looked like a very uphill race, and the NRCC even canceled its final 3 1/2 weeks’ worth of ad reservations in early October in a big sign of confidence in Hurd.

However, the DCCC and House Majority PAC ended up spending a total of around $840,000, and the NRCC went back on the air in the final week of the race with a $554,000 buy, both of which indicated that this race was getting closer late in the game. Ortiz Jones ultimately fell short, but her very close showing gives us good reason to think that this 50-46 Clinton seat will be in play once again in 2020.  


MS-Sen-B: The NRSC and Conservative Leadership Fund each launched $1 million buys last week to support GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in the Nov. 27 special election, and it’s possible they’re not just doing it out of caution. The Washington Post wrote over the weekend that private GOP polls find that the footage of Hyde-Smith expressing her eagerness to witness a public hanging has done her damage, and her lead over Democrat Mike Espy “has narrowed significantly in recent days.”

We haven’t seen any public polls here, though, and so far, major Democratic groups haven’t gotten involved to the extent that the GOP has. Senate Majority PAC did recently start a $493,000 buy to aid Espy (that’s a bit larger than the $407,000 size-of-the-buy we heard last week), but the DSCC has yet to engage.

SC-Sen: Team Blue hasn’t made a serious play for either of South Carolina’s Senate seats over the last several cycles, but one well-connected Democrat has been eyeing a 2020 bid against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Back in late September, former state party chair Jaime Harrison, who waged an unsuccessful campaign to lead the Democratic National Committee last year, tweeted that he was considering, and pledged that if he didn’t run, he would “work day and night” to find the right candidate.

Graham’s bigger threat may be in the GOP primary. The senator hasn’t enjoyed a particularly warm relationship with his state’s conservative base, and in 2014, he took just 56 percent of the vote against several primary foes. However, his loud and angry defense of Brett Kavanaugh during the Supreme Court fight made Graham a hero to Trump fans nationwide, and it may have helped him change his image with his old intraparty detractors at home. Graham has also largely been a loyal White House ally, and if Donald Trump supports him, he could be hard to beat in a primary.

TX-Sen: After his unusually strong run this year, Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke could probably put Texas’ next Senate race in play, too, but according to one new report, he’s not inclined to run for Senate again. While a lot of O’Rourke fans want him to run for president, he’s publicly denied wanting to do so, and the Texas Tribune says that O’Rourke also “has not expressed interest in challenging Cornyn, according to his inner circle.”

However, even though Cornyn would be a tougher opponent than Cruz simply because he isn’t so widely disliked, Texas Democrats finally have reason to feel good about their future prospects after the 2018 cycle, and at least one other candidate who performed well in a losing effort could be considering a Senate bid. Kim Olson, who lost her race for state agriculture secretary 51-46 to Republican incumbent Sid Miller, has added the hashtag #kim2020 to a couple of recent tweets about “post-election therapy”—she’s busy canning. (There are also a few nihilists using that tag to tout Kim Kardashian for president.)

A spokesperson for Olson says she’s “currently exploring all opportunities to determine the best way to continue serving Texas and Texans,” and on her Twitter bio, Olson describes herself as a “proud Democrat who is just getting started!” Olson is a retired Air Force colonel who was one of the service’s first women pilots, and she handed out packets of wildflower seeds as a campaign calling card to emphasize her roots as a third-generation farmer.

Olson’s military career, however, came to an end with a black mark in the mid-2000s when the Pentagon charged her with steering government contracts to a private South African security firm of whose American branch she’d become the director. She ultimately pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses in military proceedings but did not suffer a reduction in rank, and was given an honorable discharge. Olson has been open in discussing her story (she devoted a chapter to it in her memoirs), and it did not feature prominently in her campaign, though of course things could be different in a future race.


FL-Gov: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is about to make history as Florida’s first Cuban-American governor, but his tenure will only last a few days. GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s term in the Senate begins Jan. 3, and fellow Republican Ron DeSantis will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 8, so Lopez-Cantera will serve as governor of America’s third-largest state in the interim.

The last time a lieutenant governor was elevated to governor in the Sunshine State was in December of 1998, when termed-out Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles died. Buddy MacKay, who had lost the general election the previous month to Jeb Bush, became governor for the remaining few weeks of Chiles’ term, which makes MacKay Florida’s most recent Democratic chief executive.


CA-50: In the event that Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter tries to seek re-election in 2020 after his upcoming corruption trial, he’s already begun drawing potential opponents from his own party. Indeed, Temecula Mayor Matt Rahn filed to set up a campaign account with the FEC, but he has yet to publicly state whether he’s officially running or just preparing for a possible campaign while he considers it. Of course, it’s also plausible Rahn could be gearing up for a special election in the event that Hunter is convicted or resigns.

SC-01: Local Republicans have been talking about the possibility that outgoing Rep. Mark Sanford, who was ousted by Katie Arrington in the GOP primary, could try to regain his seat in 2020 against Democratic Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham, but Sanford himself has been coy about his plans. The Post and Courier wrote over the weekend that, “As for Sanford’s next steps for life outside of Congress, he’s still mum on details and won’t talk about returning in 2020 for any race, be it Congress or a possible protest run for president.” Arrington, who lost this coastal seat 51-49 earlier this month, has made it very clear she plans to try again.

MN-01: On Friday, Democrat Dan Feehan conceded to Republican Jim Hagedorn, who defeated him 50.2-49.8. However, the local political tipsheet Morning Take wrote days later that it’s “highly likely” that Feehan will try again in 2020. Feehan’s concession also hinted that we haven’t heard the last of him, with the Democrat declaring, “I cannot tell you how eager I am to remain on the front lines, fighting with you. While this campaign cycle has come to a close, our work is just beginning.” This southern Minnesota seat swung from 50-48 Obama to 53-39 Trump, but this month’s tight race gives Democrats some reasons to be optimistic that they can reclaim it in two years.

NY-23: Democrat Tracy Mitrano, who raised a solid $1.3 million but lost to GOP Rep. Tom Reed 55-45, says she’ll run again in 2020. Like every district in upstate New York, the 23rd swung sharply toward Trump in 2016, voting for him by a 55-40 margin after supporting Mitt Romney just 50-48 four years earlier. Mitrano thus ran ahead of the top of the ticket, but would still have a lot of ground to make up in a rematch.

Reed, though, is an odd duck. He recently said he’d consider voting for Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and not for some cynical Trumpian reason. Rather, Reed says that if Pelosi were to agree to a set of reforms that would turn more power over from House leaders to committee chairs and rank-and-file members, he might support her, adding, “I’d be willing to consider any Democratic candidate who’s committed to reforming these rules.” There’s a 99.9 percent chance that this is all just talk, but it’s the kind of talk that makes conservative blood boil, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a primary challenge or a retirement here.

TX-22, TX-31: Democrats Sri Preston Kulkarni and MJ Hegar, who both lost competitive races earlier this month, each told the Texas Tribune that they were interested in another try.

Kulkarni lost to GOP Rep. Pete Olson 51-46 in Texas’ 22nd District, a diversifying suburban Houston seat that moved from 62-37 Romney to a considerably-smaller 52-44 Trump. Kulkarni, a former diplomat, told the Tribune that people were asking him to try again, but he was “not ready to commit to that yet.” Major outside groups didn’t spend anything here, but Kulkarni raised a credible amount of money.

Olson also did not handle himself well on the campaign trail. In late October, the incumbent called Kulkarni, who is partially of Indian descent, a “liberal, liberal, liberal Indo-American who’s a carpetbagger,” and speculated without any evidence that donations raised through the progressive site ActBlue were “coming from overseas.” When Olson was immediately asked why he had mentioned his opponent’s race, Olson responded, “I didn’t mention his race. Carpetbagger’s not a race.” Making this racist dog-whistling even more absurd is that Kulkarni is a descendant of Texas founding father Sam Houston via his mother, Margaret Preston. This wasn’t enough to cost Olson his seat, but it’s a sign he could continue to have a tough time preforming under pressure now that he can no longer take his re-election for granted.

Over in the 31st District in suburban Austin, GOP Rep. John Carter held Hegar off just 51-48 in a seat that moved from 60-38 Romney to 54-41 Trump. Heger told the Tribune that even her most loyal supporters told her during the campaign that this would be a “two-cycle” race, and she said that running again is “one of the options I’m considering” for how best to serve her community. Hegar, a former military pilot, raised millions thanks in large part to a strong web video, and she gave Carter what was by far the closest race of his career.


Chicago, IL Mayor: State Comptroller Susana Mendoza has released a poll from Global Strategy Group that finds her and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle leading in the very crowded Feb. 26 nonpartisan primary. The survey finds Preckwinkle in first with 15 percent, while Mendoza leads former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley 13-9 for the second spot in a likely April 2 runoff. GSG also tested a Mendoza-Preckwinkle runoff and gives the comptroller a 39-33 lead.

Other Races

AZ-SoS: After seeing his lead in the race for secretary of state steadily diminished since election night, Republican Steve Gaynor finally conceded to Democrat Katie Hobbs on Friday, and Hobbs’ lead stood at roughly 18,000 votes on Monday, a margin of nearly one point. Hobb’s victory is critical for voting rights in what’s likely to be a pivotal 2020 swing state because of her firm advocacy for pro-voting policies such as automatic voter registration and making sure eligible voters stay on the voter rolls. By contrast, Gaynor had called for repealing key Voting Rights Act protections for language minorities.

With Hobbs taking over from Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan, she’ll finally be able to bring Arizona into compliance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly called the “motor voter” law, by automatically updating Arizonans’ existing voter registrations when they move and update their information with the state Department of Transportation. Reagan had fought a lawsuit over her failure to do so for hundreds of thousands of registered voters, but Hobbs can remedy that situation via administrative action.

Since Arizona has no lieutenant governor, Hobbs would also be first in line to assume the governor’s office if Republican Gov. Doug Ducey were to leave office before his final term ends in 2022. Four of the last nine people to hold the governor’s office were secretaries of state filling gubernatorial vacancies, and Hobbs being positioned to do so if a vacancy arose could deter Ducey from running for the Senate special election in 2020, although there’s no public indication whether he has even been interested in it.

GA-SoS: Georgia’s Dec. 4 runoff for secretary of state is one of the last remaining major elections this year that hasn’t been resolved, and given the extremes to which Republican Gov.-elect Brian Kemp went to use that office to suppress voters in his own election, the runoff couldn’t be more important, as Georgia is shaping up to be a major swing state in 2020. Former Democratic Rep. John Barrow trailed Republican Brad Raffensperger by a slim 49.1-48.7 margin after Georgia certified its election results on Saturday, but Barrow got some surprising but good news on Monday when Libertarian J. Smythe DuVal, who took 2 percent, endorsed him over Raffensperger.

Barrow won’t have an easy time winning, and both 2006 and 2008 saw Democrats even win initial pluralities but lose subsequent runoffs in the race for public service commission, which regulates utilities. However, it’s possible that a drop-off in turnout won’t hurt Democrats as much next month as it did in previous years, given how fired-up Democrats have been in special elections in the Trump era, and how 2018 was the highest-turnout midterm in a century.

Meanwhile, this year’s Public Service Commission 3rd District will also go to a runoff after GOP incumbent Chuck Eaton led Democrat Lindy Miller just 49.7-47.6 (Georgia labels its commission seats by district even though they’re elected statewide).

Grab Bag

International Digest: November’s edition of Daily Kos Elections’ International Digest brings ominous news from Brazil, where voters elected far-right Congressman Jair Bolsonaro as their next president. Bolsonaro openly disdains democracy, praising Brazil’s former right-wing military dictatorship; glorifies violence; favors censorship in public education; and has made numerous misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and racist statements, imperiling Brazil’s fragile democracy. Elsewhere in the world, longtime center-right German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced she won’t seek another term, and Australia’s conservative governing coalition lost its lower house majority ahead of next year’s elections.

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