Newly-minted Republican Senate candidate Marlin Stutzman
• IN-Sen: Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman has been flirting with a bid ever since Sen. Dan Coats announced his retirement in late March, and he kicked off his campaign on Saturday. Stutzman will face Coats' former chief of staff Eric Holcomb in the primary, and we could see some real fireworks.
While the establishment-flavored Holcomb is a former state party chair and an ally of Coats and former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Stutzman hails from the tea party wing of the party. Stutzman, at the time a little-known state senator, refused to drop out of the 2010 primary after national Republicans brought Coats out of retirement. Stutzman earned the backing of influential tea partier Jim DeMint, and he lost by a relatively narrow 39-29 margin. If ex-Rep. John Hostettler hadn't been competing for a similar pool of voters, it's a good bet that the underfunded Stutzman would have pulled off an upset.
Stutzman soon arrived in the House after his predecessor resigned due to a sex scandal, and he never stopped being trouble for his party's leaders. Stutzman unsuccessfully challenged two better-connected colleagues in last year's majority whip contest, and he voted against John Boehner in January's speakership election. While groups like the Club For Growth might like Stutzman's antics, the NRSC is not going to be enamored by the possibility of having him as their nominee.
But this primary may get bigger soon. Rep. Todd Young has also been considering the race, and he may be able to appeal to the very conservative voters Stutzman needs without alienating national Republicans. Fellow Rep. Todd Rokita has also expressed interest and while he hasn't sounded quite as eager as Young, he's promised a decision within the next few weeks. There are also a few other Republicans who could also go for it.
Democrats would love for Stutzman to emerge as the GOP nominee. Stutzman's bad relationship with national Republicans could hamper him in the general election, and the congressman hasn't always shown much discipline. During the 2013 government shutdown, Stutzman infamously declared that he and his fellow House Republicans were "not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is." While it's too early to declare that Stutzman is the second coming of Richard Mourdock, the disastrous 2012 Senate nominee who lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly, he might give Team Blue more of an opening than Holcomb or Coats.
Still, Indiana is a conservative state. It's going to take some luck for Democrats to win here, and the party is still looking for a viable candidate. The DSCC is holding out hope that popular former Sen. Evan Bayh will come out of retirement, but Bayh sounds unlikely to go for it (though Bayh is an unpredictable guy, so you never know what he'll do). Former Rep. Baron Hill, state Rep. Christina Hale, or Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott might run if Bayh doesn't. We'll be keeping a close eye on both sides' developing fields in what promises to be an exciting Senate race.
• FL-Sen: It looks like we're in for a major GOP primary battle in the Sunshine State. Rep. Ron DeSantis quickly consolidated support from big-named anti-establishment groups like the Club For Growth, FreedomWorks, and the Senate Conservatives Fund, and they're already preparing to go to war with likely contender Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a close friend of retiring Sen. Marco Rubio.
Politico's Marc Caputo tells us that D.C. Republicans aren't happy to see their old intra-party rivals mucking around in another race. Last year, this group targeted now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and came close to unseating Sen. Thad Cochran. To add insult to injury, DeSantis' consulting firm Jamestown Associates was blacklisted by the NRSC for trying to torpedo McConnell. But it's unclear what, if anything, national Republicans will actually do to stop DeSantis besides anonymously complain.
Senate Conservatives Fund chieftain Ken Cuccinelli is already hitting Lopez-Cantera's record in the state House, accusing him of raising taxes, backing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and voting for a 2009 budget that accepted stimulus money. Lopez-Cantera said that the state House tried to keep tax hikes and stimulus money out of the budget, which may be true but probably won't deter any attack ads.
But this primary probably won't shape up to be just a duel between the establishment-flavored Lopez-Cantera and the tea partying DeSantis. Potential candidate Rep. Jeff Miller is very socially conservative, and he could eat into DeSantis' support. But Miller, a 14-year congressional veteran and chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, can't exactly sell himself as an enemy of the establishment the way someone like the sophomore member DeSantis can. Ex-state Attorney General Bill McCollum, Rep. David Jolly, former Sen. George LeMieux and state Sen. Don Gaetz have also talked about running, and they could further complicate things.
• WA-Sen, Gov: Roll Call takes a look at Democrat Patty Murray's quest for a fifth term. Unsurprisingly, Evergreen State Republicans aren't exactly lining up to face her, and it's not hard to see why. Any Republican with any juice is likely to focus on Gov. Jay Inslee instead, won only narrowly in 2012 and who's up for his first re-election. It also goes beyond Murray's relative seniority: Just like in many other blue states, Washington voters are simply more tolerant of moderate Republicans at the state level than they are of sending GOPers to D.C. to caucus with other members of the national party.
The article does get an on-the-record quote from Rep. Dave Reichert, who'd probably be the GOP's dream candidate here ... but it may be the most boilerplate non-answer we've ever seen: "My entire career I have always kept my options open. I have considered every possibility that has been put in front of me." Beyond that, the article cites several lower-tier options, who no doubt would both rather be the gubernatorial nominee (and whom we've mentioned in that context several times before): state Sen. Andy Hill and Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant.
They also add state Sen. Steve Litzow, a moderate Republican from Seattle's Eastside suburbs, to the list for both contests. Like Hill, Litzow has won over Democratic-leaning voters before, and he currently holds a 60 percent Obama district. However, unlike Hill, Litzow would have to give up his seat in 2016 to run statewide. The GOP caucus holds a 26-23 edge in the state Senate and they can't afford to sacrifice many seats if they want to stay in power, and they'll likely have trouble keeping Litzow's district without him.
• KY-Gov: Until Friday, we hadn't seen any recent polling of the nasty May 19 GOP primary. In the last week, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer's ex-girlfriend has publicly accused him of abusing her in college and taking her to get an abortion. Comer is both denying everything and claiming that his rival Hal Heiner paid her to lie. PPP takes a look at this intense contest on behalf of the Democratic group Kentucky Family Values. They find a very close race, with Comer leading Heiner 28-27, and tea partying businessman Matt Bevin just behind at 25 (ex-state Supreme Court Justice Will Scott was not tested).
The poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday, just after Comer held a press conference denying the abuse allegations, so there wasn't much time for the story to sink in. But so far, Comer's image appears to be intact with GOP voters. Comer posts a 50-25 favorable rating, not too different from Bevin's 48-24 but far ahead of Heiner's 44-33. We should see some more polling before the primary so we'll get a better idea if Comer is weathering the storm, or if GOP primary voters are ready to cast him aside.
Bevin has managed to stay out of the Comer-Heiner slugfest, and he's taking advantage of the situation in his new spot. Bevin's ad features actors playing Comer and Heiner having a food fight, with the narrator accusing them of "acting like children." The commercial then talks about Bevin's positive, conservative, and "grown up" leadership. There's no word on the size of the buy, but Bevin's camp says it's running in every market.
• WV-Gov: Democratic billionaire Jim Justice has been publicly mulling a gubernatorial bid for the last few weeks, and he will announce his 2016 plans on Monday afternoon. He didn't give much more information but Justice has invited hundreds of family members and friends to the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center, which isn't something you normally do if you're not running. Justice's wealth could help Team Blue hold onto the governor's office, though the GOP and his primary rivals are going to scrutinize his business background very closely if he jumps in.
Things are also on the move on the GOP side. State Senate President Bill Cole has filed pre-candidacy papers in preparation for a statewide run. Cole hasn't committed to anything yet, but says he'll make a final decision within the next two weeks.
• MO-02: At 57-41 Romney, this suburban St. Louis seat hasn't been on many Democratic target lists. However, Team Blue may have just landed a legit candidate against Republican Rep. Ann Wagner. State Rep. Bill Otto hasn't announced anything yet, but he has opened a campaign account with the FEC. Otto narrowly won a second term in a 51-48 Romney seat during last year's GOP wave, so he does have some experience winning tough races. Still, if he runs he's going to have his work cut out against Wagner, a well-connected former RNC co-chair who is more than capable of raising real money. (Hat-Tip: Politics1)
• MS-01: On Friday, former GOP Sen. Trent Lott endorsed businessman Sam Adcock, a former aide. Adcock has 12 opponents in the May 12 non-partisan primary, and he'll welcome any chance to stand out from the pack.
• NC-12: Freshman Democrat Alma Adams defeated then-state Sen. Malcolm Graham 44-24 in the 2014 Democratic primary for this safely blue seat, and Graham wasted little time talking about a rematch. And on Thursday, Graham tweeted a photo of him standing behind a "Malcolm Graham for Congress" sign, with the caption "at first you don't succeed," though he hasn't said anything else about his plans.
Graham's definitely going to have his work cut out for him if he gets in. Last time, weak fundraising hampered Graham, and now that she's the incumbent, Adams should be able to widen the gap. Adams also hasn't done anything to alienate primary voters, so it's hard to see Graham getting traction this time.
• NV-04: Democratic North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee sought this seat in the 2012 cycle before dropping out, and he's looked like a potential contender for 2016. Lee has yet to confirm or deny his interest, but he may have bigger things to worry about now. Former police Chief Joseph Chronisterm, who had a poor relationship with the mayor, tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Lee got special treatment after suspected child pornography was found on his iPad. This is a messy case with lots of conflicting and confusing events but suffice to say, Lee can't run a credible campaign if this kind of thing is hanging over his head.
• NY-21: Democrats may have a candidate against freshman Republican Elise Stefanik, though he's going to have a lot to prove. Mike Derrick, a retired Army colonel and former senior adviser at the State Department, says he's met with the DCCC and he'll decide whether to run "in the next several months." Derrick is originally from this rural Upstate New York seat, but he only moved back from Colorado recently. However, Derrick was last stationed in the Centennial State and he only lived there as a civilian since late 2013, so it won't be easy to attack him as a carpetbagger.
It's often hard to tell if first-time candidates will be able to run a real race or just turn out to be Some Dudes, though one county party chair sounds excited about Derrick. Obama won this district 52-46 but it's quite red downballot, and Stefanik will definitely have the resources she needs if this contest gets competitive.
• NY-24: National Democrats should be able to give GOP freshman John Katko a real challenge, but they'll need to do it without their first choice candidate. On Friday, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner announced that she would sit the contest out. Obama won this seat 57-41 and the DCCC will want to beat Katko next year before he can secure his hold on the seat, but it's unclear who else they're looking at.
• UK General: Across the pond, both the Labour Party and British pollsters had a terrible election night on Thursday. The final polling averages (which included numbers from a lot of different outfits) called the race a dead heat at 34 percent each for Labour and the Conservatives, which in practice would have meant an end to Tory rule because the incumbents wouldn't have had enough seats to retain a majority, even via coalition. While the polls showed that Labour wouldn't have won a majority either, they could have counted on informal backing from the Scottish National Party, which loathes Tory Prime Minister David Cameron.
Instead, the Conservatives won the overall popular vote by 6.5 points, taking 36.9 percent to just 30.4 for Labour. That led to a 28-seat increase for the Tories, something almost no one was predicting, giving them 331 overall—an outright majority in the 650-seat chamber. At the same time, Ed Miliband's Labour lost 24 seats, taking the party from 256 to 232. The fate of Ed Balls, one of Labour's most prominent members, underscores how awful the night went. Before the polls closed, Balls looked like he was on track to become the next chancellor of the Exchequer, a powerful post that's similar to Treasury secretary here. Instead, Balls lost his seat to the Tories in a shocker. Unsurprisingly, Miliband resigned as party leader the day after the election.
But as badly as things went for Labour, the Conservatives' former partners, the Liberal Democrats, fared far worse. The Lib Dems had long been expected to lose a significant number of seats, but few predicted they would shrink from 56 to a pitiful eight. The party's leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, managed to hold his seat in the face of a Labour offensive, but he unsurprisingly stepped down as head of what was left of the Lib Dems. The party had long occupied a mostly barren middle space between the two big parties, but presumably, anti-Tory voters deserted them for putting Cameron in power, and pro-Tory voters probably figured they were just better off voting for actual Tories.
The SNP, meanwhile, saw their fortunes head in the opposite direction and surged from just six seats to 56 under leader Nicola Sturgeon, mostly by crushing Labour. This explosion was fueled by extreme resentment over opposition on the part of the big three "Westminster parties" (Labour, the Tories, and the Lib Dems) to last year's Scottish independence referendum, but since Labour had by far the strongest presence in Scotland, the SNP's gains were taken out of their hide.
What makes these numbers even more impressive is that the SNP only runs candidates in Scotland and captured all but three seats there—but the SNP may have affected elections south of the border, too. That's because some English voters may have been put off by the prospect of even a loose alliance between Labour and the SNP, something Labour was definitely concerned about since Miliband had taken pains to publicly distance his party from the SNP.
Fortunately, the xenophobic UK Independence Party failed to make gains—they actually lost one of their two seats—and their leader, Nigel Farage, stepped down as well. But the news isn't as good as you might think. UKIP saw their vote share surge 9.5 percent compared to the last election in 2010, by far the biggest gain for any party. But thanks to Britain's "first past the post" system, where the leading vote-getter in any seat wins no matter how few votes he or she takes, the party struggled to win any pluralities. Right now, the UKIP's support is geographically diffuse, but in the future, if they can build up any regional strength, they could become dangerous.
So what the hell happened? There's two ways of looking at that question: 1) Why did Labour do so poorly and 2) why were the polls so far off? For the former, if Labour's internals matched the public polls, then it's hard to say they did much wrong, since they looked like they were in a good position to win. (Put another way, why would you change your campaign tactics if your polls are positive?) Given how stunned Labour appeared on Thursday night, this was probably the case. A common critique on the left is that Labour failed to present a sufficiently liberal alternative to Tory austerity, but there isn't much evidence to support that thesis. An analysis of Labour's failure will require a much deeper examination of why the party did not connect with as many voters as it thought it would.
As for the latter, that's a similarly difficult question. FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten thinks there's some indication that pollsters may have been guilty of "herding"—that is, weighting their results to match those of other firms, lest they look like outliers. Indeed, one outfit, Survation, admitted to just that: The company's CEO claims that his final poll had the Tories up 37-31 on Labour, but he says he "chickened out" of publishing it because it appeared to be "out of line" with the consensus.
That's not entirely true, though. There was one firm that did release final numbers that were very close, online pollster SurveyMonkey. Their last poll had the Conservatives up 34-28, the same spread as the final Tory margin. It's particularly notable because traditional telephone pollsters performed somewhat better than their online counterparts, but still, the UK polling industry has to do some serious soul-searching to find out what went wrong—just like Labour.
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.