• CA-31: It seems like Tuesday turned out to be a pretty good day for the DCCC. A number of House recruits kicked off campaigns (or announced plans to do so), probably because they wanted to wait until after the March 31 FEC reporting deadline—and because they had the good sense not to launch on April Fools'. First up is Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who actually crumbed the play in last year's top-two primary, finishing third and allowing two Republicans to face off in the November general election, thanks to a host of minor Dems splitting the left-leaning vote. Democrats seem content, though, to write that off as a freak occurrence, the byproduct of a new and occasionally unpredictable electoral system put in place thanks to a voter referendum in 2010.
I'm sure Aguilar will work hard not to let that happen again as he pursues a second attempt to unseat GOP Rep. Gary Miller. In one key respect, this seat is the very lowest-hanging blueberry there is: Thanks to the aforementioned top-two screwup, Miller wound up winning in a district Obama carried by a 57-41 margin. That makes this the bluest seat occupied by a Republican anywhere in the country. And while Miller has tried to moderate his profile recently, according to Progressive Punch, he has an incredibly conservative record going back to 1999. (Worth noting: Miller would not confirm that he's running for re-election.)
So this is an absolute must-win seat for Democrats, but it looks like Aguilar may not have the field to himself. The National Journal's Kevin Brennan reports that attorney Eloise Reyes is also considering the race. Brennan describes her as someone "active in Democratic politics for years" (and who actually supported Aguilar last cycle), but she doesn't seem to have much of a profile when you Google her and appears to be a solo practitioner.
Reyes says she's not worried about a repeat of what happened last year because she doesn't think another Republican will challenge Miller, but we saw plenty of "dirty tricks" in 2012 where one strong candidate propped up a weakling in order to engineer the general election to their liking. In any event, Reyes has apparently has met with EMILY's List and sounds very eager to run, so let's hope that Democrats can avoid another debacle. (And also, this is a very good illustration of why the top-two system is so awful, since it creates a disincentive for candidates to seek office. California needs to seriously reconsider what it's done here.)
• IL-Sen: A second Republican senator now says he supports marriage equality, Illinois's Mark Kirk. For Kirk, there may be electoral considerations at play, seeing as he'll next have to go before voters in a very blue state in a presidential year, and same-sex marriage ought to be legal in the Land of Lincoln pretty soon. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who had absolutely no excuse for not supporting marriage rights for all Americans, is also finally on board—after, I should note, the much more socially conservative Bob Casey did the same a day earlier.
• LA-Sen: GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy will reportedly kick off his bid for the Senate on Wednesday, according to an unnamed AP source "associated with the Cassidy campaign." (It sounds like this was a deliberate leak from the Cassidy camp.) Cassidy had long been touted as the choice of establishment Republicans but remained silent about his intentions, allowing others, such as fellow Rep. John Fleming, to siphon up media attention. But Cassidy just announced a pretty solid $500K fundraising haul earlier this week and would now be the first candidate in the race to unseat Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
And for what it's worth, he actually put up some of the worst numbers against Landrieu (losing 50 to 40) in an early PPP test of a variety of different candidates. But his name recognition is low, something that will undoubtedly change. One important thing to note, though, is that Louisiana conducts an all-party "jungle" primary in November; if no single candidates clears the 50 percent mark, then the top two vote-getters advance to a December runoff. Landrieu actually won her first two elections this way, so while Cassidy would undoubtedly like to clear the field by jumping in early, he may yet have to face a serious GOP pileup.
• MA-Sen: The League of Conservation voters is out with another poll of the Massachusetts Senate special Democratic primary, which is fast approaching on April 30. The LCV is back to using PPP, and once again, they find Rep. Ed Markey beating Rep. Stephen Lynch, this time by a 49-32 margin. That's a bit of an improvement for Markey from the last PPP/LCV survey, taken in mid-February, where he was up 43-28. Markey's favorability rating has also bounced upward, to 67-18 from 58-18, perhaps as a result of his television advertising. Lynch is also on the air and he, too, has seen his numbers get better, but he's well behind Markey at 44-30 (up from 36-29).
While we've seen a range of different margins between the two candidates, one thing has never changed: Markey has led every poll. I'm really wondering how Lynch can change that calculus with just a month left.
• AR-Gov: Well, I'm not a fan of tea leaf-reading in general, but occasionally you get a very fragrant whiff of Darjeeling that you just can't ignore. A couple of weeks ago, Democratic ex-Rep. Mike Ross responded to rumors that he might run for governor despite previously saying no, declaring that he would "reconsider" his decision. Now he's gone and resigned from the plum energy lobbying gig he only just accepted in January, in order to pursue "public service." I can't imagine that doesn't presage a bid for office, but we'll see soon enough.
• PA-Gov: Businessman Tom Wolf, who almost ran for governor in 2010 but ultimately decided against it, is taking the plunge this time and joining the Democratic primary field. He's the second candidate to enter the race, along with former state environmental chief John Hanger, but has barely registered in the polls—including his own (from GQR), released to coincide with his announcement.
Wolf in fact might have set a new record for "worst showing in your own internal," taking just 3 percent, though clearly his intention is to point out that even in a kitchen sink scenario, there are still a ton of undecided (45 percent). The front-runners, as you'd expect, are ex-Rep. Joe Sestak (21) and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (16), with Treasurer Rob McCord at 7. That's a little bit different from a recent GSG poll for EMILY's List that had Schwartz at 18 and Sestak at 15 when every possible candidate is tested, but one thing's the same: Wolf was at a mere 2 percent in that survey, too.
• CA-17: Sigh. Just what we need: an expensive Dem-vs.-Dem battle, launched for no discernable reason other than personal interest, while we're desperately trying to take back at least 17 seats from Republicans in order to regain control of the House. So yeah, former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna has decided to formally go ahead with his campaign against veteran Rep. Mike Honda, who by all accounts is well liked, deeply respected, and impeccably progressive. And why is Khanna running? In his own words (emphases and typos in original):
When I talk to people in Silicon Valley and throughout the Bay Area, there is an incredible frustration with Congress. People feel that Congress is disconnected from their lives – that there's too much partisanship, too much attention to special interests, and they're not getting the job done. The old politics are just not working.I'm not sure you can get much more vapid than that. Generic "frustration with Congress" and a warmed-over version of the old Republican saw about "running government like a business." The problem in Washington isn't "partisanship"—it's the GOP. I mean, seriously. Let's take Khanna at his word. If he were to defeat Honda, exactly what would change in DC? Does he think his own victory would be more meaningful than Nancy Pelosi becoming House speaker again?
We do things differently in the Bay Area. We have a sense of competition – but its not divisive to the point of grinding things to a halt. We respect tradition – but we bring a new approach and innovative ideas.
If there is any hope of getting Congress to work again so we can solve the important problems facing our communities, we need to bring Silicon Valley thinking to Washington. We need leaders with fresh ideas who aren't beholden to the old politics – and who will reach across the aisle to find common ground to create jobs and grow our economy.
Anyhow, Khanna has quite the task ahead of him. A recent Honda internal poll gave the incumbent a 57-5 lead, and every Democratic bigwig from President Obama on down has endorsed him. Because of California's top-two primary system, Khanna would almost certainly have to try to make it to a second round in November and unseat Honda then. This is a very liberal district, though (it went 72-26 for Obama), so there's not a lot to be gained by maneuvering to Honda's right, even if that's what Khanna's aiming to do with his "pox on both" routine. But Honda might be smart to help prop up a Republican in the primary, as there might just be enough votes to secure a general election spot for a GOP candidate and box Khanna out completely.
Still, this is a race I'm not looking forward to in the least. Khanna raised over a million bucks last cycle, when it looked like he might try taking on ex-Rep. Pete Stark in the 15th. (He'd have had support for that move, given Stark's cantankerous personality and predilection for lying about his opponents. It's also why Stark's not in Congress anymore, defeated by fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell.) But Khanna never pulled the trigger, so he still has that huge cash pile lying around. Honda hasn't had a competitive race in some time, but I'm sure he'll be no slouch when it comes to fundraising. So we'll see a lot of money spent on a race where the winner will either be a Democrat... or a Democrat. Again, sigh.
• CA-26: As expected, former state Sen. Tony Strickland has launched his bid for a rematch against the woman who defeated him last fall, freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley. Strickland was a top recruit for the GOP last cycle but fell short, 53-47. And he's running on challenging turf, seeing as Obama carried this district 54-44. Of course, Brownley won't have presidential turnout helping her next time, but California isn't getting any redder.
• FL-02: And here's another good recruiting score for the blue team: Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and senator Bob Graham, has formally launched a bid against sophomore GOP Rep. Steve Southerland. Graham only appeared on the radar recently, with the local press describing her as a DCCC target just a couple of months ago. She had been talked up for a different seat back in 2006 but this is her first time actually running for office. Graham is currently an official in the Leon County school system, and while she sports a very famous name, she insists, as you'd expect, that "I love my dad and I'm very proud of him, but I am running this campaign as Gwen Graham."
There's a wrinkle here, though: Former state Sen. Al Lawson, who has unsuccessfully run here twice before, says he's thinking about a third bid and will decide by June. Lawson nearly unseated then-Rep. Allen Boyd in the 2010 primary, then last year won the Democratic nomination over establishment favorite Leonard Bembry. Lawson was a weak fundraiser, though, and only managed to keep things close against Southerland (he lost 53-47) thanks to an infusion of outside cash from the D-Trip and the House Majority PAC. But he could well prove hard for Graham to beat, seeing how Lawson easily dispatched Bembry, 55-26, thanks to his local profile and probably also because many primary voters are black, as is Lawson. Bembry, though, didn't manage to raise much either, a problem Graham hopefully won't have.
• MN-02: It looks like Democrats may have another contested nomination battle in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District. Sona Mehring, whose name first came up just a month ago, announced that she's resigning from her post as CEO of the nonprofit CaringBridge in order to run against GOP Rep. John Kline. She'll apparently have company, though, in the former of 2012 nominee Mike Obermueller, who told the Star Tribune that he'll "likely" make a formal announcement this week.
• PA-13: State Sen. Daylin Leach just became the first Democrat to formally announce that he's running for Rep. Allyson Schwartz's House seat, even though she hasn't made her expected bid for governor official yet. But Schwartz's aims seem pretty clear, so Leach is probably smart to get a jump on things—and in the worst-case scenario, he'd simply step aside and no one will care one way or the other. (Indeed, two other candidates have already filed paperwork with the FEC, former Philadelphia Controller Jonathan Saidel and physician Valerie Arkoosh, though they haven't otherwise declared their candidacies.)
In any event, though the field will probably take a while to develop, Leach is likely to emerge as the most visibly progressive option in this safely Democratic seat. He's long been a proponent of same-sex marriage and marijuana reform and has also been an outspoken critic of Pennsylvania's new voter ID laws. You can watch his welcome video here, in which he says he's "proud" to be known as his state's "liberal lion."
• NYC Mayor: So insane: Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith and Republican New York City Councilman Dan Halloran were arrested (!) on Tuesday for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to bribe local Republicans so that they'd let Smith appear on their ballot line in the NYC mayoral race this fall, something he'd need their permission to do. (Several other GOP officials were apprehended as well.) Obviously the whole thing is hare-brained and insane. Why Smith ever wanted to run for mayor as a Republican is just baffling, but what's truly sad is that he was elected by his colleagues as Senate Majority Leader in 2009—meaning that, as New York Times reporter Dan Hakim noted, three of the last five people to hold that post "have been indicted for corruption or are in jail." (Democrat Pedro Espada and Republican Joe Bruno are the other two.)
Much more pathetically, Smith recently joined with state Sen. Jeff Klein's band of renegade Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference, to hand control of the Senate to Republicans, even though Democrats nominally won a majority of seats in the chamber last November. Strictly speaking, Klein and the GOP have enough votes to retain control even without Smith, but it's hard to get a blacker eye than this. A few months ago, after Klein had cemented his deal with Republican leader Dean Skelos, I said that I had "a hard time imagining Klein looking good two years from now." Seems like that schedule has moved up.