● CA-34, CA-AG: In a huge shocker, California Gov. Jerry Brown said on Thursday that he'd name Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra as the state's next attorney general, filling the vacancy soon to be created by Kamala Harris, who won election to the Senate last month. Becerra is the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the House and also the most senior Latino in the chamber, and he'd never been discussed as a possible replacement for Harris, hence everyone's surprise.
But with House Democrats in the minority for the foreseeable future, and with the party's top three leaders all winning another term this week, Becerra's move makes sense. And while he could run for a full term as attorney general in 2018, he could also use the highly visible post as a springboard for another office such as Senate or governor somewhere down the line.
Meanwhile, there will also be a special election to fill Becerra's dark blue seat, which is located in Los Angeles and is majority Hispanic. As you'd expect for a safe district like this one, there was an immediate flood of speculation about Democrats who might run here, and one has already jumped in. Former Assembly Speaker John Perez announced shortly after the Becerra news broke and immediately rolled out several high-profile endorsers, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rep. Karen Bass. He also earned the support of state Controller Betty Yee, who edged Perez by one hundredth of one percent in the top-two primary for the controller's job two years ago.
But the election won't be held for another four or five months, so once the dust settles a little bit, we'll discuss other potential entrants.
● NJ-Gov: It's very hard to keep track of what Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak is up to. In July of last year, he declared, "I'm running for governor." Then in October he said, "I'm gonna stay in the Senate." Then last month came reports that Lesniak was reconsidering.
But now? Who knows. This week, Lesniak said, "I'm not running. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of running should an opportunity present itself." Exactly what opportunity he might be waiting for is unclear. Former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy is barreling ahead with a bid and racking up lots of establishment support, while Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the most prominent Bernie Sanders' supporter in the state, has also joined the race and is presenting himself as the more populist alternative.
Plus the race is, you know, next year—the primary is in June—so it's not as though Lesniak has much time. The same is true for investment fund manager Tom Bryne (son of former Gov. Brendan Byrne), who admits he thinks he doesn't have a path to victory. Byrne says a gubernatorial bid is "unlikely," but adds that he has "not shut the door firmly, only because one never knows how circumstances might change." When asked what kind of change could bring him into the race, though, he said he simply didn't know, and it's hard to disagree with that assessment.
● NV-Gov, NV-Sen: Dean Heller is the only Republican senator up for re-election in 2018 who serves a state won by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, meaning he'll be the DSCC's top target this cycle … if he in fact runs again. But he might instead prefer to run for Nevada's open governorship, a possibility he now says he will "consider." That's a somewhat stronger statement of interest than the last time he spoke publicly about this race back in May, when all he would say is, "I always keep my options open."
Heller would almost certainly be the GOP's strongest candidate for governor, but he was fairly hostile to Trump all year, which has almost certainly pissed off a certain segment of Republican primary voters. That could inspire an opponent from the unabashedly racist wing of the party to throw up a roadblock for Heller if he ran for governor, something he likely wouldn't face if he seeks another term in the Senate.
● OK-Gov: Former state Rep. Joe Dorman, who was the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee in 2014, said earlier this year that he might run again, but on Wednesday, he flatly ruled the idea out. Dorman lost 56-41 to GOP Gov. Mary Fallin, who will be termed out in 2018. With ex-Rep. Dan Boren also taking himself out of contention earlier this week, Democrats don't have many options left, though state House Minority Leader Scott Inman is a possibility. And this being dark-red Oklahoma, there are plenty of Republicans who could run.
● OR-Gov: While Democratic Gov. Kate Brown's special election victory last month was never in doubt, her 51-44 margin over unheralded and underfunded Republican Bud Pierce wasn't dominant. That could give the GOP reason to hope for a different outcome in 2018, when Brown would be running for a full four-year term. (She was elevated to the governorship last year after then-Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned amidst an ethical scandal.)
Willamette Week mentions two Republicans as the "most likely" to make a go of it: state Rep. Knute Buehler and Secretary of State-elect Dennis Richardson, who just became the first Republican to win election statewide in Oregon since 2002. Richardson also ran for governor in 2014, losing to Kitzhaber 50-44—a fashion very similar to Pierce's. In fact, Richardson's performance that year was closer than expected, and if he runs again, he could earn more attention from the RGA.
Meanwhile, Willamette Week also rattles off a host of possible primary challengers for Brown, which is a little odd. While several ambitious Beaver State Democrats hoping to succeed Kitzhaber were frustrated when Brown got an unexpected head start on them, they all declined to run against her in the special election. And given that Brown has earned widespread praise for her governance and has now won election in her own right, it seems even less likely that a fellow Democrat would want to take her on.
● GA-06: State Rep. Scott Holcomb, who would have been a compelling option for Democrats in the expected special election to replace GOP Rep. Tom Price, has unfortunately said no to a bid. However, outgoing state Rep. Taylor Bennett, who just narrowly lost his bid for re-election last month, still hasn't said anything and would also be a good candidate for Team Blue. Bennett was a quarterback at Georgia Tech, in a state where football is religion, so he could have some crossover appeal.
● KS-04: Republican state Rep. Mark Hutton says he won't run for Kansas' 4th Congressional District, a Wichita-area seat that will likely soon become vacant if and when GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo is confirmed as CIA director. It's likely to be a dull affair, though, as there won't be a primary—party committees will instead pick nominees—and Republicans would be heavily favored to win the special election.
● DCCC: Hold the phone! In the previous Digest, we said that New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan would serve another term as chair of the DCCC because Nancy Pelosi, who'd tapped him for the job, had just prevailed in her race to stay on as House Minority Leader against Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan. But now Pelosi has other ideas—very different ideas. As part of a package of reforms to the party's leadership, Democrats will now hold an internal election for D-Trip chair, much as the GOP does for the NRCC.
Lujan himself wouldn't say whether he'd now run for the post that had been promised to him, but according to Roll Call, a DCCC spokesperson confirmed he would. However, we don't yet know when the election will be, or even if anyone will step up to run against Lujan. In fact, Ryan, whose challenge to Pelosi was centered around a push for these reforms, sounded remarkably blasé for a guy who just days ago was saying the party's future depended on his leadership. Asked if he'd consider running for committee chair, Ryan said, "I don't think so. I haven't really given it much thought." Kind of pathetic.
● Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the presidential election results by congressional district stops in Connecticut and Minnesota. We have a chart of all 435 congressional districts here, which also includes results from 2012. That's the page you'll want to bookmark, since we're updating it continuously. We'll be pushing out new data on a rolling basis as the results are officially certified and the precinct-level election results we need for our calculations become available. (Ballotpedia has a list of state certification deadlines.)
Hillary Clinton carried Connecticut 55-41, a small drop from Barack Obama's 58-41 win in 2012. However, though Clinton swept all five of the Nutmeg State's congressional districts, two of them were a lot tighter than they were four years ago. While Obama carried the 2nd District, located in the eastern part of the state, 56-43, Clinton won it just 49-46. Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney easily dispatched an unheralded Republican opponent 63-34, but the GOP may try to put up a tougher fight in the future.
There was a similar shift in the 5th, which includes Danbury, New Britain, and most of Waterbury. Obama carried the seat 54-45, but Clinton won it only 50-46. However, Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty beat Republican Clay Cope, a first selectman from the small town of Sherman who had little money or outside help, by a clear 58-42, though she could likewise become a GOP target. Donald Trump also did much better than Mitt Romney 1st and 3rd Districts, though both seats are still quite blue. Clinton carried the 1st, which includes Hartford, 59-36, while Obama took it 63-36. Clinton won the 3rd, which includes New Haven, by a 56-40 margin, a drop from Obama's 63-36.
The 4th District, which includes Bridgeport and several of Connecticut's affluent New York City suburbs, was the one seat where Clinton did better than Obama in 2012: She took it 60-37, while Obama won it 55-40. The 4th was in Republican hands until Democratic Rep. Jim Himes beat incumbent Chris Shays in 2008, but the GOP shouldn't plan on getting it back anytime soon.
We turn next to Minnesota, which saw more ticket splitting than any state we've encountered so far in 2016. Three Democrats sit in seats that Trump carried—all by double digits—while one Republican holds a seat that Clinton decisively won. Of the other four seats, two Republicans sit in Trump seats and two Democrats hold safely blue Clinton districts. Obama carried Minnesota 53-45 in 2012 and took six of its eight congressional districts (though two were very close). Clinton won the Land of 10,000 Lakes 47-45 and carried just three of the state's congressional districts.
We'll take a look at the Democratic-held Trump seats first. The 1st, which includes all of Minnesota's southern border, violently swung from 50-48 Obama to 53-38 Trump. This stunning shift almost threw Democratic Rep. Tim Walz out of office. During the 2014 GOP wave, Walz turned back a weak challenge from Republican Jim Hagedorn 54-46; last month, Walz beat Hagedorn, who still had little money or outside support, just 50.4-49.6. Walz hasn't ruled out a 2018 bid for governor, but national Democrats will probably put pressure on Walz to stay and defend his seat.
Over in the 7th, which includes the state's rural northwest corner, there was another huge swing towards Trump. Romney had carried the 7th by an already-strong 54-44, but Trump dominated 62-31 here. Longtime Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson had turned back a well-funded opponent 54-46 during the 2014 GOP wave, but he beat his Some Dude GOP opponent by a smaller 52.5-47.5 margin last month.
The 8th, located in the Iron Range in the northeast corner of the state, also shifted dramatically towards the GOP. While Obama carried the seat 52-46, Trump won it 54-39. However, Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan pulled off a second straight win against rich guy Stewart Mills, 50.3-49.7—a margin of 2,025 votes. Mills is seeking a recount, which he has to pay for given the size of the gap, but even he seems to recognize that it's unlikely to erase Nolan's lead. (Mills also offered to buy the congressman a beer if he really had outperformed Clinton by as much as the results say he has.) Nolan also beat Mills 49-47 during the 2014 GOP wave, so it's fair to say he's earned a whole lot of Bent Paddle.
The 3rd District, which includes several of the Twin Cities' well-educated suburbs, is the only Clinton seat represented by a Republican in the state. Clinton carried it 51-41, a huge improvement on Obama's 50-49 win in 2012. However, it made little difference downballot, with Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen defeating Democratic state Sen. Terri Bonoff 57-43 in an expensive contest. Paulsen hasn't ruled out a 2018 bid for governor, though. While he'd be a formidable statewide candidate, his departure would give Team Blue a better shot to take his seat.
The 2nd District, also located in the Twin Cities suburbs, was the source of a lot of Democratic heartbreak. Obama had carried the district 49.1-49.0, but it shifted right and backed Trump 47-45. Trump's coattails helped Republican Jason Lewis defeat Democrat Angie Craig 47-45 in a race national Democrats once thought they were likely to win. Clinton easily carried the Democratic-held 4th and 5th Districts, while Trump decisively took the GOP-held 6th, which is Michelle Bachmann's old seat.
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.