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Period Ending May 19, 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: Candidate filing closed this week, and surprisingly several individuals expected to become candidates chose not to run. The most prominent Republican primary challengers to appointed Sen. Luther Strange are US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, and resigned Alabama Christian Coalition president Randy Brinson. State Rep. Ed Henry (R-Decatur), former state Rep Perry O. Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery), and state Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) all bypassed the race, but Gulf Coast state Senator Trip Pittman decided to file just as the deadline expired, once he determined that Senate President Marsh was out of the race.

The developments appear to improve Sen. Strange’s chances of retaining the seat. The partisan primaries are scheduled for August 15, with run-offs, if necessary, on September 26. The special general election is December 12. Former US Attorney Doug Jones is favored to win the Democratic nomination and oppose the eventual Republican nominee in the final special vote. The winner serves the balance of the current Senate term and would next face the voters for a full term in 2020.

Indiana: Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) formed a US Senate exploratory committee this week, joining fellow Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) who made the same move weeks earlier. Indiana may host the most competitive Senate race in the country next year and is likely the Republicans’ top conversion opportunity. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) will have a difficult time holding his seat based upon the strong Republican vote Indianans delivered from the top of the ticket through the lower offices during the 2016 election.

Missouri: Reports emanating from St. Louis area political activists indicate that Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County) will declare her US Senate candidacy in July. The Congresswoman raised over $800,000 in the first quarter and has over $2.7 million in her campaign account, just short of incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D) $3 million-plus. Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) is still a potential Senate candidate, but it is most likely that he will remain in the position to which he was just elected, thus allowing Rep. Wagner a clear path to the Republican nomination. A McCaskill-Wagner race will be highly competitive in a state that has developed a clear Republican voting pattern since the turn of this century.

Ohio: Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Franklin County) ended speculation that he was going to enter the US Senate race. Despite engaging in a torrid fundraising pace in the first quarter, an effort that netted him more than $6 million in his campaign account when adding holdover monies from other races, Rep. Tiberi said this week that he will not run for Senate but instead continue his career in the House. He said the healthcare and tax reform legislation moving through his Ways & Means Committee are the major reasons he wants to remain in place. This likely gives state Treasurer and 2012 US Senate nominee Josh Mandel will a clear shot at the Republican nomination. Therefore, he and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) are likely on tap for a re-match next year. In 2012, Sen. Brown was re-elected to a second term with a 51-45% vote margin over Mr. Mandel.

House

AL-2: State Rep. Barry Moore (R), who previously filed an exploratory committee in relation to challenging Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) in next year’s GOP primary, announced that he will become a congressional candidate. Rep. Roby’s re-election percentage dropped to 49% in November, suggesting political weakness. Mr. Moore will be attacking her from the right. This is a primary race to watch.

AZ-1: State Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) announced that he will challenge freshman Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Sedona) next year. Sen. Smith was first elected to the legislature in 2010. The marginal 1st District stretches from the Colorado-Utah-New Mexico corner border down the eastern sector of the state before dropping south of Phoenix where Sen. Smith resides. The 1st is one of 12 districts that voted for President Trump but elected a Democrat to the House.

CA-25: A re-match from 2016 could transpire for next year’s general election. Attorney Bryan Caforio (D), who held Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale/Simi Valley) to a 53-47% victory in a district that Hillary Clinton carried 50-44%, announced that he will run again in 2018. Two other Democrats, non-profit executive Katie Hill and geologist Jess Phoenix, are already in the race. All candidates appear on the same ballot in the June primary, with the top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation and vote percentage attained, advancing to the general election.

FL-27: The first poll was released for the now open South Florida seat since veteran Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) announced her retirement. Front Porch Strategies, polling for a consulting firm associated with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R), went into the field (released 5/16; 805 FL-27 registered voters; 301 likely Republican primary voters) and found their client with a strong early lead in both the Republican primary and general elections. Against Miami-Dade County former school board member Raquel Regalado and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, Mr. Lopez-Cantera opens with a 57-13-3% advantage. Only Mr. Barreiro is currently an announced GOP congressional candidate. Pitted against Democratic state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D), the Lt. Governor’s margin is 41-34%.

MN-3: Dean Phillips, CEO of the Minneapolis-based Phillips Distilling Company, announced that he will challenge Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) next year. Mr. Phillips is also the grandson of Pauline Phillips, better known as columnist Abigail Van Buren who created the “Dear Abby” syndicated advice series. While this Minneapolis suburban seat can be considered politically marginal, Rep. Paulsen showed major strength in the last election, as he easily defeated a strong Democratic challenger, state Sen. Terri Bonoff, with a 57-43% margin. Still, Mr. Phillips will be able to command the type of campaign resources to make this a competitive contest in 2018.

MT-AL: While Democratic candidate Rob Quist has excelled in national fundraising, to the point of surpassing the $3.5 million mark for his campaign treasury, outside Democratic and liberal groups have not been as forthcoming. It is estimated only $600,000+ has been expended in Quist’s behalf, as compared to almost $4 million from Republican and right of center organizations who back GOP nominee Greg Gianforte. The special election to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) is scheduled for May 25.

NY-27: Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who represented the 27th District for a portion of a term after winning a 2011 special election, says she will not challenge Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence /Buffalo suburbs) next year despite Democratic Party overtures to recruit her. As the incumbent Lt. Governor, she stands a strong choice of remaining on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket as Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to run for a third term.

OH-16: State Sen. Frank LaRose (R), who was a likely congressional candidate in the open seat that Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) is leaving to run for Governor, instead announced his candidacy for the open Secretary of State’s position. This still leaves state Rep. Christina Hagan (R) as the only announced candidate for what should be a safe Republican congressional seat.

SC-5: Republican voters went into a run-off election this week to choose between state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state Representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman. In the May 2 GOP special primary, the two candidates were separated by only 135 votes. The run-off proved just as close, but with a different person coming out on top, at least unofficially. With more than 35,000 votes being cast, Mr. Norman is the unofficial winner with a margin of 221 votes. Since the end result is within one percentage point, an automatic recount will now be implemented. Once a GOP winner is finally determined and certified, likely Mr. Norman, a contest between he and Democrat Archie Parnell will culminate on June 20. Republicans are favored to hold the seat.

UT-3: It appears that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy), who has already announced that he will not seek re-election and plans to resign before the term ends, will leave the House on June 30. That will set the wheels in motion for Gov. Gary Herbert (R) to call for a replacement special election. Since Utah has not held a federal special election in decades, questions remain as to just what type of nomination system will be ordered and who has such authority to determine the process. Utah employs a nominating convention before any primary, so legal questions surrounding the replacement process will have to be quickly answered after the seat officially comes open.

VA-10: Yet another Democrat, now the fifth, has come forward to challenge second-term Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean). This week, retired Navy officer Dave Hansen declared for the Democratic nomination. Already in the race are state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, former Fairfax County Education Association president Kimberly Adams, businessman Dan Helmer, and former Obama Administration Veterans Affairs official Lindsey Davis Stover. Rep. Comstock was re-elected to a second term with 53% of the vote despite President Trump losing this CD by 10 percentage points.

Governor

Kansas: It appears Kansas Democrats will have a primary battle for Governor. Already in the race is former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer. Reportedly preparing to join is former state Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty, also an ex-EPA official and state Representative. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is term-limited. Republicans will likely see a crowded field for their party nomination. The eventual GOP nominee will be favored, but the Democrats appear ready to compete in the general election in spite of producing poor results over the last decade, though they have elected five of the last 11 Governors dating back to the 1956 election.

New Mexico: Attorney General Hector Balderas (D), who was thought to be Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D-Albuquerque) toughest opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, will not enter the top statewide contest. Instead, Mr. Balderas will run for re-election to his current position. New Mexico figures to be a prime Democratic conversion target. Rep. Grisham announced her gubernatorial campaign back in December, and has effectively been raising funds to prepare for the open seat campaign. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D) looks to be drawing at least three Republican opponents. Already in the race is state Sen. Scott Wagner. State House Speaker Mike Turzai is confirming that he will announce his gubernatorial campaign later in the summer. Declaring this week is wealthy businessman Paul Mango. With Gov. Wolf’s approval ratings suffering, Pennsylvania’s 2018 gubernatorial race should be highly competitive.

Virginia: Two polls provide drastically different snapshots of the 2017 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary. Public Policy Polling (5/9-10; 745 VA likely Democratic primary voters), surveying for the Virginia Education Association, finds Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who the VEA has already endorsed, leading former US Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville), 45-35%. But, the Washington Post/Schur School of George Mason University sponsored an Abt Associates poll (5/9-14; 1,604 VA adults; 351 likely Democratic primary voters; 264 likely Republican primary voters) that finds Perriello edging Northam, 40-38%. The latter poll has methodological flaws, but the VEA survey may have an inherent bias since they are outwardly supporting Northam. The closer result is more in line with other previous polls, except for the VEA’s earlier survey, which actually projected Perriello to an even stronger lead. The primary election is scheduled for June 13. The eventual Democratic nominee is likely to face former Republican National Committee chairman and 2014 US Senate candidate Ed Gillespie in the fall.