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Period Ending May 15, 2015

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

President

Public Policy Polling: PPP (5/7-10; 685 national Republican primary voters; 600 national Democratic primary voters) released this week new small-sample national polls to test both parties’ presidential candidates. Both fields appear unchanged. Hillary Clinton racks up 63% Democratic preference, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who registers 13 percent. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (6%), ex-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (5%), and previous Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (2%) all landed only in single digits.

On the Republican side, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues to claim first place, this time with 18% support. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio again finishes in the top tier, and has polled well since his official announcement. He is five points behind Walker with 13 percent. Ex-Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Dr. Ben Carson followed with 12% apiece. Lagging in fifth place is ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (11%), just one point ahead of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. All remaining tested candidates finished in single digits.

Senate

California: Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) has finally drawn a Democratic opponent. Though Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), citing his new position as Ranking Minority Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, announced this week that he will not run for the Senate next year, his southern California colleague did enter the campaign. Early this week, a communication coming from Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s (D-CA-46) camp said the Congresswoman was to make her Senate campaign declaration on Thursday. Sanchez quickly did an about face, cancelling the event but saying that she was still considering whether to run. She reversed course a third time, and then went ahead and announced her statewide bid.

Though Sanchez’s effort begins with a rocky start, a Hispanic southern California Democrat matches up very will with the California electorate. The southern part of the state, which houses almost 60% of the population, hasn’t elected a Senator since Pete Wilson (R) won in 1982. After winning the Governorship eight years later, Wilson appointed then-Orange County state Sen. John Seymour in 1991, but he was defeated in the 1992 special election. Since that time, the San Francisco Bay Area has held both seats in the person of Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D) and the retiring Barbara Boxer (D). Both Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and AG Harris also hail from the Bay Area.

Idaho: All speculation that Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID-1) would launch a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Mike Crapo (R) has been squelched. The Senator announced this week that Rep. Labrador will co-chair his statewide re-election campaign. Mr. Crapo was originally elected in 1998 and should easily secure a fourth term next November.

Indiana: More than one month after Sen. Dan Coats (R) announced that he would not seek re-election, several individuals have now finally become official Senate candidates. This week, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN-3) entered the race, as did state Sen. Jim Merritt (R). They join former Indiana Republican Party chairman and Coats’ staff member Eric Holcomb and financial consultant Kevin Grant as Republican Senatorial candidates. No Democrat has yet stepped forward.

Maryland: In an announcement that engendered little in the way of surprise, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former defeated Democratic gubernatorial nominee and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, stated that she would not enter the 2016 open Maryland US Senate race. Townsend never politically recovered from her defeat at the hands of then-Rep. Bob Ehrlich (R) in 2002 and the fact that few welcomed her into the current campaign is a further signal that she is still not viable. Ms. Townsend endorsed Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) in his bid against Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD-4). Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD-7) is still a possible candidate.

Nevada: Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) is reportedly moving closer to entering the open Nevada Senate contest, and is soon expected to announce his official candidacy. It appears he has a strong chance of clearing the prospective Republican field. This would likely pit him against former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D), the woman outgoing Sen. Harry Reid (D) has already endorsed to succeed him. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1) continues to say she may run, but she will likely yield to Masto and remain in the House.

Pennsylvania: Harper Polling (5/6-7; 503 PA registered voters) released a survey this week providing first-term Sen. Pat Toomey (R) with some good news. With the Democrats in disarray over ex-Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D-PA-7) repeated candidacy – he held Toomey to a 51-49% win in 2010, but has bad relations with party leaders – the poll finds the Senator commanding a healthy lead against all of his prominent potential opponents. Isolated against Sestak, Mr. Toomey scores a 53-32% advantage. Paired with Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (D), the Senator leads with an even stronger 54-30% margin. Finally, should the Democratic leadership successfully recruit Montgomery County Commission chairman Josh Shapiro into the race, Toomey would open with an even stronger 55-27% spread. The Senator also records a strong 53:32% positive favorability index.

Wisconsin: Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D), as expected, announced that he will seek a re-match with Sen. Ron Johnson (R) next year. The two faced each other in 2010, with Johnson unseating then-Sen. Feingold, 52-47%. The Democratic incumbent was originally elected in 2002. Feingold’s intentions became clear when he resigned his State Department position earlier this year. The re-match features a clear ideological contrast between candidates on the exact opposite side of the political spectrum: Johnson on the right, Feingold the left. Presidential politics will factor heavily into this race especially if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wins the Republican presidential nomination. The Senate race will likely be considered a toss-up for the rest of the election cycle. Early polls give Feingold large leads, but the campaign will tighten. This contest will go a long way to deciding which party controls the majority in the next Congress. Democrats need to convert four Republican seats to re-capture the Senate if the party nominee wins the Presidency, and five if the GOP wins the national office.

House

IN-3: With Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R) announcing his intention to run for Senate, three potential GOP successors immediately jumped into the open House race. State Sens. Jim Banks and Liz Brown both declared their candidacies, as did former Wisconsin state Sen. Pam Galloway. A crowded Republican primary field is expected. The Ft. Wayne-anchored seat will remain in GOP hands.

MS-1: The vacant northern Mississippi congressional special election primary occurred Tuesday, and the field of 12 Republicans and one Democrat is now down to just two candidates. The lone Democrat, Jackson mayoral aide Walter Zinn, who spent only $9,000 on his effort, placed first with just 17% in the fractured field. Northern Mississippi District Attorney Trent Kelly (R), a career National Guard reserve officer with tours of duty in Iraq, placed second with 15 percent. Both will advance to the June 2nd run-off election, where Kelly will be a huge favorite in the strongly Republican seat. The late Rep. Alan Nunnelee’s (R) widow endorsed Kelly, which certainly gave him a key boost to becoming the top Republican finisher.

NV-3: State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R), who was regularly mentioned as a possible US Senate candidate, said he will run for the open 3rd Congressional District seat if incumbent Rep. Joe Heck (R) decides to enter the statewide race. Since indications are pointing to a Heck Senate candidacy, it appears more likely that Roberson, whose entire state legislative district lies within the confines of NV-3, will launch a congressional campaign.

NY-24: The Democrats failed in the efforts to recruit their number one choice to oppose freshman Rep. John Katko (R). Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner (D) said this week that she will not run for Congress next year. Mr. Katko unseated Rep. Dan Maffei (D) in a landslide 58-39% victory last November. Ex-Rep. Maffei, who was twice defeated as an incumbent, says he will not seek a re-match.

Governor

Indiana: For the second consecutive week, Gov. Mike Pence (R) has drawn an opponent. Last week, 2012 Democratic nominee and former state House Speaker John Gregg (D), said he will again challenge Pence next year. This week, state Sen. Karen Tallian (D) joined the growing field of candidates. Gregg held Pence to a surprisingly close 50-47% win in the last election.

Kentucky: Two new polls show a very tight three-way Republican primary heading into the May 19th Kentucky primary. Survey USA (5/5-10; 517 KY Republican primary voters) finds investor Matt Bevin in first place with 27%, followed by state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer at 26%, and former Louisville Metro Councilor Hal Heiner attracting 25 percent. Previously, Public Policy Polling, surveying for the Democratic organization Kentucky Family Values (5/6-7; 501 KY Republican primary voters), found almost the same split. In their results, Comer posted 28%, Heiner 27%, and Bevin 25%. Therefore, this race is anybody’s game as the campaign turns for the home stretch. The winner will face Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D). Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Louisiana: Southern Media and Opinion Research released their regular spring poll (5/5-9; 600 LA registered voters), testing the October 24th gubernatorial jungle primary. To no one’s surprise, US Sen. David Vitter (R) leads the bi-partisan field with 38% of the vote, leading the only Democratic candidate, state Rep. John Bel Edwards who has 25 percent. In third place is Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R) who posts 17%, while Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle (R) trails with only 5% support. The top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to a November 21st general election. A candidate commanding majority support in the jungle primary is automatically elected.

West Virginia: As expected, the man listed as West Virginia’s only billionaire, agriculture and coal business owner Jim Justice (D), announced his gubernatorial candidacy. Since Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) is ineligible to seek re-election, we can expect a crowded field of candidates in both parties for the 2016 regular election. In addition to Mr. Justice, state Senate Minority Leader and former Senate President Jeff Kessler (D) is soon expected to announce, while US Attorney Booth Gardner is also a Democratic possibility. For the Republicans, current state Senate President Bill Cole has filed pre-candidacy papers. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV-1) are also potential candidates.