● AL-Sen: With the odious Jeff Sessions looking likely to get confirmed as attorney general, there are tons of Alabama Republicans who'd love to be appointed to replace him in the Senate. We discussed a few possibilities the other day, but we didn't mention Rep. Mo Brooks, who expressed his interest in getting kicked upstairs even before the news of Sessions' nomination broke. Like every other Alabama Republican in the House, Brooks represents a safely red seat, so nothing interesting would happen further downballot if Gov. Robert Bentley selected him.
● AZ-Sen: What kind of price will Republican Sen. Jeff Flake pay for leading the Never Trump brigades? We're going to find out this cycle. Flake, who narrowly won his first term in the Senate in 2012 by a 49-46 margin, was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump's all year, and according to a new poll from GOP pollster Remington Research, his favorability rating with Republican primary voters has already taken a rough hit. While we don't have trendlines to compare these numbers to, suffice it to say that racking up just a 30-49 score with members of your own party is ugly no matter what—especially when this same group of voters gives an 82-10 rating to Trump!
And thanks to his apostasy, Flake has already drawn a primary challenge from former state Sen. Kelli Ward. While Ward ran a badly underfunded campaign against Sen. John McCain earlier this year, she held the incumbent to a weak 53 percent showing and could cause trouble again: In a matchup with Flake, the two tie at 35 apiece. And in a hypothetical pairing with a more serious opponent, state Treasurer Jeff DeWit, Flake looks even more vulnerable, trailing 42-33. Flake wouldn't even be saved by the clown car if both potential opponents were to run: DeWit would lead him 38-30, with Ward taking 18.
Of course, the primary is a long way off, lots of voters are undecided, and DeWit hasn't said anything about a bid (though he's a major Trump loyalist.) In addition, Flake may yet have the chance to mend fences with the Trump brigades if he's willing to chuck his conscience into a volcano. But even that path presents risks (beyond the obvious ones to democracy and Flake's ability to sleep at night), as Flake is one of the only potentially vulnerable GOP senators Democrats can target in 2018, and Arizona wound up awfully close at the presidential level this year. We'll just have to see which route he winds up choosing.
● MO-Sen: In case there was any doubt, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill says she's "absolutely" seeking re-election in two years' time. The same piece also name-drops Rep. Sam Graves as another potential Republican opponent for McCaskill, though he doesn't appear to have publicly expressed any interest just yet. We recently ran through a few possible challengers in this post.
● WV-Sen: Joe Manchin is going to drive most Democrats nuts over the next two years, but the real question is, can he keep up his improbable balancing act and earn the right to annoy us for six more years after that? Manchin was in the middle of his second term as governor when Democrats urged him to run in a 2010 special election to fill out the remainder of Robert Byrd's Senate term after Byrd died. He defeated Republican John Raese 53-43, relying on his personal appeal to defy national trends and West Virginia's own sharp turn to the right. Two years later, he secured a full term, crushing Raese in a rematch by a 61-36 spread.
Manchin was able to reel off these victories by putting a lot of distance between himself and his party, particularly through his embrace of guns, but that's now going to be harder than ever. Donald Trump won West Virginia, which was once one of the most reliably Democratic states, by a punishing 68-26 margin, making it his second-best state in the nation after Wyoming. And after turning the rest of the state red in recent years, Republicans are already thirsting hard for Manchin's seat.
Politico reports that unnamed "Democrats" are "expecting" freshman Rep. Evan Jenkins or state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to challenge Manchin, though neither has said anything publicly. For good measure, The Hill tosses in the state's two other members of the House, David McKinley and Alex Mooney, as potential candidates, though this may just be getting a rote mention.
One small optimistic note for Manchin is that Democrat Jim Justice managed to hang on to the governor's mansion this year by a 49-42 margin, despite Trump's dominance in the Mountain State. But Justice had his own unique profile as a populist billionaire who made his fortune in the coal industry, making him almost a home-grown version of Trump. Still, any sign that ticket-splitting is still alive in West Virginia will at least give Manchin cause for hope.
● CO-Gov: The Colorado Independent recently took a look at the many Democrats who could run to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who is termed out in 2018. The Independent now runs down the potential GOP field.
George Brauchler, a district attorney in suburban Denver who successfully prosecuted the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting, told the Independent that he is "seriously thinking about running" for governor. Brauchler was heavily courted to run against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in 2015 and sounded all but certain to jump in until he abruptly announced that he would seek re-election instead. The National Journal wrote at the time that a "serious family health issue" unexpectedly kept him out of that race.
State GOP chair Steve House, who ran in 2014 but failed to advance past the state convention, also confirms he's thinking about another bid. House's baggage goes beyond that feeble showing, though: Last year, got into an ugly public confrontation with state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, whom he accused of trying to oust him. Meanwhile, sate Sen. Ray Scott, who also considered running for the Senate in 2016, reiterated that he, too, is thinking about a gubernatorial campaign.
There are plenty of other Republicans who could also be interested. The Independent mentions Coffman, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, businessman Kent Thiry, and businessman Brian Watson. They also name drop Secretary of State Wayne Williams. Williams' office says that he's already filed to seek re-election in 2018, though it didn't outright say he wouldn't run for governor instead.
● FL-Gov: Even though he hasn't yet been sworn into the House, Republican Rep.-elect Francis Rooney may already be interested in a promotion. According to an editorial in the Sun-Sentinel, Rooney is "in the mix" for Florida's open gubernatorial race in 2018, though the piece didn't cite any sources. The wealthy and well-connected Rooney, a former ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush, briefly considered a Senate bid earlier this year, but instead he wound up running for the safely red 19th District when Rep. Curt Clawson unexpectedly retired.
Rooney would have a major name-recognition deficit against some of the other top-flight hopefuls eyeing this race, but he could potentially make that up via self-funding. He poured $4 million into his House race and is probably worth tens of millions—and perhaps much more. After all, another fantastically rich Republican, term-limited Gov. Rick Scott, was able to spend his way into the governor's mansion.
● IA-Gov: Republican Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture, says he's thinking about a bid for governor in 2018, though has also the option of running for a fourth term to his current post. According to local radio station KMA, Northey "more than likely" won't decide until 2017; last cycle, Northey considered running for Senate but ultimately opted not to. This time out, Iowa politicos are waiting to see whether Gov. Terry Branstad will run for a seventh term, but he's previously said he won't make up his mind until 2018, which poses quite a few problems for ambitious Republicans.
● MD-Gov: GOP Gov. Larry Hogan has posted strong approval ratings during the first half of his term, with a late September Washington Post poll giving him a stellar 71-18 score. But Maryland is a dark blue state, and Hogan's detractors hope that a Trump backlash could endanger the governor in 2018.
A few prominent Old Line State Democrats have made noises about getting in over the last year. In July, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz acknowledged he was thinking about it, while Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said in October that he'd decide after the 2016 election. Ex-Attorney General Doug Gansler (ugh), who badly lost the 2014 primary, said back in July that while he's "comfortable where I am," he wasn't ruling anything out. We're comfortable where he is, too.
This month, two members of the state House of Delegates also expressed interest in a statewide bid. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and is a close ally of Speaker Mike Busch, says she may run against Hogan. However, McIntosh also expressed interest in challenging state Comptroller Peter Franchot, whom many Democrats think is too close to Hogan, in the Democratic primary instead.
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who unsuccessfully ran in the primary for the 4th Congressional District earlier this year, also said she might challenge Hogan or Franchot, though she also said she could run for lieutenant governor. (In Maryland, gubernatorial candidates pick a running mate before the primary, and the whole ticket wins or loses together.)
Over at the Maryland Reporter, Josh Kurtz writes that "lots of fellow Democrats are urging" Rep. Elijah Cummings to run, though Cummings doesn't appear to have said anything publicly. Cummings considered running for the Senate in 2016, and frustratingly didn't announce what he would do until days before the candidate filing deadline. Kurtz mentions outgoing U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Rep. John Delaney as possible contenders as well. Back in September, Delaney said he had "no plans" to run for governor, which is far from a no.
● MI-Gov: Michigan Democrats will have a chance to reclaim the governor's mansion when Republican Rick Snyder is termed out in 2018, and a few names are already in circulation. Last month, former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer said she was considering a run and added that she would "anticipate announcing a decision within the first few months of next year." However, Whitmer contemplated a gubernatorial bid back in 2014 but ultimately declined. She also turned down campaigns for Senate and House that year, too.
Other possible Democratic contenders include freshman Rep. Debbie Dingell and sophomore Rep. Dan Kildee, both of whom succeeded family members when they were elected to Congress. Dingell doesn't appear to have said anything yet, but back in June, Kildee didn't rule out a bid.
● MN-Gov, MN-Sen: With Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton retiring in 2018, Democrats and Republicans across the state are eyeing his seat. However, the Star Tribune reports that Democratic insiders think that Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is considering running for governor instead, and that several possible Democratic candidates "are waiting to see what Klobuchar does before finalizing their own plans." A political advisor for Klobuchar only said that the senator "is focused on her job as United States senator representing the people of Minnesota," which is exactly the type of statement politicians put out when they're thinking about seeking a different office.
If Klobuchar runs for governor, she would likely scare off most, if not all, of the possible Democratic candidates, though some could end up seeking her open Senate seat instead. But the show must go on for now, and plenty of Democrats are openly considering running for governor. State Rep. Erin Murphy, a former majority leader, announced she would run last week, and state Attorney General Lori Swanson hasn't ruled out a bid. Several other Democrats have made their interest known in the last few days as well. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's spokesperson reiterated to the local CBS affiliate that Coleman is "strongly considering" a run, and will announce what he's doing before the end of 2016.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto also says she'll decide whether to run for governor over the next few months. State Senate Democratic leader Tom Bakk confirmed that he's thinking about running, though he acknowledged, "It's not an easy path for a rural DFLer." (The state Democratic Party is officially called the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, or DFL.) Lt. Gov. Tina Smith's office also says she's interested. Last week, Smith announced that up to six weeks of paid paternal leave is now available to state employees, and she's also played a high-profile role in other Dayton administration priorities.
State Rep. Paul Thissen, a former speaker, also expressed interest, but said, "I feel like it's too early for anyone to make a decision at this point." Rep. Tim Walz, who won an unexpectedly tight race earlier this month as Trump was decisively carrying his seat, hasn't said much publicly. His campaign manager put out a statement saying Walz "is focused on serving his constituents in southern Minnesota," which isn't a no. However, one Democrat did take his name out of contention. Ex-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's longtime aide told the Star Tribune, "He is not running for governor."
A truckload of Republicans are also talking about running to succeed Dayton. State Party chair Keith Downey told CBS he isn't ruling it out, though he may seek another term instead. Rep. Tom Emmer, who narrowly lost to Dayton in 2010, could try again, and his chief of staff says that Emmer will think about it over the next few weeks. State Sen. Michelle Benson says she'll decide no earlier than May.
But wait … there's more! Via the Pioneer Press, which is keeping track of all the possible names, we have some more information about some possible GOP gubernatorial candidates, including one very big potential name.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson—the name you know!—told the Pioneer Press that "I am considering" another run. Johnson, who was Team Red's 2014 nominee, lost to Dayton by a relatively modest 50-45 in a contest that didn't attract much national attention. State House Speaker Kurt Daudt recently said that he'll probably look at running for governor "[a]t some point." Veteran and Fox contributor Pete Hegseth didn't rule out anything either, nor did state Rep. Matt Dean. The Star Tribune also says that several other politicians "admitted interest," though they didn't publish any quotes: Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, 2014 Senate nominee Mike McFadden, and state Sen. David Osmek all make that list.
But the biggest name of all belongs to someone else. In response to questions about a possible gubernatorial bid, Rep. Erik Paulsen's spokesperson only told the Pioneer Press that "Erik is doing his job representing Minnesota in Washington to get things done." That's of course not a no. Paulsen represents a swingy seat in the Twin Cities suburbs, and he convincingly won a competitive race earlier this month. While Hillary Clinton carried the 3rd District 50-41, Paulsen beat Democrat Terri Bonoff 57-43 in an expensive battle.
Some of these Republicans could instead look at running for Senate, especially if they don't need to face Klobuchar. The Star Tribune says that ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an unsuccessful 2012 presidential candidate, "has been the subject of renewed speculation in recent weeks about a possible comeback effort," and they speculate he could run for an open Senate seat. A former Pawlenty spokesperson still close to the governor said that "Pawlenty has said many times he is politically retired," which (once again) isn't a no. Pawlenty currently works in D.C. as a lobbyist for banks, which gives him access to plenty of money. Of course, Democrats wouldn't need to work hard to portray Pawlenty as a tool of greedy Washington interests if he attempted a comeback.
● NV-Gov: Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, recently told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he still hasn't decided to get into Nevada's open gubernatorial race, and added that he'll need to do some polling and talk to his family before making up his mind. However, if Sisolak jumps in, he'll start with one big advantage: He has anywhere between $2.8 million to $3.2 million in his war chest from his county races, and he can transfer it all to a gubernatorial account. State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford is another potential Democratic contender.
● OH-Gov: Buckeye State Democrats have gone through two horrible election cycles, and they're hoping to turn things around by winning their open governor's race in 2018. Former state Attorney General Richard Cordray, who currently heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in D.C., has been mentioned as a possible candidate, but as long as he's there, he needs to stay out of partisan politics. However, Cordray's allies in Ohio are hoping to convince him to jump in. State Rep. David Leland, for example, says he "would be happy to help" a Cordray campaign, and other Democrats are reportedly pushing for him.
In theory, Cordray's term as head of the CFPB will last until mid-2018, and if he stayed until then, it would make a gubernatorial bid all but impossible. However, Trump might be able to remove Cordray once he becomes president, or Cordray could just choose to resign.
A few other Democrats have expressed interest in a bid, or at least have declined to say no. Last week, state Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill said he was thinking about running, though he made it clear he'd defer to Cordray. O'Neill isn't exactly a favorite of Democratic leaders: After the state party endorsed ex-Gov. Ted Strickland over Cincinnati City Councilor P.G. Sittenfeld in the 2016 Senate primary, O'Neill wrote a note on Facebook encouraging people to "[l]eave the Ohio Democratic Party immediately."
O'Neill also said he wouldn't run if ex-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner gets in. This is the first we've heard of a possible campaign from Brunner, who lost the 2010 Senate primary and went on to accept a job with GOP Gov. John Kasich; Brunner was later elected as an appeals judge in Franklin County in 2014.
The GOP race, by contrast, has been under way for a while. State Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator who unseated Cordray 48-46 in 2010, announced earlier this year. Secretary of State Jon Husted hasn't made his likely bid official yet, though he recently said, "I have the intent to run," adding that he's "not in a hurry to make an official announcement." Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor also is a likely candidate.
Cleveland.com also mentions Rep. Jim Renacci as a potential contender. In September, as Renacci was waging an uncompetitive re-election race, someone reportedly commissioned a statewide poll testing favorable messages about Renacci while characterizing his three would-be gubernatorial primary rivals as "Columbus insiders." Renacci's team refused to confirm or deny that he had anything to do with the survey, saying at the time only, "While it's true that many voters from across the state have encouraged Congressman Renacci to consider running for statewide office in the future," he was committed to winning re-election and helping other Ohio Republicans. Renacci hasn't said much about his 2018 plans since then, but he at least wasn't closing the door on anything earlier this year.
● PA-Gov: Grrr. Wealthy GOP state Sen. Scott Wagner said just the other day that "I intend to run for governor" in 2018. Now he's upgraded that to "I've made up my mind that I'm going to do this," but he swears this still doesn't count as some kind of "official" announcement. Newsflash to all candidates: There's no such thing as an "official" announcement. You're either running, considering, or not running—or you're just ticking us off. We're marking Wagner down as "running," whether he likes it or not.
● SC-Gov: Republican Catherine Templeton, who served as head of the state health department under Gov. Nikki Haley, has been flirting with a 2018 bid to succeed her old boss for a while. Templeton recently told The Post and Courier that she plans to announce she's running in January and has a fundraiser scheduled that month. Templeton also served as director of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation under Haley, where she was a prominent enemy of unions.
If Templeton jumps in, she'll join what's likely to be a crowded GOP primary. State House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and ex-Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill are both already in, and plenty of others are considering. Last week, a spokesperson for state Attorney General Alan Wilson, who has been mentioned as a possible contender, offered a conventional non-answer—"The attorney general is currently focused on the job he was elected to do, which is being the attorney general"—so he's keeping his name in play. However, Sen. Tim Scott is reportedly flirting with running for governor, and he could scare off many of the potential candidates.
● SD-Gov: Rep. Kristi Noem announced that she would run for governor shortly after she was re-elected to a fourth term earlier this month, and state Attorney General Marty Jackley looks likely to join her in the GOP primary. Lt. Gov. Matt Michels could also get in, though he recently told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, "The absolute LAST thing I want to talk about, given the past two years, is to talk about the next election." Jackley and especially Noem are well-funded, and if Michels wants to make a serious bid, he probably can't afford to procrastinate.
Democrats haven't won the governorship since 1974 here, though Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether hasn't ruled out a bid, and the Press & Dakotan also mentions state Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton as a possible contender.
● CA-07: Late on Friday, the Associated Press called the race for this suburban Sacramento seat for Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, and a spokesperson for Bera confirmed that his Republican opponent, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, had called the congressman to concede. As of Monday evening, Bera had a 51.2-48.8 edge over Jones, a lead of just over 6,000 votes. The morning after Election Day, Bera led 50.6-49.4, or about 2,100 votes.
It's the third straight time Bera's gone to bed on election night without being sure of his fate. In 2012, Bera knocked off Republican Rep. Dan Lungren by a narrow 51.7-48.3 margin, then survive the 2014 GOP wave by a slightly-smaller 50.4-49.6 spread. But Bera faced some new obstacles in 2016. Labor groups were infuriated that Bera voted for fast-track trade negotiation authority, which would have made it easier to pass the 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and several of them refused to endorse the Democrat.
Bera also got some bad headlines when his father was sentenced to prison for trying to illegally funnel money to Bera's campaign. Investigators concluded that there was no evidence that the congressman knew about the scheme, but that didn't stop Republicans from running ads portraying him as complicit.
However, Jones wasn't the prized recruit the GOP wanted him to be. Over the summer, court documents from a lawsuit against the sheriff's office revealed that a young employee had accused Jones of sexual harassment and unwanted touching, a story Bera used in his own ads. Outside groups from both parties spent heavily here, but Bera came out on top in the end. Given the tight result, though, it's likely that the GOP will make another play for this seat in 2018.
● KS-04: If GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo is confirmed as CIA director next year, there will be a special election for his safely red Wichita seat. The GOP would pick its nominee through a district convention made up of 126 party activists from across the 4th District rather than through a primary, and a number of Republicans have already made their interest known.
State Treasurer Ron Estes has already said that he would consider running if there's a vacancy. When Pompeo flirted with a Senate run earlier this year, Estes formed an exploratory committee to prepare for a House bid; however, Estes made it clear that he wouldn't run against Pompeo, and he kept his word when the congressman sought re-election.
Via Kansas.com, a number of other Republicans have also expressed interest in a bid: outgoing state Reps. Mark Hutton and Mark Kahrs, Wichita City Councilor Pete Meitzner, and state Sen. Michael O'Donnell. Alan Cobb, a member of the Trump transition team who is close to the Koch brothers, tells Politico that he's interested, too.
There are plenty of other potential Republican candidates. State Senate President Susan Wagle and businessman Wink Hartman both didn't rule anything out. Hartman lost the 2010 primary to Pompeo and briefly considered running against him in the general as a Libertarian, even though it could have cost Team Red the seat. State Sen. Ty Masterson has also been mentioned.
● International Digest: Iceland made international waves when the anti-establishment Pirate Party looked poised to lead its next government after campaigning on a platform that included radical proposals for direct democracy, government transparency, and internet copyright reform. However, the party's early lead gave way to a surprisingly weak third-place finish, leaving its role in the government in doubt. You can read about Iceland and other key countries in the November edition of our International Elections Digest, which also covers the upcoming French presidential election, several parliamentary elections in Eastern Europe, a major Italian constitutional referendum, and more.
● Site News: With news slowing down ahead of the holiday, we'll be taking a break from the Morning Digest for the rest of the week, though we'll be hard at work crunching the latest numbers for our presidential results by congressional districts project. The next Morning Digest will be in your inboxes a week from today. Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
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