Right-to-work is about to lose in Missouri

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 32 – August 6, 2018

This week:

  • Missouri voters about to repeal right-to-work
  • House special election in Ohio a sign of things to come
  • Will Kobach pull it off in Kansas?

Right-to-work: At the national level, right-to-work is winning in the courts and reshaping the political future of America into one in which unions have far less power.

But all is not well in Middle America.

Missouri voters will go to the polls this week and do something only one other state has ever done — repeal a right-to-work law. The entire episode helps illustrate how one rotten politician can spoil everything for his party.

Former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens was forced to resign in disgrace earlier this year over an affair and allegations that he had tried to blackmail his lover into silence with the threat of releasing compromising photographs. Greitens’ fellow Republicans were dutiful in their willingness to throw him out of office (he preempted them by resigning), but unfortunately he held on long after it made  sense. Moreover, he was closely associated with right-to-work, which he signed almost immediately upon taking office. Absent the Greitens scandal, the state’s business community would have been in a much better position to raise and spend money, to push back and resist the campaign for a people’s veto. Instead, they find themselves outworked and outspent 10-to-1. Republicans’ only consolation in this matter is that the referendum is taking place on the date of the primary — not in November, where it might have helped Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill survive.

Governor 2018

Kansas: Keep an eye out here on Tuesday, where the race for the Republican nomination could be a photo finish. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took over for Sam Brownback, is in a dogfight with the controversial Kris Kobach, a staunch Trump ally for whom immigration is the top issue.

Kolyer’s big problem is that he’s kind of a no-name, despite being the incumbent.

Democrats think they might have an opening here if Kobach wins, but of course they also thought it would be helpful if they could only get Republicans to nominate Donald Trump.

This fall’s race could be kind of weird and unpredictable. Liberal independent Greg Orman (remember him from the 2014 Senate race?) is in the race as an independent, and he could potentially play a spoiler in the Republican nominee’s favor. Democrats are expected to nominate state Sen. Laura Kelly, with former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer as the most likely alternative.

Tennessee: We noted that this primary race was close, but it turned out to be more exciting than that — an unexpected blowout. Once again, and a House Republican has lost a bid for higher office — the fifth this cycle.

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., came up way short in her bid for governor, with conservative businessman Bill Lee taking away the surprise win. In fact, Black narrowly missed coming in second ahead of Randy Boyd.

Her underperformance comes as quite a surprise, given that she at least seemed at one point the prohibitive favorite. But like Raul Labrador in Idaho, Evan Jenkins in West Virginia, and Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in Indiana, Black is now a lame duck and must look for work outside politics. (Jenkins, by the way, might run for a newly open state Supreme Court seat in West Virginia.)

In today’s Tennessee, the opening estimation, absent any wild revelations, is that Lee is a shoo-in for governor against the Democratic nominee, Karl Dean. Tennessee withstood a Blue wave in 2006, and in the time since it’s only become a more Republican state.

House 2018

Ohio-12: Republicans are deeply concerned about the outcome of this race on Tuesday between Republican State Sen. Troy Balderson and Democratic Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor. Unlike previous special elections, this one won’t offer Republicans much of an excuse for failure or even underperformance.

Their candidate is not especially bad one. The district leans clearly in their favor. With the support of both President Trump and Gov. John Kasich (who still sends out anti-Trump fundraising emails to his old list), he isn’t suffering from any sort of Republican disunity, either. Yet the latest polling shows Balderson’s lead to be desperately narrow.

If Democrats manage to carry this seat on Tuesday night, Republicans will have a hard time downplaying the omen. They can argue perhaps that it’s merely a reflection of a low-turnout special election, but House Republicans are on the ropes already and need to show again that they can still turn out their voters and win.

Senate 2018

Senate picture: Republicans still seem unlikely to lose control of the Senate in 2018. But overall, the polling is soft for the party, and as 2006 (and 1994) have taught us, anything can happen in a wave year. That’s why the Senate’s activity right now is so important — not so much it movement to pass bills as for confirming judicial nominations that will  outlast the Trump presidency..

The upper chamber confirmed seven judges last week, including one appeals court judge on the 11th Circuit. And after a week off, the confirmation votes are expected to continue.

Trump has 89 judicial nominees pending at the moment, ten of which are appeals court nominees. But he has another 92 judgeships without a nominee that are or soon will be empty, including ten more appellate openings. If Democrats gain two Senate seats on net and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer takes the helm in the U.S. Senate, the confirmations could stop altogether, or Trump could be forced to negotiate and nominate judges the Democrats prefer.

Under such conditions, an additional Supreme Court confirmation fight (either due to an additional justice retiring or dying, or if Kavanaugh’s nomination somehow fails) could be quite perilous.

That underscores the importance both of this year’s Senate elections, and of confirming as many nominees as possible before January. That’s one reason Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cancelled most of the August recess (the other reason being to deprive Democratic incumbents of the opportunity to campaign in their home states). He hopes to plow through quite a few nominees before the end of the year, for everything from the Supreme Court to the Article I judgeships that determine matters of trade and taxes.

Florida: Why should Republicans feel good about the Senate? For the moment, this is why. As long as they can win in Florida, there’s pretty much no way Democrats can get a Senate majority.

And Republican Gov. Rick Scott really seems to be running circles around Sen. Bill Nelson, D, with his campaign. Scott’s advantage is beginning to show more consistently in the polls (he leads in four of the last six).

Nelson’s bizarre decision this cycle to hire contractors as his primary campaign workers for a time (no other campaign we know of did this) is now dogging him. The move allowed him to avoid paying payroll taxes, and oh, by the way, Social Security and Medicare are kind of a big deal in Florida. Naturally, Scott is exploiting this foible to the utmost.