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Leading Off:

SC-Sen-B: In a major shocker, the Wall Street Journal broke the news on Thursday morning that South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint will resign in January to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative DC think-tank. While DeMint had previously said he had no plans to seek a third term in 2016, he was only re-elected two years ago, so this news comes as a serious surprise, particularly since there had been no prior hints that he might bail.

DeMint had long fancied himself a conservative kingmaker, meddling in many Republican primaries by means of his outside activist organization, the Senate Conservatives Fund. That had often set him at odds with GOP leadership, who viewed the SCF in the same way they might view the Club for Growth: a group devoted to making it harder for more electable Republicans to win their party's nomination.

But the fact that DeMint was himself Senator rankled his fellow members of Congress even more, to the point that he had to promise he would stop trying to unseat incumbents—a promise he apparently broke earlier this year when SCF transferred $500,000 to the Club at the precise moment they were (successfully) trying to nuke Dick Lugar in Indiana.

Now DeMint will have a much freer hand to interfere in GOP internal politics as it suits him, though Heritage is surely not immune to political pressure either. Still, it's easy to imagine how this kind of free agency would appeal to DeMint. And the job may appeal to his pocketbook as well: The outgoing chief of the Heritage Foundation earns a cool $1 million a year. That's quite the upgrade for DeMint, whose $40,000 net worth made him one of the least-wealthy members of Congress.

So what happens next? Continue reading below the fold.

First, GOP Gov. Nikki Haley will appoint a temporary replacement. That person will serve until 2014, when a special election for the final two years of DeMint's term will be held, to coincide with the state's regularly-scheduled general election. Of course, there will be a ton of scrambling over that appointment, and whoever gets tapped could very well face a competitive primary. Haley could also name a caretaker who promises not to seek election, which would instigate an even wilder free-for-all.

It's also important to note that South Carolina's other Senate seat is also up for re-election in 2014. There'd already been a lot of chatter about a possible GOP primary challenge to Sen. Lindsey Graham, but now hopefuls will have to think about whether they want to go up a two-term senator (tougher) but for a six-year term (more rewarding), which is what a run against Graham would involve. If they go for DeMint seat, it would mean facing an appointee (easier) or perhaps an open seat (easiest of all) but for a two-year term (obviously less rewarding) which would then require them to run for a full six-year term just two years later (in 2016, when the seat would ordinarily be up).

Some observers think DeMint's move might save Graham's bacon because would-be senate candidates will find the former race more appealing than the latter, but that's no sure thing. And if a ton of big names start piling into the DeMint seat, other folks might opt for Graham as an easier route.

In the meantime, all eyes will be on Haley—and as we've seen in recent years, Senate succession drama can be intense indeed. (Just think about New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois, for instance. Hell, one governor wound up getting impeached as a direct result of his appointment mess!) The State suggests she could tap Rep. Tim Scott (SC-01), who just won a second term last month. Scott is apparently DeMint's preferred choice, and he'd become the only African American in the Senate. Other possibilities include Reps. Mick Mulvaney (SC-05) and Trey Gowdy (SC-04), who were also both first elected in 2010. (And if Haley taps a member of the House, that'll trigger another special election in turn.)

Other possibilities, according to the paper, include naming someone like former state AG Henry McMaster as a placeholder, or, even more intriguing, Haley resigning and having Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell appoint her to the seat. The State makes that possibility sound unlikely, but Democrats may find themselves rooting for it, since governors who appoint themselves to the Senate have historically performed very poorly when seeking election. (Indeed, only one of the nine who've done this has subsequently won at the ballot box: Kentucky's Happy Chandler, in the early '40s.)

Later in the day on Thursday came a whole host of further updates:

• Gov. Nikki Haley says she will not appoint herself.

• The Atlantic's Molly Ball says an unnamed source tells her AG Henry McMaster is not interested in a caretaker appointment.

• A nameless South Carolina Republican tells TPM that Haley is considering Chad Walldorf as a possible placeholder. Walldorf is the founder of Sticky Fingers, a regional chain of barbecue restaurants.

• The Hotline's Reid Wilson runs through a long list of names of potential appointees, though all of these folks could also conceivably run in 2014 as well: state Rep. Nathan Ballentine (a Haley confidante), ex-Rep. Gresham Barrett (an establishment type who lost to Haley in the 2010 GOP primary, getting smoked in the runoff), Rep. Joe Wilson (of "you lie!") infamy), AG Alan Wilson (his son), David Wilkins (a major Republican fundraiser and Dubya's ambassador to Canada), former state party chair Katon Dawson, and Haley's deputy chief of staff Tedd Pitts.

• Dawson confirmed his interest to The Hill, and another Haley ally, state Rep. Ralph Norman, also says he'd like the job.

• Wilson adds that Rep. Tim Scott, supposedly DeMint's favorite, is apparently more interested in becoming governor some day. (Through a spokesman, DeMint denies pushing for anyone.) It's also worth noting that Scott was just named to a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee; last week, Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin cited that very same thing as a reason why he won't run for Senate, so maybe that's on Scott's mind, too.

USA Today mentions two more names: state Sen. Tom Davis and Treasurer Curtis Loftis. Davis has been publicly mulling a run against Lindsey Graham.

Needless to say, no matter how you slice it, this is some seriously major news—and as always, we'll be following future developments very closely indeed. And one housekeeping note: From this point forward, we'll be referring to the Graham race as "SC-Sen-A" and the DeMint race as "SC-Sen-B."

Senate:

LA-Sen: In a new piece on the Louisiana Senate race, Roll Call's Joshua Miller talks with a few different analysts and locals who confirm that Rep. Bill Cassidy (LA-06) remains the establishment choice to take on Dem Sen. Mary Landrieu. But he may not clear the field: Cassidy's office isn't saying anything, but an unnamed aide to Rep. John Fleming (LA-04) says that he's considering a Senate run himself. And yet another congressman, Jeff Landry, could also make a bid, whether he wins or loses the LA-03 runoff on Saturday.

Speaking of runoffs, though, that's exactly what Republicans have to contend with in the Landrieu race as well. If two or more legitimate GOP candidates get in, then there's almost no way that Landrieu can be defeated in the first round, since a runoff can only be avoided if one person gets over 50 percent of the vote. And since Democrats will, of course, rally around their senator, Landrieu is all but guaranteed a spot in the second round. (After all, Obama did manage to get 41 percent here—a slight improvement, actually, from the 40 he took in 2008.)

But while Dems would love to see Republicans beat the hell out of each other and emerge wounded in Nov. 2014 with just a month-long sprint to the runoff, a low-turnout affair would seem to benefit them. However, in 2002, the GOP found itself in very much that position and salivated at the prospect of knocking off Landrieu that December. Indeed, Republican operatives reportedly called the race "Operation Icing on the Cake," after they'd walloped Democrats in the November mid-terms. But Landrieu proved to be a very adept campaigner and defeated state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell 52-48, so I definitely would not count her out.

Gubernatorial:

KY-Gov: Dem AG Jack Conway confirms in a new interview that he's considering a possible gubernatorial run 2015, but he also added that he's probably not interested in joining someone else's ticket as LG. Of course, you have to say that if you want to be taken seriously, but local reporter Ryan Alessi points out that former Auditor Crit Luallen, a Conway ally, is also looking at a bid, and Conway, just 43, could conceivably serve as her second fiddle.

State Auditor Adam Edelen says that he, too, is weighing a run for governor, though he's even younger than Conway (38) and is only serving his first term in office. It also sounds like Edelen is not interested in challenged GOP Rep.-elect Andy Barr in KY-06, though he suggested SoS Allison Lundergan Grimes as a possible candidate. Considering that Grimes is a potential statewide rival, though, I'd guess Edelen would be happy to see her pursue a Congressional bid instead.

ME-Gov: GOP Gov. Paul LePage has always had a serious temper, but now he really seems like he's losing it. At a swearing-in ceremony for members of the legislature on Wednesday, LePage went out of his way to spazz about a tracker the Democratic Party has hired to record him at public events. These weren't some off-the-cuff remarks to reporters milling about afterward, mind you—LePage directly brought this up in his speech:

"I'm very distinguished. I've been honored to have a private paparazzi paid for by the Democratic Party," LePage said before swearing in the new Senate, joking that the party should have hired a Mainer — rather than someone from Massachusetts — for the job.

"I think it's vulgar, I think it's vicious, and I think it's vile to me and my family," he said. "I say that to you, for the lack of respect that the office of the governor of the state of Maine is receiving. Having said that, we have to go to work. I want to work with each and every one of you."

Afterwards, several Republican lawmakers openly criticized LePage on the record for marring the day with this kind of petty grousing—and for potentially alienating allies. (Democrats just retook both chambers last month.)

While we're on the topic, local Republican analyst Dan Demeritt says that ex-Gov. John Baldacci is considering a comeback bid, but only if Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree both pass on the race. Baldacci was never terribly popular, winning re-election in 2006 with just 38 percent of the vote in a typical Maine three-way contest, but after Michaud and Pingree, he probably has the highest name recognition of any Democrat in the state.

MI-Gov: With GOP Gov. Rick Snyder pushing ahead with plans to institute anti-worker and anti-union "right-to-work" laws in Michigan, one prominent Democrat is stepping up to confront him: Rep. Gary Peters. Ordinarily, it wouldn't be news when a Dem goes after a Republican on legislative matters, but Snyder is, of course, dealing with a state matter and Peters is a federal official, so it's a bit notable that Peters is sticking his neck out on this one. Says Peters: "[W]e will never stop fighting against this unprecedented and reckless action by Gov. Snyder."

Earlier this year, Peters prevailed in a member-vs.-member primary against fellow Rep. Hansen Clarke; thanks to redistricting, Peters' old 9th District seat was mostly eviscerated, making the 14th his best bet. Peters won a convincing victory, taking 47 percent in a crowded five-way field to Clarke's 35—all the more noteworthy since the 14th is a majority-black district and Peters is white (Clarke is African-American). Peters did run statewide once before, losing the 2002 AG contest by an agonizing 0.17 percent after getting termed out of the state Senate. But with three successful House campaigns now under his belt, he may be ready to move up to the governor's race.

P.S. A new EPIC-MRA poll (PDF) has some of the best numbers for Snyder he's seen in a long time. His 55-32 favorability rating is by far the highest he's seen in over a year. He does, however, have a big gap between his personal favorables and his job approval score, which stands at just 45-53. But that, too, is Snyder's best tally in quite some time.

NE-Gov: Wow: State House Speaker Mike Flood is ending his (very brief) campaign for governor because his wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Flood was set for a bruising fight in the GOP primary with Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, so now it remains to be seen whether anyone else will come forward, or whether Sheehy will have a clear path to the nomination. (Current Gov. Dave Heineman is term-limited out and has endorsed Sheehy.)

NJ-Gov: PolitickerNJ has a remarkably detailed article on what seems like, on the surface, should be a pretty simple proposition: a Democratic gubernatorial primary between South Jersey-based state Senate president Steve Sweeney and North Jersey-based former state Senate president (and former acting Gov.) Richard Codey. But the piece painstakingly goes through all Sweeney's and Codey's legislative allies and their standings with various county-level machine players. It's pretty cliché to turn anything Jersey-related into a Sopranos reference, but it really feels like a look at the feltboard with the photos and strings tacked to it, showing the flowcharts of the feuding families. (David Jarman)

House:

IL-02: In the previous Digest, we mentioned that state Sen. Donne Trotter, a candidate in the Democratic primary to replace ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., was—remarkably—arrested at O'Hare Airport when he tried to bring a gun and bullets through security. Trotter is now explaining that he had forgotten he'd placed the weapon and ammunition in his bag after working late at his other job... as a security guard. Now, I know most state legislators work part-time and often hold down other jobs, but I'm a little surprised to hear that a well-connected state senator running for Congress moonlights as an armed guard.

P.S. The Hotline's Julie Sobel has a good roundup of who's in, who's out, and who's still considering a run. The filing deadline is in early January, but we've already heard from most of the likely contenders, though a handful of potentials still remain. Click through for the full list.

Other Races:

VA-LG: State Sen. Ralph Northam became the second Democrat to make a bid for Virginia's lieutenant governorship on Thursday, joining former White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. (The seat is open because the current LG, Republican Bill Bolling, isn't seeking re-election.) A huge pile of Republicans are also already in the race; thankfully, the Washington Post has a roundup of all the names:

Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a former delegate and state senator; Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William; state Sen. Stephen H. Martin of Chesterfield; Pete Snyder, a technology entrepreneur and former Fox news commentator; Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors; Susan Stimpson, chairwoman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors; and E.W. Jackson, a Chesapeake minister who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in this year’s U.S. Senate race.
The post is unusually important at this juncture in Virginia politics: The state Senate is currently split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats, and the LG gets to break ties. Bolling cast a record 28 tie-breaking votes in the last session, and since senators aren't up for re-election until 2015, if Democrats can win this seat, they'd also take back the Senate.

Grab Bag:

Maps: I've seen lots of visualizations of the 2012 election results, but this may be my favorite from Princeton Prof. Robert Vanderbei. By using 3-D imaging and combining it with a scaled red/blue percentage, he's managed to find a way to show the impact of density (something that's missing from most maps) while still preserving the shape of the country and the ability to identify particular counties (which is missing from cartograms). Plus, it just looks cool, with the smallest, densest counties forming giant blue skyscrapers towering over the rest of the country. (Though it's still not perfect, as, thanks to a trick-of-the-eye, it still seems to overstate the importance of geographically tiny places like San Francisco and Denver while understating the importance of physically large counties with huge vote counts, like Los Angeles and Miami-Dade.) (David Jarman)

Pres-by-CD: County results are slowly trickling in at SSP Labs (a division of Daily Kos Elections), which gives us presidential results for nine new districts today:

California (CA-09, CA-10, CA-23)

Florida (FL-02, FL-03)

Illinois (IL-11, IL-14)

Michigan (MI-05, MI-10)

In California, we see that Republican Ricky Gill had quite the (unsuccessful) uphill climb, seeing as Obama pulled almost 58 percent in CA-09. There were also quite a few Obama-Denham voters, given that Obama won CA-10 by more than 3 points. Meanwhile, in Illinois, with IL-11 results, the power of the Madiganmander has really shown through: Obama got between 57 and 58 percent in each of the four Dem pickups! The Michigan results are unsurprising, as the dropoff from 2008 remains clear.

Finally, we have results from FL-02 and FL-03. We'd been a bit skeptical of Al Lawson's chances against incumbent GOPer Steve Southerland: After all, what would a Romney-Lawson voter look like? Indeed, there may not have been any at all: While Lawson outran Obama by about half a percentage point, as wwmiv points out, he actually received fewer raw votes than the president.

Perhaps more significantly, this allows us to happily close the books on Florida, which was a sizable endeavor. The Florida map splits 21 counties; few states that don't have a central precinct reporting system split more. That means we had to manually collect precinct-level data for each of these 21 counties, which is no easy task. (You can look at the various types of data upon which we relied by downloading this ZIP file.)

This brings us to 192 districts calculated (or 44 percent of the total). States continue to certify their results, and we plan to keep bringing you our calculations shortly thereafter. And as always, you can find out complete list of presidential results by congressional district here. (jeffmd)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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