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Period Ending February 10, 2017

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

Senate

Alabama: With Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R) now confirmed as President Trump’s Attorney General, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) wasted little time in appointing Attorney General Luther Strange (R) as the interim Senator. Mr. Strange will serve through the 2018 election and has already announced that he will run in the concurrent special election. Before the appointment, Mr. Strange said he would run in the special election even if Gov. Bentley chose a different interim Senator. The seat will again come in-cycle in 2020, at which point Strange could run for the full six-year term.

Utah: A new name surfaced for the much talked about upcoming Utah Senate race. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in an interview that he isn’t “closing the door” on possibly entering what was thought to be an open race. Though veteran incumbent Orrin Hatch (R) said during the 2012 campaign that he would end what will be a 42-year run in the Senate at the end of the present term, his recent comments suggest that he is considering reversing course and perhaps will seek re-election to an eighth term.

Should the Senator run, former Governor, US Ambassador to China, and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman (R), who has also expressed interest in the race, said that he would not oppose Sen. Hatch, if the latter decides to seek another term. It is presumed Mr. Romney would adopt a similar position. If Hatch retires, this primary race will immediately attract national attention, however.

House

CA-34: Candidate filing closed this week for the special election in the vacated downtown Los Angeles district of former Representative (and now California Attorney General) Xavier Becerra (D). The jungle primary is scheduled for April 4, with the special general, assuming no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first vote, set for June 6. The California Democratic Party officially endorsed Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez this week, meaning he will carry that designation on the ballot. The endorsement provides him a major boost in breaking through a 23-candidate field. Expect two Democrats to advance to the run-off.

KS-4: The 4th District Republican Committee convened late this week to choose a special election nominee to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo (R), who resigned the congressional seat to accept President Trump’s appointment. The 126-member organization chose state Treasurer Ron Estes. He reached majority support on the second ballot, obtaining 66 of the 126 votes after scoring 58 on the first secret ballot tally. Trump Transition Team member and campaign operative Alan Cobb was second with 28 votes. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Wichita) was a distant third. The election is April 11. Democrats will caucus over the weekend to select their nominee and are expected to back former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney.

Mr. Estes begins the special general election campaign as a huge favorite to win the seat. The two faced each other in the 2010 state Treasurer’s race, a contest Mr. Estes won by 17 points. In the 4th CD, Estes’ margin expanded to 25 points.

MN-8: While businessman Stewart Mills (R) considers running for a third time in 2018, as we reported last week, incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/Duluth) affirmed that he is considering entering what will be an open Governor’s race next year. The Congressman, who would almost turn 75 years of age at the time of the next election, said he would decide about whether to enter the Governor’s race in the next several months.

PA-7: Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford) affirmed a spokesman’s claim last week about his future political plans. Congressman Meehan will not challenge Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D), and underscored this decision as “firm.” He was less definitive about closing the door on opposing Gov. Tom Wolf (D), however. Therefore, Mr. Meehan’s moves in terms of potentially preparing for a Governor’s race are worth observing. Hillary Clinton carried the Philadelphia suburban 7th District by just over 2 percentage points, even while losing the state. Therefore, should Rep. Meehan run statewide, PA-7 would become a major Democratic open seat target.

Governor

Illinois: Chris Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY), made his long-awaited announcement for Governor. He is entering the Democratic primary in hopes of advancing to the 2018 general election against Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). Mr. Kennedy is a developer and businessman, head of a Chicago non-profit food depository, and former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. He will obviously bring name identification and fundraising prowess to the campaign. Kennedy will likely face a crowded March ’18 Democratic primary field that may include former Gov. Pat Quinn, and Reps. Robin Kelly (D-Matteson/Chicago) and Cheri Bustos (D-Moline).

Michigan: Detroit Health Director Abdul El-Sayed (D) resigned his position this week and simultaneously announced that he is entering the Democratic primary for Governor. Already in the race is former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. Most Michigan political observers also expect Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) to also become a gubernatorial candidate. For the Republicans, a battle will likely ensue between Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General and former Congressman Bill Schuette. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. The Michigan Governor’s race is a contest that features critical national redistricting overtones.

New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling sector surveyed (1/25-29; 839 NJ registered voters; 410 self-identified Democratic voters; 275 self-identified Republican voters) the upcoming New Jersey Governor’s race and found very few respondents holding a candidate preference. For the Democrats, former Wall Street executive and ex-US Ambassador Phil Murphy tops the field with just 17% support. State Sen. Ray Lesniak is second with 7%, while Assemblyman John Wisniewski follows at 6%. For the Republicans, though the 275- member sample cell is much too low to gauge accurately, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno leads comedian Joe Piscopo, 18-12%. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Democrats will be favored to convert this state house.