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Period Ending July 10, 2015

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

President

Jim Gilmore (R): Former Virginia Gov. Gilmore confirms that he will be announcing his presidential campaign in August. With Govs. Scott Walker (WI) and John Kasich (OH) set to announce Monday and at the end of the month, respectively, Gilmore will likely become the 19th official Republican presidential candidate, a record size for any American national election.

North Carolina: Public Policy Polling (7/2-6; 529 NC registered voters; 288 NC likely Republican primary voters; 286 likely Democratic primary voters) released a new survey showing businessman Donald Trump taking a 16-12-12% lead over Florida ex-Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee follows with 11% among the tested group of 16 GOP candidates. The poll’s small sample weakens the overall reliability factor, but the Trump upward movement is confirmed yet again. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton tops Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 55-20%, which is slightly better than she is faring elsewhere, but certainly within the realm of available aggregate statistical results.

Senate

Florida: Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) formally entered the Democratic primary for the Sunshine State open Senate seat and will do battle with his colleague, two-term Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18). While Murphy has the party and Democratic establishment backing, Grayson will have the financial resources to deliver his message, and will do so with his typical loud and clear style. Murphy is still the favorite to win the party nomination, but his road is now tougher. Grayson will have appeal to the party’s far left base, and their size and influence is much greater in a low turnout primary presently targeted for August 30, 2016. This primary, and the budding GOP competition, will likely make the Florida Senate race the most intense campaign throughout the country.

Indiana: The political tealeaves suggest that Rep. Todd Young (R-IN-9) will likely enter the open US Senate race. In the last quarter Mr. Young raised over $1 million holding more than $2 million cash-on-hand, a latter sum far exceeding what he would need for a re-election campaign. Conversely, announced candidate Eric Holcomb (R), a former Indiana Republican Party chairman and aide to outgoing Sen. Dan Coats (R), is only posting in the $200,000 receipts range. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN-3) is also an announced candidate. Young’s entry into the statewide contest would greatly change the race and open what could become a competitive southeastern Indiana House district.

Iowa: Looking to clinch his bid for a seventh term, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) may be drawing his first significant opponent. State Sen. Rob Hogg (D) announced the formation of a Senatorial exploratory committee this week, but reiterated that he will use the committee to test his viability before making a final decision about running. Sen. Grassley is in strong shape for re-election.

Louisiana: With Sen. David Vitter (R) running for Governor this year, and prospectively headed for victory, the political succession game for his Senate seat bubbles beneath the surface. Should Mr. Vitter be elected Governor, he would appoint a replacement who would serve the balance of the current Senate term and presumably participate in next year’s regular election. Both Reps. Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) and John Fleming (R-LA-4) are preparing for a Senate race. Each raised well over $700,000 during the last quarter and has more than $2 million in their respective campaign accounts. Mr. Fleming has publicly said he will run for the Senate whether he becomes the appointed incumbent or not. Rep. Boustany has apparently made the same pledge privately to key members of his donor base.

Nevada: Rep. Joe Heck’s (R-NV-3) long-expected announcement for the state’s open Senate seat occurred last week. With little in the way of primary opposition, Mr. Heck will face former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto in the general election. Ms. Masto, armed with the backing of retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D), is the consensus Democratic candidate. The Heck-Masto race will be one of the most exciting and hard-fought campaigns of the entire election cycle.

Pennsylvania: The FBI raided the offices of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (D) during a corruption investigation, which effectively ends his Senatorial aspirations. Now losing Pawlowski and failing to recruit an alternative to former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), a candidate the state and national Democratic leadership has publicly opted to replace, it appears the party may be forced to back the ex-Delaware County Congressman. So far, the off-year has gone extremely well for Sen. Pat Toomey (R) who continues to benefit from the Democrats’ internal strife.

House

Florida Redistricting: The Florida State Supreme Court declared unconstitutional eight Sunshine State congressional districts and sent the map back to the legislature to redraw before the 2016 elections. Four Republican and four Democratic districts were said to have violated the partisan gerrymandering restrictions adopted by the 2010 redistricting voter initiative. Since changing one district invariably affects those around the targeted seat, the action could mean a major change in the Florida map before the next election. This would mean the state’s voters will have an unquestioned major role in choosing the next President, host what will possibly be the most competitive US Senate race in the country, and now will be at the forefront of the 2016 US House campaigns.

AZ-2: State Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) announced that she will challenge freshman Rep. Martha McSally (R). The Congresswoman’s 161-vote victory over then-Rep. Ron Barber (D) provided the closest victory margin of any 2014 congressional contest. With Mr. Barber declining to seek a re-match, Ms. Steele, a former television newscaster, becomes the first official Democratic candidate. The closeness of the last race, and the Supreme Court upholding the Arizona congressional map, means that we can expect a highly competitive match here next year.

CO-6: Another difficult seat for the Republicans to hold is in the Denver suburbs. Rep. Mike Coffman (R) has won this post-redistricting Democrat-leaning seat twice, and will now face a third consecutive tough challenge. State Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll (D), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s top recruitment choice, announced that she will enter the US House contest next year. This will again be a top Democratic conversion opportunity. Rep. Coffman recently declined to run for the Senate in order to seek a fifth term in the House.

FL-2: Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) defied the 2014 Republican landslide to unseat two-term Rep. Steve Southerland (R). With Mr. Southerland not returning to seek a re-match, Rep. Graham has now drawn a challenge from a member of Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) administration. The General Counsel of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Mary Thomas, says she will enter the 2016 congressional contest. Though the Republican presidential nominee will likely carry this northern Florida district, Rep. Graham will still be favored for re-election.

FL-13: After much speculation that St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice (D) would challenge Rep. David Jolly (R), the local official decided against becoming a candidate. Therefore, Democrats are left with ex-Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern and former Obama Administration official Eric Lynn. Mulhern is likely to have trouble convincing Pinellas County voters that a former Tampa elected official understands their district, so Rice not running is good news for Rep. Jolly. The Congressman succeeded the late Rep. Bill Young (R) in an early 2014 special election. He had no Democratic opposition in regular election cycle. The new redistricting ruling could drastically change the political picture here, however.

FL-24: Three-term Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Miami) has drawn Democratic primary opposition for her Miami urban seat. Former Miami Dolphin football player Randal Hill resigned his position within the Department of Homeland Security to make the political challenge. Unless Hill can raise substantial financial support, Rep. Wilson must be viewed as a heavy favorite to win re-nomination.

IL-18: State Sen. Darin LaHood (R) took the first step toward replacing resigned Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) in the nation’s only vacant congressional seat. LaHood defeated two minor Republican candidates with 69% of the vote in the special primary election held earlier this week. He now faces Democrat Rob Mellon, a teacher and Army Reserve officer, in the special general election scheduled for September 10th. LaHood is the prohibitive favorite to succeed Schock, and to win a full term in 2016.

NV-3: With Rep. Joe Heck (R) now running for Senate, the southern Nevada 3rd District will be open for a highly competitive political battle. State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R) announced his candidacy and is quickly becoming a consensus GOP candidate. Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers (R), who declared for the Senate last year well before incumbent Harry Reid’s (D) retirement decision, was thought to have interest in the 3rd District if Heck were to run statewide. When it became obvious that Roberson would run for Congress, however, Mr. Beers instead announced that he will seek re-election to his position on the Las Vegas Council. Democrats hope to recruit either state Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford or former Secretary of State and losing 2014 Attorney General candidate Ross Miller, but neither appear interested in running at this time.

NY-19: Former state Assembly Minority Leader and gubernatorial nominee John Faso (R) has formed a congressional exploratory committee to test his viability as a successor to retiring Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook). Gibson is not seeking re-election to prepare for a 2018 statewide challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Despite the Congressman announcing in early January that he would not seek a fourth term in the House only one candidate from either party, music executive John Kehoe (D), has officially announced. Mr. Faso is expected to run, and will be considered the favorite in this marginally Republican district.

NY-23: In 2014, then-two-term Rep. Tom Reed (R) trounced Tompkins County legislator Martha Robertson (D), 58-36%. Ms. Robertson, serving in the Ithaca region’s local government since 2002 and who chaired the County Legislature for three years, proved no match for Mr. Reed. This week, the Congressman learned he will face a new challenger in 2016. Dr. John Plumb, the US Defense Department’s Principal Director for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, announced that he will run next year. Though the district should be more favorable to a Democratic nominee in a presidential year – Reed’s 2012 victory margin was only 52-48%, for example - the Congressman must be viewed as a clear favorite to again win re-election.

NC-3: In 2014, former Bush Administration official Taylor Griffin came within a 45-51% margin of unseating Rep. Walter Jones (R-Farmville) in the Republican primary. This week, Mr. Griffin announced that he will return for a re-match. This must be considered a competitive GOP primary contest.

PA-9: In what appeared to be a strong GOP primary challenge brewing for House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster in central Pennsylvania, will now not occur. Businessman Tom Smith, the 2012 Republican Senatorial nominee, announced that he will not enter the 2016 congressional primary due to “unexpected health problems.” Mr. Shuster was re-nominated against two opponents in 2014, but scored only 53% in winning his primary. Though he will not face Smith, it is likely that Rep. Shuster will face formidable Republican competition.

WI-7: Three-term Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) has drawn what appears to be another mid-level Democratic challenger. High tech executive Kirk Bangstad (D) is the latest Democrat to step forward and become a candidate in this rural northwestern Wisconsin district that former Rep. David Obey (D) represented for 41 years before retiring before the 2010 election. On the strength of Duffy’s solid 56-44% victory over Democratic state Sen. Pat Kreitlow last November, the Congressman is rated as a strong favorite to win another term in 2016.