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Period Ending June 30, 2017

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

Senate

Montana: Yellowstone County Judge Russell Fagg (R) is retiring from the bench later in the year and may well pivot into becoming a Senate candidate. Judge Fagg states he cannot talk about political aspirations while still a member of the bench, but indications are he is considering launching a challenge against Sen. Jon Tester (D) when the former’s judicial tenure ends in October. Republicans have been searching for a stronger contender than the currently announced GOP candidates: state Sen. Al Olszewski and businessman Troy Downing. Sen. Tester is the clear favorite for a third term, but national Republicans will certainly target the race, citing the party’s strong candidate performances in recent Big Sky Country elections.

Nevada: Last week, freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) confirmed that she will soon announce her Senate challenge to first-term GOP Senator Dean Heller (R) next year. Now, Public Policy Polling, surveying for Planned Parenthood (6/23-25; 648 NV registered voters), has released the results of the first general election poll between the two. According to the data, Ms. Rosen edged Sen. Heller, 42-41%. Heavy push questions were included in the polling questionnaire, centering around only the potential negative aspects of the much discussed healthcare legislation.

Tennessee: A whirlwind of activity has surrounded Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett (R) of late. After openly contemplating launching a gubernatorial campaign but then backing away, the Knoxville area chief executive said he is now considering a US Senate or House campaign. This would mean challenging Sen. Bob Corker or Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Knoxville) in the Republican primary, assuming both seek re-election. Sen. Corker is presumed to run for a third term, while Rep. Duncan, who was first elected in 1988 and succeeded his father, Rep. John Duncan who served 23 years immediately prior to the current incumbent, shows no signs of preparing to depart Congress. In either situation, Mayor Burchett faces a difficult challenge, but also may be laying a marker in case either of the veteran legislators suddenly decides to retire.

Virginia: In the Old Dominion’s rather unique political system, the party organizations themselves can determine if a primary or convention process will be employed each time there is an election. Often, Republicans have opted for a convention, which the more conservative influence on the state executive committee routinely prefers. But, following the 2017 gubernatorial primary just held, the 2018 Senate race, in a decision made late this week, will also feature a primary election format. Republicans are looking to field a strong opponent for Sen. Tim Kaine (D), but major announcements are unlikely to come before the gubernatorial election concludes this November.

House

AZ-2: Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) completed her move to Tucson, and this week filed an exploratory committee to test her viability against two-term Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson). But, the Democratic primary is already burgeoning, so Ms. Kirkpatrick will have to fight her way through at least six other candidates, including 2016 nominee Matt Heinz and former state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, in order to secure the nomination in her new district. Ms. Kirkpatrick was originally elected in the 1st District in 2008, but fell to defeat in 2010. She returned with a victory in the 2012 election and held it until deciding to run for the Senate last November. She lost her statewide bid to incumbent John McCain (R), 54-41%. Ms. McSally, an effective fundraiser who spent just under $7.7 million in her last political effort, was re-elected last November with 57% of the vote.

CA-10: Michael Eggman (D), the San Joaquin Valley businessman who twice unsuccessfully opposed Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock/Modesto), announced that he will not return for a third try next year. Already five Democrats have come forward to issue Mr. Denham a challenge, but only one, former Riverbank City Councilwoman Dotty Nygard has ever served in an elected position. The 10th is a marginal political district, but Mr. Denham will be favored to win a fifth term.

FL-7: State Rep. Mike Miller (R-Orlando) announced on Thursday that he will challenge freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park), attempting to deny her a second term and return the seat to the GOP column. After the Florida Supreme Court re-drew the congressional districts during the 2016 election cycle, Ms. Murphy was able to unseat veteran Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park) once the seat became more favorable for Democratic candidates. The 7th is expected to host a battleground campaign next year.

IL-12: Democratic St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, who is reportedly the local and national party leadership’s top recruit for this district, confirms that he is seriously considering launching a challenge to two-term Rep. Mike Bost (R). The 12th District was originally drawn as a Democratic seat, but Mr. Bost converted it when he unseated one-term Rep. Bill Enyart (D) in 2014. He was re-elected with a 54-40% margin last year. St. Clair County is the anchor of the southwestern Illinois 12th District, an entity that hosts just under 40% of the district’s population.

KS-4: State Senate President Susan Wagle (R), rather surprisingly confirms that she is considering launching a Republican primary challenge against new Congressman Ron Estes (R-Wichita). Ms. Wagle also mentioned that she has not ruled out entering the open Governor’s campaign in lieu of the US House contest, however. So obviously her plans are not yet defined. Mr. Estes won the April special election to succeed former Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Wichita), who was appointed CIA Director.

MA-7: Ten-term Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Somerville) appears to be drawing a Democratic primary challenge. According to a Boston Globe story, Cambridge City Councilman Nadeem Mazen is preparing to oppose the veteran Congressman in next year’s primary election. Mr. Mazen has already announced that he will not seek re-election to his council post next year and says he is “beginning to focus on campaign plans for 2018,” but stops short of announcing a congressional campaign. Rep. Capuano has had little opposition since winning his original election back in 1998. The Congressman entered the 2010 special US Senate election after incumbent Ted Kennedy (D) passed away, but finished a disappointing second to then-Attorney General Martha Coakley (D). She would go onto lose the special general to Republican Scott Brown. Mr. Capuano will be favored over Mr. Mazen, but this type of primary could well be a prelude to many such intra-party challenges throughout the country during this election cycle.

NY-22: State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D) announced that he will challenge freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) next year. Considering Ms. Tenney’s low 44% victory percentage in a three-way contest last November, the freshman Congresswoman will be a sure Democratic target next year. Retired Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) confirms that he is considering making a political comeback but would run as an Independent. Should this occur, the eventual outcome would be even more difficult to predict. Mr. Brindisi, who sports an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and is one of the more moderate members of the state Assembly, can expect more liberal Democratic primary opposition before the campaign gets fully underway.

PA-16: Non-profit public service organization director Jessica King (D) announced her challenge to freshman Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) in the traditionally Republican southeastern PA seat. Mr. Smucker, a veteran state Senator who succeeded ten-term US Rep. Joe Pitts (R) last year, scored a 54-43% victory over Democrat Christina Hartman who proved to be a credible opponent. Unless Democrats are successful with their political gerrymandering lawsuit in state court and the Pennsylvania map is re-drawn as a result, Rep. Smucker will be rated as a solid favorite to win a second term.

SC-5: Archie Parnell, the former Wall Street executive who lost the June 20 special election to ex-state Representative Ralph Norman (R) by a surprisingly close 51-48% margin, says he is unsure if he will challenge the new Congressman in the regular election. Under a mid-term turnout model, which will likely be about double the approximately 88,000 voters who participated in this month’s special election, Republican strength for Rep. Norman should grow substantially. Therefore, it is probable that the new Congressman has already won the closest election that he will face.

VA-10: Two more Democratic candidates announced against Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) this week, bringing the grand total in the primary race to nine. Former State Department official Alison Friedman and educational psychologist Deep Sran both came forward since Monday. The resulting primary will undoubtedly move the eventual winner far to the left, which should allow Rep. Comstock to venture unencumbered to the center. The leading early contenders within the large field appear to be state Sen. Jennifer Wexton and former Veterans Affairs Department official Lindsey Davis Stover.

Governor

Alabama: We now see a potentially budding Democratic primary for Governor. Previously, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb announced her candidacy and appeared to have an opportunity to become the consensus pick for the nomination. Now, however, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox has formed an exploratory committee to test his viability in the statewide race. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has yet to confirm that she will seek a full term after ascending to the office when Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned under pressure. Possibly because of Ms. Ivey’s delay in committing to a full-term run, four Republicans, including state Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, have already jumped into the race.

Connecticut: Despite last month saying he was 90% sure of entering the open Governor’s race, state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. (D) announced that he will not run, hinting broadly that he will instead seek re-election to his position in the legislature. Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is retiring after two terms. A competitive primary and general election season are appearing on the horizon.

New York: State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFranciso (R) appears to be in the process of completing a major about-face in terms of running for Governor. Earlier in the year, Sen. DeFrancisco seemed to rule out such a bid, but this week confirmed that he is “seriously considering” running for the post. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to seek a third term and is unlikely to be de-railed in a general election. The Governor will face primary opposition, however, which has the potential of developing into a significant race.

Wisconsin: Democrats saw their first relatively substantial candidate begin to take steps toward challenging Gov. Scott Walker (R). State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Eau Claire) did not announce her gubernatorial candidacy but did create a relevant campaign committee for purposes of doing so. Sen. Vinehout previously ran for Governor. She entered the special recall election against Mr. Walker, finishing poorly in the Democratic primary. In that statewide intra-party contest, Ms. Vinehout drew only 4% support. Gov. Walker is soon expected to announce his plans to seek a third term.