● SC-01: In a must-read piece, Politico's Tim Alberta checks in with South Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Sanford, our favorite real estate developer-turned political neophyte-turned congressman-turned governor-turned national conservative hero-turned national punch line-turned censured but not impeached governor-turned disgraced former governor-turned comeback seeker-turned guy who was about to lose a safely red seat-turned guy who beat Stephen Colbert's sister-turned congressman-turned Trump skeptic. So how is Sanford doing these days? Well, the Politico Magazine article is titled "I'm a Dead Man Walking."
After his 2013 special election win in the Charleston-based 1st District against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Sanford won his primary and re-election the next year without any major opposition. But in 2016, Sanford only beat then-state Rep. Jenny Horne 56-44 in the primary, even though Horne barely spent anything against him. Sanford himself barely dipped into his warchest, telling Alberta that he was saving his money for when he really needed it. And it seems Sanford's hour of need is coming up very soon. Wealthy businessman Ted Fienning, a Marine veteran who has already gotten the attention of the South Carolina GOP chattering class, confirms that he's going to run in next year's primary, and says he's going to self-fund $250,000. Sanford himself has a little more than $1 million on-hand.
Fienning claims he's not going to focus on Sanford's 2009 sex scandal, though he pointedly told Alberta that Sanford "has made international news for terrible reasons." But while enough primary voters may have decided that Sanford's infamous Appalachian Trail Hike doesn't matter, his criticisms of Trump give Fienning some fresh ammo. Unlike so many 2016 Never Trump Republicans who have cozied up to The Donald since he won the GOP nod, Sanford told Alberta this very month that Trump "has fanned the flames of intolerance" and says he can't "look the other way" as Trump lies.
Sanford himself doesn't seem to care about any electoral repercussions and even may have already decided that he's going to lose, declaring "I'm a dead man walking. If you've already been dead, you don't fear it as much. I've been dead politically." And Sanford may well be right that he's doomed. A recent Pew survey gave Trump an 84 percent job approval rating with GOP-leaning voters even as he limped to a negative 39-56 score with the public as a whole, so being a Donald skeptic really isn't a winning strategy in GOP politics. Trump himself has a habit of declaring war on his intra-party enemies, and Sanford may find himself in his crosshairs next year. South Carolina requires a primary runoff if no one takes a majority of the vote, so a crowded field of opponents may not even save the congressman. This district backed Trump 54-40, and it's likely to stay red regardless of who emerges as the GOP nominee.
Sanford's whole electoral career, even before his scandal (he once brought two pigs onto the floor of the state House of Representatives, and they proceeded to defecate onto the carpet) feels like it was written by a political satirist who doesn't care about realism, and Sanford surviving 2018 may just fit right into this long absurd plot. And if Sanford does pull off a win, or perhaps even if he doesn't, voters outside the 1st District may see his name on a ballot again soon. While Sanford has ruled out running for the governorship again next year, he didn't say no to a primary challenge against Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2020. (Graham also just happens to be the godfather of Sanford's youngest son.) But Sanford may very well already be the underdog in next year's primary—and unlike his pig friends, he may not really give a crap.
● AL-Sen, AL-Gov: How could Alabama wind up with a worse GOP senator than Luther Strange, who took an appointment from the governor his office was investigating? Meet Roy Moore, the twice-disgraced former chief justice of the state supreme court. Moore interviewed for the Senate appointment that ultimately went to Strange, and his spokesperson now says he's been asked to run for the Senate in 2018 as well as for governor and state attorney general, and is "weighing his options for the future, but his main concern right now is the pending appeal to restore him to the Office he was elected to by the citizens of Alabama."
As his spokesperson alludes, Moore was suspended from office last year for defying federal court's orders on same-sex marriage. In 2003, Moore was outright removed from the bench for refusing to comply with a federal judge's order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state supreme court. It's unclear how interested Moore is in a run against Strange, who won't need to face primary voters until June of 2018, or for the other two offices.
But Moore already has run for governor twice, though neither campaign went well. In 2006, Moore challenged Gov. Bob Riley in the primary and lost 67-33. Four years later, Moore ran to succeed the termed-out Riley and took just 19 percent in the primary, enough for a weak fourth-place finish. But in 2012, just after Moore flirted with a presidential bid, he ran for his old job on the court and took just over 50 percent against two primary opponents, allowing him to win without a runoff. Moore struggled in the general election but beat his Democratic foe 52-48. Moore's bumpy electoral history suggests he'd have trouble in a GOP primary for any office, but that he may still have enough fans to make things interesting.
● MI-Sen: About a week ago, a tea party activist who was just elected to the Michigan GOP central committee said that it would be cool if singer Kid Rock, a vocal Trump supporter, ran against Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. This was enough to generate plenty of "Kid Rock for Senate!" articles, even though there's no word that either Kid Rock (real name Robert Ritchie) or more senior Republicans were at all thinking about this. But one other loud-mouthed Trump loving musician, Ted Nugent, actually is expressing interest in a Senate bid.
Nugent recently posted on Facebook that if the local GOP didn't get its act together, "I will come charging in as the ultimate we the pissed off people Mr. Fix It constitutional fire breathing candidate from hell!" When asked if he was serious, Nugent said, "I'm always very interested in making my country and the great state of Michigan great again." Nugent is currently a Texas resident, but the "Motor City Madman" was born in Michigan.
Two years ago, the idea of Nugent, who has a long history of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic comments, running for the Senate would seem like a stunt but… well, Donald Trump won Michigan, and he's sitting in the White House now. But Trump's victory in the Wolverine State was narrow, and if the GOP faces the usual midterm doldrums that the party in power usually faces, the 2018 electorate probably won't be keen to back someone so Trumpesque. It's also very unlikely that Nugent, who called for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to "be tried for treason and hung," will have any crossover support. But then again, Nugent making it to the Senate would only be, at most, the second-most sadly absurd thing to happen in American politics over the last few years.
● VA-Sen: Quinnipiac takes an early look at the 2018 Senate race and deliveres some decidedly good news for Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, following up on the gubernatorial portion of the poll they released on Thursday. Kaine sports an approval rating of 57 percent, with only 37 percent disapproving. They tested him against two potential Republican challengers, conservative media personality Laura Ingraham and failed presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who once lost a 2010 Senate race in California.
Kaine fends off both possible contenders by near-identical margins, with the just barely closer of the two being a 56-36 lead over Ingraham. That 20-point margin is identical to Kaine's approval spread, which isn't too surprising this early in the cycle, since neither prospective opponent is incredibly well-known. So far, both Ingraham and Fiorina have only said that they're considering running.
● OH-Gov: Whether we like it or not, ex-Rep. and two-time quixotic Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich may have another campaign in him. The Plain Dealer's Henry J. Gomez reports that there's "increasing chatter among party insiders" that Kucinich is looking at running for this open seat next year, and Kucinich didn't rule it out. In an email to Gomez, Kucinich only said "I'll certainly get back to you if I have anything to say which would be worth your time."
While Kucinich portrays himself as a progressive hero, he's emerged as a Trump defender in recent months. Kucinich, who has been a Fox commentator for years, praised Trump's inauguration speech (you know, the "American carnage" one), and argued that U.S. intelligence agencies forced Michael Flynn to resign as Trump's national security advisor. Kucinich has also repeatedly met with and defended Syria's murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The good news is that Kucinich may not have much oomph left. In 2012, Kucinich and fellow Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur were drawn into the same congressional district, and Kaptur won the primary by a convincing 56-40 margin. But a number of Ohio Democrats are looking at this contest, and it's not impossible for Kucinich to ride his Cleveland-area base to a plurality win in a crowded primary.
● SC-Gov: Catherine Templeton, the former head of the South Carolina health department, originally planned to kick off her bid for the GOP nod in January, but the race unexpectedly went sideways once Donald Trump picked Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as his United Nations ambassador. Lt. Gov. Henry McMasters was elevated to the governorship, and Templeton needed to decide if it was worth trying to defeat an appointed incumbent in the 2018 primary. Last month, Templeton said she wouldn't do any fundraising and would announce her plans in the spring.
But evidently, Templeton is still leaning towards running. After her name was briefly mentioned for secretary of Labor (Trump ended up picking someone else), Templeton told said that "South Carolina is my focus," and that, in the words of CNN reporter Elizabeth Landers, she "intends" to run for governor. We'll see if Templeton actually goes for it, or if she lets McMasters off the hook.
● WI-Gov: Democratic Rep. Ron Kind has been mentioned as a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate for a while, but until now, he never said anything publicly about his interest. But Kind recently told Wisconsin Public Radio that he hasn't "made any decision one way or the other" on whether to run. GOP incumbent Scott Walker is up for re-election and while Walker hasn't announced his plans, he's made it no secret that he's preparing to seek a third term.
If Kind ran for governor, his campaign could be a double-edged sword for Wisconsin Democrats. Kind hails from a rural seat that Walker narrowly won during his 2014 re-election campaign. If Kind can do well in rural areas while holding down the usual strong Democratic margins in Madison and Milwaukee, it will go a long way towards beating Walker. But Kind's 3rd District swung very far to the right last year, going from an easy 55-44 win for Obama to a 49-45 Trump victory, and his party could have a difficult time holding it without him. Several Democrats have made noises about running for governor, but Kind looks like the strongest possible contender for what will be a tough race against Walker.
● CA-34: Former Los Angeles City Council aide Sara Hernandez released a new poll from FM3 that shows her trailing Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez 20-9, while several more candidates earned 5 percent or less. Both Democrats are hoping to succeed former Rep. Xavier Becerra in the April 4 special election after he recently resigned to become state attorney general. Hillary Clinton carried this downtown Los Angeles seat 84-11, and it should remain safely blue.
In the likely event that no one in this crowded field takes a majority, the top two candidates would advance to a June 6 general election. Hernandez touts her slightly higher share of voters' second preferences to claim she has more room to grow, but with 47 percent of voters undecided, there's still a lot that could happen between now and Election Day. Gomez and Hernandez lead the pack in fundraising, while the latter just became the first candidate to go up on the airwaves on Wednesday.
The last poll we had from this race was a month-old Latino Decisions survey from January, where former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer Arturo Carmona led Gomez 30-19, with Hernandez back at 9 percent. However, that poll asked a battery of questions before the horse race, such as whether voters thought Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump. It's generally not a good idea to ask questions like that first because they can prime voters toward a particular candidate, especially since the pollster explicitly linked Carmona to Sanders. However, we'll find out which poll's scenario is closer to reality soon enough.
● GA-06: On Thursday night, Daily Kos Political Director David Nir made an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss the incredible opportunity Democrats have in the upcoming special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District. The Democratic Party has united around investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, who's running for the district vacated by Republican Tom Price—Donald Trump's point man for destroying Obamacare. But Trump only won this traditionally conservative district in suburban Atlanta by a slim 48-47 margin last year, and progressives are fired up with unprecedented intensity to pull off a stunning upset and send shockwaves through the Republican Party. Watch the segment here or below:
● NJ-05: GOP Assemblymember Holly Schepisi expressed interest in challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer last year, but it seems that she's backing away from it. Several unnamed people recently told the New York Observer that Schepisi said that she's decided not to run, with one declaring that Schepisi was at a recent event “telling anyone who'd listen she's not going to run for Congress against Gottheimer." Schepisi didn't quite go that far publicly, telling the Observer, "In all likelihood, I will not be running. I'm still discussing it with my family but I have a 5-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. I've agreed to take some meetings but I don't think it'll change my mind." We'll keep her name on the list for now, but it sounds like Team Red will need to look elsewhere for a candidate.
A number of other Republicans, including cable news blowhard Lou Dobbs, have been mentioned, but no one else has publicly expressed interest in facing Gottheimer yet. This North Jersey seat only narrowly backed Trump 49-48, but the GOP has a large bench in this ancestrally red area. But this seat is located in the very expensive New York City media market, and whoever challenges Gottheimer in the general will need access to a lot of money.
● House: On Wednesday, the NRCC announced the first 10 members of its Patriot Program, which is designed to help defend potentially vulnerable incumbents. Below is the list of members, as well as Trump's 2016 performance in their seats:
CA-21: David Valadao, 40-55
CA-25: Steve Knight, 44-50
CA-49: Darrell Issa, 43-51
FL-18: Brian Mast, 53-44
MN-02: Jason Lewis, 46.5-45.3
NY-19: John Faso, 51-44
NY-22: Claudia Tenney, 55-39
PA-08: Brian Fitzpatrick, 48.2-48.0
TX-23: Will Hurd, 46-50
VA-10: Barbara Comstock, 42-52
Most of these members hold seats Trump lost or only narrowly won. Faso and Tenney's inclusion on this list is a bit more surprising, though the GOP may be worried that Trump's gains in upstate New York may be temporary. Tenney is also a notoriously weak fundraiser, and the NRCC may be hoping to boost her early to avoid any problems. Mast's presence is also a bit strange, since Trump decisively won his South Florida seat and Mast won this open seat by a convincing 54-43 last year.
● Deaths: On Friday, ex-Illinois GOP Rep. Bob Michel, who served as House minority leader from 1981 until he retired in 1995, died at the age of 93. Michel was elected to the House in 1956, just two years after the GOP lost the chamber, and left right as Newt Gingrich was leading his party back to the majority.
Michel had a reputation as a bipartisan deal maker, a very different style than Gingrich. In 1992, Gingrich announced that he would run for the leadership post in two years, but Michel averted a contest by announcing his retirement in 1993. At the time, Michel criticized how little power House Republicans had under the Democratic government and newer members who were "trashing the institution."
Michel even publicly spoke out against Gingrich's "Contract with American" during the next year's elections, arguing that it could make the budget deficit worse. But after the GOP won back control that year, Michel memorably said he felt "like the small boy who ate his spinach and his broccoli but leaves the table before his mom brings the strawberry shortcake."
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.