Filing Deadlines

By Jim Ellis

2018-elections-open-seats-185Feb. 16, 2018 — Seven states have already set their candidate slate for the coming primary election season. When March ends, more than half the country (28 states) will have followed suit. For the first time, a state will hold a Wednesday primary (Rhode Island, Sept. 12), and two will vote on a Thursday (Tennessee, Aug. 2; Delaware, Sept. 6).

Below is the full candidate filing deadline calendar:

CLOSED
1. Illinois – December 4; Primary: March 20
2. Texas – December 11; Primary: March 6; Run-off: May 22
3. West Virginia – January 27; Primary: May 8
4. Kentucky – January 30; Primary: May 22
5. Ohio – February 7; Primary: May 8
6. Indiana – February 9: Primary: May 8
7. Alabama – February 9; Primary: June 5; Run-off: July 17

FEB. 27
• Maryland – Primary: June 26

FEB. 28
• North Carolina – Primary: May 8; Run-off (if no candidate receives 40%): July 18

MARCH 1
• Nebraska – Primary: May 15
• Arkansas – Primary: May 22; Run-off: June 19
• Mississippi – Primary: June 5; Run-off: June 26

MARCH 6
• Oregon – Primary: May 15

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Senate News From
North Dakota & New Jersey

1200px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Senate.svgBy Jim Ellis

Feb. 15, 2018 — The North Dakota US Senate campaign is on the precipice of drastic change. Earlier in the week, at-large US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) indicated that he was reconsidering his decision to bypass challenging first-term Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

According to one of the contenders who just dropped out of the race, and who is a close confidant of Rep. Cramer, the congressman has made the decision to enter the Senate race. Former ND Republican Party chairman Gary Emineth told the media that he is ending his fledgling Senate campaign to make way for Rep. Cramer. He further said that the congressman will shortly announce his new plans.

The Republican Senate race had gotten off to a slow start. Rep. Cramer had been keeping the party leaders hanging for the better part of a year, and then announced he wouldn’t run. State Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) has been running for months, but it is obvious that national and state party officials don’t think he is a strong enough opponent for Sen. Heitkamp. That was one reason Emineth jumped in, but he quickly made a media gaffe, so his credibility was suffering even from the very beginning of his statewide effort.

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More Filings Close

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 14, 2018 — Two more states now have their official candidates for the 2018 election, bringing the national total to seven. Alabama and Indiana join the rank of early filing states that include Illinois, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio.

2018-elections-open-seatsAlabama sees a race for governor that includes new incumbent Kay Ivey (R), who ascended to the position when Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was forced to resign last year. Ivey was elected lieutenant governor in 2010. She will face a Republican primary on June 5 that includes Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, and state Sens. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) and Slade Blackwell (R-Birmingham), the latter man being a surprise filing. Two other minor candidates will also be on the ballot. If no one secures a majority in the primary, a secondary run-off election will be held July 17. Gov. Ivey is favored to win the nomination outright. The Democrats include former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

In the House races, Reps. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) and Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) drew competitive primary challengers. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) has a minor Republican opponent. Just one House member, Democrat Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), will run unopposed in both the primary and general election.

The surprise filing is former US Rep. Bobby Bright, who represented the Montgomery-anchored 2nd District for one term as a Democrat before Roby unseated him in 2010, switching parties to run as a Republican. State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) announced his campaign long ago, but has been slow to start. The former campaign manager for the Roy Moore for Senate campaign, Rich Hobson, is also in this race along with Army Iraq War veteran Tommy Amason. Democrats Audri Scott Williams, a former Community College dean, and Tabitha Isner, a business analyst, will compete for their party’s nomination. The GOP primary should be an interesting one, but the seat is a strong bet to remain Republican in the general election. Roby’s rather weak 49-41 percent re-election victory in 2016 questions her political strength, however.

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Retirement Mode Returns

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 13, 2018 — After a respite from House retirements for a little more than a week, yet another announcement came on Friday.

Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan (D), retiring. | Facebook

Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan (D), retiring. | Facebook

Veteran Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/ Duluth) made public a decision not to seek a fourth term from his rural northeastern swing CD, MN-8, becoming the 54th US representative not to stand for re-election and the 17th Democrat in this category.

Nolan’s retirement decision makes what was already a toss-up 2018 election campaign even more interesting. In the last two political contests, the congressman barely defeated Republican businessman Stewart Mills, 48-47 percent and 50.1 – 49.6 percent, respectively in 2014 and ’16, making MN-8 one of the most competitive districts in the country during that time span.

The presidential vote gives us a clue into the district’s transition. During the Obama years, the Democratic nominee/president, won here with 53-44 and 52-46 percent margins in 2008 (against John McCain) and 2012 (opposite Mitt Romney). But, in 2016, President Trump crushed Hillary Clinton with a 54-39 percent victory spread.

The Nolan retirement move marks the second time he is leaving the House after serving three consecutive terms. Originally elected back in 1974 from the 6th District, which was then and is today a more rural/suburban seat anchored in the northern Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the congressman chose not to seek re-election in 1980. He was out of elective politics for 32 years, until he returned to Congress in 2012 from the previously solid farm-labor Democratic district in Minnesota’s upper northeastern sector.

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Ohio Candidates File to Run

state-of-ohio-mapBy Jim Ellis

Feb. 12, 2018 — The candidate filing deadline in Ohio passed last week — the fifth state to set its political contenders for the coming midterm election.

All of the expected gubernatorial candidates filed, meaning we will see a crowded Democratic field of eight candidates, led by former attorney general and recently resigned federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray. The remaining field features former congressman, Cleveland mayor, state legislator, and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich; retired state Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill; state senator and former minority leader, Joe Schiavoni (D-Mahoning Valley); and Cincinnati ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich.

The Republicans are set for a gubernatorial one-on-one match between attorney general and former US senator, Mike DeWine, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. The general election is expected to feature a DeWine-Cordray battle, which will be a re-match of the 2010 attorney general’s campaign, a contest where DeWine unseated Cordray in a close campaign.

In the US Senate race, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) sees five Republicans battling for the right to challenge him in November. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) and investment banker Mike Gibbons are the two leading GOP candidates. Rep. Renacci is leaving his north-central congressional district to run for the Senate, switching to that race from the governor’s campaign after state Treasurer Josh Mandel decided not to run because of his wife’s newly diagnosed health condition. Since Mandel is ineligible to seek another term as treasurer, he will not be on the 2018 Ohio ballot.

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A Florida Polling Bonanza

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 9, 2018 — The 2018 Florida Senate race is on the cusp of becoming one of the top political campaigns in the country, but polling has been scarce … until yesterday.

Left: Sen. Bill Nelson (D) | Right: Gov. Rick Scott (R)

Left: Sen. Bill Nelson (D) | Right: Gov. Rick Scott (R)

Three different pollsters released data from their recent Florida electorate surveys, each testing the impending contest between Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R). Though the governor has not announced his candidacy, a loosely affiliated Super PAC has been spending heavily touting his accomplishments through various substantial statewide media buys. Since no other Republican candidate is even contemplating running, few doubt that the governor will make the race.

That being said, Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Florida, and Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy all released surveys this week. Though each arrived at different ballot test results, and all three have some methodological flaws, it is clear that the overall conclusion tells us that the Florida campaign is already in the toss-up realm.

The FAU poll (Feb. 1-4; 750 registered Florida voters; 375 on-line, 375 via automated telephone system) returns the most surprising result. According to their sampling universe, Gov. Scott has a 10-point, 44-34 percent lead over Sen. Nelson. This seems far-fetched, especially in comparison with the two succeeding polls taken during the same time frame. Additionally, the polling sample contains too many Independents, and is a bit low for both Democrats and Republicans. This makes the ballot test response even more curious and suspect.

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NJ-11: A Consensus Forming?

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 8, 2018 — House Appropriations Committee chairman and New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s (R-Morristown) surprise retirement announcement last week was initially met with cheers from the national Democratic establishment and local rank and file. As an open seat, they believed their conversion chances were growing even stronger. But, it appears that local Republican leaders are very quickly working to build support for a contender who may well become a consensus GOP candidate as soon as next week.

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen  (R-Morristown)

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown)

When Rep. Frelinghuysen decided not to seek a 13th term, state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) immediately indicated that he would become a congressional candidate. Almost as quickly, neighboring Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph) followed suit. But, Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Parsippany), who also represents the 26th Legislative District (as does Sen. Pennacchio), is now coming to the forefront as the man to beat in the GOP primary.

Upon Assemblyman Webber entering the race — who is a former New Jersey Republican Party chairman — Sen. Pennacchio quickly bowed out; Bucco also is sending signals that he, too, will soon exit. This leaves only attorney and first-time candidate Martin Hewitt remaining as an opponent for Webber.

Democrats were targeting Frelinghuysen, pointing to the fact that President Trump carried only the 11th District — originally drawn to be a decidedly Republican seat — by just a single percentage point, 49-48 percent. The district has been trending a bit more Democratic since it was first drawn. Compare the Trump numbers to both Mitt Romney and John McCain’s identical 52-47 percent showings. (The McCain numbers were re-configured into the territory comprising the current 11th CD, not the one existing in 2008. The previous seat was four points more Republican.)

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An Open Review – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 7, 2018 — Continuing our look at the 53 open seats, today we look at those in the Lean R & D categories. It is here where Democrats will have to score big if they are to claim the House majority.

2018-elections-open-seatsThe US Supreme Court declined to hear the Pennsylvania Republicans’ arguments earlier this week to move the live redistricting case to the federal level. To review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the current congressional map a political gerrymander, but without citing any election law statute violations. State Senate Republicans are refusing to provide the court with their requested data until the legislative bodies are informed about what is legally wrong with the current map.

In the meantime, the court has already appointed a special master from Stanford University to draw a new plan, and moved the congressional candidate filing deadline from March 6 to March 20. Additionally, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is already saying he will veto the legislature’s map, so all of these developments suggest that a new, Democrat-friendly map will likely be in place before the 2018 elections.

In our overview of the current House open seat configuration, two of the Pennsylvania seats are either in the Lean D category (PA-7; Rep. Pat Meehan-R) or Lean R (PA-15; Rep. Charlie Dent). With a new map likely to collapse most, if not all, of the four open Republican seats, it is likely that both of the aforementioned districts will find themselves in the Democratic column after the next election.

Currently, the Lean Democrat column consists only of Republican seats. In addition to PA-7, and probably adding at least PA-15 post-redistricting, retiring GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) are leaving seats that are also trending toward the Democratic side of the political ledger.

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An Open Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 6, 2018 — With so many House retirements coming into focus within the past several weeks, it is a good time to review the list of 53 districts heading into their next election without an incumbent on the ballot.

Of the 53, Republicans currently hold 37 seats versus just 16 for the Democrats. Here’s the breakdown of how things look regarding all 53 seats right now:

2018-elections-open-seats

  • Safe Republican (19)
  • Likely Republican (6)
  • Likely Democrat (6)
  • Safe Democrat (6)
  • Lean Republican (5)
  • Lean Democrat (3)
  • Toss-up (8)

This configuration could change drastically if the Pennsylvania map is re-drawn in a court-ordered redistricting. The state Supreme Court has declared the Keystone State map a political gerrymander and has ordered a new plan drawn by Feb. 15.

The state Senate President Pro Tempore is responding, however, that the legislature will not comply with the court order to turn over statistical data need to draw a new map because the state court did not cite the legal provisions violated in making the current plan a gerrymander. Additionally, the US Supreme Court is sending signals that it may try to involve itself even though this case is filed against the Pennsylvania Constitution and not its federal counterpart. We can count on major action coming here within the next several days.

Furthermore, the US Supreme Court is in the process of deciding the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case, which will also affect active lawsuits in Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia; in Pennsylvania, the political gerrymandering lawsuit realm is not directly part of this group because its case is filed within the state court system. But the Republicans have petitioned the federal high court to look at this case for other legal reasons.

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Two Major Pre-Announcements

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 5, 2018 — A pair of major Republican figures yesterday made public that likely candidate declarations will be forthcoming in mid-February.

Mitt Romney | Facebook

Mitt Romney | Facebook

In Utah, a spokesperson for former Republican presidential nominee and ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says the latter is scheduling a major announcement for Feb. 15. Though stopping short of saying that Romney will announce his candidacy for the seat that veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) is vacating, it would be virtually preposterous for someone to schedule an event in advance only to announce that he would not be running.

Several states to the east, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), while in mid-January declined to enter the state’s special US Senate election to oppose appointed incumbent Tina Smith (D), is calling together past supporters for a Feb. 12 meeting to access his chances of again running for governor. Since the Republican field appears weak at this point, Pawlenty entering the race would quickly make him the favorite for the party nomination, at the very least.

Once Romney enters the Senate race, he will be a virtual lock to win the election. A University of Utah poll conducted for the Salt Lake Tribune (Jan. 15-18; 803 registered Utah voters) found the former presidential candidate jumping out to a huge 64-19 percent lead over Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson (D), the major announced Democratic candidate. Romney was scoring 85 percent loyalty among Republicans, attracting 55 percent of Independents, and 18 percent of Democrats.

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Two More Head Out the House Door

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 2, 2018
— The cavalcade of US House retirements continued with two more well known veteran members, one from each party, making public their intention to retire from Congress.

Counting this latest pair, the number of representatives not seeking re-election has now risen to 53 (37 Republicans; 16 Democrats). Four of the open seats are currently vacant and in special elections, though the MI-13 contest (former Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit) will run concurrently with the regular cycle.

SC-4

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Spartanburg, SC) | Facebook

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Spartanburg, SC) | Facebook

Four-term GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Spartanburg) announced that he will also retire at the end of the current Congress. Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, had signaled his desire to return to South Carolina as early as the 2014 election but continued to remain and now will do so just through the final year of the current term. Prior to assuming the leadership of the government reform committee, Gowdy came to national notoriety as chairman of the special House investigatory committee on the Benghazi situation.

Rep. Gowdy’s 4th Congressional District largely encompasses the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area in the Palmetto State’s northwestern corner. As the Spartanburg County solicitor (known as district attorneys in most states), Gowdy ousted then-Rep. Bob Inglis in the 2010 Republican primary, and has easily been elected and re-elected ever since.

He was commonly viewed as a rising Republican star in the House but eschewed the opportunity to enter any internal leadership races. Gowdy says he will not be on the ballot for any office in 2018, and is planning to return to the South Carolina jurisprudence system.

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Democrat Primary Action

Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee)

Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee)

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 1, 2018 — A day after Florida former Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville) reported to prison to serve her sentence for public corruption, her successor, Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee), drew a major Democratic primary challenger.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown (D) announced Monday that he will enter the party primary in FL-5 against Rep. Lawson, the man who defeated Brown in the 2016 Democratic nomination contest after her legal trouble became public news but before her conviction.

The 5th District was newly configured in the state Supreme Court’s 2016 mid-decade redistricting map. Instead of stretching south from Jacksonville to Orlando to create a majority minority CD, the court map changed the draw to move west into a Jacksonville-Tallahassee split. The move forced then-Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) to retire after one term because her previous 2nd District had been divided into this new 5th District seat with Rep. Brown as the incumbent and an open Republican CD.

Lawson, a former state senate minority leader, is also a 28-year veteran of the Florida legislature. Taking advantage of Rep. Brown’s legal problems and that Tallahassee had been added to the district, Lawson racked up a 48-39 percent Democratic primary victory, and easily won the safely Democratic seat in November.

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No. 51

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 31, 2018 — The number of House open seats continues to grow. Veteran New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced Monday that he will not seek a 13th term later this year.

2018-open-house-seats-toss-upDespite averaging 65.3 percent of the vote during his 12 successful elections and even winning with a healthy 58-39 percent victory margin in 2016, Rep. Frelinghuysen was considered vulnerable for 2018. Democrats have recruited at least two candidates who are pulling in strong financial resources in order to stock a large campaign war chest for a presumed political battle in what is always a very expensive state.

The Dems say this district is changing because Hillary Clinton came within one percentage point of carrying it (49-38 percent) in the 2016 presidential campaign. Still, her performance here pales in comparison to a 55-41 percent Garden State win, and even though the district became close in the presidential contest, it has yet to fall to a Democratic candidate.

Yesterday, we covered the Ohio political situation as being potentially favorable to Republicans. Conversely, the northeastern tri-state region comprised of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey perhaps has even a better chance of adding a strong number of seats to the Democratic conference.

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Ohio’s Red Leap

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 30, 2018 — Thought of as one of the key swing states in American politics since the turn of the century, President Trump’s stronger than expected eight-point Buckeye State victory in the 2016 presidential race proved eye-opening. But, was his performance trend setting or an anomaly?

A new Fallon Group survey for the state’s 1984 Society group finds the upcoming open governor’s race is exceeding the Trump marker, at least in the early going. Such totals indicate that the presidential outcome could be signaling a more Republican-oriented direction beginning to form in the state, but a closer look may point to the Trump numbers as affirming a political trend rather than creating one.

Left - Mike Dewine (R) | Right - Richard Cordray (D)

Left – Mike Dewine (R) | Right – Richard Cordray (D)

According to the Fallon Group data (Jan. 16-19: 801 likely Ohio general election voters; 286 Ohio Republican likely primary voters, 248 Ohio likely Democratic primary voters), attorney general and former US senator, Mike DeWine (R), would lead recently resigned Federal Consumer Protection Bureau director and ex-Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray (D) by a whopping 48-29 percent margin. The polling demographics appear to correctly model the state, thus providing reliability support. In the polling sample, Anglo voters account for 77.4 percent of the respondents, as compared to 79.5 percent of the state population. African Americans are 14.2 percent of the polling universe, and 12.8 percent of the actual Ohio population. Hispanics register 2.2 percent of the respondent group, against a 3.7 percent state population figure. Therefore, the respondent universe is consistent with at least the overall Ohio population complexion. Additionally, the polling universe is comprised of 51.9 percent females, versus a 51.0 percent actual make-up.

The Republican leadership approval ratings are mixed. The respondents believe, by a margin of 54:25 percent, that Ohio is generally on the right track. Outgoing Gov. John Kasich’s (R) job performance is rated highly: a 57:29 percent favorability ratio. President Trump, on the other hand, is upside-down at 43:52 percent positive to negative.

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Meehan to Go

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 29, 2018 — The alleged sexual harassment situation involving four-term Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford) culminated with his retirement announcement, last week.

Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford)

Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford)

In a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and his local Republican Party chairman, Meehan wrote that he will not be a candidate for a fifth term in November. But, his personal situation may not be the only reason that voluntarily leaving Congress makes sense for him.

As we’ve discussed on several occasions, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s congressional map earlier this week on grounds that the empowered Republican political apparatus took partisanship too far in constructing the 2011 plan. The GOP will try to flip this case into federal jurisdiction — the US Supreme Court has never ruled a map invalid because of political gerrymandering, and are actively considering several such cases during the current term — but the party’s prospects of doing so are likely poor.

If the state high court’s ruling stands, the legislature and governor will be forced to present a new map to the Justices by Feb. 15 in order to keep pace with the current election calendar. The short deadline will likely avoid compelling the court to delay the state’s March 6 candidate filing deadline and May 15 primary election.

Now with a Democrat governor in office, and not the Republican that signed this map into law, it is highly probable that a veto will occur over the next GOP iteration. If so, then the court will appoint a special master to draw the new map.

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