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Period Ending March 31, 2017

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

Senate

Maine: Independent Sen. Angus King will likely see competition come re-election time next year. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has said on several occasions that he may challenge the first-term Senator, but has done little to prepare for such a race. This week, state Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) announced that he is filing an exploratory committee to analyze his chances in a potential pairing with Sen. King. Mr. Brakey is currently serving his second two-year term in the state Senate and, at 26, was the youngest member of the Maine Senate when originally elected in 2014. For generations, his family has owned a local energy business. Mr. Brakey represents the same legislative district as did former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) when she was a member of the legislature.

Rhode Island: Rhode Island ex-Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders (D) says he will form an exploratory committee for a potential Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse next year. Such a contest would greatly favor Sen. Whitehouse, who was originally elected in 2006. Originally, Judge Flanders was looking at the Governor’s race, but is now apparently switching gears toward what is likely a suicide run for the Senate.

Utah: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) is again making comments about his re-election status. In 2012, he indicated that he was running in his last election. A couple of weeks ago, he stated that he is seriously considering running for an eighth term. Sen. Hatch is already the second-longest serving Republican Senator (behind only South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond) in U.S. history. He was originally elected in 1976. Last week, the Senator indicated he would step aside if former presidential nominee Mitt Romney was interested in running, but there has yet to be a forthcoming response from the latter. The Utah saga looks to contain even more twists and turns before final political decisions are made.

Texas: Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) announced that he will challenge Sen. Ted Cruz (R) next year. Texas hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since the late Lloyd Bentsen (D) was re-elected in 1988. Additionally, no one has ever won a major Texas statewide office hailing from El Paso. Therefore, Mr. O’Rourke has many obstacles to overcome. He will be a serious candidate, but Sen. Cruz must be favored for his first re-election. The Congressman’s 16th District is heavily Democratic and the eventual party nominee will easily win election to succeed him. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) who is also considering entering the Senate contest says he is still weighing his options. It had always been assumed that O’Rourke would run statewide while Castro remains in the House.

House

MT-AL: Apparently the Democratic Party state delegates knew what they were doing when they nominated country rock singer Rob Quist as their special election nominee instead of former U.S. Senate nominee Amanda Curtis. Mr. Quist’s campaign issued a release saying the candidate has raised $754,307 to date for his at-large congressional effort and will report his campaign finances to the Federal Election Commission today. Such an amount is an impressive effort in a short period for an individual not previously seeking political office. The fundraising prowess suggests that this special election campaign will likely be more competitive than first thought. The Republicans nominated businessman Greg Gianforte who finished with 46% in the 2016 race against Gov. Steve Bullock (D), a much better performance than had been predicted. The special election is scheduled for May 25. Former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) is now U.S. Interior Secretary, hence the reason for the current U.S. House vacancy.

SC-5: In the north-central South Carolina special congressional election to replace Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney (R), candidate Ralph Norman resigned his position in the state legislature in order to campaign full time. He first ran for Congress in 2006, then, too, risking his state legislative seat. He lost that year to then-incumbent Rep. John Spratt (D-Rock Hill). Mr. Norman returned to the state House in a subsequent special election. Mr. Norman is viewed as one of three top Republican contenders. The partisan primary is scheduled for May 2, with a run-off, if necessary, for May 16. The special general election is set for June 20. The eventual Republican nominee will be heavy favorite to hold the district in the GOP column.

Governor

Alabama: Public Service Commission chair Twinkle Cavanaugh (R) announced the formation of a gubernatorial exploratory committee this week. She is expected to join what will be a crowded Republican field vying to succeed term-limited Gov. Robert Bentley (R). The race may be complicated if the Governor is impeached before his term ends due to alleged misappropriation of state funds in relation to an extra-marital affair. If the legislature removes him from office, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) will assume the Governorship, which would create an entirely new political spectrum for the impending gubernatorial campaign.

Connecticut: Potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates continue to apply pressure to Gov. Dan Malloy (D), hoping to wrest a public decision from him about whether he will run for a third term. Already Middletown Mayor Dan Drew (D) has filed an exploratory committee. State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D), says he is “90% certain” that he will run for Governor. Now, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo (D) is declaring that he, too, will soon file a gubernatorial exploratory committee. After winning his first election in 2010 with just 49.5% of the vote, Gov. Malloy was only able to improve to 51% in 2014.

Illinois: In the face of six Democrats including businessman Chris Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, already declaring their 2018 candidacies, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is taking to the television and Internet airwaves to boost his faltering public image. He has launched a major media drive and figures to spend even more than the $50 million his campaign operation expended in his 2014 original election. He will clearly be one of the more vulnerable Republican incumbents standing for re-election next year.

Minnesota: Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato), as expected, announced that he will enter the open gubernatorial campaign next year. Mr. Walz was barely re-elected to a sixth term in the House in November, scoring only 50.3% of the vote against a candidate who spent less than $370,000 and drew little to no outside party support. He joins what will be a crowded Democratic primary that already features state Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Rep. Erin Murphy, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Other possible Democratic contenders are Attorney General Lori Swanson, Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/Duluth), and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is ineligible to seek a third term. The eventual Democratic nominee will become the post-primary race favorite.

New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted a new statewide primary poll (3/22-26; 758 NJ registered voters) to find which candidates are best positioned to win their respective 2017 June 6th primary campaigns. Former US Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy has a strong lead in the Democratic primary, while Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno dominates the Republican side. Both show support in the mid-twenties, while no one else even reaches double-digits. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Democrats are favored to convert this office.

Virginia: Christopher Newport University, in a new statewide poll that slightly skews toward the Democrats (3/16-26; 931 VA registered voters; 391 likely Democratic primary voters; 349 likely GOP primary voters) finds Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former US Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville) in a deadlock for the Democratic nomination. The two are tied at 26% apiece. The slight skew makes sense considering most of the early political action is in the Democratic primary. For the Republicans, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie has a healthy 38-11-10% advantage over Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner, respectively. Considering the slight sample skew, the fact that Gillespie leads Northam 39-38%, and is tied with Perriello in general election ballot tests is good news for the presumed GOP front-runner. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is ineligible to seek a second term.

Wisconsin: State Sen. Tim Cullen (D), who several weeks ago declared his gubernatorial candidacy, announced that he is already withdrawing from the race. He sites the major fundraising commitment it would take to win the office as his main reason for deciding against running. At this point, there are no announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is expected to soon declare that he will run for a third term.