● Special Elections: Blue lightning has struck twice out on the Great Plains: On Tuesday night, Democrat J.J. Dossett won a special election for the state Senate in Oklahoma by a healthy 56-44 margin, picking up a Republican-held seat in the Tulsa area that Mitt Romney carried with an astounding 70 percent of the vote. What makes this even more amazing is that just a few months ago, Democrat Cyndi Munson also wrested a dark red legislative seat from the GOP in the Oklahoma City suburbs, giving Democrats two victories in districts they should never have been competitive in on paper.
But fortunately, elections aren't run on paper—they're run in real life, and Democrats had some advantages heading into this race. A special election became necessary when Republican state Sen. Rick Brinkley pled guilty last summer to charges that he'd embezzled $1.8 million from his employer, a local branch of the Better Business Bureau, in order to feed a gambling addiction. Whether or not that ugliness cast a pall over Republicans, we do know that Democrats wound up with the abler candidate.
Dossett, a school teacher and Afghanistan vet, happened to be the son of Rick Dossett, a popular high school principal whose well-regarded reputation helped extend a measure of name recognition to his son. Dossett's background as a teacher allowed him to focus his campaign heavily on education, an ideal topic for a Democrat running on Republican turf. And like his father before him, Dossett also coaches his school's boys' basketball team—a sport that's close to a religion in many communities. He even cancelled his election night watch party to coach a game!
Republican businessman and pastor David McLain, meanwhile, emerged from a rough GOP primary that "left some sore feelings," according to the Tulsa World, and was not as well-known. He campaigned on typical conservative themes, but sometimes "small government" isn't a winning message for folks tired of cuts to education funding. McLain also seemed to avoid the media—more than one article on the race (such as this one and this one) reported that McLain would not respond to interview requests. In a low-turnout special election against a better-known opponent, hiding from the public can be deadly.
And indeed, it appears to have been so for McLain, a recipe that allowed Dossett to win this seat for Democrats for the first time since 1990, despite getting outspent. The party is still deep in the minority in the state Senate, though, with just nine members (including Dossett) compared to 39 for Republicans. But Dossett's huge upset, like Munson's, shows what can happen when one side takes victory for granted, and it should inspire Democrats facing long odds everywhere.
As a reminder, you can find all quarterly Senate fundraising numbers released to date on our tracker.
● IN-Sen: Todd Young (R): $750,000 raised, $2.6 million cash-on-hand
● MO-Sen: Roy Blunt (R-inc): $1.25 million raised, $5 mil cash-on-hand; Jason Kander (D): $870,000 raised, $2 mil cash-on-hand
● FL-18: Rick Kozell (R): $120,000 raised
● NJ-05: Josh Gottheimer (D): $375,000 raised, $1.3 million cash-on-hand
● PA-07: Bill Golderer (D): $255,000 raised, $230,000 cash-on-hand
● CO-Sen: According to Nathan Gonzales and Simone Pathé, GOP state Rep. Jon Keyser's attempt to frame himself as the NRSC's preferred candidate in Colorado may have been somewhat overblown (and perhaps unwise), which suggests the Republican primary for Senate may really be anybody's game. And indeed, ex-Aurora Councilor Ryan Frazier is trying to argue just that, with a new a survey from Harper Polling that gives him an 18-7 lead over state Sen. Tim Neville, an ardent anti-abortion conservative.
Meanwhile, Keyser is back at 5, just behind rich guy Robert Blaha's 6 percent and just ahead of El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn's 4 percent share. Of course, all this poll really indicates is that no one has much built-in name recognition, which pretty much anyone could have told you anyway. The winner will take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
● IN-Sen: Tea partying Rep. Marlin Stutzman is out with the first TV spot of the GOP primary. The first half of Stutzman's minute-long ad may as well be a commercial for farmers: It features several clips of farmers and tractors, with the narrator describing how hard they work every day and how "[w]ith grit, guts, and God's grace, they get it done."
In the second half, the narrator extols Stutzman's background as a farmer and unsubtly tells the viewer, "In a capitol filled with lawyers, we need a farmer." (Rep. Todd Young, Stutzman's main primary foe, just happens to be a lawyer.) There's no word on the size of the buy and unfortunately, the commercial doesn't end with Stutzman singing the Farmersonly.com theme song.
● MD-Sen: While Harford County Executive Barry Glassman flirted with a bid for the Senate and even released a poll of the GOP primary, he announced on Tuesday that he'd stay out. Del. Kathy Szeliga and attorney Chrys Kefalas are competing for the Republican nod in this solidly blue state.
● OH-Sen: Establishment Democrats really did not want Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld to run for Senate against their preferred candidate, ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, and they did everything they reasonably could to squeeze him out of the race. But Sittenfeld's shown no desire to quit—quite the opposite, in fact. In particular, he's spent the last several months hectoring Strickland over guns, averring that the former governor's A-plus ratings from the NRA put him out of step with Democratic primary voters who favor stronger gun safety regulations, and calling Strickland's hesitant steps on the issue insincere.
And it seems like Sittenfeld might have finally drawn some blood: His campaign just unearthed a radio interview from last March in which Strickland declared, "I have not lobbied for additional gun laws" and touted his high scores from the NRA, saying, "That has been my position and it is my position." Strickland had previously tried to claim that his views began to evolve after the Sandy Hook shootings, but Sittenfeld's argued all along that Strickland has only appeared to soften on gun laws because of the primary challenge he faces. This newfound interview certainly seems to undermine Strickland's claims to have experienced any change of heart.
In response, Strickland's campaign called Sittenfeld's broadside "a false, personal attack," but his own words show what a bind he's in. Strickland badly does not want to get pulled to the left on guns because, should he win the primary, he doesn't want to open himself up to charges that he's anti-gun in the general election. Indeed, it would be surprising if Strickland didn't at least partly attribute his gubernatorial victory in 2006, and his close loss despite the GOP wave in 2010, to his ability to connect with Ohioans outside of the traditional Democratic base who embrace a particular gun culture.
But it's by no means a necessary requirement for a Democrat to win statewide in a presidential election year. Barack Obama carried the state twice, and you know how conservatives feel about his views on guns. What's more, Sen. Sherrod Brown has, too, and he has an F rating from the NRA. Strickland is surely aware of this electoral history, but he faces a risk of looking inauthentic if he comes over strongly to the cause of gun safety.
And we can't even be sure how much it will all matter. Strickland's fundraising has outpaced Sittenfeld's by a wide margin, so it won't be so easy for Sittenfeld to get this message out beyond the papers (though a pro-Sittenfeld super PAC says it's raised over $700,000). And the lone public poll of the primary, from PPP back in June, had Strickland leading by a dominant 65-13 margin. Still, Sittenfeld is a problem Strickland would rather not have, and he's not going away.
● AZ-01: On Wednesday, veteran Wendy Rogers kicked off her bid for the 1st District, a light red seat that contains much of northern Arizona and some communities around Tucson. Rogers was the GOP's 2014 nominee in the suburban Phoenix 9th District, which is very different turf than this seat. However, Rogers says she has a vacation home in Flagstaff and that her business operates here. Rogers badly lost in the swingy 9th during last cycle's GOP wave, but as the only woman in a crowded primary, she may have a shot at securing the Republican nod.
We also have our first poll of the year for the Aug. 30 Republican primary, though Rogers was not tested. Integrated Web Strategy gives Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu a 40-13 lead over rancher Gary Kiehne, with ex-Secretary of State Ken Bennett at 11 and state House Speaker David Gowan taking just 2 percent. The results are very similar to an earlier poll Babeu released in October. Integrated Web Strategy, whom we've never heard of, is run by a GOP operative, but they say they did not poll for any of the candidates. The eventual nominee is likely to face Democrat Tom O'Halleran, a former Republican state legislator.
● FL-06: The GOP primary for this open Romney 52-47 seat is finally getting interesting. This week, state Rep. David Santiago jumped in the race, joining Navy veteran Brandon Patty, who announced last week, and ex-New Smyrna Beach Mayor Adam Barringer. Like Barringer, Santiago hails from Volusia County, which contains 71 percent of the district's residents, and Santiago is close to powerful legislative Republicans.
Ex-Rep. Sandy Adams was also in the hunt for this seat until December, when she suspended her campaign due to an illness. On Wednesday, Adams left the race once and for all, saying she needed to recover from surgery.
● IL-08: State Sen. Mike Noland doesn't have anything resembling the money or national party support that Democratic primary rival Raja Krishnamoorthi enjoys, but on Wednesday, he picked up an endorsement from the influential AFSCME Council 31 labor union. For his part, Krishnamoorthi recently unveiled endorsements from the United Steel Workers and the Amalgamated Transit Union. Villa Park Village President Deb Bullwinkel is also seeking the Democratic nod for this suburban Chicago seat.
● NY-03: Lobbyist Brad Gerstman is the latest Democrat to say he's considering a bid for retiring Rep. Steve Israel's House seat, but news of his possible candidacy was met with immediate hostility by local building trade unions, who say he "duplicitously champions the non-union construction sector." A few years ago, Gerstman began toying with the idea of running for office and even dumped $300,000 of his own money into an "exploratory" committee, though he didn't seem to have much of a plan, saying, "I'm not sure what I'm running for." He also described himself as an "Andrew Cuomo" type of Democrat (probably the only person to ever define himself that way), so you can see why organized labor would despise him.
● VA-04: Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, who just saw his House seat become unwinnably blue thanks to a recent court-ordered redistricting plan, has finally spoken out … and still hasn't said anything about his re-election plans. The only thing Forbes would say is that he expects the Supreme Court, which is slated to hear an appeal this spring, will overturn the lower court's ruling. That doesn't seem like a high-percentage play, though, and it also means that Forbes won't be spending his time trying to unseat freshman GOP Rep. Dave Brat in the neighboring 7th.
● NY-19: Democrats are still looking for a savior in New York's 19th District, a swingy open seat in the Hudson Valley that they really, really would like to win. But while the party's first choice, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, recently turned them down, there are still alternatives out there, and local leaders are trying to unite around a single option. To that end, the Democratic Party chairs in each of the 11 counties that make up the district are hosting interviews with half a dozen possible candidates this week and hope to all endorse one person.
The contenders: Livingston Town Councilman Will Yandik; Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach; 2012 nominee Julian Schreibman; Dan Ahouse, a one-time aide to former Rep. Maurice Hinchey (whose old district makes up a decent chunk of the current 19th); Some Dude Margo Miller; and, of course, 2014 gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout, who expressed interest recently and performed well in the area during her primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Auerbach previously said he was "pondering" a run while Yandik says he's "very seriously" considering a bid and, notably, adds that he's been in touch with the DCCC. Local leaders have also waxed enthusiastic about him. Schreibman's presence on this list is also intriguing: He ran an unsuccessful but creditable campaign back in 2012 against Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, who is now retiring. However, we hadn't heard any mention of him all cycle until now.
Republicans, meanwhile, face a competitive primary between former state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso and businessman Andrew Heaney.
● FL, VA Redistricting: As Digest readers are well aware, Florida and Virginia both recently instituted new congressional maps, thanks to court-ordered redistricting. To help make sense of all the changes, our own Stephen Wolf has put together new interactive Google maps for both states, with a wealth of information you can access about each district simply by mousing over them. Click through for both sets of maps, along with Stephen's guide to the key changes in each state.
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.