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Special Elections: Get the new year started off right with Johnny Longtorso's preview of four legislative special elections taking place on Tuesday:
Iowa HD-25: This is an open Republican seat in the Des Moines suburbs; the previous occupant was elected to the state Senate back in November. The candidates are Democrat Pam Deichmann, a nurse and the president of the Iowa Public Health Association, and Republican Stan Gustafson, a retired attorney. The district went 54-44 Romney in 2012.

Massachusetts House, 9th Norfolk: This is an open Republican seat consisting of the towns of Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham, and parts of Medfield, Millis, and Walpole. The candidates are Democrat Ed McCormick, an attorney who ran against then-Rep. Barney Frank in 1992 as a Republican (losing 68-26); Republican Shawn Dooley, the Norfolk school committee chairman and town clerk; and independent Chris Timson, a Walpole selectman. This is one of the most Republican districts in the state, going 53-45 for Romney, 66-34 for Scott Brown in 2012, and 63-37 for Gabriel Gomez in the 2013 Senate special election. In fact, this is the very same House seat that Brown himself used to hold.

Virginia SD-06: This is the seat vacated by Lt. Governor-elect Ralph Northam, consisting of the Eastern Shore, Mathews County, part of Norfolk, and one precinct in Virginia Beach. The candidates here are Democratic Del. Lynwood Lewis and Republican Wayne Coleman, a shipping company executive. The district went 57-42 Obama in 2012, and in last November's election, it went 52-41 McAuliffe, 66-34 Northam, and 53-47 Herring.

Virginia HD-11: This is an open Democratic seat in Roanoke. The candidates are Democrat Sam Rasoul, who lost 62-37 to Rep. Bob Goodlatte in 2008, and Republican Octavia Johnson, a former sheriff of Roanoke. This seat went 64-34 for Obama in 2012, and last November it went 58-33 McAuliffe, 66-34 Northam, and 59-41 Herring.

The Virginia Senate race is the big one to watch: Democrats need to hold this seat, as well as the 33rd District in a separate special later this month, in order to maintain a 20-20 equilibrium in the chamber. That would then allow Northam to break ties in favor of the Democrats.

9:03 AM PT: WY-Sen: Cue a Nelson Muntz-style "haw haw": Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Darth Dick Cheney, has abandoned her campaign for Senate in Wyoming, claiming that "[s]erious health issues have recently arisen in our family." As Chad says, "I presume Liz is referring to the giant hole she's driven through her family due to her Senate race position on same-sex marriage." Cheney, as you'll recall, received blistering criticism last year from her sister Mary, who is gay and married, after Liz publicly claimed she opposed marriage equality in the face of right-wing attacks. It was ugly.

But Cheney's bid was rocky from the start. Her justifications for wanting to unseat veteran GOP Sen. Mike Enzi in the primary were thin; she feuded with local media almost from day one; she had to deal with a series of revelations that showed how tenuous her Wyoming roots were (she lived in Virginia until 2012); and all the polling showed her getting stomped. We'll never know exactly why Cheney quit, but fourth quarter fundraising reports are due at the end of the month. Even though she bailed, Cheney still has to file one, so we'll see if lousy fundraising was a contributory factor, too. (Enzi pulled in an impressive $1 million.)

Whatever the reason, we're taking this contest off of our "Races to Watch" list and returning it to Safe Republican. And good riddance.

9:48 AM PT: NJ-03: And heeere we go: Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, fresh off his loss to Cory Booker in last fall's special election for Senate, says that he will indeed run for New Jersey's open (and swingy) 3rd Congressional District, despite the fact that he lives clear on the other end of the state. It's already sent the cat fud flying, as local Republicans are pretty pissed with Lonegan—not so much about the carpetbagging, but about the fact that Lonegan is a consensus-trashing knucklehead who will "lose like he always loses," according to one county chair. Fun times ahead!

10:04 AM PT: TN-Gov: Former Tennessee Regulatory Authority director Sara Kyle had been considering a run against GOP Gov. Bill Haslam since August, but she's now decided against a bid. That leaves Democrats without any candidates here, though this seat is safely Republican under almost any set of circumstances.

10:56 AM PT: Yet another Republican who hails from the more moderate wing of his party is calling it quits. Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach, who's been in office for over a decade, announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election this year, and he also won't try to primary wounded Gov. Tom Corbett. While we don't have any particular insight into Gerlach's decision-making process, he's now the fourth decidedly non-tea party Republican to bail on Congress this term, along with Reps. John Runyan, Frank Wolf, and Tom Latham.

Gerlach, sitting in a swingy suburban turf, had also been a perennial Democratic target and never won more than 52 percent of the vote in his first four elections. He did perform better in the GOP wave of 2010, taking 57 percent, and he matched that figure last cycle after Republicans shored up his seat in redistricting. Gerlach had just drawn an opponent in businessman Mike Parrish, and having to deal with a stiff re-election fight every time may have taken its toll.

Despite recent gerrymandering, though, Pennsylvania's 6th is still very competitive, particularly with Gerlach gone. Mitt Romney carried the district by a narrow 51-48 margin in 2012, and even under the new lines, Barack Obama won here 53-46 four years prior to that. So you can bet that Democrats will make this a top target—and Republicans will fight hard to hold it.

And now, with Gerlach's retirement, plenty more candidates on both sides are sure to express interest. On the Democratic side, according to PoliticsPA, attorney Chris Casey, a brother of Sen. Bob Casey, is a possibility, and former state environmental chief Katie McGinty could also drop down from the gubernatorial race. Potential Republicans, meanwhile, include Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello; former state Rep. Sam Rohrer; and state Sen. John Rafferty.

As always, we'll be following all developments here closely, so stick with Daily Kos Elections (and sign up for our daily newsletter) to stay informed.

11:29 AM PT (Darth Jeff): AL-Gov: Republican Gov. Robert Bentley doesn't appear particularly vulnerable, but one Democrat is thinking about taking him on. State Sen. Billy Beasley announced on Friday that he is considering challenging Bentley. He doesn't have long to contemplate: The statewide filing deadline is February 7.

11:38 AM PT (Darth Jeff): Kentucky House: Democrats are seeking to defend their 54-46 majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2014, but according to PPP that's not going to be easy. PPP's new poll gives Republicans a 44-36 lead in the generic legislative ballot. Democrats have held the House since the early 1920s but if they do lose control it won't be because of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear: PPP pegs Beshear's approval rating at 51/33.

11:50 AM PT (Darth Jeff): KY-04: Not everyone in the Republican establishment is thrilled with Paulist Rep. Thomas Massie, but they're going to have to work fast if they want to give him a credible primary challenger. Outgoing Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce head Steve Stevens appeared interested in taking Massie on, but announced Friday that he would not run. Kentucky's filing deadline is January 28, giving Massie's inter-party foes that long to find a candidate.    

12:13 PM PT (Darth Jeff): NE-Sen: Midland University President Ben Sasse launched his first ad on Saturday in his race for the GOP nomination for this open seat. The ad would be mostly forgettable except for Sasse's odd suggestion to move the nation's capitol to Nebraska. In the ad, Sasse claims it would help both parties to "experience family, conservative values, living within a budget, and pulling together, not pulling apart."

In a follow-up interview with the Washington Times, Sasse claims he doesn't expect the move to actually happen, but calls it a "thought experiment." Personally, I'd think the beltway culture that Sasse seems to think personifies the ordinary citizens of DC (or thinks Nebraskans are just immune from) would just relocate to the new nation's capitol of Kearney, but whatever. As Sasse says, it ain't gonna happen.    

12:40 PM PT (David Jarman): MN-06: The race to replace Michele Bachmann in Minnesota's dark-red 6th district -- a seat that was competitive in the last few elections only because of Bachmann's presence -- unexpectedly lost one of its biggest-name Republicans. State Sen. John Pederson, who's been running since June, pulled the plug on his campaign, saying he couldn't balance it with other aspects of his life. While Pederson says he was "pleased" with his fundraising, the fact that he had only $60K on hand for a matchup with the better-known ex-Gov '10 candidate Tom Emmer and deep-pocketed Phil Krinkie suggests otherwise.

12:48 PM PT (David Jarman): IA-03: One more fairly prominent Republican is taking a pass on the shot for a promotion to the House, in wake of Tom Latham's surprise retirement. State Sen. Charles Schneider, who represents West Des Moines, is backing down on his initial statements of interest and won't run in the 3rd. That may have at least something to do with an expected announcement this week from a GOPer a notch or two higher on the food chain: Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

2:09 PM PT: GA-Gov: Bleh. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the most prominent Democrats in Georgia, is holding back on endorsing state Sen. Jason Carter's campaign for governor, even though Carter is the only Democrat running. Reed claims he's "not a bandwagon jumper" (whatever that means), but as Greg Bluestein and Katie Leslie explain, Reed is a "friend and political ally" of GOP Gov. Nathan Deal and even once said that Democrats shouldn't focus on the gubernatorial race. Lame. There's also much speculation that Reed wants to run for governor in 2018 (when Deal would be termed out), something he can't do if Carter wins this fall.

2:30 PM PT (David Jarman): If you're having trouble keeping track of all the yes, maybe, and no names in the GOP field in IA-03, Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register has been doing a bang-up job of going beyond mere Great Mentioning and getting "horse's mouth" statements out of the prospects. Today's installment finds contractor (and director of social con group Family Leader) Robert Cramer on the verge of entering the race; she also counts state Sen. Brad Zaun (who lost the '10 race here to Leonard Boswell) and businessman (and former Terry Branstad CoS) David Oman as "likely" candidates, though without direct quotes.

2:31 PM PT: NC-12: Democrat Mel Watt resigned his seat in Congress on Monday to become head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Gov. Pat McCrory has now scheduled the special election to replace him. There's not much to see here, though, since the dates line up with North Carolina's regular elections. The primary will take place on May 6 and a runoff (which is required if no candidate takes 40 percent) will happen on July 15. The general election is set for Nov. 4, meaning the winner will be able to fill out the final two months of Watt's term.

The Democratic field is already very crowded, and even though the cutoff is lower than the typical 50 percent mark, a runoff is likely. Roll Call's Emily Cahn has a good rundown on all the major candidates running; the list includes five state legislators, a former Charlotte city councilor, and the son of a prominent religious leader. Whoever wins the party's nomination is all but guaranteed victory in the general, given the dark blue nature of this district: The 12th went for Obama 79-21. It's also 49 percent black, and its next member of Congress is likely to be as well.

2:40 PM PT (David Jarman): Dark money: If you pay close attention to the myriad outside groups that fund GOP congressional candidates' TV ads, names like the American Future Fund, 60 Plus Association, and Concerned Women for America are probably very familiar to you, but you may not know where they get their money from. The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics have teamed up on a fascinating graphic that shows where it does come from: the Koch brothers, and the small group of other big-money donors allied with them. The graphic shows how nearly a dozen of the big advertising groups get their money from the huge Koch financial pool at Freedom Partners, passed through a number of opaque acronymically-named LLCs (that bring to mind the many shell companies that Enron used to juggle its books).

2:41 PM PT: WATN?: Here's a great "Where Are They Now?" piece on former GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who, thanks to redistricting, is getting the chance to live out his dream of becoming a mountain man survivalist. (Check out the beard.) Bartlett's number one obsession while in office was the fragility of the nation's electricity network—an important issue, sure, but one that's inspired Bartlett, now 87, to live entirely off the grid, in a remote cabin that's reminiscent of Walter White's New Hampshire hideaway ("no phone service, no connection to outside power, and no municipal plumbing"). There's no word, however, on how many copies of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" he has on hand.

3:06 PM PT: NC-02: Singer, activist, and one-time American Idol star Clay Aiken is considering a bid for Congress, according to unnamed sources who've talked to the Washington Blade. But unlike a lot of celebrities whose names get tossed about in the political arena, it sounds like Aiken is actually taking the idea seriously, meeting with the DCCC and even Hart Research, a pollster. Aiken is monstrously popular with his legion of fans (who call themselves "Claymates"), and he certainly would be an interesting candidate. He is also openly gay and would likely attract support from the LGBT community as well.

However, North Carolina's 2nd is very inhospitable turf for Democrats. After Republican Renee Ellmers surprised Rep. Bob Etheridge in 2010 with her victory, the GOP-held legislature went to work, reshaping this district (along with the entire state). Under the old lines, Barack Obama won the seat 52-47 in 2008; by the time Republicans got done tinkering, they'd turned into a district John McCain carried, by a massive 56-43 spread. That advantage held into 2012, when Mitt Romney also won the 12th by a similar 57-42 margin. So this would be a very difficult place to win, even for someone with a singular profile like Aiken's, though he could very well bring enough mojo to make an upset possible.

(Note: There's already one other Democrat running, former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, whose background makes him a cut above the typical challenger you'd expect in a district with such difficult demographics.)

3:18 PM PT: PA-09: Tea partier Art Halvorson is pushing a new poll (from Gravis Marketing, hyuck hyuck) that shows him getting his ass beat by GOP Rep. Bill Shuster by "only" a 49-23 margin. Halvorson is taking this to mean that he's made up considerable ground on Shuster, since an earlier Harper poll had the incumbent up 63-11 and one from DFM Research (another one of those strange Amtrak polls) had Shuster ahead 53-18. Serious analysts, though, all know the danger of trying to draw trendlines from different polls with different methodologies, and they also all know what a piece of garbage Gravis is.

3:28 PM PT: NV-04: Niger Innis, a spokesman for the once great but now-discredited Congress of Racial Equality (and also a tea partier), says he's running against Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford. One other Republican is already in the race, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy.

3:35 PM PT: AZ-Gov: Steven Seagal, you're no Clay Aiken. (By the way, did anyone else see the lame-o 1996 Kurt Russell film "Executive Action" in the theater? Awful movie, but it was pretty great when the audience cheered after Steven Seagal's character—he was playing a good guy!—got killed off in the first fifteen minutes.)

3:53 PM PT: AR-Gov: Ex-Rep. Mike Ross is out with his first TV ad, which features the man he'd like to succeed, popular Gov. Mike Beebe, praising Ross for a full 30 seconds. It's all platitudes (Beebe predictably says that "no one is more independent than Mike"), but Ross is surely hoping that some of Beebe's pixie dust rubs off on him.

3:57 PM PT: VA-07: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is getting a primary challenge from economics professor Dave Brat, who claims that unnamed conservative groups that are "as big as they get" are prepared to back his play. Believe it when I see it.

4:08 PM PT: And here are a few more Democratic options. Phil LaRue, communications director for the New Democrat Coalition, says he's considering a bid, while 2010 and 2012 nominee Manan Trivedi hinted that he's interested in a third go. The most intriguing possibility, though, is state Sen. Judy Schwank, who hails from the western half of the district and would be able to run up the score in the Reading area.

4:27 PM PT: 4Q Fundraising:

GA-Sen: Michelle Nunn (D): $1.6 million raised, with $5,000 of that from a PAC belonging to former GOP Sen. Dick Lugar, who was tight with Nunn's pops, Sen. Sam Nunn, back in the day

VA-Sen: Mark Warner (D-inc): $1.6 million raised, $7.1 million cash-on-hand

CA-Gov: Jerry Brown (D-inc): $17 million raised (to date, including $1.7 million in the final week of 2013)

GA-Gov: Jason Carter (D): $1.3 million raised (in seven weeks)

IL-Gov: Bruce Rauner (R): $3 million raised (not including $1.3 million in self-funding to date)

MA-Gov (December): Charlie Baker (R): $428,000 raised, $547,000 cash-on-hand; Martha Coakley (D): $280,000 raised, $456,000 cash-on-hand; Steve Grossman (D): $212,000 raised, $984,000 cash-on-hand; Don Berwick (D): $182,000 cash-on-hand; Juliette Kayyem (D): $142,000 cash-on-hand; Joseph Avellone (D): $132,573 cash-on-hand

FL-18: Patrick Murphy (D-inc): "over" $500,000 raised

NJ-03: Tom MacArthur (R): $1 million cash-on-hand (presumably via self-funding)

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