Conservatives could push Kentucky Supreme Court right thanks to surprise open seat

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Harris, meanwhile, represents an extremely red district in Martin and Pike counties on the very eastern tip of the state, but during the primary, Wright attacked him as an “anti-NRA Democrat” allied with “Louisville radicals.” Louisville is home to the largest Black population in the state and has been the site of major protests against police violence following the death of Breonna Taylor, an African American woman, at the hands of law enforcement in March, so Wright’s dog-whistle was unmistakable, if unsuccessful.

The ideological makeup of the current Supreme Court is somewhat difficult to assess, but a Conley victory, which would give him an eight-year term on the bench, would push it to the right. And on paper, he might appear to be favored, since the 7th District, which spans Eastern Kentucky’s coal country, voted for Donald Trump by a 74-22 margin.

However, in last year’s race for governor, Republican Matt Bevin won it by just a 52-46 spread. This part of the state is also one of the last reliable bastions of ticket-splitting in the country, as Harris’ own district went for Trump 83-15 but has re-elected him twice. There’s a good chance, though, that conservative interests will seize the opportunity to move the court in their direction and spend accordingly.


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● Iowa: Election officials in Iowa’s seven largest counties all tell Bleeding Heartland that they are preparing to send absentee ballot applications to every voter for the November general election, following passage of a new bill by the state’s Republican-run legislature that sharply clamps down on Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate’s ability to do the same thing. These counties, which lean to the left of the state as a whole, collectively are home to 52% of the state’s active registered Democrats and just 34% of its Republicans.

● Kentucky: Four Kentucky voters, backed by voting rights advocates, have filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to have state officials carry out the November general election in the same way they did last month’s primary. In particular, plaintiffs are asking that all voters once again be allowed to request absentee ballots because of the pandemic.

Among other things, the plaintiffs also want ballots postmarked by Election Day to count so long as they are received within four days (currently they must be received by Election Day); an in-person early voting period; pre-paid postage for mail ballots; a further delay in the implementation of a new voter ID law; and the continued availability of an online ballot request portal.

● Rhode Island: Leaders of both chambers of Rhode Island’s Democratic-run legislature say they are “discussing” the possibility of sending absentee ballot applications to all voters for the state’s Sept. 8 downballot primary and the November general election, as the state did before its June 2 presidential primary. However, in a joint statement, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio emphasized, “It is important to remember that any voter who wants a mail ballot can get one.” Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has not yet commented on the matter.

2Q Fundraising

● SC-Sen: Jaime Harrison (D): $13.9 million raised

● MO-Gov: Nicole Galloway (D): $1.1 million raised

● FL-16: Vern Buchanan (R-inc): $670,000 raised

● MI-03: Hillary Scholten (D): $484,000 raised, $515,000 cash-on-hand

● NC-08: Pat Timmons-Goodson (D): $820,000 raised

● NY-11: Max Rose (D-inc): $1.3 million raised, $4.3 million cash-on-hand:

● OH-01: Kate Schroder (D): $610,000 raised, $500,000 cash-on-hand

● TX-07: Wesley Hunt (R): $900,000 raised, $1 million cash-on-hand

● TX-10: Michael McCaul (R-inc): $540,000 raised, $1.2 million cash-on-hand

● VA-02: Elaine Luria (D-inc): $930,000 raised, $2.8 million cash-on-hand

● WI-03: Derrick Van Orden (R): $526,000 raised, $387,000 cash-on-hand


● AL-Sen: Politico reports that the conservative group One Nation has reserved $2.15 million in TV time starting the week after the July 14 Republican primary runoff. This is the first major outside spending we’ve seen from either party for the general election.

● AZ-Sen: The progressive organization End Citizens United has publicized a poll from Global Strategy Group that gives its endorsed candidate, Democrat Mark Kelly, a 49-42 lead over Republican Sen. Martha McSally.

● CO-Sen: John Hickenlooper is up with his first general election TV spot a week after winning the Democratic primary. Hickenlooper doesn’t mention Republican incumbent Cory Gardner and instead takes the Trump administration to task for suing to eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions during the ongoing pandemic.  

● KS-Sen: Plains PAC, a newly-formed group run by a campaign manager for former GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, began a $3 million advertising campaign this week against ex-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ahead of the Aug. 4 Republican primary.

The opening commercial declares that Kobach is a “failed candidate for governor” who “has ties to white nationalists.” The narrator continues, “Kobach’s Senate campaign regularly paid a man who regularly posted hateful comments about Jews and racial minorities on a white nationalist website. In fact, this same white nationalist filed the paperwork that registered Kobach’s current Senate campaign in Kansas.”

This is a reference to a man named Joe Suber, whom the Kobach campaign paid $500 to for services last year. The campaign fired Suber after The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle reported on his activities.

The Plains PAC offensive comes as the national GOP establishment is trying to stop Kobach, whom they fear would be a weak general election candidate, from winning next month’s primary. Kobach’s detractors got some encouraging news before this, though, when the anti-tax Club for Growth announced late last month that it was suspending its ad campaign against Rep. Roger Marshall, who appears to be Kobach’s main intra-party adversary.

The New York Times recently reported that this move came after Donald Trump called the Club’s head, David McIntosh, and asked him to withdraw the commercials. Trump, though, has not publicly taken sides, and the paper writes that he has told “allies he did not want to anger his own voters by openly spurning Mr. Kobach.”

● MT-Sen: Republican Sen. Steve Daines’ first TV ad against Steve Bullock stars a local doctor named Jami Chisdak arguing that the Democrat “will help Biden and Pelosi pass government controlled health care.” What the commercial never mentions, though, is that Chisdak is hardly a neutral observer: Chisdak contributed money to a GOP state senator in 2010 and to Republican Greg Gianforte’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign for governor against Bullock.

The NRSC also is up with its opening commercial, where the narrator declares that “Bullock and the Senate could put Democrats in charge to create a $32 trillion government-run health care system that would raise taxes, limit your choice and access to health care.” However, as the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel notes, this is an attack on the plan promoted by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was one of Bullock’s rivals in the presidential primary, rather than Bullock’s actual healthcare proposal.

● TX-Sen: State Sen. Royce West has picked up an endorsement from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee ahead of next week’s Democratic primary runoff.


● PR-Gov: There’s only a month to go before the Aug. 9 primary for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, and Gov. Wanda Vázquez is facing some bad headlines over the recent departure of now-former Justice Secretary Dennise Longo Quiñones.

On Friday, Vázquez said she requested and received Longo Quiñones’ resignation “for improperly intervening in a federal investigation” over alleged Medicaid fraud. However, multiple media outlets soon reported that just hours before her dismissal, Longo Quiñones had recommended that a special prosecutor be appointed to probe whether Vázquez and her administration had mismanaged emergency supplies after Puerto Rico was struck by earthquakes in January.

Vázquez argued on Tuesday that Longo Quiñones’ departure was about her alleged actions in the separate investigation into Medicaid fraud. The governor also declared she was “never notified of any investigation against me, therefore, the determination to withdraw the trust to the former secretary has no relation to the allegations.” Longo Quiñones, though, responded, “The governor is making allegations that I was involved on investigations that I didn’t participate.”

● UT-Gov: The Associated Press called the June 30 Republican primary for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday evening, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman conceded shortly afterwards. With 509,000 votes counted, Cox leads Huntsman 36.4-34.6. Team Red has controlled the governor’s office since the 1984 elections, and Cox should have no trouble in November against Democrat Chris Peterson in a race we rate as Safe Republican.

Cox’s victory is also a triumph for outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert, who backed him early in the race, and another big political setback for Huntsman. Huntsman was extremely popular during his four-and-a-half years in office, but he resigned in 2009 to become the Obama administration’s ambassador to China. He gave up that job two years later to run against Obama, but he dropped out of the Republican primary after a disappointing showing in New Hampshire. Huntsman was appointed in 2017 as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Russia, but he once again left his diplomatic post to mount a failed bid for office.

While Huntsman came close to winning back the job he gave up a decade ago, his long time away from home may have cost him in the end. Huntsman’s many detractors argued that he only wanted to serve as governor again until something better came along: One pro-Cox state senator memorably put it, “Huntsman uses Utah like a backup, stand-by girlfriend.” Cox himself unsubtly told delegates at the state party convention, “We are here. We have been here. And we’re not going anywhere.”


● FL-19: On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls has released the first poll we’ve seen all year of the Aug. 18 Republican primary for this safely red open seat:

Businessman Casey Askar: 30
State Rep. Byron Donalds: 26
Urologist William Figlesthaler: 16
House Majority Leader Dane Eagle: 8
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson: 5

Four other candidates, including former Minnesota state Rep. Dan Severson, each took 2% or less, while 12% of respondents were undecided.

● KS-02: State Treasurer Jake LaTurner has launched a commercial ahead of the Aug. 4 Republican primary that focuses on the ongoing voter fraud investigation against freshman Rep. Steve Watkins and old questions about his party loyalty. Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin reports that the ad campaign is running for five figures.

LaTurner stands in front of a UPS store and tells the audience that “this is where Congressman Steve Watkins claimed to live on his voter registration. Instead of Alaska, where he owns two homes.” The spot then shows a picture of the headquarters of the Shawnee County Democrats, where LaTurner explains that “this is where Steve pitched himself to Democrats as a pro-abortion candidate, right before running as a Republican.”

Back in 2018, three local Democrats told the Kansas City Star that Watkins had met with them the previous year about the possibility of him running for Team Blue. One party official named Ty Dragoo said of the future congressman, “He sounded like a Kansas Democratic Party member. His social views were liberal. We talked about gay and lesbian rights and he was all for that.”

Watkins argued in response that he was set up to meet Dragoo by someone who didn’t inform him Dragoo was a Democrat and not just a mere transportation lobbyist (Dragoo worked for a transportation union). The story didn’t stop Watkins from winning the GOP primary a month later, but LaTurner is hoping it will do more damage now.

● MA-01: Politico’s Ally Mutnick reports that a group called Fight Corporate Monopolies, which is run by allies of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, will spend $300,000 against longtime Rep. Richie Neal in the September Democratic primary. The incumbent faces a challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in this reliably blue seat in the western part of the state.

The opening TV ad ties Neal to the Blackstone Group, a massive private equity group. The narrator argues, “Hospital monopolies profit off of our pain by sticking us with surprise medical bills. These monopolies are owned by Wall Street titans like Blackstone.” She continues, “Neal protected Blackstone’s profits by killing a bill that would have saved patient’s money. Now Blackstone is Richie Neal’s top contributor—and one of Donald Trump’s, too.”

● MA-04: Former Alliance for Business Leadership head Jesse Mermell picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from both the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, for the September Democratic primary. WPRI writes that the MTA is the state’s largest teachers’ union.

● MO-01: Progressive activist Cori Bush announced this week that she’d raised $240,000 during the last three months for her second primary campaign against Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay, and that she had $107,000 on-hand at the end of June. While Bush will almost certainly still have far less money than Clay, who has not revealed his second quarter totals yet but ended March with $516,000 on-hand, Bush may have enough money to run a serious campaign against the incumbent on Aug. 4.

Bush challenged Clay in 2018 for this safely blue seat in the St. Louis area and brought in a grand total of just $175,000. However, while Clay didn’t come close to losing, his 57-37 victory was pretty underwhelming for a longtime incumbent (in a seat that has been in Clay’s family for the last five decades when including the lengthy tenure of his father and predecessor, former Rep. Bill Clay). Bush announced in early 2019 that she’d seek a rematch, and she brought in a total of $257,000 through the end of March of this year.

● TN-01: The anti-tax Club for Growth has endorsed state Rep. Timothy Hill in the crowded Aug. 6 Republican primary for this safely red seat.

● UT-01: On Monday, the Associated Press called the June 30 Republican primary for this safely red northern Utah seat for businessman Blake Moore. With 126,000 votes counted, Moore leads Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson 31-29.

● VA-05, VA-07: The State Board of Elections voted 2-1 on Tuesday to allow two Republicans, 5th District nominee Bob Good and 7th District candidate Nick Freitas, to file the paperwork they need to appear on the November ballot even though they each missed the June 9 deadline to turn in these documents; the extension also applied to six other candidates from both parties. The DCCC unsuccessfully argued against allowing Good and Freitas to reach the ballot, and it’s not clear yet if it will appeal the decision.

The stakes for Team Red were far higher in the GOP-held 5th District, where Good already is the party’s nominee, than in the 7th, where Freitas is one of six Republicans competing at the July 18 nominating convention. Still, at least some Republicans will be relieved that delegates can still choose Freitas, a state delegate who has more money than any of the other candidates running to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

From April 1 to June 28, the time the FEC defines as the pre-convention period, Freitas outraised fellow Del. John McGuire about $400,000 to $350,000, and he held a $355,000 to $260,000 cash-on-hand lead. Nonprofit director Tina Ramirez was a distant third with just $62,000 raised and $37,000 on-hand.


● San Jose, CA Mayor: Last week, the San Jose City Council voted to put a measure on the November ballot that would both permanently move mayoral races in the country’s 10th-largest city from midterm cycles to presidential years and greatly expand the mayor’s power. However, as we’ll discuss, the decision to do one ballot measure for these two very different issues is very controversial, with one Latino city councilor, Raul Peralez, dismissing it as “insulting, not only to me but to our community members.”

Under the current law, Mayor Sam Liccardo, a Democrat who was elected in 2014 and re-elected four years later, is set to be termed-out of office in 2022. Liccardo also enjoys considerably less influence than his counterparts in nearby Oakland and San Francisco. As San Jose Spotlight’s Mauricio La Plante explains, the mayor has only a little more power than each of the 10 other members of the City Council. Liccardo can draft budgets and make some appointments, but he still casts just one of the 11 votes on the Council and cannot veto the majority’s decisions.

Many of the city government’s most important duties instead rest with the city manager, who is hired and fired by the City Council. As Ramona Giwargis wrote in the San Jose Mercury News back in 2015, the manager “serves as the top administrator by managing delivery of services, overseeing city staff and budgets and implementing the City Council’s policies.” Importantly, the city manager’s office also has jurisdiction over department heads, including the police chief.

If this ballot measure is approved by voters in November, though, quite a lot would change in city politics. In order to align the next mayoral race with the presidential cycle, Liccardo’s current term would be extended by two years. Liccardo would immediately share powers with the city manager to oversee departments, and starting in July of 2023, the mayor alone would be in charge of hiring and firing the city manager as well as department heads. The referendum also includes a portion strengthening the ethics laws governing city council members.

In the past few years, business groups have pushed to create this “strong mayor” system. Unions, which often oppose business in local elections, have meanwhile waged a separate campaign to move mayoral races to presidential years in order to increase turnout, especially among voters of color.

Liccardo, who narrowly beat a labor-backed candidate in 2014, had previously opposed stand-alone efforts to move mayor elections to years when the White House is on the ballot. Indeed, just last year, Liccardo and five colleagues voted against a referendum to alter the mayoral election calendar from going forward, with the incumbent arguing that local issues wouldn’t receive enough attention during a presidential cycle.

The five labor-aligned councilmembers, all of whom are Latino, voted for that 2019 plan, with Councilwoman Maya Esparza arguing, “The five brown people on this council are saying this is something that will encourage the empowerment of voters.” Local unions then tried to get this measure on the ballot by collecting signatures, but they learned a few weeks ago that they’d fallen short.

While the City Council, including Liccardo, voted 6-5 last week to advance the measure to both increase the mayor’s powers and move mayoral elections, the five Latino members this time voted in the negative. The proposal’s opponents argued that the strong mayor idea was being rushed through, with City Councilor Magdalena Carrasco telling the mayor and his allies, “This deal was already negotiated, and it was negotiated without any of us being at the table … Y’all made a pact. You didn’t take the Latino Caucus into account, who represent half the city to ask us, ‘do you think this is a good direction for your residents?'”

City Manager David Sykes, who would lose much of his influence if the voters approve this ballot initiative, also declared it would “diminish the voice of independent, non-political, professional staff” and “create dysfunction within the organization.”

Liccardo, though, pointed to the ongoing pandemic and systemic racism within the city and argued that change is needed, saying, “In a crisis, basically my authority is constrained by a multi-month process of proposals, hearings, meetings and council votes.”

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