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Period Ending September 11, 2015

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

President

Polls: Monmouth University tested Vice President Joe Biden’s potential Democratic campaign against the two main Democratic contenders. The results gave Hillary Clinton only 42% preference, one of her lowest numbers of the year. Vice President Biden polled 22%, just ahead of Bernie Sanders’ 20 percent. For his part, Mr. Biden says he has still not decided whether to become a presidential candidate.

The NBC/Marist College surveys of Iowa and New Hampshire voters, the first two nominating events that are now less than five full months away, finds Sen. Sanders leading former Secretary of State Clinton in New Hampshire and gaining strength in Iowa.

In the three-way Granite State race, Sanders now tops the field at 41%, followed by Ms. Clinton’s 32%, and Vice President Biden placing third with 16 percent. If Biden were not in the field, Sanders would lead Clinton 49-38%. In the Hawkeye State of Iowa, NBC/Marist finds Ms. Clinton still leading the projected Caucus vote, but by a much slimmer margin when compared to past polling. According to their early September data, the ex-Secretary of State and New York Senator leads Vermont lawmaker Sanders 38-27%, with the Vice President registering 20% as a non-candidate.

Senate

Arkansas: As expected, former US Attorney Conner Eldridge (D) announced that he will challenge first-term Sen. John Boozman (R) next year. At 38 years of age, Eldridge was the youngest US Attorney in the nation until he resigned in August. Though he is the Democrats’ top recruitment prospect for the state, Eldridge will have a difficult time unseating Sen. Boozman unless the Democrats catch a presidential national wave.

California: Republican former state party chairman Duf Sundheim announced his Senatorial candidacy joining another ex-party chairman, Tom Del Beccaro, and GOP state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez in the field of candidates. The additional Republican may actually help Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46), who is fighting to capture second position in the state’s jungle primary scheduled for next June. A further splintering of the minority Republican vote may well help Sanchez slip into second place. The top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to the general election. Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) appears as a lock to finish first in the qualifying election.

Colorado: Wealthy businessman Robert Blaha (R) said he would challenge Sen. Michael Bennet (D) if the latter supported President Obama’s Iran agreement. Sen. Bennet has announced his support, and Blaha likewise said he will become a candidate in October. Mr. Blaha has also said that he would defer to Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler should the latter enter the race, so this story is not yet complete. Blaha has run for office before, a Republican primary challenge to Rep. Douglas Lamborn (R-CO-5) in 2012, but fared poorly. Regardless of this most recent action on the Republican side, Sen. Bennet remains a clear favorite for re-election.

Illinois: Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (D), who recently filed a Senatorial campaign exploratory committee, has decided not to advance to candidate status. Many believed that Boykin formed the federal committee not to eventually run for Senate, but to begin amassing federal dollars for a US House race should Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL-7) decide to retire. Just this week, Rep. Davis announced he would seek re-election. The Boykin decision keeps the Democratic Senate candidate field constant with Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8) and Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp as the top contenders. The winner of the March primary challenges vulnerable Republican Sen. Mark Kirk in the general election.

New Hampshire: NBC/Marist College conducted a survey of New Hampshire voters (8/26-9/2; 966 NH registered voters) and again found a tight hypothetical budding race between Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). The ballot test broke 48-45% in the Senator’s favor, which is consistent with other polling. The Governor’s job approval was a strong 51:35% favorable to unfavorable. Sen. Ayotte’s approval rating was not published. The fact that Gov. Hassan scores well in approval yet still trails the first-term Republican incumbent is a good sign for Ms. Ayotte. The Governor has not yet decided to run for Senate or re-election.

Washington: Former Washington Republican Party chairman, King County Councilman, and state Representative Chris Vance (R) this week announced his challenge to veteran Sen. Patty Murray (D). Pledging to run a “no overhead” campaign, Vance gives the Republicans a credible Senate candidate but does not pose a particularly strong threat to Sen. Murray.

House

FL-23: After US Representative and Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her support for the Iran agreement, Miami-Dade School Board member Martin Karp (D) confirms that he is “seriously considering” launching a Democratic primary challenge against her and points to her Iran decision as his motivation. The anchor of Wasserman-Schultz’s seat is Broward County, so a Miami-Dade local official will begin in a severe underdog position.

IL-7: Rep. Danny Davis (D), amidst much retirement speculation surrounding him, announced that he will seek re-election next year. There is still contention that Davis may drop out after the filing deadline in order to allow the party to name his replacement but, at this point, Mr. Davis is an official 2016 candidate. He is drawing early Democratic primary opposition that doesn’t appear particularly significant at this time.

IL-18: State Sen. Darin LaHood (R), as expected, easily won the special election to replace resigned Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria). LaHood scored a 69-31% win over Democratic educator Rob Mellon, who did little more than place his name on the ballot. All House vacancies are now filled, and the body returns to the 247R-188D partisan division arrived at on Election Night 2014. Rep-Elect LaHood will be a prohibitive favorite to win a full term in 2016.

MD-6: Former US Army Deputy Assistant Secretary Amie Hoeber (R) is moving forward to construct an opposition campaign against Rep. John Delaney (D-Montgomery County). Already in the Republican race are Washington County Commission President Terry Baker and state Delegate David Vogt. Hoeber’s husband, Qualcomm executive Mark Epstein, plans to raise $1 million for a Super PAC supporting his wife’s political effort. Rep. Delaney had a close re-election in 2014, defeating Republican Dan Bongino 50-48%. Bongino has since moved to Florida, so he is obviously not seeking a re-match.

PA-9: In an expected development, retired Coast Guard captain Bill Halvorson (R), who was one of two congressional primary candidates that held incumbent Rep. Bill Shuster (R) to a 53% re-nomination victory, announced that he will try again next year. Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has received recent negative media coverage over his relationship with his girlfriend/lobbyist. He disputes that she has lobbied his committee but news reports suggest otherwise, thereby igniting controversy. This primary contest bears watching.

Governor

New Hampshire: While Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) continues to postpone deciding whether she will seek re-election or run for Senate, she has drawn another gubernatorial challenger. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R), son of former Governor and White House chief of staff John Sununu (R), says he will run next year regardless of what Hassan ultimately decides. Last week, state Rep. Frank Edelblut (R) formed an exploratory committee for the 2016 gubernatorial race and has contributed $500,000 of his own money to the effort.

North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) announced that she will not run for the open Governor’s position next year, in order to remain in the Senate for the balance of her first term. It is expected that she will seek re-election in 2018. Her brother, John Heitkamp a radio political commentator in the state, however, is moving toward entering the Governor’s race. Republicans are likely to field either Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem or Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley. Publicity surrounding Wrigley’s extra-marital affair may hurt his attempt to move up. Stenehjem and Wrigley met earlier to agree that only one of the two would run for Governor. Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND-AL), now a Washington lobbyist, says he is interested in the race but is unlikely to become a candidate. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) is retiring.

Vermont: In an expected move, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott who, as a Republican, has been able to win statewide office in this heavily Democratic state announced that he will enter next year’s open race for Governor. He joins wealthy investor Bruce Lisman in the Republican primary. House Speaker Shap Smith and former state Sen. Matt Dunne are currently the leading Democrats. State Transportation Secretary Sue Minter (D) also resigned her position and announced her gubernatorial candidacy. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is retiring.