If Manchin does seek to get his old job back, it would likely be very good news for Democrats looking to retake the governorship, but extremely bad news for Senate Democrats. We'll start with the first part first. Manchin was an incredibly popular governor during his tenure during the last decade, and he maintained much of his appeal in D.C.
While Manchin's win last year was considerably closer than any of his past general election campaigns, but he was probably the only West Virginia Democrat who could have won the Senate race in a state Trump had carried 68-26 two years before. However, polling is very limited out of the Mountain State, so we don't have a good sense for how popular Justice is. The most recent information we have is a Morning Consult survey taken during the final quarter of 2018 (a period that included the final weeks of Manchin's re-election campaign) that gave the senator an underwater 43-44 approval rating, while Justice was in stronger shape at 45-38.
If Manchin were elected governor in 2020, Democrats could lose his Senate seat very quickly afterwards. While West Virginia's current law would allow a Gov. Manchin to appoint a new Democratic senator (something he did in 2010 after legendary Sen. Robert Byrd died in office), Team Red likely wouldn't allow that law to remain intact. In 2015, Manchin also considered running for governor again, and the GOP legislature began working on a bill that would have required a vacant Senate seat remain open until a special election could be held.
The legislation never became law, but there's no reason to think Republicans wouldn't try to revive it if Manchin did run this time. It's also incredibly tough to see another Democrat winning a West Virginia Senate seat in this day and age, so that special would almost certainly give Republicans a pickup in the near future well before Manchin's term ends in 2025.
Of course, it's anyone's guess if Manchin will actually run. The senator has spent years waxing nostalgia about his time running the state, and he's made it no secret that he thinks "Washington sucks." He seemed very serious about coming home in 2015, and he even began staffing up his PAC and hiring the state party chair to lead it. However, he surprisingly announced that he would sit out the race and run for re-election to the Senate in 2018.
Still, Manchin doesn't seem especially happy in the Senate. While he reiterated in January of 2018 that he'd seek re-election, the New York Times reported that in the days before that pronouncement, Senate Democrats were panicked that the senator was about to change his mind and leave them without a candidate mere days before the filing deadline. That nightmare situation didn't happen, and Manchin said afterwards that he saw the role moderates had played in ending the brief government shutdown and realized "goddamnit, the place is much better than we give it credit for." But with a much longer government shutdown now underway, he may be revising that view.
In any case, we could be guessing about Manchin's plans for a while. MetroNews' Hoppy Kercheval writes that the senator is "known to change from day to day or even hour to hour how he feels about running for Governor," but the "idea keeps surfacing and the dynamism of the legislative session that just started in Charleston is far more appealing to him than the protracted partial shutdown that's now gripping Washington."
Right now, the only declared Democratic candidate for governor is Stephen Noble Smith, who used to lead a group of nonprofits that work to combat poverty, and Manchin will likely keep many other prospective contenders from entering while they wait to see what he does.
● CA-10: Former Tracy City Councilor Ted Howze, a Republican who came unexpectedly close to reaching the general election last year, says he's interested in challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Harder. Back in June, Harder edged out Howze just 17.0-14.6, a margin of a little more than 3,000 votes, to reach the general election with GOP incumbent Jeff Denham. Howze set up a 2020 campaign committee just weeks after his primary defeat, well before Denham lost the general to Harder.
● ME-02: Former GOP state Sen. Eric Brakey, who was Team Red's 2018 nominee against Democratic-aligned independent Sen. Angus King, says he's not ruling out a campaign against freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Golden if former Rep. Bruce Poliquin doesn't get in. Brakey lost this northern Maine seat to King 50-41, while the balance went to Democratic nominee Zak Ringelstein.
● SC-01: On Thursday, Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert became the first GOP candidate to announce a bid against freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. He's unlikely to be the last, since at 53-40 Trump, this coastal South Carolina seat will likely be a top Republican target.
Cunningham pulled off a surprise win last year against Republican Katie Arrington, who has also expressed interest in another try. However, as we wrote last month, Covert seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his party's recent defeat.
Last year, Arrington supported the Trump administration's plan to drill for oil off the coast during her primary bid, which was a widely unpopular stance in this district with important tourism and fishing industries. In the general election, Arrington unconvincingly claimed she'd always opposed such drilling. But in December, Colvert said her mistake wasn't supporting drilling in the first place—it was backing away from Trump at all.
Colvert in particular zeroed in on the practice of using seismic testing to detect offshore oil deposits. "Arrington's careless dismissal of seismic testing was a mistake and a failure to support President Trump's move to empower the states," he charged. He pledged instead to "support President Trump for the benefit of all South Carolinians." Cunningham and his allies ran several ads hitting Arrington over her support for drilling, and they'd likely do the same with Covert if were to get through the primary.
● Votes: House Democrats are doing everything they can to re-open the federal government, and put pressure on their GOP colleagues to get on board. To that end, they've been holding votes on a series of bills that would restore funding for shuttered agencies, one at a time, and we're keeping track of those roll calls to see how many Republicans (and which ones) defect on each vote. The number seems to slowly be growing: On the first day of the new Congress, a bill to re-open the Department of Homeland Security received just five Republican votes, while more recent measures to fund other departments have reached double-digit defections, with a bill to fund the Transportation Department getting 12.
For the most part, these GOP dissenters are vulnerable members trying to protect their own hides, such as Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, who won re-election last year by less than 1 percent of the vote. However, there are some surprises, particularly Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, who ran the NRCC last cycle—a maximally partisan position—but nevertheless voted in favor of the Transportation Department bill. Meanwhile, his predecessor as NRCC chair, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, has also popped up on the roster of defectors five times so far.
Stivers has refused to comment on his vote, while Walden has suggested that, by golly, it's the right thing to do. You'll forgive our skepticism considering that Walden was the architect of the GOP majority that, under Paul Ryan, initiated the shutdown in the first place. Oregon Public Broadcasting does note, however, that Walden's 2018 re-election was by far the closest race of his career, though he still won by a comfortable 56-39 margin and should be safe in the state's deeply conservative 2nd District.
Whatever the reason for these votes, we'll be staying on top of each one, so bookmark our tracker to keep tabs on all of the Republicans who're getting anxious about the Trump shutdown.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: On Wednesday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle launched a $750,000 ad campaign ahead of the Feb. 26 nonpartisan mayoral primary that focused on her efforts in exposing the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was fatally shot in 2015 by a police officer in an incident that was covered up for months. However, a number of local activists have criticized Preckwinkle's commercial and argued that she's using McDonald's murder to further her political career. Her critics and the local media has also speculated that she is running this spot to try to change the subject from her connections to Alderman Ed Burke, a powerful figure who was indicted this month on corruption charges.
First, the ad itself: The spot shows footage of McDonald walking just before he was killed as an announcer declares, "Sixteen shots, nine in the back. Facts that the police and city officials tried to bury." The commercial displays pictures of retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel, then-police superintendent and current mayoral rival Garry McCarthy, and the autopsy report. The narrator tells the audience, "It was Toni who made sure Laquan McDonald's autopsy went public. It was Toni who called for the dash cam footage to be released." The spot concludes that she "demanded the police chief be fired and helped oust the state's attorney for not doing her job."
The Chicago Sun-Times writes that, as Cook County Board president, Preckwinkle was in charge of the county medical examiner's office. They say that she first made a description of the autopsy report available to reporter Jamie Kalven and that, once it was legally possible, she released it. Kalven went on to convince a judge to order Emanuel to release the footage of the shooting.
The story eventually led Emanuel to fire McCarthy as police superintendent and helped defeat then-State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in a 2016 Democratic primary. Emanuel's administration had successfully fought to prevent footage from being released during the mayor's 2015 re-election campaign, and this and other ongoing problems at the police department likely played a big role in his decision not to seek a third term. Last year Jason Van Dyke, the police officer who killed McDonald, was convicted of second-degree murder.
Kalven, who told the Sun-Times that he hadn't seen the ad itself, said that both Preckwinkle and an unnamed "law enforcement whistleblower" had played pivotal roles in getting the truth about McDonald's death out. However, several activists involved in organizing the protests against the police over the shooting were not happy with the spot. Protest organizer Jedidiah Brown said that, "It kind of disrespects the moment to profit off of the pain of Laquan McDonald's tragic transition," adding that the commercial's "intent is to show her as a champion when she was barely a partner or an ally."
Fellow activist Will Calloway, who helped get the footage of the killing to the public and has been a face of the "justice for Laquan" movement, was especially critical of the ad. At the same press conference that Brown and other activists spoke at, Calloway argued that the spot "just reopens the wounds all over again," and "was very opportunistic of her, it was very distasteful. And to us, it was a complete, utter, slap to the face." Calloway also said that Preckwinkle "never reached out to us for two-and-a-half years, but now that she's in hot water because of this … Ed Burke situation, she chose to take this route," adding, "It's understandable, but it's not acceptable."
Indeed, the Sun-Times also suggested that part of the reason that Preckwinkle is running this ad now is to change the subject from Burke. Earlier this month, the powerful alderman was charged with using his position to try to extort business in order to benefit his tax law firm. Burke's indictment alleged that he had pressured the owner of a Burger King franchise to donate $10,000 to a candidate, and Preckwinkle's campaign quickly acknowledged she was the recipient.
Preckwinkle has denied any knowledge of Burke's activities and she has not been accused of any wrongdoing. She's also far from the only mayoral candidate with close ties to Burke, who had even previously endorsed one of her rivals, former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico. However, perhaps owing in part to her status as one of the frontrunners of the contest, Preckwinkle appears to have attracted the most scrutiny over her connections to Burke. This commercial may well be her attempt to change the subject with only a little more than six weeks to go before the primary.
● Dallas, TX Mayor: On Thursday, City Councilor Scott Griggs joined the crowded May nonpartisan primary for Dallas mayor. Griggs, who represents the North Oak Cliff neighborhood, is the only elected official in the contest other than Dallas Independent School District trustee Miguel Solis. The Dallas Observer identifies Griggs as a member of the council's progressive caucus, which has led the fight against the Trinity toll road and pushed the city towards settling its pension disputes with police and firefighters.
The councilor did get some unwanted attention back in 2015 when then-City Attorney Warren Ernst went to police and reported that he'd seen Griggs threatening Assistant City Secretary Bilierae Johnson, with Griggs allegedly saying he'd break her fingers if she published a council agenda. Johnson didn't want to file criminal charges, and she told investigators she didn't feel threatened. No other witnesses recounted hearing Griggs actually threatening Johnson, and a grand jury declined to indict him for coercion of a public official.
Griggs, who denied any criminal wrongdoing, apologized to Johnson for "harsh language" and "for anything he may have said that offended her," and he later backed her appointment for city secretary. It remains to be seen if this story will come up much on the campaign trail, though an anonymous flier surfaced just before Griggs kicked off his mayoral campaign accusing the councilor of harassing Johnson four years ago.
● Indianapolis, IN Mayor: On Thursday, GOP state Sen. Jim Merritt announced that he would challenge Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett in this year's race. Merritt, a 28-year veteran of the state Senate who resigned as chairman of the Marion County Republican Party weeks before he kicked off his bid, entered the contest with the backing of former Mayor Greg Ballard, who served from 2008 until 2016.
Merritt emphasized violent crime in his announcement, a potentially effective line of argument for a city that, according to the Indianapolis Star, recently set its fourth annual record for homicides. However, in Donald Trump-like fashion, Merritt said that his actual public safety policies would come later in the race. Merritt, in the words of the paper, also "made assertions that could not be verified." The state senator notably accused Seattle of taking "a lot of our police officers because we don't pay them enough." That seems to be a reference to a September story about how Seattle put up billboards in a number of cities, including Indianapolis, to try to recruit local officers.
- there's little evidence that, despite Merritt's claims, this has actually led to a mass exodus from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. While in 2018 the IMPD did lose the most officers since 2007, most of these departures were related to retirement; the force also ended 2018 with the same number of cops it had a year before.
Merritt will likely have a tough task ahead of him this November. Indianapolis is usually reliably blue in federal elections, with Hillary Clinton winning it 58-36 even as she was losing Indiana 56-37. The city did re-elect Ballard back in 2011, though Hogsett won an open seat race by a 62-38 margin four years later. However, Merritt does have some recent experience with tough campaigns, having won re-election last year 51-49 in a seat that Donald Trump carried 49-46.
Money will also likely be an issue for Merritt, who volunteered that he had $10,000 available. Hogsett, by contrast, reportedly has about $3 million to spend. However, local Republicans fondly remember that in 2007, Ballard unseated Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson in a shocker despite having just $51,000 available the month before Election Day compared to the incumbent's $1.5 million.
Both parties will nominate their candidates in a May 7 primary, and Merritt looks like the clear favorite for Team Red. The local GOP will hold a convention in early February, and the Star speculates that whomever the party insiders pick there will have little trouble winning the nomination a few months later.
The only other noteworthy GOP candidate is former City-County Councilor Jose Evans, who was elected as a Democrat twice and switched parties midway through his second term in 2013. Evans did not seek re-election in 2015, and he later wrote a memoir titled, "Fear of a Black Republican." The general election will be Nov. 5.
● Where Are They Now?: Former GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold infamously left Congress last year after multiple former aides accused him of sexual harassment and bullying behavior only to almost immediately get a cushy $160,000-a-year job as a government lobbyist for a small government port agency on the Texas coast, but he resigned from that new post on Thursday. The Calhoun Port Authority only would say that the former Texas congressman left "to pursue other opportunities."
The port immediately kicked up a storm of criticism after they announced Farenthold's hiring in May. The port's board soon held a special vote to determine if he should stay on, but their three-three deadlock meant that he got to keep his job. Around that time, The Victoria Advocate filed a lawsuit against them for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by failing to properly notify the public in advance before they signed on the disgraced congressman; the paper also sought to void his appointment.
The lawsuit was still pending when Farenthold quit this month. The Advocate now says they'll continue to seek an order declaring the port had violated open meetings laws and to prevent something like this from happening in the future.
Farenthold himself is worth about $6 million, so he hardly depended on the Calhoun Port Authority's generosity to keep a roof over his head. Don't expect him to feel especially ashamed about any of this, either. Back in 2017, he made headlines when the public learned he'd used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit with his former communications director. Farenthold promised to reimburse the public, but when the port hired him last year, he confirmed that he was reneging on his pledge.