● NY-22: Republican Rep. Richard Hanna, a relative moderate who had always seemed out of place in today's hard-right GOP world, announced over the weekend that he would not seek a fourth term in Congress next year. In 2012, Hanna made headlines when he urged women to donate to Democrats because "so many of your rights are under assault"; earlier this year, he did it again when he backed up GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy's admission that Republicans had used the Benghazi hearings as a way to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions.
In between, he unsurprisingly earned a purist primary challenge from conservative Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who managed to hold Hanna to a weak 7-point win in 2014, even though she got a late start and was vastly outspent. Tenney was already running against Hanna a second time, and though he insists her presence wasn't a factor in his decision, Hanna could easily have lost renomination had he sought re-election.
Now, though, this race will be wide open on both sides. New York's 22nd, whose chief cities are Binghamton, Cortland, and Utica, was one of the closest districts in the nation in 2012: 49.2 percent voted for Mitt Romney while 48.8 percent went for Barack Obama. Even before Hanna's retirement, Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi had talked about a bid, with the hopes that he'd get to face Tenney instead of the incumbent. Former Oneida County Legislator David Gordon had also expressed interest, but he seems misguided about how to win a primary. (Quote: "The district constantly elects moderate Republicans. How about electing a conservative Democrat?")
Brindisi reiterated his interest following Hanna's departure, though if anything. Tenney's odds of becoming the GOP nominee just grew smaller. That's because Republicans have a number of options here, and several have already floated their names (per WKTV and Syracuse.com):
Former U.N. World Food Program director Catherine Bertini
Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus ("privately expressed interest")
State Sen. Joe Griffo ("has not yet made a decision")
Former state Sen. Ray Meier
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente ("will strongly consider running")
Meier ran for a predecessor version of this seat back in 2006, the old 24th District, though only a little over half of the present-day 22nd shares its heritage with that seat. But in a positive sign for Democrats, they managed to hold the 24th for two terms, until Hanna defeated Democratic Rep. Mike Arcuri in the 2010 GOP wave. They'd love to take it again, and if former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket, that could provide Team Blue with a big downballot boost.
● CO-Sen: Former Colorado State University athletic director Jack Graham says he's considering a bid for Senate and plans to make a decision "sometime in January." If he does run, Graham would enter a very crowded GOP primary that includes rich guy Robert Blaha, former Aurora City Councilor Ryan Frazier, state Sen. Tim Neville, and probably state Rep. Jon Keyser, who seems to be the guy that DC Republicans are most intrigued by. Like Blaha, Graham may have some personal wealth to bring to the race: Prior to his tenure as CSU's athletic director (which did not go well), Graham founded an insurance company and then sold it to Microsoft zillionaire Paul Allen. Republicans are hoping to unseat freshman Sen. Michael Bennet, the only vulnerable Senate Democrat up for re-election next year.
● GA-Sen: Democrats keep coming up empty on a potential challenger to GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson. Michael Sterling, a former advisor to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed whose name first popped up earlier this month, is the latest to say no. While it's unlikely anyone could beat Isakson, this isn't a seat you want to leave uncontested, especially if the Democrats' presidential nominee manages to put Georgia in play. But understandably, it's difficult to convince someone to put her life on hold for a year to run a brutal statewide race she has little chance of winning.
● NC-Sen, Gov: The filing deadline has closed in the Tar Heel State, and every congressional district save the 1st will feature candidates from both major parties. However, thanks to the GOP's devilish gerrymander, not one of North Carolina's 13 House seats will host a competitive general election. (We will, however, see several contested primaries, so check out our individual race writeups below.)
The Senate contest might be a bit more interesting, as four Democrats, chief among them Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey and ex-state Rep. Deborah Ross, are hoping to unseat Republican Sen. Richard Burr, though it's a longshot. But there was one small twist at the deadline, when tea partying physician Greg Brannon decided to challenge Burr in the GOP primary.
Brannon ran for Senate last year and came in second for the nomination, which went to Thom Tillis, the establishment choice who went on to beat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in the general election. It's very unlikely Brannon could actually beat Burr, but he came somewhat close to forcing a runoff with Tillis, who only cleared the 40-percent threshold with a 45.7 percent showing. (Brannon took 27 percent.)
Sending Burr to a runoff would be well-nigh impossible, particularly since the other two Republicans running are basically Some Dudes. But if Brannon can focus some conservative anger in Burr's direction and perhaps force him to spend money he otherwise would have saved for the fall, Democrats won't be displeased.
But while the Senate race isn't likely to be especially exciting, the battle for governor should be. Polls have shown state Attorney General Roy Cooper deadlocked with first-term Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, though first he'll have to get by businessman Kenneth Spaulding in the Democratic primary.
● CA-46: Former state Sen. Lou Correa has led the race to succeed Rep. Loretta Sanchez in terms of establishment support, and now he's released a new poll from FM3 showing him leading the race, period:
|Lou Correa (D) (former state senator)
|Adam Nick (R) (2014 candidate)
|Bao Nguyen (D) (Garden Grove mayor)
|Joe Dunn (D) (former state senator)
|Jordan Brandman (D) (Anaheim city councilman)*
Brandman dropped out of the race on the poll's final night in the field, but FM3 says the news didn't break until after calls were concluded; in any event, he was a non-factor. Correa's definitely in an enviable position, and he sports a strong 47-15 favorability rating. Dunn (21-8) and Nguyen (16-6) are much less well-known.
Nick, meanwhile, isn't actually running, but he's serving as a stand-in for how well a Republican might reasonably expect to perform in the primary. The real question is whether two Democrats can earn the top two slots and continue the fight in November. Correa would very much prefer to face a Republican, though, in this solidly blue district, seeing as Nick only managed 40 percent in the general election last year.
The one area where Correa has lagged is fundraising: He took in just $70,000 in the last quarter, trailing both Dunn and Brandman. And with a third of the electorate undecided, this race could go a few different ways. But unless these numbers are way off, it would take something dramatic for Correa to find himself completely shut out next November.
● NC-02: While Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers got her start as a tea partier, she hasn't had a great relationship with the far right in a while. In January, Ellmers inflamed her old allies when she helped convince the House leadership to kill an ultra-extreme measure to restrict abortion access; Ellmers supported the bill in principle, but decided it would be bad for the party politically. Chatham County GOP chair Jim Duncan has emerged as Ellmers' main primary opponent, and he recently received the backing of the well-funded Club For Growth.
However, a crowded primary field may save Ellmers. North Carolina only requires a runoff if no candidate takes more than 40 percent of the vote, and while it's very possible to see Ellmers take less than a majority, it won't be easy to hold her below 40. The other three contenders are former state GOP spokesperson Kay Dale; perennial candidate and radio host Frank Roche, who took 41 percent against Ellmers last year; and freakazoid part-time ark hunter Tim D'Annunzio. This trio doesn't have much dough between them but if they take some anti-Ellmers votes away from Duncan, that's very good news for the incumbent. The GOP nominee should be safe in this 57-42 Romney Raleigh-area seat.
● NC-03: GOP Rep. Walter Jones has been a pain in the ass for his party's House leadership for a long time. In 2014, well-funded GOP groups rallied behind former George W. Bush aide Taylor Griffin last year, but Jones pulled off a narrow 51-45 win. Griffin is back for another try in this solidly Republican coastal seat. Complicating things for Griffin is the candidacy of former marine Phil Law. Law has very little money, but he could save Jones if he takes a few votes from Griffin.
● NC-09: Back in August, Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger acknowledged that his family's real estate company, Pittenger Land Investments, is the target of an FBI investigation, but so far, the story doesn't appear to be putting Pittenger in any electoral jeopardy. Pittenger only faces ex-CIA officer George Rouco in the primary, and there's no indication that Rouco is anything more than a Some Dude. Romney won this Charlotte-area seat 56-43.
● NC-11, 12: There were some rumblings that Republican Rep. Mark Meadows or Democratic Rep. Alma Adams would face a credible primary challenge, but it's not to be. Meadows was the chief agitator in a plot to oust John Boehner as speaker of the House, and in October, there were reports that neighboring congressman Patrick McHenry was trying to recruit a more reliable paisan to run against Meadows in retaliation. But McHenry denied the story, and Boehner ended up stepping down anyway. In any case, no Republican filed to face Meadows this western North Carolina seat.
In the 12th District, ex-state Sen. Malcolm Graham talked about challenging Adams, whom he lost to last year. However, Adams will only face two little known primary foes. Both seats are safe for the party that holds them.
● OH-08: In a surprising move, Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds just dropped out of the special election to succeed former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a decision that could alter the course of the GOP primary. Reynolds was one of three serious candidates in the race and was running with the support of many Boehner backers. In fact, he'd even hired some former Boehner staffers, and there'd even been speculation that Boehner himself was trying to help Reynolds, which makes his departure all the more unexpected.
But Reynolds (who claims that only now does he realize he cannot achieve "a healthy balance" between campaigning and raising his two teenage daughters) was also one of two credible candidates from Butler County, raising the prospect that he and state Rep. Tim Derickson could have split the Butler-area vote. That would have benefitted state Sen. Bill Beagle, the third major contender, who hails from the other end of the district, near the city of Dayton.
Instead, though, Beagle will face a more direct battle with Derickson, whom Reynolds endorsed as he was exiting the race. And if anything, Derickson may now be the favorite, since Butler accounts for fully half of the district's population (though that percentage may be different in a Republican primary). The one certainty, though, is that the field is set, since Ohio's filing deadline has already passed. The primary in this safely red district will be held at the same time as the state's regular March primary, and a special election for the final months of Boehner's term will take place in June.
● PA-06: Though he doesn't quote anyone directly, Nathan Gonzales reports that "Democratic strategists" have abandoned businessman Mike Parrish in his quest to unseat freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Costello, concluding that Parrish's campaign has "floundered" and isn't going to get any better. Considering that Parrish raised only $29,000 in the third quarter of the year and had just $26,000 on-hand (a point Gonzales also notes in his longer paywalled writeup), this development is none too surprising.
The problem now, though, is that Democrats don't have much of a bench here, and if anyone else were to get in, he or she wouldn't have much time to put together a winning campaign for this expensive suburban district. West Whiteland Township Supervisor Joe Denham filed paperwork for a bid earlier this year but then terminated his campaign committee without ever actually launching a bid. And 2014 gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty was briefly talked up over a year ago, but she's now running for Senate. She'd actually have better odds of winning if she dropped down to this race, but it's hard to see her doing so.
Still, there's an opportunity for someone. Costello's only in his first term, a time when all incumbents are at their most vulnerable, and Hillary Clinton is likely to do well in the greater Philadelphia region. But Democrats need to find that someone.
● TX-29: Democratic Rep. Gene Green faces an unexpected primary challenge from former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and it's very possible the electorate could divide along racial lines (Green is white; Garcia is Hispanic). But several local state legislators, several of whom are Latino, just gave their backing to Green, which could help tamp down any ethnic split and keep Garcia from gaining traction. While the Houston-based 29th District is 77 percent Hispanic, proportionally fewer Hispanics are eligible to vote because many are not citizens.
● House: One of the most helpful (and simple) models we've relied on over the years to guide our analysis of House races is one we call the House Vulnerability Index. It combines just two metrics—each incumbent's previous winning margin, plus the average presidential election margin in each district over the past two cycles—to rank every member of the House in order; the thinner the margins, the higher the rank. This very straightforward approach yields some very intuitive results, and what's more, it works: In past cycles, it's done a very good job of predicting which incumbents are likeliest to lose.
And now you can check out our first installment for the 2016 elections. The index will shift slightly over time because we consider the "winning margin" for open seats to be zero, so as more incumbents retire, those seats will move up the list. For instance, with Rep. Richard Hanna's retirement, NY-22 just moved from the 143rd-most vulnerable Republican seat all the way to 18th, since Barack Obama actually carried the district. To keep up with these changes, you can view our continually updated spreadsheet with our complete HVI rankings.
● Polling: Researchers have long known that liberals and conservatives are apt to answer questions about politics in ways that favor their own partisan leanings, but two new studies summarized in Pacific Standard magazine demonstrate ways to minimize this phenomenon. Believe it or not, adding financial rewards to the mix makes respondents more likely to provide correct answers, and paying people if they admit they don't know increases accuracy further still.
But the incentive doesn't necessarily have to be monetary: In one study, respondents were told they'd be helping determine whether government research on the economy was "finding its way to the general public." Even that inducement alone—merely the desire to help researchers—reduced the partisan gap between the answers given by Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps the fact that you can pay or pressure people to be more honest is a depressing commentary on American political life, but at least it shows the truth (or something closer to it) is out there.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and Stephen Wolf.