Louisiana Republican David Vitter
• LA-Gov: Whether Team Red likes it or not, Sen. David Vitter is their gubernatorial nominee. On Saturday, Louisiana voters went to the polls for the jungle primary and unsurprisingly, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards grabbed the first runoff spot with 40 percent of the vote. However, Vitter only beat Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, a fellow Republican, 23-19 for the other runoff spot; GOP Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne took fourth place with 15 percent. The Vitter-Angelle battle was closer than most pollsters predicted: Only Market Research Insight showed Angelle within striking distance of Vitter in October.
Louisiana is a dark red state and Edwards won't have an easy time winning on Nov. 21, but Vitter may have just what it takes to lose it all. The senator started 2015 with good favorable ratings, and it appeared that he'd put his 2007 prostitution scandal behind him. However, two anti-Vitter super PACs have been airing ads reminding voters that there are still plenty of unanswered questions about Vitter's past. Both Angelle and Dardenne also argued that Vitter can't be trusted. The attacks have taken a toll on Vitter: Polls show his ratings are in the toilet and give Edwards a lead (sometimes a huge one) in the runoff. So far, Angelle has not endorsed either runoff candidate, and Dardenne recently said that he wouldn't be endorsing anyone.
Vitter's string of bad press isn't over. On Friday, a private investigator named Robert Frenzel was arrested after he allegedly tried to record a gathering hosted by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand at a cafe outside New Orleans, then fled and tried to hide in an abandoned house when confronted. Vitter's camp says that Frenzel was doing research on a "John Bel Edwards' business associate and major donor," which of course wouldn't make his behavior look any less dodgy. And while Bayou politics are always bizarre, local politicos have exploded with disgust and disbelief over this episode.
However, Vitter has one big advantage. Barack Obama has never been popular in this conservative state, and Vitter is wasting no time linking Edwards to the president. The RGA recently spent $1 million on ads arguing that a vote for Edwards is a vote for Obama, and they're likely to spend more as Nov. 21 approaches. Plenty of red state Democrats have run against unpopular Republicans, but lost once the GOP convinced voters that Obama was the greater of the two evils. It's up to Edwards to do what so many Democrats couldn't do and withstand these attacks, and make this election about his opponent rather than about national politics. Daily Kos Elections currently rates the runoff as Likely Republican, but we'll be keeping a close eye on this contest.
• FL-Sen: Former state Attorney General Bill McCollum is still skulking around Florida's GOP Senate primary, and he's busy poor-mouthing his fellow Republicans' weak fundraising. (He's not wrong: The best of 'em, Rep. Ron DeSantis, only took in $754,000 last quarter while Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy raked in $1.5 million.) It had seemed like McCollum, who's lost two Senate bids previously, would make a decision on whether to run sometime this fall, but now he says he won't solidify his plans until "probably after the first of the year."
• KY-Sen: While Kentucky is still willing to send Democrats to the state capitol, it's hard to see it electing a Democratic senator anytime soon. However, Team Red seems to be genuinely worried that Rand Paul's dual campaign for president and for re-election will cost them what should be a safe seat. Politico reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies are pressuring Paul to spend more time focusing on his Senate race.
While McConnell hasn't told Paul to pull the plug on his presidential bid, last month the NRSC's executive director showed Paul's top strategist polls with "bleak" results. Ironically, it's McConnell's fault Team Red is in this situation. In August, the Kentucky GOP was about to reject Paul's plan to set up a presidential caucus that would allow him to run for both posts at once. If McConnell's allies hadn't intervened at the last minute and convinced the GOP to side with Paul, the junior senator would have needed to choose between his presidential hopes or his Senate seat.
McConnell and the NRSC's intervention seems to have helped. Paul is devoting more time to fundraising for his Senate race, and he's staffing up that campaign. Still, the GOP isn't satisfied that Paul's doing what he needs to do to keep his seat red. Right now, no notable Democrats are challenging Paul. However, state Auditor Adam Edelen is reportedly likely to run if he's re-elected this November. But an early October SurveyUSA poll gave Edelen only a 35-33 lead in his re-election bid, and it's unclear who Team Blue will turn to if Edelen loses or decides not to run for the Senate.
We'll have a better idea where this Senate race stands after Edelen's contest ends Nov. 3, but it seems that, remarkably, Paul has damaged the GOP's prospects in this deep red state.
• LA-Sen: While we still have a month to go before the end of the gubernatorial campaign, the race for David Vitter's Senate seat began a long time ago. John Fleming is publicly encouraging Vitter to appoint him to his Senate seat if he becomes governor, while fellow GOP Rep. Charles Boustany also covets a spot in the upper chamber. Additionally, while Treasurer and 2008 nominee John Kennedy has said little about his 2016 plans publicly, there's no doubt that he also wants Vitter to appoint him.
All three Republicans are trying to prove to Vitter that they can hold his seat if he picks them. Kennedy spent $1 million on his uncompetitive re-election campaign in order to boost his name recognition ahead of a possible Senate bid. Boustany and Fleming can start to build up their warchests early, and they're continuing to raise big money. In the third quarter, Boustany raised an intimidating $603,000, much more than Fleming's still notable $372,000 haul. However, Fleming leads Boustany $2,323,000 to $1,458,000 in cash on hand; Fleming is also wealthy and can self-fund.
It's far from clear how this Senate race will shape up. If Vitter loses the gubernatorial runoff with Democrat John Bel Edwards, it's going to be very hard for him to just turn around and run for re-election to the Senate in 2016. If a defeated Vitter ends up retiring, there's a good chance that all three of these men run for the open seat. If Vitter insists on seeking re-election, things could get awkward: Kennedy, Fleming, and Boustany have all endorsed him for governor, and it wouldn't be easy for them to turn around and try to unseat him.
However, if Vitter becomes governor, we could also see a competitive race. If a Gov. Vitter appoints a temporary replacement that will retire in 2016, we'll still have an open seat. But if Vitter picks a member of this trio (or someone completely different) and the new senator runs for the full term next year, the people who didn't get the appointment will need to decide what to do. Kennedy won't need to give up his post to run, but he would need to start building up his warchest from scratch. Kennedy has also lost two Senate races already, and a third defeat could kill any hopes he has of attaining higher office.
Fleming has publicly said that he'll run for the Senate in 2016 even if he doesn't get appointed, and Boustany has also told donors that he'll be on the Senate ballot. But either man could end up backing down if they don't get picked rather than give up their safe House seats for a tough bid against an appointed incumbent. In any case, we'll know soon after the Nov. 21 gubernatorial runoff where things stand one way or another.
• MD-Sen: Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings has repeatedly delayed his timetable for making a decision about whether to run for Senate. Most recently, he declared that he wanted to wait until after Hillary Clinton's (instantly epic) day of testimony before the House Benghazi committee, even though it had been on the calendar for some time. With that behind him, Cummings now says he needs "a month or less" to make up his mind. It's quite unclear what's taking Cummings so long—he's been publicly considering since March—and there's really not that much time before Maryland's April 26 primary.
But Cummings, whether he intended this or not, may have gotten a boost by waiting. He's received very positive notice among liberals for his own performance during Clinton's appearance before his panel; had he already been running for higher office, he might have been accused of "grandstanding." Polls already show him leading a hypothetical Democratic primary against fellow Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, so Cummings could ride this mini-wave of publicity to help overcome a late start.
• NH-Gov: PPP takes an early look at the wide-open gubernatorial race, but continues to find that voters don't have much of an impression of any of the candidates or potential candidates yet. On the Democratic side, PPP tested Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who is running, against Portsmouth Councilor Stefany Shaheen, who is mulling a bid. On the GOP side, they tested actual candidate and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and prospective contender Jeb Bradley, the state Senate majority leader:
• Shaheen (D): 37, Bradley (R): 39
• Shaheen (D): 40, Sununu (R): 41
• Van Ostern (D): 31, Bradley (R): 40
• Van Ostern (D): 34, Sununu (R): 41
Van Ostern is the most obscure candidate, posting a 13-15 favorable rating. Voters say they dislike Shaheen by a 20-34 margin and Sununu 31-39. It's very likely that at least some of these voters are confusing these two for their more famous relatives: Shaheen is the daughter of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, while Sununu is the son of a former governor and the brother of a former senator. Voters also say they dislike Bradley, who represented half the state in the U.S. House until his 2006 defeat, by a 24-30 margin.
At this point, both primaries and the general look like anyone's game. It's worth remembering that in May of 2012, PPP gave Democrat Maggie Hassan a 15-16 favorable rating: Hassan went on to decisively win the primary and the general election. For better or for worse, all four of these people (and the names that PPP didn't test) start out with a blank slate.
• AR-02: Democrats may have a shot at this Little Rock-area seat, but not with their current candidate. Ex-Little Rock School Board member Dianne Curry got into the race a month before the end of the quarter, but she hasn't reported raising any money against freshman Republican French Hill. Romney won this seat 55-43 so Democrats don't have much room for error, and not raising money is certainly a huge error.
• AZ-02: We expected state Rep. Victoria Steele to be Team Blue's preferred pick against freshman Republican Martha McSally in this competitive Tucson seat, but it looks like ex-state Rep. Matt Heinz may be the tougher candidate. Steele brought in just $54,000 during her inaugural quarter, while Heinz raised a much stronger $201,000. In 2012, Heinz made the very strange decision to challenge then-Rep. Ron Barber in the primary and he got clobbered 82-18, but Heinz's second bid looks a bit more serious. McSally does have an intimidating $1,669,000 to $175,000 cash on hand lead against Heinz, but this is at least a good start for him.
• CA-21: For the second time in a row, Democrat Daniel Parra has had a very disappointing fundraising quarter. Parra brought in just $15,000 for his bid against Republican David Valadao, and he has only $9,000 on hand. Connie Perez, who served on the State Lottery Commission Audit Committee, recently got into the race and while we don't know if she can raise the money she'll need to beat Valadao, she'd have to try hard to do worse than Parra.
• FL-13: On Thursday, St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice endorsed Charlie Crist's bid for the Democratic nod. Rice ruled out running for this seat back in July, but said she'd reconsider if the state Supreme Court ordered it to be redrawn. However, it seems that the court's decision to do just that didn't change Rice's plans.
• IL-11: Back in July, Lisle Township Trustee Michael Tams filed with the FEC but never announced that he would challenge Democratic Rep. Bill Foster. Well, Tams has terminated his campaign, so we won't be getting that announcement. DuPage County Board Member Tonia Khouri is running against Foster, but she only brought in only $64,000, not the type of haul that she needs to flip this Obama 58-41 seat. Foster isn't allowing himself to get caught off-guard though: Over the last three months, Foster raised $301,000.
• KY-01: Retiring GOP Rep. Ed Whitfield has endorsed Michael Pape, his longtime district director. Pape starts out with little name recognition, but Whitfield's support should help him fix that. State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer looks like Pape's main opponent in the GOP primary; Hickman County Attorney Jason Batts is also running.
• MN-08: The DCCC is out with a live-caller poll conducted in-house, and they give Democrat Rick Nolan a 40-29 lead over Republican Stewart Mills. The poll argues that while neither candidate is especially well-known even after their tight race last year, Nolan starts off in a stronger position. Nolan posts a 39-24 favorable rating, while Mills is underwater at 20-34.
It's always good to be skeptical about internal polls, and it's worth remembering that a late September 2014 poll conducted by another firm for the DCCC gave Nolan 48-37 lead: Nolan won 49-47. Mills says that he has polls showing him with a path to victory here, and he could release one to push back. Of course, Mills is wealthy enough to self-fund another bid, so he many not care about reassuring anxious donors.
• MS-04: Way back in February, state Sen. Chris McDaniel hinted that he would challenge Rep. Steven Palazzo in the GOP primary. McDaniel has been quiet since then, but we should know more soon. McDaniel should easily win re-election on Nov. 3 and Mississippi's filing deadline deadline is Jan. 8 so if McDaniel still has any interest in facing Palazzo, he'll want to get started soon.
McDaniel almost unseated Sen. Thad Cochran last year, and he carried the coastal 4th District 58-42, so he could definitely be a major threat to Palazzo. But Palazzo isn't doing much to deter or prepare for a primary challenge: The congressman raised just $43,000 in the last quarter, and he has only $311,000 in the bank. Palazzo only defeated party-switching former Rep. Gene Taylor 50-43 in last year's primary, so he can't afford to slack off.
• TX-19: DeRenda Warren, the administrator and director of nursing at homecare chain BrightStar, is the latest Republican to enter the race for this safely red seat. If Warren has some money and connections from her time at BrightStar, she could make an impact. Warren is one of several candidates running here who doesn't hold elected office, and we'll likely need to wait until next quarter's campaign finance reports to see who is serious and who isn't.
• WV-02: Way back in April, wealthy pharmacy owner Ken Reed mulled a primary challenge against freshman Rep. Alex Mooney in the GOP primary. Reed doesn't appear to have made an official announcement since then, but his website now spots a "Ken Reed '16" banner, so it looks like he's in.
Reed spent $525,000 of his own money last time, but lost to Mooney 36-22. Mooney has a small $257,000 warchest, so Reed could outspend him. However, Reed may have a tough time getting traction this time. Mooney moved to West Virginia from Maryland in 2013 to run for the House, but the carpetbagging charge won't be as fresh this time.
Reed also doesn't seem to have his shit together right now. The Charleston Gazette-Mail notes that the phone number listed on his campaign site is disconnected, and messages sent to his email address bounce. Weirdly, the banner on Reed's site also directs you to a different url for a site that doesn't currently exist.
• LA State Senate, WATN?: Saturday did not bring good news for Republican ex-Rep. Vance McAllister. McAllister challenged Republican state Sen. Mike Walsworth and lost 62-38. McAllister's career self-destructed last year after he was caught on camera kissing a woman who wasn't his wife. McAllister ran for re-election to the House, but he took a distant fourth-place in the jungle primary, and it's no surprise that voters still don't want him back.
• LA State Senate: An awesome ad can only get you so much. On Saturday, Democrat Mickey Murphy took second place in the jungle primary, trailing Republican Beth Mizell 42-33. Another Republican took 21 percent, and it's going to be very tough for Murphy to make up this much ground by Nov. 21. Still, if you haven't seen Murphy's spot where he imagines himself forcing Gov. Bobby Jindal to do pushups, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
• VA State House: There's no question that the GOP will keep control of the Virginia House of Delegates next month (the Senate's another story) but Team Blue is hoping to make gains. Two Northern Virginia Republicans are launching expensive buys hitting the Democrats on tolls, and their spending adds up to a considerable $336,000. Craig Parisot narrowly lost to Democratic Del. Kathleen Murphy in a January special, and he's hoping that this time will be different. Danny Vargas is trying to hold an open seat for Team Red against Jennifer Boysko, who came close to winning here in 2013. The two spots are identical aside from the Democrats' names.
• Jefferson Parish, LA President: This strange race ended on Saturday. Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni defeated former Parish Councilor Elton Lagasse, a fellow Republican, 52-37. Because Yenni won a majority, he wins his post without a runoff. The contest got nasty when Lagasse aired ads accusing Yenni of adopting his mother's maiden name for political reasons. Yenni was born Michael Maunoir, but he took his mother's maiden name after his parents divorced in 1998, when Yenni was in his early 20s. Lagasse argued that Yenni made his choice to take advantage of his mother's family name: His grandfather, Joe Yenni, was parish president in the 1980s, and the candidate's late uncle, Michael J. Yenni, succeeded him.
• LA-AG: As we expected, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell will meet ex-Rep. Jeff Landry, a fellow Republican, in the Nov. 21 runoff. Caldwell outpaced Landry 35-33, while the third-place candidate was all the way back at 18 percent. While Caldwell has always been conservative, the former Democrat isn't as far to the right as the tea partying Landry. If Caldwell can consolidate enough uncommitted Democratic voters, he has a good chance to win a third term.
• LA-LG: Despite leading the state's second-largest parish and having more money than anyone else, Jefferson Parish President John Young, a Republican, narrowly failed to make the runoff. East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, a Democrat, took first place with 33. Ex-Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, a Republican who ran for this seat in 2011, beat Young 30-29 for the second place runoff spot. Holden has raised very little money, and Nungesser is favored to beat him in November.
• NM-SoS: On Friday, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran resigned her post as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, who had indicted her in August for illegally converting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to her personal use—namely, for gambling at casinos. Remarkably, Duran will get no jail time under this agreement, though it's still subject to approval by a judge.
Now that she's gone, though, Matthew Reichbach games out what happens next. GOP Gov. Susana Martinez will select a replacement, but that person will only serve through 2016. Ordinarily, the secretary of state is elected in midterm years, but thanks to Duran's resignation, a special election will be held next year. Martinez's appointee (who apparently does not require legislative confirmation) could run in that race, but Democrats are sure to contest it hotly.
Reichbach mentions several possible Republicans, but for Democrats, there's just one obvious candidate: Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who lost last year to Duran by just 3 points. That was a strong performance given the GOP wave (Martinez, by contrast, won by 14), and Toulouse Oliver would enjoy presidential turnout this time. Toulouse Oliver previously said she was interested in running if Duran quit, and she's already issued a statement saying the secretary of state's office must begin to "move forward." Odds of a Democratic pickup here look good.
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.