● IA-04: Rep. Steve King is best known in DC for his many stupid and offensive quotes. His career can perhaps be best epitomized with his declaration that, for every child of an undocumented immigrant "who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." But he's probably Iowa's most powerful social conservative, and prominent local business conservatives have been comfortable letting King shoot his mouth off. But King may have finally touched the third rail of Hawkeye State politics and earned himself a primary challenge.
King is a longtime supporter of ethanol, a fuel that's made up of a ton of Iowa corn. But Ted Cruz, who probably owes King his victory in the state's presidential caucus, has been reluctant to promote pro-ethanol laws like the Renewable Fuel Standard. Ethanol lobbyist Eric Branstad, the son of Gov. and Cruz hater-in-chief Terry Branstad, has made it no secret that he's furious at King for backing Cruz, and the ethanol industry and GOP operative Nick Ryan have been reportedly trying to recruit a primary challenger for King. And they may have finally found their man: State Sen. Rick Bertrand said over the weekend that he's "strongly, strongly considering" running against King. The filing deadline is March 18, so if Bertrand wants to run, he'll need to decide soon.
If Bertrand gets in, it's not going to be easy for him to beat King. Social conservative voters are a powerful force in western Iowa GOP politics, and it's very tough to see their praetor losing. And as the Iowa Starting Line points out, Cruz did well in the 4th District at the beginning of the month, so King's support for him is hardly an automatic scarlet letter with voters. But the ethanol industry's support could give Bertrand access to money. King only had $119,000 in the bank at the end of December, so Bertrand could definitely outspend him. Romney won this seat 53-45 and King turned back well-funded Democratic foes, and it doesn't look like Team Blue will have a strong candidate who can capitalize on any GOP chaos.
● FL-Sen: For the first time, the House Ethics Committee has acknowledged it's investigating complaints about Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson's hedge funds, which were filed last year and referred to the committee by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics in early January. In a terse statement, the panel offered no other details except to say it would "announce its course of action in this matter" by April 5.
● IL-Sen, PA-Sen, OH-Sen: Republican Sen. Mark Kirk has finally revealed his feelings on what should happen in terms of a successor for Antonin Scalia: He thinks President Obama should name a replacement and that the Senate should hold hearings and permit a vote on the nomination. That's a complete and total break with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and outside conservative groups, who can only countenance maximal obstruction.
But Kirk faces re-election in Illinois, and this helps immunize him from Democratic attacks. Kirk also must figure that his Some Dude Republican challenger, James Marter, won't be able to get enough mileage out of this issue in the few weeks left before the March 15 primary. Kirk earned some brickbats for his initial silence, but by waiting rather than reacting, he was able to get a better read on the political climate, and he made the more astute call.
More globally, though, Kirk's choice demonstrates a problem faced by other vulnerable Senate Republicans, all of whom have embraced McConnell's call for gridlock. While, say, Pennsylvania and Ohio are not as blue as Illinois, GOP Sens. Pat Toomey and Rob Portman are putting their own electoral futures at risk by joining the stonewall brigades, according to a new poll from PPP.
The survey, conducted on behalf of the progressive group Americans United for Change, finds both senators with underwater job approval ratings (29-40 for Toomey and 30-39 for Portman), while majorities in both states think a new justice should join the Supreme Court this year: 58-35 in Ohio and 57-40 in Pennsylvania. That question, however, was not worded as crisply as we'd have liked: PPP asked respondents whether they thought Scalia's seat "should be filled this year" or if it "should be left empty for the next year."
This framing, however, is fairly favorable to Democrats; Republicans, by contrast, have argued (and will continue to argue) that voters ought to decide on the presidency this year before a new appointment can ascend to the bench. A load of bollocks though that may be, it's at least more substantial than saying the seat "should be left empty for the next year." We say all this only to point out that these majorities in favor of seating a successor might be less robust if the question were asked differently.
Still, even though Republicans immediately turned this into a partisan issue in DC, there are always some persuadable voters who despise dysfunction more than Democrats. That means there's every reason to believe this issue is still a loser for the GOP in swing states—and Kirk's decision to buck his party is confirmation of that.
● IN-Sen: In an unsurprising move, the Indiana Election Commission split along partisan lines and deadlocked in a 2-2 tie on Friday, thus allowing Rep. Todd Young to stay on the Republican primary ballot even though independent reviews have shown he did not submit a sufficient number of signatures to qualify. However, Young's embarrassing ordeal is by no means over. Young's petitions were challenged both by state Democrats and by his primary rival, fellow Rep. Marlin Stutzman; Democrats say they might file a lawsuit to contest the commission's ruling, so a judge could very well wind up bouncing Young in the end.
Meanwhile, Stutzman is airing a new (and very well-produced) minute-long ad narrated by his wife, who talks about her husband's frugal conservative values dating back to his childhood. In a story that she undoubtedly finds charming rather than startling, she says, "When he was just twelve years old, Marlin began saving his pocket change, because someday he wanted to take his wife somewhere special for their honeymoon."
● MO-Sen: On Monday, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill revealed that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer and will spend the next three weeks receiving treatment at home in St. Louis. Fortunately, McCaskill says, "[M]y prognosis is good and I expect a full recovery."
● NC-Sen: Republican Sen. Richard Burr has launched his first ad, backed by a $300,000 buy. Burr's spot reminds voters to be scared shitless of ISIS, while the narrator promotes Burr's work on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
● NC-Gov: Elon University takes another look at this gubernatorial race, and they give Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper a 42-40 edge against Republican Gov. Pat McCrory; in November, they had Cooper up 45-40. A recent PPP poll had McCrory up 43-40.
● VT-Gov: On behalf of Vermont Public Radio, The Castleton Polling Institute takes a look at both parties' Aug. 9 primaries. On the Democratic side, ex-state Sen. and 2010 candidate Matt Dunne leads ex-Vermont Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter 19-11. It's not surprising that so few voters have made up their minds, especially since the Democratic field hasn't fully taken shape. State House Speaker Shap Smith suspended his campaign last year because of his wife's battle with breast cancer, but he says that he's considering jumping back in now that her treatment is going well. Ex-state Sen. Peter Galbraith, who is better known for his career as a diplomat, has also been flirting with a bid for months. And ex-state Rep. John Moran, who was unseated in 2014, is also considering dropping in.
Things are a lot clearer on the GOP side, with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott leading former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman 42-4. Lisman is worth about $50 million and if he generously self-funds, he can make things interesting. However, Scott has the support of the GOP establishment and plenty of name recognition, and he'll be hard to topple.
Castleton didn't exactly test the general election. Instead, they asked which of the four gubernatorial candidates Vermonters "hope to see elected Vermont's governor in November 2016," and a whopping 66 percent pick Scott. One big caveat is that this poll was conducted over an absurdly long two-week period, and we don't have any other recent numbers. Still, while Vermont is solidly blue in federal races, it's very open to sending Republicans to the governor's mansion, and there's little doubt that Scott won't be easy to beat in the fall.
● CA-36: Last month, GOP state Sen. Jeff Stone announced he'd challenge Democratic incumbent Raul Ruiz unless Stone felt that the Obama administration was changing its approach to national security. We have no idea why Stone decided to hedge like this in the first place: After all, what are the odds that Stone would wake up one morning and say, "You know what? That Obama guy's all right!" In any case, Stone is raising money and lining up endorsements, so it sounds like he's really in. Republican veteran Dwight Kealy is also running and he's loaned himself a non-trivial $250,000, but Stone should be the favorite to join Ruiz in the general. Obama only won this Palm Springs-area seat 51-48, but Ruiz is a formidable candidate.
● CA-48: A few weeks ago, ex-Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh filed to run for this 55-43 Romney seat, but GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher quickly said this wasn't a primary challenge. The incumbent said at the time that Baugh was only laying the groundwork for a future campaign when Rohrabacher left Congress, though Rohrabacher admitted he didn't know how long he wanted to stick around. Baugh himself finally confirmed this to the Los Angeles Times, but it sounds like he'll be on the ballot sooner rather than later: Baugh says that Rohrabacher is "looking for a departure in 2016 or 2018." California's filing deadline is March 11 so if Rohrabacher wants out now, we'll know very soon.
● FL-10: You know that picture from your last trip to Disney World with you and your family standing next to Goofy, Snow White, and Darth Vader? Well, they all might be voting for Val Demings in the primary for this safely blue Orlando-area seat. The Service Trades Council, which represents 38,000 local Disney workers, has thrown its support behind Demings, who is also the favorite of national Democrats. So has the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, though we're told that few of their employees get to dress up as Kylo Ren at work. Sadly, animatronic pirates only vote in Republican primaries.
● LA-04: Five Republicans are currently seeking this open 59-40 Romney seat, but state Rep. Jim Morris says he won't decide what to do until the current special legislative session is over: The session is set to end on March 9. Democratic state Rep. Patrick Jefferson also says he'll wait until after the session concludes before making his choice.
● MI-10: Over the weekend, state Rep. Anthony Forlini joined the GOP primary for this 55-44 Romney suburban Detroit seat. This has been a low-energy race so far. Businessman Paul Mitchell has poured plenty of his own cash into his campaign, but he only moved to the area from the other side of the state last year. State Sen. Phil Pavlov and especially ex-state Sen. Alan Sanborn have raised little money themselves. The filing deadline is April 19.
● MN-02: Shocker! It turns out that conservative radio host Jason Lewis hasn't just said offensive things about women on the air—he's spewed racist vitriol, too. Here's just a tiny roundup of what will no doubt turn into quite the greatest hits collection:
In 2009, Lewis said "real Americans" think Hurricane Katrina victims were "a bunch of whiners." In 2012, Lewis said the "white population" has been "committing political suicide" and "committing cultural suicide" by not reproducing at higher levels. Last year, Lewis said "the median income for blacks in America would make them rich in most African nations, not most—all."
Republicans seem nervous, as well they should be. Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District is a GOP-held open seat, and it's as evenly divided as they come: Barack Obama took 49.1 percent of the vote here in 2012, Mitt Romney 49 on the nose. A candidate like Lewis would be a stone-cold disaster in the general election, which is why a deputy chair of the state Republican Party, Chris Fields, has now criticized Lewis publicly over his shock-jock shtick and all but said he wished he could make Lewis go away.
But he can't. The most the GOP can hope for is that one of the other candidates running wins the party's nomination. But hateful comments like Lewis' hold great appeal with many conservative voters, and if the proverbial establishment keeps whaling on him, that can only enhance his outsider appeal. While we haven't seen any polls (and Minnesota's convention system making polling nearly useless anyway), Lewis led the pack in fundraising last quarter. If Republicans can't find a way to stop him, then hoo boy.
● NC-02: On Friday, the GOP state legislature passed their new congressional map. Things aren't final here yet: Democrats have indicated that they plan to contest the latest map, and the district court hearing the case would still have to give the plan its approval. But Tar Heel state politicians don't have the luxury of just waiting around to see what happens, and candidates from both parties are preparing to run under the legislature's map. The congressional primary is now set for June 7, with a March 25 filing deadline: There will not be any runoffs.
Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers was already in trouble before redistricting chopped up her seat, and she's really in hot water now. The new suburban Raleigh 2nd District only includes 18 percent of her old seat (though she represented another portion from 2011 to 2013), while fellow GOP Rep. George Holding represents 57 percent of it. Both members have announced that, if they need to run under this map, they'll run for the safely red 2nd. Holding's home was moved into the safely blue 4th District, and Ellmers' team is arguing that Holding is essentially invading her seat. Holding's campaign is playing up his local roots, and they haven't focused much attention on Ellmers. At the end of 2015, Ellmers had a $415,000 to $237,000 cash-on-hand edge, but Holding is wealthy and can easily self-fund.
Ellmers became close to the GOP leadership during her three terms in the House, and the anti-establishment Club for Growth has been backing businessman Jim Duncan. However, while Duncan was moved into another district, he's announced that he'll still run against Ellmers. It's unclear whether the Club will keep spending on Duncan now that he'll need to get through Holding too. Holding hasn't angered tea partiers the way Ellmers has and Duncan won't have an easy time squeezing out a plurality against two members, but the idea of unseating two incumbents at once may be just too good for the Club to pass up.
● NC-12: The legislature's new map took out Democratic Rep. Alma Adams' Greensboro base and added more Charlotte territory, but Adams quickly announced that she'd run here. Adams represents about half the new 12th and she's been working hard to get her name out in Charlotte during her year in Congress, but that's unlikely to deter ambitious local politicians.
State Rep. Rodney Moore and ex-state Sen. Malcolm Graham, who lost to Adams in 2014, are both openly considering. Ex-Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes, who took last place in the 2015 Charlotte mayoral primary, is also talking about running here. Weirdly, so is Republican Edwin Peacock, who lost two tight races for mayor in 2013 and 2015. Peacock notes that the new 12th adds some red turf, but that doesn't exactly make this a competitive seat: Obama won 68-32 here. Peacock added he has "to look at the map, but as of right now I'm not running for office." Something tells us he won't be running for office after he looks at the map either.
● NC-13: The new 13th District, which includes the Greensboro area and communities north of Charlotte, has little in common with any previous seat, and no incumbents are planning to campaign here. Republican state Sen. Andrew Brock quickly announced that he'd run, and state Rep. Jon Hardister has also expressed interest; state Rep. Harry Warren also declined to rule out a bid. Romney carried this district by 7 points: While it's winnable for Team Blue if the stars align, the Democratic bench is not strong here.
● NH-01: Did Frank Guinta just get lucky? The tainted Republican congressman had been facing a rematch with his 2014 primary opponent, former business school dean Dan Innis. In a one-on-one matchup, Guinta was likely to have a very tough time thanks to the hammering he's endured from his own party over an illegal $355,000 campaign donation he took from his parents in 2010. But now Guinta has a second GOP opponent, state Rep. Pam Tucker, who just announced her entry into the race.
While state representatives are a dime a gross in New Hampshire, Tucker's a cut above Some Dude as she actually served as deputy speaker back when the loony toons Bill O'Brien was still in charge of the state House. As always, though, the key here will be whether she and Innis wind up splitting the anti-Guinta vote, allowing the better-known incumbent to win renomination with a plurality. If you're a regular reader of the Digest, you know this phenomenon as "getting saved by the clown car"—and Democrats would very much like for Guinta to be the last clown standing.
● NY-01: Former Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst has released an early February internal poll from Anzalone Liszt Grove showing her with a 36-25 lead on venture capitalist Dave Calone in the June Democratic primary for this swing seat. That 11-point topline difference is identical to the name recognition gap between Throne-Holst and Calone: She's known by 40 percent of the primary electorate while Calone's known to only 29 percent, which makes sense since she's a former elected official and he's not. With 39 percent of voters undecided and the paid media portion of the campaign still a ways off, this nomination remains up for grabs.
● NY-18: While several local Republicans consolidated behind ex-Orange County Legislator Dan Castricone, he hasn't been raising enough money to wage a serious campaign against Democratic incumbent Sean Maloney. Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who was Team Red's 2014 gubernatorial nominee, are instead backing Phil Oliva. Oliva, who has worked as a top aide to Astorino, only entered the race this year, so we'll need to wait a while to see if he'll bring in enough cash to put this district on the map. Obama carried this seat just 51-47, but Maloney held on during the 2014 GOP wave.
● NY-22: Businessman Steve Wells is one of three Republicans running for New York's open 22nd Congressional District, and he just earned the endorsement of another guy who had considered a bid of his own, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente. (Oneida makes up about a third of the district, good enough for a plurality.) National Republicans haven't made it entirely clear whom they prefer, seeing as the NRCC just added both Wells and former Broome County Legislator George Phillips to their Young Guns program, but this might be a sign that the local establishment is ready to get behind Wells. The one candidate the NRCC definitely doesn't care for is ultra-conservative Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, since she was completely left off their list.
● TN-08: While state Rep. and Bundy militia fanboy Andy Holt expressed interest in running for this safely red seat, he's announced that he'll stay put. Fellow state Rep. Steve McManus originally planned to run here, but he's also decided to seek re-election instead; Shelby County Commission chairman Terry Roland has also taken his name out of contention. Five Republicans are currently running here, with state Sen. Brian Kelsey and ex-US Attorney David Kustoff looking like the early frontrunners.
● TX-01: If GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert is taking his primary against wealthy rancher Simon Winston seriously, he sure ain't showing it. Even though their March 1 bout is almost here, Gohmert has been stumping for Ted Cruz in early presidential primary states rather than focusing on his safely red East Texas constituency. Gohmert also spent just $83,000 during the first 41 days of 2016, and he has only a small $188,000 warchest left. Gohmert did take the time to show up at a local GOP luncheon forum where he refused to stand near Winston and shake his hand: Gohmert defended himself, telling the moderator, "he called me names, so..."
Winston spent only $42,000 during this time, but he had $273,000 left for the final weeks of the primary, and he may be have been able to loan himself more. Winston is arguing that he's a solid conservative, while Gohmert's antics are just making Congress more dysfunctional. Winston has the money to get his message out, but as Jeb Bush learned the hard way, portraying yourself as the only adult in the room really isn't a good way to win GOP primary voters' affections.
● TX-08: When ex-state Rep. Steve Toth launched his last-minute primary campaign against Republican incumbent Kevin Brady, it was clear that Toth wouldn't have an easy time unseating the powerful House Ways and Means Committee chair. Still, Brady is taking his March 1 primary seriously: From Jan. 1 to Feb. 10, Brady outspent Toth $714,000 to $80,000, and Toth has little money left. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are poised to do well in the Texas presidential primary, and they could give underfunded anti-establishment candidates like Toth a lift, but things will really need to go nuts here for Brady to lose. This suburban Houston seat is safely red.
● TX-15: There's a crowded Democratic race in this Brownsville-area seat, but one candidate is dramatically outspending the rest of the field. Attorney Vicente Gonzalez has loaned his campaign $1 million so far, and he spent almost $500,000 of it from Jan. 1 to Feb. 10. Former Hidalgo County Democratic Chairwoman Dolly Elizondo spent a modest $161,000 during this time, and she only had $53,000 left. Elizondo has the support of EMILY's List but they haven't aired any ads to help her, and with the March 1 primary just around the corner, it doesn't look like they will.
There are two other notable Democrats in the running. Edinburg School Board Member Juan "Sonny" Palacios Jr. spent $113,000 and has a negative balance, but he can't be counted out. As the Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston points out, Palacios comes from a very prominent local political family, and observers say a Palacios "has never lost a political campaign." Former Hidalgo County Commissioner Joel Quintanilla has spent just $13,000 and has almost nothing left, but he may be prominent enough to take some votes. If no one takes a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff in May. Obama won this seat 57-42, and it should be safely blue in a presidential cycle.
● TX-19: There's a crowded GOP field for this safely red Panhandle seat, but it looks like just three candidates have any chance to advance to a May runoff. Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson started this race with the most name recognition and thanks to some considerable self-funding, he decisively outspent the rest of the field in the first 41 days of 2016. Robertson splurged almost $500,000 during this time and while he only had $63,000 on hand, he can probably keep writing himself checks.
Former George W. Bush aide Jodey Arrington, a former Texas Tech vice chancellor, spent a smaller $161,000, and he only had a little less than $100,000 on hand. Former Col. Michael Bob Starr spent $158,000 during this time, but he had less than $50,000 left for the March 1 primary. The other GOP contenders have raised and spent a negligible amount. It's always possible that Robertson could win a majority of the vote next week and avoid a runoff, though it won't be easy.
● TX-29: Ex-Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia brought plenty of name-recognition to the table when he launched a last-minute primary campaign against Democratic Rep. Gene Green, but what he didn't bring was money. Garcia spent $171,000 during the first 41 days of the year, but he had just $35,000 left over. While Green hasn't faced a competitive race in decades, he wisely stockpiled money over the years: Green spent $600,000 during this time, and he has over $1 million left. This safely blue Houston seat is predominantly Hispanic, and Garcia is arguing that he'll do a better job representing the area than Green, who is white. However, prominent local and national Hispanic elected officials have sided with Green.
● Nevada Caucus: Silver State Republicans will hold their presidential caucus on Tuesday, and we'll be liveblogging the results at Daily Kos Elections. The caucus will begin sometime between 8 PM and 10 PM ET depending on the county and precinct, and we'll begin our liveblog at 8 ET. We'll also be live-tweeting the results.
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.