● MS-Sen: State Sen. Chris McDaniel's ultimately unsuccessful 2014 GOP primary challenge against longtime Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran was one of the craziest races we've ever seen, and we may be getting a sequel. McDaniel tells Breitbart that he's "definitely considering" a primary bid against Sen. Roger Wicker, arguing that Wicker and the rest of the state's congressional delegation have been silent "[r]ather than championing conservative reform in D.C."
Back in 2013, McDaniel announced that he would run for the Senate whether or not Cochran sought a seventh term, and he immediately earned support from important tea party-aligned groups like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Cochran had always been a reliably conservative senator, but his long tenure, occasional bipartisan actions, and success getting appropriations for his state made him a tempting target. Cochran also hadn't faced a real fight in decades and started with little money, and he never really seemed to understand the direction his party was heading in. Cochran had the support of the state GOP establishment and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but McDaniel won by a little more than 1,400 votes in the first round of the primary. McDaniel fell just short of the majority he needed to win outright, but Cochran looked doomed in the runoff three weeks later.
However, Cochran ended up pulling off a surprising 51-49 win. Unlike many Southern GOP senators, Cochran had a good relationship with black voters in his state, and his campaign encouraged them to back him in the open GOP primary runoff. The unusual strategy worked to McDaniel's chagrin; the state senator and his allies insisted that Democratic voters had illegally voted in the GOP primary and demanded a new election. Since Thad Cochran is sitting in the Senate right now and Chris McDaniel isn't, you can guess how well that went.
If McDaniel challenges Wicker, he will likely have a much tougher time getting traction. Wicker just came off a stint chairing the NRSC, so he should have all the connections he'll need to raise money. Perhaps more importantly, Wicker has had contact with the far-right forces that Cochran ignored for years. Wicker doesn't have the type of relationship with black voters that Cochran had, but it's a lot less likely that he'll be relying on them to save his career. There's also no guarantee that McDaniel will run: Last cycle, he expressed interest in challenging Rep. Steven Palazzo in the primary, but ended up sitting the race out.
Still, there's one big orange x-factor out there. Wicker doesn't seem to have alienated Donald Trump, but if that changes and senator finds himself on the wrong end of some nasty tweets, he could get a lot more vulnerable. And while McDaniel backed Ted Cruz in the presidential primary, his ties to neo-Confederate groups and sexist rhetoric (during his radio career, McDaniel uttered such gems as "It's so interesting to see this woman basically using her boobies to—I shouldn't have said that—using her breasts to run for office") make him almost a perfect Trump stand-in. Mississippi hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since the early 1980s and that's unlikely to change regardless of who wins the GOP primary, but the inflammatory McDaniel would still be worth keeping an eye on in a general election in a good Democratic year.
● IN-Sen: A few Republicans are talking about challenging Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly next year, but Rep. Luke Messer seems to be the most likely to go for it. Messer tells Howey Politics that "we're probably a couple of months away from making a final decision," but he took plenty of shots at his would-be opponent.
Fellow Rep. Todd Rokita has also expressed interest in a bid, while freshman Rep. Jim Banks didn't rule it out last year. Howey also mentions ex-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke as possible candidates, though there's no word that they're considering. Trump carried Indiana 56-37, and Donnelly can expect a tough race no matter whom the GOP ends up fielding.
● UT-Sen: During his successful 1976 campaign against Democratic Sen. Frank Moss, Orrin Hatch asked voters, "What do you call a senator who's served in office for 18 years? You call him home." But the GOP senator has been flirting with seeking years 43 through 48 in office for a while, and he told CNN on Thursday that he's "planning on" running again. Hatch added that seeking an eighth term next year are "what my current plans are" and, to his credit, CNN's Manu Raju noted that the senator could still change his mind. But Hatch says that none other than Donald Trump asked him to stay in the Senate.
Despite Utah's revulsion to Trump, this is still a dark red state that hasn't elected a Democrat statewide in a long, long time, and the GOP nominee should have little trouble in a general election. Some Republicans have made noises about challenging Hatch in the primary, but Trump may have removed one of his most prominent potential opponents from the board. While ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman refused to rule out facing Hatch this week even as he was standing right in front of the senator, he's reportedly accepted Trump's offer to become U.S. ambassador to Russia. However, none other than Mitt Romney didn't rule out running for Utah's Senate seat last month, though he didn't say anything about taking on the incumbent. We'll see if, now that Hatch has made his plans a bit more clear, if other Republicans will talk about running now that they know they'll likely need to get past the senator.
● FL-Gov: On Thursday, Democratic Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that he is "not planning to be a candidate for governor in 2018," which isn't exactly a no. Florida is an extremely expensive state to run for office in and the Democratic primary field is already taking shape, so it's unlikely that Buckhorn is just playing games and giving himself more time to consider. But there's nothing stopping him from putting out a much stronger declaration (it's not hard at all to just say, "I'm not going to run for governor" and let that be it), and it's possible he's waiting to see if he'll have an opening to make a late bid. Buckhorn is termed-out of office in 2019 and he said in his announcement that, "Absent extenuating circumstances, I intend to finish the job I was hired to do," which also gives him some wiggle room.
● NH-Gov: Because New Hampshire elects its governors to two-year terms, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who pulled off a tight 49-47 win against Democratic Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern last year, will face the voters again soon. Aside from Republican Craig Benson's narrow 2004 defeat, New Hampshire voters haven't fired a first-term governor since 1926. However, Democrats are hoping that Sununu and his allies' conservative agenda, as well a Trump backlash, will give them the chance to retake the governor's office.
It's unclear who is interested in challenging Sununu. A few weeks after his defeat, Van Ostern dodged questions about his 2018 plans, though he doesn't seem to have said anything about the race since then. WMUR's John DiStaso also says there's speculation that state Attorney General Joseph Foster, a former state Senate majority leader who leaves office at the end of the month, could run, though Foster hasn't said anything. In New Hampshire, attorneys general are appointed by the governor to a four-year term and approved by the Executive Council rather than elected statewide, but a few have been elected to higher office. Most recently, Republican Kelly Ayotte resigned as state attorney general in 2009 to launch a successful Senate bid.
● WI-Gov: Democrats may have their first candidate for next year's race soon… but they can do a lot better than ex-state Sen. Tim Cullen. Cullen, who retired in 2014, says he's planning to announce at the end of April, and says he doesn't know of any reason he'd decide not to run.
Cullen represented a solidly blue seat in the southern part of Wisconsin, but he was far from a progressive hero. During the 2011 protests against GOP Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union legislation, Cullen did leave the state along with the rest of the Democratic Senate caucus in order to deny the GOP a quorum, but he soon said he wouldn't do it again because it "does great damage to the institution." During that confrontational period, Walker took a call from a prankster the governor thought was billionaire David Koch, and Walker told "Koch" that Cullen was "about the only reasonable one" of the Senate Democrats. When the imposter offered to call Cullen, Walker told him not to because "[h]e's pretty reasonable, but he's not one of us. . . . He's not there for political reasons. He's just trying to get something done. . . . He's not a conservative. He's just a pragmatist."
Cullen was fine with the 2012 attempt to recall Walker, and initially planned to run himself. However, Cullen ended up backing down, arguing that better-known candidates would raise far more than him. Cullen had only raised $157 over the previous six months (not a typo), so he probably wasn't wrong. A few months later, after Democrats temporarily won a one-seat majority, Cullen left the caucus, seemingly angry that he didn't get a committee chairmanship he wanted. Cullen still allowed himself to be counted as a Democrat for the purpose of organizing the chamber and he backed down a few days later, but the whole unpleasant incident did not endear him to us.
The good news is that Democrats are likely to have other options next year. Rep. Ron Kind isn't ruling out a bid; while he has a moderate reputation, he's nowhere near as obnoxious as Cullen. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (who did run in that 2012 primary and performed poorly) also is considering, while Dane County Executive Joe Parisi hasn't ruled it out. 2014 Attorney General nominee Susan Happ, the district attorney for Jefferson County, has also set up social media accounts ahead of an unnamed statewide bid. Walker hasn't announced he'll seek a third term yet, but he sounds very likely to.
● CA-34: Former Obama White House staffer Alejandra Campoverdi is the second Democrat to advertise on TV ahead of the crowded April 4 jungle primary for this safely blue downtown Los Angeles seat. Campoverdi's spot starts with her telling the camera that she helped to pass Obamacare to save lives, but she "never imagined one of those lives might be my own." Campoverdi then says how breast cancer killed her grandmother and almost took her mother's life, and how she is likely to develop it herself.
Campoverdi is then shown comforting her mother as the candidate says the debate is personal for millions of Americans, declaring that "if Donald Trump wants to have a conversation about women's bodies, let's start with mine." There is no word on the size of the buy: At the end of 2016, Campoverdi had $102,000 in the bank.
● IA-02: Rep. Dave Loebsack is the only Democrat left in Iowa's congressional delegation, and while he's never had much trouble winning re-election in presidential years, he came close to defeat in 2010 and 2014. The GOP is likely to target his eastern Iowa seat, which swung from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump, but no one has publicly expressed interest yet. State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann has already been mentioned as a possible candidate, and over at Iowa Starting Line, Pat Rynard puts on his Great Mentioner cap and gives us some other names.
Rynard mentions Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann, a former state representative who is Bobby Kaufmann's father. The elder Kaufmann is well regarded in political circles, which could actually hold him back, since plenty of Republicans would prefer him to stay on as chair. There's also Michael Bousselot, who serves as chief of staff to Gov. Terry Branstad. Branstad has been nominated to serve as Trump's ambassador to China, so Bousselot will likely need a new gig soon. Rynard also name-drops state Sens. Roby Smith, who co-owns a local minor-league baseball team, and Mark Lofgren. As a state representative, Lofgren ran for this seat in 2014 but was not an impressive fundraiser, and he lost the primary 49-38.
● NH-01: State Sen. Andy Sanborn has been mentioned as a possible GOP opponent for Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in this swingy seat, and while he hasn't said anything about his plans, he seems to have demonstrated his interest in another way. According to WMUR's John DiStaso, Sanborn recently met with officials at the NRCC about a possible bid. Back in 2013 Sanborn also went to D.C. and talked to the RGA about a possible run for governor but ended up staying out, so this certainly doesn't mean he's decided on anything.
● TX-03: Longtime GOP Rep. Sam Johnson announced two months ago that he wouldn't seek re-election to this conservative suburban Dallas seat, but there hasn't exactly been a rush of candidates to succeed him. State Sen. Van Taylor, a wealthy Iraq War veteran who represents almost all of the 3rd in the legislature, said he would decide after the session ends in late May, though he's reportedly planning to run. But that doesn't seem to be deterring Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is the only other Republican we've heard express interest. This week, Self announced that he had formed an exploratory committee, though he said he could take several months to decide. If Self runs, he'd need to resign his post.
Self is the elected head of the Collin County Commissioners Court, the equivalent of a county board of supervisors. Self has long been a major conservative power in Collin County, which takes up the entire 3rd District. However, Self's chosen candidate lost a high-profile 2013 race for mayor of Plano and his appointed county commissioner lost a 2014 contest to stay in office, so his influence may be waning. Trump carried this seat 55-41, and there's no sign that Democrats are preparing to target it.
● Charlotte, NC Mayor: Most of the action in this year's mayoral race has been in the Democratic primary, where Mayor Jennifer Roberts is facing challenges from state Sen. Joel Ford and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles. But this week, GOP City Councilor Kenny Smith announced that he would run. Charlotte is a Democratic-leaning city, and Team Blue has run city hall since 2009. However, moderate Republican Edwin Peacock came relatively close to winning in 2013 and he lost to Roberts just 52-48 in 2015.
Still, as we've noted before, Smith is far from a moderate. Smith notably denounced Charlotte's 2016 non-discrimination ordinance as "social engineering" on the part of liberals. However, Roberts has had a tough tenure so far. After Roberts and the council passed their non-discrimination ordinance, the GOP-led North Carolina state legislature responded by passing a piece of anti-LGBT legislation known as HB2, which earned the state national scorn and multiple boycotts by high-profile businesses. There was also unrest in the city after Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man, was killed by police in September. It's possible that even a conservative like Smith may be able to convince voters that a new direction is needed, especially if there's a nasty Democratic primary that leaves the eventual nominee weakened.
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.