NC-9: Vacant for the Year?

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 15, 2019 — The 9th District of North Carolina, still with uncertified electoral results from November, could conceivably remain vacant until the November municipal elections as the situation continues to unfold.

The NC State Board of Elections was supposed to have met on Friday, and at that point would likely have scheduled a new election, but the panel itself is a political football. A state judge acted to dissolve the membership by refusing to issue a stay of his previous ruling.

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris has filed a court challenge to the Board of Elections not certifying his win in NC-9 and claiming his 905-vote lead should stand.

The panel became a tug of war between Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican dominated state legislature even before the NC-9 controversy arose. During the transition between the time that Cooper unseated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in the 2016 statewide election and his taking office Republican legislators changed certain laws. One of those moves concerned the Board of Elections’ composition.

A judge eventually ruled that the legislature acted unconstitutionally regarding some of the changes including the legislation regarding the Board of Elections. The board was supposed to be dissolved after the election certification period, but the NC-9 problem earned the group a stay of the original ruling. The judge, however, did not see fit to allow them to continue in the new year.

At the end of the year, with Republican legislators desiring to change the special election law that would allow an open primary system instead of the general election rerun that would have been the previous board’s only option had they ordered a new vote, a new election law was enacted.

In a deal with the Democrats, the Republican leadership passed a bill that allows the open primary in exchange for giving Gov. Cooper what he wanted in terms of Board of Elections’ personnel. The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses, but the governor vetoed. The legislature immediately overrode his action.

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Senate Approvals

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 14, 2019 — The Morning Consult firm just released their quarterly ranking of Senate job approval scores. All 100 senators are surveyed, and the numbers cover the fourth quarter of 2018. Several categories are of interest.

First, a number of ratings are similar for both senators in a particular state. Vermont respondents were particularly pleased with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) and Patrick Leahy (D). The duo placed first and second nationally, with approval ratings of 64:28 percent and 62:23 percent favorable to unfavorable, respectively.

They were closely followed by Republican senators John Barrasso (R-WY; 62:26 percent) and John Thune (R-SD; 59:27 percent). The two senators’ state mates, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY; 56:27 percent) and Mike Rounds (R-SD; 56:29 percent), were also in the top 10.

Now-former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) recorded the worst rating in the body, with a 28:49 percent negative ratio. Two Senate leaders, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; 38:47 percent) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL; 36:39 percent) were also in the Bottom 10.

Since this is the fourth quarter 2018 report, the five senators who lost re-election along with those who won competitive races are included. Below are their favorability scores Continue reading

What 2018’s Closest Races Mean
While Looking Ahead to 2020

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 11, 2019 — Now that the various state elections’ offices have certified the Nov. 6 final voting totals, we can begin to reflect and better analyze the particulars of the 2018 campaigns, which will provide clues to future targeting and possible performance.

Below are the 29 US House winners who received a final vote total of 51 percent or less, and we can be assured that most, if not all, of these veteran and new members will be major targets in the 2020 elections.

Fifteen of the districts yielded Democratic victories with 14 going to or remaining Republican. All US House results are final with the exception of the NC-9 contest that remains uncertified and is likely to go to a new election. The North Carolina State Board of Elections is scheduled to meet this week, and it is probable that they will order a new election as part of the proceedings.

Listed in order by party from the winner with the lowest percentages:

  • IA-3: Cindy Axne (D) – 49.3% (Rep. David Young – 47.1%)
  • NJ-3: Andy Kim (D) – 50.0% (Rep. Tom MacArthur – 48.7%)
  • UT-4: Ben McAdams (D) – 50.1% (Rep. Mia Love – 49.9%)
  • NY-22: Anthony Brindisi (D) – 50.1% (Rep. Claudia Tenney – 48.3%)
  • VA-7: Abigail Spanberger (D) – 50.3% (Rep. Dave Brat – 48.4%)
  • CA-21: T.J. Cox (D) – 50.4% (Rep. David Valadao – 49.6%)
  • NY-19: Antonio Delgado (D) – 50.4% (Rep. John Faso – 45.3%)
  • GA-6: Lucy McBath (D) – 50.5% (Rep. Karen Handel – 49.5%)
  • ME-2: Jared Golden (D) – 50.5% (Rep. Bruce Poliquin – 49.5%)
  • MI-8: Elissa Slotkin (D) – 50.6% (Rep. Mike Bishop – 46.8%)
  • SC-1: Joe Cunningham (D) – 50.6% (Katie Arrington – 49.2%)
  • OK-5: Kendra Horn (D) – 50.7% (Rep. Steve Russell – 49.3%)
  • FL-26: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) – 50.9% (Rep. Carlos Curbelo – 49.1%)
  • NM-2: Xochitl Torres-Small (D) – 50.9% (Yvette Herrell – 49.1%)
  • IA-1: Abby Finkenauer (D) – 51.0% (Rep. Rod Blum – 45.9%)
  • KS-2: Steve Watkins (R) – 47.6% (Paul Davis – 46.8% – Rep. Lynn Jenkins retiring)
  • NY-27: Chris Collins (R) – 47.8% (Nate McMurray – 47.4%)
  • TX-23: Will Hurd (R) – 49.2% (Gina Ortiz Jones – 48.7%)
  • GA-7: Rob Woodall (R) – 50.1% (Carolyn Bourdeaux – 49.9%)
  • MN-1: Jim Hagedorn (R) – 50.1% (Dan Feehan – 49.7%)
  • MI-6: Fred Upton (R) – 50.2% (Matt Longjohn – 45.7%)
  • IA-4: Steve King (R) – 50.3% (JD Scholten – 47.0%)
  • IL-13: Rodney Davis (R) – 50.4% (Betsy Dirksen Londrigen – 49.6%)
  • TX-31: John Carter (R) – 50.6% (MJ Hegar – 47.7%)
  • MN-8: Pete Stauber (R) – 50.7% (Joe Radinovich – 45.2%)
  • NY-1: Lee Zeldin (R) – 50.7% (Perry Gershon – 46.6%)
  • MT-AL: Greg Gianforte (R) – 50.9% (Kathleen Williams – 46.2%)
  • KY-6: Andy Barr (R) – 51.0% (Amy McGrath – 47.8%)
  • NE-2: Don Bacon (R) – 51.0% (Kara Eastman – 49.0%)

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Potential Presidential Candidates:
The Moves They’re Making

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 10, 2019 — January promised to be an active month on the budding presidential campaign front, and we are already seeing movement in that regard. Below is a synopsis of the latest activity from major and not so major potential national candidates.

  • Billionaire Tom Steyer (D) scheduled a political announcement from Iowa yesterday, which yielded a statement that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee in addition to calling for President Trump’s outright impeachment and removal from office.
  • On Saturday, former Housing & Urban Development secretary Julian Castro (D) is expected to announce his candidacy after beginning the exploratory phase of his effort in early December. Should his presidential effort fizzle early, pivoting into a Senate race against three-term Texas incumbent John Cornyn (R) could become a viable political option.
  • Former US representative and Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke (D) has asked staff members, according to the Wall Street Journal, to begin developing a meeting and events schedule in states other than his own.
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris (D) is beginning a book tour next Tuesday for her publication, “The Truths We Hold”, which appears to be a precursor to officially forming a presidential exploratory committee.
  • Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has changed his personal website to look like a campaign website, including a disclaimer that indicates he is paying for the site himself. The design and content makes transitioning into a presidential campaign website simple and efficient.
  • Former vice president, Joe Biden, is holding intense meetings with former staff members and campaign advisors to assess whether he will enter the 2020 nationwide contest. At this point, Biden has a substantial lead in national Democratic nomination polls, and in the key early state of Iowa, but is still nowhere close to securing majority support in any survey. It is likely that we will begin to obtain substantial clues to his ultimate intention sometime in February or early March.

Previously declaring their candidacies are former US Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), West Virginia state senator and 2018 congressional nominee Richard Ojeda (D), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

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Kentucky Gubernatorial Race
Challengers Emerging

By Jim Ellis

Unpopular Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R)

Jan. 9, 2019 — Blue Grass State politics are beginning to boil, all centered around the 2019 governor’s race. With the candidate filing deadline fast approaching on Jan. 29 for the May 21 statewide primary, several individuals are announcing that they will challenge unpopular Gov. Matt Bevin (R), including a Republican state legislator who is expected to make his formal declaration today.

Though the governor has said he intends to seek a second term, and did so again a week before Christmas, the fact that he has yet to file a 2019 campaign committee has fueled speculation that he may decide to retire. Bevin was elected in 2015 with a relatively substantial 52.5 – 43.8 percent victory over then-Attorney General Jack Conway (D) after upsetting then-agriculture commissioner and now US congressman, James Comer (R-Tompkinsville), by just 83 votes in a May Republican primary that drew almost 215,000 voters.

Bevin’s popularity ratings, however, have largely been upside-down throughout his tenure in office. According to the Morning Consult quarterly national gubernatorial approval rankings that were released just before the November elections in mid-October, Gov. Bevin ranked 46th on the nationwide list, with a 30:55 percent positive to negative ratio.

None of those finishing below the Kentucky governor on that particular scale in October remains in office. The least popular, according to the survey, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), was ineligible to seek a third term last November. Republican Kevin Stitt replaced her. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) did not seek a third term and Democrat Ned Lamont held the office. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) was defeated for re-election, and Alaska Independent Gov. Bill Walker withdrew before the election because his political situation was hopeless.

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Kansas Sen. Roberts Announces
Retirement; Can Seat Stay With GOP?

By Jim Ellis

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R)

Jan. 8, 2018 — Veteran Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who will turn 84 years of age before the next election, announced last Friday that he will not seek re-election to a fifth term in 2020. He becomes the second Senate incumbent to announce his retirement effective 2021, following Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander (R) who made his decision public just before Christmas.

In 2014, Sen. Roberts faced a competitive election against Independent Greg Orman who appeared to coalesce the anti-Roberts vote when Democrat Chad Taylor withdrew from the race because the latter man knew that the senator was certain to win a three-way contest.

With early October polls finding Orman leading Sen. Roberts by as many as 10 percentage points, the veteran Kansas office holder pulled out all of the stops to rebound with a 53-43 percent win. The 2014 Republican wave helped Roberts sweep to victory, overcoming what proved to be largely inaccurate polling along the way.

Pat Roberts was originally elected to Congress in 1980, winning the western 1st District, a seat he would hold for eight terms before claiming an open Senate position in 1996. At the end of the current term he will conclude 40 years of congressional service.

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House: Opening with a Vacancy

By Jim Ellis

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris

Jan. 7, 2019 — When the new House of Representatives convened last week, they did so with only 434 voting members, not 435, as the situation in North Carolina’s 9th District remains unresolved.

To recap, Republican Mark Harris scored an apparent 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready on election night, but the results remain uncertified due to what a majority of Board of Elections panel members are citing as voting irregularities in one county. The panel is scheduled to next meet this Friday, Jan. 11th, and organizing a new election is the likely resolution.

Previously, the Board only had the power to order a rerun of the general election. Hence, the subsequent election would have included only Harris, McCready, and Libertarian Jeff Scott. Considering the media hit that Harris has received over the election irregularity controversy, his chances of winning the rerun are slim. (He hired the Red Dome Consulting firm, which contracted with the individual accused of orchestrating the ballot harvesting operation, McCrae Dowless, the vice chairman of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation Board.)

Therefore, with Republicans controlling the legislature, they quickly constructed a legislative package that would give Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper largely what he wanted in naming a new Board of Elections panel, while changing the post-election law to allow open primaries. This would give the GOP the opportunity of replacing Harris in the general election.

The legislature quickly passed the reform package at the end of the year with an overwhelming margin, because most Democrats voted for the bill as it included their much-wanted Board of Elections changes. The legislation was sent to Gov. Cooper with veto-proof majorities in both houses.

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Pelosi Returns as Speaker,
But By Just Two Votes

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 4, 2019 — California US Rep. Nancy Pelosi was returned to the Speaker’s office yesterday in a carefully orchestrated vote that allowed her to claim the gavel by a two-vote margin, while simultaneously allowing several incoming Democratic members to keep their campaign pledge to not support the returning national political leader. Pelosi received 220 votes from her conference, two more than the minimum majority figure of 218.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) returns as House Speaker

Fifteen Democrats voted for someone other than Pelosi in the Speaker’s roll call or answered “present.” Freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) simply voted “no” when his name was called but was recorded as voting present.

Not all of the Pelosi dissenters were freshman. Of the 15, veteran Reps. Jim Cooper (D-TN), Ron Kind (D-WI), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) voted differently.

Cooper voted present. Rep. Kind supported Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), taking a page from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-AZ) political book when she was in the House. During her three terms, Sinema voted for Rep. Lewis for Speaker to honor his civil rights career. Rep. Rice, an outspoken critic of Speaker Pelosi, voted for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Schrader voted for Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland). Just after the November election, Rep. Fudge briefly considered the idea of running for Speaker.

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Apportionment Projections:
Who is Gaining, Who is Losing

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 3, 2019 — Late last year, we covered the new Census Bureau report for the states gaining and losing population during the past 12-month period. Now, we see the agency’s latest just-released numbers for the decade through this past July. Armed with the new data, outside mathematicians have made apportionment projections to provide a more defined picture as to which states will be gaining or losing US House seats in the 2020 post-census reapportionment.

With two years remaining in the present decade, trends can still change and we must remember that the reapportionment formula is complex, but the new projections give us a strong idea as to just how many seats, give or take a small variance, will transfer. At this point, according to the Washington, DC-based Election Data Services, it appears that as many as 22 seats could change location affecting 17 states.

Texas, having gained 3.55 million people since the 2010 census, looks to be adding as many as three seats for the 2022 elections and beyond. This will give the Lone Star State 39 seats during the next decade, and 41 electoral votes in the succeeding presidential elections.

Florida was the second largest gainer with just under 2.5 million new residents, meaning the Sunshine State will likely gain two seats, going from 27 to 29. In terms of raw numbers, California gained more than 2.3 million people, but it actually dropped a tenth of a point below the national growth average of 6.3 percent for the past eight years. This means the Golden State is currently on the hook to actually lose a district for the first time in history.

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What to Expect

We’re back after going dark briefly over the Christmas holiday. (No, just in case you were wondering, we’re not part of the government shutdown.) We trust that you are rested, recharged and ready for the new year and the ever-evolving political developments that will come.

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 2, 2019 — We kick off a new calendar and political year looking at several anticipated events. On the presidential front, we can expect several candidate announcements coming in January, along with a changing primary/caucus schedule. Additionally, some close losing congressional candidates are already declaring they want a re-match.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) began the new year by forming a presidential exploratory committee and stating that she would begin her potential national campaign with a four-city information-gathering tour in Iowa, site of the first presidential votes scheduled for early February of 2020.

Four potential Democratic candidates are reportedly close to hiring key personnel either as national managers or Iowa state leaders. Aside from Sen. Warren, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), are apparently poised to make staffing announcements possibly within the first two weeks of this new month and year.

An imminent presidential candidacy declaration is expected from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro (D-TX), who formed an exploratory committee in early December. Rumors in Texas abound, however, that while Castro may begin to compete in the presidential race he could pivot out of the national campaign and into a US Senate challenge against Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) if he fails to gain traction.

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Senate To “Develop” Races

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 21, 2019
— Winding down 2018 allows us an opportunity to complete the coming Senate political picture.

As previously covered, the states comprising the early top tier competitive campaigns already include Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones), Arizona special (Senator-Designate Martha McSally), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Perdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), Mississippi (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis).

Races that could develop or where the incumbent at least has a potential opponent being mentioned are: Kansas (Sen. Pat Roberts), Kentucky (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Minnesota (Sen. Tina Smith), New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), Tennessee (Open: Sen. Lamar Alexander retiring), and Texas (Sen. John Cornyn).

Primary challenges are being speculated upon in Massachusetts (Sen. Ed Markey) and South Carolina (Sen. Lindsey Graham).

Minor candidates are surfacing in Arkansas (Sen. Tom Cotton), Nebraska (Sen. Ben Sasse), and New Jersey (Sen. Cory Booker), but none are expected to develop into major challenges.

So far, the incumbents from the remaining states do not even have potential opponents being cited at this early point in time:

  • Alaska (Sen. Dan Sullivan)
  • Delaware (Sen. Chris Coons)
  • Idaho (Sen. Jim Risch)
  • Illinois (Sen. Dick Durbin)
  • Michigan (Sen. Gary Peters)
  • Montana (Sen. Steve Daines)
  • New Mexico (Sen. Tom Udall)
  • Oklahoma (Sen. Jim Inhofe)
  • Oregon (Sen. Jeff Merkley)
  • Rhode Island (Sen. Jack Reed)
  • South Dakota (Sen. Mike Rounds)
  • Virginia (Sen. Mark Warner)
  • West Virginia (Sen. Shelley Moore Capito)
  • Wyoming (Sen. Mike Enzi)

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Sinema & McSally Both Headed
to Washington as Senators

By Jim Ellis

L-R — Arizona Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) and Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Dec. 20, 2018 — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) defeated Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) for the open Arizona seat by 55,900 votes in November, but ironically now both are headed to Washington as new members of the US Senate.

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced that he is appointing Rep. McSally to fill the Senate vacancy after interim Sen. Jon Kyl (R) resigns on Dec. 31. McSally will then serve the next two years of the current term and looks to stand for a special election that will run concurrently with the regular 2020 election cycle. Whoever wins that election will then have the opportunity of running for a full six-year term in 2022 as the elected incumbent.

The late Sen. John McCain (R) won for the sixth time in 2016, meaning four full years remain before this seat next comes in-cycle.

The reaction to McSally’s appointment was predictably partisan. Republicans were generating positive comments mostly about her strong record of military service while Democrats responded that Arizona voters already rejected the Tucson House member, and saying they will beat her again in 2020.

While true that senator-elect Sinema did win the election just past, the battle was hard fought, and the victory spread ended close, 50-48 percent. McSally led through most of the counting and the final result was determined days after the last vote was cast. Therefore, suggesting that the state’s voters overwhelmingly rejected McSally is quite a stretch.

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Sen. Alexander to Retire

By Jim Ellis

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R)

Dec. 19, 2018 — Last week, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R) campaign released an internal survey that tested the three-term incumbent’s favorability ratings, which showed excellent results. Accompanying the release was the senator’s promise to announce his 2020 re-election decision before the end of the year.

He kept the announcement promise, but his decision, which he announced Monday, proved surprising. Spending the money to conduct a poll and releasing the strong results is usually a prelude to announcing for re-election, but not in this case; Sen. Alexander made public his decision to retire in 2020.

Tennessee voters will now elect another new senator for the second time in a two-year cycle. Sen. Bob Corker’s (R) retirement this year opened the door for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) to win the open 2018 campaign, but now potential Senate candidates will immediately get another chance.

Tennessee’s vote history suggests that the eventual Republican nominee will begin the 2020 general election cycle in the favorite’s position. This year, Democrats fielded arguably their best possible candidate, former two-term Gov. Phil Bredesen, who left office with very favorable ratings and a strong record. But, even after matching Blackburn in spending, the former governor fell 55-44 percent in the general election. The result will likely dampen Democratic prospects for 2020.

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Biden Up Twice

By Jim Ellis

Former vice president and ex-Delaware senator Joe Biden

Dec. 18, 2018 — A pair of Democratic presidential primary polls were just released — one with a national respondent universe, and the other for the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus. In both, former vice president and ex-Delaware senator Joe Biden is staked to a lead. The most disappointing performer appears to be Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who settles into middle-of-the-pack status in both surveys.

CNN conducted the national poll (conducted by the SSRS firm; Dec. 6-9; 463 Democrats and independent-leaning Democrats). For two reasons, this survey is of little statistical relevance. First, the national sample of only 463 individuals is very low, thus leading to a huge error factor. Second, as we know, the presidential nomination process is decided by winning delegate support in every state and territory, thus monitoring a candidate’s national standing, while being of media interest, actually provides little in the way of tangible political value.

The Des Moines Register/CNN Mediacom Iowa poll (conducted by Selzer & Company; Dec. 10-13; 455 likely Iowa Democratic Caucus attenders) is the more relevant of the two studies since it previews the Iowa Caucus, which is responsible for apportioning the state’s nominating delegates and tentatively scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020.

In the national poll, Biden places first with 30 percent preference followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) who posts 14 percent. These are the only two potential candidates in double figures.

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Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 17, 2018 — Friday, we covered the first part of the group of under-the-radar Senate races that could develop in 2020, but where current action is noteworthy.

The eight top-tier competitive states of Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones), Arizona (special election), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis) will be discussed repeatedly throughout the coming election cycle.

Yesterday’s column, however, looked at Kansas (Sen. Pat Roberts), Kentucky (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Minnesota (Sen. Tina Smith), Mississippi (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith), and Montana (Sen. Steve Daines). Today, we cover the latest news in Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

• OREGON: Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D) seat comes before the voters in 2020, but the two-term incumbent may have other plans. Sen. Merkley confirms that he is considering entering the presidential campaign and is in the process of attempting to convince legislators to change state law to allow him to simultaneously run for president and the US Senate.
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