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Period Ending September 1, 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: Last week, the survey research firms of JMC Analytics & Polling and Opinion Savvy produced data that gave former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore huge 19 and 18 percentage point leads, respectively, as he battles appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the special Alabama Senate Republican run-off election scheduled for September 26. This week, two other firms report very different polling results. The Senate Leadership Fund, closely tied to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), released its sponsored Voter Surveys & Consulting poll (8/21-23; 601 AL likely GOP run-off voters). The results find former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore holding a lead of just 45-41%. Harper Polling (8/24-26; 800 AL likely GOP run-off voters) sees an even closer race. According to this latest study, the Moore lead is reduced to 47-45%. Considering we have such a wide variance between the two sets of polls, methodology is likely more responsible for the difference rather than a massive sway in respondent opinion. For now, it is safer to assume, however, that the closer data is more accurate and the race is evolving into a toss-up.

Arizona: A new JMC Analytics & Polling survey (8/26-27; 500 completed responses via automated device from likely Republican household respondents) finds former state Sen. Kelli Ward’s early Republican primary advantage growing over first-term Sen. Jeff Flake. Last week, we saw polling from HighGround Public Affairs Consulting that gave Ms. Ward a huge 42-28% lead over the incumbent GOP Senator. Afterward, JMC Analytics & Polling released their new data that arrives at a similar conclusion. According to these results, Ward’s lead is 47-21%, and Sen. Flake’s approval rating among members of his own party is an even more dismal 22:67%. This race is a long way from being over. The 2018 Arizona Republican primary is still a full year away.

Florida: It’s been several months since we’ve seen any polling for the proposed 2018 US Senate race between three-term incumbent Bill Nelson (D) and term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R). Florida Atlantic University publicized their new statewide poll (released 8/29; 800 FL registered voters via online and automated response device) and finds the two major political figures in a virtual dead heat. The actual results project Sen. Nelson ahead by only two points, 42-40%, but with both potential candidates well below 50%. Sen. Nelson has repeatedly said that he will seek re-election. Gov. Scott reiterates that he won’t fully decide until much later in the cycle but it appears nearly certain that he will run.

Nevada: A pair of Nevada Republican primary polls were released this week that show completely different results. JMC Analytics & Polling (8/24-25; 700 likely Republican registered voters) finds Republican challenger Danny Tarkanian leading Sen. Dean Heller, 39-31%. The Heller campaign quickly countered with their own Tarrance Group poll taken earlier in the month (8/14-16; 300 NV GOP likely primary voters) that gives the Senator a wide 55-33% lead over Mr. Tarkanian. Obviously, the polls differ wildly, but even the small-sample Tarrance data suggests weakness for Heller within the Republican base despite his 22-point advantage.

Pennsylvania: As expected, four-term US Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) this week formally announced his US Senate campaign. The Congressman joins a crowded four-candidate field, but should now be considered the favorite to win the nomination. The Democratic incumbent, two-term Sen. Bob Casey Jr., has the definite advantage as the race begins, but Rep. Barletta’s presence gives the Republicans a viable and tested challenger candidate. Back in 2010, Mr. Barletta, running in his third congressional campaign, unseated 26-year incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Nanticoke/Wilkes-Barre).

Wisconsin: State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who had been considering entering next year’s US Senate race, indicated this week that he will not run. This is another signal that Republicans are coalescing around businessman Kevin Nicholson, whom the Club for Growth heavily supports. State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) is expected to soon announce her candidacy, but Nicholson will clearly be the candidate with the strongest resources. The eventual Republican nominee challenges first-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) in the general election.

House

AL-1: Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), a former gubernatorial candidate, had been considering another run for Alabama’s top statewide post. Promising a decision before September, Rep. Byrne announced at the end of the week that he will seek re-election to a fourth term in the House meaning he won’t enter the crowded Republican gubernatorial primary. The Congressman should face little re-election competition.

AL-2: Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery), who underperformed last November in winning her 49-40% re-election victory largely because she did not climb aboard the Trump bandwagon, drew 2018 primary opposition from state Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) several months ago. WPA Intelligence just released polling numbers for the budding challenge (8/7-8; released 8/30; 1,040 AL-2 likely GOP primary voters through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology) that reveal political weakness for the four-term Republican incumbent. According to WPA, Rep. Roby’s advantage over Mr. Moore is only 34-21%, far below where an incumbent should be at this early campaign stage.

KS-3: Businessman Jay Sidie (D), who held four-term Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Overland Park) to a 51-41% re-election victory last November, announced that he will run again next year. The closeness of the 2016 result, however, is likely more attributable to Hillary Clinton carrying the 3rd District than a particularly strong effort from Mr. Sidie. Though he is likely the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, he is nowhere close to being unopposed. Five other Democrats have already announced their own candidacies. The 3rd District is the most marginal in Kansas, but is still reliably Republican. Rep. Yoder is viewed as a potential gubernatorial candidate, but as time progresses it appears far more likely that the Congressman will seek re-election than run statewide.

NY-11: Former US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) confirms that he is considering mounting a comeback against the man who succeeded him in Congress, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island). Mr. Grimm, a former FBI agent who was forced to resign at the beginning of his third term after being convicted of tax fraud, was released from federal prison after serving seven months. Should this contest result, it could become a significant primary challenge. Mr. Grimm won his last election 53-41%, even though he was clearly headed for conviction on the federal tax charges. The 11th District voters supported President Trump, 54-44%, in the November national election. It is the lone Republican congressional district in New York City.

OH-16: Anthony Gonzalez, a five-year National Football League veteran with the Indianapolis Colts who played his college ball at Ohio State University, joined the growing open seat Republican primary field in the north-central Ohio congressional district that four-term Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) is vacating to run for Governor. In addition to Mr. Gonzalez, state House Majority Whip Tom Patton (R-Strongsville), state Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Alliance), and businessman Darrell Hartman are announced GOP candidates. The 16th District is reliably Republican, but could become somewhat competitive in an open seat situation. Physicist Aaron Godfrey is the lone announced Democratic candidate to date.

SC-1: Two years ago, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford (R-Charleston) turned back an underfunded primary challenge from then-state Rep. Jenny Horne with a 56-44% victory margin. Now, Rep. Sanford will face another primary opponent, this time one who appears to have more backing. Stating her allegiance to President Trump, state Rep. Katie Arrington (R-Summerville) yesterday announced her congressional candidacy. Immediately, state House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Hartsville) and Majority Leader Gary Simrill (R-Rock Hill) endorsed Ms. Arrington thus providing an indication that she will run a serious campaign.

UT-1: Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Brigham City) announced yesterday that he will run for an eighth term next year, but will not seek re-election in 2020. Mr. Bishop, first elected in 2002, has a safe northern Utah CD that includes the cities of Ogden and Logan and is a sure bet to win another term. Should Mr. Bishop carry through his retirement plans in three years, and there is no reason to believe he will not, we would expect a major Republican primary succession battle. Hillary Clinton managed only 22% of the vote in this district last year, so the eventual Bishop successor will be determined in the GOP primary.

Governor

Alaska: Last week, the nation’s lone Independent Governor, Alaska’s Bill Walker, announced that he will seek re-election next year and again on an Independent ticket with Democratic Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot. But, former US Senator Mark Begich (D) made a point to say that he is considering his own gubernatorial effort next year. Mr. Begich entering the race would cause the Governor a big political problem since the latter was, in effect, the de facto 2014 Democratic nominee because the party did not slate their own candidate. Should Mr. Begich run, the 2018 dynamic will greatly change and a victory scenario for Walker, Begich, and the eventual Republican nominee each would be realistic.

Florida: The aforementioned Florida Atlantic University poll (see Florida Senate above) also tested the gubernatorial primaries. For the Republicans, state Agriculture Commissioner and former US Congressman Adam Putnam (R-Lakeland) leads the candidate grouping with 27% support. State House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Pasco County) is next with 10%, followed by US Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm City/Daytona Beach) at 9%, and state Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Bartow) who attracts 2 percent. Of the four, only Putnam and Latvala are official candidates. For the Democrats, well-known trial lawyer John Morgan claims first position with 19%, followed by former US Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) at 14%, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum who has nine percent support. Businessman Chris King follows with 4 percent.