Category Archives: Senate

Alabama Stats;
Minnesota’s New Senator

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 15, 2017 — Predictably, Democrats and media commentators are promoting the premise that Doug Jones’ victory in Tuesday’s Alabama special Senate election is another sign that a Democratic wave is building to transform the minority party into one that wins control of at least one congressional chamber next year. But the actual numbers do not provide evidence for such an analysis.

In actuality, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) may have succinctly and correctly described what happened in the Alabama election, which caused Republicans to lose one of their safest seats in the nation. During an interview with NBC News, Sen. Johnson simply said, “Alabamians didn’t want somebody who dated 14-year-old girls.”

Looking at the actual figures, there is more supporting data for the supposition that Jones’ win is more likely due to Republican defections from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, rather than a massive increase in Democratic turnout. While the Alabama special did feature a higher turnout than the last midterm election (2014), we also saw this phenomenon occur in two earlier special elections: the Montana at-large and GA-6 congressional contests. Republicans won both of those votes, proving that the GOP base was sufficiently energized in those two places to withstand increased Democratic turnout. But, Alabama doesn’t fit that same model either in the mode of Republican loyalty or an energized Democratic base.

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Jones!

Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones' campaign image.

Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones’ campaign image.


By Jim Ellis

Dec. 14, 2017 — With the final polling covering all possibilities — from Democrat Doug Jones leading by 10 points, to Republican Roy Moore ahead by nine, to a straight tie — Tuesday’s Alabama special Senate election carried a great deal of uncertainty as voters cast their ballots.

Republicans were badly split between those party leaders publicly repulsed by the allegations of sexual impropriety against Moore, to those who felt that holding the seat and preventing the Democrats from having any path to obtaining the Senate majority in 2018 was most important.

The split was enough to allow Democrat Jones, a former Birmingham region US Attorney, to slip past Judge Moore and secure what previously had been a safely Republican seat for the next three years. Jones will replace appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) who fell to Moore in the Republican run-off in late September.

The unofficial final totals give Jones 49.9 percent of the vote as compared to Moore’s 48.4 percent. Election Day’s final turnout figure showed 1,344,406 individuals having cast ballot, a total that will increase when all absentee and provisional ballots are finally added to the mix. In comparison, the last gubernatorial election (2014) drew 1,180,413. The 2016 presidential campaign saw 2,123,372 votes cast. Therefore, this special election, as did others earlier in the cycle (MT-AL; GA-6), actually produced a higher voter turnout than the state’s last regular midterm election.

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ALABAMA: All Across the Board

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)

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 13, 2017
— Yesterday morning, we reported about the four weekend closing polls in the Alabama Senate election race, three of which projected former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) as the race leader in the closing days. Then on Monday, a much different story emerged. Four more surveys were released, and the results were head-scratching to say the least. If you supported Moore, favored Democratic nominee Doug Jones, or were an observer who thought the race was too close to call, poll results were published that supported your position.

Yesterday, the voters of Alabama put an end to all the speculation. Embattled Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore succumbed to the many challenges he faced and lost the election to Democrat Doug Jones by a slim 49.9-48.4 percent margin.

Which polling entity got it right? Let’s take a look: Emerson College (Dec. 7-9; 600 likely Alabama special election voters), in line with most of the data from the previous day, publicized new totals showing Judge Moore with a 53-44 percent advantage. Monmouth University (Dec. 6-9; 546 likely Alabama special election voters), however, found the two candidates tied at 46 percent, and indicated that individualized turnout models could easily produce potentially substantial victories for each man. The brand new Change Research survey (Dec. 9-11; 1,543 likely Alabama voters) projected a 51-45 percent Moore lead, almost identical to the 51-44 percent spread in their poll released over the weekend.

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Alabama: The Last Polls

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 12, 2017 — The latest polls for today’s special Alabama Senate election were released over the weekend, and three of what are likely the final four surveys arrived at virtually the same conclusion.

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)

The Survey Monkey (Nov. 30-Dec. 7; 1,559 registered Alabama voters), Change Research (Dec. 5-7; 2,443 registered Alabama voters), Trafalgar Group (Nov. 6-7; 1,419 likely Alabama voters), and Gravis Marketing (Dec. 5-8; 1,254 likely Alabama voters) still see a close contest as the campaign surges to culmination.

CR, Trafalgar and Gravis all post embattled former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) to single-digit leads over ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D). The Change Research ballot test result favors Moore, 51-44 percent; Trafalgar: 51-46 percent; and Gravis: 49-45 percent. On the other hand, Survey Monkey finds Jones holding a 49-47 percent edge.

The Survey Monkey study found Jones’ slight advantage through weighting the responses both from demographic data and 2016 voter performance. Though they forecast a different leader than the other three, their methodology looks to be sound and all four automated polls featured strong sampling universes. Therefore, it is difficult to discount the SM result simply because the end result is slightly different.

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Franken & Franks Out; Bredesen In

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken | Facebook

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken | Facebook

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 11, 2017 — Continuing the spate of recent congressional resignations for sexual impropriety, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), as news reports predicted, announced late last week that he will resign his seat in several weeks.

The action means Gov. Mark Dayton (D) will now appoint a successor. Speculation suggests that he will name Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D), his former chief of staff, to the federal position and it is believed that she will serve as a caretaker. If all of this proves true, we will have another open Senate race in 2018. In any event, voters will choose the individual to serve the remainder of Franken’s term in the upcoming regular vote. This particular Class II seat will again come before voters for a full six-year term in 2020.

Some in the news media believed that Gov. Dayton would have made his appointment announcement by the end of last week, but the Minnesota chief executive did not do so, saying he would make a decision in the next few days. This could be because Franken did not resign immediately, or he has not fully committed to naming Lt. Gov. Smith.

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Franken to Resign Today?

UPDATE: Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) today on the floor of the US Senate announced that he would resign: “I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate,” he said.

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 7, 2017 — A day after US House Dean John Conyers (D-MI) resigned from Congress over sexual misconduct allegations, the resignation drumbeat for Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to follow suit may have risen to a successful crescendo. The embattled Democratic politician has now scheduled time this morning on the Senate floor to make an announcement.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken | Facebook

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken | Facebook

Speculation is rampant that he will make public his decision to resign because of growing sexual harassment accusations, but his spokespeople have stopped short of confirming that such will be the subject matter of his floor address.

The crushing blow to Franken’s political career may be seeing 30 Democratic senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), go on record calling for him to resign. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez has also called upon Franken to leave office.

Should he depart, the 2018 Senate election cycle will significantly change. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) will choose a replacement to serve until the next regular election, with voters then choosing an officeholder to complete the term. The Class II seat would then come in-cycle for a full term in the 2020 election.

Published Minnesota sources suggest that Gov. Dayton’s first choice would be to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D), his former chief of staff. Most believe she would serve in a caretaker role, thus opening the race in 2018. Smith chose not to run for governor even though the seat is open saying in March when she made public her retirement decision, “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.”

Should the involved players choose the caretaker course, we would see this open Senate race accompany an open governor’s position and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) seeking re-election all on the same ballot. The scenario of yielding a competitive governor and Senate race would add to the Minnesota political intrigue, since the state is likely to host as many as five contested US House campaigns among its eight congressional districts.

The Franken situation could also have reverberations for the Alabama special Senate race to be decided on Tuesday. Should Republican Roy Moore win, and he is once again leading according to most polls, the problem of having Franken in the chamber accused of similar actions would be eliminated. This means a bid to expel Moore after he is sworn in could gain steam.

Democrats wanted to get themselves on record as being strongly supportive of sexual harassment victims by vociferously calling upon Sen. Franken to resign, but they also free themselves to call for a new Sen. Moore to resign or be expelled. Since the Republican leadership is not happy with the prospect of Moore serving, the Franken situation could place the twice-removed Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice in an untenable position should he win on Tuesday.

Taking the Alabama scenario further, should Moore be expelled – it is unlikely he would resign since he did not remove himself from the ballot after the sexual allegation charges broke, and the voters would have just elected him even with the knowledge of such accusations – the vacancy situation would repeat itself. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) would then appoint an interim senator and the seat would immediately again be placed into special election mode.

This time the new special election would likely be scheduled concurrently with the regular election cycle. As with Franken in Minnesota, the Alabama seat in question is a Class II, meaning it would come in-cycle for a full six-year term in 2020, so filling it with a 2018 election would give the winner only a two-year term.

Whether or not Sen. Franken follows through and resigns this morning, today promises to be an interesting one in the halls of the nation’s capitol.

Scott Gaining Momentum in Florida;
Illinois Filing Closes

Left: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) | Right: Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)

Left: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) | Right: Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 6, 2017 — In what should be a premier Senate race next year, the Florida political contest that likely will develop between Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R) has not yet drawn a great deal of national media coverage, but that will certainly change over time.

A new St. Leo University poll (Nov. 19-24; 500 Florida residents) finds Gov. Scott opening up a sizable lead over the three-term Democratic incumbent, 42-32 percent. The results definitely detect a swing toward the term-limited Republican governor; but previous polling conducted since Sept. 10 has forseen a much closer skirmish.

Two polls from September, St. Leo University (Sept. 10-15; 500 Florida residents) and the Florida Chamber of Commerce (Sept. 17-24; 615 likely Florida voters), both projected Gov. Scott to be holding a two-point lead over Sen. Nelson, 35-33 percent and 47-45 percent, respectively. The University of North Florida (Oct. 11-17; 834 Florida voters), however, gave the incumbent a scant 38-37 percent edge in mid-October, while Mason-Dixon Polling & Research (Oct. 17-19; 625 Florida voters) cast the two prospective candidates as tied at 44 percent each.

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More on Moore

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

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

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 5, 2017 — Several new developments have occurred in the Alabama special Senate election, now just a week from culmination. Two new polls have been released, one from the Washington Post/Schnar School and one from CBS News/YouGov; also, the campaigns’ latest financial disclosure numbers are now public.

Prior to this weekend, the last six public polls all showed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) regaining a small lead over ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D). Now, the Post/Schnar poll (Nov. 27-30; 1,304 adults; 1,110 self-identified registered Alabama voters; 739 self-identified likely Alabama voters) reverses the trend (Jones up, 50-47have been released), but a further examination of the respondent universe suggests that this survey is likely within the same realm as the others.

Conversely, the CBS News/YouGov data (Nov. 28-Dec. 1; 1,067 registered Alabama voters, 68 percent of whom say they will “definitely” vote in the special Senate election) finds a much different result over virtually the same time period. According to CBS/YouGov, Judge Moore retains a 49-43 percent edge, with 71 percent of Republicans saying they believe the sexual impropriety allegations against the former state Supreme Court Chief Justice are false.

Therefore, it appears this campaign is at least toss-up or, more likely, one that is slightly leaning Moore’s way as we head into the Dec. 12 election day. The winner will serve the balance of the current term, which goes through 2020. The new senator will be eligible to seek a full six-year term in that particular regular election.

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The Senate Picture – Re-cap

34-in-cycle-us-senate-seats

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 28, 2017 — During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we previewed all 34 current Senate races. Today, we wrap-up with the often-described 30,000-foot national overview perspective.

The Alabama special Senate election scheduled for Dec. 12 will tell us a great deal about the coming regular cycle. While the Roy Moore-Doug Jones race is not likely to provide a voting trend preview since the contest has been tainted with scandal, it will signal whether or not the Democrats own a path to the Senate majority.

If Democrat Jones wins the Alabama special, it would give his party 49 seats, thus making their two primary Republican conversion targets in Arizona and Nevada enough to claim majority status, assuming all 25 of their defense seats are held, which, of course, is no easy task. If Republican Moore can hold Alabama, despite being jettisoned by the national GOP leadership, that would secure the Republican majority because such an outcome relegates Democrats’ chances of netting the three GOP seats they need within the regular cycle as highly unlikely.

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The Senate Picture – Part III (Of III)

34-in-cycle-us-senate-seats-3-of-3

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 27, 2017 — Wrapping up our holiday recap of the 2018 Senate races — we finish our coverage with Ohio through Wyoming.

• Ohio: State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who held Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) to a 51-45 percent win in 2012 during the same election when President Obama led the ticket in Ohio, returns for a re-match next year. Mandel must first get past wealthy investment banker Michael Gibbons in the Republican primary, but appears well positioned to do so. A Brown-Mandel race could again develop into a major campaign, as the Republican’s ability to run a strong statewide race has improved during the last six years. In 2014, Mandel was re-elected state Treasurer with 59 percent of the vote.
Rating: Lean D

• Pennsylvania: Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) runs for a third term after seeing President Trump and fellow Sen. Pat Toomey (R) win close Keystone State contests last year. It is conceivable that Sen. Casey will be in a tighter re-election campaign cycle than five years ago when he scored a 54-45 percent victory. Since Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) entered the race, the GOP Senate candidate field has decreased with two contenders, state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth/Jefferson Hills) and businessman Jeff Bartos, departing to run for other offices. The general election could be competitive, but Rep. Barletta may have a difficult time re-constructing President Trump’s winning coalition. The congressman may find a very rough going in the Philadelphia suburbs as did President Trump, which means developing a winning statewide base becomes highly challenging. Like the president posted, Rep. Barletta will need a record rural turnout in order to win.
Rating: Likely/Lean D

• Rhode Island: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) appears poised for an easy re-election run next year, particularly with Republican attention focused upon a much more competitive governor’s race.
Rating: Safe D

• Tennessee: Sen. Bob Corker (R) is retiring after two terms, but Republicans are still in strong position to hold the seat. Democrats are attempting to recruit former Gov. Phil Bredesen, but he is not likely to become a candidate even though saying a decision about running will be made shortly. Republicans will likely feature a GOP primary between Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and former two-term Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) that will be very competitive in early August, but sure to produce a strong general election contender.
Rating: Likely R, and Safe R if Bredesen does not run.

• Texas: Though eventual Democratic nominee Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will be able to raise a large amount of national money, he will be no match for Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who is seeking his second term. O’Rourke is a capable candidate who can wage a respectable campaign, but Texas voting history and Cruz’s strength within the Republican base will still yield him a victory at least in high single-digits.
Rating: Likely R

• Utah: Two major questions dominate this campaign: will Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) seek an eighth term, and if not, does former presidential nominee Mitt Romney come forward to replace him. Sen. Hatch continues to say he plans on running, but always leaves the retirement door open particularly if Romney says he will run. Either way, the seat remains in the Republican column, as Utah Democrats are too weak to field a strong statewide candidate. It is probable that the GOP dynamic will not crystallize until well after the first of next year.
Rating: Safe R

• Vermont: Sen. Bernie Sanders will again appear on the Vermont ballot as an Independent even though he was a major contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Regardless of his party designation, he is safe for re-election in his small state, which likely features the most liberal constituency in the country.
Rating: Safe I

• Virginia: Particularly after the Democrats’ strong showing in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Sen. Tim Kaine (D) is a heavy favorite for re-election as he seeks a second term on the heels of losing as the Democrats’ Vice Presidential nominee. At this point, controversial Republican Corey Stewart, the Prince William County Board chairman who ran strongly in the GOP gubernatorial primary, is Sen. Kaine’s leading opponent but Republicans desire a more viable candidate. Speculation is increasing that Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) might run especially with the Democrats turning in such a strong performance in her Northern Virginia district earlier this month. So far, there is no indication that Rep. Comstock will reverse course to enter the statewide contest, however.
Rating: Likely/Safe D

• Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) has yet to even draw an opponent as she prepares a run for a fourth term.
Rating: Safe D

• West Virginia: A major Republican primary is brewing between Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington), with the winner facing Sen. Joe Manchin (D) next fall. Though West Virginia has moved decidedly to the right since the turn of the century and President Trump posted 69 percent here last November, Sen. Manchin remains at least a slight favorite for re-election. A minor Democratic primary challenge from the left should help the senator continue better craft his centrist image.
Rating: Lean D

• Wisconsin: Though Republicans have seen their fortunes greatly increase here during the past seven years, the field challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) has been slow to develop. Businessman Kevin Nicholson (R) is active and receiving heavy support from outside financial sources, but the Republican conservative base is looking elsewhere. State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) is in the race and figures to be a significant candidate. With the Wisconsin primary not occurring until August, Sen. Baldwin has the luxury of having a long time to prepare for what should be an active general election campaign cycle.
Rating: Lean D

• Wyoming: The big question surrounds whether Sen. John Barrasso draws a GOP primary challenge from Blackwater Security firm founder and international businessman Erik Prince, brother of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, or mega-conservative donor Foster Friess. Chances are neither will run, meaning Sen. Barrasso has little trouble in securing a second full term.
Rating: Safe R

The Senate Picture – Part II (of III)

34-in-cycle-us-senate-seats-2-of-3-Recovered

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 24, 2017 — Continuing our holiday recap of the Senate races (Happy Thanksgiving all — hope you had a great day), today we cover Michigan through North Dakota.

• Michigan: The major event occurring this past week was Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who had been seriously considering launching his own Senate campaign, announcing that he will instead run for a 17th term in the House. On the heels of Rep. Upton’s decision, wealthy venture capitalist Sandy Pensler (R) declared his own candidacy. Already in the Republican field are manufacturing company owner and retired Army Ranger John James, and retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) is running for a fourth term.
Rating: Likely D

• Minnesota: Months ago, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) announced for re-election after flirting with a gubernatorial campaign. She will face little competition in her quest for a third term.
Rating: Safe D

• Mississippi: Sen. Roger Wicker (R) could face primary and general election competition. State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellis County) says he will shortly decide whether to challenge Sen. Wicker or run for lieutenant governor in 2019. He came within half-percent of denying Sen. Thad Cochran (R) re-nomination in 2014, proving he can run a viable race. McDaniel would attack Sen. Wicker from the right if he chooses to run. In the general election, Brandon Presley, chairman of the state Public Service Commission and cousin of rock legend Elvis Presley, is a potential Democratic candidate but has so far stopped short of launching any formal political effort. Sen. Wicker will be running for a second full term.
Rating: Safe/Likely R

• Missouri: The Show Me State Senate race is basically set, as first-term Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) is challenging incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D). Four polls were taken during the summer, and all show Hawley claiming a small lead. The most recent survey, from Remington Research (Oct. 11-12; 956 likely Missouri voters), sees Republican Hawley leading the two-term Democratic senator, 48-45 percent. This race has the potential of becoming the nation’s premier Senate campaign.
Rating: Toss-Up

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The Senate Picture – Part I (of III)

34-in-cycle-us-senate-seats-1-of-3

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 22, 2017 — Since little in politics happens around a holiday period, it is a good time to quickly review all 34 in-cycle US Senate campaigns. Today, alphabetically in the first of a three-part series, we look at Alabama through Massachusetts.

• Alabama: The special election to permanently replace current Attorney General and former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) is scheduled for Dec. 12. All are aware of the controversy surrounding Republican nominee Roy Moore, and the latest polls show him falling behind Democratic nominee Doug Jones, the former Birmingham area US Attorney. The latest poll is from Change Research (Nov. 15-16; 2,090 Alabama voters) and finds Jones leading 46-43 percent. With sexual harassment now becoming the issue of the day in politics, Hollywood, and the media, how this race will be finally affected remains unclear. If the Republicans lose this seat, it would put what should be their unassailable Senate majority in jeopardy during the regular election year.
Rating: Toss-Up

• Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (R) has previously announced his retirement. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) is moving to become a consensus Democratic candidate. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) is poised to enter the race to challenge former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) in the Republican primary. A recent OH Predictive Insights survey (Nov. 9; 600 likely Arizona voters) finds Rep. Sinema clinging to just a one point, 46-45 percent, edge over Rep. McSally despite having greater statewide name identification. She leads Ward, 46-43 percent.
Rating: Toss-Up

• California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced that she is seeking re-election amid speculation that the 83-year-old, five-term incumbent would retire. With state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) challenging her in the state’s jungle primary, it appears highly probable that we will see a competitive double-Democratic general election.
Rating: Safe D

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Turbulent Senate Politics

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Leeann Tweeden

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Leeann Tweeden

Nov. 20, 2017 — Currently, the near-term and long-range Senate outlook seems to fluctuate by the hour. Last week we repeatedly detailed the Republicans’ problem with Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore and the effect the Dec. 12 special election will have upon the 2018 Senate cycle. But, yesterday became a day for the Democrats’ to receive similar bad news, albeit along with some good news.

While the Republicans languish in Alabama, Democrats were becoming increasingly concerned about Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) corruption trial when a verdict appeared imminent, and what might happen should he be convicted. Last week, seeing the trial judge declare a mistrial, may mean that the senator’s legal hurdles have been cleared since it seems unlikely that the government would again pursue the case when prosecutors obviously had too little evidence to completely convince a jury that any crime had been committed.

But the positive Menendez result for the Dems was negated by the unfolding sexual harassment debacle involving Sen. Al Franken. Interestingly, though seemingly unrelated to the Alabama situation, both of these Democratic developments could influence the campaign’s course and help determine whether Judge Moore will be allowed to serve in the Senate if he rebounds to win the special election.

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The Alabama Debacle

By Jim Ellis

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Nov. 14, 2017 — Senate Republicans have a major advantage in the current election cycle, but may be on the precipice of giving it away.

Looking at the 2018 Senate map, Republicans have only to defend eight of the 33 in-cycle seats. Considering that six of the eight are the safe Republican states of Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming and the Democrats need a net gain of three conversion seats to claim the majority, it appears unattainable even if the latter party converts legitimate targets in politically marginal Nevada and now open Arizona.

But the mathematics change if Democrats score an unlikely upset in the Alabama special election on Dec. 12, and the latest unfolding events there suggest that such an outcome is far more likely to happen.

As we know, Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, the twice removed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice, has been accused of sexual impropriety with at least one teenage girl when he was 32 years old in 1979. Washington, DC Republicans, who appear to be taking the Washington Post story and the woman’s allegations at face value, are urging Moore to remove himself from the race. Alabama Republicans are still standing firm for Moore, refusing to accept the story without proof. For his part, Judge Moore denies the incident happened.

Three polls have already surfaced telling us that Moore has suffered a major hit. Earlier surveys found him leading in low double-digits, but Opinion Savvy, Gravis Marketing, and JMC Analytics & Polling immediately went into the field to test the Alabama electorate’s reaction.

Opinion Savvy (Nov. 10; 515 likely Alabama special election voters) conducted their survey just hours after the Moore story broke. Their results find that Moore’s lead has evaporated into a 46-46 percent tie with Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former US Attorney.

Gravis Marketing launched their poll just as quickly (Nov. 10; 478 likely Alabama voters) and finds a similar ballot test tally: 48-46 percent in Moore’s favor.

JMC Analytics (Nov. 9-11; 575 registered Alabama voters) sees Jones pulling into a 46-42 percent lead (48-44 percent when leaners to both candidates are added), but an over-sampling of female voters could account for the Democratic advantage. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents were female and they break for Jones, 46-40 percent. Men favor the Democrat 46-45 percent.

Considering these polls were taken immediately as the story was breaking and the questionnaires included an explanation of what was being said about him, the results for Moore are not devastating. For the most part, Republican voters are taking Moore’s side while Democrats believe the accuser. The fact that the division is roughly even suggests that Moore has a chance to rebound if he can effectively tell his story.

While Republican leaders may be calling upon Judge Moore to remove himself from the ticket, realistically and legally, he cannot. Under Alabama election law, the ballot cannot be changed within 76 days of the election. That period began Sept. 28. Now comes talk that Gov. Kay Ivey (R) could be approached to postpone the election, or call a special session of the legislature to pass a new emergency election statute. The governor says she is not inclined to even think about such an option.

Additionally, some absentee packets containing Moore’s name have already mailed, thus making it logistically difficult, if not illegal, to inject a new ballot into the campaign. Therefore, the outlook is virtually certain that the election will proceed as scheduled on Dec. 12.

Another idea suggests that the Senate refuse to seat Moore if he wins the election. Should all Democrats vote against Moore, only three Republicans would need to break ranks to keep the seat in abeyance. Presumably, the state could then call a new election, but there would be nothing preventing Moore from running again. Should that be the case, Gov. Ivey then could appoint another interim senator or even keep Sen. Luther Strange (R) in the position. Also, a new election would allow him to run again, too.

For their part, Democrats are remaining publicly quiet. They are likely doing so for two reasons. First, they are adopting the old axiom, “if one’s political opponents are in process of destroying themselves don’t stop them.” Second, they may soon be faced with another vote to eject a senator. Should New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez be found guilty in his corruption trial, there will likely be a move to expel him. Democrats would find themselves in a bind if they make a public spectacle of denying entry to Moore, and then quickly pivot to do the opposite in order to save Menendez.

The Roy Moore saga is far from over but at the outset, the situation appears perilous for Republicans. Since losing this seat would endanger their majority standing in 2018, the stakes for how the majority leadership chooses to handle the Alabama situation becomes even more challenging.

Moore Under Attack; Goodlatte #34

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 13, 2017 — Controversy is erupting in the Alabama special US Senate election as we begin to enter the last month of campaigning before the Dec. 12 vote.

The Washington Post broke a story late last week (above) that accuses former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) of engaging in sexual contact with a 14-year old girl 38 years ago. At the time, Judge Moore would have been 32 years of age. The judge vehemently denies the charges and strikes back against the Post saying the story is politically motivated. Republican officials in Alabama are generally still supportive of Moore. Washington Republicans, who made public statements, expressed the opinion that Moore should step away from the race if the allegations are true.

In actuality, there is no legal way to remove Moore’s name from the ballot even if there is Republican unanimity to do so. Ballots are printed, some absentee packets have already been mailed to voters, and the law specifically states that a change of nominees cannot be made once the campaign moves within 76 days of the election. For this contest, the point-of-no-return date occurred on Sept. 28.

Suggestions range from running defeated Sen. Luther Strange as a write-in candidate, calling the state legislature into special session to pass emergency legislation to change the election law, or simply refusing to seat Moore should he win the Dec. 12 election. If they choose the latter route, another special election would have to be called and scheduled, and the cycle begins anew.

For his part, Moore is already launching fundraising appeals lashing out at his accusers and begging for resource help in order to fight back. He shows no indication that he will relinquish his position as the US Senate nominee.

More will clearly come of this story during the coming week.

VA-6

Continuing what looks to be a series of House incumbent retirements, veteran 13-term Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that he, too, will depart when the current Congress adjourns. The timing coincides with his allotted chairmanship tenure also coming to an end.

Goodlatte becomes the 34th regular cycle member not to seek re-election next year, and the 24th Republican. This total does not include the PA-18 vacancy (former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pittsburgh) that will be filled on March 13. The latest vacant seat was filled earlier this week when Utah Rep-Elect John Curtis (R-Provo) was elected to replace resigned Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy).

Though the open GOP list now reaches 24 seats, 17 of them are safely or likely Republican. Only two are in the toss-up category (FL-27, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami; NJ-2, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-Ventnor City), and another five are rated as lean Republican.

Virginia’s 6th District is safely in the GOP column. Goodlatte averaged 77.6 percent of the vote over his 13 congressional elections. The district hugs the West Virginia border and runs north to south along Interstate 81 from Strasburg through Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Lexington, continuing south all the way to Roanoke, with a jut westward to annex the Lynchburg region. President Trump carried the 6th, 60-35 percent, while Mitt Romney outpaced President Barack Obama here, 60-40percent.