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Period Ending October 16, 2015

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

President

Debates: The Democratic presidential candidates participated in their first debate forum in Las Vegas during the week, and it was Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) who dominated the proceedings. Most media accounts say the former Secretary of State and First Lady won the debate, yet all five candidates were forcefully supporting the party’s strong move to the left. The absence of Vice President Joe Biden was notable, and more questions surround whether or not he will enter the campaign. Mr. Biden now says he will decide late this month or early next. The longer he drags out a decision, the chances of him actually getting into the race diminish.

The next Republican debate is scheduled for October 28 at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but host CNBC is running into trouble with some of the candidates over their debate rules. Front-runner Donald Trump, largely responsible for the huge ratings advantage the GOP enjoys (the first two debates averaged 23.5 million viewers, the Democrats recorded a 15 million viewership audience), says he may skip the CNBC debate unless the format and length of time is changed and finalized. Dr. Ben Carson is echoing Mr. Trump’s sentiments. It is likely that CNBC will bend to Trump and Carson since their ratings and profits will dry up without the two leading candidates as participants. The second Democratic debate is scheduled for November 14 from Drake University in Iowa.

Senate

California: The Field Poll released its findings for their late September/early October survey of the California electorate (9/17-10/4; 1,002 CA registered voters) and again found the two top Democrats in qualifying position within the jungle primary field. In California, the pair of finishers with the highest vote totals from the June primary advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation. Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), the heavy favorite to win the seat, scores 30% preference in the poll followed by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46) who posts 17% support. The top Republican is Assemblyman Rocky Chavez with 9 percent. Combined, the three Republicans total 18%. Advancing to a double-Democrat general election contest is a distinct possibility.

New Hampshire: Gravis Marketing was surveying the New Hampshire electorate the day Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) announced that she would run for Senate. The poll, conducted over the October 5-6 period with 1,035 NH registered voters, found Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) with an abnormally large 52-42% advantage over Hassan. Most other polling shows the race to possess a margin of only two to three points.

North Carolina: In a state where Democrats have failed to recruit a top-tier challenger candidate for Sen. Richard Burr (R), former state House Majority Whip Deborah Ross (D) announced that she will run for the Senate next year. Ms. Ross joins Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey as the only two official Democratic candidates. Sen. Burr appears to be in strong position heading into his second re-election campaign.

Ohio: While former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) continues to maintain slight leads over Sen. Rob Portman (R) according to several polls, even though the Senator’s job and personal approval indexes are strong, the Ohio Senate race continues to deliver mixed signals. As the campaign finance reports are released, we find that the resource margins are not keeping up with Strickland’s favorable polling spreads. In the quarter just ended, Strickland reports raising $971,000 as compared to over $2 million for the incumbent. In terms of reported cash-on-hand at the end of September, Portman is now over $11 million as compared to just $1.5 million for the former Democratic Governor.

Pennsylvania: Public Policy Polling released a Keystone State poll (10/8-11; 1,012 PA registered voters) and finds Sen. Pat Toomey (R) leading ex-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), 41-38%, a much smaller margin than found in other polls. His advantage over former gubernatorial chief of staff Katie McGinty (D) is 43-36%, and 41 -34% over Braddock Mayor John Fetterman (D). But, the poll is questionable. While Republicans are over-sampled by a net eight points, the ballot tests for the Senate and presidential campaigns don’t seem to correspond to the sample. Also, virtually everyone from President Obama, to Sen. Toomey, to almost all of the presidential candidates in both parties -- including Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders -- each have decidedly negative images. The polling results from this study suggest the conclusions are too inconsistent to be considered reliable.

House

House Leadership: Still on the Paul Ryan for Speaker watch, the Wisconsin Congressman and former Vice Presidential nominee continues to deliberate whether to run for the House’s top position. It appears he could secure a majority on the floor, but is torn whether to give up the job he really wants and has, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. If Mr. Ryan doesn’t enter the Speaker race, it is likely that outgoing incumbent John Boehner (R-OH-8) will remain until someone does cobble together a majority. The succession melodrama may conclude next week.

Florida Redistricting: The circuit judge performing the special redistricting master duty returned his map to the state Supreme Court for their approval. Should the court accept the plan, as is expected, we will likely see Reps. Gwen Graham (D-FL-2) and Dan Webster (R-FL-10) without a viable district in which to run. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13), whose Tampa Bay district is also headed to the Democrats, is not seeking re-election in order to run for the Senate. Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26), John Mica (R-FL-7), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27) all have more Democratic districts from which to seek re-election. The plan did not change Rep. Patrick Murphy’s (D-FL-18) open seat. Therefore, because the Congressman has entered the Senate race, the GOP continues to have an opportunity of converting that district. In all, Sunshine State Democratic redistricting gains could range from one to three seats.

AL-3: Rep. Mike Rogers (R) has had little in the way of political challenge since he first won his eastern Alabama district in 2002. In 2016, however, he is drawing a primary opponent. Selma former City Schools Superintendent Larry DiChiara says he will enter the Republican primary against Mr. Rogers. It is unknown how serious an effort DiChiara will wage, or if he can raise a sizable amount of financial resources to run a credible campaign. Even if he can develop a legitimate campaign effort, it is unlikely that he can dislodge Rep. Rogers.

FL-23: After saying on several occasions that he would launch a Democratic primary challenge to Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), Miami-Dade School Board member Martin Karp now says he will not run against her. It is unlikely that the Congresswoman will face a serious opponent in 2016.

IL-13: Macon County Board Member Mark Wicklund (D) announced that he will challenge Rep. Rodney Davis (R) next year. Davis was a close winner in 2012 in what is proving to be a marginal district. He scored a 59-41% victory over former Chief County Judge Ann Callis (D), a candidate the Democrats touted highly. With former Democratic nominee David Gill already in the race as an Independent, the political landscape is shaping well for Rep. Davis. Though Mr. Wicklund has the potential of becoming a serious candidate, the incumbent appears well positioned to win another re-election.

MN-8: Republican businessman Stewart Mills, who held Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/Duluth) to only a 48-47% victory last November, announced that he will try again in 2016. Though Mr. Mills performed well in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, he will likely find the going much tougher before a presidential election year turnout in 2016. Still, this race will be highly competitive.

MO-1: State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nedal (D) formed a federal campaign committee, thus inching closer to launching a formal Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Lacy Clay (D) in the St. Louis urban seat. The district does include the troubled city of Ferguson, and the Senator fully intends to make the happenings there a focal point of her effort against Rep. Clay.

Governor

Kentucky: With the November election fast approaching, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research released its new Blue Grass State data (10/6-8; 625 KY registered voters) with Attorney General Jack Conway (D) holding only a small 43-41% lead over businessman Matt Bevin (R). The Republican’s campaign has been lackluster and poorly run, which is why the campaign team and the Republican Governors Association leadership are in virtual open warfare, to the point the organization is saying they may not spend any money on his behalf. It will be curious to see if this, and other close polling results, makes the two sides cooperate better.

Louisiana: Another new Louisiana poll, this one from Triumph Campaigns (10/6-7; sample size unavailable), again shows Sen. David Vitter (R) faring poorly in the statewide jungle primary but still having the wherewithal to carry second place. The Triumph data finds state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democrat in the race, capturing 37% of the vote largely on the back of strong support from the state’s African American voter base, as compared to Vitter’s 27%. The KPLC/Raycom Media poll (10/7-13; 602 LA registered voters; 400 likely gubernatorial primary voters) also finds Edwards placing first in the primary, but they see him leading Vitter 50-38% in a general election run-off, as well. It appears Edwards and Vitter will have enough to advance to the November 21st run-off election, because both Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R) and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle (R) are falling off the pace. Sen. Vitter has routinely out-performed his anemic polling, and the same pattern may occur this year. The Louisiana jungle primary is slated for October 24.