Scared off by pro-Trump purists, Dean Heller will run for re-election, not governor

NV-Sen, NV-Gov: Sen. Dean Heller, who is by far the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for re-election next year, announced just before the new year that he’ll seek a second full term in 2018 and won’t run for governor. Heller had openly considered a gubernatorial bid and would likely have been the GOP’s strongest candidate, but as we noted when he first made his interest known, his public hostility toward Donald Trump during last year’s presidential race would have left him vulnerable in a primary—and according to Jon Ralston, that’s exactly what Heller feared.

Citing unnamed sources, Ralston says that state Attorney General Adam Laxalt had “indicated” he might run for governor even if Heller did the same, which apparently convinced Heller it “wasn’t worth the risk” of running for governor. Laxalt was originally a Ted Cruz supporter but quickly came around to Trump after The Donald wrapped up the GOP nomination. He also, as Ralston puts it, likes to hold himself out as Nevada’s “One True Conservative” and would have been a serious intra-party threat to Heller.

But with Heller out, Ralston thinks Laxalt would clear the Republican field in the gubernatorial race, though we haven’t yet heard anything from him publicly. In fact, no candidates on either side have yet entered, though Ralston says that rich guy Steve Cloobeck, who is reportedly considering, is trying to convince two other Democrats, Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak and state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, not to run. Democrats will now also need to find a challenger for Heller, but so far, no one’s said anything.


MN-Sen, MN-Gov: In a recent interview, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar unambiguously told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she would seek a third term in 2018. Previously, Klobuchar hadn’t ruled out a gubernatorial bid next year, when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he’ll retire. Klobuchar would have been a dominant contender for governor, but had she run, she’d have given Republicans an opening to pick up her Senate seat. However, despite Trump’s near-success in Minnesota last year, the GOP is unlikely to put up a serious fight against Klobuchar, who won her first race by 20 points and her re-election bid in 2012 by 34.

ND-Sen: Rep. Kevin Cramer is the GOP’s top choice to take on Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp next year, but until now, we hadn’t heard from him directly—we’d only known that he was reportedly considering the race. On Tuesday, however, Cramer told CNN’s Manu Raju that Donald Trump had asked him whether he’d run against Heitkamp, with Cramer saying he’d make a decision “later,” in Raju’s words. Who knows what (if anything) Trump actually said on the topic, but at least we now have Cramer on the record that he’s looking at a Senate bid.

WI-Sen: According to unnamed “GOP operatives” cited by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rep. Sean Duffy, who’d previously refused to rule out a Senate bid, is reportedly considering a challenge to Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year. And at least one other Republican is publicly encouraging Duffy to get in: State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he, too, is looking at a bid, but he thinks his party should “unify” behind the congressman if he runs.

There would be a lot of people to convince, though. The same operatives also say that state Sen. Leah Vukmir and businessman Kevin Nicholson, who serves on Wisconsin’s Board of Veterans Affairs, are weighing bids, too, and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga isn’t ruling out a run, either. That’s in addition to rich guy Eric Hovde, who said back in November that he was eyeing the race, and perhaps Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as well, who’s mentioned as a possible candidate by the Journal Sentinel.


CO-Gov: For over a decade, Colorado Republicans have talked about former Denver Broncos star quarterback John Elway running for office, but he’s never taken the bait. This cycle is no different, with Elway saying on Monday that he would not run for governor. Centennial State Republicans aren’t exactly lacking potential candidates for this open seat, though. George Brauchler, a district attorney in suburban Denver who successfully prosecuted the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting, recently said he was considering, and state party chair Steve House and state Sen. Ray Scott are also mulling bids.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a second cousin of George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, doesn’t appear to have publicly said anything about his plans, but he’s reportedly also thinking about getting in. The Denver Post recently ran down some other Republicans who may get in, and they name-drop state Sen. Tim Neville. Neville, who has some connections to far-right gun activists, ran for the U.S. Senate last year, but he unexpectedly failed to even make it to the primary.

There are also plenty of Democrats who could run to succeed termed-out Gov. John Hickenlooper next year. Over the holidays, businessman Noel Ginsburg announced that he would run. Ginsburg, who is the chair of the state Business Experiential-Learning Commission, may have the wealth or connections to wage a competitive campaign, though it’s hard to say right now.

Three Democratic state legislators, state Rep. Joe Salazar and state Sens. Michael Merrifield and Mike Johnston, are talking about getting in as well. Additionally, suburban Denver Rep. Ed Perlmutter hasn’t ruled out a bid, while ex-Sen. Ken Salazar is reportedly interested, though the former secretary of the interior hasn’t said anything publicly. The Denver Post also takes a look at the possible Democratic field, and gives us a few new names. The Post says that there is “chatter in Democratic circles” that wealthy Boulder Rep. Jared Polis or Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne could run, but neither appears to have said anything publicly about their 2018 plans.

FL-Gov, FL-13: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who was just sworn into Congress on Tuesday, told the National Journal‘s Zach Cohen the very same day that he won’t run for governor next year and is in fact “already working on” his own re-election. A return to the governor’s mansion wasn’t even a possibility we’d seriously considered for Crist, but earlier on Tuesday, the disreputable right-wing site Sunshine State News reported that a “‘deep throat’ contact” of theirs said Crist had been putting out feelers about a gubernatorial bid. Better get that checked out by an ENT.

IL-Gov: This week, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar became the first Democrat to announce that he would challenge Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Pawar pulled off an upset in 2011 when the little-known candidate defeated the “hand-picked replacement” of a 35-year incumbent alderman. That’s a huge accomplishment in a city where machine politics are still dominant, but winning the gubernatorial primary is going to be even harder, and the wealthy Rauner will be a tough foe for anyone in the general.

A number of other Illinois Democrats have made noises about getting in. Over the holidays, an aide to Quad Cities Rep. Cheri Bustos confirmed that Bustos is giving “serious consideration” to a run. Chicago Rep. Robin Kelly and state Sen. Andy Manar are also publicly considering, while wealthy businessmen Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker, as well as Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summer, are reportedly thinking about getting in.

MA-Gov: Setti Warren, the Democratic mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton, has reportedly been telling donors that he’s raising money to challenge GOP Gov. Charlie Baker next year. The Boston Globe recently obtained an email from Warren where the mayor wrote that he was strongly considering” running for governor and “[i]n the coming weeks, I will be evaluating options about my next steps.” Baker has consistently posted high approval ratings in this solidly blue state, and defeating him won’t be easy.

MI-Gov: On Tuesday, former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer announced that she would run to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Rick Snyder next year. Whitmer, who also served as interim county prosecutor for Lansing’s Ingham County last year, is the first Democrat to enter the race, but she may not have the primary to herself. On Tuesday, Flint Rep. Dan Kildee put out a statement saying that he would consider what to do “over the coming months.”

RI-Gov: Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has had some high-profile stumbles from the first half of her governorship, and plenty of Republicans, as well as a few Democrats, are considering challenging her in 2018. Former Rhode Island State Police head Brendan Doherty, who currently serves as director of special investigations for Blue Cross & Blue Shield, recently didn’t rule out a primary bid against Raimondo, only saying it was “[w]ay too early.” Doherty ran for Congress as a Republican in 2012 against Democratic Rep. David Cicilline and lost the hard-fought race 53-41. Doherty considered a 2014 gubernatorial bid a few weeks after his defeat but didn’t go for it, and he’s rejoined the Democratic Party since then.

Clay Pell, the grandson of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell, ran for governor in 2014 and lost the primary to Raimondo 42-27, and he recently didn’t rule out a second try. But ex-Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who took 29 percent in that race, made it clear to the Providence Journal that he wasn’t interested in a rematch.

Raimondo ended up defeating Cranston Mayor Allan Fung 41-36 in the general election. Fung, a Republican, was re-elected mayor in November even as he refused to rule out another gubernatorial bid. In December, Fung acknowledged that people were urging him to run again, adding that, “All I’ll say for now is that I’m proud of all the great things happening in Cranston and my immediate focus is on the job of mayor.” That’s one of those obnoxious statements politicians love to make when they’re very interested in running for higher office but don’t want to actually say so yet.

A number of other Ocean State Republicans are considering getting in. Businessman Ken Block (who lost the 2014 GOP primary to Fung 55-45), businessman Giovanni Feroce, and ex-state Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders made their interest known a few weeks ago, and the Journalgives us some new names. Outgoing state Rep. Joseph Trillo, who headed Donald Trump’s state campaign, says he’s thinking about a bid, while state House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan didn’t rule it out. State Rep. Robert Nardolillo also says he’s “seriously” considering running for higher office, though he also is mulling challenging Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in what would be an extremely tough race for any Republican.

Karl Wadensten, who is the CEO of an industrial vibrator company, also says he’s giving a gubernatorial campaign “deep thought and consideration.” If he runs, Wadensten does have one strong selling point. In 2010, Wadensten was the one member of the Economic Development Corporation who voted against giving 38 Studios, a video game company started by retired Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, a taxpayer-funded $75 million loan. 38 Studios quickly collapsed, and the whole matter remains a sour issue in Rhode Island politics years later. (Meanwhile, Schilling is running for the Senate in Massachusetts against Sen. Elizabeth Warren.)


MT-AL: A second Democrat, state Rep. Casey Schreiner, has said that he’ll seek his party’s nomination in the likely event that GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke is confirmed as Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior, thus setting off a special election for his House seat. No primaries would be held for this race; instead, nominees on both sides would get chosen by party leaders. State Rep. Amanda Curtis has also said she’ll put her name forward, and a ton of Republicans are considering as well.


Special Elections: Here’s Johnny! (Longtorso):

Iowa SD-45: In the end, it wasn’t close. Democrat Jim Lykam had no trouble winning, defeating Republican Michael Gonzales by a 73-25 margin, with Libertarian Severin Gilbert taking just over 1 percent.


Atlanta, GA Mayor: Over the holidays, both ex-Gov. Roy Barnes and Rep. David Scott announced that they were holding a fundraiser for state Sen. Vincent Fort, a fellow Democrat and one of the many candidates running for mayor of Atlanta this fall. While Scott is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Fort is a vocal opponent of GOP Gov. Nathan Deal and was a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid, so it may seem odd to see them on the same side; Barnes also isn’t particularly liberal. However, Barnes and Scott both served in the state Senate with Fort at different times. Perhaps more importantly, none of the three men are friendly with the state Democratic establishment.

San Antonio, TX Mayor: While City Councilor Rey Saldana has been mentioned as a possible candidate against Mayor Ivy Taylor, he announced last month that he’d seek re-election this year instead. Taylor, a conservative Democrat, is being challenged by City Councilor Ron Nirenberg, while Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Manuel Medina has formed an exploratory committee.


Deaths: This week, ex-Alabama Gov. Albert Brewer, a Democrat who served from 1968 to 1971 but lost the primary to George Wallace, died at the age of 88. Brewer was originally an ally of Wallace, the notorious segregationist governor, and became speaker of the state House with Wallace’s approval. In 1966, with state law prohibiting Wallace from running for a second consecutive term, the governor ran his wife Lurleen Wallace in his place, while Brewer successfully ran for lieutenant governor. Lurleen Wallace died in office in 1968, and Brewer was elevated to the governorship.

At first, Brewer maintained a good relationship with George Wallace, and helped the former governor get on the ballot in several states during his 1968 third-party presidential bid. However, while Wallace said both publicly and privately that he wouldn’t try to retake the governorship in 1970, he jumped in anyway. Brewer ran under the slogan “Full Time for Alabama,” reminding voters that Wallace had already run for president twice and would likely do it again. But Wallace notoriously portrayed Brewer as too close to African Americans, and his supporters circulated fake images of the incumbent with Muhammed Ali and Nation of Islam head Elijah Muhammed.

Richard Nixon’s campaign even sent $400,000 Brewer’s way to help him beat Wallace before Wallace could challenge the president in 1972. However, Wallace ended up winning the Democratic runoff 51.5-48.5, and easily prevailed in the general election.

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.

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