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Leading Off:

IL-02: On Tuesday night, former state Rep. Robin Kelly powered her way to an enormous victory in the special Democratic primary to fill ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s vacant House seat. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Kelly held a 52-25 lead over her nearest rival, ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson, meaning she took a majority of the vote in a massive 16-candidate field. A general election will be held in April, but in this solid blue district covering Chicago's South Side and southern suburbs, it's only a formality: Kelly will soon be headed to Congress.

Of the three leading contenders who began the race, only Kelly had earned an "F" rating from the NRA, which she wore as a badge of honor. Halvorson and another rival, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, had both scored "A" grades from the rifle association, putting them badly out of step with a district that has been plagued by gun violence. These incongruous stances prompted NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Super PAC, Independence USA, to run ads in the district targeting Halvorson on guns.

Meanwhile, Kelly, pushing a strong message on curbing gun violence, started consolidating support within the 2nd. Daily Kos then became the first progressive group to endorse her, ultimately raising over $113,000 in small donations for her campaign. CREDO Super PAC got involved as well, spending six figures on field operations to benefit Kelly, and ultimately Independence pivoted to attack Hutchinson as well—and endorse Kelly, too. Following this move, Hutchinson dropped out with just 10 days to go, throwing her support to Kelly.

That left Halvorson and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale as Kelly's only legitimate opponents, but by then it was too late. The grassroots infusion of cash had already allowed Kelly to get on the airwaves and expand her voter outreach program well ahead of any other candidate. At the same time, Bloomberg's PAC kept their boot on Halvorson's neck with their continued air assault. Kelly continued to rack up local endorsements, including those of four members of Congress—all of whom, rather pointedly, had served with Halvorson but declined to back her.

In the end, Halvorson was only aided by a comically awful monochrome mailer from the local affiliate of the NRA—and it's indeed the NRA who was the biggest loser on Tuesday night. Many Democrats had long been terrified of the organization's political might, but in the wake of Sandy Hook, more are fighting back in support of sensible gun safety regulations.

Robin Kelly, though, was never afraid, and her victory sends a real message to those who oppose any efforts to stem the scourge of gun violence. This most definitely won't be the last election where an "F" rating from the NRA turns out to be an "A" with voters.

Senate:

AK-Sen: This is a little odd: Sen. Lisa Murkowski is talking up Tim Burgess as a possible Republican candidate to take on freshman Dem Sen. Mark Begich next year. What makes this unusual is that Burgess is a federal judge, an incredibly prestigious lifetime appointment that few people abandon, particularly when you're only in your mid-50s. There's also something a bit unseemly about a federal judge getting involved in partisan politics, though Burgess would have to resign his post in order to run. Then again, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval did just that a few years ago without any apparent ill effects, though he had the advantage of seeking office during the GOP wave of 2010.

GA-Sen: This is an interesting bit of background music that's playing while the GOP field shapes up for Georgia's open Senate race. Rep. Tom Price is one of the most powerful Republicans in the state's congressional delegation, and he appears to be putting together a bid which he'll announce no earlier than May, assuming he goes forward. But first, he has to mend bridges with Gov. Nathan Deal. BuzzFeed's Rebecca Berg explains:

When Deal ran for governor in 2010, Price endorsed him — but, when the polls began to look bad, Price switched to support another candidate, Karen Handel. When Deal came back and won, he didn't try to hide his disdain for Price.
Price met with Deal's chief of staff last week, and it sounds like some ice may have thawed. But if Deal's still steamed, that could be a real issue for Price's hopes.

Gubernatorial:

KS-Gov: Until relatively recently, Kansas politics were surprisingly pluralistic, seeing as the state elected a Democrat governor in 2002 and 2006 and used to harbor a distinct coalition of "moderate" Republicans who often preferred working with Dems rather than their more conservative brethren. But 2010 handed control of the governor's mansion to Republican Sam Brownback, and the moderates were decimated in primaries last year, hastening Kansas's transition to a one-party state.

Despite all that, Brownback—who hails from the extremist ultra-conservative wing of the party—is deeply unpopular, with a 37-52 job approval rating according to PPP's new poll. And his head-to-head scores in various hypothetical general election matchups are all soft as well:

• 44-40 vs. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer

• 48-43 vs. ex-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius

• 45-39 vs. ex-Gov. Mark Parkinson

• 45-38 vs. 2010 nominee Tom Holland

• 45-36 vs. Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon

• 44-34 vs. Shawnee County DA Chad Taylor

It's pretty sad when you're mired at 45 in a state as red as Kansas, especially in a poll with a 51 percent Republican sample (versus just 29 Dem and 21 independent). It's still hard to imagine Democrats putting up enough of a fight to truly be competitive here, and most of these potential candidates are unlikely to run in any event. But the good news, oddly enough, is that all of them except Sebelius (who probably earns demerits for serving in Obama's cabinet) are virtually unknown, meaning that Brownback's standing is weak regardless of who opposes him. And Kansas is a relatively cheap state, so with some money, an upset is not inconceivable—but the notion is very much a longshot, and it's only possible because Brownback blows a lot.

MI-Gov: Freshman Dem Rep. Dan Kildee was just elected last November, and I don't think I'd even heard him considered as a possible gubernatorial candidate, but no matter: He's not running.

NJ-Gov: As you'd expect, EMILY's List just endorsed state Sen. Barbara Buono, the only Democratic woman running for governor this year. (Then again, there are only two states holding gubernatorial elections in 2013.) Buono's been in brutal shape against GOP Gov. Chris Christie in the polls, and consequently her fundraising has been very soft. EMILY should be able to help her a bit on the money front, but it's an open question as to how hard they'll actually push her among their membership, particularly since it would have been hard to imagine them not endorsing Buono.

PA-Gov: Ex-Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper always seemed like a real longshot to pursue a gubernatorial bid: She served only one term in Congress before losing in 2010, and her anti-choice views would have been a hindrance in a statewide Democratic primary. So I'm not surprised to see that she's declining to join the governor's race; instead, she'll run for Erie County Executive.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mike Stack is talking himself up—and seems to be reading from the old, scaredy-cat Democratic playbook. Stack somehow seems to think that the best way to advance his cause is to trash-talk Rep. Allyson Schwartz, whom he thinks is too liberal because Pennsylvania "is not really a Democratic state—it's a conservative hybrid." Whatever. I'm sure that running from a defensive crouch will really take him places.

VA-Gov: Politico adds a new twist to the "mainstream business-y Republicans grossed out by Ken Cuccinelli" beat that they've been all over recently. Not only are some of these wealthy business-types pushing Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to enter the race as an independent (unsurprising, since he's been openly contemplating the idea for months), but they're even talking to ex-Rep. Tom Davis as a possible alternative! Davis has reportedly "rebuffed their entreaties" because his wife, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, is seeking the GOP nomination to replace Bolling, amusingly enough. But if she loses, says Alexander Burns, Davis could still conceivably enter the race after his party's May convention.

Far-fetched as that scenario may be, I encourage you to click through because Burns's piece is loaded with on-the-record quotes from various oligarchs harshing on Cuccinelli and desperate for another option. None of them seem able to articulate why they can't just support Terry McAuliffe, though, since as Democrats go, he's bound to be quite business-friendly. But one potentate offers a revealing window into their thinking, sneering that McAuliffe is damaged by "a million Clinton fundraising scandals." Ah, Clinton Derangement Syndrome: an incurable illness that leads to fantasies of third-party candidacies. Good luck, rich guys!

WI-Gov: After last year's failed attempt to recall GOP Gov. Scott Walker, I can't see I feel especially optimistic about beating him in next year's regular election, and PPP's new poll doesn't offer much reason for optimism. It's not that Walker is popular—his job approval rating is a mediocre 48-49, down from 51-46 in November—but he starts off the race very close to 50 percent, much like he did before the recall. Here's how he fares against a variety of potential challengers:

• 47-49 vs. ex-Sen. Russ Feingold

• 46-42 vs. Rep. Ron Kind

• 48-43 vs. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca

• 48-42 vs. state Sen. Jon Erpenbach

• 48-41 vs. Ex-Rep. Steve Kagen

• 48-39 vs. Firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell

All those 48s that Walker racks up against the bottom four names just leave me with a sinking feeling in my stomach—a sinking feeling I felt every time a new poll dropped in the first half of last year. From there, it doesn't take much to get to 50 percent, though at least we wouldn't have to contend with that portion of the electorate (Tom Jensen believes it was around a tenth of all voters) that had a philosophical objection to the very idea of a recall and supported Walker in spite of their general ideological leanings.

I don't want to sound too doom-and-gloom, though, because as you can see, if former Sen. Russ Feingold were to enter the race, he'd actually start off with a tiny lead and would undoubtedly be our strongest option. But he might prefer to take revenge on the jagoff who ousted him in 2010 instead: Feingold would beat Ron Johnson 52-42 in a hypothetical WI-Sen rematch. Of course Johnson's not up for re-election until 2016, and things are much more apt to change in four years than they are in two—though two years is a pretty damn long time in politics as well.

That said, the recall debacle seems to have really put a damper on Democratic recruitment for the contest at hand. All we've seen so far are some desultory Great Mentioner-type pieces and one or two casual remarks from people who aren't ruling anything out. Still, it's only February, and in fact, not a single major Dem has formally declared a challenge to any Republican governor up in 2014, so there's still a good bit of time for someone to step up. But you can never start too early.

House:

PA-11, PA-12: Two separate new reports indicate that two former Democratic congressmen may each be eyeing comeback bids in challenging Pennsylvania districts. PoliticsPA's Keegan Gibson reports (based on unnamed sources) that the DCCC is trying to encourage Chris Carney to run against Lou Barletta in the 11th and is even polling a possible matchup. Carney used to represent the old 10th, but that's now a 60 percent Romney district, putting it out of reach. The 11th, at 54-45 Romney, would be quite tough but more doable.

In redistricting, the GOP deliberately left Carney's home in the 10th but did place about a quarter of his old constituents into the 11th, which Gibson says now contains "most of his base." Carney cultivated a pretty conservative profile during his two terms in office, so if there's anyone who might be a good fit here, it's him. But bear in mind that the D-Trip tried to recruit him last cycle as well, to no avail; Carney, a Navy vet, is now a defense industry lobbyist, so he may be content where he is.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the state, The Hill reports (again, based on an unnamed source) that ex-Rep. Mark Critz is thinking about running for the seat he narrowly lost just last year. As Cameron Joseph notes, Critz just took a job with an energy lobbying firm in his hometown of Johnstown, so he'll get to remain on familiar turf, something he cited in December as a possible key to a comeback.

Like Carney, though Critz would face a tough challenge, especially since the 12th is even redder, at 58-41 Romney. But it's a real testament to Critz's political skills that he fell to Republican Keith Rothfus by only about 3.5 percent in November; without Obama at the top of the ticket, it's possible Critz could retake this seat. But could he hold it in another presidential year? I guess we can cross that bridge when we come it, since right now, what matters most is 2014.

PA-13: Now that Dem Rep. Allyson Schwartz looks set to run for governor, we can finally move on to what I know you really want to discuss: possible successors for her House seat, of course. PoliticsPA is all over it, with an in-depth look at five possible Democrats who could run in Schwartz's place: State Rep. Brendan Boyle, state Sen. Daylin Leach, Montgomery County Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, and former Philadelphia Controller Jonathan Saidel. (Since this district went 66-33 Obama, all the action is in the primary.) For full details on each potential candidate, click through.

TX-33: Texas's congressional map is still very much up in the air, so take anything anyone says about his or her plans to run for office next year with the usual helping of salt. But assuming that the new majority-minority 33rd survives in something like its present form, one big question is whether a Latino pol might attempt to unseat freshman Dem Mark Veasey. The 33rd is mostly Hispanic, but because many such residents are not eligible to vote, Veasey, who is African American, was able to ride strong black turnout to a runoff victory over former state Rep. Domingo Garcia.

Elba Garcia, who is married to Domingo and is a Dallas County Commissioner, says she won't be that candidate and will run for re-election instead. But local analyst Gromer Jeffers makes it sound like Domingo Garcia wants to try again. If so, good luck: Garcia infuriated the establishment with his kamikaze attacks on local companies like American Airlines and Lockheed, particularly when he insulted Veasey as their "errand boy." Garcia only came as close as he did by spending $2 million of his own money, but even if he goes to that well again, Veasey would be favored for re-nomination.

SC-01: Republican Teddy Turner has a new ad mocking Mark Sanford that's actually a bit funny. State Sen. Larry Grooms new spot, meanwhile, is just boring.

Other Races:

AZ-AG: Is there any luckier schnook in Arizona than Attorney General Tom Horne? In 2010, he won the GOP primary by two-tenths of one percent, then went on to win the general by less than 4 points, a pretty remarkable underperformance given the massive Republican wave that year. Since then, Horne has mostly disgraced himself and his office, netting an FBI investigation and apparent sex scandal (and that's just for starters).

So maybe Horne's not so lucky after all, but Arizona Democrats may be feeling more fortunate: The woman who nearly thwarted Horne two-and-a-half years ago, Felicia Rotellini, just announced that she's going to seek a rematch. And one notable detail is that 2012 Senate candidate Rich Carmona will serve as her campaign chairman. That's more of a ceremonial role (not to be confused with the traditional job of campaign manager), but it's good to see that Carmona, who has been talked up as a possible gubernatorial candidate, is staying active on the local scene.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA and Daily Kos.

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