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Period Ending September 18, 2015

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

President

Presidential Debate: Fifteen qualifying Republican presidential candidates participated in a two-tiered debate session, the main event featuring an unwieldy eleven contenders taking part. The three-hour marathon was poorly moderated, as the CNN questioning process was designed to encourage candidate banter against each other rather than discussing issues of the day. According to post-debate polling, businesswoman Carly Fiorina made the big jump. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also received high marks. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is generally tabbed as the debate’s loser. Pre-debate leader Donald Trump appears high on the debate winner chart and on the list of those under-performing. This underscores the Trump polarization within the GOP electorate. The next Republican debate is scheduled for October 28th. The Democrats will hold their first forum on October 13th.

Polls: Poll releases were rampant before the debate, while one major national survey was conducted immediately upon completion of the CNN confab that drew almost 23 million viewers. All the pre-debate polls were showing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson running one-two among Republicans, and beginning to pull away. The Gravis Marketing survey, taken on debate night of 1,337 likely GOP primary voters, already found Carly Fiorina moving into a 22-22% tie with Trump based upon her national performance. The three non-elective office Republican candidates, Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, are now dominating the GOP polling and, combined, draw solid majority support. For the Democrats, new surveys find Sen. Bernie Sanders taking the lead over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and Vice President Joe Biden gaining support for what could be his eventual entry into the race. At this point, both party nomination fights are wide open.

Senate

California: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in conjunction with American Viewpoint for the University of Southern California conducted a poll of 1,500 California registered voters released on September 10th. The results show that the two leading Senate campaign Democrats, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46) would qualify for the general election if the election were in the present. The addition of several minor Republican candidates would split the GOP vote to the point of allowing the two Democrats to advance. The numbers find Ms. Harris taking 26% with Rep. Sanchez trailing at 17%. The top Republican finisher, former state party chairman Tom Del Beccaro, attracts 10% support.

Florida: A new Public Policy Polling survey (9/11-13; 814 FL registered voters) finds both parties in dogfights. Republicans are bunched closely together, but all below 20% support in the GOP primary. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13) leads with 18%, followed by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6) at 15%, just ahead of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s 14%. For the Democrats, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) fares best against the Republicans, claiming slight leads against them all, but trails Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) 27-33% in the Democratic primary poll. Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL-2) is a possible Senate entrant, as is former GOP Attorney General and Congressman Bill McCollum. This race will likely become the nation’s most exciting Senate contest. Sen. Marco Rubio running for President has left this seat open for 2016.

House

AZ-1: Former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran, who lost his legislative position in a Republican primary, and then failed to win a subsequent election as an Independent, will now run for Congress as a Democrat. He jumped into the open 1st District field hoping to succeed Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who is running for the Senate. O’Halleran joins state Sen. Barbara McGuire and businessman Miguel Olivas as Democratic candidates. Republican former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, rancher and former congressional candidate Gary Kiehne, and businessman Shawn Redd comprise the early Republican field. The general election in this expansive eastern Arizona district will be rated a toss-up.

CA-17: Last November, Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, a former Commerce Department official in the Obama Administration, came within four points of unseating San Jose Rep. Mike Honda (D) in a double-Democrat general election. With Khanna running again, this race is promising to be even closer in 2016. Rep. Honda is now under an Ethics Committee investigation for using his office resources improperly for campaigning, and the state Senate President just endorsed Mr. Khanna. Since the challenger spent more than $4.4 million in 2014, the impending race will likely be even more expensive.

DE-AL: Rep. John Carney (D) announced that he will run for Governor next year meaning his statewide congressional position will be open. Several Democrats are expected to compete for the party nomination. The eventual nominee will have a major advantage against the future Republican. State Sen. Bryan Townsend (D) became the first major entrant into the now open contest. Many more are expected to follow.

MD-7: Anticipating that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) will soon enter the Senate race, prominent Baltimore pastor Jamal Bryant (D) announced his congressional campaign to succeed the incumbent. Mr. Cummings has been considering becoming a Senate candidate since incumbent Barbara Mikulski’s (D) retirement announcement, but has so far has yet to officially join the campaign. The Bryant move could well be an indication that Rep. Cummings will soon make the jump into the statewide contest.

MD-8: The very large Democratic field hoping to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who is running for Senate, got a bit smaller this week. Montgomery County Councilor Valerie Ervin (D), doing so because she is failing to reach her fundraising goals, officially ended her congressional campaign. Six other Democrats remain. The eventual party nominee will claim the seat in the general election.

MI-1: Three-term Rep. Dan Benishek (R), who earlier in the year announced he would seek re-election, will now honor the term limit pledge he took before he ran. Rep. Benishek will not seek re-election in 2016, leaving what will likely be a toss-up campaign to succeed him. The 1st District covers the northern sector of the Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula. Before Mr. Benishek won in 2010, former Rep. Bart Stupak (D) held the seat for 18 years.

NY-19: Former state Assembly Minority Leader and 2006 gubernatorial nominee John Faso (R) officially launched his congressional campaign. He is vying to replace retiring Rep. John Gibson (R), who is leaving the House to concentrate on a 2018 bid for Governor. Businessman Andrew Heaney (R) is Mr. Faso’s lone announced Republican challenger. Music executive John Kehoe is the only Democrat so far to form a campaign. In the early stages of this open seat race, Mr. Faso begins as the favorite in both the Republican primary and general election.

TX-19: Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Lubbock) announced that he will not seek an eighth term next year. Neugebauer becomes the 23rd House member to already make a retirement announcement. We can expect a crowded Republican primary in this West Texas seat. The GOP is a sure bet to hold this most conservative district in the general election.

VA-5: Albemarle County Commission chair Jane Dittmar (D) publicly declared that she will challenge three-term Rep. Bob Hurt (R) next year. The 5th District can be competitive, but Rep. Hurt begins as a big favorite to hold the seat. The main question surrounds whether the impending redistricting involving the southeastern portion of the state will change the 5th District boundaries. If so, this race could become hotly contested.

Governor

Delaware: Rep. John Carney (D-DE-AL) is well on his way to securing the inside track to replace term-limited Gov. Jack Markell (D). Mr. Carney lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Markell before winning his congressional seat in 2010. Announcing for Governor this week, the man who defeated him seven years ago, Gov. Markell, officially endorsed Mr. Carney thus giving the Congressman a major advantage toward locking down the party nomination. The eventual Democratic nominee becomes a heavy favorite in the general election.