Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has yet to draw a Republican challenger, but several potential candidates are scoping out the race
• WA-Gov: Neither party has many gubernatorial targets next year, but the GOP is expected to hone in on Washington. The state hasn't elected a Republican governor since John Spellman won in 1980, but they've come very close a few times. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee won his 2012 race by only about 3 points, and plenty of Republicans think he's vulnerable.
The guy who seems closest to getting in is Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant. Bryant has expressed some interest before and is now "seriously exploring" the race, according to the Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connelly. While Bryant has a lot of wealthy friends in the downtown Seattle business world, he's a little low on the food chain. It seems likely he won't be Team Red's only candidate, and a few others are eying this contest.
Another possible contender is Rep. Dave Reichert, whose name always seems to bubble up around this time each cycle and who always stays in the House anyway. On Friday, Reichert said that he likes his job in the House, but added that "[a] CEO position is the job I held as sheriff for eight years," which seems like a cryptic interest in moving to an executive position like governor.
Back in November, Reichert gave some consideration toward running for Senate also, but Democratic incumbent Patty Murray would be especially tough to beat in a presidential year. We'll see if Reichert actually runs statewide this time or continues to stay put, but he seems to recognize that the governor's race gives him the best opportunity for a promotion. Redistricting made Reichert's suburban Seattle seat much redder than before and he had no trouble holding on in 2012 or 2014. But if he does leave the House, Democrats will want to put this Obama 50-48 district into play.
Finally, there's state Sen. Andy Hill, who's a moderate from Seattle's eastern suburbs (though his seat doesn't overlap much with Reichert's). When Hill was asked about his plans last week, he provided a non-answer, saying he's got a big job already but that he's not happy with current state leadership. Last year, Hill won an expensive re-election contest by a 53-47 margin in a district that Obama carried 58-40, so he definitely has some experience winning over the type of voters that Evergreen State Republicans need to win.
The real question, though, may be whether ex-Attorney General Rob McKenna, who narrowly lost to Inslee in 2012, tries again. He took some of the usual staying-in-the-conversation steps shortly after losing, like starting a foundation, but he's been strangely absent from the discussion in recent months. McKenna's legal career is doing quite well, and he may just not be interested in giving it up for another long race. We'll see if McKenna expresses interest in a rematch now that the cycle's begun, or if he's prepared to sit this one out.
• NV-Sen: We recently took a look at the emerging Republican field lining up to take on Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, and Roll Call's Alexis Levinson also investigates how things are shaping up for Team Red. The NRSC is becoming increasingly pessimistic that they'll land popular Gov. Brian Sandoval, and they're looking for alternatives.
Most of the potential candidates are pretty familiar, but former Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert is a new name. Republican operatives also are holding out some hope that Rep. Joe Heck will run, despite his earlier declaration that he would stay in the House. It's possible fellow Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy could also reverse course and challenge Reid, but they aren't as compelling candidates as Heck. Amodei never seemed particularity interested in giving up his safe seat, and Hardy was a terrible fundraiser during his 2014 race. By contrast, Heck is a great fundraiser who has easily won twice in his purple seat.
There's been no talk of 2010 nominee Sharron Angle running again, but the ghost of her 2010 campaign still haunts the GOP. Angle was a weak and undisciplined contender who blew away a winnable race, and Republicans are afraid a similar candidate could emerge from a crowded primary. Right now, none of Reid's would-be opponents look like they'll turn out to be the next Angle, but the national party is keeping a wary eye on this primary just in case.
• OH-Sen: National Democrats are anxiously waiting to see if former Gov. Ted Strickland takes on Republican Sen. Rob Portman, but one candidate has been running for the last month. Cincinnati Councilor P.G. Sittenfeld's campaign leaked that they've raised $500,000 in the last three weeks, a solid sum for a short amount of time.
There's no way to verify how much Sittenfeld has raised or how much money he has in the bank until quarterly fundraising reports are due in mid-April. But Sittenfeld won't want to wait that long if he has any hopes of sending a message to his would-be primary rivals. Strickland may not be intimidated by Sittenfeld's haul, but it at least signals that the former governor can't just expect a smooth primary win. If Strickland doesn't run, Sittenfeld will want to try and keep other potential candidates like Rep. Tim Ryan out, and assure influential groups like the DSCC that he's capable of running a serious campaign against Portman.
• CA-Gov, Sen: Ever since he announced he wouldn't run for Senate last month, it's been clear that Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom would seek the governorship in 2018. Still, it's pretty surprising to see him officially kick off his campaign this early. Newsom's new gubernatorial fundraising committee allows him to start bringing in money early, giving him a head start over his potential opponents.
Newsom's move puts pressure on fellow Democrat and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa especially. Villaraigosa has been seriously considering a 2016 Senate run, but he's also left the door open to a 2018 gubernatorial contest. Villaraigosa's allies say he'll decide what to do soon, perhaps as early as the end of this week, and he can't really afford to wait any longer.
Democratic state Attorney General Kamala Harris has been running for the last month and is raising plenty of money. If Villaraigosa wants to have a chance against her, he'll need to start hauling in dough quickly. If Villaraigosa decides to seek the governorship it gives him a little more breathing room, but he'll also want to start fundraising before Newsom gets too much of a head start.
A recent PPP poll showed both Harris and Newsom beating Villaraigosa in hypothetical matchups, and other polls have also showed Villaraigosa struggling against Harris. If the former mayor wants to reverse his deficit in either contest he'll need a lot of money, and each day he wastes deciding what to do makes his task a little harder.
• OR-Gov: On Wednesday, rumors swirled that Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber would resign from office. As we've noted before, Kitzhaber has been ensnared in a controversy over First Lady Cylvia Hayes' actions, and her possible breech of conflict-of-interest laws.
Kitzhaber said on Wednesday that he has "no intention of resigning as Governor," temporarily putting to rest talk of his immediate departure. But it's hard to argue that Kitzhaber's in a good position right now, and his political survival is far from guaranteed. If Kitzhaber leaves office early, Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown will serve as governor until a November 2016 special election is held for the final two years of Kitzhaber's term.
• AZ-01: Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick survived the 2014 Republican wave despite holding a light red seat, and she's already drawn a familiar challenger. Wealthy rancher Gary Kiehne only narrowly lost the primary to national party pick Andy Tobin, and he told a local radio station that he'll run for this seat again. Kiehne ran a shaky campaign last time, getting into hot water after he alleged that 99 percent of mass shootings were perpetrated by Democrats. The NRCC will want to target Kirkpatrick again, but they'll probably be shopping around for someone stronger than Kiehne.
But if the 2014 field is any guide, Republican recruiters will need to look outside the box. Last year, the primary field consisted of two other candidates: Tobin, a weak fundraiser who managed to lose the general by 5 points even with a strong wind at his back, and then-state Rep. Adam Kwasman, who made national news after he mistook a bus full of YMCA campers for migrant children. This was one of the few targeted races where the GOP dropped the ball, and Greg Walden will want to rectify that this cycle.
• MS-01: No one has said much about their plans to run in the upcoming special election to succeed the late Alan Nunnelee, but there's plenty of action behind the scenes. Roll Call's Emily Cahn spoke to Republican operatives in the state, and there's no shortage of potential candidates who could run in this conservative district, with state Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert and former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough getting the most attention.
Tagert is preparing for re-election but he could definitely switch over to this contest if he chooses. McCullough ran for this Northern Mississippi seat in the 2008 special but he narrowly lost the Republican primary runoff to Greg Davis. (Davis proceeded to lose to Democrat Travis Childers and saw his career self-destruct soon afterward, culminating with a prison sentence for fraud and embezzlement).
But those are far from the only Republicans who could run here. One interesting potential name is state Treasurer Lynn Fitch, who is currently running for re-election. Fitch did just draw a credible primary challenger, so she won't necessarily be sacrificing a safe post if she wants to run for Congress. Cahn also names state Sen. Gray Tollison and state Rep. Brad Mayo, as well as former state Sen. Merle Flowers. Amanda Tollison, a former chief counsel to then-Gov. Haley Barbour and the wife of Gray Tollison, could also run.
Some other possibilities include Mississippi Court of Appeals Justice James Maxwell and Alcorn County District Attorney Trent Kelly. Businessman Boyce Adams is also named, but he was last seen losing to Democrat Brandon Presley 56-44 in the 2011 race for public service commissioner. Quentin Whitwell is a former city councilor in Jackson, which is outside the district, but he did just move back to Oxford.
Romney carried this seat 62-37 and it's likely to stay red, but this contest is still causing plenty of heartburn for GOP operatives. There's a real worry that tea partying state Sen. Chris McDaniel will use this race to get even with the GOP establishment who opposed him during his primary campaign against Sen. Thad Cochran. McDaniel lives far away from the district but his United Conservatives Fund PAC is hinting that they'll get involved. None of the above names are really McDaniel's type, so he may recruit his own contender.
Democrats face long odds here, but there are a few possible contenders. Childers used to represent an almost-identical version of this district and he may be interested in giving it another shot. Childers won this seat in a 2008 upset but lost it to Nunnelee in the 2010 Republican wave. Childers did campaign for the Senate last year with the hope that the undisciplined McDaniel would be his opponent, but he badly lost after Cochran escaped with the nomination. If he runs, Childers may be lucky enough to draw a McDaniel-like foe this time but he risks a third loss in a row.
One other notable Democrat who could go for it is the aforementioned Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley (and yes, he is related to Elvis). Presley is one of the state party's few rising stars, and he is well-connected. Presley even flirted with a run for statewide office this year before deciding to run for re-election instead, and he'd be a good get if he's interested in Congress.
Mississippi special election law has changed a bit since the 2008 race. Instead of competing in party primaries, all the candidates run on one ballot where party affiliation is not listed. If no one takes a majority in the first round, the top-two vote-getters advance to a non-partisan runoff (we contacted the secretary of state's office to confirm the new process). It's usually very clear who belongs to which party, but this does introduce an unpredictable element to the contest.
There's no word when the special will take place, but it's quite possible that Gov. Phil Bryant will schedule it to coincide with the Aug. 4 statewide primary and Aug. 25 runoff. We'll be keeping a close eye on this race as things develop.
• Chicago Mayor: Mayor Rahm Emanuel has had the airwaves almost to himself ahead of the Feb. 24 primary, as he seeks to carve out the majority he needs to win outright. Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia is finally joining him on television, and he's spending about $600,000 on his first ads. This isn't too much compared to Rahm, but it will at least help Garcia get his name out during the final two weeks of the primary.
Garcia's introductory spot (airing in English and Spanish) features Garcia speaking to the camera and laying out his plan to reduce gun violence. Garcia throws in a jab at Rahm in the middle, accusing the incumbent of giving corporations huge tax breaks while refusing to pay for more cops.
• Great Mentioner: Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk will be a top Democratic target next year, but there's no telling who will emerge as his opponent. Most of the speculation has turned to Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who has confirmed she's interested, but she's far from the only Democrat looking at this seat. In our new Daily Kos Great Mentioner piece, we take a look at the prospective Democratic field in what should be an exciting primary and general election.
• North Carolina: With the recent passing of legendary former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith at age 83, it's worth noting that he had a political side, too. Smith is known for promoting desegregation in the 1960s, integrating UNC's basketball program; he also continued to speak against the death penalty and the Iraq War in the 2000s. PoliticsNC has an interesting "what if?" about what might have happened if Smith had ventured further into electoral politics; as you might know, he was heavily recruited by Democrats to run in 1990 against Sen. Jesse Helms, which turned out to be a momentous race anyway, with Helms only narrowly defeating Harvey Gantt in a racially-fraught election.
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.