Democrat Jack Conway
• KY-Gov: While Republican money-men would like to stuff Matt Bevin in a barrel with a loosely fitting lid and launch him over the top of Niagara Falls on a stormy day, it doesn't look like his gubernatorial bid is entirely hopeless. In fact, according to the first poll of the race we've seen since July, the contest is still pretty close: Democrat Jack Conway holds a 42-37 lead, with 7 percent of voters favoring independent Drew Curtis and 15 percent undecided, per SurveyUSA.
In fact, despite Bevin's well-publicized failings (more on the latest in a minute), things haven't budged at all in the last two months. When SUSA last polled Kentucky, Conway led by a 43-38 margin, with Curtis at 8—so, nothing doing. If anything, though, these latest results ought to be fairly positive for Bevin, since it's likely that undecided voters lean in the Republican direction. Indeed, that's exactly what Democrats feared most in last year's Senate race between Mitch McConnell and Alison Grimes, and it's exactly what came to pass (and then some).
But fortunately for Bluegrass Democrats, gubernatorial elections are different beasts from federal races, and there's also a good chance that as we approach Election Day, supporters of the lefty-ish Curtis (he's the founder of the popular community website Fark) will gravitate toward Conway. And the fact still remains that Conway's the one with the lead, and you'd always rather be that guy.
What's more, the RGA wouldn't be kicking Bevin's can all over the place if they weren't seeing some signs that really disturbed them. The newest such portent came Wednesday in a radio debate with Conway, when Bevin professed his admiration for neurosurgeon Ben Carson and declared that Sen. Rand Paul was "not the first choice I would make" in the presidential race.
That was a super-awkward thing to say because Paul is, you know, a fellow Kentuckian, and he's also appearing at a rally for Bevin on Saturday. Bevin hurriedly tried to undo the damage by claiming in a tweet that he's not endorsing Carson "or anyone" for president, but that if he did, he'd "#StandWithRand." More like "#ForcedToPretendIStandWithRand." Anyhow, the event is supposedly still on, but Politico described GOP leaders as "incredulous" that Bevin would diss Paul in such a fashion. When it comes to Bevin, though, nothing should shock anymore.
• CO-Sen: The GOP just cannot catch a break here. Despite signaling that he would challenge Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet, District Attorney George Brauchler announced on Wednesday that he would seek re-election instead. National Republicans had been courting Brauchler ever since their previous favorite, Rep. Rep. Mike Coffman, also decided to sit out the race.
Brauchler's decision sends the NRSC back to square zero as they work to recruit a viable contender. A month ago, Rep. Scott Tipton didn't rule anything out, and he'll likely be getting some calls from influential Republicans. But beyond Tipton, most of the prospective GOP nominees don't look very intimidating. State Sen. Tim Neville kicked off his bid this week and while he won a swing district last year, Neville's strong conservative views may not play well in a state Obama carried twice.
Rich guy Robert Blaha sounds likely to get in, but he doesn't seem to be impressing anyone in D.C. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith recently expressed interest, but his ardent anti-gun control stances may also not go over so well in this swing state. State Senate President Bill Cadman and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel have also been mentioned as possible contenders, though they've said nothing about their plans. Besides Nevada, Colorado is the only realistic GOP Senate pickup and Team Red isn't going to let Bennet off easily, but they need to prove they can find a willing and able candidate.
As for Brauchler, it's unclear why he suddenly decided to stay out. A few weeks ago, Brauchler said he'd finalized his plans but wouldn't announce until October, a move we interpreted as his way of jumping in once the new campaign finance quarter began. We'll probably never know what really happened, but there are a few possible explanations. Brauchler may have seen unfavorable polls and decided that it wasn't worth giving up his post for a tough race. Brauchler has also appeared more interested in running for governor in 2018 and he may have just realized he doesn't want to go through a difficult Senate race to win a job he doesn't really want. Brauchler himself says he decided that the time wasn't right for his family for him to run and who knows, maybe that's the full story. And for what it's worth, GOP sources say Brauchler's decision was motivated by sudden family health concerns.
Brauchler isn't the first almost-statewide candidate to say no at the last minute this year. Florida Republicans Jeff Atwater and Jeff Miller gave every indication that they would run for Senate, until they each suddenly announced that they would stay put. (Atwater is reconsidering though; see our FL-Sen item for more.) California Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa also spent weeks fanning rumors that he was this close to running for Senate until he said he was out, while Indiana Democrat Tom Sugar also sent similar signals just before he opted out of a gubernatorial bid. It's a good reminder that no matter what obvious hints politicians send about their plans, they have until the moment they say "I'm running," to back out.
• FL-Sen: Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater gave every indication that he would run for the GOP Senate nod until he abruptly said no back in April. But Atwater now tells the Tampa Bay Times that there's "still a possibility" he gets into the crowded Senate primary. It's unclear why Atwater's having second thoughts. Atwater is likely to run for governor next cycle, but he may have now decided that he'll have a better shot in a belated Senate race than he would against potential 2018 primary opponents Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
If Atwater had gotten in back in April, there's a good chance he would have scared off most of his potential primary foes, with the possible exception of tea partying Rep. Ron Desantis. But Rep. David Jolly and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera have filled the void for an establishment-friendly candidate that Atwater left: Hell, Lopez-Cantera inherited the very super PAC that was set up to help Atwater.
A recent Florida Chamber Political Institute poll tested Atwater in a hypothetical primary and gave him the lead with 21 percent, while the other contenders were in "single digits." That kind of lead may be sustainable if Atwater runs but right now, no one is airing any ads and few voters are paying attention. Once we get closer to Election Day and Desantis and his well-funded allies start bombarding the state, an Atwater candidacy could just split the non-tea party vote enough to secure a win for Desantis, who would probably have the toughest time in a general election. Atwater has said no before and he very well might say no again. But this is a very strange move from the guy who could have been the GOP frontrunner if he'd just definitively made up his mind sooner.
• NC-Sen: PPP takes another look at Republican Sen. Richard Burr's re-election prospects next year. The matchups are summarized below, with PPP's August numbers in parentheses:
• 46-34 vs. Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey (44-37)
• 45-35 vs. state Rep. Duane Hall (44-36)
• 45-34 vs. ex-state Rep. Deborah Ross (43-36)
• 42-37 vs. ex-Rep. Heath Shuler (42-35)
Of this quartet, only Rey is actually in the race. Ross has signaled that she'll get in
, while Hall has formed an exploratory committee but has yet to announce anything. Shuler hasn't ruled out a bid but he doesn't seem very likely to jump in
Burr has made clear gains against Rey and Ross in the last month, while he's pretty much stayed flat against Hall and Shuler. At this point, none of the four Democrats are very well known, so this is probably just noise. Burr doesn't break 46 percent against any of his potential opponents and the eventual Democratic nominee will make up ground once he or she becomes better known. However, getting that last few points won't be easy: North Carolina is still a light-red state, and Burr will be well-funded.
Burr does post a bad 29-40 approval rating. Republicans only like him by a 47-23 margin but most angry GOPers should come home next year once the campaign heats up; Burr's 23-45 score with independents may be a bit more difficult to solve. Ultimately, this contest looks the same as it's looked for months. Burr is beatable, but it will require a good Democratic nominee and some favorable political winds.
• WI-Sen: Democrats have been feeling good about Russ Feingold's rematch campaign against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and a new Marquette Law poll provides Team Blue more reasons for optimism. Marquette gives Feingold a massive 50-36 lead: While this is larger than what any other public pollster has found, no survey to date has shown Johnson in front.
What's odd here is that just a month ago, Marquette found Feingold with a much more modest 47-42 edge. That, however, followed an April poll putting Feingold ahead 54-38. Nothing's happened in the intervening months that should have caused Feingold's lead to collapse like this only to suddenly rebound, so it's likely that the middle poll was an outlier.
Still, it's very possible that this survey overstates Feingold's advantage somewhat. In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton leads Jeb Bush 50-38 in the Badger State, while she only beats him 48-44 in HuffPost Pollster's national average. This divergent result is by no means impossible—Barack Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 while winning nationwide by 7—but that would mean Democrats are on track to a dominant White House win next year. That could certainly happen, but in general, the signs have not yet pointed in such a direction.
But even if this survey leans a bit too Democratic, it's almost certainly not 14 points too Democratic. There's no question that Johnson is in a bad position and that this is one of Team Blue's best pickup opportunities next year.
• NC-Gov: PPP takes another monthly checkup and gives Republican Gov. Pat McCrory a 44-41 edge against Democrat Roy Cooper, a 6-point improvement from his 42-39 deficit in August.
Independents have fueled McCrory's gains: He currently leads 42-33 with this group, while Cooper narrowly carried them 39-38 a month before. McCrory sports a weak 35-47 approval rating, with Republican voters only expressing support for him by a 55-30 margin. But the governor has no credible primary challenger in sight, and most conservatives should back him once the GOP starts portraying Cooper as an Obama liberal; McCrory's 29-47 rating with independents is a bigger source of worry for Team Red. For his part, Cooper posts a 27-24 favorable rating.
• VT-Gov: 2014 GOP nominee Scott Milne initially sounded very interested in a repeat bid, but that was before establishment favorite Lt. Gov. Phil Scott got into the race. And to no one's surprise, Milne is endorsing Scott instead of challenging him. Milne hasn't ruled out running for something else in 2016, saying, "People have encouraged me to run for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator and the state legislature."
• KY-01: On Wednesday, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced that he would run to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Whitfield in this safely red western Kentucky seat. While Comer lost the gubernatorial primary earlier this year by just 84 votes, he took 56 percent of the vote in the 1st District against two major opponents. But Comer's last campaign ran into some turbulence after an ex-girlfriend accused him of physically and emotionally abusing her while they were in college. Nothing was ever proven, but we probably haven't heard the last of this story.
Comer joins Michael Pape, who served as Whitfield's district director, in the race, and several other Republicans are considering. Scott Jennings, who served as a special assistant to the president in the George W. Bush White House, confirms he's thinking about getting in. Jennings recently advised Sen. Mitch McConnell's super PAC during last year's expensive Senate race, so he has some useful connections. Hickman County Attorney Jason Batts, who won his post just last year, will announce his plans on Thursday, and WFPL says he'll run.
• MN-02: The GOP field is still taking shape in this open suburban swing seat, and we may have a new contender soon. The Star Tribune's Michael Brodkorb reports that former radio host Jason Lewis is considering; when asked about his plans, Lewis said that we'll "be hearing something soon." Lewis was a nationally syndicated conservative talk radio host until he quit in the middle of a show last year after an anti-tax monologue, so he's probably not the type of guy the NRCC wants for a competitive district. Lewis has run for the House before in Colorado, losing 61-39 to Democratic incumbent David Skaggs.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Joe Atkins will tell us if he's running on Thursday. Atkins attached the one-line announcement about his announcement to a press release about unclaimed property, which isn't something you usually do if you're planning to jump into a high-profile contest.
• OH-08: State Sen. Bill Coley sounded really reluctant to run for this safely red seat, and he's unsurprisingly announced that he won't go for it. Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds has filed to run in the upcoming primary to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner, but he says he still hasn't made a final decision. Right now, state Sen. Bill Beagle is the only notable Republican in the race, but a multitude of prospective contenders are looking at this contest.
• SC-04: For a guy whose colleagues supposedly wanted him to serve their number two leader, GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy sure is lousy at basic communications. Gowdy, who's been playing the role of the tea party's Inspector Javert as chief inquisitor on the seemingly permanent Benghazi committee, saw his name floated for the position of House majority leader on Tuesday, a spot that will almost certainly come open when the current occupant, Kevin McCarthy, becomes speaker in John Boehner's stead.
But it wasn't until late in the day that Gowdy awkwardly semi-disavowed his interest, saying, "I've never run for any leadership position, and I'm not going to start now. Don't know how I can be any more definitive." Here's how: Just say "I'm not running." As Politico put it, the Gowdy chatter "confused and consumed the Capitol," and even now, the paper notes, he could still be the subject of a draft effort and even receive votes for the position, whether he's formally seeking it or not. (Supposedly, even John Boehner tried to recruit him.)
On Wednesday, things got even weirder. Rep. John Fleming, the Louisiana Republican best known for thinking The Onion's "Abortionplex" was a real thing, helpfully announced to the world that Gowdy "wants to go back to South Carolina" and would not seek re-election next year. In response, Gowdy's office issued a non-denial, saying only, "He has not made any announcement about 2016."
GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a fellow South Carolinian who calls himself Gowdy's "best friend," followed that up with a tweet-storm insisting that Gowdy would indeed run for a fourth term—even though, Mulvaney previously claimed, he "had to beg Trey to run for re-election in 2014." It's entirely unclear why Gowdy couldn't speak for himself, or why Mulvaney felt he had to strain so hard on his buddy's behalf. Fleming then apologized for cracking out of turn—but why Fleming imagined that Gowdy wanted him of all people to serve as his unsought tribune is likewise a mystery (though see: Abortionplex).
Finally, Gowdy did speak up on his own behalf and cleared everything up. Hah! Just kidding. He did no such thing. All Gowdy would say was that he has "every intention" of running again. Once again, all he has to do here is say, "I'm running" or "I'm not running." But once again, he's refusing to do so. It's hard to figure out why he's being such a squirrely bastard, unless maybe he thinks his Benghazi "investigation" will last until 2017 and he wants to give himself the freedom to stick around until the bitter end.
Roll Call also speculates that Gowdy, a former prosecutor, would love an appointment to a federal judgeship. That can only happen if a Republican wins the White House next year, but if Gowdy wants to hedge his bets, he could win another term next year (a gimme in his safely red South Carolina district), then resign from the House if he gets tapped for a spot on the bench. He doesn't need to play these games, so whatever his motivation, he's acting like a serious pain in the ass.
• LA-AG, LG: On behalf of WWL and The Advocate, Clarus Research Group gives us a rare look at the Oct. 24 jungle primaries for two downballot seats. In the attorney general contest, incumbent Buddy Caldwell leads ex-Rep. Jeff Landry, a fellow Republican, 30-20. Democrats Ike Jackson and Geri Broussard-Baloney take 11 and 5 respectively, while Republican Marty Maley is also at 5. Neither Jackson nor Broussard-Baloney has much money and unless one of them can consolidate the Democratic vote, it looks likely that Caldwell and Landry will advance to the Nov. 21 runoff.
Clarus also surveys the lieutenant governor's race and unsurprisingly finds East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, the only Democrat in the race, taking first with 25 percent. There are plenty of Democrats and African Americans undecided, so Holden should pick up enough support to secure a spot in the runoff. It's a tight race for second, with Jefferson Parish President John Young edging former Plaquemines Parish President and 2011 candidate Billy Nungesser 23-20; a third Republican, underfunded state Sen. Elbert Guillory, takes just 5.
Young has far more money left to spend than Nungesser and he's well-known in the populous New Orleans metropolitan area. But Nungesser made a name for himself during the 2010 BP oil spill when he voiced the frustration many were feeling along the Gulf Coast, and he still has a base of support in coastal Louisiana. Democrats initially were optimistic that Holden, who leads the state's largest parish, could make the runoff competitive. However, Holden hasn't been raising the type of money a Democrat needs to raise to have a shot in a state this red, and either Young or Nungesser will have the clear advantage if they get to face him in November.
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.