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Period Ending December 9, 2016

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

President

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s frivolous recount exercise was ended in Michigan after a federal judge agreed with Republican legal arguments that the candidate was not an aggrieved party. Receiving just 1% of the Michigan vote, the judge ruled that she sustained no damage from the counting process, and because the count would not give her any chance of winning the state, the procedure would be halted. The action now seals President-Elect Donald Trump’s win in the Wolverine State. The final tally, which recounts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will also not change, is 306-232. Ms. Stein is appealing the latest ruling.

The Pennsylvania recount, which originally wasn’t even going to be held because state election officials ruled Stein had missed the deadline to file her request, has moved the final vote some 2,000 votes, a rather surprisingly large number, but Mr. Trump still maintains a lead in the state of better than 44,000 votes. The Wisconsin count has changed the totals a mere handful of tallies, meaning the total recount exercise, as expected, is not yielding any significant change.

Senate

Alabama: Attorney General Luther Strange (R) officially announced that he will run in the special election to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) when the latter is confirmed as US Attorney General. Mr. Strange re-iterated that he would accept Gov. Robert Bentley’s (R) appointment to the seat. The Governor has the authority to fill a Senate vacancy by appointment, and then schedule a special election to fill the balance of the current term, which, in this case, ends at the beginning of 2021. Mr. Bentley could schedule the special concurrent with the regular 2018 election, or he could hold a stand-alone vote earlier. The Governor is currently under investigation for misusing state funds and could face impeachment. Adding intrigue to the situation, AG Strange is in charge of the investigation.

Louisiana: The final 2016 Senate election occurs this Saturday with the Louisiana run-off. After a late campaign visit from President-Elect Trump, State Treasurer John Kennedy (R) is well positioned to defeat Democrat Foster Campbell, a state Public Service Commissioner. A questionable poll coming from Tulane University (11/8-18; 960 LA adults) finds Kennedy ahead 60-40% after all respondents were forced to choose either of the two finalists. Though the poll is flawed in many methodological ways, the end result is consistent with other data that have been released into the public realm. The Trafalgar Group (12/5-6; 2,000+ LA registered voters) just released new, and more reliable data. According to these numbers, Kennedy holds a similar 56-40% advantage when those leaning to one candidate or the other are added to the respondent totals.

Ohio: State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who challenged Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in 2012 and lost 45-51% but was then re-elected to his current position 56-43% in 2014, announced that he will again run for Senate in the coming election. Mr. Mandel, who raised and spent more than $18 million for his 2012 campaign, is buoyed by President-Elect Trump’s 52-44% victory last month, as well as Sen. Rob Portman’s (R) 58-37% re-election margin. Sen. Brown will begin the race as the favorite for a third term.

House

CA-34: The race to succeed Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) is already taking shape. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed Mr. Becerra to replace state Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), who was elected to the US Senate in November. Though Rep. Becerra has yet to resign, former Assembly Speaker John Perez (D), Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D), labor leader Wendy Carillo (D), and former Los Angeles City Council aide Sarah Hernandez all announced their special election candidacies and are taking action to construct their political efforts. The heavily Democratic downtown LA district will very likely feature a double-Democrat run-off in the second portion of the coming special election. Gov. Brown will schedule the vote once Becerra officially resigns.

LA-3; LA-4: The congressional run-offs in the two open western Louisiana congressional will also be decided Saturday. The 3rd District features a tight battle between Public Service Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle and retired Lafayette Police captain Clay Higgins. Both are Republicans, and the race is projected as being close. A Higgins upset is a real possibility here, as polling has favored his position. The new Trafalgar Group data (12/5-6; 600+ LA-3 registered voters) find Higgins’ lead closing, however, to 49-46%. The Saturday vote could well be close, but since both are Republicans the GOP will win either way.

In the 4th, state Rep. Mike Johnson (R) appears to be the prohibitive favorite to defeat Democratic attorney Marshall Jones in what normally votes as a safe Republican seat. According to the same Trafalgar data in this district, Johnson has a commanding 67-29% advantage. These are the final House elections in the 2016 election cycle. With a GOP victory assured in District 3 and projected in District 4, the final House partisan division will be 241R-194D.

MN-5: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) says he will resign his seat in Congress if he wins his internal political party campaign to become Democratic National Committee chairman, thus pledging to serve full-time in the position. Should this happen, Ellison’s safely Democratic seat would remain in party hands in any subsequent special election.

MN-7: Retired Air Force officer Dave Hughes (R), who ran a surprisingly close race against veteran Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Detroit Lakes) losing 52-47% and spending only $14,000 with no outside party support, announced that he will seek a re-match in 2018. Hughes did well in this past election because Donald Trump posted an overwhelming 62-31% mark in the 7th District presidential vote.

Governor

Illinois: Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy (D), son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY), is close to announcing his gubernatorial bid against Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). Kennedy is reportedly beginning to raise campaign funds and organize a campaign staff. In prior years, he has also toyed with running either for Governor or Senator, one time even scheduling an announcement, but failing to actually become a candidate. Until we see an official campaign being formed, his 2018 statewide elective bid must remain in the speculative category.

Iowa: The appointment of Gov. Terry Branstad (R) as US Ambassador to China means that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) will ascend to the Governorship once the Senate confirms the former’s appointment. The action will give Ms. Reynolds, a former Iowa state Senator, a head start on running in the 2018 election. State Agriculture Department Secretary Bill Northey (R), who looked to be a gubernatorial candidate himself, has already said he will support Reynolds to win a full term in the regular election. Gov. Branstad, serving his sixth non-consecutive term as Iowa’s chief executive, is the longest tenured Governor in American history.

New Jersey: Comedian Joe Piscopo, who came to notoriety in the 1990s as a Saturday Night Live regular, is testing the waters for a run to replace term-limited Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2017. Piscopo would seek the Republican nomination, meaning he would first have to defeat Lt. Gov. Kim Guadano (R) who appears to be a likely contender. Because of New Jersey’s strong Democratic tilt, Republican chances of retaining the position, regardless of who wins the party nomination, are considerably less than 50/50.

New Mexico: After publicly weighing a bid for what will be an open Governor’s race in 2018, Sen. Tom Udall (D) stated that he will not become a state candidate. Mr. Udall, who doesn’t face the voters until 2020, would not have had to risk his Senate seat to enter the gubernatorial race. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Sen. Udall would have been the odds-on favorite to win in ’18, but now will not test the political waters. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) is a strong potential candidate. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs), who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2008 before regaining his House seat in 2010, is a potential Republican candidate as are outgoing Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R) and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R).

North Carolina: Gov. Pat McCrory (R) halted the state recount and officially conceded defeat to Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) this week. McCrory went into the recount trailing by just under 10,000 votes. He may be in line for an appointment from the new Trump Administration. The victory represents the only Democratic conversion in the 2016 gubernatorial cycle. The party lost seats in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont.