● UT-Sen: This week, the Salt Lake City Tribune and the University of Utah released an eye-popping poll from Dan Jones & Associates that shows ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman demolishing Sen. Orrin Hatch, a fellow Republican, 62-21 in a hypothetical matchup. That's a very scary number for Hatch, but there are a few caveats to note before we start chanting "bring out your dead!" outside of Hatch's house.
The first thing to note is that respondents were asked if Hatch should seek an eighth term (they said no by a 78-17 margin) before the horserace question was asked. That question, particularly the information that Hatch wants an eighth (!) term, could very well have influenced respondents.
If, for instance, the poll had instead led with a question asking how voters in this conservative state felt about Huntsman's past support for the DREAM Act, the former governor may not have polled so well. As we always say, it's better to ask the horserace question up front rather than risk influencing responses.
The other strange thing is that this is a poll of 605 registered Utah voters, not GOP primary voters. Utah allows independents to register on primary day as Republicans, but registered Democrats don't have that privilege. However, the sub-sample of Republicans also favors Huntsman by a wide 49-35 margin, which is still not a good number at all for Hatch. But as we also always say, this is just one poll, and we should wait for more information. (The Tribune's article also discloses that Huntsman's brother is the paper's owner and publisher.)
We also may need to wait a while to see if we even get a Hatch/Huntsman match in the first place. Hatch hasn't announced if he'll run again, and Huntsman says he won't decide until Hatch makes his plans known. However, Huntsman hasn't ruled out challenging Hatch, and his only response to this survey was, "Regardless of poll numbers and 2018 politics, we should all be grateful for Senator Hatch's service to our state and country."
● NM-Sen, NM-Gov: Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who's decided not to seek re-election this year, had previously been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor, though he hadn't expressed any interest publicly. Now, though, he's not ruling out a gubernatorial bid—or a Senate run. That actually makes him the first Republican to hold a door open to challenging Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, who would be running for a second term next year.
That option, however, would definitely be the most difficult for Berry to pursue. The governorship will be open because Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is term-limited, and while there's sure to be a contested GOP primary, it's almost always a lot easier to win an open seat than to defeat an incumbent. There's also the possibility that Berry could run for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, something he also hasn't ruled out. That seat will be open, too, since Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is herself pursuing a gubernatorial run.
● WV-Sen: Even though Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is at the very top of GOP target lists for 2018, no Republicans have yet to step forward to oppose him. The two challengers most often discussed are Rep. Evan Jenkins, who's been publicly considering a bid, and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who hasn't ruled one out. But according to an unnamed "Republican operative with ties to Senate GOP leadership" who recently spoke to the right-wing Washington Examiner, Jenkins is the option the NRSC is most interested in. However, this could just be the claim of a canny consultant trying to boost a preferred candidate, and even the Examiner says that other contenders are also "viewed favorably" by Mitch McConnell and NRSC chief Cory Gardner.
● TN-Gov: State House Speaker Beth Harwell is one of the many Republicans who has expressed interest in running for this open seat next year, and she appears to have taken a big step in that direction. Harwell recently opened new campaign finance account for 2018 that's separate from her current one, and she raised $50,000 during the first nine days of January. Harwell has about $1 million in her old legislative account that she can transfer to a potential gubernatorial campaign.
● CA-34: The dates for the special election to replace former Rep. Xavier Becerra, who is now California's attorney general, have been set. Gov. Jerry Brown has scheduled the primary for April 4; the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to a general election on June 6. Unlike what happens with regular elections, though, if one candidate wins a majority in the first round, there won't be a second round. But given the extremely crowded field here, that's very unlikely, and since California's 34th District is heavily Democratic—Hillary Clinton won it 84-11—there's a strong chance that two Democrats will wind up facing one another in the general.
● KS-02: GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins' Wednesday retirement announcement didn't come as a huge surprise (though her decision not to run for governor did), but no one appears to have publicly expressed interest in running here yet. GOP operatives mention state Sens. Jacob Laturner and Dennis Pyle as possible candidates to Politico, as well as state Attorney General Derek Schmidt and
professional voter fraud witch hunter Secretary of State Kris Kobach, though both Schmidt and Kobach could instead run for governor next year. The 2nd backed Trump 56-37, and most of the action in this Topeka-based seat will be in the GOP primary.
Those GOP operatives also name-drop ex-Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who represented the neighboring 1st District for six years until he lost his GOP primary 56-44 to now-Rep. Roger Marshall. Huelskamp filed papers with the FEC to set up a 2018 campaign for KS-01 back in October, and while he hasn't announced that he'll oppose Marshall again, he sent out a fundraising email criticizing Marshall after his son "dabbed" in front of Paul Ryan. Huelskamp had a horrible relationship with both the House leadership and agricultural interests (John Boehner famously toasted Huelskamp's primary loss last year), and they won't want to see him back in D.C. representing either the 1st District or the 2nd.
● KS-04: The GOP has decided to hold their convention for the April 11 special election on Feb. 9. The GOP nomination will be decided that day by 126 party activists from across this Wichita-area seat. Trump won 60-33 here, and the GOP nominee should have no trouble in April.
Now that Mike Pompeo has resigned to head the CIA, more GOP politicians have announced that they'll run. Perhaps the most familiar new candidate is ex-Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who held a previous version of this seat for 14 years until he narrowly lost the 2010 Senate primary to now-Sen. Jerry Moran. In 2014, Tiahrt unexpectedly decided to challenge Pompeo in the primary, only to get pasted 63-37. It's unclear if that adventure has damaged The Todd's standing with the delegates who will decide his fate next month. State Treasurer Ron Estes and conservative radio host Joseph Ashby have also jumped in over the last few days. They join former Trump transition team member Alan Cobb, attorney George Bruce, and Wichita City Councilor Pete Meitzner in the race.
It's very tough to see a Democrat winning in a seat this red, but Team Blue may field a candidate a few steps above Some Dude. Ex-state House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney has announced he'll run; McKinney was appointed state treasurer in 2008, but lost his bid for a full term 59-41 to Estes in 2010.
● MT-AL: Rich guy Greg Gianforte, who lost last year's gubernatorial race to Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock 50-46, has made it clear he's interested in running for the House in the likely special election to succeed Interior Secretary-designate Ryan Zinke, and he announced he was in this week. Each party will choose their nominee at a convention rather than through a primary, and Gianforte may have the inside track. Last week, Gianforte circulated a letter of support signed by 117 GOP officials; since there probably won't be more than 200 delegates at the convention, 117 votes should be enough. However, unnamed Republicans told KBZK that, since delegates may change their minds after they've heard from other candidates, Gianforte shouldn't be considered a shoo-in.
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.