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Period Ending March 17, 2017

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

Redistricting

This week we again found a federal judicial panel striking down district boundary lines, this time in Texas. Originally, the 35th CD (Rep. Lloyd Doggett-D) was declared unconstitutional in 2011, but a Supreme Court remand to the originating court has left the situation hanging in abeyance for three election cycles. Now, CDs 23 (Rep. Will Hurd-R) and 27 (Rep. Blake Farenthold-R) have also been invalidated because the court says Hispanic voters have been “packed” into these districts. This process still has a long road ahead, most likely beginning with an official appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to the Texas situation, redistricting lawsuits are alive in Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia. Democrats have been aggressive this late in the decade because they thought Hillary Clinton would be elected President, thus giving them a majority on the Supreme Court. Therefore, it appeared that the time was ripe to attempt to change how minority districts are drawn. With Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch set to soon join the high court, Republicans will assume their one-vote majority, but this does not necessarily guarantee that the latest redistricting rulings will be overturned.

Senate

Delaware: In the latter part of 2016, Sen. Tom Carper (D), who has been in elective office consecutively since 1977, was seriously contemplating retirement. Now, however, he seems to be changing course. Saying that he is energized in his efforts to help de-rail the Trump agenda, Sen. Carper said last week that he is heavily leaning toward seeking a fourth six-year term next year. Should he run, Mr. Carper will have little in the way of primary or general election opposition.

Indiana: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) may well be the Republicans’ number one target in 2018. The state went Republican from top to bottom in 2016, and the Indiana GOP has always performed at its best in the mid-term cycles. Comments made from both Reps. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg) and Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg), the latter through a campaign spokesman, suggest that each House member is moving closer to running for Senate. Though this would be a difficult primary if the two challenge each other, it is clear that Sen. Donnelly will draw a tier-one opponent regardless of who emerges as the Republican nominee.

Nevada: In a bit of a surprise, freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas) said this week that he is not “closing the door” in regard to challenging Sen. Dean Heller (R). It is clear that Sen. Heller is the most vulnerable Republican standing for re-election in 2018, considering Nevada’s strong Democratic performance in the last election. While Heller may be vulnerable, the Democrats have yet to see a credible candidate come forward. Hence, Rep. Kihuen’s potential interest is significant.

House

GA-6: While polling is showing the north Georgia special election to replace Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price (R-Roswell) in the House of Representatives is headed toward free-for-all status, the economic conservative Club for Growth organization weighed in this week hoping to change the equation. The Club announced its endorsement of businessman and local city councilman Bob Gray (R) for the special election. Barely at the top of the polling sits former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) and investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff (D), while Gray hovers close behind. The polling so far most adversely affects Ms. Handel, as she should easily the best known of the participating candidates. With 18 candidates on the April 18 jungle primary ballot, it is possible that this contest could evolve into a legitimate three-way race among Handel, Gray, and Ossoff. If no one receives a majority vote in the first election, the top two will advance to a June 20 special general election.

IL-3: Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs/Chicago suburbs) may draw primary opposition. Marketing consultant Marie Newman, who would clearly hit Lipinski from the left, has filed an exploratory committee for the 3rd District Democratic primary. Mr. Lipinski, originally elected in 2004, last had a significant primary opponent in 2008. He won that particular campaign with a 54-25% margin of victory.

NE-2: Former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Omaha) announced that he will not seek a re-match with the man who ousted him from office in November, freshman Rep. Don Bacon (R-Papillion), despite losing by only one percentage point. Mr. Ashford’s wife, however, may enter the race. Attorney Ann Ferlic Ashford is openly considering launching a 2018 campaign.

SC-5: Filing closed for the May 2 special primary election in north-central South Carolina. The electoral process will replace former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) who is now Director of the Office of Management & Budget. Seven Republicans, three Democrats, and five Independents filed papers to run. The special primaries are partisan. If no candidate receives an outright majority, the top two finishers advance to a May 16 run-off. The respective party nominees will then square off in a June 20 special election. Republicans are favored to hold the seat. State House President Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and state Representative and former congressional nominee Ralph Norman begin as the early favorites.

SD-AL: Secretary of State Shantel Krebs enlarged the Republican field of at-large congressional candidates this week by announcing that she will run for Congress. Currently in the race is former Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson (R) who has already earned term-limited Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s public support. Republicans are expected to hold the open seat. At-Large Rep. Kristi Noem (R-Castlewood) is a declared candidate for Governor.

VA-10: Reports are flying in northern Virginia that Democratic leaders are again attempting to recruit state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D) to challenge sophomore Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean). The Congresswoman scored a 53-47% victory in November even while President Trump was losing this lean Republican seat by a solid ten percentage points. Ms. Wexton has previously rebuffed overtures to run for Congress. It remains to be seen what she decides for 2018. This will likely be another expensive and hard fought contest, irrespective of who eventually earns the Democratic nomination.

Governor

Illinois: The 2018 Illinois Governor’s race may set a spending record. This week, yet another multi-millionaire joined the campaign, pledging to spend heavily from his personal finances in becoming a major candidate. Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker (D) announced that he will challenge Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). In the 2010 election cycle, Gov. Rauner, whose personal wealth extends into the $500 million range, raised, spent, and contributed over $65 million for his 2014 campaign, a state record. Also in the race is businessman Chris Kennedy (D), the son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D), one of the heirs to the substantial Kennedy fortune.

New Jersey: Quinnipiac University tested the New Jersey electorate (3/9-13; 1,098 NJ registered voters), and found incumbent Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) facing a large polling deficit. According to the data, former Ambassador Phil Murphy (D) leads Guadagno, 47-25%, which suggests the GOP is going to have a very difficult time competing in this 2017 statewide election. Incumbent Gov. Chris Christie (R) stands at a miserable 19:76% job approval rating, something that clearly plagues Guadagno. In the Republican primary, the Lt. Governor finds herself holding a 28-18% advantage over comedian Joe Piscopo.

New York: 2014 state Comptroller candidate Harry Wilson, who impressed Republican strategists by coming within a five-point margin of victory, confirms that he is considering challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) when the latter seeks a third term next year. It is unlikely the Republicans can upend Gov. Cuomo, though he might again have trouble in the Democratic primary, but Mr. Wilson being in the race at least gives them a candidate to rally around and help build the down-ballot race structure.

Wisconsin: Ten-term Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse), thought to be at the top of the Democratic recruitment list to challenge Gov. Scott Walker (R), says he will not run statewide in 2018. He will seek an eleventh term in the House. While this is viewed as a recruitment setback for statewide positioning, it is a positive for the Democratic House contingent. President Trump carried the western 3rd District, meaning Republicans would be competitive in an open seat situation.