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Period Ending February 19, 2016

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

President

South Carolina: Republican primary voters go to the polls in the Palmetto State on Saturday, and the last 10 public polls all suggest businessman Donald Trump will place first and receive a delegate bonanza. Twenty-nine delegates are awarded to the statewide winner, and another three for every congressional district carried. Therefore, Trump is expected to win 38 to 41 of South Carolina’s 50 Republican delegates. Democrats will vote here on February 27. The latest polling continues to show former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintaining a solid advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT).

Nevada: Both parties will hold caucus meetings in Nevada this coming Tuesday, February 23. Two new polls were released on the Republican side, one from Gravis Marketing (2/14-15; 687 NV GOP likely caucus attenders), that finds Donald Trump leading the field of candidates. Mr. Trump scores 39% preference. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is next at 23%, followed closely by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) posting 19 percent. Gov. John Kasich get 9% of the respondents’ votes, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Dr. Ben Carson both have 5 percent. The CNN/ORC survey (2/10-15; 245 NV likely GOP caucus attenders) finds Trump with an even higher 45% share. Rubio again claims 19%, while Cruz follows at 17%. All the others are in single digits. Nevada is a straight proportional, 0% threshold state.

For the Democrats, the Nevada race is tightening. According to the CNN/ORC survey (2/10-15; 282 NV likely Democratic Caucus attenders), Ms. Clinton’s previous advantage over Sen. Sanders has dropped to 48-47%. The Gravis Marketing survey (2/14-15; 516 NV likely Democratic Caucus attenders) also finds a close race, but with Ms. Clinton faring a bit better. According to this data, the former Secretary of State and Senator leads Sanders 53-47%, an unusual poll in that no one is recorded as being undecided.

Ted Cruz (R): Two New York Democratic activists filed suit in New York, challenging Sen. Ted Cruz’s eligibility to be placed on the state’s presidential ballot. The pair argue that Cruz being born in Canada disqualifies him from running for President of the United States because he is not a natural born citizen.

March 1 Primaries: The first congressional primaries will occur in accordance with the presidential primary on March 1. Voters in Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas will choose congressional nominees in addition to participating in the Republican and Democratic races for President.

Senate

Alaska: In an unsurprising announcement, former Sen. Mark Begich (D) stated that he would not challenge Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) this year, nor run for any elective office. He was also said to be considering a challenge to veteran Rep. Don Young (R-AK-AL). Mr. Begich had formed a new consulting business in 2015 after his defeat and had been consistent is saying he planned to devote his time to developing his new venture. He did not close the door on future runs, but will not be on the ballot in 2016. Sen. Murkowski looks strong for both the general election and the primary at this point. She was defeated in the 2010 Republican primary, only to win the office in the general election as a Write-In candidate.

North Carolina: A new Public Policy Polling survey (2/14-16; 1,291 NC registered voters) again finds Sen. Richard Burr (R) leading his second tier Democratic opponents, but not by particularly impressive margins. Against former state Rep. Deborah Ross (D), the Senator holds a 43-37% edge. When paired with Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey (D), Burr’s margin improves slightly to 43-36%. Burr has a 10:1 cash-on-hand advantage over Ross, and 100:1 when compared to Rey’s receipts. Sen. Burr should win a comfortable re-election against weak opposition despite what may be tighter than expected early polling.

Nevada: The Gravis Marketing poll (2/14-15; 1,366 NV likely voters via Interactive Voice Response system) also tested the open Nevada Senate race. Here, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) continues to lead former Attorney General Christine Cortez Masto (D), but with a much slimmer margin. According to Gravis, Rep. Heck has a 44-41% edge, down from previous polls but still a positive sign for him in that the surveys consistently find him topping his Democratic opponent. The Silver State race is critical to determining the majority party in the next Congress. A Republican victory here, converting outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid’s own seat, would further swing the balance of power in favor of the Republicans and make it very difficult for Democrats to re-claim the Senate majority.

Pennsylvania: Candidate filing closed in the Keystone State, and official contenders for the important Senate contest are now filed. For the Republicans, Sen. Pat Toomey is unopposed for re-nomination. He is reporting just under $10 million in his campaign account. Democrats are filing four candidates, two of whom will be in a strong battle for the nomination. Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Delaware County) scored 49% against Toomey in 2010 and returns for a re-match despite major relationship problems with Democratic Party leaders. Several noteworthy Democrats recruited former gubernatorial chief of state Katie McGinty to oppose Sestak. Braddock Mayor Joe Fetterman is the third filed Democrat, while Joe Vodvarka will prove to be an also-ran. Despite the state’s Democratic nature, Toomey begins as the early race favorite.

House

FL-26: Former Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Miami), who announced his fifth run for Congress – he’s only won once – this week released a mid-January Public Policy Polling survey as he entered the 2016 race. According to PPP (1/14-15; 441 FL-26 Democratic primary voters) the former Congressman leads ex-congressional and Lt. Governor candidate Annette Taddeo (D) by a 34-24% clip. Taddeo has the backing of the Washington Democratic establishment including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5). The eventual Democratic nominee faces freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami) in the general election. The new Florida redistricting program makes the 26th more Democratic, but South Florida Republicans can often overcome a party registration and vote history advantage.

Pennsylvania Filings: Among the notable situations seen in the candidate filings for the House, indicted Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Philadelphia) has three Democratic opponents for his re-election run in the 2nd District. His most serious rival is veteran state Rep. Dwight Evans (D), formerly chairman of the House Appropriations Committee when the Democrats controlled the House chamber.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R), in the Erie-anchored 3rd District, is running unopposed. Sixth District Rep. Ryan Costello (R) draws two Democratic opponents, businessman Michael Parrish and financial analyst Lindy Li. The latter moved over from the 7th District at the behest of party leaders.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA-7) draws a minor primary opponent and is expected to face Pastor Bill Golderer (D) in the general election. Though Golderer has over $230,000 in his campaign account after being in the race only a short time, he is still in a 10:1 resource deficit situation in comparison to Meehan. In the open 8th District, former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick (R) will attempt to succeed his brother, retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Levittown). Democrats are filing former congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton and state Rep. Steve Santarsiero. House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Bill Shuster (R) will face a lone primary opponent in 2016, retired Coast Guard Captain Art Halvorson who ran two years ago. No Democrat filed in the 9th District. In the 10th, Rep. Tom Marino (R) faces only an Independent opponent.

In the open 16th CD, with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Lancaster) retiring, only two Republicans and two Democrats filed. The favored GOP candidates are state Sen. Lloyd Smucker and former Lancaster County Republican chairman Chet Beiler. Democrats have consultant Christina Hartman and dentist Gary Wegman. In the Pittsburgh area’s 18th District, veteran Rep. Tim Murphy (R) is unopposed for re-election.

North Carolina Redistricting: The state legislature enacted a new redistricting map in response to the federal three judge panel invalidating two of the state’s congressional districts. The map is a major departure from the current plan. The result will pair Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC-2) and George Holding (R-NC-13) in the new 2nd District. Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC-12) seat effectively disappears. Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-NC-9), who had a Charlotte based CD in the previous map, now begins in Mecklenburg County but then travels east along the South Carolina border to include part of Fayetteville. The state will likely be more competitive under this new map, but Republicans would still be favored to hold their 10-3 advantage in the delegation. The US Supreme Court could stay the implementation of this map. The legislation also includes moving the North Carolina congressional primary to later in the year. All other offices, including the US Senate primary, will be held as scheduled on March 15.

Governor

North Carolina: The aforementioned Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina voters (see North Carolina Senate in the second section of this report) finds that Gov. Pat McCrory (R) despite an upside down job approval rating of 40:47% favorable to unfavorable, has re-taken the lead over Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), 43-41%. In PPP’s January survey, Cooper had opened up a similarly small lead.

West Virginia: Repass Research (2/11-16; 411 WV registered voters) finds Republican state Senate President Bill Cole leading two of three Democratic contenders in ballot test pairings. Sen. Cole leads state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D), 45-40%, and former US Attorney Booth Goodwin (D), 44-43%. But, billionaire coal executive and Greenbrier Hotel owner Jim Justice (D) has a ten-point advantage over the unopposed Republican candidate, 49-39%.