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Period Ending February 2, 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: Following Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan’s lead from earlier this month, state Auditor Jim Ziegler (R) announced that he, too, would end his gubernatorial campaign. Mr. McMillan made public statements as early as last May that he would run for Governor, but reversed course in early January only to re-surface in the state Treasurer’s race. Mr. Ziegler’s future plans are not clear, but the Governor’s campaign is coming down to a battle against an interim incumbent who is demonstrating political prowess.

The Ziegler decision is a boon to new Gov. Kay Ivey (R), but she is not yet home free for the Republican nomination. Still in the race is Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile). The Democrats are fielding Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. The state primary is June 5th, with a run-off scheduled for July 17th if no candidate receives an absolute majority in their respective party nomination elections.

New Jersey: After seeing a hung jury result in Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D) bribery trial, the US Justice Department originally announced that they would push forward with further court proceedings but have now reversed course. The new judge dismissing 40% of the pending charges apparently gutted the government’s case on the remaining indictments. In the meantime, wealthy Republican pharmaceutical CEO Bob Hugin continues to move closer toward entering the race giving the GOP what appears to be a viable candidacy. Whether the Menendez legal situation now turning in his favor changes Mr. Hugin’s desire to run remains to be seen.

Tennessee: The Tennessee Star online publication conducted a Triton Research poll for the impending Volunteer State US Senate campaign (1/21-24; 1,003 TN likely general election voters) and found Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) jumping out to a lead beyond the margin of polling error when paired with former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). The results found Ms. Blackburn holding a strong 50-39% advantage, but the partisan division within the sampling universe skews Republican. When former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) was paired with Mr. Bredesen, it was the Democrat who led 41-38%. Considering the polling skew, the former Governor’s edge over Mr. Fincher is likely several points greater.

Utah: Former presidential nominee and ex-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) has scheduled an announcement in Salt Lake City for February 15th. It is highly likely that he will be declaring his candidacy for retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R) seat. Mr. Romney will immediately become the prohibitive favorite to capture the seat, and it’s unlikely he will draw major opposition.

House

AL-5: With Alabama’s candidate filing deadline fast approaching on February 9th, state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), who months ago declared a challenge to Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), announced at the end of last week that he will discontinue his primary challenge campaign. This leaves businessman Clayton Hinchman as the only Republican candidate organizing to challenge the four-term Congressman. Mr. Hinchman has proven himself the better challenger candidate, but he, too, is a major underdog to the current incumbent.

FL-5: Freshman Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) has drawn a Democratic primary challenge, ironically a day after the incumbent Lawson himself unseated two years ago, former Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville), reported to prison to begin her sentence for public corruption. Now, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown made public his intention to challenge Mr. Lawson for re-nomination. The race will again pit the district’s anchor population centers and political bases, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, against each other. The Florida primary is not until August 28th, so this budding primary campaign will consume many months.

IL-4: The Garin-Hart-Yang Research firm released results of their latest poll in this Democratic primary campaign (1/18-21; 400 IL-4 likely Democratic primary voters) and finds Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia leading Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno and non-profit executive Sol Flores, 59-8-6%, respectively. After the release, Mr. Moreno decided to end his campaign, virtually conceding the primary nomination to Mr. Garcia. Since, IL-4 is a safely Democratic seat, it appears that he is the Congressman-in-waiting.

MA-3: With already a dozen Democrats vying to replace retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell), the field shrunk by a candidate this week. Former Cambridge City Councilman Nadeem Mazen (D) decided to end his congressional campaign. His move entering this particular race never made much sense. Mr. Mazen is from a city that is nowhere near the 3rd District, forcing him to compete with more than ten others who at least live in the central population area. The Massachusetts primary is not scheduled until September 4th, so this nomination campaign is merely beginning.

MA-7: Boston at-large City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color to win election to the municipal panel, announced a Democratic primary challenge to 10-term veteran Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Somerville). Ms. Pressley was first elected in 2009, and won re-election in 2013 with more votes than anyone else on the ballot for the city position. The 7th District encompasses a large portion of Boston city, with parts of Cambridge, the towns of Somerville, Everett, and Chelsea, and then stretches beyond South Boston to the town of Randolph. The stage is set for an interesting primary.

NJ-11: House Appropriations Committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown) announced this week that he would not seek re-election to a 13th term in the House, thus bringing his 24 year congressional career to an end once the current Congress adjourns. The Congressman’s father, Peter Frelinghuysen, served for 18 years in the House and represented a similar northern New Jersey constituency.

New Jersey’s 11th District was designed to be a safely Republican district, but the electorate has been changing over the last few elections. President Trump carried the 11th by only one percentage point (49-48%), but lost the state, 41-55%. Four years earlier, Mitt Romney won the seat by a close but more substantial, 52-47%. In the battle to originally challenge Rep. Frelinghuysen, two Democrats have already obtained major funding. Mikie Sherrill, former federal prosecutor and the Democratic establishment’s choice, amassed more than $820,000 in her campaign account through September, while businesswoman Tamara Harris had just under $450,000 in spendable funds. But, the two will have to spend a substantial amount of their political capital to win the June Democratic primary. GOP Assemblyman and former New Jersey Republican Party chairman Jay Webber is moving toward running, among others, so we can expect a hotly contested general election from this region that normally supports the GOP candidate.

Pennsylvania: The state Supreme Court this week struck down the Pennsylvania congressional lines as a political gerrymander under the Pennsylvania Constitution by a 4-3 vote. They have ordered the map re-drawn and enacted by February 15th. But, state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Brockway/Wellsboro) says the body will not comply with the order to provide the court with requested data information because the Justices did not state the specific constitutional violations that invalidated the map. US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who has jurisdiction to review petitions from Pennsylvania and several other Mid-Atlantic states, has not rejected a Republican motion to ask the high court to intervene. Therefore, things will get very interesting here is a short amount of time. The contentious issue is highly important to both parties.

PA-1: Veteran US Rep. Bob Brady (D-Philadelphia) announced his retirement this week, becoming the 16th House Democrat to do so. The Congressman has been facing a legal situation from actions involving paying a previous Brady opponent to exit the race. Several of the Congressman’s campaign staff members have already accepted plea bargain agreements. Democrats will keep the 1st District, but the uncertain redistricting situation could change this seat now that there is no incumbent running.

SC-4: On the same day as Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Brady (D-Philadelphia) announced his retirement, four-term South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Spartanburg) also did so. Mr. Gowdy becomes the 53rd House member to not seek re-election, and the 37th Republican. He is also now the ninth standing committee chairman to publicly declare he will not be returning to the House. Mr. Gowdy is in his first term as Government Reform & Oversight committee chairman. Republicans will keep the northwestern South Carolina district, but we are sure to see a run-off campaign result from what will surely be a crowded Republican primary field.

UT-4: A new Dan Jones & Associates survey (1/15-22; 400 UT-4 registered voters) provides more evidence that Rep. Mia Love (R-Saratoga Springs) has a re-election fight on her hands. According to the Jones’ organization, Rep. Love would hold only a 47-42% advantage over Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D). A similar poll taken three months ago, also from DJ & A, found an almost identical 48-42% split.

Governor

Colorado: Hampered by poor fundraising receipts, former US Representative, gubernatorial, and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo (R) announced this week that he is ending his 2018 open seat campaign for the Centennial State’s top political position. Mr. Tancredo was also faring poorly in hypothetical general election pairings with Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), commonly viewed as the Democratic front-runner. Remaining in the GOP race are Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Treasurer Walker Stephenson, among many others. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Ohio: A new Buckeye State survey just produced some surprising results. According to Fallon Research, polling for Ohio’s 1984 Society, Attorney General and former US Senator Mike DeWine (R) would open the general election with a huge lead over former Consumer Protection Financial Bureau director and ex-Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray (D). Fallon projects, in a survey that looks to have a reasonable reliability factor, that DeWine holds a whopping 49-28% advantage over Cordray, a highly unexpected margin at this early juncture in the campaign cycle.

But, Public Policy Polling (1/22-23; 585 OH registered voters), conducting a survey for the Ohio Democratic Party, finds DeWine’s lead not 19, but a scant one-percentage point, 45-44%. DeWine’s lead expands to 48-37% in this poll if his general election opponent were former US Representative and Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich (D).

Minnesota: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) earlier declined to enter the special US Senate race later this year, but apparently he could still be on the ballot. Looking at the rather weak field of Republican candidates lining up for the open Governor’s race, Mr. Pawlenty has called a February 12th meeting of his key political supporters. The discussion topic is apparently about the former Governor launching a return campaign this year. If he were to enter the race, Mr. Pawlenty would immediately become the Republican front-runner. The general election would be highly competitive, but the ex-Governor carried the state twice. Democrats are fielding six candidates who are currently battling for the party nomination.

Tennessee: The aforementioned Tennessee Star poll (see Tennessee Senate above) also tested the open gubernatorial race. In this polling exercise, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean was the only Democrat tested against the Republican field. Again understanding that a slight Republican skew exists within this particular respondent group, Mr. Dean loses to every GOP candidate who is still actively running.

Against US Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin), Mr. Dean trails, 46-35%. If state House Speaker Beth Harwell were the Republican nominee, the GOP margin would be 42-32%. The spread is 43-34% against entrepreneur Randy Boyd, while state Higher Education Commissioner Bill Lee outpaces Mr. Dean by only four points, 38-34%. Former state Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Juliet) was included in the poll, but has since announced that she is suspending further efforts for the party nomination. In her pairing, she and Mr. Dean were tied with 36% apiece.