9:23 AM PT: CA-25: In an unsurprising move that breaks up a string of five straight Democratic retirements, Republican Rep. Buck McKeon finally announced on Thursday that he won't seek re-election this fall. McKeon had repeatedly pushed back against retirement rumors all cycle, even doing so earlier this week. But many factors augured for McKeon's departure, including his age (75), his tenure (22 years), and the fact that he'd have had to relinquish his chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee had he won another term—something he called his "biggest motivator" for leaving.
McKeon also experienced the closest election of his long career last cycle, hanging on by a 55-45 margin against an underfunded opponent, podiatrist Lee Rogers. A big reason for the relative closeness of the race is the fact that this area has trended hard toward Democrats in recent years. In 2004, in a mostly similar district, George W. Bush prevailed by 19 points. In 2012, Mitt Romney won by just 2. McKeon simply hadn't adjusted.
Rogers was seeking a rematch and had actually outraised McKeon in the third quarter of last year, portending a legitimate challenge for a rusty incumbent. With McKeon gone, though, Democratic chances for a pickup will improve. Two Republicans had already declared they'd seek McKeon's seat if it opened up: former state Sen. Tony Strickland and current state Sen. Steve Knight. Both are quite conservative, but Strickland is the establishment pick (and McKeon's preferred successor) while movement conservatives are embracing Knight. Democrats can only hope they bash each other to death, as they seem wont to do.
The party may also try to find a candidate stronger than Rogers, though the bench here is not deep. A big difficulty for Democrats here will be countering midterm falloff, so for now, we're maintaining our rating of Likely Republican. But given the vagaries of open seat races, our outlook could very well change.
10:44 AM PT: IA-Gov: Finally. Republican Terry Branstad, the longest-serving governor in American history, has, at long last, officially kicked off his bid for a sixth term. For typically inscrutable reasons, Branstad had refused to confirm his intentions until now, even though he'd taken made steps toward another run, including raising plenty of money. (He has $4 million in the bank.) The only notable Democrat running is state Sen. Jack Hatch, who faces a very uphill challenge. (Another state senator, Janet Petersen, recently declined.) Daily Kos Elections currently rates this race as Likely Republican.
11:11 AM PT: NY-04: Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who is the most prominent elected Democrat looking at a possible bid to succeed retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, visited Washington, D.C. this week. Her office wouldn't comment on the trip except to say that there were "no taxpayer funds involved," which means it was likely made for political rather than official purposes.
1:41 PM PT: FL-13: A new survey from St. Pete Polls, on behalf of the ethically troubled website St. Petersblog, finds Republican lobbyist David Jolly leading his Democratic opponent, former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, by a 47-43 margin, with Libertarian Lucas Overby at 4. That's a big change from the 49-36 advantage they found for Sink in early December, but there are many, many reasons to be skeptical.
For one, this was a one-day robopoll taken the day after Jolly won the GOP primary, so a "primary bounce" is very possible, and polling for just a single day is a crummy practice. But that's almost giving St. Pete too much credit.
The poll's sample is 47 percent Republican, 35 percent Democratic, and 17 percent independent, yet according to voter registration statistics, the 13th District is 37 percent Republican, 35 percent Democratic, and 24 percent independent. Sure, a special election electorate is likely to be redder than the registration figures, but 10 points redder?
More broadly, St. Pete had an awful, awful track record in 2012. They polled a ton of House races and blew them, badly:
FL-02: St. Pete: Southerland (R) 47-47; actual: Southerland (R) 53-47; error: +6 DNot only did St. Pete miss the mark widely in almost every race, but they missed consistently in the Republican direction. (Check out the comical results in the 26th and especially the 9th.) Even more shamefully, in their own self-graded scorecard after the election, St. Pete ignored all of these misses. Instead, they focused on a few strange last-minute polls they conducted only of early voters. By luck, those happened to suck somewhat less, but seriously, you can't survey just a portion of the electorate. WTF?
FL-09: St. Pete: Grayson (D) 45-40; actual: Grayson (D) 63-37; error: +21 R
FL-10: St. Pete: Webster (R) 50-42; actual: Webster (R) 52-48; error: +4 R
FL-13: St. Pete: Young (R) 54-37; actual: Young (R) 58-42; error: +1 R
FL-16: St. Pete: Buchanan (R) 55-38; actual: Buchanan (R) 54-46; error: +9 R
FL-18: St. Pete: West (R) 51-42; actual: Murphy (D) 50.3-49.7; error: +9.6 R
FL-22: St. Pete: Frankel (D) 48-45; actual: Frankel (D) 55-45; error: +7 R
FL-26: St. Pete: Rivera (R) 46-43; actual: Garcia (D) 54-43; error: +14 R
So you can trust St. Pete Polls if you want. But this is a firm that uses a questionable methodology, winds up with excessively Republican samples, and consistently leans to the right, yielding very poor results. You could almost call St. Pete the Rasmussen of Florida—and would you trust Rasmussen with anything? Let's wait until we have some more reliable polling data that's actually worth something.
2:52 PM PT: VRA: In a rare display of comity, Democrats and Republicans jointly introduced new legislation on Thursday to repair the Voting Rights Act, whose signature enforcement mechanism was gutted by the Supreme Court last year. While far from perfect, the bill would restore a good deal of power to the VRA; rather than summarize its key provisions myself, I would strongly encourage you to read Ari Berman's excellent piece explaining what the new law would do. Despite the bill's bipartisan provenance (and the concessions Democrats made to ensure it would be acceptable to at least some Republicans), it's not clear whether it will ever come up for a vote, but it's a start.
3:09 PM PT: CA-Gov: Welp, there goes Abel Maldonado. The former lieutenant governor finally realized that no Republican was going to beat Gov. Jerry Brown this year, so he pulled the plug on his campaign on Thursday. Or perhaps he was just terrified of Tim Donnelly's huge balls.
3:17 PM PT: IA-03: State Sen. Matt McCoy, one of the few additional Democrats whose name had surfaced since Rep. Tom Latham's surprise retirement, says that he won't run for Congress and will instead seek re-election to his current post. That makes it more likely that former state Sen. Staci Appel will cruise to the nomination, though ex-Gov. Chet Culver is now saying that he, too, is interested. However, Culver also floated a possible gubernatorial comeback bid last year but then kinda just disappeared, so who knows if he'll ever follow through.
3:33 PM PT: NY-21: Whatever happens in New York's 21st, Doug Hoffman won't be around to screw things up. Hoffman, you'll recall, was the Conservative Party candidate in 2009 who eventually forced Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava out of the race, leading to a split that elected Bill Owens (who's now retiring). Hoffman ran on the Conservative line again in 2010, saving Owens' ass in an impossible year by siphoning off just enough votes from Matt Doheny, who'd beaten Hoffman in the GOP primary. Hoffman isn't getting back into the action, though; instead, he's endorsing former George W. Bush aide Elise Stefanik. The NRCC is looking around for better options, though, so maybe Hoffman's support could still cause some trouble.
And we could still wind up seeing some of these players return for a second (or third) act. The Watertown Daily Times notes that neither Scozzafava—who became a Democrat not long after that ill-fated election—nor Doheny has spoken publicly about running again. However, Democrat Jonathan Cardinal, an aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, says he's looking at a bid. (Also, here's an amusingly awkward detail: Ex-Rep. Scott Murphy is a brother-in-law of Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, both of whom are considering the race.)
3:49 PM PT: Jolly can take comfort in this poll if he'd like, but there's at least one Republican not ready to support him: state Rep. Kathleen Peters, his chief primary rival. Peters isn't endorsing Jolly and she says his presence on the ticket has "weakened" Republican chances of holding the seat. Despite claiming she had "nothing but good things to say" about Jolly, Peters said she's concerned whether voters will be able to "trust" a "lobbyist who represents special interests." That last line almost exactly parrots the chief Democratic attack on Jolly, which is something you never want to see members of your own party doing.
Jolly is getting some quick help from the NRCC, though, which already filed a report for a $94,000 independent expenditure on "media." Abby Livingston says the money is at least partly for a web ad that attacks Sink for allegedly spending taxpayer money on herself.
4:06 PM PT: Blue Dogs: The moribund Blue Dog Coalition—down to just 15 members from its 2010 peak of 54—has somehow managed to add four new recruits: Reps. Ron Barber (AZ-02), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), and Nick Rahall (WV-03). Sinema's name merits a chuckle: She was a spokesperson for Ralph Nader in 2000 and once described herself as a "Prada socialist." Her opportunism is nothing new, though, and like the other members on this list, she probably thinks that the Blue Dogs offer a cloak of conservatism that will help her win re-election.
Rahall, if anything, is a bit more of a surprise. He'd long resisted joining but now he faces what will probably be his most difficult campaign to date. Rahall's move is a bit reminiscent of ex-Rep. Larry Kissell's last cycle; Kissell had also spurned the Blue Dogs for his entire congressional tenure until his career was on the line. Kissell lost anyway, thanks mostly to redistricting but also to ineptitude.
4:10 PM PT: LA-Sen: Republican state Rep. Paul Hollis is airing his first ads, one of which is a platitude-filled introductory spot (with a few jabs at Obamacare), set to soaring music that winds up sounding corny. There's no word on how much he's spending.
4:29 PM PT: AZ-01, AZ-02: The House Majority PAC is running two new ads in Arizona, aimed at pushing back against Americans for Prosperity's Obamacare assault. In the 1st, they're airing a positive spot on behalf of Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, claiming she "blew the whistle on the disastrous healthcare website" and "worked to fix it." I don't know that this was exactly a whistle-blower type of situation ....
Anyhow, HMP's ad for Rep. Ron Barber in the 2nd goes in a very different direction. It lambastes the Koch brothers (not by name, though a picture of them does appear on screen) as "out-of-state billionaires" who want to "eliminate the minimum wage" and "privatize Social Security"—hence, the narrator says, their support for kindred spirit Martha McSally, the likely Republican nominee. HMP says the combined buy for both ads is $200,000.
5:19 PM PT: 4Q Fundraising:
• KY-Sen: Matt Bevin (R): $900,000 raised (does not include self-funding)
• NH-Sen: Jeanne Shaheen (D-inc): $1.1 million raised, $3.4 million cash-on-hand
• CO-Gov: John Hickenlooper (D-inc): $421,000 raised, $1.05 million cash-on-hand; Tom Tancredo (R): $192,000 raised, $109,000 cash-on-hand; Scott Gessler (R): $124,000 raised, $114,000 cash-on-hand; Greg Brophy (R): $52,000 raised, $46,000 cash-on-hand
5:34 PM PT: • IL-Gov: Pat Quinn (D-inc): $1.88 million raised, $4.5 million cash-on-hand; Bruce Rutherford (R): $4.1 million raised (includes self-funding), $396,000 cash-on-hand (check out that burn rate!); Dan Rutherford (R): $393,000 raised, $1.4 million cash-on-hand; Kirk Dillard (R): $329,000 raised, $145,000 cash-on-hand; Bill Brady (R): $74,000 raised, $271,000 cash-on-hand
• MD-Gov: Anthony Brown (D): $5.4 million raised (in 2013), $7.1 million cash-on-hand; Doug Gansler (D): $1.7 million raised (in 2013), $6.3 million cash-on-hand; Heather Mizeur (D): $1.1 million raised (in 2013), $750,000 cash-on-hand
• NY-Gov: Andrew Cuomo (D-inc): $7 million raised (in second half of 2013), $33 million cash-on-hand
• KY-06: Elizabeth Jensen (D): $100,000 raised, $245,000 cash-on-hand
• NY-23: Martha Robertson (D): $265,000 raised, $500,000 cash-on-hand