Democrat Dan Gecker with his wife and four daughters
• VA State Senate: This fall, Democrats are hoping to net the one seat in the Virginia state Senate that they'll need to retake control of the chamber. Campaign finance reports are in for the period covering July 1 to Aug. 31, giving us a good look at both sides' strengths in the critical races as we enter the homestretch. Below is a look at the six main seats to watch: Three are held by Democrats, and three by the GOP.
Team Blue's best pickup opportunity is SD-10, an open Richmond-area seat that Obama won 50-48. Via the Virginia Public Access Project, Chesterfield County Supervisor Dan Gecker, the Democratic nominee, currently holds a wide $152,000 to $40,000 cash-on-hand edge against Richmond School Board member Glen Sturtevant, a big turnaround from the GOP's $96,000 to $72,000 advantage two months ago. However, Sturtevant outspent Gecker $174,000 to $99,000 during this timeframe. Both parties will fight bitterly for this seat.
Head below the fold to learn about the rest of the Virginia Senate battleground.
Democrats have been targeting Republican incumbent Frank Wagner in the swingy Hampton Roads SD-07, but Democratic candidate Gary McCollum has earned bad press in recent days. McCollum has said in his campaign and business literature that he's "currently a major in the Army Reserve," but the Army confirmed that he was discharged in 2001. McCollum's campaign says that until now, he thought he was still in the reserves but hasn't has any contact with them since 1992. The good news for McCollum is that he's been competitive with Wagner financially, though the incumbent holds a $522,000 to $472,000 cash advantage. If this story blows over, McCollum will have the resources to be competitive, but that's a big "if."
Democrats are also hoping to score a gain in Northern Virginia's SD-13, but it's a bit of a long shot. GOP state Sen. Dick Black has a well-earned reputation for extremism, and pediatrician Jill McCabe only trails him $289,000 to $274,000 in terms of money in the bank. But Mitt Romney carried this seat 51-48, and Black easily won in 2011 when another Democrat tried to make this race a referendum on Black's views.
The GOP's main target is Northern Virginia's open SD-29. Obama easily carried this seat but Democrats are worried about off-year turnout, and the GOP has a strong candidate in Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish. Parrish leads Democrat Jeremy McPike $218,000 to $103,000, and that's after Parrish outspent McPike $164,000 to $70,000 over the last two months.
Another vulnerable Democratic seat is SD-21 in Roanoke. Democrats usually carry this district by good margins, but Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Don Caldwell, a Democrat, recently entered the race as an independent and could split votes on the left. Democratic incumbent John Edwards does have a $169,000 to $105,000 cash-on-hand lead against Republican physician Nancy Dye, while Caldwell has just $37,000 in the bank.
The final major GOP target is Democratic state Sen. Lynwood Lewis in Hampton Roads' SD-06. While Obama also won this seat by a comfortable margin, Lewis only won his 2014 special election by a bone-scraping 11 votes. The good news for Team Blue is that Republican Richard Ottinger hasn't been a very strong fundraiser at all: Lewis holds a strong $178,000 to $34,000 cash on hand lead against Ottinger, and that's after easily outspending him. Still, after Lewis' close call last time, Democrats aren't taking this race for granted.
• CO-Sen: Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler says he won't announce whether he'll challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet until early October, but it sure sounds like he'll go for it. Brauchler recently told the Colorado Independent that he's made his choice and would really like to tell the world his decision sooner, but demurred because "there are ramifications for making certain announcements—ramifications that affect my office, my family and others. And I don't want to make a pre-announcement announcement."
Brauchler then told the Independent's reporter he was "sorry for sounding so not like me"—apparently he made himself uncomfortable with his own calculated vagueness—but his statement actually speaks volumes. If Brauchler had already made up his mind not to run, there's no reason he couldn't just say so immediately in order to give the GOP a little extra time to find someone else.
But by waiting until early October to announce, Brauchler will be able to kick off his effort after the third quarter's campaign finance reporting deadline has passed; announce now and he'd have to quickly scramble to raise as much money as possible by Sept. 30 so as to produce a respectable fundraising report. Of course, it's always possible Brauchler backtracks: Florida Rep. Jeff Miller gave every indication he was running for Senate this summer but surprised everyone when he announced he wouldn't go for it after all.
But if Brauchler runs, as he seems likely to do, that's good news for the GOP. The party has had a difficult time recruiting a tough candidate against Bennet, and Brauchler has a good profile as the top prosecutor in a large, swingy county. Brauchler has also been in the news quite a bit recently as he successfully prosecuted the 2012 Aurora theater shooter, though Brauchler wasn't able to secure the death penalty.
• KY-Sen: The final step in Sen. Rand Paul's plan to run for president and for re-election in 2016 is complete. Last month, the Kentucky GOP voted to hold a March caucus as long as Paul sent them the $250,000 they needed to pay for it, and he forked over the money on Friday. Paul will run for renomination in May's previously scheduled primary, allowing him to circumvent a Kentucky law that prohibits candidates from appearing twice on the same ballot.
• KY-Gov: Until now, Republican Matt Bevin has been surprisingly reluctant to air any ads for the general election, but now we finally have our first Bevin spot, in which he contrasts himself with Democrat Jack Conway. The commercial parodies the opening of an NFL game, with a dramatic announcer unfavorably comparing Conway's "Team Obama" with Bevin's "Team Kentucky." To Bevin's credit, this commercial is a bit more creative than the usual "Red state Democrat equals Obama!" ads we usually get from the GOP.
The Democratic super PAC Kentucky Family Values is also out with a new ad. Like basically every Democratic spot in this race, they portray Bevin as a shady character, arguing that he "failed to tell the truth about having a federal tax lien when he filled out an application for his company and received a $100,000 taxpayer bailout."
• AZ-01: We recently noted that Tom O'Halleran, a former Republican state senator running as a Democrat, earned an endorsement from former state Attorney General Terry Goddard, a prominent Arizona Democrat. It turns out that O'Halleran has been doing an even better job at making inroads with his new party: He also won the support of Fred DuVal, the Democrats' 2014 gubernatorial nominee, and Felicia Rotellini, who lost close races for attorney general in 2010 and 2014. The Arizona Republic adds that about a quarter of legislative Democrats are behind O'Halleran even though two other lawmakers, state Sens. Catherine Miranda and Barbara McGuire, are considering running.
• DE-AL: Rep. John Carney is leaving this seat behind to run for governor, and a number of Delaware Democrats are looking at succeeding him. State Sen. Bryan Townsend has already kicked off his campaign, and state Rep. Bryon Short sounds likely to join him in the primary.
In addition, the National Journal's Kimberly Railey gives us some new names. Former state Rep. Dennis Williams (not to be confused with the Wilmington mayor of the same name) says he's seriously considering, as are Marla Blunt-Carter, who worked as a state director for the 2008 Obama campaign, and her sister, former Delaware Secretary of Labor Lisa Blunt Rochester. Blunt-Carter says the two siblings expect to decide their plans in early 2016 and made it clear that they won't run against one another.
Sean Barney, a former advisor to term-limited Gov. Jack Markell who lost the 2014 race for state treasurer to Republican Kenneth Simpler, is also reportedly leaning toward running. Markell himself, however, says that he won't seek this seat. Whoever earns the Democratic nomination, though, should easily prevail in the general.
• IN-03: On Thursday, the Club For Growth threw its support behind state Sen. Jim Banks in the crowded GOP primary to succeed Senate candidate Marlin Stutzman. Banks also has the support of the Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, but the Club usually spends far more in primaries than these other anti-establishment groups. Banks faces fellow state Sen. Liz Brown, wealthy farmer Kip Tom, and ex-Wisconsin state Sen. Pam Galloway in the primary for this safely red Fort Wayne-area seat.
• MN-02: A number of Republicans are still considering running for this open swing seat, and Roll Call's Simone Pathé helps us get a feel for the potential field. GOP operatives think that former state Sen. Ted Daley is the most formidable possible candidate. Daley's military service and "squeaky clean" reputation give him a good profile, and he's described as a conservative who doesn't come across as a "bomb thrower." Daley did lose his 2012 re-election campaign, though, but his 53-47 defeat wasn't much different than Romney's 53-45 loss in his district.
John Howe, another former state senator, has promised to decide soon. Howe is capable of self-funding, but unlike Daley, he lost in a district that Romney carried. The politicos Pathé spoke with view state Rep. Tony Albright as credible but not top-tier, while they think state Rep. Steve Drazkowski and ex-state Rep. Pam Myhra (who are also considering) may be too conservative to win in a presidential year.
• NH-01: While influential New Hampshire Republicans have called for Rep. Frank Guinta to resign after he paid the FEC a fine for finagling an illegal six-figure donation, he's maintained that he'll seek another term. Guinta is holding a fundraiser Sept. 22, so he seems to be backing up his words with action. Guinta's 2014 primary rival, Dan Innis, has filed to run again, and if Guinta wants to win renomination and prevail in the general in this swing seat, he'll need all the money he can get. Then again, taking all the money he could get is what got Guinta into this situation in the first place.
• TX-19: Rep. Randy Neugebauer's decision to retire seems to have caught a lot of people by surprise, and it's going to take a while for things to sort themselves out in this ultra-red seat in the Texas Panhandle. Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson considered challenging Neugebauer at the beginning of the year before deciding to stay put, but he says that he's thinking about running now that there's an open seat. Lubbock County Republican Party Chairman Carl Tepper also confirms that he's interested, as has businesswoman Cathy Landtroop, the wife of a former state representative. State Rep. Dustin Burrows also didn't rule anything out in a statement praising Neugebauer.
The GOP bench is, well, Texas-sized here, and Roll Call, the Texas Tribune, and the Amarillo Globe-News give us plenty of other possible candidates. Tom Sell, who is a business partner of former Rep. Larry Combest, has been getting a lot of attention. Some other names worth watching include attorney Allen Adkins; former George W. Bush aide and ex-Texas Tech Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington; former state Rep. Carl Isett; state Rep. Susan King; and Texas Tech Board of Regents member John Steinmetz.
Arrington sounds the most interested of the potential candidates, and he said on Friday that he'll make an announcement "in the coming days." Arrington ran for the state Senate in a 2014 special but lost to another Republican 53 to 30. Meanwhile, Toby Neugebauer, the congressman's wealthy son, has also been mentioned. When the elder Neugebauer was asked if it's likely that Toby will run, he replied, "Not really, no," which means nothing.
• MI State House: Some people just cannot take a hint. The Michigan state House recently expelled Cindy Gamrat, while fellow Republican state Rep. Todd Courser resigned just before he was also about to get the boot. The two lawmakers, who are both married to other people, had an affair and tried to cover it up by concocting an insane scheme: Courser hoped to plant false rumors that he solicited a male prostitute so that when his actual scandal leaked, any stories about him would be regarded as suspect. It didn't quite work.
Republican leaders hoped that once Courser and Gamrat were gone they could put this whole embarrassing chapter behind them, but that's not going to happen. Not only are law enforcement officials conducting an investigation into what the GOP speaker of the state House knew about the entire matter, both former representatives have announced that they'll run in the special elections that were called to replace them.
The primaries will be held Nov. 3, and the GOP usually has little trouble in either state House seat. Romney won Gamrat's southwestern seat 58-41, and took Courser's district in Michigan's "Thumb," 55-44. Several Republicans are already running in each district, so it's not completely impossible for either scandal-tarred politician to slip through. In fact, that could wind up being the least insane part of this story. And if that were to happen, Team Blue might actually have a shot in the March generals. At the very least, though, Michigan Republicans will be deeply unhappy that Courser and Gamrat won't make like a tree and get out.
• FL Ballot: Last year, 58 percent of Florida voters voted in favor of a ballot measure that would have legalized medical marijuana, yet it failed to pass into law. How was such a thing possible? Because a decade ago, Republicans succeeded in passing an amendment to the state constitution that raised the bar for future amendments, requiring them to clear 60 percent for passage instead of a simple majority. Since the GOP has a hammerlock on the state legislature, this new rule made it much harder for liberals to go around lawmakers and approach voters directly, as the marijuana vote demonstrated.
But scoring 58 percent for a progressive cause in a dreadful midterm election was actually quite a good showing, so supporters are trying again next year. And new polling from PPP brings positive news, with 63 percent saying they support the measure while just 29 percent are opposed.
That may yet change, of course, if opponents decide to fight it again. But at this point, medical marijuana is like the civil unions of weed: With multiple states legalizing recreational usage, the battle has already moved ahead. As Tom Jensen observes, young voters overwhelmingly favor medical marijuana by a 75-18 margin, so trying to stand in the way is a hopeless endeavor.
• Downballot: Nathaniel Rakich of Baseballot takes a dive into 2015's downballot contests, such as those for agriculture commissioner and attorney general. Most of the competitive races are in Kentucky, but Democrats may have an outside shot at flipping the Louisiana lieutenant governor's office. Republicans are heavily favored elsewhere, though Mississippi's Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, looks like he'll hold on. Check out Rakich's post for a race-by-race look at these contests.
• WA-LG: Since time immemorial—or at least 1996—Democrat Brad Owen's meal ticket has come via serving as Washington's lieutenant governor—a job that probably doesn't even need to exist, since his only duty other than waiting for the Governor to die is to break ties in the state Senate, which doesn't have ties because it has an odd number of members. Instead, Owen has spent most of his time focusing on his personal non-profit organization, Strategies for Youth. Through SFY, his main activity is traveling the state with his own rock band, playing anti-drug assemblies for public school students. In 2014, he was fined $15,000 by the state ethics board for using state resources on this hobby.
Owen may have gotten the message that the state's tired of his shtick, and earlier in 2015, retirement rumors began to leak. Now, a rising star might just make Owen and his guitar gently weep: 34-year-old Democratic state Sen. Cyrus Habib—who succeeded turncoat Rodney Tom in the Senate last year—announced that he will run for lieutenant governor in 2016, regardless of Owen's plans. Habib, who is blind and also a former Rhodes scholar, has a pretty remarkable biography and could pose a real threat to Owen should the incumbent try for yet another term.
• FL Redistricting: Both sides in Florida's congressional redistricting litigation have submitted proposed new maps to the court, and Matthew Isbel has analyzed the various alternatives here. The judge hearing the case will now either pick one map, mix-and-match from the choices before him, or conclude that none of the options he's faced with are satisfactory. And then everything will almost certainly go back before the state Supreme Court before it's all over, so it'll be a while yet before we know what Florida's new lines look like.
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 Stephen Wolf.