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Leading Off:

NE-Sen: So freshman Sen. Mike Johanns didn't even need a full term in the Senate to decide he was bored and wanted out. The former two-term governor, who cruised to a comfortable 58-40 victory over Democrat Scott Kleeb in 2008, has announced his intention to retire at the end of his first and only term and has communicated that intent to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.

Interesting, because Heineman is number one with a bullet in terms of Republican choices to replace him. Heineman has been a wildly popular vote-getter, so much so that he beat a true Nebraska legend—former congressman and Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne, a man revered for bringing three national championships to Lincoln—in a 2006 gubernatorial primary, before crushing two hapless Democrats in the 2006 and 2010 general elections with over 73 percent of the vote in both cycles.

Will Heineman run? He passed up a shot at the Senate in 2012, so maybe he's not that interested, and he's not exactly a kid (he's 64). True, 2014 may be an easier race—the Democratic field will be weaker this time out without former Sen. Bob Kerrey running (more on that below)—but Heineman is sufficiently popular that he doesn't really have to worry about who the Democratic nominee is, and never did. He'd have skated in 2012, and he'll skate now, if he wants the seat.

And if Heineman doesn't go for it? Head below the fold to see who else might.

Reps. Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith could seek to succeed Johanns, as might State Treasurer Don Stenberg (who has now run four times for the United States Senate, so who would put it past him?). Of course, in a truly open primary it's hard to know who might be competitive. Freshman Sen. Deb Fischer, after all, was a little-known state senator not that long ago but managed to win a wild three-way Republican primary last year.

On the Democratic side, yes, Bob Kerrey is out, which pretty much leaves the number of well-known, well-funded Democrats on the bench at zero. There are, of course, a number of enterprising Nebraska Democrats looking at a statewide race, but chances are, most of them will opt for a potentially winnable gubernatorial contest (Heineman is term-limited) rather than a suicide mission against Heineman.

There is, of course, one Nebraskan who could conceivably run as a Democrat and win—a conservative with success in the private sector, a long record of service in Vietnam and in the Reagan administration, and two terms in the U.S. Senate, including a 2002 reelection bid when he won 81 percent of the vote.

That's Chuck Hagel, and perhaps Senate Republicans should think twice about blocking his nomination for secretary of defense.

Post-script: As for whether Heineman actually will run, we won't know right away; he says he will take "a few days" to mull it over, though he did add a postscript to that, that he has never "indicated that being in the Senate is my dream job." Fortenberry also floated his name, saying "I will consider a run for the United States Senate," though Fortenberry likely wouldn't get in if Heineman entered, since he'd would have to give up his lifetime sinecure in NE-01 for a long-shot primary battle.

Roll Call also points out a few other GOP possibilities: One is ex-state Treasurer (and ex-naval aviator) Shane Osborn; another is businessman Pete Ricketts, who lost the 2006 Senate election to Ben Nelson (and son of Super PAC-funding, Cubs-owning Joe Ricketts). AG Jon Bruning is yet one more possibility, though he still carries baggage from his 2012 GOP Senate primary loss to Fischer. Finally, there's Nebraska's other congressman, NE-02's Lee Terry, who gave Politico the rather vague promise that "I will think about it at some time." (Arjun Jaikumar & David Jarman)

Senate:

IA-Sen: I'd be pretty shocked if any big-name Iowa Dems jumped into the open seat Senate race at this point, seeing as Team Blue's already got their number one choice, Rep. Bruce Braley, and the establishment's been all too happy to rally around him. (Isn't it nice being in the party where you don't have to deal with lunatic primary challenges?) So anyway, that's a long-winded way of me saying that I'm not at all surprised that former Gov. Tom Vilsack has declined to run. In addition, Vilsack is now the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and had recently told the president he'd stay on the job. With this decision, there really aren't any other prominent folks out there who might throw a wrench into Braley's plans, so it looks like full steam ahead.

MA-Sen: MassINC is out with a new poll of the Democratic primary (for their usual client, WBUR), but unlike PPP, they find a much closer race between the two contenders. Ed Markey leads fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch by just 38-31, a big contrast to the 52-19 edge PPP had for Markey late last month. MassINC also shows better favorability numbers for Lynch (29-12 vs. 29-19 for Markey), the opposite of PPP (26-31 Lynch vs. 38-35 Markey).

It's hard to say who's right here, though the samples might offer a clue: PPP had 41 percent Democrats, 17 Republicans, and 42 independents. For MassINC, it's 36-11-53. Given that Lynch performs better with indies in MassINC's survey, it makes sense that he'd do better the more independent-heavy the sample is. But PPP actually had Markey doing better with independents, so it's very hard to square this circle. The bottom line, though, is that Markey should be acting like MassINC is right and campaigning vigorously. But almost two months into the race, he still has no website.

Meanwhile, there's still some possible movement in the GOP field, which I find remarkable given that there's virtually no time left for petition-gathering efforts. But former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, a Bush appointee, is kinda-sorta entering the race, saying he's going to try to get the 10,000 signatures he needs using volunteers alone, even though he's been told such a thing is "impossible." (That's probably right.) Another Republican, though, is choosing the wiser course: State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr announced on Thursday that he will not run. That still leaves Gabriel Gomez, Dan Winslow, and possibly Sean Bielat in the mix, though, in addition to Sullivan.

NJ-Sen: Well, this would be awesome: In the wake of Sen. Frank Lautenberg's retirement announcement, Rep. Rush Holt says he's considering a Senate bid himself, though he cautioned that "an expression of interest should not be taken as a campaign announcement." I suspect Holt is talking to key supporters and polling the race right now, as, undoubtedly, are a whole host of other Jersey pols. Holt, though, is a progressive with real integrity and would likely have greater independence from the machines which run much of Garden State politics. He's also a bona fide nerd: His backers have printed up bumper stickers that read "My congressman is a rocket scientist and he also defeated IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer Watson a couple of years ago, proving that Holt is indeed the last, best hope of mankind.

While we're on the topic (of the Senate race, not the coming robot apocalypse), Rep. Frank Pallone also confirms he's looking at the contest too, but that's hardly a shocker, since many reports predating the Lautenberg news indicated he was preparing a bid in case the seat opened up. Fortunately, a third Democratic member of the House, Rob Andrews, has declined; given how many bridges he burned in his disastrous 2008 attempt to unseat Lautenberg, I can't imagine he'd have had much more success this time. (By the way, want to know what a goon Andrews is? As a couple of DKE commenters have pointed out, he's the only Democrat in Congress who signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, though of course he's tried to take it back subsequently. I'll bet he was rooting for Watson, too.)

House:

GA-??: This would be awesome, too, albeit for an entirely different reason: The Rothenberg Political Report, relying on nameless sources, says that ex-Rep. Bob Barr is once again thinking about a comeback bid. Barr is the infamous Clinton impeachment manager who was ousted from Congress in 2002 after Democrats (my, how times have changed) targeted him in redistricting. Barr then went on to leave the GOP, run for president on the Libertarian line, and turn into a gadfly critic of his former party on issues of privacy.

But after a long romp in the wilderness, Barr contemplated a return last cycle in the 14th Congressional District. The only problem is that the seat is currently occupied by fellow Republican Tom Graves, and the Club for Growth warned Barr in very stern terms that he'd better drop any ideas of a primary challenger. With Georgia's open Senate seat, though, some House seats are sure to open up (and indeed, Paul Broun's 10th District already has).

But Graves, who has been in office for just a couple of years, doesn't seem likely to seek a promotion, and Broun's district is in the wrong part of the state. One possibility, though, might be the 6th; Rep. Tom Price has given a number of indications that he'd like to run for Senate. Another option could be the 11th, if Rep. Phil Gingrey joins the GOP herd. Neither may be the best geographic fit for Barr, but they're the most likely Republican seats in the Atlanta suburbs to come open this cycle. So here's hoping for some Bob Barr-flavored fun!

IL-02: Wow. If you've been following the Democratic primary in Illinois's 2nd Congressional District, then by now you're aware of the huge development over the weekend that has utterly shaken up the contest. With scarcely 10 days to go until the election, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson—one of three top-tier candidates running to replace ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.—unexpectedly dropped out and endorsed her top rival, ex-state Rep. Robin Kelly. The move came shortly after Mike Bloomberg's super PAC, Independence USA, switched gears to run a new ad (backed by an enormous $730,000 buy) attacking Hutchinson on guns and endorsing Kelly.

Outside money wasn't the only thing making a difference, though: While Hutchinson had outraised Kelly between Jan. 1 and Feb. 6, according to new reports just filed with the FEC (see chart below), Kelly had been raking in tons of small-dollar donations thanks to an endorsement from Daily Kos. Indeed, almost all of the nearly $100,000 raised for Kelly this way came in after that Feb. 6 reporting deadline. That infusion of cash enabled Kelly to go up on TV early, and she's still the only candidate to have done so.

So where does this leave the race? Well, before broadening their scope to include Hutchinson, Independence USA had spend $1.4 million going after conservative ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson on the same issue, guns. (Both she and Hutchinson have earned "A" ratings from the NRA.) Halvorson, the only prominent white candidate in the race, had hoped that a split in the black vote in this heavily African-American district would allow her to sneak through with a narrow plurality. But with Hutchinson throwing her support behind the surging Kelly, Halvorson's path to victory just got a lot narrower, especially if Independence refocuses its efforts on her and the conversation remains on the topic of gun violence.

It's by no means a lock for Kelly, though. Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale is still in the race, as is healthcare administrator Joyce Washington, who recently loaned $183,000 to her campaign. Both, like Kelly, are black, and with Hutchinson out of the picture now, they'll have one final week in which to suck up a little more oxygen and try to make an impact. Neither has registered notably in the polls to date, but Halvorson doesn't need them to do well in order to still win—she just needs them to do well enough.

Kelly, meanwhile, needs to finish strong, by consolidating Hutchinson's support—and that of anyone still standing on the sidelines—behind her. She's the frontrunner now, and anyone with any sense who hasn't yet come out for Kelly will want to do so while they still have a chance. Kelly also has a sizable fundraising advantage, though she can, of course, take nothing for granted, and I have no doubt she'll be working incredibly hard down the stretch run to make sure things go the right way.

P.S. Below is a chart summarizing all available fundraising reports filed with the FEC last Thursday, detailing activity between Jan. 1 and Feb. 6 of this year:

Candidate Raised Spent Cash-on-Hand
1/1 - 2/6 Cycle-to-Date 1/1 - 2/6 Cycle-to-Date As of Feb. 6
Toi Hutchinson $142,114 $278,106 $71,851 $78,206 $199,901
Robin Kelly $100,217 $293,225 $202,585 $204,125 $88,820
Anthony Beale $88,924 $138,824 $110,840 $116,565 $33,758
Debbie Halvorson $46,944 $72,802 $28,170 $34,561 $48,241
Joyce Washington $42,329 $42,329 $128,008 $128,008 $79,321
Note: Kelly issued a press release last Thursday touting her total fundraising through Feb. 13: almost $418,000.

Other Races:

IL Lege: Write these names down: state Sen. Bill Haine and state Rep. Dan Beiser. They are both Democrats who oppose marriage equality, but that's not good enough for them. They've each introduced a constitutional amendment in their respective chambers that would restrict marriage to couples of one man and one woman. Of course, these amendments will never go anywhere, seeing as Illinois is on the verge of passing legislation to allow same-sex marriage, but Haines and Beiser deserve primaries, and if that's not possible, then they deserve to be shunned.

NYC Mayor: The New York City mayoral race, as I've remarked before, has been remarkably slow to catch fire. Hell, the nominal frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, hasn't even formally declared her candidacy. As such, there's been little motion in the polls, so it's unsurprising to see Quinn once again come out on top in a hypothetical primary matchup, this time from Marist. Quinn earns 37 percent of the vote, versus 13 for 2009 nominee Bill Thompson, 12 for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and 9 for city Comptroller John Liu—in other words, nothing doing.

Meanwhile, the most important number on the GOP side is 172. That's the number of registered Republicans Marist was able to scrounge up for its primary sample, which is well below the commonly accepted minimums for a poll. In this case, I honestly don't blame them, though, because hell, it is tough to find Republicans in this town! As far as the general election is concerned, GOP "leading light" Joe Lhota, the former head of the MTA, can barely crack 20 percent, even against the unlikeliest of Dem candidates (Sal Albanese, a former city councilor who hasn't served in office since the late `90s).

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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