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Period Ending March 27, 2015

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

President

Sen. Ted Cruz: We now have our first official presidential candidate of the 2016 election cycle, and it’s Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R). The Senator announced his national candidacy at Liberty University in Virginia, and clearly will campaign from the ideological right. He may have a battle on his hands about eligibility to run for President because of the constitutional requirement that only “natural born American citizens” qualify. Mr. Cruz was born in Canada. The next person to announce will likely be Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who reportedly is preparing for a national statement of candidacy on April 7th.

New Hampshire: Gravis Marketing (3/18-19; 683 NH prospective Republican primary voters) finds a closely bunched field of GOP presidential candidates when testing them before the New Hampshire Republican electorate. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are virtually tied (19-18%, in favor of Walker) with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) following, each taking 10 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio notches a 7% showing, ahead of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who register 6% apiece. Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee trails the field with 4 percent. This again shows how close and fluid the Republican contest is becoming even in this early stage. On the Democratic side (427 prospective Democratic primary voters), Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 49-20%. This represents a substantial lead for Ms. Clinton, but with a considerably smaller margin than in previous polling.

Senate

Florida: Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) officially announced his Senate candidacy during the early part of the week, and is running regardless of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R) plans. It is becoming clear that the Senator will soon announce he is not seeking re-election to concentrate on a presidential campaign so this swing seat will almost assuredly be open. Murphy purports to be a strong contender in the general election. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) indicates that he is planning to enter the race, so it appears that Murphy will not have an unencumbered primary. For Republicans, look for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state CFO Jeff Atwater, and at least one sitting House member, probably Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), to become candidates. Attorney General Pam Biondi, possibly the strongest potential aspirant for higher office on the Republican bench, looks to be preparing for a gubernatorial run in 2018 and is not expected to run for Senate next year. In the general election, without Rubio, this seat will be a toss up. Public Policy Polling already released a survey of the impending Florida campaign (3/19-22; 923 FL registered voters) and finds all configurations of candidates within two to four points of each other with no one close to the 50% mark.

Indiana: Sen. Dan Coats (R), saying he would be approaching 80 years of age at the end of the next term if he were to seek re-election and that it is time for younger people to take over, announced that he will not run in 2016. This open seat should remain in Republican hands, but Indiana voters can surprise, as Sen. Joe Donnelly’s (D) election attests, as well as President Obama carrying the state in 2008. The entire congressional delegation is expressing interest in running with the exceptions of Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-IN-1), Luke Messer (D-IN-6), Andre Carson (D-IN-7), and Larry Bucshon (D-IN-8), who have either said nothing about the open Senate race (Visclosky) or have removed themselves from consideration. Eric Holcomb (R), Sen. Coats’ state director and former state Republican Party chairman, is planning to run and will announce early next week. Many others on both sides are considering running, and the situation will become clearer in the next few days. Democrats hope to recruit former Senator and Governor Evan Bayh back into the race but, at this point, he is saying no…though not completely ruling out his option to re-enter politics. When he left office, he kept $10 million in his Senatorial campaign account. That money remains in his political coffers and can be used for another federal race.

New Hampshire: A new Gravis Marketing poll (3/18-19; 1,110 NH registered voters via Interactive Voice Response) tested Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). The Governor acknowledges she is considering a challenge to the first-term Senator. The results are consistent with other polls that suggest a very close race. The Gravis numbers project Sen. Ayotte to only a 47-45% lead, but that is rather ordinary for what is becoming a highly swing New Hampshire electorate. Gov. Hassan is clearly the strongest potential opponent for Ms. Ayotte, but she would have to forego a third two-year term as Governor in order to seek the federal office.

Pennsylvania: Franklin & Marshall College released a new survey of the Pennsylvania electorate. According to the data (3/17-23; 597 PA registered voters), Sen. Pat Toomey (R) would lead former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7) 34-29%, if the election were today. The two opposed each other in 2010, producing a 51-49% Toomey victory. Sestak is running again, but Democratic Party leaders are candid about their desire to field a different candidate. Toomey’s personal favorability rating stood at a 30:23% ratio, versus a 15:7% positive to negative score for Sestak. Approximately 63% of the respondents said they did not know enough about Mr. Sestak to form an opinion of him.

House

FL-2: There will not be a re-match between Rep. Gwen Graham (D) and former Rep. Steve Southerland (R). Late this week the former Congressman, who Ms. Graham unseated last November, has decided not to run in 2016. Rep. Graham was one of two Democrats to unseat Republican incumbents last year, despite being caught in a Republican wave election. The GOP is sure to contest this seat, only with a different candidate.

IL-18: Former 17th District Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) appears to be moving closer to entering the upcoming special election to replace resigning Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria). Schilling represented the adjacent district for one term until losing to Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-East Moline). The Democratic legislature re-drew the lines of the 17th to encompass the city of Peoria in order to add more Democratic voters and defeat Schilling. He returned for a re-match in 2012, but again lost. Schilling represented just under 20% of the current 18th CD, so he will be a viable special election candidate. The Republican establishment is lining up behind state Sen. Darin LaHood, son of former Rep. Ray LaHood (R) who left Congress to join the Obama Administration as Secretary of Transportation. More will develop here when Mr. Schock’s resignation officially takes effect on March 31st.

MI-1: In 2010, when Rep. Dan Benishek (R) first ran for Congress, he pledged to only serve three terms. Now in his third term, the Congressman is changing his mind and says he will run for re-election in 2016. Two Democrats, 2014 nominee Jerry Cannon (who lost to Benishek, 45-52%) and state Rep. Scott Dianda, are publicly considering entering the race. This campaign has toss-up potential.

NE-2: Freshman Democrat Brad Ashford already has an official 2016 challenger. Retired Air Force General Don Bacon (R), flanked by former Gov. Kay Orr (R), announced that he will run for Congress next year. Gen. Bacon is a 29-year military veteran, serving four separate tours of duty in the Middle East. Rep. Ashford will be among the most vulnerable of incumbents running for re-election. He unseated then-Rep. Lee Terry (R) in 2014, after the Republican Congressman had served eight terms. Mitt Romney scored a 53-46% win over President Obama here in 2012, after then-Sen. Obama carried the seat four years earlier. This suggests Rep. Ashford’s presidential election year turnout bump may not give him too much of a boost. Other Republicans are expected to enter the race, making a crowded May 2016 GOP primary.

Governor

Maine: Recently, author Stephen King and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) have had a public dispute over whether King pays taxes in Bangor, ME, or whether he declares Florida as his official residence. It turns out that King is a resident of Maine and dutifully pays his taxes to the state, a position the Governor has now recognized. After making an off-handed comment about running for Governor himself in 2018 – LePage will not be eligible to seek a third term – he said this week that he will not do so. King said, “…but as for me, if nominated I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve. I think somebody famous said that.”

Redistricting

US Supreme Court: This week, the United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision on the Alabama state legislative case pertaining to racial gerrymandering. Plaintiffs argued that African American voters were packed into a limited number of districts, thus restricting their voting power. Republican map drawers counter that they were simply bringing the legislative district population in line with the previous districts’ population percentages in order to avoid minority group retrogression, as directed by the Voting Rights Act. The Court did not rule that the Republicans acted improperly, but they did return the map to the lower court for more examination. This likely means that the Voting Rights Act will lose more authority even since the Court reduced the legislation’s role in their Shelby County (AL) case ruling. This decision virtually eliminated the preclearance provision of the Act. Other states that had already declared certain congressional districts as unconstitutional, meaning Florida, Texas, and Virginia, were waiting for this Alabama decision. Considering the high court’s convoluted response, it is unclear to predict what will next happen.