● 2017: Regularly scheduled federal elections only take place in even-numbered years, but roughly three-fourths of American cities elect local offices in odd-numbered years. Daily Kos Elections has compiled a 2017 election calendar with all the key dates for this year's major local contests, and we have a lot to watch.
The most prominent races are the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey, where Democrats hope that termed-out incumbent Chris Christie's massive unpopularity will give them a pickup, and in Virginia, where both parties are planning to fight hard to succeed Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a swing state that's favored Team Blue recently. But we also have some big mayoral races we'll be watching.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio is still waiting to find out if he'll face a credible opponent in the September Democratic primary. In Minneapolis, incumbent Betsy Hodges faces several opponents, including a city councilor with an intimidating war chest. In Omaha, Democrats hope that state Sen. Heath Mello will deny GOP Mayor Jean Stothert a second term in May. There are plenty of other mayors who could be in for competitive races, and we also have crowded developing races to succeed departing incumbents in Albuquerque, Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, and St. Paul. There's also still time for a surprise retirement or two elsewhere.
That's not all that's on tap for 2017, though. We have several vacant congressional seats that will see special elections to fill them throughout the year, as well as some important legislative races. This Saturday in Delaware, the special election for the 10th Senate District will determine control of the state Senate: If Republican John Marino defeats Democrat Stephanie Hansen, the GOP will be able to block Democratic Gov. John Carney and Democrats in the state House from enacting their agenda. Democrats are fighting hard to keep the seat, with former Vice President Joe Biden campaigning for Hansen last week.
There are also a few key countywide races we'll be watching. In Nassau County, New York, Republican County Executive Ed Mangano was indicted on federal corruption charges last year, and while he hasn't announced if he'll seek a third term, plenty of politicians from both parties are eyeing his seat. We'll also be watching to see if New York Democrats manage to defeat deny 2014 GOP gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino a third term as Westchester County executive. 2017 will be a very exciting year across the nation, so check out our calendar to find out which important offices are on the ballot.
● AL-Gov, AL-Sen: Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is termed out of office in two years, but it's anyone's guess if his career will survive that long—or if his long-running sex scandal will take down the man he just appointed to the Senate, former state Attorney General Luther Strange. Bentley has been accused of using state resources to cover up an affair with a top staffer, Rebekah Mason, and Republican legislators have been talking about impeachment for some time.
However, as the Montgomery Advertiser's Brian Lyman notes, Alabama's 300,000-word-long constitution is not clear on how impeachment should proceed. Indeed, the legislature hasn't even considered impeaching anyone in over 100 years. But here's something we do know for sure: If the state House does vote to impeach Bentley, he'd be immediately suspended from office unless and until the state Senate (which, like the lower chamber, is dominated by the GOP) acquits him.
That means Bentley's governorship could effectively be over by around Memorial Day. House Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Jones recently said that he expects impeachment proceedings (which had been paused at Strange's request) to restart in time for the legislature to complete its investigation before it adjourns in mid-to-late May. A panel of lawmakers will then issue a recommendation on whether or not to impeach Bentley.
However, as Lyman describes, things can get very complicated after that. A 60 percent supermajority of the 105-member House would then have to vote in favor of permitting a vote on the underlying recommendation. If that were to pass, only a simply majority would then have to actually approve an impeachment recommendation. It gets even trickier, though, if the impeachment panel issues a dissenting minority report, or if the investigation drags on past the end of the planned legislative session—though lawmakers can call themselves back to the capitol if they so desire.
And as we alluded above, the state attorney general is also investigating Bentley, which could also slow things: Jones said last week he's waiting for the attorney general's office to give lawmakers permission before they restart their own investigation. (Adding a further layer to all this, the new attorney general, Steve Marshall, has appointed a special prosecutor on account of the fact that Marshall owes his new job to none other than Bentley.)
Here's another wrinkle: If Bentley were to get stripped of his powers, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would presumably inherit them, and if he's removed from office, Ivey would become governor. But Ivey is one of many potential Republican candidates for governor, and some legislators may balk at giving her a leg up over potential rivals. They might therefore be inclined to oppose impeachment and just wait Bentley out.
However, this whole mess is unlikely to be forgotten by the June 2018 Senate primary, and that's not good news for Strange, the man Bentley just tapped for the Senate. In a New York Times piece discussing how unhappy some Republicans are with Strange's sketchy-looking appoint, there's news of an unreleased internal poll conducted for GOP officeholders has Bentley's approval rating "at an abysmally low level." That taint could rub off on Strange, who did much more than simply accept a job from the scandal-tarred governor.
As we noted above, Strange asked the GOP-dominated legislature to halt its impeachment proceedings against Bentley last year while Strange's office did "necessary related work." But after Donald Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as U.S. attorney general, it was up to Bentley to appoint Sessions' successor, and Strange coveted the job. In a transparent effort to try to make it seem as though there was no conflict of interest, Strange belatedly argued that he never said he was investigating the governor. But after Bentley sent Strange to the Senate, Marshall confirmed that his office was in fact investigating Bentley.
That's cast a dark cloud over Strange, and has encouraged several Republicans to make noises about challenging him in next year's special election for the final two years of Sessions' term. State Senate President Pro Temp Del Marsh, a spurned finalist for the Senate appointment, has expressed interest in facing Strange, though he's also talked about running for governor that year. Twice-disgraced Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore also has talked about running for Senate (as well as for governor and attorney general).
And the Times says that ex-state Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., who was also a finalist for the Senate gig, says he's considering running against Strange. Hooper doesn't look like an especially strong candidate, though. He lost renomination for his state House seat in 2002, and he lost the general election for the state Public Service Commission four years later. However, he was the co-chair of Donald Trump's state campaign, so maybe he can pick up some support from Trump fanatics.
However, it's possible that Bentley's problems will make Strange toxic enough that even a fairly unimpressive candidate could beat him in a primary. It also doesn't help the incumbent that under Alabama law, there will be a primary runoff if no one takes a majority of the vote in the first round, so Strange can't just coast to victory with a plurality.
There are a lot of twists and turns left in this long, sordid saga, and it's very possible that both Bentley and Strange will survive it. Strange's position in the Senate gives him access to plenty of money, and his geographic distance from Bentley, as well as the benefits of incumbency, could help insulate him from the governor's problems. But if Bentley does end up collapsing, he very well could take his appointed senator down with him.
● FL-Gov: Jeff Greene… now there's a name we hoped not to hear again. In 2010, the billionaire developer sought the Democratic nod for U.S. Senate and got pasted 57-31 in the primary by then-Rep. Kendrick Meek. Greene's candidacy was hurt by reports of rancorous parties aboard his yacht and sketchy business practices. Greene sued the Tampa Bay Times over the stories, and the two finally settled last year for an undisclosed sum.
Now, Greene says he's been approached "by a lot of people" about running for governor next year, when wealthy GOP incumbent Rick Scott will be termed out. The Times' Adam Smith writes that Greene says "he is not actively looking at it," though Smith also hears that Greene has talked to consultants about a bid. Greene says his Florida home is two doors down from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago lair; while Greene spoke out against his neighbor before the election, the New York Times also identified him as a Mar-a-Lago member in early January. A number of other Democrats are talking about getting in, including several other wealthy possible candidates who presumably are not Mar-a-Lago members.
● GA-Gov: Last month, Sally Yates drew national attention when, in her capacity as acting attorney general, she said she'd refuse to enforce Trump's executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. Trump fired her hours later, and speculation immediately began that Yates could run for governor of her home state of Georgia as a Democrat next year. There was no sign that Yates was actually interested, but at the very least, Yates isn't taking her name out of contention. Yates recently attended an Atlanta panel on race relations and was asked by an audience member if she planned to run for office. Yates only replied that she was "just here in the audience."
While Yates isn't shooting down speculation about her future plans, there's no indication she's really thinking about getting in. An unnamed "source close to Yates" also tells Politico that, even in private, Yates hasn't shown any interest in seeking office. Still, there are plenty of Peach State Democratic operatives who are publicly saying they would like her to run.
But as we've noted before, there are some potential drawbacks to a Yates campaign. During her long career as a prosecutor, Yates sent some Georgia Democrats to jail, and some of those people have friends who still hold a grudge. The Wall Street Journal also reported that influential Rep. John Lewis tried to prevent the Obama White House from nominating Yates as a U.S. attorney over her successful prosecution of his friend, former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, for tax evasion, though Lewis denies he raised any objections.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution also notes that Yates' role in the fall of Michael Flynn could also tie her up in 2018. Days before she was fired, Yates told the Trump administration that the national security advisor was "potentially vulnerable" to Russian blackmail and had misled the White House about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Yates will be a key witness in any Senate hearings and will certainly be called up if any independent commission starts investigating, which could take up too much of her attention and leave her vulnerable to Republican investigators looking to score points off her.
● IL-Gov, IL-17: On Monday, Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos announced that she would seek re-election next year rather than challenge GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. A number of Democrats have been mulling a bid for governor, but Bustos was one of the few major potential contenders who hails from outside the Chicago area. If Bustos had left her Quad Cities-based 17th District, the GOP would have had a much better shot at it; Bustos beat her Some Dude GOP foe 60-40 last year even as her seat swung from 58-41 Obama to 47.4-46.7 Trump. Still, the GOP will likely try to recruit a credible opponent for Bustos.
● KS-Gov: On Monday, ex-Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for next year's open seat race. Brewer, who was termed-out of office in 2015, is the first major Democratic contender for this post. About 42 percent of Kansas is in the Wichita media market, so Brewer should start with some decent name recognition outside the city. If Brewer wins, he'll be Kansas' first African-American governor.
While Kansas is a very conservative state, Team Blue is hoping that departing GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's unpopular and horrific budget cuts will give them an opening next year. However, Brewer may not have the primary to himself. Ex-state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who lost to Brownback 50-46 in 2014, is talking about another bid, and ex-Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty is also considering. On the GOP side, only oil businessman Wink Hartman has kicked off his campaign, but a multitude of other Republicans are considering getting in.
● MN-Gov: There are a ton of candidates on both sides who are looking at running to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton next year, and another Republican has now publically expressed interest. State Sen. David Osmek acknowledged he was considering, declaring that he "would be a fool not to."
Another Republican legislator may also be eyeing the governor's office. While state Rep. Sarah Anderson hasn't said anything publicly, an unnamed GOP operative tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune that there's "Anderson-for-governor chatter around the Capitol." Anderson, who chairs the House State Government Finance Committee, recently drew some attention for holding some high-profile hearings, including one focused on state Auditor and declared Democratic candidate Rebecca Otto's budget.
However, state House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Anderson's nominal boss, is one of the many Republicans considering getting in, which could make a bid tough for her. The Minnesota political tip-sheet Morning Take suggests that Anderson might instead succeed Daudt as speaker.
● IA-01: This eastern Iowa seat has been a huge headache for Democrats over the last few years. While Obama carried it 56-43 in 2012, Trump pulled off a 49-45 win last year, while targeted GOP Rep. Rod Blum won a second term 54-46. However, Team Blue hopes that 2018 will be far less kind to Blum, and they seem to have one very interested potential candidate. State Rep. Abby Finkenauer tells Iowa Starting Line that she's considering, and she sounds likely to go for it.
Finkenauer didn't declare she's in, but she did say, "I'd say I'm to the point in the process where I'm 'stepping up.'" Finkenauer also added that she's "putting a team together, getting input from the hardworking Iowans within the district, and figuring out how to take this district back." Finkenauer is the first notable Democrat we've heard interested in this seat. There's still a large Democratic bench here, and it's very possible there will be a competitive primary, but it's unclear who else is interested.
● MT-AL: GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke is likely to be confirmed to serve as Trump's secretary of the interior just after the Senate returns from recess in early March. But until Zinke resigns, neither party can hold its convention to nominate their candidate for the upcoming special election. (There is no special election primary here.) On the GOP side, one state legislator has entered the race and one has withdrawn over the last few weeks. State Rep. Carl Glimm kicked off his bid a little while ago, while state Senate President Scott Sales recently decided to drop out. A few other Republicans are running, with rich guy and 2016 gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte claiming he has enough support to be nominated at the convention.
● NY State Senate: How do you know that the IDC—the eight-member junta composed of turncoat Democrats who ensure GOP control of New York's state Senate—is finally feeling the heat? Because they're now engaged in rebranding so comically desperate, it's worthy of Arrested Development. At a town hall held earlier this month by one of the newest members of the IDC, which in real life is short for "Independent Democratic Conference," Brooklyn state Sen. Jesse Hamilton handed out flyers claiming the initials actually stand for "Immigrant Defense Coalition."
You're guffawing, sure, but here's the real punch line: Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan, who only runs the Senate thanks to the support of his buddies in the IDC, stated flat out that the Senate is "not doing the DREAM Act," which would allow undocumented students to receive financial aid for college from the state. It's been a top priority of immigration advocates for years and would easily pass but for the GOP—and the IDC. Some "immigrant defense coalition" they are.
Hamilton was inspired to this act of chutzpah because his meeting was besieged by anti-IDC protesters, who seem to finally be gaining some traction on a few different fronts. An organic resistance movement has sprung up since Election Day, and it's got the entire IDC in its sights. Another new defector, Queens state Sen. Jose Peralta, was one such target at a recent constituent meeting of his own. What's more, a top party operative in the borough publicly called Peralta out and suggested he might look for someone to challenge him in next year's primary.
Various IDC members have responded by simply accusing mainline Democrats of being racist. Said a Peralta spokesman, "In Queens, when it comes to Latinos, this is the type of sugar cane plantation style politics that the Queens political machine will resort to keep dissent quiet." Hamilton himself hit a similar theme, claiming, "The people outside here protesting about Trump are the same people who won't send their kids to school with us or live next to a shelter. They're mad about Trump, but when it comes to diversity in their own backyard, they don't want it."
It's an absurd charge, not least because the leader of the mainline Democrats—who would become majority leader if the party regained control of the Senate—is Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is African-American. So are the members of the IDC racist because they're helping to keep Flanagan, a white guy, in power, instead of elevating a black woman? No one on the Democratic side is hurling that accusation, but they sure as hell could.
But the IDC's frantic response is another sign of its weakened standing, and as even Hamilton seems to grasp, Trump actually has quite a bit to do with it. Grassroots progressives are furious at any Democrats who would enable Trump in any way, and rank-and-file Senate are starting to understand how powerful a cudgel Trump can be against the IDC. There's no Democratic primary electorate in New York where taking Trump's side is going to be a positive.
However, it's a long way from here to there. A huge part of the reason for the IDC's enduring success (such as it is) is due to the fact that the faction's leader, state Sen. Jeff Klein, is an eager shill for corporate interests and can raise huge sums of money to protect his caucus. (Campaign finance restrictions are very lax in New York—another reform the Senate has thwarted.) Another is that far too many arms of the progressive movement, especially organized labor, have been all too content to play ball with the IDC instead of rising up against them.
Indeed, in 2014, Klein and another IDC member, Tony Avella, both survived primaries from mainstream Democrats, and the fact that unions and other liberal groups largely sat out those contests played a major role. (Shamefully, some unions even backed Klein). That sorry state of affairs would need to turn around before any IDC senators could be dislodged. However, in addition to the Trump factor, several of the IDC's newest recruits could be a lot more vulnerable, including Hamilton, Peralta, and especially Marisol Alcantara, who last year only won an open-seat primary with just 33 percent of the vote.
And Alcantara could receive a very stiff challenge from one of her former opponents. Former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson, who finished a very close third with 30 percent against Alcantara last year, is considering a rematch, according to a spokesman. Crucially, reports the Village Voice's Ross Barkan, Jackson and the second-place finisher, Micah Lasher, have agreed not to run against one another this time. In a one-on-one race, then, Alcantara would be starting out from a rather small base of support, and could easily be, as Barkan puts it, the most vulnerable member of the IDC.
But even if Democrats can cut down the ranks of the IDC with a few successful primaries, Klein would still hold the balance of power in the Senate. And he just got a little more breathing room for the moment since it looks like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a prime enabler of the IDC, won't call a special election to replace former Sen. Bill Perkins, who just won a seat on the New York City Council. That means Perkins' seat would stay vacant until November.
Once Perkins' seat is filled (assuming it doesn't go to the IDC), Democrats would need to defeat some combination of eight IDC members and Republicans in order to win back the chamber, without losing a single seat of their own. That's a tall task, especially because they'd also need to woo back another deserter, Democratic state Sen. Simcha Felder, who is not part of the IDC but instead outright caucuses with the GOP.
Consequently, the more likely path back to the majority would involve the IDC returning to the fold, but so far, Klein's had little incentive to do so. However, if anti-Trump rage can take down a few of his minions, he might be more inclined to head back to the bargaining table while he still holds some leverage.
● Detroit, MI Mayor: In 2013, Mike Duggan pulled off a remarkable win to become mayor of Detroit. Duggan, the former Detroit Medical Center CEO, moved back to the city too late to appear on the non-partisan primary ballot, and he decided to mount a write-in campaign rather than drop out. Duggan's gamble worked, and he won just over half the vote in the primary through write-in votes. In the general election, with his name now on the ballot, Duggan defeated fellow Democrat and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon 55-45 to become the city's first white mayor in 40 years.
Duggan is up for re-election this fall and this week, Democratic state Sen. Coleman Young II announced that he would challenge him. Young, who is termed-out of the Senate next year, is the son of the late Coleman Young, the city's first black mayor. However, before Young jumped in, Duggan earned an endorsement from his former rival Napoleon, as well as the head of the local NAACP. All the candidates will compete on one August ballot, and the top two vote-getters will advance to November even if one of them takes a majority in the primary.
● New York, NY Mayor: While city Comptroller Scott Stringer has been mentioned as a potential Democratic primary opponent for Mayor Bill de Blasio this year, he sounds very unlikely to go for it. Stringer recently declared that "it's safe to assume that I will continue to be doing the job that I truly love, which is serving as comptroller." That's not quite a no, but it doesn't sound like Stringer is exactly gearing up to challenge the incumbent this September. Still, Stringer is a vocal de Blasio critic, and he does have some time left to decide.
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.