Arizona: Kirkpatrick In;
Hawaii: Gabbard Out

By Jim Ellis

July 25, 2017 — Arizona former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) has completed her political transition to Tucson. Over the weekend, the former congresswoman and US Senate candidate announced that she will enter the very crowded Democratic primary in the AZ-2 Congressional District.

The move had been anticipated since Kirkpatrick had re-located from her home in Flagstaff to Arizona’s second largest population center and never ruled out entering the 2nd District race when questioned about doing so. Yet, even her path to the Democratic nomination is a difficult one, not to mention facing GOP Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson). Rep. McSally scored an impressive 57-43 percent re-election victory last November even though Hillary Clinton carried the district, 50-45 percent.

Already in the 2018 Democratic field are former state Rep. Matt Heinz, who lost to McSally as last year’s party nominee, ex-state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, former Assistant US Army Secretary Mary Matiella, businessmen Billy Kovacs, Charlie Verdin and Jeff Latas, and retired Air Force colonel, Lou Jordan.

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Dueling Congressmen

By Jim Ellis

July 24, 2017 — Next year’s Indiana Senate race is expected to be one of the nation’s top wire-to-wire campaigns. Even the Republican primary, which will only produce a challenger nominee, is beginning in toss-up fashion.

A new OnMessage consulting firm poll (July 10-12; 400 likely Indiana GOP primary voters) finds a pair of Republican congressmen, unannounced for the Senate but both headed for the statewide race, already in a dead heat contest. According to the data, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) and Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) are tied at 23 percent in the new GOP primary preference poll. The eventual winner will challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who will be seeking his first re-election.

Attorney General Curtis Hill (R) and state Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper) are also thought to be considering their own Senate candidacies. They polled just four and two percent, respectively, in the OnMessage poll, however.

The two GOP House members are also virtually tied in the resource game. Both have been raising money at a strong clip: Rokita bringing in just over $1.3 million for the first half of 2017 and showing $2.35 million cash-on-hand, while Messer has attracted just under $1.3 million and possesses $2.027 million. For his part, Sen. Donnelly has brought in $5.47 million for the year and has $3.7 million in his campaign account.

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Fox Poll: A Mixed Bag

By Jim Ellis

July 21, 2017 — Fox News this week released the results of their regular benchmark poll (Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research; July 16-18; 1,020 US registered voters) and find President Trump to be showing some weakness, but not to the degree that the Democrats and media would think and hope.

The polling sample tilts Democratic, and badly under polls Independents. This particular sample features 44 percent Democratic respondents, 37 percent Republican, with just 19 percent self-identifying as politically independent. According to the latest Gallup national party affiliation survey (July 5-9), 28 percent consider themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republican, with 45 percent declaring as Independents.

Overall, the president’s job approval rating is 41:53 percent favorable to unfavorable, which is a little lower than during most of his short tenure in office but still better than the 35:63 percent ratio Trump scored on the Fox pre-election poll (Oct. 10-12; 1,006 US registered voters). Therefore, his favorability index, though seriously upside down, is actually better today than when he won the 2016 election.

While his overall job approval is low, his management of various issue areas is better. In terms of handling the economy, 45 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove. This result represents a slight dip from Fox’s March, April, and June surveys. His best ratio during that time was 48:43 percent (June).

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Senate: What the Money Says

By Jim Ellis

July 20, 2017 — Though electronic filing is still not yet required for US Senate candidates, several incumbents and challengers have made their financial numbers available via the public media. Outlets such as the Daily Kos Elections page, The Hill, Politico, National Journal, and local news organizations have allowed us to grasp where some of the key races stand financially.

There has already been a great deal of discussion in recent days about the upcoming Arizona Senate contest, and the dollars raised again reveal a familiar pattern. For the second quarter in a row, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), who says she is not an active Senate candidate but is clearly readying herself in case an opportunity arises, i.e., incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake (R) attracting a strong Republican primary opponent, again raised $600,000 in a quarter, thus putting $3.2 million in her account, about $200,000 more than incumbent Flake.

Finances often give us clues as to impending political moves. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), the body’s oldest member at 84 years of age, raised just $600,000 in the second quarter and has $3.5 million in the bank. This is a low total for a senator from the nation’s largest state. This may be an indication that Feinstein may not seek re-election. In direct comparison, 83-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has been less committal about re-election than Sen. Feinstein and from a state a small fraction of California’s size, raised over $1 million in the quarter and has over $4 million cash-on-hand.

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More Drama in the Desert

By Jim Ellis

July 19, 2017 — The family feud between President Trump and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is back in high gear. Politico is reporting that Trump or key members of his internal staff have already met with or talked to three Grand Canyon State Republicans who are either opposing the Senator in the Republican primary or considering entering.

At this point, former state Sen. Kelli Ward is the announced primary challenger to Sen. Flake. She opposed Sen. John McCain in the 2016 Republican primary and held the veteran lawmaker to a 51-40 percent victory percentage. The closeness of the final total is likely a greater expression of GOP base vote dissatisfaction with McCain rather than a positive affirmation of Ward, however. Therefore, at this point, she may be over-rated as a viable 2018 challenger.

Former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, a finance sector entrepreneur, is also mentioned as a potential Flake competitor, an unusual juxtaposition in that a former state chairman would be opposing an incumbent who he had once vociferously supported.

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The First Midterm: A Deeper Story

By Jim Ellis

July 18, 2017 — Much has been made about a new president’s party failing in the midterm directly after his initial national election, but the statistics aren’t quite what they seem. In the House, the average loss for the new president’s party is 26 seats in first midterm during the modern political era, in addition to dropping two Senate seats. But these numbers are misleading.

Many media stories portray the Democrats on the brink of wresting the House majority away from Republicans, and one factor supporting such a claim is the first midterm historical trend. The stories underscore that the Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to depose the Republicans, two seats less than the average “out party” gain in similar elections.

The research stops short, however, and omits a very key point. Since President Harry S. Truman assumed office in 1945 and stood for election in his own right in 1948, 11 presidents, inclusive, have seen his party lose House seats in first midterm election. President Gerald Ford, because he was never elected to the office, is not included for purposes of this statistical exercise.

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House Opens: No Dem Path

By Jim Ellis

July 17, 2017 — There is a great deal of political chatter discussing the Democrats’ chances to assume the House majority in the 2018 elections, but one key facet that must work for them is not yet in place.

For an out-party to wrest the majority away from their counterparts who control the body, a large number of open seats must change hands. So far, after three consecutive election cycles that featured large numbers of open seats – a cumulative 158 since 2012 inclusive, counting the 20 new seats that reapportionment and redistricting created at the beginning of the decade – only 15 CDs so far will be open next year in addition to the UT-3 special election that will be filled this coming November.

To make matters even more difficult for Democrats, just one open Republican seat, that of retiring Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami), can reasonably be considered a toss-up. This compares to two Democratic opens, those of Reps. Tim Walz (D-MN; running for governor) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV; running for Senate), which now reside in the pick ‘em category.

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Alabama Battle Lines Drawn

By Jim Ellis

July 14, 2017 — Now, just about a month away from the Alabama US Senate special primary election, we are seeing the first political patterns that begin to define the Republican primary race.

To review, the seat became vacant when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) was appointed US attorney general. In a controversial move, embattled Gov. Robert Bentley (R) tabbed state Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to replace Sessions. The appointment was controversial from the start because Bentley was reportedly under investigation by Strange’s office.

Gov. Bentley, who was facing impeachment from his own Republican base in the state legislature, saw the process grind to a halt when Strange asked the legislative leadership to allow him to complete his investigation to determine if the governor actually misused state funds when engaged in an extra-marital affair. Strange later said that he never confirmed such an investigation was actually underway, but he publicly asked the legislative leaders to halt, and that helped him earn him the appointment. Bentley was then in position to appoint the new attorney general who would decide whether to continue the stealth investigation into his own potential wrongdoing.

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One In, One Out

By Jim Ellis

July 13, 2017 — Two major announcements occurred during the last few days resulted in one individual becoming an official statewide candidate and another withdrawing from a campaign that had already begun.

West Virginia Senate

As had been expected for some time, two-term West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) announced his campaign for the United States Senate. He will face two-term Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) in the Republican primary, with the winner drawing a difficult political match with Sen. Joe Manchin (D).

With average win percentages of 62 percent over two elections as governor (2004, ’08) in addition to a pair of Senate campaigns (2010 special election; 2012), Sen. Manchin appears to be in strong shape as he approaches his 2018 re-election. But, there are some cracks in his armor, hence the presence of two strong GOP opponents.

Though Sen. Manchin has attempted to cross the partisan line in his public relationship with President Trump and the Republican leadership on several issues, it is still a net negative for the senator to campaign on the same political landscape that proved to be the former’s second strongest state (69 percent).

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Big Governor News

By Jim Ellis

July 12, 2017 — A major announcement was made in a western state governor’s race Monday, with an additional one from an adjacent domain coming later today. Both affect corresponding US House seats.

New Mexico Governor; NM-2

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) announced that he will enter the open New Mexico governor’s race next year, saying to the Albuquerque Journal that he’s “concerned about an exodus of young people leaving New Mexico,” going to other places for a more favorable job market. Pearce said his campaign will emphasize improving education, spurring economic growth, and reducing crime and poverty.

This will be the second time Pearce has left his House seat to pursue a statewide contest. In 2008, when serving his third term in Congress, he decided to challenge then-Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) for the US Senate nomination, and successfully upset her in the Republican primary. He would then go onto lose the general election to then-Rep. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe), 61-39 percent, in the Obama landslide year.

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The Wild West

By Jim Ellis

July 11, 2017 — Surprising political rumblings are being felt in two key western swing states, one highlighting what will be a major Republican primary battle, with a toss-up open seat and a potentially competitive challenger campaign in the other.

The former will feature a serious Colorado GOP primary between two of the most conservative candidates in that state, while two Nevada seats could see a pair of candidates swapping districts.

CO-5

Republican former US Senate nominee Darryl Glenn says that, in the next several weeks, he will announce a formal GOP primary challenge to veteran Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs). Glenn received no national party support in his 2016 race against Sen. Michael Bennet (D) but still came within six points of him on election night, holding the incumbent below majority support. Just recently, state Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) announced his own primary challenge to Rep. Lamborn. Therefore, we are on the precipice of witnessing a major three-way intra-party confrontation before a Republican electorate very familiar with tough primary battles.

Rep. Lamborn was originally elected in 2006, coming through a difficult primary battle in that year. The same scenario occurred in his first re-election, and he has repelled several primary challenges in subsequent campaigns. But, in each of those situations he was the most conservative candidate. The difference here, at least when reflecting upon a Glenn candidacy, is that Rep. Lamborn may not be considered as such. This will be the first challenge where the congressman will actually have to defend himself from the right.

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More on Missouri

By Jim Ellis

July 10, 2017 — The Missouri Senate race transformed itself earlier this week when Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County) announced that she would not challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), and there is an update as to what may happen next.

The congresswoman had been expected to make a July campaign announcement, but her statement contained a twist that none had anticipated. With a political fire drill now underway to respond to a new campaign sans Wagner, the early spotlight focuses on at least two viable GOP options.

Attorney General Josh Hawley is the most talked about potential candidate. Several prominent Show Me State Republicans initiated a move, which former US Sen. John Danforth, ex-Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, and major campaign donor and former US Ambassador Sam Fox led, that openly encouraged Hawley to run even when it was thought that Wagner would become a candidate.

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Reviewing the Senate

By Jim Ellis

July 7, 2017
— Considering Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-MO) surprise decision not to challenge Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and last week’s Arizona maneuverings among Democrats vis-à-vis a challenge to Sen. Jeff Flake (R), it’s become a good time to examine the various competitive US Senate situations in order to review the campaigns most likely to be competitive.

The status listed below reflects the candidates and potential candidates who appear to be credible contenders at this time:

• Alabama: Appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R)
Special election schedule: Aug. 15 primary; Sept. 26 run-off; Dec. 12 general
Sen. Strange (R) – Announced
Rep. Mo Brooks (R) – Announced
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) – Announced
Dr. Randy Brinson (R) – Announced
Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D) – Announced

• Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (R)
Sen. Flake (R) – Confirmed
Former State Sen. Kelli Ward (R) – Announced
State Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R) – Possible
State Rep. Randy Friese, MD (D) – Possible
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) – Possible
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) – Possible

• Florida: Sen. Bill Nelson (D)
Sen. Nelson (D) – Announced
Gov. Rick Scott (R) – Probable

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A Surprising Announcement

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County)

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County)

July 6, 2017 — A July announcement regarding the coming Missouri US Senate race had been expected for weeks, but the actual content featured a much different declaration than anticipated.

Just before the July 4th holiday, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County), who was thought to be announcing a campaign for the Senate, instead made public her decision not to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Rep. Wagner will seek a fourth term in the House, however. The congresswoman cited her desire to continue fully representing her home area as the driving force behind her ultimate political decision. In her statement, Wagner said that the 2nd District “ … is my home. It’s where I grew up, went to school, have worked and volunteered, raised my kids, and attend church every week—there is no greater honor than representing a place and people that I love.”

The Wagner turnabout was particularly surprising in that she had been raising money at a very strong clip, more than $800,000 in the first quarter with a projected similar amount for the quarter just ended but not yet publicly reported.

Democrats, of course, are saying that Wagner decided not to run statewide because she and another Republicans fear a bad political year. The Dems uniformly cite President Trump’s low approval ratings and what many perceive as a politically negative healthcare issue, things they believe will cause major electoral problems for GOP candidates.

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Flake Opposition Mounting

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

By Jim Ellis

July 5, 2017 — With the Republican healthcare overhaul bill remaining in a controversial state, and Democrats already trying to use it as a rallying point for potential 2018 candidates, the Arizona Senate field is beginning to form. Currently, three potential challenger candidates continue to weigh their options on the political sidelines.

Because Democrats have so few targets in the present election cycle – Republicans must only protect eight of the 33 states holding Senate elections, and six of those are in arguably their strongest political domains: Mississippi (Wicker), Nebraska (Fischer), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso) – they have no choice but to go hard after the two GOP incumbents entwined in more marginal political situations: Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Though Arizona voters routinely elect many more Republicans than Democrats, despite many campaigns ending in relatively close fashion, the Dems are forced to make a major play against Sen. Flake because they simply have no other secondary place with as much 2018 competitive potential. On defense in 25 states, Senate Democrats will not win the majority because a net gain of two, including defeating Sen. Flake, would yield only a 50-50 tie. Such a division would allow Vice President Mike Pence to ensure that the GOP majority continues in his role as the body’s tiebreaker.

Last week, both Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) and state Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson), the latter man coming to notoriety as the doctor who saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-Tucson) life when an insane gunman tragically shot her, brought forth public attacks on the current healthcare legislation and began sounding like candidates.

Mayor Stanton and Dr. Friese confirm they are considering entering the Senate race, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one or both men could announce their candidacy on the heels of the Senate healthcare vote, particularly if Sen. Flake supports the legislation. Both would be credible candidates and it is unclear at this writing if one would step aside in favor of the other.

Another individual hovering in the background of this Grand Canyon State political picture is Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix). She has been on a fundraising tear, and though already announcing her intention to seek a fourth term in the House, Sinema does admit to be considering a Senate bid if the circumstances are favorable. By that, she means Sen. Flake drawing a strong Republican primary challenger. It is also unclear if Rep. Sinema will risk her now safe Maricopa County House seat to join what could be a crowded Democratic primary against potentially top-tier candidates even if she perceives Flake to be politically weak.

As we will remember from the last campaign cycle, Sen. Flake became embroiled in a public feud with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and relations between the two men remain less than cordial. After the election, Flake’s internal Republican polling standing suffered greatly as a result, thus making him potentially vulnerable in next year’s Republican primary. Already, former state Sen. Kelli Ward is an announced GOP challenger, but she is not typically regarded as a heavyweight candidate even though she held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent re-nomination percentage in the 2016 Republican primary.

At the end of last year, state Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R) was polling strongly against Flake, actually leading him in some internal polls, but has yet to come forward to announce a Senate challenge. He has said he will not seek re-election to his current position, however.

The Arizona race will clearly be an interesting one. Republicans still maintain a 1.259 million to 1.102 million voter registration edge over Democrats with 1.235 million categorized as Independents. Though the party registration figures are at virtual parity, the GOP electoral resume is strong.

The only Democrat to win a US Senate seat here since 1962 is Dennis DeConcini, who served three terms before retiring in the 1994 election cycle. The Dems have fared better in governors’ races during that same 55-year time span, electing six of the 13 state chief executives who have occupied the office. Currently, the US House delegation stands at 5R-4D, while the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature.