Then-Sen. Bob Torricelli pulling the plug on his 2002 re-election campaign
• NJ-Sen: Though Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted on corruption charges back in April, it's still far too early to start playing the "who might replace him if he steps down?" game. But for this, we'll make an exception: Former Sen. Bob Torricelli, who retired in disgrace with barely a month to go in his 2002 re-election bid, wants to make his way back the Senate.
The Torch, as he's known, was forced to quit nearly 13 years ago following a series of seamy revelations that he'd accepted lavish gifts from businessman David Chang, which in turned prompted the Senate Ethics Committee to issue a formal letter of admonishment. Torricelli's poll numbers began to plummet, and he found himself in a surprisingly competitive race with Republican Doug Forrester. It looked like the GOP might actually win in New Jersey.
Making his saga all the more remarkable, the Torch had, the cycle before, headed up the DSCC. Democrats picked up four seats, tying the Senate at 50 apiece, and setting the stage for the party to take full control when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords left the GOP in the middle of 2001. Now that slenderest of majorities was threatened by the foibles of one of the men most responsible for it in the first place. Rather than risk going down to defeat, Torricelli stepped aside and was replaced by ex-Sen. Frank Lautenberg, an arch-rival of his who'd retired two years earlier. In the end, Democrats held Torricelli's seat but the 2002 elections did not go well for them and Republicans retook the chamber.
Torricelli's swift fall also came about because he was so good at alienating fellow Democrats and was incapable of taking any blame for his misdeeds. The Torch's personality is best summed up in this 2007 piece from the incomparable Steve Kornacki, where he describes an email he received from the former senator after conducting an interview with him. Kornacki had been prepared, he says, to write a piece describing Torricelli as "brilliant" and owning "one of the quickest minds in politics" but also as someone who was "a real prick who makes enemies easily."
That plan got derailed when Torricelli insisted, despite having never seen the article (because it hadn't been published yet), that Kornacki had written a "fundamentally dishonest" hit piece and demanded that the story be published with a disclaimer saying his interview "was granted through deception." It's a perfect Torricelli vignette; as Kornacki says, he was "delusional" and blew his chance at what would have been, said one Torricelli hater, his "best press" in years.
Torricelli maintained then that he hadn't been down in the polls when he bailed (untrue), and he still maintains now that his ethical lapses were "minor," in the words of reporter Tom Moran. Torricelli was a brilliant fundraiser and an incredibly energetic pol when it came to serving his constituents, but his mind and reality don't track together well. The Garden State may be an ethical sewer, but even the Torch has to be dreaming if he thinks one corrupt former senator can succeed another.
• AR-Sen: Ex-Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has repeatedly said that he's done with elected office, and there's no reason to think that he's in any hurry to change his mind. Still, Hendrix College and Impact Management Group, on behalf of their usual client Talk Business & Politics, tested Beebe in a hypothetical matchup with GOP Sen. John Boozman, and found the Democrat leading 45-37. Boozman posted a respectable 42-21 approval rating, so it's unlikely that any other Natural State Democrat could get within striking distance.
• FL-Sen: Quinnipiac returns to the Sunshine State to survey the open seat race for U.S. Senate. Just like in April, they paired Democratic Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson against GOP Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. However, this time they switched out state CEO Jeff Atwater (who announced he wasn't running in mid-April) with Rep. Ron DeSantis. The results are below, with Quinnipiac's April numbers in parentheses where applicable:
• Murphy (D): 40, Lopez-Cantera (R): 28 (35-31)
• Murphy (D): 39, DeStantis (R): 31
• Grayson (D): 37, Lopez-Cantera (R): 31 (32-33)
• Grayson (D): 38, DeStantis (R): 32
Like most polls so far, Quinnipiac shows a huge portion of the voters undecided. None of these men are particularly well known, but Murphy's 22-6 favorability score is the best of this quartet. Grayson's also on positive ground at 21-16, though Democratic leaders are worried that his undisciplined nature could drive down his favorables if he's the nominee. Both Republicans are pretty anonymous, with Lopez-Cantera at 12-10 and DeSantis at 11-7.
Right now, Murphy and DeSantis are the only candidates officially running, while Grayson says he'll decide in July but will probably get in. Lopez-Cantera has been quietly preparing for a bid to succeed Marco Rubio for a while, and he told the Miami-Dade Republican Party that he'll announce his decision on July 15. Suffice to say, it's extremely unlikely that Lopez-Cantera is going to use his big day to tell Floridians that he's choosing to stay in the lieutenant governor's office so he can help market Captain Citrus comics across the nation.
While other polls also show that Lopez-Cantera starts with little statewide name-recognition, he already has a well-funded and well-staffed super PAC behind him. Plenty of national Republicans are also excited about the prospect of having another Hispanic senator. Lopez-Cantera would join the tea party flavored-DeSantis in the GOP primary, with Rep. Jeff Miller likely to jump in as well. Additionally, Rep. David Jolly, ex-Attorney General Bill McCollum, and businessmen Randy Fine and Todd Wilcox are publicly considering.
• MD-Sen, Baltimore Mayor: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake looked unlikely to seek this open Senate seat even before she was criticized for her handling of April's riots, and she quietly announced last month that she'll run for re-election next year instead. Winning April's Democratic mayoral primary is usually tantamount to election, and several prominent Charm City politicians are considering challenging the incumbent.
The Democratic Senate primary is currently a duel between Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, who both hail from the D.C. area and are looking to make inroads in Baltimore City. Both candidates have been appearing here, but according to The Baltimore Sun's John Fritze, Van Hollen has done a much better job making himself available to local Democrats. Fritze notes that only Van Hollen showed up for a meeting with prominent black business leaders and with one of the city's few organized Democratic clubs.
However, Baltimore congressman Elijah Cummings is still considering a campaign. While Cummings looks unlikely to get in, he'd be able to count on a solid base of support in the city if he goes for a promotion after all. Fellow Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger could also run if Cummings doesn't, and his ties to nearby Baltimore County (Baltimore City is not part of Baltimore County) could give him an opening in the region. Still, the primary is already in full swing, and some local Democrats think that it's too late for a serious Baltimore-area candidate to get in.
• ME-Sen, MD-Gov: Two prominent northeastern elected officials each delivered some scary health news on Monday. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucus with the Democrats, announced the he has prostate cancer and will have surgery this week to remove it. King said that it was caught early, and he doesn't expect it to interfere with his duties or his plan to run for re-election in 2018.
Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan also told the state press that he has lymphoma, which he described as "very advanced and very aggressive." Hogan will stay in office, but expects to rely more on Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. Hogan will undergo chemotherapy and says that his odds are good. The governor also memorably joked that his odds of beating cancer are better than his chances of beating Democrat Anthony Brown in last year's gubernatorial race were.
• OH-Sen: Well, Quinnipiac has their story and they're sticking with it. Back in April, they gave Democratic ex-Gov. Ted Strickland a hard-to-believe 48-39 lead against Republican incumbent Rob Portman, and their new survey gives him only a slightly smaller 46-40 edge.
Portman's 43-21 favorability score is comparable than Strickland's 49-29 rating, so it's pretty surprising to see him losing, especially with President Obama posting a blech 40-56 job approval rating. However, Portman nukes Cincinnati City Councilor P.G. Sittenfeld 49-24.
Only two other pollsters have surveyed this contest and while they agree that Sittenfeld would badly lose, they're completely at odds when it comes to Strickland vs. Portman. A recent PPP poll gave Portman a small 43-41 edge. However, a mid-June poll from the GOP outfit Vox Populi for the conservative website The Daily Caller painted a very different picture, giving Portman an intimidating 47-37 lead.
It's hard to account for the spread between the three groups, especially since Quinnipiac and PPP are generally reliable pollsters. At this point, the best thing to do is to wait for more data and see if a consensus emerges. However, there's little doubt that both sides will be aggressively targeting Ohio next year. The Buckeye State's seat may make the difference between a Senate majority and a Senate minority, and neither party will take it for granted.
• OH-Sen: When Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof went online to research "black-on-white" crime, the first website he says he came across was that of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a notorious hate group that Thurgood Marshall once called the "uptown Klan." You'd like to think anyone associated with such an organization would be persona extremely non grata in American politics, but sadly, you'd be wrong. Earl Holt III, the president of the CCC and a self-described "slumlord," has given a small fortune to Republican candidates across the country.
Of course, they're all in a hurry to divest themselves of his Holt's tainted money, but why in the bloody seven hells are they taking cash from this revolting sonofabitch in the first place? This bastard even had the audacity to put out a statement declaring that Roof had "legitimate grievances" that would be "dangerous" to ignore.
And Holt didn't just donate to extreme nutters like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who've scrambled to repurpose his gifts. He also made contributions to some supposed "moderates" like Sen. Rob Portman, who just gave the $250 Holt gave him in 2010 to charity. But again, what does it say about Portman's judgment that he accepted Holt's money in the first place?
• PA-Sen: While Quinnipiac delivered some good news for Democrats in the Florida and Ohio Senate races, they rain on the blue parade in Pennsylvania. They give Republican Sen. Pat Toomey a 47-36 lead against 2010 Democratic foe Joe Sestak, about the same as the 48-35 edge they found in April. They also test the senator against Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, and find Toomey prevailing 52-28.
A few groups have surveyed this contest, and there's no real consensus on where things stand. An early May poll from the GOP firm Harper Polling found Toomey in even better shape, while PPP gave him much smaller leads. Two local colleges have also found tight races, though they each have so many undecideds that it's hard to conclude much. Toomey's ratings help explain the huge gulf between PPP and Quinnipiac. While PPP gave Toomey a 30-37 job approval, Quinnipiac has him beloved with a 47-24 favorability score. While job approvals aren't the same as favorables, they shouldn't be that different.
We'll want to wait to see what other groups see. Team Blue definitely plans to target the Keystone State, but there's plenty of skepticism about both their candidates. As we've noted before, Sestak has had a bad relationship with state and national Democrats for years, and they believe, rightly or wrongly, that he's running an amateurish campaign. Pawlowski also didn't impress anyone with his 2014 gubernatorial bid, and party leaders haven't given up looking for someone they see as stronger.
If Democrats can take down Toomey, they'll have a great shot to retake the Senate. However, regardless of which polls you believe, there's little doubt that he won't go quietly. Toomey has worked hard to cultivate a moderate image in this light-blue state, and he'll be very well-funded.
• DE-Gov: This race is going to be in a holding pattern for a while longer out of respect for ex-state Attorney General Beau Biden's death, but the Democratic field is slowly beginning to take shape. While John Carney, who represents the whole state in the House, is refusing to discuss his plans publicly, The News Journal's Jonathan Starkey reports that First State Democrats see him as the frontrunner. Carney narrowly lost the 2008 primary to now-Gov. Jack Markell, but he won the 2010 House primary without any real opposition.
However, Carney is unlikely to have a clear path to the Democratic nomination. New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon has refused to rule anything out, and he starts off well-known in Delaware's largest and most Democratic county. Gordon was indicted a decade ago for racketeering and misuse of county resources, but the charges were dropped in 2007.
Gordon lost the 2008 Democratic primary to reclaim the county executive job to now-Sen. Chris Coons 65-35, but won four years later against a different opponent by a 46-33 margin. It's unclear if his previous legal issues will cause him any problems if he runs, but they're definitely worth keeping an eye on. State Attorney General Matt Denn is also a potential Democratic contender: Starkey writes that while he's expected to stay put, he hasn't ruled anything out definitively.
Things are pretty stable on the GOP side so far. State Sen. Colin Bonini has been running for a while and he currently has no primary opponents on the horizon. Delaware is a Democratic-friendly state and Team Red has been locked out of the governor's office ever since Mike Castle left for the House in 1993. However, it's always possible for the GOP to score a pickup if conditions are right.
• IN-Gov: Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott has been mentioned as a potential Democratic statewide candidate for a while, and he tells Howey Politics that he's considering taking on GOP Gov. Mike Pence. He promises a decision soon, though McDermott is also up for re-election this November.
McDermott hasn't sounded incredibly interested in making 2016 his year, and he even expressed some support for would-be primary rival and 2012 nominee John Gregg back in April, so it would be pretty surprising to see him get in when all is said and done. Right now, the Democratic primary looks like a fight between Gregg and state Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz, with state Sen. Karen Tallian seen as a longshot.
• VT-Gov, AG: We can take another Democrat off the prospective candidate list. Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan initially refused to say if he was interested in trying to succeed retiring Gov. Peter Shumlin, but he announced on Sunday night that he will run for attorney general instead. Donovan lost his 2012 primary challenge to incumbent Bill Sorrell by only 714 votes, and Sorrell is now being investigated for alleged campaign finance violations. Sorrell says he won't decide on his 2016 plans until the investigation is over.
• KY-03: Well, so much for that. Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth announced on Monday that he'll seek a sixth term, and gave no indication that he's looking to retire anytime soon. Obama won this Louisville seat 55-43 and Yarmuth had little trouble holding it during the 2010 and 2014 GOP waves, and it's very unlikely that Team Red will find anyone serious willing to tangle with him.
• MD-04: A while back, Del. Jay Walker talked about running in the crowded Democratic primary for this safely blue seat. However, Walker recently ruled out a campaign.
• MI-01: State Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson has been reportedly considering a bid against Republican incumbent Dan Benishek for a while, and he recently confirmed his interest. Johnson has been talking to the DCCC about a campaign, and he performed respectably in his unsuccessful 2012 state House campaign. Johnson is also married to Julianna Smoot, whom Michigan Radio describes as "one of the Democratic Party's most prodigious money-raisers." 2014 nominee Jerry Cannon talked about challenging Benishek again back in March, but he's said little since then.
Romney carried this northern Michigan seat 54-45, but Benishek hasn't been incredibly popular here. Michigan Radio also tells us that both parties think this cycle may give Democrats their last shot at a pickup here. Benishek is reportedly planning to retire in 2018 in favor of state Sen. Tom Casperson, who should have a much easier time securing this seat for his party.
• NV-04: Ex-Assemblymember and 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores is trying to argue that she's the Democratic frontrunner to face vulnerable Republican Cresent Hardy, and she's released a new survey from PPP that shows her far ahead in the primary. The poll gives Flores 30 percent, with state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and Communities in Schools of Nevada Board President Susie Lee each at 8. If ex-Assembly Speaker and 2012 NV-03 nominee John Oceguera is included, Flores leads with 28 percent, far ahead of second-place finisher Oceguera's 9.
Of course, House primary polls conducted almost a year before Election Day aren't exactly known for their predictive ability. It doesn't help that Flores just came off a statewide run, while none of her opponents have really begun to campaign here. The upcoming second-quarter fundraising deadline will probably give us a better idea of who, if anyone, is the frontrunner, though even that should be taken with a grain of salt.
• TX-21: Longtime GOP Rep. Lamar Smith only scored a 60-34 win last year against underfunded tea partier Matt McCall in the primary for this safely red seat. McCall is running again, and The Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston reports that Smith's campaign is making sure that they don't get caught off guard. Smith recognizes that he can't be like ex-Rep. Ralph Hall, who was caught unprepared when John Ratcliffe successfully challenged him last year. There's no word on who else might be mulling a bid, but state Sen. Donna Campbell shot down any rumors that she's looking to face Smith.
• TX-27: Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold has been facing a sexual harassment suit from a former staffer, and he might already have a real primary challenger. Tea partier John Harrington announced back in May, and sources tell the Texas Tribune that the ammunitions salesman can self-fund. Veteran and 2014 Corpus Christi mayoral candidate Dan McQueen is mulling a bid as well: Since the state requires a runoff if no one takes a majority, there's no real danger that the two challengers will split the anti-Farenthold vote enough to secure him renomination. Romney won this seat 61-38 and it should stay red, though Team Blue is trying to recruit ex-state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr.
• TX-32: GOP Rep. Pete Sessions dispatched little-known tea partier Katrina Pierson only 64-36 in last year's primary, and wealthy state Sen. Don Huffines didn't rule out challenging him last month. However, Huffines' chief of staff tells The Texas Tribune that the senator "is not considering running for Congress at this time." That's not quite a no, but it does indicate that Huffines isn't exactly chomping at the bit to jump in.
Huffines' twin brother Phillip has also been mentioned as a possible Sessions primary challenger. But Phillip Huffines gave the Tribune a similar response, saying he's "always had an interest in public service, but at this time I'm not running for anything." Again, that's not a no, but it's a sign that he's not incredibly interested. Romney carried this Dallas-area seat 57-42, and it should stay in GOP hands regardless of what happens in the primary.
• Nashville Mayor: Real estate tycoon and former state Democratic Party Treasurer Bill Freeman has completed his sweep of all four local public employee unions. Freeman recently earned the endorsement of the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, who join the local teachers, firefighters, and SEIU in his corner. Recent polls show Freeman well-positioned to take first or second place in the seven-way Aug. 6 non-partisan primary, which would secure him a spot in the runoff.
• Census: The Census Bureau, in preparation for the 2020 count, is busily rethinking the way it approaches "race." Some of the sloppier headlines on the subject have veered toward "Census to stop asking about race!" but that's not true at all; you'll still be asked whether you identify as white, black, etc., but they're experimenting with ways to ask the question that don't use the words "race" or "ethnicity" at all. One variation simply asks "Which categories describe Person 1?" and then asks the respondent to check as many boxes (white, Hispanic/Latino, black, Asian, American Indian, Middle Easterner or North African, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and "some other") as apply.
If that's the way they proceed, that's four big changes. One, it moves Hispanic from the parallel realm of "ethnicity" (leaving Hispanics to choose between white or "some other" for their race) to parity with the other categories.
Two, it eliminates "two or more" as a category unto itself, which may better accommodate people with multiple racial backgrounds but who don't necessarily identify as multi-racial [Update: "Two or more" actually isn't asked on the Census; it's a tabulation category for people who check more than one box, so this isn't a change.].
Three, it adds the "Middle Easterner or North African" category, which they'd previously proposed. And four, once you've filled out that box, you advance to another box where you choose more detailed subcategories (i.e. Cuban or Chinese). The new MENA category, which will include Egyptian, Syrian, and Palestinian, for example, will also include Israeli.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, and Daniel Donner.