● VA State House: While most state legislatures aren't up for election until 2018, all 100 members of Virginia's House of Delegates will go before voters this November. Here at Daily Kos Elections, we've been hard at work calculating the results of the 2016 presidential election for each seat, and the numbers are both very revealing—and, potentially, very promising.
Here's the good news: Hillary Clinton carried the Old Dominion 50-45 last fall, and she also won 51 of the 100 seats in the state House, despite the fact that Republicans drew these very lines to benefit themselves during the last round of redistricting. What's more, even though Barack Obama won a similar 51-47 victory four years ago, he only carried 47 state House seats, so recent trends are in Democrats' favor. (To let you drill down further, Stephen Wolf has created an interactive map to show which seats are represented by which party, and who won each seat in the presidential race.)
However—and it's a big however—despite how seemingly blue their own map is, Republicans currently hold a huge 66 to 34 majority in the chamber (there's one vacant Democratic seat in a safely blue district). It'll be very challenging for Democrats to overcome that gap this year, but in this age of Trump, the party simply has to try its hardest to win as many seats as it can, and there are a lot of potential targets for Team Blue.
In fact, no fewer that 17 Republicans sit in seats that backed Clinton last year. The Republican in the bluest seat is James LeMunyon, who represents HD-67, a Northern Virginia district that Clinton carried 60-34; in 2012, Obama won it by a considerably smaller 54-45 margin, which shows how hostile voters there were to Trump—a pattern we've seen in other well-educated suburbs.
But other seats moved in the opposite direction. At the far end of this batch of Republican-held seats Clinton won, Hampton Roads Del. Robert Bloxom Jr. sits in the closest district: His HD-100 voted for Clinton 49-47, a drop from Obama's 55-44 win here. But at least Democrats don't have to worry too much about playing defense: All 34 Democrats sit in Clinton seats, and even the closest—Del. Roz Tyler's HD-75 in southern Virginia—still went for Clinton by a comfortable 57-41 margin (four years ago, Obama took it 62-37).
While Democrats always have plenty of Republicans to go after, they've had a tough time making gains. The biggest reason is that turnout among Democratic voters tends to drop when there's no presidential race on the ballot, and state House races take place in odd-numbered years. On the flipside, however, there's the Trump factor: The new occupant of the White House may be able to motive angry Democrats who've stayed home in prior off-year elections to show up in November.
And Democrat office-seekers will need to harness that motivation, since lots of Democratic-leaning voters still split their tickets in Virginia, backing Democrats for governor but Republicans for the legislature. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's 2013 win demonstrates puts that obstacle into stark relief. Democrats went into that year's elections holding just 32 seats in the state House, and they hoped a McAuliffe victory would generate success further downballot. McAuliffe did indeed win statewide 48-45 and carried 44 seats, but state House Democrats netted exactly one seat. If Democrats want 2017 to go differently, state House candidates can't just hope that Team Blue's gubernatorial candidate will just sweep them into office.
But it's also possible that Virginia Democrats will catch a break this year. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing a challenge to Virginia's state House map, which plaintiffs have argued violates the constitution by packing too many black voters into too few districts. If the court agrees and orders a new map, McAuliffe's veto will prevent the GOP legislature from just drawing up another gerrymander.
However, that's a big if—a lower federal court has already upheld the existing map—and Democrats need to go into November assuming they'll be running under the current lines. Still, opportunities abound, if Team Blue is ready to seize them.
● AL-Gov: GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne hasn't been mentioned much as a potential 2018 candidate to succeed scandal-tarred and termed-out Gov. Robert Bentley, but he's not ruling it out. The Gulf Coast congressman flatly told AL.com that he's not interested in replacing Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions in the Senate, but Byrne didn't sound so resistant to running for governor next year. Instead, Byrne only offered the typical politician's dodge, saying that he hasn't "given any thought to the governor's race." Byrne then piled on his protestations at some length, adding, "I'm not saying I'm running for governor, so don't write that. You've got some time. But if someone came in and said, 'You've got to make up your mind right now,' I would say that I'm not going to do that." Okay, buddy.
Before he got to the House, Byrne did in fact run for governor once before, back in 2010. Byrne began the contest as the frontrunner, but a pre-sex scandal Bentley ended up beating him 56-44 in the GOP runoff before handily winning the general election. Byrne wound up caught in an unusual position where he was successfully attacked from both the right and the left, with Bentley hitting him for having once been Democrat; Bentley, meanwhile, played up his own ties to prominent social conservatives.
At the same time, teachers unions—one of the only liberal influences left in Alabama—had it in for Byrne, stemming from his tenure as chancellor of the state's community college system, and they, too, ran ads against him. Bentley, in turn, openly called for Democrats to vote for him, which may have been the difference-maker. With Bentley finally preparing to leave the scene, Byrne may at last have a chance to avenge his unexpected loss.
And as Byrne cogitates, the GOP's field is only slowly developing. Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington is openly considering while disgraced judge Roy Moore, who was recently suspended as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, hasn't ruled out another bid. (Moore ran in 2010 but only got 19 percent in the primary.)
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, who would become governor if the GOP legislature actually removes Bentley from office (which doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon) has also been mentioned, but she isn't particularly respected in Republican circles after presiding over the collapse of the state's Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program during her tenure as state treasurer. State Treasurer Young Boozer and Secretary of State John Merrill have also been named-dropped, but neither of them has said anything publicly. As per usual, Republicans will once again be strongly favored to hold Alabama's governorship no matter whom they nominate.
● OH-Gov: There are plenty of Democrats who want former state Attorney General Richard Cordray to run for governor next year, but as cleveland.com's Henry Gomez explains, Cordray may not be able to run even if he really wants to. Cordray currently heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a post that Republicans would badly love to neuter if they can't just destroy it all together.
If Cordray resigns, he'd make the GOP's job of killing his job that much easier, since Trump could appoint a Wall Street lackey to replace Cordray, or simply leave the post vacant. Meanwhile, prominent Senate Democrats like Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who played a key role in creating the bureau), and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown are threatening to fight any Republican attempts to remove Cordray before his term is up.
But that puts Cordray in a quandary: He can't run for office as long as he's in charge of the CFPB, but if he resigns, he'd anger his allies, including the very folks trying to stop the GOP from ousting him. As Gomez writes, Cordray's only way out may involve Trump getting exactly what he wants: If Trump sacks Cordray and any legal challenges are resolved in the GOP's favor in time for 2018, Cordray gets to be the guy who got fired for standing up for the middle class. But no one's sure what will happen, and the people who want Cordray to run for governor may be left waiting a long time for his answer—too long to be practicable.
There are also plenty of Democrats eyeing the race who won't be willing to wait indefinitely while Cordray's conundrum works its way toward a resolution. Aside from Cordray himself, Rep. Tim Ryan is probably the best-connected and most prominent potential candidate. Veteran election watchers know, though, that Ryan always flirts with statewide office and never goes for it, though Gomez says that party leaders think the congressman might finally go for it this time around. Gomez also reports that Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has been having "serious conversations" about running for governor instead of for re-election this year, though Whaley hasn't said anything publicly.
● Cleveland, OH Mayor: Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson recently launched a campaign to unseat Mayor Frank Jackson, who has not yet announced if he'll seek a fourth term this fall. It remains to be seen how strong Johnson is, but he got one promising sign on Monday when the SEIU endorsed him over the incumbent. (Both men are Democrats.) As cleveland.com's Emily Bamforth explains, Jackson recently came into conflict with SEIU when he opposed a proposal to raise the city's minimum wage. Jackson and most of the city council argued that it was unfair to raise the minimum wage only in Cleveland and not surrounding areas, leaving Johnson as the only councilor to vote in favor of the proposed increase. (Ohio's Republican state government later passed a law that forbids municipalities from raising their minimum wages.)
● AL Redistricting: Late on Friday, a three-judge federal court ruled that a dozen state legislative districts in Alabama violated the constitution and instructed the legislature to redraw them—an order that could ultimately affect many more districts that neighbor the illegally drawn seats. Republican lawmakers, who control the legislature, had intentionally packed black voters into a handful of majority-black districts in order to dilute their influence in adjacent seats.
The court found that the GOP's scheme violated the Voting Rights Act, which requires that states create districts where communities of color can elect representatives of their choice. But, said the court, lawmakers could not comply with the law by arbitrarily setting a threshold for a minimum black population per district; instead, they must determine the proportion of black voters needed to elect their preferred legislators on a case-by-case basis—and that proportion is almost invariably lower than the higher bar that Republicans had used.
This same three-judge panel had originally upheld these maps in 2013 before the Supreme Court overturned that ruling in 2015, sending it back to the lower court for reconsideration. If Republican legislators appeal Friday's ruling, the case could go back before the Supreme Court again, where swing Justice Anthony Kennedy would hopefully side with the court's four liberals once again and finally set down a national precedent that would define the rules governing the permissible use of race in redistricting.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, though, Alabama remains implacably Republican, and even if they're barred from engaging in impermissible racial gerrymandering, white Republicans would continue to dominate the legislature. Nonetheless, this ruling could have major implications for other similar maps that Republicans have instituted across much of the South.
As we have previously demonstrated, nearly every Southern state could have drawn another congressional district to elect the candidate of choice of black and Hispanic voters, Alabama included. Similarly, Republican legislators in many Southern states intentionally drew legislative district maps that limited the power of black and Hispanic voters, and consequently Democrats.
Should courts start striking down these other maps or imposing new restrictions during the upcoming round of redistricting following the 2020 census, Democrats could gain several congressional districts and many more legislative seats. Such rulings could even potentially tip the balance of power in more closely divided state legislatures like in North Carolina and Virginia, where the Supreme Court is about to decide two other major racial gerrymandering cases.
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.