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Period Ending December 18, 2015

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

President

Debate: All of the Republican presidential candidates participated in the CNN/Salem Broadcasting debate from the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The performances were more of the same, with most of the attention being focused on Donald Trump, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The debate again drew a huge audience, an estimated 18 million viewers, which continues to set records for primary debate events. The largest viewership, an amazing 24 million, occurred for the first debate held in August.

Polls: Several polls were released during the week, but three stood apart. The Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald New Hampshire poll (12/13-17; 430 NH Republicans and eligible Independent voters who can choose to vote in the Republican primary) finds Donald Trump again leading the field with 26%. But, only four percentage points separates the next five candidates, the closest bunching we have yet seen. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are second with 12% apiece; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has 11%; Jeb Bush posts 10%, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich follows with 8% support.

In Florida, St. Pete Polls (12/14-15; 2,694 FL Republican voters who have previously participated in a Republican primary) conducted an automated response survey and found Mr. Trump again leading both Sen. Rubio and former Gov. Bush in their home state. This poll posts Trump with 36%, Sen. Cruz at 22%, Rubio third registering 17%, and Mr. Bush at only 9 percent.

Turning to the first voting state, Iowa on February 1, Public Policy Polling (12/10-13; 520 likely Republican Caucus attenders) also posts Trump in first place, but only three percentage points ahead of Sen. Cruz (28-25%). Sen. Rubio again places third at 14%, followed by the reeling Dr. Ben Carson who drops to 10%, and Bush badly trails with 7 percent.

Again we see the separation from the pack, but such parting now may be limited to three candidates: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. Dr. Carson appears to be falling back among the also-ran contenders in all late polling.

Senate

Arizona: A new Strategies 360 poll (12/4-9; 504 AZ registered voters) is bringing some good news to Sen. John McCain (R). According to these results, McCain leads Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) by the rather large margin of 51-38%, among those committed or leaning to each candidate. These numbers are the best McCain has seen in this race, but the data appear to have at least a slight Republican skew. All of the Republican presidential candidates fare much better against Hillary Clinton than they do on a national basis suggesting a sample bias favoring Republicans.

Colorado: Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) announced that he will not challenge Sen. Michael Bennet (D) next year. The move is not surprising because Tipton had done little to prepare for a statewide contest. Despite having 10 announced candidates, party leaders are still searching for one they believe can give Sen. Bennet a strong challenge. Now, they are strongly encouraging state Rep. Jon Keyser (R) to make the race. All of the GOP chaos allows Sen. Bennet to place himself in strong re-election position.

Louisiana: Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) officially declared his Senate candidacy this week as did former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA-2). They join Rep. John Fleming (R-LA-4) as announced candidates. State Treasurer John Kennedy (R), Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, and retired Air Force Colonel and former Senate candidate Rob Maness (R) have formed exploratory committees. Several Democrats, including Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, are considering becoming Senate candidates. State Sen. Troy Hebert is planning to announce his statewide bid in the new year as an Independent candidate. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) have said they will not run. Sen. David Vitter (R) is retiring.

House

CA-32: Term-limited Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D), who has three times escaped either domestic abuse, drunk driving, or campaign finance charges, announced he will challenge Rep. Grace Napolitano (D) in next year’s jungle primary. The Democratic nature of the Los Angeles CD means that two Democrats will qualify for the general election, so this could well become a yearlong campaign.

FL-5: Speculation is rampant that Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Jacksonville) will seek re-election in the Orlando-anchored 10th District, of which she currently represents part, instead of her Jacksonville-based 5th District. The fact that her new CD is now drawn to Tallahassee, and at least one major candidate is entering the race, may be swaying her decision to run in the more unfamiliar territory. In any event, she appears headed for a tough August 30 Democratic primary. Already in the FL-10 campaign are former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings and state Sen. Geraldine Thompson.

IA-3: Wealthy investor Michael Sherzan (D) announced his congressional candidacy this week. He joins Iraq War veteran and former 4th District congressional candidate Jim Mowrer (D) and businessman Desmund Adams (D) in the race to unseat freshman Rep. David Young (R-Van Meter/Des Moines). In a presidential year, the 3rd District has the potential to vote Democratic, meaning this could develop into a major challenge race. The IA-3 campaign is one worth watching.

MD-6: Though she has made no formal announcement, former Montgomery County Commissioner Duchy Trachtenberg (D) has filed a congressional committee with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Bounced from the County Commission when the unions deserted her, Trachtenberg has twice run for Congress. Rep. John Delaney (D), despite a surprisingly close re-election in 2014, is cased as a heavy favorite to win re-nomination.

Ohio Filings: Retired Judge Alfred Mackey (D), who was forced to retire from the bench when he reached age 70, announced that he will challenge Rep. David Joyce (R-Northeast Ohio), as did former Cuyahoga Port Authority chairman Scott Wharton (D). Rep. Joyce, in his second term, will also face competition from former state Rep. Matt Lynch in the Republican primary. In 2014, Rep. Joyce turned back a Lynch primary bid, 55-45%. His 14th District appears to be the most competitive of all 16 Ohio districts. Rep Joyce, however, is favored for re-nomination and re-election. The open 8th District, vacant because of former House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation, has drawn 18 Republican candidates. The GOP nomination will be settled on primary day, March 15. The special general election is scheduled for June 7. Democrats filed one token candidate in this safe GOP seat, party activist Corey Foister. All 15 incumbents seeking re-election drew major party opposition, but only the Joyce situation in District 14 appears competitive.

Texas Filings: Candidate filing closed in Texas this week for the March 1 primary, and the two open seat races appear to be the focus of attention. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX-15) retiring after 10 terms puts his South Texas seat in play for the Democratic primary. Former Hidalgo County Commissioner Joel Quintanilla and Edinburg School Board Member Juan Palacios Jr. are the two candidates with elective experience. Former Hidalgo County Democratic Party chair Dolly Elizondo has already attracted EMILY’S List support. At least five Republicans will vie for retiring Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s 19th District seat anchored in Lubbock. The perceived leader is the city’s Mayor, Glen Robertson.

Several members are receiving primary challenges, but most are minor. The one surprising filing is former Harris County Sheriff and Houston City Councilman Adrian Garcia (D) filing against 12-term Rep. Gene Green (D). This could prove to be real competition for the veteran Congressman. The main general election challenge features defeated Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) seeking a re-match with freshman Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). All of the other races will easily return their incumbents.

VA-7: Freshman Rep. Dave Brat (R), who defeated Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) in the 2014 Republican primary, will likely face a nomination challenge himself this next year. Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade (R) is confirming that he is seriously considering entering the race. The Brat party forces will fight to nominate by convention, while the Wade backers will seek a primary election. This budding contest bears watching.

Governor

Virginia: Though the race is more than a year away in 2017, already candidates are coming forward for what will be an odd-year open seat campaign. Previously, former Senate candidate and Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie confirmed that he will run for Governor. Now, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA-1) is indicating that he, too, will join the statewide race. So may Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart. Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the 2013 gubernatorial nominee, has also not ruled out another run. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is limited to one term in office.