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Period Ending July 7, 2017

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

Senate

Arizona: It is clear that Sen. Jeff Flake (R) will face a strong re-election challenge next year. His public feud during the election campaign with now-President Trump has caused him problems within his Republican base, thus driving his approval numbers downward. Looking to take advantage of the situation are three potential Democratic candidates. During the past week, both Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and state Representative and physician Randy Friese took aim at the Republican healthcare bill and confirmed that each is considering running for the Senate. Earlier, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) despite already announcing for re-election also indicated that she has not closed the door on challenging Flake and may do so if she perceives him receiving a tough GOP primary challenge. With the Democrats having so few targets to pursue in 2018, we can count on a major Arizona Senate race to develop during this current election cycle.

Nevada: Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) delivered on last week’s promise to announce her Senate challenge to first-term GOP Senator Dean Heller (R). It is now coming to the forefront that former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was the driving force to convince her to give up the House seat she just won in order to immediately attempt moving to the Senate. On cue, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and fellow freshman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas), two Reid 2016 recruits, publicly endorsed Rep. Rosen. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee leadership then followed suit. Another Las Vegas Congresswoman, Rep. Dina Titus (D), says she is still considering her own Senate candidacy, but it appears her lack of preparation has left any potential statewide campaign on her part in a clear secondary position. The Nevada race could become the top Senate campaign of the 2018 election cycle.

Missouri: Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County) stunned the political world by announcing that she would not run for the Senate next year, when every preliminary signal suggested that she would challenge two-term Senator Claire McCaskill (D). This means the political focus now turns to Attorney General Josh Hawley and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville/Columbia) who are the most likely potential candidates to enter the race. Missouri could be the Republicans’ top conversion opportunity; therefore, finding a strong candidate to oppose Sen. McCaskill now becomes the party leaders’ top priority.

House

CO-3: Four-term Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez/Pueblo) has drawn a challenger in the district commonly referred to as the “western slope” seat, referring to its positioning on the west side of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush (D-Eagle County), a retired college professor, says she will challenge Mr. Tipton next year. The 3rd District is always on the Democratic target list but no serious challenge to Tipton has ever gained political steam since he unseated Democratic Rep. John Salazar (D) in 2010, even though credible individuals have stepped forward to run.

IL-12: Democrats scored their top recruitment target this week as St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly (D) announced that he will challenge two-term Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro/ Carbondale) next year. The 12th District, which occupies the southwestern section of the state, was lost to the Republicans in 2014 when Mr. Bost defeated one-term incumbent Bill Enyart (D-Belleville) after veteran Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville) held the seat for 25 years, following WWII era Congressman Mel Price (D) who first won the district all the way back in the 1944 election. With the Democrats getting their desired candidate, this Illinois seat will become another race to watch.

IL-13: In what is expected to draw several Democratic challenger candidates, businesswoman Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, whose fundraising company has the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation as one of its premier clients, announced that she will enter the March primary campaign. Already in the race is perennial candidate David Gill (D), but others are expected to enlarge the candidate field. The eventual Democratic nominee takes on three-term Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville/Bloomington) who has proven to be adept at winning in difficult political terrain.

NV-3: With freshman incumbent Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Las Vegas) now in the US Senate race, this open seat will become a hotbed of political activity. The 2016 race saw both President Trump and Rep. Rosen scratching out one-point victories, so we can be assured of another tight congressional race here in 2018 from a district that stretches from Las Vegas to the California/Arizona border. Republican state Sen. Scott Hammond, while not yet announcing his candidacy, became the first potential candidate to register a campaign account with the Federal Election Commission.

NM-2: Democrats are paying a lot of attention to the southern New Mexico congressional district, and for a specific reason. This week, retired pharmaceutical company executive and US Army veteran Tony Martinez announced his candidacy, becoming the fifth Democrat to join the race. The incumbent, veteran Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs), is openly considering running for Governor, hence a possible impending open seat. Mr. Pearce was first elected in 2002, but ran for Senate in 2008 scoring an upset victory over fellow Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) in the Republican primary, but losing to fellow Rep. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe) in the general election. He returned to the House in 2010. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) is ineligible to seek a third term, hence yielding an open Governor’s race in this cycle. The 2nd District is a safe seat for Mr. Pearce, but is competitive in an open situation.

NC-9: Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) survived a major scare in the 2016 Republican primary, defeating Charlotte mega-pastor Mark Harris by only one percentage point in a district that had been re-drawn under North Carolina’s mid-decade court-ordered redistricting decision. The new draw gave Mr. Pittenger, at the time with his campaign and business under FBI investigation, 60% new territory. Democrats fielded a weak candidate and Rep. Pittenger had little trouble in the general election. Since then, the FBI has cleared the Congressman without petitioning for charges. Now Pastor Harris has resigned from his church and registered a 2018 cycle campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission. He has yet to announce for Congress, but it appears a Republican primary re-match is imminent. Mr. Harris also ran for Senate in 2014, but North Carolina has no Senate race in this cycle.

PA-7: As expected, state Senator and former 13th District congressional candidate Daylin Leach (D) officially announced his challenge to Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford/Delaware County) this week. The 7th District is marginal in nature, but Mr. Meehan has had little trouble winning here since his original election in 2010. While victorious on the state legislative level, Sen. Leach’s strong liberal positions may be beyond where the 7th District voters generally reside ideologically. This is a race to watch, however, particularly if the Democratic state redistricting lawsuit goes their way and the Pennsylvania map is re-drawn. If so, the irregularly shaped 7th District will become the focal point of any new congressional map, and that will significantly change the region’s political picture.

TX-23: Democrat Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) won the expansive 23rd District that stretches all the way from San Antonio to El Paso in 2012. He lost to former CIA Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) two years later, and then again in November’s re-match. This week, Mr. Gallego formed a 2018 congressional exploratory committee presumably for a third contest between the two. In the last race, Gallego lost by only one percentage point. Additionally, with a special federal three-judge panel striking down the district as illegal, a new district with different boundaries could drastically change next year’s outcome. Much more about the impending campaign will become known once the redistricting process again concludes.

TX-31: Eight-term Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) has drawn a challenge from what looks to be a strong candidate. Retired Air Force helicopter pilot Mary Jennings (MJ) Hegar (D) announced her congressional candidacy this week. Ms. Hegar won the Distinguished Flying Cross medal, along with a Purple Heart during her three tours of service in Afghanistan. She is the author of the book, “Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Flight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front”, and filed suit against the US Defense Department that led to the military allowing female personnel to engage in active combat. The 31st District, which includes Williamson County north of Austin and travels into Bell County to annex the city of Temple along with part of the massive Ft. Hood Army base, has been reliably Republican. President Trump scored a 54-41% victory here in November.

Governor

Alabama: The Republican gubernatorial field continues to grow, candidates are beginning to raise serious campaign money, and new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) remains non-committal about seeking a full term next year. Ms. Ivey assumed the Governorship in April when incumbent Robert Bentley (R) was forced to resign. This week, state Sen. Bill Hightower joined the Republican primary race that already features six candidates including State Auditor Jim Zeigler, Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Democrats appear to be headed to a primary between former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. Clearly with major Republicans already announcing for Governor, Ms. Ivey is not in a commanding political position. The uncertainty surrounding whether she will seek election next year continues to propagate.

Wisconsin: In what might be considered an amusing story, former Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn confirms he is considering entering the 2018 Governor’s race because he says he sees the forming Democratic candidate field as being “weak.” The amusing part is that Flynn has himself run for US Senate twice and conducted an additional pair of US House races as far back as 1978, yet never having won any of those campaigns. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is expected to seek a third term.