The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● KY-Gov: While GOP Rep. James Comer said earlier this month that he was only interested in running for governor of Kentucky this year if incumbent Matt Bevin retired, he told the Associated Press on Thursday that he was reconsidering his plan not to challenge Bevin in a GOP primary. Comer said that Bevin, who has been unpopular for much of his tenure, is in "worse shape than I realized."
Bevin is already facing state Rep. Robert Goforth in the primary, but Comer would almost certainly be a far-stronger opponent. Indeed, Comer and Bevin faced off in 2015, a contest Bevin won by all of 83 votes. There's little love lost between the two, and Comer said earlier this month that they haven't spoken since then.
On Thursday, the same day that Comer told the AP he was considering a primary rematch with Bevin, the congressman also posted a strange tweet where he said, "Lots of talk about who would be a good governor … I think Republicans should also consider Ambassador Kelly Craft!" This was the first we'd heard about the idea that Craft, a prolific Kentucky GOP donor who is now Trump's ambassador to Canada, might run for governor, and we wondered why Comer tweeted this out. Now that Comer is also talking openly about running himself, we're even less sure what's going on.
Things got even more complicated a few days later when Insider Louisville reported that Bevin recently spoke to Craft about becoming his running mate. There's still no word about how interested Craft is in being Bevin's lieutenant governor, in challenging Bevin, or in doing nothing other than finding an Ottawa Tim Hortons and buying herself a Double-Double. Bevin reportedly is also looking at other potential running mates, and we don't know how high Craft is on the list.
Bevin still has not filed to run again, though he once again insisted last week that he would. The filing deadline is Jan. 29, and we could see candidates enter the race as late as that day; in 2015, Bevin himself only announced he was running on the last possible day to do so.
● MN-Sen: GOP state Sen. Karin Housley lost the 2018 Senate special election to Democratic incumbent Tina Smith 53-42, and she may be preparing for another try. The Star Tribune wrote Monday that Housley "will be in D.C. this week to meet with folks in advance of a decision about 2020." The report doesn't specify what office Housley is eyeing, but we assume it's the Senate. A House bid is probably not on her radar since close to two-thirds of Housley's state Senate district is in the safely blue 4th Congressional District, while almost all of the balance in GOP Rep. Tom Emmer's 6th District.
● NC-Sen: Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller told the Charlotte Observer this week that he would run for the Senate, making him the first noteworthy Democrat to announce a bid against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.
Fuller, who would be North Carolina's first black senator, is one of three at-large commissioners in Mecklenburg County, the state's largest county and the home of Charlotte. Despite its size, the Observer writes that it's rare for local politicians to try to make the jump from county to national politics. They also note that Fuller has never finished higher than second place in any of his four countywide campaigns. (In Mecklenburg County, each party can nominate up to three people for the at-large commission seat, and in November, the three candidates with the most votes are elected.)
● TN-Sen: Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who will leave office on Saturday, recently told the local ABC affiliate WKRN that he would likely make up his mind on a Senate bid in the month or so after his term ends. However, Haslam added that there was "no exact timetable" for when he'll decide, though he reiterated that "it won't be six months down the road." There are a number of other Tennessee Republicans who could run for this open seat, and it's likely that many of them are waiting to see what the soon-to-be former governor will do before making up their own minds.
● ND-Gov: Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who lost re-election 55-44 against Republican Kevin Cramer last year, doesn't seem to be quite ruling out a 2020 gubernatorial bid. On Saturday, Heitkamp was asked if she had any plans for running next year only said, "No, no," which is hardly a strong denial of interest. Heitkamp also said she'd make "some announcement next week" about her future plans, and added, "I don't want to take away from that."
Heitkamp was the Democratic nominee for governor back in 2000, and she lost 55-45 to Republican John Hoeven (who spent the last six years as her Senate colleague). Heitkamp showed interest in running again in 2015 after Gov. Jack Dalrymple decided to retire, but she ended up passing. Republican Doug Burgum ended up winning the following year, and there's little indication he's vulnerable in what's usually a reliably red state. A Morning Consult poll from the final quarter of 2018 gave Burgum a strong 53-22 approval rating.
● FL-20: On Monday, Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings announced that he was being treated for pancreatic cancer. Hastings, who has represented a safely blue seat in the Miami area since 1993, said in a statement he was "hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida's 20th Congressional District and the nation," and added, "Should it become clear that this cancer which has invaded my body cannot be defeated, I will tell you so."
● HI-02: In a bizarrely timed announcement, Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard told CNN late on Friday that she was running for president in 2020, a move that was met with widespread derision.
Among other things, progressives quickly noted that Gabbard has cozied up to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on a secret trip to Syria two years ago; has cultivated violent Hindu nationalists in India; spent years as a virulent anti-gay activist, even when she served in the Hawaii legislature; was one of the first (and only) Democrats to meet with Donald Trump after he won in 2016; refused to sign a letter from 169 House Democrats denouncing Trump for appointing white nationalist Steve Bannon to a White House job; carried water for Republican megadonor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson by introducing a bill to outlaw online gambling; has refused to sign on to an assault weapons ban; attacked Barack Obama for refusing to use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism"; is beloved by conservatives; is beloved by top American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer; is beloved by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke; voted to make it all but impossible for Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.; and told a reporter in 2016 that her "personal views" opposing abortion rights "haven't changed." Oh, and she once skipped a hearing on the VA crisis to shoot a surfing video with Yahoo News.
As Gabbard heads off to do whatever it is presidential candidates do, though, the future of her House seat remains a burning question. Under Hawaii law, Gabbard can seek both the presidency and re-election at the same time, and if—this is going to be the most generous "if" we've ever written—she performs poorly in the primaries, she could come back home to run for a fourth term in the House. (Hawaii's own congressional primary usually isn't until August.)
But while Gabbard's busy snarfing corn dogs in Des Moines, that leaves room for a smart, ambitious progressive to lay the groundwork for a primary challenge of their own, with the very convincing argument that Gabbard is more interested in her national profile than the people of Hawaii's 2nd District. So far, Gabbard's litany of sins haven't hurt her standing locally—she easily brushed aside an opponent in last year's primary—but she's about to face far more scrutiny than ever before. Progressives everywhere will be eagerly waiting to see what unfolds next.
● IL-14: Now here's a real blast-from-the-past. On Friday, the Chicago Tribune published an article where dairy magnet-turned-perennial-candidate-turned-Illinois state Sen. Jim Oberweis expressed interest in seeking the GOP nod against first-term Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood, and he said he would make a decision in 30 to 60 days. Last year, Underwood flipped Illinois' 14th Congressional District, a 49-45 Trump seat in the western Chicago area, and she'll likely be a top GOP target. However, if history is any guide, Team Red can almost certainly do better than Oberweis.
That's because Oberweis, who is one of our favorite frequent candidates going back to our Swing State Project days, has unsuccessfully run for the House or statewide office a grand total of six times beginning with his 2002 primary defeat to take on Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.
Oberweis then managed to lose the 2004 Senate GOP nod twice. He first lost the primary to Jack Ryan, and after Ryan dropped out of the general election against Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama, party leaders passed over Oberweis in favor of fellow perennial candidate Alan Keyes. That was probably the wrong decision; while the seat was almost certainly unwinnable for Team Red by then, Keyes was an absolute disaster and lost to Obama 70-27; even Oberweis probably could have done a whole lot better than that.
Oberweis kept up his primary losing streak in 2006 by losing the gubernatorial contest by a pretty modest 38-32 against state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. But in 2008, Oberweis finally got to be Team Red's standard bearer in a nationally watched 2008 special election to succeed former GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert.
That district, which was the closest predecessor to the current district, had been reliably red turf for a long time. George W. Bush carried the seat 55-44 in 2004 and Hastert (whose awful past would not be revealed until 2015), had always won re-election easily. However, the contest between Oberweis and Democrat Bill Foster was a competitive affair, and Foster's 52.5-47.5 victory was a strong and early sign that 2008 was going to be a very good year for Democrats.
Oberweis and Foster had won their primaries for the regular November contest months before the special was decided, and Republicans reportedly tried to convince their nominee to drop out. Then-state Rep. Aaron Schock, who was the GOP nominee for a congressional seat to the south, loudly threw Oberweis under the bus for his defeat, declaring, "Anybody in Illinois who knows Jim Oberweis knows that was not a referendum on the Republican Party; it was a referendum on Jim Oberweis." Schock, whose own congressional career would self-destruct the next decade and is now awaiting charges of corruption, also volunteered that when it came to Oberweis, "The people that knew him best, liked him least." Oberweis didn't listen, and he lost to Foster again 58-42.
Things finally changed in 2012 when Oberweis won both the primary and the general election for an open state Senate seat. But some habits can't be broken, and the next year, he launched a second longshot bid against Durbin. That campaign started on a strange note when Oberweis partly apologized for his crummy electoral record, saying, "I made statements and commercials that I regretted and I've said so." Oberweis also had to answer questions about why his wife was registered to vote in Florida, admitting that the couple has spent a lot of time in the Sunshine State and awkwardly defending himself by claiming that he's "been in the state Senate every day the Senate has been in session."
Oberweis finally won a statewide primary, but his 56-44 victory against an underfunded foe wasn't exactly the stuff of legends. It hardly mattered, though, since the contest against Durbin was never on anyone's radar, and Oberweis lost 54-43. In 2016, Oberweis was re-elected 55-45 even as his state Senate seat was swinging from 53-45 Romney to 48-45 Clinton.
Unlike in 2014, Oberweis would need to give up his place in the legislature if he ran for Congress. However, Illinois’ 14th District is more conservative than the seat he holds now, and despite his track record, he may have better odds against Underwood than if he seeks re-election.
Still, there's no guarantee Oberweis would win the GOP nod. Navy veteran Matt Quigley has already announced he's in, and the local political newsite Capitol Fax speculates that state Rep. Allen Skillicorn could run. We haven't heard anything from Skillicorn about any interest, though Capitol Fax wonders if a potential congressional campaign would explain "why he's been holding so many press conferences lately."
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: On Friday, just minutes before the filing deadline, City Councilor Anna Brosche announced that she would challenge Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a fellow Republican. Two other candidates will be on the ballot in the March 19 nonpartisan primary, but it doesn't look like either of them are serious challengers for Curry. If no one takes a majority, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a May 14 general election.
While both Curry and Brosche are Republicans, they've clashed plenty of times over the years, especially when Brosche was council president from 2017-2018. Brosche, who was also the council's first Asian-American member, is arguing that Curry has done a poor job handling crime in the city and that the former state GOP chair relies on cronies to run city hall. Meanwhile, Curry's allied PAC began running ads in late December against Brosche, declaring that she voted to increase her own pay and opposed hurricane relief for Northwest Jacksonville. Brosche's objection to the hurricane money was that it came from United Arab Emirates, which has a poor human rights record.
Brosche has a daunting challenge ahead of her, and money will likely be an issue. Curry has a hefty $3.2 million available, while Brosche only created her campaign committee on Friday and didn't have an allied PAC set up yet.
● San Diego, CA Mayor, CA-52: Democratic Rep. Scott Peters formed an exploratory committee late last year for a potential 2020 run for mayor of San Diego, and the San Diego Union-Tribune recently wrote that he's "expected to announce whether he will run by the end of January." However, plenty of other local politicians have been eyeing the race to succeed termed-out GOP Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and two of Peters' fellow Democrats, City Councilor Barbara Bry and state Assemblyman Todd Gloria, have already announced they are in.
Bry previously worked as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times and went on to co-found the flower retailer ProFlowers. Bry only won her first office in 2016 when she was elected to the council, and she's argued that her fairly brief time in elected office is an asset. Bry would be the first woman elected mayor since Republican Susan Golding won her second term in 1996.
By contrast, Gloria has a very different profile. Gloria, a protégé of Rep. Susan Davis, worked as her district director until he was elected to the council in 2012. He also was council president in 2013 when multiple women came forward and accused Democratic Mayor Bob Filner of sexual harassment.
Gloria became interim mayor after Filner finally resigned in disgrace at the end of August, and he decided not to run in the special election for the remaining three years of Filner's term. The Union-Tribune wrote this month that during his six months as mayor, Gloria "received bipartisan praise for stabilizing the city and increasing the focus on infrastructure and the many cherished services that had been cut during the Great Recession." If Gloria won in 2020, he'd be the city's first elected mayor of color, as well as its first elected gay mayor.
● Tampa, FL Mayor: Over the weekend, retired Hillsborough County Judge Dick Greco Jr., the son of former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco Sr., filed paperwork to join the very crowded March 5 nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Greco did not announce he was in, but with the Jan. 18 filing deadline days away, we'll know very soon who is in and who is out.
Greco, who stepped down from the bench in 2017, has hinted for years that he might run for office, but he's joining a very expensive contest very late in the game. Greco does hail from a well-known family, but it's unclear how much that will help him. Dick Greco Sr. served two separate stints as mayor from 1967 to 1974 and from 1995 to 2003, but his 2011 comeback campaign didn't go well. The elder Greco took third place, with Buckhorn edging him out 23.5-22.6 for the second spot in the general election.