Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy at a 2014 campaign appearance with The Big Dog.
• FL-Sen: On Monday, Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy announced that he would run for Senate, whether or not Republican incumbent Marco Rubio seeks a second term. On Wednesday, Murphy earned two pieces of good news: He picked up a major endorsement from ex-Gov. Charlie Crist, and he also got welcome polling numbers from Public Policy Polling, which surveyed the Sunshine State's 2016 Senate contest for the first time. Here's how Murphy fares against a battery of possible opponents:
• Rubio 48, Murphy 41
• Atwater 41, Murphy 39
• Bondi 45, Murphy 41
• Lopez-Cantera 34, Murphy 41
• West 39, Murphy 41
While Rubio understandably starts with a lead, an open seat race would begin as a tossup. Rubio posts a positive 45-40 approval rating which, while not fantastic, is nothing to sneeze at in a time when Congress is so universally despised. Still, Murphy has to be happy that he's holding the incumbent below 50 at the outset.
Rubio has not announced his 2016 plans, but he looks very likely to seek the presidency rather than seek a second term. Rubio has pledged not to campaign for both offices at once and it's not hard to see why. It's difficult enough to run for either the White House or for re-election in a swing state, and doing both at once would be a superhuman task. While the NRSC might be relieved if Rubio decides to put his presidential ambitions on hold, his fellow Republicans are already positioning themselves to run to succeed him.
State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera have both met with national Republicans about potentially running, and at least in the early going, Atwater posts better numbers, though that's due to his greater name recognition. As for Attorney General Pam Bondi, while she hasn't formally ruled out a Senate run, she seems to have her eyes on the governorship in 2018. Finally, PPP tested former Rep. Allen West, whom Murphy narrowly unseated in 2012; if they took a rematch statewide, things would be similarly tight. But while Democrats would love it if the incendiary West made a comeback, it's not going to happen. West recently moved to Texas and told Politico's Jake Sherman on Wednesday that he's staying in the Lone Star State and won't be "chasing political office like some egomaniacal politician."
Head below the fold for more on this Florida Senate race.
However, Florida Republicans aren't ready to give up on the dream, because West remains their favorite. In a kitchen-sink primary scenario, West takes 38 percent while Bondi pulls in 25, Atwater takes just 12, and Lopez-Cantera brings up the rear with 8. Atwater unsurprisingly crushed Lopez-Cantera in a more realistic two-way matchup, 41-15. But who knows what sort of primary we'll wind up with? In recent days, former state House Speaker Will Weatherford and Reps. Vern Buchanan and Ron DeSantis have talked about running, and there are plenty of other Republicans who could go for it if Rubio bails.
It's also worth noting that Mason-Dixon recently tested Murphy against both Rubio and Atwater and found dramatically different numbers: They gave Rubio a 50-38 lead and found Atwater up 46-32. We don't have much other data to go on, but it seems very unlikely that Murphy would be running if he were seeing numbers that looked anywhere near as bad as Mason-Dixon's.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson has also been talking about running for Senate, and PPP tested him against each Republican. At this stage, his topline numbers are basically indistinguishable from Murphy's:
• Rubio 49, Grayson 40
• Atwater 41, Grayson 40
• Bondi 45, Grayson 42
• Lopez-Cantera 36, Grayson 40
• West 39, Grayson 42
However, the DSCC has made it amply clear that they prefer Murphy as their standard-bearer. Murphy has a reputation as a formidable campaigner, and he easily held a light red House seat during the 2014 GOP wave (albeit against a weak Republican foe). By contrast, while Grayson has plenty of money to burn, he's much more of a loose cannon. At this early stage neither congressman is well-known statewide, but Murphy's 21-13 favorable rating is quite a bit better than Grayson's 20-26 score. A hypothetical primary starts off virtually tied, with Grayson edging Murphy just 22-21 despite being better-known.
We have a long way to go in this contest, but both parties know that this seat could very well decide control of the Senate. A very expensive and intense race is expected, and we'll be following it closely at Daily Kos Elections.
• IN-Sen: That was quick. Eric Holcomb, a former state Republican Party chair and chief of staff to retiring Sen. Dan Coats, will reportedly announce on Thursday that he'll run to replace his boss. Holcomb starts out with minimal name recognition among primary voters but he's very well-known to local power players, and he'll definitely have the resources to compete. There are tons of Hoosier Republicans who might challenge Holcomb, though former Sen. Dick Lugar will unsurprisingly not be one of them.
• FL-02: Democrats would have loved to see former Republican Rep. Steve Southerland seek a rematch with freshman Democrat Gwen Graham, but alas, it is not to be. Southerland's former chief of staff Jonathan Hayes recently emailed the Bay County Republican Executive Committee to tell them that his old boss would sit this one out, despite rumors to the contrary. Southerland managed to narrowly lose a conservative North Florida seat even in the midst of a GOP wave, and the NRCC won't be devastated by his decision. Republicans are going to go after Graham in this 52-47 Romney seat and they have a few contenders in mind, but no one has stepped up to the plate yet.
• MN-02: Democrats have been trying to put Republican Rep. John Kline's swingy suburban Twin Cities seat on the map for a while, and they've just landed a second candidate. Mary Lawrence, who has served as an executive with the veteran's organization the Vision Center of Excellence, will join fellow physician Angie Craig in the quest for the Democratic nomination. However, Lawrence is only now moving to the 2nd District from Minneapolis, which will likely emerge as a campaign issue. It also remains to be seen if either Craig or Lawrence are capable of raising the type of money that they'll need if they're going to beat the formidable Kline.
• NE-02: Freshman Democrat Brad Ashford is going to be a top GOP target (if not the top target), and he's already attracted an opponent. On Tuesday, retired Brig. Gen. Don Bacon kicked off his campaign for this Omaha-based seat, which Romney won 53-46. Bacon is a novice candidate but he starts out with some notable endorsements from former Gov. Kay Orr and Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders.
Bacon is unlikely to have the GOP field to himself though. Former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, state Sen. John Murante, and former state Sen. Chip Maxwell are all mulling bids here. Osborn is probably not exactly the GOP's preferred candidate: His 2014 Senate bid was derailed after he forged a Navy memo to defend his military record. Maxwell also threatened to run for this seat as an independent last year, and his old party may not welcome him back with open arms. The Republicans have a deep bench here, so other names may surface.
• Houston Mayor: While Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia looks likely to jump in, two influential first-responder groups are throwing their backing behind another Democrat. In recent days, state Rep. Sylvester Turner picked up endorsements from Houston Police Officers' Union and the city firefighter's union. The unions waited until August to get involved in the 2009 open seat race, and they're hoping that an earlier start will make a difference.
• Jacksonville Mayor: On Tuesday, voters in Florida's largest city went to the polls in the non-partisan primary. As the polls predicted, Democratic incumbent Alvin Brown was forced into a May 19 runoff with former state Republican Party head Bill Curry. Brown led Curry 43-38, with Republican Councilor Bill Bishop taking 17.
Brown isn't going to have an easy time getting a majority in this conservative city, especially with an off-year electorate. However, as Matthew Isbell argues, it's far from clear that Bishop's voters will flock to Curry. Bishop is a fiscally conservative but socially liberal candidate, and he did well among unaffiliated voters. Bishop also performed relatively well in both precincts that supported Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott in last year's gubernatorial contest. So far, Bishop has not backed either of his former rivals, but he very well could emerge as the kingmaker in May.
• PA State House: Tuesday night turned out to be miserable indeed for Philly Democrats. Republican Martina White easily picked up now-Rep. Brendan Boyle's 170th District state House seat, crushing Democrat Sarah Del Ricci by a 56-44 margin. What's so distressing is that Barack Obama also got 57 percent in this district, showcasing just how dramatically Democratic turnout fell off in this oddly timed special election. We warned that this might happen, but anyone paying attention to voting trends for the past few cycles knew this there was a strong chance this might come to pass.
However, it wasn't just a question of turnout. Democrats were badly divided against themselves, as forces loyal to newly elected Lt. Gov. Mike Stack tapped Del Ricci as the Democratic standard-bearer instead of Seth Kaplan, who is chief of staff to Boyle's brother, state Rep. Kevin Boyle. The Boyle clan is very tight with labor, and many unions consequently sided with White, leaving Del Ricci to twist. But they're very apt to turn on White as they'll likely back their own candidate next year, when nominees will be chosen in a primary instead of by committee.
Given the 170th District's fundamental demographics, Democrats are likely to do well here in a presidential year. But with Team Blue already in a huge 120-83 hole in the state House, having to recapture a seat that should already be theirs is the last thing Keystone Democrats need.
• Philadelphia Mayor: Former Councilor Jim Kenney has pretty much locked down the "labor candidate" niche in the Democratic mayoral primary in the open Philadelphia mayoral race, with endorsements from the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, and Fraternal Order of Police. Now he's added one more trophy: the backing of the Service Employee International Union's Philadelphia-area local, 32BJ, which represents around 10,000 workers.
• VA State House: Joe Morrissey's second reign of terror is over. Last year, the Democrat resigned from his seat in the House of Delegates after pleading guilty to statutory rape, but he quickly turned around and won it back in a January special as an independent. Morrissey recently announced that he would challenge state Sen. Rosalyn Dance in the Democratic primary, and he moved into her Senate district in preparation. But his new residence is outside HD-74, and Republican House Speaker William Howell just declared the seat vacant. So get ready for yet another special election here!
And it's possible that Morrissey's successor will be someone with his own set of baggage. Morrissey recently forged an alliance with former Richmond Mayor Leonidas Young, who served 15 months in prison over influence peddling as mayor, and fraud as a pastor. Young was released in 2001 and is seeking the Democratic nomination for this safely blue seat, which mostly consists of suburban Henrico County. Henrico School Board member Lamont Bagby and businessman David Lambert are also running here in the regularly scheduled June primary.
• Wichita Mayor: SurveyUSA gives us a rare preview of the April 7 mayoral runoff. They give Councilor Jeff Longwell a 42-35 lead over businessman Sam Williams. Both men are Republicans, though Longwell is the more conservative of the two.
• AL Redistricting: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that had rejected claims by black Alabama Democrats that the state's new legislative maps constituted an impermissible racial gerrymander. While the SCOTUS did not find that Republicans had in fact redistricted improperly, it sent the case back down for a wide-ranging rehearing, and it's pretty clear that the liberal majority (joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy) expects the district court to largely side with the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit centers on arguments that the GOP illegally packed black voters into a small number of districts, thus diluting Democratic strength outside of those seats, since African Americans so reliably vote for Democrats. Republicans claimed they only did so to shore up existing black-majority districts so that they'd remain compliant with the Voting Rights Act, but the court called that too clever by half, saying lawmakers couldn't fall back on the VRA to actually undermine minority voting power.
But what will the practical outcome be here? The best summation you'll find anywhere is from, unsurprisingly, Rick Hasen, who argues the impact will be limited in this case because Republicans can easily find other ways to cement their deathlock on Alabama politics that aren't as transparently racial in their motivations. At the same time, though, this case is a victory for minority voters (and by extension Democrats) since, as Hasen explains, it gives them a new weapon that will make it "harder for states to use compliance with the Voting Rights Act as a pretext to secure partisan advantage."
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and Taniel.