Pennsylvania's Republican Sen. Pat Toomey starts the 2016 cycle as a top Democratic target
• PA-Sen: Here's how you know the 2015-16 election cycle has officially begun: The good folks at Public Policy Polling have released their first public poll of the year. PPP starts with Pennsylvania, one of the Democrats' top pickup targets as they aim to claw their way back to the majority. (Down 54-46, Democrats need to gain four seats to win back the chamber if they can also hold the presidency, five if they cannot.)
In 2010, ultra-conservative ex-Rep. Pat Toomey narrowly defeated Rep. Joe Sestak, 51-49, after Sestak had in turn dethroned Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary by a 54-46 spread. (Specter, of course, had served decades as a Republican before switching parties in 2009 so that he could ensure he'd get "re-e-lec-ted." Didn't quite work out for him.)
Though Sestak pissed off the Democratic establishment for daring to challenge Specter (even Barack Obama endorsed the incumbent), he proved he had serious chops as a campaigner by taking on the party and prevailing. And Toomey's slim margin of victory, despite the GOP's intense tailwinds that fall, showed that in any other year, Sestak would have likely prevailed.
Will 2016 be that year? Perhaps. PPP finds Toomey with a schvach 28-35 job approval rating and just a 40-36 edge on Sestak, who's still largely unknown despite his prior run and has a 19-21 favorability score. Toomey doesn't do much better against other options:
• 41-44 vs. ex-Gov. Ed Rendell
• 42-38 vs. MSNBC host Chris Matthews
• 44-38 vs. state Attorney General Kathleen Kane
• 42-35 vs. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
• 43-31 vs. Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro
None of these alternatives are likely to make the race: Sestak has been gearing up for a rematch for quite some time, and despite Democratic potentates' efforts to find a less nettlesome candidate—we've long dubbed Sestak the Honey Badger of Pennsylvania politics—he's the only person ready to run. However, the fact that Toomey is mired in the low 40s against all comers is not a positive sign for the Republican.
Add in presidential year turnout and the likelihood that Democrats will once again carry the Keystone State (the last Republican to garner Pennsylvania's electoral votes was the first George Bush, back in 1988) and that means Toomey will face some serious headwinds. However, he's a crafty campaigner and knows how to sell an ersatz moderate image, plus he's also a gangbusters fundraiser.
So all we can say right now is that we should expect Pennsylvania to host a barnburner Senate race in 2016. Yep, we surmised that before PPP's poll, but now we have some hard confirmation. This should be a fun one.
• FL-Sen, 21: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is still considering whether to run for president or seek another term in the Senate (he says he won't try to do both at once). Roll Call recently provided a long list of Democratic and Republican pols who might run to succeed Rubio if the senator decides to take an extended vacation to New Hampshire, and the National Journal also names Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch as a possible contender.
It doesn't sound like Deutch is inclined to challenge the well-funded incumbent. But if Deutch runs for an open Senate seat, local electeds are already preparing to replace him in this safely blue South Florida seat. Termed-out state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo is already talking about going for a promotion, and he certainly wouldn't be the only one. As Democratic strategist Ben Pollara memorably puts it, "Anybody with an honorific in front of their name would be gunning for that seat."
• IL-Sen: Earlier this week Tammy Duckworth publicly expressed interest in this seat for the first time, and on Tuesday fellow Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos did the same thing. Back in December Roll Call cited some Democratic operatives who said Bustos was interested but until now we hadn't hear much beyond that.
Bustos is saying she isn't "close[ing] the door to anything," but is focusing on her district right now. The congresswoman is part of the DCCC's recruitment effort, which would seem to augur against a Senate bid against Republican incumbent Mark Kirk. Still, she wouldn't be the first politician to change her plans mid-way through the cycle. Back in December Bill Foster, yet another Democratic congressman, also did not rule out a bid.
• LA-Sen, 04: Republican Sen. David Vitter is the favorite to win this year's gubernatorial race, but no one's sure who he might pick to succeed him in the Senate. Rep. John Fleming has already been publicly campaigning for the appointment, and even says he'll run for the seat when it's up in 2016 if he doesn't get chosen.
Plenty of local Republicans are looking at running to succeed Fleming if he gives up his northwestern Louisiana House seat. Over at the National Journal Zach Cohen tells us that state Rep. Alan Seabaugh is already talking about a bid. Seabaugh flirted with a Senate bid last cycle so there's no doubt that he's ambitious.
Some other potential Republican contenders include state Rep. Mike Johnson, Shreveport Councilman Oliver Jenkins, and Judge Jeff Thompson. Thompson ran for this seat when it was open in 2008, taking a close third place against Fleming in the primary. Romney won this district 59-40; Democrats almost won the last version of this seat back in 2008, but it's probably out of reach these days.
• NV-Sen: The NRSC's courtship of Gov. Brian Sandoval has looked a lot like George McFly's attempts to woo Lorraine to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance—desperate, and without much success. Of course, good ol' George eventually prevailed, but he had some help from his time-traveling son. Roger Wicker, on the other hand, is short one DeLorean, though he'd probably like to go back in time to before Sandoval made this acid observation to Jon Ralston about his own recent State of the State address:
"Do you really think, if this is my last session as governor, I would propose the things that I proposed last night, thinking I might be on a ballot?" Sandoval asked, rhetorically.
While Sandoval may be playing up his own maverick-y-ness here, Ralston seems to take him at his word, saying there's no way the governor would "run for another office after shepherding through the largest tax increase in state history and the most dramatic, controversial educational reforms Nevada has seen." Harry Reid certainly hopes Ralston is right. The GOP, meanwhile, may want to see if Biff Tannen is a registered Republican.
• OH-Sen, 13: As the National Journal recently noted, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan is one of those politicians who always talks about running for higher office but never does. Still, Ryan is mulling a campaign against Republican Sen. Rob Portman and who knows, maybe he'll pull the trigger this time.
Several local Democrats are making it known early that they want to run for Ryan's Youngstown area House seat if Ryan doesn't. The most familiar name is former Rep. John Boccieri, who served one term in the old 16th District before losing in the 2010 GOP wave. Only about 4 percent of Boccieri's old turf is in the new 13th District so he can't count on much early name recognition.
Boccieri has been looking to return to the House for a while, and he doesn't seem to care which part of northeastern Ohio sends him back. In both 2012 and 2014 Boccieri talked about running against Republican incumbents in the 7th and 16th Districts, but ended up sitting both cycles out. Ryan's district may be more appealing if it does open up: Obama won it 63-35 while losing both the 7th and 16th. However Boccieri would need to make it out of the primary, and both state Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni and Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti are looking to run here if the seat is open. Of course Ryan may just stay put and break all three of their hearts.
• UT-Sen, Gov: When Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson retired last year, lots of folks (ourselves included) thought that perhaps he did so to set himself up for a statewide run in 2016, either for governor or senator. This way, the reasoning went, Matheson could avoid another bruising campaign and the risk of going out with a loss while preparing for a difficult but potentially winnable—and very big—prize. (Given how poorly Mia Love performed last November, Matheson may well have won another term in the House, but that's neither here nor there.)
Now, however, it looks like Matheson may be planning on a much longer—or even permanent—sojourn, seeing as he just signed on as a lobbyist with mega K Street firm of Squire Patton Boggs. That probably precludes him from an electoral foray this cycle, and if so, it also almost certainly means that Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert won't face serious Democratic opposition.
• KY-Gov: Kentucky is one of five freak states that holds its gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years, which of course we political junkies have to be grateful for because they tide us over between the even years. And despite the state's sharp red lurch in federal races, Kentucky's state-level elections remain quite competitive. (Even as Democrats got killed in the U.S. Senate contest last year, for instance, they held on to the state House.)
So this November's gubernatorial tête-à-tête should prove to be an interesting one, but first, Republicans have to sort out their nomination in a May 19 primary. (Democrats may have an intra-party battle, too, but right now, Attorney General Jack Conway is pretty much rolling solo; we'll know for sure at the filing deadline on Jan. 27.) So far, three legit Republicans are vying for the nod: Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, former Louisville Councilman Hal Heiner; and former state Supreme Court Justice Will Scott.
And with the primary now just four months away, Heiner's kicking off the paid media portion of the campaign with a small $21,000 ad buy on a couple of Louisville TV stations. The unmemorable spot mostly frames Heiner as a job-creating "outsider" (as opposed to those dastardly "career politicians" who apparently hate jobs). The only red meat he offers is a quick promise to "fight mandates like Obamacare and Common Core."
Heiner obviously can't expect such a small expenditure to make much of a dent, but perhaps he's hoping to get a little free media attention by virtue of being first out the gate. (I guess we are writing about it. But don't get too excited, Heiner campaign: We write up every ad.) He and his brethren will of course need to spend a lot more to get their message out, and they will. And while things may be mellow now, they're unlikely to stay that way. This is a GOP primary we're talking about, after all.
• CA-13: In the previous Digest, we took note of Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee's reported interest in becoming U.S. ambassador to Cuba, should such a position open up now that diplomatic relations are in the process of being restored between the two countries. However, Lee's being very circumspect and now insists that she "will not seek the nomination to be ambassador to Cuba." Okay, but that's precisely what you'd expect a politician to say, right? It's sort of like being on the vice-presidential short-list: You're never supposed to actually declare your interest.
• IA-01: Advertising executive Gary Kroeger, who was an SNL cast member for a few years in the 1980s, says he's considering a bid against GOP Rep. Rod Blum, who snagged an open blue seat in a squeaker last year and is a top target for Democrats this cycle. Kroeger says he expects to decide in "about a month." Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon, the runner-up in last year's Democratic primary, has already announced that she'll run again.
• PA-06: According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, local Democrats are "already talking up" businessman and Army veteran Mike Parrish as a possible challenger to freshman Rep. Ryan Costello, who easily held the suburban Philly 6th District for the GOP last year after Rep. Jim Gerlach retired. Parrish had been courted by the DCCC last cycle and was actually prepared to enter the race before Gerlach announced his departure, but once the seat became open, two-time candidate Manan Trivedi decided to throw his hat in the ring once more.
Parrish had recently switched parties, and while Trivedi was not an imposing general election candidate, he posed a problem for Parrish in the Democratic primary. Parrish soon withdrew from the race, though it was probably for the better, as Trivedi got crushed for a third time and Parrish would likely have lost as well.
However, in 2016, Parrish, who has reportedly "stayed active" in local politics, would be able to count on presidential-year turnout as well as a contested Senate race. It would still be quite difficult to unseat Costello, but Democrats would certainly have a chance here, and this is definitely the kind of seat the D-Trip needs to compete in.
• Anchorage Mayor: Former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is still contemplating seeking his old job, and plenty of would-be candidates are reluctant to run against him. The wait will soon be over: On Monday, Begich said that he'll make his decision in a few days. The filing deadline is Feb. 13, so mayoral hopefuls won't have too long to decide whether to jump in after Begich makes his intentions clear.
• Houston Mayor: Things are very chaotic in this open seat race, where plenty of candidates are already in and several others are seriously mulling a bid. Over at the Houston Chronicle Charles Kuffner takes a look at each contender and would-be contender's early fundraising and their future potential. That gives us a good chance to do a who's-who of this crowded field. First, here are the people who have made it clear they're running, with other pertinent information:
• Former Rep. and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell
• City Councilor Stephen Costello- Republican on the outs with the conservative base
• Former United Airlines Executive Joe Ferreira
• Former City Attorney and 2013 candidate Ben Hall- can self-fund as needed
• Former Kemah Mayor Bill King- can do limited self-funding
• Former USAID Director Marty McVey
• City Councilor Oliver Pennington- good ties to GOP base
• State Rep. Sylvester Turner- solid ties to African American community, starts with fundraising edge, prominent Democrat
And here's who may jump in:
• City Councilor Jack Christie- wants to gauge support from business community before running
• Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia- likely to run, prominent Democrat
• Lawyer Sean Roberts
• Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez- 2001 mayoral runner up, prominent Republican
The filing deadline isn't until Aug. 24, but serious candidates will need to declare long before then. The city's fundraising blackout period was recently lifted and there's a lot of pressure on the would-be contenders to make their intentions known. Kuffner argues that Adrian Garcia in particular will need to make his plans clear soon before his donors move on to someone else.
Right now Turner's fundraising and solid base of support make him the one to beat. However, fellow Democrat Garcia appears to be his biggest obstacle. Houston has not elected a Republican mayor in decades but Orlando Sanchez looks like he's the best positioned to break that streak. The first round of this non-partisan race will be Nov. 3. In the likely event that no one takes a majority, the top-two candidates will advance to a December runoff.
• Indianapolis Mayor: It turns out we'll have an actual GOP primary for this open-seat after all. On Tuesday businessman Chuck Brewer, an Iraq War veteran, entered the race and quickly earned the endorsement of the Marion County Republican Party.
Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams recently kicked off his campaign and while he has good ties to outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard, the GOP establishment is not particularly enthralled with him. A few other minor Republicans are running but Brewer and Williams looks like the main contenders ahead of the May 5 partisan primary. The winner looks set to take on former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, who faces no serious opposition on the Democratic side.
• Maps: If you're wondering what's boosting presidential approvals lately, factor #1 is probably the huge drop in gas prices. It may not be something the president has any great control over, but it's the economic indicator that people see broadcast in foot-high type on every street corner. If you're wondering why that matters, check out this county-level interactive map from Flowing Data about how people get to work. In almost every county in the nation, "drive alone" is by far the most common option.
The few outliers are very interesting: in the New York City metropolitan area, it's public transportation. In much of Alaska (the roadless, mostly Native areas), it's walking, or else "other" (which may mean snow machine, or plane). ("Walk" and "bicycle" also dominate one tiny stray Colorado county, San Juan.) There's also a surprising amount of "work from home" in the Great Plains, especially the Dakotas, which probably means working the family farm.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Taniel, and Dreaminonempty.