Morning Digest: Trump backs far-right ex-cop who refuses to accept his own 2020 defeat

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

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Leading Off

WA-04: Donald Trump took sides in the August top-two primary on Wednesday evening by backing 2020 gubernatorial nominee Loren Culp’s bid against Rep. Dan Newhouse, who is one of the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment last year. Culp, by contrast, is very much the type of candidate Trump likes, as the far-right ex-cop responded to his wide 57-43 defeat against Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee by saying he’d “never concede.” While Trump’s endorsement likely will give Culp a lift, the top-two primary system complicates the effort to defeat Newhouse in a vast constituency based in the eastern part of Washington.

It would take a lot of bad fortune for Newhouse to take third place or worse, a result that would keep the incumbent off the November general election ballot. If Newhouse did advance, he’d be the heavy favorite against a Democrat in a sprawling eastern Washington seat that, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, would have backed Trump 57-40, which would have made it the reddest of the state’s 10 congressional districts. The dynamics would be different if Culp or another Republican got to face Newhouse in round two, but the congressman would have a good chance to survive if he overwhelmingly carried Democrats while still holding on to enough fellow Republicans.

Campaign Action

Past elections in the old 4th, which is similarly red at 58-40 Trump, show that either a traditional Democrat vs. Republican general or an all-GOP general race are possible. Newhouse won his first two general elections in 2014 and 2016 against fellow Republican Clint Didier, but he had a Democratic foe in 2018 and 2020.

A few other Republicans are already running who could cost Culp some badly needed anti-Newhouse votes on the right, and one of them, businessman Jerrod Sessler, actually had far more money at the end of 2021 than Culp. Culp did narrowly outraise him $40,000 to $25,000 in the fourth quarter, but thanks to self-funding, Sessler finished December with a $200,000 to $30,000 cash-on-hand lead. Newhouse, meanwhile, took in $270,000 for the quarter and had $855,000 to defend himself. The only Democrat who appears to be in, businessman Doug White, raised $105,000 and had $85,000 on hand.

But while Culp’s fundraising has been extremely weak, he already had a base even before Trump chose him this week. He made a name for himself as police chief of Republic, a small community that remains in the neighboring 5th District following redistricting (he has since registered to vote in Moses Lake, which is in the 4th), in 2018 when he made news by announcing he wouldn’t enforce a statewide gun safety ballot measure that had just passed 59-41. His stance drew a very favorable response from far-right rocker Ted Nugent, who posted a typo-ridden “Chief Loren Culp is an Anerican freedom warrior. Godbless the freedom warriors” message to his Facebook page.

Culp, who spent his final years in Republic as chief of a one-person police department, soon decided to challenge Inslee, and he quickly made it clear he would continue to obsessively cultivate the Trump base rather than appeal to a broader group of voters in this blue state. That tactic helped Culp advance through the top-two primary, an occasion he celebrated by reaffirming his opposition to Inslee’s measures to stop the pandemic, including mask mandates. Unsurprisingly, though, it didn’t help him avoid an almost 14-point defeat months later. Culp refused to accept that loss, and he filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a fellow Republican, that made baseless allegations of “intolerable voting anomalies” for a contest “that was at all times fraudulent.”

But the state GOP did not enjoy seeing Culp, whose job in Republic disappeared shortly after the election because of budget cuts, refuse to leave the stage. Some Republicans also openly shared their complaints about Culp’s campaign spending, including what the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner described as “large, unexplained payments to a Marysville data firm while spending a relatively meager sum on traditional voter contact.” Republicans also griped that Culp had spent only about a fifth of his $3.3 million budget on advertising, a far smaller amount than what serious candidates normally expend.

Culp’s attorney ultimately withdrew the suit after being threatened with sanction for making “factually baseless” claims. The defeated candidate himself responded to the news by saying that, while the cost of continuing the legal battle would have been prohibitive, “It doesn’t mean that the war’s over … It just means that we’re not going to engage in this particular battle through the courts.”

Culp, however, soon turned his attention towards challenging Newhouse, and Trump rewarded him Wednesday with an endorsement that promised he’d stand up for “Election Integrity.” That same day, writes Brunner, Culp emailed supporters “suggest[ing] people follow his lead by paying a Florida telehealth clinic to mail treatments including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, drugs hyped by vaccine skeptics that have not been authorized for use in treating COVID-19.”

Redistricting

CT Redistricting: The Connecticut Supreme Court formally adopted a new congressional map drawn by special master Nathan Persily on Thursday that makes only minimal changes to the current district lines in order to ensure population equality. As before, all five districts would have voted for Joe Biden. The court’s intervention was necessary after the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission failed to reach an agreement on a new map, just as it did a decade ago.

FL Redistricting: The Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request that it issue an advisory opinion as to whether lawmakers can legally dismantle the plurality-Black 5th District in a decision issued Thursday, saying the governor’s question was overly broad and lacked a sufficient factual record for the justices to rely on.

In response, GOP leaders in the state House released a congressional map that keeps the 5th largely untouched (albeit renumbered to the 3rd), just as the Senate did when it passed its own plan last month. In other respects, however, the two maps differ: The House’s approach would lead to 18 districts that would have gone for Donald Trump and just 10 that would have voted for Joe Biden, while the Senate plan has a closer 16-12 split in favor of Trump.

The two chambers may yet hammer out their differences, but the real dispute is between lawmakers and DeSantis, who has been pushing for a base-pleasing maximalist gerrymander that his fellow Republicans in the legislature have shown no interest in. DeSantis’ unusual level of interference in the map-making process has raised the prospect of a veto, but the Senate map passed with a wide bipartisan majority. If the House can bring Democrats on board as well, then Republican leaders may just tell DeSantis to suck it.

Senate

AK-Sen: State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson on Wednesday became the first notable Democrat to enter the August top-four primary against the two main Republicans, incumbent Lisa Murkowski and former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Gray-Jackson was elected in 2018 in a blue state Senate seat in Anchorage, a win that made her the second Black woman to ever serve in the chamber, and the Anchorage Daily News says she’s Alaska’s first-ever Black U.S. Senate candidate.

Murkowski, for her part, has enjoyed a huge fundraising advantage over the Trump-endorsed Tshibaka for months, and that very much didn’t change during the fourth quarter. The incumbent outraised Tshibaka $1.4 million to $600,000, and she ended December with a hefty $4.3 million to $635,000 cash-on-hand lead.

AZ-Sen: Wealthy businessman Jim Lamon’s new spot for the August Republican primary, which NBC says is set to air during the Super Bowl, features him confronting “the D.C. gang” in an Old West-inspired setting. Lamon, dressed in a sheriff’s costume, shoots the weapons out of the hands of his three masked enemies with Trump-sounding nicknames who are meant to resemble Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, President Joe Biden, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Yes, Lamon is depicting firing a gun at Kelly, whose wife, then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, was gravely wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt that killed six members of the public.) The campaign says the commercial is one of the spots running in an “upper six-figure campaign.”

Lamon, thanks to a generous amount of self-funding, ended the last quarter with a wide cash-on-hand lead over his many rivals, though judging by this spot, very little of his war chest went towards paying an acting coach—or an ethics adviser. The quarterly numbers are below:

Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters: $1.4 million raised, $1.8 million cash-on-hand
Attorney General Mark Brnovich: $805,000 raised, $770,000 cash-on-hand
retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire: $245,000 raised, additional $25,000 self-funded, $225,000 cash-on-hand
Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson: $225,000 raised, $190,000 cash-on-hand
Businessman Jim Lamon: $200,000 raised, additional $3 million self-funded, $5.9 million cash-on-hand

Kelly, though, ended 2021 with more than twice as much money on hand as all his rivals combined: The senator took in $8.8 million for the quarter and had $18.6 million available to spend.

Governors

AL-Gov: Businessman Tim James’ new commercial for the May Republican primary declares that Gov. Kay Ivey could have used an “executive order” to prevent school children from having to wear masks, but “she refused.” The National Journal notes, though, that the state’s mask mandate expired in April of last year, while similar municipal requirements in Birmingham and Montgomery ended the following month.

MI-Gov: Conservative radio host Tudor Dixon this week earned an endorsement from Rep. Lisa McClain, whose old 10th District was Donald Trump’s best congressional district in the state. (The new 9th, where McClain is seeking re-election, would have also been Michigan’s reddest under the redrawn congressional map.) Another congressman, Bill Huizenga, backed Dixon a few weeks ago even though she’s struggled to raise a credible amount of money.

WI-Gov: Republican state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, who is one of the loudest spreaders of the Big Lie in Wisconsin, filed paperwork Thursday for a potential campaign for governor the day after he took down a campaign website that, for a few hours, said he was running. We’ll presumably know for sure Saturday after Ramthun’s “special announcement” at a high school auditorium in Kewaskum, a small community to the north of Milwaukee, though the local superintendent said Tuesday that the space had yet to be reserved. (Ramthun also is a member of that school board.)

House

CA-15: The first poll we’ve seen of the June top-two primary in this open seat comes from the Democratic firm Tulchin Research on behalf of San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, which gives him the lead with 19% of the vote. A second Democrat, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, holds a 17-13 edge over Republican businessman Gus Mattamal for the other general election spot, while Democratic Burlingame Councilwoman Emily Beach takes 7%. This constituency, which includes most of San Mateo County as well as a portion of San Francisco to the north, would have backed Joe Biden 78-20, so it’s very possible two Democrats will face off in November.

All the Democrats entered the race after Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier announced her retirement in mid-November, and Canepa outraised his rivals during their first quarter. Canepa outpaced Beach $420,000 to $275,000, and he held a $365,000 to $270,000 cash-on-hand lead. Mullin, who has Speier’s endorsement, raised $180,000, self-funded another $65,000, and ended December with $230,000 on-hand. Mattamal, meanwhile, had a mere $15,000 to spend.

MI-11: Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence, whose current 14th Congressional District makes up 30% of the new 11th, on Thursday backed Haley Stevens in her August incumbent vs. incumbent primary against Andy Levin. Lawrence, who is not seeking re-election, actually represents more people here than Levin, whose existing 9th District includes 25% of the seat he’s campaigning to represent; a 45% plurality of residents live in Stevens’ constituency, which is also numbered the 11th.

NE-01: Indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s second TV ad for the May Republican primary once again portrays state Sen. Mike Flood as weak on immigration, and it makes use of the same “floods of illegal immigrants” pun from his opening spot. This time, though, the incumbent’s commercial uses 2012 audio of then-Gov. Dave Heineman telling Flood, “I am extraordinarily disappointed with your support of taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal aliens.” Heineman last month endorsed Flood over Fortenberry, whom the former governor called “the only Nebraska congressman that has ever been indicted on felony criminal charges.”

OR-04: EMILY’s List has endorsed state Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle in the May Democratic primary for this open seat.

PA-18: Last week, state Rep. Summer Lee earned an endorsement from the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, which is made up of three prominent labor groups, ahead of the May Democratic primary for this open seat. TribLIVE.com notes that two of the unions took opposite sides in last year’s Democratic primary for mayor of Pittsburgh: SEIU Healthcare supported Ed Gainey’s victorious campaign, while SEIU 32 BJ stuck with incumbent Bill Peduto. (SEIU Local 668, the third member of the State Council, doesn’t appear to have gotten involved in that contest.)

Lee, who also has the backing of now-Mayor Gainey, did, however, get outraised during her first quarter in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Mike Doyle. Attorney Steve Irwin, who is a former Pennsylvania Securities Commission head, outpaced Lee $340,000 to $270,000, and he ended December with a $295,000 to $200,000 cash-on-hand lead. Another candidate, law professor Jerry Dickinson, began running months before Doyle announced his departure in October, but he took in just $120,000 for the quarter and had $160,000 to spend. Nonprofit executive Stephanie Fox also kicked off her campaign in December, but she didn’t report raising any money for the fourth quarter.

Redistricting is still in progress in Pennsylvania, but there’s little question this will remain a safely blue Pittsburgh-based seat when all is said and done. What we know for sure, though, is that, because the state is dropping from 18 to 17 congressional districts, all of these candidates will be running for a constituency that has a different number than Doyle’s existing one.

SC-01: Donald Trump on Wednesday night gave his “complete and total” endorsement to former state Rep. Katie Arrington’s day-old campaign to deny freshman Rep. Nancy Mace renomination in the June Republican primary, and he characteristically used the occasion to spew bile at the incumbent. Trump not-tweeted, “Katie Arrington is running against an absolutely terrible candidate, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, whose remarks and attitude have been devastating for her community, and not at all representative of the Republican Party to which she has been very disloyal.”

Trump previously backed Arrington’s successful 2018 primary campaign against then-Rep. Mark Sanford about three hours before polls closed, and his statement continued by trying to justify her subsequent general election loss to Democrat Joe Cunningham. The GOP leader noted that Arrington had been injured in a car wreck 10 days after the primary, saying, “Her automobile accident a number of years ago was devastating, and made it very difficult for her to campaign after having won the primary against another terrible candidate, ‘Mr. Argentina.'” It won’t surprise you to learn, though, that a whole lot more went into why Cunningham, who suspended his campaign after his opponent was hospitalized, went on to defeat Arrington in one of the biggest upsets of the cycle.

Mace, as The State’s Caitlin Byrd notes, spent most of the last several years as a Trump loyalist, and she even began working for his campaign in September of 2015 back when few gave him a chance. But that was before the new congresswoman, who won in 2020 by unseating Cunningham, was forced to barricade in her office during the Jan. 6 attack. “I can’t condone the rhetoric from yesterday, where people died and all the violence,” she said the next day, adding, “These were not protests. This was anarchy.” She went even further in her very first floor speech days later, saying of Trump, “I hold him accountable for the events that transpired.”

Still, Mace, unlike home-state colleague Tom Rice, refused to join the small group of Republicans that supported impeachment, and she stopped trying to pick fights with Trump afterwards. In a July profile in The Atlantic titled, “How a Rising Trump Critic Lost Her Nerve,” the congresswoman said that intra-party attacks on him were an “enormous division” for the GOP. “I just want to be done with that,” said Mace. “I want to move forward.” Since then she has occasionally come into conflict with far-right party members like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, but Mace has avoided messing with Trump directly.

Trump, though, very much isn’t done with her, and Mace seems to have decided that the best way to fight back is to emphasize Arrington’s loss. On Thursday, the incumbent posted a video shot across the street from Trump Tower where, after talking about her longtime Trump loyalty, she says, “If you want to lose this seat once again in a midterm election cycle to Democrats, then my opponent is more than qualified to do just that.” The GOP legislature did what it could to make sure that no one could lose this coastal South Carolina seat to Democrats by passing a map that extended Trump’s 2020 margin from 52-46 to 54-45, but that’s not going to stop Mace from arguing that Arrington is electoral kryptonite.

While Trump, who The State says is planning to hold a rally in South Carolina as early as this month, has plenty of power to make the next several months miserable for Mace, the incumbent has the resources to defend herself: Mace raised $605,000 during the fourth quarter and ended December with $1.5 million on hand. The congressman also earned a high-profile endorsement of her own earlier this week from Nikki Haley, who resigned as governor in 2017 to become Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations.

TX-30: Protect our Future, a new super PAC co-funded by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, has announced that it will spend $1 million to boost state Rep. Jasmine Crockett in the March 1 Democratic primary to succeed retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. Web3 Forward, which the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek also says is “linked to the crypto industry,” is reporting spending $235,000 on pro-Crockett media as well. Until now, there had been no serious outside spending in this safely blue Dallas seat.

Secretaries of State

GA-SoS: Republican incumbent Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to participate in the Big Lie earned him a Trump-backed May primary challenge from Rep. Jody Hice, and the congressman ended January with more money despite heavy early spending. Hice outraised Raffensperger $1 million to $320,000 from July 1 to Jan. 31, and he had a $650,000 to $515,000 cash-on-hand lead. Former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, who lost to Raffensperger in 2018, was far back with $210,000 raised, and he had $110,000 on hand.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Bee Nguyen took in $690,000 during this time and had $945,000 to spend. Her nearest intra-party foe, former Milledgeville Mayor Floyd Griffin, was well back with only $65,000 raised and $20,000 on hand.

Mayors

Los Angeles, CA Mayor: Los Angeles’ city clerk says that billionaire developer Rick Caruso has scheduled a Friday appointment to file for this open seat race, a move that comes one day ahead of the Feb. 12 filing deadline.



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