● MT-Sen: Rep. Ryan Zinke had looked like the GOP's obvious first choice to challenge two-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester next year, but now that Zinke's trotted off to become Donald Trump's interior secretary, Republicans need to find an alternative to Plan Z. Of course, there's no shortage of ambitious GOP pols in a state like Montana, but party insiders are reportedly "courting" state Attorney General Tim Fox, who easily won re-election last year. Fox isn't ruling out the prospect, saying only, "It's not my priority at the moment."
Another statewide Republican official who's keeping the door open is Auditor Matthew Rosendale, who says, "We've got plenty of time to talk about the next campaign cycle." But as the AP notes, the Republican who last ran against Tester, then-Rep. Denny Rehberg, had already launched his campaign by this point in 2011, and yet he still lost.
Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Greg Gianforte is seemingly a no—of sorts. Gianforte, who lost a bid for governor last fall, was just chosen by the state GOP to run in the May 25 special election to replace Zinke, and he says he'll seek re-election if he wins. Of course, if he loses the House race, then he could try to make it three in a row with a Senate run next year. Zinke could also conceivably make a late entry: serve a year in DC, then come home to challenge Tester. Of course, he'd be saddled with everything Trump does, and he'd also fall far behind on fundraising, so this would be an unlikely move.
● FL-Sen: Mason-Dixon: Bill Nelson (D-inc): 46; Rick Scott (R): 41
● GA-Gov: Several Republicans are mulling a bid to succeed termed-out Gov. Nathan Deal, and we may have another. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution recently asked state House Speaker David Ralston if he was interested in running for governor, and he responded by saying that he didn't think it was appropriate to talk about that kind of matter during the legislative session. Of course, if Ralston wasn't at all interested in running for governor, it would probably seem pretty perfectly appropriate just to say so now. The legislative session ends March 24.
But in case there was any doubt what Ralston was hinting at, he then said he thinks Georgians will be "looking for someone who has a vision, such as a Zell Miller with the HOPE scholarship or Nathan Deal with economic development and criminal justice reform," adding, "someone with the courage on some of these issues I talked about. At least that's what I'm going to be looking for." That's not the kind of thing people say when they're not thinking about running for a promotion. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is a likely GOP candidate and Ralston also seemed to take a veiled shot at his potential primary rival and his conflict with other members of the state Senate leadership, saying that in the House, "You can't say you have a divided leadership here, because we don't."
Besides Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp; state Sen. Josh McKoon; and ex-Rep. Lynn Westmoreland have also talked about running. The AJC reported back in November that ex-U.S. Attorney Joe Whitley is considering, though we've heard nothing from him since then.
● MD-Gov: Polls show that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is very popular, but you wouldn't know that from the number of Democrats thinking about challenging him. State Sen. Richard Madaleno, whom the Baltimore Sun's Michael Dresser says may be Hogan's "most outspoken critic in the General Assembly," recently told a reporter he was considering. Madaleno, who hails from suburban D.C.'s Montgomery County, became Maryland's first openly gay legislator when he was elected in 2006.
Hogan has polled well during the first half of his governorship. However, Maryland is a very Democratic state, and Team Blue hopes Hogan won't be able to appease both Trump-hating voters and his GOP base over the next two years. Besides Madaleno, we've also heard interest from former NAACP president Ben Jealous; state Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz; Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the chamber's powerful Appropriations Committee; and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. Additionally, tech entrepreneur and former State Department official Alec Ross is reportedly interested.
● NJ-Gov: Running for statewide office is a tough decision and it shouldn't be made lightly. But once you're in, you should be all in, and Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak is a good example of what not to do.
Back in 2015, Lesniak unambiguously announced that he would run for governor in 2017. But at some point he downgraded his status to likely candidate. Then in October of 2016 he said, "I'm gonna stay in the Senate." One month later came reports that Lesniak was reconsidering. In December, Lesniak said, "I'm not running. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of running should an opportunity present itself." In January, he once again was a declared candidate. If Lesniak had just stuck with his original instincts and started raising money early, the former state party chairman would have still had a tough time against wealthy establishment favorite Phil Murphy... but he'd likely be in a much better place than he is now.
In New Jersey, primary candidates who raise at least $430,000 from donors by the April 3 candidate filing deadline will qualify for two-to-one matching funds, though they're limited to $6.4 million in fundraising and spending for the primary. $430,000 isn't nothing, but a longtime legislator and former state party chair like Lesniak could probably have raised it if he had gone full-speed ahead instead of dithering for years. Instead, Lesniak tells Politico that he's $200,000 away from his goal and will probably give up on trying to meet it. Instead, Lesniak says he plans to self-fund the difference, which will get him into TV debates but not give him access to matching funds.
Lesniak himself admitted that he's partially to blame for the situation. While Lesniak took a shot at Murphy for "gobbl[ing] up all the financial support in this state," he also noted that, "The fact that I got a late start has certainly impacted my ability to raise money." Lesniak insists he'll have the resources to compete, but since New Jersey is located in the pricy New York City and Philadelphia media markets, it's an extremely expensive state to advertise in: Unless Lesniak is willing and able to write himself a check for millions, his TV presence before the June primary will be very limited. Lesniak may have had problems raising money no matter what, but his campaign would almost certainly be in better shape if he'd avoided this whole Hamlet act.
Two other Democrats are running. Jim Johnson, who served as undersecretary of the Treasury in the 1990s, qualified for matching funds a while ago. Assemblyman John Wisniewski got in the race at the end of 2016 and raised $190,000, and he hasn't said how close he is to hitting the magic $430,000. On the GOP side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has qualified for matching funds, while Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli insists he will raise enough. But Steve Rogers, who has some connections to Trumpworld, has raised only $15,000 to date.
● CA-25: Last cycle, Republican Rep. Steve Knight beat Democratic attorney Bryan Caforio 53-47 in a contest where both national parties started spending only in the final weeks before Election Day. However, this seat, which takes up the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, swung from 50-48 Romney to 50-44 Clinton, and Democrats hope to give Knight a tough race next year.
They got their first candidate this week when Katie Hill, who is the executive director of a non-profit that works to end homelessness, announced her campaign. This seat is located in the expensive Los Angeles media market, and it's unclear if Hill has the connections she'll need to raise money. But Democrats can't afford to write off seats like this if they want to flip the House, and we'll likely see some action here next year regardless of who advances to the general.
And Hill may have some company in the race before too long. The Los Angeles Times reports that Caforio says he's interested in another bid. Newhall School District Board Member Christy Smith also said she was considering but, hours after Hill entered the race, she instead announced that she'd run for the state Assembly.
● CA-49: GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, long a target of progressive antipathy but never seriously opposed for re-election, survived the closest House election of the cycle, defeating retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate by a margin of just 50.3 to 49.7—just 1,621 votes out of over 310,000 cast. And as so often happens when an unheralded challenger finally reveals a long-term incumbent to be vulnerable but falls just short, other ambitious candidates want a piece of the action.
Applegate quickly announced a rematch after his loss last year, but now he's been joined by a second Democrat, environmental attorney Mike Levin, who entered the race on Wednesday. Levin seems to be suggesting he's well-connected: He was executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party a decade ago and told the Orange County Register he thinks he can raise $3 million to $4 million. (Interesting, an early version of the Register's headline described Levin as a "Democratic insider." It was later changed to "Democratic activist.") Last year, Applegate raised $2.1 million after a late start, since Democrats didn't think Issa could be beaten until he was held just a 51-46 win in June's top-two primary.
Levin immediately got a little chippy upon his entrance, declaring, "I'll be able to stay on offense against Issa. I've tried to live a life of the highest personal integrity." That's a barely veiled shot at Applegate, who was hammered by Issa over restraining orders Applegate's then-wife sought against him during a contentious divorce. (Applegate's former spouse denounced Issa's attacks and endorsed her ex-husband.) Applegate's campaign manager fired back by citing his boss's military background, saying, "With Camp Pendleton in this district, it's going to be hard for somebody who hasn't served in the military to represent the district."
However the primary plays out, though, Issa will almost certainly face another difficult race. This well-educated district in the San Diego suburbs moved sharply against Donald Trump last fall, going from a 52-46 win for Mitt Romney in 2012 to a 51-43 victory for Hillary Clinton. Issa, though, is the wealthiest member of Congress, with a net worth of as much as $768 million, so he can self-fund as much as he needed. But all the money in the world may not be enough to save him from the trends of his own district.
● GA-06: With so many candidates running in the April 18 all-party primary, Atlanta-area viewers should get used to seeing a lot of political ads. Ex-state Sen. Judson Hill, a Republican, is up with his first spot, which features him bragging about his generic, though Trump-less, conservative message. As Hill walks around, random people go up to him (including one guy who aggressively grabs his shoulder and shakes his hand in a way that would do Lyndon Johnson proud) and tell him, "Take the Hill, Hill!" There is no word on the size of the buy.
Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Bob Gray is up with his second spot. Gray is one of a few Republicans who have been invoking Trump, and this commercial literally features Gray wading into a swamp with a giant hose and attempting to drain it. Gray's camp only says this is part of a "significant" buy.
● IL-13: State Sen. Andy Manar is one of the many Democrats who have talked about running for governor next year, but The News-Gazette says there's been speculation that he could instead challenge GOP Rep. Rodney Davis. Manar said in response that he's focusing on his work in the state legislature, which is of course far from a no. Manar also spoke well of newly-declared Democratic candidate David Gill, who almost beat Davis in 2012 but came nowhere close to victory in his previous three campaigns and got thrown off the ballot last year when he tried running as an independent. Another Democratic state legislator, state Rep. Carol Ammons, is considering jumping in. Trump won 50-44 in this downstate seat.
● Los Angeles, CA Mayor, CA-Gov: To no one's surprise, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti easily won a second term on Tuesday, taking 81 percent of the vote against a field of little-known opponents. Turnout in local races has long been abysmal, and only about 11 percent of eligible registered voters cast a ballot in this election. The good news is that two years ago (ironically on another ultra-low turnout citywide Election Day), a ballot measure passed that will permanently move L.A.'s mayoral races to midterm years. Garcetti will serve out a special five-and-a-half-year term, and in June of 2022, there will be a non-partisan primary to succeed him. If no one takes a majority, the top two candidates will face off in November.
Garcetti is termed-out in 2022, but there's no guarantee he'll stick around that long. Garcetti has long been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate to succeed termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown, and he's refused to rule anything out. Now that he's been re-elected, Garcetti could gear up for a gubernatorial campaign if he's interested. However, several other Democrats have already been running for months, if not years. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the only major candidate who hails from Northern California while ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang both have similar Southern California bases as Garcetti, and the mayor may just prefer to sit this one out. However, if Sen. Dianne Feinstein ends up not seeking re-election, Garcetti could be one of the first candidates in.
● St. Louis, MO Mayor: On Tuesday, Alderwoman Lyda Krewson pulled off a tight victory in the Democratic primary to succeed retiring St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Krewson defeated city Treasurer Tishaura Jones 32-30, a margin of just 888 votes; Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who lost to Slay in 2013, and Alderman Antonio French, who became nationally known for chronicling the 2014 Ferguson protests on Twitter, took 18 and 16 percent, respectively. Krewson will face Republican Andrew Jones in the April 4 general election, but she should have little trouble in this heavily Democratic city.
In the primary, Krewson had Slay's backing, while the local SEIU and 2016 Senate nominee Jason Kander backed Jones; Rep. Lacy Clay, who represents the entire city in the House, endorsed Reed. Jones earned some national attention a few weeks before the election when she penned a letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's editorial board explaining that she was skipping their endorsement interview, arguing that the board members were outsiders who didn't truly understand the city's problems and saying she was tired of the paper's "thinly veiled racism and preference for the status quo past." (The Dispatch ended up supporting French.)
Jones' confrontational style seems to have helped her get more attention than French and Reed, which likely helped her outpace them at the polls. However, she had her detractors as well. Last year, Jones made news when she abruptly walked out on an interview with a local TV reporter over how much her city-owned car cost taxpayers. In any case, after her very close loss, it's unlikely we've heard the last from Jones.
Krewson, meanwhile, had looked favored in the limited polling before the election. Krewson was the only major white candidate, while Jones, Reed, and French are all African Americans. St. Louis is a very racially polarized city and elections there often break down along racial lines. As a result, Krewson seems to have benefited from being the only credible white contender, at least to some degree.
As this map from Daniel Donner shows, Krewson did indeed carry the wards with the largest white populations, while Reed and Jones split the areas that had a low percentage of white residents. However, the results look more complex when you peel back a layer: In more diverse but still majority- or plurality-white wards, Jones actually won.
However, it does seem that Jones, Reed, and French split black voters just enough to deny Jones a win. While Jones won five of the six wards with a black population between 60 and 80 percent, Reed carried five of the seven wards that were over 80 percent black. However, he only took about a third of the vote in each one. (French carried the ward he represents on the Board of Aldermen but nothing else.) In a contest decided by fewer than 900 votes, race does seem to have made the difference, but it wasn't the only factor that explains the results.
● Los Angeles, CA Measure S: With the foregone-conclusion mayoral race drawing little attention, the most hotly contested item on the ballot in Tuesday's municipal elections in Los Angeles may have been Measure S. The initiative took aim at sweetheart deals between local officials and real estate developers, but proposed a remarkably broad remedy that would have put a temporary ban on practically all forms of upzoning, potentially driving the city's housing costs even higher by making it even harder for housing supply to keep up with demand. In the end, voters were leery of the ban's likely effects, voting Measure S down by a wider-than-expected 31-69 margin.
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.