● AL-Sen: So Luther Strange, Alabama's new Republican senator, has finally admitted it: He was investigating Gov. Robert Bentley all along—even as he sought and received a coveted appointment to the Senate from the very man he was investigating. And making Strange look even worse, he repeatedly tried to conceal the fact of his investigation in his capacity as state attorney general. But the jig is now up, and Strange could pay a serious price.
So just how did we get here? Shortly before Election Day, Strange asked the state legislature to halt its own impeachment investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley, who has been accused of using state resources to cover up an affair with a staffer, because the attorney general's office, which Strange then ran, was conducting its own investigation. Lawmakers complied.
But once the prospect of a Senate vacancy emerged with Donald Trump's victory, Strange started suggesting he might not actually be looking into the governor's behavior after all. Bentley, of course, would get to name a replacement for Sen. Jeff Sessions (who was recently confirmed as U.S. attorney general), and Strange tried to make the obvious conflict of interest—seeking an appointment from the very man he was investigating—smell less reeky by pretending there was none.
Despite the transparent scumminess, Bentley went ahead and tapped Strange anyway, but Strange's meager charade was soon exposed by Steve Marshall, the man who succeeded him as state attorney general, who quickly confirmed his office was indeed probing Bentley.
Strange then finally confessed this week that, despite all his games, he knew he was accepting a Senate appointment from the guy he was supposed to be investigating. Strange admitted to a local news station that as attorney general, "Our office ... has been conducting related investigations going back to ... the governor."
You don't say! In fact, Strange had refused to. In late December, when Strange belatedly insisted that he never actually said he was investigating the governor, he claimed he had only asked the legislature to suspend its impeachment proceedings because there were "some common players involved." Well, Strange has now acknowledged that one of those "common players involved" is Bentley himself!
Strange doesn't need to face primary voters until June of next year, and he may be able to ride this all out despite his best efforts to the contrary. But the GOP legislature may finally take action against Bentley before the session ends in May. If Bentley gets impeached, it will be much harder for Strange to avoid becoming collateral damage.
● FL-Gov: The conservative Associated Industries of Florida is out with an in-house poll of next year's GOP gubernatorial primary, and they unsurprisingly find that few people know much about any of the potential candidates. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam leads state House Speaker Richard Corcoran 22-4, while state Sen. Jack Latvala and rich guy Ron Bergeron earn even less support. No one has entered the race yet, but it would be a massive surprise if Putnam stays out. Latvala and Bergeron have expressed interest, while Corcoran has been publicly quiet about his 2018 plans.
However, at least one Republican is treating Corcoran like a potential candidate. A few weeks ago, termed-out Gov. Rick Scott trashed the Florida state House of Representatives for trying to kill his job incentive and tourism marketing campaign. When Scott was asked if Corcoran opposed him because he may run for governor, Scott responded, "It's pretty clear, if you're not caring about people's jobs you must be caring about something else." Things haven't gotten any better between the two since then, with Scott's allied PAC releasing a web video attacking the speaker.
The AIF poll gives Scott an 81-14 percent approval rating with likely GOP primary voters and has Corcoran at just 16-4, so Scott could do some damage closer to a primary if he attacks Corcoran in full force. However, Scott doesn't seem to like his other potential replacements much, either, and he's reportedly been looking for another wealthy businessman to run. However, there's no sign that Scott is sold on Bergeron, an eccentric who goes by the nickname "Alligator Ron."
● OH-Gov: GOP Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor has made it no secret that she plans to run for governor, and she kicked off her campaign this week. Taylor said she'd make a formal announcement later, but when your name is Mary Taylor, you set up a committee called "Mary Taylor for Governor," and you say you "want the job of serving Ohioans as our next Governor," you've made the only announcement we care about.
Taylor joins Attorney General Mike DeWine, who also says he needs to make a formal announcement even though he's already clearly said he's running, in next year's GOP primary. Secretary of State Jon Husted hasn't announced he's running, but his fundraising makes it clear he's planning to also get in. Rep. Jim Renacci also is flirting with a bid, but he hasn't gone as far as his three potential primary rivals. Termed-out Gov. John Kasich recently said he'd support Taylor, despite reports of tensions between their camps over a fight to chair the state GOP.
● CA-34: Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez has taken another labor endorsement for the crowded April special election. This time, the SEIU is throwing their support behind Gomez, who is the establishment favorite in this safely blue downtown Los Angeles seat.
● FL-13: Last May, we wrote that David Jolly's Senate campaign, which he ended up dropping to unsuccessfully run for re-election to the House, was "apparently a backdoor audition for the role of 'reasonable Republican' on some cable news show," and it turns out we were dead right. These days, Jolly spends much of his time on cable news speaking out against Trump, and criticizing members of both parties for not doing the same thing.
Jolly has also been flirting with a rematch with Democrat Charlie Crist, who unseated him 52-48 in this St. Petersburg seat, and he even hired Crist's congressional campaign outreach director to serve as his "senior advisor for the 2018 political cycle" last month. But Jolly says he won't make a decision on another run until sometime early next year, and that if the GOP remains as pro-Trump as it is now, "then there's probably not a place for me on the ballot, but I just keep doing what I believe is right." But if Jolly does get in, we may have a rare race where the Republican is tying his Democratic foe to Trump. Jolly has called out the new congressman as being one of the Democrats too "afraid to speak out against Donald Trump," and Crist is far from the Democratic Party's biggest Trump foe. Trump hosted several fundraisers for Crist back when he was a Republican, and Crist texted Trump a congratulations after the November election.
If Jolly stays out, the NRCC probably won't complain. Clinton won this seat just 50-46, and while Team Red will likely search for someone to face Crist, their hated for Jolly runs very deep. Last cycle, the NRCC and their allies did nothing to help Jolly against Crist, which may have made all the difference in this close race.
● GA-06: In a new piece on the special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in suburban Atlanta, the Washington Post's James Hohmann reports that the DCCC is paying for nine field staffers to help identify and turn out voters "who have never been targeted in previous elections." The committee will also transfer an unspecified sum to the Georgia Democratic Party.
These are small steps, but they signal that DC Democrats are taking this contest seriously. The D-Trip is also the first party organization to publicly take action here; so far, the NRCC hasn't signaled any plans to get involved. That's probably a function of the fact that the GOP is all but assured of getting one if its candidates into the likely runoff, while Democrats will have to work harder to make sure their leading choice, investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, makes the second round in this conservative but Trump-wary district. The real signs will come following the primary. If both sides make big outside investments then, it'll mean we have a real race on our hands.
● NH-01: Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter narrowly unseated GOP incumbent Frank Guinta, who was dealing with the aftermath of a campaign finance scandal, as Trump was carrying this seat 48-47 last year, and the GOP will undoubtedly target her in 2018. In December, Guinta didn't rule out running again in what would be his fifth contest in a row with Shea-Porter, but Granite State voters may finally see the cycle break.
State Rep. John Burt is the first Republican we've heard express interest in a bid, with him telling WMUR that he hopes to decide in a few weeks. Most members of New Hampshire's 400-person House of Representatives are basically Some Dudes with nice titles, and we don't know if Burt has the connections to run a credible campaign. However, Burt was a major supporter in this year's successful effort to pass a concealed carry bill, so he may have more juice than most of his colleagues.
WMUR name-drops two other potential Republicans. They mention state Sen. Andy Sanborn (it's much tougher to get elected to the 24-person state Senate than the House) and ex-state Commissioner of Health and Human Services John Stephen. There's no word if either man is interested, though Stephen did run in this seat in 2008; Stephen lost the GOP primary to ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley (the last GOP nominee here who wasn't Frank Guinta) before losing the 2010 gubernatorial race to Democratic incumbent John Lynch 53-45.
● NJ-05: Last week, Assemblymember Holly Schepisi made it clear that Republicans looking to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer should look for someone else, though she didn't quite say no to a bid herself. But the GOP has a large bench in this ancestrally red North Jersey seat, and the New York Observer reports that wealthy businessman Chuck Shotmeyer is considering. Unlike many rich first-time candidates, Shotmeyer actually has serious connections to the local GOP. Shotmeyer is close to the Bergen County GOP chair and serves as its finance chair. Shotmeyer hasn't publicly expressed interest in running, but an unnamed source says Shotmeyer will probably announce if he's in after this June's state primary is over.
There are a number of other Republicans who have been name-dropped here. The Observer adds state Sen. Mike Doherty, state Sen. Steve Oroho, and former state Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths to the list, but there's no word if any of them are interested. Ex-Rep. Scott Garrett, whom Gottheimer unseated last year, also didn't rule out a comeback last year. However, Garrett was a very difficult member who managed to lose his seat 51-47 even as Trump was carrying it 49-48, and he'd be far from the national GOP's first or even tenth choice.
● Atlanta, GA Mayor: Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed is termed-out, but an unfolding corruption story that's hitting his administration could impact the crowded race to succeed him this fall. A few days ago, the local media reported that city contractor Elvin "E.R." Mitchell Jr., who paid out bribes for contracts, was awarded a lucrative deal for emergency work during the 2014 Atlanta ice storm, even though Mitchell's company's cost estimates sometimes dramatically exceeded his competitors' estimates. Mitchell has pled guilty to bribery charges, but this story isn't over. On Tuesday, Reed's office announced that city procurement officer Adam Smith had been fired, while FBI officials removed items from Smith's office.
Reed hasn't been implicated in anything. However, he's spent weeks on the defensive, at one point declaring, " I have never taken a bribe." It's too early to know if this will hurt Reed's standing, or if enough voters decide to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt. However, if voters' sour on Reed, it could help one of his detractors this fall. State Sen. Vincent Fort has a horrible relationship with the mayor, and he might have the easiest time making the case that dramatic change is needed at city hall. City Councilor Mary Norwood, who narrowly lost the 2009 general election to Reed, could also benefit if voters are tired of Reed. By contrast, Reed helped organize a fundraiser for City Councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms' campaign last month, though he insisted he wasn't endorsing anyone.
On Thursday, another candidate also joined the race. Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves announced he would run, arguing that "Atlanta deserves transparency, and I want to set the tone." Eaves joins the aforementioned Fort, Lance Bottoms, and Norwood in the contest, as well as several other contenders: ex-Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman; City Councilor Kwanza Hall; City Council President Ceasar Mitchell; ex-Atlanta Workforce Development Agency head Michael Sterling; and ex-City Council President Cathy Woolard. The filing deadline isn't until September, so this race may get even more crowded. All the candidates will face off on one November non-partisan ballot. In the all-but-certain event that no one takes a majority, there will be a runoff in December. Most of the candidates are Democrats, though Norwood identifies as an independent in this heavily Democratic city.
● New York, NY Mayor: So what was that all about? On Wednesday, Politico published a piece saying that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who would likely be the strongest possible challenger to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in this fall's Democratic primary, would not run for mayor after all—but then, later that afternoon, Jeffries himself tweeted that he would not make a "final decision about City Hall" until the spring.
What's really strange is that Politico actually quoted Jeffries himself, who said, "The stakes are so high in Washington, D.C., right now, and I want to be part of the effort to turn the situation around. It would be a dereliction of duty to abandon ship at the moment when times are tough." That seems pretty clear! The only way Jeffries could square this circle would be to claim that the "situation" will get turned around by springtime (and that he therefore wouldn't be derelict in his duties). Obviously, the situation won't improve until Jan. 20, 2021 at the earliest, so no dice.
And while we wait for Jeffries to figure himself out, another notable Democrat is now publicly suggesting he might run. City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who is term-limited, says he is "exploring my options," which presumably means either a mayoral bid or, perhaps, a run at City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Garodnick intended to run for comptroller in 2013 but got shoved out when Stringer dropped down from that year's race for mayor. It's also possible (though unlikely) Stringer himself could challenge de Blasio, giving Garodnick a clearer shot at a the comptroller's office.
Garodnick is more of a second-tier candidate, though, and while he could likely raise a lot of money from developers, de Blasio's relationship with labor unions is still very strong, and his support in the African American community remains high. For him to be unseated, it'd probably take a candidate with a higher profile, like Jeffries or Stringer. But time is quickly running out to put together a serious campaign, so it's possible that despite all his many, many stumbles, de Blasio could emerge without a major primary opponent.
And barring an intra-party fight, it's unlikely that de Blasio could fail to win a second term. While Republican developer Paul Massey outraised de Blasio in the last six months of 2016 ($1.6 million to $1 million), he's almost entirely unknown and has already proven to be an awkward candidate on the trail. But New York did elect Republican mayors five times from 1993 through 2009 (Rudy Giuliani twice, then Mike Bloomberg thrice, though he later ran as an independent), so if latent hostility toward de Blasio really coalesces, perhaps Massey or another Republican could put a scare into the mayor.
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.