● AL-Sen, AL-Gov: Fitting in perfectly with the Trumpian disregard of democratic norms, GOP Gov. Robert Bentley has appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the Senate seat just vacated by newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite the fact that Strange has reportedly been investigating Bentley for many months in connection with a sordid sex scandal. In fact, according to Politico, Alabama Republicans tried to steer Bentley away from tapping Strange, citing the obvious conflict of interest and terrible optics, but he was not to be deterred. Actually, for a guy who's been accused of using state resources to conceal an affair with a staffer, this kind of kiss-off to the public makes total sense.
And Strange may have some taint about him for seeking and accepting the post, especially because of his own odd behavior. Strange now claims that he never said his office was investigating Bentley, but back in early November—before Election Day—Strange sent a letter to the state legislature, asking it to halt an impeachment inquiry into Bentley's activities "until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed." Lawmakers did as Strange asked, explaining at the time that the attorney general was conducting "a separate investigation of the governor."
Yet it wasn't until late December that Strange publicly disputed the legislature's statement—after Donald Trump won and after he said he'd nominate Sessions as attorney general, creating a vacancy that Strange openly coveted. And some Republicans are publicly voicing their disgust: State Auditor Jim Zeigler declared that the whole matter "stinks," noting that Bentley now gets to select a new state attorney general, who either will or will not inherit an investigation into the governor—who knows?
Strange will have to go before voters in a special election next year to serve out the final two years of Sessions' term. The winner of that prize will then be up for re-election for a full term in 2020, and it could be someone other than Strange. State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, whom Bentley also considered as a replacement for Sessions, called Strange's appointment "awkward," and said that he might run for the Senate himself in 2018. If he's prepared to make an issue of Bentley's decision-making process and Strange's evasive maneuvers, we could see some fireworks.
Marsh, though, also said he might run for governor, which could be an easier race since Bentley will be term-limited. However, lots of Republicans are apt to pile into that contest, so a straight one-on-one with Strange might in fact offer more of an opening. Zeigler, too, hasn't ruled out a gubernatorial bid, so it's possible he's out there attacking Bentley to help buttress his profile as an anti-corruption crusader.
However, Strange does have time on his side. The GOP primary isn't scheduled for another year and a half, and Strange will have time to raise money in D.C. and get his name out. If there are new developments with the Bentley scandal, Strange could get dragged back into the muck. But the GOP-dominated legislature was already moving very slowly with its impeachment proceedings even before Strange's November letter, and it's unclear if this whole mess will renew calls for the governor's head. But whatever the case, it's unlikely this is the last we've heard of this bizarre affair.
● FL-Sen: Sen. Bill Nelson has a lot of things to worry about in 2018, and he's rather not add a Democratic primary to the list. Still, state Sen. Randolph Bracy says he's considering challenging Nelson. Bracy said he might decide after the legislative session ends in May, but noted that he didn't have a timetable. Even if Bracy does go for it, he has little chance of actually beating Nelson or even making it close. However, with the very rich GOP Gov. Rick Scott flirting with a bid, Nelson can't afford many distractions.
● MI-Gov: This week, Detroit Health Director Abdul El-Sayed sent word that he was resigning his post and unexpectedly announced that he would seek the Democratic nod for governor next year. El-Sayed seems to have left a good impression during his tenure, but there's no indication yet that he'll have the resources or support to win next year. El-Sayed joins ex-state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer in the primary, while Rep. Dan Kildee is also considering.
● NJ-Gov: Fairleigh Dickinson University is out with the first poll of June's Democratic primary, but all it tells us is that very few voters are paying attention right now. Ex-Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy ties "someone else" 17-17, with state Sen. Ray Lesniak at 7 and Assemblyman John Wisniewski at 6. However, Murphy has far more money at his disposal than any of his rivals, and he has the support of most of the state's influential Democratic establishment, so he'll have a far easier time getting his name out than the rest of the field.
Meanwhile, FDU only sampled 275 Republicans, just below the 300-person threshold we consider to be minimally acceptable. Still, this may be the first poll ever released testing "comedian" Joe Piscopo, who trails Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno 18-12 here. Piscopo has expressed interest in this race but hasn't announced he's in.
● OH-Gov: While termed-out GOP Gov. John Kasich has long been an ally of Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a likely candidate to succeed him, there's reportedly been some tension between their camps recently. Last month, Taylor sided with Trump and supported a successful effort to oust a Kasich confidant as chair of the state Republican Party. Unnamed operatives close to Kasich recently suggested that they were considering abandoning Taylor and instead backing state Attorney General Mike DeWine. However, Kasich himself seems to be on Team Taylor, and he recently reaffirmed that he'll back her if she runs.
● NJ-05: Pretty much every cycle, at least one cable news personality thinks about running for Congress but never goes for it. Over the years we've needed to deal with flirtations from Chris Matthews, Geraldo Rivera, and Larry Kudlow, among others. This time, the New York Observer says that local Republicans are wondering whether Fox gasbag Lou Dobbs will step up and challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer in this competitive North Jersey seat.
There's no sign, though, that the nativist Dobbs is actually interested, and he's been mentioned for years for various offices; he even openly talked about running for president in 2009, but needless to say, that never went anywhere. Of course, now that Donald Trump is sitting in the White House, the idea of a Rep. Lou Dobbs seems a lot less absurd than it should.
A number of less-infamous other Republicans have been mentioned for this seat, which narrowly backed Trump 49-48. Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi is the only one who has publicly expressed interest, while Assemblymen Robert Auth and Parker Space have been name-dropped. The Observer also mentions Republican State Chairman Samuel Raia, the mayor of the small town of Saddle River, who reportedly has money to burn. Ex-Rep. Scott Garrett also hasn't ruled out a comeback bid, though national Republicans wouldn't be happy to see such a difficult politician try again, especially after he lost to Gottheimer 51-47.
● NV-03: Last year, NRCC head Steve Stivers said he hoped that Joe Heck would try to return to the House in 2018, but Heck sounded very reluctant to mount another campaign so soon after his Senate bid narrowly failed. And sure enough, Heck has now taken a new job with a political consulting firm. He went on to tell Politico that, while he wasn't ruling out another run for office someday, any such bid "certainly" wouldn't come in 2018. Heck would have made a formidable candidate against freshman Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, but she'll be a top GOP target regardless in this 48-47 Trump district in suburban Las Vegas.
● Pres-by-LD, MA State Senate, MA State House: Our project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation hits Massachusetts, one of the few states where Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers. You can find our master list of states here, which we'll be updating as we add new states; you can also find all our data from 2016 and past cycles here.
While the Bay State is open to electing Republicans like Charlie Baker to the governor's office, it usually prefers Democrats for almost every other post. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump 61-33, a larger margin that Barack Obama's already-dominant 61-38 win over ex-Gov. Mitt Romney four years ago. But while Obama carried all 40 state Senate seats, Clinton won "just" 37 of them. Clinton also took 141 of the commonwealth's 160 state House seats (hey, why aren't they called "commonwealth House seats"?), trading seven Obama seats for 13 Romney districts.
Democrats hold a 34 to six supermajority in the state Senate, with two Democrats representing Trump seats and five Republicans hailing from Clinton districts. Interestingly, Trump's best seat, called Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex (Massachusetts state Senate seats are named for the counties that they include, somewhat like constituencies in the U.K. or Canada, rather than just being identified with a number), is held by second-term Democratic state Sen. Anne Gobi. This seat, located west of the city of Worcester, went for Obama by all of six votes in 2012 but backed Trump 51-41. However, Gobi won re-election 54-46.
The bluest GOP-held seat is Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex, which includes Wellesley College and part of Attleboro near Rhode Island. Clinton won 58-36, a big swing from Obama's 53-46 victory, but Republican incumbent Richard Ross won a fourth term 60-40. The entire state Senate is up every two years, though it's very unlikely the GOP will retake the majority they lost in 1958 anytime soon.
Over in the lower chamber, the Democrats hold a 125-35 supermajority. Five Democrats hold Trump seats, while 21 Republicans represent Clinton districts. The bluest GOP-held seat is 1st Essex in the northernmost part of the state (districts in the lower chamber are almost entirely named for just one county and numbered from there), which backed Clinton 59-35; the reddest Democratic seat is 36th Middlesex near Lowell, which supported Trump 51-43. The most Trumpy seat in this anti-Trump commonwealth is 3rd Hampden south of Springfield, which backed Trump 53-41. The entire state House is also up in 2018, and there hasn't been a GOP speaker Democrats took over the chamber in 1954.
P.S. Middlesex and Suffolk, the home state Senate seat of Daily Kos Elections' Jeff Singer, backed Clinton 80-16, while 18th Suffolk in the House supported her 80-14. We tried, America.
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.