Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Crystal Ball:
Points of Disagreement

By Jim Ellis

July 31, 2017 — University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato has released his latest “Crystal Ball” political ratings, but further arguments must come to the forefront about some of his individual race categorizations.

In the first part of his latest report, Sabato illustrates that the number of Democrats already running for Congress shatters the new candidate rate of previous off-election years. Currently, 209 Democrats have declared themselves as US House candidates at this point in the election cycle, obliterating the mean average of 42.6 derived from the period beginning in 2003 to the present. For Republicans, 28 non-incumbent candidates have currently declared, well below their non-election year average of 42.8 within the same post-2003 time frame.

But, so many Democratic candidates are declaring in the same districts, thus skewing the situation. For example, in the 14 seats where a GOP incumbent voted in favor of the healthcare legislation sitting in a district that Hillary Clinton carried, 57 Democratic candidates have already declared. In the seven competitive California Republican seats where national Democratic Party leaders pledge to heavily contest, 34 Dems have become candidates, though duplication does exist to some extent between the two aforementioned categories. In three more sites featuring presumed competitive 2018 campaigns: AZ-2 (Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson), FL-27 (open seat; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami), and VA-10 (Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean), an additional 23 candidates are competing within this trio of CDs.

Therefore, we find in these 16 unique, prime, targeted congressional seats, a total of 72 individuals who are active Democratic candidates. We also know today that 56 of these competitors will lose their primary because, of course, every district can only nominate one candidate per political party.

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House: The Latest Moves from East to West

By Jim Ellis

July 28, 2017 — News and speculation that affect a series of US House seats broke in rampant fashion over the past week.

One congressman tweeted his US Senate announcement, while another, the former’s potential opponent, released a poll to draw attention away from his new rival. A Nevada member may defy her home state political machine and jump into a Senate race, while across the country a different congressman may either run for governor or completely retire from elective politics. Lastly, a California House member may soon be forced to repel a challenge from a credible fellow Democratic candidate.

For the past several weeks it has been assumed that both Indiana Reps. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) and Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) would oppose each other for the Republican US Senate nomination. The winner, whether it be one of these two or another candidate, would earn the right to challenge vulnerable Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in the 2018 general election.

Earlier this week, Rep. Messer tweeted to supporters and reporters that he is in the Senate race, with his formal announcement scheduled for Aug. 12. Immediately, Rep. Rokita countered by releasing his GS Strategy Group poll (July 16-18; 500 likely Indiana Republican primary voters) that shows Rep. Messer trailing. According to the data, Rokita would maintain a 21-14 percent lead over Messer, with 11 percent going to candidates placed in the “others” category. If the race winnowed down to just the two congressmen, Rokita would lead, 28-20 percent.

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The California Challenge

By Jim Ellis

July 27, 2017 — In looking at the Democrats’ US House prospects for next year, it appears their road to a prospective majority must travel through the Golden State of California. In a delegation of 39 Democrats and just 14 Republicans, it is the few GOP seats here that will be drawing an inordinate amount of attention from national party strategists.

The Dems must heavily target California because, with few open seats and their party forced to protect about half the small number of toss-up races, they must find a way to expand the target base if they are to seriously compete. The California campaigns, particularly when referencing Hillary Clinton’s strong presidential performance, become a natural political playing ground. But, as we saw during the House special elections earlier this year, often times the presidential margin, particularly as it relates to President Trump both in a positive and negative sense, and how individuals vote at the congressional level may not always yield the results one might expect.

That being said, seven Golden State Republican incumbents will become major conversion targets next year and, based upon the just-released second quarter financial disclosure reports, these GOP members are more than ready.

The seven, in geographic order from north to south, are: Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock/Modesto), David Valadao (R-Bakersfield), Steve Knight (R-Palmdale/Simi Valley), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton; Orange County), Mimi Walters (R-Irvine; Orange County), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa; Orange County), and Darrell Issa (R-Vista; Orange and San Diego Counties).

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Strange vs. Brooks

By Jim Ellis

July 26, 2017 — Though nine Republicans are on the ballot for the Aug. 15 Alabama special Senate GOP primary, the ad war would suggest it’s a contest only between appointed Sen. Luther Strange and US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville).

Brooks is advertising heavily and going hard right, a reasonable strategy for an Alabama Republican primary, and his latest ad (above) features his role in helping the shooting victims during the June 14 morning congressional baseball practice at an Alexandria, Virginia park. After Brooks risked his life to help those who had been wounded, a reporter attempted to bring the gun control debate into focus. Brooks’ answer to his question is the ad’s focal point, as well as identifying the shooter as a “Bernie Sanders supporter.”

Sen. Strange, on the other hand, is exclusively targeting Rep. Brooks with hard-hitting negative ads, attacking him for not supporting President Trump during the 2016 national campaign. (See below)

Strange’s tactics tell us that the few published polls suggesting the senator and Rep. Brooks are fighting for the second run-off position are most likely accurate. It also supports the idea that Strange’s own internal polling numbers are giving him similar reports, or he wouldn’t be focusing on just one opponent.

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Arizona: Kirkpatrick In;
Hawaii: Gabbard Out

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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Dueling Congressmen

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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

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Fox Poll: A Mixed Bag

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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

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Senate: What the Money Says

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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More Drama in the Desert

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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The First Midterm: A Deeper Story

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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House Opens: No Dem Path

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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Alabama Battle Lines Drawn

By Jim Ellis

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

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

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

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One In, One Out

By Jim Ellis

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

West Virginia Senate

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

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

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

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Big Governor News

By Jim Ellis

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

New Mexico Governor; NM-2

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

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

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The Wild West

By Jim Ellis

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

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

CO-5

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

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

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