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Period Ending September 15, 2017

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

President

California: Political leaders in the state of California have been moving their presidential primary from early to late during the immediate past presidential elections, trying to find the best strategic place for what is always the nation’s largest delegation to both national conventions. In 2016, California went back to its traditional June primary, hoping to be the deciding factor for both parties. Largely, their plan worked to a degree because they did attract major campaigning in the state, but it was evident that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would win their respective nominations before voters in the nation’s most populous place had their say. Now, it looks like the state may return to a March primary. The California legislature is expected to vote on a bill next week that will again move the primary to an early voting slot.

Democrats: Zogby Analytics (released 9/12; 834 likely US voters; 356 likely Democratic presidential primary voters) released what could be the first 2020 Democratic presidential primary poll. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, not surprisingly, leads the group with 28% support from within the tiny sample sector. Former Vice President Joe Biden draws 17%, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren who has 12% support. Those in single-digits are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (7%), California Sen. Kamala Harris (6), and New York Senator and Governor, Kirsten Gillibrand and Andrew Cuomo, respectively, (3). Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe bring up the rear with 1% support apiece.

Senate

Alabama: Two more polls were published late last week that again return bad news for appointed Sen. Luther Strange. Strategic National (9/6-7; 800 AL registered voters) finds former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore leading the interim incumbent, 51-35%, for the special September 26 Republican run-off election. Another survey, from the Emerson College Polling Society (9/8-9; 416 AL registered voters) finds Moore leading 34-22% with a much larger undecided factor. The difference in these two polls is that the survey sample was closer to a general electorate cut; therefore, the number of included evangelicals was much lower. This is particularly bad news for Sen. Strange because the other studies showing him trailing badly were all heavily weighted with Judge Moore’s strongest polling segment: evangelicals. All polls project Judge Moore with a lead turning toward the last week of the run-off campaign.

Arizona: A new GBA Strategies poll (8/30-9/7; 600 AZ likely general election voters; 500 AZ likely Republican primary voters) tested the Arizona electorate and found beleaguered Sen. Jeff Flake falling even further in a Republican Party preference sample. According to the results, former state Sen. Kelli Ward would top Sen. Flake by a gaudy 58-31% in a test Republican primary. His job approval within the Republican segment was a poor 34:58% positive to negative. In a general election pairing with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), an unannounced Senate candidate, the Senator would trail 40-47%. At the crux of Sen. Flake’s problem within his own party is his national feud with President Trump, a verbal scuffle that doesn’t seem to resolve itself.

Montana: This week, former Governors Marc Racicot, also an ex-Republican National Committee chairman, Stan Stephens, and Judy Martz, along with ex-US Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Billings) and Rick Hill (R-Helena) all endorsed Judge Russell Fagg (R) for the Republican Senatorial nomination. Judge Fagg has yet to officially announce his Senate candidacy, but he is clearly making moves to enter the race. National party leaders were behind recruiting Sate Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) into the race. Though this is likely to be a competitive statewide race, Sen. Tester must be rated as a clear favorite for re-election.

Wisconsin: State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who had been considered a serious potential US Senate candidate, announced this week that he will not enter the race. He then endorsed his colleague, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), who declared her own statewide bid last week. Businessman Kevin Nicholson, already being backed with multi-million dollar outside support, is the main Republican contender to date. Former candidate Eric Hovde, a venture capitalist and former Senate candidate, is also considering running again. The eventual Republican nominee challenges first-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) in what will be a competitive general election.

House

AL-5: US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), after failing to qualify for the run-off in the August Senate special election, immediately drew two primary challengers. Over the weekend, the pro-Second Amendment organization, BamaCarry, Inc., released a WT&S Consulting survey (8/28-31; 863 self-identified Republican respondents via live telephone interview) that finds the Congressman drawing well over 50% of the vote against his pair of opponents. According to the results, Mr. Brooks attracts 56% support followed by state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) at 22%, and businessman Clayton Hinchman at 5 percent.

HI-1: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Honolulu) is running for Governor, but states that she will not resign her House seat to devote full time to campaigning. In 2010, then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Honolulu) resigned the 1st District seat to avoid the long trips back and forth to Washington. Remaining in the state, he was able to invigorate his gubernatorial campaign and would eventually win the election. But, under Hawaii’s special election law where all candidates are placed on one ballot for a sole election, Republican Charles Djou picked up the seat for the remainder of the congressional term. Ms. Hanabusa then defeated Djou in the subsequent 2010 regular election. The Congresswoman serving the full term will keep the House seat in the Democratic column, but whether her prolonged absences from the state will weaken her Democratic primary challenge to Gov. David Ige remains to be seen.

MI-11: Detroit area Representative David Trott (R-Birmingham) released a statement informing his constituency that he will not seek a third term next year, citing a desire to return to the private sector. The surprise retirement sends local Republicans into a chaotic state and will almost assuredly mean that a strong Democratic nominee comes to the forefront in a battle for the politically marginal seat. Lena Epstein, one of President Trump’s Michigan campaign co-chairs, is currently an announced US Senate candidate. Now, however, she confirms looking at the open 11th District as a place where her chances to win may be greater. An apparent move to encourage former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) to consider again becoming a candidate is also underway. Weeks ago, former Homeland Security official Fayrouz Saad and Treasury Department appointee Haley Stevens had declared their candidacies. More individuals from both parties are expected to step forward now that the race is open.

PA-8: With all of the political action occurring in Pennsylvania during the past few days and weeks in relation to retirements, challenges, and appointments, it is no surprise that freshman Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Levittown) has drawn potential opposition. Former Bucks County prosecutor Dean Malik (D), who has twice run unsuccessfully for Congress, yesterday announced the formation of a congressional exploratory committee for the 2018 election. Since the 1992 election, inclusive, Republicans have only lost this seat twice, but this district runs close and we can expect a competitive 2018 campaign here.

PA-15: Late last week, seven-term Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Allentown) announced that he will not seek re-election on the heels of state Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Coopersburg) declaring his Republican primary challenge. Congressman Dent will hold elected office for 28 consecutive years when he leaves the House at the beginning of 2019. Prior to his congressional service he spent 14 years in the Pennsylvania legislature. Along with Mr. Simmons, state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Macungie) announced that he will join the open seat contest. Three lesser-known Democrats had declared their candidacies before Mr. Dent decided to retire. In an open configuration, we can now expect several stronger Democrats to enter the campaign. The 15th District stretches westward from the Allentown-Bethlehem area all the way to the Harrisburg suburbs. The general election is likely to generate robust competition.

Texas: The US Supreme Court this week dealt the Texas Democratic plaintiffs a major blow in the ongoing Lone Star State congressional redistricting saga. After originally declaring Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Austin) 35th District illegal in 2013 and then issuing a temporary fix, the legislature and courts continued to make changes up through the present time. Several weeks ago, the three judge federal panel ordered Districts 27 (Rep. Blake Farenthold-R-Corpus Christi) and Mr. Doggett’s 35th re-drawn because of racial gerrymandering. Before the high court will hear the case, the 5-4 majority stayed the lower court ruling, thus returning to the map that hosted the 2014 and 2016 elections. That plan produced Republican victories in 25 of the state’s 36 districts. With the Supreme Court likely not hearing this case for several months, the chances of having a new map ready in time for the 2018 election cycle is now less likely.

WI-8: Freshman Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay) scored one of the most impressive open seat wins in the nation last year, a 63-37% thrashing of Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson (D) to succeed retiring three-term Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Sherwood). Now, Mr. Gallagher is drawing another significant Democratic opponent. Brown County prosecutor Beau Liegeois announced his congressional candidacy this week. At this point, he is the first Democrat to come forward in the northeastern congressional district. The 8th has proven to be a reliable Republican district but one that can flip from time to time. The Congressman begins as a heavy favorite to secure a second term.

Governor

Michigan: After months of speculation, a major GOP candidate has entered the open race for Governor. Attorney General and former US Congressman Bill Schuette officially announced his gubernatorial effort, late this week. The move had been expected ever since Gov. Rick Snyder (R) entered his second and final term as the state’s chief executive. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (R) is expected to also run, and it is likely we shall see an announcement from him in the very near future. Michigan pollster Epic-MRA released their latest Michigan statewide poll results (8/27-9/1; 600 MI registered voters) and finds Mr. Schuette and former state House Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) tied at 37% if the two win their respective gubernatorial nominations. The Attorney General would lead all other Democratic contenders by a substantial margin. The Michigan Governor’s race is highly important from a national redistricting perspective. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.