● AK-Sen: Some big and unexpected news burst out of Alaska right at the candidate filing deadline late on Wednesday night, and it's going to sound awfully familiar: GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski has earned herself a primary challenger—again. But there are plenty of differences between this year and 2010. For starters, the guy running against Murkowski this time is a well-known, established politician, former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. That name's going to sound all too familiar, too, but this Dan Sullivan is not to be confused with the state's junior senator, also named Dan Sullivan, who had previously served as the director of the state's Department of Natural Resources before narrowly defeating Democratic Sen. Mark Begich two years ago.
The former Mayor Sullivan had also been talked up for that very same Senate race, but instead, he ran for lieutenant governor and wound up losing 48-46 on a ticket with incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. Despite the loss, the fact that Sullivan served over 40 percent of the state's population for six years gives him a very different pedigree from Murkowski's previous primary opponent, Joe Miller. Miller was an obscure tea partying attorney who had raised little money but wound up stunning the political world when he knocked off Murkowski 51-49, riding little more than an endorsement from Sarah Palin and a bit of outside spending from the grifters at the Tea Party Express.
Miller's race against the incumbent, though, was framed in strict ideological terms, with Murkowski's relatively moderate voting record and her insufficient hatred of Democrats forming the crux of his attack. Sullivan, by contrast, hasn't really explained why he's running (nor did he even give a hint that he would run—until he showed up to file paperwork at the state's elections office minutes before the deadline). In fact, Sullivan's rationale for challenging Murkowski is downright bizarre:
Q: Why are you jumping into the race?
A: I think competition is a good thing overall for any candidate, whether for an incumbent or a first timer. Baptism through fire helps make the candidate stronger. Having contact from people around the state for the past several months, from people who essentially wanted to see a choice in the Republican primary, that's why I'm doing this. The Murkowski family and my family are longtime friends. This is not based on anything other than wanting to make sure that conservative voters have a choice.
Q: So what's the choice? How are you different from Senator Murkowski?
A: That'll come out during the campaign. I'm not going to get into this too much into her record. I'm going to just put out what I believe. ... I won't be directly criticizing Senator Murkwoski. That won't be part of the campaign.
For an ostensibly serious candidate, that's just … weird. The only area Sullivan identified as a possible divide between him and Murkowski was abortion, where Murkowski's sometimes split from her party. But Alaska's a fairly libertarian state (Begich even ran ads touting his support for reproductive rights last cycle), and it's also facing a massive fiscal crisis due to falling energy prices and the depletion of its oil fields, so it's unlikely abortion would take center stage in a race like this. However, in a possible sign of where his philosophical preferences lie, Sullivan did endorse Miller in 2010, albeit in the general election, when Murkowski decided to wage an ultimately successful write-in campaign to keep her seat after losing her bid for renomination.
And this time, Murkowski won't be caught unawares. Remarkably, in 2010, she still had $1.9 million left in her campaign account ahead of the primary; had she spent just a bit more, the outcome could have been very different. Sullivan, meanwhile, says he has no outside organizations helping him, has "raised no money," and says he will not run "a big money campaign." That, actually, does resemble Miller's lackluster fundraising effort, but at least he had the support of the con artists at TPX!
So oddly, despite Sullivan's much higher profile, it may well be that Murkowski will have less to fear from him come the Aug. 16 primary. However, we haven't seen any polling yet, and the last relevant survey—from PPP, back in late 2014—pegged Murkowski's approval rating with members of her own party at just a 44-41 spread. In fact, her numbers were better with Democrats and independents, so it's conceivable that if she does decide that Sullivan's a real threat, she could drop out of the Republican contest and straight-up run as an independent. (Our reading of Alaska law suggests that Murkowski could indeed take this route.)
Democrats, unfortunately, are not well-positioned to take advantage of any chaos that might ensue. Three candidates filed: Ray Metcalfe, who served in the state house over 30 years as a Republican; University of Alaska professor Edgar Blatchford, who once worked in the administration of former GOP Gov. Frank Murkowski (Lisa's father), and Some Dude Dick Grayson, who, uh, lives in Brooklyn. It's conceivable that Democrats could try to swap in a stronger alternative—in a dream scenario, that would be Begich—but right now, that doesn't seem likely. (There was such talk in 2010, too, though the original candidate, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, stayed in the race and turned out to be the best option.)
Whatever winds up happening, you do still have to wonder whether Lisa Murkowski is up for another round of intra-party punishment, or if she'll just decide to quit the GOP once and for all. Either path carries risks. The only question now is which one is riskier.
● AZ-Sen: Candidate filing closed Wednesday for Arizona's Aug. 30 primary, and the state has a list of contenders here.
Sen. John McCain has an uneasy relationship with the GOP base for a long time. But while a few notable politicians made noises about challenging him for renomination, he's drawn a pretty weak group of primary opponents. McCain's main foe is ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward. Influential anti-establishment groups like the Club for Growth have made it clear that, as much as they dislike McCain, they don't plan to support her. Ward has raised very little money, and she held an infamous 2014 hearing to address the topic of "chemtrails," the amusing conspiracy theory that airplanes are secretly spraying an unsuspecting populace with nefarious chemicals, and McCain's detractors understandably just don't think she's a good investment.
However, it's always possible that conservative anger with McCain is just so great that even someone like Ward can give him a tough race. A recent PPP poll gave McCain a weak 36-29 edge over Ward. But two minor Republicans also filed, so Ward won't have the anti-McCain vote all to herself. The winner will take on Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Arizona is a red state, but national Democrats see this as a winnable race. Polls also show a tight race between McCain and Kirkpatrick. However, McCain and his allies have already begun airing ads attacking Kirkpatrick for her vote for Obamacare. Daily Kos Elections rates the general as Lean Republican.
● GA-Sen: Democrats would love to turn Georgia's Senate race into a competitive contest, and PPP's new poll—the first we've seen here from anyone—suggests this dream could maybe, maybe turn into reality. The survey finds Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson leading wealthy businessman Jim Barksdale by a 47-35 margin, which optimists will note means the incumbent is under the 50 percent mark. The pessimists, however, will rightly point out that 47 is awfully close to 50, and we've seen plenty of polls like this in GOP-leaning states before, where a race winds up being just out of reach.
One interesting thing to note, though, is that the undecided voters in this poll actually say they voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 46-37 margin. That's a small slice of the overall sample (just 130 respondents), but typically in red states, the undecideds tilt to the right, so that's one positive bit of news for Barksdale. Still, to pull off an upset, Barksdale will, like a potential playoff team on the bubble, require help from forces outside of his control.
In particular, he'll probably need Hillary Clinton to fight for the Peach State's 16 electoral votes. Unfortunately, though, this same poll showed Donald Trump leading Clinton 45-38, and unlike Barksdale, Clinton can't ascribe her 30-something showing to low name recognition. That's just one poll, of course, and other outfits have shown a somewhat closer race, but Barksdale may wind up waging this battle on his own.
● KS-Sen: Filing closed this week in Kansas for the Aug. 2 primary, and the state has a list of candidates here.
Sen. Pat Roberts faced an unexpectedly competitive GOP primary last cycle, and for a while, it looked likely that Sen. Jerry Moran would also need to work to secure renomination. However, Moran can now rest easy. While physician Milton Wolf, the tea partier who held Roberts to a 48-41 win, never ruled out another bid, he didn't end up filing. Moran only faces token Republican primary opposition, and he won't have trouble in the general in this very conservative state.
● LA-Sen: On behalf of conservative businessman Lane Grigsby, Southern Media & Opinion Research takes a look at the November jungle primary for this open Senate seat, and they have good news for GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy. Kennedy leads with 32 percent, with GOP Rep. Charles Boustany far behind at 10. Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell takes 9, while Republican Rep. John Fleming grabs 5; the rest of the field al has 4 percent or less. If no one takes a majority of the vote in November, there will be a runoff in December between the top two vote-getters. SMOR says that African Americans are disproportionately undecided, which could help Campbell (or fellow Democrat Caroline Fayard) grab second place.
This is the first poll we've seen in a while; a February SMOR poll also found Kennedy in first place, and a December SurveyUSA poll for Kennedy's super PAC showed something similar. The good news for Boustany and Fleming is that, while neither of them has Kennedy's statewide name recognition, they each have the money to get their name out. Kennedy doesn't have as large of a warchest as either congressman and his super PAC hasn't raised much so far, so he may have a tough time holding onto whatever lead he has now once we get closer to November. Still, there's really no telling what will happen in a contest as crowded and expensive as this one, though Team Red should hold this seat when all is said and done.
● WI-Sen: Candidate filing closed this week for Wisconsin's Aug. 9 primary, and the state has a list of contenders here.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic ex-Sen. Russ Feingold have been preparing for their rematch for a long time, and unsurprisingly, neither man attracted a credible primary challenge. Polls universally show Johnson behind, but his allies are already spending big to help him. Johnson himself has also reportedly reserved $960,000 in TV time from June 7 to July 25. Daily Kos Elections rates the general as Lean Democratic.
● AK-AL: Filing closed Wednesday for Alaska's Aug. 16 primary, and the state has a list of candidates available here.
Last year, a few Republicans made noises about challenging longtime Rep. Don Young in the primary, but no one serious ended up filing. The Democrats are fielding former journalist and non-profit executive Steve Lindbeck, who recently stepped down as CEO of the state's public radio network.
Young has rarely had trouble beating back Democrats in this conservative state. Alaska is one of the few states where members of Congress still openly tout their seniority as an asset, rather than something to hide from voters who are wary of "career politicians." And while Lindbeck says he's spoken with the DCCC, the group hasn't added him to their "Red to Blue" list for top candidates, nor have national Democrats made any ad reservations here.
Still, Young has rubbed a lot of voters the wrong way over the years with his big mouth. In 2014, Young made insulting comments about a high school student's suicide. Young only faced a weak Democratic foe that cycle and it was too late for national Democrats to effectively target him. However, Young only won 50-40, far weaker than his 64-29 victory just two years earlier. If Alaskans are truly tired of Young after 43 years and Lindbeck runs a good campaign, this could be an unlikely Democratic pickup. Daily Kos Elections rates the general election as Likely Republican.
● AZ-01: Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is leaving behind a 50-48 Romney House seat to run for the Senate, and both parties are going to fight hard to win it this fall. National Democrats have consolidated behind Tom O'Halleran, a former Republican state legislator. While O'Halleran initially turned in a few weak fundraising quarters, he's done better in recent months, and the Democratic group House Majority PAC has reserved over $1 million here in fall ad time.
The GOP field is much more chaotic. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has released a few polls showing him with a dominant lead over his many primary foes. However, Babeu has attracted a string of ugly headlines, and his fundraising recently took a dive. Wealthy rancher Gary Kiehne has been self-funding his bid, and he came very close to winning the GOP nod in 2014.
Veteran Wendy Rogers was last seen running in a different district, though she could benefit from being the only woman in the field. State House Speaker David Gowan barely represents any of the 1st, while state Sen. Carlyle Begay only joined the GOP a few months ago and hasn't raised much cash. Finally, ex-Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who took a distant fourth place in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, also hasn't raised much money. Daily Kos Elections rates the general as a Tossup.
● AZ-02: While freshman Republican Rep. Martha McSally only won her first term by 167 votes, she looks like she's in good shape this year. McSally has amassed a $2.2 million warchest, more than most other vulnerable members. Ex-state Rep. Matt Heinz, who badly lost the 2012 Democratic primary to then-Rep. Ron Barber, had $389,000 in the bank at the end of March; ex-state Rep. Victoria Steele, has a much weaker $45,000 on-hand, but she's backed by neighboring Rep. Raúl Grijalva. (Steele isn't listed on the secretary of state's site as of Thursday evening, but the office says she'll be added later.)
Romney only carried this Tucson-area seat 50-48. However, national Democrats haven't made any ad reservations here, nor has the DCCC added either candidate to their "Red to Blue" program, which is an ominous sign. Daily Kos Elections currently rates the general as Lean Republican.
● AZ-05: Republican Rep. Matt Salmon is retiring from this safely red Mesa-area seat, and he's supporting state Senate President Andy Biggs in the primary to succeed him. Biggs, who won $10 million in the 1993 Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, can self-fund. But another wealthy Republican, former GoDaddy executive vice president and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones, is also running. State Rep. Justin Olsen and ex-Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley round out the GOP field.
● AZ-09: Obama only carried this suburban Phoenix seat 51-47, but Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has little to worry about this year. Sinema pulled off a decisive win during the 2014 GOP wave and this year, no notable Republicans are running here. With candidate filing closed, Daily Kos Elections is moving this race from Likely Democratic to Safe Democratic.
● FL-09: It'd be great to be a fly on the wall for a meeting where EMILY's List endorses in a race with two or more viable women candidates, which they just did in Florida's open 9th Congressional District. There, they've picked Susannah Randolph, who is a former district director for Rep. Alan Grayson and faces businesswoman Dena Grayson (the congressman's new wife) in the primary, along with state Sen. Darren Soto. EMILY's publicly stated mission is to support pro-choice Democratic women for office, so naturally in cases like these they must rely on additional criteria. Exactly what they are, though, we just don't know.
● HI-01: In a widely expected move, former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa filed to run for her old seat on Thursday, a development that will likely lead to an uncompetitive August Democratic primary. Hanabusa unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2014, narrowly losing in the primary to appointed Sen. Brian Schatz, but her successor in the House, Democratic Rep. Mark Takai, recently announced he would retire to focus on his treatment for pancreatic cancer. Hanabusa's prominent profile, combined with a pre-endorsement from Takai, makes her the heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination.
And indeed, in response to the news, state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, another Democrat who'd been considering a bid, opted against doing so. Former Democratic state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa, however, is going ahead with a campaign, though bizarrely, she says she "will not have fundraisers, nor ask for campaign donations." (In other words, she plans to lose.)
But despite this seat's blue hue, at least one Republican is still weighing the race. Former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona has pulled nominating papers to run for Congress, but he's hedging his bets, since he's also taken out paperwork for Honolulu's mayoral race and a state Senate contest. However, Aiona's coming off two consecutive gubernatorial losses, and while both Hanabusa and Takai ran behind native son Barack Obama over the last two cycles, it's unlikely Aiona could make up enough ground to turn this into a competitive general election. Former GOP Rep. Charles Djou also hasn't ruled out another bid, though he's now lost three races for this seat after a fluke special election win in 2010.
● IA-03: Veteran Jim Mowrer recently aired an attack ad against investor Mike Sherzan ahead of next week's Democratic primary, and Sherzan's team is arguing that Mowrer is acting out of desperation. On Thursday, Sherzan released a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll conducted from May 21 to May 23 that gives Sherzan a 43-29 edge over Mowrer, with underfunded candidate Desmund Adams at 12. An unreleased GQR poll from two weeks earlier had Mowrer up 38-37, while Mowrer led 41-10 in March.
Mowrer responded with a GBA Strategies survey conducted May 24-25 that showed him edging Sherzan 36-35, with Adams at 12. We're going to find out very soon which campaign is closer to the mark, but Mowrer's release seems to confirm that his recent decision to go negative is a sign that he's not feeling great about next week. The winner will face Republican freshman Rep. David Young in a 51-47 Obama seat.
● KS-01: Last cycle, Rep. Tim Huelskamp only defeated an underfunded foe 55-45 in the GOP primary for this safely red seat. Huelskamp has a horrible relationship with the House leadership and with local agriculture interests, and he quickly drew a stronger challenge from physician Roger Marshall. Marshall has raised a credible amount of cash so far, though Huelskamp has a stronger warchest. No other Republicans filed, so Marshall won't need to worry about losing anti-Huelskamp votes to someone else. Huelskamp recently picked up an endorsement from Sen. Pat Roberts, so he at least has a few friends in the GOP establishment.
● NC-02: While Republican Rep. George Holding looks like the clear favorite in Tuesday's GOP primary, he's still taking the time to attack both fellow Rep. Renee Ellmers and physician Greg Brannon in new ads. The anti-Ellmers one stars the same person who has appeared in all of Holding's previous spots, a woman who apparently has nothing to do all day but complain about how negative Renee Ellmers is. The narrator accuses Ellmers of lying about Holding while backing Obama's agenda.
It's kind of surprising that Holding is also going after Brannon, an underfunded tea partier, but the congressman has plenty of money to burn. The anti-Brannon spot highlights a 2014 fraud lawsuit that ended when a judge ordering him to pay $250,000 to two investors he mislead about a tech company he helped create; Brannon says he's still appealing the decision. The ad also hits Brannon for a $175,000 IRS tax debt.
● NJ-07: If Republican Rep. Leonard Lance has trouble in Tuesday's primary, it won't be because he drew an impressive array of opponents. Lance, a relative moderate, defeated perennial candidate David Larsen just 54-46 in 2014, and Larsen is back for another round. But while Larsen loaned his campaign $225,000, he spent just $53,000 from April 1 to May 18. Lance has been airing a few ads here, and he dropped $267,000 during this time. Two years ago, Lance outspent Larsen $138,000 to $29,000 in the pre-primary period, so he seems to be taking this matchup more seriously.
Another Republican candidate, Craig Heard, is also in, and he could cost Larsen some anti-Lance votes. Heard has aired a few cheap ads but while he said he was putting "six-figures" behind them, Heard spent just $24,000 in the pre-primary period: Shockingly, politicians sometimes lie. This seat backed Romney 53-46, and Democrats aren't making a play for it.
● NY-19: Businessman Andrew Heaney once again channels Donald Trump in a new spot for the June 28 GOP primary. The ad begins by highlighted a recent local controversy where the New Paltz planning board voted not to begin their meetings with the pledge of allegiance. Heaney than bemoans that "[p]olitical correctness is killing our country." Heaney then tells the audience, "We need to say the pledge of allegiance, keep dangerous people from countries like Syria and Iran out, and protect our right to bear arms. We either have a country, or we don't." This time, Heaney doesn't hit primary rival John Faso, the former state Assembly minority leader. Obama won this open seat 52-46.
● NY-24: Attorney Steve Williams is up with his first spot ahead of the June 28 Democratic primary. Williams says that politicians never actually say how they'll create jobs, but "as an officer in the US Navy, they taught me to say it straight. So I will." Williams then says he'll "get rid of the bad foreign trade deals," and talks about lowering energy costs, working with community colleges, and "invest in high-tech research."
Colleen Deacon, a former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and the favorite candidate of the DCCC, also has a new commercial. A waitress is shown picking up a small tip as Deacon says that "might not seem like much to Republican politicians, but I know every bit can make a difference for folks around here." The narrator then notes that Deacon waited tables to pay for school and raised her son by herself. Professor Eric Kingson is also competing for the right to face freshman GOP Rep. John Katko.
● OK-02: Sophomore Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin looks safe in his June 28 primary, so we were pretty surprised to see ex-Sen. Tom Coburn, who used to represent this eastern Oklahoma seat in the 1990s, endorse veteran Jarrin Jackson over the incumbent.
It seems that Coburn is angry that Mullin is backing away from his pledge to serve just three terms in Congress. In late March, Mullin was asked if he remained committed to his promise. Mullin did say his position hadn't changed but that he and his wife "will continue to seek the Lord's guidance and do what is best for our family and the 2nd District of Oklahoma. The only election I am focused on right now is in 2016," a good indication that he's having second thoughts about retiring next cycle. By contrast, fellow Rep. Jim Bridenstine unambiguously said that if he wins a third term this year, he would retire in 2018 as he pledged he would.
Coburn himself followed through on his pledge to retire from the House after three terms, and he promised to only serve two terms in the Senate (Coburn ended up resigning early for health reasons.) When Coburn announced that he was backing Jackson, he emphasized that the challenger "will honor a six-year self-imposed term limit." Coburn's endorsement is good news for Jackson, but he still faces long odds later this month. While Mullin's vague backtracking certainly rubbed the former senator the wrong way, it's unlikely that it will offend most voters. Mullin also held a strong $498,000 to $101,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of March, and no major outside groups are supporting Jackson. The incumbent also recently picked up endorsements from Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford. This seat is safely Republican.
● WI-08: Republican Rep. Reid Ribble is retiring from this 51-48 Romney seat in the Green Bay area, and both parties are preparing to fight for it. The Democrats have consolidated behind Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, who faces only minor primary opposition. The two main Republicans are state Sen. Frank Lasee and Mike Gallagher, who served as Scott Walker's foreign policy advisor during the governor's presidential bid. Lasee may have started with more name-recognition but Gallagher, who is backed by several influential Green Bay businessmen, posted a very strong opening fundraising quarter. Daily Kos Elections rates the general as Lean Republican.
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.