● IA-Sen: On Friday, former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge announced that she would challenge Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. Even a few weeks ago, a campaign against the six-term senator would have looked beyond hopeless. While Iowa is a swing state that's backed Democrats in six of the last seven presidential elections, Grassley has never won re-election with less than 60 percent of the vote.
But this contest got a bit more interesting when Senate Republicans joined hands to prevent Barack Obama from filling Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court seat. As the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley is no minor player in this fight. Judge specifically cited Grassley's refusal to even grant the president's eventual nominee a hearing, saying that Grassley has "waited 36 years to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and now he's refusing to do his job. That is not the Chuck Grassley that I knew 10 or 15 years ago and it's not the thing Iowans want to see from their senator."
While swing state and national polls show that voters generally are unhappy with the GOP's blockade, there's no doubt that Judge has a very tough task ahead of her. Grassley has earned respect for maintaining close ties to his constituents: Grassley makes it a point to visit all 99 of Iowa's counties every year, for example. The senator had $4.4 million in the bank at the end of 2015, while Judge will need to start from scratch. Judge also needs to deal with state Sen. Rob Hogg in the June primary first. While Hogg has been running for months with little fanfare, he still has the support of many of his colleagues (including the state Senate president and majority leader), and he's given no indication that he plans to step out of the way for Judge.
A pair of polls were released shortly before Judge's announcement looking at Grassley's approval rating, and they send mixed signals.
On behalf of The Des Moines Register, Selzer and Co. gave Grassley a strong 57-28 approval. While Grassley's standing is down from the 64-22 percent rating he posted a year ago, most senators would still kill for those numbers. But PPP, polling on behalf of the liberal group Americans United for Change, paints a very different picture. They give Grassley a 47-44 score, and find that Iowans agree by a 56-40 margin that "[t]he vacant seat on the Supreme Court should be filled this year" instead of "left empty for the next year." (The approval ratings question was asked first). It's worth noting that PPP usually gives politicians lower ratings than most other pollsters. However, a December PPP survey, conducted without a client, gave Grassley a 53-33 approval rating.
It's too early to tell if the fight over the Supreme Court has really transformed this Senate race, or if Grassley will just walk to another easy win. Judge also has never run a race anywhere near this high-profile: While she won two terms as state agriculture commission in 1998 and 2002 (in Iowa, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket), winning a Senate seat is completely different. But there's no doubt that this issue has introduced a lot of unpredictability to what was a backwater contest. Grassley himself hasn't needed to face a tough race since he unseated Democratic incumbent John Culver in 1980. Some politicians are able to run great campaigns despite being decades out of practice but others, most notably ex-Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, end up making amateurish mistakes.
It's also worth noting that no one has spent much money against Grassley to tie the senator to his reviled colleagues in DC. Grassley is used to decades of positive press, and we'll need to see how well he holds up once Democrats actually attack him. There's also the small matter of the presidential race threatening to upend everything for the GOP. Grassley memorably introduced Donald Trump at a rally; if Trump becomes Team Red's standard-bearer and he's as toxic as many Republicans fear he will be, Democrats won't need to work hard to link Grassley to him. Judge has a lot to prove, but the ingredients are here for a competitive race. As a result, Daily Kos Elections is changing our outlook from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.
● FL-Sen: Rep. Ron DeSantis is out with his first TV ad of the GOP primary. The spot, which is running for $100,000, features DeSantis decrying Hillary Clinton as someone who "thinks she's above the law." DeSantis then stresses his military background as he calls for holding politicians accountable. The commercial ran during last Thursday's GOP debate and it will air during the next GOP debate and during Fox's March 15 election night coverage.
● MO-Sen: While outside groups have been airing ads here for a while, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt is now out with his first TV spot. The ad features various Missourians praising Blunt as an effective senator; there is no word on the size of the buy.
● NH-Sen: University of New Hampshire (October trendlines in parentheses): Kelly Ayotte (R-inc): 45 (45), Maggie Hassan (D): 41 (43)
● NH-Gov: Until now, it was never completely clear if GOP state Rep. Frank Edelblut was officially running for governor or still only in exploration mode. But on Wednesday, Edelblut told New Hampshire Primary Source, "I am running for governor." Most New Hampshire state representatives are Some Dudes with a nice title, but Edelblut has dumped at least $500,000 of his own money into his campaign so far, so he may be able to self-fund his way into contention. Edelblut currently faces state Executive Councilor Chris Sununu in the September primary; Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and state Sen. Jeanie Forrester are also considering.
● IA-03: After spending over a year flirting with a bid for this swing seat, ex-Gov. Chet Culver told The Des Moines Register's Jason Noble on Friday that he won't seek any office in 2016. Culver, a Democrat, badly lost his re-election bid in 2010, but he's shown no interest in quitting politics. In any case, the June Democratic primary to face freshman Rep. David Young remains a fight between rich guy Mike Sherzan and veteran Jim Mowrer, who ran in the 4th last cycle; former state Senate candidate Desmund Adams is also in, but he's raised very little money. Iowa's filing deadline is March 18, so the field is likely set here.
● IL-15: The March 15 GOP primary for this safely red seat is coming up soon, and Rep. John Shimkus is wisely taking his contest against tea party friendly-state Sen. Kyle McCarter seriously. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 24, Shimkus spent a hefty $793,000, and he had $996,000 left in the bank. By contrast, McCarter spent just $138,000 during this time (not including $54,000 worth of bad donations he had to refund), and he had $107,000 left. The anti-tax Club for Growth has spent $275,000 against Shimkus so far while the well-funded US Chamber of Commerce is backing the incumbent, though they haven't dropped any money here yet.
● MI-01: On Thursday, retired Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman announced that he would seek the GOP nod for this open northern Michigan seat. Bergman is a first-time candidate and it's unclear if he'll have the resources to run a credible campaign, but it sounds like he's worth keeping an eye on. According to a February MIRS News article that Kyle Melinn generously made available to us, local conservatives say Bergman has connections across this large district and is capable of raising enough money to be competitive. Bergman joins state Sen. Tom Casperson, who has the support of retiring Rep. Dan Benishek, and ex-state Sen. Jason Allen in the August primary. Romney carried this seat 54-45, but local and national Democrats are excited about former state party head Lon Johnson.
● MI-07: EMILY's List has endorsed state Rep. Gretchen Driskell's campaign against Republican Rep. Tim Walberg. Romney carried this southern Michigan seat, and Team Blue is optimistic that Driskell can make this a race. Driskell has raised a credible amount of money, and the DCCC has included her in their top-tier "Red to Blue" list.
● NC-12: On Thursday, ex-state Sen. Malcolm Graham created an exploratory committee ahead of a likely bid for this redrawn seat, though he hasn't announced he's in yet. Right now, North Carolina's filing deadline is March 25, though things could get delayed if the state's new congressional map is rejected in federal court. Freshman Rep. Alma Adams, who beat Graham in the 2014 primary, is seeking re-election in a seat that includes half of her current district but none of her old Greensboro base, and a number of Charlotte Democrats are making noises about running against her.
● NC-13: On Wednesday, GOP state Rep. John Blust announced that he would seek this newly-drawn seat. Blust joins state Sen. Andrew Brock and perennial candidate Vernon Robinson in the June primary, though a number of other politicians are talking about getting in. Indeed, the Rhino Times says that state Rep. Jon Hardister "has said that he intends to run," though they note he hasn't made an announcement, while they also add ex-state Rep. Laura Wiley to the list of possible GOP candidates. The filing deadline is in late March.
However, North Carolina's new congressional map has not yet been approved in federal court. Right now, the new 13th District is a Schrodinger's seat: No one knows if it will exist in November, or if there will be a completely different district in its place. However, while politicians like Blust have noted this, the simple fact is that if they really want to go to Congress, they need to run under the map they have, not some hypothetical map that may exist later.
● NJ-03: While Obama carried this South Jersey seat 52-47, Democrats haven't had any success recruiting a viable candidate against Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur. The filing deadline is April 4, and it sounds like local Democrats are done hoping that someone will jump in before then. On Thursday, the Burlington County Democratic Committee endorsed Frederick LaVergne, a Some Dude who took 1 percent here in 2014 while running as an independent. In New Jersey, county party endorsements tend to carry a lot of weight in primaries and Burlington makes up more than half the district, so this is no minor thing. Unless there's a major surprise soon, it looks like we can take this seat off the big board this cycle.
● NV-03: We recently noted that while nutter Assemblywoman Michele Fiore has filed with the FEC, she's never officially said she's in. Well, Fiore appeared at a Thursday GOP primary debate with the other contenders, so it looks like she's running for real. Nevada's filing deadline is March 18, so we'll know for sure soon enough. Obama narrowly carried this suburban Las Vegas seat, and Democrats would be delighted to face Fiore. The assemblywoman's obsession with guns and poor relationship with the GOP establishment would give Team Blue their best chance to score a pickup here.
Unfortunately, Fiore will be competing with wealthy perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian and former conservative think tank head Andy Matthews for the same pool of tea party voters, which will make it easier for state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson to come out on top in June. The well-funded Roberson is exactly the type of Republican who plays well in this area and unless the primary goes absolutely haywire, Democrats are just going to have to find a way to beat him if they want this seat. National Democrats and Sen. Harry Reid have consolidated behind Jacky Rosen, the president of a prominent Reform synagogue in Las Vegas, but she needs to get past lawyer Jesse Sbaih first.
● NY-13: On Thursday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie endorsed Assemblyman Keith Wright's bid for this safely blue seat. Heastie is a former leader of the Bronx Democratic Party, and he could give Wright a boost in the area. Wright faces several opponents in the June primary.
● OH-08: Remember Jim Spurlino, a businessman who recently ran an ad claiming an unknown party tried to blackmail him into dropping out of the March 15 GOP primary? Well, it appears he actually outspent each of his rivals in the race to succeed ex-Speaker John Boehner in this safely red seat. Between Dec. 14 and Feb. 24, Spurlino dumped almost $350,000 of his own money into his campaign, and he spent $274,000 of it. Spurlino only had $70,000 left in the bank, but he may be able to do more self-funding.
Veteran Warren Davidson has emerged as the favorite of tea party-flavored groups, and he's not exactly cash poor. Davidson spent $219,000 from Jan. 1 to Feb. 24 (unlike his main rivals, Spurlino filed a pre-special election form covering an extra two weeks of activity, so these aren't perfect apples to apples comparisons), and he had $283,000 on hand. While Davidson loaned his campaign $100,000 during this period, he also brought in $264,000 from donors. And unlike Spurlino, Davidson has allies who are spending on his behalf. The Club for Growth has already dropped $400,000 for Davidson, and they're promising to spend even more.
Two state legislators closer to the establishment are also in the hunt. State Rep. Tim Derickson spent $146,000 from the first of the year to Feb. 24, and he only had $76,000 left. The good news for Derickson is that a group called Right Way Initiative recently spent $450,000 on his behalf, so he at least has some air support. State Sen. Bill Beagle spent $207,000 during this period and he had $124,000 left, but no major outside groups have come to his aid yet. Beagle hails from the less-populous northern part of the district near Dayton, and he's hoping to run up the score there while his Cincinnati-area rivals duke it out down south. Note that there will actually be two GOP primaries on the March 15 ballot, one to fill the final months of Boehner's term and one for the regular two-year term beginning in 2017. It's always possible that someone will win only special primary and enter the House as a lame-duck.
● OH-14: While ex-state Rep. Matt Lynch has very little money and no major outside support, Rep. David Joyce isn't taking any chances in the March 15 GOP primary. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 24, Joyce outspent Lynch $446,000 to $38,000; Lynch had just $14,000 left in the bank while Joyce had $550,000 on hand. The US Chamber of Commerce has also been running ads for the incumbent. While Romney only narrowly carried this seat, Team Blue only has two weak candidates running here.
● WA-07: We're at the phase in the once-in-a-generation open seat race in the Seattle-based 7th District where the candidates are lining up their endorsements, which Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer helpfully totals up. State Sen. Pramila Jayapal has lately nailed down some support from national-level figures, including the National Organization for Women PAC, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, environmentalist Bill McKibben, and, as of Friday, Democracy for America.
State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw's endorsements are more locally focused: another city councilor (Debora Juarez), a number of local environmental activists, and noted mountaineer Jim Whittaker (not really a political figure, but certainly a local celebrity). Jayapal and Walkinshaw shared a joint endorsement from one of the key local unions, the Aerospace Machinists (who represent Boeing's blue-collar workforce). And King County Councilor Joe McDermott (no relation to retiring Rep. Jim McDermott) reeled in a few establishment big names: King County Executive Dow Constantine and state Sen. Sharon Nelson. This seat is safely blue.
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.