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Period Ending January 29, 2016

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

President

Re-cap: The last campaign week before the Iowa Caucus was dominated by news stories about whether Donald Trump would attend the Fox News debate. In the end, of course, Trump did not participate citing previous unfair treatment from debate moderator Megyn Kelly. Polls are erratic in Iowa, particularly on the Democratic side. Of the last 10 public polls released, from January 18-26, Hillary Clinton leads in six and Sen. Bernie Sanders takes first place in four. In the last seven polls, both candidates are in the 40s. On the Republican side, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has largely been credited with having the lead in the Iowa Caucuses it is Donald Trump who places first in nine of the last 10 public surveys. Polling for a caucus state is difficult because turnout for precinct meetings is much different than it is for voting in polling places.

Turning to the general election, Luntz Global released a poll (1/26-27; 900 national registered voters) that finds former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as an Independent candidate, scoring well in three scenarios. In each, against Hillary Clinton and with Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) each as the Republican nominee, Bloomberg posts either 28 or 29% of the respondent’s vote. Both Trump and Rubio would defeat Clinton in a close race with Bloomberg a close third, while Clinton would turn the table if Cruz were the nominee.

Senate

Arizona: A new ballot proposal is beginning the qualification process for this year’s general election ballot. If qualified and adopted, the measure will change Arizona’s primary to a “top-two” system, similar to what is used in California, Louisiana, and Washington. Party labels would become less important as all candidates will appear on one ballot, and the top two finishers irrespective of party affiliation, will advance to the general election. The idea is to help the more moderate candidates in both parties, but that hasn’t necessarily been the outcome in the other states. Proponents must gather 255,963 valid signatures from registered voters by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. They argue the system change is warranted because a plurality of Arizona voters is registered as Independents.

Kentucky: Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Mayor Jim Gray (D) filed to challenge Sen. Rand Paul (R) just hours before candidate filing closed this week. Mr. Gray, elected as Mayor in 2010 defeating an incumbent with a platform of less government spending and opposition to water rate hikes, ran a prominent local construction company before his original election to the City Council in 2006. The Lexington-Fayette County region is the second largest population center in the state. Gray must be viewed as a plus for Democratic candidate recruitment, as he has competitive ability in a race against Sen. Paul. Kentucky’s history as a strong Republican state in the presidential contest will make Gray’s challenge more difficult, but this could be a Senate race to watch.

Louisiana: As expected, five-term state Treasurer John Kennedy (R) announced that he is joining the open US Senate contest. Kennedy was elected to his current statewide position in 1999 as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP for the 2007 election. He has twice lost races for the Senate (in 2004 and 2008), and one for Attorney General in 1991. Kennedy joins Reps. Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) and John Fleming (R-LA-7), former Rep. Joe Cao (R-LA-2), 2014 US Senate candidate Rob Maness (R), Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta (R), and energy executive Josh Pellerin (D) as announced candidates. The Louisiana jungle primary is held concurrently with the November 8 general election. If no one receives a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a December 10 run-off election. Candidate filing does not conclude until July 22, so much time remains for others to also enter the campaign.

New Hampshire: NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College again polled New Hampshire voters, and while the focus of the questions were on the presidential contest, they did ask 2,258 registered voters through an automated information system about the US Senate campaign on one single day, January 28. The result finds first-term Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) leading Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), 45-40%, a margin range that has been prevalent for more than a year. Though Gov. Hassan officially announced her Senate candidacy in early October, the contest between the two statewide officeholders had been speculated upon for months. This particular race becomes, perhaps, the most difficult Senate contest in the nation in which to make an early prediction, other than we know the result will be close. New Hampshire is now the ultimate swing state in America, fluctuating often and wildly since first doing so in the 2004 presidential election. In that year, New Hampshire became the only state in the Union to leave President George W. Bush to support then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D). The final 2016 presidential wave will have a great deal of influence over the critical New Hampshire Senate race.

Wisconsin: The Marquette University Law School released another of their regular Wisconsin electorate surveys (1/21-24; 806 WI registered voters) that again projects the Democratic challenger, former Sen. Russ Feingold, leading incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) by a consistent and substantial margin. The latest numbers give the former three-term Senator a 50-37% lead over the first-term current incumbent. Their previous poll found a 50-38% margin.

House

Kentucky Filings: Five of the six Kentucky incumbents are running for re-election, and all are heavily favored to win another term next November. The one open seat, retiring Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-Hopkinsville) 1st District, will stay in the Republican column, most likely in the person of former state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Mr. Comer is fresh from a stinging defeat in the 2015 Governor’s primary, a race he lost to now-Gov. Matt Bevin (R) by only 83 votes statewide. His competition is light in this open congressional race, and he appears to safely have the inside track to Congress.

AZ-2: Public Policy Polling (1/15-18; 741 AZ-2 registered voters), on behalf of candidate Victoria Steele (D), surveyed the upcoming competitive 2016 congressional election. Freshman Rep. Martha McSally’s (R-Tucson) 167-vote victory proved to be the closest election finish of the entire 2014 congressional election cycle. The early numbers find Rep. McSally in strong position for re-election. The Congresswoman leads Ms. Steele, a former state Representative, 48-39% according to the PPP data. Against former state Rep. Matt Heinz (D), McSally tallies a slightly better 48-35% margin. According to the September 30th financial disclosure report, the incumbent held almost $1.7 million in her campaign account.

MD-8: David Trone, owner of the Total Wine store chain, entered the open suburban Washington, DC 8th District Democratic congressional primary. Mr. Trone says he will self-finance his late-starting campaign. He faces former news anchor and hotel executive Kathleen Matthews, wife of MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, state Sen. Jamie Raskin, state House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, and several minor candidates. Winning the Democratic nomination in this Montgomery County-anchored district is tantamount to winning the general election. The Maryland primary is scheduled for April 26. Incumbent Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) is running for Senate.

NV-3: Despite the marginal nature of this southern Clark County seat, Democrats had a hard time recruiting a candidate. The seat is open for 2016 because incumbent Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) is running for the Senate. Republicans are coalescing around state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, though perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R), son of the late Hall of Fame college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, is also running. The new candidate is businesswoman Jacky Rosen (D), who becomes the favorite for the party nomination and will likely attract national support, including that from outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D). Since Nevada is a critical state in the presidential and US Senate picture, the Democrats are forced to make a strong push to convert the most politically marginal district.

PA-8: A new Republican candidate has emerged for the Bucks County seat of retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Levittown). The Congressman’s brother, Brian Fitzpatrick, a retired FBI agent, this week announced that he will enter the open seat campaign. State Rep. Scott Petri (R) is already a candidate as is former Bucks County Commissioner Andy Warren (R). Democrats are looking to state Rep. Steve Santarsiero and defeated 2014 congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton, a businesswoman who attracts national liberal support. The marginal 8th District will be highly competitive in the general election.

Governor

Montana: State Public Service Commissioner Brad Johnson (R) has ended his campaign for Governor, leaving wealthy technology businessman Greg Gianforte as the heavy favorite for the Republican nomination. At this point, with candidate filing set to close on March 14, only former teacher and defeated state Senate candidate Mark Perea is Gianforte’s lone primary opponent. Upon winning the June 7 Republican primary, the new nominee will face first term Gov. Steve Bullock (D), in what will be an uphill general election battle for the Republican standard bearer despite the state likely going for the GOP nominee in the presidential contest.