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Period Ending February 17, 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: Newly appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) has already made political history. At 6’9” tall, Mr. Strange is now the tallest person ever to serve in the United States Senate. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) had been the tallest, at 6’7”. The late Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) was 6’6”.

Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is again receiving bad polling news in early Republican primary ballot tests. The Political Information Marketing firm (PMI) surveyed the likely Arizona Republican electorate (2/7; 921 AZ likely GOP primary voters) and found former state Sen. Kelli Ward leading Sen. Flake, 30-23% in a head-to-head pairing. Earlier polls had also signaled that Flake has major trouble within his own base, the after-effect of his personal feud with then-candidate Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R), the Trump campaign’s chief Arizona official, may enter the race. He has not formally done so, but has announced that he won’t seek re-election as Treasurer.

Florida: In the last election, South Florida attorney and law professor Tim Canova ran a high-profile Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston). The race had a national perspective because Wasserman Schultz was, at the time, chair of the Democratic National Committee. Later, after accusations that the DNC was favoring Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders publicly endorsed Canova, and the entire controversy led to her undoing as party leader. The first-time congressional candidate raised and spent almost $4 million on his campaign, but still lost 43-57%. Soon after his defeat, Mr. Canova announced that he would try again in 2018.

Now, however, he may be changing his sights. This week, he opened the door to the idea that he might challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in next year’s Democratic primary instead of Ms. Wasserman Schultz. A race against Mr. Nelson would carry much longer odds than even running for the House again and would be a surprising turn of events. In either case, Mr. Canova will be rated as a heavy political underdog.

Wisconsin: Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau), one of the many Republicans eyeing a Senate challenge to incumbent Tammy Baldwin (D), has decided not to enter the statewide race. In a statement, Rep. Duffy said, “…that this is not the right time for me to run for Senate. We have eight great kids and family always comes first.” He went on to say he will help the eventual Republican nominee defeat Sen. Baldwin and continue to work hard for his 7th District constituents. The statement did not contain an official announcement for re-election, but the tone of his comments suggests he plans to continue serving in the House.

The top Republicans reportedly considering the Senate race are: Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and venture capitalist Eric Hovde who ran in the 2014 Republican primary but lost to former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is also a potential Senate candidate. Though a Democrat, he would likely run as a Republican.

House

GA-6: Gov. Nathan Deal (R) scheduled the special election to replace Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price for April 18, with a run-off on June 20. Mr. Price represented the northern Atlanta suburban 6th District for six terms, leaving for the Administration after being elected to a seventh in November. The Democrats plan to mount a significant challenge in this contest, wanting to back investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff. He has four other Democratic opponents running in the jungle primary, however, including former state Sen. Ron Slotin. Eleven Republicans have filed as candidates, the most prominent of who are former Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Sen. Judson Hill, former state Sen. Dan Moody, businessman Kurt Wilson, and ex-Gwinnett County Republican Party chairman Bruce LeVell.

Republicans will be favored to hold this seat, which typically performs as a reliable district for the GOP. President Trump scored only a 1.5 percentage point victory here in November, thus the Democrats are optimistic that a low special election turnout and an energized liberal base could help them score an upset.

KS-4: The nominees are now chosen for the April 11 special election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo in the south-central Kansas US House district. As reported last week, the 4th District Republican Committee selected state Treasurer Ron Estes. The Democratic committee then countered with newcomer James Thompson, a local Wichita attorney, who upset former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney. It is clear that the majority of local convention delegates felt the party was in stronger position fielding a fresh face than an individual who had already lost badly to Estes. In 2010, Estes unseated incumbent Treasurer McKinney by 17 points, and his margin was a whopping 25 points in the 4th District. Mr. Estes is a big favorite to claim the seat in early April.

SC-5: With the confirmation of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) as Director of the Office of Management & Budget, the special election cycle to fill his 5th Congressional District vacancy has already begun. Under South Carolina election law, the primary will be the 11th Tuesday after the vacancy becomes official. A partisan run-off will be conducted if no candidate receives an absolute majority on the 13 th Tuesday after vacancy, and the general election follows on the 18th Tuesday post vacancy. In this case, the special primaries should occur on May 2, any run-off: May 16, with the special general election on June 20. At this point, seven Republicans are already announced candidates, including state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, state Rep. Ralph Norman, and former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly. No Democrats have yet announced.

Governor

Kansas: Wichita oil company CEO Wink Hartman (R), a previous congressional candidate (losing to current CIA Director Mike Pompeo in 2010), became the second Republican to enter the open Governor’s race. Earlier, former state Rep. Ed O’Malley announced his candidacy. Many more individuals, including as many as three statewide officials, are expected to attempt to succeed term-limited Gov. Sam Brownback (R). Several Democrats and Independent Greg Orman, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Pat Roberts (R) in 2014 as the de facto Democratic nominee, are considering the race.

Maine: Sen. Susan Collins (R) is acknowledging that she is at least considering a run for Governor next year. The Senator would not have to risk her seat to run, since she does not again face the voters until 2020. She was first elected in 1996, and won a fourth term in 2014 with 67% of the vote. Sen. Collins will obviously be a major factor in the open Governor’s race should she decide to run. Two-term Gov. Paul LePage (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Massachusetts: Attorney General Maura Healey (D) again reaffirmed that she will not challenge Gov. Charlie Baker (R) next year. She reiterated that her course of political action is to run for re-election to her current position. Former state Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez is the only announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate, but others are soon expected to follow suit. Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D) appears to be the most likely to enter the race. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Salem) is mentioned as a potential candidate but has taken no discernible steps toward forming a gubernatorial campaign committee. Gov. Baker currently enjoys high job approval ratings.