● IL-Sen: Ex-Chicago Urban League head Andrea Zopp, an underdog in the March 15 Democratic primary, is going on the air, and her opening ad is a very good one. Her spot grabs the viewer's attention very quickly by opening with gunshots, before cutting to Obama tearfully saying, "And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago everyday."
Zopp then tells a crowd in what looks like a courtroom how she fought to get guns off the streets as a federal prosecutor, and promises to take on the gun lobby in the Senate. It's a strong ad that focuses on an important issue to Democratic primary voters, and emphasizing Zopp's career as a prosecutor is a very smart move. By contrast, primary frontrunner Tammy Duckworth's first ad, while not awful, was not very interesting and not at all memorable. But Zopp will still need a lot to go right if she's going to stop Duckworth, a congresswoman who has a huge edge in name recognition, money, and establishment support. Wealthy state Sen. Napoleon Harris is also competing for the right to take on GOP Sen. Mark Kirk.
● FL-Sen: Republicans finally have a new option in Florida's hotly contested open seat Senate race: wealthy businessman Carlos Beruff, who officially entered the race on Thursday. Beruff, who'd been considering for about a month, is a home builder who is tight with Gov. Rick Scott and may be able to self-fund part of his campaign, though he hasn't yet said if he will.
Even if he doesn't, he should be able to fundraise better than the rest of the anemic GOP field: Beruff's donated over $600,000, mostly to Republican campaigns, since 2002, so by all rights he ought to have the kind of rich-guy network he can now rely on to return the favor. The bigger question, though, is how Beruff will pitch himself as a candidate—and how he'll be received. He's a big anti-tax crusader and has never run for office before, so he's likely to try to campaign as an outsider and go after the more tea party-oriented vote.
But that would directly impinge on Rep. Ron DeSantis' path to the nomination, which is why DeSantis immediately launched an attack site slurring Beruff as a "Charlie Crist Republican" who supported the former governor (a hated figure in conservative circles) and has given money to Democrats. DeSantis very much wants Beruff to get lumped in with the other two major Republicans running, Rep. David Jolly and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, both of whom have "establishment" branded on their foreheads.
Democrats want the same thing, since DeSantis, an extremist who is a favorite of the Club for Growth, would almost certainly be the easiest candidate to beat. Of course, Democrats have a similar problem of their own, since the establishment fears Rep. Alan Grayson would cost them the race thanks to his big mouth and ethical troubles and therefore strongly prefers Rep. Patrick Murphy. But Florida's primary is not until August, so it'll be a while before we see how things play out on both sides.
● IA-Sen: Poll after poll has shown that Iowans love Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley almost as much as Grassley loves Dairy Queen, and it would take something very crazy to happen for him to be in any danger this year. But one Hawkeye State Democrat thinks that Grassley's prominent role in the fight to fill Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court seat could be that something. Patty Judge, who was elected to two terms as state secretary of agriculture before serving one term as lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011, says she's considering getting in.
Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and he recently announced that he wouldn't even hold a confirmation hearing for Obama's eventual Supreme Court nominee. Judge says she doesn't "like this double-speak. I don't like this deliberate obstruction of the process. I think Chuck Grassley owes us better." What polling we've seen shows that the American public isn't at all happy with the GOP's decision to not so much as consider an Obama nominee either.
Still, it's going to take a lot for this issue to destroy Grassley's decades-old popularity. Unlike other senators in competitive or blue states like Pat Toomey or Mark Kirk, Grassley has never gone around portraying himself as a moderate. Plenty of Iowa independents and even Democrats have been fine sending a conservative to DC because they appreciate his very strong constituent service: Grassley makes it a point to visit all 99 of Iowa's counties every year, for example. Team Blue has a good chance to take the state's six electoral votes this fall, but Judge or any other Democratic candidate isn't going to have an easy time stopping Grassley. Judge also hasn't been in the spotlight for a while, and national Democrats would need to invest in her campaign if she wants to have any shot.
Still, this race could be worth watching if the Supreme Court issue becomes radioactive enough. Grassley isn't exactly a bit player in all this and if this does the GOP long-term damage, he's going to feel some of it. And as Virginia Sen. Mark Warner's very close call in 2014 shows, even uber-popular local politicians can fall victim to national trends. Only one thing is assured: If Democrats don't at least try to beat Chuck Grassley, they're not going to beat Chuck Grassley. The filing deadline for Iowa's June primary is March 18, so Judge won't have long to decide. If she runs, she'll face state Sen. Rob Hogg, who has the support of many of his legislative colleagues but whose campaign hasn't attracted much attention.
● NC-Sen: Former state House Majority Whip Deborah Ross has a big financial edge over her Democratic primary foes, and she's making use of it by going up with her first TV spot. The ad features various North Carolinians asking why the state can't elect someone who will stand up for them instead of for powerful special interests, before they vouch for Ross. The candidate herself doesn't say anything except for the "I approve this message" tagline. The primary to face Republican Sen. Richard Burr is March 15 and North Carolina has decided to do away with the runoff this cycle, so a simple plurality is all Ross needs to win.
● WI-Sen: Marquette University is out with another look at the Senate race, and they once again find that Republican incumbent Ron Johnson is on the road to defeat. The poll gives Democrat Russ Feingold a 49-37 lead, which is almost identical to the 50-37 edge they gave him last month. Johnson's refusal to even consider an Obama Supreme Court nominee isn't doing him any favors: By a 57-30 margin, voters say they want their senator to "vote for a highly qualified nominee with whom the respondent disagreed on a number of policies," rather than "vote against any nominee with whom the respondent disagreed, regardless of how well-qualified the nominee might be." Of course, given how screwed RoJo looked before this became an issue, we can't exactly say it's costing him re-election either.
● AZ-05: On Thursday, Republican Rep. Matt Salmon announced that he would not seek another term in his safely red seat, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. Salmon's decision is quite unexpected: He spent months flirting with a Senate bid against John McCain, so he was clearly ready to stay in DC a while longer. Salmon also was only elected in 2012, though he served three terms in the 1990s before bowing to self-imposed term limits. Salmon ran for governor in 2002 after leaving the House for the first time (he narrowly lost to Democrat Janet Napolitano), so we may not have seen the last of him.
A number of three-term GOP House members have decided to bail this cycle, so Salmon's not entirely an outlier. But unlike relatively quiet congressmen like Reid Ribble and Stephen Fincher who seem tired of having to deal with a dysfunctional Congress, Salmon is actually the source of some of that dysfunction. Salmon pressured John Boehner to leave the speakership, though he ended up voting for Paul Ryan. In any case, the House leadership won't miss him much.
Salmon's decision caught everyone by surprise… well, almost everyone. State Senate President Andy Biggs immediately announced that he'd run to succeed him, and Salmon wasted zero time endorsing him. This 64-35 Romney seat, which includes most of Mesa, is chock full of Republican office holders, so Biggs may face a competitive primary. The filing deadline for Arizona's August primary is June 1, so potential candidates have a little while to decide what they'll do.
A number of local Republicans have been mentioned but so far, no one else has publicly expressed interest. One interesting name is ex-state House Speaker Kirk Adams, who lost to Salmon 52-48 in the 2012 primary and now serves as Gov. Doug Ducey's chief of staff. Maricopa County Supervisor Denny Barney is also a possibility, and Roll Call says both men "are said to be considering their own campaigns." The Hill name-drops ex-Mesa Mayor and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Scott Smith and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri, while the local TV station 3TV adds state Rep. Justin Olsen to the mix.
● CA-17: Oof, not good. Usually when an incumbent House Democrat is primaried, Barack Obama will offer at least a pro forma endorsement. That's what he did last cycle, for instance, when Rep. Mike Honda faced his first intra-party challenge from former Commerce Dept. official Ro Khanna. If nothing else, a top-level endorsement like that gives you something noteworthy you can put on your campaign literature. This time, though, Honda's mailers will have to go out without Obama's name on them, since the president isn't renewing his support as Khanna takes on Honda a second time. Honda still has to contend with a looming ethics investigation about whether he improperly comingled campaign work with government business, and lots of folks who backed him in 2014 have either switched sides or are staying on the sidelines. For Obama to do the same is particularly painful.
● CA-36: This week, Republican Dwight Kealy bowed out of the race to face Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz. Kealy lent his campaign a credible $250,000, but he wouldn't have had an easy time getting past state Sen. Jeff Stone in the June top-two primary. Ruiz is a formidable candidate and he won't be easy to beat in November, but at least Stone can save his resources for the general.
● NC-13: This new seat, which includes the Greensboro area and several communities north of Charlotte, has no incumbent, and a ton of Republicans are eyeing a run here. State Sen. Andrew Brock jumped in a few days ago, and perennial candidate Vernon Robinson recently joined him in the race. In any other cycle, Robinson, an ex-Winston-Salem city councilor whose old constituents are in another district, would be little more than an afterthought. Robinson was last seen taking 18 percent in the 2012 primary for the old 8th District, which was good for third place. But the North Carolina legislature has done away with runoffs for this year, so a candidate like Robinson could slip through a crowded primary with a plurality.
A number of other Republicans are considering this seat. State Rep. Jon Hardister and Iredell County Register of Deeds Matt McCall, who heads the county GOP, have each expressed interest, and state Rep. Harry Warren hasn't said no. State Rep. John Blust is also looking at a bid, though he says he doesn't want to announce anything until the new map is approved in federal court.
The local conservative newspaper The Rhino Times also says that its publisher Roy Carroll and his wife Vanessa Carroll are both considering, "although it isn't likely they would run against each other." (Ok then.) The paper says that both Carrolls can self-fund. It also mentions state Rep. John Bradford, while Greensboro.com name-drops Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning and High Point Mayor Bill Bencini.
Romney carried this seat by 7 points; while Team Red has a clear advantage, it's not out of reach for Democrats in a good political climate. However, no notable Democrats have expressed interest in running here yet. The Democratic bench isn't great here, though Team Blue does have some elected officials in Greensboro whom the DCCC can call. If that fails, Democrats could always try rubbing the Random Rich Guy lamp and seeing if anyone shoots out the spout. The legislature has set a March 25 filing deadline for the June 7 primary. However, as Blust notes, it's possible this map won't be approved by the federal court and things will get scrambled again.
● TX-07, 21, 32: In any normal year, Reps. John Culberson and Lamar Smith would have little to worry about in the March 1 GOP primary. But this isn't a normal year: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are poised to do well in the Lone Star State's presidential primary, and there's a real chance that their voters will decide to punish some longtime congressmen too.
Over in the Houston-area 7th District, Culberson faces a primary with lawyer James Lloyd and anti-immigration activist Maria Espinoza. Neither of these challengers have much money, though two Harris County commissioners have endorsed Lloyd. Culberson spent $241,000 during the first 41 days of 2016, a sign that, while he's not sleepwalking his way through the primary, he hasn't been incredibly worried. But according to Politico, Culberson "has a tough contest." They don't go into any other detail, but it does seem that this race won't be the layup for Culberson that we thought it would be. If no one takes a majority, there will be a runoff in May. This seat backed Romney 60-39.
Politico also writes that Smith, whose 21st District stretches from Austin to San Antonio, may also be in trouble on Tuesday. Smith faces three primary opponents, with 2014 candidate Matt McCall looking like his main foe. Smith defeated McCall 60-34 margin, which is pretty weak for a longtime incumbent. McCall doesn't have much cash, while Smith spent $316,000 in the first 41 days of the year. Politico says that Smith "has reason for concern," though they don't go into detail. Romney carried this seat 60-38.
However, Politico says that DC Republicans "are less concerned about Rep. Pete Sessions," who represents a safely red Dallas seat. Sessions defeated underfunded tea partier Katrina Pierson (who has become a prominent Trump spokeswoman) 64-36 last cycle, but none of his three primary foes look at all formidable.
It's very possible that this is all much ado about nothing. While everyone remembers Eric Cantor's spectacular 2014 loss, most House members usually secure renomination without much trouble. But Tuesday will be the first time that any incumbents get to share a primary ballot with Trump. If any of these seemingly safe members have trouble on March 1 (or actually lose), a lot of other House Republicans whose primaries coincide with the presidential contest are going to get very scared very quickly.
● VA-04: While a number of Richmond-area Democrats have expressed interest in this newly-drawn seat, no one has entered the race yet. State Sen. Donald McEachin has gotten the most attention here, and Democratic operatives tell Roll Call that they expect him to get in. It's quite possible that potential candidates are waiting to see what McEachin will do and plan to defer to him. The filing deadline is March 31, so things will take shape here soon. Obama won this seat 61-39.
● WI-08: After spending a few weeks pondering a bid, GOP state Rep. David Steffen has announced that he won't do it. Republican state Sen. Frank Lasee has the field to himself right now, though former Scott Walker advisor Mike Gallagher sounds very interested in joining him. Democrats are hoping that Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson will seek this light red seat.
● WI Supreme Court: Marquette's new poll also has some numbers on the runoff in a key race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which we recently profiled. It's a non-partisan affair, but prosecutor JoAnne Kloppenburg has the support of liberals in her challenge to incumbent Rebecca Bradley, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The race is tight as can be: Each woman takes 30 percent, with the rest undecided, which is unsurprising for a judicial race.
In the primary, Bradley narrowly edged Kloppenburg 45 to 43, but Kloppenburg has since earned the endorsement of the third-place finisher, Judge Joe Donald, who took 12 percent. Donald, who is black, could help boost Kloppenburg with African-American voters, particularly in the Milwaukee area, where he sits on the bench and where he performed better on election night. The runoff is on April 5, the same day as Wisconsin's presidential primary.
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.