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Period Ending April 17, 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. Marco Rubio: As expected, Florida Sen. Rubio officially announced his presidential bid at Freedom Hall in Miami early this week and confirmed that he will not seek re-election to the Senate. Rubio laid out his strategy of portraying himself as the candidate of the future against those from the past. He made it obvious his attack target is Hillary Clinton, but the theme is also a backhanded slap at his former mentor and likely future presidential opponent, ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Senate

Colorado: Quinnipiac University released a surprising poll (3/29-4/7; 894 CO registered voters) that gives Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) a 43-40% slight advantage over Sen. Michael Bennet (D). Mr. Coffman is the veteran of two tough re-election battles in a 6th District that now trends decidedly Democratic. At this point, neither Rep. Coffman nor his wife, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R), are sending signals that either will run for Senate. Coffman raised a combined $8.4 million for his last two congressional races, so his ability to gather sufficient funds to run a statewide race is unquestioned. This race could be competitive and it is clear that Rep. Coffman would be the Republicans’ strongest candidate.

Florida: With Sen. Rubio now out of the 2016 Florida Senate race, Republicans are free to begin mounting their statewide efforts. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6) is expected to enter the race within weeks, and with the support of key conservative national organizations. Others mentioned as potential Republican candidates are Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Reps. David Jolly (R-FL-13), Dennis Ross (R-FL-15), Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16), and Tom Rooney (R-FL-17). Democrats are looking to Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18), though Rep. Alan Grayson (R-FL-9) is indicating that he may run, as well. Regardless of the final general election pairing, this will be a tight, hard fought race that could well decide the next Senate majority.

Indiana: Despite many Hoosier State office holders publicly acknowledging that they are considering entering the open Senate race now that Sen. Dan Coats (R) has announced his retirement, only former Coats state director and Indiana Republican chairman Eric Holcomb has announced his candidacy. One member of the delegation who has made a decision is Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN-2). Never considered a likely Senate contender, Rep. Walorski says that she will seek re-election to the House in 2016, thus by-passing a Senate run. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN-3) promises to make a decision in May, and he is most likely to enter the race. Democrats do not have a candidate as yet. Party leaders hope to convince former Senator and Governor Evan Bayh to run, but doing so is unlikely.

New Hampshire: Public Policy Polling conducted a poll of the Granite State electorate (4/9-13; 747 NH registered voters) testing Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) opposite Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). In typical New Hampshire fashion, the results show a virtual dead heat, with the Governor clinging to the smallest of leads, 46-45%. Hassan has not committed to run, and she would have to risk her gubernatorial position meaning that she would be forfeiting a strong chance for a third term in exchange for an iffy US Senate campaign in a tough race against a strong incumbent.

North Carolina: Democrats are still trying to find a candidate to oppose two-term Sen. Richard Burr (R). So far, former Sen. Kay Hagan (D), defeated last November, remains mum on whether she will challenge Burr. The longer she remains uncommitted, the less likely she is to run. One of the other top Democratic prospects, state Treasurer Janet Cowell said she will not challenge Burr, and will instead seek re-election. If Hagan doesn’t go, and with Cowell now ruled out, Sen. Burr may be in position to attract a second tier opponent.

Wisconsin: Marquette University Law School, which has been conducting Wisconsin political polls since the 2012 election cycle, just released the results of their latest study (4/7-10; 803 WI registered voters). The numbers are very poor for incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R), as he trails former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) 38-54%. Mr. Feingold has resigned his position at the State Department, which most believe is a precursor to him declaring his Senate candidacy but he has yet to do so. Five years ago, Johnson unseated then-Sen. Feingold by five percentage points.

House

AZ-2: During the last weekend, former Rep. Ron Barber (D), who lost the closest race of 2014 (167 votes), says he will not return to challenge Rep. Martha McSally (R) next year. Regardless of Barber’s decision, McSally can count on a top tier opponent attempting to deny her re-election.

CA-17: Former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna (D), who challenged Rep. Mike Honda (D) throughout the 2014 election cycle, raising and spending over $4.4 million but losing 48-52% confirms that he is seriously considering returning for a re-match. Taking into account Khanna’s fundraising ability and his making the last race close, Rep. Honda will again have an intra-party fight on his hands. At 75 years of age before the next election, the Congressman is a retirement possibility, which may be prompting this latest Khanna move.

CA-24: State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian entered the open congressional race, joining businessman and former UCLA football player Justin Fareed as Republicans as official candidates. Democrats include Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal. Laura Capps (D), daughter of retiring Rep. Lois Capps (D), is soon expected to join. The top two finishers in the 2016 qualifying election, regardless of political party affiliation, will advance to the November general election.

CA-44: So far, Rep. Janice Hahn (D) leaving this seat to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has yielded only one strong candidate, state Sen. Isadore Hall (D). It appears Sen. Hall has all but put this congressional race to bed, but he may be drawing at least one opponent. Democratic Hermosa Beach Mayor Nanette Barragan (D) says that she will challenge Hall. Though the 44th is plurality Hispanic, which appeals to Barragan, she is from a community that is far from this district, and may have little in common with the local constituency. Even with Barragan declaring, Sen. Hall is still rated as a prohibitive favorite. There will be a general election – under California law and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, no candidate can win outright election in a primary. Therefore, CA-44 will likely feature two Democrats vying for the seat in November 2016, but it is hard to envision a scenario where Sen. Hall, carrying the endorsements of the Hahn family and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti among other prominent Los Angeles community leaders, would lose.

IL-8: State Sen. Tom Cullerton (D), cousin to Senate President John Cullerton (D), announced that he will enter the open seat race to replace Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D). The latter is an announced US Senate candidate and is, at least today, the likely Democratic nominee to oppose Sen. Mark Kirk (R). The 8th District is expected to remain in Democratic hands, but the party primary should be highly competitive. State Sen. Mike Noland (D) and former Deputy state Treasurer and congressional candidate Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) are the other announced candidates.

IL-18: A federal judge has approved the new special election time line to replace resigned Rep. Aaron Schock (R). Illinois law conflicts with the federal MOVE Act, so the irregular election cycle had to be lengthened. The MOVE Act requires elections involving federal candidates to give military and overseas voters 45 days to receive and return their absentee ballots. That being the case, the new election calendar calls for the primary elections to be held July 7th, with a special general on Thursday, September 10th. State Sen. Darin LaHood (R), son of former Rep. and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (R), is the virtual consensus candidate. Currently, he stands with little opposition, meaning he is almost assuredly the next Congressman.

Governor

Indiana: The controversy surrounding the state’s Religious Freedom law is taking a toll on Gov. Mike Pence’s (R) political standing. According to a new Bellwether Consulting survey (4/12-14; 607 IN registered voters), the Governor’s job approval rating has dropped to 45:46% favorable to unfavorable. Paired with former state House Speaker John Gregg (D), the man Pence defeated 49-46% in 2012, the Governor’s lead is 43-37%. If state School Superintendent Glena Ritz were the Democratic nominee, the split is a similar 42-39% in the Governor’s favor. Pence fares a bit better against former Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN-9). Here, the Republican incumbent leads 43-36%. It remains to be seen if this issue has staying power, or will it be just a blip on Pence’s road to re-election.

West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin (D) has been publicly weighing his options about running for Governor next year when incumbent Earl Ray Tomblin (D) is ineligible to seek re-election. Two polls were conducted, one a Global Strategy Group survey for the Manchin campaign and the other an independent study from Harper Polling. Both polls show huge Manchin leads of up to 30 points against key Republicans. Should he run, the bigger story may be what happens to the Senate seat. Legislative Republicans are gearing up to pass legislation requiring a special election to fill a federal vacancy instead of a gubernatorial interim appointment. Even if Gov. Tomblin vetoes such a bill, the legislature on a simple majority vote can override his rejection.