• MT-Sen: On Tuesday, Sen. Max Baucus surprised the political world by announcing that he would retire at the end of this term rather than seek re-election. (Baucus's decision was first reported by the Washington Post.) Baucus had just racked up another big fundraising quarter and has over $5 million in his federal campaign account, a considerable sum for a state as small as Montana. And Baucus, who's served in the Senate since 1978, seemed to genuinely enjoy being a senator and never publicly signaled that he wanted out.
But he is 71 years old, and the one recent public poll of this race, from PPP, didn't have him looking very strong. Years and years of amassing votes and public statements as a Democrat in a red state often takes its toll, much like it appeared to for Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who also decided to call it quits next year. In particular, Baucus's role in drawing out the Affordable Care Act negotiations a few years ago did serious damage to his image back home—a self-inflicted wound that he foolishly reminded voters of just the other day when he predicted that the implementation of the ACA would be a "train wreck."
So if Baucus's own internal polling matched PPP's numbers, it makes more sense that he'd prefer to depart on his own terms rather than risk a difficult re-election effort. Indeed, it's been a very long time since Baucus had been properly tested on the campaign trail. In both 2002 and 2008, Republicans largely gave up on the idea of challenging the once-popular senator, leading to landslide victories. But the last time Baucus faced a legitimate opponent was in 1996—almost two full decades ago. That's a lot of rust to shake off, and maybe Baucus didn't think he was up to the task.
Now, of course, Republicans are already crowing about the opportunities than an open seat in a GOP-leaning state will present to them. But Montana may be a rare state where Democrats could be better off without their incumbent running again, if they can recruit ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer as a replacement. Schweitzer left office earlier this year thanks to term limits, after two very successful terms that saw him earn a great deal of popularity with voters. Not only would Schweitzer bring his own, authentically Montana virtues to the race, but he'd largely be free of Baucus's negatives. He also performed much better than Baucus did against the same set of opponents in PPP's poll.
A bit unexpectedly, Schweitzer's already said in response to these retirement reports that he isn't ruling out a run and indeed, it sounds like he's taking the idea pretty seriously. Prior to Tuesday, though, Schweitzer had repeatedly insisted that he's "not senile enough to be in the Senate," and it really seemed like he always meant it. But if he wants to change his mind, I'm sure he can use his trademark humor to write his past remarks off to his traditionally bluff style. And you can bet that DC Democrats are indeed eagerly urging him to change his mind, because after Schweitzer, the bench starts to get a lot thinner very quickly.
As for the GOP, they'd only landed two candidates prior to Baucus's decision, neither of them inspiring. One is ex-state Sen. Corey Stapleton, who finished a distant second in a seven-way gubernatorial primary last year. The other is state Rep. Champ Edmunds, a real piece of work. Baucus's departure may spur stronger contenders to get in, though. In PPP's poll, the two toughest (who in fact both held leads over the incumbent) were freshman Rep. Steve Daines and ex-Gov. Marc Racicot. Attorney General Tim Fox could also make a go of it, though as is usually the case following retirement announcements, we'll likely start to hear plenty of names in the coming days.
(A spokesperson for Daines says he's giving "serious and thoughtful consideration" to a Senate bid. Amusingly, Daines's spokesperson worked for, of all people, Rick Berg last cycle. An at-large freshman Republican congressman running for an open Senate seat in a red state out west? Let's hope there are more than surface similarities between Daines and Berg. Meanwhile, Fox didn't rule it out in a vague statement.)
Republicans will undoubtedly make an extremely aggressive effort to win back this seat no matter whom they nominate, but Democrats have had a great deal of success in Montana over the past decade. The GOP hasn't won a Senate race in the state since 2000, and Democrats have also won the last three gubernatorial elections. Last fall's victories were particularly notable, given that both Sen. Jon Tester and then-AG Steve Bullock rode to wins despite facing the headwinds of a presidential election. That's something Team Blue won't have to contend with next year—but first Democrats have to worry about finding a candidate, and all eyes are on Schweitzer.
• AK-Sen: Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who so far is the most establishment-y GOP candidate to explore next year's Senate race, now says he'll make a decision "this summer," in the AP's words. That's not exactly the most helpful rubric, since it could technically mean any time between June 21 and Sept. 21, so who knows.
• HI-Sen, HI-01: So much for that warning shot from the DSCC. According to an unnamed Honolulu Star-Advertiser source "close to" Rep. Colleen Hanabusa's campaign, she's going ahead with a challenge to Sen. Brian Schatz in next year's Democratic primary. Schatz was appointed late last year by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the seat of the late Sen. Dan Inouye, who had written a letter from his deathbed to Abercrombie asking him to tap Hanabusa.
Since that time, numerous reports have said that Hanabusa was still interested in moving up—either via a primary challenge to Abercrombie or Schatz. Evidently, she's chosen the latter option, though Hanabusa generally hasn't communicated any of her intentions directly to the public, preferring to work through often-nameless intermediaries. In any event, even before Tuesday's news, environmental groups had been rallying around Schatz, whose credentials in that area are strong. Now, following the Star-Advertiser's report, EMILY's List says they're backing Hanabusa, so at least one dividing line is already being drawn.
Given how blue Hawaii is, this seat is all but certain to remain in Democratic hands, so all the action will be in the primary. Note that the election next year is to fill the final two years of Inouye's term, so whoever wins will have to run again in 2016, should they wish to remain in office. Also, Hanabusa's move would open up her 1st Congressional District House seat. Could conservaDem ex-Rep. Ed Case make yet another attempt at a comeback? It wouldn't surprise me, but undoubtedly other names will emerge soon.
• IA-Sen: On Tuesday, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that she would not run for Senate, leaving the GOP at square zero. With Rep. Tom Latham out and Rep. Steve King looking unlikely (and unwanted by the establishment in any event), Reynolds's demurral leaves Republicans searching for Plan D.
And not that there was ever any doubt, but Democrats remain united as ever around their Plan A. Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin formally endorsed Rep. Bruce Braley to succeed him on Saturday, which really just sends a signal to anyone out there who might still have toyed with the idea of running in the primary that nah, you really shouldn't bother.
• NH-Sen: PPP announced last Thursday that it would poll New Hampshire over the weekend as part of their regular series of public polls, but it looks like the League of Conservation Voters, which often works with PPP, decided to sponsor the survey in the end. PPP's work has always been top-notch, though, whether they've polled for themselves or others, so the results can speak for themselves. The short version is that would-be carpetbagger Scott Brown does not fare well against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, but here are her head-to-heads against all potential GOP candidates:
• 52-41 vs. ex-Sen. Scott Brown of MassachusettsBrown does indeed perform the best of the bunch, but that's saying very little, since no Republican looks good. That's due in part to Shaheen's strength, since she scores a solid 53-39 job approval rating. But it's also due to every single GOP hopeful sporting negative favorables, including Brown's 37-42 mark. That's better than the rest of the pack as well, since their favorables range from -9 (Sununu) to -16 (Guinta). It's hard for Republicans to feel excited about this crop.
• 53-34 vs. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas
• 53-39 vs. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu
• 54-39 vs. state Sen. (and ex-Rep.) Jeb Bradley
• 55-37 vs. ex-Rep. Frank Guinta
And it's evidently also hard for Granite Staters to feel excited about the possibility of Brown driving his pickup one state to the north in an incredibly unlikely attempt to jump-start his political career. By a 54-32 margin, voters say Brown should not pursue such a bid, though 52 percent of self-identified Republicans like the idea. But even they're not fooled into thinking he's a New Hampshirite: Only 32 percent of Republicans agree with that notion, and just 18 percent of respondents overall do, while 63 percent are quite sure you can't get there from here.
Indeed, the GOP may not be able to get here at all. While they had success in New Hampshire during the 2010 wave, Shaheen doesn't look like a particularly vulnerable target, regardless of whom Republicans might nominate. They'll probably still make an attempt at her (and other, more at-risk Democrats certainly wouldn't mind), but right now, it looks like they'd be chasing fool's gold.
• AR-Gov: State Sen. Johnny Key says that he'll seek re-election rather than join the GOP primary for governor. With the Republican establishment closing ranks behind ex-Rep. Asa Hutchinson, Key's decision is not too surprising.
• AZ-Gov: State Sen. Al Melvin joined the cast of Republicans who've formed exploratory committees for a gubernatorial bid on Tuesday, though in Melvin's case, it's really a formality. Arizona's "resign to run" law prohibits sitting officials from formally announcing for another office until the last year of their term, so creating an "exploratory" committee gives you a loophole. Melvin's exploiting that loophole and plans to make his campaign official in January. He also says he plans to run even if Gov. Jan Brewer exploits a loophole of her own and succeeds in getting around Arizona's term limits law.
But if Brewer's threatened legal challenge doesn't pan out, quite a few other Republicans await the largely unknown Melvin. Two already have their own exploratory committees, SoS Ken Bennett and former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, while several more potential names are still out there, including state Treasurer Doug Ducey and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.
• CO-06: This doesn't seem like a sustainable strategy to me. Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald takes note of the fact that the NRCC is trying to attack Democrat Andrew Romanoff from the left over immigration, but there are, of course, quite a few problems with this. I'll let Seitz-Wald set the table:
A website the committee set up to attack Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff jabs him for "lik[ing] to waste taxpayer dollars almost as much as he likes the strictest immigration laws in the nation he passed as Speaker of the Colorado House."I'm sure it won't be too hard for Romanoff to move as far left on immigration as he needs to—farther than GOP Rep. Mike Coffman can or will, certainly. And what's more, by attacking Romanoff for being insufficiently liberal, that makes it a lot harder for Republicans to also continue criticizing him as a flip-flopper if and when Romanoff's views do continue to evolve, as the kids put it these days. And in any event, as Seitz-Wald points out, Coffman has a pretty nativist track record, which he's only haltingly tried to pivot away from. I'm going to guess that his sins on the immigration front are going to figure much more prominently than any of Romanoff's.
Indeed, Romanoff helped pass "several bills that Democrats call the toughest in the nation," as the AP reported at the time. But the NRCC hit runs into trouble once you finish reading that sentence from the AP: "… and Republicans say don't go far enough." Even though the state's Republican governor signed the bill, "Republicans said the legislation still left glaring loopholes, including allowing benefits for minors." And this was 2006, long before Arizona's SB-1070 and its copycat laws in Alabama, South Carolina and elsewhere. Since then, the GOP moved further to the right on immigration while Romanoff moved left, even earning jabs for flip-flopping.
• SC-01: Mark Sanford is, of course, trying to change the subject with a new ad that attacks Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch over her ties to labor unions. It chiefly features a semi-audible clip of Colbert Busch saying, "The voices of the union are not being heard, and I promise to be that voice for you." But there are two notable differences between this spot and Sanford's first. For one, the commercial he aired last week was partly paid for by the South Carolina Republican Party. This one isn't, indicating that yet another Republican group has backed away from him.
For another, Sanford and the SCGOP publicly shared the size of their earlier buy, even though it was for a not-especially-impressive $100,000. This time, there's no word on the size of the buy, which makes me wonder if this is a relatively small purchase mostly aimed at earning free media. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Sanford's fundraising is disappearing along with his outside support.
Colbert Busch also has another ad out, a pretty anodyne positive spot that's all about jobs.
• Colorado: Voters in Colorado support the state's new civil unions law 50-38, according to PPP, but a similar 51-43 majority would like to see the state legalize same-sex marriage as well. And it'll happen, too, since as Tom Jensen points out, the under-30 cohort supports marriage equality by a monster 74-17 spread. Tom also has the usual 2016 numbers and some data on gun control, but there's one horserace matchup tucked into this batch of miscellany as well. Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is up for re-election next year, holds just a 42-38 lead over Democrat Ken Gordon, a longtime former legislator.
• Redistricting: Daily Kos Elections diarist Stephen Wolf has been working the "what if?" angle on redistricting for a number of months: How much better would Democrats do in the House if redistricting was conducted on a nonpartisan commission basis in key states? Well, he's outdone himself with his latest magnum opus, which contains redrawn congressional maps for 34 (!) different states, as they might look if they were drafted without a thick partisan crayon.
Wolf posits that a sufficient number of swing and blue-leaning districts would be created such that Democrats would be in a good position to reclaim the House majority. Regardless of whether you agree, it's a very valuable piece, partly because of its sheer scope, and partly because it's amazing to compare the clean simplicity of Wolf's maps versus the terrible convolutions of many states' actual maps... most of which were created in the service of locking in Republicans' 2010 gains. (David Jarman)