● LA-Gov: In a result that would have been unthinkable even two months ago, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards defeated GOP Sen. David Vitter by an impressive 56-44 margin in Saturday's gubernatorial runoff. Making Edwards’ victory more impressive, he took only 40 percent in October’s all-party primary while the three main Republicans combined for 57 percent, meaning that a sizable fraction of GOP voters switched sides in the second round of voting.
After his loss, Vitter announced that while he'll serve out the final year of his Senate term, he will not seek re-election in 2016 (see our LA-Sen item below for more). Meanwhile, Edwards' win gives Louisiana Democrats their first statewide victory since Mary Landrieu's re-election to the Senate in 2008, and it also makes Edwards the Deep South's only Democratic governor.
Overall, the race was dominated by two topics that were nothing but bad news for Republicans: outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal's extroardinary unpopularity and renewed interest in Vitter's 2007 prostitution scandal. Edwards left jaws agape with an instantly classic ad that (100 percent factually) accused Vitter of "answer[ing] a prostitute's call minutes after he skipped a vote honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom." Vitter, declared the ex-Army Ranger Edwards, chose "prostitutes over patriots."
It was Vitter’s Republican opponents in the primary who first revived the prostitution story, though, which many observers had incorrectly concluded was a dead letter after Vitter’s dominant 2010 re-election campaign. Vitter in turn went sharply negative on his two GOP rivals, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who were in no mood to come to Vitter’s aid after he narrowly won the primary: Angelle refused to issue any endorsement, while Dardenne actually crossed party lines and gave his backing to Edwards.
Vitter and his allies repeatedly tried to link Edwards to President Obama, a tried-and-true tactic that has often worked in red states. But the charge never seemed to stick, possibly because Edwards lacked any connection to DC politics and is also quite conservative himself. An increasingly desperate Vitter then sought to exploit the Paris terror attacks in the final week of the campaign, running a grotesquely fear-mongering ad that charged Edwards and Obama with wanting to allow Syrian refugees to flood into the state. (An ad from a pro-Vitter super PAC was even worse.) Edwards was no hero on the issue, and his own views on accepting refugees weren't any different from Vitter’s, but rhetorically he remained sedate while Vitter openly stoked xenophobic panic. The good news is that Vitter’s hysteria utterly failed to save him campaign.
Earlier this month, polling badly underestimated Republicans across the board in Kentucky, including in the governor's race, and many Democrats feared the same thing would happen in Louisiana. However, four pollsters released results in the final days of the campaign, and all four showed Edwards winning. The highest marks go to Market Research Insight, which nailed Edwards' 12-point margin and was also the only pollster to correctly predict that Vitter would struggle to win last month's primary. BDPC was also close, giving Edwards a 10-point edge. JMC Analytics and the University of New Orleans, on the other hand, were both off the fairway: JMC's final poll had Edwards up just 5, while UNO gave him a 20-point edge.
● CA-Sen: Attorney General Kamala Harris has picked up another endorsement, this time from Northern California Rep. Jerry McNerney. Harris faces Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a fellow Democrat, in the June top-two primary, and Sanchez has won some support from other members of the state delegation.
● LA-Sen: Following his defeat in Saturday's gubernatorial election, Republican Sen. David Vitter announced that he would not seek re-election to the Senate next year. There are no shortage of Louisiana Republicans who could run here, and it may be a little while before we have a good idea of the field. The jungle primary will be held in November and, assuming no one takes a majority, the top two finishers, regardless of party, will advance to a December runoff.
Rep. John Fleming, who represents a Shreveport-area seat, has amassed a $2,323,000 warchest over the past few months, and the wealthy congressman is capable of self-funding more. Rep. Charles Boustany has also been raising money at a breakneck pace over the past few months, and the Lafayette-area representative has $1,458,000 on hand. Both congressmen hoped that, if Vitter became governor, he would appoint them to his Senate seat. Either man may change his calculations now that he'd actually need to sacrifice his House seat for an uncertain run for the Senate though.
A few other Republicans have been making noises about getting in over the last few months. Treasurer John Kennedy spent $1 million on his uncompetitive re-election campaign last month in order to boost his name recognition ahead of a possible Senate bid. Unlike Boustany and Fleming, Kennedy wouldn't need to give up his post to run next year. If Kennedy jumps in, this will be his third Senate bid: Kennedy ran as a Democrat in 2004 and took third-place in the jungle primary, and he was Team Red's nominee against Mary Landrieu in 2008. Tea partier Rob Maness, a retired colonel who took 14 percent in last year's jungle primary for the Senate, has also expressed interest in the past.
One more intriguing option is Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who narrowly lost the GOP nod to Vitter last month. Angelle's allies said earlier this month that he could run, though he might seek Boustany's House seat if it opens up instead. Angelle pointedly refused to endorse Vitter during the general election, which could cause him problems. However, given how many normally Republican voters turned against Vitter on Saturday, maybe Angelle's distance from the departing senator could be an asset. Roll Call also says that Louisiana Republicans are mentioning Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne as a possible contender. Dardenne backed Democrat John Bel Edwards over Vitter, which enraged influential Republicans and could make it very difficult for him to raise money for a future bid.
It won't be easy for Louisiana Democrats to flip this seat without the toxic Vitter on the ballot, but Saturday's result will likely encourage Democratic politicians to at least take a look here. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the brother of ex-Sen. Mary Landrieu, didn't rule out a run earlier this month. Besides Edwards, Mitch Landrieu is the most prominent Democrat in the state, though he's far more liberal than the governor-elect.
● CA-17: Ordinarily, the entry of a Some Dude Republican into a congressional race in a dark blue district isn't news, but this may be an exception. Accountant Ron Cohen can't possibly win in California's 17th—something even he seems to realize—but what he can do is suck up enough Republican votes to make it past the top-two primary (where all candidates from all parties run together on a single ballot) and into the general election next November.
That would give whichever Democrat joins him an almost automatic victory, since the 17th gave 72 percent of its vote to Barack Obama. Cohen, though, is almost certain to hurt former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna, who has accepted praise for his "right-of-center" views, rather than Rep. Mike Honda, a fellow Democrat who is a classic progressive.
In fact, this fate very nearly befell Khanna last year, when he first challenged Honda. He only managed 28 percent in the primary while two Republicans combined for 23 percent (Honda took 48). That split on the GOP side definitely helped Khanna; had only one Republican been in the race, it's very possible that Khanna might have finished third. Indeed, Honda's campaign accused Khanna's supporters of helping to get a second Republican on the ballot in order to foment this split; labor groups backing Honda, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to boost the first Republican past Khanna.
So this time, if Cohen remains the only Republican running, things could get hairier for Khanna. However, the contours of this race are different: Khanna's now better-known than he was last time, and a lot of Democratic establishment figures have abandoned Honda due to allegations of ethical improprieties in his congressional office. As a result, Khanna is likely to win away some of Honda's support in the primary, so he has less reason to be concerned about losing votes on his right.
● CA-20: Ex-Assemblymember Anna Caballero was named-dropped for this safely blue seat, but it is not to be. On Thursday, Caballero announced that she would campaign for her old Assembly seat next year instead of running for Congress. Right now, Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Jimmy Panetta has the race for CA-20 to himself, but Assemblymember Luis Alejo, Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, and state Sen. Bill Monning are all considering.
● CA-46: Ex-state Sen. Joe Dunn has picked up a potentially useful endorsement from the Orange County Employee Association, whom Politico's Carla Marinucci says is "the largest union representing Orange County's public service workers and is one of the most active political organizations in the region." Dunn faces three other notable Democrats in June's top-two primary for this safely blue Orange County seat.
● IA-01: At the beginning of the cycle, there were reports that ex-state Sen. and 2014 candidate Swati Dandekar was interested in another try for the Democratic nod. However, President Obama has just nominated Dandekar to serve as U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank, so we can take her name out of the running once and for all.
● IL-01: On Friday, Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush reaffirmed that he's running for re-election in this safely blue Chicago seat. However, it looks like he'll need to at least break a sweat in the primary. Ald. Howard Brookins said before Rush's announcement that he'll run for this seat no matter what Rush does.
It's unclear how Brookins expects to beat the entrenched congressman. Rush hasn't faced any serious primary opposition since 2000, when he decisively beat two state senators. State Sen. Barack Obama of course went on to bigger and better things, so who knows: Maybe Brookins is hoping lightning will strike twice! (And hey, I hear Obama will have some free time come 2017, so maybe he should try avenging his only defeat before Rush retires.)
● NY-22: Last cycle, Democrats didn't field so much as a Some Dude-level candidate for this seat, which Romney narrowly carried. Luckily, it sounds like things may go a bit differently this time. Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi tells the National Journal that he's considering running.
The GOP primary will play a huge role in determining if Team Blue has a shot here, something Brindisi himself acknowledges. Republican Rep. Richard Hanna has a moderate record and plenty of personal money to spend, and he won't be easy to beat in a general election. However, conservative Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney is challenging Hanna for renomination. Tenney only lost the 2014 primary to Hanna by 7 points, and Tenney could do better if the groups that sat the last primary out come to her aide.
Tenney would give Democrats a bigger chance at scoring a pickup, but nothing's guaranteed in this ancestrally red upstate seat. Hanna could also still stay in Congress even if primary voters tell him to get lost. Last year, the Independence Party nominated Hanna and if they do the same thing this time, he'll be on the general election ballot after all. Two Republicans duking it out could help Brindisi or another Democrat, but the conservative Tenney could also benefit if Hanna peels off too many moderates.
● NRCC: The House GOP campaign committee has announced the first 32 members of their Young Guns program, which is designed to highlight and provide extra support for non-incumbents in competitive races. At this point, all 32 candidates are just "On the Radar," the program's lowest level, but some of them will get promoted as we get closer to Election Day.
There are actually some surprises on the list. The NRCC has included multiple Republicans running in competitive races, but there are some omissions. For instance, in Arizona's 1st District, ex-Secretary of State Ken Bennett and rancher Gary Kiehne make the list, but fellow candidates Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and state House Speaker David Gowan don't. In NY-19, businessman Andrew Heaney and ex-Assembly Minority Leader John Faso are included, but Assemblyman Pete Lopez is not.
And in CA-52, Karl Rove protégé Denise Gitsham is here, but retired Marine Jacquie Atkinson is omitted. Atkinson has proven to be a weak fundraiser, but the other Republicans haven't had any time to prove themselves. However, the committee is listing three Republicans in NV-03, even though there's no doubt that they prefer state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson over wealthy perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian or think tank head Andy Matthews.
Even weirder, the NRCC seems to have their thumb on the scales in one safely red seat. In the open Indiana 9th, which Romney won 57-41, state Sen. Erin Houchin and Attorney General Greg Zoeller get a mention, while state Sen. Brent Waltz doesn't. There are also some longshot GOP candidates here. In CA-03, physician Eugene Cleek is included. Cleek is challenging Democrat John Garamendi in a seat Obama won 54-43; Cleek has largely self-funded his way to a $224,000 warchest, but he's raised little from donors.
In NY-03, David Gurfein also gets some surprisingly love from the NRCC. Gurfein is challenging former DCCC chair Steve Israel in a swingy Long Island Obama won 51-48. Gurfein raised $126,000 last quarter, which isn't nothing, but he'll need a lot more to go after the well-connected Israel. Israel also posted a decisive 55-45 win during last year's GOP wave, and it's very unlikely he'll go down in a presidential cycle.
● LA-LG, AG: Louisianans also picked the winners for two other statewide offices on Saturday. In the lieutenant governor's contest, Republican Billy Nungesser defeated Democrat Kip Holden 55-45. Nungesser had none of David Vitter's considerable baggage while Holden never raised much money, so the result was hardly a surprise.
In the all-GOP attorney general race, ex-Rep. Jeff Landry unseated incumbent Buddy Caldwell 56-44. Caldwell had only joined the GOP in 2011 and while Louisiana Republicans usually welcome new recruits, Caldwell never took the time to make connections in his new party. The GOP establishment ended up enthusiastically backing Landry, whose GOP bona fides were never in question. Landry ran a more energetic campaign and, despite his tea partying reputation, he appears to have won a significant number of Democratic voters.
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.