Morning Digest: GOP race for Minnesota governor gets biggest name yet, but can he rally party base?

One the one hand, the senator is a longtime fervent social conservative. Gazelka himself won his safely red seat in the north central part of Minnesota in 2010 by scoring a decisive primary win over incumbent Paul Koering, who remains the only gay Republican to ever serve in the legislature. Gazelka, a former state representative who campaigned as a tea party conservative, was recruited to run after what the Minnesota Post described as news that Koering “had dinner with a gay adult film star,” though Gazelka condemned the homophobic attacks against his opponent.  

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In office, Gazelka has been a vocal opponent of abortion rights who also was a leader in the failed 2012 ballot measure to ban same sex marriage. He’s made use of his small majority to frustrate Walz’s agenda, including the governor’s pandemic policies. The Republican made sure to emphasize his opposition to Walz’s public health measures in his announcement, declaring, “He failed an entire generation of children by closing schools.”

State Democrats, meanwhile, responded to the senator’s launch by reminding the media about the infamous post-election party Gazelka threw. One of the attendees, state Sen. Jerry Relph, died of COVID-19 soon after, and his daughter publicly said that she believed he’d contracted the disease there. “I’m sorry, but celebrating holding onto the Senate in the middle of the pandemic? They were spending money on something like that and then putting people in danger,” said Dana Relph, adding that the event also endangered staffers and venue employees. Gazelka also didn’t disclose to his Democratic colleagues that he and other GOP members had tested positive in the days after that dinner.

But while Gazelka’s actions during the pandemic might not do him any harm with GOP delegates, he may not still be a natural fit for them. Political observers mused to the Minnesota Reformer in July that the then-majority leader may not run for governor because party “activists and donors are said to be lukewarm on his candidacy.” Reporter Ricardo Lopez explained, “Gazelka capitulated on a number of GOP priorities during the recent state budget negotiations, walking away with his top priority of tax cuts but giving up things like voter ID and the GOP effort to kill new tougher auto emission standards.”

The senator didn’t let those skeptics stop his campaign launch, but he’ll still need to prove he can win over conservative delegates. Gazelka may not be off to the best start, though: The Reformer’s J. Patrick Coolican noted he “announced in the Capitol Rotunda, which is nice, but it also merely serves to highlight his insider status, which may not be what the Republican base wants.”

Gazelka joins a race that includes fellow state Sen. Michelle Benson; former state Sen. Scott Jensen; dermatologist Neil Shah; and Mike Murphy, the mayor of the small community of Lexington. Jensen, a physician who has been banned from TikTok for spreading what the company called “misinformation on COVID-19 guidelines,” has spent months campaigning hard among the party activists who will determine who earns the party endorsement next year, which could give him a big early head start in what can often be an unpredictable process.


MO-Sen: VoteVets has endorsed Marine veteran Lucas Kunce in next year’s Democratic primary for this open GOP-held seat.

OH-Sen, OH-Gov: The British firm Redfield & Wilton continues its nationwide polling tour with a new survey of Ohio’s two big statewide races. The Senate portion finds Rep. Tim Ryan, who is the heavy favorite in the Democratic primary, in close races against three prospective GOP foes:

38-36 vs. former state party chair Jane Timken

37-36 vs. venture capitalist J.D. Vance

37-41 vs. former state Treasurer Josh Mandel

The pollster finds that the race for governor is nowhere near as tight, though. Republican incumbent Mike DeWine outpaces Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley 46-27 and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley 47-25, respectively.  

PA-Sen: The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Jonathan Tamari wrote Tuesday that Laurie Parnell, the estranged wife of Army veteran and GOP candidate Sean Parnell, filed two temporary protection-from-abuse (PFA) orders against him in 2017 and 2018, both of which were later expunged. Tamari said that it’s not clear what Laurie Parnell accused her husband of; the two are currently involved in a divorce and custody battle.

The 2017 PFA was withdrawn after the couple reached an agreement 13 days later. Tamari writes that the following year, according to documents provided by Parnell’s campaign, the judge “denied a full protection order after a hearing in the 2018 case.” The story adds, “Sean Parnell also sought a protection order against his wife in 2018, on the same day a PFA was issued against him. He accused her of physical and mental abuse but was denied a protection order.”

Tamari reports that, while rumors of these orders have been circulating for months among politicos, the news only became public Tuesday when one of Sean Parnell’s primary rivals, 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Bartos, brought them up in an interview. Parnell, who is Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate in this open seat race, quickly said of Bartos, “Not only does he know full well that these allegations are provably false, but his willingness to spread these lies without any consideration for the damage he’s doing to my three young kids is utterly disgusting. It takes a truly dishonorable ‘man’ to stoop this low just to score a few cheap political points.”

WI-Sen: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has unveiled a Clarity Campaign Labs poll of the crowded Democratic primary that gives him a 37-8 lead over his nearest opponent, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. This is the first survey we’ve seen of the race to take on GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who is continuing to keep everyone guessing about his 2022 plans.


CA-Gov: Suffolk University’s inaugural poll finds respondents saying they’ll vote against recalling Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom by a 58-41 margin, which makes this one of his best showings in recent surveys. Suffolk also shows conservative radio host Larry Elder with 40% of the vote in the race to replace the governor while no one else breaks 5%, but that question would only matter if this poll is utterly wrong and a majority voted to oust Newsom on Tuesday.

KS-Gov: Attorney General Derek Schmidt unveiled an endorsement Wednesday from former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had occasionally been mentioned himself as a possible GOP candidate.

MA-Gov: Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone announced Wednesday that he would take a job leading the Northeast Clean Energy Council after his term ends in January rather than seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

OR-Gov: Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam announced Tuesday that he’d seek the Republican nomination in the open seat race for governor, a move that came about five months after he set up an exploratory committee.

Pulliam, who leads a 11,000-person community east of Portland, has been a loud critic of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s public health measures. Earlier this year, before vaccines were widely available, Pulliam appeared on FOX Business to extol how Sandy businesses were opening in defiance of Brown’s orders, and he later took part in a lawsuit that sought to roll back the governor’s emergency powers.

Pulliam, though, does have at least one potential liability in a GOP primary. Weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the mayor said that, while he didn’t believe Donald Trump deserved to be impeached, “I think in his speech he definitely helped incite violence.” The GOP field includes 2016 nominee Bud Pierce, businesswoman Jessica Gomez, and Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten.

VA-Gov: WPA Intelligence’s new survey for Republican Glenn Youngkin gives him a 48-46 lead over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, which makes this the first poll we’ve ever seen showing Team Red ahead here.

WI-Gov: The British firm Redfield & Wilton has released a survey that finds Democratic Gov. Tony Evers deadlocked 41-41 against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, whom Badger State politicos universally view as an all-but-certain candidate. The pollster also showed Evers beating businessman Jonathan Wichmann, whose campaign has attracted very little attention, by a 43-36 spread.

Meanwhile, former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus said Wednesday that he would not seek the GOP nod to take on Evers.


FL-13: Nonprofit founder Audrey Henson announced Wednesday that she would seek the Republican nomination to succeed Democratic incumbent Charlie Crist, who is running for governor, in this St. Petersburg-based seat. Henson created College to Congress, which the Tampa Bay Times describes as a group that makes “often unpaid congressional internships accessible for students from low-income backgrounds.”

Henson joins a primary that includes 2020 nominee Anna Paulina Luna and Amanda Makki, who lost the nomination last year, in the contest for what is currently a 51-47 Biden seat.

GA-10: Rep. Jody Hice announced that he was endorsing state Rep. Timothy Barr in the crowded Republican primary to succeed him in this safely red seat. Hice, a far-right favorite who is leaving to run for Georgia secretary of state, praised his would-be successor as “a proven fighter who will put America first and be an active member of the Freedom Caucus.”

IL-13: Former White House Office of Management & Budget official Nikki Budzinski picked up a Democratic primary endorsement this week from veteran 9th District Rep. Jan Schakowsky in her bid to take on Republican Rep. Rodney Davis.  

IL-17: 2020 nominee Esther Joy King has publicized an endorsement from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as well as three of Illinois’ five GOP members of Congress: Rodney Davis, Mike Bost, and Carol Miller. King faces no serious intra-party opposition in her bid to succeed retiring Democratic incumbent Cheri Bustos, who fended off the Republican 52-48 as Donald Trump was taking this northwestern Illinois seat 50-48.

MN-01, NJ-07, PA-16, WV-02: The House Ethics Committee said Tuesday that it was investigating Democratic Rep. Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, as well as three Republican members: Minnesota’s Jim Hagedorn, Pennsylvania’s Mike Kelly, and West Virginia’s Alex Mooney. The committee said it would announce more on each matter by Oct. 21.

The committee didn’t mention what it was probing, but, as Roll Call‘s Chris Marquette writes, each member has previously attracted media coverage for unrelated alleged violations. Last year, the Minnesota Reformer reported that Hagedorn used $110,000 in taxpayer money to pay a company owned by one of his staffers to print constituent mailers, and that his office had also given $340,000 to another firm called Abernathy West for a similar job. Malinowski, meanwhile, has faced scrutiny in recent months over his failure to disclose stock trades.

Kelly, for his part, was the subject of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report last year that revealed he’d urged the Trump Department of Commerce to launch a probe into foreign steel imports that threatened Cleveland-Cliffs, a steel company located in his district. The congressman’s wife, Victoria Kelly, purchased between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of stocks in Cleveland-Cliffs days before the Department of Commerce investigation was announced, which the paper wrote “created a scenario in which Mr. Kelly’s spouse, Victoria Kelly, may have gained personally from the actions of his public office, Congressional ethics experts said in interviews.”

Finally, the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is separate from the Ethics Committee, said last month that it found Mooney improperly spent more than $40,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including on meals and trips to resorts.

NY-21: Former counterterrorism official Matt Castelli announced Wednesday that he was joining the Democratic primary to take on Rep. Elise Stefanik, the number-three Republican in the House. The current version of this seat, a sprawling rural district that includes the North Country near the Canadian border, backed Donald Trump 54-44, but it’s anyone’s guess what this constituency will look like after redistricting.

WY-AL: Attorney Harriet Hageman stepped down Tuesday as Wyoming’s RNC committeewoman ahead of a very likely primary campaign against Rep. Liz Cheney, and Politico reports that Donald Trump plans to endorse the challenger “any day.”

Hageman, who lost the 2018 primary for governor, was one of a number of current or potential candidates whom Trump interviewed recently at his Bedminster golf club as part of his reality TV-style endorsement process (“Bachelor in Paradise,” this was not). Politico adds that, while many of these suitors said they’d drop out if Trump didn’t give them the rose, insiders aren’t actually sure how many of them will make good on their word. As one unnamed top Cowboy State Republican explained, “There is a lot of interest and there are a lot of egos.”


Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s two special elections:

AL-HD-78: Democrat Kenyatté Hassell easily defeated Republican Loretta Grant 80-20 in this strongly Democratic Montgomery-area district. Republicans now have a 76-27 majority in this chamber with two other seats vacant.

NH-HD-Hillsborough 7: Democrat Catherine Rombeau defeated Republican Linda Camarota 50.4-49.6 to flip this seat for her party. This is the first legislative flip of the year for Team Blue. This district in the Bedford area has been traditionally Republican, but Joe Biden carried it 51-48 last year, making him the first Democrat in recent memory to do so.

This six-member district is now represented by two Democrats and four Republicans, while Team Red maintains overall control of this chamber 208-187, with five other seats vacant.


Boston, MA Mayor: Real Progress Boston, a super PAC funded in part by the city’s police unions and New Balance chairman James Davis, has launched a TV spot in support of City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George ahead of Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary. Essaibi George notably is one major candidate who has spoken out against the idea of reallocating funds from the police budget to other areas.

The spot stars the PAC’s chair, former Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, who abruptly resigned in January at the same time that outgoing Mayor Marty Walsh replaced him with Gross’ close friend and chief of staff, Dennis White. White was quickly placed on leave after the Boston Globe began asking about allegations that the new commissioner had abused his wife in 1999; the scandal dominated the headlines until Acting Mayor Kim Janey, after much legal wrangling, fired White in June.

Gross, unsurprisingly, doesn’t mention that ugly saga in the commercial. “For 37 years, I worked to make our neighborhoods safer for all members of our community,” Gross says, adding, “Annissa Essaibi George grew up here and understands the challenges facing our first responders, and also understands how we can better serve our community.”


Former Illinois Sen. Adlai Stevenson III: a Democrat who served from 1970 through 1981, Stevenson died Monday at the age of 90. Stevenson, the son and namesake of the two-time Democratic presidential nominee, went on to lose an extremely close 1982 race for governor to Republican incumbent James Thompson. During his unsuccessful rematch campaign four years later, Stevenson, with the blessing of mainstream Democrats, famously decided to run as an independent rather than run on the same party ticket as acolytes of the conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.

Before Stevenson went to the Senate, political reformers viewed the then-treasurer as their best bet in their quest to end the power of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine. As the late Mike Royko detailed in his legendary Daley biography “Boss,” Stevenson responded to the police violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention by castigating the mayor for his “feudal” leadership.

However, while everyone expected the treasurer to lead their efforts to oust Daley’s allies, and perhaps even Daley himself, in the 1970 and 1971 elections, all that changed when powerful Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen died in office in 1969. Stevenson quickly began running in the next year’s special election and sought out the help of the Daley machine; the mayor, who recognized that Stevenson would no longer be a threat to him whether he went to D.C. or lost, granted it. Reformers were dejected, though one of them mused to Royko. “True, Adlai said Daley was a feudal boss, but he didn’t say he was a bad feudal boss.” We have far more about Stevenson’s beginnings and his eventful career in our obituary.

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