● KS-04: In an extraordinary political earthquake, Kansas Republicans held on to a dark red House seat in the Wichita area night by just a single-digit margin on Tuesday night, throwing into question whether the GOP's majority can survive next year's midterm elections.
Republican Ron Estes, the state treasurer, had been universally expected to easily win the special election in Kansas' 4th District to replace Mike Pompeo, who left to become Donald Trump's CIA director earlier this year. But instead, Estes found himself struggling in a district that Trump carried by a dominant 60-33 margin and Pompeo won by more than 30 points last year.
By contrast, Estes managed just a 53-46 victory over an unheralded Democratic opponent, civil rights attorney James Thompson, who lacked the support of most major national Democratic groups. (The lone major exception: Daily Kos issued a late endorsement and raised over $160,000 for Thompson.)
Even fellow Republicans opined that Estes had run a lackluster campaign, and he was hurt by intense energy among Democrats, who were spurred to strong turnout by antipathy toward Trump and Sam Brownback, the state's deeply unpopular governor. A panicked GOP launched a last-minute rescue effort that involved almost six figures in spending from the NRCC, robocalls from Trump and Mike Pence, and a rally with Ted Cruz, and it may have just saved Kansas Republicans from themselves.
But this seat should never, ever have been so close in the first place, and the fact that it was should scare Republicans everywhere. Just 83 districts—out of 435—are redder than this one, and compared to Trump's results, Estes' performance was abysmal: His 7-point victory was 20 points worse than Trump's 27-point win just five months ago. No fewer than 75 Republicans won last year by margins of 20 percent or less, so even if Republicans experience a swing against them of "only" half that size, they're still in for a world of hurt.
Thompson's strong showing will likely also energize progressives further and boost Democratic recruitment. If you're a would-be candidate in a Republican-leaning district, a result like this gives you a lot of optimism. And it’s also very possible that Republicans in competitive seats may decide that 2018 is a good year to retire rather than face angry voters— which may in turn deter strong GOP recruits from running this cycle. There's a lot of red turf out there that's suddenly looking a lot more vulnerable, and if things keep up, Democrats could very well take back the House in 2018.
● AL-Sen: Luther Strange (R-inc): $674,000 raised, $764,000 cash-on-hand
● AZ-Sen: Jeff Flake (R-inc): $1.4 million raised
● CT-Sen: Chris Murphy (D-inc): $3 million raised, $3.5 million cash-on-hand
● NV-Sen: Dean Heller (R-inc): $1.4 million raised, $2.6 million cash-on-hand
● NM-Gov: Michelle Lujan Grisham (D): $892,000 raised (since December), $750,000 cash-on-hand
● SD-AL: Shantel Krebs (R): $140,000 raised
● MO-Sen: GOP Rep. Ann Wagner hasn't declared a campaign yet against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, but she's sure raising money like she's a candidate. Wagner took in $804,000 during the first quarter and had $2.8 million cash-on-hand, which is likely far more than she would need to hold down her historically GOP-leaning suburban St. Louis-area House district. Her past as an RNC co-chair and NRCC deputy chair undoubtedly give her the connections to raise serious money.
While Wagner could prove to be a formidable foe for McCaskill in a state that supported Trump 56-38, she might not have the Republican primary to herself. Big-name state Republicans are encouraging state Attorney General Josh Hawley to seek a promotion even though he only won his current office last November, and Hawley hasn't ruled out a campaign.
● MT-Sen: Sen. Jon Tester is likely one of the most endangered Democrats seeking re-election in 2018 after Donald Trump carried Montana by a brutal 56-35 spread, and the incumbent just drew his first official challenger from Republican state Sen. Albert Olszewski. A slew of better-known Republicans have been mentioned as possible candidates, but aside from state Attorney General Tim Fox, who hasn't ruled out a campaign, few have talked about their intentions publicly.
Although Montana has long leaned Republican at the presidential level, Democrats have often performed better at the state level. Tester won two hard-fought Senate races in 2006 and 2012, and as a former DSCC chair, he'll almost certainly have the ability to fundraise what he needs. However, if Montana's relatively Trump-friendly voters decide they've had enough of splitting their tickets, the senator could be on borrowed time.
● UT-Sen: Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch has long been dodgy about whether he would commit to seeking an eighth term in 2018, but in politics, money often speaks louder than words. Hatch brought in $1.5 million in the first quarter and had about $3.5 million in the bank, which is quite a considerable amount for a longtime officeholder in such a safe state. While it wouldn't be unheard of for an entrenched incumbent to step aside with substantial cash on hand, these numbers strongly suggest that Hatch is indeed planning on running again, just like he publicly says.
● VA-Sen: The Senate portion of Quinnipiac's latest Virginia poll (see our VA-Gov item for the governor's race) finds Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine sporting a gaudy 58-34 approval rating and cruising to a second term in 2018. Kaine leads failed GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina 57-33 and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham 56-35 in the general election. No Republicans have formally announced a campaign yet, but both women have previously said that they were considering the race. There's still a long way to go until 2018, but if Kaine's popularity is anywhere near that high, he could be tough to beat in this light-blue state.
● AL-Gov: Disgraced GOP ex-Gov. Robert Bentley's resignation on Monday has begun to set things in motion for the field of potential Republican contenders in this ruby-red state's 2018 gubernatorial race. With new GOP Gov. Kay Ivey ascending to the office from the separately elected lieutenant governor's position and possibly running for a full term in her own right, some Republicans who had been expecting an open seat might re-evaluate their prospects if they have to challenge an incumbent. However, the National Journal spoke to several other possible Republican candidates, and they all insisted that they're sticking with their plans.
State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says he and his team are still mulling the race, but he'll have to "talk with Gov. Ivey and just see what her ambitions are" before making a decision. State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan maintains that he's "still planning to run" and that Ivey "does not affect my decision," while state Auditor Jim Zeigler claims he's "still considering." Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says he and his allies will continue to consider a campaign "into the weeks ahead," while a spokesperson for Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington anticipates he "will make a final decision within the next 45 days."
A few of other possible Republican candidates have yet to publicly clarify their latest intentions, but former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh had filed to run earlier this month before Bentley's resignation, though neither declared that they were in.
● CA-Gov: Most early polls of the 2018 top two primary have shown Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom securing one of the two spots he'd need to advance to the general election, a Republican grabbing the other, and two other Democrats, state Treasurer John Chiang and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, far behind. However, Villaraigosa's team is out with a Feldman Group survey that was conducted March 7- March 13 that argues he has a good chance. The poll gives Newsom 26 percent of the vote, while Republican businessman John Cox edges Villaraigosa just 22-20 for second place, and everyone else is in the single digits.
The memo argues that, unlike other pollsters, they believe that many Latino voters who have voted in recent general elections but have skipped primaries will turn out for next year's top two contest. It's also worth noting that the 2018 contest is far from settled. Two notable Democrats, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, haven't ruled out running, while Republicans are still hoping to convince San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to get in. It's very possible that if more Democrats run, a Republican will be guaranteed at least one of the two general election spots. It's also very possible that enough weak Republicans will run to keep Team Red out of the general, which is what happened in last year's Senate race.
● CT-Gov: Unpopular Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy hasn't decided whether to seek a third term in 2018, but he just drew another possible Republican opponent on Monday. Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker filed paperwork to run, though he says he hasn't made a final decision yet about waging a campaign. Walker was a co-founder of the centrist No Labels group, which might not do him any favors in a Republican primary, and he narrowly lost the 2014 primary for lieutenant governor.
The pool of possible Republican candidates is quickly growing crowded in the Nutmeg State. Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan have both already jumped into the race, while Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, and state Sen. Toni Boucher have all formed exploratory committees to consider running.
● GA-Gov: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle became the latest Republican to take steps to seek the open governor's mansion in 2018 when he filed paperwork to run, although he has not made an official announcement yet. Cagle has been lieutenant governor since first winning office in 2006, which made him the only Republican in state history to ever hold that position, and he likely starts off as one of the leading contenders for the nomination. Cagle had previously filed paperwork and raised money to seek a promotion when the governor's office was last open in 2009, but ended up dropping out before the 2010 primary due to health concerns.
The Republican primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Nathan Deal is likely to get even more crowded before things are all said and done. Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched his own campaign early in April, while several other Republicans are considering.
● ME-Gov: Four-term Republican Sen. Susan Collins had previously refused to rule out campaigning to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Paul LePage in 2018, and she now says she's considering whether to run or to stay in the Senate. Collins previously ran for governor in 1994, but came in third against independent Angus King, who is now her Senate colleague. If she decides to make a second attempt at the office in 2018, she'd likely be by far the biggest name in either party to do so.
Collins says she doesn't "have a timetable for making a decision." The longtime senator could conceivably use her much higher public profile to wait until closer to the filing deadline to join the race, but lesser-known rivals would face pressure to announce earlier so that they can raise funds and get their names out there ahead of a primary. However, several potential contenders might not want to go through the burdensome task of campaigning just to have one of the state's most popular officeholders jump in at the last minute, so we might see something of a holding pattern until Collins decides.
If Collins does seek to head to Augusta, the popular senator's record of winning huge numbers of crossover votes could turn what is looking like a top-tier pickup opportunity for Democrats into a much tougher race in a state that voted just 48-45 for Hillary Clinton. However, Democrats' gubernatorial loss could in turn help their future Senate prospects, since a Collins victory would mean that either she or LePage would appoint a replacement senator who would then have to face election for a full term in 2020. Even an appointed GOP incumbent would likely be a much more appealing target for Democrats that year than the entrenched Collins.
If the senator does decide to run for governor, she could very well scare off many possible Republican primary opponents. However, as of now, state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, ex-state House Minority Leader Josh Tardy, state party chair Rick Bennett, and state Sen. Roger Katz have all said that they're considering running. State Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, a LePage ally, is also reportedly considering.
● SC-Gov: Newly elevated Republican Gov. Henry McMaster reported raising $960,000 during the first quarter in his bid to seek a full term in 2018. McMaster had previously served as state party chair, attorney general, and lieutenant governor, and was also a key Trump backer ahead of the state's crucial presidential primary, so he shouldn't be having trouble raising money. However, his haul isn't all that much better than first-time GOP candidate and ex-state Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Templeton's $700,000 over the same period. Party-switching ex-Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill is the only other big-name candidate in the Republican primary so far, but he has yet to release a fundraising report.
With Republican Sen. Tim Scott sounding extremely unlikely to run for governor, McMaster appeared to be in the driver's seat for the nomination, but other Republicans nonetheless still might join the race. State Sen. Tom Davis and state Attorney General Alan Wilson have previously said that they were considering running, but McMaster can at least cross one big name off the list of potential primary opponents after Rep. Jeff Duncan announced he would stay put in the House.
● VA-Gov: The June 13 gubernatorial primary is just two months away, and Quinnipiac gives us its latest look at how the contest is shaping up for both parties. On the Democratic side, the pollster finds former Rep. Tom Perriello pulling into a narrow 25-20 lead over Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Although that's an improvement for Perriello from their February poll where the two candidates were tied 19-19, the sky-high number of undecided voters still likely mean it's anyone's game.
For Team Red, Quinnipiac shows ex-RNC chair Ed Gillespie continuing to decisively lead with 28 percent, followed by Prince William County Board of Supervisors chair Corey Stewart with just 12 percent, and state Sen. Frank Wagner at 7. With such a large number of undecideds this race isn't yet settled, but Gillespie's Republican opponents have limited time and money to chip into his lead.
The pollster gives Democrats good news as they look ahead to the general election, as both Northam and Perriello lead the Republican field by anywhere from 11 to 14 points, which was an uptick from their more modest leads from two months ago. Against Gillespie, Perriello leads 46-33, while Northam edges him by a similar 44-33 margin. However, with so many voters still not expressing an opinion about the candidates, and with seven months to go until the general election, the end result could easily end up a lot closer once the parties unite around their nominees.
● CA-50: This suburban San Diego seat has been in GOP hands for decades and at 55-40 Trump, it normally wouldn't be a very tempting target for Team Blue. But Rep. Duncan Hunter is under investigation for allegedly using campaign money for his own uses, including a $600 flight for his family's pet rabbit. If Hunter makes it past the June 2018 top two primary with this still hanging over his head and an unfavorable political climate for the GOP, Democrats may have an opening, and retired Navy SEAL Josh Butner kicked off his bid this week. Butner, a member of a local school board, will need a lot to go right to have a chance at Hunter, but the congressman may just obligate him.
● CO-06: This suburban Denver seat has been a very tough target for Democrats. The district moved from 52-47 Obama to 50-41 Clinton, but GOP Rep. Mike Coffman won his expensive re-election contest 51-43. On Tuesday, attorney Jason Crow, a veteran of the Army Rangers, became the first Democrat to jump into the race.
Crow has never sought elected office before, though he has been active in politics. Crow gave a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention praising Obama for his work undoing Don't Ask, Don't Tell and for supporting veteran's care. In 2015, Crow campaigned in support of the Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran, something Coffman and his allies have wasted no time hitting him for. Crow lives just outside the seat in Denver and he says he's planning to move to the 6th, which won't stop Team Red from portraying him as an outsider. It's unclear who else is eyeing the seat, but Coffman is exactly the type of formidable Republicans in a Trump-skeptical seat that Democrats need to unseat to retake the House.
● GA-06: The extreme anti-tax group Club for Growth is backing Republican Bob Gray ahead of next Tuesday's all-party primary, and they just put $300,000 behind a new ad hitting GOP candidates Karen Handel and Dan Moody over, you guessed it, taxes. Their casino-themed spot blasts the two Republicans as career politicians who supported raising taxes and wasteful spending.
Meanwhile, the NRCC attacks Democrat Jon Ossoff by repeatedly calling him "way too liberal" and making sure viewers know his party affiliation. They continue a common GOP line of attack that Ossoff "doesn't even live here," even though he lives and grew up just a few minutes' drive south of the heavily suburban district.
● MT-AL: Rob Quist announced an auspicious fundraising haul of $1.3 million for the roughly one month that he has been the Democratic nominee for the May 25 special election to replace now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Republican, in the House. Daily Kos itself has raised over $100,000 for Quist since endorsing him in early march. Montana is a relatively cheap state to advertise in, so that amount could go a long way in what could be an unexpectedly competitive race against well-funded Republican Greg Gianforte.
● PA-06: This week, two Democrats announced that they would challenge sophomore GOP Rep. Ryan Costello in this competitive suburban Philadelphia seat. Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran who also served as an executive at footwear company AND1 and was also an executive at a nonprofit literacy organization, formed an exploratory committee a little while ago, and she's now announced she's in. Bob Dettore, a construction company executive, joined her in the Democratic primary.
This seat went 51-48 Romney to a narrow 48.2-47.6 Clinton win, so it could be a tempting target for Team Blue. However, Costello is a strong fundraiser, and it will take a lot of money to oust him in the expensive Philadelphia media market.
● SC-05: Sheri Few, a state opponent of Common Core education standards, hasn't attracted too much attention ahead of the May 2 GOP primary for this reliably red seat, but she's trying to change that with her new spot that defends the flag… the Confederate Battle Flag, that is.
Few hits two of her opponents, now ex-state Rep. Ralph Norman and state House Speaker Pro Temp Tommy Pope, for voting for the 2015 bill that removed the flag from the statehouse grounds after white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans in Charleston. Few doesn't bother to mention the Charleston shooting, but she does claim that the two legislators "started a war on our history." She goes on to bemoan how streets and colleges named for Confederates are being renamed and statues are being removed, "and is started with Ralph Norman and Tommy Pope's vote."
● VA-10: On Tuesday, Army veteran Daniel Helmer announced that he would challenge GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock in this Northern Virginia seat. Helmer set up an account with the FEC at the end of March, and he says he has already raised $120,000 for the race.
Helmer joins teacher Kimberly Adams, a past president of the Fairfax Education Association, in the primary, and a number of other Democrats are thinking about running here. The Washington Post adds a new potential candidate to their long list: They report that Fairfax County School Board member Ryan McElveen is considering, though there's no quote from McElveen. National Democratic leaders reportedly are hoping to convince state Sen. Jennifer Wexton to run, and she has expressed interest; Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe is also reportedly mulling a bid.
This district swerved from 51-49 Romney to 52-42 Clinton, but Comstock won re-election 53-47. Comstock is a strong fundraiser, and she reports raising $500,000 for the first three months of 2017.
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.