Monthly Archives: May 2017

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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Dueling Polls

By Jim Ellis

May 10, 2017 — Two new Georgia special election polls are telling similar stories, but in very different ways. Both show a virtual tie between Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel and Democratic investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff, but the survey results produce different leaders and present mirror images of Independent preference.

GBA Strategies, a Democratic pollster surveying for the House Majority PAC — a group associated with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — recently went into the field (April 29-May 1; 400 likely GA-6 special election voters) and found Ossoff leading Handel, 50-48 percent. This conclusion is similar to what another Democratic firm, Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, produced in their previously reported April 23-26 poll (Ossoff 48 percent; Handel 47 percent).

This week, Landmark Communications, polling for Atlanta’s WSB-TV Channel 2 (May 3-4; 611 likely GA-6 special election voters), released a slightly different result but certainly fell within the same polling realm. They see Handel pulling ahead in a 49.1 – 46.5 percent spread.

Interestingly, the two more recent polls have possible flaws or biases – quirks that prove opposite one another – yet they both still arrive at basically the same final conclusion.

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The Healthcare Targets

By Jim Ellis

May 9, 2017 — Much is being made about the vulnerability of certain Republican representatives after the healthcare legislation passed the House last Thursday. From Democratic members heckling various Republicans on the floor in serenading them with the “hey, hey, hey, goodbye” song, to liberal commentators predicting their political deaths, most of the Republican members sitting in what are viewed to be the most vulnerable districts still held the party position.

The main focus is the group of 23 GOP members representing districts that Hillary Clinton carried last November. In those seats, 14 of the 23 voted in favor of the leadership’s healthcare bill. Most of the controversy surrounds the pre-existing condition provisions and changes that would be made to Medicaid funding.

But, how truly vulnerable are these particular 14 individuals? It is important to remember that Democrats would have to retain all 194 of their current seats, and then convert another 24 Republican districts in order to gain a mere one-seat House majority in the 2018 election. Therefore, even if they were to convert all 14 of the seats currently in the political spotlight, the task would barely be half completed.

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Flake Dodges Political Bullet

By Jim Ellis

May 8, 2017 — Arizona US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) announced at the end of last week in a Phoenix radio interview her intention to seek re-election next year, meaning she will not become a US Senate candidate.

Most observers believed she would be the strongest Democrat to oppose first-term Sen. Jeff Flake (R), and her robust first-quarter fundraising activity seemed to suggest she had something in mind beyond simply securing what was once a politically marginal district.

In the quarter, Rep. Sinema raised just short of $678,000, and holds a whopping $2.8 million cash-on-hand. This latter number is one million dollars more than even Sen. Flake’s reported total. The senator was more aggressive in the first quarter, however, raising $1.3 million in 2017’s opening months, but began with less in his campaign account.

Sinema backing away from a Senate challenge doesn’t mean Sen. Flake is home free, however. His intra-party battle scars from a national feud with then-candidate and later Republican nominee Donald Trump have not fully healed, so the senator harbors some GOP primary vulnerability at the very least. And, a wounded incumbent moving into the general election from a state with the capability of electing someone from the other party is not a scenario the national Republican Party leadership wants to see.

Currently, the senator’s announced primary opposition — former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who held veteran Sen. John McCain to a 51.2 – 39.9 percent Republican primary win in 2016 — has little in the way of assets with which to oppose Flake. According to her 1st quarter financial disclosure report, Ward raised $168,369 and has just under $104,000 in her campaign account.

Dr. Randall Friese (above) could prove to be a formidable opponent should he decide to run against  first-term Sen. Jeff Flake (R).

Dr. Randall Friese (above) could prove to be a formidable opponent should he decide to run against first-term Sen. Jeff Flake (R).

Ward is not Sen. Flake’s chief potential Republican threat, however. Waiting in the wings is state Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who has not yet entered the Senate race, but already has announced that he will not seek re-election to his current position. DeWit was President Trump’s Arizona campaign chairman, which could make this race all the more interesting if he were to become a Senate candidate.

Still, Sen. Flake’s electoral obstacles would not be in his rear-view mirror even if he only faces Ward in the primary and easily defeats her. With Rep. Sinema now out of the Senate race, a name moving up the Democratic potential candidate chart is state representative and doctor Randall Friese (D-Tucson), the surgeon who operated on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson) and saved her life from what easily could have been a mortal gunshot wound.

Several years after the Giffords surgery, Dr. Friese (left) decided to enter politics and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014, and then re-elected last November. He is now the body’s assistant minority leader. In addition to being an active trauma surgeon, the doctor is a professor of surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

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A New Senate Contender
In Pennsylvania?

By Jim Ellis

May 5, 2017 — There is renewed interest from Republicans in challenging Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr., but the Senate campaign is still slow to materialize. Fresh from President Trump’s and Sen. Pat Toomey’s simultaneous but highly different wins in 2016, the GOP now has recent political victory paths from which to chart a new Senate campaign against the two-term Democratic incumbent.

This week, a new potential candidate may be coming onto the scene but, if so, he will have to quickly jump-start his campaign apparatus. Four-term Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton/Luzerne County) confirms that he is considering entering the Senate race, but his campaign treasury is a long way from being ready for a statewide campaign.

In many ways, President Trump and Sen. Toomey ran strategically opposite campaigns, yet both were able to win close Keystone State elections. The Trump strategy was to increase turnout, meaning the Republican vote in the outer suburbs and the rural areas, in order to counter the substantial Democratic margins coming from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metro areas.

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SC Run-off and Outright Win

By Jim Ellis

May 4, 2017
— Voters went to the polls in South Carolina Tuesday to begin the nomination process in the special election to replace Office of Management & Budget director Mick Mulvaney. The results were as predicted.

For the Republicans, the two leading candidates going into the partisan primary, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman, virtually tied in the final result. Pope finished first with only a 112-vote margin, scoring 30.5 percent in a field of seven Republican candidates. Norman’s percentage was 30.2.

The 5th District contains all or part of 11 north-central South Carolina counties. Both Pope and Norman hail from York County, the district’s largest population entity. There, Pope outdistanced Norman by 137 votes. That means the difference between the two was just 25 votes in the remaining 10 counties.

Turnout was 38,903 in the Republican primary with the Democrats adding an additional 18,573 who voted in their nomination contest. The total participation factor of 57,476 represented only 12.5 percent of the district’s registered voters. This number pales in comparison to the GA-6 turnout that exceeded 192,000, as we saw on April 18, but was much stronger than the Los Angeles special earlier last month that drew just under 29,000 voters.

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South Carolina Special

By Jim Ellis

May 3, 2017 — Voters in north-central South Carolina’s 5th District cast ballots yesterday in partisan primaries as the people voted to choose a replacement for ex-Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill), now director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Unlike the four previous special elections in California, Kansas, Montana, and Georgia, the Palmetto State neither holds a jungle primary nor a nominating convention. Just as in the regular election cycle, candidates first run in partisan primaries. If no one secures a majority in the first vote, partisan run-offs occur in a short two-week time frame under South Carolina election law. The eventual nominees then advance to the general election.

In a district that voted 57-39 percent for President Trump, and elected Rep. Mulvaney four times by an average of 57.6 percent of the vote, including his initial percentage when defeating veteran incumbent Rep. John Spratt (D) in 2010, the Republicans were heavy favorites to hold the seat in the current special election process.

Seven Republicans are on the ballot, and most observers agree that former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman and state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope were the two leading candidates. With five others on the ballot, it appeared unlikely that either Norman or Pope would command a majority of the primary vote, hence a May 16 GOP run-off was viewed as the likely outcome of yesterday’s voting.

Norman had the most in the way of funding, securing almost $600,000 according to the pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing report through the period ending April 12. Half of that amount was from a candidate loan, however. State Rep. Pope, who was planning to run for governor had not Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) become the incumbent state chief executive when Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations, had only banked $226,002 during the same period, which was a surprisingly low amount.

Both of these candidates have cut television ads, but more airings have been through the digital medium rather than the airwaves. (See below samples)

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