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Period Ending January 19, 2017

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

Senate

Arizona: As expected, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) announced her candidacy for the state’s open Senate seat at the end of last week. Ms. McSally will now challenge former Maricopa County Joe Arpaio and ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward in the August 28th Republican primary. The winner will likely face Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) in the general election. Ms. Sinema is fast becoming the consensus Democratic candidate.

A new poll from the Arizona-based Data Orbital survey research firm (1/11-15; 500 AZ likely Republican primary voters) finds Rep. McSally leading Mr. Arpaio and Ms. Ward for the open Republican Senate primary. According to these latest numbers, Rep. McSally holds a 31-22-19% lead over Mr. Arpaio and Ms. Ward, respectively. The analysis suggests that McSally’s strong base within her Tucson congressional district is largely responsible for her statewide advantage. Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is retiring after one term.

Minnesota: While former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) never expressed outright interest in running in the new special election presumably against appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D), he never firmly closed the door on entering the race, either. Now, he has. This week, in a Fox News interview, Mr. Pawlenty said he will not become a Senate candidate, and that there are many other ways to continue his public service career. On the heels of Mr. Pawlenty firmly deciding not to run against Sen. Smith, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano/Minneapolis suburbs) then quickly followed suit. Late this week, Mr. Emmer announced that he will seek re-election to a third term from his 6th District US House seat. For now, state Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater/St. Croix River Valley) is the only announced candidate. Former US Rep. and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is also considering the race.

Mississippi: Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley (D-Tupelo), a cousin of rock legend Elvis Presley, had been the national Democrats’ top choice to oppose Sen. Roger Wicker (R) this year. Now, they will have to look elsewhere. Yesterday, Mr. Presley announced that he will not become a Senate candidate, at least in the regular cycle. Rumors have been rampant that health issues may force Sen. Thad Cochran (R) to resign and, if so, an appointment would be made followed by a special election to be held concurrently with the regular cycle. Mr. Presley pointedly did not rule out entering a special election, if and when such a political apparatus becomes necessary.

On the Republican side, still no word as to whether state Sen. Chris McDaniel will challenge Mr. Wicker in the GOP primary. As time progresses without indication of movement, the chances are much less that Mr. McDaniel will enter the race. In 2014, you will remember that Sen. Cochran came within a half-percentage point of losing the Republican nomination to Sen. McDaniel. The candidate filing deadline is March 1st for the June 5th primary.

Missouri: Last week, Remington Research released a survey giving Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) a 49-45% lead over Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), the second time this polling firm reported such a finding. Public Policy Polling, then surveying for the liberal Majority Institute (1/8-9; 965 MO registered voters), puts McCaskill back in the lead, however, but with only the slightest of margins, 45-44%. This latter sampling universe appears to contain a Democratic skew. In a state that has lurched to the right since the turn of the century, the PPP sample actually gave the Democrats a 37-34% plurality. Together, the two polls suggest that the Senate race is clearly within the margin of polling error and should be considered a toss-up, even at this early stage of the election cycle.

Tennessee: The first public polling for the open Volunteer State Republican Senate nomination (Triton Polling & Research; 12/12-18; 1,028 TN likely Republican primary voters) released back in December staked Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) to a huge 58-11% advantage over former US Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County). Now, WPA Intelligence, polling for the conservative Club for Growth organization, released the results of their latest survey (1/14-15; 502 TN likely Republican primary voters) and found Rep. Blackburn’s lead to be even greater: 66-13%. In fact, even when tested against two-term retiring incumbent Sen. Bob Corker (R), the Congresswoman would deny him re-nomination in a hypothetical primary race, 63-25%. Her favorability image within this polling sample is a whopping 64:12% positive to negative.

Wyoming: Though we have heard little follow-up about potential primary challenges to Sen. John Barrasso (R), Blackwater security company founder Erik Prince is again on record saying he is still considering whether to enter the race, and promises a decision in February. Nothing more has been heard from mutual fund founder and major GOP donor Foster Friess, who also made statements about possibly opposing the Senator. Both men could easily finance their own campaigns. The candidate filing deadline is not until June 1st for the August 21st state primary. But, like in Mississippi, the more time that passes without challengers coming forward continues to favor the sitting incumbent.

House

IL-3: Marketing consultant Marie Newman is challenging veteran Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs/Chicago suburbs) and consolidating support on the left. In addition to attracting several left-of-center groups’ support, Newman has now earned endorsements from two sitting members of the Illinois congressional delegation. In a bit of a surprise, Chicago Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky both endorsed Ms. Newman against their area colleague, though the former is not seeking re-election. The moves signal that this Democratic primary challenge will likely become a serious electoral contest. The Illinois primary is March 20th.

IL-17: Despite already raising more than $500,000 as a challenger opposing three-term western Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline), businessman Mark Kleine (R) has decided to end his congressional campaign. He made comments suggesting that he could not raise the type of money it would take to win the race, even though he began in strong fashion. At best, the race would have been a long shot.

Though Mr. Kleine was demonstrating some strength as a candidate, the party leaders have no chance of recruiting a strong replacement since the filing deadline has already passed. Illinois has the second-earliest primary in the country (March 20). For her part, Rep. Bustos had already raised well over $1.5 million in this currently election cycle, and held over $2.3 million in her campaign account at the end of September.

NV-4: Reports coming from Nevada indicate that Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony (R) is ending his campaign for the open 4th Congressional District seat (freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas)) because of heart problems. Now that Mr. Kihuen is out of the race, former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Mesquite), despite him suffering his own heart attack during his one term in the House, has re-entered. Rep. Kihuen unseated Mr. Hardy in 2016, but came under fire for sexual harassment and will not to seek re-election. The 4th CD is a marginal political seat, originally created in the 2011 reapportionment, which leans toward the Democrats but has also proven to vote Republican.

OH-12: Now that Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Galena/Franklin County) has officially left the House and the replacement primary election is scheduled concurrently with the state’s regular primary on May 8th, more individuals are making political moves. This week, Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan became the sixth Republican to declare her candidacy, while Democratic former state Rep. Jay Goyal said he will not run despite being encouraged to do so by many Democratic Party leadership figures.

So far, six Republicans and seven Democrats have entered the special election campaign. The candidate filing deadline is February 7th. The leading Republicans are state Sens. Kevin Bacon (R-Columbus) and Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville), along with Delaware County prosecutor Carol O’Brien. For the Dems, former Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott and and ex-Ashley Mayor Doug Wilson appear to top the field. The special general is August 7th. Republicans are favored to hold the seat.

VA-6: Through Virginia’s unique candidate nominating rules, each congressional district party committee can decide upon the vehicle and date to choose their candidates. The open 6th District (Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke) retiring) will go to a Republican convention on May 19th. Candidate filing closed yesterday, and eight individuals filed as congressional contenders. Three appear to be the key players: state Del. Ben Cline (R-Lexington), RNC National Committeewoman and former Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar, and Rockingham-Harrisonburg Clerk of Court Chaz Haywood.

The 6th District Republican Committee is organizing a bit differently for this convention. Instead of the usual process where the delegates vote until a candidate has majority support, these delegates will simply vote one time. This means the contender with mere plurality support will be nominated. At least one of the candidates, Delegate Cline, is objecting to the new procedure but there is little he can do to influence changes.

Governor

Connecticut: Liberal activist Ned Lamont, who upset then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) in the 2006 Democratic primary but fell to him in the general when the Senator attained ballot access as an Independent, announced that he will become the eighth Democrat to compete in this year’s open Governor’s race. Mr. Lamont lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary to Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, the man who would go onto win the general election, garnering only 42% of the vote. The perennial candidate, a former Greenwich Selectman, is from the Sanders-Warren wing of the Democratic Party, and actually stands a good chance of topping a crowded primary field where no other candidate has yet to develop significant statewide name identification.