Nebraska Sen. Johanns to Retire

In a surprising announcement, first-term Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns (R), announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year. Johanns, a former US Agriculture Secretary, two-term Nebraska governor, mayor, and county commissioner was elected to the Senate in 2008, defeating rancher Scott Kleeb 58-40 percent.

Sen. Johanns appeared to be a lock for a second term, but says he and his wife’s desire to return to “a quieter life” after what will be 32 years in public office at the end of this Congress is what drives his decision.

The seat should easily remain in Republican hands because the Democrats have a weak political bench in the Cornhusker State. With their best possible candidate, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, losing badly to freshman Sen. Deb Fischer (42-58 percent) last November in what was a clear Democratic year nationally, the party leaders and candidates will have a difficult time reaching the realm of competitiveness in 2014.

On the Republican side, the early speculation surrounds popular term-limited Gov. Dave Heineman. Clearly, he would be the party’s strongest candidate should he make the run.

If the governor takes a pass on the race, then look for one or more of the state’s three congressmen to take the leap. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE-3) are more likely to run than 2nd District Rep. Lee Terry (R). Terry, just appointed chairman of the House Sub-Committee (of Energy & Commerce) on Commerce, Manufacturing, & Trade, may not want to forfeit his strong path on an exclusive committee for a run at statewide office.

If Terry does decide to run, however, he might be the most formidable of the Nebraska congressmen since he represents the Omaha seat, and is already well known in the state’s most dominant media market.

In terms of other potential candidates, state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R), who has lost four other statewide campaigns, is quoted as saying he is considering running. Other statewide officials are currently either running for re-election or looking at the open governor’s race.

IL-2: Kelly Pulling Away

A major development occurred yesterday in Illinois in the special election to replace resigned Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL-2) just eight days before the scheduled Feb. 26 primary election.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, one of the leading Democratic candidates in the race, suddenly withdrew from the competition and endorsed former Cook County Executive Director Robin Kelly. Though Hutchinson had been dropping in the polls and was attacked for receiving an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, the latest FEC disclosure statements actually showed her as the top fundraiser during the period between Jan. 1 and Feb. 6. This suggests that her campaign was still viable.

In the past week, Kelly has been attracting impressive endorsements, including those from a trio of Chicago area US representatives: Bobby Rush (D-IL-1), Danny Davis (D-IL-7), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9). Earlier this month, another mid-level contender, state Sen. Napoleon Harris also dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination and endorsed Kelly.

The moves suggest that the majority African-American community is coalescing behind one candidate, Kelly. Her main opponent, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-IL-11), was hoping for a split within the Chicago black vote that would allow her to capture the nomination with a small plurality of suburban and rural voters amongst a crowded field of candidates. Now, it appears that Kelly is in the driver’s seat and headed for victory on the 26th. Winning the Democratic primary in the 2nd District is tantamount to claiming the seat. The special general election occurs April 9.

MO-8: Dems Choose Rep. Hodges

The Eighth Congressional District Democrats in Missouri caucused over the weekend and selected four-term state Rep. Steve Hodges of East Prairie as their special election nominee. Hodges will compete with GOP state Rep. Jason Smith for the right to succeed resigned Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R) in the June 4 special election.

Since MO-8 is an overwhelmingly Republican district (Obama ’12: 32 percent), Smith is a heavy favorite to win the special election.

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