Monthly Archives: May 2017

UT-3: More Clarity?

By Jim Ellis

May 31, 2017 — The replacement process for soon-to-be ex-Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Alpine/ Sandy) southeastern Utah congressional seat has just become clearer in some ways, but not in others.

Candidate filing closed on Friday, and 15 Republicans, four Democrats, one Libertarian, and two Independents filed for the impending special election. But, most will not qualify for the Aug. 15 primary ballot. Those wanting to run as Independents still have until June 12 to file, so it will be several weeks before we know each of the eventual primary candidates’ identities.

The Utah political parties typically employ a nominating convention as the first step in choosing final contenders for the various partisan offices. When Gov. Gary Herbert (R) scheduled the current special election, he indicated that the parties continue to retain the option of holding a nominating convention. Republicans have decided to do so, scheduling their confab for the fast approaching June 17th date. Yet, even the convention delegates’ designating a presumed nominee does not necessarily negate holding a primary.

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Setting the Record Straight

By Jim Ellis

May 30, 2017 — More incorrect post-election analysis is coming to the forefront after last week’s Montana special congressional election.

After a similar Kansas special electoral contest in April yielded stories saying that a 7,600-vote Republican victory was an under-performance and reflected poorly upon a besieged President Donald Trump, similar analyses came immediately after Greg Gianforte’s 23,000-vote (22,990) win last Thursday over Democratic nominee Rob Quist.

In response to the media stories in April, we pointed out that the 52-46 percent Ron Estes victory in Kansas’ Wichita anchored district was only slightly behind previous open seat or challenger GOP victories – Todd Tiahrt first converting the seat in 1994 with 53 percent and Mike Pompeo winning the open district seven years ago with 59 percent – rather than a precursor to a coming Democratic wave election. In both the Kansas and Montana post-election analysis, the past Republican-Democrat performance was generally only defined as how the candidates performed in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, while failing to account for the particular region’s more complete voting history.

The New York Times ran a story last Friday, the day after the Montana election, that portrayed liberal Democratic base activists as being upset with the party chieftains who didn’t prioritize converting the at-large Big Sky Country campaign. Again, the 50-44 percent Republican victory was couched as Quist being in range for an upset if more outside support would have come from national Democratic party organizations and affiliated outside organizations. Citing President Trump’s 20-point victory in the state as basically the sole determining factor as Montana being a “solid Republican state”, the Gianforte victory pales in comparison.

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Gianforte KO’s Quist in Montana

By Jim Ellis

May 26, 2017 — Bozeman, Montana businessman and former gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte (R) shrugged off a 24-hour media pounding last evening. The congressional candidate, besieged with attacks over his election eve physical altercation with a Guardian-US publication reporter, rebounded to defeat country folk singer Rob Quist, 50-44 percent, in the state’s at-large special congressional election.

The victory margin translates into a 24,027-vote edge, from a voting universe of just under 375,000 people with one county still to report, who either came to the polls or mailed a pre-election day absentee ballot. The turnout is a special election record, and actually exceeds the number who voted in the state’s most recent mid-term (2014). The numbers are unusually high because the Montana at-large seat is the largest congressional district in the country, housing over one million residents.

The special congressional vote was made necessary when former at-large Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) was appointed US Interior Secretary. The major political parties nominated their candidates in convention, a process that produced Gianforte for the Republicans, which had been expected since he had run a close gubernatorial bid in November, and Quist for the Democrats.

In the end, the final result was not as close as several final pre-election media stories predicted. There were several pieces, even in conservative publications, that left the door wide open for a Quist upset finish, and the writers were already beginning to spin how this Montana election result would reflect poorly on President Trump.

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Gianforte Slams Reporter – Literally!

By Jim Ellis

May 25, 2017 — On the eve of today’s Montana special election, at-large Republican special election congressional nominee Greg Gianforte was involved in a physical altercation with a national news reporter, Ben Jacobs from the Guardian-US publication, a confrontation the correspondent described as being “body slammed.”

According to Gianforte campaign spokespeople, Jacobs pushed his way into an inner office area where a different interviewer was questioning the candidate. Shane Scanlon, speaking for the Republican nominee, said the Guardian correspondent entered the room and immediately started aggressively interrogating Gianforte about the newly released Congressional Budget Office report that scored the GOP healthcare legislation.

An audio of the conflict contains indistinguishable sounds, but ends with Jacobs claiming he had been thrown to the ground and his eyeglasses broken after Gianforte yells that he is “sick of this,” a reference to what he apparently believes is harassment from news reporters. Jacobs is then heard saying that he wanted to call the police. Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, opened an ongoing investigation but left the premises without arresting or charging Gianforte with any crime. The inquiry, however, is far from over.

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GA-6 Trending

By Jim Ellis

May 25, 2017 — A new Survey USA poll (May 16-20; 700 GA-6 adults, winnowed to 549 early and likely special election voters) finds Democrat Jon Ossoff leading former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) by the largest margin that any of the five post-primary publicly released surveys has yielded for either candidate: seven points, 51-44 percent. But, the sampling group does appear to skew Democratic.

As we know, the Georgia race has become the premier contest during this robust special election season and there is no question it will set a spending record as the most expensive US House campaign in history. Combining candidate and outside group spending, the expenditure totals will easily exceed a combined $35 million. To date, according to research that the Politico publication cited in a May 6 article, the most expensive US House contest was recorded in the 2012 Palm Beach area, Florida campaign (FL-18) between then-Rep. Allen West (R) and challenger Patrick Murphy (D), in which aggregate spending reached $29.6 million.

Democrats chose this race to make a clear stand because the once safe Republican district is showing clear signs of bending in their direction. This became clear in the presidential race when President Trump only secured a 1.5 percentage point victory margin here in a district that, heretofore, had returned big Republican spreads (Mitt Romney scored a 61-38 percent victory margin in 2012, for example).

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Montana Special:
The Healthcare Referendum

By Jim Ellis

May 24, 2017 — We’re going to see either a quick validation or clear rejection of the Democrats’ healthcare strategy later this week.

Montanans head to the polls on Thursday, an unusual day for an election, to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish), who left the House to become US Interior Secretary. Toward the end of this expensive campaign, Democratic candidate Rob Quist has been zeroing in on Republican nominee Greg Gianforte’s support of the recently House-passed healthcare legislation, most specifically its sections relating to pre-existing conditions.

Whether the race turns on this specific issue remains to be seen, but Quist and the Democratic strategists are crafting the end of their campaign to make this congressional special election a referendum on the GOP’s proposed changes to the nation’s healthcare law. (See ad below)

Because the provisions will allow the states to change the pre-existing condition coverage requirement, Quist is using his own “botched surgery” as an example of the risks people with some type of health problem could face. Quist doesn’t explain how his own surgical problem directly related to insurance -– he doesn’t indicate that he was, or would be, denied future coverage because of this procedure, for example -– but his point is to show how many people could easily fall into the category of having some pre-existing health problem that could preclude them from receiving future coverage.

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Utah’s Lightning Speed; Norman Wins

By Jim Ellis

May 23, 2017 — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) just scheduled the special election to replace resigning Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy), and the candidate filing deadline will occur even before the congressman leaves office.

Chaffetz announced last week that he will resign from the House effective June 30. It was thought there would be a battle over the UT-3 special election process because Utah election law sets no procedure parameters. The state has not hosted a special federal election since 1930.

Utah election law merely says that a special election will be scheduled in the event of a vacancy. Some in the legislature are indicating that they need to be called into special session to determine the procedure, i.e., primary schedule, whether a nominating convention will be held, etc.

But over the weekend, Gov. Herbert usurped such an idea and had Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) publicly announce the special election schedule.

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Conflicting Virginia Polls

By Jim Ellis

May 22, 2017 — Early in this election cycle we’ve already seen several special and odd-numbered year campaigns produce conflicting polling data, and at the end of last week, a new example came forth. Two new polls from the Virginia governor’s race, Democratic primary, produced opposite results and both can be questioned in terms of reliability.

Earlier in the week, the Virginia Education Association released a Public Policy Polling survey (May 9-10; 745 likely Virginia Democratic primary voters), which projects Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam leading former US Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville) by a substantial 45-35 percent margin.

Late last week, the Washington Post and the Schar School of George Mason University released their sponsored Abt Associates poll (May 9-14; 1,604 Virginia adults; 351 likely Democratic primary voters; 264 likely Republican primary voters) that produced a much different result. According to this polling sample, it is Perriello who actually holds a 40-38 percent preference lead among the most likely June 13 Democratic primary voters.

Not only do we see inconsistent conclusions from this pair of surveys, but also methodological questions arise. The Public Policy Polling survey has the stronger sampling group particulars, but may have bias problems. PPP features a robust sample of 745 Democratic primary voter respondents but the poll was conducted for an organization that is outwardly supporting Northam, and the 10-point advantage for their candidate is beyond any previously released independent figures.

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An Alabama Surprise

By Jim Ellis

May 19, 2017 — Filing closed yesterday for the Alabama special Senate election, and events didn’t unfold as expected. Instead of having more candidates opposing appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the special Republican primary, we actually see fewer.

Three individuals expected to file formal candidate declaration statements, including an announced candidate and one who had filed an exploratory committee — and both of those were viewed as active candidates until yesterday — chose not to run.

State Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) was an Alabama politico thought to be a sure US Senate candidate. About 10 days ago he said a decision had been reached about the statewide special election, but wouldn’t be announced until later. As filing closed, Sen. Marsh chose to remain on the political sidelines. He still expresses interest in the governor’s race, but says he would “probably” support Gov. Kay Ivey (R) if she decides to run.

State Rep. Ed Henry (R-Decatur), who led the drive in the state House to impeach resigned Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and was one of the first individuals to announce his Senate candidacy, also decided not to formally file.

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Another Close One in SC-5;
Ohio Senate Decision

By Jim Ellis

May 18, 2017 — Tuesday’s special Republican SC-5 run-off election ended in almost as close a fashion as did the primary two weeks ago. Former South Carolina state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman has scored an apparent 203-vote victory over state House President Pro Tempore Tommy Pope. In the original May 2 vote, Pope nipped Norman by 135 cast ballots. Since no one was close to the majority mark, the secondary run-off election was thus necessitated.

The totals are unofficial, so a recount will likely be ordered, and it is not clear whether any absentee, provisional, or disputed ballots remain uncounted. Assuming the Norman margin holds, he will face Democrat Archie Parnell, a former Wall Street executive and congressional aide, in the special general vote scheduled for June 20. The winner of that election serves the balance of the current congressional term. The seat is vacant because former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) resigned to become director of President Trump’s Office of Management & Budget.

In the primary, the two candidates not only spilt the district, but they virtually halved their joint home county of York, the dominant population center. Such was not the case Tuesday, as Pope carried the entity, where 54 percent of the entire district’s ballots were cast, by a 1,414-vote margin, substantially better than his 187 ballot spread in the primary.

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Alabama Senate

By Jim Ellis

May 17, 2017
— Candidate filing closes today for the special US Senate election, as the Republican field grew in stature. US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) entered the race, the first House member to do so even though none have to risk their current position to join this particular statewide contest.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville)

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville)

All the action is on the Republican side for the Aug. 15 special primary. Appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) will face Rep. Brooks, former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, state Rep. Ed Henry (R-Decatur), former state Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery), and ex-Alabama Christian Coalition president Randy Brinson. State Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is also expected to announce his candidacy.

The lone major Democrat is former US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, which includes the major population centers of Birmingham and Huntsville, Doug Jones who announced his candidacy last week. He will likely advance to the Dec. 12 special general election without going through a run-off.

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Arizona Politics in Flux

By Jim Ellis

May 16, 2017 — The Grand Canyon State is looking to be a focal point for the 2018 election cycle. Sen. Jeff Flake (R) stands for re-election amid poor approval numbers within his own Republican Party vote base, while an interesting movement is occurring in what promises to be a competitive re-election effort for 2nd District sophomore Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-Tucson).

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

The Democrats have a fundamental non-correctable problem facing them in the 2018 US Senate cycle. That is, they must defend 25 of the 33 in-cycle seats with arguably only two conversion targets. In Nevada, which should be their top opportunity, Republican Sen. Dean Heller has yet to even draw a serious opponent, though it is still early. Therefore, the impending Arizona contest, highlighted by the public feud between Sen. Flake and then-candidate Donald Trump, becomes a more viable Democratic target than one would normally surmise based solely upon Arizona voting history.

The Senate race has already drawn early cycle attention, generally involving potential statewide candidate Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), the 9th District congresswoman. Seeing her raise almost $700,000 in the first quarter and holding $2.8 million in her campaign account was commonly interpreted as amassing funds for a statewide campaign.

Within the past 10 days, while being interviewed on a Phoenix radio show, Rep. Sinema indicated that she is running for re-election, seemingly removing herself from a Senate race. A day later her spokesperson claimed that nothing had changed and Sinema could well run statewide.

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South Carolina Run-off Numbers

By Jim Ellis

May 15, 2017 — Northern South Carolina Republican voters will go to the polls Tuesday to choose a special election nominee in the vacant 5th Congressional District run-off election. The June 20 special general winner will replace former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster) who resigned from Congress to become Director of the Office of Management & Budget.

We remember the results from the special primary vote held 10 days ago that almost ended in a tie. Seven Republicans originally entered the GOP contest, and it quickly became clear that a two-week run-off period would be necessary to determine a final nominee. Few expected, however, that the original vote would come close to deadlocking.

State House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope (above) arguably began as the favorite for the nomination. Ironically, it is likely that he wouldn’t have even been a congressional candidate had not incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley (R) been appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations. The move allowed Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) to ascend to the state’s top job where he can now run for a full term unencumbered by the term limit that would have ended Gov. Haley’s tenure. In an open seat situation, Pope intended to run for governor.

The second major candidate, state representative and former congressional nominee Ralph Norman (below) quickly jump-started his political effort by resigning from the legislature to go “all-in” for the congressional race. His campaign aggressiveness paid off as he drew virtually even with Pope in the primary vote.

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Key Announcements

By Jim Ellis

May 12, 2017 — It’s been a busy political week even beyond the happenings at the presidential level, and the recent political news will affect the federal political apparatus long after the 2018 election cycle concludes.

Several current campaign announcements in governors races are setting the stage for critical 2021 redistricting battles. These races could well decide which political party will have the easier path toward controlling the US House for what could be the entire decade of the 2020s. The governors elected in the present election cycle will carry redistricting veto power; hence, the 2021 re-draw process is actually beginning right now.

In key states that are projected to gain and lose congressional districts, major gubernatorial campaign announcements were just made that will soon become focal points of the next redistricting process.

In Michigan, a state expected to again lose a congressional district and where Republicans own a 9-5 federal delegation margin within, Rep. Dan Kildee’s (D-Flushing/Flint) has rather surprisingly decided not to run for governor even when he appeared to be his party’s top statewide candidate. His remaining in the House will likely ignite a wide-open 2018 Democratic primary.

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Opposing Manchin

By Jim Ellis

May 11, 2017 — Though West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) purports to be in strong political position for his impending 2018 re-election campaign, he is beginning to draw a cluster of Republican opponents.

At the beginning of the week, two-term US Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) declared his intention to run for the Senate and launched his effort with a video announcement that takes Sen. Manchin to task (see video above).

Next week, Rep. David McKinley (R-Wheeling) said he will announce his intentions with regard to the Senate race, though up until a few days ago he had not even been mentioned as a potential candidate. The congressman is still not expected to enter the race, however. On the other hand, it is a virtual certainty that two-term GOP Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will soon make official his budding US Senate candidacy.

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