• MN-Sen: American Encore, another pop-up conservative group that's backed by the Koch empire, says they're spending $250,000 to air a new minute-long ad that criticizes Democratic Sen. Al Franken as an enemy of "free speech." Suffice it to say, that's not a common angle of attack on the campaign trail, but this is a pretty atypical spot. It meanders from shots of Martin Luther King, Jr. and suffragettes at the start to segue into claims that Franken wants to "control the speech of certain non-profits" via the IRS.
What Franken's concerned about, though, are so-called "social welfare" groups that take advantage of the tax code to claim non-profit status but actually devote their efforts to campaign activity—something they cannot engage in as their "primary" activity, even though many do so with impunity. Late last year, the IRS proposed new rules to curb this problem, so of course, this means that Franken hates the First Amendment.
But who is this ad aimed at, exactly? The repeated invocation of the "IRS" and "Obama" seems like flashing a red cape at conservatives, but don't they already despise Franken? Are there really voters out there who might be persuaded or motivated by this sort of messaging? Franken has looked to be in strong shape for re-election all cycle, and every top-tier Minnesota Republican passed on the race. It's possible the GOP is seeing if they can soften the incumbent up and expand the playing field, but I'm very skeptical that this spot will move anyone.
• AK-Sen: Hahah! When you're already getting hit with carpetbagger charges, you should probably be extra-careful to avoid passing off stock photos of New Zealand for the Alaskan wilderness on your website.
• LA-, NC-Sen: The Senate Majority PAC has now released two more ads in their new $3 million, five-state blast, one for Louisiana and one for North Carolina. (Colorado came out earlier in the week, but we're still waiting for Arkansas and Michigan.) The Pelican State spot features some searing footage of the devastation wrought by hurricanes as a narrator attacks the "out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers" who "funded the fight to let flood insurance premiums soar" and "cut off hurricane relief." Now, he continues, "they're spending millions to buy a Senate seat for Bill Cassidy, so he can fight for them."
In the basketball-crazy Tarheel State, meanwhile, SMP's spot tries to invoke March Madness with a "special interest bracket brought to you by out-of-state billionaires, the Koch brothers." The announcer then criticizes Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis for cutting taxes on the rich while raising them on the middle class, and wanting to "end Medicare as we know it." Those attacks are all well and good, but it's not really clear how they fit in with this whole "bracket" framework. Also, with these general election-style hits, SMP is once again indicating they think Tillis will be the GOP nominee, but that's no sure thing.
• MI-Sen: I should probably just create a macro that will automatically type out the phrase "Americans for Prosperity has released another ad attacking a Democratic candidate over Obamacare," because we aren't going to see an end to this stuff any time soon. AFP has gotten a little craftier after the Julie Boonstra debacle, though, and this time, they're presenting a story that's much vaguer and harder to fact-check. Shannon Wendt, who happens to be a Republican precinct delegate in her congressional district (not that you learn that in the ad), claims that her old health insurance plan was cancelled because of Obamacare, then asserts that her new plan "is not affordable at all" and is forcing her husband "to work a lot more hours" to pay for it.
Wendt goes on to blame Rep. Gary Peters (and Barack Obama) for this state of affairs, but she's refusing to provide details to verify her version of events. That's a pretty savvy move, actually: If you make some big claim on TV then go to ground, it becomes very difficult for anyone to investigate your contentions. Boonstra kept giving her critics more rope, so AFP will probably try to keep Wendt away from reporters.
• FL-Gov: In an online-only poll, St. Leo University finds Democrat Charlie Crist leading GOP Gov. Rick Scott 43-39, down from 46-34 in December. St. Leo's polling outfit is brand new, so they don't have any real track record to speak of, but they did find Alex Sink leading David Jolly by 9 points a month before the FL-13 special election, at a time when almost every other pollster (as well as media reports about seekrit internal polls) was saying the race was much, much closer.
• PA-Gov: Well, that was quick. Former state Auditor Jack Wagner waited five-ever to enter the Democratic primary for governor, despite the presence of a bunch of heavyweight candidates with access to lots of money. Now, scarcely a month after joining the race, he's out. Wagner didn't make much of an impact on the contest, but with his departure, we're down to four candidates vying for the right to take on GOP Gov. Tom Corbett: self-funding businessman Tom Wolf, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord, and former state Department of Environment Protection chief Katie McGinty.
• WI-Gov: Marquette's new poll of the Wisconsin governor's race finds GOP Gov. Scott Walker's job approval rating slipping to an even 47-47, down from 51-42 in January. Despite that drop, Walker still holds a 48-41 lead on Democrat Mary Burke, virtually unchanged from his 47-41 advantage two months ago.
• GA-11: State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, one of several Republicans hoping to succeed Rep. Phil Gingrey in Congress, has released an internal poll of the GOP primary from RightPath Strategic Affairs that shows absolutely no one making an impact so far, himself included. Loudermilk is tied with ex-Rep. Bob Barr at 12, while businesswoman Tricia Pridemore takes just 4 percent and state House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey is at 3, with a whopping 66 percent undecided. Loudermilk may simply be trying to demonstrate that the race is very much up for grabs. Unusually, Loudermilk's campaign has also released the crosstabs for this survey, but with so few voters expressing a preference, there's not much to see.
• HI-01: The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has endorsed state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. The ILWU has 18,000 members in Hawaii and is the state's largest private-sector union.
• NC-07: New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White, who faces former state Sen. David Rouzer in the GOP primary for North Carolina's open 7th Congressional District, hammers Republican leaders in his new ad. White bashes John Boehner and Eric Cantor (who has endorsed Rouzer) for racking up "$17 trillion in debt" and for wanting "to give amnesty to 20 million illegal immigrants," while promising he'll be a "conservative" who "won't cave in to Obama."
• NY-22: It's official: Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney is challenging third-term Rep. Richard Hanna in the GOP primary. Hanna is one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress, so it's no surprise that Tenney is explicitly running against him from the right, saying the district needs "a real Republican" and insisting she's a "strong fiscal conservative" while also touting her A+ rating from the NRA. A Tenney upset is possible here, but Democrats aren't in a position to capitalize, even though this is a swing district: The filing deadline is April 10 and not a single candidate has come forward yet.
• Charlotte Mayor: Patrick Cannon, Charlotte's new Democratic mayor, resigned on Wednesday, a few hours after he was arrested for allegedly soliciting and accepting over $48,000 worth of bribes from undercover FBI agents. Cannon only took office at the start of this year, after winning a close election in November. However, he's been under investigation since 2010, when he served on the city council. If Cannon is convicted on all charges, he faces a 20-year prison sentence.
Now that Cannon has quit, an interim mayor will take office. It appears that it's up to the city council on whether or not to call a special election; if they do not, Charlotte's next regularly scheduled mayoral election is in November of 2015. (Jeff Singer)
• Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso recaps a little bit less action than we expected:
California SD-23: Republican Mike Morrell won this seat outright by clearing the 50 percent threshold, picking up 63 percent of the vote. Democrat Ron O'Donnell came in second with 15, while none of the other three candidates broke double digits.That California result is truly abysmal. The two Republicans combined for 69 percent, the two Democrats just 25 percent. (A Libertarian took 7.) In 2012, this district went for Mitt Romney by just a 52-46 margin. If you look only at the two-party share of the vote, that's a 6-point edge for Romney but a 46-point GOP advantage on Tuesday night. That's a 40-point dropoff for Democrats! Candidate quality has something to do with it—Morrell is an assemblyman, and the Democrats put forth Some Dudes—but still. Yeesh.
Meanwhile, that Alabama special election we were expecting? Apparently, Gov. Robert Bentley delayed it for a week when a different special had to be postponed due to inclement weather earlier this year. The state legislature's website indicated the election would still go forward as planned, but according to Democratic candidate Alann Johnson's Facebook page, it won't happen until April 1.
After several cycles of competitive contests, Missouri voters will get a reprieve this year. Only one statewide office is on the ballot, and Republican state Auditor Tom Schweich has no major party opposition for re-election. All eight of the state's House members (six Republicans and two Democrats) are running again and face only minimal primary opposition. Daily Kos Elections rates each seat as safe for the party that holds it. Electorally speaking, the Show Me State really has nothing to show us. (Jeff Singer)
• NRCC: The NRCC has upgraded 17 candidates in their "Young Guns" program from "On the Radar" status (the lowest level) to "Contender" status (the middle tier). Click the link for the full list. So far, no one has graduated to the highest rung, which is just called "Young Guns," but as the cycle progresses, expect plenty of press releases from both the NRCC and the DCCC about various hopefuls getting shuffled about.
• South Dakota: Filing also closed Monday for South Dakota's June 3 primary. The state has a list of candidates available here. In races where no candidate wins more than 35 percent of the vote, the top two candidates advance to an Aug. 12 runoff.
Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard is running for re-election, and doesn't appear to have much to worry about in the primary against former one-term state Rep. Lora Hubbel. In the Democratic primary, state Rep. Susan Wismer and former state Wildland Fire Suppression Director Joe Lowe are running. (Interestingly, Lowe also previously served as mayor of Mission Viejo, California.) Daugaard should have no problem prevailing in November: We rate the contest as Safe Republican. Both parties will decide their nominations for other statewide offices at party conventions later this year.
Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's retirement gives Republicans an excellent shot at picking up his seat in this conservative state. Former Gov. Mike Rounds looks like the clear favorite in the Republican primary against his three opponents. Several conservative groups are unhappy with Rounds, but none of his primary foes have raised much money, and they will probably split any anti-Rounds vote that exists. The Democrats are fielding former congressional aide Rick Weiland, while former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler is running as an independent. Pressler's presence adds some unpredictability to the general election, but this seat is the GOP's to lose: We rate it as Likely Republican.
Republican Rep. Kristi Noem is seeking another term as the state's lone House member, and she faces no primary opposition. The Democrats have an interesting candidate in veteran Corinna Robinson, but she faces long odds. We rate this as Safe Republican. (Jeff Singer)
• WATN?: Massachusetts state Rep. Carl Sciortino, who you'll recall from his run in the special election for Ed Markey's House seat—and in particular, from his campaign ad featuring his conservative father that went viral—is resigning after nine years in office to become executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. So yep, that means yet another special election in the Bay State....