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Period Ending January 8, 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 first 2016 presidential campaign votes will actually be cast next month in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada and, at this point, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to be a lock for the Democratic nomination. Though the latest polling certainly shows Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders competitive with Ms. Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, he trails badly in all of the southern states and in the important Super Delegate category. Much of the South will vote in the March 1 Super Tuesday primary, meaning the nomination fight will likely be over at that time.

For Republicans, a long process will begin in February. In Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leads in most polls, but Donald Trump has substantial polling advantages in the other three February states and most of those voting on Super Tuesday. Still, it appears no one is on a path to capture the nomination on the first ballot, which could mean the first deadlocked political convention since Wendell Willkie became the Republican standard bearer on the sixth ballot at the 1940 GOP convention. The last time a convention went longer than the Willkie-Thomas E. Dewey battle occurred all the way back in 1920 when then-Ohio Sen. Warren G. Harding won the Republican nomination on the 11th ballot after securing just 5% of the vote on the first roll call.

The GOP race is very fluid, and it would not be surprising to see a second tier candidate rise to competitive status in the early February states. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may become the candidate most of the establishment backs, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be positioned well enough to by-pass former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Such an occurrence would almost assuredly end Bush’s effort and possibly allow Christie to become the dark horse February candidate.

Senate

California: The Field Poll (12/16-1/1; 1,003 CA registered voters) surveyed the state’s upcoming open Senate race and again finds that two Democrats are in best position to qualify for the general election. In California, the top two finishers in the June primary advance to the November election irrespective of political party affiliation. According to the Field Poll, Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) leads the pack of candidates with 27%. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46) is second with 15%, and all of the lesser-known Republicans are in single-digits. Ms. Harris is the clear favorite to win the seat, but she would prefer a GOP opponent in the general election as opposed to a southern California Hispanic Democrat. Though Rep. Sanchez is not a particularly convincing statewide candidate, her profile strongly reflects the California electorate.

Colorado: Businessman Doug Robinson (R), a nephew of former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, became the most recent individual to turn down national Republican overtures to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet (D). Though 10 Republicans have announced their Senate candidacies, none appears strong enough to give Bennet serious competition. The party leadership is also coaxing state Rep. Jon Keyser (R) who hails from the southwest outer Denver suburban foothill town of Morrison. He is a former Air Force Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Sen. Bennet is in strong shape to win a second full six-year term.

House

Florida: The ripple effects from the mid-decade court-driven redistricting are still not completely over. Several incumbents have not yet indicated where they plan to run this year. Still deciding are Reps. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee), whose 2nd District is now heavily Republican. She could run in the Jacksonville-based 5th District, stretching all the way to Tallahassee, or enter the US Senate race. She could even skip a term and run statewide in 2018. Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Jacksonville), the 5th District incumbent, could run in the new 5th or also the Orlando-based 10th, which is an area she currently represents. Rep. Dan Webster (R-Orlando) has seen his seat become heavily Democratic. He may jump either to the new 11th, which is now an open seat because Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Hernando County) is retiring, or to the open 6th District northeast of Orlando. Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL-21) and Lois Frankel (D-FL-22) both have Palm Beach/Ft. Lauderdale districts from which to run, but will switch seats. Deutch will seek re-election from the new 22nd District, while Frankel will move to the new 21st. The members still have weeks to decide. Candidate filing isn’t until May 6, with the Florida primary scheduled for August 30.

Virginia: The Richmond-based three-judge federal panel that declared Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D) 3rd District unconstitutional early in 2015 ordered that the new map be set for the 2016 election even though the plan is set for hearing in the United States Supreme Court. The high court could stay the panel’s decision, so it is still unclear as to whether or not this new map will stand. If it does, veteran Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Chesapeake) will be left without a district and the Democrats will likely gain one seat in the delegation.

CA-36: State Sen. Jeff Stone (R) is expected to announce a congressional challenge to two-term Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) over the weekend. Sen. Stone was elected in 2014 after serving three terms on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. He was first elected to the Temecula City Council in 1992 and would serve as the city’s Mayor. The 36th is a marginal district, so expect this general election campaign to be competitive.

GA-3: Six-term Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) announced that he will not seek re-election later this year, but will contemplate running for the open Governor’s office in 2018. Incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. The seat is heavily Republican, so the next Congressman will come from the GOP nomination contest. The statewide primary is May 24, with a run-off on July 26 for the top two party finishers should no one capture a majority in the first vote.

MN-2: Physician Mary Lawrence (D), who was viewed to be a strong candidate in the Minneapolis suburban open seat congressional race, decided to end her campaign efforts this week. That means healthcare executive Angie Craig will likely become the Democratic nominee, and the major party establishment is already jumping on her political bandwagon. The 2nd District is politically marginal. House Education and Workforce chairman John Kline (R-Burnsville) has held the seat against moderate opposition, but he is retiring at the end of this Congress. Therefore, we can expect a competitive race in a presidential year that should favor a Democratic turnout model. Republicans have a crowded field of candidates, already six in number with more to follow. The candidate filing deadline isn’t until May 31.

NY-3: Eight-term incumbent Rep. Steve Israel (D), a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a top lieutenant of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12), announced that he will not seek re-election in November in order to concentrate on writing and other activities. In an open situation, his north shore Long Island seat could become competitive. President Obama carried the 3rd by a slim 51-48% margin in 2012.

TN-3: State Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson (R), who was considering challenging Rep. Charles Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga) in the 2016 Republican primary, announced that he will not run for Congress. Rep. Fleischmann, who has had a tough intra-party opponent ever since winning his first election in 2010, may finally gain an easy path to re-nomination this year. If so, he is a cinch to win another term in November. The Tennessee candidate filing deadline is April 7th, with the state primary scheduled for August 4.

TN-9: Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen (D) has been able to represent a 60+% African American district since winning his first election in 2006 when the black community badly split their votes. He has survived every Democratic primary since, but now may draw his toughest opponent. State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris (D) is confirming interest in running for Congress, and may soon announce his intentions.

WA-7: Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle), first elected in 1988, also announced that he will retire. His downtown Seattle district will remain in Democratic hands as it is the party’s safest district in what is a safe political state for them. Already, state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw had announced a Democratic primary challenge to McDermott, but his move, even at the time of his declaration of candidacy, was viewed as positioning himself in an open seat scenario should the 79-year-old incumbent decide not to run for another term. Expect a crowded Democratic field of candidates. The Washington primary is scheduled for August 2.

Governor

Washington: Elway Research just released the first poll of the Washington Governor’s campaign, and it is a bit of a surprise for incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee. According to the data (12/28-30; 500 WA registered voters) Gov. Inslee leads Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant by only a 39-30% margin with upside down favorability ratings.

West Virginia: US Attorney Booth Goodwin (D) resigned his position and announced that he will join the open Governor’s race. Already in the Democratic primary are billionaire Jim Justice and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler. Goodwin’s cousin, Carte Goodwin (D), briefly served as a US Senator, appointed as a caretaker incumbent when Sen. Robert Byrd (D) passed away in 2010. Republican Bill Cole, the state Senate President, currently has little opposition for the GOP nomination. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) is ineligible to seek a third term. This open race will be competitive in the general election. The West Virginia primary is May 10.