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Leading Off:

MA-05: We have what looks like our first declared candidate for Rep. Ed Markey's seat, assuming he wins the Senate special election and then a House special election is required in turn: state Rep. Carl Sciortino. In his announcement press release, Sciortino referred to himself as a progressive three times, and also wisely endorsed the man he's hoping to succeed. Sciortino definitely has an interesting profile. In his own words:

A leading progressive voice, Rep. Sciortino was first elected in 2004, upsetting a 14-year incumbent at age 25. One of the Commonwealth's seven openly-gay legislators, Sciortino is the leading voice for LGBT rights on Beacon Hill, championing the fight for marriage equality and co-authoring the 2011 Transgender Equal Rights Bill. In 2007, Sciortino co-authored the bill which created the 35-foot buffer zone that protects the entrances to women's reproductive health centers.  He has led the fight to close corporate tax loopholes and make the state's minimum wage the highest in the nation.
MA-05 is a very blue district that reaches around Boston across the north, taking in part of Cambridge, then extends south and west to encompass the town of Framingham. It went for Obama 65-33 in 2012, so if the seat becomes open, the action here will be on the Democratic side.

I also think downballot candidacies will offer a window into how the political establishment views the Senate primary between Markey and fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch of MA-08. If more candidates express an interest in Markey's seat than Lynch's, then I think it's reasonable to conclude more people think Markey will win the Democratic primary, which is less than three months away on April 30.

Senate:

IA-Sen: In the context of the Des Moines Register's writeup of a strange Selzer poll asking Iowans which potential Senate candidates are most "appealing," a spokeswoman for former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack says that her boss is "not running because she is looking into another exciting opportunity." I'm guessing that'll be something outside of electoral politics (Vilsack lost a race last year against GOP Rep. Steve King). Oh, and who is the "most appealing" person? Vilsack's husband, Tom, the current U.S. Agriculture Secretary—for whatever that's worth.

MA-Sen: Just days after first openly contemplating the race, Republican state Rep. Dan Winslow decided to embrace the impossible and officially run for Senate. Winslow's big problem now is time: As we mentioned previously, he has to collect signatures from 10,000 registered Republicans or independents by Feb. 27, which is a tall order. (He says he's loaning $100,000 to his campaign to get things rolling.) Given the difficulty of this task—plus massive snowstorm that blanketed the state over the weekend—I'd say there's a non-zero chance that neither Winslow nor any other Republican gets on the ballot.

Amazingly enough, a couple of other GOPers are still considering, including state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who promises a decision on Monday. Businessman Gabriel Gomez reportedly is as well, but really, the time to get into the race was yesterday. (For what it's worth, FOX News talking head Keith Ablow has said no—amusingly, citing the advice of "chief advisor Roger Stone.")

Gubernatorial:

MA-Gov: Dem Rep. Mike Capuano ultimately opted against a Senate run, but could he make a bid for governor instead? Well, he's thinking about it, though he didn't offer a timetable for any sort of decision.

NE-Gov: University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare says he's reconsidering the Republican gubernatorial primary, now that frontrunner Rick Sheehy has banished himself to purgatory following his resignation as lieutenant governor due to relationships he was carrying on with women other than his wife. Clare thought about the race last fall but declined; however, with Sheehy's exit, the Great Mentioner started citing him once more, so he says he may change his mind.

House:

AK-AL: Not that anyone thinks veteran GOP Rep. Don Young is going anywhere, but hey, PPP is nothing if not thorough. Just to be sure, they tested 2010 Dem Senate nominee Scott McAdams against Young as part of their new Alaska poll; Young leads 54-37. More interesting are the gay marriage numbers: Voters oppose the concept, yes, but the 51-43 margin is a lot better than you might expect from other similarly red states, so it lends a bit of credence to the conventional wisdom that Alaska is more libertarian than many other places.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski chalks up a very solid 54-33 job approval rating, but the remarkable thing is that she earns over 50 percent support from Republicans, independents, and Democrats. Indeed, Dems approve of her the most. If this trend continues, then I think she could be vulnerable to yet another GOP primary challenge in 2016, just as she was in 2010.

IL-02: Mike Bloomberg's Independence USA is in with another $37K going after ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson in the Democratic primary via mail. Unfortunately, the group apparently still is not targeting Halvorson's former chief of staff, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, whose views on guns differed little from her boss's until a recent conversion inspired only by her run for Congress. Meanwhile, Progressive Kick is spending $27K on a TV ad that attacks both Halvorson and Hutchinson over their mutual "A" ratings from the NRA, though I find some of the imagery (particularly when the screen fills with animated blood) to be over the top.

NH-02: Two Republicans have mooted challenges to freshman Rep. Annie Kuster in recent days: former state House Speaker Bill O'Brien and former state Sen. Gary Lambert. O'Brien, though, is badly tainted, as many New Hampshire political observers believe the radical agenda he pushed from 2010 through 2012 was partly responsible for the utter washout Republicans in the state experienced last November. Indeed, just two years after recapturing the House from Democrats, the GOP gave it all back, and a lot of Republicans blame O'Brien for it.

NY-21: The Office of Congressional Ethics released a report last week saying that it will continue its investigation into a trip to Taiwan taken in late 2011 by Dem Rep. Bill Owens. The OCE says it has "substantial reason to believe" that the junket was sponsored by the government of Taiwan, which is impermissible under congressional ethics rules. (The sponsorship was later switched to a university.) Owens has already paid back the cost of the trip, and regardless of what the OCE ultimately decides, the House Ethics Committee would have to then take up the matter if there were to be any punishment.

Other Races:

CA-St. Sen: We've found one of those rare beasts in the wild: a poll of a state senate race. It's for the March 12 upcoming top 2 primary in the special election in SD-32, a San Bernardino-area seat left open by Gloria Negrete McLeod's promotion to the U.S. House. Democratic state Asm. Norma Torres is in pole position at 29 (unsurprising, since it's her internal poll, taken by FM3); her likeliest general opponent will be Republican Paul Leon, the mayor of Ontario, at 18. (As an aside: Ontario—69% Hispanic in 2010—still has a Republican mayor? Man.) Behind them are San Bernardino Co. Auditor-Controller Larry Walker (D) at 12, Pomona planning commissioner Kenny Coble (R) at 10, Joanne Gilbert (D) at 7, and Ontario city councilor Paul Avila (D) at 4.

Related to this downballot battle is a juicy article from Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad, detailing the long "blood feud" between Negrete McLeod and ex-Rep. Joe Baca, who lost to Negrete McLeod in November after more than a decade in the House. Baca has already announced a comeback bid, so the two will be squaring off a second time in CA-35 in 2014. (The two have been peeved at each other ever since 1999, when Baca won the special election to succeed George Brown, defeating Brown's widow, Marta Macias Brown.)

So what's the connection, other than geography? (SD-32 overlaps much of CA-35, as well as CA-31, where Baca could be running instead.) Torres is a Baca ally, while Walker is tight with Negrete McLeod, so this is a proxy battle between the Inland Empire's two factions. (David Jarman)

Grab Bag:

House: Political analyst Alan Abramowitz has re-tweaked his formula, based on the last 17 midterms, that attempts to project how many seats either party will pick up in the House in the coming election. Abramowitz converts current delegation size, House generic ballot polling, and prior presidential election results into one handy number.

Based on the few generic ballot polls so far (which average out to an optimistic D+4, thanks, bizarrely enough, to the now Dem-tilting Rasmussen), the good news is that Democrats are actually on track to gain in the House... well, gain a total of one seat, which is well short of a majority but would certainly be an overperformance compared with the average midterm for the party in power. That kind of small gain tends to jibe with my general sense of things, especially where, coming off a cycle with redistricting and a lot of other churn, there's not much low-hanging fruit on either side of the aisle.

The really depressing news? Abramowitz concludes that "Democrats would need a margin of 13 points on the generic ballot in order to gain 17 House seats," the amount they need to regain the majority. The last time either party walked away with an edge that big was 1976: Dems took 55.5 percent to 42.2 percent for the GOP, which was still dealing with a hangover from the Watergate devastation two years earlier. (Dems had an almost 17-point edge in '74.) Partisan politics was a very different beast back then, though, so those old elections may not be especially instructive. (For what it's worth, the biggest blowout in recent times was 2008, when Democrats soared to a 10 point win.) (David Jarman & David Nir)

Pres-by-CD: At this point, unofficial results are better than no results, and so we'll add three districts using preliminary results from Montgomery County, AL. (These are also marked provisional for now.)

AL-02 and AL-03 were drawn to be fairly similar, and indeed, they did perform similarly, both registering at 36-37 percent Obama. Interestingly enough (and possibly owing to the high black population), AL-02 actually swung slightly towards Obama last year. Could former Dem Rep. Bobby Bright have won here? The new AL-02 actually gave Obama a higher percentage of the vote in 2012 than Bright's old AL-02 did in 2008, but there almost certainly would have been fewer ticket splitters last year than there were four years ago. (AL-07, a majority-Black district represented by Dem Terri Sewell, is a soporific 72-27 Obama.) (jeffmd)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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