Morning Digest: Trump-worshipping Florida congressman Matt Gaetz mulls Senate bid in … Alabama

Several bona fide Alabama Republicans have been considering running. The Hill adds that a new name that’s been “floated in recent days” is Tommy Tuberville, a former Auburn University football coach. Tuberville talked about running for governor last cycle but ultimately stayed out, and there’s no word if he’s interested in a Senate bid.

P.S. If Gaetz actually got elected to the Senate in one state while already representing another in the House, he would make history. The only two times this has happened in American history were when Virginia Rep. John Brown was elected senator from the new state of Kentucky in 1792, and when Massachusetts Rep. John Holmes won a Senate seat in the new state of Maine in 1820.

Of course, current and former elected officials in this day and age still do parachute across state lines to run for higher office, as Massachusetts Gov.-turned-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Massachusetts Sen.-turned-failed New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown can attest.

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Senate

CO-Sen: On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet announced that he would be treated for prostate cancer after the congressional recess begins next week. Bennet, who is up for re-election in 2022, said that he was told by his doctor that the risk of the procedure is low, and that he still wants to run for president this year if he is cancer free afterwards.

KS-Sen: State Senate President Susan Wagle announced this week that she would not seek re-election to the legislature in 2020, but that she was “likely” to run in the GOP primary to succeed Sen. Pat Roberts. Wagle, who recently failed to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto on a tax bill, once again said she wanted to wait until the legislative session ends in mid-May before going forward. Wagle said in January that she planned to form an exploratory committee, but as of Thursday, she still hasn’t filed paperwork with the FEC.

Gubernatorial

NH-Gov: 2018 Democratic nominee Molly Kelly didn’t rule out another campaign two months ago, and she said in a fundraising email for her new PAC that she was “leaving the door open and thinking about” a 2020 run. Kelly lost last year’s contest to GOP Gov. Chris Sununu 53-46 in a contest that didn’t attract much outside attention. Sununu has been considering challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen rather than seeking another two-year term.

UT-Gov: Utah Policy reports that Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, has been talking to unnamed people in his home state about seeking the GOP nod for his old job next year. Huntsman resigned from office back in 2009 to become Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, and his potential comeback bid reportedly has Republicans “scratching their heads.”

It’s not clear how serious Huntsman actually is about resigning from his post in Moscow to run for office again, especially since Utah Policy adds that it’s widely known that the job he really covets is U.S. secretary of state. The nation’s current chief diplomat, Mike Pompeo, has not closed the door on a bid for Kansas’ open Senate seat, so that post may be open before too long, though it’s anyone’s guess whom Donald Trump would pick to replace him.

If Huntsman actually does run for governor, it could shake up the race to succeed GOP incumbent Gary Herbert, who ascended from lieutenant governor to governor when Huntsman resigned. (Herbert himself hasn’t quite ruled out seeking another term, though he’s made it clear that he wants Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to run.) An unnamed “well-placed Utah Republican” says that former Utah State House Speaker Greg Hughes, who is close to Huntsman, would defer to the former governor, but he’s otherwise “very likely” to run himself.

Meanwhile, another Utah Republican is making it known that he’s still eyeing this seat. Businessman Josh Romney, a son of Sen. Mitt Romney (who defeated Huntsman in the 2012 presidential primary), expressed interest in this race all the way back in January of 2016, and he said this week that he was still considering. Romney has talked about launching various bids for office in Utah since 2008, when he considered challenging Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, but he’s never done it.

House

CA-15: The Atlantic reports that Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell will announce a presidential bid next week on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Swalwell has pledged not to run for re-election to his safely blue Bay Area House seat “if I’m in the [presidential] race” by the time the state filing deadline comes up in December, which does leave him the option to drop his White House bid and seek a fifth term.

FL-26: Restaurateur Irina Vilariño, whom the Miami Herald describes as “[t]he face of” the well-known local Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine chain, announced this week that she would seek the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Vilariño, who came to the U.S. from Cuba at the age of 4 as part of the Mariel Boatlift, is also a frequent conservative presence on cable news. Notably, she has also appeared with Donald Trump multiple times, including a White House Hispanic Heritage Month event where she suggested creating an “American Heritage Month” and echoed his new 2020 campaign slogan, “Keep America great.”

Vilariño’s pro-Trump rhetoric may be a liability in a general election in a Miami-area seat that supported Hillary Clinton 57-41. This seat was friendlier to Republicans down the ballot in 2018, but it still wasn’t great turf for Team Red last year. According to analyst Matthew Isbell, all five statewide Democrats carried the 26th District, with Sen. Bill Nelson taking it 54-46 during his unsuccessful re-election bid and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum winning it by a similar 53-46 spread.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo made a great effort to distance himself from Trump in word (though not in deed) during his re-election campaign last year, and he did indeed run ahead of the entire statewide ticket. However, it still wasn’t enough, and Curbelo lost to Mucarsel-Powell 51-49. The following day, Trump mocked Curbelo for separating himself from the White House, declared he was one of the defeated incumbents who “did very poorly,” and repeatedly mispronounced his name. Unsurprisingly, Curbelo has shown little interest in running here again, though he’s been eyeing a bid for Miami-Dade County mayor.

NC-03: The April 30 primary for this year’s special election to succeed the late GOP Rep. Walter Jones is coming up quickly, and Roll Call’s Simone Pathé takes a look at the spending in the 17-way (yes, really) GOP primary. The candidate who has spent spent or reserved the most media spots so far is Lenoir County Commissioner Eric Rouse, who was the first to go on TV, but the following two are contenders whom we haven’t mentioned before.

Pediatrician Joan Perry has spent or reserved $60,000, which is only slightly less than Rouse’s $66,000. A bit behind her is accountant Celeste Cairns, who has deployed $49,000 (Pathé says she’s only aired ads on cable TV so far). In the very likely event that no one takes at least 30 percent of the vote, there would be a primary runoff on July 9.

NM-03: Two more Democrats say they’re interested in running for this reliably blue open seat in northern New Mexico. Santa Fe City Councilor Renee Villarreal said she had been planning to seek re-election before Rep. Ben Ray Luján kicked off his Senate bid and will now consider getting in. Robert Apodaca, who served as a regional official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration, also says he’s “seriously contemplating” getting in.

NY-24: Navy veteran Roger Misso, who was deployed in one of the first missions against the Islamic State, announced this week that he would seek the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Rep. John Katko. Misso has also published some editorials in local news publications, including a February editorial at auburnpub.com titled, “Why I’m moving back to upstate New York” that responded to Trump’s declaration to upstate residents worried about the economy that if the state “isn’t gonna treat them better, I would recommend they go to another state where they can get a great job.”

This seat, which includes Syracuse, backed Clinton 49-45, and Katko is just one of three House Republicans left in a Clinton seat. Last year, Katko defeated Democrat Dana Balter 53-47 as Republican Marc Molinaro was carrying this seat 47-44 against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo (hat-tip: Greg Giroux). Balter expressed interest in another bid back in February.

OH-13: Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan announced Thursday that he would run for president, though he said last week that he’d also file for re-election even if he sought the White House. Ryan is infamous for talking about running for higher office but, until now, never doing it. However, since Ohio law allows him to run for president and for the House at once, he’s not sacrificing his spot in the House the way he would have if he’d sought the governorship or a Senate seat.

Ryan’s Youngstown-area seat went from 63-35 Obama to 51-45 Clinton, but the GOP has never made a serious effort to target him in this district, which was originally drawn to quarantine as many Democrats as possible to make neighboring seats red. However, Team Red may have more of an opening now that Ryan will be distracted with his national bid.

TX-22: On Thursday, Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni announced that he would seek a rematch against GOP Rep. Pete Olson in this suburban Houston seat. Kulkarni, a former diplomat, raised about $1.6 million last cycle in a contest that attracted very little national spending, and he held Olson to a surprisingly close 51-46 win.

Kulkarni entered the race with the support of Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is reportedly planning a Senate bid, as well as former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, but he may not have the primary to himself. Nyanza Moore, a political commentator on the local Fox affiliate, filed with the FEC in late January, though she doesn’t appear to have announced she’s in yet.

However, while Moore has been identified as a “progressive commentator,” Media Matters noted that back in 2017, she didn’t exactly distinguish herself in a conversation about LGBT rights. Back then the GOP-led state Senate was making a move to pass a “bathroom bill” that would restrict access to transgender people. Joe Straus, a relatively moderate Republican who was the state House speaker at the time, opposed this, saying he didn’t “want the suicide of a single Texan on [his] hands.” Moore’s response was to say Straus made a “stupid statement” and she asked, “What does going to the bathroom have to do with suicide?”

Moore also added, “I don’t know if the LGBT community has gotten so pressed with him to where they have convinced him that someone will actually kill themselves if they are forced to use a gender-identified bathroom.” Moore’s insensitive comments didn’t take into account evidence that transphobic policies like this actually have put lives in danger. After North Carolina passed a similar bill in 2016, for instance, calls nearly doubled to a crisis hotline for transgender people.

This seat, which includes Sugar Land, Pearland, and a small portion of Houston, was red turf for decades, and Olson had been accustomed to easy wins since he unseated Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson back in 2008. However, he got a more competitive contest than almost anyone was expecting last year, and the incumbent did not handle himself well on the campaign trail.

In late October, the incumbent called Kulkarni, who is partially of Indian descent, a “liberal, liberal, liberal Indo-American who’s a carpetbagger,” and speculated without any evidence that donations raised through the progressive site ActBlue were “coming from overseas.” When Olson was immediately asked why he had mentioned his opponent’s race, Olson responded, “I didn’t mention his race. Carpetbagger’s not a race.” Making this racist dog-whistling even more absurd is that Kulkarni is a descendant of Texas founding father Sam Houston via his mother, Margaret Preston.

Olson still won, but his showing did not impress. In December, Roll Call wrote that he was rumored to be interested in retiring, though his chief of staff denied such claims. Team Red may be better off if Olson does hang it up, though, since they may be in store for more competitive races in this diversifying seat. This district went from 60-38 Romney to 54-41 Trump, and according to the Texas Legislative Council, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried it just 50-49 last year.

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