• NY-21: In another blow to Democratic hopes of retaking the House, Upstate New York Rep. Bill Owens has announced that he'll retire at the end of this term. Owens hadn't been in Congress very long: He first won a crazy special election in 2009, picking up a GOP-held seat when the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, dropped out days before the election and endorsed Owens over Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. Owens narrowly prevailed, and that would become a theme for him in subsequent elections.
In fact, his first victory margin—all of 2.4 percent—was his widest. In both 2010 and 2012, he won by less than 2 percent. A big reason for that is the district's demographics: New York's 21st went for Barack Obama by a rather close 52-46 spread in 2012, though it's slowly been trending toward Democrats overall. Owens also found himself in the midst of an ethical imbroglio last cycle over a lobbyist-arranged trip to Taiwan, and Republicans hammered him for it. However, he still hung on, and last year, the House Ethics Committee dropped its inquiry into the matter.
Still, Owens was set to face yet another hard-fought race this year against businesswoman and former Bush aide Elise Stefanik, and that may have been enough to send him to the exits. Now, his departure will likely make it harder for Democrats to hold this seat, particularly since the party's bench in this area is not especially deep. However, as we alluded above, Owens did run behind Obama last time, so a new candidate might offer some upside. And Stefanik might suddenly find herself with company in the GOP primary, now that the seat is open. But as a result of Owens' unexpected decision to call it quits, we're changing our rating on this race from Lean D to Tossup.
Some possible Democratic successors to Owens include ex-Rep. Scott Murphy, who represented the old 20th but whose hometown of Glens Falls is now in the 21st; Assemblywoman Addie Russell; ex-state Sen. Darrel Aubertine; Plattsburgh Supervisor Bernie Bassett; and attorney Brian McGrath. (Roll Call also mentioned Aubertine, Russell, and Bassett.)
Meanwhile, though the GOP establishment may be rallying around Stefanik, there are actually two other candidates already in the race: tea partier and Army vet Joseph Gilbert and activist Michael Ring. Those sound like pretty Some Dude-ish profiles, but actor John James, who played Jeff Colby on the 80s hit "Dynasty," is looking at a bid, too. (Though is that really a cut above? I don't know, I was more into watching "Dallas" with my grandma on Friday nights.)
• IA-, MI-Sen: Americans for Prosperity, the headquarters of the Koch brothers' Borg collective, is running new ads in Michigan and Iowa, attacking Democratic Senate candidates in both states. Both spots are very similar, to each other and to prior AFP ads. They both feature President Obama saying some version of "if you like it, you can keep it," then show clips of Reps. Gary Peters and Bruce Braley speaking positively about the Affordable Care Act while a narrator castigates them. The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore puts the total buy at $1.8 million, but Aaron Blake's breakdown ($950,000 in the former, $500,000 in the latter) doesn't quite add up to that figure.
• NC-Sen: Not only is PPP's new North Carolina poll their first survey of 2014, but it's also their first to use their new online panel, an effort to get a more age-representative sample since the firm's autodialling robots can't call cell phones. A full 20 percent of the sample was contacted via the Internet, and what's especially cool is that PPP's crosstabs now include "mode," so you can see how online and telephone respondents compare to one another. (There are also now breakdowns by area code, too, if you want to get really deep in the weeds.)
Unfortunately for Sen. Kay Hagan, though, PPP's methodology changes have actually yielded the worst numbers she's seen to date, even though the preferences of the online panel tilt Democratic. Hagan now trails every Republican (with December trendlines in parentheses):
• 41-42 vs. Heather Grant (43-43)Hagan's job approval rating has dropped to 39-49, from 43-49 a month ago. Part of this is because Hagan seems to be this cycle's Sherrod Brown: the top target of outside attack dollars. But as Tom Jensen has noted more than once, Hagan fared much better when the conversation was focused on the sharp right turn North Carolina Republicans have taken, not on Obamacare's foibles. Hagan somehow has to find a way to change the topic.
• 42-43 vs. Thom Tillis (44-42)
• 41-43 vs. Greg Brannon (43-45)
• 41-43 vs. Mark Harris (43-43)
• 42-44 vs. Bill Flynn (43-45)
She may get her chance when the GOP primary heats up. The contest is still very formless, with no one scoring outside the teens. Tillis, the state House Speaker, has, however, managed to worm his way up to 19 percent, from 13 in December, thanks to being the first candidate to go up on the airwaves. But 19 is still quite meh, and it's still a long way from the 40 percent Tillis would need to avoid a runoff. Hagan has to hope Republicans drag it out as long as possible.
P.S. Tom Jensen was kind enough to compare crosstabs to illustrate just how much younger and more Democratic the online sample is (though at around 280 respondents, the error bars are somewhat high, so keep that in mind). Among phone interviewees, 42 percent identified as Democrats, 36 as Republicans and 22 as independents. By contrast, online interviewees were 50 D, 23 R, and 28 I. Similarly, only 8 percent of phone respondents were 18 to 29 years old, 21 percent were 30 to 45, 45 percent were 46 to 65, and 26 percent were over 65. For online respondents, 28 percent were 18 to 29, 46 percent were 30 to 45, 23 percent were 46 to 65, and just 2 percent were over 65. That kind of discrepancy is what you'd expect, but it's always good to see the exact numbers.
• MD-Gov: Rather surprisingly, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger says he's "still considering" a gubernatorial bid, despite the fact that the Democratic primary has long been underway and features some candidates who already have huge war chests. Indeed, Ruppersberger first floated his name all the way back in April, but he's taken zero steps toward running and a spokesman says that "[h]is only timetable is the filing deadline," which is Feb. 25.
As we noted forever ago, Ruppersberger would be the only Baltimore-area candidate in a field featuring three contenders from the D.C. region. But that alone would probably not be enough, unless Ruppersberger thinks he could emerge as an alternative to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, given Attorney General Doug Gansler's self-destruction. (By the way, for fans of "The Wire," there's a scene in season three where Tommy Carcetti is plotting his political future with his advisors, one of whom suggests he could "could go after Ruppersberger in the Second," since at the time he was only a freshman.)
• CA-11, -03: Two Democrats are saying no to bids to succeed liberal lion George Miller, who just announced his retirement on Monday: state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia. Assemblywomen Joan Buchanan and Susan Bonilla have both confirmed that they are considering the race, though, while state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier is already running.
There's also a potentially nightmarish scenario lurking for Democrats: Rep. John Garamendi says he's considering seeking re-election in the 11th instead of the 3rd. After redistricting, the new 11th wound up containing roughly half of Garamendi's constituents and half of Miller's. Miller ran for his 20th term in the safely blue 11th while Garamendi opted for the swingy 3rd. Garamendi claims he deferred to Miller's seniority, though if so, he was awfully quiet about it at the time.
Garamendi also claims he represented "almost all" of CA-11 during his tenure in the old CA-10, but as we note above, that's not remotely true. Just under 47 percent of the constituents of the new CA-11 were drawn from the old CA-10, but put aside the math. If Garamendi really represented "almost all" of CA-11, why would Miller even run there? Like we say, they had roughly equal claims to the seat based purely on population, though Garamendi knew he'd probably get smushed by Miller in a head-to-head race (and infuriate his party).
Now, though, Garamendi would naturally prefer the much easier 11th, which is unwinnable for Republicans, as opposed to the 3rd, where he potentially faces a tough re-election fight every year. (GOP Assemblyman Dan Logue is running against him this cycle.) But if Garamendi switches, he'd put the 3rd at risk, and he'd also set up a massive battle with DeSaulnier—for the second time. DeSaulnier and Garamendi ran against one another in the 2009 special election in the 10th, with Garamendi prevailing 26-18 in the all-party primary. This time, though, Garamendi might not fare as well, since DeSaulnier and his allies would have the opportunity to paint him as a district-shopping opportunist.
P.S. One more Democrat is saying she's a maybe: Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson.
• IA-03: Businessman and one-time political operative David Oman says he will not enter the GOP primary for Iowa's open 3rd Congressional District. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are "still considering."
• PA-06: Two more top-shelf Democrats have said no to a bid for Pennsylvania's newly open 6th Congressional District: Montgomery County Commissioner Leslie Richards and state Sen. Judy Schwank. However, state Rep. Mark Rozzi says he's forming an exploratory committee and already has folks from the labor and LGBT communities saying nice things about him. So far, the only Democrat actually running is businessman Mike Parrish, though several others are still considering.
• MT-AL: After briefly flirting with a run for his old seat, ex-Rep. Denny Rehberg has decided to remain in the private sector. Incidentally, what's he doing in the business world? Running a Burger King in Billings with his wife, with plans to open three more.
• NY-11: Yet another fundraiser for GOP Rep. Mike Grimm has been arrested, this time for allegedly making illegal straw donations to Grimm's campaign. However, there's nothing yet linking Diana Durand's activities to Grimm himself, though she happens to be a former girlfriend of his, according to the Daily News. Last year, Israeli citizen Ofer Biton pleaded guilty to charges of visa fraud, but he was also under investigation for campaign finance skullduggery on Grimm's behalf. Biton received no jail time, so he may be cooperating with the authorities.
Grimm continues to see the entire inquiry as a massive conspiracy, with his lawyer saying: "We are saddened that the government took the extraordinary step of arresting a single mother on these allegations, and hope the matter will be resolved quickly." Because obviously, a single mother can't possibly be guilty of any wrongdoing, or if she is, the government shouldn't be arresting her. With an attitude like this, it's amazing to think Grimm is a former FBI agent. He may yet wind up adding former congressman to his résumé, too.
• TX-04: Longtime Republican Rep. Ralph Hall, the oldest person ever to serve in the House, has promised that this election will be his last, but he may not get to serve another term. Former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe is starting to look like Hall's most serious primary challenger to date, especially since he just loaned his campaign $400,000 and has roughly that amount on hand. It will take more than just money to unseat Hall, but last cycle, he only managed 58 percent in the primary, so an upset is possible.
• DC Mayor: A new poll from Abt SRBI on behalf of the Washington Post offers mostly good news for Mayor Vincent Gray. Gray only takes 24 percent among registered voters in the Democratic primary, but he's benefiting the crowded field splitting the anti-Gray vote. Gray's nearest opponent, Councilor Muriel Bowser, is all the way back at 12 percent, with three other candidates very close behind her. Only 22 percent of voters have not expressed support for a candidate and unless one of Gray's opponents can break out from the pack, he stands a good chance of winning renomination with a plurality.
Even though scandals from Gray's 2010 campaign have haunted the mayor his entire term, voters appear to be giving him the benefit of the doubt, with Gray sporting a 51-39 job approval rating among registered voters. Gray's favorability rating is at a less glamorous 41-41, and by a 54-32 margin voters do not consider him honest and trustworthy. However, the primary clown car and general voter happiness with D.C.'s direction looks like they may be enough to secure another term for Gray heavily Democratic city.
However, Gray cannot rest easily if he wins the Apr. 1 primary. Independent Councilor David Catania is very likely to run in the general election if Gray wins renomination, and he trails only 43 to 40 in a hypothetical matchup. Still, Catania will probably need more unsavory details about Gray's 2010 campaign to come out if he wants a chance to become the first non-Democrat to win the mayor's office in modern times. (Jeff Singer)
• FL-LG: GOP Gov. Rick Scott has finally appointed a replacement lieutenant governor, former state Rep. Carlos López-Cantera, who is currently property appraiser (an elected position) in Miami-Dade County. López-Cantera will become the state's first Hispanic lieutenant governor, and he'll fill a 10-month-old vacancy that opened up last March when Jennifer Carroll resigned amid allegations of serious ethical wrongdoing.
• DCCC: We've been harping on Democrats who are negligent in paying their dues to the DCCC for a very long time, but of course, it's a recurring problem. That's why the DCCC regularly leaks their dues sheet to Beltway publications, to try to dun members who haven't paid up, and here's their latest installment. A number of Democrats have contributing nothing to the committee all cycle and have no reason for doing so. Here's at least a partial list:
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)Every single one of these members faces an easy re-election, both in the primary and general. There are no excuses for refusing to help out their party. I guess they must like being in the minority.
Bob Brady (PA-01)
Lacy Clay (MO-01)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
John Dingell (MI-12)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Albio Sires (NJ-08)
Frederica Wilson (FL-24)
• Legislatures: Over the last few years, political scientists Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty developed a way to extend DW-Nominate vote-aggregation scores to state legislatures, vastly expanding the pool of people for whom we have ideological ratings and also giving more fuel to the argument over how and why Congress (and the nation's legislatures) are getting further polarized.
On Tuesday, Shor wrote a new piece for Monkey Cage on this topic, as part of the site's ongoing series on polarization. The data itself isn't new: You may remember the findings that western states like California, Colorado, and Washington are the most polarized (thanks to a big gulf between cities where people are very liberal and rural areas where people are very conservative) while Louisiana and Rhode Island stand out as non-polarized (thanks to both parties being conservative in Louisiana, or both being relatively moderate in Rhode Island).
However, Shor's added some cool new data visualizations, in the form of 50 tiny graphs of how polarization has varied in each of the 50 states over the last 20 years. In most states, you can see the basic pattern of how the parties have pulled further apart, as well as how close they are to the national median. (David Jarman)