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MT-Sen: While some Republican state legislators have speculated that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s presidential flirtations could be just a “head-fake” ahead of a Senate bid, it seems that Bullock is just as uninterested in challenging GOP Sen. Steve Daines in private as he is in public. Politico writes that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with Bullock in January to try and convince him to run for the Senate, but that the governor “expressed his distinct disinterest in pursuing a spot in the legislative branch.”
NH-Sen: Bill O'Brien, a Republican who had a memorable but thankfully brief tenure as speaker of the House, told WMUR that he was considering challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. O'Brien said he would go to D.C. to “see what the sentiment is there” for a bid, but that a “lot needs to be done between now and making a decision.”
O'Brien became speaker after the GOP flipped the state House in the 2010 wave, and he quickly developed a reputation even with some fellow Republicans as an extremist and a bully. The state House flipped back to the Democrats in 2012, and some Republicans blamed O’Brien for their defeat. Team Red was back in the majority after the 2014 elections, and it initially looked like O'Brien would return to the speaker’s chair. However, that’s not what happened. A group of renegade Republicans sided with the Democratic minority and elected a different Republican, Shawn Jasper, as speaker.
O'Brien and his allies were furious, but they soon tried to direct their wrath in another direction. In November of 2015, O'Brien held a meeting to discuss replacing GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte “with a conservative Republican.” However, their movement went nowhere and Ayotte won renomination without much trouble before losing a competitive general election to Democrat Maggie Hassan.
National Republicans likely aren’t anxious to deal with O'Brien and all his baggage, but no other notable Republicans have shown much excitement about taking on Shaheen yet. Team Red’s strongest recruit would likely be Gov. Chris Sununu, but while he hasn't shown much interest publicly in running, he may be worth keeping an eye on.
While Sununu said back in 2017 that he would “never run for the U.S. Senate,” he didn’t rule anything out in an early January interview with WMUR. When host Adam Sexton asked the governor about the Senate race, Sununu said he’d “take anyone's call" but it was "not something I'm thinking about.” Sununu then asked Sexton if he would entertain the idea of running for the Senate, to which Sexton said, “This is the only seat I want to keep.” The governor then added, “I like my seat as governor,” which again, is not a no.
Later that month, NRSC chair Todd Young said of this race, “The name Sununu still resonates in New Hampshire,” which was an indication that he was looking to land the governor for this race. We haven’t heard anything about Sununu’s interest in this race since then.
IN-Gov: Former Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who lost re-election last year, didn’t show much interest in challenging GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb in an interview with Howey Politics, but he declined to rule out the idea when given the chance. When asked about this contest, Donnelly responded, “I am not looking at any other races.” Howey then asked, “Would you rule anything out?” to which the former senator answered, “I’m just lucky to have a chance to teach here and I’m trying to get my snow blower going these days.”
WA-Gov: Unnamed sources tell the Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO-7 that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee will announce he’s running for president on Friday, which would set off an open seat race to succeed him. Earlier this week, the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner wrote that Inslee has had conversations with Democrats interested in running for governor including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
While both Ferguson and Constantine have publicly shown interest in running, this is the first indication that Franz is eyeing the race. Franz has yet to say anything about running, but Brunner wrote that all three Democrats “decline to elaborate on details of those conversations” and that they each wanted to give Inslee time to consider all his options.
P.S. Washington does not have term-limits for its governors, so it’s possible Inslee could run for re-election if he decided his presidential bid wasn’t catching fire. However, no governor has attempted to seek a third term since Republican Dan Evans successfully did so in 1972, so we don’t expect Inslee to break this streak.
AL-01: On Wednesday, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl became the first Republican to announce a bid for this reliably red open seat. Carl, who has served on the County Commission since 2012, proclaimed that he was “an outsider” and would not “be bullied into submission by the left and their internet lynch mobs.”
Team Red has a large bench in this seat, which includes all of Alabama’s coastline and backed Trump 63-34, and plenty of Republicans will likely consider running here. The Mobile weekly Lagniappe writes that “other current and former coastal Alabama politicos have expressed varying degrees of interest including Alabama House Rep. Chris Pringle and state Sen. Bill Hightower.”
Hightower said last week that he was thinking about running here, but this is the first we’ve heard about Pringle being interested. And to clear things up for the numerous Daily Kos Elections readers who are also ardent fans of New Zealand cricket, we’re not talking about this Chris Pringle.
HI-02: State Sen. Kai Kahele unveiled endorsements this week from two former Democratic governors, Neil Abercrombie and John Waihee. Kahele is running in the Democratic primary for the safely blue seat held by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, but it’s not clear if Gabbard is running here or not. Gabbard launched a long-shot White House bid in January, and while Hawaii law allows her to run for president and for re-election at the same time, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser writes that she’s refused to respond to questions about whether or not she’ll seek another term in the House.
Abercrombie said both he and Waihee supported Gabbard’s decision to run for president, but that “we don’t know if she is going to run for her seat,” and that “even if she does, I don’t think it’s realistic, let alone fair, to ask those of us who think we might be able to do well on that seat for Hawaii to sit back and kind of be passive about it.”
MA-06: Former state Sen. Barbara L’Italien expressed interest back in December in challenging Rep. Seth Moulton in the Democratic primary, and she told The Daily Item this week that she was still eyeing this contest.
L’Italien, who unsuccessfully ran in the very crowded primary for the neighboring 3rd District last year, brought up Moulton’s failed attempt to stop Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker, declaring, “Seth is vulnerable because of the stupidity he engaged in over the Nancy Pelosi fight” and, “You don’t go to such lengths to challenge leadership when you don’t even have a candidate, and that has set his standing back in Congress.” She also noted Moulton’s presidential flirtations as a reason she may take him on, saying, “From the moment he became congressman he’s been looking elsewhere and clearly has set his sights on the presidency.”
Massachusetts law would allow Moulton to run for president and for re-election at the same time if he chose to. However, Moulton probably won’t help his re-election prospects if he spends a significant amount of time away from this seat stumping in Iowa and New Hampshire. Massachusetts’ 6th District, which includes Lynn, Salem, and several other communities north of Boston, backed Hillary Clinton 56-38, so it should stay blue without much trouble no matter what happens in the primary.
MS-Gov: On Thursday, one day ahead of the filing deadline, GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel announced he would not run for governor this year.
AL-Sen: Earlier this week, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones essentially dared Republican Roy Moore, whom he beat in the 2017 special election, to run again, and he may very well get his wish. On Wednesday, a fundraising email from a group called The Judge Roy Moore Defense Fund went out containing a quote from Moore about Jones proclaiming, “When and if I decide to run he will be the first to know.” Dean Young, a close Moore friend, was also asked by the Washington Examiner's David Drucker if Moore would run again and responded, “I'm not at liberty to say anything about that right now.”
Moore lost the 2017 campaign after multiple women accused him of preying on them when they were teenagers, and the last thing national Republicans want is for him to be their nominee again. You don’t need to take our word for it: The NRSC’s executive director said, “The NRSC’s official stance is ABRM: anyone but Roy Moore.”
Meanwhile, another alum of that 2017 special is reportedly more interested in running that he’s let on publicly. Rep. Mo Brooks said last week that he was “contemplating a Senate race” but that “[i]t would take some kind of seismic event” for him to actually run. However, an unnamed source close to Brooks told Drucker that the congressman is actually “very interested in the race.”
However, Drucker writes that Brooks would only run if he received Donald Trump’s endorsement or at least a pledge that he would remain neutral in the primary. Last time Brooks ran for the senate, he found himself on the wrong end of a Trump endorsement when the White House threw its backing behind appointed Sen. Luther Strange over both Moore and Brooks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was also in Strange’s corner, and his allies aired ad after ad showing Brooks speaking out against Trump during the 2016 presidential primary. Brooks almost certainly doesn’t want to repeat that experience, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to convince Trump to back him when there are so many clips of him saying things like “I don't think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says" and calling out Trump for his "callous insults" and "belittling" rhetoric.
It’s possible the White House might agree to stay neutral, but if Brooks actually thinks Trump would actually feel bound to keep his word on anything … well, as they’d put it in Alabama, bless your heart.
TX-Sen, TX-31: 2018 Texas Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke has reportedly decided to run for president rather than against GOP Sen. John Cornyn, and while that’s disappointing news to Democrats, Team Blue is hardly out of options here. Retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson, who was the Democratic nominee for state agriculture secretary last year, expressed interest just before Thanksgiving, and she told the Huffington Post’s Dana Liebelson this week that she “will run where I can win and best serve Texans.”
Olson lost her race to Republican Sid Miller 51-46 at the same time O’Rourke was losing to Sen. Ted Cruz 51-48. As we wrote back in November, Olson is a retired Air Force colonel who was one of the service's first women pilots, and she handed out packets of wildflower seeds as a campaign calling card to emphasize her roots as a third-generation farmer.
Olson's military career, however, came to an end with a black mark in the mid-2000s when the Pentagon charged her with steering government contracts to a private South African security firm of whose American branch she'd become the director. She ultimately pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses in military proceedings but did not suffer a reduction in rank, and was given an honorable discharge. Olson has been open in discussing her story (she devoted a chapter to it in her memoirs), and it did not feature prominently in her campaign, though of course things could be different in a future race.
Olson isn’t the only potential Democratic candidate. Rep. Joaquin Castro reportedly has been considering running should O’Rourke pass, and he declined to rule anything out this week. Castro’s identical twin brother, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, is currently running for president, and while some Democratic insiders told the Texas Tribune a few weeks ago that they hoped he might take on Cornyn, he’s shown no interest in doing this. A Julian Castro spokesperson didn’t reply to the Huffington Post’s Liebelson when she asked for comment about the Senate race.
Another possible contender is Wendy Davis, who was Team Blue’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee. Davis said earlier this month that she had not “ruled anything out” and she sounded much more interested this week, saying that if O’Rourke didn’t get in, the Senate race was “something that I would look very seriously at.”
Davis, a former state senator from Fort Worth, made national news in 2013 when she waged a 13-hour filibuster to stop an anti-abortion bill. Davis decided to run for governor the following year, but she had a tough time gaining traction against Republican Greg Abbott, especially during such a hostile climate for Democrats, and she lost 59-39.
MJ Hegar, a 2018 House candidate who made waves last cycle with a viral campaign ad showcasing her inspiring life story as an accomplished military combat pilot, has also expressed interest in running for the Senate. Last year, Hegar challenged GOP Rep. John Carter in Texas’ 31st Congressional District, an ancestrally red seat in the Austin suburbs, and held him to a 51-48 win. Hegar reiterated her interest in a Senate bid this week and also said she could also end up seeking a rematch with Carter.
However, Hegar added that she had made a big financial sacrifice last cycle when she quit her job to run for Congress. Hegar has a new job and said she was saving money so she could afford to run for office in the future, but that she wasn’t “going to hurt my family to do it.”
Hegar also said once again that she didn’t want to take on Davis in a primary because she respected what she’s accomplished. She further said it was also unlikely she’d face either O’Rourke or Castro (it’s not clear which Castro she was talking about), but “that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t” should she feel “like I posed a greater threat to Cornyn” than either of them.
Whomever eventually steps up will face a very tough race against Cornyn in what’s still a red state, but there’s reason to think this contest could once again be competitive. This week, Quinnipiac released a poll that showed Cornyn and O’Rourke tied 47-47 in a hypothetical Senate race. While it doesn’t look like Democrats will be fielding O’Rourke, the poll does indicate that a compelling candidate could give Cornyn a real race.
KS-Sen: Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told US News that he would decide whether to seek the GOP Senate nomination soon, but that he was giving himself a six-month timeline to make up his mind (Kobach has a very different definition of “soon” than we do).
Kobach also told the Washington Examiner that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to sit this race out had made him more likely to run to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. In the meantime, though, Kobach is spending his time promoting a group that wants to use “private funds on private lands” to build Trump’s imagined border wall with Mexico.
National Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, very much don’t want Kobach, who lost last year’s contest for governor 48-43 to Democrat Laura Kelly, as their nominee here, and the Kansas City Star recently reported that neither does Donald Trump. However, if Trump truly is afraid that Kobach could cost Team Red this seat, he’s not exactly doing all he can possibly do to stop him.
Kobach and his allies have made it known that he wants a spot in the Trump administration, which is something they could do to keep him out of the Senate race. However, not only has Kobach not gotten anything, the White House was reportedly so frustrated with his unsolicited auditions that an unnamed senior official told them, "Kris is not under consideration for a Cabinet position." Trump could also shut down Kobach’s ambitions with a tweet, but he’s instead still leaving McConnell and friends to fret about a Kobach comeback.
NC-03: The filing deadline for this summer’s special election is March 8, and while Democrats have a very uphill climb ahead of them if they want to flip this Trump 61-37 seat, they already have a candidate. Retired Marine Ollie Nelson, who is also a pastor, has announced he’s in. This district, which includes the Camp Lejeune Marine base, has a large population of veterans, so a candidate could benefit from having a military background here.
Politico also reports that another retired Marine, Democrat Richard Bew, is “seriously considering” running. Bew, who retired last year with the rank of colonel, saw combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Serbia during his 29 years of service. Bew’s final assignment was serving as legislative assistant to Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke at his retirement ceremony.
The National Journal also writes that a third Democrat, former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, is considering, and like Bew, he’s spoken to neighboring Rep. G.K. Butterfield about running. While only about 30 percent of Greenville is in the 3rd District, Thomas may have some name recognition and connections outside the city from his current role as executive director of Global TransPark, a large industrial park that NJ calls a “a major economic driver on the coast.”
MT-AL: GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte reportedly is interested in another run for governor, and the radical anti-tax Club for Growth knows whom they’d want to succeed him.
The Club is out with a primary poll from WPA Intelligence that shows state Auditor Matt Rosendale, who lost last year’s Senate race to Democrat Jon Tester 50-47, beating all comers. The Club did not release any numbers testing Rosendale against Gianforte, nor did their release even mention the incumbent’s name, so it seems that the Club only wants Rosendale to run for the House if there’s actually an open seat. For his part, neither Rosendale nor any of the many people tested in the poll appear to have shown any public interest in running for this House seat, which includes the entire state of Montana.
The closest matchup in the poll is a three-way contest that shows Rosendale defeating former Rep. Denny Rehberg, who first won this seat in 2000 and gave it up in 2012 to wage his own unsuccessful bid against Tester, by a 37-31 margin. Former Judge Russell Fagg, who lost last year’s Senate primary to Rosendale 34-28, takes 17 percent in this poll. In one-on-one matchups, Rosendale leads Rehberg and Fagg 46-39 and 57-24, respectively.
The poll also includes two other three-way races that test Rosendale and Fagg against a third candidate. When state Sen. Al Olszewski, who took 19 percent in the 2018 Senate primary, is thrown in, Rosendale leads Fagg 51-18, with Olszewski at 10. In a contest with Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, who is running for governor, Rosendale leads Stapleton 48-19 and Fagg takes 17. Both Rosendale and Stapleton ran for this seat when it was open in 2014: Ryan Zinke beat Stapleton 33-29, while Rosendale also took 29 percent.
NJ-02: Republican Seth Grossman lost last year’s open seat contest to Democrat Jeff Van Drew 53-45, and he’s not closing the door on another try. The National Journal’s Alex Clearfield writes that, while Grossman said he wouldn’t be “making partisan political statements this year” and was focusing on his website, he “[d]id not explicitly rule out running against Jeff Van Drew.”
Grossman, a former Atlantic County freeholder who won his last race in 1988, took the GOP nod in a surprise last year against a weak field of opponents. Still, Grossman hardly looked like a formidable candidate himself even before Media Matters unearthed social media posts in which Grossman favorably linked to hate-filled essays on white supremacist sites. The NRCC soon decided that he was doomed and triaged this district in July. Team Red will want to target this South Jersey seat, which swung from 54-44 Obama to 51-46 Trump, but Grossman is unlikely to be anywhere on their candidate wishlist.