The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.
● MO-Sen: In a major surprise, Republican Rep. Ann Wagner announced on Monday that she would not run against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill next year, depriving the GOP of a big-name challenger who'd (mostly) given every indication that she wanted to go for it. But Wagner's greatest strength was also one of her greatest flaws: As a former state party chair and RNC committeewoman, Wagner had a proven ability to raise tons of money. That, however, also marked her as consummate insider—and in a GOP primary, that can be a deadly albatross.
Indeed, we've been flagging that very problem for Wagner ever since November, and since then, it's metastasized from purely theoretical to genuinely threatening as a potential campaign from state Attorney General Josh Hawley began to gather steam. Hawley, a rigid conservative, hasn't ruled out a bid, and he has some influential supporters backing his play. We also know he's ambitious: He's just 37 and was only elected to his current post last fall.
He also lacks something else dogging Wagner: a voting record in Congress, which the Washington Examiner's David Drucker reports "some Republicans" say has made Hawley "the preferred recruit" of the NRSC. But in Republican politics, preferred recruits seldom have a clear path to their party's nomination, and Hawley might discover just that if he runs.
That's because Wagner's exit opens the door for all sorts of politicians, not just Hawley. And that door’s already ajar: Shortly after the news broke, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, an anti-gay extremist who represents a big swath of rural west-central Missouri, issued a statement saying that she "has not ruled  out" a bid of her own.
Plenty of other Republicans have been mentioned over the course of the year, too, and more may yet surface. Drucker suggests that Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, whose name hadn't previously come up, "could seed a campaign with a couple of million dollars," and indeed, he probably could—his estimated net worth skyrocketed in 2014 (the most recent year disclosures are available) to almost $16 million.
It's still eminently possible that Hawley would coast in the primary, but as Drucker notes, he has issues of his own. Hawley ran ads during his race for attorney general attacking "career politicians just climbing the ladder, using one office to get another," something hypothetical opponents could easily flip against him. And as an unnamed GOP strategist observes to Drucker, Hawley's "never had to prove himself" but rather has "this golden-boy glow from afar."
Almost every Missouri Republican seeking statewide office last year won easily, Hawley among them. A more difficult race, whether an intra-party face-off or a general election against the hard-working McCaskill, would test him in a way he's never been tested before.
● VA-Sen: Tim Kaine (D-inc): $2.6 million raised, $7.3 million cash-on-hand
● CA-10: Josh Harder (D): $400,000 raised (since May 5), $370,000 cash-on-hand
● CA-39: Phil Janowicz (D): $180,000 raised (in two months)
● FL-23: Tim Canova (D): $32,000 raised (in two weeks)
● WI-01: Randy Bryce (D): $430,000 raised (in two weeks)
● AZ-Sen: Democratic state Rep. Randy Friese has previously said he was considering challenging Republican Sen. Jeff Flake next year, and he recently told a local NBC affiliate that he would decide by the end of the summer. Although he's just one of many state representatives, Friese was a trauma a surgeon who helped save former Rep. Gabby Giffords' life after the 2011 Tucson mass shooting, so he has an interesting background that could help him stand out. He later ousted a GOP incumbent to win a light-blue state House seat in 2014, so he at least has experience running a contested general election.
Although Flake is one of the very few Republican senators facing re-election in 2018 who appears to be vulnerable, Friese is so far the only prominent Democrat who is publicly considering the race. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has long been coy about her intentions despite rampant media speculation about her interest, but she has previously only refused to rule out running.
● ND-Sen: The GOP field to face Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is still taking shape, but another Republican may be eyeing this seat. The local blog Say Anything reports that the state Republican Party is trying to recruit Kathy Neset, an appointed member of the State Board of Higher Education. Neset also runs Neset Consulting Services, which serves the oil industry. Neset told Say Anything that the reports she could run were "interesting" but she said nothing else, so she's not ruling anything out.
● CA-Gov: Republicans are reportedly deeply worried about the prospect of an all Democratic gubernatorial top-two general election depressing turnout and wreaking havoc for their party downballot, which is why they had pinned their hopes on San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer running for governor next year. Faulconer has long been vague about his 2018 plans, but he recently stated that he intended to serve out his second term as mayor through the end of 2020, depriving the GOP of their top candidate. The Los Angeles Times recently relayed that Faulconer decided not to run because he didn't think he could win, according to an unnamed state party official.
However, Republicans did land a new candidate recently when former Assemblyman David Hadley officially launched his campaign after having previously been in the exploratory phase. Hadley served one term in the Assembly by narrowly defeating a Democratic incumbent in 2014, but he lost their hard-fought rematch in 2016 while still running far ahead of Trump's landslide loss in the 66th Assembly District in southwestern Los Angeles County.
Hadley is ostensibly a relative moderate on social issues who publicly opposed Trump in 2016. The Los Angeles Times reports that he also has ties to Republican mega-donor Charles Munger, who spent heavily on Hadley’s unsuccessful re-election battle last year. Hadley says he'll unveil endorsements from 20 of the 38 Republican members of the legislature soon, meaning he could be a strong contender for the GOP, but California remains a very blue state that hasn't elected a Republican to statewide office in over a decade.
Unfortunately for Republicans, every additional candidate they have running increases the chances that the party fails to make the top-two runoff next year entirely if they badly split the GOP vote against the much better-known Democratic field, which includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and state Treasurer John Chiang. Outspoken conservative Assemblyman Travis Allen and self-funding businessman John Cox are already running for Republicans in addition to Hadley, and all three of Team Red’s noteworthy candidates will nonetheless face an uphill battle to boost their name recognition in this incredibly expensive state.
● IA-Gov: Iowa's Democratic gubernatorial primary just grew a little less crowded after Davenport Alderman Mike Matson suspended his campaign. Although he stopped short of formally dropping out of the race, he doesn't sound likely to resume campaigning. An Army veteran, Matson had struggled to break through in a field that already includes several noteworthy Democrats who are eager to take on newly elevated GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds. The current field consists of former state party chair Andy McGuire, former Tom Vilsack chief of staff John Norris, state Sen. Nate Boulton, state Rep. Todd Prichard, former Des Moines School Board President Jonathan Neiderbach, and labor leader Cathy Glasson.
● KS-Gov: We thought that every single statewide elected Republican in Kansas had already at least talked about running for governor, but in the words of Yoda, "No. There is another." Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer recently told the Kansas City Star that he is considering joining the race to succeed termed-out Republican Sam Brownback, but says that he won't decide soon.
● MN-Gov: GOP state House Speaker Kurt Daudt has been flirting with a bid to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton for a while, and he tells the local CBS affiliate WCCO that he'll decide either by the end of the summer or the early fall. Back in April, Daudt sounded unenthusiastic about a run, and he told WCCO that he had indeed "kind of decided to myself that I wasn't going to [run]." Daudt still doesn't sound like he's chomping at the bit to get in, saying "now I'm back to kind of thinking about it. But I wouldn't say that I'm leaning one way or the other." However, Daudt also argues that the other GOP candidates aren't catching steam.
● NE-Gov: Ex-Nebraska GOP Gov. Dave Heineman really does not seem to like his successor, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. Heineman, who was termed out in 2014 but is eligible to run again, didn't rule out a primary bid against Ricketts back in September. Last week, Heineman told Lincoln radio host Coby Mach that he thought that ex-Speaker Mike Flood "would make an outstanding governor." However, Flood quickly declared that "Ricketts is a good man, and he'll be re-elected in 2018," putting an end to the chatter that Heineman started. Flood, who briefly ran in 2013 before dropping out after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, also said that Heineman hadn't talked to him first before volunteering him.
Heineman himself didn't quite rule out a bid of his own, telling Mach in that same interview that a 2018 bid is "certainly not my plan. Everybody misconstrued a comment I think I said a long time ago, 'You never say never,' I'm happy with my life right now." However, Heineman doesn't seem to be in any hurry to actually support Ricketts. After he was asked if he could see himself backing the governor, Heineman replied, "The governor has had some challenges. He needs to work through those. I'm disappointed we haven't solved the property tax issue here in Nebraska." While Heineman doesn't appear particularly likely to run himself, we'll see if he continues to shop for a primary challenger.
There's certainly little love lost between Heineman and Ricketts. Back in 2014, Heineman endorsed then-Attorney General Jon Bruning in the crowded primary, but the very-wealthy Ricketts narrowly won. It's possible that a challenger capable of standing up to Ricketts money could actually do some damage. The Lincoln Journal Star's Don Walton says that rural interests think that the governor hasn't provided them with enough state property tax credits, and that they may try to get a constitutional amendment on the 2018 general election ballot that would reduce property taxes. However, with Flood out and Heineman looking unlikely to jump in, there may just not be a primary challenger out there who could harness rural anger at Ricketts.
Democrats haven't won the governorship since Ben Nelson was decisively re-elected in 1994, of all years, and there hasn't been much talk of giving Ricketts a serious challenge. Walton writes that many Democrats would love to see ex-state Sen. Steve Lathrop run, but that Lathrop seems much more likely to try to return to the legislature.
● IA-03: Democrats have landed another challenger to take on Republican Rep. David Young after real-estate company president Theresa Greenfield announced her candidacy on Wednesday. Greenfield does not appear to have run for office before, and it's unclear if she's capable of any self-funding. However, Iowa Starting Line previously reported that she has extensive ties to the Des Moines business community, which could bolster her fundraising.
This Des Moines and Council Bluffs-area district flipped from 51-47 Obama to 49-45 Trump last year, while Young has twice defeated touted Democratic foes. However, Democrats are optimistic that they can compete in this light-red seat next year. Greenfield joins a Democratic field that includes attorney Anna Ryon and business consultant Cynthia Axne, while state Sen. Matt McCoy and political consultant Pete D'Alessandro have previously said they're thinking about running.
● IN-09: Indiana's 9th Congressional District doesn't usually top the list of Democratic offensive targets in 2018, but civil rights attorney Dan Canon announced on Monday that he would run against first-term Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth next year. Canon is making his first bid for elected office, and the News and Tribune reports that he was part of the legal team that took the landmark 2015 case legalizing same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court.
Republicans drew this seat, which spans from the Louisville suburbs to the Indianapolis suburbs and includes Bloomington, to be safely red. However, Hollingsworth faced ruthless attacks that he was an entitled carpetbagging rich kid after he used his personal wealth and the support of his father's super PAC donations to run for office in 2016 almost immediately after moving to the Hoosier State from Tennessee. Hollingsworth only prevailed 54-40 over a strong Democratic challenger for a then-open seat last year even as Trump won the 9th District by 61-34. However, attacks over carpetbagging could be less potent in 2018 after Hollingsworth has had two years to represent the district, and Canon faces an uphill battle against the 9th's decidedly red lean.
● KY-06: On Saturday, state Sen. Reggie Thomas became the first prominent Democrat to kick off a campaign against Republican Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky's 6th District, which covers the greater Lexington area. Thomas has represented downtown Lexington since winning his legislative seat in 2013, which is one of the rare few in the entire state Senate that is dark blue at the federal level. If Thomas defeats Barr, he would become the first African American to represent Kentucky in Congress.
The 6th District favored Trump 55-39 and Mitt Romney by 56-42, while Barr easily dispatched an unheralded Democratic challenger in 2016 to win his third term. However, the 6th has a history of being more hospitable to state Democrats downballot, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray managed to carry the seat 52-48 even as he was losing his Senate race 57-43 statewide last year. Gray has previously said he's considering running against Barr, as has Colmon Elridge, who is a former aide to ex-Gov. Steve Beshear. Meanwhile, retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath formed an exploratory committee last month while she considers a campaign.
● MA-07: Last week, the Boston Globe reported that Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen was planning to challenge Rep. Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary for this safely blue Boston-area seat. Mazen himself ruled nothing out and has yet to announce he's in, but he wasted little time setting up a campaign account with the FEC that will allow him to raise money. As we noted last week, Mazen has a very tough task ahead of him if he wants to give Capuano a tough challenge.
● NC-09: Mark Harris, who came within one point of beating Rep. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary last year for North Carolina's 9th District, previously stepped down as pastor of his church while he considers a rematch for next year's primary. He recently filed the paperwork to create a campaign committee, although Harris still has not yet formally announced whether he is indeed running again for this 54-43 Trump seat.
While Harris could have some residual support from the 9th's large bloc of religious-conservative primary voters, he might find it harder to challenge Pittenger next year if he runs again. Harris benefitted immensely from the 9th being dramatically altered in last year's court-ordered redistricting, which left Pittenger with a roughly 60 percent new district that stretched from south Charlotte to Fayetteville. Pittenger will have had two more years to establish himself in the redrawn seat by 2018. Furthermore, the FBI and IRS recently dropped their investigation without any charges related to Pittenger's old real estate company over loans he made to his 2012 congressional campaign.
● NE-01: Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has held Nebraska's 1st District with ease since his initial 2004 election, but in late June, former longtime University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook said that he was considering challenging Fortenberry next year. Hassebrook was the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee and lost 57-39 statewide for an open seat against GOP now-Gov. Pete Ricketts in that midterm year's GOP wave. However, he did perform much better than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the counties that make up the 1st District, which includes the state capital of Lincoln and much of eastern Nebraska outside of Omaha.
The 1st District backed Trump 57-36, and Fortenberry doesn't look particularly vulnerable so far. However, Hassebrook surprisingly is not the only former Democratic gubernatorial nominee who has expressed interest in challenging the incumbent. Attorney Bill Hoppner, who was Team Blue's 1998 gubernatorial candidate, said shortly after the House passed Trumpcare that he might run against Fortenberry.
● NM-02: Republican Rep. Steve Pearce has held the 2nd District without much trouble since regaining it in the 2010 Republican wave election, but Democrat Tony Martinez recently kicked off his campaign for this southern New Mexico seat. Martinez is an Army veteran and was formerly a senior vice president for pharmaceutical company Endo, and does not appear to have previously run for office before.
A member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, Pearce's ultra-conservative views have made him a boogeyman for New Mexico Democrats, but he won't be easy to defeat in this 50-40 Trump and 52-45 Romney district. However, the 2nd's large Latino population could be a particular asset for Martinez as he hopes to capitalize on a potential downballot backlash to Trump in 2018. It's also possible that Pearce might not even run for re-election here, since he said back in May that he was considering running for the open governor's office next year.
● NY-21: On Tuesday, businesswoman Tedra Cobb, a Democrat who served eight years in the St. Lawrence County Legislature until 2010, announced that she would challenge GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik. Cobb, who runs a local business development company, has a tough task ahead of her in this rural upstate seat, which includes the North Country in the northernmost part of the state. While Obama won this ancestrally red district 52-46, Trump carried it 54-40.
● OK-02: Back in 2012, Republican Markwayne Mullin promised to only serve three terms in this conservative eastern Oklahoma seat, a pledge he discarded on Monday when he announced that he would seek a fourth term. Mullin insisted that in 2012, he was worried what effects a long tenure in Congress would have on his business and his family, but now he’s seen the light and realizes he can in fact make a difference in D.C.! It’s like the plot of that classic film Mr. Smith Stays in Washington.
Mullin’s move didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, though. In 2016, he said that while his position on leaving after three terms hadn’t changed, he would “continue to seek the Lord's guidance and do what is best for our family and the 2nd District of Oklahoma. The only election I am focused on right now is in 2016.” Ex-Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican who represented this seat in the 1990s, was not happy with Mullin backing away from his term limits pledge, and Coburn endorsed Army veteran Jarrin Jackson in the primary; Mullin ended up beating Jackson 63-37. This year, Mullin dismissed the fact that taxpayers pay for his $174,000 congressional salary as “bullcrap,” declaring, “I pay for myself. I pay enough taxes where before I ever got there, and continue to for my company and pay my own salary.”
And Mullin may get more of that sweet $174,000 salary from all of us in the years to come. Mullin is far from the first politician to keep running past their voluntarily expiration date, and most of the time, voters don’t care enough to fire the incumbent over term limits. Still, Mullin’s primary win over Jackson was hardly impressive, and a stronger opponent may be able to give him more trouble. Trump won this seat 73-23, and while conservative Democrats used to do well here, it’s unlikely Team Blue will make a serious play for it no matter how the primary goes.
● PA-07: Over the weekend, Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach announced that he would challenge GOP incumbent Pat Meehan in this competitive suburban Philadelphia seat.
Leach ran for the neighboring 13th District in 2014 and he raised a credible amount of money. However, Leach ended up taking third place with 17 percent of the vote in the four-way primary, losing to eventual winner Brendan Boyle. Leach actually lives in Meehan's 7th District and represents about 17 percent of the seat in the legislature. Still, Leach hails from Montgomery County, which makes up a little less than 20 percent of the seat, rather than Delaware County, where a little more than half of the 7th's residents live.
Leach also has a reputation as an outspoken liberal, and he hasn't been remotely shy about picking fights with Trump, with him tweeting in February, "Hey @realDonaldTrump I oppose civil asset forfeiture too! Why don't you try to destroy my career you fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon!" Leach's very anti-Trump attitude could be a big asset in a primary and help him raise money from Trump-hating donors nationwide. However, Meehan loves to portray himself as a moderate, and if he faces Leach, he may be able to win over swing voters by depicting the contest as a battle between a centrist and a loud liberal. A few other Democrats are seeking this seat, which flipped from 50-49 Romney to 49-47 Clinton.
● TN-06: GOP Rep. Diane Black is likely to give up this very red suburban Nashville seat to run for governor (though as Missouri's Ann Wagner once again reminded us, sometimes likely candidates don't become actual candidates), and one local GOP legislator is already trying to replace her. State Rep. Judd Matheny announced on Friday that he would run for this seat "no matter what" Black does.
Matheny has served in the state House since the 2002 elections, and he went on to become speaker pro tempore. Matheny attracted attention in 2011 when he tried to ban the practice of Islamic religious law in Tennessee. Matheny, who has defied GOP leaders before, mulled a 2012 challenge to Speaker Beth Harwell but decided to instead run for speaker pro tempore again, a post he lost to another Republican. Two years later, Matheny drove his car into a flower shop, though he luckily injured no one; Matheny said that his dog had jumped into the front seat, and Matheny tried to brake but mistakenly instead hit the gas.
● TX-23, TX-Gov: On Tuesday, ex-Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego set up an exploratory committee with the FEC, though he has yet to announce he's in. Gallego narrowly lost this seat, which stretches from the outskirts of El Paso to San Antonio, to Republican Will Hurd in 2014; in 2016, Gallego lost his comeback campaign 48-47 as Clinton was carrying this district 50-46. Back in May, Gallego said he was interested in running again especially if this seat gets redrawn, and he may be in luck. Earlier in 2017, a federal district court panel ruled that the GOP's 2011 congressional and state House maps were intentionally discriminatory against black and Latino voters, and there will be an expedited trial over the maps this month.
Another local Democrat who had made noises about a House bid, however, seems to be turning his attention elsewhere. Four months ago, ex-state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said he was interested, though he also said he could run for the safely blue 20th District if incumbent Joaquin Castro ran for the Senate. Well, Castro decided to stay put, and the San Antonio News-Express recently noted that Martinez Fischer's name was being dropped for a possible gubernatorial bid against GOP incumbent Greg Abbott. Martinez Fischer told the paper that while a campaign against Abbott is "a conversation that I'm not entertaining at this time," "one thing is pretty clear: Republicans sure have a way of bringing me out of retirement." It's going to be incredibly tough for anyone to unseat the governor, and as we noted in March, Martinez Fischer may not be the best person to try to appeal to swing voters.
● VA-02: Last cycle, Democrats ended up fielding only a little-known perennial candidate in this Hampton Roads district, and Republican Scott Taylor unsurprisingly won the open seat 61-38, running far ahead of Trump's 49-45 margin. On Wednesday, retired Air Force Colonel Dave Belote, the chair of the Virginia Beach Democratic Party, announced that he would run.
Belote ran for an open state Senate seat in 2015 in SD-08, a Virginia Beach seat that Romney won 53-46, and that Trump would carry 51-43 the next year. Democrats didn't seriously target the race and Belote lost 59-41, though he raised a credible $400,000. Belote also was on Jeopardy! six times in 2009 when he was serving in the Air Force, and he ended up walking away with just shy of $135,000.
This seat, which includes all of Virginia Beach and the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, as well as Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, is an important one, and not just because it's home to many high school American history test answers. If you sort all 435 House seats by Donald Trump's margin of victory over Hillary Clinton, Virginia's 2nd falls right in the middle. This one seat likely won't be the seat that determines who controls the House, but Democrats need to win light red seats like VA-02 to win back the speaker's gavel.
● WV-03: Another Democrat has jumped in the race for this open southern West Virginia district, an ancestrally blue seat that has turned against national Democrats in recent years. Paul Davis, the CEO Tri-State Transit Authority, which is the city of Huntington's bus system, tells the local NBC affiliate that he's in. Davis joins state Sen. Richard Ojeda in the primary for this 73-23 Trump constituency. On the GOP side, state party chair Conrad Lucas says he'll decide after his wedding this month. Ex-Del. Rick Snuffer, who was the 2012 nominee, and Del. Rupie Phillips, a Democrat-turned independent-turned Republican, are already running for Team Red.