● IL-Sen: In an appearance on CNN on Thursday morning, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed he'd run for a fifth term in 2020, but his exchange with news anchor John Berman is instructive for a couple of reasons:
BERMAN: Are you running for re-election?
DURBIN: I am. […] But I haven't made a formal announcement, John. Don't take that as a formal announcement.
BERMAN: You just announced it. You just said you're running. That's a formal announcement. Whether you like it or not, you just announced you're running for re-election formally.
DURBIN: Well, let me tell you, what I've said is, and I'm raising money and trying to lose a few pounds, and that's a good indicator that I'm looking forward to 2020.
Of prime importance is Durbin's simple and direct answer to Berman's question. He didn't hedge by saying "I'm planning to" or "I anticipate running"—he made it plain that he is indeed seeking re-election. That's a crucial distinction in our book: Durbin is now a confirmed "yes," and we'll mark him down as such. Had he fudged at all, we'd still have to regard him as considering retirement.
But then there's the "formal announcement" charade, which Berman rightly pushed back against. So what's Durbin on about there? In all likelihood, he's got some kind of splashy kickoff event planned for later this year, complete with balloons, music, and cheering supporters—and, he'd very much like, some news cameras in the back of the room taking it all in. These kinds of launches are good for some favorable media coverage, and Durbin, we'd guess, just wanted to remind Berman (and his audience) that his is yet to come.
At Daily Kos Elections, though, we don't care one bit. We're with Berman on this one: Once a candidate says they're running, that's all we need. If later there's some formal, stage-managed affair at a campaign HQ or union hall or public park, that's just pageantry. That's not to say that that pageantry is unimportant (to the campaign in question, at least), but when you're tracking hundreds of races across the country, as we are, then the candidate's say-so is the only thing that matters.
Of course, sometimes candidates drive us absolutely nuts, with pre-announcements that they're going to be scheduling an announcement of some kind of announcement of maybe a campaign. But we're not shedding tears for our poor, beleaguered spreadsheets. Rather, by dragging out the launch process, you can blunt the momentum that a big, loud, all-guns-blazing kickoff can bring you. If you've forced reporters to put up with half a dozen prefatory press releases before your "formal announcement," then by the time it finally rolls around, they're much less likely to care.
That could explain why Durbin hastened to tell Berman he still had something official in store, though for a long-term incumbent like Durbin, these sorts of theatrics tend to matter less. And regardless of what he was hoping to accomplish in this interview, we're grateful that he left no doubt about his intentions for 2020. If only every candidate could be so candid.
● ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins has sounded likely to seek a fifth term for a while, and she recently told Time that, while she didn't have a final decision, it was her "intention" to run again.
● OR-Sen: Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is up for re-election in 2020, recently told Oregon Public Media that he was looking to the end of March to decide whether or not to run for president. State law doesn't allow him to run for the Senate and for the White House at the same time, but because Oregon's filing deadline isn't until March 10, Merkley could compete in some presidential primaries before deciding whether to continue on or to drop out and seek re-election.
● KY-Gov: Former state Auditor Adam Edelen filed paperwork on Thursday to seek the Democratic nomination, and he will reportedly announce he's in on Monday.
● MS-Gov: On Thursday, GOP Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves kicked off his long-anticipated campaign to succeed termed-out Gov. Phil Bryant in this year's race.
Reeves, who had $5.4 million in the bank at the end of 2017 (reports covering 2018 are not due until the end of January), begins the contest as the heavy favorite to win the August primary. Right now, Reeves' only declared intra-party opponent is freshman state Rep. Robert Foster. Petal Mayor Hal Marx, who had been running a long-shot bid, also announced on Thursday that he was exiting the race, citing his wife's recent cancer diagnosis. Some other Republicans are reportedly considering, but no one has made any obvious moves to run. The state filing deadline is March 1.
● CA-50: On Wednesday, 2018 Democratic nominee Ammar Campa-Najjar announced that he would run for this conservative inland San Diego County seat again. Campa-Najjar held GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was indicted in September on corruption charges, to a 52-48 win in a district that Donald Trump had carried 55-40 two years before.
Hunter ran a xenophobic campaign against Campa-Najjar, who is of Mexican and Palestinian descent, where the incumbent and his allies argued without the slightest shred of evidence that the Democrat was a "national security risk." We should expect another ugly campaign from Hunter if he faces Campa-Najjar again, but with the congressman's corruption trial set to begin Sept. 10, it's far from clear whether Hunter will be on the ballot next year.
● MO-02: Cort VanOstran, the 2018 Democratic nominee, recently told the National Journal's Alex Clearfield that he's considering another bid against GOP Rep. Ann Wagner, but he has no timeline to decide. Last year, VanOstran held Wagner to a 51-47 victory in a suburban St. Louis seat that moved from 57-41 Romney to a smaller 53-42 Trump. VanOstran didn't receive much outside help during his last campaign, but national Democrats may take a lot more of an interest in this contest in 2020.
● NC-09: Republican Mark Harris wasn't sworn into the 116th Congress on Thursday due to the ongoing concerns about election fraud allegedly committed on his behalf, but that isn't stopping him from demanding to be seated anyway.
Harris filed a lawsuit on Thursday requesting that a state court order North Carolina's Board of Elections to certify him as the winner of the race in the 9th Congressional District. Despite considerable evidence that Harris' own campaign operative, McCrae Dowless, engaged in absentee ballot fraud that may have swung the election to the GOP, Harris told the court—apparently with a straight face—that there was "no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome" that currently has him nominally winning by 905 votes.
However, Harris' request is likely to receive a hostile reception, seeing as the board is well within its authority not to certify the results while continuing its investigation into the alleged fraud. In fact, Harris himself finally submitted to questioning by state investigators the very same day he went to court. But even if Harris were somehow successful, the House itself retains ultimate authority over whether to seat him, and the new Democratic majority has said it won't do so given the questions that remain about the circumstances of his election.
● PA-07: Former GOP Lehigh Commissioner Dean Browning announced on Thursday he would run against Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, marking his second straight attempt at this Lehigh Valley seat after he narrowly lost the primary to Marty Nothstein 50.5-49.5 last year. Browning had little outside support or money, so it was a big surprise how close he came to winning, especially since he had a lousy electoral track record over the past few years.
However, this close showing may have just been an early signal that Nothstein was a bad candidate rather than evidence that Browning was an especially good one. National Republicans privately complained that Nothstein was running a disorganized campaign and they never spent anything to help him, and Wild rolled up a 53-43 win in a seat Clinton had carried just 49-48. Team Red will likely plan to target this district again in 2020, but they'll probably want a stronger nominee than either Browning or Nothstein.
● TX-23: Liz Wahl, a former TV anchor for the American branch of Russia Today, filed to seek the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Rep. Will Hurd over the holidays, and she soon confirmed she was in. Wahl, who had spent two-and-a-half years at RT America, earned international attention in 2014 when she announced on the air that she was quitting from the Kremlin-funded propaganda network.
Wahl told viewers at the time that she "cannot be part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin," adding, "I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth and that is why after this newscast I'm resigning." The Daily Beast's James Kirchick would write afterwards that Wahl had told him six months before that she felt morally compromised working for RT but wasn't ready to leave, and that the network's coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine was the final straw for her. Wahl has kept a much lower profile since then, and this appears to be her first run for office.
● House: On Thursday afternoon, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi was easily elected speaker of the House with a 220-vote majority, making her the first person to return to that role since the legendary Sam Rayburn did so in the 1950s. Though an attempt by dissidents to deny Pelosi the speakership fell apart weeks ago thanks to her savvy maneuvering, 15 Democrats still chose to cast protest votes for various alternatives, none of whom were actually running, or voted "present."
Of those dissenters, 11 are freshmen, and 10 of them (all but Colorado Rep. Jason Crow) represent districts Trump carried. As for the four veterans, two sit in solidly blue seats: Rep. Jim Cooper in Tennessee's 5th and Rep. Kathleen Rice in New York's 4th. Cooper has long voted well to the right of his district yet is something of a fixture in Nashville politics, but Rice has only entered her third term and may have just drawn a primary challenge (see our separate NY-04 item).
A half dozen Republicans, meanwhile, refused to vote for California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who finished with 192 votes. Of those six—a collection of malcontents and weirdos—five voted for Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, whom McCarthy soundly beat in an internal party vote in November to nominate a candidate for speaker.