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Period Ending December 16, 2016

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

President

The forced re-count process came to conclusion with no fundamental change in the original results. Therefore, the 306-232 electoral vote split in favor of Republican Donald Trump has been verified and certified. The states reported their official totals to the Electoral College by the mandated December 13 federal deadline.

The Electoral College members, generally chosen by the winning presidential candidate in the particular state or the affected state political party, will meet in the respective state capitols on December 19. A group of electors, calling themselves the “Hamilton Electors” are attempting to convince other members to eschew how their state voted and instead support someone other than Mr. Trump during the official roll call. The group’s name is derived from Federalist Papers essay #68, credited to Alexander Hamilton, that gives power to the electors to vote as they choose based upon the information they have about the winning presidential candidate.

The Hamilton Electors began in Colorado and Washington, two states that voted for Hillary Clinton. Therefore, most electoral vote counts are reporting that just one Republican elector, a man from Texas, who will not support Trump. One vote count claims as many as 20 Republican electors may ditch Trump, but there is no tangible support for such a figure. Even if the Hamilton Electors are successful in convincing 37 Trump electors not to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged, in some cases legally, the election would then move to the House of Representatives. There is no plausible outcome that elects Hillary Clinton, but the Hamilton Electors hope to de-legitimize the Trump victory. They have little, if any, chance of success.

Senate

Indiana: Speculation is rapidly growing that 6th District Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg) is moving toward challenging Sen. Joe Donnelly (D). Considering the overwhelming presidential election year Republican vote that just occurred in Indiana, it appears the climate is favorable for a GOP conversion of Donnelly’s seat in two years. Clearly, regardless of who becomes the Republican Senatorial nominee, this will be one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the 2018 election cycle.

Louisiana: The final 2016 Senate election was held last Saturday and, as expected, Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy easily defeated Democratic Public Service Commissioner and frequent statewide candidate Foster Campbell to claim the seat. Kennedy’s margin was 61-39%, right in line with late statewide polling that predicted about a 60-40% split between the two run-off candidates. The Kennedy victory means the partisan division heading into the convening of the 115th Congress will be 52R-46D-2I.

Montana: The selection of at-large Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) as US Interior Secretary may change Sen. Jon Tester’s (D) electoral prognosis for 2018. Clearly headed for a tough re-election fight, it was commonly viewed that Mr. Zinke would be the Senator’s strongest Republican opponent. His selection to the Trump Cabinet now casts further doubt that Zinke will run for the Senate.

North Dakota: Speculation continues that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) will be named President-Elect Trump’s Agriculture Secretary, though Senate Democrats are exerting strong pressure upon her not to accept such an appointment. If she does join the cabinet, an immediate special election will be called since the North Dakota Governor does not have the power to appoint a replacement in the event of a Senate vacancy. In a special election, the early favorite would be at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck), who just won a third term with a 69-24% election victory.

Virginia: Speculation has ended that former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) will challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D) next year. Mr. Cantor stated this week that he will not become a Senate candidate.

West Virginia: Speculation that Sen. Joe Manchin (D) will enter the Trump Cabinet has also ended. Mr. Manchin said this week that he can “best serve the people of West Virginia by remaining in the Senate.” The position most associated with Sen. Manchin, that of Energy Secretary, went to former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R).

House

CA-34: Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) resigned his seat to officially accept Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) appointment as state Attorney General. Mr. Becerra replaces Kamala Harris (D), who was elected to the US Senate in November. Though former Assembly Speaker John Perez (D) immediately announced that he would seek the congressional seat in a replacement special election, he was already forced to withdraw after suffering a slight heart attack. For her part, Senator-Elect Harris came forth to endorse Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D) as the Becerra successor. Other announced Democratic candidates include labor leader Wendy Carillo (D), former Los Angeles City Council aide Sarah Hernandez, and ex-Obama Administration staff member Alejandra Campoverdi. It becomes a foregone conclusion that this downtown LA district will yield a double-Democrat run-off in the second portion of the coming special election cycle once Gov. Brown announces a voting schedule.

LA-3: In what became the most interesting race of the Louisiana run-off campaigns, retired police captain Clay Higgins (R) defeated establishment Republican Scott Angelle, 56-44%, to claim the open southwestern congressional seat that Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Lafayette) vacated to run unsuccessfully for Senate. Higgins ran a Donald Trump-style “drain the swamp” campaign, while Angelle, who finished a strong third in the 2015 Governor’s race, was hampered with his past handling of a local environmental issue that clearly damaged his congressional effort.

LA-4: In the Shreveport-anchored 4th District, state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City), as expected, easily defeated Democratic attorney J. Marshall Jones with a strong 65-35% victory margin, right in line with public polling that was released throughout the run-off cycle. The Johnson victory, and that of Clay Higgins in the adjoining 3rd District, makes the final House partisan division 241R-194D.

MT-AL: The appointment of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) as Interior Secretary means a special statewide replacement election will be called between 85 and 100 days after the seat becomes officially vacant. An interesting constitutional battle may ensue, here, however. Montana law states that the Governor will appoint a replacement before the special election, but such violates the constitutional requirement that all Representatives be elected. Under Montana law, the Republican Party, because it is one of their members who currently holds the seat, will present Gov. Steve Bullock (D) a list of three appointment nominees of which he must choose one. Since the US Constitution is clear in the right of succession in the House, this appointment will likely not occur.

Governor

Arizona: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) stated this week that she will not challenge Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in 2018. It is presumed Rep. Sinema will seek re-election to what will be a fourth term in the House.

New Mexico: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) announced that she will depart the House in 2018 to enter the open Governor’s race. She becomes the second sitting House member to announce a gubernatorial bid, joining at-large Rep. Kristi Noem (R-Castlewood) of South Dakota. Factoring in cabinet and state appointments of sitting House members means that at least six seats will be designated open either in special or regular 2018 elections even before the new House of Representatives officially convenes.

Virginia: Quinnipiac University (12/6-11; 1,098 VA registered voters; 451 VA potential Republican primary voters) surveyed the upcoming 2017 open Virginia Governor’s race and found Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) leading all potential opponents. The Republican faring best against Mr. Northam is former Republican National Committee chairman and 2014 Senatorial candidate Ed Gillespie who comes within a 34-38% margin. Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart (R) trails Northam 29-38%, while the Lt. Gov. leads state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), 39-30%. Though Northam jumps out to the early lead in all configurations, the fact that he never breaks 40% suggests a close race is coming next fall.