Jess Scarane’s bid to oust one of the worst Democratic Senators in the country picked up a piece of very good news this week, when seven-term state House incumbent John Kowalko endorsed her in an op-ed published in Delaware Online. The Working Families Party has recently begun spending here, and is up to $67,000 worth of digital ads. Unlike most Senate races, this one is pretty cheap: Delaware is smaller than an average Congressional district, and in 2018 winning the Senate primary required about 40,000 votes.
While his bid was among the longest of longshots, Florida pharmacist Albert Chester was running against Al Lawson, one of the worst Democratic members of Congress, so we’d still wished him well. This week changed that, as a trove of homophobic comments from Chester were unearthed. Not just homophobic as is bigoted jokes or memes, but seriously, intensely homophobic, as in
Chester made a number of comments that have been unearthed, including a 2013 statement in which he said he was starting to “not be an Obama supporter anymore” because of the President’s position on LGBT rights.
The candidate added that “this country has faaaaaar more important things to worry about than people ‘coming out of the closet’.”
Also in 2013, Chester issued a denunciation of the gay rights movement as “the devil,” calling it a “proud stand for unnatural lusts and desires.”
Okay then. Well, as far as anti-Lawson votes go, LaShonda Holloway was the better option anyway.
In a dramatic turnaround from just a month ago, a new poll of the Massachusetts Senate primary has Sen. Ed Markey leading Rep. Joe Kennedy III 50-32, or 51-36 including leaners. HELL YEAH
We’d love to believe this is a result of Markey admonishing Kennedy at a recent debate, saying “I’m sure your father is watching right now. Tell your father right now you don’t want money to go into a super PAC that runs negative ads,” referencing the onslaught of pro-Kennedy and anti-Markey spending from a newly-formed super PAC that has yet to disclose its donors but is reportedly connected directly to the Kennedy family; it’s more likely the result of something far more boring: tireless organizing by the Markey campaign, contacting thousands upon thousands of voters and securing key endorsements ranging from the Boston Globe to major unions. But if you need some catharsis after being annoyed by the very concept of another platitude-addicted Kennedy going to Congress, watch the debate clip.
This race just got orders of magnitude messier. Rumors had been circulating for weeks about Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s behavior at College Democrat meetings. Nothing had been said on the record, until this week, when the College Democrats of Massachusetts sent a letter to Morse, which was then picked up on by the Daily Collegian, and MACD released a statement about what was in the letter and why they’d sent it. They say that Morse had been invited to speak at some meetings, added some students on his social media, then hit on some of the students later. If that’s what happened, it’s not necessarily predatory behavior or harassment, but it’s not really appropriate either. College Democrats, in most schools, are a fusion of social and professional group. Students go to those meets to meet politicians, get connections, and maybe get an internship or job out of it, as much as they do to socialize. So someone with the professional status of Morse, who was an up-and-comer as mayor, and later a Congressional candidate, shouldn’t be approaching students who have a reasonable expectation that he might be able to affect their career, especially considering he also taught a class at the college.
The letter suggests Morse acted unprofessionally, and perhaps irresponsibly or without much thought about how students might reasonably interpret his advances. It’s not a damning indictment of the man, and no one involved in College Democrats was calling on him to drop out or anything. UMass Amherst is investigating, but while some schools disallow all student-professor relationships, UMass Amherst only prohibits relationships between professors and students of that professor, and no one’s alleging that happened. Perhaps in a different timeline, Morse issues an apology and everyone moves on, maybe with the understanding that this sort of thing (which, regardless of this particular case, is unfortunately not uncommon in politics) isn’t seen as acceptable by the young people entering politics today. It seemed like that was even a possibility at first - Morse’s first statement was short and ultimately said “nothing excuses poor judgment.” Unfortunately, everything went to hell after that.
It turned into a social media shitstorm with a lot of people on social media fighting about where lines should be drawn in terms of this sort of situation, bolstered by large numbers claiming that MACD, including the LGBTQ members who helped write the letter, were being homophobic, or paid off by Richard Neal (or, confusingly, paying Richard Neal), based on a contribution that Neal, like most big Massachusetts politicians, had made to the group and that they’d refunded as the primary heated up. Eventually, Morse released a second statement which confusingly did acknowledge that his behavior had been “unacceptable”, but then called the whole thing an “attack” on him, intending to capitalize on homophobia.
An Intercept article, using an aide at the college’s journalism department and a student previously in the College Democrats as a source, heavily implied that the letter was an attempt by one student to get a job with Neal. MACD responded to a reporter’s question about that article by denying the political motivation and pointing out that a central thrust of that article, that Morse had only attended one MACD meeting since declaring his Congressional bid, was technically true but misleading, since Morse had attended several prior to that. A second Intercept article, published less than an hour ago, says they’ve acquired texts by the aforementioned student, where he appears to be pushing for this leak, hoping it will hurt Morse’s campaign, though only a few short quotes from those conversations are actually published.
So, it’s messy; we’ve said that already and we’ll reiterate that. It’s also ongoing. What are the reactions to this from Morse’s backers? The Sunrise Movement, a youth-lead and college-heavy climate movement which had been putting a significant amount of money and volunteer time into Morse, suspended their campaign “until further notice” so they could look into the situation more. Jamaal Bowman similarly “paused” his endorsement of Morse, as did If Not Now. Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party both explicitly disapproved of his behavior, but will be keeping their endorsements as-is for now. The Massachusetts Nurses Association said that they were open to new information, but were not going to change their support of him based on the letter and statement, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Massachusetts’s only gay state senator Julian Cyr flatly called it a homophobic political smear campaign.
Aside from, you know, all of that, a Morse internal poll was also leaked this week, finding Richard Neal up 45% to 35%. Not much more information was released than that. Additionally, a report by money-in-politics outfit Sludge found that the American Hospital Association had already shelled out $200K in ads for Neal, who killed a bill that would have ended surprise billing; the bill was a bipartisan effort that would have sailed through the House with a comfortable majority, putting Neal to the right of many Republicans on the issue of whether illness and injury should be able to bankrupt you.
Massachusetts’s 4th congressional district continues to give us a splitting headache. Let’s review what happened this week:
Ihssane Leckey, a former Wall Street regulator who was running as a democratic socialist, was accused of poor work ethic and severe mistreatment of her staff, including belittling a sexual assault victim and paying sub-living wages. When former staffers asked Boston DSA to consider rescinding their endorsement of Leckey’s campaign, Leckey--who had already dialed back the socialist branding--preemptively renounced the group, which is...interesting, we guess. She also justified her extensive self-funding, done primarily using her husband’s wealth, by saying her husband made money managing an electrical grid, not by working directly in fossil fuels as critics have alleged.
The Leckey campaign also released a poll confirming what most observers already expected: the race is wide open. Newton councilors Becky Grossman and Jake Auchincloss are in first and second with 19% and 16%, respectively; the poll has Leckey in third with 11%, and Brookline councilor Jesse Mermell in 10%. Obama alum Dave Cavell, rich guy Alan Khazei, public health expert Natalia Linos, attorney Ben Sigel, and other rich guy Chris Zannetos round out the pack, but are all stuck in the single digits. Leckey appears to have been boosted by TV ads paid for with her self-funding; Auchincloss, who has a history of racist statements and was recently a Republican (and functionally still is one), is benefiting from a super PAC funded by his parents.
Stephen Lynch, who seems to think he still represents the Southie of The Departed despite the year being 2020, seemed vulnerable on paper, but we weren’t sure how well epidemiologist Robbie Goldstein was actually doing against him. This week, Goldstein released some shocking (in a good way) poll numbers. The poll, from Lincoln Park Strategies, finds Lynch up only 39% to 32% on Goldstein. It’s not only notable that Stephen Lynch is only 7% above Goldstein, but also that, as an incumbent, he’s only at 39%. The poll also says that he has almost double the name recognition, and message testing in the later questions finds that by margins of roughly 60%, likely primary voters would prefer a pro-Medicare for All and pro-choice Democrat. As is to be expected, Goldstein does best among younger voters and those in Boston.
Connecticut, like all of New England, is horrible at counting and reporting vote totals in a timely manner; consequently, we only have some results there. In SD-22 and HD-28, we don’t yet know who won. In HD-15, incumbent Bobby Gibson defeated progressive challenger Danielle Wong, and in HD-22, Working Families Party-endorsed candidate Kate Farrar easily defeated moderate Sherry Haller, who had the support of the outgoing incumbent, a former Republican.
Fulton County DA Paul Howard got absolutely destroyed by Fani Willis, a former ADA who ran to...his right? His left? Who knows. What we do know is that Howard, a punitive, corrupt sexual harasser, and Willis, the choice of police unions, were both terrible options. In state house races, we got happier news: Mandisha Thomas, an unheralded candidate recommended by Atlanta DSA, though not endorsed by them, unseated state Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague in HD-65. (A few precincts are still out, but Thomas’s current 20-percentage-point margin isn’t being erased by that, and she’s winning handily in the precincts surrounding the unreported ones.) In HD-86, longtime incumbent Michele Henson fell to immigration attorney Zulma Lopez 54% to 46%; neither candidate was particularly good here. And in Savannah’s HD-163, local establishment pick Derek Mallow, who is Black, is virtually tied with gun control advocate Anne Westbrook, who is white, in this majority-Black district. Provisional ballots will determine the outcome. The ideological divide here isn’t clear.
In Hawaiʻi, progressives had a good night in the state legislature during Saturday’s primary; while the biggest target, state House Speaker Scott Saiki, held on, he only did so barely, coming out ahead of former State Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto by just 163 votes. Meanwhile, state Reps. Romy Cachola and Tom Brower fell to labor-backed challengers Sonny Ganaden and Adrian Tam, who were both running well to the left of the incumbents, and state Rep. Richard Creagan’s open seat was easily won by Miss Hawaiʻi 2015 Jeanné Kapela, who challenged him from the left in 2018. In Honolulu’s prosecutorial election, unfortunately, Sanders-endorsed progressive Jacquie Esser came in third; in this election, if no candidate cleared 50% of the vote, the top two finishers advanced to the general election. Those two candidates were ideologically evasive former judge Steve Alm and tough-on-crime candidate Megan Kau.
In the most high-profile race of the night, Ilhan Omar comfortably defeated Antone Melton-Meaux, a much-hyped centrist candidate backed by millions and millions of dollars in money from Republicans, shady super PACs, and shady Republican super PACs. It’s now official: since Ayanna Pressley did not draw a challenger, all four members of the Squad will return to Congress in 2021. But that wasn’t the only good news in Minnesota: state legislative races were very, very good for leftist and progressive candidates.
In the state Senate, incumbents Chuck Wiger, Susan Kent, and Sandy Pappas--who ranged from “meh” to “fine,” ideologically--easily won renomination in districts 43, 53, and 65. But they’ll bid two of their colleagues goodbye: SD-07’s Erik Simonson went down hard, losing to Jen McEwen 73-27, and SD-62’s Jeff Hayden lost by 9 points to Omar Fateh. Both McEwen and Fateh were endorsed by their local DSA chapters--and both had also outworked the incumbents at the DFL convention, winning the endorsement of the state party at its traditionally volatile, activist-friendly conventions.
In the state House, two incumbents also went down: HD-59B’s progressive incumbent Raymond Dehn lost to Esther Agbaje, another progressive who outworked the incumbent at the DFL convention, 47.4-41.9; and HD-66B’s John Lesch lost to progressive insurgent Athena Hollins 60-40. Unlike the other defeated incumbents, Lesch had the DFL endorsement. Additionally, in HD-4A, DFL-backed progressive Heather Keeler defeated moderate Moorhead city councilor Chuck Hendrickson 66-34, and in HD-51B, labor-backed party activist Liz Reyer defeated ideologically-evasive Eagan councilor Mike Maguire 63-37.
In TN-05, progressive challenger Keeda Haynes held Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper below 60% of the vote; Cooper got 57%, to Haynes’s 40%. Haynes did this without much outside help or campaign fundraising, proving that this race was winnable, and Cooper’s next term in the House was preventable. Cooper’s seat will likely be dismantled after redistricting, so it wasn’t much of a prize, but one of the worst Blue Dogs in a blue seat could’ve been defeated.
In the rest of the state, there were few surprises. Rep. Steve Cohen easily defeated Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong in TN-09; in HD-15, scandal-plagued state Rep. Rick Staples came in a distant third, with DSA-endorsed candidate Matthew Park falling just a few votes short of scientist Sam McKenzie; in HD-52, state Rep. Mike Stewart easily won in the face of an energetic challenger from Rev. James Turner 62% to 38%; in HD-54, state Rep. Vincent Dixie defeated accused domestic abuser Terry Clayton 60% to 40%; in HD-84, LaRouche-ite weirdo state Rep. Joe Towns was unfortunately renominated 62% to 38%; and in HD-90, DSA-backed candidate Torrey Harris easily won the primary for the seat left open after the Tennessee Democratic Party used a little-known maneuver allowing them to kick candidates off the ballot against conservative incumbent state Rep. John DeBerry.
In SD-26, Nada Elmikashfi, a democratic socialist with the support of Planned Parenthood’s political arm and several labor unions, sadly lost to former state Rep. and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Kelda Helen Roys 40-27. The state house, however, held more good news: while in HD-08, Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz Velez narrowly held off her more progressive opponent JoAnna Bautch, the rest of the state house primaries went to the more progressive candidate. (Ortiz Velez isn’t bad, though, as far as we can tell.) In HD-17, Supreme Moore Okomunde--the son of US Rep. Gwen Moore, and also the most progressive candidate--defeated Milwaukee County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Walton 48-35. In HD-76, progressive Francesca Hong, who campaigned jointly with SD-26 candidate Nada Elmikashfi, won the open race 28-22. In HD-90, incumbent and sexual harasser Staush Gruszynski lost in a 58-percentage-point landslide to labor-backed challenger Kristina Shelton, a member of the Green Bay school board.