● Milwaukee County, WI Sheriff: This would be awesome: Former Milwaukee Police Captain Earnell Lucas will challenge notorious Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke in next year's Democratic primary, according to a consultant working for Lucas. Clarke, a vociferous Trump supporter and incendiary critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, is the living embodiment of the term "Democrat-in-name-only"; those who know him from the headlines he makes are often shocked to learn he isn't a Republican.
But that makes his re-election prospects worse than dicey: A PPP poll conducted earlier this year found that just 13 percent of Democratic voters in Milwaukee County said they'd support Clarke, while 82 preferred "someone else." And now it looks like those folks will indeed have a someone else to vote for. Lucas is a 25-year police veteran and has worked for the last 15 years in Major League Baseball, currently serving as the league's vice president for security—a formidable-sounding resume.
In fact, Lucas could prove to be such a tough opponent that Clarke, who hasn't actually confirmed whether he'll seek a fifth term, might choose not to run altogether. Clarke has refused to rule out a bid against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, which would require him to switch parties (not exactly a tough mental leap), though he probably wouldn't be the favorite of DC Republicans. And it's not like he could rely on the man in the White House for much help: As others have noted, Trump is always much more interested in pushing his enemies than helping his allies. So it really could be the end of the line for Clarke—and good riddance.
● FL-Sen: Sen. Bill Nelson's announcement that he would support a filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court may have been a pivotal moment in the Democrats' efforts to block Gorsuch's confirmation—and, predictably, it also gave Florida Republicans an opening to attack the senator. One of the grouchiest was Rep. Tom Rooney, who issued a statement criticizing Nelson, then confirmed through his office that he's "weighing all his options for 2018 and doesn't know for sure what he is doing yet."
The same Rooney spokesperson disingenuously claimed that her boss's press release "had nothing to do with 2018," but we know that the wealthy Rooney's entertained dreams of higher office in the past. Last cycle, Rooney considered a bid for Marco Rubio's Senate seat, back during that long-ago time when Marco Rubio had sworn he was never, ever gonna run for re-election, but he backed down early on.
But as the Palm Beach Post notes, when Rooney was looking at a Senate campaign in 2015, he observed that running in 2018 would amount to "bad timing" if Gov. Rick Scott were also in the race. Scott hasn't yet announced his plans, but he's publicly said he's considering a challenge to Nelson. If he does, that would likely keep Rooney—and most of the rest of the GOP—out.
● TX-Sen: According to unnamed "Democratic sources" cited by the Houston Chronicle, Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who has openly been considering a challenge to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, will launch a campaign for Senate on Friday. While such a bid would be a long shot in solidly red Texas, O'Rourke has long insisted he would serve no more than four terms in the House, so next year's election would have been his last either way. We'll take a closer look at the impact of this move, though, if and when it actually happens. Candidates reportedly on the verge of announcing bids for higher office have backed off more than once in the past—just ask Dave Catanese.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joaquin Castro, who has also been weighing a Senate run, reacted to the news by saying he's still thinking about it and will announce his decision "in the coming weeks." If both Castro and O'Rourke were to go for it, that would set up an interesting and unusually competitive Democratic primary—for a prize that has been out of reach for Team Blue ever since Lloyd Bentsen won a final term in the Senate in 1988 as he simultaneously was losing his bid for the vice-presidency.
● UT-Sen: GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch has been playing games about his re-election plans for a long time, and now he's continuing the fun. In a new interview, Hatch says he might step aside and choose not to seek an eighth term (an apparently flexible promise he made when he was seeking a seventh) if the perfect replacement candidate came along. Who might that be? "Mitt Romney would be perfect," says Hatch. Romney's team wouldn't comment on Hatch's latest shenanigans, but last month, Mitt declared, "All doors are open."
● AL-Gov: Republican Twinkle Cavanaugh, the chair of Alabama's Public Service Commission, has filed paperwork to create a campaign committee, apparently making her the first candidate to take formal steps toward running in next year's race for governor. While Cavanaugh's name had previously been mentioned, this is the first time we've heard from her directly, and oddly, though she submitted her papers a month ago, she hadn't said anything publicly until now. (Cavanaugh confirmed to AL.com that her committee is a "vehicle to plan for a run for governor," adding, "Stay tuned!")
A whole boatload of other Republicans are looking at this race (and a few Democrats, too), but as we've chronicled in detail, major questions remain to be resolved regarding the current occupant of the governor's mansion, Republican Robert Bentley, who is currently being investigated by state lawmakers as part of an impeachment inquiry. If Bentley is impeached or removed from office, that would elevate Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey to his post, potentially upending the race to succeed him. But whatever happens, ambitious candidates like Cavanaugh have to start preparing, and they can't wait around for action from the slow-moving legislature, which has been considering the matter for a year now.
● GA-Gov: We can add one more name to the long list of Republicans reportedly considering bids for next year's open gubernatorial race: state Sen. Hunter Hill, who has reportedly told colleagues that he won't seek re-election but is instead looking at a run for governor. But, suggests the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hill would likely be an underdog in a primary that will probably feature Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is president of the Senate. We should have a better sense of the field soon, though, as the legislature's session is set to end this week.
● RI-Gov, RI-Sen: Okely dokely, neighborinos! Former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, whose name had previously come up in connection with a potential gubernatorial bid, instead says he will form an exploratory committee to look at a possible challenge to Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. That's an incredibly tentative toe in the water, and we ordinarily wouldn't even spend time on a Senate contest that's sure to be a dud (Whitehouse is the heavy favorite), but this presumably means we can take Flanders' name out of contention for the more competitive governor's race, where Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is beset on all sides.
● VA-Gov: To go along with their primary polling from a day earlier, Christopher Newport University has now released its general election matchups for Virginia's gubernatorial election this fall. The race is neck-and-neck between the leading Republican candidate, former RNC chair Ed Gillespie, and the two Democrats in the race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and ex-Rep. Tom Perriello. Gillespie has a bare 40-39 edge over Northam and ties Perriello at 39 apiece.
The Democrats fare better against the two lesser-known Republican options: Northam beats Prince William County Supervisor Chair Corey Stewart 41-33 and state Sen. Frank Wagner 40-34. Perriello, likewise, leads Stewart 40-34 and Wagner 38-35.
Also interesting are the numbers for CNU's generic ballot for the state House, which Democrats lead by a sizable 48-41 spread. All 100 seats in the chamber are up for re-election this fall alongside the governorship, and if Democrats can maintain something like that 7-point edge, they could make major gains.
● WI-Gov: Former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen, who was no one's idea of a great candidate anyway, announced on Wednesday that he won't challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year. Cullen seemed shocked to learn that he'd have to spend at least three to four hours a day raising money for a bid, which he complained was "a very sad commentary on the state of democracy." That may be, but Cullen is not some naïve newcomer. He was first elected to political office in the 1970s, so how could he be unaware of the realities of modern campaigning?
Anyhow, Democrats still don't have anyone running in Wisconsin, though there are a number of names still in the mix. Walker hasn't formally announced he'll seek a third term either, but he does appear to be gearing up for a re-election bid.
● MT-AL: Musician Rob Quist, who's running for the Democrats in the May 25 special election for Montana's at-large House seat, just announced that he's raised $754,000 since becoming his party's nominee on March 5. That's a considerable sum for a Democrat running a small red state, and speaks to the enthusiasm we've seen across the board from small-dollar progressive donors in the wake of Donald Trump's inauguration (a topic explored at greater length in this smart Politico analysis of ActBlue data). Quist's Republican opponent, wealthy businessman Greg Gianforte, hasn't revealed his fundraising haul yet (first quarter reports are due at the FEC on Friday at midnight Eastern), but he can self-fund as much as he needs.