● WI Supreme Court: If you've ever followed Twitter on election nights, you've probably seen jokes about how we've yet to learn the results from "crucial Waukesha County" that are sure to affect the outcome-whatever the race. Those ancient wisecracks, incredibly dated in Internet years, hark back to an unexpectedly close race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2011. As fury over Gov. Scott Walker's evisceration of union rights boiled over that winter, progressives took aim at a sitting justice, David Prosser, a former Republican speaker of the state Assembly who was up for re-election. Though the race was officially non-partisan, there was no question as to where Prosser's loyalties lay, and Democrats grew eager to see state prosecutor JoAnne Kloppenburg unseat him.
It almost happened, too. Kloppenburg entered the race as a serious underdog-Prosser had led the way in the top-two primary by a dominant 55-25 margin-but on the night of the general election, she appeared to have pulled off a stunning 200-vote upset. However, in a heartbreaking turnabout the very next day, it turned out that Waukesha County, a heavily Republican county in the Milwaukee suburbs, had completely botched its count. Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a Republican who had worked under Prosser in the Assembly, became instantly infamous when she claimed she had failed to save the results on her computer, leading to the discovery of almost 15,000 new votes. That gave Prosser a lead of about 7,000 votes, and he was ultimately declared the victor in a statewide recount by a 50.2 to 49.8 margin.
Now, half a decade later, Kloppenburg is back. On Tuesday night, she finished second in a primary for another state Supreme Court seat, trailing incumbent Rebecca Bradley by a narrow 45-43 margin. Bradley was only appointed in October to fill a vacancy, and the man who gave her the job, Scott Walker, is deeply unpopular with Wisconsinites-more than he ever was at the height of the union protests-thanks in part to his failed presidential bid. Kloppenburg, naturally, is doing everything she can to tie Bradley to the governor.
What's more, a third candidate, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald, took 8 percent and had been supported by liberals, too, including former Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. Kloppenburg is therefore arguing that she's likely to pick up Donald's support in the April general election, though he hasn't endorsed anyone yet. While progressives would have dearly loved to see Kloppenburg prevail five years ago, it'd still be a satisfying coda if she can defeat a Walker appointee now.
● PA-Sen: Filing closed Tuesday for Pennsylvania's April 26 primary, and the state has a list of candidates available here. The main event will be the Democratic Senate primary, where three notable candidates are competing to take on Republican incumbent Pat Toomey.
Ex-Rep. Joe Sestak has essentially been running here ever since he narrowly lost the general to Toomey in 2010. However, while some Democrats admire Sestak for almost winning during the GOP wave, the national and state party establishment have had a strained relationship with Sestak for years. Sestak angered them when he successfully challenged party-switching incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary, and lots of insiders—rightly or wrong—feel that Sestak ran an amateurish race against Toomey that cost them a win. Sestak's 2016 effort has only infuriated his intra-party detractors. Sestak's fundraising has been weak, and he kicked off his campaign by hiking across Pennsylvania, a stunt that generated some press, but one that voters quickly forgot about.
Party insiders looked far and wide for a candidate to challenge Sestak, and they finally landed Katie McGinty. McGinty, a former state EPA head, ran for governor in 2014 and only took 8 percent of the primary vote. But Tom Wolf, who beat her and won the general election soon after, came away impressed and chose her to be his chief of staff. McGinty has the support of Wolf, a number of unions, and Rep. Bob Brady, the powerful Philadelphia Democratic Party chair; Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is also helping her raise money. However, while McGinty outraised Sestak during her two quarters in the race, Sestak's years-long head start has allowed him to amass a $2.6 to $1.2 million cash-on-hand edge. What little polling we've seen generally gives Sestak the edge over McGinty, but a ton of voters remain undecided.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman entered the race in September. Fetterman has earned national attention over the years for his work trying to revitalize his small town. Fetterman endorsed Bernie Sanders, which could give the mayor a boost with Sanders' supporters if the presidential primary is still competitive by the time April rolls around (unlike many states, Pennsylvania holds its presidential and downballot primaries on the same day). Fetterman also comes from western Pennsylvania, while Sestak and McGinty are from the Philadelphia area. However, Fetterman's fundraising has been very weak, and if he can't get his name out, it's very difficult to see him winning in April.
Toomey faces no GOP primary opposition, and he's amassed a huge warchest. Pennsylvania usually leans Democratic in presidential years, but Toomey has worked hard to portray himself as a moderate. If Democrats unseat Toomey, they have a very good chance to flip the Senate, and we should expect an expensive battle in the fall.
● WI-Sen: Ron Johnson was the first Republican senator up for re-election this year to storm out the gates and insist that hell effing no would the Senate allow Barack Obama to name a successor to Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Ron Johnson is also the first Republican senator up for re-election this year to completely backtrack on this extremist hardline stance:
"I've never said that I wouldn't vote, or that we shouldn't vote. ... I have no idea how the process plays out, I'm not in control of it. I'm not the majority leader, I'm not chairman of the Judiciary. By the time I would actually take the vote, if it comes to that, I'll take a vote."
Actually, dimbulb said just that on Sunday, when he declared that "the American people should decide the future direction of the Supreme Court by their votes for president and the majority party in the U.S. Senate." But he's not the only Senate Republican to flip this particular flop: None other than Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley has also done an about-face, and other GOP senators, including Thom Tillis, Susan Collins, and Dean Heller, have broken with the Mitch McConnell/Ted Cruz ultra-obstructionist wing of the party. Mark Kirk, meanwhile, is waiting to see where this all goes and is refusing to say anything at all.
There's no other way to put it: Right now, the Republicans are in disarray, and Johnson, an inept campaigner with feeble preservation instincts, is the most disarrayed of the lot.
● FL-26: Former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has released a month-old survey from PPP showing him with a 34-24 lead on his Democratic primary rival, businesswoman Annette Taddeo. While Garcia didn't include any information about his or Taddeo's name recognition numbers, it's likely that Garcia (who represented this district for a term before getting ousted in 2014 by Republican Carlos Curbelo) is the better-known of the two, and that's the reason for his lead.
Indeed, Politico's Mark Caputo cites some vaguely described "Republican survey data" he says was shared with him that confirms exactly this supposition. Garcia, according to this data, has "near-universal name identification" among Democrats, while only 20 percent know Taddeo. The same poll also reportedly showed that Garcia "was disliked more than liked by about 10 percentage points."
That's really not very good news for Garcia, since it means that Taddeo has proverbial "room to grow." Florida's congressional primary is a long way off—not until August—and no one's spent any real money on voter outreach yet, so the old saw about polls only capturing a "snapshot in time" is particularly applicable here. With the DCCC eager to see Taddeo rather than Garcia take on Curbelo in this blue-tilting district, the contours of this primary are very apt to change.
● MN-02: Whenever you have an open GOP seat for Congress, the odds that one of the candidates in the mix will carry the title of "conservative radio host" are pretty good. And, in turn, the odds that that guy has said some offensive shit on the air at some point during his career will also be pretty good. Case in point: Jason Lewis. Here's just one choice comment from a show he hosted back in 2012:
"You've got a vast majority of young single women who couldn't explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about 'The View.' They are non-thinking."
Lewis was completely unapologetic when these remarks resurfaced this week, saying, "Liberal reporters and typical politicians may not like the bluntness of the way I've framed some issues in my career as a voice in the conservative movement." The problem for Lewis is that these "typical politicians" include all the other candidates in the Republican field, who are all bashing him hard: "Outrageous statements," "clearly offensive toward young women," "call[s] into question his temperament and electability," and "viciously insult[ing]" are just a few of the epithets that Lewis' many GOP rivals are hurling his way.
Of course, all of these other hopefuls are trying to promote their own chances by undermining Lewis, though conservatives rarely pay a price for Limbaugh-esque statements like these with Republican voters. The real problem for the GOP is if Lewis actually winds up earning his party's nomination. Minnesota's 2nd District is a swingy suburban seat that Democrats are hoping to pick up, and Lewis' misogyny will not play well in a general election—which is exactly why Democrats would love to face him. And just imagine the other tapes lurking out there that we haven't learned about yet.
● NE-02: On Tuesday, one of Nebraska's two candidate filing deadlines passed. Any elected officials who want to run in 2016 needed to file, even if they're seeking a different office than the one they currently hold. Republicans want to target Democratic freshman Brad Ashford, but their preferred candidate, retired Gen. Don Bacon, hasn't raised much cash, and if Team Red wanted to convince an elected official to face Ashford, they're out of luck. The filing deadline for non-electeds is March 1.
● PA-02: Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah rarely needed to worry about a primary challenge in this safely blue Philadelphia seat, but everything changed after he was indicted over the summer. Federal prosecutors argue that, among other things, that Fattah fraudulently tried to conceal campaign debts from his 2007 mayoral race and even tried to steer public money to pay off private debts to one of his creditors.
Fattah faces three primary foes in April. The congressman's main opponent is state Rep. Dwight Evans, who is a powerful force in Northwest Philadelphia and was one of Fattah's opponents in 2007. Evans has the support of newly-elected Mayor Jim Kenney, and he has outraised the rest of the field. Evans also released a poll last month showing him beating Fattah 37-21, and no one has released any contradictory numbers.
Fattah has essentially no campaign money, but he can't be counted out yet. Much of the local Democratic establishment, including powerful Philadelphia party chair Bob Brady (who represents a neighboring congressional district) and former Mayor Michael Nutter, are in Fattah's corner. (Brady and Nutter also both ran against Fattah during that 2007 mayoral campaign.) Several major unions are also backing Fattah. The congressman's trial won't start until after the April primary and if he resigns, Philadelphia's Democratic ward leaders will pick a new nominee.
Two other candidates are also in, and they could take some anti-Fattah votes from Evans. Ward leader Dan Muroff had a credible $209,000 in the bank at the end of December, while Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon had little cash to spend. Both Muroff and Gordon are white, while Fattah, Evans, and most of the district's voters are black.
● PA-06: This suburban Philadelphia seat only backed Romney 51-48, but freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Costello is looking like a very good bet for re-election. National Democrats were initially pleased when they landed businessman Mike Parrish, but Parrish's fundraising has been anemic. 25-year old financial planner Lindy Li recently switched from the 7th District to this seat, and she held a $389,000 to $28,000 cash-on-hand edge against Parrish at the end of 2015. A number of unions and House members have endorsed Li, but the county Democratic Parties and ex-Gov. Ed Rendell have sided with Parrish. Ominously, the DCCC left this seat off both their "Red to Blue" and "Emerging Races" lists, a sign that they don't think either candidate is a good investment right now, but these judgments are always subject to change.
● PA-07: Republican Rep. Pat Meehan hasn't had any trouble winning this 50-49 Romney seat, but national Democrats are hopeful that pastor Bill Golderer can put up a fight. Golderer, who founded a Philadelphia-area church and helped revitalize another, raised a credible $246,000 during his first quarter in the race. The DCCC also added Golderer to their "Emerging Races" list, an indication that, while they don't think this is a top-tier race yet, Golderer has potential. Golderer needs to get past 2014 nominee Mary Ellen Balchunis first though. Balchunis badly lost to Meehan and has little money, but she's won endorsements from the county Democratic Parties. Meehan himself faces a primary from real estate developer Stan Casacio, but we'll need to see if Casacio is actually capable of causing the incumbent any grief.
● PA-08: While Republicans tried to convince Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick to stay and defend this swingy seat, the congressman has insisted on retiring. However, his younger brother, former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick, recently entered the race and has consolidated local support. The younger Fitzpatrick scared state Rep. Scott Petri out of the contest, and another candidate, lawyer Dean Malik, ended up not filing. Fitzpatrick will only face two opponents in the primary for this suburban Philadelphia district, neither of whom look anywhere capable of stopping him.
Democrats have a competitive primary between state Rep. Steve Santarsiero and businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton. DC Democrats have not been happy with Santarsiero's fundraising and they even reportedly tried to convince him to drop out over the summer. However, Santarsiero has the support of both county Democratic Parties, and a number of unions have backed him: The United Steel Workers also endorsed him this week. Notably, while the DCCC added this seat to their top-tier "Red to Blue" program, they didn't express a preference between Santarsiero or Naughton, so perhaps national Democrats are warming to the state representative. At the end of December, Naughton had a $635,000 to $422,000 cash-on-hand edge.
● PA-09: In 2014, House Transportation Chair Bill Shuster only took 54 percent of the vote against two weak GOP primary foes. One of those dudes, businessman Art Halvorson, is back for a rematch. Halvorson's 2016 effort isn't looking much stronger than his last campaign: At the end of December, Shuster held a $1.37 million to $40,000 cash-on-hand edge. In 2014, Halvorson memorably justified his poor fundraising by arguing, "We are out door-to-door and we are touching people and voters, and we are buying love with touches and Mr. Shuster's big money doesn't buy love." So far, it doesn't appear that he's changing his touching strategy.
But while Halvorson doesn't appear capable of winning, Shuster's 2014 performance indicates the congressman is capable of losing. The Pennsylvania congressional primary is the same day as the presidential contest: If Ted Cruz and Donald Trump bring out voters who want to stick it to the GOP establishment, Shuster could have some trouble. This rural seat is safely red.
● PA-16: Republican Rep. Joe Pitts announced his retirement in November, and state Sen. Lloyd Smucker quickly scared off almost anyone who wanted to succeed him. Smucker only faces businessman Chet Beiler in the primary. Beiler has run for office twice before: He got crushed in the general for state auditor 59-38, but he lost the primary for lieutenant governor only 26-21 in 2010. At the end of December, Smucker held a $115,000 to $39,000 cash-on-hand edge, and it will be a big surprise if he loses.
Romney carried this Lancaster County seat 52-46, though Obama narrowly won it in 2008. Local Democrats have consolidated behind Christina Hartman, though her $87,000 warchest isn't going to cut it in a tough seat like this.
● WV-02: VoteVets, a well-funded group dedicated to electing Democratic veterans to Congress, has thrown its support behind Army lawyer Cory Simpson. Simpson faces ex-Del. Mark Hunt in the May primary, but local and national Democrats aren't making it any secret that they prefer Simpson. In January, Roll Call reported that West Virginia Democrats are excited about Simpson's fundraising capabilities, and the DCCC recently added Simpson to their "Emerging Races" list. VoteVets tends to spend on candidates they like, which should also give him a boost. Simpson and Hunt are each hoping to face GOP freshman Alex Mooney in November.
● Special Elections: Via Johnny Longtorso:
Alabama HD-05: Republican Danny Crawford easily prevailed here, defeating Democratic ex-state Rep. Henry White by a 59-41 margin.
● Milwaukee, WI Mayor: It looks like Mayor Tom Barrett, a three-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, will need to work hard to win a fourth term on April 5. Barrett took just 45 percent in Tuesday's non-partisan top-two primary, with Alderman Bob Donovan grabbing the second-place spot with 34 percent of the vote. Another alderman, Joe Davis, took most of the remaining vote.
Barrett has a huge financial advantage over Donovan, but Donovan gained some traction by hitting the mayor over the city's crime rate. Davis hasn't endorsed anyone yet but he also attacked Barrett on crime, so it's likely his supporters will flock to Donovan in April. There was no doubt that Barrett would advance to the general (even if he'd taken a majority of the vote on Tuesday, he still would have needed to compete in the April race), so he'd better hope he has a lot of voters who just stayed home for the primary.
● Milwaukee County, WI Executive: Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has been mentioned as a potential 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, but he may be out of a job by then. Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson edged Abele 45-44 in Tuesday's non-partisan top-two primary, and the two will face off in the April 5 general. Abele is largely self-funding his campaign and he had a massive $904,000 to $28,000 cash-on-hand edge at the beginning of February. Larson is arguing that Abele is working with the GOP-led legislature to increase his own power at the expenses of the County Board.
● PA-AG: To the relief of Democrats, indicted incumbent Kathleen Kane announced that she would not seek another term on Tuesday. Team Blue has a three-way primary between Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, whom national Democrats tried to recruit for the Senate race; Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli; and Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala. Both Shapiro and Morganelli hail from eastern Pennsylvania, which could give Zappala an opening. On the GOP side, state Sen. John Rafferty faces former Deputy Attorney General Joe Peters, who actually used to be Kane's press secretary.
● Demographics: Jed Kolko, writing at FiveThirtyEight, has an interesting mashup of data: He finds a strong correlation between metropolitan areas that vote Republican, and metropolitan areas with a high percentage of "routine" jobs, i.e. those that can be performed simply by following someone else's rules. In a way, what Kolko is talking about is the direct opposite of Richard Florida's "creative class," which encompasses a lot of jobs that aren't creative in the sense of the mass media, but that require a lot of independent judgment and some expertise; in other words, the jobs that are more difficult to replace by automation or outsourcing. And while you might initially associate "routine" with manufacturing, it's more likely to be service industry.
While the most "routinized" metro area is light-blue Riverside, California (where warehousing is a huge part of the local economy, but with a large Latino population) and that's followed by Memphis (which is also light-blue because of a large African American population), the rest of the top of the list is places like Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Nashville, and Oklahoma City. (Bear in mind that Kolko is talking about presidential votes at the entire metro level, not just the core county). Contrast that with usual suspects Washington, the Bay Area, Boston, and Seattle at the other end of the scale.
That sense of instability, and ultimately "replaceability," is at least a partial explanation for the explosion of angry populism among the white working-class portion of the Republican coalition (along with, of course, finally having a skilled mouthpiece this year giving voice to their frustration). The people of the larger coastal metro areas don't have as much long-term worry about their jobs getting vaporized by the next round of technological or global-market changes; the people in the smaller inland metros do.
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.