Morning Digest: Republican Mark Harris further implicated in North Carolina election fraud scheme

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Senate

AZ-Sen: On Friday, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl announced that he would resign on Dec. 31, a tenure of just 119 days. Kyl’s departure ahead of the new year was widely anticipated ever since Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him in early September to fill the seat of the late John McCain, though Kyl had at times suggested he might stick around for the full two years. Ducey will now appoint a second replacement who will be able to run in the November 2020 special election with two years of incumbency under their belt. Whoever wins that race two years from now will then be up for a full six-year term in 2022.

So whom will Ducey choose this time around? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies have reportedly been trying to persuade the governor to appoint outgoing Rep. Martha McSally, who lost this year’s Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema by a 50-48 margin. However, the Washington Post wrote last month that some members of Ducey’s inner circle had some doubts about this plan, and on Thursday―hours before Kyl made his departure public―the paper reported that, while McSally remains a finalist, Ducey has apparently “lost enthusiasm” about picking her.

Reporter Sean Sullivan wrote back in November that McSally skeptics griped that she didn’t do a better job utilizing opposition research about Sinema’s past as an anti-war organizer and a member of the Green Party. They also complained that McSally distanced herself too much from McCain, who is utterly despised by Donald Trump but has his fans among swing voters. McSally’s detractors also argued that her decision to run as a Trump loyalist caused her problems in November.

A few weeks ago, McSally pushed back on the perception that she’d dropped the ball, providing the Post with a copy of a post-election memo in which her strategists blamed her defeat on circumstances largely beyond her control. These included Trump’s unpopularity among moderate Republicans; an expensive GOP primary that concluded just over two months before Election Day; and a big spending edge for Sinema and her allies.

However, Sullivan now writes that this memo badly backfired with Ducey, who’s now the only person who gets a vote on whether to send McSally to the Senate. Some national Republicans and members of the governor’s inner circle felt that McSally wasn’t owning up to her own mistakes and was trying to deflect the blame for her loss. Arizona GOP donor Dan Eberhart even told the paper that there was “momentum building for an anybody-but-McSally appointment among the Arizona donor community.”

McSally still has her allies, however. McConnell continues to push for her appointment: The Arizona Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez writes that GOP donors “spent millions of dollars [on] McSally’s election effort and likely want to see that investment pay dividends.” But while these fat cats may be afflicted with a serious case of the sunk cost fallacy, perhaps the best argument for McSally is that there aren’t a lot of obvious alternative candidates who could quickly organize for what will be a competitive 2020 general election campaign. McSally, for all her faults, is a strong fundraiser who has experience running statewide.

Still, she’s far from the only Republican Ducey might appoint. Sullivan writes that one person Ducey is seriously considering is Kirk Adams, who just resigned as his chief of staff. Adams is a former state House speaker who narrowly lost a 2012 primary for Arizona’s 5th District to former Rep. Matt Salmon, but he has never run statewide.

GA-Sen: Democrat Jon Ossoff said last month that, while he’d like to see Stacey Abrams challenge GOP Sen. David Perdue, he wasn’t ruling out a bid of his own, and he seems to be laying some of the groundwork now. Ossoff, who was the 2017 6th District special election nominee, recently held a town hall meeting in rural and deep red Habersham County, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interpreted as Ossoff testing “his appeal to an unfamiliar crowd.” They also write that Ossoff avoided questions about his future plans, saying he would “think really carefully” before deciding on anything.

TX-Sen: Outgoing Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Friday that he wasn’t ruling anything out for 2020, including a possible run against GOP Sen. John Cornyn. O’Rourke, who looks more interested in running for president, didn’t lay out a timeline for when he’d expect to decide on anything, saying that he would be “spending some time with family. I’ll know what I can best do for first and foremost my family and then the country.”

Gubernatorial

IL-Gov: On Thursday, outgoing Illinois GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner told ABC7 that, after he only narrowly beat state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the March primary, that he’d tried to convince four different people to take his place as Team Red’s nominee. Rauner relayed that he’d told them that he’d “step aside, I’ll give you huge financial resources, you run for governor, I’ll support you.” Rauner added that he’d told them, “You have as good or better chance to get elected than me. All four of them said no, too tough, too unlikely, too difficult.” Rauner, who was now stuck carrying the GOP banner into a dreary November, lost re-election 54-39 to Democrat J. B. Pritzker.

Rauner said that he’d approached two men and two women about taking his place, but he did not name names. However, former state Sen. Karen McConnaughay soon confirmed that Rauner had contacted her in mid-April, about a month after his weak primary win. She said that she quickly turned him down and that she was “concerned in my conversations that he didn’t really understand that if he really did want to take his name off the ballot, that he couldn’t just pick a replacement,” and that Rauner “hadn’t sought any counsel about the process, so he couldn’t understand it.” She later threw some more shade at Rauner, saying this poorly thought-out scheme was “indicative of how he governed.”

It seems like Rauner kept trying months after this rebuff, however. The Chicago Tribune writes that sources close to attorney general nominee Erika Harold said that Rauner had contacted her in August. Harold, who did not comment for the article, went on to lose to Democrat Kwame Raoul 55-43, which was only slightly better than how the governor ended up doing. The paper also says that another person Rauner reached out to was Chicago Cubs part-owner Todd Ricketts, who is the brother of Nebraska GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts; Ricketts also did not comment.

KY-Gov: Insider Louisville wrote on Thursday that Kentucky Democrats expect former state Auditor Adam Edelen to announce soon that he’s joining the 2019 primary to take on GOP Gov. Matt Bevin. Edelen declined to comment, but his website now consists of a splash page with a “COMING SOON” banner. There have also been rumors that Louisville developer Gill Holland will be Edelen’s running mate, and Holland isn’t denying it. Instead, he said that he and Edelen have been friends for a long time and, “Right now I don’t think there’s a team in the race that has the vision to win in November. That could change very soon.”

This isn’t the first time that Edelen has had his eye on higher office. He flirted with challenging GOP Sen. Rand Paul in the 2016 cycle, but that was before he lost re-election 52-48. That result shocked even Edelen, who later said that he saw a poll the Friday before Election Day that showed him ahead by 11. Attorney General Andy Beshear and state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins currently have the May primary to themselves.

LA-Gov: Longtime Louisiana political consultant Danae Columbus writes that former Rep. Charles Boustany and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta are both considering joining the 2019 GOP field to take on Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. This is the first time we’ve heard either of them mentioned as potential candidates and neither appears to have said anything publicly yet, but Columbus adds that they’re each “expected to announce their decisions in early January.”

Boustany represented the Lafayette area in Congress from 2005 until he launched an unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2016. Fellow Republican and eventual winner John Kennedy took first place in the November jungle primary with 25 percent of the vote, while Democrat Foster Campbell edged Boustany 17-15 for the second spot in the runoff. Boustany is currently a spokesperson for a group called “Tariffs Hurt the Heartland,” so he can probably forget about getting an endorsement from Donald Trump.

By contrast, Columbus writes that Skrmetta is much closer to Tariff Man. Skrmetta was co-chair of Trump’s Louisiana campaign, and he was mentioned in the media as a possible nominee for a federal judgeship. That never happened, but Columbus predicts that if he runs for governor “it is likely that Trump would campaign for him.” Of course, it’s always tough to know whom Trump will end up endorsing. Rep. Ralph Abraham and wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone are currently competing with Edwards in the October jungle primary.

MS-Gov: The 2019 GOP primary is already off to a fun start. State Rep. Robert Foster said Thursday that a “third party” offered him $1 million in fundraising help if he’d exit the race and sought a different statewide office. Foster said he wasn’t “going to give any names or anything because I can’t prove anything because it was all done through a third party, through phone calls and stuff,” but “I can confirm it was made.”

House

ME-02: On Friday, Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin asked election officials to halt their recount of his race against Democrat Jared Golden, which had been a little more than halfway completed and had shown no sign of changing the outcome. Poliquin has to pay for the recount, so he likely pulled the plug early to avoid racking up an even bigger bill. With the partial recount, Golden’s margin stands at 3,509 votes, or 50.6-49.4.

And it looks like we’re finally near the end of the line: A day earlier, Poliquin lost a challenge to Maine’s new instant-runoff voting law in federal court. At the time, news reports said he’d appeal, but on Friday, Poliquin would only say he plans to “evaluate” his options.

NY-11: GOP Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Democratic Rep.-elect Max Rose, and she’s not saying no. Malliotakis told the Brooklyn Eagle that, “There are always rumors and speculation in politics,” adding that she was focusing on her service in the legislature and “2020 is two years away.”

NY-22: Outgoing GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney, who lost re-election last month 51-49 to Democrat Anthony Brindisi, isn’t ruling out a 2020 comeback bid. Tenney said she didn’t “know what I’ll eventually do, I have to think about it, haven’t ruled out possibly making another challenge in 2020, but those all remain to be seen, gotta look at the landscape and see what’s happening.”

National Republicans would probably be content if Tenney took that look at the landscape and decided to pass, because she attracted plenty of bad headlines for herself during the campaign. In just one of many examples, she hurled hoary anti-Italian slurs at Brindisi last year by saying his father had represented “some of the worst criminals in our community” who were members of “organized crime”—in other words, mafia figures. In September she doubled down on line of attack, a very bad strategy in a seat where one in seven residents are Italian-American.

Brindisi will likely be a major GOP target in an upstate seat that lurched from 49.2-48.8 Romney to 55-39 Trump, and Team Red would probably prefer a fresh face than another Tenney campaign.

TX-12: What a perfectly Trumpian story. Earlier this month, J.D. Granger, who is the son of Republican Rep. Kay Granger, publicly bragged to a local NBC station that his mother’s appointment as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee meant that she’d be able to funnel millions in federal dollars to a development project in Fort Worth called Panther Island … which the younger Granger just happens to run. In a “buoyant mood,” Granger then added an equally startling comment about himself and his mother: “When this thing is on autopilot, we both get to retire.”

The Grangers have since had to walk back both ends of this piece. Granger claimed he “misspoke” about his mother quitting the House, and a spokesperson for the congresswoman said flatly, “She is not retiring.” (For what it’s worth, Texas’ 12th is an extremely Republican district in the Fort Worth suburbs, having voted for Trump by a 63-33 margin.)

As for Granger’s claim that his mom would soon be shipping some of that sweet, sweet scrilla from Uncle Sam down Texas way, he was forced to say on the record that her new position “does not guarantee remaining federal funds needed to complete” the Panther Island project. By saying the quiet part loud, he’s now at least increased the scrutiny that any new appropriations are likely to receive.

Don’t fret about Granger, though: He still remains in charge of the development (which is overdue, over-budget, and under-funded), earning $213,000 a year while never having once received a written evaluation in his 12 years on the job. And while the $1.1 billion project is about to undergo a new audit, it won’t examine Granger’s role at all. This is the kind of nepotism that would make Donald Trump so very, very proud.

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