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8:40 AM PT: Special Elections: There's one legislative special coming up on Tuesday night. Here's Johnny:

Iowa HD-52: This is an open Dem seat in northern Iowa, consisting of Chickashaw, Floyd, and part of Cerro Gordo Counties. (It looks like it was about 55-56% Obama last year.) The previous incumbent had won 71-29 against independent Craig Clark in November. The candidates are attorney Todd Prichard for the Democrats, insurance company owner Dennis Litterer for the Republicans, and the aforementioned Craig Clark running again as an independent.

10:15 AM PT: VA Redistricting: Well, it turns out you miss some stuff if you take off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day/Inauguration Day—particularly if someone is trying to take advantage of the double celebration to sneak things past you. That's what Virginia Republicans did on Monday, though, ramming through a new version of the state Senate map on a 20-19 party line vote with minimal debate. Virginia, like almost every other state, already conducted decennial redistricting in 2011 (following the release of new census data), but at the time, Democrats still held a majority in the Senate and lines nominally favorable to them were drawn. But the map wasn't very good, and Dems wound up losing control of the chamber that November, with the GOP able to cement power despite each party holding 20 seats because Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would break all ties in their favor (something he's done a record number of times).

Of course, why should that be enough for Virginia Republicans when they can have even more majority! Thus came Monday's re-redistricting effort, which passed without Bolling because Dem state Sen. Henry Marsh was in DC for Barack Obama's second inauguration. (I told you the whole Inauguration Day thing was deliberate.) It's not entirely clear exactly what havoc the proposed new lines will wreak, but you can be sure they will only help Republicans. In the main, they appear to pack African American voters into a sixth majority-minority district in the rural southern part of the state, which would make surrounding districts less competitive and thus more likely to favor the GOP.

But there is some good news here: It's no sure thing that this new map will see the light of day. Thanks to Virginia's toughest-in-the-nation single-term limit, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell can't seek re-election this fall, and is thus a lot more immune to classic forms of pressure than he might otherwise be. He also likely has his eye on the presidency, which is why he criticized his own party in the wake of the vote, saying "I certainly don't think that's a good way to do business." McDonnell hasn't said whether he'd veto the plan, but right now, his silence speaks volumes.

There are also legal angles to consider. In particular, Virginia Democrats are quite insistent that the state constitution forbids mid-decade redistricting and are promising to sue. First, though, the state House would have to pass the new legislation, though the body is firmly in GOP control and presumably that won't be a problem. But McDonnell would also have to sign it into law, and that, of course, remains an open question. Whatever happens, though, we'll be following all further developments of this power grab very closely.

10:18 AM PT: P.S. Democratic strategist Kenton Ngo has worked up some actual maps based on the text of the legislation. (And that's another sign of underhandedness: only releasing a description of new lines, rather than proper maps.)

11:10 AM PT: ME-Gov: PPP's new Maine poll has news that's both encouraging and depressing for Democrats hoping to get rid of the odious Paul LePage. First, the good news: LePage is one of the most unpopular governors in the country, with a miserable 39-55 job approval rating. The bad news, though, is pretty bad: If independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who allowed LePage to eke out a narrowly plurality win in 2010 thanks to his second-place finish, were to run again... the same thing would happen again. Here are the results of various three-way trial heats with LePage, Cutler, and various Democrats:

• LePage 34, Michaud 30, Cutler 26

• LePage 37, Pingree 31, Cutler 23

• LePage 36, Cutler 29, Baldacci 27

• LePage 37, Cutler 32, Mills 19

• LePage 37, Cutler 32, Strimling 15


The best Team Blue can do is second place, which is where Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree both wind up. Other options—ex-Gov. John Baldacci, Attorney General Janet Mills, and ex-state Sen. Ethan Strimling—fare worse, and I should point out that none of these would-be candidates are actually running at present. What's so teeth-gnashy about this is how badly LePage performs in one-on-one scenarios:

• 36-57 vs. Michaud

• 38-53 vs. Baldacci

• 40-53 vs. Pingree

• 41-49 vs. Cutler


Tom Jensen says that Democrats either have to pray Cutler doesn't run, or rally around him as they did with Angus King's Senate bid last year and put forward an exceptionally weak nominee who doesn't split enough of the vote to make a difference. But I can't say I like plan B very much: For one, it allows Cutler to play hostage-taking politics with the Democratic Party, and for another, Cutler is actually the weakest possible opponent for LePage, according to these numbers. He doesn't have King's pedigree and profile, and even if Dems nominate an utter Some Dude, the race would still look pretty much like a tossup.

I'm more hopeful that a Michaud candidacy could persuade Cutler to pursue Plan A: sit out and let Democrats wreck shop. Indeed, Michaud has exceptional statewide favorables at 58-23 and, as you can see, a head-to-head would be no contest. Unfortunately, Michaud hasn't given much indication he's interested, and I wonder if he'd have a slightly difficult time in a hypothetical primary, given his conservative views on some issues like abortion. Here's what PPP found in a kitchen-sink environment:

John Baldacci: 28

Chellie Pingree: 21

Mike Michaud: 19

Emily Cain: 6

Janet Mills: 4

Jeremy Fischer: 2

Ethan Strimling: 3

Steve Woods: 0

Other/undecided: 16

Obviously, a field like this would never take shape—certainly I can't imagine Pingree and Michaud running against one another. But I'm a little surprised to see Baldacci, who was never terribly popular, in the lead, even if only narrowly; his favorables are underwater at 40-46, but among Dems, he's at 62-24. Michaud definitely doesn't have any problems with his own party, though: He's at 75-10 with Democrats, so I'm guessing Baldacci, who served two terms, retains the edge thanks largely to familiarity.

In any event, hope is not a plan, and Democrats will have to find a way to deal with Cutler. Perhaps they can terrify him into imagining what another four years of LePage would look like. Hey, it's worth a shot.

12:12 PM PT: MN-Sen: I'll happily take a boring poll when it comes to Al Franken's re-election prospects. That's what PPP's latest indicates, at least, continuing a long series of results from the firm that look good for the freshman Democrat. On the strength of a 52-41 statewide approval rating, here's how Franken stacks up against a variety of possible Republican opponents:

• 54-40 vs. Rep. Michele Bachmann

• 50-39 vs. Rep. Erik Paulsen

• 49-41 vs. Rep. John Kline

• 50-44 vs. ex-Sen. Norm Coleman


Of course, Coleman's already said he won't run, and Kline and Paulsen have both refused all entreaties (wisely so). A Bachmann race would be simply epic, but the notion might be too crazy even for her, which is really saying something. However, if she were to run, she'd already have the GOP nomination all but locked up, according to PPP's hypothetical "all in" primary scenario:

Michele Bachmann: 45

John Kline: 19

Chip Cravaack: 13

Erik Paulsen: 11

Laura Brod: 4

Rich Stanek: 2

Other/undecided: 6

I'm sure Franken would prefer to run against a Some Dude, but... pretty, pretty please? Anyhow, here's a little side-note on just how dire the fortunes of the Minnesota GOP have become: PPP's Republican sample is an unusually light 275 respondents, even though they managed to scarf up over 1,000 voters for their general election pool. I guess not many folks are too eager to identify as elephants in the North Star State these days. Certainly Al Franken has to be happy about that.

12:19 PM PT: NM-Sen: Please don't do this to us, Mr. President. According to unnamed, unquoted sources, the Washington Post reports that Dem Sen. Tom Udall is being considered as a replacement for outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is stepping down in March. This would be an amazingly disastrous move, since GOP Gov. Susana Martinez would be able to appoint a Republican replacement, who would then be able to run as an incumbent in 2014, when Udall's otherwise safe seat is up for re-election.

But really, I just can't believe we have to keep having this conversation. This is a nation filled with millions of talented people, and we simply don't need to deplete our ranks in the Senate to ensure strong leadership of government agencies. And the last time Obama went to this well to fill the job at Interior—to tap Salazar, of course—we came less than two percent away from handing over his Senate post to radical tea partier Ken Buck for six years. Let's not even contemplate that again.

12:56 PM PT: AR-Sen: Wish I could see the rest of this paywalled story from NWA Online with the lede: "Lt. Gov. Mark Darr denied reports in the National Journal Friday that he plans to run for the U.S. Senate and will announce his candidacy in April." That's all that's publicly available, and it's referring to Josh Kraushaar's NJ story that we mentioned in the previous Digest, which was somewhat surprising since Darr had been quite public about his interest in a gubernatorial bid, not a Senate run. I guess we'll find out in April.

1:14 PM PT: NJ-Sen: Uh, I don't really think Frank Lautenberg is helping his own cause here. New Jersey's senior senator managed to score some pretty good sympathy points in recent weeks after the state's Democratic establishment decided that Cory Booker's unsubtle efforts to get the 89-year-old Lautenberg to shimmy off the scene were just too much. But did Lautenberg really need to say this?

"I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell (you) that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate.
Also:
"He's entitled to do it," Lautenberg said of a possible Booker candidacy. "He'll have to stand on his record and I'm sure he won't be a lone soldier out there drooling at the mouth and wanting this cushy job that we have here."
Uh, say what? I'm really not loving this unfolding battle one bit.

1:29 PM PT: WATN?: Former Sen. Ben Nelson, who was pretty much the most conservative Democrat in the Senate before retiring last year, is taking a job as head of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a group of chief insurance regulators from all 50 states. Nelson will essentially serve as the organization's public face and top lobbyist (prior to becoming governor of Nebraska in 1990, Nelson had been the state's insurance director). Unsurprisingly, he says his first order of business is to push back against new federal insurance regulations. Some things never change.

2:07 PM PT: IL-Gov: Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been rumored as a gubernatorial candidate for so long that I'm honestly not sure where her public statements had placed her any time recently. But a local reporter caught up with her at the presidential inauguration, where she swirled up this latest tea leaf:

"I think there's a lot of people who are considering what they want to do in the future and if they can be of greater service to the people of the state. I am among those people," she said.
Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Aaron Schock, who in the past had denied claims he might run for governor, is now trying to argue that if he were to run, it'd be on a platform of smacking sense into Republican primary voters:
"I think I can make the case to my primary voters that maybe we need to be thinking about who can actually win the general election," he said. "Because at the end of the day, being the nominee isn't worth anything if you can't win the general election."
That's awfully cute. Certainly worked for the people running against Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell, and Sharron Angle. What's remarkable is that Schock won a primary against then-fellow Rep. Don Manzullo last year by harping on his own supposedly superior conservative credentials. [Update: Sigh. I got my "younger-than-me Republican congressmen from Illinois" mixed up.]  Yet now he thinks he can present himself as the moderate brand—and he's also apparently worried about someone else out-crazying him for the nomination? Fascinating.

2:24 PM PT: And who is Schock afraid of? Apparently gazillionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who appears to be floating his own name for governor—and dumping on Schock's. Apparently, Rauner was once a big supporter of Schock's, at least as far as Congress was concerned, but now he says: "I do not think he's the right person or qualified to be governor—not even close."

The jockeying is already intense: A mystery group called the "Jobs & Progress Fund" has been running ads attacking Schock as tax raiser for his vote in favor of the fiscal cliff compromise earlier this month (one spot is here). The buys don't seem to be that big (one pair of stations reported some $34K in purchases), but Schock is fuming, demanding the ads be removed as false and not-so-subtly pointing a finger at Rauner. (Rauner denies any involvement.) It'd be quite something if Illinois Republicans managed to match their compatriots in so many other states and put their least electable foot forward after a bitter primary. Here's hoping.

2:33 PM PT: PA-Gov: In sort of a throw-away line, The Hotline's Courtney McBride says that Dem Rep. Allyson Schwartz has "denied interest" in running for governor. But has Schwartz (or a surrogate) actually even said anything publicly? I don't recall any such remarks, but if you've seen something we've missed, please let us know.

2:41 PM PT: NJ-05: Well, he wouldn't be the only 1970s congressman to make a comeback this decade: Bergen County Democratic chair Lou Stellato says he's reached out to ex-Rep. Andrew Maguire, who represented New Jersey's old 7th Congressional District from 1975 to 1981, about a possible run against 5th CD GOP Rep. Scott Garrett. A spokesman for Stellato says he tried to recruit Maguire last year, but at the time, he was still living in Maryland. However, Maguire is moving back to Jersey and is reportedly "intrigued" by the idea of a return to office. Rick Nolan, get on the horn to Maguire stat!

3:03 PM PT: In response, Udall issued a statement that doesn't seem to rule anything out:

"While I'm deeply flattered to be mentioned, my sights are set on fighting for New Mexico on the Appropriations Committee and earning re-election from the people of our state in 2014."
Sigh.

3:09 PM PT: SC-01: Teddy Turner (son of famous broadcasting mogul Ted) is the first Republican to hit the airwaves ahead of the March 19 special primary. His intro/bio-type spot (complete with references to the Soviet Union) is reportedly backed by a $60K buy.


3:37 PM PT: TX-?: The Forth Worth Star-Telegram goes long in this extended profile of Dem state Sen. Wendy Davis, a major thorn in the Texas GOP's side who seems poised for greater things yet to come. Davis survived a serious re-election fight in November and before that, succeeded in having new GOP-drawn Senate maps that specifically targeted her thrown out in court. Now the question is whether Davis will run statewide, and if so, for what? The linked article says Davis "has acknowledged an interest in moving up the political ladder," and Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa suggests governor, lieutenant governor, or U.S. Senate. But unfortunately, none of Davis's options seem particularly welcoming, seeing as Texas hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994. However, she's only 49, so hopefully she can bide her time for now.

3:46 PM PT: CA-03: Well, I guess they can keep trying. Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue says he's looking at a run against Dem Rep. John Garamendi, even though Garamendi just won re-election last year by a decent 54-46 margin. (Obama also carried the seat 54-43, which pretty much constitutes "out of reach" territory for the GOP.) Oh, and the woman Garamendi beat, Kim Vann, says she, too, is considering a rematch. I think a big part of the reason Garamendi's victory was less-than-dominant was because he represented less than a quarter of the redrawn 3rd heading into 2012, a problem he won't have in 2014, so I think Republican chances are likely to get worse here in the future, not better.

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