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Period Ending December 11, 2015

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

President

Polls: National and specific state surveys continue to show Donald Trump beginning to pull away from his GOP opponents, but he still has a difficult path to secure the necessary 50% of committed delegate vote that secures a first-ballot victory at the Republican National Convention. Trump has clear leads in the important states of New Hampshire and South Carolina; voters from both will cast ballots in February. There is conflict in Iowa, however. While the CNN/ORC survey (11/27-12/6; 2,003 IA respondents; 552 likely IA Republican Caucus attenders) found Trump leading Sen. Ted Cruz, 33-20%, Monmouth University, polling in the same virtual time frame (12/3-6; 425 likely Iowa Republican Caucus attenders), finds almost the exact opposite result. They see Cruz leading Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio, 24-19-17%. The diversity in results is normally attributed to sample selection, but could reflect the volatility within the electorate.

For the Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to lead Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by considerable margins in every tested place but New Hampshire. There, her lead is substantially reduced. Once the campaign turns south, however, Ms. Clinton dominates and will have the Democratic nomination ostensibly clinched during March of next year.

Senate

Colorado: Though Republicans have repeatedly tried and failed to recruit a top-tier opponent for Sen. Michael Bennet (D), they do have a high volume of second-tier contenders. Jefferson County Commissioner Donald Rosier announced his Senatorial candidacy during the week and becomes the tenth official GOP nomination candidate. Sen. Bennet remains a heavy favorite for re-election to a second term.

Louisiana: Survey USA conducted a poll (12/4-7; 600 LA registered voters) that didn’t produce particularly good news for the two Congressmen in the jungle primary. According to the results, Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a frequent statewide candidate, leads the field with 23%. State Treasurer John Kennedy (R), whose unaffiliated Super PAC sponsored the poll, follows at 21% in front of Public Service Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle (R), who records 12%. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) posts only 10%, retired Colonel and former US Senate candidate Rob Maness has 9%, and finally Rep. John Fleming (R-LA-4) brings up the rear with 6% support. The first vote won’t occur until November 8, because Louisiana runs their primaries concurrently with the general election. Any necessary run-off, should no candidate secure an absolute majority, will occur on December 10, 2016. Irrespective of early polling results, Republicans are heavily favored to hold the seat. All of those polled have either announced their candidacies or formed a Senatorial exploratory committee. Sen. David Vitter (R) is retiring.

New Hampshire: Public Policy Polling (11/30-12/2; 990 NH registered voters) tested the Senate race and unsurprisingly found Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) tied with Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) at 42% apiece. Since the sampling universe skews more liberally than average, the results are actually a bit better for Ayotte than meets the eye. Expect this contest to remain a toss-up all the way to Election Day next year. New Hampshire has proved itself as the country’s most volatile political entity since 2006.

North Carolina: Public Policy Polling surveyed the Tar Heel State electorate (12/5-7; 1,214 NC registered voters via automated system) and found Sen. Richard Burr (R) to be in strong shape as he prepares to run for a third term. Paired with Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey (R), the Senator leads 47-33%. If businessman Kevin Griffin were the Democratic nominee, then Burr would have a 46-35% advantage. The Senator’s margin is the same against former state Rep. Deborah Ross. North Carolina is the Democrats’ biggest recruitment failure.

House

CA-21: In the most Democratic district in the country represented by a Republican – Rep. David Valadao (R-Bakersfield) – a new challenger candidate is emerging. Emilio Huerta (D), whose mother co-founded with Cesar Chavez the United Farmworkers Union, confirms that he is considering running for Congress next year. Democrats have failed to recruit a top-tier opponent against Valadao in the latter’s two successful elections. It remains to be seen if Huerta runs and becomes viable.

HFL-11: A Republican primary is beginning to brew in the open 11th District being vacated by retiring Rep. Rich Nugent (R). The first to announce his candidacy was Nugent chief of staff Justin Grabelle. Joining the campaign this week is rancher Kelly Rice, armed with the support of former Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL-5). Waiting in the wings is Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL-10) whose Orlando district was made unwinnable for a Republican. Because a significant portion of the new 11th comes from Webster’s current district, the Congressman is a strong potential candidate. The primary is not until August 30, so this race will continue to develop over time.

MS-4: Biloxi City Councilman Robert Deming III announced a Republican primary challenge to three-term Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Biloxi). In 2014, Palazzo defeated former US Rep. Gene Taylor -- who served all of his 22 years in Congress as a Democrat -- 51-43% in the Republican primary. Rep. Palazzo is rated a strong favorite over Deming. Former US Senate candidate, Chris McDaniel who remains in the state Senate after successfully winning re-election in November, was thought to make this primary challenge but has yet to come forward.

NC-2: The Club for Growth conservative funding organization announced their active endorsement of former Chatham County Republican Party chairman Jim Duncan in his quest to deny Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-Dunn) re-nomination. Two other GOP candidates are also in the race. With the Club’s ability to generate financial support for their endorsed candidates, this contest has the chance of developing. North Carolina has a 40% run-off rule, meaning any candidate exceeding that minimum figure can win the nomination outright, a procedural situation that clearly benefits incumbent Ellmers. She scored only 59% against a woefully under-funded primary challenger in 2014, however.

KY-1: Republicans received a potential break from their newly elected Governor, Matt Bevin. State Rep. John Tilley (D) had been considering running for retiring Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-Hopkinsville) open CD. Gov. Bevin just announced Mr. Tilley as his appointment as Kentucky’s Justice and Public Safety secretary, thereby removing him from further congressional consideration. Mr. Whitfield’s likely successor is former Agriculture Secretary James Comer, who lost the gubernatorial primary to Bevin by a razor-thin margin.

Governor

New Hampshire: The previously mentioned Public Policy Polling survey (see New Hampshire Senate above) provides better news to Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R), son of former Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu (R). The results find Sununu leading Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (D), 40-34%. He leads investor Mark Connolly (D), 40-36%. This race will likewise be in toss-up status for the next year.

North Carolina: The same Public Policy Polling survey (see North Carolina Senate above) also tested the Governor’s race. Though Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has a 38:44% job approval rating – though PPP typically skews highly negative across the board on approval ratings – he leads Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), 44-42%. This is expected to remain a close race all the way to Election Day.