Democrats land a top-tier candidate in Oklahoma’s 2018 governor’s race


OK-Gov: It’s been just over a decade since Democrats last won a statewide race in dark-red Oklahoma, but they aren’t lacking for candidates running in 2018 to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Mary Fallin after former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson kicked off his campaign on Monday. The son of late longtime Democratic Rep. Ed Edmondson, Drew Edmondson served 16 years as attorney general until he just barely lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary to then-Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, who went on to suffer a brutal 60-40 loss against Fallin in that year’s Republican wave election.

Although ancestrally Democratic Oklahoma favored Trump by a 65-29 landslide, it still tends to be bluer in state races. Fallin only won her second term against a Democratic foe by a relatively more modest 56-41 even in the GOP-favoring year of 2014, but it would still likely take a lot to go right for Team Blue to flip such a hostile state in 2018. Nonetheless, Edmondson isn’t the only Democrat running, and his entrance into the race sets up a primary with state House Minority Leader Scott Inman, who jumped into the contest in late April.

If Democrats are going to have a shot in 2018, they’ll likely need to convince voters that Oklahoma needs real change after eight years of Fallin. And it’s possible that things are actually bad enough in the Sooner State that Team Blue can make this argument. News OK recently noted that 97 of the state’s 500-some school districts have transitioned to a four-day week, and more could join them. The legislature is currently involved in intense budget negotiations, and the four-day school week could be the status quo for a while in many parts of the state.

Senate

AL-Sen: On Saturday, longtime Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt announced he would not challenge appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the upcoming August 15 special primary election to fill the final three years of former Sen. Jeff Sessions’ term. However, Strange is still facing a potential hornet’s nest of same-party opposition due to the questionable circumstances under which he was appointed to the office by disgraced then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who recently resigned over a sex scandal. Several Republicans have already entered the primary against Strange, including former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, former Christian Coalition of Alabama leader Randy Brinson, and state Rep. Ed Henry, who was a chief proponent of impeaching Bentley before his resignation.

Strange can at least count on one powerful ally, since he previously earned the full backing of Senate Republican leadership in D.C. Now, the NRSC is threatening Republican campaign firms with a boycott if they work for Strange’s primary opponents. National Republicans previously did that very thing to the firm Jamestown Associates in the 2014 campaign cycle, but it continued to find clients, so it remains to be seen how powerful of a deterrent factor that will be to consultants who want to work for Strange’s opponents.

Over at Smart Politics, professor Eric Ostermeier runs down the statistics for how often appointed senators succeed in winning a full term, and he has relatively good news for Strange. Of the 22 appointed senators who ran in the following special election since 1980, 21 won their party’s nomination, and that includes an unbroken streak of 12 races dating back to 1999. However, another 11 appointed senators didn’t even run, some of whom might have simply thought they couldn’t win. Alabama will hold a primary runoff on Sept. 26 if no candidate wins a majority in the first round, meaning Strange won’t be able to luck out by prevailing with a narrow plurality against split opposition.

Alabama’s deep-red hue likely gives Strange much less to fear in a general election than he does in a primary, but Democrats are hopeful that they can gain traction over the Bentley saga and three state House members have expressed interest in running. State Rep. Chris England recently revealed that he was “seriously considering” a bid, while state Rep. Elaine Beech said she would discuss it with her family. State Rep. Craig Ford, who served as minority leader from 2010 to 2017, also acknowledged he was considering it, but the conservative Democrat suggested he might run as an independent instead due to his disagreement with the party establishment over his opposition to abortion rights.

MO-Sen: On behalf of the local newsletter the Missouri Scout, the GOP pollster Remington Research takes a look at two hypothetical Republican Senate primaries. In a one-on-one matchup between Attorney General Josh Hawley and Rep. Ann Wagner, Hawley leads 37-16. Things don’t change much when ex-state Rep. David Steelman and attorney David Wasinger are added: Hawley leads Wagner 30-14, with Steelman at 7 and Wasinger at 2.

Right now, no notable Republicans have announced that they’ll challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. However, Wagner’s strong fundraising during the first three months of 2017, as well as her decision to step down as an NRCC deputy, indicates that she’s planning to run. Hawley has refused to rule out a bid, and several prominent Missouri Republicans recently wrote him an open letter calling for him to run. Wasinger doesn’t appear to have expressed interest in running yet, while this is the first time we’ve seen Steelman, who serves on the University of Missouri Board of Curators, mentioned at all. Steelman’s wife, ex-state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, ran for this seat in 2012 and lost the primary to the infamous Todd Akin.

NJ-Sen: Solomon Melgen, a prominent Florida eye doctor and friend of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, was convicted late last week on 67 counts of defrauding Medicare and could now face 20 years in prison—but that’s just the beginning of both their problems. Both men are also set to go on trial this September in a separate case in which federal prosecutors allege that Melgen paid for lavish foreign trips to bribe the senator, who they in turn say helped intervene with Medicare officials on Melgen’s behalf and obtained visas for Melgen’s mistresses.

Menendez has long insisted on his innocence, and Garden State Democrats have remained steadfastly united around him, but that could change. Melgen now has a huge incentive to cooperate with prosecutors and offer testimony against Menendez in exchange for a favorable sentencing recommendation; if not, the 62-year-old physician could wind up spending the rest of his life incarcerated.

It’s possible Melgen won’t bend, but the odds of a Menendez conviction just went up. Menendez’s attorneys naturally claim the two cases are unrelated—what else can they say?—but of course, that’s not how any of this works. And if he does indeed go down, Democrats would have an unpleasant problem on their hands.

If Menendez were to resign, term-limited GOP Gov. Chris Christie would get to pick a temporary replacement. Christie could then either call a special election or, it appears, just allow Menendez’s seat to get filled at next year’s midterms, when his term would otherwise be up. Presumably Christie would choose whichever option he thinks would screw Democrats most.

And while Republicans haven’t won a Senate race in New Jersey since the 1970s, Democrats would rather not have to face an incumbent GOP senator with a replacement candidate picked amidst the stench of New Jersey’s endemic political corruption.

TX-Sen: On Monday, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro announced that he would not challenge Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. Often considered a rising star in Texas Democratic politics, Castro’s decision to stay out of the race leaves fellow Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke as the only prominent challenger running for Team Blue so far, and O’Rourke will undoubtedly be glad to avoid a costly primary in such an expensive state that still leans decisively toward the GOP.

Gubernatorial

AK-Gov: Former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell refused to rule out running for governor again in 2018 in a recent interview, saying “I love this state and would love to serve her again, but I don’t have those plans right now,” which isn’t exactly a no. Despite starting off as a solid favorite, Parnell narrowly lost re-election in the Republican-wave year of 2014 in an upset against independent now-Gov. Bill Walker, who had secured a last-minute deal for the Democratic nominee to drop out and instead become his running mate. Parnell might have had himself to blame for that loss, since he didn’t take his 2014 race seriously enough until it was too late. Given his weak approval rating at the end of his last term, Republicans might prefer a fresher face in 2018 anyway.

Thanks to the steep collapse of oil prices since 2014, Alaska has faced a multi-year budget crisis that will likely require tough and unpopular policy choices to resolve, but the field to take on the potentially vulnerable Walker has so far been slow to develop. GOP State Sen. Mike Dunleavy recently left his party’s caucus over its budget stance, and in doing so didn’t rule out running for governor, but no prominent candidates from either party have yet said that they were actively considering a bid.

AL-Gov: Republican Gov. Kay Ivey became governor last month after Robert Bentley’s sex scandal finally ended his career, but she has yet to announce if she will seek a full term in 2018. State Public Service Commission chair Twinkle Cavanaugh created a campaign committee in late March, just before Bentley resigned, but she didn’t announce she was in. Cavanaugh, a Republican, has now spoken about her plans for the first time since Ivey became governor and she says she’s still thinking about running, but she didn’t provide any other information.

Another Republican, state Auditor Jim Ziegler, also recently said he was considering, but indicated that he wouldn’t make a decision until this year’s special election for U.S. Senate is concluded. However, Ziegler recently clarified that he’ll decide after the likely September GOP Senate runoff, not after the general election. So far, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is the only notable Republican who has entered the race.

Democrats have a tough path to victory in this conservative state no matter who ends up with the GOP nomination, but a few politicians are considering. Ex-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb told the Montgomery Advertiser on Friday that she would decide in the next two weeks. Cobb won the chief justice post 51-49 in 2006, making her one of the last Democrats to win statewide. However, Cobb endorsed Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination for U.S. attorney general, which probably won’t play well in a primary. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox also has expressed interest in running, but he says he won’t decide until the beginning of 2018.

FL-Gov: To the surprise of absolutely no one, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam filed to seek the GOP nod on Monday. Annoyingly, Putnam’s statement didn’t outright say he would run, but he promised a May 10 announcement “where I’ll share my vision for Florida’s future.” Unless that vision involves raising millions of dollars for yearsonly not to run for governor, we know what he’ll say.

GA-Gov: Over the weekend, GOP Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle kicked off his long-awaited run for governor of Georgia. And it was very long awaited: Cagle planned to run the last time this seat was open in 2010 but sought re-election instead, citing back problems. Cagle has plenty of connections from his three terms in office, but he won’t have the primary to himself by any means. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sen. Hunter Hill announced they were in before Cagle, and many others are considering. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Greg Bluestein, Cagle’s team is keeping a particularly close eye on two potential primary rivals, ex-Rep. Jack Kingston, who narrowly lost a 2014 Senate primary runoff, and well-connected state and national political operative Nick Ayers.  

IA-Gov: Democratic state Rep. Chris Hall has been mentioned as a possible candidate before, and he tells the Sioux City Journal that he is considering. However, Hall also says he’s mulling bids for other statewide office and for the state Senate, and he could ultimately run for re-election to his Sioux City-area seat. (The one thing Hall did rule out was a bid against GOP Rep. Steve King.) If Hall runs for governor, he’ll join what is likely to be a crowded primary.

Another Democratic state legislator also publicly expressed interest for the first time in recent days. Iowa Starting Line reported about a month ago that state Sen. Nate Boulton, who represents a Des Moines-area seat, was being encouraged to run by his colleagues in the chamber, and Boulton tells Starting Line that he is thinking about it. Boulton is close to both labor and trial lawyers, which could be a huge asset in a primary.

Pat Rynard also notes that Boulton, a labor lawyer, forcefully spoke out against the GOP’s drive against collective bargaining, and he attracted the attention of Democrats across the state. However, Boulton only won elected office for the first time last year, and Rynard says that there are some Iowa Democrats who are skeptical he should aim for a promotion so quickly.

MD-Gov: On Friday, Democratic state Sen. Richard Madaleno announced that he would run for governor against GOP incumbent Larry Hogan. Madaleno, who hails from suburban D.C.’s Montgomery County, became Maryland’s first openly gay legislator when he was elected in 2006. The Baltimore Sun recently described Madaleno as perhaps Hogan’s “most outspoken critic in the General Assembly.” Baltimore tech entrepreneur Alec Ross is the only other notable declared Democratic candidate, but plenty of other Old Line State politicians are considering.

House

FL-27: Longtime GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Sunday retirement announcement came as a huge surprise, but it took almost no time for several Miami-area politicians on both sides of the aisle to express interest in her seat. And the already long list of prospective candidates only got larger on Monday. Florida’s 27th District swung from an already strong 53-46 Obama all the way to 59-39 Clinton, making it the bluest GOP-held seat in the House. Republicans still do well downballot here, but Team Red is going to want a nominee who can convincingly separate themselves from Trump.

One potential candidate is ex-Miami-Dade County school board member Raquel Regalado, the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. Regalado, a self-described moderate, tells Politico that she is considering. However, Regalado says she’ll need to ask the NRCC if the national party would “stand behind a moderate?” A few other new Republicans also say they’re interested. State Sen. Anitere Flores and state Rep. Jeanette Núñez both tell Politico they’ll consider after the legislative session ends Friday.

On the Democratic side, the Miami Herald has one new name. Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales says he’s “still processing” Ros-Lehtinen’s decision. State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez previously said he would decide after the session ends, and Politico writes that unnamed state Democratic insiders “quickly began talking up” his chances. Those insiders note that much of Rodriguez’s seat is in the district, and that he has a history of winning tough races.

IL-14: Located in greater Chicago’s western exurbs, Democrats had drawn Illinois’ 14th District to quarantine hostile Republican voters, but after the well-educated district swung from 54-44 Romney to just 49-45 Trump, GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren could be targeted in 2018. High school teacher and Navy veteran Victor Swanson recently became the first Democrat to jump into the race, although it’s unclear if the first-time candidate has the skills and connections needed for such an uphill race. At the very least, Swanson might be able to get some fundraising help thanks to his famous brother Andy Richter, a comedian and actor who is best known for his longtime collaborations with late-night TV host Conan O’Brien.

KY-06: Ever since he narrowly unseated Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler in 2012, Kentucky GOP Rep. Andy Barr has won re-election without much trouble in his Lexington-area seat. The 6th District backed Romney 56-42 and Trump 55-39, so it’s far from the most competitive seat in America. Still, 2015 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conwaywon the 6th 49-46 while he was losing statewide 53-44, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray carried it 52-48 while he was losing his 2016 Senate bid to GOP incumbent Rand Paul 57-43, so it may be gettable in a good Democratic year.

State Democrats have a few prospective candidates in mind to go up against Barr. According to state party chair Sannie Overly, Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath is considering. All McGrath would say is that, until she retires from active duty on June 1, she can’t comment. McGrath is a former fighter pilot who flew 85 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and she is finishing a stint as a U.S. Naval Academy instructor. McGrath also worked as a foreign policy advisor to California Democratic Rep. Susan Davis, who spoke well of her to CNHI news.

There are a few other local Democrats who could get in. State Rep. James Kay told theLexington Herald-Leader that he’s “not ruling it out, but I wouldn’t say I’m considering it at this point.” Just after Election Day, Gray did not rule out a House bid, though he hasn’t said anything since then. The Herald-Leader also mentions Kentucky Sports Radio founder Matt Jones, who flirted with a 2016 bid but passed, and ex-state Rep. Leslie Combs, but neither has expressed any public interest. Overly, who is herself a state representative, could also run, though it sounds like she’s looking for other candidates. A party spokesman told the paper that Overly has not expressed interest, which isn’t quite a no.

TX-32: Ed Meier recently became the second noteworthy Democrat to join the race against Republican Rep. Pete Sessions in the 32nd District, a highly educated suburban northern-Dallas seat that lurched from 57-42 Romney to 49-47 Clinton. Meier is a former Hillary Clinton staffer who had served as the co-executive director of what was supposed to be her transition team, but had since been talked up as a potential challenger to Sessions in a district that national Democrats hope to put into play in 2018.

This district is historically quite red downballot despite narrowly rejecting Trump, and 11-term incumbent Sessions will likely not be an easy target. Nonetheless, Democrats are eager to oppose him in 2018, and ex-Tennessee Titans football player and current civil rights lawyer Colin Allred already announced his candidacy in April.

UT-03: Y2 Analytics gives us our first look at a hypothetical Republican primary after GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced his surprise retirement and possible early resignation in this staunchly Republican Provo-area district. Their recent survey places Utah Valley University President Matt Holland out front with 38 percent, followed by former congressional aide Evan McMullin at 27, state House Speaker Greg Hughes at 10, and no other candidate topping double digits. However, Holland has so far shown no sign of interest in running, and in another matchup that swaps him out for Provo Mayor John Curtis, McMullin leads with 33, followed by Curtis at 21 and Hughes at 13.

Unfortunately for McMullin, his early standing is likely a considerable function of his higher name recognition stemming from his independent presidential campaign in 2016, an advantage that won’t persist after would-be rivals start running ads. McMullin lost this district to Trump 47-24, with Clinton actually coming in third at 23 percent, and while this poll finds he is the most well-known of the potential Republican candidates, he’s also one of the least-liked. No prominent Republicans have officially joined the race yet, but McMullin and Curtis are both openly considering it, while Hughes hasn’t ruled it out and a handful of others have expressed interest in running.

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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