• IA-03: Hell's bells, kids n' kittens. Tuesday brought us three major House retirements, with Iowa Republican Tom Latham, who represents the state's 3rd Congressional District, the latest to say "no mas." This one counts as the most shocking: Virginia Republican Frank Wolf is 74 and had been the subject of retirement speculation for ages, while Utah Democrat Jim Matheson likely wanted to avoid a potential loss to preserve his unblemished record for a future run at statewide office. (Much more on those two developments below.)
But Latham? He's only 65 and he just survived a very tough race last year that pitted him against another incumbent, Democrat Leonard Boswell, thanks to redistricting. Latham performed very well, beating Boswell by almost 9 points in a seat Barack Obama carried 51-47. That strong showing helped make Latham the top Republican choice to run for Iowa's open Senate seat next year, but he ultimately declined.
Latham had drawn credible but hardly terrifying opposition in the form of ex-state Sen. Staci Appel, and he was in solid shape for re-election, which seemed to explain his refusal on the Senate race. So it's very hard to explain Latham's decision. If you want to engage in conspiracy theories, perhaps Sen. Chuck Grassley secretly informed Latham that he won't run again in 2016, thus leading Latham to pull a Matheson. That doesn't really add up, though, since a Latham loss this cycle was very unlikely, so maybe he's just truly tired of politics.
Regardless, the GOP will now have another tough seat to defend, along with Wolf's (though Matheson's is pretty much a gimme for them). And plenty of Republicans could jump in to the primary to succeed Latham. Some possibilities from the gang at Roll Call include former state party chair Matt Strawn, state Rep. Peter Cownie, and state Sen. Jack Whitver, while Aaron Blake suggests Secretary of State Matt Schultz and West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer. In addition, most of the Republicans running for Senate appear to live in the 3rd and could thus drop down if so inclined. One more option: state Sen. Brad Zaun, who lost to Boswell by 4 points in the old 3rd District in 2010.
Other Democrats might also want to join Appel, now that the daunting obstacle Latham presented is gone. More importantly, the district will shoot to the top of the party's list of pickup targets, and outside spending is likely to be very high here. All in all, a very strange day, but one that could turn out net positive for Democrats.
• VA-10: Big news out of Northern Virginia: Longtime Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has announced his retirement. Wolf has represented the 10th District since 1980 and has not won with anything less than 57 percent since his initial 1982 re-election. Consequently, his departure gives Democrats a great shot at a seat that Wolf's personal popularity has long kept out of reach. Mitt Romney carried the 10th by a very narrow 50-49 margin in 2012, and Barack Obama won it 51-48 four years prior.
Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust had just announced his candidacy before Wolf's retirement, ensuring Democrats have a credible candidate out of the gate. Two lesser-known Democrats are also running. It remains to be seen whether other ambitious Northern Virginia Dems will take this opportunity to jump in as well, though given how long everyone's been waiting for Wolf to retire, they very well may.
There are also a number of potential contenders on the Republican side. Delegate and former Wolf aide Barbara Comstock, fresh off a very competitive re-election victory in November, has been frequently mentioned as a likely candidate. One of the more hilarious names expressing interest belongs to Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama turned Republican talking head who now lives in Northern Virginia. If Republicans aren't interested in beating up on Artur in the primary, you can bet Democrats would be delighted to in the general. (Meanwhile, state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel has ruled out a bid.)
Wolf's decision to leave gives Democrats an excellent chance at a pickup, but make no mistake: This race is far from a slam dunk. The district is still a bit to the right of the entire state. Romney's 50-49 win was slim, but better than his statewide 51-47 defeat. Daily Kos Elections' preliminary calculations also reveal that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli won 48-47 here while losing 48-45 statewide. The district did go to Democratic Lt. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, but Northam's 52-48 win was far smaller than his 55-45 statewide victory. This race is expected to be very competitive and we'll be watching it closely from now until Election Day. (Jeff Singer)
• UT-04: Any excitement for Democrats on Tuesday over the unexpected retirement of Republican Rep. Frank Wolf (and the potential pickup in swingy VA-10) quickly got blunted with another unexpected retirement announcement, this time from Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in Utah's 4th Congressional District. Unlike VA-10, where the Republicans are still slightly better-than-even money to hold the seat, this one is a near-certain loss for the Democrats. Although the 4th is Utah's bluest seat, it's still the single reddest district held by a Democrat in the House: It went just 30 percent for Barack Obama in 2012, although it did give him 41 percent in 2008, when Mitt Romney wasn't on the ballot.
Matheson faced a rematch against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who, if she wins, will become the first African-American woman to represent the GOP in Congress. Matheson won a very narrow victory against Love in 2012 despite the Romney headwinds and pre-election polls predicting a loss, by a margin of only 768 votes (48.8 percent to 48.5 percent). Despite 2014 being a midterm election, where Republicans usually benefit from lower turnout, some observers expected Matheson to have an easier time this year because of the lack of Romney coattails. But Daily Kos Elections' quantitative House Vulnerability Index still pegged him as the most vulnerable House Democrat.
Matheson really hadn't done anything to telegraph a retirement; he raised $278,000 in the third fundraising quarter—not a huge amount, but certainly a bigger sum than someone planning retirement would put up. (Love raised $590,000 that same quarter, which may have weighed on Matheson, but that's a deceptive number: She's a fan of Allen West/Michele Bachmann-style churn-and-burn direct-mail fundraising, where the expenses wipe out most of the revenues.)
Instead, the rapid and unexpected retirement suggests that Matheson probably took a poll of his district, and didn't at all like what he saw, in wake of last month's decline in Democratic fortunes generally. In fact, Matheson had led Love by 14 in a June DCCC poll, while a dueling NRCC poll still had Matheson up, though only by 3 points. This all supports the theory that things went south for Matheson only recently.
You might be thinking, "Well, the Democrats can salvage this race with another good candidate." Not likely, because Matheson really was the entire bench for the Democrats in the entire state of Utah, and particularly in this mostly suburban district. The Democrats probably can't also count on a bloody Republican primary to boost their chances, since Love already has the nomination pretty much locked down. (Though maybe the fact that this is now an open seat will attract some other ambitious Republicans—especially since there were some behind-the-scenes rumblings that Love's previous campaign wasn't very good—but since Love was picked by nominating convention last time and presumably will be again, traditional campaign skills may not matter that much.)
Matheson's announcement does seem to leave an open door to a future run for something, however. He declared that "my time in the House should not be the sum total of my service" and "my duty to our state and our country will undoubtedly continue." The Matheson name does still have some iconic power in Utah (his father was governor and his grandfather and brother were both U.S. attorney for the state), and despite his Blue Doggishness, he's about the most Democrats could ever hope for in Utah.
Problem is, there's no statewide race in Utah in 2014, so Matheson would have to wait until 2016. Utah elects its governors in presidential years, and freshman Sen. Mike Lee will be up for re-election then. A recent poll showed Lee's approvals quite low (though that was taken at the height of shutdown mania and before the ACA took center stage), so maybe Matheson has an eye on that race and didn't want a loss to be the last mark on his record going in to a battle with Lee. (David Jarman)
• KY-Sen: PPP's new Kentucky poll isn't too different from their last survey, with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now edging Democratic Secretary of State Alison Grimes 43-42; back in mid-October, in a survey taken for Americans United for Change, Grimes was up 45-43. We also have PPP's first numbers pitting Grimes against McConnell's primary opponent, businessman Matt Bevin, who leads 39-38.
The tough news for Grimes is that the undecideds went for Romney over Obama last year by a hefty 56-20 margin. If you give the Romney voters to McConnell and the Obama voters to Grimes (a rough approximation, but not a bad one), McConnell would lead 52-45. It's even worse with Bevin. In that scenario, undecideds supported Romney 67-16, and if you allocate accordingly, Bevin crushes, 55-42. It all highlights the key issue we've been pointing to since this race first became a possibility: Undecided voters in Kentucky are not a friendly lot as far as Grimes is concerned.
PPP also tested a McConnell-Bevin matchup for the first time, and they find McConnell ahead by a wide 53-26 margin. But these are actually the most optimistic numbers any pollster has shown for Bevin to date. And in PPP's classic formulation, "someone more conservative" now beats McConnell 43-39, a big drop from McConnell's 46-32 advantage over Republican Jesus back in April. But Bevin is still largely unknown, and he has a long way to go before he might be able to topple McConnell.
Meanwhile, a nonprofit called the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is reportedly shelling out $382,000 to run a new ad on behalf of McConnell. The spot tries to tie McConnell to the state's other senator, Rand Paul, who is much more popular with tea partiers, saying the two are "working together to stop Obamacare." The same group previously spent a similar amount to boost McConnell in September.
• TX-Sen: TPM has gotten its hands on photos of the flophouse where GOP Rep. Steve Stockman put up campaign staffers before local authorities condemned it, and man, is it not pretty. This is one of those links you simply have to click for yourself.
• FL-Gov: This is one of those rare moments when a candidate's faring so poorly in public polling that he releases private numbers that still show him trailing, just less badly. Maybe one day we'll go back and study all such known instances to see how they turned out, but for the moment, we'll just concentrate on GOP Gov. Rick Scott. Scott, whose standing in the polls has been execrable, leaked results from Fabrizio McLaughlin that have him down 49-45 to his predecessor, ex-Gov. Charlie Crist. That's one of the narrowest leads for Crist to date, but he's still, you know, leading. If this is how Scott cheers himself up at night ....
• IA-Gov: State Rep. Tyler Olson, who announced earlier this month that he was "scaling back" his campaign for governor because of his impending divorce, has now scaled it all the way down to zero. Olson is dropping out of the race altogether, leaving state Sen. Jack Hatch as the only Democrat in the race. In a statement announcing his decision, Olson did not endorse Hatch.
Aside from Olson's personal difficulties, two new polls confirm just how difficult unseating Gov. Terry Branstad would be. Selzer & Company finds that Branstad would beat Olson 51-28 and Hatch 52-29, while Quinnipiac has Branstad leading 50-32 and 49-33, respectively. Quinnipiac also show Branstad up 49-31 over a third option, former state Rep. Bob Krause, who is still in exploratory mode, though perhaps Olson's decision will clarify his thinking.
• OK-Gov: Democrats understandably aren't exactly lining up to take on Republican Gov. Mary Fallin in dark red Oklahoma, but one candidate may be ready to step up. State Rep. Joe Dorman has formed an exploratory committee, though he says he hasn't made a final decision on whether he'll jump in. (Jeff Singer)
• FL-02: Former state Senate Minority Leader and 2012 nominee Al Lawson had been contemplating another bid for Florida's 2nd Congressional District, but that all ended Monday with his decision not to run again. National Democrats will be happy, because this clears the way for Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary; Lawson, while underfunded, would have been a real threat to win, thanks to his appeal to black voters, who form a large part of the electorate here. Now, though, Graham can focus solely on beating Republican Rep. Steve Southerland in this North Florida seat. (Jeff Singer)
• NJ-03: Berkeley Council President James Byrnes says he plans to join the GOP primary for New Jersey's open 3rd Congressional District. A whole bunch of Republicans are looking at the race, but only one candidate, Assemblyman David Wolfe, has actually entered.
• HI-01: Last week, a sketchy report surfaced that former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann might try to run in the crowded Democratic primary for Hawaii's open 1st Congressional District. Now Mufi himself says that "discussions are taking place regarding 2014" but adds that he hasn't made a decision yet.
• TX-36: Filing closed in TX-36 for the second time on Monday, after Rep. Steve Stockman's last-minute Senate bid led state officials to reopen candidate qualifying for a week. Five Republicans were already seeking this post and now another seven are in. Mitt Romney won by a brutal 73-26 here, so the winner of the GOP nomination will be the district's next member of congress. Here is a quick rundown of all twelve:
• John Amdur: Nassau Bay councilorOne interesting note about Brian Babin: He came fairly close to becoming a congressman in 1996. Babin lost the general election 52-46 to Democrat Jim Turner in an open seat race in the old TX-02. The two had a rematch in 1998 that ended with a wider 58-41 Turner victory. In any event, the primary is March 4. In the very likely event that no one clears 50 percent, a runoff will take place May 27. (Jeff Singer)
• Brian Babin: Former Woodville mayor
• Doug Centilli: Former chief-of-staff to Rep. Kevin Brady
• Jim Engstrand: 2012 candidate (won 9 percent in primary)
• Pat Kasprzak: Teacher
• John Manlove: Former Pasadena Mayor (won 15 percent in 2008 primary for TX-22)
• Chuck Meyer: 2012 candidate (won 4 percent in primary)
• Kim Morrell: Former Seabrook councilor and 2012 candidate (won 3.5 percent in primary)
• Dave Norman: Businessman (won 25 percent in 2012 state Senate primary)
• Robin Riley: Former Seabrook mayor
• Ben Streusand: Rich guy, head of state Americans for Prosperity advisory board (won 36 percent in 2004 TX-10 primary runoff)
• VA-AG: Tuesday was Day Two of the Virginia recount, and Democrat Mark Herring increased his lead more than four-fold since the recount started Monday. As of 8:30 PM ET Tuesday, Herring's lead had grown from the 165 votes he had at certification time to 683 votes now.
Much of Herring's gain has come from Fairfax County, but he also netted double digits in in Loudoun County, Nelson County, and Newport News City. By contrast, few localities have brought good news to GOP hopeful Mark Obenshain. There's still a long way to go (as of this writing, 1,324 precincts have completed their recount out of a statewide total of 2,558), but the road is looking increasingly tough for the Republican. Another very important piece of the puzzle in terms of whether the suspense will prolong itself beyond Wednesday: Very few ballots are being challenged—only 14 so far throughout the state. (Taniel)
• VA State Senate: While Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring's victory in the attorney general's contest is not yet final—and there's always the possibility the GOP-held state legislature will try to steal the race for state Sen. Mark Obenshain—local Republicans went ahead and picked a nominee for Herring's Northern Virginia Senate seat.
On Monday night, the party convened a "mass meeting" in the 33rd District and chose John Whitbeck, the 10th Congressional District GOP chair. Whitbeck made news back in September after telling an anti-Semitic joke at a Ken Cuccinelli rally. Democrats have already selected attorney Jennifer Wexton, while outgoing Republican Delegate Joe May is running as an independent, complicating GOP hopes to win here.
The stakes are very high in the expected special election for this seat. If Democrats hold Lt. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam's Senate seat in January's special election, the Senate will have a 20-19 Republican edge with this seat vacant. If Democrats can keep Herring's seat, too, the chamber will be tied 20-20 and Northam will be able to break ties for the Democrats. Conversely, a GOP victory in either race would hand Republicans the majority.
The 33rd leans Democratic: Obama carried it 59-39 and our preliminary numbers say Terry McAuliffe won 56-39 here. (The numbers for Northam's district are 57-42 and 53-40 respectively). Whitbeck is not an ideal candidate for the GOP and May's run will likely make things harder. However, with so much depending on the outcome of this race, both parties are expected to play hard here. (Jeff Singer)