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Leading Off:

SD Mayor: A huge upset in San Diego on Tuesday night, as City Councilman David Alvarez snuck past former Assemblyman (and fellow Democrat) Nathan Fletcher to secure the second spot in the special runoff for mayor. With Fletcher conceding and offering his endorsement, Alvarez will now face Republican Kevin Faulconer, also a city councilman, in the second round of voting, likely to be held on Feb. 11. Since this is California, there are still ballots to count—some 34,500, according to election officials—but at the moment, Alvarez has a 2,600-vote lead over Fletcher, good for a 26 to 24 percent edge; Faulconer, the only prominent Republican in this officially non-partisan race, is out front with 44 percent.

Fletcher came into the contest with strong name recognition, thanks to his third-place finish in last year's mayoral election, and early polls showed him as a lock to make the runoff. But as we noted earlier this week, both Faulconer and Alvarez (and their allies) spent a lot of time and money attacking Fletcher—who was a Republican less than two years ago—from both the left and the right. Late polling from SurveyUSA showed Fletcher sliding and Alvarez, the choice of labor unions, surging; their final numbers pegged Tuesday's results quite closely.

Faulconer went after Fletcher because he prefers to face the more liberal Alvarez one-on-one. But SUSA found only a small difference between the two, with Faulconer leading Fletcher 47-38 and Alvarez 51-38. After Alvarez's big victory, I wouldn't be surprised to see that spread tighten up a bunch. Still, SurveyUSA was right about the first round. If they're right about the second, then Democrats start out in a deep hole to retain a mayoralty they finally picked up after a long drought just a year ago. On the other hand, the top three Dems combined for 54 percent of the vote, so if Alvarez can win over Fletcher's supporters, he'll have a shot, though it won't be easy.

Senate:

CO-Sen: Quinnipiac continues its string of Colorado polls showing shaky numbers for Democrats, with their first-ever tests of next year's Senate race. Here's how freshman Sen. Mark Udall fares against half a dozen different Republicans:

45-42 vs. 2010 nominee Ken Buck

43-40 vs. businessman Jaime McMillan

44-39 vs. state Sen. Randy Baumgardner

45-39 vs. state Sen. Owen Hill

45-38 vs. state Rep. Amy Stephens

45-36 vs. businessman Mark Aspiri

It's certainly strange to see Quinnipiac showing Udall doing no better than Gov. John Hickenlooper, since Hickenlooper's taken some personal hits that have no bearing on Udall's situation. And the school has had some inexplicable Colorado results at times, like their Aug. 2012 poll showing Mitt Romney leading by 5 (something that almost certainly wasn't the case). They also have Hillary Clinton faring very poorly against a variety of opponents in hypothetical presidential matchups in this latest dataset.

But there's only been one other public poll of the state all year, from PPP, back in April. That survey had both Hick and Udall at around the 50 percent mark, but if Democratic fortunes in Colorado have indeed suffered since then, it'd be nice to get some confirmation. For now, all we have to go on is Quinnipiac, but it's always preferable to be able to compare multiple polls from multiple pollsters.

Gubernatorial:

MI-Gov: Denno Research is one of those oddball Michigan pollsters whose results are often hard to explain. Case in point: Their new poll of the governor's race has Republican Gov. Rick Snyder up 45-31 over Democratic ex-Rep. Mark Schauer. But back in late July, they had Snyder leading 43-37. So did Schauer really drop 6 points all on his own over the last few months? Elections don't usually work that way—candidates don't become less well-known as time goes on.

OH-Gov: Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, has selected state Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney as his running-mate. (Dolph and Jimbo are reported to be very disappointed.) Kearney hails from Cincinnati at the opposite end of the state, and he's also African American. FitzGerald has had difficulty wooing black pols to his side, and some (like Rep. Marcia Fudge) have even refused to endorse him despite the fact that he's the only Democrat running. It sounds like Fitz, an independent-minded former prosecutor, is suffering because he doesn't play the old ward-heeler game, and some of these Democrats have shamelessly cozied up to GOP Gov. John Kasich. Would they really prefer Kasich to FitzGerald?

House:

AZ-02: A couple of days after telling a reporter that he hadn't yet decided whether to seek re-election, Dem Rep. Ron Barber pretty much walked that back in a new statement. Said Barber: "I am focused on doing my job, serving southern Arizona—not reelection. There will be plenty of time next year to talk about the campaign—but let me be clear—I will be running and am putting everything in place to win." That "I will be running" line seems rather definitive, so it's a mystery as to why Barber publicly discussed his hesitancy earlier this week.

FL-19: So GOP Rep. Trey Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession on Wednesday, earning a year of probation, proving once again that rich people don't get jail time, they get therapy. Radel, it turns out, was busted trying to purchase cocaine from an undercover officer, apparently as part of a broader investigation into drug trafficking in the District of Columbia. He says he'll enter an in-patient treatment facility in Florida but didn't mention anything about resigning. Rather, at a press conference at 10:30 PM on Wednesday night, Radel said he'd take a leave of absence and donate his congressional salary to charity.

Meanwhile, several Republicans are considering a challenge to Radel in the primary. Most amusingly, ex-Rep. Connie Mack, who held this seat before Radel, punted on the question; Mack is a notorious waster who was memorably dubbed the "Charlie Sheen of Florida politics" by ex-Sen. George LeMieux in last year's Senate race, so he'd match up pretty poorly again Radel on the moral character front.

More actively, Chauncey Goss, the son of ex-Rep. Porter Goss who was runner-up to Radel in 2012, says he's thinking about it, as is ex-state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who finished third. Another name mentioned is state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. So if Radel tries to seek another term, he'll definitely have to watch his back.

NJ-05: Confirming an unsourced earlier report, state Sen. Bob Gordon says he is in fact considering a run for Congress against GOP Rep. Scott Garrett. Gordon just won a bruising re-election campaign to the legislature, though, and he acknowledges that taking on Garrett "would be extraordinarily difficult," so it doesn't sound like he's leaning toward a bid. Gordon also thought about it last cycle but declined.

NY-23: This wouldn't be that interesting, except for the fact that it keeps happening: GOP Rep. Tom Reed's law office was late in paying its property taxes this year, which the Buffalo News notes is the 39th occasion that either Reed or one of his businesses has failed to pay such bills in a timely fashion since 2005. Reed points out that he's no longer involved with the law firm (he can't be, as a member of Congress), but really, that's a lot of delinquent tax payments, and his Democratic opponent, Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson, is trying to make an issue of them. We'll see if she succeeds.

Grab Bag:

Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso recaps Tuesday's four legislative specials:

California AD-45: This turned out to be a close one. Democrat Matt Dababneh currently leads Republican Susan Shelley by 173 votes.

Iowa SD-13: Republican Julian Garrett easily held this seat for his party, defeating Democrat Mark Davitt by a 60-40 margin.

Wisconsin AD-21: Republican Jessie Rodriguez defeated Democrat Elizabeth Coppola by a 56-44 margin, keeping the seat in Republican hands.

Wisconsin AD-69: Republican Bob Kulp had no trouble winning here; he got 67 percent of the vote to Democrat Ken Slezak's 24 percent, while independent Tim Swiggum pulled in 9 percent.

Democrats badly underperformed the district lean in all four of these races, but the most disturbing is California's. It's a 63 percent Obama seat, and in the first round of voting, Democratic candidates combined for a similar 62 percent. But with Dababneh barely above 50, that represents a huge falloff for Team Blue, though he's likely to hang on as Democrats always improve in late-counted votes in Cali. By the same token, IA SD-13 and WI AD-21 were both 51 percent Romney, and WI AD-69 was 55 percent Romney.

Grab Bag:

House: These figures are much higher than I'd have thought: According to a new study from the University of Minnesota, fully 14 percent of the entire House was first elected via special elections. Interestingly, the rate is much higher for Democrats (almost 19 percent) than Republicans (under 10 percent). I'm not sure why that might be, and I'd be curious to hear ideas, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that a large fraction of the GOP caucus was recently elected in the regularly scheduled Nov. 2010 general election.

Maps: Here's a very cool map of the United States that almost represents a sort of alternate history, from John Lavey of the Sonoran Institute, a conservationist group:

A map of the United States with state borders redrawn according to watersheds
(click for larger)
Lavey was inspired to redraw the continental United States along the lines of its watersheds by 19th century geologist John Wesley Powell, who proposed that new states created in the arid west be formed around watersheds to minimize conflicts over scarce water resources. Powell's vision, detailed in a gorgeous, full-color map, never came even close to realization, though. Lavey explains that rail companies lobbied against Powell's plan because they preferred existing state lines, which he says allowed them to maximize revenues from the agricultural industry.

Had we instead followed Powell's ideas, we might see far fewer fights over water between states today. But Lavey also explores at length many other changes that Powell's map might have wrought—and then takes things one step further by asking "what if?" and applying Powell's approach to the entire country. It's a fascinating notion of an alternate United States, one that would likely be very different from the nation we know.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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