With Kevin Robillard, Zach Montellaro, Daniel Strauss and Scott Bland
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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PRIMARY MONEY — “Top Trump donor ponies up to take out Flake,” by POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt: “Robert Mercer, a reclusive hedge fund billionaire who was intimately involved in Trump’s rise and helped to bankroll his 2016 campaign, is contributing $300,000 to a super PAC supporting former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Flake in a Republican primary next year. It’s the latest sign that Trump’s political machine is preparing to take on Flake, whose persistent attacks have angered the president. The White House has met with Ward and two other Republicans who are mulling primary challenges to the Arizona senator, former state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham.” Full story.
FIRST IN SCORE — Morales launches bid for Rokita’s now-open seat: Republican Diego Morales, a former senior adviser to Mike Pence, will run for the seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Todd Rokita’s seat as Rokita makes his Senate bid. Morales, a businessman and a veteran, said via a statement from his campaign that he believes the district wants “someone with an understanding of national security who shares their conservative values and is guided by faith,” along with “supporting President Trump.” The 4th congressional district leans heavily Republican.
ALL THE RAID — “FBI searched campaign office tied to Hunter,” by POLITICO’s Rachael Bade: “The FBI in late February raided the offices of GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter‘s former campaign treasurer as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations he used tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses, court documents show. Federal law-enforcement officials on Feb. 23 seized several computers, tablets and iPads, bills and disbursement records, as well as a computer hard drive, from Election CFO, an Alexandria, Va.-based company that handled the California Republican’s campaign finances. The raid was disclosed in a search and seizure warrant filed with the Eastern District of Virginia and signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff. …
The three-term lawmaker and his wife personally repaid more than $60,000 in charges following news reports suggesting he used campaign funds to cover personal expenses, which would be in violation House rules and federal campaign law. Hunter has denied any wrongdoing.” Full story.
— Hunter’s Democratic opponent responds: Hunter’s CA-50 is heavily Republican, but DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan has already donated to Democratic candidate Josh Butner, a former Navy SEAL challenging Hunter. Butner’s statement on Wednesday: “As this FBI investigation into Congressman Hunter’s alleged corruption drags on, Hunter has proven he is unable to focus on his constituents that need a leader in Washington who is 100% focused on delivering results for the people of East County.”
SUMMER RETIREMENT WATCH — Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) announced Wednesday that she will not run for reelection, retiring at the end of this term. “I have learned in life that there is a time for endings and for new beginnings. After much thought, I have decided that this is one of those times,” she said in a statement. She currently represents Massachusetts’ 3rd district, after initially being elected in the 5th district in 2007. It is a reliably Democratic district that is not expected to flip.
— Tsongas’ announcement sparked a flurry of interest, our colleagues at POLITICO Massachusetts report: “Among those eyeing a run: Ellen Meehan, the wife of former Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan — who represented the district before Tsongas — and a former campaign chair for Tsongas. … Within hours of Tsongas’ surprise announcement, the rare opening in the Massachusetts congressional delegation attracted several other prominent Democrats. State Sen. Barbara L’Italien and former state Sen. Barry Finegold, who finished fourth behind Tsongas in the 2007 Democratic special primary election, both said in statements that they are also considering running for the seat.
Two additional Democratic names from the 2007 special primary election are also surfacing. State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who came in third place, told POLITICO he is ‘taking a look’ at running. Another potential candidate is state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who finished a close second to Tsongas. Full story.
PRIMARY NO-GO — Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green will not challenge Corker, by the Tennessean’s Joel Ebert: “State Sen. Mark Green will not seek higher office in 2018 and instead focus on establishing a new organization to encourage people of faith to run for public office. … Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, there was some speculation that Green could challenge U.S. Sen. Bob Corker — who has yet to officially say whether he’s running in 2018 — or even seek the seat U.S. Rep. Diane Black is vacating. … Green alluded to a potential U.S. Senate run in the future, saying, ‘I think that’s going to be an opportunity for me potentially later.’ U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is up for re-election in 2020.” Full story.
Days until the 2017 election: 90.
Days until the 2018 election: 454.
AIR COVER — Majority Forward airing ads in four states on Medicare and Medicaid: Majority Forward, the nonprofit tied to Senate Majority PAC, is spending about $875,000 on ads in three states with vulnerable Democratic Senators: North Dakota (Heidi Heitkamp), Indiana (Joe Donnelly) and Montana (Jon Tester). And also, oddly, in Delaware, where Sen. Tom Carper is up for reelection in 2018. The ads are focused on Medicare and Medicaid. In Indiana, the spot praises Donnelly for pushing legislation preventing “Washington bureaucrats” from “arbitrarily cut[ting] Medicare.” Watch it here.
— Americans for Prosperity adds digital tax ads: The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity is adding digital ads to its existing ad campaign supporting tax reform. The ads thank lawmakers who have been pushing for tax reform in Congress. See a sample ad here.
MOM PAC — “Danny Ainge says family has ‘zero to do’ with how $250,000 super PAC contribution spent” in UT-03 special, by the Deseret News’ Lisa Riley Roche: “Danny Ainge and his wife contributed $250,000 to a political action committee supporting their son, Tanner, in his 3rd Congressional District primary race but have nothing to do with how the money’s being spent, the elder Ainge said Tuesday. ‘The money is theirs to do what they want to do with it. We’re at their mercy,’ Danny Ainge told the Deseret News. ‘I know it sounds like there is some involvement, but there is not. We have zero to do with the super PAC.’ Ainge, the general manager of the Boston Celtics, said he hasn’t seen the mailers and commercials produced by the Conservative Utah PAC that have been criticized as negative campaigning. ‘I’ve got a full-time job, and I’m not paying attention to all that stuff,’ he said. ‘We’re just trying to support our son. … We think he has a chance to have a real positive impact, and we’re trying to give him a chance.’” Full story.
— New super PAC appears to back Jenkins in West Virginia primary, POLITICO’s Theodoric Meyer reports: Allies of Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) appear to have formed a super PAC to help him in his upcoming Republican Senate primary against state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, as the two men battle for the chance to face Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin next year. … The site accuses “Lobbyin’ Patrick Morrisey” — who worked as a Washington lobbyist before running for attorney general in 2012 — of throwing “away conservative principles to lobby for liberals” and charges that he’s “Desperate to get back to the DC swamp that made him rich.” More here.
SNACK ATTACK — Our Revolution says DNC insulted group with barricades and offer of donuts: BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer reports that the outside political group aligned with Bernie Sanders is unhappy with the Democratic Party. “The grievances converge around a recent trip to deliver petitions to the party’s headquarters in Washington, where [Our Revolution President Nina Turner] and other progressives were greeted by barricades, security guards, and an offering of donuts and water that she saw as an empty gesture, indicative of an institution that isn’t ‘smart enough, humble enough, to say let’s take a step back and really listen to the people,’ … all of which has left Turner, the newly appointed head of Our Revolution, with the view that, as she puts it, ‘the establishment side of the Democratic Party have shown themselves to be dictators.’” Full story.
OBAMA ALUMNI NETWORK — Krish Vignarajah, a former Obama administration official, announced her campaign for governor of Maryland on Wednesday. In a press release Vignarajah said “I am running for Governor because I am worried my daughter will not have the same opportunities my parents gave me when they brought our family here when I was a baby girl. … The deficit in leadership from our current Governor could not come at a worse time.”
POLL — Northam leads Gillespie by 6 points in Virginia governor’s race, Campaign Pro’s Daniel Strauss reports: “Democrat Ralph Northam leads Republican Ed Gillespie by 6 percentage points in the race for Virginia governor, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Northam, the lieutenant governor, leads Gillespie, 44 percent to 38 percent — unchanged from a 47-39 lead in the previous Quinnipiac survey from mid June. The June poll did not include numbers for Libertarian Cliff Hyra; the new poll found Hyra with 4 percent support. Neither candidate is well-defined, though voters are more familiar with Gillespie, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2014.” Full story.
DAILY WAR EAGLE — A new Senate Leadership Fund ad Wednesday gets straight to the point: President Donald Trump endorsed Sen. Luther Strange for Senate. The ad, called “Endorse,” is a quick six-second spot, highlighting Trump’s tweet endorsing Strange on Tuesday night. Watch the ad here.
— In an interview with AL.com Strange said, “I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I think there will be more to come from the president.” He also gave the home state paper an account of how the endorsement process went down: “I just got a call saying the White House was calling and hold for the president. … We had about a 15-20 minute conversation that covered a lot of territory, that focused on the election. He said I’m going to send out a tweet — I’m happy to do it. Let me know how I can help.”
— Ryan to campaign for Jones: Rep. Tim Ryan will be in Birmingham this weekend rallying supporters behind Democrat Doug Jones in the race, according to an email sent to supporters. Ryan represents Ohio’s 13th district and has been one of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s biggest critics in the House.
STARS AND BARS DEBATE REDUX — “The Confederate Flag Fight Is Back,” by BuzzFeed News’ Henry Gomez: “Virtually all established Republican Party leaders would like, as they say, to ‘move past’ the issue — and few want to talk about it. But the people who want to talk about preserving monuments and keeping the flag in the sky really want to talk about it. And in the ground zero of the flag fight — South Carolina — Republican operatives describe [former Gov. Nikki] Haley’s push as a one-time response to a tragedy that rekindled wide national scrutiny of the Confederate flag. … The issue popped up last week in the state’s competitive Republican race for governor. Several audience members at a forum in conservative Pickens County grilled Catherine Templeton — a former member of Haley’s cabinet whose consulting firm was among those who cheered the flag’s removal at the Statehouse — about her stance on removing Confederate symbols. ‘You cannot rewrite history,’ said Templeton, who has emerged as a top primary challenger to Henry McMaster, the lieutenant governor who became governor after Haley left to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. ‘I don’t care whose feelings get hurt.’” Full story.