● MN-Gov: On Monday, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz announced that he would enter the race to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018. Walz has represented southern Minnesota's 1st District since ousting a GOP incumbent in the 2006 wave, and he leaves behind a House seat that lurched so hard to the right in 2016 that Walz nearly lost to a challenger who was on no one's radar. The ancestrally Republican 1st had backed Barack Obama by 50-48 in 2012, but Donald Trump won the overwhelmingly white and heavily rural seat by a punishing 53-38 margin, meaning Democrats could have a strenuous time holding it without Walz.
Still, Walz might figure he has a better chance of getting elected governor in a state that supported Hillary Clinton 46-45 than he does of holding down such a hostile House district. His record of winning in tough turf could also help him considerably in the general election if he secures the Democratic nomination.
Minnesota Democrats typically hold nominating conventions to endorse a candidate, with those who don’t earn the endorsement often dropping out ahead of the primary. Walz has reportedly said he will attempt to win the state party's endorsement, but he isn't yet promising to quit the race if he doesn't get it. There is nothing preventing those who don't win at the convention from proceeding on to the regular primary election, which is exactly what Dayton did when he won the 2010 nomination over the party-endorsed candidate.
Many of the other announced or prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidates hail from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, which could leave Walz to consolidate the support of outstate Democratic voters. All it takes is a plurality to win a primary, which could give him a crucial leg up if several metro-area candidates split the vote there. However, a convention endorsement is still a valuable asset that Walz might feel he can't afford to lose, especially if the process whittles down the number of primary opponents from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.
State Rep. Tina Liebling has also been considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and she recently indicated that she would reveal her plans on this coming Sunday. Like Walz, Liebling represents Rochester in southeastern Minnesota, and his candidacy could hamper her chances given their overlapping support bases. Several other big-name Democrats have already jumped into the race, including state Auditor Rebecca Otto, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and state Rep. Erin Murphy. State Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, former state House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, and Rep. Rick Nolan are all also considering bids, while state Attorney General Lori Swanson hasn't ruled it out.
● ND-Sen: Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has not yet announced if she will seek a second term, and she tells INFORUM that she'll decide by the summer. Heitkamp doesn't sound particularly likely to call it quits, saying that a re-election campaign will probably be easier with Trump in the White House than it would have been if Clinton had won, but she says she'll need to decide with her husband what she wants to do. Democrats have a very small bench in this conservative state, and it's tough to see Team Blue holding this seat without Heitkamp.
● CO-Gov: Several prominent Democrats are eyeing this open seat, so it's not much of a surprise that one of the lesser-known potential candidates has decided to seek a different statewide office. While state Rep. Steve Lebsock, who represents a district in suburban Denver, expressed interest earlier this year, he announced this weekend that he would run for state treasurer instead. Treasurer Walker Stapleton is termed out and is one of the many Republicans considering running for governor.
● CT-Gov: It just wouldn't be an election year in New England without a member of the Kennedy family considering running for office somewhere. The CT Post reports that an unnamed source "close to" Democratic state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. says there's a "90 percent" chance that he runs for governor in 2018. Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy hasn't yet decided whether to seek a third term, but if the deeply unpopular governor hangs it up, many Democrats could join the race to succeed him. Kennedy hadn't spoken publicly about running for governor before, but he did put out a statement that refused to rule anything out, asserting that if "other opportunities to serve" arose outside the state Senate that he "would consider them."
Kennedy is the son of late longtime progressive stalwart Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and he first won election to the Connecticut Senate in 2014. If he jumps into the race, he would actually be the second Kennedy family scion to run for governor in 2018, since his cousin Chris Kennedy is seeking the Democratic nomination in Illinois. So far, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew is the only other Democrat to express interest in running in Connecticut after he formed an exploratory committee back in January. However, if Malloy does retire, Team Blue has a deep bench of prospective candidates who could run, while several Republican legislators and local officials have previously indicated their interest too.
● IA-Gov: The Democratic field to face Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is set to become governor after Gov. Terry Branstad is confirmed as ambassador to China, is slowly taking shape. Ex-Department of Natural Resources head Rich Leopold is already in, while ex-Des Moines School Board President Jonathan Neiderbach is too. Neiderbach previously lost the 2014 general election for state auditor 57-43. State Rep. Todd Prichard, a veteran who has the support of some influential Iowa Democrats, formed an exploratory committee last week, and he's not doing much to hide that he's planning to get in. However, a number of other Hawkeye State Democrats could also run, and Iowa Starting Line takes an invaluable look at the developing race.
It sounds like there will be at least one new candidate very soon. Andy McGuire, who recently stepped down as head of the state Democratic Party, hasn't said much about her plans publicly, but Starting Line's Pat Rynard says she's hired a campaign manager and is shooting her announcement video. There's a good chance that McGuire will be the only female candidate on the ballot, which could be a huge asset especially in a crowded field, and she should be able to raise plenty of cash. However, McGuire has her enemies in the state party: In January, prominent labor leader Danny Homan publicly blamed McGuire for the party's poor showing last year.
Rynard mentions several other Democrats who could run. He describes state Sen. Nate Boulton, who represents a Des Moines-area seat, as "increasingly likely to get in," and says he is close to both labor and trial lawyers and should be able to raise money; Rynard also says that Boulton's fellow state senators are encouraging him to get in. State Rep. Chris Hall, who represents a seat around Sioux City in western Iowa, is also being encouraged to run statewide, while Davenport Alderman and retired Army Ranger Mike Matson says he'll decide by the end of the summer.
Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry has been mentioned as a possible candidate, though there's no word how interested he is; Carberry could appeal to the Bernie Sanders supporters that Neiderbach is hoping to win over. State Sen. Janet Petersen has not ruled out a bid and she's gotten some attention for defending Planned Parenthood funding, but Rynard says she isn't touring the state like other prospective candidates. Finally, ex-state Sen. Jack Hatch, who lost the 2014 race to Branstad 59-37, is reportedly encouraging others to run, but doesn't seem to have said no himself.
● VA-Gov: Now that George W. Bush has returned to the fundraising circuit after his long exile, it's not a surprise to see him heading up a Dallas fundraiser for Ed Gillespie. Gillespie, who narrowly lost the 2014 Senate race to Democratic incumbent Mark Warner, headed the RNC during Dubya's presidency and later served as his Counselor to the President.
Gillespie faces two primary opponents in the June GOP primary: state Sen. Frank Wagner and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart. Wagner hasn't raised much money since he entered the race last year, nor has he earned many influential endorsements. Meanwhile, Stewart's entire campaign seems to be an attempt to appeal to rabidly pro-Trump internet commenters. In addition to referring to Gillespie as a "cuckservative" without any prompting on Reddit, Stewart's allies doctored a Washington Post headline to attack his opponent. However, Stewart's fundraising has been awful and he barely registers in the polls. Stewart may think he's the Donald Trump of Virginia, but the original model doesn't appear to think much of him. Last year, Stewart was sacked as head of Trump's state campaign after he organized a demonstration outside the RNC to protest their tepid support for Trump.
● WI-Gov: Dane County Executive Joe Parisi recently said he'd decide if he'll challenge GOP Gov. Scott Walker in the next month, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a look at some other potential contenders. Mark Bakken, the wealthy co-founder of HealthX Ventures, a health care venture fund, is mentioned, but there's no word on his interest. However, Assemblymember Dana Wachs is reportedly unlikely to run if Bakken gets in, though unnamed "sources familiar with his thinking" say Wachs is seriously considering getting in otherwise.
The paper also mentions Matt Flynn, who served as state party chair in the 1980s and lost his fourth and most recent bid for Congress in 2004, and Assemblyman Gordon Hintz, but there's also no word if either man is interested. Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, who lost the 2014 attorney general race 52-45, is reportedly planning for a statewide run for an unidentified office, while non-profit head Andy Gronik and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout are considering. Ex-state Sen. Tim Cullen recently said that he's likely to get in, but Cullen is a weak fundraiser who has pissed off plenty of Democrats over the years.
● ME-02: This rural northern Maine seat swung hard against Team Blue last year, going from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump. Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin won his second term by a similar 55-45 margin, and he could have problems if this area swings the other way in 2018. The first Democrat we've heard express interest is construction company owner Jonathan Fulford, who narrowly lost to GOP state Senate President Mike Thibodeau in 2014 and 2016. Fulford, who was a Bernie Sanders backer last year, tells the Bangor Daily News that he's considering, and he "wondered aloud if a Sanders-style campaign model built on small donations would be an option against Poliquin." Poliquin himself has not ruled out running for governor next year.
● MN-01: Democratic Rep. Tim Walz's decision to run for governor (see our MN-Gov item) opens up his southern Minnesota seat, which includes Rochester and Mankato. This district violently lurched from 50-48 Obama to 53-38 Trump, and it will likely be a top GOP target. However, as Daily Kos Elections' David Jarman shows, this area has been very politically divided for decades, so it's possible 2016 was just a temporary shift. As recently as the 2014 GOP wave, Democratic Sen. Al Franken carried the 1st 49-45 while he was winning statewide 53-43, while GOP gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson won the seat 48-45 as he was losing the election 50-45.
On the Democratic side, Roll Call's Simone Pathé mentions ex-state Rep. Terry Morrow, who served as Walz's campaign manager last cycle, as a potential candidate. Morrow was first elected in 2006, and he resigned just after he was re-elected without opposition in 2012 to take a new job. It's unclear if Morrow is interested in running to succeed his boss, and he has not said anything publicly yet. Roll Call also says that state Rep. Tina Liebling could run, though there's no indication if she's interested. Liebling has been considering running for governor and she will reportedly announce her plans this Sunday. Pathé also name-drops state Rep. Gene Pelowski and state Sen. Dan Sparks, but there's also no sign yet that either of them are considering.
On the Republican side, businessman Jim Hagedorn, whose father Tom Hagedorn left the House in the early 1980s, declared he was running last year. In 2014, Hagedorn defeated the national GOP's preferred candidate in the primary, but he raised very little money for his bid. Hagedorn attracted bad headlines when his old writings denigrating… well, almost everyone, surfaced. (Sample: In 2002, he called Washington's two female U.S. senators, "undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes.") Both parties ignored the race, and Walz won 54-46. Hagedorn came back for a rematch in 2016, and he once again raised only a little cash and earned almost no outside help. Hagedorn unexpectedly lost just 50.3-49.6, but his near-upset was almost certainly more due to Trump's coattails than to the candidate's appeal.
It's very likely that national Republicans will want to shove Hagedorn aside, but it's not clear who will step up. So far, the only other Republican we've heard from is state Sen. Jeremy Miller, who has flirted with running for this seat in the past. Miller told MinnPost's Sam Brodey that Walz's decision not to seek re-election was a "game changer," but Miller declined to say anything about his own plans. It's likely that we'll hear from more Republicans in the coming days and weeks.
● PA-03: House Democrats in Western Pennsylvania have recently had lousy luck after the region has trended steadily to the right and Republicans passed a brutal congressional gerrymander that left Team Blue with just a single seat there following the 2012 elections. However, former Erie Mayor Rick Filippi reportedly told GoErie.com's Pat Cuneo recently that he would consider running against GOP Rep. Mike Kelly in the 3rd District, which spans from Erie to just north of Pittsburgh.
Filippi would likely face strong headwinds if he does run. Although ancestrally Democratic, this heavily white working-class district backed Trump by a crushing 61-35 spread, which itself was a big improvement upon Mitt Romney's already imposing 56-43 edge in 2012. While the former mayor of the largest city in the district is at least a serious candidate on paper, it remains to be seen whether even a strong campaign could put such a red seat into play.
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.