Category Archives: Senate

Senate: Early Handicapping

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 17, 2019 — The 2020 Senate election cycle features 34 races instead of 33 because of the Arizona special, and this time it is the Republicans who must defend the preponderance of seats. In 2018, Democrats held 26 of the 35 seats up for election; in this cycle, Republicans must protect 22 of the 34 Senate positions.

Republicans are first risking two open seats, those of Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. At this point, both should remain in the GOP column. They also face a slew of competitive races in as many as eight incumbent states. Democrats, on the other hand, must defend in one highly competitive campaign, that of Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, and a potentially viable contest in Minnesota.

But the most vulnerable Republican races will attract serious political attention. Appointed Sen. Martha McSally (AZ), Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), and North Carolina first term incumbent Thom Tillis are facing difficult election or re-election campaigns, in addition to Sen. Jones.

Martha McSally lost the 2018 Arizona Senate race to new Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) by 55,900 votes of more than 2.384 million ballots cast, or a margin of 2.4 percentage points. This, however, in the same election where Republican Gov. Doug Ducey scored a strong 56-42 percent re-election victory.

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Senate Approvals

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 14, 2019 — The Morning Consult firm just released their quarterly ranking of Senate job approval scores. All 100 senators are surveyed, and the numbers cover the fourth quarter of 2018. Several categories are of interest.

First, a number of ratings are similar for both senators in a particular state. Vermont respondents were particularly pleased with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) and Patrick Leahy (D). The duo placed first and second nationally, with approval ratings of 64:28 percent and 62:23 percent favorable to unfavorable, respectively.

They were closely followed by Republican senators John Barrasso (R-WY; 62:26 percent) and John Thune (R-SD; 59:27 percent). The two senators’ state mates, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY; 56:27 percent) and Mike Rounds (R-SD; 56:29 percent), were also in the top 10.

Now-former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) recorded the worst rating in the body, with a 28:49 percent negative ratio. Two Senate leaders, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; 38:47 percent) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL; 36:39 percent) were also in the Bottom 10.

Since this is the fourth quarter 2018 report, the five senators who lost re-election along with those who won competitive races are included. Below are their favorability scores Continue reading

Kansas Sen. Roberts Announces
Retirement; Can Seat Stay With GOP?

By Jim Ellis

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R)

Jan. 8, 2018 — Veteran Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who will turn 84 years of age before the next election, announced last Friday that he will not seek re-election to a fifth term in 2020. He becomes the second Senate incumbent to announce his retirement effective 2021, following Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander (R) who made his decision public just before Christmas.

In 2014, Sen. Roberts faced a competitive election against Independent Greg Orman who appeared to coalesce the anti-Roberts vote when Democrat Chad Taylor withdrew from the race because the latter man knew that the senator was certain to win a three-way contest.

With early October polls finding Orman leading Sen. Roberts by as many as 10 percentage points, the veteran Kansas office holder pulled out all of the stops to rebound with a 53-43 percent win. The 2014 Republican wave helped Roberts sweep to victory, overcoming what proved to be largely inaccurate polling along the way.

Pat Roberts was originally elected to Congress in 1980, winning the western 1st District, a seat he would hold for eight terms before claiming an open Senate position in 1996. At the end of the current term he will conclude 40 years of congressional service.

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Sinema & McSally Both Headed
to Washington as Senators

By Jim Ellis

L-R — Arizona Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) and Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Dec. 20, 2018 — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) defeated Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) for the open Arizona seat by 55,900 votes in November, but ironically now both are headed to Washington as new members of the US Senate.

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced that he is appointing Rep. McSally to fill the Senate vacancy after interim Sen. Jon Kyl (R) resigns on Dec. 31. McSally will then serve the next two years of the current term and looks to stand for a special election that will run concurrently with the regular 2020 election cycle. Whoever wins that election will then have the opportunity of running for a full six-year term in 2022 as the elected incumbent.

The late Sen. John McCain (R) won for the sixth time in 2016, meaning four full years remain before this seat next comes in-cycle.

The reaction to McSally’s appointment was predictably partisan. Republicans were generating positive comments mostly about her strong record of military service while Democrats responded that Arizona voters already rejected the Tucson House member, and saying they will beat her again in 2020.

While true that senator-elect Sinema did win the election just past, the battle was hard fought, and the victory spread ended close, 50-48 percent. McSally led through most of the counting and the final result was determined days after the last vote was cast. Therefore, suggesting that the state’s voters overwhelmingly rejected McSally is quite a stretch.

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Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 17, 2018 — Friday, we covered the first part of the group of under-the-radar Senate races that could develop in 2020, but where current action is noteworthy.

The eight top-tier competitive states of Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones), Arizona (special election), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis) will be discussed repeatedly throughout the coming election cycle.

Yesterday’s column, however, looked at Kansas (Sen. Pat Roberts), Kentucky (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Minnesota (Sen. Tina Smith), Mississippi (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith), and Montana (Sen. Steve Daines). Today, we cover the latest news in Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

• OREGON: Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D) seat comes before the voters in 2020, but the two-term incumbent may have other plans. Sen. Merkley confirms that he is considering entering the presidential campaign and is in the process of attempting to convince legislators to change state law to allow him to simultaneously run for president and the US Senate.
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Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 14, 2018 — Looking ahead to the 2020 US Senate cycle, eight states are clearly in the first tier, but there is budding action occurring in a secondary set of places, also. Today, we look at the first group of prospects.

With Republicans having to defend 22 of the 34 in-cycle seats, six are at the top of their protect list: (in alphabetical order) Arizona special, Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis).

Democrats look to be defending two top targets: Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones) and New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen).

But developments are occurring, or could occur, in a series of other states, some of which could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

• KANSAS: Sen. Pat Roberts (R) faced strong competition six years ago, and whether or not he decides to seek a fifth term is unclear at this point. With Democrats just winning the governor’s campaign here, it is possible there could soon be renewed interest in challenging for what is traditionally a safe Republican seat.

• KENTUCKY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the ballot again in 2020. He won his last two competitive campaigns with 56 and 53 percent of the vote in 2014 and 2008, respectively. Potential candidates likely won’t come forward until the 2019 statewide campaigns, including the governor’s race, are completed.

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Senators’ Approvals vs. Votes

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 13, 2018 — Reviewing documentation from the 2018 US Senate races, it appears there is at least a tangential correlation between an incumbent senator’s pre-campaign approval rating and the vote percentage garnered on Election Day.

(Click on image to go to full story at Morning Consult.)

The Morning Consult public affairs firm routinely surveys senators and governors to produce approval indexes for every member. Their 3rd Quarter 2018 sampling was publicly released on Oct. 10, one month before the election and just at the beginning of prime time campaigning.

Looking at the 32 incumbent senators who were on the ballot in November, the mean average increase from the individual’s approval score to the final vote percentage is 9.6 points when using the Morning Consult favorability index as our constant and the median is nine points.

The senator dropping the furthest from approval to vote percentage, down five points, was Maine Sen. Angus King (I), but the number is a bit deceiving. King scored a 58 percent positive approval rating in mid-October, but only received 53 percent in the election. Because the senator is an Independent and the Democrats with whom he caucuses did file their own candidate, the next closest opponent scored 35 percent. Therefore, his political standing still proved strong.

On the other end of the spectrum, the senator who improved the most from an upside-down favorability index rating to the vote was New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D). While his October index was a poor 31:46 percent favorable to unfavorable, the worst by far among the 32 senators standing for re-election, he was successfully re-elected, 54-43 percent, over retired pharmaceutical company CEO Bob Hugin (R).

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The Senate (Presidential) Cash

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 11, 2018 — The Federal Election Commission just released the post-election campaign financial disclosure reports (through the period ending Nov. 26), and the information allows us to draw some interesting conclusions.

The most eye-opening dollar statistic comes from Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is reporting more than $3 million remaining in his campaign account after losing the closest statewide race in the country, a 9,763-vote loss (from over 8.19 million ballots cast) for the state’s governor’s seat, won by Rick Scott (R).

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has twice that amount ($6,781,146) in her campaign account, but it became evident weeks before the election that she was doomed to defeat. Therefore, and considering her state has the population for only one congressional district, it is not as surprising that she would have a major post-election cash balance.

Additionally, we also include the amount of campaign money held in the accounts of those senators who are looking to enter the presidential campaign, or at least publicly not ruling out consideration of such.

Immediately below are the financial statistics for the closest 2018 Senate campaigns. Remembering that the campaigns all have post-election expenses, it is prudent that some money be held back to pay bills that present themselves after the official election cycle ends. We will see that most of these campaigns have kept a reasonable amount of money, though several have kept more than an average amount.

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Hyde-Smith Wins in Mississippi

By Jim Ellis

Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R)

Nov. 28, 2018 — The 2018 election cycle ended in Mississippi last night as appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), overcoming several campaign gaffes and misstatements, defeated former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D), by a 54-46 percent margin from a robust turnout of what will exceed 880,000 voters.

In comparison, back on Nov. 6, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) was re-elected from a turnout of just over 936,000 individuals. Wicker’s vote total of 547,540 is roughly 73,000 tallies more than Hyde-Smith’s 474,471 unofficial total, but she outpaced Espy by more than 69,000 votes.

In what was predicted to be a relatively small special election turnout, the actual participation number, and a figure that will likely grow once remaining provisional and absentee ballots are fully counted, rather surprisingly exceeds 93 percent of the number participating in the general election just past.

Sen. Hyde-Smith carried 51 of the state’s 82 counties. Aside from the Columbus area in eastern Mississippi, Hyde-Smith swept most of the northern counties, ran very strong in the northeast counties, particularly in and around the city of Tupelo, as well as taking 14 counties from the southeastern group, including the six that directly border the Gulf of Mexico.

Espy virtually swept the western counties, those that largely comprise the 2nd Congressional District. This is the seat that he initially won in 1986, and which Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton) currently holds.

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Yet Another Election

By Jim Ellis

Appointed Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), left, and Democrat challenger Mike Espy

Nov. 27, 2018 — The 2018 election cycle’s final contest comes today in Mississippi. The special run-off campaign between appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D), will decide if the 116th Congress will feature a Senate that brandishes a 53-47 Republican majority or a lesser 52-48.

The run-off occurs because no candidate received an absolute majority in the Nov. 6 special jungle primary. The special election is necessary because Sen. Thad Cochran (R) resigned for health reasons in the middle of his final term in office, thus necessitating an appointed replacement and this confirming electoral vote for the winner to serve the balance of the term. Whether Sen. Hyde-Smith or Espy wins today, there will be another election in the regular 2020 cycle for the full six-year term.

In the first vote, Sen. Hyde-Smith placed first, but barely, with a 41.5 percent plurality compared to Espy’s 40.6 percent, a difference of 8,284 votes from more than 883,600 ballots cast. The third-place finisher, Tea Party activist state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville), captured the remaining 16.4 percent with Independent Tobey Bartee picking up the final 1.4 percent. Once the run-off began, Sen. McDaniel announced his support of Sen. Hyde-Smith, which should go a long way toward unifying her Republican base.

Controversy in this run-off campaign arose when Hyde-Smith made several unforced errors. Making statements about wanting to be present at a lynching, visiting a Confederate Museum where she donned a uniform, and now under attack for attending what was commonly referred to as a “segregation academy” for high school has put the appointed senator clearly on the defensive.

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Florida Ends; Others Called

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 20, 2018 — In a final result where the candidates were divided by less than two votes per precinct statewide, Gov. Rick Scott (R) defeated Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in the hotly contested Florida Senate race that proved a Herculean battle both before and after the election.

With the original vote falling within a half-percent margin, a mandatory machine recount commenced. Since it produced a separation of less than one-quarter percent between the two candidates, a mandatory hand recount began of the “under and “over votes”, i.e., those ballots where a voter either didn’t make their selection clear or appears to have marked more than one contender in the same contest.

Yesterday, when the afternoon hand count deadline produced a 10,033 vote margin for Gov. Scott, Sen. Nelson conceded the race and ended the seven lawsuits that had been filed by various parties contesting pools of votes and the post-election counting process.

The senator now completes a political career in which he served in elective office for 42 of the past 46 years as a state representative, US congressman, state insurance commissioner, and US senator. Counting his combined time in the House and Senate, Nelson will have served 30 years as a federal lawmaker when he leaves office in January.

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Florida Still Has Tight Satewide
Campaigns In Recount Mode

BROWARD COUNTY SAMPLE BALLOT – Click on this image to see the full-size ballot, or go to the jump page or scroll down to see it embedded in this post at a larger size.


By Jim Ellis

Nov. 19, 2018 — The state of Florida again has tight statewide campaigns in recount mode, reminiscent of the 2000 presidential campaign that saw George W. Bush winning the state by 537 votes that propelled him into the presidency. In that year, the recount and legal challenge process consumed 32 days.

In this election, the US Senate, governor, and agriculture commissioner races are all languishing with results that have yet to be finalized. Last Thursday, the 3 pm deadline for a statewide machine recount passed, and 66 of the state’s 67 counties successfully submitted new totals.

Palm Beach County was the lone electoral entity that was unable to complete the machine recount. Due to antiquated machines that broke down during the process, the county must redo all three statewide races and a state House contest that is fully contained within their jurisdiction.

There are more than 600,000 votes in the county, and all must be run again individually for each of the four races consecutively. Palm Beach is the only county in Florida using machines that cannot count multiple races simultaneously. Therefore, the recount will likely drag on here until late Sunday afternoon before new totals are released.

Here’s a snapshot of where things stand before that count comes through: After the machine counts, and including the Palm Beach original numbers that the county elections supervisor re-submitted because she had no updated information, Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads Sen. Bill Nelson (D) now by 12,603 votes, an increase of 47 votes after the machine recount in the 66 counties that successfully completed their verification process.

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Sinema Wins in Arizona; A Florida Update

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix)

Nov. 14, 2018 — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) was projected as the winner of the open Arizona Senate race Monday afternoon as the 460,000-plus post-election vote count continued laboriously forward.

With Sinema racking up a 130,000-plus vote margin from Maricopa and Pima counties, it was too much for Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) to overcome in the remainder of the state where the she had been able to build a 64,000-vote advantage.

Though McSally conceded this Senate seat, it is possible that she could still end up serving there soon. Appointed Sen. Jon Kyl (R) has said he planned to remain just through the end of this congressional year. Should he resign early next year, McSally — since she will be exiting the House at the end of the current term — would have to be considered a prime appointment prospect to serve until the next general election. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kyl on an interim basis when Sen. John McCain (R) passed away earlier in the year.

Should this happen, McSally, as the appointed incumbent, would be able to run again in 2020. Since Sen. McCain was re-elected in 2016, the seat must come before the voters in a 2020 special election with the winner serving the balance of the term. The 2020 victor would then be able to seek the full six-year term in 2022.

Should McSally be appointed, it could conceivably mean that she would run for the Senate in three consecutive election cycles. Just completing her unsuccessful 2018 campaign, and assuming she would run in the 2020 special election, the seat would again be contested in 2022, at which point she could finally run for the six-year term. But, all of this is pure speculation at this very early juncture.

The Sinema victory means the Democrats converted the two most vulnerable Republican seats: Arizona as well as Nevada, where Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) unseated GOP Sen. Dean Heller. Grabbing those two seats was absolutely necessary if the Dems were going to challenge for the majority. That didn’t play out, however, as the Democrats dropped at least three of their own seats (and possibly a fourth if Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) miniscule lead holds in Florida). That means the GOP will net gain at least one seat in the Senate and possibly two despite the loss of both key defense seats.

Turning to Florida, the three close statewide races: senator, governor, and agriculture commissioner, will all go to official recounts. Under Florida election law, election totals separated by less than one-half a percentage point are subject to an automatic recount. Republicans lead two of the three races, obviously all with very small margins.

Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lead over Sen. Bill Nelson (D) was 12,562 votes at the time the recount was ordered. This from a total vote more that 8.183 million ballots cast. Former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) sees a slightly larger lead over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D), some 33,684 votes. But, the closest of all is the ag commissioner campaign with Democrat Nikki Fried having a statewide edge over Republican Matt Caldwell of just 5,326 votes.

The 67 counties have until Thursday at 3 pm to complete their machine recount. Under Florida law, if the machine recounts drop any race below one-quarter of a percent between the two candidates, then a hand recount will begin.

The Broward County controversy will continue. Over 24,000 ballots did not record votes in the Senate race, which Democrats claim is either the result of a faulty ballot design or that marked ballots were not being properly read in the machines. I must point out that none of the other 66 counties in the state of Florida are reporting such a problem.

We can expect this process to drag on for a long period of time, and will undoubtedly see a multitude of lawsuits being filed from each side.

Election Day Recounts and Lawsuits

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 9, 2018 — Political overtime action is occurring in three states as very close elections for US Senate and governor still appear to be a long way from concluding.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lead over Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has dwindled to just over 15,000 votes as more and more mail ballots are counted. Now further controversy has arisen in Broward County, which is reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election that required 32 days and a US Supreme Court ruling to decide.

In this current instance, people are calling into question why there were 24,000-plus fewer votes cast in the US Senate race, which led the Florida ticket, than the other contests on the Broward County ballot. Democrats are suggesting the ballot design that placed the office on the lower left side is the a primary reason for the large drop-off and argue that the counting machines are not detecting marks made on individual ballots. Broward County election officials say they can only count what the machine reads.

Gov. Scott held a news availability last night to accuse the Democrats of attempting to “steal the election.” He is suing elections supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach County over their failure to meet certain legal deadlines in ballot counting and reporting and, in his capacity as governor, is ordering the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the situation.

The vote count change is also affecting the governor and commissioner of agriculture elections as well as the US Senate contest. All three have dropped within the half-percentage point margin that automatically triggers a recount. It is likely that all three contests will be recounted once a final vote is determined. Therefore, we can expect weeks of legal and administrative wrangling before these highly important elections are decided.

In Arizona, similar controversy is arising. With more than 450,000 ballots remaining to count in the US Senate race, local Republican county officers from Maricopa, Apache, Navajo, and Yuma counties are suing election officials in Maricopa, Pima, and Coconino counties over their process of “curing” absentee or mail ballots where the envelope signature appears different than what is on file. In such an instance, the election officials attempt to contact the individual to verify that he or she did cast the ballot.

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More Election Eve Updates

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 8, 2018 — According to a CBS News report quoting University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Election Project, more than 113 million people voted in the 2018 midterm election, the first time turnout exceed the 100 million mark.

With voter participation approaching a majority of the eligible voting population for the first time since 1966, we see a continued increase in voter participation. The 2018 midterm is among the three top off-year elections with the highest turnout rate in the past 118 years. This high voting trend has largely been in effect since the 2000 election, though the 2014 midterm proved an exception with very low turnout.

Carrying through from media projections of uncalled races, it appears the Democrats will see a net gain of 31 seats, not counting the California races that still have millions of votes to tabulate. An incumbent race featuring New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) appears to be flipping back and forth in final counting.

The Golden State features an election system where at least 75 percent of the people vote through the mail and they allow ballots to be postmarked on Election Day. Therefore, it will be a couple of full weeks before we know the final totals in what appears to be five congressional contests that are still undecided, all in current Republican seats. It is probable that the Democrats will win at least two of the five and possibly even all of them.

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