● AL-Sen: GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne said this week that he was "going to have an announcement in the next several weeks" about a potential bid against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Byrne has been flirting with a campaign for a while and when AL.com asked him in November if he could envision a scenario where he didn't run, he responded, "Not at this point in time."
No notable Republican candidate has announced a bid yet. State auditor Jim Zeigler said around Thanksgiving that he would form an exploratory committee, but it was only this week that he was formally launching the "exploratory" phase of his campaign. We're not sure exactly what that means, but as of Thursday, Zeigler still doesn't appear to have set up a fundraising committee with the FEC.
● KS-Sen: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finally spoke about his interest in leaving the cabinet to seek the GOP nod for this open seat, though he unsurprisingly didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. Pompeo said he had a “very full plate as secretary of state and I intend to keep doing this so long as President Trump will commit to it,” which hardly closes the door on anything. Pompeo also acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had talked to him about running and asked him to “think about it.”
National Republicans reportedly are courting Pompeo in part to try to prevent former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach from being their nominee. Kobach has declined to give a timeline for when he’ll make up his mind on running other than saying this week that the decision would be in the months ahead.
● SC-Sen: Former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison said Thursday that he would decide whether to challenge GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham in the next two weeks, adding, "We are really leaning into this."
● CA-50: This week, Democrat Alex Balkin, a Navy veteran who also worked at Department of Defense and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced that he would challenge indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter. Balkin joins 2018 Democratic nominee Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter 52-48, in the 2020 top-two primary.
● IA-04: Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor announced on Thursday that he was challenging white supremacist Rep. Steve King in the GOP primary. State Sen. Randy Feenstra and Army veteran Bret Richards are already challenging King in the primary, while Story County Supervisor Rick Sanders and 2016 primary foe Rick Bertrand are both considering.
As we've written before, with so many Republicans already in the field and more considering, there's a serious risk that King could win renomination with just a plurality. However, Iowa also has an unusual primary law that complicates things. If no one takes at least 35 percent of the vote, the nomination would be decided at a party convention.
● NY-22: On Thursday, a spokesperson for Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell announced he was forming an exploratory committee to seek the GOP nod for a federal office they would not identify. As annoying as this cagey announcement is, there's little question that Cornwell is eyeing a run against freshman Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi. All but a very tiny portion of Broome County is in the 22nd District, and Cornwell, who is not seeking re-election this year, wouldn't deny that he's been recruited to take on Brindisi when he was asked about it earlier this month.
● PA-10: The National Journal's Alex Clearfield reports that multiple sources in this Harrisburg area seat have told him that 2018 Democratic nominee George Scott is considering a rematch against GOP Rep. Scott Perry. Last year, Scott lost to Perry by a small 51-49 margin in a district that had backed Trump 52-43.
● PA-12: Gov. Tom Wolf has scheduled the special election to succeed Tom Marino, a Republican who resigned on Wednesday, for May 21, which is the same day as the regularly scheduled statewide primary for judicial and local races. Party leaders will choose their nominees, and Team Red will be heavily favored to hold onto this 66-30 Trump seat.
This week, state Rep. Fred Keller became the first Republican to announce he was running in the party convention, which has not yet been scheduled. A number of other Republicans have expressed interest in joining the contest including: Bradford County commissioner and 2018 candidate Doug McLinko, former Snyder County commissioner Malcolm Derk, and Marino aide David Weber.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: The saga of Ed Burke, a powerful Chicago alderman who was indicted this month for attempted extortion, continues to roil the Feb. 26 nonpartisan primary for mayor. On Wednesday, two separate major stories about Burke broke.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Alderman Danny Solis, an ally of Burke as well as of retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel and mayoral candidate and state comptroller Susana Mendoza, had secretly recorded more than a dozen conversations with Burke to help federal investigators build the case against his colleague. Chicago Tribune also reported that when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, another leading mayoral candidate, had hired Burke's son for a nearly $100,000 per year post, the younger Burke was facing two internal investigations by his previous employer.
We'll start with the Solis story, which utterly shocked the Windy City political world. The local NBC affiliate reported later that day that Solis' work with the feds was brought about by the fact that he'd been the subject of an FBI investigation in 2014, allegedly for misusing campaign money for personal matters. Solis, who was already retiring from the city council, has not been charged with anything, and he announced he would resign Wednesday.
Solis is a longtime ally of Mendoza, and he helped her win her very first race for the state House in 2000. More recently in March, Solis' political organization contributed $56,000 to Mendoza's 2018 re-election campaign for state comptroller. That same day, Mendoza received another $45,000 from five companies whose board members were investors in a company called Vendor Assistance Program that was founded by Solis' sister, national Democratic operative Patti Doyle Solis, and attorney Brian Hynes. Hynes is one of the alderman's longtime allies, and the FBI found a folder with the name "Brian Hynes" in a raid on Burke's office in November. Mendoza received an additional $22,000 from companies affiliated with VAP in September.
On Wednesday, Mendoza initially said she would keep the donations unless Solis was charged with anything. However, she reversed course the next day and announced that she would donate to charity a total of $141,000 that she'd received from Solis and the companies linked to VAP.
Now, we'll turn to the other major Burke story that came out this week. It was already public knowledge that Preckwinkle's administration had hired Ed Burke Jr. away from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for a nearly $100,000-per-year post in the county Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. But on Wednesday, in response to a public records request from the Tribune, Dart's office released documents showing that Burke Jr. had been under two separate internal investigations when he left the sheriff's department.
One inquiry began after an employee alleged that Burke had been "consistently disrespectful of women" and claimed to have documents that would "humiliate" Dart, whom Burke had also reportedly vowed to run against. A separate complaint from another department employee alleged that Burke had lied about a supervisor and said that, if anything happened to him as a result, "his father (Alderman Burke) would take care of it." The investigations ended when Burke left the department, but a sheriff's spokesperson said this week that he probably would have been fired had the allegations been sustained.
Preckwinkle maintains that she didn't know about any of this when Burke was brought on. Michael Masters, who headed the county Homeland Security department when Burke was brought on, also says that he doesn't recall discussing the hire with her, and that he didn't have any knowledge of the investigations against Burke. However, Preckwinkle also acknowledged Wednesday that she had met with Alderman Burke before his son was hired and the elder Burke "shared with me that his son was looking for a new opportunity. His son had worked for the county for 20 years. He was working for the sheriff."
This isn't the first time this month that Alderman Burke has caused headaches for Preckwinkle. 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 denied any knowledge of Burke's activities, and she has not been accused of any wrongdoing. She also ended up returning $116,000 that she had brought in at a fundraiser at Burke's house.
As we have repeatedly noted, Preckwinkle is hardly the only candidate with ties to Burke. Mendoza, for instance, has called him a mentor, and she was married at his home. Burke also had endorsed a third candidate, former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico, for mayor before he was indicted. While Preckwinkle has attracted the most media scrutiny, it's still unclear how much all of this is hurting her standing about a month ahead of the primary.
This week, Preckwinkle's allies at the SEIU Illinois Local 1 released a survey from PPP that showed her in first place with 15 percent of the vote. It was a very tight race for the second-place spot in an April 2 runoff, with former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley edging Chico 12-11, wealthy businessman Willie Wilson at 10, and Mendoza and former Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Paul Vallas each at 9.
We got another survey this week from David Binder Research on behalf of the charter school advocacy group INCS Action, which Politico says is not affiliated with any of the candidates. (This poll, like PPP's, was done before Wednesday's news.) They also found Preckwinkle in first place with 15 percent of the vote, with Mendoza and Daley tied for second with 9 each and Wilson taking 6. However, a previously unreleased poll from mid-December found Preckwinkle in stronger shape with 24 percent, while Mendoza and Daley took 11 and 10 percent, respectively, an indication that Preckwinkle has taken some damage over the last month.
There was one other notable development this week to note. The Chicago Board of Elections ruled that Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown did not turn in enough valid signatures to make the ballot, and Brown said she would not appeal.
● Tampa, FL Mayor: Candidate filing closed Friday for the race to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn. All the candidates will run on one nonpartisan ballot on March 5, and in the likely event that no one takes a majority of the vote, there would be an April 23 runoff. Seven people filed, and we've listed them below:
- Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor
- City Councilor Harry Cohen
- Retired Hillsborough County Judge Dick Greco Jr.
- Businessman Topher Morrison
- City Councilor Mike Suarez
- Retired banker and philanthropist David Straz
- Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik
The early frontrunner looks like Castor, who was the city's first gay police chief and would hold that same distinction if she won the mayor's office. (She is not related to Tampa Rep. Kathy Castor.) Straz, however, has been dramatically outspending the rest of the field, and he's picked up several union endorsements. Suarez, meanwhile, picked up an endorsement this week from former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham.