● ME-Gov: The race to succeed the thankfully termed-out GOP Gov. Paul LePage is developing slowly, but we may have some developments soon. On the Democratic side, car dealer Adam Lee tells the Portland Press Herald's Scott Thistle that he's close to deciding. TV commercials for the car dealerships starring Lee have recently looked a little more candidate-like, with Lee telling the viewer, "Lee may be just different enough for you," though Lee denies that politics have anything to do with the message. Lee is a prominent Democratic donor and a board member on the state League of Conservation Voters and his late mother was a prominent Democratic advisor, so he may have the connections he'd need to do well.
A number of other Democrats are also making noises about getting in. Businessman Adam Cote, who lost a 2008 open-seat House primary to now-Rep. Chellie Pingree, says he's "almost positive I will run". Ex-state Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond also says he'll decide in the next few months. State Attorney General Janet Mills, a prominent LePage opponent, also is publicly expressing interest. (In Maine, the attorney general is appointed by the legislature rather than elected by the voters.) In the past, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (who also holds an appointed position) has expressed interest, while Pingree, former state House Speaker Mark Eves, former state Rep. Adam Goode, and wealthy businessman Lucas St. Clair haven't ruled it out.
On the GOP side, the big question seems to be what Sen. Susan Collins will do. Collins, who took third place in the 1994 race two years before winning her Senate seat, has continued to leave the door open to a bid, with her spokesperson reiterating that she'll "assess how best she can continue to serve the people of Maine." Mary Mayhew, the state health and human services commissioner and a LePage ally, has only publicly not ruled out a bid, but she's been a rumored candidate for a while.
State party chair Rick Bennett, who took third place in the 2012 Senate primary, has expressed interest, while state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason says he expects to decide in a few months. State Sen. Roger Katz and state House Minority Leader Josh Tardy have also expressed interest in the past, while Rep. Bruce Poliquin hasn't said no. The Press Herald also mentions ex-state Sen. Philip Harriman, though it's unclear how interested he is.
A few independents have also talked about getting in, with businessman Shawn Moody saying he'll decide in a few weeks. Moody ran in 2010 and took just 5 percent in the general election, but since then, he's served on the board of trustees for the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System. Last fall, Maine voted to implement an instant-runoff system, meaning that independents no longer need to fear playing spoiler. However, it's not clear if the system will be in place in 2018, and the state Senate just voted to ask the state Supreme Court for a legal opinion on whether instant-runoff is even constitutional.
● AZ-Sen: Two months after losing the 2016 GOP primary to Sen. John McCain 51-40, ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward announced that she would challenge Sen. Jeff Flake in the 2018 primary. Flake made his share of intra-party enemies after criticizing Donald Trump during the presidential race, but Flake haters haven't shown much interest in Ward, who ran an underfunded campaign last time. Ward is trying to argue that she can win, and she's out with a poll from PMI showing her leading Flake 30-23. The memo says that a November PMI poll showed Flake up 31-29.
PMI isn't a pollster we see much from. But last July, PMI released a poll on behalf of Paul Nehlen, who was challenging Speaker Paul Ryan in the GOP primary for WI-01. PMI found Ryan up just 43-32; about a month later, Ryan won 84-16, not at all close to what PMI found.
● MI-Sen: Republicans hope that Donald Trump's narrow win in Michigan is a good omen for their chances against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow next year, but the GOP field is only slowly taking shape. Longtime Rep. Fred Upton hasn't ruled out a bid, and ex-state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville recently told The Detroit Free Press that he's also considering. Richardville, who was termed-out of the state Senate in 2014, echoed Trump's rhetoric, declaring that he'd be more interested in running, "if that (Washington, D.C.) swamp is drained somewhat over the next 100 days."
● PA-Sen: GOP Rep. Pat Meehan recently announced that he wouldn't challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey next year, but Team Red still hopes to give Casey a tough race in a state that Trump narrowly carried. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos, a GOP fundraiser, reportedly has met with national Republican officials, and he's confirmed that he's thinking about getting in. Bartos briefly ran for the House in the 16th District last cycle, but dropped out long before the primary. It's unclear if Bartos is willing or able to do any self-funding.
State Rep. Rick Saccone, who represents a seat near Pittsburgh, recently filed an exploratory committee, though for some reason, his paperwork came out looking like a ransom note. Saccone recently confirmed he's planning to kick off his Senate bid at the end of the month. We don't have video of Saccone's interview, so we can't tell if he was blinking "help me" in Morse code or not.
A few other Republicans have been mentioned. State House Majority Leader Dave Reed recently didn't rule out a gubernatorial bid, saying in January that he was focusing on the legislature for the next six months. Now, state Republican Party power broker Bob Asher tells The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Tamari that people are encouraging Reed to run against Casey. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania House Republicans acknowledges that Reed has been approached for a Senate bid and only says he's focused on the legislature, so he's not saying no.
Party insiders also tell Tamari that they see ex-Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, a former county commissioner in swingy Bucks County, as a possible statewide candidate. But Cawley, who has already been name-dropped as a possible gubernatorial candidate, has said nothing publicly about his interest in facing either Casey or Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. More Republicans have talked about challenging Wolf than Casey, but some of those would-be gubernatorial candidates might decide it makes more sense to face Casey than work their way through a crowded GOP primary.
● TX-Sen: Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro has expressed interest in challenging GOP Sen. Cruz next year, and he said on Saturday that he'd take "probably about another eight weeks to make a decision or so." Fellow Rep. Beto O'Rourke has also talked about facing Cruz. Texas Democrats reportedly believe O'Rourke is more likely to run, though it's unclear if the two congressmen are unwilling to face off in a primary.
● CA-Gov: Powerful state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León has been mentioned as a possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate for a while. De León, who is termed out of office next year, publicly addressed the campaign in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, and he didn't say no. Instead, De León says of his 2018 plans, "I am exploring my options but I am focused on my present day job, which is being leader of the Senate." When he was explicitly asked if he was interested in running for governor or the U.S. Senate he offered a similar answer, concluding, "When the time comes, we are going to explore all options to see where we can continue to do work for the people of California."
However, while it's only February the year before the election, time is not on De León's side if he's truly interested. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been running since 2015, while Treasurer John Chiang and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa entered the race last year. While De León has earned some attention for his prominent opposition to Trump, he'd almost certainly begin the race with far less name recognition than any of the declared candidates. De León has raised $1.6 million for a possible lieutenant governor campaign that he could use for a gubernatorial run, but his would-be rivals are already out raising more cash. If Sen. Dianne Feinstein retired in 2018 De León could run for her seat, but Feinstein is already holding fundraisers for what looks like a likely re-election bid, and there's no indication that De León is interested in challenging her.
● FL-Gov: Florida Politics reports that Chris King, who runs an Orlando-area real estate company, is considering seeking the Democratic nomination for this open seat next year. While King himself hasn't said anything publicly, he's reportedly met with D.C.-based national consultants to discuss what Florida Politics characterizes as "an outsider's run with a mixture of liberal social and business-oriented views." King himself has not been involved in Democratic politics, though he's been vocal in calling for more affordable housing and for churches to embrace the LGBT community. It's unclear if King plans to self-fund or how much he's interested in investing, but winning in Florida is not a cheap endeavor.
So far, a number of Democrats have made noises about getting in, but no one has made it official yet. Ex-Rep. Gwen Graham, who served one term in a conservative North Florida seat, has said she plans to run, though she said late last year that she was delaying her decision while her husband undergoes treatment for prostate cancer. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, wealthy trial attorney John Morgan, and wealthy Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine have also talked about running, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum may also be flirting with a bid. Democrats haven't won the governor's office since Lawton Chiles was narrowly re-elected against Jeb Bush in 1994, but Team Blue hopes 2018 will be the year the GOP's winning streak finally breaks.
● IL-Gov: Last week, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber announced that he would seek the Democratic nod to face Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. There's no indication yet that Daiber has the money or support he'll need to boost his name recognition outside Madison, a St. Louis area county that isn't home to many Democratic voters.
● RI-Gov: Back in May, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin declined to rule out challenging Gov. Gina Raimondo in next year's Democratic primary. Kilmartin is termed-out of office in 2018 and he's still not closing the door to a potential campaign against the governor, but he's evidently in absolutely no hurry to make up his mind. Kilmartin recently told WPRI's Ted Nesi that he's at least a year away from starting "the thought process" on what to run for in 2018, if anything.
Kilmartin isn't the only Democrat who has made noises about facing Raimondo. Last December, attorney Clay Pell didn't rule anything out either; Pell ran against then-Treasurer Raimondo in the 2014 gubernatorial primary and took third place, finishing behind her 42-27. Former Rhode Island State Police head Brendan Doherty, who ran as a Republican for the House in 2012, also hasn't said no to a Democratic primary bid.
As we've noted before, there have been tensions between Raimondo and labor for years from her successful effort as treasurer to cut pensions five years ago. Raimondo's move may have saved the state's badly underfunded retirement system, but it left many angry. Raimondo has also had some big stumbles as governor, such as the brutal reaction to the state's botched rollout of a new tourism slogan ("Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer"), which was mercifully given a quick death. But Raimondo is a strong fundraiser, and her vocal opposition to Trump could help her make inroads with critics on the left. A number of Republicans have also talked about challenging her next year.
● CA-34: Candidate filing closed last week for the April 4 special election to succeed Xavier Becerra in this safely blue downtown Los Angeles seat. All the candidates will face off on one ballot; in the very likely event that no one takes a majority, the two contenders with the most votes will advance to the June 6 general election. Hillary Clinton carried this seat 84-11, and with two minor Republicans likely to split the seat's small red bloc, the two general election finalists are likely to both be Democrats.
The Los Angeles Times has a list of the 23 candidates who have filed here. The frontrunner looks like Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who has raised more money and secured more prominent endorsements than his many rivals. Former Los Angeles City Council aide Sarah Hernandez raised a surprisingly strong amount of cash before December, while former Bernie Sanders staffer Arturo Carmona is hoping to rally Sanders' voters to victory. There are plenty of other contenders and in a low turnout race, one of them could pull off a surprise and advance to June.
● GA-06: The filing deadline for the special election to replace Republican Tom Price is at 1:00 PM ET on Wednesday, so we'll know very soon who is in and who isn't. All the candidates will face off on one ballot on April 18 and in the likely event that no candidate clears 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will take place on June 20. Donald Trump won this suburban Atlanta seat just 48-47, and Democrats hope to pull off an upset in June in what is usually reliably red turf.
Wealthy ex-state Sen. Dan Moody has joined the field for Team Red, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says he has the support of several prominent former aides to ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue and Sen. David Perdue. Another wealthy GOP candidate, Johns Creek Councilor Bob Gray, has also launched what Politico describes as the "first installment in a six-figure ad buy" on cable TV. But thanks to the candidate's delivery and some bad writing and editing, Gray completely steps on his message mid-way through the spot.
Gray declares, "I believe we need to send citizens to D.C., not attorneys and not politicians who will be there for a short period of time, solve problems, and then go home." You know what he actually means but even in context, it really sounds like the candidate is objecting to sending politicians and attorneys to Congress, even though they'll solve America's problems and go home. But Gray's Trumpesque rhetoric is delivered far more clearly. While Gray doesn't mention Donald Trump, his calls to "drain the swamp" and "make America great again" don't leave much doubt about what kind of campaign he's at least attempting to run.
● KS-04: On Saturday, Kansas Democrats chose civil rights attorney Jim Thompson as their nominee in the April 11 special election to replace Republican Mike Pompeo, who was just confirmed at Donald Trump's CIA director (in name only). Thompson defeated former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney 21-18 on the second ballot after leading 17 to 16 in the first round of voting; he'll now go on to face state Treasurer Ron Estes, whom Republicans tapped as their standard-bearer last week (and who, as it happens, beat McKinney for his current job in 2010).
Thompson made the contours of his campaign clear, saying he has "no doubt about that this is going to be a referendum on Trump policies." Republicans responded by (as per usual) trying to link Thompson to Pelosi. At the very least, this race will offer some hints as to which playbook—the old or the new—will work here. Trump won Kansas' 4th Congressional District, which is centered around Wichita, by a punishing 60-33 margin, but just as Democrats are fired up with unprecedented intensity, some Trump voters might already be turned off to the man they voted for, or just simply find themselves less motivated to show up for a random special election than they were back in November.
So even in a seat this Trumpy, Thompson has little choice but to try to make the race all about the occupant of the White House; any other approach would almost certainly be pointless. While the odds are indisputably against him, we're in the middle of a moment, and Thompson understands he has to do what he can to capture it.
● SC-05: Another Republican has joined the likely special election to succeed Mick Mulvaney, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as Donald Trump's budget chief. The newest candidate is Chad Connelly, who served as state party chair until he jumped ship for the Republican National Committee in 2013. Connelly joins anti-Common Core activist Sheri Few; attorney Tom Mullikin; state Rep. Ralph Norman; state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope; and attorney Kris Wampler in the GOP primary, and there's plenty of time for more candidates to enter.
According to The Post and Courier, the primary for this seat will be held 11 weeks after Mulvaney resigns, with a primary runoff held a few weeks later if no one takes a majority. The general election will be held 18 weeks after the seat opens, but the GOP will be heavily favored in this northern South Carolina seat, a district that Trump carried 57-39.
● Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso reports in:
Minnesota HD-32B: This is an open Republican seat located in Chisago County, on the northeastern end of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. The Democrats have nominated Laurie Warner, a former member of the Duluth City Council who was the Democratic nominee in this district in the past two cycles. The Republicans have nominated Anne Neu, who managed Chip Cravaack's successful 2010 House run. This seat went 61-32 for Donald Trump in 2016, while it backed Mitt Romney by a 55-43 margin in 2012.
The seat is open because, while GOP state Rep. Bob Barrett said he lived in the district, he didn't actually reside in what he claimed was his home six months before the election as the law required. The state Supreme Court ruled in September that Barrett was ineligible to serve because he actually lived outside the district. However, since the ruling was so close to Election Day, Barrett remained on the November ballot, but the election was nullified in advance and a February special was ordered. (Hat-tip Hughsterg.)
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.