Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Yesterday’s Odd-Year Election Day

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (L) and Attorney General Andy Beshear

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 6, 2019 — The odd-year Election Day hit yesterday, with voters going to the polls in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Governors’ chairs were at stake in Kentucky and Mississippi, while state legislators were on the ballot in all of the aforementioned with the exception of Kentucky.

Bluegrass State Gov. Matt Bevin (R) ran for a second term after a tenure that has seen him dwell at the bottom of the 50-state approval polls for almost his entire time in office. Bevin was a surprise winner in 2015, defeating then-Attorney General Jack Conway (D) who was viewed as the favorite for the entire campaign. Similarly, Gov. Bevin again faced a Democratic Attorney General in this election, Andy Beshear, the son of the man who he replaced in Frankfort, former Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Polling suggested a close race. Polling was right. As of publish time, the election still was too close to call despite Beshear claiming victory. Bevin would not concede. Fewer than 5,000 votes separate the two candidates, the advantage going to Beshear at the moment.

Bevin lagged behind early in the general election cycle, but returned to parity. The polling pattern was similar in Bevin’s last contest, so he is obviously hoping for a repeat performance. In 2015, Bevin defeated AG Conway by a surprisingly large 52-44 percent spread, a margin that surprised pollsters.

Mississippi featured an interesting gubernatorial campaign between GOP Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who attempted to succeed term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant (R), and state Attorney General Jim Hood (D), serving his fourth consecutive term. This race, as in Kentucky, has been close in the polls with Reeves maintaining a small lead. And Reeves is ahead with 53 percent of the vote.

The Mississippi race included a budding controversy that could take shape after the election. Under state law, a gubernatorial candidate must not only win a popular vote majority at the statewide level, he or she must also carry a majority of the 122 state House districts. A federal judge appears ready to strike down the result if the state legislature is forced to decide because no candidate wins both a majority in the statewide vote and in the state House districts.

The entire Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate was on the ballot, and Democrats were confident that they would assume the majority in both houses. Before yesterday, Republicans held a 20-19 edge in the state Senate with one vacancy, and a three-seat margin in the House with one vacancy. The latter majority was literally decided by pulling lots from a hat when the final 2015 Delegate race ended in a tie. The Democrats took back both the House and Senate; it looks like the Democrats will win 21 seats in the state Senate, with the Republicans holding on to 19. In the House, the Democrats are ahead with 53 seats to the Republicans 43 seats with a few races still outstanding.

It was estimated that the redistricting decision since the last election, which mandated the re-drawing of several Delegate districts, would likely give the Democrats an extra boost.

New Jersey voters selected state Assembly members, however the state Senate won’t come before the electorate until 2021. Democrats maintain a huge 54-25 majority with one vacancy, and that could increase. Republican chances of winning a majority in the state Assembly were nil.

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With Beto Out … Will the Rest
of the Dominoes Start to Fall?

Beto O’Rourke | Facebook Photo

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 5, 2019 — Former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) ended his presidential campaign Friday, joining Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, US Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and US Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) as 2020 national contenders who are no longer in the race.

O’Rourke’s concession statement made reference to departing because he no longer possesses adequate resources with which to compete. Beginning as a top tier candidate with a strong financial base, his effort rapidly crumbled largely due to ill-advised comments, poor debate performance, and calling for assault weapon confiscation, which did not reinvigorate his campaign as he expected. O’Rourke had hoped to use the latter issue to begin cracking into the party’s far-left faction that Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) seemingly have cornered.

Democratic leaders had from the outset attempted to persuade O’Rourke to challenge Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) instead of running for president, but they were ignored. In his statement announcing the end of his national campaign, the former congressman addressed the speculation that he might return to Texas to challenge Cornyn, but again ruled out running for that office or any other in 2020.

How does the Democratic race change now that O’Rourke has departed? Largely, his move could be a precursor of many more exits to come. At this point, it is clear three candidates occupy the top tier and separation exists between them and the rest of the pack. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Warren and Sanders maintain the top three positions in virtually every poll, and it is reasonable to expect that one of them will eventually become the Democratic nominee.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has recently made a resurgence after lagging in single digits since the second nationally televised debate in July. Concentrating on fundraising and organization, Buttigieg’s efforts have proven worthwhile. Raising $19.1 million just in the third quarter, placing him behind only Sanders ($25.3 million raised in Quarter 3) and Warren ($24.6 million) during that period, the mid-size city mayor has brought in over $51.5 million since the onset of his presidential campaign.

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Sessions Looms Over Alabama Race

Former Senator and US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions (R)

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 4, 2019 — We’re getting close to the Nov. 8 candidate filing deadline in Alabama for the March 3 Super Tuesday state primary, and more speculation is brewing that former senator and US attorney general, Jeff Sessions (R), will decide to enter the crowded GOP primary field in order to re-claim his former position.

Reporting has indicated that Sessions, who originally won the Senate seat in the 1996 election, saw his re-election percentage substantially grow in all of his subsequent campaigns from 58.6 percent in 2002 to 63.4 percent in 2008 to 97.3 percent in 2014 when he didn’t even draw a Democratic opponent, is making calls to members of the Alabama House delegation and political leaders around the state to assess his chances. Sessions, of course, relinquished the Senate seat to accept President Trump’s appointment as US attorney general, and then his political trouble began.

To set the current stage, already in the race and running are US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), Secretary of State John Merrill, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County), and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore who blew the 2017 special election when it became public that he dated under-age girls while in his 30s. Judge Moore won the special election nomination when he defeated appointed incumbent Luther Strange in the GOP run-off, which led to Doug Jones becoming the first Democrat to win an Alabama Senate seat since Howell Heflin was re-elected to his third and final term in 1990.

The 2020 Yellowhammer State race, however, may well be the most important contest in the nation to decide the next Senate majority. If the Republicans regain what is normally a safe seat for them, their chamber total increases to 54, which means the Democrats would have to sweep the top vulnerable GOP incumbent defense races in Arizona (Sen. Martha McSally vs. Mark Kelly), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner vs. presumably former governor and ex-presidential candidate John Hickenlooper), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis, assuming he wins the GOP nomination, against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham), and win the presidency.

This scenario would bring the 2021 US Senate into a tie but give the Democrats the majority because the new vice president, who also becomes the Senate president, would be a Democrat with the power to break a tie vote.

Most believe the Republicans would be in the political driver’s seat to defeat Sen. Jones should anyone but Moore win the GOP nomination. Alabama will be one of President Trump’s strongest states (62.1 percent in 2016), and the GOP tide should be strong enough to carry the party’s Senate nominee to victory over a Democratic incumbent who has held the party line on most controversial issues and will more than likely support President Trump’s removal from office.

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Special Elections Update

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 1, 2019 — Four seats are now vacant in the House, each headed to a special election prior to the regular cycle calendar, and action is beginning to occur.

• CA-25: Rep. Katie Hill, Resigned — Gov. Gavin Newsom will call a special election to replace the scandal-tainted Rep. Hill (D-Agua Dulce/Palmdale), and it is highly likely that either the special primary, or (and probably more likely) the general will be set concurrently with the California presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 3.

Rep. Hill unseated then-Rep. Steve Knight (R) in 2018, and it appears the former congressman will become a candidate in the special election. It is unlikely that he will be the lone Republican, however. Lancaster City Councilwoman Angela Underwood-Jacobs (R) was already in the race planning to challenge Hill. It is likely that she will remain.

Former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopolous, who was a major target of the Russia investigation, is already an announced candidate. Defense contractor Mike Garcia is also a pre-resignation announced candidate and will likely remain. And, we will probably see others come forward as well.

Democrats were beginning to coalesce around freshman state Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Newhall/Santa Clarita) but now state Sen. Henry Stern (D-Calabasas) is beginning to sound like a candidate. The 25th is a politically marginal district, so this special election campaign promises to be highly competitive.

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Open Seat Round-up

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 31, 2019 — With six US House seats coming open in October, it’s a good time to re-set where the incumbent-less districts stand for the next election.

To review the half-dozen October happenings in this regard, in consecutive order Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced her retirement, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) passed away, Francis Rooney (R-FL) declared that he would not seek re-election, Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) decided not to make another congressional run in order to concentrate on her presidential campaign, Katie Hill (D-CA) resigned in scandal, and Greg Walden (R-OR) released his statement saying he will not seek a 12th term in office.

Within the aggregate group of 30 opens, we now see four vacancies. In addition to Rep. Cummings passing away and Hill resigning, two more seats are also headed to special elections because of resignations. Those lie in New York (Chris Collins-R) and Wisconsin (Sean Duffy-R).

Two of the four have election calendars. The MD-7 seat will see a primary on Feb. 4 with a general April 28. The WI-7 district will hold a primary on Feb. 18, and a special general on May 12. Govs. Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Gavin Newsom (CA) will soon set special voting calendars in their states. Gov. Cuomo, who let the 25th District sit vacant for almost a year in 2018 after Rep. Louise Slaughter passed away, chose to fill the seat concurrently with the regular election cycle. The governor has already said he would like to follow the same course this year, but the law won’t allow such a long vacancy.

At this point, the Wisconsin and New York seats should remain Republican, but the GOP has a spotty record in holding NY districts in special elections including this 27th District (then numbered 26), which went Democratic that last time it went to special election in 2011. The Maryland seat will remain Democratic.

Though the House opens now reach 30 seats, a relative few are seriously in play for the districts’ next election. Of the majority Democrats’ nine open seats, seven are considered safe and the next Democratic nominee is a lock to win in each circumstance. For the GOP, which currently holds 21 of the 30, a total of 13 will assuredly elect another Republican.

In terms of competitive seats, the Democrats only risk two. The Hill seat in California is marginal and certainly competitive in an open special election. Democrats have carried the district in two of the last three presidential elections, but Republicans have won three of the four congressional elections in the current configuration during the decade.

The other is IA-2, the seat from which Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa City) is retiring. The 2nd District is generally reliably Democratic, but President Trump carried it in 2016, 49-45 percent. Democrats are coalescing behind former state Senator and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Rita Hart as their candidate. It is here where former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling (R), hopes to make a serious run at an upset. First, however, he must clear the GOP primary and faces state Sen. Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-Ottumwa) who will be making her fourth run for the US House.

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