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Period Ending April 14, 2017

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

Senate

Alabama: The chances are increasing that new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) will change the Senate special election schedule. Potentially in response to a bipartisan lawsuit being heard in court this coming week, Gov. Ivey is reportedly considering changing resigned Gov. Robert Bentley’s (R) order to hold the Senate special election concurrently with the 2018 regular election cycle. Appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) is serving until the election is called. He will run for the seat, but can expect heavy primary opposition in wake of the Bentley scandal and resignation. If the vote is moved to this year, a July/September/November timeframe is most likely on the horizon for the primary, any necessary run-off, and general special. The Senate seat was vacated when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) became US Attorney General. The eventual special election’s winner will serve until the seat next comes in cycle, which will be 2020.

Arizona: US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) has been quiet about her future political plans, but speculation has been brisk in terms of her launching a challenge to potentially vulnerable Sen. Jeff Flake (R). The Congresswoman’s fundraising suggests she has bigger plans than seeking a fourth term in the House. It appears she will report raising over $675,000 for the first quarter and bringing her cash-on-hand total close to $3 million. For his part, Sen. Flake will report raising over $1.4 million during the same time period.

Missouri: Former Show Me State Republican officeholders led by ex-US Senator John Danforth and previous Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder are circulating a petition to encourage newly elected Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) next year. For his part, Mr. Hawley says he is concentrating on the job that the people elected him for, but his recent statements are a bit less committed in regard to staying put than earlier comments suggested. Simultaneously, another prospective Senate candidate, US Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin), is filling her federal campaign coffers. In the first quarter, she will report over $800,000 raised with a cash-on-hand figure approaching $3 million.

Montana: Sen. Jon Tester (D) drew his first official Republican opponent this week. State Sen. Al Olszewski (R-Kalispell) announced that he will enter the US Senate race next year. Mr. Olszewski is serving his first term in the Senate after being elected once to the state House of Representatives.

Pennsylvania: Last week we covered US Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler/Erie) indicating that he is considering launching a challenge to Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D). While Mr. Kelly made no announcement this week, another Pennsylvania office holder did enter the Senate race. Pittsburgh area state Rep. Jim Christiana (R) declared himself as a statewide candidate for the coming 2018 election. He joins another Pittsburgh area state legislator, Rick Saccone, in the Republican primary. The Pennsylvania race has the chance of becoming competitive, but incumbent Sen. Casey begins as a clear favorite for re-election.

House

CA-50: Embattled Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine/San Diego County), currently under an ethics investigation for potentially misusing campaign funds for personal expenditures, has drawn his first general election opponent. Known for his staunch support of the military – Mr. Hunter served in the Marine Corps and his father, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – the Congressman has drawn opposition from a former Navy SEAL. Josh Butner (D) officially announced his campaign this week. President Trump carried this district by 15 percentage points, but it appears when studying recent elections that all Republican California districts have the potential of becoming competitive.

IL-3: Previously, we reported that media consultant Marie Newman had formed a congressional exploratory committee to determine her prospects for a Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs/Chicago). This week, Ms. Newman made her candidacy official as she announced that she will pursue the race. Mr. Lipinski is one of the more moderate Democrats in Congress. First elected in 2004, the Congressman faced incumbent primary challenges in 2012 (87%), 2010 (77%), and 2008 (54% against three Democratic opponents).

IA-1: From Iowa’s most Democratic district, Republican Representative Rod Blum has scored two consecutive victories. He can again expect a tough challenge coming his way in 2018. This week, Democratic state Rep. Abby Finkenauer filed a congressional exploratory committee, taking the first step toward becoming a federal candidate.

KS-2: Former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D), who held Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to a 50-46% win in 2014, filed a congressional exploratory committee for the open Topeka-anchored 2nd Congressional District. The seat trends discernibly Republican, but without an incumbent seeking re-election, the 2018 race could become competitive. The Democrats held the district for one term when Nancy Boyda defeated then-Rep. Jim Ryun (R) in 2006. She lost two years later to current incumbent Lynn Jenkins (R). Ms. Jenkins has already announced she will not seek re-election in 2018, professing a desire to return to the private sector.

KS-4: After a lackluster south Kansas special election campaign that was virtually moribund until the last week, Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes (R-Wichita), as expected, scored a 53-46% victory over Democratic attorney James Thompson. Mr. Estes will serve the remaining portion of the current term, replacing CIA Director Mike Pompeo who resigned the House seat upon confirmation to the new position. Democrats tout the closeness of the race as a moral victory for them, but the Estes percentage was only slightly below how previous Republican incumbents had performed in their initial elections.

MT-AL: Last week we reported that country rock singer Rob Quist surprised national political observers with already raising over $754,000 for his at-large congressional special election effort. This week, the Quist campaign launched two television ads defining himself as someone who has been “the voice of Montana” from a career in music while expanding his campaign war chest to $1.3 million. Republican businessman Greg Gianforte countered with his own ads, and both candidates seemed to be echoing a similar anti-Washington theme. This election, slated for May 25th, will become more interesting as the campaign progresses.

NJ-5: Freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wycoff), who unseated veteran Rep. Scott Garrett (R) even though President Trump carried the 5th District, has drawn his first 2018 challenger. Warren County Freeholder Jason Sarnoski becomes the first Republican to announce a congressional candidacy. Others are expected to join the GOP primary. The eventual general election here will be competitive.

PA-6: Two Democrats announced their congressional candidacies. Both construction executive Bob Dettore and non-profit executive and former military veteran Chrissy Houlahan hope to challenge two-term Rep. Ryan Costello (R-West Chester) in the politically marginal Philadelphia suburban 6th District.

PA-7: Two more Democrats also announced political bids against Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford) in the Delaware County seat. Dan Muroff, who previously ran and lost in the neighboring 2nd District, is moving to run in the 7th CD. Medical research scientist Molly Sheehan also announced her candidacy. Both join financial advisor John McGinty in the Democratic primary. Though the 7th is politically marginal, Rep. Meehan has had little trouble in securing four consecutive election victories here.

PA-10: Four-term Rep. Tom Marino (R-Williamsport) will reportedly be nominated as President Trump’s Director of the Office of National Drug Policy, commonly referred to as the nation’s “drug czar.” Should he be chosen, the expansive northeast Pennsylvania 10th District will also be thrown into a special election to fill the vacancy.

VA-10: Continuing the theme of military veterans announcing congressional candidacies this week, US Army veteran Daniel Helmer (D) announced he will join the Democratic primary with the hope of challenging second-term Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean). He joins Fairfax Education Association past president Kimberly Adams as announced Democratic candidates. Others mentioned as considering the race are Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, and Fairfax County School Board member Ryan McElveen.

Governor

Alabama: Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned under a scandal cloud at the beginning of the week, acknowledging his long suspected extra-marital affair and pleading guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) then ascended to the Governor’s office. It was expected that Ms. Ivey was going to join the open seat gubernatorial contest, but now as the new incumbent, most of the other potential candidates are falling into a wait-and-see mode. Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan (R), however, says he is running for Governor next year no matter who else may be in the race.

Colorado: Six-term US Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) announced his gubernatorial candidacy this week. He joins five other Democrats in the primary race to succeed term-limited Colorado chief executive John Hickenlooper (D). For Republicans, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted mass murderer James Holmes, appears to be the leading candidate. We can expect a highly competitive general election campaign here next year.

Connecticut: Gov. Dan Malloy (D), who won two close elections as Governor and brandishes some of the worst job approval ratings in the country – according to the Morning Consult national gubernatorial survey that ranks all 50 state chief executives, Gov. Malloy’s 29:66% favorability index is the nation’s third-worst ranking – announced late this week that he will not seek a third term next year. Several Democrats were already lining up gubernatorial campaigns in anticipation of such a move, including state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., and Middletown Mayor Dan Drew. Gov. Malloy twice beat Republican former US Ambassador Tom Foley (R), by margins of half a percentage point and three points. The eventual Democratic nominee will be favored to hold the seat in the general election.

Oklahoma: In an unsurprising development, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb (R) announced that he will enter the state’s open gubernatorial contest next year. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Mr. Lamb was first elected Lt. Governor in 2010, after serving in the state Senate. Before entering elective politics, he was a Secret Service agent. A crowded GOP candidate field is expected to form, and could include Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) who self-term limited his congressional service.

Tennessee: President Trump nominated Volunteer State Sen. Mark Green (R) as the new US Army Secretary. Upon confirmation, he will resign from the Senate and withdraw from the Governor’s race. He had previously announced his gubernatorial candidacy. A crowded Republican primary field is expected here, too, possibly featuring House Budget Committee chair Diane Black (R-Gallatin).

Virginia: A new Quinnipiac University poll (4/6-10; 1,115 VA registered voters; 483 Democratic likely primary voters; 435 Republican likely primary voters) brings good news for former US Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville) and for Democrats in general. According to the Q-Poll data, Mr. Perriello now leads Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) 25-20% as the two sprint toward the June 13 partisan primary. In match-ups with presumed Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, both Democrats expand to leads of double-digit proportions. Perriello leads Gillespie 46-33%, while Northam claims a similar 43-30% advantage. The poll’s sample is skewed Democratic, however, breaking 34% Democrat, 31% unaffiliated, and 24% Republican, which is a greater edge than the party traditionally garners from actual voting results.