Russ Feingold is hoping to avenge his 2010 loss at the hands of Ron Johnson
• WI-Sen: Freshman Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is going to be one of the top Democratic targets anywhere, and a new PPP survey finds him in deep trouble. Johnson is likely to face a rematch with former Sen. Russ Feingold, whom he unseated in 2010, and the Democrat starts out with an intimidating 50-41 lead. Feingold has been serving in the State Department for the last two years, and his time away from partisan politics seems to have done him some good. Feingold posts a 46-35 favorable rating, while Johnson's job approval is underwater at 32-40.
Both parties are planning for Feingold to seek his old seat, and the former senator recently resigned from his diplomatic post and has been hinting that he'll run. Still, as we've noted before, Feingold is a bit unpredictable and could always pull the rug out from under us. If Feingold stays out of the contest, Reps. Ron Kind and Gwen Moore are expected to look at it, and PPP tested them as well: Johnson leads Kind 43-37 and Moore 45-37. In a very hypothetical matchup with 2014 gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke, who said shortly after her defeat that she would never run for statewide office again, Johnson trails 46-45. Against Rep. Mark Pocan (who hasn't expressed any interest in the Senate yet), Johnson posts a 43-36 edge.
Democrats should be pleased that Feingold, their most likely nominee, starts out with such a clear advantage, but don't pop the champagne just yet. For starters, this is just one poll. And even if Feingold is as well liked as PPP says, he has also has been able to avoid partisan mudslinging for the last few years: The GOP will work hard to drag him back into the muck at the first chance they get. While Johnson has said that he won't use his personal wealth for this contest, he can easily change his mind and bombard Feingold before he has the chance to respond.
Feingold also has a history of running unconventional campaigns: While that was an asset in his initial 1992 run, his style caused problems in 2010. Last but not least, Wisconsin politics are quite volatile. While the state is friendlier to Team Blue in presidential years than in midterms, it has enough swing voters who could change allegiances quickly. Both parties know that Democrats need this seat to win back the Senate, and no one can afford to take it for granted.
• FL-Sen: Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who served one term as a Republican before badly losing a Senate bid as an independent in 2010, then narrowly losing a gubernatorial comeback bid as a Democrat in 2014, has gotten some Great Mentioner treatment for 2016's Senate race as well. Now, though, for the first time, an advisor from Crist's inner circle has actually confirmed on the record that Crist is taking a look, and further unnamed sources say that Crist is making calls to supporters.
Crist would have a big advantage in both the Democratic primary and general election thanks to his name recognition and fundraising network, but it's also possible "Crist fatigue" could pose an issue (though that's more apt to rear its head among insiders rather than real voters). Given how tight last year's 48-47 race for governor was—a race Crist surely would have won with presidential-year turnout or without a GOP wave—he'd certainly have a good argument to make that he can come out on top in a more favorable climate, especially if GOP Sen. Marco Rubio runs for president and leaves his Senate seat open.
But local reporter Marc Caputo says that Crist's camp, including Crist himself, are denying that he's making phone calls, but rather that, well, there might be a game of telephone going on. Crist's sister, Margaret Crist Wood, sadly died of brain cancer at the age of 60 a few weeks ago, so, says Caputo, Crist supporters have been calling him to offer their condolences, and chatting about the Senate race while they're at it.
Indeed, a repeat performance from Crist would be more surprising than not. After two bruising statewide campaigns in four years, he can return to his lucrative law practice rather than face yet another GOP onslaught. At the same time, Rep. Patrick Murphy has made overtures to Crist, so perhaps Crist would be content to anoint a successor and let Murphy deal with all the shit that Republicans would be sure to fling his way.
• UT-Sen: As recently as December, Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson was shopping for someone to challenge tea partying Sen. Mike Lee in the Republican primary, but he's picked an interesting way to announce that he's giving up the ghost. Instead of trying to unseat Lee, Anderson will co-chair his campaign along with former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who was briefly touted as a potential Lee foe himself.
Jon Huntsman Sr. had also been looking for someone to challenge the senator but unlike Anderson and his son, he doesn't sound at all likely to beam aboard the USS Mike Lee. But it's not clear whom the elder Huntsman will find that's willing to engage. Back in December, Politico named plenty of potential primary rivals, and former state party chair Thomas Wright may be the most likely to make it so. Josh Romney, son of Mitt, has also been mentioned quite a bit, though he hasn't said anything on the record about his 2016 plans.
• KY-Gov: We haven't seen a poll of either the May 19 Republican primary or the general election in over a month, but SurveyUSA comes to our rescue. In the primary, they give former Louisville Councilor Hal Heiner the lead with 28 percent of the vote. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and tea partier Matt Bevin are tied for second at 20 apiece, while former state Supreme Court Justice Will Scott lags behind with 8. What little polling we'd seen before gave Comer the edge, but Heiner has been consistently running spots. Comer just announced that he would stay on the air from now until May, so we'll see if that helps him.
Attorney General Jack Conway has nothing to worry about in his primary (he beats perennial candidate Geoff Young 61-12) and SurveyUSA gives him varying leads against all four Republicans. Comer and Heiner post similar deficits, trailing 40-38 and 41-38 respectively. Bevin is behind 42-36, while Scott lags 43-33. It's not the worst place for Conway to be, but the eventual Republican nominee might have more room to grow after the primary is over and the party begins to consolidate.
• MO-Gov: Tom Schweich's tragic suicide was always going to cast a shadow over the Republican primary, but it might end up influencing this contest much more directly. The Missouri Times' Collin Reischman reports that state Sen. Mike Parson is rumored to be considering a run, though Parson hasn't said anything himself. Parson was quite upset by Schweich's death, and blamed gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway and state party chair John Hancock for spreading lies that destroyed him.
Parson already has about $500,000 on hand for a possible statewide run, so he'd be able to hit the ground running. Parson also hails from rural Southwest Missouri, while Hanaway and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (who has formed an exploratory committee) live in the St. Louis area, which could give him a good geographic base. Businessman John Brunner is also looking at this contest, while Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder hasn't quite shut the door on a campaign. The winner is expected to face Attorney General Chris Koster, who currently has no serious opposition for the Democratic nomination.
• WV-Gov: On Tuesday, Republican Rep. David McKinley confirmed for the first time that he's interested in running for this open seat. McKinley campaigned for governor all the way back in 1996, but lost to the once and future governor, Cecil Underwood. Since then, McKinley's profile has definitely improved, and he currently represents one-third of the state. If McKinley vacated his northern 1st District, Democrats might be able to put the conservative but ancestrally blue seat back in play, though it wouldn't be easy. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, another Republican, has also talked about running for governor. On the Democratic side, Sen. Joe Manchin looks like he's getting ready to seek his old post.
• MD-01: Republican Rep. Andy Harris is talking about running for Senate, though plenty of party operatives think he won't do it. Several local Republicans would eye this seat if Harris did depart, and former Del. Michael Smigiel announced that he's interested in a campaign. But even if the congressman runs for re-election, it might not be enough to keep Smigiel away from the precious. The former delegate said in a statement that he might seek this House seat even if he has to beat Harris in the primary.
As the Baltimore Sun's Michael Dresser tells us, Harris and Smigiel have a lot of bad blood. Smigiel is a libertarian-flavored politician who frequently comes into conflict with more establishment Republicans like Harris. Back in 2013, Smigiel was passed over for an appointment for a vacant state Senate seat, and he blames Harris for the snub. Smigiel narrowly lost re-nomination the next year, so his relationship with the rest of the GOP base may need some work.
Aside from an embarrassing 2010 incident where Harris demanded to know when he'd get his government health care, the incumbent hasn't done much to alienate primary voters. But if Harris does surprise us and vacates this seat, someone like Smigiel could unify whatever libertarian base there is and slip through in a crowded Republican primary. Smigiel himself says he'd emphasize marijuana legalization if he runs, which probably won't take him too far with most primary voters (though he also plans to court gun groups).
Romney won this district, which includes the more conservative Baltimore suburbs and the Eastern Shore, by a 60-38 margin. While Democrat Frank Kratovil (who is now a judge) represented a previous version of MD-01, the seat got even redder in redistricting and isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
• MD-04: On Wednesday, former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey announced his second bid for this safely blue suburban D.C. seat. Ivey ran against Rep. Donna Edwards in 2012, but dropped out in the face of weak fundraising. But an open seat is different, and Ivey still has plenty of allies who might be willing to help him now that he isn't trying to unseat a strong incumbent. There are a ton of other Democrats who are eying this district, and we should expect a crowded race.
• MI-01: According to unnamed sources who spoke with Roll Call's Emily Cahn, retired Army Gen. Jerry Cannon is considering a rematch against GOP Rep. Dan Benishek, who beat him by a 52-45 margin last year. Considering the Republican wave and the fact that the culturally conservative northern Michigan district has moved away from Democrats ever since ex-Rep. Bart Stupak's retirement in 2010, Cannon actually didn't do too badly, and he'd be a decent get for 2016.
Indeed, Democrats have a real reason for some presidential-year optimism: In 2010, when the seat was open, Benishek defeated then-state Rep. Gary McDowell by a comfortable 52-41 spread. But two years later, McDowell came very close to unseating the incumbent, who only took a plurality and prevailed by just half a percent. So if Cannon can improve from the depths of 2014 as much as McDowell did from the nadir of 2010, then he should in theory be able to beat Benishek.
There's also an important wrinkle, which the assiduous Cahn was quick to point out: When he ran his first campaign five years ago, Benishek was outspoken in his support of term limits and pledged to serve just three terms in office. Well, he's in his third term now, but as Nathan Gonzales noted last cycle, Benishek's suddenly gone wobbly on whether he'll stick to his promise.
It's hard to say whether voters are ever really in the mood to punish a lawmaker who reneges on such a pledge, but it's always possible that Benishek might just decide to honor it anyway. And if he doesn't, it at least gives someone like Cannon an opening to deride Benishek as an untrustworthy pol who (so typical!) went all insider the moment he got to Washington, D.C.
• MS-01: And then there were ten. On Tuesday, physician Starner Jones became the latest Republican to announce that he would run in the May 12 special election to succeed the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee. Jones rose to minor prominence in 2009 when he penned a letter decrying Obamacare as a way to force tax payers to subsidize irresponsible people's healthcare, earning him a permanent place on the Facebook walls of tea partiers everywhere. Jones' second endeavor, a 2012 religious-themed novel called Purple Church, doesn't seem to have done as well, though Sen. Roger Wicker and former Gov. Haley Barbour blurbed it.
Jones works in Memphis, and Roll Call recently noted he lives there (something the about the author section on his own novel acknowledged), though Jones calls himself a Pontotoc, Mississippi resident. Jones' ties to Bluff City could help him in voter-rich DeSoto County, which Dick Cheney once infamously called "South Memphis." 2014 Senate candidate Chris McDaniel has also been looking to finance a tea partyish candidate and Jones may be just what he's looking for.
The Associated Press also notes that former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross is looking at running, though they don't provide any more information. Ross sought the GOP nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Travis Childers in 2010 but lost to Nunnelee 52-33. Ross tried unseating Nunnelee in 2012, but fell 57-29.
• Philadelphia Mayor: Filing has closed in Philadelphia for all municipal races, and it turns out there are six Democrats running in the May 19 mayoral primary: ex-District Attorney Lynne Abraham, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, ex-Judge Nelson Diaz, ex-city Councilor Jim Kenney, ex-Michael Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver, and ex-state Sen. turned perennial candidate Milton Street (last seen losing to Nutter 76-24 in the 2011 mayoral primary).
We also have one Republican running: businesswoman (and former Democrat) Melissa Murray Bailey, who seems to be essentially Some Dude, though she also seems to at least have the party establishment behind her. There's one remaining question mark, as we wait to find out whether businessman Sam Katz runs. If he does, he'll be running as an independent, though, which means he faces a much later filing deadline (in August). Philly hasn't elected a non-Democratic mayor since Bernard Samuel last won in 1947, though Katz came very close to winning as a Republican in 1999.
The race also kicked into gear, in the form of the first TV advertisement. It's a pro-Kenney ad from one of his labor allies, the Building a Better PA PAC (which is funded mostly by the IBEW).
• Special Elections: From the desk of Johnny Longtorso:
Maine HD-93: Democrats held on to this seat, with Anne Beebe-Center defeating Republican James Kalloch by a 53-44 margin. Green Ron Huber pulled in 2 percent while Libertarian Shawn Levasseur ended up last with 1 percent.
• Deaths: Ordinarily the death of someone who lost a gubernatorial race (whose biggest claims to fame are serving as Oregon's attorney general and president of the University of Oregon) would be too deep in the weeds even for us, but Dave Frohnmayer's 1990 loss was an interesting canary-in-the-coal-mine moment predating the rise of the 21st century version of the Republican Party. Prior to 1990, Oregon had a pretty robust tradition of moderate-to-liberal Republicanism. He was widely expected to win the 1990 open seat race, after Democratic Gov. Neil Goldschmidt unexpectedly decided to not run for a second term.
However, Frohnmayer wound up losing the election 46-40, after a little-known hard-right independent, Al Mobley, vacuumed up 13 percent of the vote (hitting nearly 30 percent in some eastern counties). This was against the backdrop of the brief heyday of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a social-conservative group that succeeded in passing several anti-gay measures ... and that loss was the sudden but decisive end of Oregon's liberal Republican tradition, with conservatives taking control of the state's GOP after that (which, not coincidentally, hasn't seen a GOP Governor elected since 1982). Frohnmayer died at age 74 on Tuesday.
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