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Leading Off:

NJ-Sen: It's a game-changer in New Jersey: Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg has just announced that he will retire at the end of this term, rather than seek re-election. Lautenberg had previously shot down reports that he would call it quits, but a number of recent polls showed him faring very poorly in a hypothetical primary matchup with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Given that, plus his age (if he won another term, he'd be 96 by the end), Lautenberg's about-face doesn't seem especially surprising.

All eyes now will turn to the Democratic primary to succeed him, since Republicans have virtually no bench here and little hope of winning a Senate seat in the Garden State. (The GOP hasn't won an election for Senate in New Jersey since 1972.) Booker had taken several steps toward a primary challenge to Lautenberg, but in so doing, he seemed to infuriate much of the Jersey Dem establishment by not showing sufficient respect to the incumbent. They may secretly be glad Booker wasn't willing to wait his turn in line, though, since his impatience may have helped usher Lautenberg out the door, and now other Democrats will feel free to jump in.

The person who's seemed closest to a bid is Rep. Frank Pallone, who, according to various reports, has been slowly and quietly locking up support from the various local power-brokers who are often crucial to success in New Jersey politics. (For what it's worth, an anonymous source tells The Fix that Pallone is indeed running.) Other possibilities include state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, and even Rep. Rob Andrews, who ran a disastrous primary campaign against Lautenberg in 2008. State Sen. Richard Codey could also be a possibility. Booker, incidentally, never officially declared that he'd run, but it would be pretty surprising if he now decided to pass up the chance.

New Jersey hasn't had an open Senate seat since 2000, which incidentally was the last time Lautenberg retired before his unexpected comeback in 2002, so we can expect a pretty intense contest, even if it's just a one-on-one matchup between Booker and Pallone. And if it's a battle between a young self-styled reformer with ambitions of national profile versus a creature of the old school intent on following the traditional playbook, it could be a very interesting race indeed.

As for New Jersey's other senator, Democrat Bob Menendez, Monmouth says that all the recent stories about his ethical travails haven't hurt him—yet. Their new poll (PDF) gives him a 41-31 job approval rating, which is pretty much in line with his historical scores. Needless to say, though, that could always change—just as the picture for Lautenberg's seat did.

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Senate:

KY-Sen: New Republican pollster Harper Polling has conducted a new poll of the Kentucky Senate race for new Republican political consulting firm RunSwitch Public Relations. They find GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell leading actress Ashley Judd (who still hasn't said whether she's running) by a 49-40 margin, which actually may be some of the best numbers McConnell's seen so far, though that ain't saying much.

They also include a couple of message-testing-type questions, but I'm mostly amused by the fact that 37 percent of Kentucky voters say they would be more likely to support Judd if they "knew that she describes herself as a radical and has pledged to support President Obama," while "only" 48 percent say they'd be less likely to! I don't really see the point of asking questions like this in a public poll, though (PPP almost never does anything like this)—unless you're hoping for earned media hits that reinforce your message.

LA-Sen: I hadn't imagined Charles Boustany was interested in running for Senate after his bruising member-vs.-member re-election battle last year, but PPP included him in their new poll anyway... and now, it turns out, he's not ruling out the idea after all. That could set up an amusing second showdown with the guy he beat last year, ex-Rep. Jeff Landry, who's also apparently interested in a Senate bid.

And indeed, a Boustany spokesman referenced his boss's "22 point victory" over Landry in December's runoff... but Boustany shouldn't be too psyched about that, considering he represented three times the turf Landry did in their mashed-up district. So if anyone out-performed, it was Landry; Boustany, meanwhile, wouldn't have that kind of cushion in a statewide race and would have to convince Republican voters to support him despite his much more "moderate" profile. That's no easy task.

MA-Sen: Hah, I guess my dream of a "true conservative" candidate emerging in the Republican primary to take on Dan "chief counsel for Americans Elect" Winslow and Gabriel "I donated to Alan Khazei and Barack Obama" Gomez may come true: Sean Bielat, who's lost two congressional races in the past two cycles, says he's considering a run as well. The hurdle for all these guys, as we've mentioned, is the fact that they each need 10,000 verified signatures from Republican or independent voters, by no later than Feb. 27. You don't need up your calculator app to know that time is on no one's side.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch have signed a version of the "People's Pledge" that Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown successfully used last year to limit spending by outside groups. The Warren-Brown agreement actually held up pretty well, though there are some slight differences this time: Markey and Lynch are trying to ban mailers (something not done in the prior race), but they are apparently willing to allow robocalls. Go figure. Anyhow, no Republicans are showing any interest in signing on.

Finally, there's this new piece in the Boston Globe, which is actually just an in-depth rehash of an old issue: Markey's residency. For over a decade, Markey's owned what was once his childhood home, though like most other lawmakers, he also has a house in the DC area, where the Globe seems to think he spends the bulk of his time. So is this just a non-issue, or is Markey the second coming of Richard Lugar, whose lack of ties to his home state of Indiana were the subject of many attacks in last year's GOP primary? Well, it probably all comes down to Lynch, who so far has declined to go after Markey on this and may well never engage on the topic. If that winds up being the case, then it's all a dead letter.

MI-Sen: Surely we wouldn't get this lucky, right? Citing unnamed sources, the National Review says that GOP Rep. Just Amash, high prince of the dystopian wing of the Republican Party, is looking at a run for Senate if Democrat Carl Levin retires. Levin hasn't announced his plans yet, of course, and he may well run again, so this could be totally moot. And even if this scenario did come to pass, Amash would almost certainly need help from the Club for Growth, as well as a split primary field, in order to earn his party's nomination (just like he did in 2010 for his House seat). But we can dream, right?

MS-Sen: It's certainly not uncommon for senior senators to hold off on announcing their re-election plans, and Thad Cochran certainly is senior: He's 75, has served in the Senate since 1978, and is the second longest-tenured Republican in the chamber. He also says he won't decide on whether to run again until "the end of the year or the beginning of the next year." I'm sure that hesitancy isn't endearing him to his fellow party members back home: If he does bail late in the cycle, it would only leave a short period before the primary for possible successors to gear up for a campaign. (This being Mississippi, the general election is a foregone conclusion.) But hey, whatever. Waiting for politicians to make up their minds, even when they've had forever to think about things, just seems to be how life works.

Gubernatorial:

IL-Gov: Not sure there's a worse sign for your gubernatorial re-election chances than when your lieutenant governor bails on you, but that's exactly what Sheila Simon is doing, a year ahead of Illinois's Democratic primary. She's saying arrivederci to Gov. Pat Quinn, though fears about his dim chances at re-election may not be her only motivator: Simon, whose father was the late Sen. Paul Simon, could run for comptroller or attorney general instead.

To run for AG, though, Simon would need the person who currently holds that job, Lisa Madigan, to take a run at Quinn. All signs seem to point to "yes" as far as that possibility goes, and to that end, yet another poll shows Madigan beating Quinn in a hypothetical primary. The survey, from (funnily enough) the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale, has a very small sample size (just 310 respondents), but Madigan is ahead of Quinn 33-22, with Bill Daley at 12. It's getting harder and harder to see how Quinn can hang on to his job when he's already registering so poorly—and this is without a single declared opponent.

LA-Gov: Louisiana's next gubernatorial election is not until 2015, and Democrats haven't seriously contested the post since 2003, but PPP includes a look forward in their new batch of miscellany:

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is seen pretty positively statewide, with 49% of voters rating him favorably to 26% with an unfavorable opinion. In a hypothetical contest with Senator David Vitter, who has a 46/38 approval rating, the two would be tied at 44%. Landrieu would have a slight edge over Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne at 44-42. If Landrieu decided to run it appears that it would be a competitive race.
Landrieu, like his sister, is a Democrat while Vitter and Dardenne are, of course, Republicans, making these results (speculative as they are) pretty interesting for a state as red as Louisiana.

MA-Gov: Well, it's official: Former GOP Sen. Scott Brown is now an analyst at FOX News, making his debut on Wednesday night with none other than Sean Hannity. As we said when this move was first reported, it's hard to imagine Brown running for governor next year with the FOX logo tattooed on his biceps. Hey, money is money!

House:

IL-02: Hey, guess who went on FOX News on Thursday afternoon to troll for votes in the... Democratic primary? That would be Debbie Halvorson, of course. My Daily Kos colleague Jed Lewison captured it for your viewing pleasure. There's nothing particularly noteworthy, though, beyond the fact that, less than two weeks before election day, Halvorson is spending her time on FOX, whining about being targeted for her views on guns. She also claims that Illinois has an open primary, which isn't really true: Voters have to declare their party affiliation at their polling place, so Halvorson is all but asking Republicans to claim they are Democrats for a day (or a minute) and cast a ballot for her. Right or wrong, it's a hell of a way to try to win a Democratic primary.

Grab Bag:

Alaska: As long as Roll Call keeps posting `em, we'll keep linking `em: Thursday brings the paper's second installment in their "Farm Team" series, which heads up north to Alaska. One thing I like about these stories is that they tend to take a longer view of each party's bench, since they aren't tied to speculation about any particular race. So even in dark-red Alaska, there are some Democrats worth looking out for in the future; click through to see whom Kyle Trygstad has in mind.

IL Redistricting: The Illinois Senate approved same-sex marriage in the Land of Lincoln on Thursday afternoon, in a 34-21-2 vote. Of the 40 Democrats in the chamber, 33 voted yes, two voted "present," another two did not vote, and three voted against. One Republican, Jason Barickman, also voted yes; interestingly enough, he represents largely the same territory that Republican now-State Treasurer (and then-state Senator) Dan Rutherford did when Rutherford was the only Republican to vote "yes" on civil unions two years ago. Passage represents quite the turnaround from just a month earlier, when a similar bill stalled in the lame-duck session.

Normally, this wouldn't be DKE material, but as our heading suggests, redistricting may have played a significant role. Consider what changed between the January lame-duck session and now: The Dem caucus, thanks to the redistricting plan instituted for the 2012 elections, expanded from 35 members to 40. The new Senate map created three new Democratic seats (Steve Stadelman's SD-34 in Rockford, Andy Manar's SD-48 connecting Springfield and Decatur, and Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant's SD-49 between Joliet and Aurora), while also allowing Dems to pick up one open Republican seat (SD-31 in northern Lake County, won by Melinda Bush) and knock off one Republican incumbent in DuPage County (Tom Cullerton defeated SD-21 incumbent Carole Pankau, who voted against civil unions). All five of these freshman Democrats voted yes, pushing the bill above the 30-vote threshold needed to pass.

With the exception of SD-31, the Dem gains were in new or substantially reconfigured seats that Democrats almost certainly would not have won previously. SD-31 maintained most of its shape (with some changes on the edges), and it's possible that Melinda Bush would have won even without the remap. The previous incarnation, though slightly more Republican-leaning, had been represented by Democrat Michael Bond between 2006 and 2010, and Republican incumbent Suzi Schmidt (another "nay" on civil unions), who had a series of personal issues likely would have opted to retire either way. But Bush only won by a few thousand votes, and it's hard to say that she would have prevailed in the old version of the district. (Additionally, some Dems who found themselves in more solidly Democratic districts may not have voted yes had they still represented their more marginal predecessor districts.)

As for the bill itself, it moves on to the Dem-held Illinois House. Democrats control 71 seats there, up from 64 prior to the remap and 2012 election. (jeffmd)

Maps: Artist and urban planner Neil Freeman has put together a neat map depicting what the United States might look like if it were divided into 50 states... of equal population. Explains Freeman:

The map began with an algorithm that grouped counties based on proximity, urban area, and commuting patterns. The algorithm was seeded with the fifty largest cities. After that, manual changes took into account compact shapes, equal populations, metro areas divided by state lines, and drainage basins. In certain areas, divisions are based on census tract lines.
Click through for his complete vision—it's pretty fun stuff. While of course it's just fantasy, the giant states of Shiprock, Ogalalla, and Salt Lake out west show you just how thinly populated that part of the country is.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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