● WA-07: Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, who has been a fixture in Seattle politics since time immemorial, announced his retirement on Monday, and he even deployed a Lord of the Rings quote for the occasion. McDermott has represented the 7th District, which is largely coterminous with Seattle, since 1988. McDermott is an outspoken liberal and prominent member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The congressman is probably best-known for his advocacy for a single-payer health care system in the 1990s, or else for his long-running legal battle with John Boehner over McDermott's leak of an illegally recorded phone call involving the former House speaker.
McDermott's retirement doesn't come as a surprise given that he's 79, though he hadn't previously telegraphed any intent to step down. Plenty of Seattle politicians have been waiting patiently for years for McDermott to call it quits, and his decision has opened the floodgates. In Washington, all the candidates compete on the Aug. 2 primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election. Obama won this seat 79-18, so there's a very good chance that two strong Democrats will end up fighting until November.
State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw has been in the race since December, when he announced that he would challenge McDermott. McDermott probably would have won a head-to-head fight with Walkinshaw, who's only been in office since 2014, but Walkinshaw seemed to be gambling on using that challenge to be at the head of the line in case the congressman retired. And now that McDermott is departing, Walkinshaw may indeed have a small leg-up thanks to his moxie (and nailing down a few big endorsements), but now he's going to have a lot of better-known, better-financed company.
A number of local politicians quickly expressed interest in joining Walkinshaw in the race. King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who is not related to the congressman, says he'll decide in a week whether to run, but Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner says it sounds like he's in. King County councilors are elected in odd-numbered years, so McDermott wouldn't be risking his post.
State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who was a state representative until he was appointed to the upper house a few weeks ago, says he is giving it "serious reflection." State Rep. Gael Tarleton has also expressed interest. Tarleton served on the commission for the Port of Seattle before joining the legislature, a post that's useful for making connections with local Chamber of Commerce types. State Sen. David Frockt is also talking about running. All of these legislators are up for re-election in 2016, so they'd be sacrificing their seats for a tough congressional bid.
One familiar name who could jump in is Seattle Councilor Kshama Sawant. Sawant, an avowed socialist who earned national attention when she won her seat in 2013, says she's "not ruling out" a run. It's unclear how serious Sawant is, or if she would run as a Democrat or make a go as an independent (local Seattle elections are non-partisan, so Sawant has never had to declare a party affiliation.) Sawant has a large fan base, but she's polarizing. Sawant could have a leg-up on getting into one of the two slots in a crowded field, but she'd probably have a tough time in the general against whichever establishment rival she ended up facing.
There are a number of other Democrats who could make this race. Jenny Durkan, who was the U.S. attorney in Seattle until 2014, has been mentioned as a potential McDermott successor for a while, though she hasn't said anything publically yet. Another well-known possibility is Ron Sims, who was King County executive for many years and then served as deputy secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration. Sims is 67, so he may be done with politics, but he may be unable to resist the pull of an open WA-07. Current King County Executive Dow Constantine would have some serious field-clearing firepower if he decided to run, but he's most likely staking out the 2020 gubernatorial race.
However, we probably won't see a campaign from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. Until several years ago, when he was a state senator, Murray's interest in the seat was widely known, to the extent that he was often thought of as McDermott's heir apparent. However, he apparently got tired of waiting, and he successfully ran for mayor in 2013. At this point, going from mayor of a thriving major city to a House freshman deep in the minority probably no longer makes sense, even if it was something he'd been planning on for many years.
There are several other politicians worth watching. Seattle Councilor Bruce Harrell floated his name for the neighboring 9th District after redistricting, but he decided against an uphill challenge against Rep. Adam Smith. Harrell subsequently acquitted himself well in the 2013 mayoral race, finishing third behind Murray and incumbent Mike McGinn. Some other state legislators who could go for it include Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson and state Sens. Pramila Jayapal, Marko Liias, and Jamie Pedersen.
Finally, there's always the possibility that some heretofore-unknown tech multi-millionaire shows up and tries to swamp the field of local pols with cash. In fact, one guy, businessman Jeff Stilwell, has just thrown his hat into the ring, though it's not clear yet whether he has the money to be a factor. We'll need to wait a little while for the dust to settle, but we should be in for a very competitive contest.
● NH-Sen: Kelly Ayotte (R-inc): $2 million raised, $6 million on hand; Maggie Hassan (D): $2.1 million raised, $1.5 million on hand
● IN-Gov (July to December): Mike Pence (R-inc): $3.5 million raised, $6.8 million on hand; John Gregg (D): $1.97 million raised, $3.5 million on hand
● AL-Sen: Republican Sen. Richard Shelby doesn't appear to be vulnerable in the primary in this ultra-red state, but you wouldn't know that from the insane $6 million worth of ad time he bought for last week's high-profile Cotton Bowl game. Shelby's spot would be pretty unremarkable if it didn't have such a massive price tag attached to it: The narrator praises Shelby as a conservative who "holds real, face-to-face meetings in all of Alabama's 67 counties each year—not just at election time." Shelby had $19 million on hand at the end of September so while he can clearly afford this, $6 million still isn't chump change.
It's unclear what Shelby's up to here. The senator faces several primary opponents on March 1, but most of them are the usual assortment of Some Dudes and disgraced politicians (looking at you, ex-state Sen. Shadrack McGill). The one possible exception is Jonathan McConnell, who owns a global security business that hires former soldiers to protect merchant ships in the Middle East and Africa. It's unclear if McConnell has the money or connections to put up a fight, but if Shelby's afraid of anyone, it's him.
Of course, it's always possible Shelby is just being careful. It was only last cycle that Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts sleepwalked his way into a competitive primary that he was lucky to win. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, meanwhile, took his primary seriously in 2014 but he still only won renomination 50-41 against an underfunded state representative, so it makes sense that Shelby wouldn't let his guard down. However, Shelby's spending spree may be a sign that he thinks that McConnell has some fight in him. McConnell's fourth quarter fundraising report will tell us if he has the money he'll need to win, and we'll also be watching to see if Shelby splurges on more ads.
● CT-Sen: Back in August, always-wrong conservative economist Larry Kudlow emphatically declared that if Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal voted for the Iran nuclear agreement, "I'm going to run against him." It looks like Kudlow was wrong about that, too, because Blumenthal did indeed vote for the Iran deal, but here we are in January and Kudlow is still just farting around. In fact, just the other day, all he'd say is that he's "been looking" at the race. Keep looking harder—you'll find it somewhere!
● MD-Sen: Chris Van Hollen is out with another spot in the Baltimore media market where neither he nor Donna Edwards, his Democratic primary rival and fellow House member, are well-known yet. Van Hollen's ad promotes his record on women's rights and features an endorsement from local state Sen. Delores Kelley.
● NV-Sen: Gravis Marketing (R) (trendlines in parentheses):
Catherine Cortez Masto (D): 37 (35) Joe Heck (R): 47 (49)
Catherine Cortez Masto (D): 45 (53) Sharron Angle (R): 32 (30)
● NJ-Gov: It's finally 2016 and that means one thing: It's time to talk about the 2017 elections! One of two marquee gubernatorial contests next year will take place in New Jersey, and on the Democratic side, state Sen. Ray Lesniak has already announced he's in. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski haven't announced, but they've each been working hard to make connections with local Democrats and increase their name recognition around the state. And former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy, who served as ambassador to Germany under President Obama, is even running ads for his undeclared bid.
A number of Republicans are also interested in running to succeed termed-out Gov. Chris Christie. The most notable is Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who has taken on an increasingly high-profile role in New Jersey as her boss campaigns for the White House. If Christie leaves early for a job in Washington, Guadagno would get to run in 2017 as an incumbent and possibly without primary opposition. However, Guadagno has never been able to escape questions about alleged corruption during her time as Monmouth County sheriff, and Christie's poor approval ratings back home would hamper her and any other Republican in this blue state.
PolitickerNJ's JT Aregood also names some other possible GOP contenders. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli held his seat during a tough 2015 race, and his willingness to attack national Republicans could aid him in a general election. State Sen. Mike Doherty has been a prominent Christie critic, while Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden helped secure some key wins for his party during last year's freeholder races (though he took some lumps in the Assembly contests). Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick also played a prominent role during the 2015 races.
● WV-Gov: For months, the Democratic primary has been a duel between coal billionaire Jim Justice and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, but it looks like we'll be getting a new contender very soon. Booth Goodwin, who has been a rumored candidate for a long time, resigned as U.S. attorney last week. And on Monday, Goodwin filed pre-candidacy papers with the state, though he has yet to announce that he's in.
Goodwin hails from a well-connected family: His father is a federal judge, and you may remember his cousin Carte Goodwin, who served as West Virginia's interim U.S. senator in 2010 following the death of Robert Byrd. Booth Goodwin recently finished prosecuting former coal executive Don Blankenship over the deaths of 29 of Blankenship's employees in a 2010 explosion. However, Goodwin only managed to secure one misdemeanor conviction during the high-profile case, while the jury found Blankenship not guilty of three far more serious felony charges. If Goodwin runs, expect his handling of this case to become a major issue. The Democratic nominee is likely to face Republican state Senate President Bill Cole, who faces no serious primary opposition.
● AZ-01: Well, this is a weird way to tell the world that you're thinking about running for Congress. Wendy Rogers, who was Team Red's nominee in the 9th District in 2014, used a family Christmas card to say she's considering campaigning for the open 1st District. While Rogers explains that her business operates in the 1st District and she has a home in Flagstaff (which she says she loves in ALL CAPPS), the Northern Arizona 1st is very different territory than the suburban Phoenix 9th District.
If Rogers gets in, this will be the fourth cycle in a row where she’s run for Congress. Rogers lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema 55-42 in 2014 even though she had the GOP wave on her side in the light blue 9th, and she never came off as a particularly formidable candidate. To the extent she’d bring any positives to the race, most of the 1st is located in the Phoenix media market, so some primary voters may remember her ads from last cycle. Rogers would also likely be the only woman running in a crowded GOP field, which could help her.
● FL-05, 10: If Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown wants to stay in the House now that court-ordered redistricting has sliced up her seat, she has two choices. Brown will either need to run in the new 5th District, which stretches from her base in Jacksonville to Tallahassee, or the Orlando-area 10th. Last month, one of Brown's consultants said that the congresswoman would move to the 10th to run, but her spokesman David Simon just walked that back a little.
Simon said last month that Brown has filed for the 5th and plans to run there, and called talk that Brown would campaign in Orlando just speculation from someone who doesn't work for her. However, there's a catch: Simon says Brown "plans to run in the current district, district 5," the very Jacksonville-to-Orlando seat that was just dismantled by the state courts. Brown's trying to save her current seat in federal court, but she faces very long odds. Simon also doesn't appear to have actually denied that Brown is thinking about moving to Orlando.
If Brown actually plans to run in the 5th no matter what happens legally, there's nothing stopping her from saying something like "Jacksonville is my home and I'm going to run to keep representing it" to remove all ambiguity. But she hasn’t, and so the uncertainty lingers. No matter where Brown runs, she'll face a competitive primary.
● FL-18: When the DCCC recruited businessman Randy Perkins to run for Florida's open 18th Congressional District, his ability to self-fund was a key factor—and indeed, Perkins soon said he'd pumped $1 million of his own money into his campaign. But he's also apparently a strong fundraiser in his own right: Perkins just announced that he's taken in $420,000 from donors since launching his campaign in mid-November.
Now, rich people tend to know other rich people, so Perkins undoubtedly had plenty of low-hanging fruit to collect. And of course, if you contribute the maximum allowed by law, you obviously can't give again. So the real question here will be whether Perkins can sustain this momentum in future fundraising quarters. For now, though, he's in the strongest financial position of any Democrat, and probably of any candidate in either party's primary.
● NY-22: We had a little bit of movement over the holidays in the race to fill GOP Rep. Richard Hanna's swingy upstate New York House seat. On the GOP side, former Broome County Legislator George Phillips has joined Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney in the primary. Phillips unsuccessfully ran for the old 22nd District twice in the prior decade, but less than a quarter of that version of the district wound up in the current iteration of the 22nd. Meanwhile, we've finally heard from former state Sen. Ray Meier, who says he'll "take a little time to ponder" the race. Meier has also run for Congress before, losing a 2006 bid in the old 24th District, which now makes up a little over half of the present-day 22nd. Several other Republicans are also still considering.
Democrats, meanwhile, have landed their first candidate, though David Gordon's not someone that anyone's really been hoping for. Gordon won a single two-year term on the Oneida County Legislature, book-ended by losses, including one last fall where he also ran on the Conservative Party line. And that's going to be a sticking point: When he first announced he was exploring the race, Gordon opined, "The district constantly elects moderate Republicans. How about electing a conservative Democrat?" DC operatives and their local counterparts would likely prefer Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi or Broome County Legislator Kim Myers.
● PA-06, 07: Democrat Lindy Li isn't known much for much beyond the fact that she's running for Congress at the age of just 25, backed by her own considerable ego. (Why not start with a lower office? "I want to make a high-level difference.") But she's raised a non-trivial sum of money—$264,000 so far—so her quiet switch from Pennsylvania's 7th District to the 6th over the holidays is at least worth taking note of. (Both seats are in the Philadelphia suburbs, and both are heavily gerrymandered, wrapping around one another like warped strands of DNA.)
Li had been hoping to take on GOP Rep. Pat Meehan in the 7th, but national Democrats have been much more interested in the candidacy of pastor Bill Golderer. The 6th, meanwhile, faces a dearth of legitimate options, as the DCCC has reportedly all but given up on businessman Mike Parrish's quest to topple freshman Republican Rep. Ryan Costello. But is Li the answer? If she is, it'll probably only be by default, since Democrats just don't have much of a bench here.
● TN-03: Third-term Rep. Chuck Fleischmann pulled off weak wins in the 2012 and 2014 GOP primaries, but he may have a much easier time securing renomination this year. State Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson spent months mulling a challenge, but he finally announced in late December that he wouldn't go for it. Weston Wamp, who almost beat Fleischmann in 2014, said a while ago that he wouldn't run, and no other serious politicians have expressed interest in campaigning for this safely red Chattanooga-area seat.
The filing deadline isn't until April 7, so Fleischmann isn't out of the woods yet. But Fleischmann has been wisely stockpiling money, which could deter would-be foes. If Fleischmann gets his first easy primary win this year, it'll go a long way towards helping him secure his hold on this seat at long last.
● TX-29: Ex-Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia may have caught Rep. Gene Green by surprise when he announced that he'd challenge him in the Democratic primary last month, but Garcia didn't give himself much time to prepare. Garcia's camp says he raised $78,000 in the last two weeks in December, which is a fraction of the $1.2 million Green had on hand at the end of September. The primary is March 1, so Garcia has very little time to augment his warchest.
The good news for Garcia is that he's not exactly unknown. The entire 29th District is located in Harris County, and Garcia was just seen running for mayor of Houston in November. The bad news is that not all of Garcia's name recognition is positive for him. Garcia's mayoral rivals drew blood last year when they attacked his performance as sheriff, especially when it came to problems at the local jail.
● VA-05: Slowly but surely, the race to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Robert Hurt in this 53-46 Romney seat is beginning to develop. Last week, real estate developer Jim McKelvey joined state Sen. Tom Garrett in the GOP primary. McKelvey ran against Hurt as a tea partier in 2010 and lost 48-26; McKelvey then refused to endorse his old rival before falling into line two months after the primary. More recently, McKelvey lost a “firehouse” primary (a more informal sort of primary that’s run by the party rather than the state) for state delegate by a 45-33 margin.
Another tea-flavored Republican also entered the primary on Monday. Michael Del Rosso, a fellow at Frank Gaffney's notoriously Islamophobic Center for Security Policy, kicked off his campaign with a statement decrying "a Ruling Class of bipartisan political elites defy the clear will of the people and ignore their oath to uphold the Constitution," and stating that the "Republicans stand by—gutless, ignorant, indifferent, and complicit while the Administration has distorted the very meaning of America and destabilized the world." So yeah, we know what kind of campaign he'll be running. However, state Sen. William Stanley announced that he'd sit this one out.
On the Democratic side, Albemarle County Supervisor Jane Dittmar and attorney Erick Cage were running before Hurt announced his departure, and they may get some company soon. While Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore has called himself an independent in the past and was initially appointed to his post by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, he’s now indicated that he's considering running as a Democrat.
● KY State House: Democrats have held the speaker's chair in the Kentucky state House since 1922, but their fragile majority took another hit last week. Jim Gooch, who has represented Western Kentucky as a Democrat since 1995, switched parties, proclaiming that he "cannot be a member of the party that supports Barack Obama's policies." Gooch's move leaves Democrats with a 50-46 majority in the 100-member chamber: Two Democrats are leaving to take positions in Bevin's administration, while two Republicans were elected to statewide office in November.
Gooch is the second Democratic state representative to switch parties since Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's win in November. While Democrats should have a good shot to retake Denny Butler's Obama 54-44 seat, Gooch's 67-31 Romney district is probably going to stay red for a long time to come.
The good news for Democrats is that Gooch may be the last defector they'll see this cycle. While Kentucky's candidate filing deadline isn't until Jan. 26, the deadline to switch parties and remain eligible to run in a primary this year was Dec. 31. Of course, there's nothing stopping retiring members from crossing the aisle, and Bevin could still convince other state House Democrats to join his administration.
Meanwhile, the special elections for the four vacant state House seats will be held March 8. The two open Republican seats, HD-54 and HD-62, backed Romney 68-30 and 61-37 respectively, and Team Red should be able to hold them. However, Democrats controlled HD-62 until 2010 and they hold redder turf than this, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Team Blue could score a pickup here. Of the two open Democratic seats, Romney won HD-98 59-40 but carried HD-8 just 54-45. If Democrats want to have any shot at holding the House in the fall, they'll need to keep seats like these in their corner.
● WV State Senate: West Virginia Republicans did very well at the ballot box in 2014, picking up a Senate seat, a House seat, and the state House (for the first time in over 80 years). But they fell one seat short of a clean sweep in the state Senate, which wound up in a 17-all tie on election night—until Democratic state Sen. Daniel Hall did the GOP a huge solid and switched parties, giving Republicans control of the chamber.
Now, though, Hall might wind up performing a very unintentional favor for his old party. Hall just resigned from the Senate to take a lobbying job with the NRA (how fitting), but Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin may be able to appoint a Democrat to succeed him. The law is in conflict, though: One provision states that the executive committee of the party of the departing legislator must provide a list of possible replacements, which would mean the GOP gets to decide. But another specifies that the list must come from "the party executive committee of the state senatorial district in which the vacating senator resided at the time of his or her election" (emphasis added), which could instead hand power to the Democratic Party.
That uncertainty initially prompted Hall to delay his resignation, which he announced shortly before the new year, "until any legal questions have clear resolution" (in the words of WOWK-TV reporter Rusty Marks). But Hall evidently changed his mind about waiting, because on Monday, he announced that he would indeed quit the legislature. (The NRA was apparently prodding him to decide.) State Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael says, of course, that he thinks Tomblin should pick a Republican, but he also says he expects litigation no matter how the governor comes down.
But if Tomblin selects a Democrat and the appointment stands up, then we'll face a whole new set of questions, since the Senate would return to a 17-17 tie, and it's not at all clear who would run the show under such circumstances. We'll just have to see how things unfold.
● Special Elections: Unsurprisingly, our first special election of the year is in New England, but shockingly, it's not in New Hampshire! Johnny Longtorso gives us the rundown:
Rhode Island SD-11: This is an open Republican seat encompassing parts of Bristol, Portsmouth, and Tiverton that went 56-42 for President Obama in 2012. The GOP has nominated attorney John Pagliarini Jr., who narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2008, but also lost the 2002 lieutenant governor's contest 54-25 (with everyone's favorite Ocean State gadfly Robert Healey pulling in 19 percent).
The Democratic nominee is Jim Seveney, vice president of the Portsmouth Town Council. In an unusual twist, Christopher Ottiano, the Republican who resigned this seat to take another job, is backing Seveney. Also in the mix is independent Gregory Blythe, who works at Naval Station Newport. No matter what happens Tuesday, the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate is very safe.
● Honolulu, HI Mayor: Democratic Mayor Kirk Caldwell is up for re-election this fall, and a few Aloha State politicians are taking a look at challenging him in this non-partisan race. City Council Chair Ernie Martin has made noises about running, but his fundraising hasn't been particularly intimidating. A more familiar possible candidate is ex-Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2010 and 2014.
Aiona said last month that he would neither "confirm nor deny" that he's looking at running, and he took some shots at Caldwell's handling of homelessness and the mayor's support for the costly Honolulu Rail Transit Project. HawaiiNewsNow's Jim Mendoza also mentions ex-Rep. Charles Djou, a Republican, and former independent Mayor Peter Carlisle as possible candidates, though neither man appears to have said anything publicly.
Regardless of who runs, the rail project will likely emerge as a major fault-line in this race once again. In the 2012 primary, ex-Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano ran as the anti-rail candidate and took first with 45 percent. Caldwell and Carlisle, who were both pro-rail, took 29 and 25 respectively, and Carlisle quickly endorsed Caldwell, who went on to win the general 54-46—almost exactly what he and Carlisle took together in the primary. Aiona is already drawing a line in the sand on rail, calling the project "too expensive" and accusing Caldwell of never telling voters how he planned to fund it during the last campaign.
● Calendar: Daily Kos Elections is pleased to present our bookmarkable 2016 calendar, which lays out every important election-related date this coming year: primaries, caucuses, runoffs, and filing deadlines. We've also created a version that allows you to automatically add all of these dates to your own Google calendar by clicking here.
● FL Redistricting: In another redistricting victory for Florida Democrats, a state court judge has ruled in favor of a state Senate map proposed by a group of plaintiffs that includes the League of Women Voters, after the Florida Supreme Court struck down the existing map crafted by the Republican-controlled legislature as improperly partisan. According to Matthew Isbel, the new lines would feature 21 seats won by Barack Obama against 19 carried by Mitt Romney; the now-invalid GOP map, by contrast, had 23 Romney districts and just 17 Obama seats, per Isbel's calculations.
What's more, all 40 seats would be up for election this fall, timing that should further bolster Democrats thanks to presidential turnout. (Ordinarily, elections are staggered, with 20 seats up every two years.) Republicans have said they may appeal, but they've had nothing but bad luck at the state Supreme Court, which previously rejected the GOP's congressional map, too. Republicans currently hold 26 seats in the Senate, but if the new map holds up, Democrats should be able to make some real gains in the chamber.
● House: Over the holidays, Daily Kos Elections launched a new series we call "The Most District," in which we tour around the country taking a look at congressional districts that stand out for their superlatives. So far, we've visited the bluest district, the reddest, the largest (in square miles—and not counting at-large districts), the smallest, even the most French … and that's just a small sample. In every post, we take stock of the notable characteristics of each district—like geography, demographics, and a key landmark or two—as well as the current representative and political climate. For our entire series to date, click here.
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.