● TX-Gov: Texas Republicans have spent decades refining their particular brand of conservatism into a very pure grade, but that never seems to stop them from pursuing an ever more potent high. In any sane world, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, who was first elected in 2014, would rate somewhere between "extremely conservative" and "extremely, extremely conservative," but that's may not be good enough for some Lone Star Republicans. A recent piece from the Associated Press suggests that there's "tension" between Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, due, among other things, to Patrick's full-throated support for Donald Trump in contrast with Abbott's efforts to distance himself from his party's nominee last year.
This is a phenomenon we've already seen unfold in other states (like Nevada, for instance), though the hostility between the two men seems to spring from a much deeper well than their views on the presidential race. The AP cites several other examples of discord, such as Patrick's attempts to get to Abbott's right on several issues—Patrick wants to follow North Carolina's ruinous example and pass a clone of HB2, the notorious "bathroom bill"—and his efforts to undermine Abbott's proposals to expand preschool in 2015, which Patrick advisers blasted as "Godless" and "socialistic."
Patrick has long insisted he has no desire to challenge Abbott, but as unnamed "Texas politicos" cited by the AP correctly observe, this is the sort of race where Patrick has to pretend as though he has no interest in running until the very instant he's actually prepared to launch a campaign—he can't just idly muse about primarying an incumbent in his own party. And strange as this may seem to say, he doesn't have a ton of time to make up his mind. Texas usually holds its primaries very early, and campaigns there cost a bloody fortune: Patrick has $11 million on-hand, while Abbott has a far larger $29 million war chest. If Patrick's really ready to commit fratricide, he better get on down to the lab right quick and start cooking up a new batch of that Red Sky.
● CA-Sen, MD-Sen, VT-Sen: Politico checks in with a few senators who, for reasons mostly having to do with age or length of service, could potentially retire next year, but so far, no one's saying anything conclusive. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is 83 and has been in office since 1992, said, "I'm not going to answer that now," but her longtime colleague who just retired, Barbara Boxer, says she thinks Feinstein will run again. (The two, however, have never enjoyed a close relationship.)
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who still considers himself an "independent" despite seeking the Democrats' presidential nomination last year, also hasn't decided whether he's running again, though he says, "I think I will." Sanders is 75 and has sat in the Senate since 2007; prior to that, he served in the House for 16 years. Most frustrating is Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, another Democrat, who mystifyingly says, "Everything that I am planning to do would indicate that I am, but I'm not gonna make any announcements yet." He sounds like an election analyst trying to read tea leaves, but he could just go and brew his own cup! Cardin, 73, has held public office continuously since 1967.
● CA-Gov: The 2018 race to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown began long ago, with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom kicking off his campaign all the way back in April of 2015; two other Democrats, state Treasurer John Chiang and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, entered the race last year.
Newsom already had millions in his statewide account before he entered the governor's race, and he reports having $11.5 million on-hand. Chiang, who also transferred millions into his gubernatorial campaign, has a smaller $7 million in the bank: During the second half of 2016, Newsom outraised Chiang $2.7 million to $1.93 million. Villaraigosa says he's raised $2.7 million since he entered the race in November, though he didn't reveal how much he had on-hand. A fourth Democrat, ex-state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, only opened a campaign account this week; Eastin has been out of office since 2003, and there's no sign she has the support she'll need to raise the huge amount of money necessary to win statewide in California.
● IA-Gov: On Wednesday, Rich Leopold, a former director of Iowa's Department of Natural Resources under former Gov. Chet Culver, became the first Democrat to kick off a bid for governor this cycle. Iowa Starting Line, a smart local tipsheet, describes Leopold as well-connected within the environmental movement but otherwise little-known to most donors and activists. That's generally a tough profile to carry into a statewide race like this, since other, better-known Democrats are considering the race and at least one or two are likely to get in, though none have done so yet.
The Republican field is also in a state of flux, albeit of a very different sort. Gov. Terry Branstad is likely to be confirmed as Donald Trump's ambassador to China, which would elevate Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to the top spot. That pending promotion has scared off most would-be opponents, though trash-mouth Rep. Steve King had previously said he was still considering the race. However, the Hotline now reports that King says he's "less likely" to run against Reynolds, which means he's less likely to run, period, since there's no way she won't seek a full term in her own right.
In fact, Reynolds just blasted out a press release on Wednesday touting her fundraising haul from 2016. During the last year, she says she took in $638,000 and has "nearly" $1.1 million in the bank. Unless you're very weird, you don't go around raising money like that if you're not planning to run for office.
● MA-Gov: Newton Mayor Setti Warren is raising money ahead of a possible 2018 bid against GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, but two other Bay State Democrat are eyeing this contest. Ex-state Sen. Dan Wolf, the founder and chief executive of Cape Air, recently told the Boston Globe that he hadn't ruled out a run, saying it was "premature to make a decision." Wolf ran for governor in 2013 but dropped out after the State Ethics Commission ruled him ineligible to run due to contracts his company had with the state. The commission eventually created an exemption for people in that sort of situation, so Wolf is free to run if he chooses to.
We also have another Democrat who is reportedly looking at a bid. Former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez, who served under Gov. Deval Patrick until early 2013, hasn't said anything publicly about his plans, but unnamed people close to him tell the Globe that he's "seriously exploring" a challenge against Baker. While Massachusetts is a solidly blue state, Baker has usually posted strong approval ratings, and he won't be easy for anyone to unseat.
● NJ-Gov: This week, there were developments in each party's primary to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Chris Christie this year. The Democratic contest has been a duel between ex-Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy, who has earned support from powerful members of the state party establishment, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who was a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter last year. There may be a third notable Democratic candidate soon enough, though. This week, state Sen. Ray Lesniak left the law firm he co-founded and acknowledged he was once again considering running for governor. Lesniak insists that he hasn't "been trying to be cute on this," saying that, "My mind's been going like a roller coaster between running for governor, staying in the Senate or just retiring from politics. And I'm finally at peace with my decision and I'll announce it next week."
Lesniak isn't kidding about this being an insane ride. Back in July of 2015, he unambiguously declared, "I'm running for governor." Then in October of 2016 he said, "I'm gonna stay in the Senate." One month later came reports that Lesniak was reconsidering. In December, Lesniak said, "I'm not running. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of running should an opportunity present itself." If Lesniak had just stuck with his original instincts over the last year-and-a-half and just ran like he said he would, his potential gubernatorial campaign would almost certainly be stronger today. But apparently, Lesniak enjoys going all George Costanza on us and doing the opposite of whatever he's inclined to otherwise do.
Given how chaotic this whole thing has been, we're not sure we can trust Lesniak to run or not run until the candidate filing deadline has passed in April. But if Lesniak gets in and stays in, that's probably bad news for Wisniewski, since both legislators likely will be competing for the same pool of voters who aren't keen on supporting an establishment-backed candidate like Murphy. The primary is June 6.
On the GOP side, state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick announced that he would not run to succeed Christie this year. Bramnick is an ally of Christie, which probably wouldn't be an asset in a general election given how unpopular the governor is right now. Right now, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Steve Rogers, a Trump fan who is also a member of the Board of Commissioners in the small North Jersey town of Nutley, are seeking the GOP nod. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who does not have a good relationship with Christie, is also likely to get in, while Joe Piscopo is considering for some reason.
● OH-Gov: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, a Democrat who's publicly been considering a bid for governor, now says he'll wait to make a decision until the end of the year. O'Neill is prohibited from seeking another office while on the bench (where he's served since 2013), so he'd have to step down in order to run for the governorship, which will be open next year because Republican incumbent John Kasich is termed out. A large number of other Democrats are also looking at the race, though so far no one has gotten in. Several Republicans are weighing the contest as well, and state Attorney General Mike DeWine actually announced his entry last year.
● SC-Gov: In mid-November Republican Catherine Templeton, who served as head of the state health department under Gov. Nikki Haley, said she was planning to announce her 2018 campaign in January. Templeton was planning to campaign to succeed the termed-out Haley, but Donald Trump threw a big wrench in Templeton's plans when he nominated the governor to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations. In the likely event that Haley is confirmed, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will become governor, and he'll enter the 2018 GOP primary with incumbency on his side.
Templeton hasn't ruled out challenging McMaster, but the unexpected state of events has definitely altered her plans. Templeton told The Post and Courier this week that she was calling off her planned January campaign kickoff and fundraiser. Templeton now says she "can announce our intentions in the spring," but won't do any fundraising for now.
● MT-AL: A third Democratic state representative has announced he'll seek his party’s nomination in the likely special election to succeed GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of the interior. The new contender is Kelly McCarthy, who joins his colleagues Casey Schreiner and Amanda Curtis in the hunt for the Democratic nod. There is no primary on either side, with party leaders choosing their nominees instead.
● SC-05: There are a ton of Republicans looking to run in the likely special election to succeed Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who is Donald Trump's nominee for head of the Office of Management and Budget. However, state House Majority Leader Gary Simrill has announced that he'll sit this one out.
● Demographics: One thing that Pew Research provides at the start of every Congressional session is a look at the members' religions; this year's analysis finds that Congress continues to be a heavily Christian organization even as the general public slowly becomes more religiously diverse. Currently, 90.7 percent of Congress claims to belong to a Christian denomination, which has fallen only slightly since Pew started collecting data in the early 1960s (when the proportion was 94.9 percent). That contrasts with the public at large, which is currently 71 percent Christian. Worth noting: 80 percent of Democratic members are Christian, while 99 percent of Republicans are.
The group that's most under-represented are the ranks of the "unaffiliated," who are 23 percent of the population but only 0.2 percent of Congress (a grand total of one member: Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema). Delving down into specific Christian denominations, perhaps most over-represented are Episcopalians, who form 1 percent of the population but 6.5 percent of Congress. If you're wondering who's the fastest-growing religious group, it's probably Hindus, who tripled their ranks with the new Congress. Hindu House members went from one to three, thanks to the addition of Ro Khanna in California and Raja Krishnamoorthi in Illinois, who join Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard.
If you're looking for even greater detail on specific members, Daily Kos Elections' Stephen Wolf has compiled a full database on the demographics of the 115th Congress, covering members' age, race, and sexual orientation, as well as their religion.
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.