● Special Elections: An interesting thing happened on Tuesday night, in a special election for Iowa's 89th state House District: Democrats didn't just win—though they were expected to—they won big. This, suffice it to say, is an outcome Team Blue does not typically see in oddly timed elections, so here's a little background.
Late last year, Democratic state Rep. Jim Lykam won a previous special election for the state Senate, thus setting off a second special election—the political equivalent of musical chairs. Democrats, who nominated retired community college instructor Monica Kurth, were favored to retain Lykam's seat, which is located in the city of Davenport and backed Hillary Clinton by a 52-41 margin.
But you never know with these kinds of races, which so often see turnout among Democratic voters drop disproportionately, compared to elections when there's a presidential contest on the ballot. What's more, Clinton's performance represented a huge drop from four years earlier, when Obama racked up a huge 63-36 win. That falloff seemed to mirror Democrats' misfortune statewide, and should have been cause for concern.
Kurth, however, completely smashed her Republican opponent, police officer Mike Gonzales, winning by a 72-27 margin, and that's certainly a positive sign. At the very least, a lot of Trump voters either didn't show up or switched sides.
But before we chalk this up to a surge in Democratic intensity sparked by anti-Trump furor over recent events, we need to note that Lykam won his Senate race in December by an almost identical 73-25 spread, and he even faced the exact same person, Gonzales. That Senate district, the 45th, went 55-38 for Clinton, so not too different—except that the race took place before Trump was sworn in.
Were Democrats already feeling pumped up even before Trump moved into the White House? The evidence is mixed. We also saw post-November runoffs in Louisiana (that Democrats didn't seriously contest) and a state House special election in Virginia (that they did) where the final Democratic margin was worse than Clinton's in 2016, albeit only by a little bit in each case. So we don't have a lot of data yet that supports a "Trump backlash" thesis; in fact, this Iowa state House special election is the first anywhere since the inauguration, so our sample size is as small as can be. But it's certainly not a bad start, and we'll be keeping a close eye to see whether this pattern repeats itself.
● WI-Sen, Milwaukee County Sheriff: Oh, just lovely. Some mouthbreathers in Wisconsin are pushing Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who is by many leagues the worst Democrat to hold elective office in America, to run against (actual) Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin—whom they repeatedly call a "liberal lesbian extremist" in their recruitment pitch. In response, Clarke, an unhinged Trump backer who's still angling for a job with the administration, would only say, "I love being sheriff of Milwaukee County. I never say never, but that's not really at the top of my list right now." But obviously he had no problem with the epithets his supporters have hurled at Baldwin.
Clarke would have to change parties in order to wage a Senate bid, and who knows? Maybe he could win. After all, Trump did carry Wisconsin. But no matter what, he'll have to change something if he wants to stay in office. A new PPP poll of voters in Milwaukee County finds Clarke exceptionally unpopular: Just 31 percent say they approve of the job he's doing, while 62 percent disapprove.
More importantly, among self-identified Democrats, his approval score is just 18-75, and just 13 percent of Democratic primary voters say they'd support him for re-election, while 82 percent prefer "someone else." While generic ballot matchups like these can often make incumbents look weaker than they are (it's easy to say you'll vote for the other guy if you're picturing Progressive Jesus), these numbers are just brutal for Clarke. Of course, it only makes sense: Democrats don't really take too kindly to Democrats who suck up to Trump and call Black Lives Matters protesters "thugs," "creeps," "criminals," and "race-hustlers."
All that Team Blue needs is an actual candidate to take on Clarke, who's up for re-election next year. Given the kind of shape the sheriff is in, it shouldn't be too hard to find someone who's willing to bring Clarke's ignominious career to an end—though Baldwin needs to watch out, because he could just jump into her race instead.
● CO-Gov: State Rep. Steve Lebsock, who represents a seat in suburban Denver, is the latest Democrat to say he's considering a gubernatorial bid next year, when Gov. John Hickenlooper will be termed out. Several other Democrats are looking at the race, and two are already running: state Sen. Mike Johnston and businessman Noel Ginsburg. No Republicans have entered yet, though several are also eyeing the contest, and we can apparently add one more to the list: Colorado Pols reports that state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is "apparently taking a hard look." Coffman had previously been mentioned as a potential candidate, though she hasn't yet said anything on the record.
● GA-Gov: On Monday night, Sally Yates exploded into the political consciousness when, in her capacity as acting attorney general, she said she'd refuse to enforce Trump's new executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations—then, shortly thereafter, got fired by Trump (who'd originally asked her to stay on after Attorney General Loretta Lynch resigned). But prior to joining the Justice Department in 2015 as Lynch's second-in-command, she served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and some Democrats back home immediately started wondering if they might recruit Yates to run for governor next year.
As the most visible single example of Trump resistance—and the most visible Trump victim so far—Yates could cut a compelling figure, especially given her credentials as a longtime prosecutor. But that resume can have a downside, too: When you've spent almost 30 years putting people in jail, you're bound to make some folks unhappy. In particular, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that Yates "may have alienated" some Georgia Democrats with her prosecution of former state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who in 2015 was sentenced to a year in prison for embezzling $1 million from several charities he oversaw.
Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009 that Democratic Rep. John Lewis, as influential a figure as they come in Georgia politics, tried to push the White House not to nominate her as U.S. attorney because, said the paper, Yates had sent former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell to prison for 30 months on tax evasion charges in 2006. Campbell, the Journal said, was a "friend and ally" of Lewis, though the congressman denied raising any objections to Yates over the Campbell case.
But assuming Yates is even interested, it remains to be seen whether any of this even winds up posing an obstacle for her. Right now, the most likely Democratic candidate appears to be state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who hasn't entered the race yet but wisely tweeted out some positive thoughts about Yates standing up to Trump. And so far, Yates hasn't said anything publicly, so we'll have to see how this all unfolds.
● PA-Gov: Wealthy state Sen. Scott Wagner, the one Republican to formally declare a bid for governor so far, just loaned his campaign $4 million. There's a strong chance he'll have to spend most or all of that on the GOP primary, though, as plenty of other Republicans also want in. Meanwhile, the man Wagner is hoping to beat, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, is also rich, and he spent a good chunk of his fortune to win the governorship two years ago.
This time, however, Wolf's campaign manager says he doesn't plan to self-fund, though that's precisely the sort of plan that can change. Another loaded governor, Florida Republican Rick Scott, also said he didn't expect to self-fund his re-election bid in 2014 but wound up doing just that.
● CA-32: Last cycle, Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano appeared to flirt with retirement, saying she only decided to seek a 10th term "after careful consideration"—and after dirtbag former Assemblyman Roger Hernandez announced he'd challenge her. Hernandez, a fellow Democrat, proved to be little problem—Napolitano dispatched him 62-38 in the general election—but the congresswoman did suffer what she described as a "very minor stroke" during the campaign, and her husband has been in poor health.
Napolitano is 80, so it's not unreasonable to imagine that she might decide to call it a career soon. And in fact, just before Election Day last year, she hedged, saying, "I would love to stay but it depends. I will be ready to hang it up when I am ready."
With that backdrop in mind, a former Napolitano staffer, Mary Ann Lutz, says she's preparing to run to succeed her old boss—but only if she retires. (Lutz was refreshingly clear on this point, saying she has "enormous respect" for Napolitano and "would never run against her for any office.") Lutz was also the mayor of the small city of Monrovia (pop. 37,000), though she lost re-election in 2015. If Napolitano does wind up quitting, though, it's unlikely that Lutz would be the only person interested in succeeding her.
● HI-02: Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has landed herself in some hot water, and now she's trying to scramble her way out of the pot. Gabbard, who was the first Democrat in Congress (and still one of just a handful) to meet with Trump after he won last year, recently revealed herself as a stooge for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after she took a secret trip to the war-torn country under the dictator's auspices and even met with him—then came back parroting the Assad/Putin line that the Americans are the real bad guys.
You won't be surprised to learn that Gabbard's trip was paid for by a front group that's reportedly run by anti-Semitic Assad apologists. And whatever the ultimate source of this shell organization's funding, foreign policy analyst Josh Rogin, after digging into the matter, concluded that "there's no doubt the Assad regime facilitated" Gabbard's tour.
Now, facing intense criticism over her trip—which she did not inform House leaders of, as is customary—Gabbard says she'll repay the cost of her visit. Of course, that just means that Assad's supporters will simply get their money back! If Gabbard were serious about making amends, she'd donate the sum to charity. But she most certainly is not: She hasn't changed her tune one bit, claiming that the U.S. is funding Al Qaeda and ISIS to help overthrow Assad. That's not remotely true, but that's exactly what America's enemies like to claim. It's bizarre that Gabbard should ally herself with such people.
And as we've noted before, Gabbard is just a lousy Democrat in general: She's declined to criticize Trump when given the chance; carried water for Republican mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson by introducing a bill to outlaw online gambling; won't support an assault weapons ban; and attacked Barack Obama for refusing to use the magic incantation of "radical Islamic terrorism." Hawaii can do so much better.
● MN-02, MN-08: Democrat Angie Craig, who lost to Republican Jason Lewis by a painfully close 47-45 margin in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District last year, is considering a rematch, according to a spokesman. Lewis, a conservative radio host with a history of profoundly offensive comments recorded on the air, had looked like one of the least acceptable GOP candidates in the nation, while Craig, a wealthy former healthcare executive, ran a well-financed campaign, thanks in part to a million dollars in self-funding.
But this suburban Minneapolis district stayed true to its Republican roots, and Trump carried it by that same 47-45 spread. Evidently, neither his nor Lewis' horrendous personal history was enough to do either man in. Still, the final tallies were awfully close, and this is the kind of seat Democrats will need to put in play if there's a Trump backlash in 2018.
Meanwhile, in northern Minnesota's 8th District, wealthy Republican Stewart Mills hasn't ruled out a third consecutive battle with Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, who twice beat Mills by very narrow margins. But while the 2nd has long been closely divided, the 8th charged headlong in the GOP's direction: After going 52-46 for Obama in 2012, it went 54-39 for Trump. That puts Nolan at the top of Republican target lists this cycle.
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.