● OH-08: We'd never heard of businessman Jim Spurlino, one of the many Republicans running to succeed ex-Speaker John Boehner in the March 15 primary for this safely red seat, but we won't be forgetting him any time soon. Spurlino is airing at least one ad promoting himself as a political outsider, but that's not the spot we care about. No, it's this one, where Spurlino, sitting around a table with his wife and some supporters, claims an unknown party tried to blackmailed him into dropping out of the race.
Spurlino says he "received an anonymous envelope that threatened to ruin my reputation," unless he were to end his campaign. Spurlino continues by saying that, although he's "happily married now, they threatened to reveal details about my prior divorce. They even stalked our children on social media." It's unclear if the video is actually airing on TV (though it does have the "I approve this message" tagline that all ads for federal candidates require) but even so, this is one hell of an intro.
Turning to the less salacious contenders for Boehner's seat, state Sen. Bill Beagle is the first candidate to release a poll. Beagle's survey, which was conducted earlier this month by Public Opinion Strategies, finds him leading the way with 20 percent, while veteran Warren Davidson and state Rep. Tim Derickson each take 8, and tea partier J.D. Winteregg is at 7; Spurlino does not appear to have been a factor. The Club for Growth recently launched a $400,000 ad buy for Davidson, and other candidates have only just begun to air spots, so the race is due to start changing soon. In any case, Beagle's vote share in a contest where so many voters are undecided is hardly awe-inspiring.
Davidson, who is doing some self-funding, is also up with an introductory ad that's disappointingly free of any references to blackmail, instead just promoting his Army career and conservative credentials. Davidson seems to have been pretty bored when he filmed this, since he declares he'll "destroy every ISIS stronghold" in about as dull a manner as possible.
● FL-Sen: Wealthy homebuilder Carlos Beruff, who is close to Gov. Rick Scott, has been flirting with a bid for the GOP nod for the last month, and he's reportedly decided to jump in. Citing a "source familiar with Beruff's plans," the Herald Tribune says that Beruff will kick off his campaign on Feb. 29, an obvious attempt to nail down Leap Day William's endorsement.
● NC-Sen: PPP takes their monthly look at North Carolina, and they once again find that, while Republican Sen. Richard Burr is still the favorite in November, he's not invincible. Burr leads ex-state House Majority Whip Deborah Ross, the Democratic establishment favorite, 43-37, a bit closer than his 43-33 edge last month. Burr's 43-36 advantage against Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey is also tighter than his 44-32 margin last time, though Burr's 43-36 lead against little-known businessman Kevin Griffin is about the same as it was before.
Burr's approval rating has gone down from 32-35 to 29-40. It's unclear what, if anything, caused this decline. Over the years, PPP has usually found about a third of the state happy with Burr, a third discontented, and a third having no option. We'll want to see if North Carolinians have actually soured on Burr, or if he'll be back to his usual lukewarm self soon.
All of Burr's prospective foes are almost completely anonymous, even with fellow Democrats. However, Ross has the lead in the March 15 primary with 22 percent of the vote. Griffin and Rey each take 10, while Iraq War veteran Ernest Reeves is at 2. Ross needs to break 40 percent of the vote to win without a runoff, and it's likely that allied groups like EMILY's List will help her boost her name recognition in the next month. Burr himself leads primary foe Greg Brannon 56-13, which is almost identical to what PPP found in January. Burr made some news a few weeks ago when the AP reported that the senator told a room full of supporters that he'd vote for Bernie Sanders over Ted Cruz; Burr denied the story, and it doesn't seem to have done him any damage with his base.
● NV-Sen: Gravis Marketing (R) (trendlines in parentheses):
● Catherine Cortez Masto (D): 41 (37), Joe Heck (R): 44 (47)
● Catherine Cortez Masto (D): 46 (45), Sharron Angle (R): 33 (32)
● NC-Gov: To the surprise of no one, PPP once again finds a tight race here. This time, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory leads Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper 43-41; in January, Cooper had a 43-40 edge. McCrory sports a negative 40-47 approval rating, while Cooper remains on positive ground, but still largely undefined, with a 32-22 favorable rating.
● WV-Gov: On behalf of MetroNews West Virginia, Repass Research provides us with our first independent poll of the three-way May Democratic primary. Repass gives coal billionaire Jim Justice a 32-25 edge over former US Attorney Booth Goodwin, with state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler at 23. Justice is the only candidate who has been running ads so far, and things may change once Goodwin and Kessler take to the airwaves. A December Justice poll, which was taken before Goodwin entered the race, gave Justice a 39-19 lead over Kessler, with Goodwin at 13.
West Virginia hasn't sent a Republican to the governor's mansion since 1996, but Team Red has been gaining strength across state in recent years. However, Repass tests state Senate President Bill Cole against each Democrat, and finds that the blue team's odds are far from hopeless in November.
● 45-40 vs. Jeff Kessler
● 44-43 vs. Booth Goodwin
● 39-49 vs. Jim Justice
We haven't seen any other independent numbers here in a very long time, so we don't have any way to confirm that Justice is dramatically outperforming the rest of the Democratic field. And if Justice has the edge in the general election right now, it's hard to know if Justice's spending spree accounts for his great numbers, or if West Virginians are predisposed to liking him. While this is Justice's first race, he's not exactly some random rich guy. Justice has gotten some favorable attention over the years for restoring the historic Greenbrier hotel and for leading the Greenbrier East High School girl's basketball team to a Class AAA title in 2012.
However, Justice hasn't been on the wrong end of any attack ads yet, and his foes have plenty of material. Justice has a history of late-fees and safety violations at his coalmines. In December of 2014, Justice was also caught on video berating the police officer who pulled him over for speeding. We'll want to see if Justice can maintain his primary and general election advantages as we get closer to primary day, or if he takes a dive once his opponents start airing his dirty laundry.
● AL-01, 02: Reps. Bradley Byrne and Martha Roby face underfunded challengers in the March 1 GOP primary, but the powerful US Chamber of Commerce is taking no chances. The Chamber is out with a pair of spots praising Byrne and Roby as loyal conservatives. There's no word on the size of the buy, but when the Chamber spends, it usually spends big. No major groups have gotten involved to support challengers Dean Young or Becky Gerritson. But the two tea partiers will share a ballot with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and establishment-friendly incumbents shouldn't be taking anything for granted.
● CA-31: DC Republicans must not be particularly pleased with Navy vet Paul Chabot, even though he fell just 3 points shy of defeating Democrat Pete Aguilar last cycle. But this time around, he just hasn't raised much money, and the NRCC just named economics professor Sean Flynn, a recent entrant to the race and the author of "Economics for Dummies," to their "Young Guns" list while leaving Chabot off. Flynn hasn't filed any fundraising reports yet, but he claims to have loaned his campaign $50,000 and raised another $50,000 in his first few weeks on the trail.
However, while Chabot came close despite getting outspent in 2014, this district is a real reach for Republicans. Obama won 57 percent of the vote here, and in a presidential year, that's daunting. What's more, Aguilar will get an incumbency boost that he lacked two years ago, so in-like-Flynn's looking more like out-like-sauerkraut.
● IL-15, OH-14: The US Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Reps. John Shimkus and David Joyce, who both face tea party-friendly challengers in the March 15 GOP primary. The Chamber hasn't unveiled any ads in either race yet, though they've never been shy about spending big in contests that they care about.
Ex-state Rep. Matt Lynch's campaign against Joyce looks like a serious longshot. While Lynch held Joyce to a 55-45 win in this suburban Cleveland seat last cycle (the Chamber also came to Joyce's aid then), that was the first time Joyce needed to face primary voters. Lynch has very little money, and influential conservative groups haven't shown any interest in him.
Shimkus' primary fight against state Sen. Kyle McCarter is a bit more interesting. While McCarter has run a disorganized campaign, the Club for Growth has spent $275,000 hitting Shimkus so far. Shimkus' camp touted a January poll giving the congressman a 65-13 lead, but he's now running a negative ad against McCarter. The narrator argues that DC insiders are siding with McCarter, while McCarter "sides with the Chicago machine, voting to urge Congress to create Obamacare, and funding Planned Parenthood." The spot also notes that McCarter lives outside this rural downstate seat, before it praises Shimkus as an ardent conservative.
Shimkus was first elected to the House in 1996 and he has been close to the GOP leadership, so it's pretty implausible for him to portray himself as the foe of DC insiders. An earlier spot also featured the 10-term incumbent unconvincingly calling for "bold reform." Of course, Shimkus can't go around running commercials proclaiming how great it is for the district that they have a member of the Washington establishment representing them, but the argument that Shimkus is the enemy of the status quo just comes across as downright dishonest. And even though the town of Metropolis is in the 15th, Shimkus probably shouldn't have gone with the Superman pose at the end of his latest spot: Some people can pull it off, and some people just can't.
The ad at least demonstrates that Shimkus takes his primary seriously, though it's unclear if Shimkus is just making sure he doesn't get caught by surprise, or if he really fears that the Club's spending is having an effect. The Illinois and Ohio House primaries will be held the same day as the presidential primary, and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz could bring some voters to the polls that have no love for their congressmen.
● IN-09: The oddest inclusion by far in the NRCC's newly anointed set of "Young Guns" candidates is businessman Trey Hollingsworth. He's running in Indiana's 9th Congressional District, which is open thanks to Rep. Todd Young's bid for Senate, but what's so odd is that this is a strongly Republican seat that gave Mitt Romney 57 percent of its vote. What's more, it features a hotly contested GOP primary that includes two state senators, Erin Houchin and Brent Waltz, and even the state's sitting attorney general, Greg Zoeller. (Both Zoeller and Houchin had previously earned Young Guns status.)
So why would the NRCC feel the need to get involved here, and why do they care about Hollingsworth in particular? Yes, he has some personal wealth (he's loaned his campaign almost $600,000), but there are plenty of rich guys who run for Congress every cycle and don't get this kind of treatment. He doesn't appear to be a major donor: Searches on his name at OpenSecrets reveal bupkes. And he doesn't even have strong ties to Indiana, since he just moved there from Tennessee last year!
Nor would Hollingsworth help the GOP diversify its image as the party of white men, since, well, he is one. Just about the only notable thing about him is his youth—he's just 32 years old. He's also ambitious: An amusing Washington Post story from 1999 about a "summer entrepreneur camp for teenagers" describes a 15-year-old Hollingsworth who sleeps only three hours a night so that he can work on his secret Internet startup company in the wee hours.
And he already has a super PAC running well-produced ads for him (for at least $200,000 so far), plus he's on the air with his own spot touting his record as a job creator. But both ads also invoke familiar DC-bashing tropes and call Hollingsworth an "outsider." Yet how much of an outsider can he be if the NRCC is dubbing him a preferred candidate?
● WI-08: While GOP state Rep. John Nygren expressed interest in this open light red seat, he's announced that he won't go for it. Right now, GOP state Sen. Frank Lasee is the only declared candidate from either party.
● WV-02: Army lawyer Cory Simpson faces ex-state Del. Mark Hunt in the May Democratic primary for the right to take on freshman GOP Rep. Alex Mooney. While the DCCC has signaled that they prefer Simpson and VoteVets recently endorsed him, 2014 nominee Nick Casey is backing Hunt. Casey, an ex-state party chair, only lost to Mooney 47-44 during the GOP wave.
● NRCC: The NRCC has added a second batch of candidates to its "Young Guns" program, the equivalent of the DCCC's "Red to Blue." The first round, launched in November, contained 32 names. This time, there are 11 candidates in total, in nine different districts:
- CA-07: Scott Jones
- CA-31: Sean Flynn
- IL-08: Pete DiCianni
- IN-09: Trey Hollingsworth
- MD-03: Mark Plaster
- MI-01: Jason Allen & Tom Casperson
- NY-03: Jack Martins
- NY-22: George Phillips & Steve Wells
- PA-08: Brian Fitzpatrick
Some, like Scott Jones and Brian Fitzpatrick, are unsurprising, since they're the only legit candidates in those races. Some are clearly aspirational, like Pete DiCianni and Mark Plaster, who are both running in blue districts and have raised very little money. Still others represent attempts to help folks in contested primaries, chief among them state Sen. Jack Martins, who faces several other Republicans for the right to represent the GOP in this swingy Long Island seat. The same is true with Trey Hollingsworth, though this is a safely red seat. (See our separate IN-09 bullet for more on this strange choice.)
Meanwhile, there's some indecision in MI-01 and NY-22, with the latter especially notable: George Phillips is more or less a Some Dude who ran a couple of hopeless races for Congress in the past but managed to come kinda-sorta close in 2010 thanks to the GOP wave. If the NRCC can't decide between him and businessman Steve Wells, that suggests they're not exactly thrilled with their recruitment to date. (The group notably snubbed conservative Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney though.) Lucky for them, Democrats have come up empty so far as well.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: On Thursday, SEIU Local 500 and the SEIU Maryland/DC State Council threw their support behind state Sen. Catherine Pugh's bid for the Democratic nod. Pugh is one of the many candidates competing in the April primary, which is tantamount to election in this heavily Democratic city. Pugh has more money than all the candidates except wealthy businessman David Warnock and if she gets enough labor support, she may be the candidate best positioned to carve out a plurality of the vote (there is no runoff here). Warnock has spent heavily on ads, but his rivals have mostly held their fire so far. Attorney Elizabeth Embry is now up with an introductory spot, but it's only airing on cable so far.
● Milwaukee, WI Mayor: Mayor Tom Barrett took just 46 percent of the vote in Tuesday's top-two primary, and he'll face Alderman Bob Donovan in the April 5 general. Donovan beat Alderman Joe Davis 32-19 for the second place spot, and Davis didn't wait long before endorsing Donovan. Both of Barrett's rivals have been hitting the mayor over the city's crime rate, and their combined 51 percent suggests that they've found Barrett's Achilles heel.
● Nevada Caucus & South Carolina Primary: On Saturday, Nevada Democrats will hold their presidential caucus, and South Carolina Republicans will hold their presidential primary. The Nevada caucus begins at 2:00 PM ET, and we'll be liveblogging the results then; the Palmetto State's poll close at 7:00 PM ET, and we'll be liveblogging that contest as well. We'll also be live tweeting from our Daily Kos Elections account. Join us Saturday for two exciting contests!
● Time Machine: Travel back in time with Daily Kos Elections, as we imagine our writeups of key races throughout history as though we were right there—and without the benefit of hindsight! We've completed out slingshot around the sun and crashed in 1982 Arkansas. Ex-Gov. Bill Clinton is trying to restart his career two years after being unseated by Republican Frank White. However, Clinton must get through the Democratic primary runoff with former Lt. Gov. Joe Purcell, a man who has few enemies in Razorback State Politics. Will Democrats give Clinton another shot at White, or will they decide the mild-mannered Purcell is the better bet?
● Where Are They Now?: In what might be one of the least surprising post-congressional career moves ever, former roofing contractor Reid Ribble will become CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association after he leaves the House this year. Said Ribble, "Roofing is in my blood" (actual quote).
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.