Newly-minted Democratic Senate candidate Ted Strickland
• OH-Sen: It's really happening. On Wednesday, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced that he would challenge Republican Sen. Rob Portman in a race Democrats badly want to win.
As we've noted previously, Strickland is a big get for Team Blue. He has a reputation as a great campaigner: While he lost re-election in 2010 to John Kasich, he managed to keep things very close in a hellish year for Buckeye State Democrats. Strickland also is a proven vote-getter in rural eastern Ohio, an area that has turned against most Democrats in recent cycles.
Strickland will join Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the primary and will start as the clear frontrunner. Sittenfeld has been raising real money and may decide to take his chances on the former governor, but state Democrats tell Roll Call that they expect him to drop out when all is said and done. Sittenfeld is young enough that he has plenty of time to move up the ladder.
One option that Sittenfeld should consider is a run against Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in the state's 1st Congressional District. This Cincinnati-area seat was redrawn to protect Chabot, but at 52-46 Romney, it's not out of reach for Democrats in a good year. A blue win in districts like this would give the party a real shot at a House majority, but it's not going to happen without a credible candidate. Sittenfeld would face a tough campaign but national Democrats would definitely remember him even if he fails.
Even with Strickland in, this is going to be a tough race for Democrats. Portman isn't an exciting candidate but he's one of the most formidable fundraisers in politics, and he'll have the advantage of incumbency. But Strickland gives his party a better shot at flipping this seat and perhaps the entire Senate with it.
• MO-Sen: Let's not beat around the bush: Todd Akin is thinking about challenging Sen. Roy Blunt in the Republican primary. Akin told The Hill's Jonathan Easley on Wednesday that he hadn't ruled out anything, and already began portraying the contest as a battle between an establishment-scented incumbent and a conservative true believer.
Suffice to say, there are very few D.C. Republicans who would welcome an Akin rerun. During his 2012 campaign, Akin made global headlines for his legitimate rape comments. Establishment Republicans, including Blunt, urged Akin to drop out of the race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, but he refused. Akin's self-destructing campaign transformed what once looked like a likely Republican pickup into a 16-point loss, and forever made Akin's name an adjective for horrific candidates.
If Akin gets in, he might force Blunt to divert some resources to the primary that he'd rather save for the general against Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander. But Akin's odds of actually upsetting Blunt are very, very low. Akin was a terrible fundraiser even before legitimate rape, while Blunt has plenty of money to burn. And while Akin does appeal to a certain set of primary voters, he'll have a difficult time actually getting support to outpace Blunt, who has worked hard to stay on good terms with tea party groups.
Finally, if the GOP establishment thought Akin had any hope of winning, big money groups would immediately get involved to nuke him. Akin has already cost his party one Senate seat, and it's almost certainly too much for Democrats to hope that he'll do it again. But at least a primary freakshow with Akin would be worth watching.
• WI-Sen: Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold looks like he may challenge GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who unseated him in the GOP wave of 2010, though of course with a mavericky guy like Feingold, you never know until you know. But if Feingold does decide to go for it, he'll be swimming against history: In the last half-century, only two former senators have made it back to the upper chamber of Congress after losing an election, and neither case precisely mirrors Feingold's.
One such senator was Ohio's Howard Metzenbaum, who lost the 1974 Democratic primary to John Glenn after being appointed to fill a vacancy earlier that year; Metzenbaum then defeated GOP Sen. Robert Taft, Jr. in 1976. The other was Washington Republican Slade Gorton, who defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Warren Magnuson, lost to Democrat Brock Adams in 1986, and then won an open seat in 1988. He ultimately exited for the final time after Maria Cantwell narrowly beat him in 2000.
Prior to Metzenbaum, only 14 other senators pulled off the feat of getting booted then returning in the Senate's direct-election era. The University of Minnesota has the details on each.
• FL-Gov, Sen: The Sunshine State just finished a long and expensive gubernatorial contest, and it's not too easily to get ready for the next one. Democratic Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently admitted that he's interested in a 2018 run, and he's already begun raising money for his PAC. Buckhorn's name has occasionally come up in connection to the 2016 Senate contest, but we can probably cross off his name there.
• KY-Gov: Former Louisville Councilor Hal Heiner has had the airwaves to himself until now, but Republican primary rival Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is joining him, starting with a small $60,000 buy. The spot is a generic "Look at me, I'm a conservative" introductory ad, but it does earn points for showing Comer driving a tractor.
• VA-Gov: Are you tired of the 2016 cycle already? If so, you're in luck, because the 2017 Democratic primary in Virginia is already taking shape. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he would run to succeed termed-out Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Attorney General Mark Herring is playing his cards closer to his vest, but he's also expected to make the race.
The Washington Post's Laura Vozzella tells us that Northam has already picked up plenty of establishment support from people who think he'll be a stronger statewide contender than Herring. While the attorney general hails Northern Virginia, Northam comes from Hampton Roads. There's a feeling that the folksier Northam can do a better job helping the party win voters outside its base in Northern Virginia and other urban areas. Herring does have his supporters though and his high-profile job keeps him in the headlines. Party leaders would rather avoid a competitive primary, but it may be difficult to keep both of them from running.
One wild card is Sen. Mark Warner. Like many governors-turned-senators, Warner prefers his old job as an executive, and gave serious thought about running in both 2009 and 2013. Warner just came off an unexpectedly tough 2014 re-election and he may be even more motivated to return to Richmond. However, it may make sense for Warner to stay put. His 2014 race was close in large part due to weak off-year Democratic turnout, something that could again be an issue in 2017 (though McAuliffe's campaign was able to get Democrats to show up). But if Warner seeks re-election in 2020, presidential turnout should give him a more favorable electorate.
The GOP is going to go after this seat in full force. State Sen. Mark Obenshain, who came close to beating Herring in 2013, is a likely contender. Vozzella also names 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie, Rep. Rob Wittman, and state Sen. Frank Wagner as potential candidates. We have a long while to go before this race, but it's evidently not too early for the jockeying to begin on both sides.
• FL-26: Former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, who served a single term in the House before getting turfed out last year, has now taken a job with an investment bank and says he is "not running for any public office." Garcia was specifically asked about whether he'd challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, but presumably this also takes him out of the running against the guy who beat him in 2014, Carlos Curbelo.
The DCCC is probably not too displeased, though, given Garcia's personal liabilities (his former campaign manager earned a prison sentence after pushing a pathetic voter fraud scheme). However, Democrats don't have the deepest bench here, and no one has yet taken the plunge, though we did run through a bunch of possible names a while back. Barack Obama won this seat 53-46 and it's trending blue; add in presidential-year turnout and Florida's swing-state status and you can bet someone is going to want to try.
• MS-01: Now that the special election has been scheduled for May 12, things are moving quickly on the GOP side. On Tuesday, state Rep. Chris Brown became the first candidate to jump in, and he already has company. But we probably shouldn't roll out the red carpet for Danny Bedwell, a former Libertarian candidate who sounds like he's on the Some Dude end of the spectrum. Brown himself is only a freshman and he may be overwhelmed by better-known and better-connected opponents, though anything can happen in a crowded race.
And sure enough, some big Republicans are on the move. Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert hasn't announced anything, but it looks like he's in. His ally Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson just filed to run against Tagert for re-election this fall, but the two haven't just had a falling out. As the Clarion-Ledger's Sam Hall explains, Johnson is a "friendly" primary challenger. Should Tagert lose the House special, he can just turn around and seek re-election, and Johnson would fade into the background. And if Tagert goes to Congress, Johnson would run to succeed him. Tagert lives just outside the district but he's expected to have former Gov. Haley Barbour's formidable organization behind him.
Businessman Boyce Adams also hasn't made his decision public, but it sounds like he's in. Adams has only run for office once, losing a 2011 campaign for the Public Service Commission to Democrat Brandon Presley. But Adams has money and Hall tells us that Gov. Phil Bryant will support him behind the scenes. District Attorney Trent Kelly, whose constituency covers seven counties, is also reportedly running, though he also hasn't confirmed it. Hall writes that Kelly has a good profile, but fundraising could be a problem for him.
A few other Republicans are keeping their names in play. Former Jackson Councilor Quentin Whitwell confirmed on Tuesday that he's interested, and has been meeting with people in D.C. about his potential campaign. Jackson is outside the district, though Whitwell is from Oxford and recently moved back there. Itawamba County Prosecutor Chip Mills also reaffirmed that he's looking at a run. But Mandy McGrevey, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee counsel, announced on Wednesday that she wouldn't go for it.
• Chicago Mayor: The major question heading into the Feb. 24 primary wasn't whether Mayor Rahm Emanuel would finish first, it was whether he'd be able to take the majority he needed to avoid an April 7 runoff. Ultimately, Rahm only took 45 percent of the vote, not a great showing at all for an incumbent who dramatically outspent all his rivals. Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia took second with 34 percent and will meet Rahm in the runoff; businessman Willie Wilson took a distant third with 11 percent, with Ald. Bob Fioretti at 7.
Rahm and his allies spent millions in the primary, and they'll spend millions in the runoff. The big question now is whether Rahm's detractors will show more interest in Garcia now than they did before, and help him at least make up some of the advertising gap. It's also uncertain what Wilson and Fioretti's supporters will do. If they're motivated enough to oust Rahm, the mayor is in serious trouble in April. But if they decide not to show up without their guy on the ballot or are open to backing the mayor, that gives Rahm some breathing room.
Rahm has had a very bumpy first term. Crime has emerged as a main issue, as have school closures. But there's also been a general sense that the mayor has been too cozy with corporate interests at the expense of regular Chicagoans. Rick Perlstein provides an interesting example over at In These Times. Perlstein notes that under Rahm, the Chicago Transit Authority partnered with Cubic to create a new Ventra smart card that doubled as a debit card. Commuters faced months of glitches, and found out that there were tons of hidden fees. The whole debacle reinforced the notion that the incumbent wasn't looking out for residents.
But perhaps most important was the local economy. Rahm's performance is also another reminder that mayoral races, too, are subject to The Fundamentals. You're probably already familiar with that idea at the presidential level, thanks to books like The Gamble, which suck all the fun out of electoral punditry by showing the close relationship between economic conditions, approvals, and election results.
Prior to Tuesday's election, government professor Dan Hopkins, writing for FiveThirtyEight, released an article proposing that Chicago's economic conditions might be responsible for Rahm Emanuel's relative weakness. Although Chicago's economic conditions are improving (along with the rest of the nation), in 2013, its unemployment rate was 10.5 percent, good for only 44th out of the nation's 50 largest cities. That big a disparity, compared with the national rate, isn't enough to cause Emanuel to lose all by itself, but it's enough to knock several percentage points off his expected vote. Hopkins tested other possible factors, like property values, successful local sports teams, and even crime rates, and found they don't have the same impact as employment rates.
There's been a general perception that Rahm has been losing support among black and Hispanic voters, and the primary results confirm it. The above maps from dreaminonempty
help tell the story of how Rahm went from a 55 percent majority in 2011 to only a 45 percent plurality on Tuesday. Rahm continued to do well in the more wealthy white areas of the city, and even gained support among the city's small Republican base.
But Rahm cratered in black neighborhoods, and even among white liberals in the North Side and Far North Side. Interestingly, turnout sunk in Central Chicago, an area that Rahm did well in. If pro-Rahm voters didn't show up because of complacency, the primary results should snap them out of it. But if they stayed at home because of a lack of enthusiasm about the mayor, he has a bigger problem on his hands.
Rahm is a formidable candidate and he's not going to be easy to beat in April. Now that Garcia is the mayor's sole opponent, the commissioner should expect more scrutiny and more attacks. But the prospect of Rahm losing doesn't look as unrealistic as it did even at the beginning of the week.
• Colorado Springs Mayor: We shouldn't expect many polls here, but Luce Research gives us a peak at the April 7 non-partisan primary on behalf of the Colorado Springs Independent. They give former Republican state Attorney General John Suthers the lead with 30 percent. In second place with 22 is former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, the most liberal candidate in the race. El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen takes 10, while former Councilor Joel Miller is at just 2. Unless someone wins an outright majority, the top-two vote getters will advance to the May 19 general.
• Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso brings us the latest out of Connecticut, starting with a big surprise around Bridgeport:
Connecticut SD-23: Ed Gomes will be returning to the Connecticut Senate, making him the first candidate to win an election to a state legislative seat solely on the Working Families Party ballot line. He defeated Democrat Richard DeJesus 49-26, with independent Ken Moales taking 17.
• VA State House
Connecticut HD-107: Republicans held this seat, with Stephen Harding Jr. defeating Democrat Howard Lasser 54-46.
Connecticut HD-129: Democrats held this one; Steve Stafstrom won with 45 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Enrique Torres, who pulled in 41 percent. The three independent candidates all ended up in single digits, taking a combined 14 percent.
: Democrats are looking to dig themselves out of their superminority, and their job just got a little easier. Del. Tom Rust, who represents the bluest Republican-held seat
in the chamber, announced on Wednesday that he won't seek another term
this November. Rust's Northern Virginia seat went for Obama by a 60-39 margin, but he's been tough to dislodge. However Rust only defeated Democrat Jennifer Boysko by less than 50 votes in 2013, and she's running again. With Rust gone, Boysko should emerge as the clear favorite in this Herndon-based district.
• President-by-LD: Today we take a look at the 2014 statewide elections in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, and West Virginia. You can find each state here, as well as our 2012 numbers. Also be sure to check out Stephen Wolf's interactive state legislative maps.
Both former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and independent Gov. Bill Walker dramatically improved on Obama's margin in Alaska. Obama carried only 13 of the state's 40 state House seats and five of the 20 state Senate seats as he lost 55-41 statewide. However, Begich took 21 House seats and eight Senate districts, even as he was losing re-election to Republican Dan Sullivan 48-46 statewide. Walker, who emerged as the de facto Democratic nominee, carried 23 House seats and 14 Senate seats on the way to a 48-46 win over Republican incumbent Sean Parnell.
Interestingly, Begich actually outperformed Walker in 12 House seats and six Senate districts. Begich's biggest overperformances came in HDs 38 and 39, two heavily Native American seats that were also Obama's best districts two years before. While Walker carried them 57-31 and 54-36 respectively, Begich crushed here 78-16 and 71-22. Even though Alaska's Native Americans tend to vote Democratic, they also usually support incumbents who work hard to cultivate their support. While Parnell wasn't able to win these districts, there were enough Begich-Parnell voters here to keep things close statewide.
Walker made up the difference mainly in red suburban areas. While Walker's biggest overperformance was in the rural HD-09 (he lost it only 49-46, while Begich trailed 61-32), the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks area were also filled with plenty of crossover voters. HD-07, centered on Sarah Palin's old stomping grounds in Wasilla, is usually a very friendly place for the GOP. Mitt Romney carried it 74-23, while Sullivan took it 65-27. However, while Parnell still won it, his 56-39 margin was a lot closer than Team Red is accustomed to, and helps explain how he lost his governorship in such a Republican year.
Over in Arizona, Republican Doug Ducey won the gubernatorial race 54-45, a little better than Romney's 54-45 victory. Ducey carried the same five congressional districts and 18 legislative seats (the state House and Senate districts are exactly the same here) as Romney.
The Grand Canyon State has three swingy congressional districts, with AZ-01 and AZ-09 being held by Democrats, and AZ-02 flipping to the GOP last year. Ducey took AZ-01 and 02 while losing AZ-09, and his margins in each seat weren't too different than Romney's. Democrats were able to carry all three swing seats in the attorney general and secretary of state contests (as well as the 2012 Senate race) even as they were losing statewide, which could bode well for Team Blue's prospects in each district.
Delaware hosted five statewide races in 2014. The biggest Democratic victory was in the congressional contest, where Rep. John Carney won a third term by a 59-37 margin. Carney picked up 33 of the 41 state House seats and 17 of the 21 state Senate districts. The GOP's biggest win was in the treasurer race, where Ken Simpler prevailed 54-44. Simpler netted 28 House seats and 14 Senate districts.
West Virginia was a pretty big disaster for Democrats. The party lost their generations-long hold on a U.S. Senate seat, the 3rd Congressional District, and both chambers of the state legislature. Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant did the best she could in the Senate race against Republican Shelley Moore Capito, but her 62-34 defeat was actually worse than Obama's 62-36 loss here.
Capito carried all three congressional seats and 17 Senate districts, matching Romney's performance. But while Romney "only" won 63 of the 67 state House seats, Capito took 66. Tennant's only legislative district was HD-37 in Charleston, where she won 63-34, but underperformed Obama's 71-27 margin here. Tennant's map looked dramatically different two years before as she was winning re-election 62-38. Back then, Tennant picked up all three Congressional districts, 16 Senate seats, and 57 state House districts. It's a good reminder that past victories don't always translate to success in more high-profile and partisan contests.
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