Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Virginia Starting to Sway

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 19, 2017 — It has been presumed for the past week that Republican Ed Gillespie is gaining momentum in his quest to become governor of Virginia. The emphasis on attacking Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) with a series of ads (see video above) casting him as being weak on crime and illegal immigration was thought to be paying political dividends. Now we have some independent data verifying that the race is significantly tightening.

Three new polls came into the public domain yesterday, with one actually showing Gillespie forging into a slight lead, another finding him closing the gap, and a third from an entity with a history of inaccurate polling results that makes us want to discard their latest data.

New Jersey’s Monmouth University (Oct. 12-16; 408 likely Virginia voters) now finds Gillespie taking a one-point lead over Northam, 48-47 percent. The analysis segments the state into geographic divisions and compares their previous poll to the current data. Though this is a small sample poll – likely too small for a state the size of Virginia – the geographic delineations appear believable.

As one knew would be inevitable, Monmouth projects that Democratic Northern Virginia is becoming stronger for Northam, while Gillespie is now racking up big margins in the western part of the state. According to the Monmouth analysis, the central part of the state continues to be a swing area. This, too, provides good news for Gillespie as he now leads there 47-44 percent after trailing in the September Monmouth poll, 49-48 percent.

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A Reversal in Tennessee?

By Jim Ellis

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)

Oct. 18, 2017 — Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) obviously is under intense pressure from Democrats to enter the newly open Senate race. When Sen. Bob Corker (R) announced his retirement last week, Bredesen quickly announced he would not become a candidate for the newly open seat. US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, and wealthy Democratic donor and businessman Bill Freeman all quickly followed suit. Now, however, the former two-term governor is not so quick to rule out a succeeding candidacy.

According to the Associated Press, Bredesen admits to be receiving calls encouraging him to run. “In the days ahead, I’m going to do some research, talk with people and carefully think this through,” the former governor stated in an interview with AP. “I’ll make a decision quickly,” he was quoted as saying.

The Democrats are in a major bind regarding the 2018 Senate races because they have so few Republican targets to attack. Even though they only need a net swing of three seats to change the balance of power in the legislative body, they simply don’t have that many vulnerable Republican incumbents to oppose. At this time, it appears only Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are in seriously competitive re-election battles. Therefore, the party is forced to contend for an open seat in solidly Republican Tennessee even if their victory chances are poor.

Bredesen is the last Democrat elected as Tennessee’s governor. He won both in 2002 (50.6 percent over then-Rep. Van Hilleary, R) and 2006 (68.6 percent against then-state Sen. Jim Bryson, R), after serving eight years as mayor of Nashville. So far, the only announced credible Democratic candidate is attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler.

Though he would be the strongest candidate the Democrats could field, Bredesen would begin the 2018 cycle as a decided underdog despite his previous winning record.

There is likely additional movement coming on the Republican side this week, too. Former US Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) is traveling the state on a “listening tour”, but is expected to enter the race quickly, possibly even today. Fincher served three terms in the House but did not seek re-election last year because of a sibling’s illness that affected his family’s substantial agriculture enterprise.

Should Fincher become a candidate, he will face Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Andy Ogles, the former Tennessee director of Americans for Prosperity. The latter man had announced a primary challenge to Corker but remains in the race even after the senator indicated that he won’t seek a third term.

Though Fincher is no longer in the House, his campaign account maintains over $2.4 million, meaning he will have the resources to launch his Senate campaign. On the other hand, Rep. Blackburn raised $1.24 for the campaign to-date and has an impressive $3.2 million in her federal account.

California On, Maine Off

By Jim Ellis

California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

Oct. 17, 2017 — Last week we reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced her decision seek a fifth full term next year, and that state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) was considering launching a challenge against her from the ideological left.

Sen. de Leon made good on his threat. He will risk his state Senate seat, and legislative leadership position, to enter the US Senate campaign. This will be a prototypical example of the insurgent left attacking the Democratic establishment.

In his announcement address Sen. de Leon said that California “deserves a senator that will not just fully resist the Trump presidency, but also understands the issues that most Californians face every day: that’s fighting for Medicare for all. That’s fighting for our Dreamers. That’s fighting against climate change.” This tells us that he plans to echo many of the Bernie Sanders’ themes forged against Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

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The Latest Alabama Data

By Jim Ellis

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Oct. 16, 2017 — The Cygnal polling firm just released the latest survey for the special Alabama Senate race (Oct. 2-5; 497 likely Alabama special election voters), and it yields a spread between the two major political party nominees that is beyond the margin of polling error. But, these results come with a qualification: the last Cygnal poll for this race, before the Aug. 15 primary election and prior to the September run-off, badly missed the final outcome.

According to this small sample poll, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) leads ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D), 49-41 percent. Some of the more interesting segmentation includes a significant gender gap. Men prefer Moore 53-38 percent, while women give Jones a one-point edge, 46-45 percent. Jones also leads with voters 49 years of age and younger (a five percentage point advantage), but Judge Moore has a 12-point margin among those 50 and older. This latter spread is a more important advantage for Moore because the oldest age group has the highest propensity to vote in low participation elections.

This latest Cygnal poll is the first the organization has conducted in Alabama since before the special primary. They did not go into the field during the Sept. 26 run-off cycle.

In late July (20-21st), just under four weeks from the Aug. 15 primary, the firm released data that appears to badly miss the mark, but a closer analysis shows they correctly projected the strength of two of the top three candidates.

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Could Bannon Cost the GOP?

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 13 2017 — Several articles have surfaced this week speculating that former presidential advisor Steve Bannon wanting to find and support challengers to Republican Senate incumbents could cost the GOP its majority. It appears individuals making such a claim have forgotten how to count.

Keeping in mind that the Democrats must protect 25 of 33 in-cycle Senate seats, there are simply not enough legitimate targets available for the minority to change their status within the chamber, even though they need a net gain of only three seats. Yes, the Dems are forcing Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) into toss-up situations, but the remaining six GOP incumbents are some of the safest in the Senate. So, even if Bannon or other conservative insurgents recruit opposition to incumbents, the chances of the eventual Republican nominee losing the general election in these particular states are extremely low.

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The Missouri Move


By Jim Ellis

Oct. 12, 2017 — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) officially announced his long-awaited challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Tuesday this week. The move had been expected since even before he formed a senatorial exploratory committee at the beginning of August. Hawley then found himself encouraged to run for the Senate literally from the first few days after his election as the state’s AG in November.

Saying Sen. McCaskill has turned her back on many key Show Me State constituencies and industries, that she has been in Washington “forever”, and simply “doesn’t represent Missouri” anymore, Hawley declared his new US Senate candidacy via campaign video featuring he, his wife, and two young sons (above).

Already, a McCaskill-Hawley general election race is being viewed as the Republicans’ top conversion opportunity. Though Hawley must get past several lesser GOP primary candidates, including state Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific/Franklin County), he is the prohibitive favorite to become the party nominee next August.

The McCaskill Campaign and the national Democratic political apparatus has been readying a defense plan against a Hawley offensive for several months. In his campaign for attorney general, Hawley used ladders as props in his ads to symbolize politicians who win one office and then immediately turnaround and jump to another. Now, doing exactly what he campaigned against, we can expect a steady barrage of attacks over what McCaskill and the Democrats will claim is Hawley’s “hypocrisy.”

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Yes, She Will

By Jim Ellis

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

Oct. 11, 2017 — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced this week that she will seek a fifth full term next year despite, at 84 years of age, being the Senate’s oldest member. Curiously, her recent comments about President Trump and gun control have created some problems for the senator within the far left of her California Democratic Party. Thus, Feinstein’s decision to run again has engendered possible opposition from at least one prominent Democratic elected official.

Sen. Feinstein was first elected in 1992, when she defeated appointed Sen. John Seymour (R) after Gov. Pete Wilson (R) selected him to fill the Senate vacancy. Then-Sen. Wilson was elected governor in 1990, thus creating the vacancy. Two years later, Sen. Feinstein nipped then-Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) 47-45 percent in the 1994 general election, the last close California Senate race. She would go onto win easy re-elections in 2000, 2006, and 2012.

A few weeks ago, Sen. Feinstein made the public comment that Donald Trump actually “can be a good president,” which drew the ire of many of his ardent Golden State opponents including state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who seemingly has become the chief anti-Trump spokesman in California. After the Las Vegas shooting, Sen. Feinstein made the further statement that “no gun laws could have prevented the Las Vegas massacre.” Predictably, this comment was also met with derision from the far left, including Sen. de Leon.

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A Shocking Retirement

By Jim Ellis

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester)

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester)

Oct. 10, 2017 — Since Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) announced he would run for the US Senate in late August, and after an additional eight US House seats opened in the succeeding weeks, none were as surprising as the latest one announced on Friday.

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester), who represents the one seat that has defeated more incumbents than any other in the last decade including herself twice, announced that she will not seek re-election in 2018.

Her departure reasons were not part of the retirement statement but, for a woman who first came to Congress in 2006, was defeated in 2010, returned in 2012, and then lost again in 2014 before winning once more last November, her voluntary departure was certainly not predicted. Shea-Porter claimed another term in 2016, but with only 44 percent of the vote in part due to three Independent and minor party candidates taking more than 12.6 percent, but the number represented her lowest victory percentage.

Since the 2006 election, inclusive, the NH-1 electorate has consistently defeated its incumbent. In only 2008 was a US representative (Shea-Porter) here re-elected. The district encompasses New Hampshire’s eastern half, including the state’s largest city of Manchester, the Seacoast region, and the mountain area that hugs the Maine border. In the past six elections, the largest recorded win percentage was 54 percent (Republican Frank Guinta in 2010), while Shea-Porter never exceeded 51.7 percent.

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With Murphy Out in PA, Corker Out in TN, Who Will Fill the Vacancies?

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Tim Murphy  (R-Pittsburgh)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Oct. 9, 2017 — A new special US House election will soon be on tap, this time in southwestern Pennsylvania in PA-18. Beleaguered Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh) succumbed to the negative publicity leaking out about his extra-marital affairs, abortion hypocrisy, and internal relations with staff members to announce late last week that he will resign his congressional office effective Oct. 21. This, just a day after he made public his intention not to seek re-election but serve the balance of the current term.

Once the seat is vacant, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will call a special election to choose a replacement. Since the Nov. 7 municipal elections occur less than three full weeks after Rep. Murphy departs, that means holding a new special congressional contest concurrently with the regular off-year vote would be impossible. Therefore, it is probable a mid-December or post-January 1st election will be scheduled.

There will be no primary period. Under Pennsylvania law, the parties will meet in district conclaves and local delegates will select the respective nominees.

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Pennsylvania’s Importance

Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Map (click on image to enlarge to see detail)

Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Map (click on image to enlarge to see detail)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 6, 2017 — In every election, it seems one or two states become that cycle’s political focal point and we can already identify which places might serve in such a role for 2018. Along with California for House races, political fortunes in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania could well influence national Senate and House outcomes, while strongly contributing to the national redistricting outlook when the state’s competitive governor’s race is ultimately decided.

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) seeks re-election with improving favorability ratings and will be in a targeted 2018 campaign. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) is running for a third term and drawing considerable opposition, particularly from US Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton). US House competition is projected for as many as 11 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, some of which coming in primaries, and a live political gerrymandering lawsuit before the state court system could potentially radically change Pennsylvania’s redistricting maps prior to the next election. Therefore, we see a state teeming with political activity in each of its four corners.

Gov. Wolf came from nowhere in 2014 as a successful York business owner to capture the Democratic nomination, and then proved to become the only member of his party to unseat a Republican governor in what was otherwise a Republican wave election year. He will face his own highly competitive re-election battle next year, as the GOP must re-capture this statehouse to protect its congressional and state legislative gains as a new redistricting cycle will begin during this next governor’s term.

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Bannon: How Much a Factor?

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 5, 2017 — Several articles have appeared in the past few days contemplating former presidential advisor Steve Bannon’s perceived political strength, most specifically regarding his actions involving recruiting Republican primary challengers against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) loyalists.

While Bannon appears in good stead vis-à-vis financial backers — with the billionaire Mercer family serving as his monetary base — those running the McConnell-aligned outside political operation downplay just how strong the insurgents might be opposite 2018 Senate GOP incumbents standing for re-election.

Valid points resonate with both sides. Buoyed by Alabama former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s victory over appointed Sen. Luther Strange in last week’s special Republican run-off election, the Bannon forces, who heaped attack ads on the interim incumbent, were naturally taking a great deal of credit for the victory. And, without doubt, anyone thinking of challenging a sitting senator is greatly encouraged after seeing the Alabama outcome.

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First Alabama Poll

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 4, 2017 — The Opinion Savvy research firm went into the field to test the Alabama electorate immediately after last week’s special Republican run-off election, and found the winner of that special primary election, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, holding only a tenuous lead over his Democrat opponent, ex-US Attorney Doug Jones.

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) Left: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R)
Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

The survey results, which other pollsters will probably soon confirm, should lead to the Democratic leadership launching a major offensive campaign here with the long shot goal of stealing the Republican stronghold seat. They have the resources but are hamstrung in this cycle because few offensive Senate opportunities exist; hence, they must make a serious play for this seat that would not normally be in play.

The Opinion Savvy poll (Sept. 27-28; 590 registered Alabama voters; 514 “definite” Dec. 12 special general election voters; 76 “considering” whether they will vote) finds Judge Moore leading Jones, 50-45 percent. Among the definite voters, Moore’s margin expands slightly to 51-44 percent. Within the lesser-motivated voting group, the Republican’s edge slides to just one point, 46-45 percent.

As we saw during the Republican run-off, a huge split – with diametrically opposite totals – exists between self-described evangelicals and non-evangelicals. Considering that the Census Bureau classifies 49 percent of the entire state population as evangelical, and 55.6 percent of this polling universe, this demographic segment was obviously a crucial block in determining the outcome of the Republican run-off and will have an equally large say in the upcoming special general.

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Arizona Rep. Sinema Makes Her Move

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 3, 2017 — It has been apparent for some time that three-term Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) is preparing for a statewide race, and on Friday she officially made her intentions known. Rep. Sinema announced that she will run for Senate, challenging first-term Sen. Jeff Flake (R) or whomever the Republican nominee might be.

Former state senator and US Senate candidate Kelli Ward is Sen. Flake’s current Republican opponent and she leads him in the latest polls, but others could still enter if they continue to see Flake in a prone political position and Ward not perceived as a top-tier candidate. The Arizona partisan primary cycle is a long one. The vote is scheduled for Aug. 28, 2018, and with the filing deadline not until May 30 plenty of time remains for the final candidate field to gel.

It became obvious that Sinema was looking at either the Senate or governor’s race at the beginning of the year when her fundraising increased precipitously even though her Phoenix congressional district is now politically safe. Having more than $3 million in her campaign account by June 30 (the same amount as Sen. Flake, incidentally) became the strongest clue that she would run statewide despite her “announcement” during a Phoenix radio interview that she would seek re-election to the House.

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Tennessee in Overdrive

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 2, 2017 — Sen. Bob Corker’s (R) Tuesday retirement announcement has ignited a Tennessee political fire drill.

Several Republican current and former office holders immediately began assessing their own chances of winning the party primary with the hope of succeeding the outgoing senator. For the Democrats, the opposite is occurring as three of the party’s most viable potential candidates quickly declined to run.

For the past several months, Sen. Corker has toyed with the idea of retiring. He would openly contemplate in interviews that he was only assessing whether he should run for a third term and, for a time, appeared to be seriously considering the open governor’s race. He always made a point to say that he hadn’t fully decided to run again, though he always indicated he would likely do so. Early this week, just days after a more conservative candidate who looks to have substantial outside backing formally declared his primary challenge, Sen. Corker announced his ultimate decision to retire.

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The Primary Fallout

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 29, 2017 — Former Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s victory in Tuesday’s special Senate run-off election has created a media narrative suggesting that statewide GOP primary challenges will soon be sweeping the political scene, but such simply won’t happen.

While Judge Moore’s win may give legs to one adjacent budding Senate primary challenge, the number isn’t going expand due to the 2018 electoral set-up. That is, few Republicans, eight to be exact, are in-cycle for the coming election and the two most vulnerable situations already feature incumbents engaged with primary opponents.

Additionally, the Moore-Sen. Luther Strange contest had unique characteristics that made a primary victory over this particular incumbent more likely, if not probable. Strange, then Alabama’s attorney general, receiving the vacancy appointment in “swamp-like” fashion from a governor trying to avoid impeachment, and using the Senate appointment process to game the system so that he could later choose the person who would continue the legal investigation of himself, cast Strange in a negative light from his very first day in Washington.

Furthermore, the new senator attracted only 32 percent in his first election, meaning that two-thirds of his own party’s Aug. 15 primary voters turned away from him at their first opportunity, was a clear signal that Strange’s appointment was met with widespread dissatisfaction and that the former AG wouldn’t last long in his new job.

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