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Period Ending April 28, 2017

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


Alabama: As expected, the new special Senate primary election scheduled for August 15 is already drawing several Republican opponents for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R), likely with more to follow. Now in the race, or forming exploratory committees, are state Rep. Ed Henry, who began the impeachment offensive against resigned Gov. Robert Bentley (R), former Alabama Christian Coalition president Dr. Randy Brinson, and defeated state Rep. Perry Hooper.

None of the congressional Republicans have yet stepped forward, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see one or more enter the race, since they don’t have to risk their seats to do so. If no one wins a majority Republican vote in August, the top two will advance to a run-off election on September 26. The special general is set for December 12. Little is occurring on the Democratic side.

Nevada: Businessman Steve Cloobeck, a self-funding potential candidate who was considering launching a challenge to Sen. Dean Heller (R), announced this week that he would not enter the race. Then, in a surprising move, Mr. Cloobeck actually endorsed Heller for re-election, saying that he doesn’t agree with the Republican incumbent on core issues, but appreciates the Senator’s “businesslike approach to politics and legislation.” Though this should be the Democrats’ top national conversion target, they currently have no credible candidate to challenge Mr. Heller.

Pennsylvania: Wealthy real estate executive Jeff Bartos (R) announced that he will enter the US Senate race, hoping to oppose Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) in the general election. Mr. Bartos joins Pittsburgh area state Reps. Rick Saccone and Jim Christiana in the race. Despite President Trump winning here last November, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R) also being re-elected, challenging two-term Sen. Casey has not drawn major activity as yet. This will likely change, but the Pennsylvania race is toward the bottom of the viable Republican conversion target list.


CA-22: Democrats have recruited a legitimate candidate to take a run at House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare). Fresno County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Janz (D) says he will run for Congress next year. Though this will likely be Mr. Nunes’ most competitive challenge since he came to the House in 2002, the district is solidly Republican and the Congressman has averaged 72.5% in his eight federal elections.

CA-32: Ten-term Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) announced that she will seek re-election next year. The Congresswoman, 80 years of age, suffered a minor stroke last year, thus adding to retirement rumors. She should have little trouble winning the general election but it could well be against another Democrat as a result of California’s jungle primary system.

IL-13: Three-term Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) has performed well in his central Illinois seat, but this is still politically marginal territory. Therefore, he will always draw Democratic interest. State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) this week formed an exploratory committee to assess her chances of unseating the Congressman. Frequent Democratic candidate David Gill is already in the race, but could easily switch to running as an Independent, as he has previously done. This could become a race to watch, but Rep. Davis begins this cycle as a strong favorite for re-election.

MI-11: Sophomore Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham/Livonia) has drawn a significant 2018 opponent in his low 50s Detroit metro area district. Against an opponent who spent just under $1.2 million last year, Rep. Trott scored a 53-40% win. His new challenger is President Obama’s Auto Task Force chief of staff Haley Stevens (D) who made her candidacy official late this week. This race has some potential to become competitive.

MN-7: Veteran Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Detroit Lakes/Western Minnesota), a retirement possibility for the past several election cycles, announced that he will seek a 15th term next year. Though a Democrat, Mr. Peterson represents the strongest Trump district (62%) in Minnesota. It is highly likely the GOP would easily capture the seat had he decided to vacate. The Congressman was only re-elected with 52% of the vote against a candidate who spent only in the $20,000 range. Therefore, it is likely the Republicans will run a stronger campaign against him in 2018, but clearly Mr. Peterson seeking re-election is the Democrats’ best ticket to holding what should be a GOP seat.

MT-AL: Despite heavy campaigning in anticipation of the May 25 special election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (R) in the state’s at-large House seat, no poll had been released until this week. The Emerson College Polling Society made public the results of their statewide survey (4/20-21; 648 MT-AL likely voters), which provides good news to Republican nominee Greg Gianforte. The results find the GOP candidate holding a strong 52-37% lead over Democrat Rob Quist, a country rock singer who is well known throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Both candidates have raised over $1.5 million, meaning this campaign will be highly active until its conclusion one month from now.

VA-10: The Democratic challenger list forming against Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean), continues to grow. Now, Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe (D) confirms that she is seriously considering entering the primary battle for the right to face the two-term Republican incumbent in the 2018 general election.

Already state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D), ex-Fairfax County Education Association president Kimberly Adams, Iraq War veteran Don Helmer, and former Veterans Administration official Lindsey Davis Stover have announced their candidacies. To follow through on their commitment when they helping recruit her into the race, Reps. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) and Gerry Connolly (D-Fairfax) both immediately endorsed Sen. Wexton. The 2016 campaign here was one of the most expensive in the country. Rep. Comstock pulled 53% of the vote in November, an impressive total considering President Trump lost this swing northern Virginia district by a full ten percentage points.


Alabama: With new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) installed in office, she is already beginning to solidify her position as the incumbent. Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville (R), who had already filed a gubernatorial exploratory committee when the position was headed for open seat status, announced he would not run now that Ms. Ivey assumed the Governorship and can seek election in 2018. State Senate President Del Marsh (R), another would-be open seat gubernatorial candidate, also said he will not challenge Gov. Ivey but is likely to become a special election US Senate candidate.

Colorado: A major Democratic primary could be brewing in the open race to succeed term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). Potentially joining the primary contest is Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), who said this week that he is “seriously considering” becoming a gubernatorial contender. Already announced is Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden), so Polis joining would create a major battle featuring two Democratic Congressmen whose districts share common borders. The most prominent announced Republican is Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. This race promises to be competitive throughout the entire election cycle.

Georgia: Former US Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) is making moves to join what is becoming a crowded field in the open Republican gubernatorial primary. Already in the race is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and state Sen. Hunter Hill. Mr. Kingston served 22 years in the House, and lost a close Senate run-off in 2014 to the eventual general election winner, businessman David Perdue. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Maryland: Democrats have their first official challenger for GOP Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. Baltimore businessman Alec Ross, well known in the Maryland high tech community, announced that he will enter next year’s gubernatorial contest. Gov. Hogan has strong job approval ratings, but Maryland is one of the strongest Democratic states in the nation so no Republican can ever be considered a safe bet for re-election.

Ohio: Buckeye State voters may well see the return of former Representative and Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich (D). Though he has not indicated he is planning to enter the open Governor’s race, he is traveling through the state with a candidate-like schedule speaking about issues. Already in the Democratic primary race is former Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Copley), newly-resigned state Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, and ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich. Republicans feature Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Attorney General and US Senator Mike DeWine, and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth). Secretary of State Jon Husted is also expected to join the race.

Kucinich is now a gadfly candidate who was last on the ballot in the 2012 US House race, a losing effort after being paired with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo). Still, he has a small constituency that could matter in a crowded primary if the votes split fairly evenly among the multiple candidates.