● CT-Gov: On Thursday, Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy announced that he would not seek a third term next year. While Malloy narrowly won re-election during the 2014 GOP wave, he has posted horrible approval ratings over the last few years. As we've mentioned before, Malloy has suffered from 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. Malloy is currently trying to convince state employee unions to accept concessions in order to help plug the state's $1.7 billion deficit.
Malloy's decision undoubtedly comes as a relief to his fellow Democrats. While Connecticut is a dependably blue state in federal elections, it has been more than willing to send Republicans to the governor's office. Before Malloy's 2010 victory, the last time a Democrat won the governorship was in 1986, when Gov. William O'Neill was re-elected.
Republicans will certainly do everything they can to argue that whoever emerges with the Democratic nomination next year will continue Malloy's unpopular governorship, but their job won't be quite as easy without the incumbent on the ballot. Donald Trump lost the Nutmeg State 55-41, and Democrats will try and connect the GOP's gubernatorial nominee to the White House.
Republicans were already gearing up for this race before Malloy made his move. Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan have each announced that they will run, while former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker; Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton; Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst; businessman Steve Obsitnik; attorney Peter Lumaj; and state Sen. Toni Boucher have all formed exploratory committees. There is no clear frontrunner at this point, and it's very possible that there are other GOP candidates considering getting in. It's also possible that some of the people who have formed exploratory committees will end up seeking a different statewide office.
Malloy's move will likely set off a competitive Democratic primary. Middletown Mayor Dan Drew formed an exploratory committee months ago, though he said he was doing it so he could raise money to qualify for matching funds rather than to challenge Malloy. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, a vocal Malloy critic, also said a few weeks ago that he'd make a "preliminary decision" this spring.
A few weeks ago, the CT Post reported that state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., a son of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was very likely to run if Malloy didn't. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney has expressed interest as well, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim also sounds interested, but given his seven-year stint in jail for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of perks, he's not exactly an appealing candidate. We may see plenty of other names come out now that Democrats know this will be an open seat.
Be sure to check out our first quarter Senate fundraising chart, which we'll be updating as new numbers come in. We're also including the totals for House members who are publicly or reportedly considering a Senate bid.
● MA-Sen: Elizabeth Warren (D-inc): $5.2 million raised, $9.2 million cash-on-hand
● NM-Sen: Martin Heinrich (D-inc): $1.3 million raised, $2.5 million cash-on-hand
● OH-Sen: Sherrod Brown (D-inc): $2.4 million raised, $5 million cash-on-hand
● VA-Gov: Tom Perriello (D): $2.2 million raised, $1.7 million cash-on-hand; Ed Gillespie (R): $1.8 million raised, $3 million cash-on-hand
● AL-Gov: Democrat Ron Sparks, who was the state's elected state agriculture commissioner, campaigned for governor in 2010, but lost to Republican Robert Bentley 58-42 in the GOP wave. Bentley soon hired Sparks to head the Alabama Rural Development Office, a post he held until this week. However, after Bentley resigned in disgrace as his long-running sex scandal concluded, newly-elevated GOP Gov. Kay Ivey quickly eliminated the ARDO, and Sparks says she didn't have the decency to even tell him that he was out of a job. On Thursday, Sparks said he was "absolutely" considering running for office in 2018, and when he was asked if he was thinking about another gubernatorial bid, Sparks only said he wasn't ready to announce.
There aren't many Yellowhammer State Democrats left in public life who have been elected statewide, but Sparks is an exception. Sparks won the agriculture commission post 51-46 in 2002, and decisively kept it 59-41 four years later. Given how awful 2010 was, especially in the South, there probably isn't another Democrat who would have done much better in the gubernatorial race. Republicans dominate statewide politics in this very red state, but Democrats hope that Bentley's dramatic fall, as well as the recent conviction of powerful state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, will convince enough conservative voters that major change is needed.
If Sparks does run for governor, he may not have the primary to himself. A few other Democrats have talked about running: Mark Johnston, the longtime director of the large Episcopalian-affiliated Camp McDowell; state Rep. Craig Ford, a former House minority leader; ex-state Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb; and 2014 nominee and ex-Rep. Parker Griffith, a Democrat-turned Republican-turned independent-turned Democrat. Sparks has been away from partisan politics for a long time, and it's unclear if he still has the connections he'd need to run a credible campaign, or if his time with the Bentley administration will be seen as a negative with primary voters.
For her part, Ivey had yet to announce her 2018 plans before she became governor. On Thursday, she said she was focusing on her new job and will have time to consider whether she'll run for the full term. That's not a surprising response, since it's in Ivey's best interest politically to present herself as above politics as her governorship begins. However, other Republicans were laying the groundwork to run before Bentley's resignation, and so far, they continue to insist that they're interested in running even if Ivey does.
● AZ-Gov: David Garcia, the 2014 Democratic nominee for state superintendent of public instruction, kicked off his bid against GOP Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday. Garcia, an education professor at Arizona State University, says he was planning to seek a rematch with Republican Diane Douglas, who beat him in their close 2014 race. However, after Ducey signed a bill last week that expands the state's charter school program, Garcia switched gears and decided to challenge the governor. While Garcia came close to winning during the GOP wave two years ago, his defeat reportedly surprised local Democrats, who felt Douglas was weak.
Ducey, the wealthy former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, doesn't appear to be very vulnerable at this state of the cycle. However, Clinton's close loss in Arizona has Democrats optimistic about the future, and Team Blue would love to score a big win next year. State Sen. Steve Farley has also expressed interest in running, and he said back in February that he'd decide "probably fairly soon" after Arizona's legislative session ends on April 22.
● CO-Gov: Victor Mitchell, who served one term in the state House a decade ago, is a self-proclaimed "longshot" candidate who admits he didn't back Trump last year, which seems like a kiss of death in modern Republican politics. But at least money won't be an issue for Mitchell: The wealthy businessman lent his campaign $3 million during the first quarter of the year, and he's says there's a lot more where that came from. However, he doesn't seem very interested in seeking contributions from people not named Victor Mitchell, since his campaign raised only $2,578 from donors.
Another rich Republican is also eyeing the race. DaVita Healthcare Partners chief executive Kent Thiry has been reportedly considering for a while, and political operative Kate Roberts, a Thiry political ally, confirmed his interest to The Gazette. However, Roberts says that Thiry is considering many other options, including backing a redistricting reform ballot measure or running for office later, and that he doesn't know when he'll decide. Suburban Denver District Attorney George Brauchler is already running in the GOP primary, and a number of other possible candidates are considering.
● FL-Gov: Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis spent more than a year running for the Senate last year after Marco Rubio bailed to campaign for president, and he attracted endorsements from several prominent anti-establishment groups, including the powerful Club for Growth. After Rubio turned around and ran for re-election, DeSantis did the same thing and won another term in the House, but he may not be done running for statewide office. Last year, DeSantis reportedly mulled a 2018 bid for attorney general, but there have been no developments since then. And this week, the tea party-aligned Madison Project released a poll from the GOP group WPA Intelligence (formally known as Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, or WPA Research) arguing that DeSantis has an opening in a gubernatorial primary.
The poll finds state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the likely primary frontrunner, leading DeSantis 17-9, while state House Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Sen. Jack Latvala take 3 each. No one has entered the race yet but Putnam and his allies are aggressively fundraising for his very-likely bid. This survey, which WPA tells us was conducted from April 4-5 and sampled a monster 2,120 primary voters, seems to have been released to reassure DeSantis that Putnam doesn't start out with anything like an insurmountable advantage.
It's also worth noting that if DeSantis wanted to run for statewide office, he wouldn't exactly be starting from scratch financially. At the end of 2016, DeSantis had $1.7 million in his House account; ex-Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham recently transferred $250,000 from her House account to an allied campaign committee ahead of her likely gubernatorial bid, and DeSantis could presumably dispense with at least a good chunk of his war chest in a similar manner. However, Putnam's allied committee began March with $6.8 million in the bank, so he still would have a large financial lead in this very expensive state. DeSantis hasn't publicly expressed interest in running for governor, and if he's truly interested, he probably can't afford to wait long if he wants to raise enough money to compete with Putnam.
● GA-06: The conservative websites RRH Elections and Decision Desk HQ have co-sponsored a new poll of next Tuesday's 6th District House special election that finds Democrat Jon Ossoff well out in first place with 39 percent, but still far short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Several Republican candidates are bunched up in the low double digits, with Karen Handel leading the pack at 15 percent, Bob Gray at 12 percent, Dan Moody at 11 percent, and Judson Hill at 10 percent. No other candidate topped four percent.
The combined Republican field has a 51-43 lead over the Democratic candidates, but the poll didn't appear to test any runoff matchups. This poll is in line with other recent surveys that placed Ossoff closer to 40 percent than 50 percent, but the parties themselves don't appear to be acting like Ossoff is stuck at just 39 percent, since both are spending heavily in the event that he might shockingly win an outright majority.
Indeed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that candidates and outside groups have dumped almost $14 million into ads on TV and radio in this suburban Atlanta district. Ossoff's gangbusters $8.3 million first-quarter fundraising allowed him to lead the pack with $5.3 million spent, while no Republican even came close to matching him. Thanks to the fractured GOP field, Republicans have relied on outside groups like the NRCC to launch $4 million worth of attacks on Ossoff.
Speaking of ads, the Congressional Leadership Fund recently aired a new spot against Ossoff. The House GOP's main super PAC attacks him for supposedly embellishing his resume and tries to tie him to Nancy Pelosi. Meanwhile, Judson Hill has a fresh ad that lambasts his Republican opponents for "bringing the political circus to town." Hill then proceeds to rattle off a conservative policy wish list that tries to cram in as many buzzwords as possible, like repealing Obamacare and beating the "Pelosi liberals."
● IA-03: That was quick. After kicking off his third bid for this competitive Des Moines seat in early March, wealthy investor Mike Sherzan dropped out of the Democratic primary on Thursday. Sherzan said that he decided that he'd need to self-fund his campaign, and "that's not how this process should work." Sherzan briefly ran for this seat in 2013 but dropped out citing his health; the next cycle, he decisively lost the primary.
Sherzan's decision leaves Office of Consumer Advocate attorney Anna Ryon as the only declared Democratic candidate against sophomore GOP Rep. David Young. However, well-connected Pete D'Alessandro, who was Bernie Sander's campaign coordinator during the Iowa presidential caucus and has worked in key positions in state Democratic campaigns for decades, is considering. D'Alessandro told Bleeding Heartland soon after Sherzan dropped out that he'll say something "concrete" about his own plans "sooner rather than later," and likely in the next week. State Sen. Matt McCoy is also mulling a bid, and he says he expects to decide this fall.
This seat swung from 51-47 Obama to 49-45 Trump, and Young decisively won both his terms. However, things may go differently if Team Blue can field a credible candidate and 2018 goes well for the party nationally.
● IL-06: During the last round of redistricting, Democratic legislators drew this seat as a GOP vote-sink in order to help Democratic candidates in other suburban Chicago districts, and Romney carried the 6th by a solid 53-45 margin. But this affluent and well-educated seat did not react well to Trump, who lost 50-43 here, and Democrats want to finally give GOP Rep. Peter Roskam a tough race. However, this area remains friendly to the GOP downballot, and Roskam is a strong fundraiser who seems to understand that he can't take his re-election for granted. Roskam ended 2016 without much money in his war chest, but he brought in a hefty $580,000 during the first three months of 2017.
Over at Crain's Chicago Business, Greg Hinz takes a look at the developing Democratic field. Attorney Amanda Howland, who lost 59-41 last year, says she's running again. Barrington Hills Planning Commission member Kelly Mazeski, who lost a 2016 state Senate bid 59-41, says she's exploring and has met with EMILY's List and the DCCC. Carole Cheney, the district chief of staff to neighboring Rep. Bill Foster, says she's "likely" to run.
Unnamed insiders also tell Hinz that Maura Sullivan, a Marine veteran who went on to be a senior public affairs official at the Defense Department, is a potential candidate who "has DCCC's blessing." Sullivan has not said anything publicly yet, and Hinz notes that she lives outside the district in Evanston. Evanston, a famously liberal college town, is located a bit of a ways away from this ancestrally Republican western suburban seat, and the GOP wouldn't hesitate to portray Hinz as an outsider. In fact, Roskam and his allies used that tactic in 2006 in a competitive open seat race against Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs in Iraq. Despite the Democratic wave, Roskam beat Duckworth, who is now Illinois' junior senator, 51-49.
● KS-02, KS-Gov: After losing the 2014 governor's race to GOP incumbent Sam Brownback by a heartbreaking 50-46 margin, ex-Kansas House Democratic Leader Paul Davis sounded interested in running to replace the termed-out governor in 2018. However, after 2nd District GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins announced that she would not seek re-election to her conservative Topeka-area seat, Davis began talking about running to succeed her instead. On Thursday, Davis announced that he was forming an exploratory committee for a House bid, though he stopped short of actually declaring. Davis says he'll tour the district over the next two months, and that he expects to formally announce in the summer.
Trump carried the 2nd District 56-37, and a win won't be easy for any Democrat. However, after Republican Ron Estes only pulled off a 53-46 victory in Tuesday's special election for the nearby 4th District, which backed Trump by an even-stronger 60-33 margin, a congressional race in Kansas may look a lot more appealing than it once did.
Plenty of Republicans have dismissed Estes' weak showing as a symptom of Brownback's considerable unpopularity rather than a sign that the GOP brand is in trouble nationally. But even if that turns out to be true, that's not necessarily a problem for Davis. According to our calculations, Democrat Davis carried this seat 51-45 against Brownback in 2014, so this is a district that was already not inclined to like the governor. Kansas' horrific budget situation has gotten no better since 2014, and Brownback is probably an even bigger liability for local Republicans than he was back then.
Voters tend to be more willing to cross party lines in gubernatorial races than in federal contests, so if Davis decides to run for Congress rather than the governor's office, he is taking a risk. However, there are two big factors that may make a House bid more appealing. Ex-Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer is already running for governor, and Davis predicted that other Democrats are interested in that office. While Davis could very well win the gubernatorial nomination, it makes sense for him to run for the House, where he'd likely be able to avoid a competitive primary.
Additionally, a month ago, multiple outlets reported that Trump was considering making Brownback his ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture. If Brownback resigned, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would become Kansas' new Republican governor. While it's possible that Brownback's unpopularity would rub off on his old running mate and hurt the GOP at the ballot box in 2018, it's also possible that voters would decide to give Colyer a chance to turn things around. There's no guarantee at all that Brownback will be able to escape Kansas before his term ends, but Davis may have decided that running for the House in an open seat is a better bet than possibly running against an incumbent.
● KS-04, KS-Gov: On Tuesday, Republican Ron Estes pulled off a weak 53-46 win against Democrat James Thompson in the special election for a Wichita seat Trump carried 60-33 months earlier, and at least one Republican smells blood. Three unnamed GOP sources tell the Wichita Eagle that state Senate President Susan Wagle is considering launching a primary challenge against Estes, who has yet to even be sworn in. Wagle's chief of staff didn't exactly pour cold water on the story, saying that "[t]he lack of enthusiasm from Republicans in yesterday's election was disconcerting. Susan is focused on serving Kansans as Senate president, but will continue to evaluate how she best serves in the future."
Wagle hasn't ruled out running for governor, but a bid against a weak incumbent may be too good to pass up, and there doesn't seem to be much disagreement that Estes ran a poor campaign. Estes won the GOP nomination through a convention, and then he proceeded to sleepwalk into the general. Estes raised very little money in the lead up to Election Day, and GOP insiders anonymously took shots at him. One notably complained to Nathan Gonzales that Estes and his team "had no media strategy, no social media strategy, no outreach strategy. There was no vision. His biggest commercial was him in a swamp with gators. He is not a tea party candidate from Alabama."
Estes will have over a year before he needs to face primary voters, and he may have time to become entrenched. It's rare for scandal-free incumbents to lose primaries, especially when redistricting isn't a factor, and if Estes can avoid pissing off hardcore conservatives, he may be fine next year. But he's definitely going to want to work a hell of a lot harder before 2018 than he did over the last few months if he wants to survive a challenge from Wagle or anyone else.
P.S.: And just how bad was Estes' performance against Thompson? Daily Kos Elections' own Daniel Donner graphed how far ahead or behind each GOP House member ran compared to Trump, and let's just say Estes won't be bragging about much at his first GOP caucus meeting.
● MT-AL: It looks like Tuesday night's way-too-close special election in Kansas is already causing palpitations on the right. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to Paul Ryan, now says it'll spend "at least $1 million" on advertising and GOTV to help Republican Greg Gianforte—even though he's worth hundreds of millions of dollars and can self-fund all he likes. And that comes on top of $700,000 the group had already thrown in for ads attacking Democrat Rob Quist last month.
And that's not all: The NRCC says it's tossing in $273,000 on television and digital ads. And the NRA is chipping in $145,000 on TV, too. Oh, and the GOP is sending Donald Trump, Jr. out to Montana to stump for Gianforte for two days next week. (You think he'll work in a hunting trip, too?)
Is it hair-on-fire time for Republicans? Hard to say—we haven't seen any polling in ages, and they may just be acting super-extra-doubly cautious after the embarrassment in Wichita. But this isn't the kind of behavior you see from a party that feels rock-solid about its chances.
● NJ-05: Several Republicans have made noises about challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer in this 49-48 Trump North Jersey seat, and one of them has made the first move. Warren County Freeholder Jason Sarnoski, whose name we hadn't heard in connection to this race, has set up a "Sarnoski for Congress Exploratory Committee" with the FEC, but he's made no other type of announcement yet. Warren County only makes up a little more than 9 percent of this seat, and GOP leaders may prefer someone with a base in populous Bergen County. (Hat-tip Politics1)
● NM-01: A second Democrat is laying the groundwork for this open 52-35 Clinton seat in the Albuquerque area. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, who is a professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico's law school, filed with the FEC on Monday, though she has yet to announce she's in. Sedillo Lopez, who also serves as executive director at a nonprofit that combats domestic violence in the Latino immigrant community, ran Bill Clinton's state campaign back in 1996. Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis is the only declared Democratic candidate so far.
● SC-05: North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, the leader of the far-right Freedom Caucus, took sides in the crowded May 2 primary and backed ex-state party chair Chad Connelly this week. Meadows' endorsement on its own may not move many votes, but it could be a signal to like-minded donors and powerful outside groups like the Club for Growth that they should support Connelly. South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, a fellow Freedom Caucus member, backed Connelly in March.
● TX-07: Last year, this suburban Houston seat swung from 60-39 Romney to a narrow 48.5-47.1 Clinton win, but longtime GOP Rep. John Culberson evidently isn't at all concerned. Culberson raised just $133,000 during the first three months of 2017, and he has a very similar amount on-hand. Culberson is one of the least-wealthy members of Congress, so if things get hairy next year, he can't self-fund his way out of trouble. However, this area has been red for decades and Democrats don't have much of a bench here, and it's far from guaranteed that Team Blue will be able to run a serious campaign against Culberson.
● TV: Daily Kos political director David Nir went on The Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday night to talk about the shockingly close result in the special election for Kansas' dark-red 4th Congressional District earlier this week—and the enormous grassroots enthusiasm responsible for the outcome. David also discussed the upcoming specials in Georgia and Montana, and what all these races mean for Democrats' prospects of taking back the House next year. Click here to watch the full segment!
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.