GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement gives Democrats a huge pickup opportunity


FL-27: In a surprise, GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced on Sunday that she would not seek another term. Ros-Lehtinen had consistency won with ease in her Miami-area House district since her 1989 special election victory. However, this seat, which includes part downtown Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables, did not like Donald Trump whatsoever last year. While Florida swung from 50-49 Obama to 49-47 Trump, the 27th District violently lurched in the opposite direction, going from 53-46 Obama all the way to 59-39 Clinton. Ros-Lehtinen won re-election 55-45 in 2016, running a massive 30 point points ahead of Trump; while Democrats may have targeted this seat in 2018 even if Ros-Lehtinen ran again, Team Blue will almost certainly have a much better shot winning it without needing to get past the entrenched incumbent.

However, while this district will be a top Democratic target, it’s far from a lost cause for Republicans. While the seat’s large Cuban-American population has been more willing to back Democrats in presidential elections in recent cycles, Republicans still do well further down the ballot. According to Matthew Isbell, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio (a former Ros-Lehtinen intern) lost the 27th by a narrow 49-48 as he was winning statewide 52-44. The GOP also has plenty of state legislators and other local elected officials who could run in Ros-Lehtinen’s place.

And sure enough, it didn’t take long for several Republicans to come forward and tell the Miami Herald that they were interested. Perhaps the best-known potential candidate is Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, a former state representative and Miami-Dade County’s former property appraiser. López-Cantera told the paper that he would “spend the next few days discussing” a possible congressional campaign with his family. López-Cantera is a close Rubio friend, though his last major bid for office did not go well. López-Cantera spent about a year running to replace Rubio in the Senate last year but raised very little money even before Rubio started making noises about running for re-election after all.

Several other Republicans expressed interest to the Herald. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro says he’s “always eyed this district.” State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz is reportedly being considered for U.S. attorney post by the Trump administration and is also mulling a bid for state Senate, and he says he’ll consider his options after the legislative session concludes in a week. State Sen. Rene Garcia, who is termed out, also says he’s thinking about it, though it also sounds like he won’t give an answer until the state budget is done. Ex-state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla sounded a lot less interested, saying that a “run for congress is not in my immediate plans,” which still isn’t a no.

Two noteworthy Democrats were running before Ros-Lehtinen made her announcement. Businessman Scott Fuhrman was Team Blue’s 2016 nominee, and his 55-45 loss was the closest anyone ever came to unseating Ros-Lehtinen. However, Ros-Lehtinen ran ads against him over his prior arrest record (the most recent and serious incident was in 2009 when he was pulled over and admitted to having two drinks, and police found a loaded handgun in the car), and the GOP wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing in 2018. Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez also kicked off her bid a few weeks ago.

Several other Democrats have told the Herald that they’re interested in seeking what is now an open seat. State Rep. David Richardson says he’ll be thinking about it “[o]ver the next few days,” while state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez says once the session is over he’ll give it a “hard look.” Ex-Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and Matt Haggman, a former Herald reporter who currently serves as The Knight Foundation’s Miami Program Director, also say they’re interested, while City Commissioner Ken Russell didn’t rule it out after acknowledging that people have asked him to run. However, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a prospective candidate for governor, doesn’t sound like he’s interested in dropping down to the House. Levine said that he’s “focused on traveling the state and talking with residents about the future of Florida,” which also isn’t a no, but it’s pretty close.

Gubernatorial

AL-Gov, AL-Sen: On Friday, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle announced that he would seek the GOP nomination for governor of Alabama. Battle began making noises about running when it looked like this would be an open seat race to succeed termed-out Gov. Robert Bentley. However, even after Bentley resigned after trying to cover up a sex scandal and fellow Republican Kay Ivey became governor, Battle made it clear he was still planning to run. Battle’s announcement video did not mention the new governor he may be trying to unseat, but he did take shots at Bentley and ex-state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was convicted as part of a different corruption scandal, while promoting himself as a political outsider. And of course, there was a predictable “join the Battle for Alabama’s future” pun.

For her part, Ivey has yet to announce if she will seek a full term next year. A number of other notable Republicans were also mulling bids before Bentley resigned, and they still insist they’re interested even with Ivey in office. There will be a primary runoff if no one takes a majority in the first round, so a clown-car of candidates may not necessarily help Ivey if she seeks re-election.

Meanwhile, another Alabama Republican is sounding a bit more interested in running for governor than he did a few months ago. Rep. Bradley Byrne tells the National Journal that, while he will not run in this year’s special election for U.S. Senate, he is considering a second bid for the governor’s office.

It’s hard to tell how interested Byrne really is in giving up his safely red Gulf Coast House seat for a gubernatorial bid, though. Byrne says he “can’t imagine making a decision” before the “end of summer,” adding that “If I make a decision before then, it may very well be that I don’t want to do it.” Byrne claims he’s not “chomping at the bit” to run, but people are calling for him to run and he’ll look at it.

Part of Byrne’s hesitation may be memories of how his 2010 bid went. As we noted in January, Byrne began that contest as the frontrunner, but a pre-sex scandal Bentley ended up beating him 56-44 in the GOP runoff. Byrne wound up caught in an unusual position where he was successfully attacked from both the right and the left, with Bentley hitting him for having once been a Democrat; Bentley, meanwhile, played up his own ties to prominent social conservatives. At the same time, teachers unions—one of the only liberal influences left in Alabama—had it in for Byrne, stemming from his tenure as chancellor of the state’s community college system, and they, too, ran ads against him. Bentley, in turn, openly called for Democrats to vote for him, which may have been the difference-maker.

AZ-Gov: Democrat Greg Stanton is termed out as mayor of Phoenix in early 2020, and it’s been clear for a while that he’s looking to run statewide a bit sooner than that. Last fall, Stanton set up a campaign committee to allow him to raise money to challenge GOP Secretary of State Michele Reagan in 2018, though he could use the money for any statewide race. Until recently, it looked like Stanton was intent on running for secretary of state or a different lower statewide office, but a recent speech denouncing Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey over education could be a sign he’s aiming for something much more interesting.

As the Arizona Republic‘s Laurie Roberts details, Stanton used his Tuesday address to attack Ducey’s proposed 0.4 percent pay raise for teachers, declaring that they need “a real raise, not an insult.” Stanton also lit up Ducey and the GOP state legislature for passing a recent universal voucher program, and called for Arizona voters in 2018 to vote to increase, not just renew, an expiring sales tax for schools. Roberts notes that it does sound like Stanton is much more interested in running for governor than something like secretary of state, though he could target Superintendent Diane Douglas instead.

Democrats are looking to make gains in Arizona next year, though at least until now, they haven’t expressed much hope in beating Ducey, the wealthy former CEO of Coldstone Creamery. So far, Ducey’s only notable Democratic challenger is David Garcia, who narrowly lost the 2014 superintendent race to Douglas, though state Sen. Steve Farley has been considering. But if Stanton, who leads Arizona’s largest city, decides to run, it would be a strong sign that state Democrats think Ducey is vulnerable.

CT-Gov: Yet another Connecticut Democrat has formed an exploratory committee ahead of a possible run for governor … just not someone a lot of Democrats will want as their nominee. Joe Ganim, who served as mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003, served in federal prison from 2003 to 2010, and won back the mayor’s office in 2015, has filed.

However, because of his past felony convictions, state law forbids him from receiving public financing. Ganim petitioned for an exemption a few weeks ago, and the State Elections Enforcement Commission is to make their decision in July. If Ganim is rejected, he could take the matter to court. If he doesn’t qualify for the campaign finance program, he will have a tough time bringing in enough money to compete. And even if Ganim does get his exemption, it’s still a challenge to raise the $250,000 in small donations necessary.

Ganim has a long and … interesting career in Bridgeport politics. He was mayor of Bridgeport through most of the 1990s, and he was often credited with revitalizing the city and holding down property taxes. Ganim did run for governor in 1994, but ended up as the lieutenant governor nominee on Team Blue’s losing ticket. He wanted to run again in 2002, but a corruption investigation ended that dream. Ganim was convicted of steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of perks, including expensive wine and diamonds.

However, Ganim staged his comeback in 2015 by narrowly unseating incumbent Bill Finch in the Democratic primary. Ganim still had a loyal base of support from voters who fondly remembered his earlier tenure, and the police union backed him over Finch, with whom they frequently feuded. Ganim does not have a good relationship with Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy, who refused to back him in the general election, and Ganim expressed interest in running for governor before Malloy announced he would retire instead.

As we’ve noted before, while Bridgeport is Connecticut’s largest city, it still only contains less than 5 percent of the state’s population. If Ganim ran, he’d need to convince a lot of voters who aren’t familiar with his accomplishments that they should look past his ugly history, which may be very difficult. It won’t be any easier if he can’t raise enough money to get his message out. Ganim’s close win two years ago also indicates that local Democrats are far from solidly behind him. Still, the Democratic primary is shaping up to be a crowded race, and it’s not impossible that Ganim could ride a narrow plurality to victory.

On Thursday, a far-less controversial Democrat made his interest in this office known for the first time. Scott Bates, the chair of the Connecticut Port Authority, told The Day that southeastern Connecticut leaders have approached him about running, and that he is considering. Bates, who was appointed as Virginia’s secretary of the commonwealth in 1993, has also worked on national security issues in D.C.. If he won, Bates would be the first governor from southeastern Connecticut since the 1880s, which helps explain why several local elected officials told The Day that they hope he runs.

GA-Gov: A few days ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that ex-Rep. Jack Kingston looked like he was laying the groundwork for a potential GOP primary bid for governor. Kingston, who currently serves as a CNN talking head, now tells the blog Zpolitics that he is in fact interested in entering what is becoming a crowded field, though he didn’t offer a timeline for when he expects to decide.

Kingston represented a Savannah-area House seat for 22 years, before he narrowly lost the 2014 GOP Senate runoff to eventual winner David Perdue. He was a Trump advisor during the presidential campaign, though as we’ve seen before, Trump seems far more interested in punishing his enemies than rewarding his friends. Kingston was also the first and final guest on the Colbert Report segment “Better Know a District,” which … probably isn’t worth many votes in a GOP primary.

House

MN-08, MN-Gov: Democratic Rep. Nolan has been flirting with a bid for governor of Minnesota for months, but we could be waiting for him to decide for a while longer. Nolan recently backed off on his plan to decide in April if he would run for governor or whether he would seek a fourth term in the competitive 8th Congressional District, and via MPR’s Tom Scheck, Nolan now says he hopes to decide by July. The 8th District, which includes the Iron Range in the northeast corner of the state, violently swung from 52-46 Obama to 54-39 Trump. There are still a number of local Democrats who could defend the seat if Nolan leaves, but they’ll certainly want more time to prepare for what will likely be a competitive general election.

The GOP will target this seat regardless of what Nolan does, but Team Red’s field is still taking shape. Rich guy Stewart Mills, who narrowly lost to Nolan in 2014 and 2016, hasn’t ruled out a third try. And while state House Speaker Kurt Daudt has been eyeing a gubernatorial bid as well, there’s been speculation that he could run for Congress instead. Chatter intensified after Daudt announced that he would introduce a resolution at the state party convention supporting mining in the Iron Range. Daudt himself isn’t ruling anything out. When the Mesabi Daily News asked him if he was interested in running for the 8th, Daudt only said he’s “not looking into that, and I’m really not looking into anything else,” and added he’s focused on his current job.

MT-AL: While national Republicans keep pouring money into Montana’s May 25 special election, D.C. Democrats have, for the most part, been staying on the sidelines. The DCCC recently sent $200,000 to the Montana Democratic Party, according to Politico, and says that “it’s possible we’ll invest more,” but so far, the committee has not gone up on TV on behalf of Democrat Rob Quist.

That stands in contrast to the GOP, which has now spent over $2.2 million on attack ads. The latest barrage is a $1 million buy from the NRCC, which is airing a new spot that paints Quist as a Nancy Pelosi lackey who wants to take away guns, force “government-run healthcare” on everyone, and has a history of racking up personal debts. It’s strange, because Republicans are treating this like a potentially competitive race while Democrats mostly are not, and since there’s been no reliable polling released into the wild, it’s hard to say who’s right.

NJ-03: On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur at least temporarily shocked Trumpcare back to life when he introduced an amendment to make the bill palatable to the nihilistic Freedom Caucus, and it’s a doozy: MacArthur’s alteration would permit states to seek waivers to allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Most Republicans in swingy House districts, however, seem to recognize that voting for such a law would be politically toxic, so it may come as a surprise to learn that MacArthur is in fact a member of the supposedly pragmatic Tuesday Group and doesn’t exactly represent a rock-ribbed Republican seat. Indeed, Trump carried New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, which spans from just east of Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore, 51-45, while Obama won it 52-47 in 2012. MacArthur won last year against a weak perennial candidate, but he may be attracting someone much stronger this time around.

On Thursday, national security expert Andrew Kim, who was the National Security Council’s direct for Iraq under Obama and advised Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan, said he was interested in running. In addition to hitting MacArthur on Trumpcare, Kim noted that he was the Obama administration’s point man in 2014 as ISIS was gaining ground in Iraq, and Kim says he helped coordinate airstrikes and humanitarian relief. Unsurprisingly, MacArthur’s team responded by suggesting that Kim had failed to take ISIS seriously.

Whether it’s Kim or someone else, whoever runs against MacArthur will face a number of challenges. Democrats have had a very tough time winning this ancestrally red seat: While the late Democrat John Adler broke the GOP’s long hold on a previous version of this district in 2008, he quickly lost it in the 2010 wave, and subsequent attempts to win it back have been unsuccessful.

It doesn’t help that this heavily gerrymandered district may be the most expressive in the nation to advertise in. About 57 percent of the 3rd is in the pricey Philadelphia media market, while the balance is in the very expensive New York City market. Meanwhile, MacArthur is incredibly wealthy and money won’t be an issue for him, but his eventual Democratic opponent may not have that advantage. In order to have a shot, the Democratic nominee will need help from outside groups, who may or may not decide that MacArthur is vulnerable enough to invest the massive amounts of money they’d need to get their ads seen.

New Jersey’s old-school political machine culture also presents another obstacle. In 2014, when national Democrats were seriously targeting the 3rd—at the time an open seat—local Democrats insisted on diverting resources to the safely blue 1st District right next door, which was also open. Why the seemingly bizarre move? In the 1st, the Democratic nominee was Donald Norcross, who just happened to be the brother of George Norcross, a secretive but immensely powerful political boss that Philly Magazine dubbed “the lord of South Jersey.” Donald Norcross didn’t need the help—he won easily—but George wanted it, and George got it.

So if the Norcrosses aren’t on board, it could be hard for a Democratic challenger to gain traction next year. However, MacArthur may have just kicked over a hornet’s nest large enough to endanger his re-election no matter what the Jersey bosses do, especially if 2018 continues to shape up as an unfavorable year for the GOP.

NV-02: GOP Rep. Mark Amodei really does seem to be looking for an exit from D.C. one way or another. In 2015, he expressed interest in running for governor, but in January, he closed the door on that while saying he may instead run for state attorney general. But on Thursday, Amodei told Roll Call‘s Simone Pathé‏ that he wasn’t going to run for attorney general, but he still wasn’t sure if he would seek re-election to the House. Amodei faces a primary challenge from notorious 2010 Senate nominee Sharron Angle but he insisted he’s not worried, and given Angle’s recent electoral history, we believe him.

Amodei’s seat, which includes most of Nevada north of the Las Vegas area, backed Trump 52-40, and it would probably stay red absent him without too much trouble. (Though if Angle wins a crowded GOP primary, all bets are off.) Amodei himself made news in 2015 when he missed a critical trade vote to head home early, a sign he wasn’t particularly happy in D.C. Last cycle, Amodei also didn’t show any obvious interest in running for the Senate even when the GOP was furiously looking for someone to run, perhaps another indication he didn’t want to stick around Congress much longer.

Mayoral

Buffalo, NY Mayor: Mayor Byron Brown is seeking a fourth term this year, but he doesn’t have a clear path through the September Democratic primary. Back in March, city Comptroller Mark Schroeder jumped into the race, while Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, a longtime Brown rival, kicked off her own bid in late April.

Brown is the chair of New York’s state Democratic party, and he should have plenty of support from local power players, as well as a huge financial edge over both his opponents. But Grant, who narrowly lost a 2012 state Senate primary against incumbent Timothy Kennedy, may have given Schroeder more of an opening. Both Brown and Grant are black while Schroeder is white; while Grant objected to the idea that she and Brown could take too much support from one another to allow either one to win, it seems to be a real possibility.

For her part, Grant is arguing that the East Side of the city is being neglected under Brown. Schroeder kicked off his campaign by saying that economic development is skipping over parts of the city, and pledging to have a better relationship with the local police than Brown has. The Democratic nominee should have little trouble winning in November.

Los Angeles County, CA Executive: It’s not every day that you find out that there are plans afoot to create what may be one of the most powerful elected positions in the country, but that’s what’s brewing in California. Like nearly every California county, Los Angeles County is currently run by the five co-equal members of its Board of Supervisors (sometimes known as the “five little kings,” because of how entrenched they can get, as well as their broad mix of both executive and legislative powers); it’s a desirable-enough position that two former U.S. Representatives (Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis) are on the board.

But the California state legislature is currently considering legislation that would create a new position of Los Angeles County Executive, starting in 2020. The Board of Supervisors would be retained and in fact expanded to seven seats, but the new Executive would take over the county’s day-to-day operations from the currently appointed county CEO, who answers to the supervisors; so the analogy might be if a city switched from a council-manager municipal system to a strong-mayor system.

Los Angeles County, as you may know, is by far the most populous county in the country, with over 10 million residents (nearly twice as many as its nearest rival, Cook County, Illinois). If you think of “power” purely in terms of the number of constituents you have executive authority over, this would be a job that falls behind only the presidency and the governors of the nine states with populations larger than Los Angeles County.

One other important consequence of the Executive job, if it comes to pass, is that it would be another path to power in California’s clogged political landscape, where you have 39 million people, 120 term-limited state legislators, and a lot of jostling for only a small number of statewide seats. A Los Angeles County Executive position would be quite the on-deck circle for ambitious pols waiting to jump to governor or senator; the Sacramento Bee‘s speculation of who might want the job includes most of southern California’s big political names, including some of the 2018 gubernatorial candidates as a fallback option (like ex-Los Angeles city Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang).

Nassau County, NY Executive: The race for Nassau County executive is this fall, and unsurprisingly, the local GOP is done with two-term incumbent Ed Mangano. Last fall, Mangano was indicted on federal corruption charges, and his trial isn’t scheduled until after the election. Jack Martins, a former New York state senator, announced last week that he would run to lead this huge Long Island county, and he almost immediately earned the endorsement of the county’s Republican Executive Committee. Mangano’s team still insists he hasn’t decided if he’ll seek re-election this fall, but he doesn’t seem to have many allies left. The party primary is in September, but Republican leaders may have scared off any other notable candidates.

Nassau County backed Hillary Clinton 51-45 last year, not much of a drop from Barack Obama’s 53-46 win four years before. The GOP has dominated local politics for decades, but corruption and infighting helped weaken what was once one of the most powerful Republican parties anywhere. (For more, check out Steve Kornacki’s excellent 2011 article). In 2001, Democrat Tom Suozzi broke the GOP’s stronghold on the county executive’s office, and won re-election four years later. But in 2009, with the Great Recession hurting Democrats nationwide, Mangano narrowly unseated Suozzi in an utter shocker. Despite the county’s considerable financial problems, Mangano won their 2013 rematch 59-41. Suozzi himself revived his political career last year by defeating none other than Jack Martins 53-47 in an open seat contest for New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

While Martins was the only credible Republican running for that House seat, he didn’t raise a massive amount of money. National Republicans ended up canceling their ad reservations about a month before Election Day as polls showed Suozzi ahead, though Martins and Donald Trump ended up losing the 3rd District by an almost identical 6-point margin. Martins kicked off his county executive bid by pledging to stabilize the county’s still considerable financial woes, and he noted that he immediately called for Mangano’s resignation last year. However, local Democrats promptly sought to link Martins to another notorious Nassau County Republican by noting that when then-state Senate leader Dean Skelos was indicted for corruption in 2015, Martins defended him (Skelos was later convicted).

Democrats are hoping that after eight chaotic years with the GOP back in charge, Nassau voters will send a Democrat to the county executive’s office this November. At the beginning of the year, the Nassau Democratic Committee endorsed county Legislator Laura Curran. However, Assemblyman Charles Lavine and county Comptroller George Maragos, a former Republican who switched parties last year, are continuing on into the September primary.

San Antonio, TX Mayor: The May 6 nonpartisan primary is coming up quickly, and San Antonio Current takes a very detailed look at what has become a three-way race between Mayor Ivy Taylor, wealthy Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Manuel Medina, and Councilman Ron Nirenberg. If no one takes a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff.

Taylor and Medina both identify as Democrats while Nirenberg doesn’t align with either party, but as is often the case in local mayoral races, the realities on the ground are much more complex. Taylor, who infamously voted against equal rights protections for LGBT citizens in 2014, did very well in the conservative North Side in her close 2015 race with ex-state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte. In an added twist Van De Putte, who was the 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, is supporting Taylor’s quest for a second full two-year term, and has even said that “[v]oters got it right” by picking Taylor instead of her.

Medina has been speaking out against an $850 million bond package that will also be on the ballot, arguing that much of it is a giveaway to developers and other special interests, and he’s attracted support from prominent fiscal conservatives in the process. Nirenberg, who has emphasized ethics reform and public transit, appeals more to liberal voters. However, there’s a lot more to this, and the Current article is worth reading in full ahead of the May 6 primary.

The contest made national news in late April, when a video of Taylor declaring that the “deepest systemic causes of generational poverty” are “broken people” who are not “in relationship with their Creator” surfaced from a forum a few weeks earlier. San Antonio Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia, who moderated the event, argues that Taylor’s use of the term “broken people” was not an attack on atheists, “but to believers who have lost contact with their faith, been humbled and are in spiritual distress.” Still, Garcia agrees that even at the time, “it sounded like she was blaming the victims for their own hardships.” It’s unclear what effect, if any, this matter will have on what will likely be a low-turnout Saturday race.

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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