● NJ-Gov: Only a little more than three years ago, GOP Gov. Chris Christie won re-election in blue New Jersey by a solid 60-38 margin. But a failed presidential campaign, a scandal or two, and several Big Mac deliveries for Donald Trump later, and the termed-out governor is about as popular in the Garden State as New Jerseyans claiming to be New Yorkers are in the Big Apple. A new Quinnipiac poll gives Christie a horrific 17-78 approval rating with voters; even Republicans disapprove of Christie by an amazing 53-39 margin. By contrast, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez posts a positive 51-32 approval rating with voters—and he's under indictment. And this poll is hardly an outlier: Other polls have also found Christie deep in the muck at home.
Christie can't seek a third term as governor this fall, but his stench won't help the GOP hang on even without him on the ballot. Quinnipiac takes a look at a hypothetical matchup between Republican Kim Guadagno, Christie's estranged lieutenant governor, and ex-Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy, and finds the Democrat leading Guadagno 45-29. Most voters don't have a firm opinion of either candidate: Murphy, who also served as ambassador to Germany, has a 21-8 favorable rating, while Guadagno is at 18-19. But Murphy is a Democrat in a Democratic-leaning state trying to replace an unpopular Republican governor with another unpopular Republican in the White House (Trump posts a 36-55 approval rating): He doesn't need to be beloved to have the advantage.
This is the first general election poll we've seen here, at least in a very long time, so we should wait for other pollsters to release numbers before we make any firm conclusions. Still, the situation isn't good for Team Red at all. The GOP keeping the governor's office this fall wouldn't be the single biggest surprise of the ages, but they'll need some very unexpected things to happen first.
It's also not a sure bet that either Guadagno or Murphy will win their June primaries. Guadagno faces Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a noted Christie critic, and Trump fan Steve Rogers. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo could also run, because apparently, New Jersey hasn't suffered enough under Christie yet. On the Democratic side, Murphy faces Assemblyman John Wisniewski and state Sen. Ray Lesniak. However, Murphy has the support of New Jersey's powerful Democratic establishment and has plenty of money on his side, and he won't be easy to beat in June.
● AZ-Sen: Sen. Jeff Flake is preparing for a GOP primary challenge next year, but no one is sure who his opponent will be. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who is close to Trump, has publicly confirmed his interest for the first time, saying that he has "no idea what the future holds at this time." An unnamed "person familiar with DeWit's thinking" recently told Politico that DeWit was leaning against running, but DeWit's statement didn't have any obvious clues about what he's planning.
State Party Chair Robert Graham, another big Trump supporter, was also recently mentioned as a possible candidate if DeWit stayed out. The Arizona Capitol Times says Graham told them he has "no intention of running," (though that seems to be a paraphrase), with Graham adding, "Today I can't see any chance of changing my mind." That's not quite a no. But one far-right figure quickly popped his own trial balloon. Rep. Paul Gosar, a member of the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus, recently told the Arizona Capitol Times that he was considering getting in, though he said he's made no decisions. However, Gosar put out a statement on Tuesday saying he was running for re-election instead.
Ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward, who lost last year's primary to John McCain 51-40, announced that she would challenge Flake in October, but her first Senate bid impressed no one. Democrats would love it if Flake lost renomination, but it's unclear who they'll field next year. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is the most obvious candidate, but there's no word what she'd thinking.
● IN-Sen: Sen. Joe Donnelly is one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year, but the GOP field to face him is only slowly coming together. According to the Indianapolis Star, Rep. Susan Brooks announced on Tuesday that she won't run. However, the article itself doesn't feature a direct quote from Brooks about her intentions (beyond how much she loves representing her district), and you know we're always sticklers for hearing from the proverbial horse's mouth, so we're going to put an asterisk next to her name until we get further confirmation.
However, the GOP has many other potential candidates to choose from. Also on Tuesday, Rep. Luke Messer confirmed that he's "very seriously" considering. Back in December, unnamed sources close to the congressman told The Hill that he was "preparing to run," though Messer insists he's focusing on the first 100 days of Trump's term. Freshman Rep. Jim Banks also didn't rule out a bid back in December.
Rep. Todd Rokita also publicly expressed interest in a Senate bid for the first time this week, saying that if Donnelly "decides to stand with Chuck Schumer and Washington liberals against Hoosiers, we will be able to choose a new conservative senator in 2018, and I will continue to evaluate the best role for me in that effort." However, Rokita's relationship with local state power players doesn't seem particularly good. Last year, after Mike Pence ended his re-election campaign in order to serve as Trump's running mate, Rokita entered the race to take his spot as Team Red's gubernatorial nominee. Since the primary had passed, the 22-member state party central committee chose the new nominee, and Rokita reportedly won just two votes.
GOP strategists also recently name-dropped two other potential candidates for the National Journal. However, state Sen. Mike Delph is a far-right politician who is not liked by the state GOP establishment, while freshman Rep. Trey Hollingsworth only moved to Indiana last year and needed national Republicans to come in and boost his campaign for what should have been a reliably red House seat; Hollingsworth won 54-40, running quite a bit behind Trump's 61-34 performance here. There is no sign yet that either Delph or Hollingsworth are considering.
● OH-Gov: On behalf of the conservative group American Freedom Builders, the Tarrance Group takes a very early look at next year's GOP primary for this open seat, and gives Attorney General Mike DeWine a clear lead. DeWine, who served in the U.S. Senate until his 2006 defeat, leads Secretary of State Jon Husted 47-18, while Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor is at 10. Rep. Jim Renacci, who recently launched a light statewide TV buy, takes just 4; Renacci also is considering challenging Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. American Freedom Builders says they're not supporting anyone and just did the poll to boost their own name-recognition. Well, congrats AFB: You're a lot better known at Daily Kos now.
So far, DeWine is the only candidate on either side who has said he'll run. However, Husted's 2016 fundraising also indicates that he's in, and both men reported having about $2.5 million on-hand for the beginning of 2017. However, DeWine's warchest includes donations from January (he brought in $975,000 for the month), while Husted's report stops at December. (Both DeWine and Husted are termed-out of their current jobs, any Husted hasn't shown any interest in a different office.) By contrast, neither Taylor nor Renacci have opened up statewide accounts.
Taylor has also expressed interest in running, but recent intra-party conflicts may deter her, or at least weaken her bid. Taylor has been close to termed-out Gov. John Kasich, but she recently sided with Trump and supported the successful effort to oust a Kasich ally from the state party chairmanship. As a result, Kasich's allies are reportedly considering abandoning Taylor for DeWine (Husted is an old Kasich foe).
● FL-13: Republican ex-Rep. David Jolly has made it no secret that he's considering a rematch with Democrat Charlie Crist, who unseated him 52-48 last year. On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls takes a very early look at the hypothetical return engagement, and gives Crist an early 49-41 lead in this St. Petersburg seat.
● KS-03: Last year, Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder defeated Democrat Jay Sidie 51-41 in this suburban Kansas City seat after national Democrats got involved late in the race. Hillary Clinton narrowly won 47-46 here and if Team Blue wants to retake the House anytime soon, they can't ignore this seat. Sidie recently told Politico that he's "leaning toward" another run next year, adding that he "knew that if I lost in '16 I'd be back in '18, probably." It's unclear if any other Democrats are considering running.
● MT-AL: If GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke is confirmed as secretary of the interior, both parties will hold conventions to choose their nominees for the upcoming special election. The National Journal reports that rich guy Greg Gianforte, who lost last year's gubernatorial race to Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock, sent the GOP state Central Committee a poll from Moore Information arguing that he'll decisively beat any Democrat.
The survey, which was conducted Jan. 18-19 and samples 500 likely voters, tests Gianforte against three different Democrats:
47-33 vs. state Rep. Amanda Curtis
45-29 vs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus
46-33 vs. musician Rob Quist
Libertarian John Breckenridge grabs 5-6 percent in each matchup. Of this trio, Curtis and Quist are seeking the Democratic nod, while Baucus, the son of longtime former Sen. Max Baucus, is reportedly considering. If Moore tested any other possible GOP candidates, they don't seem to have released those matchups.
● SC-05: While Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who was Team Blue's 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial nominee, flirted with running in the likely special election to succeed director of the Office of Management and Budget-designate Mick Mulvaney, he announced on Tuesday that he would remain in the legislature. Trump won this northern South Carolina seat 57-39, so this is a very tough target for Democrats.
● DE State Senate: The special election that will decide control of the Delaware state Senate has been scheduled for Feb. 25 (a Saturday). As we've noted before, the chamber became tied 10 to 10 after Democratic Sen. Bethany Hall-Long resigned to become lieutenant governor. If the GOP can flip Hall-Long's 10th Senate District, which is located just south of Newark, they'd take control of the state Senate for the first time since the 1970s—and, crucially, be able to block Democratic Gov. John Carney and Democrats in the state House from enacting their agenda.
SD-10 backed Obama 59-40 in 2012, and our preliminary numbers say it supported Hillary Clinton by a smaller 54-41 margin. However, Hall-Long only beat Republican John Marino 51-49 in 2014, and special election turnout is unpredictable enough as it is. The GOP has nominated Marino for the special, while local Democratic Party committee members have nominated former New Castle County Council President Stephanie Hansen (there is no primary for Delaware legislative special elections), who served from 1996 to 2001 and is currently an environmental attorney.
● Pres-by-CD: Now that Daily Kos Elections has finally completed our calculation of the 2016 presidential election result for every congressional district, Stephen Wolf maps and analyzes the data, with Daniel Donner graphing the results. Wolf's first post illustrates the presidential results by district, revealing how Donald Trump won 230 seats and Hillary Clinton just 205. He also compares the 2016 results with the 2012 election. Despite losing nationally by 2.1 percent, Trump won exactly half of the districts by a 3.4-point margin or greater, underscoring just how strongly biased the districts are against Democrats, largely thanks to widespread Republican gerrymandering.
The second post visualizes how the presidential results in each district compared to the House results, where Republicans obtained a majority of 241 seats to 194. A total of 23 Republicans won districts that voted for Clinton, while just 12 Democrats hold Trump districts. The results for the two offices were very strongly correlated with one another thanks to low rates of ticket-splitting, but Wolf demonstrates how incumbency was still a valuable asset for helping candidates outpace their party's presidential nominee, particularly Republicans. By contrast, only two of the 47 districts without incumbents running voted for different parties for president and House.
Overall, the underlying Republican bias in congressional redistricting, Team Red's substantially larger benefit from the bonus of incumbency, and the low rate of ticket-splitting seen in recent elections leaves Republicans with a major leg up as they defend their majority in 2018. Nonetheless, Trump's continued unpopularity and the tendency for the president's party to suffer major losses in midterms could leave Republicans vulnerable.
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.