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Period Ending April 21, 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: This week, new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) changed the Senate special election schedule. Previously, resigned Gov. Robert Bentley’s (R) placed the Alabama Senate special concurrently with the 2018 regular election cycle and appointed then-Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to fill the position until such election is held. The seat was vacant because then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) was appointed US Attorney General. Gov. Ivey, possibly in order to blunt a bipartisan federal lawsuit making its way through the court system demanding a schedule change, has ordered the election moved to the summer and fall. The partisan primaries will now be held August 15, with any necessary run-off election moving to September 26. The special general re-locates to December 12. A large number of contenders are expected, especially now that none of the interested elected officials have to risk their current political positions in order to run. The field will form soon. The candidate filing deadline is set for May 17, though the various state political parties have the authority to require an earlier deadline.

Florida: It appears the Sunshine State US Senate race will take a long time to develop. This week Gov. Rick Scott (R), expected to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D) next year, says he will wait until 2018 to make a decision about running. The Governor’s approval ratings are at their zenith, he has the ability to self-fund, and apparently has already frozen out viable potential Republican candidates. Occupying a major political post with the ability to generate daily headlines, a short campaign cycle would play to Gov. Scott’s advantage.

Nevada: Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) again confirmed this week that she is considering challenging Sen. Dean Heller (R), but she says any final decision won’t be made until the summer. Her supposed interest in a Senate race doesn’t appear particularly sincere, however. Rep. Titus’ first quarter fundraising was virtually non-existent ($73,104 in total receipts), and she has only $274,715 cash-on-hand. These are not the finance figures of someone looking to challenge an incumbent US Senator in what will be a very tough race.

New Mexico: Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) has drawn at least one opponent, and may have two. Businessman Mick Rich (R), a member of the New Mexico Labor Commission, announced his candidacy this week but could switch to the Governor’s race if Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R) decides to run for Senate. Originally, Mr. Sanchez was an expected gubernatorial candidate, but is now making statements that he is considering launching a challenge against Mr. Heinrich.

Texas: A new Texas Lyceum organization poll (4/3-9; 1,000 TX adults), ostensibly to track issues and attitudes, asked a question about the upcoming US Senate race. The results found Sen. Ted Cruz (R) surprisingly trailing potential opponent Joaquin Castro (D), the San Antonio Congressman, and tied with his announced adversary, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso). Cruz was down 31-35% to Castro, while the latter two were deadlocked at 30% apiece. The survey is flawed, at least from a ballot test perspective, in that the pollsters weighted the responses based upon the Texas population base instead of the registered voter pool. Therefore, the data skews heavily Democratic since the sample configuration contained 57% minority respondents. This number, while in line for the overall Texas population, is not accurate as it relates to the Lone Star State electorate.

Utah: More evidence is forthcoming that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) plans to seek an eighth term. Reports suggest that his first quarter fundraising report will reveal over $1.5 million obtained for the quarter, with more than $3.5 million cash-on-hand. The activity certainly suggests the Senator is preparing for another campaign. Publicly, Mr. Hatch has stated that he is leaning toward running again, but has not made an unequivocal statement outlining his intentions.

House

GA-6: The long-awaited special congressional election occurred this week and, as expected, Democrat Jon Ossoff placed first in the jungle primary. He scored 48.1% of the vote, a bit more than polling predicted, but short of winning the seat outright. Therefore, he advances to a June 20 run-off election with former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R), who finished second among the 17 other candidates with 20%. The contenders, party committees, and outside organizations have already combined to spend more than $16 million. Much more will be expended in the special general election possibly making this the most expensive congressional campaign of all time. The seat is vacant because former Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) was appointed Health & Human Services Secretary. A Democratic victory would clearly be an upset. The combined Republican primary vote, however, was 51%. Turnout was huge, with 192,084 voters participating.

KS-3: 2016 Democratic nominee Jay Sidie, a local businessman who held incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Overland Park) to a 51-41% victory, announced this week that he will run again in 2018. Polling suggested the race would be tighter, and the seat was rated an upset possibility heading into Election Day. Hillary Clinton carried the Republican district by a 47-46% margin. The congressional result disappointed the Democratic leadership, and Sidie, a first-time candidate, took hits for not performing particularly well on the campaign trail. It is likely he will face primary opposition before getting another shot at Rep. Yoder. The Congressman is also a potential gubernatorial candidate, so this congressional race could see a great deal of action next year.

MN-1: In 2016, Republican nominee Jim Hagedorn failed to attract much in the way of financial support spending only $368,000 and not getting national Republican backing, yet he still managed to score 49.6% of the vote against Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato). Now that Mr. Walz is running for Governor, Republicans have renewed interest in the 1st District. Mr. Hagedorn is already running again and raised more than half of his 2016 total ($220,000) in the first quarter just reported. The Republican nominee’s father, former US Rep. Tom Hagedorn (R), represented the state for four terms in the 1970s and early 1980s.

MT-AL: The Montana at-large special election between Republican businessman Greg Gianforte and country rock singer Rob Quist (D) will soon take center stage in the special election cycle, but the state legislature this week took action to stop a major change in the voting procedure. Democrats had been attempting to convert the vote to an all-mail system, similar to what is used in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, but the Republican-controlled legislature formally voted down the measure. Therefore, the May 25 special election will be administered in the traditional fashion.

UT-3: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy) announced that he will not seek a sixth term in 2018, and now says he may not finish the current term. Rumors were abounding that his departure from Congress was imminent, but Mr. Chaffetz made clear his resignation will not come for some time. Should he not complete his term of service, Utah will hold its first congressional special election since 1930. Mr. Chaffetz is now the 14th House member and ninth Republican to announce he will not seek re-election, including the four concurrent special elections. The seat will remain in Republican hands.

VA-10: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean), who scored a hard fought 53-47% re-election victory despite President Trump losing the district by 10 percentage points, has drawn yet another Democratic opponent. State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D) announced that she will enter the 2018 congressional contest. National and state Democratic leaders had been attempting to recruit her for the past two election cycles. Already in the Democratic primary race are Kimberly Adams, the former president of the Fairfax County Education Association, Iraq War veteran Don Helmer, and former Veterans Administration official Lindsey Davis Stover. The two 2016 campaigns spent a combined $8 million, not counting substantial Super PAC and party expenditures. We can again expect a highly competitive battle in 2018.

Governor

Minnesota: Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman became the first Republican to declare for the 2018 open Governor’s race. Five Democrats, including Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato), state Auditor Rebecca Otto, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, are already announced candidates. The eventual Democratic nominee will be favored to succeed Gov. Mark Dayton (D) who chose not to seek a third term.

Tennessee: Speculation has been mounting that Sen. Bob Corker (R) will not seek re-election and instead enter the open race for Governor. This week, Sen. Corker did little to dissuade such talk. He indicated that he has not made any decisions about his 2018 political plans, but acknowledged he has not ruled out running for Governor.

Utah: It was readily assumed that Gov. Gary Herbert (R) would not seek a fourth term in 2020. In a news conference this week, the Governor dispelled such comments, indicating that he has not ruled out seeking re-election and that commentators and reporters should stop excluding his name from the list of potential candidates. Mr. Herbert assumed the Governorship in 2009 when incumbent Jon Huntsman (R) resigned to become US Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration. He won a special election in 2010 to serve the balance of the initial term, and was subsequently elected to full terms in 2012 and 2016. He has averaged a strong 68% of the vote in his three gubernatorial elections.