Category Archives: Senate

Alabama’s Game Within the Game

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 18, 2017 — Tuesday’s special Alabama Senate Republican primary sent former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and appointed Sen. Luther Strange to the September 26th run-off election, but what can we expect from the next round of voting? Will Judge Moore’s momentum continue to thrust him forward despite being badly out-spent, or will the Alabama and national Republican establishment’s strong support for Sen. Strange allow him to overcome his primary election deficit?

On Tuesday, Judge Moore placed first, capturing 39 percent of the Republican primary vote. Just over 423,000 people voted in the election, which will likely be similar to the Sept. 26 projected participation rate. Most of the time fewer people vote in a run-off than a primary, but recent special elections have yielded a slightly different turnout pattern. Sen. Strange garnered 33 percent in the primary and showed strength in the Birmingham area, though he lost substantially in Alabama’s southern region including the metropolitan areas of Montgomery, Mobile, and Dothan.

The run-off wild card may well be Rep. Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) voters. The primary’s third place finisher tallied 20 percent, translating into more than 83,000 individual supporters. Since he placed first in his congressional district (41 percent), and carried his home county of Madison with majority support, northern Alabama will become critical in determining how the run-off concludes. And, considering that Judge Moore received almost the same number of votes as those who cast ballots in the Democratic primary, it is reasonable to presume that the Republican run-off victor will become a heavy favorite to win the Dec. 12 special general election.

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AL Run-off; Curtis Wins

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 17, 2017 — The pre-election polling proved accurate Tuesday, as Alabama former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore placed first in the special Senate Republican primary, as predicted, and will advance to a Sept. 26 run-off election.

The Trafalgar Group released the last poll for the special primary cycle. The survey (Aug. 12-13; 870 likely GOP primary voters) found Judge Moore holding 38 percent support, followed by appointed Sen. Luther Strange with 24 percent, and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) dropping back to 17.5 percent. The results were almost precise for Moore, understated Sen. Strange’s support, and slightly missed Brooks’ finish.

With just over 417,000 individuals voting in the Republican primary Judge Moore captured 39 percent of the statewide Republican vote, enough to claim the first run-off position but a long way from securing a majority.

Sen. Strange easily took the second run-off slot with 33 percent finishing well ahead of the third place finisher, Congressman Brooks (20 percent).

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Sinema’s Changing Stance

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 16, 2017 — Reports attributed to the Phoenix NBC television news affiliate indicate that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) will imminently announce a challenge to Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. For her part, Sinema concedes that she is “seriously considering” running for the Senate, which is much different than her previous stated position of committing to seek re-election to a fourth US House term.

With Rep. Sinema putting herself on the sidelines early in the game, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and state Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson), the surgeon who saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson) after she was gunned down back in 2011, were being mentioned as potential Senate Democratic candidates.

If Sinema is to move forward with a Senate challenge to Flake, it is becoming apparent that Mayor Stanton would divert away from a direct confrontation with the congresswoman, and instead become a candidate for her open House seat. It is unclear what, if any, move Friese might make under this potentially new configuration of candidates.

Sen. Flake, along with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R), appears to be the most vulnerable Republican standing for re-election. Though Arizona is a better Republican state than Nevada to the point of electing two GOP senators, a governor, controlling five of nine US House seats and both houses of the legislature, Flake finds himself in a tenuous political position largely through his own doing.

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Special Elections Today

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 15, 2017 — Voters go to the polls today in the long-awaited Alabama special US Senate primary, the first tangible step in permanently replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As we know, Sessions resigned his Senate seat early in the year to accept the top law enforcement position in the Trump administration.

Most of the special election campaign action is on the Republican side, as appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) fights to secure a run-off position.

With the nine GOP candidates clearly attracting enough support to prevent any one of them from capturing a majority and winning the party nomination outright today, moving to a Sept. 26 run-off vote appears certain. Polling suggests that former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore will seize the first run-off position, but with 40 percent or less support. Sen. Strange and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) are fighting for the second qualifying position with the other six candidates lagging behind.

The latest poll from the Trafalgar Group (Aug. 8-10; 1,439 likely Alabama GOP primary voters from more than 50,000 contacts), perhaps the most accurate survey research firm because of their most recent track record, finds Judge Moore capturing 35 percent support, with Sen. Strange far back at 23 percent and Rep. Brooks closing to 20 percent.

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Dina Titus’ Decision

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 14, 2017 — It’s interesting how individual political moves can often yield opportunities or create obstacles for others in a semi-related fashion. Such is the case for Las Vegas US Rep. Dina Titus (D), as she is all of a sudden looking at a much different Nevada political landscape since Republican Danny Tarkanian announced his primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) earlier in the week.

Within the past two weeks, Titus made a public statement reminding national and local political observers that she is still considering entering the 2018 Senate race even though fellow Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) has become a statewide candidate.

To review, largely at the behest of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rosen decided to run statewide even though she was just elected to the House in November, ironically defeating Tarkanian by one percentage point with both candidates garnering less than majority political support. Just after Rosen made her announcement, Rep. Titus commented about her own Senate prospects and reminded people that she has twice beaten the “Reid Machine,” a claim few Nevada politicians can make.

Dina Titus won the 2006 gubernatorial nomination despite Reid supporting an opponent. In 2012, the Senate Leader tried to recruit now-4th District Congressman Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas), then a state senator, to challenge Titus for the open 1st District party nomination, but his attempt failed. She proceeded to win the nomination, the associated 2012 general election, and remains in the House.

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Rokita In; Tsongas to Retire

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 11, 2017 — Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) is generally considered to be the first or second national Republican conversion target, and the GOP candidates are beginning to come forward.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) announced, as expected, his run for the Senate and immediately pressed the attack before his supporters to “Defeat the Elite,” a phrase that he defines as pertaining to “lobbyists, bureaucrats, politicians and the media.”

Rokita was first elected to the House in 2010 after serving two terms as Indiana’s secretary of state. He averaged 65.5 percent in his four congressional elections, and leaves his western 4th District as a safe Republican seat.

The announcement creates a major Republican primary with fellow Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) and state Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper). Messer tweeted about two weeks ago that he will soon become a Senate candidate with a formal announcement to follow.

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Tarkanian to Challenge Heller

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 10, 2017 — Perennial Nevada candidate Danny Tarkanian yesterday announced a US Senate Republican primary challenge to incumbent Dean Heller, creating more chaos in what is the Democrats’ best national conversion opportunity for next year.

Tarkanian released an announcement statement early Tuesday morning declaring himself a candidate. “I am running for United States Senate because Nevada deserves a senator who will keep his word and vote in Washington DC the same way he campaigns here in Nevada,” he wrote, presumably referencing Sen. Heller’s statements about the failed Republican healthcare bill.

But, the senator did vote in favor of the rule bringing the bill for a vote and, in the end, supported what was termed the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare. Though he expressed concern about the bill, Sen. Heller did not ultimately join Republican Sens. John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME) who formally opposed the legislation.

Published a day before the Tarkanian announcement was a Strategic National political survey (Aug. 1-2; 500 likely Nevada Republican primary voters) that found Tarkanian trailing the senator only 34-38 percent in a proposed GOP primary pairing. Interestingly, the same poll showed 2nd District Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City/Reno), who holds Sen. Heller’s former congressional seat, actually leading the incumbent 27-26 percent among the likely Republican primary voters tested. There is no indication that Amodei is considering entering the Senate race, however.

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New Alabama Data; UT-3 Formulating

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 8, 2017 — As we enter the final full week of campaigning before the Aug. 15 vote, a new political poll forecasts a different leader in the Republican special US Senate election primary. The survey reliability factor could be suspect, however.

During the July 31 – Aug. 3 period, RHH Elections conducted a poll of 426 self-identified Alabama GOP registered voters who say they will vote in the special Republican primary. All but 57 responded via the Interactive Voice Response system, and the former provided their responses through an online questionnaire. No live surveyors were part of the interview process, which weakens the reliability substantially.

That being said, the RHH numbers are within the realm of the other published poll results. The new data forecasts former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore as capturing the edge with 31 percent over the previous race leader, appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who is just two points behind, meaning the contest is a virtual tie between them with as much as 40 percent of the outstanding preference spread among the remaining seven candidates. The latter group includes US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) with 18 percent, state Sen. Trip Pittman (8 percent), and former Alabama Christian Coalition head Randy Brinson (2 percent). Those not stating a named candidate are categorized as undecided.

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Tester Draws Opponent

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 2, 2017 — Republicans have been working to recruit a top-tier challenger to two-term Sen. Jon Tester (D), and yesterday they identified such an individual. Montana Commissioner of Insurance and State Auditor Matt Rosendale announced that he will join the Republican primary, vying to become the party nominee and oppose Sen. Tester in the next election.

Rosendale was first elected to his statewide position just last November, so he is quickly making the move for federal office. Prior to running for auditor, he served a term in the state House of Representatives and a pair of consecutive two-year stints in the state Senate, representing the Glendive area in Montana’s far eastern sector. In the 2015-16 session, Rosendale was the Senate Majority Leader.

In 2016, he ran to succeed Democratic Auditor Monica Lindeen who was ineligible to seek a third term. Rosendale defeated former state Rep. Jesse Laslovich (D), 54-46 percent, from an electorate of more than 486,000 voters.

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Michigan Poll; Delaney for President

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 1, 2017 — A poll released last week that placed entertainer Robert Ritchie (Kid Rock) ahead of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) generated a great deal of news coverage, but the Delphi Analytica survey didn’t appear reliable. A new credible Michigan Senate survey followed, however, and actually seems to confirm that Ritchie could become a viable candidate.

The Delphi Analytica poll was never available on the reported web links and showing Sen. Stabenow, who is completing her third term with respectable approval ratings, with only 26 percent support failed to make sense.

The Trafalgar Group, on the other hand, is a reliable pollster. The only survey research firm to correctly forecast Donald Trump victories in Pennsylvania and Michigan, the Atlanta-based firm also projected Republican Karen Handel to defeat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special congressional election last month when most pollsters were predicting the opposite. Now, the company’s new Michigan Senate study (July 25-27; 1,078 likely Michigan voter respondents from more than 50,000 attempted calls) finds Ritchie in a virtual dead heat with Sen. Stabenow.

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Strange vs. Brooks

By Jim Ellis

July 26, 2017 — Though nine Republicans are on the ballot for the Aug. 15 Alabama special Senate GOP primary, the ad war would suggest it’s a contest only between appointed Sen. Luther Strange and US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville).

Brooks is advertising heavily and going hard right, a reasonable strategy for an Alabama Republican primary, and his latest ad (above) features his role in helping the shooting victims during the June 14 morning congressional baseball practice at an Alexandria, Virginia park. After Brooks risked his life to help those who had been wounded, a reporter attempted to bring the gun control debate into focus. Brooks’ answer to his question is the ad’s focal point, as well as identifying the shooter as a “Bernie Sanders supporter.”

Sen. Strange, on the other hand, is exclusively targeting Rep. Brooks with hard-hitting negative ads, attacking him for not supporting President Trump during the 2016 national campaign. (See below)

Strange’s tactics tell us that the few published polls suggesting the senator and Rep. Brooks are fighting for the second run-off position are most likely accurate. It also supports the idea that Strange’s own internal polling numbers are giving him similar reports, or he wouldn’t be focusing on just one opponent.

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Arizona: Kirkpatrick In;
Hawaii: Gabbard Out

By Jim Ellis

July 25, 2017 — Arizona former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) has completed her political transition to Tucson. Over the weekend, the former congresswoman and US Senate candidate announced that she will enter the very crowded Democratic primary in the AZ-2 Congressional District.

The move had been anticipated since Kirkpatrick had re-located from her home in Flagstaff to Arizona’s second largest population center and never ruled out entering the 2nd District race when questioned about doing so. Yet, even her path to the Democratic nomination is a difficult one, not to mention facing GOP Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson). Rep. McSally scored an impressive 57-43 percent re-election victory last November even though Hillary Clinton carried the district, 50-45 percent.

Already in the 2018 Democratic field are former state Rep. Matt Heinz, who lost to McSally as last year’s party nominee, ex-state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, former Assistant US Army Secretary Mary Matiella, businessmen Billy Kovacs, Charlie Verdin and Jeff Latas, and retired Air Force colonel, Lou Jordan.

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Dueling Congressmen

By Jim Ellis

July 24, 2017 — Next year’s Indiana Senate race is expected to be one of the nation’s top wire-to-wire campaigns. Even the Republican primary, which will only produce a challenger nominee, is beginning in toss-up fashion.

A new OnMessage consulting firm poll (July 10-12; 400 likely Indiana GOP primary voters) finds a pair of Republican congressmen, unannounced for the Senate but both headed for the statewide race, already in a dead heat contest. According to the data, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) and Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) are tied at 23 percent in the new GOP primary preference poll. The eventual winner will challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who will be seeking his first re-election.

Attorney General Curtis Hill (R) and state Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper) are also thought to be considering their own Senate candidacies. They polled just four and two percent, respectively, in the OnMessage poll, however.

The two GOP House members are also virtually tied in the resource game. Both have been raising money at a strong clip: Rokita bringing in just over $1.3 million for the first half of 2017 and showing $2.35 million cash-on-hand, while Messer has attracted just under $1.3 million and possesses $2.027 million. For his part, Sen. Donnelly has brought in $5.47 million for the year and has $3.7 million in his campaign account.

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Senate: What the Money Says

By Jim Ellis

July 20, 2017 — Though electronic filing is still not yet required for US Senate candidates, several incumbents and challengers have made their financial numbers available via the public media. Outlets such as the Daily Kos Elections page, The Hill, Politico, National Journal, and local news organizations have allowed us to grasp where some of the key races stand financially.

There has already been a great deal of discussion in recent days about the upcoming Arizona Senate contest, and the dollars raised again reveal a familiar pattern. For the second quarter in a row, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), who says she is not an active Senate candidate but is clearly readying herself in case an opportunity arises, i.e., incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake (R) attracting a strong Republican primary opponent, again raised $600,000 in a quarter, thus putting $3.2 million in her account, about $200,000 more than incumbent Flake.

Finances often give us clues as to impending political moves. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), the body’s oldest member at 84 years of age, raised just $600,000 in the second quarter and has $3.5 million in the bank. This is a low total for a senator from the nation’s largest state. This may be an indication that Feinstein may not seek re-election. In direct comparison, 83-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has been less committal about re-election than Sen. Feinstein and from a state a small fraction of California’s size, raised over $1 million in the quarter and has over $4 million cash-on-hand.

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Alabama Battle Lines Drawn

By Jim Ellis

July 14, 2017 — Now, just about a month away from the Alabama US Senate special primary election, we are seeing the first political patterns that begin to define the Republican primary race.

To review, the seat became vacant when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) was appointed US attorney general. In a controversial move, embattled Gov. Robert Bentley (R) tabbed state Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to replace Sessions. The appointment was controversial from the start because Bentley was reportedly under investigation by Strange’s office.

Gov. Bentley, who was facing impeachment from his own Republican base in the state legislature, saw the process grind to a halt when Strange asked the legislative leadership to allow him to complete his investigation to determine if the governor actually misused state funds when engaged in an extra-marital affair. Strange later said that he never confirmed such an investigation was actually underway, but he publicly asked the legislative leaders to halt, and that helped him earn him the appointment. Bentley was then in position to appoint the new attorney general who would decide whether to continue the stealth investigation into his own potential wrongdoing.

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