• CA-31: California Rep. Gary Miller, who won a fluky re-election victory in a decidedly blue seat last cycle, has decided not to press his luck a second time and will instead retire at the end of this term. Indeed, the conservative Miller sat in the most Democratic-leaning district held by a Republican anywhere in the nation, and that's because in 2012, redistricting pushed him to run for another term in the state's newly redrawn 31st District—one that should have favored Democrats.
However, thanks to California's "top-two" primary system (where the top pair of vote-getters advance, regardless of party) and a four-way split among Democrats, Miller and another Republican, state Sen. Bob Dutton, snuck into the November general election. So in a district that Barack Obama carried by a 57-41 margin, voters were stuck choosing between two Republicans for the House—a mockery of democracy.
Miller ultimately prevailed, but his unique good fortune wasn't going to obtain again. In addition to a fractured Democratic field, he'd have needed another credible GOP candidate to run once more. But no plausible Republican would have been interested in a bank-shot suicide mission for the sole purpose of keeping Miller's career on life support for one more term. So Miller, whose fourth-quarter fundraising was abysmal, was sure to (finally) face a Democrat this November, and he'd have been the underdog had he forged ahead.
Head below the fold to see what lies in store with Miller out of the picture.
But with Miller now gone, things could actually get more complicated. As in 2012, there's no dominant Democratic standard-bearer. The guy who was expected to face Miller that year, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, is running again, and this time with explicit DCCC support. But Aguilar botched things last time in the primary, coming in third (just a point behind Dutton), and his fundraising has been pretty mediocre. Attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, meanwhile, has the backing of EMILY's List, and she doubled up Aguilar on the fundraising front last quarter.
Also in the mix is ex-Rep. Joe Baca. Baca's run a weird campaign that's been invisible except when he's screwed up, but he did represent around 44 percent of the 31st District prior to redistricting. And finally, there's San Bernardino School Board Member Danny Tillman, who is African American and may do well among the district's small black population.
So Democrats have another four-way divide, with each candidate offering a different sort of appeal to different constituencies. That means if two—but no more or fewer than two—well-matched Republicans enter the race, we could be in for another nightmare. Democrats are going to be extremely vigilant about preventing a repeat, but with the D-Trip and EMILY going at it, and the untamable lone wolf Baca prowling at the edges, there's little chance of reaching consensus before the June primary.
Still, another political perfect storm is unlikely, even though it's not impossible. With that in mind, Daily Kos Elections is moving this race from Lean Democrat to Likely Democrat, on the assumption that we'll see a traditional Democrat versus Republican race in the fall. If the primary goes haywire once more, though, we'll revisit our rating accordingly.
• AK-Sen: Several ads we've mentioned were forthcoming in recent Digests are now available online. First up is this spot from Put Alaska First, a pro-Democratic super PAC reportedly spending $50,000. It's a very solid hit on Republican Dan Sullivan, a native Ohioan who "pocketed a Maryland tax credit for residents living there" while "voting in Alaska, claiming to be one of us." Concludes the narrator: Dan Sullivan "won't just go Washington—he'll go home to Washington." With the GOP primary so distant, Put Alaska First is probably trying to sabotage Sullivan's hopes at the nomination, indicating he's the candidate Democrats fear most.
• AR-Sen: Patriot Majority USA also has a new ad up in Arkansas (see our NC-Sen item below for the other one). The spot hits GOP Rep. Tom Cotton for being "the only Arkansan in Congress to oppose" the farm bill and the only one "who'd deny Medicare and Social Security to Arkansas seniors until they're 70." That's a reference to the dystopian Republican Study Committee budget that Democrats have tried to con Republicans into passing the last couple of congresses. For an ad attacking a politician for his lack of bipartisanship—usually a dull topic—this one does a pretty decent job of offering a bit of emotional flavor.
• KS-Sen: Tea partying physician Milton Wolf is now hitting GOP Sen. Pat Roberts over his Kansas non-residency with a new radio ad, though there's no word on how much Wolf is spending. (He only had $179,000 cash-on-hand at the end of the fourth quarter.) The narrator mocks the incumbent for his stupid quip to the New York Times, saying that "when Roberts does visit, he says he has full access to a La-Z-Boy recliner at a donor's house—on a golf course." Roberts never did specify the brand of easy chair, but calling it a La-Z-Boy definitely makes it funnier.
• MT-Sen: And here's that promised ad from America Crossroads (backed by a reported $125,000 buy), dinging newly appointed Democratic Sen. John Walsh. The spot carefully isolates news clips that sound terrible for Walsh, regarding the reprimand he received from the Army after he pressured subordinates to support his leadership bid in a private organization that promotes the National Guard. One sound bite features a reporter saying Walsh "improperly used his position for personal gain" while another quotes a general who said the incident "causes me to question your ability to lead." These remarks make the affair seem much worse than it was, but they're out there, and Walsh is going to have to deal with them somehow.
• NC-Sen: According to Politico, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity has now spent $8.2 million on ads attacking Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan—up from $5 million just one month ago. That compares with under $4 million spent by Democratic interests on Hagan's behalf.
Hagan is at least getting some fresh support, though. Patriot Majority USA, one of the biggest Democratic super PACs, is running a new ad attacking state House Speaker Thom Tillis over his support for repealing Obamacare. Of course, that's not how the narrator phrases things; rather, it's that Tillis "sides with health insurance companies" and would "let them deny coverage for pre-existing conditions." But this is, of course, a central plank of the Affordable Care Act, whether the law is named or not.
The ad's content also indicates that Democrats expect Tillis to win the GOP nomination, even though he hasn't run a dominant campaign and even though a tea-flavored upset is certainly possible. Tillis did have a lead in PPP's last poll, but he scored all of 19 percent, and a plurality of voters are still undecided. So this commercial might wind up targeting a candidate who doesn't survive the primary—especially with news resurfacing that Tillis, as speaker, allowed a bill to create health care exchanges to come to the House floor in 2011. Needless to say, that won't play well with conservatives.
• VA-Sen: Republican pollster Harper Polling is out with another Senate poll, this time for the conservative American Action Network. They find Democratic Sen. Mark Warner with just a 44-38 lead over former RNC chief Ed Gillespie—much closer than all prior polling, which has consistently found Warner at or over 50. As with their polls for American Crossroads, Harper again hasn't provided crosstabs. We did double-check their geographic breakdowns by media market, though, and unlike with their Michigan and Louisiana polls, Virginia's at least are close to historical voting patterns.
• FL-Gov: Florida's new campaign finance laws mean we get fundraising reports on a monthly basis, so here are January's numbers. Republican Gov. Rick Scott took in a monster $4.1 million, but that includes a single $2.5 million check from the RGA following a series of Chris Christie fundraisers. Democrat Charlie Crist, meanwhile, raised a little over $1 million. Scott also has a huge cash lead, $26 million to $4.5 million.
• IA-Gov, -03: Wrapping up a loose end, former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, who was turfed out in the GOP wave of 2010, has finally confirmed he won't run for any office this year. Culver initially expressed interest in a gubernatorial comeback bid, then later said he might run for Iowa's open 3rd Congressional District. But the former looks like an incredibly uphill battle, and as for the latter, Democrats have by and large already coalesced around former state Sen. Staci Appel, so Culver didn't really have much of an opening.
• PA-Gov: We've seen a lot of unions endorse in the Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial primary, but most of it has been small-ball stuff (like the Chocolate Workers) until now. However, Treasurer Rob McCord got the nod on Wednesday from the state's third-largest union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which is an affiliate of the NEA. (David Jarman)
• RI-Gov: A Fleming & Associates poll for WPRI and the Providence Journal finds Providence Mayor Angel Taveras with a narrow edge in the Democratic primary for governor. Taveras takes 31 percent of the vote with state Treasurer Gina Raimondo close behind at 27. Attorney Clay Pell trails with 15 percent, though he's less well-known, with a favorability rating of 37-21. (That's actually pretty high for a newcomer, though, and probably reflects residual name recognition from Pell's famous grandfather, the late Sen. Claiborne Pell.) Taveras, meanwhile, is very well-liked among Democratic voters, with a 68-20 favorability score, and Raimondo is a bit less popular at 55-24.
It's hard to say where this latest data fits in, thought. The minimal prior polling we've seen has been all over the place. An unanswered Taveras internal last September had him up 49-30 on Raimondo, while a seriously whack Brown University poll from October put Raimondo ahead 42-34. Both, though, were conducted before Pell entered the race. No one has started spending money yet, and the primary is not until very late (Sep. 9), so it will probably be a while before this contest takes shape.
• WI-Gov: Details are scant, but Reid Wilson says that the RGA will soon launch a six-figure campaign against Democrat Mary Burke, who is challenging GOP Gov. Scott Walker. Walker has plenty of money of his own (and ready access to more), and he doesn't appear to be one of the more vulnerable Republicans seeking re-election this cycle, so this is an interesting move.
• FL-13: The NRCC's newest spot attacks Democrat Alex Sink for showing "loyalty" to "them, not Florida," as pictures of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi flash on the screen. The spot is devoted to Obamacare scare statistics, including the outright lie that "non-partisan government analysts say Obamacare will cost our economy up to 2.5 million jobs." That, of course, is a reference to the much-abused CBO report that said nothing of the sort.
It's too tempting of a falsehood for Republicans to let go of, though, and it's the kind of thing that could very well wind up as PolitiFact's "lie of the year" if it keeps getting repeated in campaign ads (as it very well may). But in the meantime, Democrats should seriously think about sending a takedown notice to stations over this ad, since it's blatantly false. It would be good for the party—and good for the country—if this piece of b.s. could get nipped in the bud.
• FL-26: Here's House Majority PAC's new ad supporting Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia. Similar to a spot HMP ran in AZ-01, this one defends Garcia regarding the Affordable Care Act, saying that he's "working to fix Obamacare" and "took the White House to task for the disastrous health care website."
• MI-03: Americans for Prosperity has been laser-focused on beating Democrats this cycle, but for the first time, they're going to get involved in a GOP primary. According to Nicholas Confessore at the New York Times, AFP will spend $230,000 to prop up Rep. Justin Amash, who faces a challenge from businessman Brian Ellis. A recent poll from the Club for Growth, which is also helping Amash, found him smashing Ellis 60-12.
• VA-10: Merry Bobmas, Democrats! Republican Del. "Sideshow" Bob Marshall will indeed run for Virginia's open 10th Congressional District, and he's making it clear he'll run far to the right. The ultra-conservative, incendiary Marshall will make a nice replacement for state Sen. Dick Black, another nutter who dropped out shortly after he dropped in. In the interim, the GOP establishment rallied around Del. Barbara Comstock, but tea party enthusiasm could power Marshall to victory in the April 26 firehouse primary. That would make Democrats in this swingy district very happy indeed.
• SD Mayor: Though there are still some 36,000 mail and provisional ballots to be counted, Republican Kevin Faulconer handily defeated Democrat David Alvarez, a fellow city councilman, in Tuesday night's special election for San Diego mayor. As of Wednesday evening, Faulconer held a 9-point lead, 54.5 to 45.5. While the gap may shrink as the remaining votes are tallied, the spread is much wider than public polling predicted. SurveyUSA's final poll, taken just days before the election, had Faulconer up just 1, and a PPP poll from a month ago found Alvarez ahead by the same margin. Yep, it's hard to poll special elections, but SUSA's numbers were particularly wobbly. Was the race ever close? We'll never know, but at this point, it's unsurprising to see Republicans perform better in an unusually timed contest.
• Votes: The House's vote on whether or not to rename the air traffic control center in Nashua, New Hampshire after Patricia Clark took an unexpectedly dramatic turn on Tuesday when Republican leadership in the House decided to throw in a little something extra about raising the debt limit. (To pass the bill promptly, lawmakers needed to grab a random piece of legislation that had already passed the Senate but was dormant in the House.) The amended Springfield-slash-pervert bill passed the House 221-201, with two Dem "nays" and 28 GOP "yeas."
In what's become a common thread, the Republican rump that helped move the decidedly non-Hastert-rule-compliant bill was a mix of leadership (Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and even a rare vote from John Boehner himself), moderates (Frank Lo Biondo, Richard Hanna), and soon-to-be-retirees with no reason not to walk the plank (Howard Coble, Buck McKeon). VoteView's visual representation of the roll call shows the "yea" votes clearly piled up on the GOP caucus's left flank. The lone Dem holdouts were John Barrow, covering his butt for re-election in deeply red GA-12, and Jim Matheson, retiring from UT-04 but covering his butt for a 2016 statewide run.
Things got a little wacky in the Senate on Wednesday, too, when Democratic sleeper agent Ted Cruz forced a cloture vote, thus forcing leadership to scrape up a number of "yea" out of GOP senators facing primaries who would've much preferred to just vote "nay" on the underlying legislation. Again, the plank-walkers were a mix of leadership (Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn), moderates (Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski), and guys on their way out the door (Mike Johanns, Orrin Hatch). The two (other than McConnell) in the most trouble, primary-wise, were "nays": Thad Cochran and Pat Roberts. (David Jarman)