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Period Ending April 13, 2018

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

Senate

Florida: In the week that Gov. Rick Scott (R) made his long-awaited Senate announcement, Public Policy Polling (4/10-11; 611 FL registered voters), surveying for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, finds Sen. Bill Nelson (D) leading the Governor by a 50-44% margin. Sen. Nelson scores a 47:37% positive favorability score, while Gov. Scott drops to 47:46%. To counter the PPP data, the New Republican PAC, an outside entity supporting Gov. Scott, claims that its internal McLaughlin & Associates poll (dates and sample size not available) finds the Governor clinging to a one point, 47-46% edge. We can expect this race to seesaw all the way to Election Day.

Mississippi: Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) was officially appointed and sworn into the Senate this week to replace retired Sen. Thad Cochran (R), filling the body’s lone vacancy. But, the special election campaign for the winner to finish the balance of the current term is already underway. With a jungle primary scheduled concurrently with the November 6th regular election, Sen. Hyde-Smith is facing Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel who switched from challenging GOP incumbent Roger Wicker to join the new election. Former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy and Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton are the first announced Democratic candidates. If no contender receives a majority vote on November 6th, the top two finishers will advance to a run-off election on November 27th.

New Jersey: Sen. Bob Menendez (D), previously on trial for bribery until the Government’s case fell apart forcing them to end proceedings, appears in relatively strong pre-election position according to a new Monmouth University survey (4/6-10; 703 NJ adults; 632 NJ registered voters; weighted). According to the results, Sen. Menendez would lead former pharmaceutical CEO Bob Hugin (R), 53-32% including leaners to both candidates. The Senator’s job approval index is only 37:38% positive to negative among registered voters, however, and his personal favorability is an upside down 28:35%.

North Dakota: The North Dakota Republican endorsing convention was held last weekend, and at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) has for all intents and purposes clinched the party’s US Senate nomination. Coming from the convention with unanimous delegate support and the official party endorsement, it is now probable that he will be unopposed in the June 12th Republican primary. This virtually guarantees that a Cramer-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) general election pairing is a certainty. This campaign will be highly competitive.

Tennessee: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) has virtually clinched the Volunteer State Republican Senate nomination, according to development this week. The Tennessee Republican Party, as political parties have the right to do under state election law, disqualified self-funder Darrell Lynn for "failing to meet the bona fide [Republican] standards” as set in the party bylaws. Along with Mr. Lynn, who was clearly the strongest of the possible Blackburn challengers, six other minor GOP Senate candidates were also disqualified. One gubernatorial candidate was also stricken from the official candidates’ list. Since former Gov. Phil Bredesen is in similar position in the Democratic primary, the general election is already unofficially underway.

Wisconsin: A new poll (WPA Intelligence; 4/2-4; 1,028 WI likely Republican primary voters) finds Republican US Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, a former Democrat who changed parties, leading his top GOP primary opponent, state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), 45-27%. The Wisconsin primary isn’t scheduled until August 14th, so this race still has plenty of time to crystallize. Businessman Eric Hovde (R), who lost the 2012 Republican Senate primary to former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson, also announced that he will not enter the 2018 contest. The primary, now very likely between Mr. Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), though filing doesn’t close until June 1st, is scheduled for August 14th.

House

CA-44: Early last week, Republican actress Stacy Dash dropped her long shot bid to unseat freshman Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-San Pedro), and now a major opponent has followed suit. Compton Mayor Aja Brown (D), who had also announced her candidacy and appeared as a serious competitor, also withdrew from the race and did so Friday. Ms. Brown stated that she has just become pregnant, and therefore will not be continuing her race for the House. Though both Dash and Brown will remain on the June 5th primary ballot, and one will likely advance to the general election under California’s jungle primary system, we can count on Rep. Barragan to easily defend her seat.

FL-15: Four-term Florida Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) made public his plans to retire from elective politics. He becomes the 61st sitting House member to retire, resign, or seek a different office. The 15th plays as a reliably Republican district. President Trump carried the seat by 10 points in his presidential election, 53-43%. Both Mitt Romney and John McCain registered 52-47% spreads. Rep. Ross’ surprise retirement means it will be a few days before we see potential candidates coming forward.

FL-27: Florida’s new election law that requires most office holders to resign their current post in order to seek another just changed South Florida politics. Two very significant Miami area Democratic open seat congressional candidates decided to drop their congressional bids. State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami), who at least for a time was viewed as the front-runner, says he will remain in the state Senate because his party has an opportunity of capturing the majority. Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell also decided to discontinue his congressional effort in favor of retaining his current position. With candidate filing coming early next month (May 4th) in preparation for the August 28th primary, seven active Democrats remain in the field including former Health & Human Services Secretary and University of Miami president Donna Shalala (D). Republican leaders, who currently see eleven individuals expressing interest in running, appear to be looking toward television news anchor Maria Elvira Salazar. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) is retiring after serving all or part of 15 terms.

NC-9: In 2016, under the court-mandated mid-decade redistricting plan, Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) won re-nomination by just 134 votes of more than 26,600 ballots cast. The second place finisher, Charlotte pastor and former US Senate candidate Mark Harris, is running again. Three polls all find Rep. Pittenger holding a healthy lead during the last month of the primary campaign. Survey USA (3/9-13; 1,000 NC-9 registered voters; 375 likely Republican primary voters) found the Congressman leading Mr. Harris, 52-20%. More recently, Public Opinion Strategies, polling for the Pittenger Campaign (4/4-7; 400 NC-9 likely primary voters), posted the incumbent to a 59-26% advantage. The Red Dome Group, polling for the Harris Campaign (4/4-5; 500 NC-9 likely Republican primary voters) finds a much closer race, but also with Rep. Pittenger leading. Their numbers produce a 38-30% Pittenger edge. The North Carolina primary is fast approaching on May 8th.

ND-AL: Last weekend, state Senator and former ND Republican Party chairman Kelly Armstrong (R-Dickinson) won the official GOP endorsement at the state party convention. Sen. Armstrong defeated state Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) who had been actively campaigning for the Senate prior to US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) doing an about face and stepping forward to challenge Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D). Mr. Campbell quickly pivoted into the House race upon Rep. Cramer’s Senate announcement. After losing the convention endorsement vote, Campbell promised to take the nomination fight to a primary, but now has changed his mind and ended his campaign, endorsing Sen. Armstrong. Now only minor candidates remain in a possible Republican primary. Therefore, it appears certain that Sen. Armstrong and former state Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) will be the respective party nominees for the general election campaign in the open at-large House seat.

PA-4: The new open 4th District will likely go Democratic in the fall, and the party primary battle lines became a bit clearer this week. Despite candidate filing closing on March 6th, State Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D-Narberth) ended her congressional campaign and endorsed her state legislative colleague, state Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Abingdon Township). Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) also publicly support Ms. Dean. The main contender appears to be former US Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Montgomery County. Now, he is in a three-way race with Rep. Dean and gun control activist Shira Goodman. Ms. Daley’s departure makes this primary more interesting and creates doubt about the eventual outcome.

TN-7: Filing closed in Tennessee on Friday, and it appears that we already have a new Congressman. State Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) will succeed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) in the safely Republican 7th Congressional District. With Blackburn vacating to run for the Senate, a Republican primary was expected to form in order for voters to choose her successor. When the dust cleared last Friday, however, only Sen. Green filed on the Republican side meaning that he will advance to, and win, an easy general election against a minor Democrat in a seat that won’t become a national target.

WI-1: As has been widely reported, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) announced that he will not seek re-election this year. Republicans will soon come forward to jockey for position in what will be a competitive August 14th Republican primary. Democratic labor union activist Randy Bryce, who already possesses more than $2.3 million in his campaign account because of strong national fundraising when he was opposing the Speaker, will have the early advantage. But, this district was drawn to elect a Republican despite the region’s lengthy bipartisan voting history, so the GOP begins as at least a slight favorite to hold the seat.

Governor

Florida: Since gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine (D) commissioned the aforementioned Public Policy Polling survey (see FL-Senate above), it naturally concentrated on the open Florida Governor’s race. According to the Democratic primary data, Mr. Levine has expanded his lead over former US Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) to 29-21% with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and businessman Chris King trailing with only single-digit support. In general election match-ups, pairings featuring Levine and Graham top Republicans Adam Putnam, the state Agriculture Commissioner and former Congressman, and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm City/Daytona Beach) in all scenarios by one to five points.

Oklahoma: The Sooner Poll/News on 6 [Tulsa]; News 9 [Oklahoma City] (3/14-22; 557 OK likely voters; 291 OK likely Republican primary voters; 224 OK likely Democratic primary voters via Interactive Voice Response device) conducted a statewide survey about the present teacher strike and also asked questions pertaining to the impending open Governor’s race. The sample sizes for both the Republican and Democratic fields are too small to be given high reliability ratings, but the results are interesting, nonetheless.

On the Republican side, Oklahoma City Mayor and former congressional candidate Mick Cornett has the slightest of leads over Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, 22-21%, with the other four candidates all posting support numbers below 10%. For the Democrats, Attorney General and frequent statewide candidate Drew Edmondson has a 34-13% advantage over former state Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Oklahoma City). The eventual Republican nominee will be favored in the general election, but education funding, in particular, has become a major issue that could cut against the GOP candidate.

Pennsylvania: A new McLaughlin & Associates survey (4/2-3; 500 PA likely Republican primary voters) finds state Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) opening up a large 50-24% lead over businessman Paul Mango for the May 15th Republican primary, despite the fact that the latter man has been running stinging negative ads against the York area state legislator. The eventual Republican nominee faces incumbent Tom Wolf (D), whose favorability index has risen considerably in the past several weeks.

South Carolina: Target Insyght ran a South Carolina gubernatorial poll (4/3-5; 800 SC likely primary voters; 400 likely Republican primary voters; 400 likely Democratic primary voters) and finds Gov. Henry McMaster (R) in strong shape for his first election in his own right, but whether he can avoid a run-off is still open to question. According to the results, Gov. McMaster has 46% preference in the Republican primary opposite 22% for former state cabinet official Catherine Templeton. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant trails with 6%, while former Democratic Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, who has switched parties, registers only 4 percent. If no candidate receives a majority vote in the June 12th primary, the top two will run-off two weeks later.