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8:42 AM PT:Special Elections: We already have our first legislative special elections of the new year! Johnny Longtorso, naturally, has the scoop for Tuesday's races:

California SD-04: Newly-elected Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa resigned this seat in anticipation of winning a seat in the House of Representatives. The candidates are Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, a Republican, and three-time Assembly candidate Mickey Harrington, a Democrat. Nielsen came close to winning the seat outright in the primary; he got 49.8% to Harrington's 27.7%.

Georgia HD-21: This is an open Republican seat north of the Atlanta metro area. The candidates are three Republicans, Brian Laurens, Kenneth Ashley Mimbs, and Scot Turner (all business types, apparently, and Turner lost the primary for this seat in July), and one Democrat, Natalie Bergeron, an attorney. This one will go to a runoff if nobody wins a majority.

(There are also a couple of specials for Georgia Senate seats, but one is an R-on-R affair, and one is five Republicans and a Libertarian.)

Mississippi HD-59: This is an open Republican seat in Rankin County. The race is officially nonpartisan, but Scott Allen, a trucking company owner, Bradley Lum, a former college baseball player and law student, and Brent Powell, a real estate agent, are all Republicans. Benny Hubbard, an insurance company owner and Army reservist, doesn't have a party listed on his website.

10:16 AM PT: CT-Gov: This is fun. Last week, when I saw that 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley—who's been considering a rematch practically since the moment he lost—said in a new interview "I would have had the best chance of winning if I had a woman as a running mate," I knew things weren't going to end well. For one, that kind of naked "I know how to get women's votes! I'll tap a woman as my no. 2!" calculation not only doesn't work but is just as apt to backfire (see Sarah Palin). But more cutting, I figured, would be the response of Mark Boughton, Foley's actual LG nominee. Foley did make sure to call Boughton an "excellent" candidate, but that didn't seem to appease him:

Trust me Tom, not having a woman on the ticket was the least of your problems...

@MayorMark via rowi for Windows Phone
It's only January of 2013 and already the 2014 cat fud is flying. I know that Dem Gov. Dan Malloy's had his ups-and-downs, but lately his approvals have been improving, and I'm having a hard time seeing Foley doing better than his 2010-powered 6,404-vote loss.

10:34 AM PT: MS-04: Among the most offensive votes against Hurricane Sandy relief funds last week belonged to GOP Rep. Steven Palazzo, and Tom Kludt at Talking Points Memo explains exactly why. Not only was Palazzo's hometown of Biloxi devastated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and not only was the region the recipient of massive amounts of federal aid, but Palazzo himself lobbied for more federal money at the time, in his capacity as Deputy Director of the Biloxi Housing Authority! I mean, up here in the tri-state region, we figured we practically invented the very notion of chutzpah—but evidently, Rep. Palazzo has a lot more to teach us. So, buddy, when ya visitin'?

10:56 AM PT: NJ-Sen: Looks like Corey Booker is giving up on the whole "politely waiting for Frank Lautenberg to retire" idea. Newark's mayor said on CNN on Monday morning that New Jersey's 88-year-old senior senator has "got a decision to make," which is the kind of statement that's so obvious that you only make it if you're trying to kick someone in the rear. While Booker initially tried to give off the impression that he was going to accord Lautenberg all the time and respect in the world, a recent story in Buzzfeed (mostly based on blind quotes) indicated that the Democratic establishment is pissed at Booker for jumping the gun. So perhaps Booker figures that if the egos he was trying to stroke are ticked off anyway, he might as well start tapping the accelerator and seeing what happens.

11:18 AM PT: MT-Sen: This sounds like good news for Dem Sen. Max Baucus (which is why I'm filing this under "MT-Sen"): Former Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who just lost last year's Senate contest to Jon Tester, says he's done with politics after a thirty-year career. Rehberg claims that before he entered the race against Tester, he'd decided he'd either seek higher office or retire from Congress altogether—though I guess he got door no. 2 via door no. 1, the worst of all possible worlds.

I'll never really understand that kind of decision-making (if you want to quit, why would you willingly take on more?), but anyhow I'm sure Rehberg, only 57, will have plenty of lucrative opportunities in his future. He started off his career as a lobbyist, after all, and he was attacked repeatedly in 2012 for calling lobbying an "honorable" profession. Now he can follow his own advice: "If I had been smart I would have said, ‘nope, no, I think I’ll stay out of the political arena and go into lobbying.'" Yet despite all his flaws, Rehberg would have been a tough opponent for Baucus, so I'm more than happy to say... seeya!

11:52 AM PT: WATN?: Looks like Ed Martin is failing upwards—or at least, sideways: After losing a race for the House in 2010 (against good ol' Rusty Carnahan) and another race in 2012 (for state attorney general), the attorney and tea partier narrowly ousted the incumbent chair of the Missouri GOP, David Cole, and will now assume the top spot himself. Cole had almost unanimous establishment backing, but after the miserable year suffered by state Republicans, Martin managed to edge him out. We'll see if Martin's particular brand of crazy will harm his party, but it may not matter, given how red the state ordinarily is. And Martin certainly doesn't lack for energy, but if he does well in his new job, he'd probably be the first tea party insurgent to be successful in such a position.

11:58 AM PT: House: This is verging on "not DKE territory," but I figure it's worth highlighting before it fades into the history books. Roll Call reports that the comically inept "coup" to oust Boehner (or, it seems, merely force a second ballot on the speakership vote) was actually larger than first thought. Organizers knew they needed 17 defections in order to prompt a second round of voting but wanted 25, as an insurance policy. Apparently, one member got cold feet at the last moment, leading this haphazard coalition to break apart on the House floor. (In the end, only 10 Republicans voted for someone other than Boehner, and two didn't vote at all.) Jonathan Strong has more details on the whole embarrassing episode at the link.

12:21 PM PT: PPP's PA-Gov poll is up. More shortly.

1:02 PM PT (David Jarman): PA-Gov: Here's an interesting turnaround: a few years ago, it seemed like John Kasich and Scott Walker were the midwestern Republican freshman governors whose days were numbered, while Rick Snyder and Tom Corbett evaded most of the scrutiny and were out of the crosshairs. Well, those positions have certainly gotten reversed in the last year, and if you needed to see some numbers to go with that slice of conventional wisdom, Public Policy Polling is out with some preliminary PA-Gov '14 numbers.

Corbett's approvals are down to 38/52 overall (he was at 33/44 in PPP's last pre-election poll, so while he has better approvals, he's also further underwater this time). He also fares rather sketchily against potential Democratic opponents in hypothetical 2014 head-to-heads. The only one he outright loses to is ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, but that's largely because Rendell is the only Dem with name rec (47/43 favorables) that matches Corbett's.

The more important number here may be 42%, which is the number that Corbett never breaks against any of the other candidates, a bad place to be if undecideds are going to break in the Dems' direction. (A quick glance at the crosstabs confirms this; for instance, in the Corbett/Rob McCord matchup, 30% of the "not sures" are Democrats, but only 15% are Republicans.) Here's the full array of names:

• 40-46 vs. ex-Gov. Ed Rendell

• 42-42 vs. AG Kathleen Kane

• 41-37 vs. ex-Sec. of Environmental Protection John Hanger

• 41-35 vs. Treasurer Rob McCord

• 41-38 vs. Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter

• 41-34 vs. Rep. Allyson Schwartz

• 42-36 vs. ex-Rep. Joe Sestak

• 41-29 vs. businessman Tom Wolf

(Corbett trailed Generic Dem 47-37 in that early November poll; Generic D didn't get tested this time.)

The timing of this poll is particularly interesting, given Corbett's recent role in a lawsuit challenging the NCAA over its sanctions of Penn State's football program, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal (something that we tore into on Friday, in terms of its legal merit). In terms of political merit, though, the lawsuit isn't weighing Corbett further down: PPP finds that 52% of the state's voters support the lawsuit, while 34% are opposed. That's because 62% of respondents think the sanctions against PSU were too strict, with 27% saying 'about right' and 8% saying too lenient.

Of course, that's seen through the lens of athletic partisanship: of the 49% of respondents who are Penn St. fans, they support the lawsuit 63-23. The 51% who are non-Penn St. fans oppose the lawsuit 45-41. (Political partisanship seems to weigh on how voters see the lawsuit as well, though; for instance, among Obama voters, the lawsuit has 15/65 approval, while among Romney voters, it has 42/33 approval.)

Nevertheless, the lawsuit doesn't seem to be a big difference maker for Corbett's fortunes: despite the lawsuit, his overall approval numbers for how he's handled the Penn St. situation are still only 27 approve and 50 disapprove. And bear in mind that Corbett's numbers didn't start to tank with the Penn St. scandal, but started to fall earlier than that, with the draconian round of education cuts that he pushed. The fact that his disapprovals have continued to get worse since November suggest that -- even if the lawsuit, by itself, is a political plus for him -- it doesn't look like the lawsuit will be that much of a life preserver for him on the whole.


2:20 PM PT: NM-Sen: Here's another ex-Republican member of Congress who's also saying "no mas": Heather Wilson, who lost Senate bids in 2008 (in the primary) and 2012 (in the general), after representing New Mexico's 1st District for five terms. Once again, I'm slotting this—like the MT-Sen bullet above—under the "Senate" heading, simply because Democrat Tom Udall is up for re-election in 2014, and if Wilson were going to run again, I figure that would be her most likely option. But she ain't, and it's not clear that New Mexico Republicans have much of a bench. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, maybe?

2:42 PM PT: IL-14: This is a little thin, but hey, I'll take it: Crain's Chicago Business reports (based on, it seems, little more than "buzz," "talk," and "speculation") that ex-Rep. Joe Walsh might seek a path back to Congress via Illinois' 14th Congressional District... currently occupied by fellow GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren. If that sounds disturbingly familiar, well, it's because Walsh spent a good chunk of 2011 running against Hultgren in the primary after their districts were mashed together by Democratic mapmakers. But Walsh, rather surprisingly, changed gears opted to seek re-election in the remnants of his own district, the 8th, even though it was far too blue for him to have a prayer. (He may have done better than Mitt Romney, but Tammy Duckworth still beat him by 10 points.)

Reportedly, Walsh switched races because John Boehner offered to back his play against Duckworth to the tune of $3.5 million, a promise that seemed impossible to believe at the time, to avoid a showdown with Hultgren. (Oddly, though, Walsh did wind up getting millions in outside help from a the conservative Now or Never PAC, but it still wasn't enough.)

Now, though, Walsh is a free agent and faces fewer institutional obstacles if he were to throw down against Hultgren once more. During the brief lifespan of their first tangle together, things got very nasty very quickly, so I'm sure we'd get to sit back and enjoy some hellfire if this matchup came about. Anyhow, be on the lookout for a possible announcement from Walsh on Wednesday, though he's being coy. Here's hoping!

2:59 PM PT: MA-Gov, -Sen: Steve Grossman, this is your only warning! Massachusetts' Democratic state treasurer says he's "leaning strongly" toward a gubernatorial run... which means that unless and until I hear a clear "yes" or "no" from him in the future, this'll be the first and last time I write about his plans in the Digest—all these tea leaves are making me allergic. Grossman is also apparently thinking about the Senate special election expected later this year, but really, man, time's just about up for getting into that contest. In a previous interview about his political future, Grossman said, "I consider myself to be a fairly decisive person." Good! Now please stick to that.

In any event, while plenty of other names loom, the other candidate most likely enter the race is Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who said on Monday that he does not have a timetable for an announcement. So into the Grossman bucket you go, buddy! We'll see you both when you've got something concrete for us.

3:45 PM PT: MA-Sen: An interesting tidbit from UMN: "It has been more than 50 years since a state has held three Senate elections in three consecutive years or four Senate contests over a five-year span." Massachusetts, though, is on track to do just that, assuming John Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State. Of course, a big part of the reason for this streak is that few states conduct Senate specials in odd-numbered years, with most waiting to fill seats at the next regularly-scheduled (even-year) general election.

4:10 PM PT: FreedomWorks: The lunatic FreedomWorks saga has become so bizarre I'm no longer going to try to summarize it, so if you want the latest, head on over to Mother Jones (which scored a copy of the proposed book contract they say triggered the meltdown) and Media Matters (which is touting an exclusive interview with Dick Armey in which he rags on his former organization for paying Glenn Beck a million bucks a year to do nothing).

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