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Period Ending January 27, 2017

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

President

Electoral College: Legislators in three states are sponsoring bills to make their state’s Electoral College votes proportional. Currently, only two states, Maine and Nebraska, split their presidential votes. In both places, a candidate wins two votes for placing first in the statewide vote, and one more for each congressional district won. Maine has two seats, Nebraska three. Live legislation to convert to the same system that Maine and Nebraska employ will now be debated in Minnesota (8 congressional districts), New Hampshire (2 CDs), and Virginia (11 CDs). If this system had been law for these places in 2016, Donald Trump would have gained five votes in Minnesota, one in New Hampshire, and six in Virginia. This would have brought the final Election Night electoral vote count to 318-220.

Senate

California: Though Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) says she is leaning toward running for re-election in 2018, Public Policy Polling (1/17-28; 882 CA registered voters) asked survey respondents a Senate campaign question as if the seat will be open. Sen. Feinstein, at 83 is the Senate’s oldest member and an incumbent that most believed would retire at the end of this term, stated in interviews last week that she is leaning toward running again. Without Feinstein in the field, however, it is newly appointed Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) who would lead a jungle primary (21%), followed by San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer (R; 18%), ex-Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (R; 13%), and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks; 11%).

Missouri: As it is beginning to look less likely that Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin) will challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) next year, a new figure may be coming to the political forefront. NASCAR race driver Carl Edwards (R), who just announced his retirement as an active driver, is not denying that he is considering entering the political arena. Should Edwards make such a race, he would have some name identification, and his celebrity status should be helpful in attracting financial support.

New Mexico: Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R), who has already announced he won’t seek re-election this year, is not closing the door on a political race in the near future. Mayor Berry admits to be keeping his options open for a potential challenge against Sen. Martin Heinrich (D), to entering the open Governor’s race, or even the open 1st Congressional District contest. Incumbent Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) has already declared her own campaign for Governor.

Texas: A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) confirmed that he is considering challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (R) next year. Now, a House Democratic colleague is also signaling interest in exploring a run against the one-term Senator and former presidential candidate. San Antonio Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) also admits that he is willing to test the statewide waters and is contemplating a Senatorial run. It is unlikely both men will run, since all Democratic resources would be better spent in a general election. Therefore, it is more likely that Rep. O’Rourke will be the one to finally step forward. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin) has also indicated more than a passing interest in potentially launching a Republican primary challenge against Sen. Cruz.

House

CA-34: The California legislature has confirmed Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) as the state’s new Attorney General, and he quickly resigned the congressional seat. He replaces Sen. Kamala Harris (D) in the statewide prosecutorial role. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has scheduled the special congressional primary for April 4, with the general following on June 6. California uses a jungle primary system, meaning all candidates share the same ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation. The seat is heavily Democratic and it is likely that such a pair will advance. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) is favored to secure one of the run-off slots.

KS-2: Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Topeka) announced this week that she will not seek a sixth term in the House next year. Originally thought to be entering what will be an open 2018 gubernatorial race, Rep. Jenkins will instead exit politics altogether, preferring a return to the private sector. The 2nd District is reliably Republican, and the eventual GOP nominee will be viewed as at least an early favorite to hold the seat. The eastern Kansas 2nd CD stretches from Nebraska to Oklahoma. Topeka and Lawrence are its two largest population centers.

KS-4: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Wichita), now confirmed as President Trump’s new CIA Director, officially resigned his congressional post. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has scheduled the special general election for April 11, and set February 18 as the date when the parties must have a nominee in place. Republicans will call a convention of the 4th District Committee, the 126 members of which will decide upon the special election congressional nominee. The GOP is looking at February 9 as a potential convention date. Former US Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) and state Treasurer Ron Estes (R) are the two most prominent early candidates. Democrats have yet to announce their nomination procedure. The eventual GOP nominee will become a prohibitive favorite to win the special election.

MT-AL: Democrats lost their strongest potential special election candidate this week when former Montana state School Superintendent Denise Juneau announced she will not compete in the coming at-large election. Ms. Juneau challenged Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) in November and lost 56-40%. After the election, Mr. Zinke was appointed Interior Secretary in the Trump Administration. Upon confirmation to his new position, the Congressman will resign and Gov. Steve Bullock (D) will schedule the special. If the resignation comes in February, the voters will cast their ballots on or around June 1. The two parties will meet in convention to choose their standard bearers. Former gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte, a Montana business leader, appears to be the leading contender at this point in time. Democrats now appear turning toward state Rep. Amanda Curtis, who was the party’s 2014 US Senate nominee.

Governor

California: A Public Policy Polling survey (1/17-18; 882 CA registered voters) of the coming open gubernatorial campaign finds Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) opening up a small lead in a hypothetical jungle primary. San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer (R) was second, five points behind Newsom (25-20%). Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (R), and ex-LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) follow with 13, 12, and 9%, respectively. Billionaire Tom Steyer (D), Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), and state Treasurer John Chiang (D) all trail in single digits. Only Newsom, Villaraigosa, and Chiang are announced candidates. Mayor Falconer is a possible contender, while ex-Mayor Swearengin says she will not enter the race. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is ineligible to seek a third consecutive term. Democrats will be favored to hold the state’s top position.

South Carolina: Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was confirmed as the new US Ambassador to the United Nations; hence, she immediately resigned her gubernatorial post upon her confirmation to the federal position. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) then ascended to the Governorship. State Senator Kevin Bryant (R) became the state’s Lt. Governor. Under SC law, the Senate President Pro Tempore automatically becomes Lt. Governor in the case of a vacancy. In this case, Senate President Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) did not want to become Lt. Governor because his legislative position is actually more powerful. He resigned as Pro Tempore, and Bryant was elected. Upon being sworn in as Pro Tem, Bryant then immediately took the oath of office for Lt. Governor. Leatherman then ran again for the vacant President Pro Tempore position, and was re-elected.

Tennessee: State House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) is taking steps to enter the open Governor’s race. While not yet officially announcing her candidacy, this week she did open a new campaign account, separate from her state House committee. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Both parties expect a crowded field of candidates vying for their respective open seat nominations.