• KY-Sen: Say what you will about whether or not it improves the Democrats' chances in the Kentucky Senate race, but this does definitely make the contest less interesting: Ashley Judd has taken herself out of consideration for the Democratic nomination. A dramatic-sounding tweet Wednesday afternoon announcing "I have decided" was followed by a much more mundane one that declared: "I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family."
A month or two ago, this decision might have been surprising, in the wake of lots of Judd buzz and a much-talked-about public address in Washington. In the past few weeks, though, her boomlet seemed to fade, with Bluegrass State Dem operatives openly worrying about the effect that the liberal Judd might have further downballot, and with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes the subject of a good deal of renewed chatter.
Still, it's far from certain that Grimes will get in the race, but a source close to Judd told the Washington Post that Grimes's potential interest "made the decision not to run easier." And indeed, local station WHAS is reporting that Grimes now plans to set up an exploratory committee, perhaps "as early as next week." Stay tuned. (David Jarman & David Nir)
• GA-Sen, GA-11: Dr. Phil is finally in: GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey (who is, amazingly enough, an obstetrician) formally declared his candidacy for U.S. Senate on Wednesday, after a few fits and starts that had me wondering how well put-together his campaign is. Gingrey joins fellow Rep. Paul Broun, though others are quite likely to get in as well, particularly Rep. Jack Kingston.
The 11th District House seat Gingrey's vacating will also attract plenty of attention from Republicans, but open seat fans shouldn't get too excited: It went for Mitt Romney last November by a punishing 67-32 margin. But there might actually be quite a bit of fun on the GOP side, especially since ex-Rep. Bob Barr is set to jump into the field here on Thursday. Jim Galloway also mentions businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, state Sens. Barry Loudermilk and Judson Hill, and state House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey as possible contenders.
• HI-Sen: A shot across the bow? The League of Conservation Voters just endorsed Sen. Brian Schatz, who will go before voters for the first time next year. Ordinarily, a left-leaning group endorsing a Democrat isn't news, but Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, whom Gov. Neil Abercrombie passed over in favor of Schatz when he had to fill the late Sen. Dan Inouye's seat last year, is contemplating a Senate bid herself. She's also looking at challenging Abercrombie in the gubernatorial primary, so this may be LCV's way of suggesting she choose that option (or simply seek re-election) rather than run against Schatz, whose environmental credentials they particularly admire.
• NC-Sen: Uno mas: Kay Hagan joins the crowd of freshman Democratic senators up for re-election in red states next year who are nevertheless declaring their support for marriage equality. But Hagan's situation may well be considerably tougher than what, say, Mark Begich faces in semi-libertarian Alaska. North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman just last year, and by a 61-39 margin, no less. Now, mind you, that measure passed in May, when the state held its primaries, so that might not be reflective of a normal November electorate.
On the other hand, PPP's most recent poll (PDF) on the subject, from just last month, found respondents still opposed to same-sex marriage by a wide 54-38 margin. And Nate Silver sees North Carolina as the ninth slowest state to come around on the topic, with a majority unlikely to approve of marriage equality until very late in the decade. That said, PPP's poll offers one optimistic note for Hagan: Only 37 percent are opposed to any legal recognition of same-sex couples, while 33 percent favor marriage and 30 percent support civil unions.
That makes it pretty hard for anti-equality forces to run an all-out anti-gay effort, and indeed, even one of their ads last year featured a narrator saying, "Everyone, gay or straight, is free to live as they choose." What's more, Hagan was already on record opposing the amendment, but beyond that, the amendment passed. So can her opponents really accuse her of have any ability to overturn the law? I suppose they could try (Republicans love to pretend they are weak victims when they are, in fact, powerful oppressors), but I think it won't be easy.
On a different note entirely, Rep. Renee Ellmers has been included in several PPP polls as a potential GOP Senate candidate next year, but I don't think we'd heard straight from the horse's mouth that she was actually interested in a possible bid, until now. So parse this, if you can: "I'm praying on it. That's ultimately where I make those kind of decisions. They come to me. I don't make them myself." I'm guessing she's waiting to hear whether or not God tells her to run?
• MI-Gov: Seriously, now he wants to stage a comeback? After causing his own party so much grief over the Affordable Care Act, then retiring in a huff and allowing his House seat to slip into GOP hands, ex-Rep. Bart Stupak says he's "looking at" a possible gubernatorial bid. It's hard to gauge how serious he is, and you have to seriously wonder if he thinks he can win a Democratic primary statewide given his anti-choice views. I suspect the Michigan Democratic electorate is probably pretty similar to that in most other northern states (in other words, pro-choice), and Stupak isn't just in the minority on the issue but has in fact loudly made a name for himself over it.
What's more, while you can find anti-choice exceptions like, say, Sen. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, it's different when you're aiming to be governor. Unlike a senator, a governor potentially has to contend with laws restricting a woman's right to choose winding up on his desk, and with the GOP in control of the legislature, that's a definite possibility. And I just don't see how Stupak could argue his way around that in a primary.
• TX-Gov: While the Texas political world waits on Rick Perry to decide whether he'll seek a zillionth term as governor—and on AG Greg Abbott to finally make his very obvious intentions official—one guy isn't standing pat. Former state GOP chair Tom Pauken, who came to power in 1994 as Republicans began to swiftly turn Texas red, has filed paperwork for a gubernatorial bid. Pauken has actually served in a few posts that Perry has appointed him to, and he insists that he's not taking aim at his one-time benefactor, so perhaps he's hoping or expecting that Perry won't run again. But in that scenario, Abbott would be a prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination thanks to his massive fundraising, so it's hard to see what Pauken's angle is exactly.
• VA-Gov: It's Quinnipiac's first poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race since GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced he would not run as an independent, but basically, nothing has changed. Republican state AG Ken Cuccinelli has a tiny 40-38 edge over former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe; last month, it was tied at 38. Both candidates are still largely unknown, and the race hasn't been engaged in a meaningful way yet. So I wouldn't be surprised if things stayed more or less this way until the paid media phase of the campaign begins.
• CO-03: The National Journal's Scott Bland reports on two potential Democratic candidates who might run against GOP Rep. Scott Tipton in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, both of whom are apparently the target of recruitment efforts: state Sen. Gail Schwartz and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. Each has their own strengths: Schwartz serves as majority whip in the Senate and has a reputation as a "potentially strong fundraiser"; she also seems to be hooked in with EMILY's List and survived a difficult re-election bid in 2010.
Garcia, meanwhile, is described as a "motorcycle-riding" lieutenant governor and is also the state's first Hispanic LG. Garcia, as Bland points out, has never run for office on his own—he served as a college president for many years before he was tapped by John Hickenlooper as his running-mate in 2010. But CO-03, which narrowly went for Romney last year by a 52-46 margin, is about a quarter Hispanic, so Garcia's background might play especially well there.
• IA-01: Businessman Rod Blum has made it official: He's running for the House seat left open by Bruce Braley, who is making a bid for Senate. Blum sought the seat last year, but he lost in the GOP primary to Ben Lange, who was in turn defeated by Braley in November.
• Ohio: With Democrats coalescing around Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald as their likely gubernatorial nominee, the question now is who will fill out the rest of the statewide ticket. All six state-level posts are currently held by Republicans, but there are, in fact, Democrats interested in each: Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper for attorney general, State Sen. Nina Turner for secretary of state, State Rep. John Patrick Carney for auditor, and State Rep. Connie Pillich for treasurer. (The position of lieutenant governor is elected on the same ticket as the governor, so assuming he's the nominee, Fitz will tap someone further down the line.) While this roster could very well change, as the linked article explains, this fivesome recently all got together for a meet-and-greet with voters in Youngstown.
• State Legislatures: This looks interesting: Democracy for America, the progressive activist group created to take up the mantle of Howard Dean's presidential campaign nearly a decade ago, is starting a new effort they call the "Purple to Blue Project," which aims to flip state legislatures from Republican to Democratic control. They're starting with the Virginia House of Delegates, the only chamber in GOP hands that's up for election this year, and they say they plan to spend $750,000 helping five candidates. Even if they're successful in all five races, though, the House will still have a Republican majority, as the party has a huge 68-32 edge. But still, you have to start somewhere.
Next year, DFA says they plan to add Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to their roster. Several chambers in these states are close, such as the Pennsylvania Senate (where the GOP has just a four-seat advantage) and the Iowa House (a six-seat Republican majority), but Democrats will have to play defense in the Iowa Senate, where they cling to just a 26-24 edge. The real trick will be getting activists invested in downballot races, which tend not to be as sexy as federal contests. But Republican-led legislatures have helped change that equation by legislating on topics of national significance, such as Michigan's implementation of anti-union "right-to-work" laws, so DFA has plenty of fuel with which to get people fired up.