With Zach Montellaro and Daniel Strauss
The following newsletter is an abridged version of Campaign Pro’s Morning Score. For an earlier morning read on exponentially more races — and for a more comprehensive aggregation of the day’s most important campaign news — sign up for Campaign Pro today. (http://www.politicopro.com/proinfo)
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ALABAMA SHAKES — “Inside McConnell’s slow-motion Alabama train wreck,” by Campaign Pro’s Kevin Robillard: “In mid-March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called freshly appointed Sen. Luther Strange with a pressing political question: Should McConnell or President Donald Trump urge Alabama’s governor not to call a special election for Strange’s seat in 2017? The previous governor, Robert Bentley, had appointed Strange to his seat and set a special election for November 2018 before resigning in a sex scandal. But new Gov. Kay Ivey was under local pressure to move the election forward, and McConnell was concerned it would distract the GOP amid efforts to repeal Obamacare and pass sweeping tax legislation in 2017. Strange told McConnell not to worry — Ivey was a friend and political ally, Strange said, and they didn’t need to worry about her cutting short Strange’s time in office. The next month, Ivey moved the special election to December, setting off an improbable series of one-after-another political gut punches to McConnell and his conference that ended with Alabama electing its first Democratic senator in a quarter-century, the GOP Senate majority shrinking to just 51 seats, and Democrats hopeful of winning back the Senate in 2018. ‘It’s all one big self-inflicted wound,’ said Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and one of his top political lieutenants, who described McConnell’s conversation with Strange. ‘This election never even needed to happen.’” Full story.
— “Republican civil war erupts anew,” by POLITICO’s Eliana Johnson and Alex Isenstadt: “[B]oth sides are blaming the other for Tuesday’s loss, with each painting the results as a case study in the other’s political ineptitude. [Steve] Bannon has argued from the outset that Republican leaders have positioned themselves against the president, determined to thwart his agenda. But McConnell and his allies are using Tuesday’s results to tell the president — whom Bannon helped to cajole into the race on Moore’s behalf — that his former chief strategist is a political liability. … McConnell told associates that he wanted to destroy Bannon politically, according to one person familiar with the Republican leader’s thinking. Their goal: to curtail his influence ahead of the 2018 midterms, in which Bannon has vowed to recruit candidates to knock off McConnell-backed incumbents.”
Trump listened to the establishment, then ignored them: “It was an appeal from Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker that ultimately convinced the president to campaign in Alabama on Strange’s behalf. Trump even placed a cold call to Ward Baker, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, before doing so. When Baker told Trump that Strange was, in fact, in real trouble, the president decided to intervene. But he didn’t heed the same establishment voices, including his own political advisers, who urged him to stay out of the general election after Strange’s defeat. He also rejected private appeals both from his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who urged him to keep his distance from Moore.” Full story.
— “How Republicans are experiencing 2010 in reverse,” by POLITICO’s John Bresnahan and Elana Schor: “Many Republicans insist that the similarities are superficial, that [Scott] Brown’s shocking 2010 victory in deep-blue Massachusetts was a referendum on Obamacare while Tuesday’s win by [Doug] Jones in dark-red Alabama only happened because of a deeply flawed Republican candidate, Roy Moore. … But even those Republicans acknowledge that this year’s intense engagement on the left — turnout in Alabama on Tuesday crushed state officials’ 25 percent expectations, ending up closer to 40 percent — carries echoes of the 2010 GOP wave. ‘The enthusiasm, the movement across country, the reaction, the organizing, that seems very similar to me,’ Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.” Full story.
— “Alabama win stokes Democratic Senate majority hopes,” by Robillard: “Democrats’ special election win in Alabama has cracked open a path to the Senate majority in 2018 that looked all but impassable before Tuesday night. The party will still have to defend 10 incumbents next year in states carried by President Donald Trump in 2016 — a long shot in even the best political environment — in addition to snagging Republican-held seats in Nevada and Arizona. But the party no longer needs to stage an upset in another forbidding red state — like Tennessee or Texas — on top of that. … “I worry that the Senate is in play. I didn’t think that before [Tuesday],” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and partner at Firehouse Strategies who worked for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio‘s presidential campaign.” Full story.
THE NEXT SENATOR FROM MINNESOTA — “Minnesota governor names Lt. Gov. Tina Smith as Franken replacement,” by Robillard and Maggie Severns: “Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed his lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, to replace resigning Sen. Al Franken at a press conference Wednesday morning. … Smith plans to run in a 2018 special election to complete the remainder of Franken’s term, which lasts until 2020. That means she’d be running at the same time as Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is up for reelection next year. It will be Smith’s first solo run for elected office.” Full story.
— Republicans look to Pawlenty: Republicans are hoping former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a 2012 presidential candidate and now the head of the Financial Services Roundtable, will jump in the race, with some suggesting he could save the GOP majority with a victory. But polling from a liberal group in Minnesota indicates Pawlenty might have a hard start. The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Alliance for a Better Minnesota when Pawlenty was a rumored candidate for governor in November, found Pawlenty trailing 38 percent to 41 percent to a generic Democrat. Thirty-three percent of voters viewed him favorably, and 36 percent viewed him unfavorably. Full results here.
KIHUEN WATCH — “Second woman accuses Kihuen of persistent, unwanted sexual advances,” by the Nevada Independent’s Megan Messerly: “Once-rising Democratic star Rep. Ruben Kihuen made repeated and unwanted sexual advances toward a female lobbyist while he was a state senator, the woman told The Nevada Independent. The woman, who requested anonymity because of concerns about being identified and the possible consequences in Nevada’s small political world, says that Kihuen touched her thighs or buttocks on three separate occasions without her consent. She also showed the Independent hundreds of suggestive text messages she received from Kihuen — including invitations to come sit on his lap in the middle of a committee hearing and repeated requests to spend the night at her place — over the course of the 2015 legislative session.” Full story.
EARLY POLLING DATA — FIRST IN SCORE — Internal poll gives Nicholson edge in Wisconsin: Businessman and veteran Kevin Nicholson’s campaign is out with an internal poll showing the candidate with an edge over his main rival in the Wisconsin GOP Senate primary. Nicholson earned 30 percent of the vote in the survey, conducted by WPA Intelligence, compared to 23 percent for state Sen. Leah Vukmir. Perennial candidate John Schiess has 2 percent of the vote, with 45 percent of voters undecided. Forty percent of likely GOP primary voters have a favorable opinion of Nicholson, while just 5 percent have a negative opinion of him, and a total of 60 percent have heard of him. Full results here. Full story here.
Days until the 2018 election: 327
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ANOTHER ONE — Dent may retire early, triggering special election, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns report: “Republicans are now bracing for the possibility of another unexpectedly difficult special election, in March, this one in a conservative-leaning House district in western Pennsylvania, and they are resigned to having to spend money to protect what has been a safe seat. Further, [Rep. Charlie] Dent, who has already said he will not seek reelection next year, confirmed he has had conversations with TV news executives about becoming an analyst, raising the possibility that he would leave his seat early and create yet another special election for his party. (‘I have no definitive plans,’ he said.)” Full story.
EMERGING ISSUES — “Western Values Project pressures three Republicans on public lands,” by Campaign Pro’s Elena Schneider: “The Western Values Project released internal polling and announced a TV, digital and radio ad campaign in three House seats, urging members to ‘stop the attacks on public lands,’ one of the TV ads states. The ads target Republicans: battleground Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. ‘In the heart of the West, 2 million acres of protected public lands just got wiped off the map, selling off American heritage,’ the TV ad’s narrator says. ‘Now elites in Washington have their sights set on Arizona.’ Polling conducted by Global Strategy Group show that a majority of voters in all three districts oppose legislation to shrink national monuments in Utah.” Watch the AZ-02 ad here, OR-02 here, and WA-03 here. Full story here.
POST-MORTEMS — FIRST IN SCORE — New poll looks closer at Northam win: A new poll, conducted by GBA Strategies for the NEA Advocacy Fund, AAPI Progressive Action, and the National Public Education Action Fund, took a look at how Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam pulled off his landslide win in the Virginia governor’s race. Their five major takeaways: “both the electorate’s composition and enthusiasm broke in Democrats’ favor, health care and education were central to the more nuanced conversation heard by voters, Trump helped Northam more than Gillespie, ‘racially loaded’ messaging and the economy appealed to some of Gillespie’s base, [and] communities of color overwhelmingly broke for Northam, yet had different priorities.” Read the polling memo here.
STAFFING UP — GOP fundraising firm High Cotton Consulting joins Axiom Strategies: “As part of the merger, Alexandra Kendrick and her fundraising staff joined Axiom’s D.C. office,” the Axiom release says, with Kendrick, High Cotton’s founder, adding: “I’m excited to add fundraising to the suite of services Axiom offers clients.”
— Cordray hires Jones’ national finance director: Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray has hired Antonia Koch as his campaign’s finance director. Koch previously served as national finance director for Sen.-elect Doug Jones’ campaign in Alabama, and before that was finance director for Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special election.
ENDORSEMENT WATCH — Club backs former Cruz aide Chip Roy for Congress: The Club for Growth PAC is endorsing Chip Roy, a former top aide to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for the open seat held by retiring GOP Rep. Lamar Smith. “Cut from the same cloth as Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, Chip is exactly the type of fiscal conservative Congress needs,” Club for Growth PAC President David McIntosh said.
— PCCC endorses four congressional candidates: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is endorsing Mike Levin in California’s 49th District, Veronica Escobar in Texas’ 16th District, Greg Edwards in Pennsylvania’s 15th District, Liz Watson in Indiana’s 9th District and Jocelyn Benson in Michigan’s Secretary of State race.
MONEY CHASE — Gorka holds second fundraiser for Missouri candidate: Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka is holding his second fundraiser for Tony Monetti, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and otherwise obscure candidate in Missouri’s GOP primary. The minimum $250-a-head fundraiser will be held today in the St. Louis suburbs, according to an invite obtained by POLITICO. A max donation gets a picture with Gorka and access to a VIP reception.