In Saturday primary, Honolulu voters may choose new path on criminal justice

Seven candidates are competing here, but recent polls show that only three of them have a good chance to advance to an all-but-certain second round in November: public defender Jacquie Esser; defense attorney Megan Kau, who is a former local prosecutor; and former Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Steve Alm, who served as U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration.

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The Appeal’s Daniel Nichanian writes that of this trio, Esser has embraced the most far-reaching reform proposals. Esser, who opposes cash bail, has said that she would “not charge people under laws that call for mandatory or enhanced sentencing” or charge a defendant as a “repeat offender.” Esser has also said she would not prosecute drug possession, sex work, or, as Nichanian puts it, “behaviors that stem from poverty or mental health issues.”

Nichanian says that Kau, by contrast, is largely the “polar opposite” of Esser. Notably, Kau responded “no” when asked if she believed that the state incarcerated too many people. Alm falls somewhere in between: He supports reform goals for lower-level offenses, but Nichanian says “he is not putting forth ideas to shrink the system.”

A poll from Mason-Dixon conducted July 22-24 for The Honolulu Star-Advertiser found Alm in front with 24%, which is well short of the majority needed to win outright on Saturday, while Esser and Kau were tied at 17 apiece for the second spot; attorney Tae Kim, whom Nichanian says “expressed support for many but not all of the statewide reforms he was asked about,” was in fourth with 7%.

A MRG Research survey fielded days later for Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now showed Alm even further ahead with 32%. Kau held a 15-13 edge over Esser for second, while no other candidate took more than 3%.

Election Changes

● Alabama: A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by voting rights advocates who were seeking to loosen Alabama’s restrictions on mail voting during the pendency of the pandemic, ruling that the plaintiffs had presented a “political question” not suitable for the courts to decide and saying they lacked standing, which likely means they failed to show they had been injured by the law (the judge’s brief opinion did not go into any detail).

Plaintiffs had asked the court to suspend requirements that voters present an excuse to request an absentee ballot, have their ballot envelopes notarized, and include a photocopy of their ID along with their ballots. Additionally, they had sought 14 days of in-person early voting (Alabama currently does not offer early voting), as well as drive-through voting and other safety measures.

● Florida: Litigants in Florida have filed a new complaint asking that officials mail all voters absentee ballots for the November election after a state court judge dismissed their previous request. In rejecting the relief plaintiffs had sought, the judge ruled that they had not demonstrated any difficulty “in requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or otherwise voting by mail.”

To overcome this hurdle, litigants have found new plaintiffs, including a 93-year-old woman whom they say “does not have ready access to the mails, postage resources, or computer services—all of which makes submitting a request for a mail-in ballot unnecessarily cumbersome and ineffective.”

● Montana: Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has given county election officials the authority to conduct the November general election by mail, as they had requested. Officials in the state’s largest county, Yellowstone (the home of Billings), have already said they would take advantage of this option. Bullock made the same move ahead of Montana’s June primary, and all 56 counties opted to run all-mail elections, leading to record turnout.

● Tennessee: The Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that allowed all voters to request an absentee ballot “during the pendency of pandemic circumstances,” in effect waiving the state’s requirement that voters present an excuse in order to vote absentee.

The Supreme Court ruled that “persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19” or their caretakers could vote absentee, a position that state officials had already acceded to. However, for all others, the justices concluded that “the State’s interests in the efficacy and integrity of the election process are sufficient to justify the moderate burden placed on the right to vote.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sharon Lee said the majority had erred because the trial court had not abused its discretion. Lee said all voters should be allowed to vote absentee, writing that those “with no underlying medical or health conditions should not be left with the impossible choice of voting in person and risking getting COVID-19 or forfeiting their constitutionally protected right to vote.”


● KS-Sen: While Roger Marshall’s victory in Tuesday’s GOP primary gave national Republicans their preferred nominee in this conservative state, Team Red is still investing millions into this contest. The Wall Street Journal’s Lindsay Wise reports that One Nation, a group tied to the party establishment, will begin a $4.2 million ad buy for Marshall on Friday that will last for four weeks.

● MA-Sen: The Boston Globe reports that Rep. Joe Kennedy’s allies at New Leadership PAC have booked an additional $800,000 in advertising for the Sept. 1 Democratic primary, which brings its total reservation up to $2.5 million.

● Polls: It’s another grand day for Senate polls:

AZ-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Mark Kelly (D): 50, Martha McSally (R-inc): 40 (Biden 45-43)
IA-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Theresa Greenfield (D): 45, Joni Ernst (R-inc): 43 (Trump 44-42)
KY-Sen: Quinnipiac: Mitch McConnell (R-inc): 49, Amy McGrath (D): 44 (50-41 Trump)
ME-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Sara Gideon (D): 48, Susan Collins (R-inc): 45 (Biden 49-42)
ME-Sen: Quinnipiac: Gideon (D): 47, Collins (R-inc): 43 (52-37 Biden)
NC-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Cal Cunningham (D): 49, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 41 (Biden 46-44)
OK-Sen: DFM Research (D) for Abby Broyles: Jim Inhofe (R-inc): 50, Abby Broyles (D): 34 (56-36 Trump)
SC-Sen: Quinnipiac: Jaime Harrison (D): 44, Lindsey Graham (R-inc): 44 (47-42 Trump)

One thing we want to note is that at this point in the cycle, some pollsters, including Data for Progress, offer two versions of their presidential numbers: One that is just a head-to-head between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and one that also includes the Green and Libertarian Party nominees. When both 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.

Earlier this week, Monmouth released an Iowa poll that found Republican Sen. Joni Ernst ahead 48-45, while Trump led by that very same margin. We haven’t seen any other numbers from a reliable firm since late June.

Quinnipiac’s results for Kentucky are very different from Morning Consult’s recent poll, which found incumbent Mitch McConnell leading Democrat Amy McGrath by a wide 53-36 margin; that sample showed Trump ahead by a considerably larger 59-35. The anti-McConnell Ditch Mitch Fund, though, released a survey earlier this week from Bluegrass Data that found McConnell and Trump up 49-46 and 52-45, respectively.

Two Maine polls released in late July also gave Democrat Sara Gideon similar leads over Republican Sen. Susan Collins as Data for Progress and Quinnipiac do now. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling’s survey for the progressive advocacy organization MoveOn had Gideon up 47-42, while Social Sphere’s poll for Colby College had Gideon ahead by a 44-39 margin; SocialSphere also had Biden ahead 50-38, which falls in the middle of these two new surveys, while PPP’s release did not include presidential results.

This is the first Senate poll we’ve seen out of Oklahoma, which is one of the most Republican states in the nation.

Finally in South Carolina, Morning Consult’s recent survey showed Graham and Trump ahead 44-43 and 49-44, which are almost the same as what Quinnipiac has. Harrison’s campaign also recently released a pair of surveys showing a tight Senate race: Brilliant Corners had the incumbent up 43-41 as Trump led 50-43, while ALG Research found Graham and Trump leading 49-45 and 50-45, respectively.

● Senate: While the conservative Senate Leadership Fund had planned to begin its general election ad campaign just after Labor Day, Politico reports that it recently reserved $21 million in August TV and radio time in five Republican-held states in August and early September:

Arizona: (Martha McSally): $1.9 million
Georgia: (David Perdue): $6.6 million
Iowa: (Joni Ernst): $4.1 million
Montana: (Steve Daines): $6.1 million
North Carolina: (Thom Tillis): $2.6 million

Most of these buys will run from Aug. 12 to Sept. 7, while Arizona’s will begin on Aug. 18.

Politico did not say whether the Georgia race is to aid Sen. David Perdue or help his colleague, Kelly Loeffler, in her special election. However, a number of major outside groups on both sides, including SLF’s allies at the NRSC, recently began running commercials in the Perdue contest, so it’s likely that the money is intended for that election. SLF did air ads for Loeffler earlier this year, but it announced in March that it had “no plans” to go spend more for her.


● CA-25: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has publicized a poll from American Viewpoint that shows Republican Rep. Mike Garcia leading Democrat Christy Smith 48-41. It should not shock you to learn that, as per usual, CLF did not release presidential numbers for this 50-44 Clinton seat in northern Los Angeles County.

This is the first survey we’ve seen here since Garcia defeated Smith 55-45 in the May special election. Smith’s campaign acknowledged to Politico that their unreleased polls also found Garcia ahead, with Ally Mutnick writing that their internals had him “up by an unspecified low single-digit margin.”

● CA-53: RMG Research has released the first poll we’ve seen of the all-Democratic general election on behalf of the group US Term Limits. The survey shows former State Department official Sara Jacobs leading San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez 32-17, while Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump 62-21; Jacobs took 29% of the vote in the early March top-two primary, while Gómez beat out a Republican 20-13 to earn the second place spot.

US Term Limits, which has not taken sides, released this survey to argue that either Democrat could pull ahead if they would campaign in support of the group’s favorite issue. You have one guess what issue that is, but we’ll give you a hint: It’s not a seventh season of “Community.”

● Iowa: Monmouth University has released polls of each of Iowa’s four congressional races. Monmouth’s statewide poll found Trump ahead 48-45, but the school did not ask about the presidential race in the supplemental interviews it did to ensure sufficiently large samples in each of the four House contests.

IA-01: Abby Finkenauer (D-inc): 51, Ashley Hinson (R): 41
IA-02: Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R): 47, Rita Hart (D): 44
IA-03: Cindy Axne (D-inc): 48, David Young (R): 42
IA-04: Randy Feenstra (R): 54, J.D. Scholten (D): 34

This is the first poll we’ve seen from the 1st District in the northeastern corner of the state since March, when a Public Opinion Strategies survey for the NRCC had Democratic incumbent Abby Finkenauer ahead just 45-44.

Monmouth’s numbers out of the 2nd District in southeast Iowa are actually slightly better for the GOP than the 41-41 tie that Harper Polling found in its recent survey for the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund. We haven’t seen any other polls for the race to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack.

Last month, Republican David Young released a survey from the Tarrance Group that found him narrowly leading Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne 44-43, and no one else has publicized any numbers for this Des Moines-area district. Axne unseated Young 49-47 in the 2018 Democratic wave.

Finally, Monmouth finds that, two months after white nationalist Rep. Steve King lost the Republican primary for the 4th District to Randy Feenstra, this western Iowa seat is once again safely Republican turf. Scholten did end June with a huge $1.1 million to $328,000 cash-on-hand lead over Feenstra, but it’s going to be very difficult for the Democrat to prevail in a seat that Trump carried 61-34 against an opponent who, while sharing King’s extreme views, lacks the outgoing congressman’s considerable baggage.

Daily Kos Elections rates the 4th District as safely Republican and the other three seats as Lean Democratic.

● MA-04: On Wednesday, Newton City Councilman Jake Auchincloss belatedly apologized for a recently-unearthed 2010 social media post where he responded to a story about Pakistani lawyers immolating an American flag, “So we can’t burn their book, but they can burn our flag?”

Auchincloss, who is competing in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary for this open seat, initially responded to the story last week by saying this was a “sarcastic” post he’d written as a 22-year-old college student that was not “representative of my views, then or now.” However, Auchincloss finally issued a statement days later where he acknowledged, “I’ve gotten this wrong, years ago, in tone-deaf social media posts that could cause offense to Indigenous and Muslim communities. I’m sorry for these comments — I regret them, and I’ve learned from them.”

Auchincloss has attracted plenty of attention for his loyalties and past statements, but he does have some notable advantages going into next month’s primary. Auchincloss ended June with the largest war chest in this crowded field, and the Boston Globe reports that a group called Experienced Leadership Matters PAC, which is funded in part by his parents, recently began spending $180,000 to aid him.

Meanwhile another candidate, businessman Chris Zannetos, began airing his first TV spot this week. Several of Zannetos’ former employees praise him as a job creator and caring boss, with one telling the audience, “When the company struggled, Chris cut his own pay instead of laying off workers.”

● MN-05: According to OpenSecrets, Americans for Tomorrow’s Future has now deployed close to $2 million to oppose freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar in next week’s Democratic primary. The group partially funded a super PAC that aided New York Rep. Eliot Engel in his unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign in June.

● OK-05: The anti-tax Club for Growth has backed businesswoman Terry Neese in the Aug. 25 Republican primary runoff to face freshman Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn. While the Club hadn’t endorsed anyone until now, it did spend $340,000 against Neese’s intra-party opponent, state Sen. Stephanie Bice, during the first round of the primary in late June. The group’s investment didn’t stop Bice from advancing to the runoff, but she did trail Neese by a wide 36-25 margin.  

● PA-01: The state AFL-CIO has endorsed Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in this swing seat. The union previously backed Fitzpatrick during his tight 2018 election bid.

● TX-24: We have two new polls of the race for this GOP-held open seat in the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth:

RMG Research for US Term Limits: Candace Valenzuela (D): 36, Beth Van Duyne (R): 36 (45-44 Biden)
Victoria Research (D) for House Majority PAC: Candace Valenzuela (D): 47, Beth Van Duyne (R): 41 (49-45 Biden)

The only other poll we’ve seen here was an ALG Research poll conducted for the DCCC in mid-June, about a month before Valenzuela won the primary runoff, which found the Democrat ahead 45-39 as Biden led 51-45.

US Term Limits hasn’t endorsed anyone, but it’s hardly a neutral player. The release said that Van Duyne opposes its U.S. Term Limits pledge, and it argued that Valenzuela would take the lead if she would sign on.

● House: The DCCC has reserved $2.2 million in four media markets, and a source with knowledge of Democratic media buys has broken down the amounts for us. The Hill has a list of districts where the committee plans to run these commercials:

Champaign, IL: $293,000 (IL-13)
St. Louis, MO: $909,000 (MO-02, IL-13)
Omaha, NE: $260,000 (NE-02)
Oklahoma City, OK: $716,000 (OK-05)

The DCCC’s allies at House Majority PAC previously reserved $165,000 for the St. Louis market, which includes all of Missouri’s 2nd District as well as about a third of Illinois’ 13th. Missouri’s 2nd District has been safely red turf for decades, but this suburban St. Louis seat is looking considerably more competitive this fall.

Republican Rep. Ann Wagner has long been one of her party’s best fundraisers, but Democrat Jill Schupp has matched or even bested her during some quarters. While Wagner still held a wide $3.2 million to $1.6 million cash-on-hand lead in mid-July, Schupp has the resources to run a serious race in a seat that’s been trending against the GOP during the Trump era.


● Honolulu, HI Mayor: MRG Research (the firm formerly known as Merriman River Group) has released a survey of Saturday’s crowded nonpartisan primary for mayor on behalf of Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now. Businessman Rick Blangiardi, an independent who retired as general manager of HHN in January, is firmly in the lead with 27%, which is still well short of the majority he’d need to avert a November general election.

Two Democrats, former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and former insurance executive Keith Amemiya, are tied 15-15 for the second-place spot, while City Councilwoman Kym Pine, a Republican-turned independent, is just behind with 12%. Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a conservative who left the Democratic Party to run for governor in 2014 as an independent, takes just 8%.

The results are a bit different from a recent Mason-Dixon survey for The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. That poll had Blangiardi and Hanabusa close together with 21% and 20%, respectively, while Amemiya was in third with 13%.

Primary Result Recaps

● MI-11: The Associated Press has called Tuesday’s Republican primary for attorney Eric Esshaki, who defeated businesswoman Carmelita Greco 31-23. This was also the latest defeat for former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, who won the 2012 GOP nomination in an utter fluke, then badly lost it two years later, and has run here several times since then as a Republican and independent. Bentivolio finished in third with 22%, which is still a marked improvement from the 11% he earned in the 2018 open seat primary.

Esshaki will now take on Rep. Haley Stevens, who like much of her freshman Democratic class, has been a very strong fundraiser. This suburban Detroit seat backed Donald Trump 50-45, but Esshaki raised a mere $315,000 through mid-July and self-funded an additional $100,000. Daily Kos Elections rates the general election as Likely Democratic.

● WA-10: The Associated Press has called the first spot in the general election for former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, but it remains to be seen who her opponent will be. With 127,000 votes counted from Tuesday’s top-two primary Strickland is in first with 22%, while two of her fellow Democrats are in a close fight for second. State Rep. Beth Doglio has a narrow 15-13 edge over former state Rep. Kristine Reeves, which is a small increase from Doglio’s margin on election night, while Republican Rian Ingrim is in fourth with 11%.

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