Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Graham Getting Close

(Former South Carolina state Democratic Party chairman, Jaime Harrison’s negative ad on opponent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R))

By Jim Ellis

March 27, 2020 — A new statewide South Carolina political survey finds Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) falling into a surprisingly close race with former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison. According to the Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies firm (March 3-11; 804 likely South Carolina general election voters), Sen. Graham’s lead over Harrison has dwindled to just 47-44 percent.

Several points about this survey. First, the Brilliant Corners operation is a relatively new firm, one that we are only seeing for the first time, and the entity doesn’t even have a reliability rating from the FiveThirtyEight statistical operation that evaluates all polling firms. Therefore, little exists with which to compare their work. Second, this poll is not in line with other published data and, third, the survey was already two weeks old before publishing.

The other two surveys released this year both give Sen. Graham double digit polling margins. East Carolina University went into the field in early February (Jan. 31-Feb. 2; 1,756 registered South Carolina voters) and projected the senator to be holding a 51-38 percent lead over Harrison. NBC News/Marist College followed a couple of weeks later (Feb. 18-21; 2,382 registered South Carolina voters) and found a similar ballot test result, 54-37 percent, in the senator’s favor.

On the other hand, the national Democrats believe this is a sleeper race for them, and based upon Harrison’s prolific fundraising, they might be right. At year’s end, Harrison had raised an impressive $7.6 million with no candidate investment. That amount cost a fair amount to raise, however, as he was left with $4.7 million in his account to begin the election year.

This is a far cry from the gross amount obtained, but is still more than enough to already run a credible campaign effort in a smaller state with inexpensive media markets. Accounting for likely outside spending and considerably more that Harrison will raise, the South Carolina Senate campaign could become an “A” level race in terms of competitive effort.

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Runoff Review – Part II

Map of US Congressional districts in Texas

By Jim Ellis

March 26, 2020 — With Gov. Greg Abbott (R) moving the Texas runoff election date, it has drastically changed the short-term Lone Star State political scene. At the end of last week, Abbott transferred the post-primary runoff election date from May 26 to July 14 in consideration of COVID-19 virus precautions.

Statewide, the US Senate Democratic primary is headed to a runoff election, as well as 15 different congressional campaigns.

In the Senate race, retired Army helicopter pilot M.J. Hegar, who held Rep. John Carter (R-Georgetown) to a 51-48 percent re-election victory in 2018, placed first in the Democratic primary with 22.4 percent of the vote, but a long way from the 50 percent plateau a candidate needs to claim a party nomination. She will face state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) who slipped into second place by just over a percentage point in the 12-candidate field. Sen. Royce scored 14.5 percent statewide.

The eventual nominee faces three-term Sen. John Cornyn (R), who easily secured re-nomination in his Republican primary (76 percent over four opponents). The longer runoff cycle should typically help the second place finisher, since the individual has more time to change the campaign’s flow. In this case, however, the Democratic nominee, who already starts as a severe underdog to Sen. Cornyn, would lose valuable general election time with the later runoff, thus making the task of overcoming the incumbent even more formidable.

Of the 15 House runoffs, nine are viable to some degree. The six that are not lie in districts that are safe for one party or the other. For example, it matters little which Democrat wins the 13th District runoff (Trump ’16: 79.9 percent), or who eventually becomes the victorious Republican in the 18th CD secondary vote (Clinton ’16: 76.5 percent).

Rep. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) north Texas seat is typically thought of as safely Republican, but his 54 percent win percentage in 2018 was considerably below the average GOP vote. Two attorneys, Sean McCaffity and Lulu Seikaly will now do battle until July 14 to see who faces Rep. Taylor in his first re-election bid. The two were virtually tied in the Democratic primary, 44.5 – 43.7 percent, with the slight edge going to McCaffity. Rep. Taylor will be the decided favorite in November.

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Runoff Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

March 25, 2020 — Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who moved the Texas run-off from May 26 to July 14 this past Friday night means that 16 federal contests – one Senate and 15 House races – will have a longer secondary campaign cycle. In Texas, if no candidate receives majority support in a partisan primary the top two finishers from the particular party advance to a runoff election.

Similar action has occurred in Alabama, where the Senate Republican runoff and secondary elections for both parties in open Congressional District 1 and for the GOP in open Congressional District 2 will now be held on July 14 instead of March 31.

In North Carolina, all federal nominations were decided in the March 3 primary except for the Republican race in Congressional District 11, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/ Buncombe County) western state open seat. The North Carolina runoff has been moved from May 12 to June 23.

Mississippi has an inconsequential runoff for the 2nd District Republican nomination in a district where Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton/Mississippi Delta) will be the prohibitive favorite in November. Yet, this election, too, has been postponed until June 23.

The schedule change could greatly affect the Alabama Senate race and may be just what former US attorney general and ex-senator Jeff Sessions needs to re-tool his campaign message and reverse his recent political fortunes. The primary yielded retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville placing ahead of Sessions, 33.4 – 31.6 percent. All post-primary polling gave Tuberville a discernible lead, but that trajectory could now change considering Sessions will soon have considerably more time to tell his political story. The July 14 winner faces Sen. Doug Jones (D) in November.

In the Mobile-anchored 1st District, both parties advanced to runoff elections. The eventual Republican nominee becomes a prohibitive favorite in the general election. Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former state senator Bill Hightower advanced to the runoff election and the winner of this runoff contest will become a heavy favorite in November. Carl placed first in the primary, nipping Hightower, 38.7 – 37.5 percent. Therefore, the runoff is anybody’s game.

For the Democrats, biologist Kiani Gardner and retired Marine Corps veteran James Averhart will battle for the party nomination. Gardner placed first with a 44.1 – 40.3 percent margin over Averhart. Almost twice as many people voted in the Republican primary within the 1st District race. The Democratic nominee will have little chance in the general election from this safely Republican seat.

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CA-25: Pondering Questions

By Jim Ellis

California Congressional District 25

March 24, 2020 — Political observers are asking many questions about the special election in California’s 25th Congressional District, the seat that former Rep. Katie Hill (D) resigned late last year, particularly after seeing a new ballot test poll enter the public domain.

In the special California primary held on March 3, a dozen candidates, six Democrats and six Republicans, battled one another either to secure majority support or one of two runoff positions for the May 12 runoff vote. Under California election law, if a candidate attracts majority support, the individual would be elected outright to serve the balance of the current term. If not, the top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to a runoff election. It is the latter scenario that occurred here.

In addition to the special election, a second vote was held on March 3 for the regular succeeding term. In this contest, 13 candidates were on the ballot, the 12 aforementioned contenders along with Independent Otis Lee Cooper.

Not surprisingly, the two individuals finishing first in the special election also qualified for the general election. They are: freshman state Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Newhall) and defense contractor and Iraq War veteran Mike Garcia (R). The election totals in the two contests are somewhat different, however.

The final totals are still not tabulated. According to the Secretary of State’s office, 313,739 ballots statewide remain uncounted with virtually no progress being made last week. In the 25th District, approximately 5,500 votes await counting in order to be added to the published totals. The final tabulation will not change the first- and second-place finisher status, however.

Interestingly, despite the special and regular vote being held at the same time and on the same ballot, almost 4,000 more people voted in the special election than in the regular primary. Percentage-wise, approximately 39 percent of the district’s registered voters cast a ballot in the special while 38 percent did so for the regular primary. Statewide, the turnout measured just under 45 percent of the registered voters for the regular primary that included a contested Super Tuesday presidential vote.

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Montana’s Competitive Races

By Jim Ellis

Montana

March 23, 2020 — Today, Montana has the reputation of being a Republican state, and GOP candidates have won more races here than their Democratic counterparts of late, but the latter party is far from moribund in Big Sky Country. As an at-large political domain with a sizable number of statewide offices, Democrats have had plenty of opportunities to win.

Montana holds its major statewide races in the presidential election year as opposed to the mid-term. In the state’s seven major statewide offices, Republicans currently enjoy a 5-2 edge, though Democrats hold the governorship and a US Senate office. In the 2012 election, however, the outcome was completely reversed as Democrats took five of the same seven positions.

With this background, a just-released research survey from Public Policy Polling (March 12-13; 903 registered Montana voters) tested a newly formed US Senate race between first-term Sen. Steve Daines (R) and Gov. Steve Bullock (D), along with the open at-large congressional contest. Both parties have contested primaries for the House, but state auditor and former US Senate nominee Matt Rosendale (R) and former state representative and 2018 congressional nominee Kathleen Williams (D) appear to be the favorites to win their respective party nominations.

The state is also hosting an open governor’s race, but the PPP poll did not test that campaign. The progressive left group End Citizens United sponsored the Public Policy Polling survey, and they sampled a universe that contained 37 percent self-identified Republicans, 32 percent Democrats, and 31 percent who describe themselves as Independents. It’s difficult to compare this sampling universe with the actual state electorate because Montana does not have party registration and the state features an open primary system.

That being said, the ballot test finds Sen. Daines and Gov. Bullock locked in a 47-47 percent tie, with an almost identical conclusion for a hypothetical pairing between Rosendale and Williams (45-45 percent).

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