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AR-02: Wowza. I don't think anyone was expecting this when they woke up on Monday morning. Republican Rep. Tim Griffin, who serves Arkansas' Little Rock-based 2nd Congressional District, announced that he's retiring after just two terms in office. Griffin's decision is especially surprising given that he's just 45 years old, and his stated reason—the clichéd "spend time with my family"—is so thin that, combined with his age and short tenure, it just invites speculation as to his true feelings.

What's more, Griffin handily won this seat during the GOP wave of 2010 after Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder retired, and given that Mitt Romney easily carried the 2nd 55-43 last year, he would have been strongly favored for a third term next year. That makes Griffin's decision even more mystifying.

If you were politically active during the George W. Bush years, you'll remember Griffin as the Karl Rove acolyte who leveraged his hackish loyalty into an utterly undeserved appointment as U.S. Attorney—one that he secured, thanks to an extremely controversial loophole, without Senate confirmation. Immense pressure forced him to resign just six months later, so holding jobs only for short periods seems to be something of a pattern with him. At the very least, we know that this is not a terrific time to be a Republican member of the House.

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And now, though, his seat will become a potential Democratic pickup, albeit a reach. Late last week, rumors surfaced that former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays would take a run at Griffith; on Monday, that crystallized a bit further, with MSNBC's Jessica Taylor saying Hays would announce a bid on Tuesday, according to an unnamed "Democratic source."

Other possible Democratic names include state Sen. David Johnson; state Rep. Tommy Thompson; businesswoman (and former state Rep.) Linda Tyler; state Secretary of Education Shane Broadway; former Lt. Gov. (and 2010 Senate candidate) Bill Halter; and Little Rock school board official Dianne Curry. One more: Conway Mayor Tab Townsell.

Republicans will definitely have the advantage when it comes to retaining this red-trending district, though. Some potential options are wealthy businessman and one-time George H.W. Bush aide French Hill and state Sen. David Sanders. The Hill also mentions ex-state Sen. Gilbert Baker (who lost the 2010 AR-Sen primary) and state Sen. Jason Rapert (known for racially inflammatory comments at a 2011 rally).

Generally speaking, Democrats have performed much better in presidential rather than midterm elections in recent years, so 2014 turnout ought to lean in the Republican direction. But Arkansas is one of those places, like West Virginia, where Barack Obama was unusually unpopular, so Democrats might actually be better off without him exerting downward pressure at the top of the ticket.

If that turns out to be the case, Griffin may have just made life a lot more difficult for his party, especially if his premature retirement adds to the growing narrative that Republicans are starting to appear endangered in next year's elections. As always, we'll be following all developments here, so stick with Daily Kos Elections for our coverage of this unfolding race.

Senate:

MS-Sen: The Club for Growth was one of the third-party groups that endorsed Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel almost the same instant he announced his primary campaign against incumbent Thad Cochran (a septuagenarian who hasn't confirmed that he's running again), and now they're springing for an ad boosting McDaniel. It doesn't specifically mention Cochran, but rather serves to introduce McDaniel. No specific word on the size of the buy, other than "significant" and "six figures." (David Jarman)

SD-Sen: Local pollster Nielson Brothers has published a new survey showing Republican ex-Gov. Mike Rounds leading Democratic former congressional aide Rick Weiland 50-35 in South Dakota's open seat Senate race. That's very different from the 40-34 spread PPP recently found (though Nielson did not include Libertarian Kurt Evans, which PPP did), but it's similar to the 52-38 Rounds edge that Harper saw last month. However, Nielson's had a very poor track record in recent cycles, with extreme Democratic leans.

Gubernatorial:

ID-Gov: Republican Gov. Butch Otter avoided a primary challenge when Rep. Raul Labrador backed down earlier this year, but he may get one anyway. State Rep. Russ Fulcher says he's formed an exploratory committee to take on Otter, whom he's pissed at for creating a healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Otter, however, hasn't yet announced whether he'll seek a third term, so Fulcher may just be positioning himself for a potentially open seat.

MD-Gov: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown just secured the backing of the Maryland State Education Association in his bid for governor. The MSEA is the state's largest teachers union, with 70,000 members. Brown faces state AG Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur for the Democratic nomination.

VA-Gov: As one might expect, there is a ton of election-related news out of Virginia today, and it is a rather relentless pile of suck for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli:

  • Democrat Terry McAuliffe is out with a new ad featuring Vincent Callahan, a Republican who served four decades in the state House of Delegates. Callahan speaks directly to camera, laying out his bipartisan street cred, and then saying that he is endorsing McAuliffe. Since a huge part of McAuliffe's message is that Cuccinelli is even too conservative for many Republicans, these ads play well with his strategy.
  • In a brutal illustration of that theme, the very Republican editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, whose last Democratic endorsement may well have been Andrew Jackson (kidding...kidding...it was Chuck Robb a quarter-century ago), has issued their 2013 gubernatorial endorsement: no one. They did endorse in the Lt. Governor's race, siding with Democrat Ralph Northam. Meanwhile, another local paper, the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, tweaked Cooch further by endorsing ... Bill Bolling. Bolling, of course, is the state's current Republican Lt. Governor, who was brushed aside in the rush to coronate Cuccinelli and flirted with an independent bid.
  • It is not just conservative media outlets that appear to be chalking Cuccinelli off. National Journal reports that Republicans are making Attorney General nominee Mark Obenshain their firewall in the state, as they grow ever more fearful of a Democratic sweep. One organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has dumped over $1.3 million into the Obenshain effort in the last several weeks.
  • And, finally, in the name of spiking the ball, we have a BIG DOG ALERT! Bill Clinton will be heading out on the campaign trail next week, stumping for his old friend.

(Steve Singiser)

House:

AL-01: It's hard to tell whether Bradley Byrne, the more establishment-flavored candidate in the Republican runoff in AL-01's special election, is worried about Dean Young in the closing weeks or had just been saving up for a titanic finishing blow. At any rate, his new ad goes hammer and tong after Young, pointing out how most of the money from Young's Christian Family Association PAC ended up in Young's pocket, and closing with the tag line "WHAT KIND OF PERSON FOOLS CHRISTIANS FOR PROFIT?" (David Jarman)

FL-02: Florida's 2nd district is red enough that you wouldn't ordinarily think it'd be a top priority, but between a strong Dem challenger (Gwen Graham) and a particularly right-wing incumbent (Steve Southerland), it's taking center stage. House Majority PAC is out with a new ad hitting Southerland, and it's not just a video press release: it's a buy for $70,000, good for a two-week run in the cheap Tallahassee market. (David Jarman)

NH-01, -02: UNH has never been a terribly reliable pollster, and they've often produced seriously head-scratching results. Their newest congressional numbers are a case in point. In New Hampshire's 1st District, they find Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter leading ex-Rep. Frank Guinta 48-32 and outgoing UNH business school dean Dan Innis 43-32. While I can believe that the tea-flavored Guinta would inspire some undecideds who might otherwise keep an open mind about Inn to instead side with CSP is, the real problem is UNH's 2nd District poll.

There, they have Dem Rep. Annie Kuster barely edging ex-state Sen. Gary Lambert 34-33. Not only is Kuster the stronger campaigner, and not only is the 2nd the bluer district, but Lambert is utterly unknown. So the notion that Kuster is in worse shape than Shea-Porter is tough to swallow, especially since New England College recently released polling that showed the exact opposite picture. It all just means you should treat UNH's data with the same skepticism they've always merited.

UT-04: If you saw Republican Mia Love's FEC report this past quarter, during which she raised $590,000, you might have initially gone "Wow!" But if you dug deeper, you also saw that she spent a monster $374,000, an exceptionally high burn rate this early in the cycle. And if you were very astute, you took a look at her expenditures and noticed that her biggest outlay was for "postage"—over $220,000 worth.

That tells us that Love is the latest victim/perpetrator of scammy direct-mail fundraising, an industry that regularly grabs hold of ultra-conservative Republicans (Allen West and Michelle Bachman are prime examples), inflating candidate fundraising hauls while simultaneously raking off the lion's share in "expenses" that pad the mail firms' bottom lines.

Most office-seekers who get sucked into this world are of the Some Dude variety, but Love is considered a legitimate contender. After narrowly losing to Dem Rep. Jim Matheson last year in a race she ought to have won, many of her fellow Republicans criticized her campaign. She claims to have made improvements, but the fact that she's using such scuzzball tactics calls that into question.

House: A pair of stories Monday by the same author (Politico's Alex Isenstadt) on somewhat disparate topics nevertheless add up to a common theme: maybe all this talk of a Democratic wave election in 2014 isn't just idle cheerleading.

First off, Isenstadt notes that the recent shutdown has led to a bumper crop of legitimate Democrats eyeing challenges to Republican incumbents. What separates this article from many of its recent predecessors is that Isenstadt is naming names. Though not all of them have made the full commitment, Isenstadt cites potentially first-tier Democratic challenges to Republicans like:

  • Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02, where attorney Bill Hughes Jr., the son of the former congressman, has had a change of heart and looks likely to run)l
  • Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11, where law school dean Jocelyn Benson is considering a race);
  • Jon Runyan (NJ-03, where the DCCC is apparently high on attorney Aimee Belgard); and
  • Jackie Walorski (IN-02, where Notre Dame official Joe Bock is nearly in).

Also noted: Democrats have near-commits in a trio of potentially competitive House districts: AR-02 (North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays, discussed above), AR-04 (Clinton-era FEMA director James Lee Witt), and FL-13 (former state CFO and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink).

On the GOP end of the spectrum, Isenstadt notes that the shutdown has also encouraged Republicans to run ... against Republican incumbents. Even casual elections junkies know, of course, that teabagging challengers have dispatched more electable Republicans in roughly half a dozen Senate races, helping the Democrats maintain their 55-45 majority in the chamber. Could the GOP's simmering civil war put some House seats into play in 2014? The prospects appear decent, even at this early date. (Steve Singiser)

WV-03: Maybe you've noticed some analysts lately souring on Democratic chances in West Virginia's 3rd district, where long-time Dem Nick Rahall faces party-switching state Sen. Evan Jenkins against the backdrop of a district that Walter Mondale won but gave Barack Obama 33 percent in 2012. Well, here's an internal poll that they probably saw last week that prompted the move; the poll for the Jenkins campaign, by Harper Polling, gives Rahall only a 46-42 lead. I'm actually a little heartened to see Rahall leading, period, but also factor in that Jenkins outraised Rahall last quarter, and you can see why this race may be one of the GOP's few bright spots in 2014. (David Jarman)

Other Races:

Novo York Autonomous Okrug Administrator: Comrades! The long struggle, indeed, is a long struggle, and we must be ever vigilant against revanchism! Scientists at the People's University of Quinnipiac have noted unforgivable backsliding among certain elements of the lumpenproletariat, as false consciousness continues to rear its head, no doubt thanks to increased propaganda expenditures by class traitor Joe Lhota. Regardless, the glorious victory of Bill de Blasiovich shall still be realized shortly, as the latest production reports place him in front of Lhota 68-24, down from 71-21 two weeks ago. (David Jarman)

Seattle Mayor: There are two new polls in Seattle's mayoral race. One, from local firm Strategies 360, is right in line with other recent polls, with state Sen. Ed Murray leading incumbent Mike McGinn 51-34. The other is significantly different from all the general election polls we've seen so far: it has McGinn within single digits of Murray, with Murray up 33-29. (Note that the McGinn number is about the same, but this poll has a lot more undecideds, who apparently when pushed harder all seem to end up on the Murray side.)

The latter poll is on behalf of KIRO-TV, but it's one of the most irresponsibly-reported polls ever (it's posted essentially as a Buzzfeed-style gallery, with no mention of the pollster, let alone the MoE and dates). One other possible explanation for the disparity is that the Strategies 360 poll is LVs while the KIRO poll is RVs; Strategies 360 finds (a la conventional wisdom about the race, but contra SurveyUSA—though SUSA's young voter crosstabs are notoriously weird) that McGinn and Murray run about evenly about the 18-44 set while Murray dominates among older voters, so it's possible that younger voters aren't falling readily into the "likely voter" camp. (David Jarman)

Special Elections: Iowa HD-33 is an open Democratic seat located in Des Moines. The candidates are Democrat Brian Meyer, a member of the Des Moines city council, and Republican Michael Young, a veteran of the Marines. The seat went 67-31 for Obama in 2012, so an upset is unlikely. (Johnny Longtorso)

WA State Senate: The November special election in Washington's SD-26 (one where Daily Kos has gotten involved) is quickly turning in to the most expensive legislative election ever in Washington state; that's what happens when there's one single race where chamber control is (sort of) at stake.

The latest total has the cumulative expenditures at over $2.5 million: while appointed Dem incumbent Nathan Schlicher has raised $472K and Republican challenger Jan Angel has raised $624K, the independent expenditures boost that. Dem billionaire Tom Steyer has now put in $525K into a pro-Schlicher PAC, which has raised nearly $1 million in all, while a pro-Angel PAC has raised more than $500K. (Both sides are running ads on broadcast TV, which you can see at the link.) (David Jarman)

Grab Bag:

Dark Money: Need some numbers to put a quantifiable exclamation point on the GOP civil war? The Senate Conservatives Fund (which continues to lurch forward despite Jim DeMint's resignation from the Senate) raised by far its best fundraising month ever, raising $2.1 million in September amidst the shutdown ramp-up; that's two-thirds of what the establishment-based NRSC raised. Of course, the question remains whether they're spending effectively: SCF spent $523k on "non-candidate issue ads," $237k on telemarketing, and $224k on book purchases (in case you were ever wondering how much right-wing organizations spent on gaming the bestseller lists). (David Jarman)

NRCC: Yep, the NRCC got their butts beat by the D-Trip last month. Republicans took in $5.3 million for their House committee in September, versus $8.4 million for Dems.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Tue Oct 22, 2013 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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