● TN-Gov: Over the weekend, ex-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Bill Haslam next year. Tennessee is a very red state in federal races, and Haslam easily won the 2010 and 2014 general elections. However, voters supported Democrat Phil Bredesen, another former Nashville mayor, in the open 2002 gubernatorial race, and Dean is hoping for a similar result.
While Nashville is one of the most Democratic areas in the state, Dean is wasting no time arguing that he's a moderate. In an interview after his announcement, Dean characterized himself as "unabashedly pro-business" and called Haslam a "very good governor." However, Dean did not have a good relationship with labor as mayor, which could hinder him in a general election. It's also very possible that they could also side against him in a primary.
And despite the Volunteer State's small Democratic bench, Dean may indeed face primary opposition. State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh has been considering running for a few months, and he told The Tennessean on Monday that, even with Dean in the race, he's leaning towards getting in. Fitzhugh, who represents a rural seat north of Memphis, didn't criticize his would-be primary foe, instead saying that while Dean did a "great job and has a great reputation," Fitzhugh thinks his time in state government and rural background will be an asset. Fitzhugh said that while he hopes to decide by the time the legislative session ends in mid-April, he might make up his mind earlier.
However, while wealthy businessman Bill Freeman, who took a close third in the 2015 race to succeed Dean, had been considering a bid too, he announced on Monday that he'd support Fitzhugh instead. Freeman did not say what he'd do if Fitzhugh passes on the contest.
But whatever happens on the Democratic side, there will almost certainly be a much larger primary for the GOP. State Sen. Mark Green is the only declared candidate, but plenty of others are looking at the race. Ex-Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, who is wealthy, has been publicly considering, and recently said that he could announce in the next few weeks. Other potential Republican candidates who have talked about running include wealthy Rep. Diane Black; ex-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who serves as dean of the Belmont University School of Law; state House Speaker Beth Harwell; Higher Education Commission member Bill Lee; and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. There may be other Republicans who are privately mulling a bid, including possibly Sen. Bob Corker.
● MO-Sen: A number of Republicans have been mentioned as potential candidates against Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2018, but no one's entered the race yet. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides a new name, reporting from a recent state GOP event that local attorney Dave Wasinger's "name also is in the mix." The paper didn't provide any other information, and Wasinger doesn't appear to have expressed interest publicly. A few years ago, Reuters gave Wasinger a glowing profile titled, "Small-firm lawyer takes on Wall Street and wins, twice." Wasinger told them at the time that he was "just a country lawyer from Missouri trying to hold Wall Street accountable," so we have a good sense for what kind of campaign he'd run.
One other Republican who has been mentioned is ex-Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. Kinder told the Post-Dispatch that, he's "being encouraged, but I'm not encouraging" talk, which isn't a no. However, Kinder's last statewide run didn't exactly impress anyone. Kinder campaigned for governor last year and took just 21 percent in the primary, good for a distant third place.
● CT-Gov: Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy hasn't announced if he'll seek a third term yet, but he tells the National Journal that he'll decide after the budget is done in the spring. A June Quinnipiac poll gave Malloy a horrible 24-68 approval rating, and there isn't any reason to think the governor's numbers have dramatically improved since then.
So why is Malloy so unpopular? A big part of it seems to be the perception that Connecticut hasn't recovered from The Great Recession as well as its neighbors have. Malloy also has had to deal with ugly headlines from state employee layoffs and from General Electric moving its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston. Last year, the Connecticut Democratic Party put out a statement arguing that, in tough times, Malloy "made the hard -- often painful -- choices necessary to create jobs and put Connecticut's economy on the right track." However, it can be very tough to convince unhappy voters that the incumbent is doing the best job that anyone can do during tough times, or that there are other forces to blame for the state's problems.
If Malloy does seek a third term, it would certainly delight the GOP. Even if Malloy calls it a career, Team Red will waste no time tying the eventual Democratic nominee to the governor. While Democratic presidential candidates have easily carried Connecticut for decades, Republicans have done far better in governor's races. The GOP won the governor's office from 1994 until Malloy's 2010 victory, and Malloy only narrowly prevailed in 2010 and 2014. There are plenty of Democrats who could get in if Malloy retires, and it's also possible that an ambitious candidate may decide to challenge the governor in a primary if he does run again.
● ID-Gov: GOP Gov. Butch Otter is stepping aside next year after three terms, and he's told the National Journal that he's endorsing Lt. Gov. Brad Little's campaign to succeed him. However, Otter's support may not turn out to be as valuable as he wants it to be in a primary. In 2010, Otter only took 55 percent of the vote against several weak candidates, and he beat then-state Sen. Russ Fulcher by an unimpressive 51-44 four years later. Idaho doesn't get polled very often but if a large proportion of Republicans still dislike Otter, they're unlikely to view his chosen successor particularly well. Fulcher is running again, though Rep. Raul Labrador may get in and shove him aside as the main anti-establishment candidate.
● IL-Gov: State Sen. Daniel Biss is one of several Democrats who has been mulling a bid against GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner next year, and he said on Sunday that he'll decide "the next few weeks." Biss, who represents Evanston and several other northern Chicago suburbs, may have the connections he'd need to get his name out in this very expensive state. Last year, Biss was the lead elected official publicly involved with a well-funded labor-funded super PAC that aided Democrats in state legislative races.
● KS-Gov, KS-03: GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder has reportedly been considering a bid to succeed termed-out Gov. Sam Brownback next year, but he hasn't said much publicly about his plans. Yoder recently told the Kansas City Star that he hasn't ruled out a gubernatorial run, but, in the words of the paper, he "intends to seek another term in the U.S. House." Yoder's suburban Kansas City seat swung from 54-44 Romney to 47-46 Clinton, and Team Blue likely will almost certainly have an easier time here if Yoder leaves to run for governor. Businessman Jay Sidie, who lost to Yoder 51-41 last year, says he's likely to run again, though it's unclear if other local Democrats are considering a campaign for the 3rd District.
● MD-Gov: On Saturday, ex-U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee. Perez was mentioned as a potential 2018 challenger against Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, but we can cross his name off now.
However, a number of other Democrats are considering challenging Hogan. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker recently said that he'd make up his mind after the legislative session ends in mid-April. We've also heard interest from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, ex-Attorney General Doug Gansler (unfortunately), and state Dels. Maggie McIntosh and Joseline Peña-Melnyk. While Maryland is a very blue state in federal races, Hogan has usually polled well since his surprise 2014 win, with a recent survey from Goucher College giving the governor a strong 63-17 approval rating. However, while Hogan has tried to avoid talking about Donald Trump, state Democrats hope that Hogan's dance will get old over the next 21 months.
● OR-Gov: Last year, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson became the first Republican elected statewide in 14 years, and he's been mentioned as a potential 2018 candidate against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. Richardson, who lost to then-Gov. John Kitzhaber 50-44 in 2014, told The Oregonian that he doesn't plan to run, which of course isn't a no. However, Richardson praised state Rep. Knute Buehler and said he's make "an excellent governor," so at least it doesn't sound like Richardson plans to oppose Buehler in a primary.
Buehler hasn't said anything about his 2018 plans, but he drew attention early this year when he raised $100,000 in a week, which at least indicates he's gearing up to run for governor. Brown beat Buehler 51-43 back in 2012 to win re-election as secretary of state, and she became governor in 2015 after Kitzhaber resigned due to an ethics scandal. Last November, Brown won the special election for the final two years of Kitzhaber's term 51-43, not a particularly close result, but close enough to give Beaver State Republicans hope that she can lose in 2018. Oregon hasn't elected a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh won a second term back in 1982, though Team Red came very close as recently as 2010.
● MN-08: Wealthy Republican Stewart Mills narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan 49-47 during the 2014 GOP wave, then lost their rematch by a tighter 50.2-49.6. Mills sounds interested in a third bout, telling a local GOP gathering that he's "keeping the door open" and has "several months" to decide. This seat, located in northeastern Minnesota's Iron Range, swung from 52-46 Obama to 54-39 Trump, making Nolan's win last year all the more remarkable.
However, Nolan may not be here to defend his seat in 2018. Nolan is flirting with a gubernatorial bid, and Team Blue won't have an easy time holding onto his seat with him gone. It's also possible that, regardless of what Nolan does, other Republicans will decide to run even if they need to get through Mills and his money.
● NJ-11: Twelve-term GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a member of one of America's oldest political families, has never had much trouble winning re-election in this ancestrally red North Jersey seat. However, Trump's 49-48 win in this Morristown seat was a drop from Romney's 52-47 performance, and Team Blue hopes to give Frelinghuysen his first competitive race in a very long time. Assemblyman John McKeon recently drew some attention when he accused the congressman of avoiding holding town halls, and Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran says that McKeon hasn't ruled out challenging Frelinghuysen, though there's no quote from the assemblyman.
It's going to take a lot of money to win in this seat, which is located in the very expensive New York City media market. Frelinghuysen had less than $500,000 in his war chest on Dec. 31, but he's also one of the wealthiest members of Congress and can presumably self-fund.
● Pres-by-LD, RI State Senate, RI State House: Our project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation comes to Rhode Island, one of the few states where Democrats hold supermajorities in both legislative 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.
The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (which is still its official name) backed Hillary Clinton 56-40, not a particularly close result, but still a noticeable drop from Barack Obama's 63-35 win in 2012. While Obama carried all 38 state Senate seats, Clinton won 28 of them. (We estimate that one of those seats, the Warwick-based SD-30, backed Clinton by 7 votes, after supporting Obama 60-37.) While Donald Trump didn't come close to winning Rhode Island's four electoral votes, he improved on Mitt Romney's margin in 33 Senate seats. The largest swing to the right was in SD-25 in Johnston, which lurched from 57-41 Obama to 55-41 Trump. However, Democratic incumbent Frank Lombardo III won a fourth term without any GOP opposition. The biggest swing to the left was in SD-03 in Providence, which went from 79-18 Obama to 84-11 Clinton; unsurprisingly, Democratic state Sen. Gayle Goldin won without any general election opposition.
Trump's improved performance didn't do much to help the GOP in the state Senate. Democrats netted one seat last year, taking their already dominant 32 to five majority to 33 to five. (The chamber's only independent retired and was replaced by a Republican.) Ticket-splitting helped Team Blue more in the state Senate than it aided the GOP, with seven Democrats holding Trump seats and two Republicans representing Clinton turf. The reddest Democratic-held seat is SD-23, which swung from 52-46 Obama to 57-38 Trump, but where Democratic state Sen. Paul Fogarty won a tenth term 58-42. The bluest GOP-held seat is SD-35, which went from just 50-48 Obama to 52-43 Clinton; Republican incumbent Mark Gee won a second term without any general election opposition. The entire state Senate is up every two years.
It was a similar story in the state House. Clinton carried 57 of the 75 seats, losing 17 Obama seats. Clinton did win half of the state House seats that Romney won, meaning she carried exactly one Romney seat. HD-30, which includes all of East Greenwich, swerved from 50-48 Romney to 52-43 Clinton, but Republican incumbent Antonio Giarrusso won without any general election opposition. HD-30 was a rarity, since Trump improved on Romney's margin in 64 districts. However, state House Democrats netted two constituencies and won a 64-10 majority. Blake Filippi won re-election as an independent but soon became a Republican, handing them an eleventh seat. Eleven Democrats represent Trump seats, while four Republicans, including Filippi, hold Clinton districts.
Interestingly, one of those 11 Democrats is Nicholas Mattiello, the speaker of the House. His Cranston-based HD-15 swung from 51-48 Obama to 56-40 Trump, making it Trump's fourth best seat in the chamber. Mattiello, who has a reputation as a conservative, only won re-election 49-48 in November, though Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo may wish her intra-party foe had lost. The reddest Democratic seat is HD-47, which swung from 54-43 Obama to 58-36 Trump, but where Democratic state Rep. Cale Keable narrowly won a fourth term. The bluest GOP-held seat is HD-72, which went from 53-46 Obama to 54-41 Clinton, and where Republican state Rep. Kenneth Mendonca also narrowly won
re-election his first term. The whole state House is also up every two years.
● Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso gives us a rundown on a trio of special elections happening Tuesday in Connecticut:
Connecticut SD-02: This is an open Democratic seat taking in parts of Hartford, Windsor, and Bloomfield. The Democratic nominee is state Rep. Douglas McCrory, while the Republican nominee is Michael McDonald, a former member of the Windsor Town Council. This seat went 83-14 for Hillary Clinton last year, while Obama took it by a similar 85-14.
Connecticut SD-32: This is an open Republican seat north of Bridgeport. The Democratic nominee is Greg Cava, an attorney who lost a bid for this seat last year. The Republican nominee is state Rep. Eric Berthel. Also on the ballot is independent Dan Lynch. This seat went 57-39 for Donald Trump last year, while Romney won it 56-43.
Connecticut HD-115: This is an open Democratic seat in West Haven. The Democratic nominee is Dorinda Keenan Borer, a management consultant and former member of the West Haven Board of Education. The Republican nominee is Edward Granfield, a former member of the West Haven City Council. This seat went 57-39 for Hillary Clinton last year, while Obama won it 69-30.
The Connecticut state Senate is deadlocked, with Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman's tie-breaking vote giving Team Blue control of the chamber. However, both open state Senate seats are likely to stay with the party that last won them.
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.