Morning Digest: Facing ethics probe, GOP congressman in competitive seat spends big on legal fees

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...

Morning Digest: Facing ethics probe, GOP congressman in competitive seat spends big on legal fees

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-06: GOP Rep. David Schweikert has become accustomed to easy re-election campaigns, but political shifts in his Scottsdale and North Phoenix constituency, as well as his continuing legal woes, threaten the GOP's hold on this seat.

This district moved from 60-39 Romney to 52-42 Trump, and even more alarming for Schweikert, Republican Martha McSally carried it by only a modest 51-47 margin in the 2018 Senate race. Schweikert has also been under investigation by the House Ethics Committee since 2018 over allegations that, among things, he'd pressured his congressional staff to perform political activities for him.

Campaign Action

While the ethics probe hasn't made much news in recent months, it's continued to harm the congressman's campaign's finances. Schweikert raised $216,000 during the first three months of 2020 but spent $269,000, and the Arizona Republic reports that $181,000 of that went to legal fees. This is not a new problem for the incumbent, and he ended March with just $226,000 to spend.

While Schweikert avoided a primary challenge, he's in for an expensive re-election campaign. The DCCC is backing physician Hiral Tipirneni, who came unexpectedly close to winning the neighboring and redder 8th District in a 2018 special election. Tipirneni has been a strong fundraiser, and she ended the quarter with $1.21 million in the bank.

The other three Democrats in the race are businesswoman Stephanie Rimmer; 2018 nominee Anita Malik, who lost to Schweikert 55-45; and public relations executive Karl Gentles. However, none of this trio had so much as $100,000 on-hand at the end of March.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.

Kentucky: Kentucky's Republican-run legislature has overriden a veto by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of a bill that will require sign-off from Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams before the governor can use his emergency powers to make changes to elections.

Nevada: State and national Democrats have filed suit against Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske after she dismissed their concerns about her plans for conducting Nevada's June 2 primaries by mail. Plaintiffs argue that Cegavske's plan to only open one in-person voting site per county and only send ballots to registered voters listed as "active" on the state's roll violates both the state and federal constitutions.

Democrats note that, among other issues, the 1.3 million voters in populous Clark County, the home of Las Vegas, will share just a single polling place among them—and so will the 569 voters in tiny Esmeralda County, which borders California's Death Valley. They also say that the state's laws governing mail voting don't distinguish between active and inactive voters, observing that more than 50,000 voters labeled as inactive voted in the 2016 and 2018 general elections.

In addition to a trio of major party organizations—the Nevada Democratic Party, the DNC, and the DCCC—several Nevada voters are also participating in the lawsuit. The lead plaintiff is West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona, meaning that the formal legal caption for the case is "CORONA v. CEGAVSKE."

Pennsylvania: Officials in three large Pennsylvania counties are asking Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for permission to hold the state's June 2 primaries by mail. The counties include the second- and third-largest in the state: Allegheny (home of Pittsburgh), and Montgomery (in the Philadelphia suburbs), respectively. Another large suburban Philadelphia county, Chester, has also joined in the request, while Philadelphia itself is reportedly preparing for an all-mail election in the event Wolf orders one.

According to NBC10 Philadelphia, Wolf's office says the governor is "evaluating options to increase the percentage of voters who vote by mail" but did not directly address the counties' request.

South Carolina: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster says there is "no reason" to postpone South Carolina's June 9 primaries, claiming "[t]he end is in sight" for the coronavirus pandemic. The state's largest hospital network says that a "surge" in COVID-19 hospitalizations could begin as soon as April 22.

Utah: Utah's Republican-run legislature has opted to conduct the state's June 30 primaries entirely by mail and cancel in-person voting. Officials will send all voters registered with the Democratic or Republican parties a primary ballot, while unaffiliated voters will be sent instructions on how to ask for one of the two parties' ballots.

Most Utah voters already vote by mail, but this move means that same-day voter registration, which must take place in person, will not be offered; instead, new voters must register by June 19. Counties will be able to offer "drive-up" voting locations, but one state senator predicts most will not. The legislation also requires counties "provide a method of accessible voting" to those voters with disabilities who are unable to vote by mail. The bill's provisions expire on Aug. 1, so they will not apply to the November general election.

Virginia: A state court judge has extended the time Republicans in Virginia's 7th Congressional District have to select a nominee for the November general election from June 9 to July 28. Republicans in the district long ago decided to pick their nominee through a convention rather than a traditional primary, but due to the coronavirus, they're now looking into alternatives to meeting in person. 5th District Republicans face a similar situation but this ruling does not apply to them.

Wisconsin: The chief legal counsel for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers now indicates that Evers will not postpone the May 12 special election for Wisconsin's vacant 7th Congressional District. Evers had recently suggested he might delay the race.

Senate

Arizona: Candidate filing closed April 6 for Arizona's Aug. 4 primary, and the state has a list of candidates available here.

AZ-Sen: While at the start of the cycle, it looked like both parties could have competitive primaries for the special election for the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain's term, that didn't happen.

Republican incumbent Martha McSally, who was appointed to the Senate weeks after her 50-48 loss to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema last cycle in the state's other seat, only faces intra-party opposition from underfunded businessman Daniel McCarthy. Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who is the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, has no opponent in his Democratic primary. Whoever wins in November will be up for a full six-year term in 2022.

Kelly has been one of Team Blue's strongest fundraisers, and he ended March with a $19.7 million to $10.2 million cash-on-hand lead over McSally. Kelly has also led in every poll released this year, with the exception of one January McSally internal.

While Kelly's in a strong position, Arizona is still a difficult state for Team Blue. Donald Trump carried Arizona 48-45 in 2016, and Sinema only narrowly beat McSally two years later in a good year for her party. Major outside groups are also preparing to spend heavily here: The NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund recently reserved $5.7 million and $9.2 million on TV ads to aid McSally, while Kelly's allies at Senate Majority PAC booked $15.7 million. (The DSCC, the other major Democratic Senate group, has not yet announced its first wave of TV reservations.)

We expect the Grand Canyon State to be fiercely contested up and down the ballot, and Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as a Tossup.

MA-Sen, MA-04: Massachusetts' highest court issued a ruling on Friday that cut in half the number of signatures needed to appear on the September primary, a move that comes as very welcome news to Democratic Sen. Ed Markey's re-election campaign as well as most of the candidates running for the open 4th Congressional District.

The Supreme Judicial Court's verdict means that Senate candidates are now required to submit 5,000 valid signatures by the May 5 deadline, while U.S. House contenders need to turn in 1,000 petitions. The court's decision said that this ruling, which came in response to a lawsuit by several candidates running for office in Massachusetts, was "limited to the primary election in these extraordinary circumstances" and "does not affect the minimum signature requirements for the general election this year or for the primary elections in any other year."

Social distancing had made it incredibly difficult for candidates to collect signatures, and it threatened to derail Markey's re-election campaign. Markey's team announced on April 7 that the senator only had 7,000 of the 10,000 signatures that were required until Friday's ruling; his primary opponent, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, said he'd already collected 15,000 petitions.

In the crowded Democratic contest to succeed Kennedy, only two candidates, Newton City Councilors Jake Auchincloss and Becky Walker Grossman, said they had turned in the necessary 2,000 signatures. However, after Friday's court ruling reduced this number by half, former Alliance for Business Leadership head Jesse Mermell said she had "well over the 1,000 signatures required."

P.S. The ruling halving the number of signatures required to make the primary ballot applies to candidates for state and county offices as well. The court also moved the filing deadline for these local candidates from April 28 to May 5, which is the same as the federal filing deadline.

House

AZ-01: Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran is seeking his third term in a northeastern Arizona seat that both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump narrowly carried, but Republicans haven't managed to win this seat since before the 2012 round of redistricting.

Three Republicans are running this time, but the only one who looks like she'll have the resources to compete is farmer Tiffany Shedd. Shedd ran in the 2018 primary and took a distant third place with 19% of the vote (the winner, perennial candidate Wendy Rogers, went on to lose to O'Halleran 54-46), but this time, she has the support of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Shedd ended March with a $180,000 war chest while her two primary foes, attorney Nolan Reidhead and former Apache County Supervisor Doyel Shamley, had $30,000 and $3,000 to spend, respectively.

O'Halleran, who served in the state legislature as a moderate Republican, does face a challenge on his left from former Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova. Putzova, though, has struggled to attract donors and outside support, and O'Halleran ended last month with a $1.08 million to $40,000 cash-on-hand lead.

AZ-02: This Tucson-area seat swung from 50-48 Romney to 50-45 Clinton, and Republicans don't seem to be making much of an effort to take it back after badly losing it last cycle.

Four Republicans filed to challenge Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who ended the quarter with $690,000 on-hand and only faces minor intra-party opposition. Businessman Noran Ruden, who has self-funded almost his entire campaign, ended March with $156,000 on-hand. Former University of Arizona lobbyist Shay Stautz, who has also been doing some self-funding, has been running since last summer, but he had a smaller $114,000 war chest. The other two candidates had less than $30,000 in the bank.

GA-14: In his first ad ahead of the June GOP primary for this safely red seat, auto dealer Matt Laughridge uses a fake picture of Joe Biden standing in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral wearing a facemask and a Soviet-era hat to attack "socialist Democrats." Weirdly, the narrator twice pronounces the candidate's name as "Laugh-ridge," but Laughridge pronounces his own name as "Lof-ridge" at the very end.

NJ-02: On Thursday, the Laborers' International Union of North America endorsed political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison in the July Democratic primary to take on Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew.

NY-15: The Working Families Party has endorsed activist Samelys López in the crowded June Democratic primary for this safely blue seat. The WFP has long been a force in New York politics, but several unions have withdrawn support in recent years. López's performance in this Bronx seat could therefore serve as an important test of how much influence the WFP has in local elections.

OR-02: Republican Leadership for Oregon is spending $45,000 on a TV ad supporting 2018 gubernatorial nominee Knute Buehler in the May 19 GOP primary, and while we don't have a copy yet, there's probably a lot more advertising in store from this new super PAC. The group's largest donor is Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who has contributed $100,000 so far, while it received another $75,000 from two other businessmen.

This is far from the first time that Knight, who is Oregon's wealthiest resident, has thrown down his own money to aid Buehler. Knight donated a total of $2.5 million to Buehler's gubernatorial bid, as well as another $1 million to the Republican Governors Association: These investments made Knight the largest single contributor in Oregon political history, but Buehler still lost 50-44 to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.

This time, Buehler is running for a reliably red open seat in the eastern part of the state, and he ended March with more money in his war chest than any of his primary foes. Buehler held a $468,000 to $301,000 cash-on-hand lead over businessman Jimmy Crumpacker, while state Sen. Cliff Bentz had $238,000 to spend (both Crumpacker and Bentz have been self-funding a portion of their campaigns). Former state Sen. Jason Atkinson had a mere $30,000 available, while Bend City Councilor Justin Livingston had just over $3,000.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull, a Republican who served from 1997 until 2003, died Thursday at the age of 84. Hull was the second woman to serve as the state's governor, as well as the first to win the post in an election. During her time in office, Hull set up the state's version of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program and pushed for a successful sales tax increase to fund education. Hull also signed legislation that repealed the state's ban on sodomy and cohabitation, saying, "I choose not to judge the conduct of others, even when I know others will judge me for signing this bill."

Hull got her start in office when she was elected to the state House in 1978, and she soon earned a reputation as an ardent conservative. As majority leader, Hull was also the first Republican to call for GOP Gov. Evan Mecham to resign as the legislature prepared to impeach him for misuse of public funds and obstruction of justice. Mecham didn't listen, though, and Hull's colleagues removed him from office in 1988. In Arizona, both then and now, the secretary of state is next in line for governor, and Democrat Rose Mofford was elevated to the governorship.

Hull went on to become the first woman to serve as speaker, and she was in charge in 1991 when several members were caught taking bribes from fake casino operators in a scandal nicknamed "AzScam." Hull pressured these representatives to resign by taking away their committee assignments, and she told the ones who wouldn't quit not to appear on the House floor. Hull also shed her old conservative reputation during her time as a legislative leader, and she even pushed through tax increases. Hull would also say in 1997 about her views on abortion, "Actually, both sides dislike me, probably pretty intently."

Hull resigned in 1993 saying she was tired of the "meanness" in the legislature, and she soon launched a bid for secretary of state. Hull won an unexpectedly close primary the following year but decisively prevailed in November, and her victory made her the first Republican to hold this office in more than 60 years. But while Hull was elected to what was usually a low-profile job, she was thrust into the spotlight in 1997 when GOP Gov. Fife Symington was convicted for bank fraud. Symington resigned, and for the second time in a decade, the secretary of state became governor.

Unlike Mofford, Hull sought a full term as governor. While several Republicans considered challenging her for the nomination before she was sworn in, Hull decisively won both the primary and general election: Women won all the other state's top posts in 1998, a first in American history. Hull also made waves when she endorsed George W. Bush for president over home state Sen. John McCain, whom she'd often come into conflict with.

The state constitution's two term limit prevented Hull from running again in 2002 even though she'd only served part of one term, but she soon made it clear she was done with politics anyway: When Hull was asked in 2005 if she'd run again she responded, "Oh, God, no!"