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Period Ending January 15, 2016

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This weekly roundup of election news and notes is compiled for Thompson Coburn by the The Ellis Insight.

President

Republican Debate: The sixth GOP presidential debate was held this week in South Carolina, and it featured the smallest number of participants to date. Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), Govs. Chris Christie (R-NJ), John Kasich (R-OH), and ex-Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) comprised the debate contestants. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and businesswoman Carly Fiorina were sent to the preliminary debate, which included ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). Sen. Paul declined to participate in the undercard debate. The last forum prior to the first votes being cast in Iowa will be held in Des Moines on January 28.

Polls: A multitude of Iowa and New Hampshire political surveys suggest that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-D/VT) is in position to upset former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Several new polls find the Senator ahead of Ms. Clinton in each state. Even if he pulls the victories, his lead will not last. Once the campaign turns south for the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries, the nomination will be virtually clinched.

For the Republicans, several new polls conducted after January 1 suggest a very close contest forming between Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Multiple polls have found both to be in first place by a point or two. Such tight polling should be an indication that Cruz is in better position since it is widely believed he has the best voter turnout operation in the state. It is surmised that Trump’s supporters, many of who have never participated in a caucus meeting, may have a lower turnout rate than the polls suggest. Turning to New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, the remaining February voting states, Trump continues to enjoy substantial leads over the entire GOP field.

Senate

Colorado: First-term state Rep. Jon Keyser (R), a former Air Force Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, announced that he will challenge Sen. Michael Bennet (D) next year. Though Republicans already have a large field of candidates, the biggest GOP names in the state repeatedly rejected party overtures to challenge Sen. Bennet. Mr. Keyser did respond favorably to the national GOP leadership’s recruitment effort, so he will be the party favorite to capture the nomination. In any event, Sen. Bennet is in strong political position entering the election year from what can be a highly marginal political state.

Maryland: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) scored a major coup in his battle against fellow Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD-4) this week. The powerful Sierra Club endorsed Mr. Van Hollen’s US Senate campaign, which will help his already ample fundraising effort even more. For his part, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD-7) continues to say he’s undecided about whether to run for the Senate, but with candidate filing fast approaching on February 3 his window to enter the campaign has effectively closed. The Maryland primary is scheduled for April 26. The Democratic nominee will become the prohibitive favorite in the general election.

New Hampshire: Public Policy Polling conducted another Granite State poll (1/4-6; 1,036 NH registered voters) and found the tight Senate race between incumbent Kelly Ayotte (R) and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) to be virtually unchanged. The new numbers continue to show Sen. Ayotte with the smallest of leads, 44-42% in this latest finding. We can expect this race to be a toss-up all the way to the November 8 Election Day.

House

Mississippi Filings: The candidate filing deadline passed in the Magnolia State, and all four congressional incumbents appear safe for re-election. Mississippi has no US Senate election in 2016. The biggest associated story is that 2014 US Senate candidate Chris McDaniel (R), who forced veteran incumbent Thad Cochran (R) into a tight run-off, did not choose to file a primary challenge against 4th District Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Biloxi) ending speculation that he would. Palazzo, first elected in 2010, drew no primary opposition this year, and will have an easy general election run against retired National Guard officer Michael Gladney (D). Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Saltillo/Tupelo), elected in a 2015 special election after the death of Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R), drew minimal primary opposition and will coast in the general election to his first full term in office. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton/Jackson) will have an easy run for a 13th term against former local office candidate John Boule II (R). Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Pearl/Jackson) draws a nuisance primary challenge and will likely battle former Magnolia city Alderman Dennis Quinn (D) in the general election.

FL-23: Rumors have abounded about a Democratic primary challenge to DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for months, and the six-term Representative has now drawn one. Former US Senate aide and college professor Tim Canova (D) officially announced his candidacy and promises a hard fought race against the national party chair. Wasserman Schultz has endured her share of controversy in the preceding year, including behind-the-scenes maneuvering from many in the Obama Administration to remove her from the party leadership post. Though the Congresswoman is the clear favorite, this is more than a nominal primary challenge.

FL-26: Rejecting Democratic Party pleas to allow businesswoman Annette Taddeo (D) to have a free shot at unseating freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami) in a more friendly (to Democrats) post-redistricting seat, businessman Andrew Korge (D), son of major Democratic fundraising bundler Chris Korge, announced that he will enter the campaign. Taddeo, a darling of the Washington, DC, Democratic establishment and leadership, has fared poorly in a previous congressional race, and one for Lt. Governor in 2014. Former one-term Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Miami) continues to maintain that he has not ruled out a comeback attempt this year, either.

MI-1: Former state Sen. Jason Allen (R), who lost to Dr. Dan Benishek (R) in the 2010 open Republican primary by just 15 votes, announced that he will run again. The seat will once again be open since Rep. Benishek has chosen not to seek re-election. Already in the GOP race is state Sen. Tom Casperson, who the Congressman has already endorsed. Democrats Jerry Cannon, the retired Sheriff and military officer who was the 2012 party nominee, and Lon Johnson, the state Democratic Party chairman, are vying for their party’s nomination. This seat is politically marginal, so we could see an eventual toss-up situation emerge.

NY-19: Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R), who was the first candidate to jump into the open seat race after Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) announced he would not seek re-election in November, has dropped out of the race. Mr. Lopez cited his father’s just-discovered battle against cancer as his reasoning. He will seek re-election to the state legislature. The development helps favored candidate John Faso (R), a former Assemblyman and state gubernatorial nominee.

OH-8: Though 16 Republicans are running in the special election to replace resigned Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-West Chester), the race appeared to be among two top contenders, state Sen. Bill Beagle and state Rep. Tim Derickson. The campaign may be changing a bit because businessman and Army veteran Warren Davidson just attracted the endorsement and support from the Club for Growth organization. The financial backing from the group’s members certainly will help propel Davidson into the top tier. The special primary election will be held concurrently with the Ohio presidential and congressional regular primary on March 15, with a partisan run-off scheduled for June 7.

VA-2: Another surprise congressional retirement announcement came at the end of the week, this time in southeastern Virginia. Three-term Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Virginia Beach) says he will not run for re-election later this year. With Virginia redistricting still not finalized, the 2nd District could be a toss-up seat or a reliably Republican one, depending upon which map is finally enacted for the 2016 election. Much more on this story to come.

WV-2: Former state Delegate Mark Hunt (D), who was in the race for state Attorney General, has now changed focus. Hunt is leaving the AG’s race to challenge freshman Rep. Alex Mooney (R-Charles Town) who scored an underwhelming 47-44% open seat victory in 2014. Up until recently, Rep. Mooney also had a primary challenger, in the person of second-time candidate Ken Reed, an area pharmacist, but he has since ended his campaign. The 2nd District, home to the state’s largest city of Charleston, is marginal so this contest will be one to watch. Former West Virginia Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey, the party nominee against Mooney two years ago, has not ruled out seeking a re-match.

Governor

New Hampshire: The aforementioned Public Policy Polling survey (see New Hampshire Senate above) also tested the open 2016 Governor’s race here. The leading GOP contender, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, son of former Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, claims small leads against the two top Democrats. Opposing Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (D), Sununu leads 39-35%. If the Democratic nominee were businessman Mark Connolly, Sununu’s edge drops to 38-36%. Like in the Senate race, the open Governor’s campaign is expected to be close all the way to Election Day.

North Dakota: Businessman Doug Burgum (R) announced his gubernatorial candidacy for the open state chief executive position. Many believe that Burgum, with his substantial personal resources, will bypass the state convention and go directly to the primary ballot. The party convention is poised to award its coveted endorsement to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is the clear favorite to succeed retiring Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R). Also in the race is GOP state Rep. Rick Becker. Democrats are looking to former state Agriculture Secretary Sarah Vogel to become their party standard bearer. The race is Mr. Stenehjem’s to lose.