Democratic Rep. and potential Senate candidate Debbie Wasserman Schultz
• FL-Sen: Hoo boy. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is reportedly weighing a Senate run, truly just shot herself in the face. Last year, Wasserman Schultz spoke out against a medical marijuana amendment that went before voters, leading one the measure's top backers, wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan, to attack her publicly. (Wasserman Schultz incensed supporters by comparing medical marijuana dispensaries to illegal "pill mills"; the measure narrowly went down to defeat.)
Unsurprisingly, Morgan and his allies started making noise recently about how they intend to thwart whatever higher ambitions Wasserman Schultz may have this cycle. That prompted Wasserman Schultz's staff to fire off an embarrassingly transactional proposal to the pro-pot forces via email, in which the congresswoman would offer to trade her support for medical marijuana (organizers are trying again next year) in exchange for a cease-fire.
That infuriated Morgan, who released the emails to Politico and called Wasserman Schultz a "bully." At the same time, another medical marijuana proponent bitingly pointed out that the amendment took 58 percent last year (it needed 60 to pass), making it far more popular than Wasserman Schultz would ever be in a statewide race.
So how did Wasserman Schultz respond on Friday? By simply insisting she never made such an offer, and even claiming her staffers sent no emails! That level of outright denial is almost John McCain-esque, making an already terrible story look even worse for her. And this is the head of the Democratic National Committee, mind you.
Head below the fold to learn how one of Wasserman Schultz's potential rivals is adroitly preparing for a run.
But while Wasserman Schultz is digging her own political grave, fellow Rep. Patrick Murphy is building bridges. The well-connected sophomore congressman has been reaching out to donors and the DSCC, and he's apparently talked to ex-Gov. Charlie Crist about his potential Senate bid. Crist, a potential candidate himself, hasn't spoken publicly, but an endorsement or even just his tacit support for Murphy would send a powerful signal.
And Murphy also hasn't run afoul of the medical marijuana brigades. He backed last year's amendment, and he voted in favor of an amendment to block the DEA from spending funds to stop states from implementing medical marijuana laws—a bill Wasserman Schultz opposed, earning her even further ire from medical marijuana supporters.
It's a good example of Murphy's sharp political instincts, and it undercuts the conventional wisdom that Murphy would face an automatic disadvantage against Wasserman Schultz in a Democratic primary thanks to his more centrist voting record. Wasserman Schultz is by no means a model progressive, and Murphy can definitely get to her left on this and other issues (for instance, he's come out as a full-throated backer of net neutrality) without sacrificing his electability in a general election. A primary between the two would still be a messy, bloody affair, but it does not have a preordained conclusion.
• KY-Sen: Republican Sen. Rand Paul has been looking for a way to run for president and for re-election at the same time, and he seems to have settled on his strategy. Paul is asking the state Republican Party to scrap the planned May presidential primary in favor of a March caucus, which would keep him from appearing on the same ballot twice in violation of state law.
But even if this fix goes through, Paul's troubles may not be over. The Washington Examiner's David M. Druker reports that plenty of Republicans are worried what would happen to Paul's Senate seat if he actually became the party's presidential nominee. Paul would still be forbidden from running in the general election for both jobs, and it's unclear if the GOP could just pick a new Senate nominee. There's also the chance that Paul could instead be thrown off the state presidential ballot, which isn't much better for Team Red.
The senator's allies argue that the courts will make sure that the party doesn't risk forfeiting either the Senate seat or the state's electoral votes, but not everyone's convinced. One thing is for sure though: The state House's Democratic majority isn't going to change any laws to help Paul out.
• NH-Sen, Gov, 01: Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan has been very coy about whether she plans to challenge Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte or seek another term in 2016, but the National Journal's Andrea Drusch gives us a good reason why Hassan may take her chances on a Senate bid. While many governors find it frustrating to transition from being their states top dog to becoming 1 percent of a chamber that doesn't do much, Hassan's situation is a little different. The Granite State has a unique Executive Council that severely limits the governor's power, and the Council's Republican majority further hampers Hassan. The prospect of trading a two-year gubernatorial term for a six-year Senate term is also alluring. No one's sure what Hassan will do, but both parties think that she'll ultimately choose to go after Ayotte.
As we recently noted in a Great Mentioner post, there are plenty of Democrats and Republicans who could run for the governorship if Hassan doesn't. While Republican Executive Councilor Chris Sununu may go for it no matter what Hassan does, his Democratic colleague Colin Van Ostern could also jump in if she leaves Concord. Fellow Democratic Executive Councilor Chris Pappas has also been mentioned for statewide office, but Drusch tells us he's being recruited to run against Republican Rep. Frank Guinta in NH-01. Former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has left the door open to a fourth match with Guinta, but Democrats may prefer a fresh face like Pappas.
• PA-Sen: Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro was the original go-to-guy for state Democrats looking for an alternative to 2010 nominee Joe Sestak, but he's looked like a non-starter for a while. But it seems that his camp wants to keep his name in contention, with a "person familiar with his thinking" telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that Shapiro is looking at a run.
If Shapiro is actually serious, he should probably decide sooner rather than later. Former Rep. Chris Carney, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams have all talked about challenging Sestak for the right to take on Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, and Sestak's powerful intra-party enemies will want to coalesce behind one candidate. Shapiro may still be their first choice, but he could get eclipsed if another strong politician gets in and picks up steam.
• SC-Sen: Republican Sen. Tim Scott won his 2014 special election in a breeze, and it seems like his 2016 campaign for a full term won't be any more difficult. Public Policy Polling finds Scott with a 72 percent approval rating among his fellow Republicans, so it doesn't look like any primary challenger has much to work with.
Scott also dominates in hypothetical matchups with three Democrats, none of whom have made any move to challenge him. Scott leads Jim Hodges, the state's last Democratic governor, by a 54-32 margin. He also defeats 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Bakari Sellers and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott 56-28 and 55-27 respectively. Barring extremely unforeseen circumstances, this race is over before it even began.
• WI-Sen: A rematch between former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and Republican incumbent Ron Johnson has looked likely for a while, though Feingold's job at the State Department has prevented him from saying much about his plans. But on Thursday night, Feingold announced that he's resigning as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, a big prerequisite for a Senate run. Feingold still hasn't confirmed what he's doing next, but both sides are acting like he's in.
• IN-Gov: Democratic Superintendent of Public Institution Glenda Ritz has never had an easy relationship with state Republicans, but it's only gotten worse in recent months. The GOP has attacked her over reports that the 2015 ISTEP test will take twice as long as usual, with Gov. Mike Pence arguing that it demonstrates that Ritz is incapable of doing her job. The legislature looks likely to remove Ritz from her role as head of the state Board of Education, which would essentially leave her powerless. Democrats have cried foul and rallied behind Ritz, but there's little they can do to stop the GOP supermajorities.
Ritz had announced that she'll run for re-election in 2016, but she seems to be considering another post. On Wednesday, Ritz didn't dismiss talk that she might seek the governorship instead, saying, "I don't want to speculate whether I might or might not in the future. I'm perfectly happy in the job I have right now." IndyPolitics.org's Abdul Hakim-Shabazz also reports that Ritz's team has discussed a run against Pence, though there aren't many details. Former Rep. Baron Hill has also talked about running, and 2012 nominee John Gregg recently confirmed that he's looking at trying again.
Ritz actually won her post by a larger margin than Pence, pulling off a 53-47 upset while Pence was beating Gregg by a surprisingly narrow 50-47. But a gubernatorial race will be much tougher, and the GOP will do whatever they can to portray Ritz as incompetent. Pence has not announced if he'll run for a second term or seek the White House (he says he won't try to do both), but he'd be hard to beat in the Hoosier State. A November poll gave him a 62 percent approval rating, though there are no other recent surveys to back it up. Pence has said that he won't decide what to do until after the legislative session ends in late April.
• LA-Gov: Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards does not have an easy path to victory in this very conservative state, and this isn't going to quiet doubts about his chances. Despite being the only Democrat currently in the race, Edwards raised a pretty weak $385,000 in 2014 and has $746,000 on hand, quite a bit lower than each of his Republican rivals.
Meanwhile on the GOP side, Sen. Bill Cassidy has endorsed his colleague David Vitter. Vitter was a key Cassidy backer during last year's Senate race, so this comes as no surprise.
• MS-Gov, AG: Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood had expressed some interest in seeking the governorship this year or retiring from elected office altogether, but on Friday, he filed to run for a fourth term as attorney general instead.
Magnolia State Democrats probably aren't devastated by Hood's decision. While he would have been the party's most formidable candidate against Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, he would have faced incredibly tough odds against an incumbent who hasn't done much to alienate his state's conservative electorate. If Hood wants to be governor, his chances will almost certainly be better in 2019, when Bryant is termed-out. Lawyer Vicki Slater is seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Bryant instead, but it's hard to see this contest as anything but safe for the GOP.
Hood is the only Democrat who still holds statewide office in the Deep South, and the Republicans may be stuck with him a bit longer. Hood won a decisive 61-39 victory in 2011, the same margin as Bryant. Team Red has one potential candidate in attorney Russ Latino, but he has a lot to prove if he's going to succeed where others have failed.
• AK-AL: Rep. Don Young is the House's longest serving Republican, and he wants to keep that title a lot longer. There was some light speculation that Young would call it quits after an especially controversial few years, which culminated with him making offensive comments about a high school student's suicide. But Young has already filed to run for re-election, so we can take him off any retirement watch lists. Former Sen. Mark Begich hasn't ruled out challenging Young next year, though he could also take on Sen. Lisa Murkowski or run for nothing at all.
• MS-01: There are still a bajillion Republicans who might run in the upcoming special to succeed the late Alan Nunnelee, but two local politicians have taken their names out of contention. Former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough came very close to winning the primary during the 2008 special, but he's accepting a gubernatorial appointment to the state College Board rather than trying again. State Sen. David Parker had been considering a campaign, but he announced on Friday that he wouldn't go for it either. No notable candidates have entered the race yet, but we should see some movement soon.
• NY-11: On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally scheduled the special election for this vacant Staten Island seat, choosing May 5 as the magic date. While Republican Rep. Michael Grimm announced his resignation in late December, Cuomo refused to so much as hint at when the special would be until now. On Tuesday, a judge told the governor that he either needed to schedule the special by Friday or he'd schedule it himself, and Cuomo chose door number one.
The actual special may be less dramatic than the battle over the calendar has been: Even Democrats concede that Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan is heavily favored to take this seat. Nevertheless, we'll have a Democratic nominee soon. The Staten Island party's executive director says a decision will come either Monday or Tuesday, and the choice is down to Assemblyman William Colton, Councilor Vincent Gentile, or activist Robert Holst.
• NY-19: The field has been slow to develop in the race to succeed Rep. Chris Gibson in this Republican-held Hudson Valley swing seat. No one has entered the race yet on either side, but GOP Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin just confirmed that he's looking at running.
National Republicans may prefer someone other than McLaughlin though. He made news two years ago when he compared Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Hitler over legislative procedure, and initially stood by his comments. McLaughlin finally apologized after both parties' leaders called him out for it, but the NRCC may not want someone this undisciplined in a seat that Obama carried twice. Fellow Republicans state Sen. James Seward and Assemblyman Peter Lopez acknowledged their interest last month, and there are plenty of other possible contenders on both sides.
• Houston Mayor: Space City is set to host a crowded non-partisan primary this year, and it's quite hard to tell the multitude of candidates and potential candidates apart. But Mimi Swartz gives us a great lay of the land at the Texas Monthly that's worth reading in full. It covers a lot of the ground we've covered here, but it explains each candidate's demographic and financial base well.
• Fundraising: While Democrats are now in the minority in both chambers, Team Blue's congressional campaign committees continue to lead their GOP rivals in fundraising. On the Senate side, the DSCC outraised the NRSC $4.5 million to $2.5 million in January. However, the GOP leads in cash-on-hand $4 million to $2.6 million. The DSCC's debt is also larger, by a $15 million to $10 million ratio.
Things are better for Democrats in the battle for the House. The DCCC outraised the NRCC $6.4 million to $4.4 million in January, and holds a $6.9 million to $3.6 million cash-on-hand edge. The GOP's $7.5 million debt is still smaller than the Democrats' $10 million though.
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.