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Period Ending May 5, 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: A somewhat surprising turn of events occurred this week, as two House members thought to be in good position to run for the Senate because they don’t have to risk their current positions to enter the special election, both announced they will not challenge appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R). Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) and Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) say they won’t run statewide, though the latter man leaves the door open for a gubernatorial campaign next year. State Senate President Del Marsh, who appeared to be a sure Senate candidate, also has not yet entered the race. The candidate filing deadline is May 17.

Arizona: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), who had been at the top of the Democratic recruitment list to challenge Sen. Jeff Flake (R), announced on a Phoenix radio station late this week that she will seek re-election to the House next year. Speculation was becoming strong that the three-term Congresswoman would enter the Senate campaign because her first quarter fundraising had been so strong. Raising almost $700,000, Rep. Sinema’s campaign has just under $2.8 million in the bank, exactly $1 million more than Sen. Flake. With Sinema out of consideration, the next key recruitment target will likely be Dr. Randall Friese, a Democratic state Representative and surgeon who operated on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson) after she suffered a near fatal gunshot attack. Former state Senator and 2016 US Senate candidate Kelli Ward remains a GOP primary opponent to Sen. Flake. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, the chairman of President Trump’s Arizona campaign, is a potential Republican candidate.

Missouri: The first Republican at-large primary poll was conducted during the past week. Kansas City-based Remington Research (4/28-29; 915 likely MO Republican primary voters; via Interactive Voice Response system) finds Attorney General Josh Hawley leading Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin), 30-14%, with two other potential candidates in single-digits. Mr. Hawley is unlikely to run for the Senate, while Rep. Wagner is expected to announce her own campaign in several weeks. The eventual Republican primary winner will challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) next year, in what promises to be a highly competitive race.

Pennsylvania: Luzerne County US Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) confirms that he is considering entering the statewide Republican primary for purposes of challenging two-term Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) next year. With a campaign treasury holding less than $400,000, Mr. Barletta must quickly organize a major statewide fundraising operation if he is to become a credible candidate. Sen. Casey is working to maximize his advantage. In the first quarter, he raised $2.7 million, and has $3.8 million cash-on-hand.

West Virginia: Rep. David McKinley (R-Wheeling) says he will make an announcement next week regarding challenging Sen. Joe Manchin (D) next year. Until this week, Mr. McKinley had not factored in the US Senate conversation. Most of the discussion surrounded only Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington). A McKinley entry would certainly add an unexpected twist to this campaign.

House

FL-27: The dean of the Florida congressional delegation and the first Cuban American to ever win election to Congress announced her retirement this week. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) says her current 15th term in the House will be her last, as she will not run for re-election next year. This means at least 15 seats will be open for the next vote, including the special elections, with another 27 where members are considering running for other positions or retiring from elective politics. The Ros-Lehtinen seat, Hillary Clinton’s strongest district that elected a Republican to the House (+19 percentage points), will be a major Democratic conversion target as a 2018 open seat.

GA-6: Democratic pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research conducted the first special general election poll that has been publicly released. The poll (4/23-26; 590 GA-6 likely special election voters) finds Democrat Jon Ossoff leading Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel, 48-47%. Ossoff continues to perform well in this contest, but Handel is clearly uniting the Republican base considering her jungle primary total was only 20%. This expensive race appears poised to be close all the way to the June 20 special general vote.

IA-1: After filing a congressional exploratory committee a couple of weeks ago, state Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D) announced that she will challenge sophomore Rep. Rod Blum (R-Dubuque) in what is the strongest Democratic district in the state. Mr. Blum has won two convincing elections against strong opponents, so he will not be easy to dislodge. Despite the district giving 56% of its votes to President Obama in 2012, Donald Trump carried the seat 49-45% last November. Even so, the 1st was Hillary Clinton’s best Iowa district.

MT-AL: Candidates Greg Gianforte (R), Rob Quist (D), and Mark Wicks (Libertarian) participated in a televised debate in anticipation of their May 25 special election to fill the state’s lone congressional district, vacant once former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) was appointed US Interior Secretary. Mr. Gianforte appeared to command the debate, effectively neutralizing Quist’s attacks, and moving the Democratic nominee to the left. Though Quist has raised well over $1.5 million for the race, the national Democratic Party leadership now seems less enthused with the race and looks to be diverting even more resources from here to the Georgia special.

SC-5: Voters went to the polls this week to begin the party nomination process to replace former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill), who is now Director of the Office of Management & Budget. On the Republican side, a virtual tie resulted. The two favorites in the field of seven candidates, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state Representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman were separated by only 118 votes. The 40% who voted for other candidates will become key targets for the run-off election, scheduled for May 16, and the final nomination result is very much in doubt. Both men also hail from York County, the district’s largest population entity, and the two candidates came within 177 votes of each other. For the Democrats, former Wall Street executive Archie Parnell easily won the party nomination, scoring 71% of the primary vote. He advances to the June 20 special general election, and awaits either Pope or Norman. Republicans are favored to hold the seat.

Governor

Florida: Former US Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee), the daughter of ex-Governor and US Senator Bob Graham (D), announced that she will enter the open gubernatorial campaign next year. Already in the Democratic primary is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and real estate investor Chris King. State Agriculture Commissioner and former US Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Lakeland), often projected as the favorite to capture the Governor’s mansion, has yet to announce his own candidacy but is expected to do so shortly.

Iowa: State Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) announced his gubernatorial campaign this week, becoming the fifth Democratic candidate to do so. Sen. Boulton joins state Rep. Todd Prichard, former state Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire, ex-Des Moines School Board president Jon Neiderbach, and Polk County Conservation Director Rich Leopold in the race. The winner will likely face Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who will ascend to the Governorship once Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is confirmed as US Ambassador to China.

New Mexico: Television executive Jeff Apodaca, son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca (D) who served in the mid to late 1970s when New Mexico limited its state chief executives to one term in office, entered the open Democratic gubernatorial primary for next year’s race. He faces Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) and state Sen. Joe Cervantes so far in the Democratic primary. Others are expected to join the race. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Oklahoma: Continuing the week’s theme of relatives running for Governor, former four-term Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) announced that he will again run for the state’s top office. Mr. Edmondson lost the 2010 Democratic primary. His father, Ed Edmondson, was a Democratic Congressman, uncle J. Howard Edmondson became Governor, and his brother James Edmondson is a Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Republicans will be favored to hold the open seat.