● IA-04: It's very tough to see Rep. Steve King, the kingpin of Hawkeye State social conservatives, losing renomination in his reliably red western Iowa seat. Still, state Sen. Rick Bertrand has announced that he will challenge King in the June GOP primary.
King is probably best known nationally for his many racist comments: His career can perhaps be best epitomized with his declaration that, for every child of an undocumented immigrant "who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." But local business interests have been fine with King since he won his seat in 2002— that is, until he threatened their pocketbooks.
While King is a big proponent of ethanol, a fuel that's made up of a ton of Iowa corn, Ted Cruz is not. Cruz has been reluctant to promote pro-ethanol laws like the Renewable Fuel Standard, and that's enraged local Republicans like Gov. Terry Branstad and his son Eric Branstad, an ethanol lobbyist. Members of the ethanol industry have been looking to get even with King ever since he endorsed Cruz in the presidential contest, and they've reportedly been shopping around for a primary candidate for a while. Iowa's filing deadline is Friday, so Bertrand is their man.
There's no doubt that Bertrand has his work cut out for him. Cruz carried the 4th District in the February presidential caucus, so tying King to Cruz probably won't work too well for Bertrand. It's also unclear exactly what argument Bertrand plans to make against King. In an interview with the Sioux City Journal, Bertrand criticized King for being "polarizing" and faulted him for not securing important committee posts. But as we've seen in primary after primary over the past few years, Republican voters almost universally would rather have a partisan knife-fighter representing them than a quiet legislator. Bertrand also voted in favor of a gas tax, something that King and his allies will almost certainly rip him to shreds over.
Bertrand does have one potential advantage against King though. The congressman has never been a good fundraiser, and he only had a weak $119,000 on hand at the end of 2015. If local ethanol businessmen really want to oust King, they should be able to help Bertrand outspend him. Still, all the money in the world won't help Bertrand if he can't give primary voters a compelling reason to dump King and so far, Bertrand doesn't seem to be speaking the language of conservative Republicans at all.
● CA-Sen: Filing closed Wednesday in California, and there was one potentially important surprise on the Republican side in the open U.S. Senate race. Ron Unz, who held then-Gov. Pete Wilson to a 61-34 GOP primary win in 1994 and spearheaded a successful 1998 ballot measure that requires public schools to teach in English, has launched a last-minute campaign. Unz himself admits his Senate bid is mostly about raising awareness about a ballot measure this fall that would largely repeal his 1998 law.
Unz isn't going to win in this dark blue state, but he could give Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez a boost. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a fellow Democrat, is very likely to take first place in the June top-two primary, and Sanchez is trying to take the second place spot that would also send her to the general election. Two ex-state Republican Party chairs, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, have been running, and the state GOP establishment has largely consolidated behind Sundheim. But if Unz splits the GOP primary vote, he'll make it easier for Sanchez to advance to the general. Harris would be the clear favorite in November against Sanchez, but the attorney general would be a shoo-in against any of the trio of Republicans.
● FL-Sen: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio declared a year ago that his presidential bid meant that he would not seek re-election, but there's occasionally been speculation that he'd try and elbow his way back into the Senate. However, Rubio's 19-point drubbing in Florida's presidential primary demonstrated very convincingly that Sunshine State Republicans are tired of him, and Rubio once again declared on Thursday that he wouldn't be running for re-election. Rubio also said he's "not running for governor" in 2018, for what that's worth.
● IA-Sen: End Citizens United has run TV ads against Missouri's Roy Blunt and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte over the GOP's Supreme Court blockade, and Sen. Chuck Grassley is their next target. The spot, which the group only says is running for "six-figures," is identical to the other ones, aside from subbing Grassley's name in at the end. The conservative organization One Nation is defending Grassley with a $140,000 10-day ad buy. The narrator says that "Washington liberals want to push Obama's choice before the people speak," and praises Grassley for saying that "Iowans should have their voice heard first."
● NH-Gov: On Thursday, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas announced that he would seek the GOP nod for this open seat. Gatsas, who leads New Hampshire's largest city, has flirted with bids for higher office for a long time, and it's actually pretty surprising that he's finally gone ahead and run. Gatsas only won re-election last year by 64 votes , so he isn't exactly running for governor from a position of strength. Still, Gatsas is too prominent to count out.
Gatsas will face Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and wealthy state Rep. Frank Edelblut in the September primary; state Sen. Jeanie Forrester is also still reportedly very interested. It's pretty notable that Sununu, who hails from the Granite State's most powerful GOP family, hasn't managed to clear the field at all, though his competition isn't exactly terrifying either. On the Democratic side, Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern is competing with Mark Connolly, the former head of the state Bureau of Securities Regulation. Ex-Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand is considering getting in, but it doesn't look like any other Democrats will. While state Sen. Andrew Hosmer considered running last year, he's endorsed Connolly instead.
● LA-02: A few months ago, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden didn't rule out a bid against Rep. Cedric Richmond, a fellow Democrat. Holden recently told The Advocate that he's 90 percent sure he'll run, and that he expects to decide by the second week of April.
If Holden jumps into the November jungle primary, he won't have an easy time. Richmond hasn't done much to alienate voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic seat. Holden also proved to be a weak fundraiser during his lieutenant governor bid last year. Richmond's $322,000 warchest isn't massive, but it gives him a good head start. Geography also works in the New Orleans-based Richmond's favor: About two-thirds of this seat is in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, while only 14 percent resides in Holden's East Baton Rouge base.
● ME-02: Filing closed this week in Maine, and the state has a list of candidates available here. The biggest race to watch will be the fight for the 2nd Congressional District (though Democrats are also trying to retake the state Senate). Freshman Bruce Poliquin defeated Democrat Emily Cain 47-42 last cycle, and Cain is back for a rematch: Neither candidate faces any primary opponents. The 2nd backed Obama 53-44, but northern Maine is amenable to Republicans. Poliquin also held a large $1.55 million to $552,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of 2015. Daily Kos Elections rates the general as Lean Republican.
● NV-04: On Wednesday, ex-Assembly Speaker John Oceguera dropped out of the June Democratic primary to face freshman Republican Cresent Hardy. Oceguera's campaign for the neighboring 3rd District crashed and burned in 2012, and few people seemed excited when he decided to seek a comeback this cycle.
Jon Ralston reports that Oceguera commissioned a poll from the Benenson Strategy Group just before he made his exit, and it showed him and the rest of the field far behind 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores. Flores only took about 25 percent of the vote though (the actual toplines were not released), and the survey argued that the other primary contenders have plenty of room to grow. But Oceguera realized he would need far more money than he had at his disposal if he was going to win, and he decided it wasn't worth forging on.
By contrast, while the poll showed that state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and non-profit president Susie Lee were in the single-digits, they have the ability to change that in the next few months. Kihuen has the support of labor and the powerful Sen. Harry Reid, while Lee has plenty of money. Flores herself hasn't raised very much, and she won't have an easy time holding onto her lead once we get closer to June, but at least she has some name recognition from her last campaign.
● NY-23: While a few Republican House members have endorsed Donald Trump's presidential bid, until now they've all represented safe red seats. However, on Wednesday Rep. Tom Reed became the first member in a competitive district to back Trump. This upstate seat supported Romney 50-48 and while Reed decisively won re-election during last cycle's GOP wave, he had an unexpectedly close call in 2012.
This year, Reed faces former National Security Council member John Plumb. The DCCC recently placed Plumb on their "Emerging Races" list, which indicates that, while they don't think this is a top-tier race, Plumb has some potential. It's far too early to know how Reed's decision will impact his re-election bid, especially if Trump doesn't wind up at the top of the ballot. Still, expect Plumb and national Democrats to do all they can to link the congressman to Trump in the fall.
● WA-07: The King County Labor Council is one of the most coveted endorsements in Seattle-area politics (despite its generic-sounding name, it's the local umbrella organization for the AFL-CIO). On Wednesday, immediately following a debate between the three leading candidates in this safely blue seat, they endorsed state Sen. Pramila Jayapal.
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.