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Period Ending June 6, 2014

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

Senate

Alaska: In the past two months, former state Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources director Dan Sullivan had established himself as the clear leader in the Republican Senatorial primary. The GOP nominee emerging from the August 19th primary election will challenge Sen. Mark Begich (D) in the fall. But, according to a new Anchorage-based Dittman Research poll (5/27-28; 500 AK likely GOP primary voters), Sullivan’s lead over Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) is still very slim. The Dittman results project Sullivan to only a 37-35-12% lead over Treadwell and 2010 US Senate nominee Joe Miller.

Iowa: State Sen. Joni Ernst easily won the Republican Senatorial primary in a 56-18-17-8% landslide over radio talk show host Sam Clovis, former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs, and ex-US Attorney Matt Whitaker, respectively. Ms. Ernst will now battle Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) for the right to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D). Mr. Braley is the early favorite in the general election, but this contest could develop as a key sleeper race for Republicans.

Mississippi: The big news of the week was state Sen. Chris McDaniel outpolling veteran Sen. Thad Cochran in the state’s Republican primary. McDaniel scored 49.4% of the vote as compared to the Senator’s 49.0%. Realtor Tom Carey recorded just 1.6%, but it was enough to deny either McDaniel or Cochran an outright majority. Therefore, the state legislator and incumbent Senator will advance to a June 24th run-off election. Mr. Cochran will need a major change in momentum to stop McDaniel’s drive in the run-off election. The winner faces former Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS-1), who easily won the Democratic nomination. The Democrats will make a big push for the seat should McDaniel win, but the Republican nominee should be favored even if McDaniel completes his upset bid.

Montana: To no one’s surprise, appointed Sen. John Walsh (D) and Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT-AL) easily won their respective party nominations. Mr. Walsh scored a 64-23-13% victory over former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and rancher Dirk Adams. On the Republican side, Mr. Daines win was even larger. He attracted 83% of the Republican vote against two challengers. Daines is the early favorite for the general election.

New Jersey: Former 1978 and ’82 Republican Senatorial nominee Jeff Bell, in a return to elective politics after an absence spanning three decades, again won the GOP nomination over three opponents. The 70-year old think tank executive is now a heavy underdog to Sen. Cory Booker (D).

New Mexico: In a Senate race that has attracted almost no national attention so far – a good thing for first-term incumbent Tom Udall (D) – former state Republican chairman Allen Weh claimed his party’s nomination. Weh has the personal assets to run a credible campaign, but Udall is in the driver’s seat for an easy re-election run.

South Dakota: In a mild surprise on primary evening, former two-term Gov. Mike Rounds won the Republican Senatorial nomination with a much smaller victory margin than originally predicted. Mr. Rounds recorded 56% against four opponents, the strongest of which garnered 18 percent. Still, failing to even approach 60% against a field of candidates that included no previous statewide campaign winner suggests Rounds may not be as strong as originally believed. This might encourage the national Democrats to take a longer look at their new nominee, former congressional aide Rick Weiland. Sen. Tim Johnson (D) is retiring after three terms. The South Dakota open seat is a key Republican conversion opportunity.

House

AL-6: The crowded open seat Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) yielded an inevitable run-off election. State Rep. Paul DeMarco (33%) and think tank executive Gary Palmer (20%) topped the field of seven candidates and will advance to the July 15th run-off election. The eventual Republican nominee wins the seat. Trucking industry executive Avery Vise is the Democratic nominee.

California Primary Results: California’s 53 congressional contests are well on their way to having two candidates qualify for the general election ballot. The state’s new jungle primary system allows candidates of the same party to advance to the general election. As many as 15 contests either are, or could become, competitive. One key race is still not decided. With at least 2,000 votes still to count in San Bernardino County’s 31st CD, Democrat Pete Aguilar is only 183 votes ahead of Republican Lesli Gooch for second place. Republican Paul Chabot has already clinched the first finishing position. At least five contests are featuring two Democrats in the general election. Two districts, including retiring Rep. Buck McKeon’s (R-CA-25) Los Angeles County seat, sent a pair of Republicans forward to the November vote. Six of California’s 40 state Senators are running for Congress this year. Already, an additional dozen incumbent US Representatives previously served in the California Senate.

Iowa Primary Results: Two of the state’s four seats are open in 2014, and the individual primaries cast very different results. In the open 1st District (Rep. Bruce Braley (D) running for Senate), former state House Speaker Pat Murphy captured the Democratic nomination and becomes the prohibitive favorite to win in November. In the Des Moines-anchored 3rd CD, a post-primary Republican convention will be called for June 21st to nominate a candidate. Under Iowa law, if no contender reaches 35%, a party convention is called to decide the nomination. Here, six candidates including first place finisher Brad Zaun (25%; a former state Senator and congressional nominee) and Secretary of State Matt Schultz (20%) failed to even come close to the 35% mark. The convention is not limited to just those candidates who ran in the primary. The delegates can now turn to any potential candidate as their congressional nominee. Democrat Staci Appel, a former state Senator, was unopposed for her party’s nomination. This will be a toss-up general election campaign, and a top national Democratic conversion opportunity.

ME-2: In anticipation of the state’s June 10th primary, Public Policy Polling (6/2-3; 810 ME Democratic primary voters) for the League of Conservation Voters, tested the Maine Democratic electorate in the open 2nd District (Rep. Mike Michaud (D) running for Governor). According to the PPP results, state Sen. Emily Cain should win the party nomination in a landslide. She leads fellow state Sen. Troy Jackson by a whopping 60-25% margin. The Democratic nominee will be heavily favored to hold the seat in November.

MS-4: Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) barely won renomination last Tuesday, capturing just over 50% against former Rep. Gene Taylor. This is Mr. Taylor’s first election as a Republican. He served 20 years in the House as a Democrat before losing to Palazzo in 2010. The two-term Congressman should now have clear sailing through the general election.

MT-AL: Rep. Steve Daines (R) running for the Senate left a very interesting open seat Republican primary campaign in his stead. Former state Senator and Lt. Gov. candidate Ryan Zinke won the GOP nomination with 33% of the vote. Ex-state Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton and incumbent state Rep. Matt Rosendale both notched a close 29 percent. Zinke now faces former congressional aide John Lewis (D) in what has the potential of becoming a competitive general election campaign.

NE-2: A new Global Strategy Group poll taken for the Brad Ashford campaign (5/29-6/1; 400 NE-2 registered voters) finds the Republican-turned-Democrat challenger tied with Rep. Lee Terry (R), 41-41%. The data also portends a 2:1 negative job approval rating for the incumbent. Since Terry won his primary with only 53% of the vote against a minimal challenge, the Congressman dropping into a competitive general election race is plausible. This will be a top general election campaign.

Governor

Alabama Primary Results: Gov. Robert Bentley (R) sailed to renomination with 89% of the vote against two minor opponents. Former Rep. Parker Griffith, who was originally elected as a Democrat, switched to the Republicans, became an Independent, and now rejoins the Democrats, captured his former and current party’s nomination. Griffith defeated former professional baseball player Kevin Bass. Gov. Bentley is the prohibitive favorite in November.

California Primary Results: Gov. Jerry Brown (D) captured first place in a landslide proportion (54-19%). In second place, and advancing to the general election, was former Assistant US Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari (R). He edged conservative state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R). Gov. Brown is a huge favorite to secure a fourth non-consecutive term.

Colorado: A new Magellan Strategies poll (5/28-29; 900 CO likely Republican primary voters) finds controversial ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO-6) holding a 27-25-13-10% edge over former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO-7), Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and former state Sen. Mike Kopp. The winner of the June 24th primary will challenge potentially vulnerable Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Republican victory chances are likely dashed should Tancredo win the nomination. Democratic Governor’s Association-backed organizations are running ads trying to buck up Tancredo with the Republican electorate, saying that the ex-Congressman “is too conservative” for Colorado. Their hope is that such a message will drive the most conservative voter to Tancredo.

Idaho: After winning a closer than expected renomination, Gov. Butch Otter (R) leads in his quest for a third term according to Rasmussen Reports (5/27-28; 750 ID registered voters). According to RR’s results, Gov. Otter leads Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff by a 50-36% count. It is likely that Mr. Otter’s most difficult race is already behind him.

Iowa Primary Results: Running for a record sixth non-consecutive term, Gov. Terry Branstad (R) will now officially face a challenge from state Sen. Jack Hatch (D). Though Branstad is the clear favorite to win again, as we have consistently said in relation to this state’s open Senate race, the Iowa electorate can be unpredictable. A Democratic swing could make this race competitive.

New Mexico Primary Results: Attracting 35% of the vote, Attorney General Gary King (D), son of former Gov. Bruce King (D), won his party’s nomination against four opponents. He will now challenge first-term Gov. Susana Martinez (R), who will be under serious Vice Presidential consideration in 2016 should she win re-election.

South Dakota Primary Results: sGov. Dennis Daugaard (R) secured an 81% renomination victory and should cruise to a second term against state Rep. Susan Wismer, who captured the Democratic primary with 55% of the vote.