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Period Ending March 13, 2015

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

President

Hillary Clinton: Just before the Hillary Clinton email controversy boiled over, Rasmussen Reports (3/8-9; 1,000 registered voters, nationally; undisclosed number of Democratic respondents) experimented with the Democratic presidential field under the scenario that, for whatever reason, the former Secretary of State and First Lady does not ultimately run. Sans Ms. Clinton, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be the top choice, favored by 31% of the self-identified Democrats, but Vice President Joe Biden is a close second with 30 percent. The remaining candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), ex-Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, all fell well below 10 percent.

Sen. Rand Paul: As last week came to a close, Kentucky Republican Party Executive Committee members approved changing the state’s presidential nominating formula from a primary to a caucus. The action would allow favorite son Rand Paul to enter the presidential caucus and still run for re-election as US Senator. Under Kentucky law, an individual may not appear on the ballot for two separate offices. The fact that a caucus is a party-run operation and does not involve a public vote means Mr. Paul’s name will only be on the ballot for US Senate…unless he is successful in winning the Republican presidential nomination. If so, Kentucky law does not allow for replacing an official party nominee. Therefore, a withdrawal from the Senate race in order to run for President in the general election would likely mean the party has no official Senatorial nominee. The full state Republican committee must approve this change, but the party convention will not happen until August.

Senate

Florida: Politico reports that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) is planning to announce his Senate candidacy on March 23rd. It appears he will run statewide regardless of whether or not Sen. Marco Rubio (R) decides to seek re-election. Apparently, Murphy has neutralized his top two Democratic foes, since Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23) and Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) are reportedly not about to pursue Senatorial bids. Wasserman Schultz, also the Democratic National Committee chair, became embroiled in a controversy with the chief financial supporter of the medical marijuana ballot initiative and led to her taking many political shots from people and groups with whom she is normally allied. Rep. Grayson is going through a difficult divorce, which likely would prove a distraction if he were to enter a statewide campaign. Assuming Rubio does not seek re-election in lieu of running for President, a united Democratic Party behind Murphy will make the Congressman a formidable contender against a non-incumbent Republican.

Maryland: In addition to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) becoming an official US Senate candidate, Prince Georges County Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD-4) also joined the statewide field. Several more Democrats - including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD-7) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake - and Republicans are expected to enter the statewide campaign. The eventual Democratic nominee will be a heavy general election favorite. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D) announced retirement has led to what promises to be an open seat free-for-all.

Wisconsin: A new Public Policy Polling survey (3/6-8; 1,071 WI registered voters) finds former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) taking a 50-41% lead over first-term incumbent Ron Johnson (R). Five years ago, it was Johnson unseating Feingold, 52-47%. As is often the case, when familiar figures are away from the public eye for an extended period of time, their favorable ratings improve. Such is the case for Mr. Feingold, who sees this poll project him to a 46:35% favorable to unfavorable personal rating. Sen. Johnson’s job approval ratio is a disappointing 32:40%. But, should Feingold not run, Johnson’s chances improve. The Senator would lead Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3), 43-37%, and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), 45-37 percent. Mr. Feingold is expected to announce his challenge in the near future.

Utah: Sen. Mike Lee (R) has all but extinguished attempts to find a moderate Republican challenger to oppose him. His biggest intra-party antagonist, bank CEO Scott Anderson and his chief ally, former Governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman (R), have both agreed to co-chair Sen. Lee’s re-election effort. Though holding the seat in the general election was never in doubt, Lee’s firm steps to secure a strong re-nomination are paying political dividends.

House

CA-16: After two close calls for Rep. Jim Costa (D), Republicans are finally paying attention to this Fresno-anchored Central Valley district. In addition to 2014 nominee Johnny Tacherra previously announcing his intention to seek a re-match with Costa, Madera County Supervisor David Rogers will also enter the Republican primary. This seat will be more difficult to win under a presidential turnout model, but Republicans have finished in too close a fashion for the district not to become a bigger target in 2016.

MD-4: With the 4th District now open because of Rep. Donna Edwards (D) running for Senate, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) announced his candidacy for the House seat. Brown was defeated in the 2014 Governor’s race. He was reported to be considering entering the Senate race, but deferred to Edwards. Destroyed in the Governor’s race, Brown would not have been particularly viable in the Democratic Senatorial primary, but he will be a major contender for this open House contest. MD-4 is largely based in Prince George’s County, but travels up to and around the city of Annapolis. Also announcing immediately after Ms. Edwards made her Senate intentions known is former Prince Georges County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey (D). This district is safely Democratic territory, so all of the meaningful action is in the Democratic primary.

Governor

Kentucky: Survey USA is out with a new poll of the 2015 Blue Grass State Governor’s race and the results appear surprising, but may be a reflection of a new advertising blitz. The study (3/3-8; 1,917 KY registered voters; 640 likely to vote in Democratic primary; 529 likely to vote in Republican primary) finds ex-Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, who has been running a heavy flight of early ads, leading the GOP field with 28% support. State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and 2012 US Senate candidate Matt Bevin, both attract 20% of the remaining respondents. Bringing up the rear with just 8% preference is former state Supreme Court Justice Will Scott. For the Democrats, Attorney General Jack Conway is running away with the nomination. He has a commanding 61-12% advantage over retired economist Geoff Young. In general election pairings, Conway leads Heiner 41-38%; his margin grows slightly to 42-36% against Bevin. This suggests a tight Governors’ race coming in the fall. Incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is ineligible to seek a third term in office.

Louisiana: Triumph Campaigns, a Mississippi-based political consulting and polling firm, surveyed the Bayou State electorate about their upcoming gubernatorial campaign (3/5; 1,655 LA registered voters via automated response). The results find Sen. David Vitter (R) leading the jungle primary field with 35% of the vote, followed closely by Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards who has 33 percent. In third place is Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R) with 15%, while Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle (R) trails with 7% support. The top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to a run-off election should no candidate secure an absolute majority. The first election is scheduled for October 24th, with the run-off, if necessary, posted for November 21st. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

West Virginia: Rep. David McKinley (R-WV-1) confirms he is “interested” in entering the 2016 race for Governor. Stopping short of saying he will run, the Congressman made it clear that he is analyzing his prospects for such a race. It would likely be a tough run, however. Popular Senator Joe Manchin (D), a former Governor, is interested in regaining his former position and appears to be building a campaign operation. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) is ineligible to seek re-election, so this will be an open seat campaign.

Mayor

Chicago: In a major blow to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s (D) re-election chances, Jesse Jackson and a large contingent of influential African American pastors, along with former candidate Willie Wilson, endorsed Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D) for the April 7th mayoral run-off election. It is commonly believed that the black population, which represents about 1/3 of the city, is a swing vote between Emanuel and Garcia, and quite possibly their votes will be the deciding factor.