• NC Redistricting: On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling from North Carolina's highest court that had upheld Republican-drawn maps of the state's congressional and legislative districts. While we don't yet know what the final outcome will be, the court's decision could have a real impact on one of the most aggressively partisan gerrymanders in the nation.
Democrats had argued that the new lines were unconstitutional because they'd improperly taken voters' race into account; while this line of attack did not receive a receptive audience in state court, the SCOTUS decreed that in light of a recent decision of theirs in similar case out of Alabama, the North Carolina Supreme Court had to reconsider its decision.
So what did that Alabama decision say? In that case, plaintiffs claimed that Republicans—who had their hands on the cartographer's pencil there as well—had packed black voters into too few districts, "bleaching" surrounding districts and thus diminishing Democratic voting strength in those areas (because African-Americans almost always vote heavily for Democrats). There as here, a lower court sided with the defendants, but the Supreme Court disagreed and sent that case back down for a re-hearing last month. We're still awaiting the results, and may yet for a while.
Opponents of North Carolina's maps raised very similar arguments—take a look at the skinny, snake-like 12th District, which crams in a black majority running along a hundred-mile stretch of I-85 from Greensboro to Charlotte. They now find themselves in the same place as their peers in Alabama: waiting to see how a lower court decides the second time around. However, as legal scholar Rick Hasen explained when the Alabama decision was handed down, the Supreme Court's ruling may only offer plaintiffs a "small" and "temporary" victory.
Head over the fold to find out why.
Republicans are free to draft new maps that maximize the number of seats they can expect to win, so long as they don't rely on race as a proxy for voting behavior (or can at least do a better job of hiding their intentions). In other words, they can be as partisan as they want to be—they just need to be crafty about it.
But that's a lot easier in dark red Alabama than in swingy North Carolina. Indeed, the Tarheel State is currently home to some of the most extreme gerrymanders in the entire nation. Even though Barack Obama carried the state by a point in 2008 and lost it by only 2 four years later, just three of the state's 13 members of the House—23 percent—are Democrats, and only 36 percent of legislators are Democrats as well. For a 50-50 state, that's breathtaking.
So if North Carolina Republicans are forced to go back to the literal drawing board (well, laptop running fancy software), they'll have less room to maneuver than their counterparts in Alabama. They're a wily bunch, though, so the upside for Democrats may not be dramatic. (And sometimes these wins turn out to be pyrrhic, as we saw in a different case last year in Florida.) But it's possible we'll see some GOP seats grow more competitive, and at the very least, the Supreme Court is intent on forbidding Republicans from impermissibly turning voters' race into a partisan cudgel.
• FL-Sen: On Monday, Republican Rep. Tom Rooney announced that he would stay in the House rather than run for Marco Rubio's open Senate seat. Rooney is wealthy and he could have made an impact here, though he'd have needed to give up his safe seat on a risky bid.
However, another Republican House member may be ready to fill the void. Jeff Miller, who represents the Pensacola area, said on Monday that he's "seriously considering" the contest, and hopes to make a decision with "the next couple of weeks." Miller is a pretty low-key member who would also be risking a safe spot in the House. In a primary he could pull off a surprise if he can consolidate the conservative Panhandle region, but another local Republican, wealthy former state Senate President Don Gaetz, could also run and cause problems.
Curt Clawson, who was elected to the House in a special election last year, is also reportedly mulling a bid, though he's said nothing publicly about his plans. Clawson has money to burn and if the libertarian-leaning member can do well among the Paulist bloc, he could sneak through a crowded primary. However, given how badly Clawson embarrassed himself during his brief time in the limelight, it's likely the NRSC hopes he passes.
Other GOP House members are scouting out this contest, but David Jolly and Vern Buchanan both sound pretty meh about it. Jolly claims he'll decide within the next six to eight weeks, but said that his "heart and soul is in representing Pinellas in the House." Jolly's House seat is very swingy, and the NRCC would rather not defend it without him. Vern Buchanan also made sure not to rule anything out, but appears reluctant to leave the House as well.
There are a ton of other Republicans looking at a run, and we've taken a look at the potential field in our new Daily Kos Great Mentioner piece. It's going to take a while for this race to develop, and we'll be watching everything closely.
• GA-Sen: Over the weekend, 2014 Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn announced that she would head up the Atlanta-based relief organization CARE USA. It always seemed extremely unlikely that Nunn would challenge Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who looks completely safe, and now we can close the door on the possibility. But we may very well see Nunn's name on a ballot again before too long. Peach State and national Democrats were impressed by her campaign last year, and they're eying her for a 2018 run to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
• IN-Sen: On Monday, GOP Rep. Susan Brooks ruled out a bid to succeed retiring Sen. Dan Coats. Plenty of other Republicans are eying this seat, but only former Coats' chief of staff Eric Holcomb is currently running.
• CA-21: Fowler Councilor Daniel Parra recently entered the race against Republican Rep. David Valadao, but Team Blue may be looking for another contender. The California tipsheet The Nooner reports that national Democrats are hoping that former state Sen. Michael Rubio will jump in, though there's no word if Rubio is actually interested.
Rubio ran for this Central Valley seat in 2011 but dropped out after his daughter was born with Down Syndrome. However, in 2013, Rubio resigned from the state Senate to take a job as a Chevron lobbyist, and Democrats lost his seat in the following special election. Rubio sounded very done with politics two years ago, saying, "my current professional path has left little opportunity to be home for those who are most important to me." Maybe Rubio's changed his mind and wants to get back in the game, though it might just be wishful thinking from optimistic Democrats.
• CA-31: Ok then. The Nooner tells us that there are rumors that former Democratic Rep. Joe Baca will challenge freshman Democrat Pete Aguilar... as a Republican. If Baca is serious about a party switch, he should probably review his old website, which, as of Monday, still praises Baca as "the only Member of Congress from the Inland Empire who stood with President Obama's Stimulus Package and Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act." Yeah, Republican primary voters will love that. 2014 GOP nominee Paul Chabot, who came close to upsetting Aguilar last year, is already running again. But Aguilar should be favored with presidential turnout in this Obama 57-41 seat.
• CA-46, Sen: Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez is promising to announce her Senate plans by the end of the week, and it sounds like she's definitely leaning toward a run. If Sanchez takes the plunge, it will open up her Anaheim-area district. In a presidential cycle, her 61-36 Obama seat should be safe for Team Blue, though the top-two primary could allow two Republicans to sneak to the general.
The local blog Liberal OC recently put on their Great Mentioner caps and took a look at who might run to succeed Sanchez. Former state Sen. Lou Correa recently lost a close contest for Orange County Supervisor, and he could reactive his campaign for a House run. Assemblyman Tom Daly is also a possibility, though he'd be giving up several more years in the powerful state legislature.
Former Assemblyman Jose Solorio might also be interested. Solorio badly lost an expensive state Senate contest last year, so he may not be high on the DCCC's wish list. Anaheim Councilor Jordan Brandman also gets name dropped, as does community college board member Claudia Alvarez. But as Liberal OC diplomatically puts it, Alvarez's "theatrics on the Santa Ana City Council and her anti-Semitic tirades against developer Irv Chase make her the easiest Democratic candidate for a Republican to beat." Indeed.
A few Republicans may try their luck here. Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Todd Spitzer and Assemblyman Don Wagner are mentioned, and a few other local Republicans may be eying the seat. Still, if Sanchez leaves this cycle, it's hard to see Democrats losing barring a top-two fluke.
• IL-12: Democrats have been looking for a candidate to face freshman Republican Mike Bost in this swingy St. Louis-area seat, and they may have a taker. Earlier this month, labor lawyer C.J. Baricevic formed an exploratory committee, and sounds very interested in jumping in. Baricevic has no electoral experience but he comes from a powerful local political family: His father, Judge John Baricevic, is a former St. Clair County Board chair, and the Belleville News-Democrat describes him as a "key player in metro-east Democratic politics." Bost unseated incumbent Bill Enyart 53-42, but Democrats are hoping that a better political climate will give them a chance to beat Bost before he can become entrenched.
• MI-01, NE-02: The Roll Call team takes a look at some fundraising highlights (or lowlights) for House and Senate candidates, and two competitive districts stand out. In the Northern Michigan 1st District, Republican incumbent Dan Benishek brought in a pretty weak $115,000. Benishek may face a credible primary challenge from state Rep. Peter Pettalia, and Democrats are looking to target this district again.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Brad Ashford hauled in $200,000, not a great sum for a freshman in a Romney 53-46 seat and short of his own self-proclaimed goal of $250,000. The congressman indicated back in March that he wasn't going to focus on fundraising, and he wasn't lying. Ashford managed to unseat unpopular GOP incumbent Lee Terry even in the midst of the red wave, but he can't count on Team Red nominating another dud.
• NC-02: Last year, perennial candidate Frank Roche performed surprisingly well against Rep. Renee Ellmers in the GOP primary, holding her to only a 59-41 victory. Chatham County GOP chair Jim Duncan has announced that he'll try to unseat Ellmers this time, but if he was hoping Roche would stay out, he'll be disappointed. Last week, Roche kicked off his second bid for this seat, and already began hitting Ellmers as a "progressive."
A Roche victory is very unlikely (he's promising to have "a powerful national team," to help him fundraise, which we'll definitely need to see to believe.) But Roche may be well-known enough to take some votes from Duncan, which could allow Ellmers to sail to renomination with just a plurality. North Carolina requires candidates to take at least 40 percent in the primary to win outright, so Ellmers can still be forced into a runoff. Still, tea party groups infuriated with Ellmers occasional flirtations with pragmatism would be pissed if Roche's presence allows her to prevail with something like 41 percent of the vote.
• Houston Mayor: On Friday, Republican Councilor Oliver Pennington dropped out of the contest, saying that he couldn't continue given his wife's poor health. Pennington was banking on mobilizing the city's conservative minority to advance to a December runoff, though he would have had a difficult time winning in the end.
A few other candidates are going to try appealing to Pennington's old supporters now that he's out of the contest. Fellow Councilor Stephen Costello also identifies as a Republican, though his support for a drainage fee doesn't exactly help him with right-leaning voters. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King and 2013 candidate Ben Hall will also make a play for Pennington's people. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez might also be able to capitalize if he gets in, but that's still a big if.
• Indianapolis Mayor: Joe Hogsett has looked like the favorite for a while to retake city hall for Team Blue this November, and he continues to post a big financial edge over likely GOP foe Chuck Brewer. As of mid-April, Hogsett leads in cash-on-hand $2,167,000 to $657,000. Outgoing GOP Mayor Greg Ballard donated $400,000 to Brewer, so he's not exactly lighting the world on fire with his fundraising.
• OR Recall: Last week, we mentioned that gun activists in Oregon had begun the process of trying to recall Democratic legislators who had voted in favor of a new law that would close a major loophole by requiring background checks for private gun sales. It turns out there's one piece of good news: Even if these recalls are successful, any successors would still be Democrats. That's because vacancies in the Beaver State—which includes vacancies forced by recalls—are filled by appointment, and appointees have to be members of the same political party as the departed office-holder.
Of course, it would still be demoralizing to lose a race like this, but conversely, the only upside for gun activists would be a purely moral victory. That hopefully means that the NRA and their ilk won't bother and instead focus on races where they can replace Democrats with Republicans. That won't make legislators in a lot of other states happy (we all remember what happened in Colorado two years ago), but these same folks could also change the laws that govern vacancies in their own states. Something worth thinking about, for sure. (Hat-tip: reader JB)
• Philadelphia Mayor: Ex-Councilor Jim Kenney rolled out more endorsements for the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary in Philadelphia. For starters, he got the endorsements of many of the key players in the city's Northeast, a blue-collar Catholic (what used to be called "white ethnic") area that potentially could have been former District Attorney Lynne Abraham's wheelhouse (but also a pro-union area, which is probably why Kenney got the nod). The list includes state Sen. Tina Tartaglione, state Rep. Kevin Boyle (U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle's brother), Councilor Bobby Henon (not to be confused with professional wrestler Bobby "The Brain" Heenan), and nearly a dozen ward leaders.
Kenney also got the backing of Latinos United for Political Empowerment (LUPE), rather than former Judge Nelson Diaz, the only Latino candidate in the race but one who hasn't gotten much traction in general. Latinos are a smaller percentage of the electorate in Philly than in many other major cities, but with polls showing Kenney in a tight race with state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, Kenney needs to assemble a disparate coalition.
• Fundraising: Last year, a leaked memo from Georgia Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn's campaign noted that she would need to spend between 70 and 80 percent of her time fundraising. While money has always been vital in politics, this statistic was still quite startling. But it shouldn't be: In a new post, Stephen Wolf tells us that the richest 0.01 percent of Americans were responsible for 42 percent of political donations in 2012. In a world where one billionaire can drop tons of dollars on any race at a whim, candidates like Nunn will need to spend more time than ever amassing their own resources.
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.