Two Stunning Polls

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 27, 2017 — A pair of eyebrow-raising polls were released mid-week, one for the 2018 North Dakota Senate race and the other for the impending Virginia gubernatorial campaign.

North Dakota Senate

Poll results show Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) trailing for first time.

Poll results show Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) trailing for first time.

The 1892 polling firm, which has a record of surveying North Dakota statewide races, went into the field for Republican senatorial candidate Tom Campbell, a state senator and agri-businessman from Grafton, ND.

The survey (Oct. 11-12; 500 registered North Dakota voters; 400 additional Republican primary voters) finds Sen. Campbell leading in a hypothetical GOP primary, and in rather astonishing fashion for this early in the election cycle, actually trending ahead of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), 44-41 percent.

Sen. Campbell has a healthy lead among Republicans, topping former US Rep. Rick Berg, 32-24 percent, among others. Ex-Rep. Berg admits to be considering the race, but has not given tangible indications that he is beginning to construct a campaign. The poll did not test current US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck), however, who says he will decide about running sometime next year.

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The New Arizona Senate Race

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 26, 2017 — Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) surprised most in the political world during a speech a couple days ago from the Senate floor, and thereby to the nation, that he will not seek re-election for a second term.

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

With the text of his retirement address devoted mostly to his long-enduring battle with President Trump, Sen. Flake admits to having “regrets” about leaving elected politics and over the nation’s current state of affairs. But, the more salient reason hastening his departure is likely the polling data that shows his standing among Republicans is worse than the Arizona electorate as a whole, and that he would likely lose to both GOP challenger Kelli Ward, a former state senator who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent victory in the 2016 Republican primary, and US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) in the general election.

Contrary to media and Democratic Party analyses, the Republicans’ chances of holding this Senate seat actually improve with Sen. Flake’s departure. It was clear that his presidential sparring with Trump had left him worse for wear, and the GOP will likely be able to nominate a less encumbered, and thereby stronger, general election candidate.

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The Emerging Senate Cycle

By Jim Ellis

Tennessee state flag

Tennessee state flag

Oct. 25, 2017 — Though we still have more than two full months remaining in calendar year 2017, the 2018 US Senate field is beginning to take clear shape. With 34 statewide contests to be decided, including the Alabama special election that will conclude Dec. 12, no fewer than 10 campaigns are basically set. Action is occurring in an additional 13 states suggesting that some sort of primary or general election competition will soon come to the forefront. Eleven incumbents seeking re-election are rated as “safe” at the present time.

Former Tennessee US Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) announced Monday that he would join the open US Senate Republican primary battle, attempting to succeed retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R). This race already appears to be evolving into a possible two-way primary between ex-Rep. Fincher and current 7th District veteran incumbent Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood).

Andy Ogles, the former Tennessee director for Americans for Prosperity, remains in the race after launching what is now a moot primary challenge to Sen. Corker but it is unclear how strong he will be now that several conservative organizations are already beginning to coalesce behind Rep. Blackburn.

The only other bit of Volunteer State intrigue centers around Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen and whether he will enter the statewide contest. Originally, Bredesen took himself out of consideration, but now agrees to consider becoming a candidate. He says a decision will be forthcoming in a matter of weeks. Without Bredesen, the Democrats would likely concede the seat to the eventual Republican nominee since other strong potential candidates, specifically US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, have already said they will not run.

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Follow the Money

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 24, 2017 — The 3rd Quarter Federal Election Commission US House disclosure reports are available, and they provide valuable clues as to which campaigns could become first-tier efforts next year. The Daily Kos Elections Page once again completed their quarterly analysis, which became the major source for this column.

federal-elections-commission-logoThirty-five incumbents and two challengers have already raised more than $1 million for the current election cycle. Another seven (six incumbents; one challenger) have crossed the $900,000 mark in current cycle receipts.

Most of the million-dollar incumbents are in projected competitive primary or general election campaigns.

Arizona two-term incumbent Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) is again raising and spending huge amounts in the early going. She has gathered $2.8 million, a great deal of which comes through expensive direct mail, hence her cash-on-hand total is $1.453 million. Her potential leading Democratic opponent, former 1st District Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) who has re-located to Tucson in order to challenge McSally, is showing only $269,000 on hand in comparison, but that is the largest amount among the five Democrats filing disclosure reports in this district.

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Pence In, Tiberi Out


Greg Pence, brother of VP Mike Pence, announces he is running for Indiana’s open 6th District.


By Jim Ellis

Oct. 23, 2017 — Greg Pence, brother of Vice President Mike Pence, is now a congressional candidate in Indiana. Greg Pence made public late last week his intention to run for the open 6th District, the seat his brother held for 12 years before being elected governor (see video above). He is attempting to replace Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie), who is running for Senate. Before he entered the congressional race, Greg Pence was serving as Messer’s finance chairman for the Senate campaign.

The 6th District is safely Republican, voting 68-27 percent for the Trump-Pence ticket, after supporting Mitt Romney with a 60-37 percent split. Back in 2008 when then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) won Indiana in the year that he was first elected president, Sen. John McCain still carried the 6th with a substantial 55-44 percent spread.

Under this backdrop, the vice president’s brother begins his congressional quest in a campaign where he will very likely only need to win the Republican nomination to secure his seat in the US House. And, with the VP’s help, particularly with his national finance network, it will be very difficult for any Republican candidate to keep Greg Pence from winning the primary.

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Fox Poll: Moore Tied – Dubious

By Jim Ellis

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)

Oct. 20, 2017 — A new Fox Poll (Oct. 14-16; 801 registered Alabama voters) just released earlier this week finds former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) and ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D) tied at 42 percent in the special Alabama Senate race to be decided Dec. 12, but such a result begs further analysis.

Though the sample size appears sound from a numerical perspective, its composition causes one to doubt the final result. The actual segment cell sizes are not revealed in the analysis section, but it appears they are not wholly reflective of the Alabama electorate. Those with the greatest error factors: non-whites (+/-7 percent), liberals (+/-7 percent), moderates (+/-7 percent), and independents (+/-8.5 percent) all are strong cells for Jones. The error factors for other segments: whites (+/-4 percent), conservatives (+/-4.5 percent), and gun owners (+/-4.5 percent) are all much lower than the other tested subgroups and each of those favor Judge Moore.

While the overall error rating within the entire sample of registered voters is only listed at +/-3.5 percent, all 18 of the subgroups have corresponding rates that are much higher. This is not particularly unusual since the subgroups, by definition, are smaller than the overall sample, but the considerably larger error factor among Jones’ best groups provides us clues that the poll is skewed in the Democratic nominee’s favor.

Earlier, the Cygnal polling firm released its statewide poll (Oct. 2-5; 497 likely Alabama special election voters) finding Moore leading 49-41 percent, a survey we analyzed last week, and the ex-Judge does particularly well among those identified as most likely to vote. By contrast, the Fox sample is only of registered voters and did not screen for voting propensity. Not isolating voting likelihood is another polling factor that favors Jones’ standing.

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Virginia Starting to Sway

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 19, 2017 — It has been presumed for the past week that Republican Ed Gillespie is gaining momentum in his quest to become governor of Virginia. The emphasis on attacking Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) with a series of ads (see video above) casting him as being weak on crime and illegal immigration was thought to be paying political dividends. Now we have some independent data verifying that the race is significantly tightening.

Three new polls came into the public domain yesterday, with one actually showing Gillespie forging into a slight lead, another finding him closing the gap, and a third from an entity with a history of inaccurate polling results that makes us want to discard their latest data.

New Jersey’s Monmouth University (Oct. 12-16; 408 likely Virginia voters) now finds Gillespie taking a one-point lead over Northam, 48-47 percent. The analysis segments the state into geographic divisions and compares their previous poll to the current data. Though this is a small sample poll – likely too small for a state the size of Virginia – the geographic delineations appear believable.

As one knew would be inevitable, Monmouth projects that Democratic Northern Virginia is becoming stronger for Northam, while Gillespie is now racking up big margins in the western part of the state. According to the Monmouth analysis, the central part of the state continues to be a swing area. This, too, provides good news for Gillespie as he now leads there 47-44 percent after trailing in the September Monmouth poll, 49-48 percent.

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A Reversal in Tennessee?

By Jim Ellis

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)

Oct. 18, 2017 — Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) obviously is under intense pressure from Democrats to enter the newly open Senate race. When Sen. Bob Corker (R) announced his retirement last week, Bredesen quickly announced he would not become a candidate for the newly open seat. US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, and wealthy Democratic donor and businessman Bill Freeman all quickly followed suit. Now, however, the former two-term governor is not so quick to rule out a succeeding candidacy.

According to the Associated Press, Bredesen admits to be receiving calls encouraging him to run. “In the days ahead, I’m going to do some research, talk with people and carefully think this through,” the former governor stated in an interview with AP. “I’ll make a decision quickly,” he was quoted as saying.

The Democrats are in a major bind regarding the 2018 Senate races because they have so few Republican targets to attack. Even though they only need a net swing of three seats to change the balance of power in the legislative body, they simply don’t have that many vulnerable Republican incumbents to oppose. At this time, it appears only Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are in seriously competitive re-election battles. Therefore, the party is forced to contend for an open seat in solidly Republican Tennessee even if their victory chances are poor.

Bredesen is the last Democrat elected as Tennessee’s governor. He won both in 2002 (50.6 percent over then-Rep. Van Hilleary, R) and 2006 (68.6 percent against then-state Sen. Jim Bryson, R), after serving eight years as mayor of Nashville. So far, the only announced credible Democratic candidate is attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler.

Though he would be the strongest candidate the Democrats could field, Bredesen would begin the 2018 cycle as a decided underdog despite his previous winning record.

There is likely additional movement coming on the Republican side this week, too. Former US Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) is traveling the state on a “listening tour”, but is expected to enter the race quickly, possibly even today. Fincher served three terms in the House but did not seek re-election last year because of a sibling’s illness that affected his family’s substantial agriculture enterprise.

Should Fincher become a candidate, he will face Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Andy Ogles, the former Tennessee director of Americans for Prosperity. The latter man had announced a primary challenge to Corker but remains in the race even after the senator indicated that he won’t seek a third term.

Though Fincher is no longer in the House, his campaign account maintains over $2.4 million, meaning he will have the resources to launch his Senate campaign. On the other hand, Rep. Blackburn raised $1.24 for the campaign to-date and has an impressive $3.2 million in her federal account.

California On, Maine Off

By Jim Ellis

California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

Oct. 17, 2017 — Last week we reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced her decision seek a fifth full term next year, and that state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) was considering launching a challenge against her from the ideological left.

Sen. de Leon made good on his threat. He will risk his state Senate seat, and legislative leadership position, to enter the US Senate campaign. This will be a prototypical example of the insurgent left attacking the Democratic establishment.

In his announcement address Sen. de Leon said that California “deserves a senator that will not just fully resist the Trump presidency, but also understands the issues that most Californians face every day: that’s fighting for Medicare for all. That’s fighting for our Dreamers. That’s fighting against climate change.” This tells us that he plans to echo many of the Bernie Sanders’ themes forged against Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

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The Latest Alabama Data

By Jim Ellis

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)

Oct. 16, 2017 — The Cygnal polling firm just released the latest survey for the special Alabama Senate race (Oct. 2-5; 497 likely Alabama special election voters), and it yields a spread between the two major political party nominees that is beyond the margin of polling error. But, these results come with a qualification: the last Cygnal poll for this race, before the Aug. 15 primary election and prior to the September run-off, badly missed the final outcome.

According to this small sample poll, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) leads ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D), 49-41 percent. Some of the more interesting segmentation includes a significant gender gap. Men prefer Moore 53-38 percent, while women give Jones a one-point edge, 46-45 percent. Jones also leads with voters 49 years of age and younger (a five percentage point advantage), but Judge Moore has a 12-point margin among those 50 and older. This latter spread is a more important advantage for Moore because the oldest age group has the highest propensity to vote in low participation elections.

This latest Cygnal poll is the first the organization has conducted in Alabama since before the special primary. They did not go into the field during the Sept. 26 run-off cycle.

In late July (20-21st), just under four weeks from the Aug. 15 primary, the firm released data that appears to badly miss the mark, but a closer analysis shows they correctly projected the strength of two of the top three candidates.

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Could Bannon Cost the GOP?

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 13 2017 — Several articles have surfaced this week speculating that former presidential advisor Steve Bannon wanting to find and support challengers to Republican Senate incumbents could cost the GOP its majority. It appears individuals making such a claim have forgotten how to count.

Keeping in mind that the Democrats must protect 25 of 33 in-cycle Senate seats, there are simply not enough legitimate targets available for the minority to change their status within the chamber, even though they need a net gain of only three seats. Yes, the Dems are forcing Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) into toss-up situations, but the remaining six GOP incumbents are some of the safest in the Senate. So, even if Bannon or other conservative insurgents recruit opposition to incumbents, the chances of the eventual Republican nominee losing the general election in these particular states are extremely low.

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The Missouri Move


By Jim Ellis

Oct. 12, 2017 — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) officially announced his long-awaited challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Tuesday this week. The move had been expected since even before he formed a senatorial exploratory committee at the beginning of August. Hawley then found himself encouraged to run for the Senate literally from the first few days after his election as the state’s AG in November.

Saying Sen. McCaskill has turned her back on many key Show Me State constituencies and industries, that she has been in Washington “forever”, and simply “doesn’t represent Missouri” anymore, Hawley declared his new US Senate candidacy via campaign video featuring he, his wife, and two young sons (above).

Already, a McCaskill-Hawley general election race is being viewed as the Republicans’ top conversion opportunity. Though Hawley must get past several lesser GOP primary candidates, including state Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific/Franklin County), he is the prohibitive favorite to become the party nominee next August.

The McCaskill Campaign and the national Democratic political apparatus has been readying a defense plan against a Hawley offensive for several months. In his campaign for attorney general, Hawley used ladders as props in his ads to symbolize politicians who win one office and then immediately turnaround and jump to another. Now, doing exactly what he campaigned against, we can expect a steady barrage of attacks over what McCaskill and the Democrats will claim is Hawley’s “hypocrisy.”

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Yes, She Will

By Jim Ellis

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

Oct. 11, 2017 — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced this week that she will seek a fifth full term next year despite, at 84 years of age, being the Senate’s oldest member. Curiously, her recent comments about President Trump and gun control have created some problems for the senator within the far left of her California Democratic Party. Thus, Feinstein’s decision to run again has engendered possible opposition from at least one prominent Democratic elected official.

Sen. Feinstein was first elected in 1992, when she defeated appointed Sen. John Seymour (R) after Gov. Pete Wilson (R) selected him to fill the Senate vacancy. Then-Sen. Wilson was elected governor in 1990, thus creating the vacancy. Two years later, Sen. Feinstein nipped then-Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) 47-45 percent in the 1994 general election, the last close California Senate race. She would go onto win easy re-elections in 2000, 2006, and 2012.

A few weeks ago, Sen. Feinstein made the public comment that Donald Trump actually “can be a good president,” which drew the ire of many of his ardent Golden State opponents including state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who seemingly has become the chief anti-Trump spokesman in California. After the Las Vegas shooting, Sen. Feinstein made the further statement that “no gun laws could have prevented the Las Vegas massacre.” Predictably, this comment was also met with derision from the far left, including Sen. de Leon.

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A Shocking Retirement

By Jim Ellis

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester)

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester)

Oct. 10, 2017 — Since Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) announced he would run for the US Senate in late August, and after an additional eight US House seats opened in the succeeding weeks, none were as surprising as the latest one announced on Friday.

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester), who represents the one seat that has defeated more incumbents than any other in the last decade including herself twice, announced that she will not seek re-election in 2018.

Her departure reasons were not part of the retirement statement but, for a woman who first came to Congress in 2006, was defeated in 2010, returned in 2012, and then lost again in 2014 before winning once more last November, her voluntary departure was certainly not predicted. Shea-Porter claimed another term in 2016, but with only 44 percent of the vote in part due to three Independent and minor party candidates taking more than 12.6 percent, but the number represented her lowest victory percentage.

Since the 2006 election, inclusive, the NH-1 electorate has consistently defeated its incumbent. In only 2008 was a US representative (Shea-Porter) here re-elected. The district encompasses New Hampshire’s eastern half, including the state’s largest city of Manchester, the Seacoast region, and the mountain area that hugs the Maine border. In the past six elections, the largest recorded win percentage was 54 percent (Republican Frank Guinta in 2010), while Shea-Porter never exceeded 51.7 percent.

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With Murphy Out in PA, Corker Out in TN, Who Will Fill the Vacancies?

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Tim Murphy  (R-Pittsburgh)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Oct. 9, 2017 — A new special US House election will soon be on tap, this time in southwestern Pennsylvania in PA-18. Beleaguered Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh) succumbed to the negative publicity leaking out about his extra-marital affairs, abortion hypocrisy, and internal relations with staff members to announce late last week that he will resign his congressional office effective Oct. 21. This, just a day after he made public his intention not to seek re-election but serve the balance of the current term.

Once the seat is vacant, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will call a special election to choose a replacement. Since the Nov. 7 municipal elections occur less than three full weeks after Rep. Murphy departs, that means holding a new special congressional contest concurrently with the regular off-year vote would be impossible. Therefore, it is probable a mid-December or post-January 1st election will be scheduled.

There will be no primary period. Under Pennsylvania law, the parties will meet in district conclaves and local delegates will select the respective nominees.

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