• VA-Sen: So former RNC chair Ed Gillespie, who said last month that he was considering a run for Senate, will supposedly announce a bid "as early as [this] week," according to unnamed sources. Now why would Gillespie want to run into the buzzsaw known as Mark Warner? Does he have secret polls showing the well-liked and well-funded Warner as shockingly vulnerable? Highly doubtful.
More plausibly, Gillespie is looking to take one for the team and use what he hopes will be a non-embarrassing loss to set himself up for a gubernatorial run in 2017. After all, that worked for none other than Warner himself, whose failed but respectable 1996 Senate campaign gave him the inside track for the Democratic nod for governor in 2001. And Warner, of course, went on to win the governorship that same year. The big difference, though, is that there was little contemporary indication Warner viewed his first race as a stepping-stone; rather, it just worked out that way. So if this is indeed Gillespie's long-term plan, well, plans have a funny way of changing.
We undertook a year-end review of all of our Senate and gubernatorial race ratings, and we've decided to make three changes. Also, we're publishing our inaugural House race ratings this coming week, so be on the lookout for them.
• CO-Sen (Likely D to Lean D): Recent polling has shown Colorado's political environment worsening for Democrats, though we're not part of the Chicken Little brigades. However, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall's re-election prospects look tougher now than they did earlier in the cycle. We still believe he has the advantage, but it's no longer as big as it once was. If Republicans look to expand their playing field beyond the current crop of tossups and open seats, they'll probably look here.
• NC-Sen (Lean D to Tossup): When we put together our initial set of ratings, it appeared that Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan's chances of winning a second term were just good enough to warrant inclusion in the "Lean Democrat" category. But PPP's regular North Carolina polling has found a serious erosion in her standing with voters, and at this point, she's putting up tossup numbers. To reiterate, not all tossups are created equal, and Hagan still has a better shot than, say, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (another incumbent Democrat in the tossup column). But she no longer looks favored.
• NE-Sen (Likely R to Safe R): It's our general policy to slot open seat races, even in dark red or dark blue states, in their respective "Likely" columns as long as it's still the off year. After all, you never know what kind of unexpected recruit the out-party might come up with. But Nebraska Democrats have come up with absolutely no one, so we're taking this contest off the table.
• GA-Sen: This is a very clever bit of hypocrisy exposure. After GOP Rep. Jack Kingston warned against the dangers of free school lunches for kids, a Georgia TV station pored over Kingston's expenditure reports and found that his congressional staff has expensed some $4,200 worth of meals on the taxpayer dime over the last three years. That doesn't even begin to include much larger sums racked up on overseas junkets, and the six-figure tally Kingston's campaign committees have spent on food.
Kingston's responses to the station's queries are totally evasive, but the best zinger comes when the reporter points out that for all of Kingston's claims that he just wants to instill a strong work ethic in Americans, Congress was only in session for 159 days last year. (If you don't have to time to watch the video, TPM has a summary.)
• IA-Sen: Quarterly fundraising report time is also quarterly loserspeak time. The latest entry in the catalog comes from state Sen. Joni Ernst, who is running for Iowa's open Senate seat. One of her opponents, businessman Mark Jacobs, just announced that he raised $400,000 in the final three months of 2013. Ernst's response? "Money can't buy Iowa values." I guess it can't! The Quad-City Times also added that Ernst "hasn't released her fourth-quarter fundraising results and wouldn't characterize them."
• TX-Sen: Sen. John Cornyn's new ad goes straight for the movement conservative id, flashing pictures of a burning Benghazi while calling Barack Obama an "astonishingly liberal" president who uses "backhanded methods to change the very fabric of American life." Cornyn, of course, "stands up to Obama, every day." His campaign says the buy is "well into the six figures," whatever that means. However, we do now know how much that pro-Cornyn super PAC is spending on its new spot attacking Rep. Steve Stockman: a pretty hefty $744,000.
• NH-Gov: Conservative activist (often code for "Some Dude") Andrew Hemingway says he'll decide on a gubernatorial bid this month. If he does get into the race, he'd be the first Republican to challenge first-term Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
• CA-17: Normally, a Republican deciding to run in a safely Democratic seat is not interesting news, but California's top-two primary system could allow anesthesiologist Vanila Singh to play a major role in this race. Incumbent Rep. Mike Honda is currently locked in a duel with fellow Democrat and former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, and both candidates had been expected to continue fighting to the general election. But if Singh can consolidate enough support to win at least second place in the all-party June primary, she would advance to November instead of one of the Democrats.
Obama won 72-26 here, so it would be difficult for any Republican to grab second place in a three-way content, but recent electoral history suggests it is possible. In the 2012 primary for the state's 25th Assembly seat, Republican Arlyne Diamond edged out Milpitas Vice Mayor Pete McHugh, a Democrat, to take second by a 30-28 margin. (Incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski clinched first with 42 percent.) AD-25 includes much of the same area as CA-17 and voted for Obama by roughly the same spread.
Honda's internals have him on track to win first place in June, so he would benefit if Singh pulled off the same trick as Diamond. However, Honda's hopes of an easy general election depends on Singh being the only Republican on the ballot. If a second Republican runs and splits the district's small conservative bloc, the Honda-Khanna slugfest is all but certain to continue into November. (Jeff Singer)
• FL-13: St. Pete's final poll of Tuesday's Republican primary find lobbyist David Jolly expanding his lead—and in fact, state Rep. Kathleen Peters has stumbled all the way to third place. Jolly takes 37 percent while tea partier Mark Bircher is in second at 26, with Peters bringing up the with 24. At the end of December, it was 39-28 Jolly over Peters, with Bircher at 18. If St. Pete is right, Bircher is surging right at the end, and Jolly is even falling back a bit, but a Bircher victory would be a serious upset.
For the little its worth, Gravis Marketing (on behalf of Human Events) finds a closer race, with Jolly at 34, Peters at 28, and Bircher at 25. But either way, Jolly is ahead, and the Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith has a good explanation as to why: He's the only candidate on TV. Jolly's not spending a ton—around $25,000 two weeks ago and double that in the final week—but Peters has been dark since a one-week buy in December. Hard to win that way.
• PA-06: Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell, who was mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for the newly open PA-06, says that he's sticking with his plans to run for the state House. So are two other candidates in that race, Democrat Josh Young and Republican Harry Lewis.
• NY State Senate: Democrats already have a major pickup opportunity in the 40th Senate District, where Justin Wagner is seeking a rematch against GOP state Sen. Greg Ball, who defeated him very narrowly in 2012. But Wagner may wind up pursuing an open seat instead, since Ball is considering a bid for Putnam County executive (which would mean a primary challenge to the incumbent Republican office holder).
Whether Ball's presence on the ticket makes life easier or harder for Wagner is not clear. On the one hand, he's a loudmouthed troublemaker, but on the other, he's won office in this area multiple times. Ball's talked a big game in the past, though, and even toyed with primary then-Rep. Nan Hayworth in NY-19 last cycle, but he ultimately backed down, so there's no telling if he'll actually follow through this time.
• VA State Senate: On Friday afternoon, the state Board of Elections certified Democrat Lynwood Lewis as the winner of last Tuesday's special election in Virginia's 6th state Senate District. The final margin: just nine votes. (One last provisional ballot was counted in Accomack County on Thursday, and it cut Lewis's lead to single digits.) Republican candidate Wayne Coleman says he'll seek a recount, so control of the Senate is still contingent on that review, as well as on the special election for Attorney General Mark Herring's seat, which is set for January 21st.
And if you're wondering why the Lewis-Coleman race—which took place in a 57 percent Obama district, after all—was so close, Lowell Feld at Blue Virginia has some thoughts. One notable fact: Coleman outspent Lewis by a 3-to-2 margin. (Taniel & David Nir)