● AL-Gov: Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is term-limited in 2018, but it's still something of an open question as to whether he'll even make it that long. You'll recall that earlier this year, audio recordings emerged of Bentley engaged in explicit conversations with a staffer, all but confirming the existence of an affair that shockingly prompted Bentley's wife of 50 years to file for divorce in 2015. Those recordings in turn prompted some lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, to call for Bentley's impeachment, on the grounds that he'd used state resources to conceal his relationship.
But for obscure reasons, legislative leaders tried to protect Bentley from impeachment proceedings, a move that ultimately did not succeed as a sufficient number of lawmakers voted to move forward. However, those proceedings have now come to a halt at the request of state Attorney General Luther Strange, who is conducting his own investigation into the matter.
That means there are now two potential depth-charges lurking out there—Strange's inquiry and the legislature's own—that could sink Bentley's career, and if he's pushed out of office, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would take his place. Ivey, however, isn't particularly respected in Republican circles after presiding over the collapse of the state's Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program during her tenure as state treasurer. So while she might still run regardless of what happens to Bentley, she'd have company. Other potential GOP contenders include Strange, state Treasurer Young Boozer (yes, that's his real name), and Secretary of State John Merrill, but this being Alabama, the list of additional possibilities is very long indeed.
Needless to say, the list of Democrats is far shorter, though one, state House Minority Leader Craig Ford, sounds unusually feisty. Ford says he's conducting polling about a potential gubernatorial bid, claiming his numbers are "looking favorable." That might seem implausible, but we could be on the verge of a major Donald Trump-induced shakeup in American politics. Indeed, that's exactly what Ford seems to think, since he says, "We need to hang Donald Trump around the necks of Republicans," adding, "Can you imagine voting for someone who doesn't pay their federal taxes?" Unfortunately, too many people could, but we'll see how that's playing in two years' time.
So far, though, no one either side has officially jumped in, perhaps because everyone's awaiting word on Bentley's fate. But sure enough, this race will soon get busy. They always do.
● CO-Gov: After retaking Colorado's governorship in 2006, Democrats were fortunate to hold on to the post during both the GOP waves of 2010 and 2014. In 2018, though, Gov. John Hickenlooper will be term-limited, so the party will have to turn to someone new. The Colorado Independent's Corey Hutchins says that the Democratic establishment "expect[s]" former Sen. Ken Salazar, who would have headed Hillary Clinton's transition team, to run. But the moderate Salazar hasn't appeared on a ballot since his first and only successful Senate campaign in 2004, and progressives might seek a more liberal option.
Hutchins names four alternatives: former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy; Denver-area Rep. Ed Perlmutter; state Sen. Mike Johnson; and state Rep. Joe Salazar (apparently no relation). So far, only Johnson and Joe Salazar have spoken on the record. Johnson, who talked up his bipartisan credentials to the Independent, says he "would take a serious look at the race." Salazar, who was a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter, is taking the opposite tack, insisting that establishment candidates be "challenged fiercely" from the left. He added that he "would highly consider" a bid.
● FL-Gov: GOP Gov. Rick Scott is termed out in 2018, and the race to succeed him will likely be the biggest gubernatorial contest of the cycle. Given how huge and expensive Florida is, several candidates on both sides are already talking about their interest. For Republicans, former state House Speaker Will Weatherford says he thinks he "need[s] to decide" by the end of the year, though he noted he has four young children, which could deter him from a bid.
He'd also have to figure out whether it's worth doing battle with state Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, who hasn't publicly commented on whether he'll run but has looked likely to do so for years and would probably be the frontrunner. Several other Republicans could also join in, including state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, though he bailed on a Senate campaign last year after sending lots of signals that he'd actually run.
For Democrats, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is also openly considering, telling reporters to check back in with him after the new year. And for Team Blue as well, there are more names in the mix, including outgoing Rep. Gwen Graham and several big-city mayors.
One dark-horse option: wealthy personal injury attorney John Morgan, who funded Florida's successful medical marijuana ballot measure this year. Morgan hasn't said anything himself, but Democratic consultant Ben Pollara, who is pushing the idea, says he spoke with Morgan and says he "did not say 'no.'"
● GA-Gov: The huge class of (mostly Republican) governors elected in 2010 means that 2018 will see a huge number of open seats thanks to term limits. One such state is Georgia, where GOP Gov. Nathan Deal cannot run again. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Greg Bluestein takes a deep dive into the possible fields for both parties, and cites a whole host of potential candidates. For Republicans, there's (deep breath) Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle; Secretary of State Brian Kemp; Rep. Tom Price; Sen. David Perdue; former Gov. Sonny Perdue; outgoing Rep. Lynn Westmoreland; ex-Rep. Jack Kingston; and state Sens. Burt Jones and Michael Williams.
The AJC's Jim Galloway adds in a separate piece that former U.S. Attorney Joe Whitley, is also reportedly considering, though he doesn't quote anyone on the record (or off). In fact, no one else has spoken directly about their intentions yet: Bluestein says pretty much everyone he talked to refused to confirm their interest, but no one has apparently ruled anything out.
For Democrats, there's Sen. Jason Carter, who was the party's unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee in 2014; state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams; and former Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow. Both Carter and Abrams have not ruled out bids.
● IA-Gov: As the Great Mentioner gets his biennial workout discussing various candidates for office, one all-too-frequent phrase you'll see that drives us absolutely nuts is "I have no plans to run." Not only are formulations like this emphatically not a "no," many reporters fail to appreciate this and conclude that politicians who say they "have no plans to run" are, in fact, not running. No! That is not what that means! It means that they're hedging and have refused to rule out a bid. Only a clear "I am not running"—or the passage of a filing deadline—will suffice.
Fortunately, Radio Iowa reporter O. Kay Henderson wasn't suckered by former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, who said in a recent interview about a possible return to the governorship, "I have no plans on running again. I think there's a new generation of younger leaders out there." In other words, he very well could. But Vilsack has spent the entirety of the last eight years serving as Barack Obama's secretary of agriculture, which might not serve him well in a state Trump won 52-42, so we might want to see if that "new generation of younger leaders" does indeed emerge.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, meanwhile, is already the longest-serving governor in American history, but he hasn't ruled out a possible run for a seventh term. However, the GOP might be waiting a while: Branstad said last year that he wouldn't make up his mind until 2018. If he does finally decide to call it quits, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is a possible replacement, but there are other Republicans who could also go for it.
● NJ-Gov: Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli currently has the GOP field to himself ahead of next year's primary, though it would be a huge surprise if Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno doesn't seek a promotion. State Sen. Mike Doherty isn't exactly taking his name out of contention, though.
While Doherty said he has "great admiration" for both his would-be primary rivals and predicted that "Guadagno being promoted to governor would probably clear the field," Doherty didn't rule out a bid of his own, only saying, "At this point I have no particular interest in running for governor in 2017. I intend to run for re-election to the New Jersey state Senate." As we discussed above in our IA-Gov item, there are ways to make it clear you're not running for office, and this ain't one. Another possible GOP candidate is Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick. Just before Election Day, Bramnick said he hadn't made a decision on whether to run for governor.
On the Democratic side, the state's powerful political figures have largely consolidated behind Phil Murphy, a wealthy ex-Goldman Sachs executive who also served as President Obama's ambassador to Germany. Assemblyman John Wisniewski has formed an exploratory committee, though he'll need a lot to go right if he's going to beat Murphy.
New Jersey is a blue state, and termed-out GOP Gov. Chris Christie currently posts atrocious approval ratings, so Team Blue has a strong shot at a pickup. However, it's possible that Christie will resign to take a job with the Trump administration, though nothing's guaranteed. If Guadagno gets to serve as governor before facing the voters next year, she'll have a better chance to establish a political identity separate from Christie's.
● NY-Gov: Wealthy GOP businessman Carl Paladino, an early and vocal backer of Donald Trump, says he's considering a second bid for governor—and claims that Trump would back him. Trump, though, got killed in 58-37 in New York, and Paladino did miserably the first time he ran for governor in 2010, getting walloped 62-33 by Democrat Andrew Cuomo. It's unlikely that he or any other Republican could make a serious play for the Empire State's governorship.
Cuomo, incidentally, could run for a third term but hasn't yet announced his intentions. He does have a campaign committee, though, with an enormous $19 million stockpiled. If Cuomo does bail, expect a battle royale to succeed him on the Democratic side.
● OH-Gov: Former state Sen. Nina Turner, one of the most divisive "Bernie or Bust" proponents during this year's Democratic primaries, is apparently considering a run for governor of Ohio in 2018. Turner ran an unsuccessful campaign for secretary of state in 2014, then became an early endorser of Hillary Clinton, only to very vocally switch her support to Bernie Sanders. Turner never endorsed or campaigns for Clinton in a state she badly needed help in, something that probably wouldn't sit will with Democratic voters, who backed Clinton over Sanders 56-43 in this year's primary.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. John Kasich is term-limited, though there's already one GOP candidate running to succeed him: State Attorney General and former Sen. Mike DeWine confirmed earlier this year that he would wage a bid for governor.
● PA-Gov: In the previous Digest, we discussed two Republican candidates who are openly contemplating bids against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, state Sen. Scott Wagner and Rep. Mike Kelly. But there are several other major figures who could also wind up in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, and PennLive's Charles Thompson runs them down.
Among them: Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who says there's "nothing I want to share at this point" about his 2018 plans; former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who is reportedly "seriously considering"; Rep. Tom Marino, who represents a district that sprawls from the middle of the state to its northeast corner; suburban Philadelphia Rep. Pat Meehan, who briefly ran for this seat in 2009; state House Speaker Mike Turzai; and Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce CEO Rob Wonderling. Thompson also tosses in two unlikely possibilities, state House Majority Leader Dave Reed and Rep. Charlie Dent, a #NeverTrumper who would likely get flattened in a primary.
● SC-Gov, SC-LG: Republican Sen. Tim Scott was just easily re-elected to the Senate, but he's reportedly considering running to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Nikki Haley in 2018. Scott himself hasn't publicly expressed interest, but his office confirmed he wasn't ruling out the idea last week when it put out a statement saying that "[a]bsolutely no decisions have been made on this matter." An unnamed source tells the Post and Courier that Scott is likely to decide by the end of the year.
2018 will be the first time that South Carolina elects its governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket (in the past, they were elected separately), and the Post and Courier reports that Rep. Trey Gowdy, a close friend of Scott's, is considering running for the number two spot with the senator. Gowdy's office also didn't shoot down the report, only saying that the congressman "is focused on continuing his work in the House."
It's odd to see a member of Congress considering a campaign for lieutenant governor, which is rarely a particularly powerful job. However, Gowdy hasn't done much to hide how little he likes being in D.C. In 2015, outgoing Louisiana Rep. John Fleming even claimed that Gowdy was about to retire, and Gowdy's team didn't do much to deny that he was thinking about bailing. While Gowdy ended up running and winning re-election in his safely red Spartanburg seat, he definitely seems to be looking for a way out of the House.
Before Scott started flirting with a gubernatorial bid, several other Palmetto State Republicans put their names forward. State House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and ex-Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill are both already in. (McGill held that job for a few months when he was a Democrat but he's since switched parties.)
Last week, current Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who lost the 2010 primary for governor, said that he hoped to run again, though he didn't announce any firm plans. Wealthy real estate developer Bill Stern also has publicly expressed interest, and says he'd self-fund if he gets in. And Rep. Mick Mulvaney told the Post and Courier to check back with him in six months, though he admits he's much more likely to stay in Congress now that the GOP has won the White House.
The State also names state Sen. Tom Davis, former Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Templeton, and state Attorney General Alan Wilson (the son of Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson) as possible candidates. If Scott gets in, he'll likely scare out many of these possible candidates, but that's still a big "if."
South Carolina is a conservative state, but a few Democrats expressed interest to The State back in September. State Sen. Marlon Kimpson and ex-state Rep. Bakari Sellers, who lost the 2014 lieutenant governor race 59-41, both said they were considering. State Rep. James Smith, Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela, and state Sen. Gerald Malloy also didn't rule anything out when asked.
● ME Ballot: Last Tuesday, voters in Maine approved a ballot measure that would make theirs the first state to institute instant-runoff voting for all state and federal races other than president. That system would allow voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference. If no one wins a majority in the first round, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to those voters' second preferences.
That process repeats until one candidate obtains a majority of the vote, with the goal being that candidates won't win simply because the majority of voters were split between several other opponents. Had this system been in place in 2010, for instance, it's very likely that it would have prevented the election of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, as left-leaning voters split between liberal independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell.
However, there are worries over when or even if this new system will go into effect. The measure called for implementation ahead of the 2018 elections, when Maine will vote for Senate, House, governor, and the state legislature, but Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, has already raised concerns that two years might not be enough time to prepare.
Some have also questioned the validity of the new statute, and it might be a while before we know whether this new system survives legal scrutiny. Maine's state constitution references the winner needing a plurality, not a majority, and it also requires votes be counted locally, but the measure would have town clerks ship ballots to a central office in the state capital of Augusta for counting if additional rounds are needed. Maine doesn't allow citizens to put constitutional amendments on the ballot, so if the measure is invalidated, proponents would have little recourse, since the legislature would be unlikely to act.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.