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Period Ending August 11, 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: Three polls were released this week, just days before Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic special Senate primaries. The RHH elections blog surveyed the Republican primary in early August (7/31-8/3; 426 AL Republican likely primary voters; 369 via Interactive Voice Response system; 57 from online questionnaire) and found appointed Sen. Luther Strange and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore pulling away from the pack of seven other candidates. In this poll, one that has no live surveyor input thus bringing its reliability under scrutiny, Judge Moore has crept into a 31-29% lead over Sen. Strange. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) trails with 18%.

This was followed by a new survey from a more established pollster, JMC Analytics (8/5-6; 500 AL likely GOP special election primary voters), which suggests that Rep. Brooks is in a stronger position. According to JMC, Judge Moore scores 30% with Sen. Strange posting 22%. Instead of having an eleven-point margin over third place candidate Brooks, as the RHH survey portends, the JMC data finds the battle for second place back to within the margin of polling error: 22 (Strange) - 19% (Brooks).

Despite former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore campaigning hard as a Trump supporter, the President rather surprisingly endorsed appointed Sen. Strange in this last week before the special Republican primary. But, so far, Judge Moore’s standing is not affected, at least according to a new Fox 10 (Mobile) Strategic National survey (8/7; 2,000 AL registered voters). Here, we see Judge Moore pulling 35%, Sen. Strange, 29%, with Rep. Brooks hovering around the 19% mark. The most likely scenario for next Tuesday’s GOP primary is Messrs. Moore and Strange, very possibly in that order, advancing to a September 26th run-off election.

Indiana: Western Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) formally announced his US Senate campaign yesterday, presumably pitting him mainly against fellow US Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) for the GOP nomination. The eventual Republican nominee will tackle first-term Sen. Joe Donnelly (D). With Indiana overwhelmingly supporting President Trump and his running mate, home state Gov. Mike Pence (57-38%), Sen. Donnelly becomes one of the more vulnerable Senators standing for re-election in 2018. Mr. Rokita is urging voters to support him by “taking the next step to defeat the elite”, meaning “lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats, and the media.” Within the last two weeks, Rep. Messer tweeted that he will enter the Senate race, with a formal announcement soon forthcoming. Earlier, state Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper) announced his own US Senate candidacy.

Minnesota: Thought to be one of the safest Senators seeking re-election in 2018, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) has drawn her first prominent potential general election opponent. Three term-Rep. Jim Newberger (R), who has averaged 63.7% of the vote in three elections from his rural central Minnesota state House district, announced that he will challenge the two-term incumbent. There is certainly a major resource gap to begin this campaign. Sen. Klobuchar reports a cash-on-hand total of $4.3 million. Rep. Newberg spent a total of just $14,000 on his 2016 victorious re-election effort. Though Minnesota appears more competitive as Republicans attempt to build upon their strong 2016 election showing, Sen. Klobuchar is in strong political shape and well positioned to win a third term next year.

Nevada: A new Strategic National survey (8/1-2; 500 NV likely Republican primary voters) tested the GOP electorate to determine Sen. Dean Heller’s re-nomination chances. Though it is clear he will face a tough general election challenge, the SN poll also finds that he is no lock in the Republican primary. According to their hypothetical primary tests, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City/Reno) would actually lead Mr. Heller, 27-26%. Perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R), who lost general election congressional races in both 2012 and 2016 and just announced his primary challenge to Sen. Heller, only trails 34-38%. Nevada figures to be one of the most competitive Senate contests in the country next year, and is certainly the top Democratic conversion target. Sen. Heller is likely to survive the primary challenge, but creating a division within the Republican ranks will certainly weaken him against either Reps. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) or Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) in the general election.

House

MA-3: Massachusetts Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell) announced this week that she will not seek re-election to a seventh term next November. Ms. Tsongas, widow of the late Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, won a 2007 special election when then-Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Lowell) resigned to become a university chancellor. The 3rd District encompasses the Representative’s hometown of Lowell and the communities of Haverhill, Lawrence, and Andover in the eastern part of the CD, before stretching south down I-495 as far as Marlborough, and then west through Gardner and Westminster. Rep. Tsongas’ retirement decision means there will be at least 20 regular cycle open seats, eight of which Democrats currently represent.

MT-AL: Republican Greg Gianforte, who won Montana’s lone at-large congressional district in a late May special election to replace Ryan Zinke after he became Interior Secretary, has drawn his first Democratic opponent for the regular term. With no sign of special election nominee Rob Quist mounting an effort to run again, consumer protection lawyer and Billings restaurant owner John Heenan announced his candidacy for the Democratic congressional nomination. Now as the incumbent, Rep. Gianforte will begin the regular election cycle in the clear favorite’s position. In May, he defeated Mr. Quist, 50-44%. Mr. Gianforte’s percentage should improve with experience garnered from serving about three-quarters of a full term.

NJ-11: The Democrats’ top prospective candidate to challenge House Appropriations Committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown), veteran state Assemblyman John McKeon, said this week that he will not run for Congress next year, but a local Democratic elected official may be willing to make the race. Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark filed a congressional exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission in anticipation of launching an official candidacy. Mr. Frelinghuysen was first elected in 1994 and became Appropriations chair in January. He has not been seriously challenged for re-election, but his district is becoming more competitive (Trump: 49-48%). Therefore, this developing campaign is worth watching.

TN-2: Last week, 15-term veteran Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Knoxville) announced his retirement at the end of the current term, and already two local office holders have declared their congressional candidacies. As expected, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett (R), who even hinted at a primary challenge to Rep. Duncan before the 70 year-old Congressman decided to complete his career, announced that he will enter the open seat campaign. Additionally, state Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City), who failed in an attempt to topple state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) in an internal state House political move, also became a congressional candidate. Since this seat hasn’t been open in a regular election cycle since 1964, we can expect a large number of Republican primary candidates to file in a district that has never elected a Democrat.

UT-3: The nation’s other special election, the eastern Utah congressional district that former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy) resigned from in June, also sees primary voters go to the polls on August 15th. Here, Republican voters will choose among the party endorsed candidate, former state Rep. Chris Herrod, Provo Mayor John Curtis, and marketing executive Tanner Ainge. The latter two men bypassed the state nominating convention and petitioned their way onto the primary ballot. Though fundraising and spending have been low for this race – Mayor Curtis tops the field on track to spend only about $400,000 – several outside organizations are coming in during the last week to support an individual candidate. The Club for Growth, for example, has endorsed Mr. Herrod and will be spending to augment his final push, while a new Super PAC called “Conservative Utah” has committed as much as $300,000 for a media buy to promote Mr. Ainge. The candidate’s family is almost exclusively funding the latter PAC.

The Republican winner will be favored in the November 7th special general election. Dr. Kathryn Allen won the Democratic nomination in convention, so she automatically advances to the special general. Hillary Clinton didn’t even finish second in this district last November, so the Republican nominee will become a heavy favorite though Dr. Allen has been able to garner sufficient funding to promote her campaign message.

Governor

California: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has been the early leader in every California gubernatorial poll, and now he reports a major advantage in the money chase, too. Mr. Newsom has raised almost $16 million for his quest to succeed term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D), more than double the second-most prolific fundraiser, state Treasurer John Chiang (D) who has just under $7 million. Mr. Chiang, however, badly lags in the polling. Los Angeles former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), who comes closest to Newsom in the published surveys, has raised $5 million for his effort. Under California’s top-two qualifying system, the first and second place finisher advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation or percentage.

Kansas: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), who will become Governor when incumbent Sam Brownback (R) is confirmed to his new federal appointment, announced that he will seek a full term in the 2018 election. Already in the Republican race are Secretary of State Kris Kobach, prominent oil businessman Wink Hartman, state Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and two former state legislators. Democrats feature former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and ex-state Agriculture Department Secretary Josh Svaty.

Maine: Public Policy Polling just released the results of their new Maine Republican electorate survey in anticipation of Sen. Susan Collins (R) making a decision about whether to enter the 2018 Governor’s race. The poll may discourage her. According to the data (8/1-2; 672 ME GOP likely primary voters), former state Health Department Secretary Mary Mayhew would lead the Senator 44-33% within the party electorate. This study clearly shows that a closed primary vote may not bode well for the four-term Senator who has made her career by attracting unaffiliated and crossover Democratic voters…people who are ineligible to participate in a Republican primary.

Virginia: Researchers at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a new poll for the upcoming Governor’s race in late July (7/17-25; 806 VA adults; 707 registered voters; 538 general election likely voters), but released the report only this week. According to the results, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) leads former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, 42-37%. Quinnipiac University (8/3-8; 1,082 VA registered voters) also published their new survey that provides an almost identical result. According to the Q-Poll, Northam leads Gillespie, 44-38%.