● UT-03 On Wednesday, five-term Rep. Jason Chaffetz surprised his colleagues and other Utah Republicans when he announced that he wouldn't seek re-election, nor would he run for anything else in 2018.
Democrats in particular will be glad to see the House Oversight Committee leave D.C. Chaffetz delighted in aggressively looking into Hillary Clinton's emails, and he clearly relished the chance to do more "investigating" after the election. However, after Trump became president instead, Chaffetz showed absolutely none of the zeal he had when going after Clinton, and he has instead given Trump almost a complete pass. Instead, Chaffetz has tasked himself with doing what Trump wants and has been looking into unfavorable leaks against the new administration. However, we may not have seen the last of Chaffetz, since the congressman notably did not rule out a 2020 gubernatorial bid as he was announcing his retirement.
With Chaffetz exiting Congress, the floodgates are now likely to open for prospective GOP candidates in what has long been one of America's reddest House districts. Trump only won the overwhelmingly Mormon Provo-area 3rd District by 47-24 over conservative independent Evan McMullin, with Clinton actually coming in third at 23 percent. However, many Mormon Republicans rejected Trump despite sticking with the party downballot, and the district has backed previous GOP presidential nominees by lopsided majorities, meaning the action to succeed Chaffetz is likely going to be confined to the Republican side.
A former Republican congressional aide, McMullin himself had said in March that he was considering a run against Chaffetz, and an unnamed source close to him tells Buzzfeed that McMullin's still interested. However, it's unclear if McMullin would run as an anti-Trump Republican or remain an independent.
A few Republicans quickly expressed interest in running for this seat. State Sen. Deidre Henderson, who used to be Chaffetz's campaign manager, says she's "seriously considering a run." Provo Mayor John Curtis says that Chaffetz's decision caught him by surprise, and that he'll consider. State Rep. Dan McCay also said he was looking at "the opportunity."
A few other observers also donned their Great Mentioner caps on Wednesday to list some other possible Republicans who might be interested but haven't said anything publicly yet. Politico's Daniel Strauss names state Sen. Curtis Bramble and Brigham Young University professor Chia-Chi Teng, who lost badly to Chaffetz in 2016. Additionally, the Washington Examiner's David Drucker floats state Rep. Mike McKell. State House Speaker Greg Hughes was also mentioned by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Importantly, the 2018 primary will be the first time Utah's seen an open congressional seat since state legislators changed rules for nominating candidates after the 2014 elections. Previously, parties held nominating conventions and only conducted primaries between the top two finishers if no candidate won more than 60 percent among convention-goers. Now, the new law allows candidates to bypass the convention entirely if they obtain enough signatures from voters. That means we could see many more candidates run than in previous contests.
Finally, while this dark-red district is likely to remain in Republican hands, Chaffetz's reputation did encourage Democrats to donate against him this year. Democratic physician Kathryn Allen already raised an astonishing $561,000 in the first three months of the year, which she can now use to run against the eventual Republican nominee. However, Allen might struggle to continue raising funds for such a hostile seat without a boogeyman like Chaffetz to run against.
● AL-Sen: Earlier this week, GOP Gov. Kay Ivey rescheduled the special election for the Senate seat now held by appointed GOP Sen. Luther Strange from 2018 to 2017. The party primaries will be Aug. 15, with a Sept. 26 runoff for contests where no candidate takes a majority of the vote, and the general election will be Dec. 12. The filing deadline is May 17, though the state parties can pick an earlier date. Strange has attracted scorn from fellow Republicans for accepting an appointment from then-Gov. Robert Bentley, even as Strange's attorney general's office was investigating Bentley for covering up a sex scandal, and he's not going to get a free pass through the primary. The only question is how many Republicans will challenge him this fall.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Ed Henry entered the race hours after the special was rescheduled. Henry led the charge to impeach Bentley before the governor resigned in disgrace last week, and he's almost certainly going to focus on Strange's very sketchy appointment. Henry also was a co-chair of Donald Trump's Alabama campaign, and he declared that "Trump's going to need help draining the swamp."
Several other Republicans have made noises about getting in. On Wednesday, suspended state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore said he would decide in the next week. Moore made national headlines in 2015 for defying orders from federal courts to recognize same-sex marriage, and just before his press conference, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the decision that suspended him until his term expires. Unsurprisingly, Moore casted himself as a martyr, and he's reportedly very popular in this very conservative state.
State Senate leader Del Marsh has already said that he'll decide this week, and he sounds likely to go for it. However, conservative columnist Quin Hillyer writes in the Washington Examiner that Marsh upset religious conservatives when he supported legalized gambling in 2015, and his moves to prevent the legislature from repealing Common Core education standards also alienated movement conservatives.
A trio of members of Alabama's U.S. House delegation have not ruled out running. Rep. Mo Brooks, a hard core tea partier who got to Congress by primarying party-switching incumbent Parker Griffith, says he has "yet to ponder or decide anything." Rep. Robert Aderholt, a longtime member who is much more friendly with the leadership, also isn't closing the door: His chief of staff says that Aderholt "will be considering the options." Rep. Bradley Byrne also only told Al.com that "I think Gov. Ivey made the right decision and I look forward to seeing the field," which certainly isn't a no. In fact, when the Montgomery Advertiser's Brian Lyman directly asked Byrne if he considering, the congressman just repeated the same line.
Several other people also are talking about jumping in. Ex-state Rep. Perry Hooper says he'll decide "shortly," while state Sen. Trip Pittman says he'll make up his mind "in a couple of weeks." State Sen. Slade Blackwell has also expressed interest. Meanwhile, state Sen. Arthur Orr acknowledges that he's been encouraged, but says that "I believe there will be other candidates getting into the race that I could support. If that is the case, I will continue to focus on the job at hand in Montgomery."
There could also be one other credible Republican scoping things out. Hillyer writes that Jimmy Rane, the wealthiest man in Alabama, has a grudge against Strange for his role in the conviction of his ally, then-state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, and that Rane "plans either to finance a candidate to take Strange down, or even to run himself." Rane is famous in the state from his commercials for his company.
● NM-Sen: Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich looks like a strong favorite to win a second term thanks in part to Hillary Clinton winning this blue-leaning state by 48-40 in 2016, but Republicans have landed their first challenger after Albuquerque construction company owner Mark Rich announced his candidacy on Tuesday. Rich has never run for office before, but is potentially wealthy enough to do some self-funding.
● NV-Sen: Democratic Rep. Dina Titus has been considering whether to take on Republican Sen. Dean Heller in 2018, and she recently told the Nevada Independent that she would decide by early summer. Titus is so far the only prominent Democrat to publicly express interest in a Senate bid, but her recent fundraising report seemed to augur against running. She raised just $70,000 in the first quarter and had only $274,000 on hand, which is far short of the pace needed to make the switch from her safely Democratic Las Vegas House district to the Senate. While it wouldn't be unheard of for a House member to kick things into high gear only after launching a Senate bid, it wouldn't be too surprising if Titus ultimately stays put.
● OH-Sen: According to Politico, investment banker Michael Gibbons is the latest Republican who is reportedly considering running against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018. As a first-time candidate, it's unclear if Gibbons has the campaign skills and connections needed for such a formidable race, but he has previously been a major Republican donor and could potentially do some self-funding. Josh Mandel, who is supposedly also Ohio's state treasurer during his years-long quests for Senate, has already announced his intent to seek a rematch against Brown, while Rep. Pat Tiberi is also considering running.
● TN-Sen, TN-Gov: Republican Sen. Bob Corker hasn't previously announced whether he would seek a third term in 2018, and on Monday, he once again refused to say what his plans were. There has been speculation that Corker could seek the open governor's office next year instead, and Corker didn't say no when asked if he might run for that position instead. If Corker does decide not run for another term, there would undoubtedly be a lot of Republican interest in succeeding him. If he jumps into the governor's race, he could scare away some would-be GOP rivals, and some of them might decide to switch to the Senate race.
Tennessee backed Trump by a 61-35 landslide, making it no one's idea of a swing state. However, it's at least noteworthy that a Democratic candidate with an appealing background has entered the Senate race in 2018 after an anti-gay extremist embarrassingly won the party's nomination in 2012, leading Democrats to disavow his candidacy that year. On Monday, attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler became the first Democrat to announce he would challenge Corker.
Tennessee hasn't had a competitive Senate race since Corker narrowly won an open seat against then-Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. during the 2006 Democratic wave, and that looks unlikely to change in 2018. However, as Nevada Democrats painfully learned in 2014, failing to put up a real challenger for the top of the ticket can devastate a party downballot, and it's always better to have a qualified nominee in place just in case the other party unexpectedly implodes.
● TX-Sen: The nonpartisan non-profit Texas Lyceum released its annual poll of major political issues in the Lone Star State, which also included a rare look at hypothetical 2018 Senate general election matchups. Their survey finds Republican Sen. Ted Cruz tied 30-30 with Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who entered the race at the end of March, while Cruz actually trails Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is still considering the race. While such a result could be encouraging for Democrats who would love to take out the odious Cruz, it has some major caveats.
It's still incredibly early to test such a race, and the large number of undecideds in such a red state could easily lean strongly Republican. Furthermore, the poll is of adult citizens, a demographic that typically leans more Democratic than actual registered voters. Lastly, the poll asked if the country was on the right or wrong track and about Trump's approval before asking about the Senate race, which isn't best practices for horse-race polling since it can prime voters to respond differently for Senate based on how they feel about the president. Indeed, Trump's approval rating in the poll was underwater at 54-43 disapproving, a sharp turnaround from his 52-43 victory margin in 2016, which is why this poll should be taken with a grain of salt.
● UT-Sen: Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is saying through both words and fundraising that he at least plans to run for an eighth term next year, but he may need to get through a primary. Derek Miller, the CEO of World Trade Center Utah and a former chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, reiterated to Roll Call that he's still "very seriously" considering, and expects to decide in the fall. Miller said he didn't actually have anything specific to criticize Hatch on, but argued that after so long in the Senate, it's time for a change. Miller said earlier this month if Hatch retired but Mitt Romney ran in his place, he wouldn't oppose the former Massachusetts governor.
● VA-Sen: Failed 2016 Republican presidential primary contender and unsuccessful 2010 California Senate nominee Carly Fiorina once again reiterated that she's thinking about running for Senate in Virginia in 2018, though the former Hewlett-Packard CEO said a decision likely won't come until after this November's state elections conclude. So far, few Virginia Republicans appear eager to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018 in this light-blue state, leaving Fiorina and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham as the only two who are giving serious public consideration to running.
● CT-Gov: Two more Democrats have set up exploratory committees to succeed retiring Gov. Dan Malloy in recent days. Jonathan Harris, a former mayor of West Hartford and state senator, stepped down as Consumer Protection commissioner a few days ago and filed on Tuesday. Harris told CT News Junkie that the only thing that might keep him from running would be a candidacy from Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who has not yet said anything publicly about her 2018 plans. Harris' move could, therefore, be a sign that he doesn't expect Wyman to get in; however, due to Connecticut's very complicated public financing requirements, it also makes sense for Harris to get started early.
Following Harris' move, Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor who ran the U.S. attorney's financial fraud and public corruption unit, set up an exploratory committee the next day. Mattei's highest-profile accomplishment is likely his work sending former Republican Gov. John Rowland back to jail in 2015 on election fraud charges (Rowland had previously served a term behind bars for corruption).
In 2012, Mattei also helped oversee the investigation into aides to then-state House Speaker Chris Donovan, who were charged with trying to conceal the source of campaign donations while Donovan was running for Congress. Prosecutors never accused Donovan of even knowing about his aides' schemes, but the bad headlines helped cost him in the Democratic primary, and CT Mirror suggests that the matter may have left Mattei with enemies in the party.
Harris and Mattei aren't the first to make moves toward the race: Middletown Mayor Dan Drew set up an exploratory committee months before Malloy announced he would retire last week, and a number of other Democrats are eyeing the seat. One notable name we've heard mentioned belongs to state Attorney General George Jepsen, but he hasn't said anything publicly. However, the CT Mirror's Mark Pazniokas tweets that Jepsen "says the door isn't closed," but adds that "[o]thers close to him say it's not open wide," so it doesn't sound like he's champing at the bit to get in.
Another Democrats seems to also be backing away from a possible bid. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney has expressed interest in this office, and he told the New Haven Register that sure, he would run… under a very specific set of circumstances. Looney speculates that Malloy might resign, which would make Wyman governor, in turn elevating Looney to the lieutenant governorship. Looney says that if a Gov. Wyman then chose not seek a full term in 2018, he "would certainly run at that point under those circumstances." That double bank-shot sure sounds unlikely.
Looney didn't rule out running even if his dream scenario doesn't come to pass, but he doesn't sound very enthusiastic about it. Looney says that if "other circumstances" obtain, he does "not know yet" whether he'd go for it. For his part, Malloy says that he's going to complete his term.
● GA-Gov: Ex-GOP Rep. Lynn Westmoreland has been mulling a bid to succeed termed-out Gov. Nathan Deal for a while, and he tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he won't likely decide until around July 4. However, Westmoreland hasn't sounded incredibly excited about a possible bid in the past, and other Republicans are currently in the race or preparing to announce.
● IL-Gov: Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers has been considering joining what's becoming a crowded and expensive Democratic primary, and he said on Tuesday that he'd make his decision within the next two weeks. A Summers internal poll released last month found him with little initial support, and he'll need to raise a lot of money to get his name out in a primary that features two very wealthy candidates, venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker and businessman Chris Kennedy. However, if Summers runs, he may be the only serious black candidate, which could be a major asset. Two other African American politicians from Chicago, Rep. Robin Kelly and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, haven't ruled out running, but neither appears to have said anything in months.
● ME-Gov: Attorney Adam Cote, an Army combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, became the first credible Democrat to announce that he would run for this open seat on Wednesday. Cote's only previous electoral experience was a 2008 bid for Maine's 1st Congressional District, where he lost the primary 44-28 to now-Rep. Chellie Pingree. However, the Bangor Daily says that Cote impressed Democrats through his strong fundraising and by outpacing two former legislators (
one each of whom later became the mayor of Portland.) A number of other Democrats are also mulling bids.
● MN-Gov: On Wednesday, Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman became the first Republican to enter the race for this open seat. It remains to be seen if Huffman, who hails from the St. Paul suburbs, has what it takes to win what will likely be a crowded race.
Minnesota parties hold conventions months before the primary, where candidates compete for the state party endorsement. It's common for candidates to drop out of the race if someone else gets the party endorsement, though some do decide to skip the convention entirely and just run in the primary. (Retiring Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton did this in 2010.) Huffman says he'll abide by the party endorsement…. unless he feels he's been unfairly attacked, in which case, he "reserve[s] the right to run in the primary."
While five Democrats are already running for governor and more could join them, the GOP race has been slower to develop. Rich Stanek, the sheriff of Minneapolis' Hennepin County, has been flirting with running, and he'd arguably be the frontrunner. State House Speaker Kurt Daudt has also talked about getting in, though he's sounded more reluctant in recent days. There are plenty of other politicians mulling a bid, including several state legislators.
● AZ-02: While Republican Rep. Martha McSally only narrowly won her first term in 2014, she pulled off a strong 57-43 victory over a Democrat with little national support last cycle. However, this Tucson seat swung from 50-48 Romney to 50-45 Clinton, and Democrats can't afford to let McSally off easy again if they want to flip the House.
A few days ago, Billy Kovacs became the first Democrat to enter the race. Kovacs is the operations manager at the historic Tucson Hotel Congress, so he may have some connections. McSally is a very strong fundraiser, and her eventual Democratic opponent will need plenty of resources to run a serious race. It's unclear if other Democrats are considering getting in at this point in the cycle.
● KS-03: Last cycle, businessman Jay Sidie lost to GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder 51-41 in a race that attracted a late spree of Democratic spending. This suburban Kansas City seat swung from 54-44 Romney to 47-46 Clinton, and Sidie has been talking about a second bid for a few months. This week, Sidie filed with the FEC to set up a campaign account, and while he doesn't appear to have announced he's definitely running, he's sent out a fundraising email encouraging Kansas to "elect a true independent."
Last cycle, Democrats didn't show much interest in this contest until late in the cycle, and Sidie only faced a few little-known primary foes. However, it's possible that 2018 will attract more Democratic candidates, especially if Yoder runs for governor. So far, though, no one else has made any noises about getting in. The Kansas City Star recently reported that Democratic officials tried to recruit ex-U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, but that they've been unsuccessful.
● MI-01: Tea partying Republican Rep. Jack Bergman easily dispatched a well-funded Democratic opponent to win his first term in 2016, undoubtedly aided by this ancestrally Democratic northern Michigan seat swinging sharply from 54-45 Romney to 58-37 Trump. That outcome makes it unlikely that national Democrats will heavily compete here in 2018, but Bergman at least just drew a non-Some Dude opponent. Iraq War veteran Matthew Morgan, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel whom Politico says had previously worked in two presidential administrations and at the secretary of defense's office, announced that he would take on Bergman, who himself is a former Marine lieutenant general.
● MT-AL: State legislative Republicans appear to have finally killed a bill that would have conducted Montana's upcoming May 25 special election for its lone House seat entirely by mail, where the state would mail every registered voter a ballot. Since the existing budget hadn't allocated funds to conduct the special election, many county election administrators and a handful of key Republicans supported vote-by-mail as a cost-saving mechanism, while Democrats also pushed the measure as a way to boost turnout. However, most Republican legislators opposed it, with the state GOP chair even going so far as to explicitly acknowledge that their opposition was solely because higher turnout helps Democrats.
The measure surprisingly had majority support in both Republican-controlled legislative chambers, but a state House committee had voted it down. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock subsequently used a special veto power to send the provision to the full floor, but the Republican speaker simply refused to schedule a vote. The legislative session will soon draw to a close, and proponents lack the three-fifths supermajority needed to force a vote.
● NY-01: This eastern Long Island seat shifted from a narrow Obama win all the way to 54-42 Trump, and, even under the best of circumstances, it's going to take a lot of money to oust sophomore GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin. Earlier this month, ex-Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher told Newsday's Rick Brand that she was considering running. While Viloria-Fisher said she's "not quite there yet," she has since set up a campaign committee with the FEC, though she has yet to announce she's in. (And as we like to remind readers, not every person who sets up a campaign committee with the FEC actually ends up running.)
Viloria-Fisher served 12 years on the county legislature before being termed-out in 2011. However, her run for Brookhaven town supervisor in 2013 did not go well, and she lost to the GOP incumbent 62-38. Viloria-Fisher blamed Suffolk County party chair Richard Schaffer for failing to support her campaign; Schaffer remains chair, so unless the two are a lot more friendly now, she probably can't expect much support from the county party in a primary. However, it's unclear who else might run. Assemblyman Fred Thiele is considering, but he said in March that his odds of getting in are less than 50-50, and that he likely won't decide until late in the year anyway.
● OH-14: Three-term Rep. David Joyce doesn't typically appear on lists of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in 2018 after he won by 63-37 in 2016, but Democratic attorney Betsy Rader announced on Wednesday that she would oppose him. Rader has previously twice run for local office before as an independent in staunchly Republican Geauga County, but was not successful.
Located in Ohio's northeastern corner, this district backed Trump by an imposing 54-42 margin, giving Rader a daunting task ahead of her. However, Romney won it by just 51-48, and unlike most GOP-held Ohio districts, it's actually somewhat better-educated than the national average, meaning it isn't impossible that Joyce could sweat things if Trump sparks a major backlash against House Republicans in 2018.
● TX-32: After Texas' 32nd Congressional District swung from 57-42 Romney all the way to 49-47, Democrats became a lot more interested in targeting longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, and they got their first potentially formidable candidate this week. Colin Allred, who played for the Tennessee Titans before becoming a civil rights lawyer, announced on Wednesday that he was in.
Allred certainly cuts a different profile than plenty of other politicians, and his football career at Hillcrest High School (which is in the district) and at Baylor University could be an asset if he runs. Allred went on to serve as a special assistant to the Housing Department while Julian Castro was secretary during the later Obama years; Castro is well-connected in national and Texas politics and if he's close to Allred, he could help him raise money.
Allred may not be the only Democrat who runs, but he lost one possible primary foe this week. While Dallas school board member Miguel Solis expressed interest in running back in February, he also announced on Wednesday that he wouldn't run. However, the Dallas Morning News says that Ed Meier, a nonprofit executive and former Hillary Clinton policy advisor, is one of "several Democrats [who] are considering campaigns," though Meier doesn't appear to have said anything publicly yet. The Texas Tribune's Abby Livingston also recently mentioned Children's Medical Center senior vice president Regina Montoya as a potential candidate, though there's no word on how interested Montoya is.
Despite this seat's apathy to Trump, this won't be an easy race. This seat, which includes some of Dallas' more conservative neighborhoods (including the home and painting studio of George W. Bush) as well as the suburbs of Richardson and Garland, is still very friendly to the GOP overall. As a former chair of the NRCC, Sessions also will have no problem raising money. But Sessions hasn't faced a serious Democratic opponent since he defeated Democrat Martin Frost in their 2004 incumbent vs. incumbent fight, and he's not always been the most disciplined person in the world.
● Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso gives us the results for that other all-party primary in Georgia:
Georgia SD-32: This one will be going to a May 16 runoff between Democrat Christine Triebsch and Republican Kay Kirkpatrick, who pulled in 24 and 21 percent of the vote, respectively. Republicans took the third, fourth, and fifth place spots: Roy Daniels got 15 percent, while Gus Makris and Matt Campbell both got 10 percent. The other four candidates all hit single digits.
● Albuquerque, NM Mayor: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who represents Albuquerque in the House, endorsed ex-Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta, a fellow Democrat, in this fall's non-partisan open mayoral race. Lujan Grisham is running for governor next year, and it's interesting that she would risk wading into Albuquerque's mayoral election and possibly alienating the winner.
The announcement comes after Archuleta posted a disappointing fundraising report, brining in just $141,000 with $93,000 on-hand. By contrast, former state Democratic Party Chair Brian Colón brought in $389,000, and he has $308,000 in the bank. Another credible Democrat, state Auditor Tim Keller, decided to take public financing, and he has about $380,000 to spend (minus the seed money he needed to raise to qualify for the program).
Albuquerque usually backs Democrats in state and federal elections, but it currently has a GOP mayor. However, while outgoing incumbent Richard Berry easily won re-election in 2013, local analyst Joe Monahan reports that his popularity has taken a hit due in large part to the poor city economy and troubles with the city police force, which entered a settlement with the Department of Justice in 2014 after the DOJ faulted the police force for displaying a pattern of excessive force. A few Republicans are running, but it sounds like Berry won't be an asset here. City Councilor Dan Lewis raised $250,000 and has $146,000 on-hand. County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who announced a few weeks ago despite Lewis' reported attempts to deter him, has $88,000 in the bank.
Ricardo Chaves, an 81-year old Republican, was mostly unknown until recently. However, the founder of Parking Company of America self-funded $300,000 as he launched a late bid and suddenly attracted attention from the city's political class. Chaves is running against Berry's multi-million dollar proposed parking structure. Chaves is making a late move to get enough valid signatures before the April 28 deadline; if he succeeds, he could split the GOP vote enough to lock Team Red out of the general. All the candidates will compete on one non-partisan ballot on Oct. 3, and if no one wins a majority, there will be a runoff.
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.