The Challenges Begin

By Jim Ellis

July 3, 2017 — Action late last week emanating from Massachusetts could be a harbinger of what we can expect in the coming months. The Boston Globe reported that Cambridge City Councilman Nadeem Mazen is not seeking re-election to instead launch a significant Democratic primary challenge to veteran 10-term congressman, Mike Capuano (D-Somerville).

Mazen has not yet announced his congressional candidacy, though he has previously made public his decision not to seek re-election to the Cambridge Council when he seat comes before the voters later this year. He did tell the Globe, however, that he is “beginning to focus on campaign plans for 2018” but wants to talk to community leaders, elected officials, and “potential allies” before making public statements about any future political plans.

Mazen, the first Muslim elected to office in Massachusetts, was originally elected to the council in 2009 and, at the time, pledged to only serve two four-year terms. He has worked to activate Muslims to join the political process and run for office. Professionally, Mazen founded a film company that produces animated content.

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Fake Analysis?

By Jim Ellis

June 30, 2017 — As we all know, one of President Trump’s favorite gambits is to call out reporters for what he terms their “fake news” stories, and we see an example this week of where he may be right. The New York Times is one of the president’s favorite whipping posts, and Nate Cohn’s analysis in the publication’s Political Calculus section about the Democrats’ chances in the 2018 election cycle is at least dangerously close to fitting into that category. While Cohn’s analysis may not be “fake”, he certainly omits a great many facts that don’t conveniently fit his premise.

Cohn is right in the early part of his article when he states that for Democrats to win the net 24 seats they need to capture at least a one-seat House majority they must expand the political playing field. He goes so far as to say they need to challenge perhaps as many as 70 Republican incumbents or nominees in open Republican seats in order to obtain that number, and his statement may well be correct.

But the “fake” part of the analysis again surrounds the special elections just completed. The author reiterates the common narrative that the Republicans under-performed in these seats, which, therefore, lays the foundation for a Democratic sweep in next year’s House races.

The premise of Republican under-performance in these campaigns simply isn’t accurate in three of the four GOP-held seats. While true President Trump recorded big percentages in the four districts, and House Republican incumbents previously racked up large victory margins against weak opponents, an “apples to apples” comparison puts the results into better perspective. In past open seat or challenger contests in these same seats, the Republican special election victors came within at least similar range with previous winning GOP candidates in like situations. The current analyses isolate the Trump numbers, which in many cases aren’t like other Republican totals, while adding landslide incumbent wins that skew the underlying vote history.

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Nevada Senate: The Race is On

By Jim Ellis

June 29, 2017
— Last week, freshman Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) informally declared her intention to run for the Senate – promising an actual announcement for sometime this week or next – and now we already see the first poll for the impending race.

First-term Sen. Dean Heller is clearly the Republicans most vulnerable incumbent in an election year where Democratic opportunities are few and far between. In this particular cycle, Democrats must defend 25 of the 33 Senate campaigns to come before their respective voters versus the Republicans’ mere eight; and, realistically, only two of the latter group are in the competitive realm.

Republican in-cycle Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT), John Barrasso (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), Bob Corker (TN), Ted Cruz (TX), and Roger Wicker (MS) all come from secure Republican states, and none are in serious danger for re-election. Sen. Jeff Flake finds himself in an iffy Arizona situation, but he has time to right his political ship. Therefore, the Nevada seat becomes possibly the Democrats’ lone conversion focal point for the coming election.

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More on the House

By Jim Ellis

June 27, 2017 — Yesterday, we examined the House’s post-special election status and speculated upon the Democrats’ chances of wresting majority control away from Republicans during the coming regular campaigns. One of the obstacles that make the Democrats’ task difficult is that only 15 early seats are open, and Republicans risk just nine of the total sum.

What could bring Democrats greater opportunity is the number of potentially open seats — that is, where members are, reportedly, considering running for another office. In this category, 18 incumbents are said to be contemplating different political moves that, if executed, would send their current seats into the open category.

Of the 18, only two are Democrats. Should Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) draw a major Republican primary opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) is likely to jump into the Arizona statewide race thinking her victory chances become more realistic if Flake is forced to battle through a difficult intra-party contest. In Maryland, Rep. John Delaney (D-Potomac) is still reportedly considering entering the governor’s race to challenge incumbent Larry Hogan (R). The Democratic field is expanding, however, with former NAACP president Ben Jealous and Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker just recently announcing their candidacies, so Rep. Delaney’s decision is likely becoming more difficult.

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Looking at the House

By Jim Ellis

June 27, 2017 — For a brief instant, until Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) resigns later this week, the House has a full compliment of 435 members, which means now is a good time to survey 2018 election cycle prospects.

There has been a great deal of speculation, particularly before the GA-6 special election that Democrats had hoped to win, that Republicans are in danger of losing their majority in the coming regular election. But, what do the numbers actually say?

In looking at the overall picture much depends upon realistic chances that congressional district maps in Pennsylvania and Texas could be changed via redistricting court rulings before the next election. Should this happen in the two states, certain districts currently rated safe or likely to go to one party or the other could be significantly altered. Therefore, this pair of domains with large Republican majorities (Pennsylvania: 13R-5D; Texas: 25R-11D) could become 2018 electoral wild cards.

Since the post-reapportionment maps were finalized after the 2010 census, three states: Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, have been re-drawn. The three new maps combined resulted in Democrats gaining a net of two seats, an increase far below what was projected. Potential exists for further re-drawing in Wisconsin and again in North Carolina, but the US Supreme Court agreeing to hear the former state’s political gerrymandering lawsuit now makes the timing for any court-directed map changes in the two places more difficult to implement for the coming election.

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New Virginia Polling

By Jim Ellis

June 26, 2017 — Despite the vast majority of survey research firms again failing to predict the correct outcome for a recent political campaign — this time the GA-6 special election — we do have new data to analyze for the Virginia governor’s race.

While it is too early to tell whether the pollsters are correctly projecting the turnout model and whether they are using the proper formula to pull a representative sample, it is still worthwhile to look at all the published polls in order to establish a moving trend.

As was reported immediately after the Virginia primary concluded, Harper Polling went into the field the day after Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie won their respective party nominations for governor. According to their results (June 14-16; 500 registered Virginia voters), both Northam and Gillespie were tied at 46 percent. The conclusion was even a bit better for Gillespie because within the eight percent group who reported themselves as undecided, 19 percent indicated a preference for the Republican, while seven percent said they were leaning toward Northam, the new Democratic candidate.

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Utah Convention Winner

By Jim Ellis

June 23, 2017 — Last Saturday, in news that has been somewhat overshadowed by the recent special elections I’ve been writing about, former state Representative Chris Herrod, who challenged Sen. Orrin Hatch for re-nomination in 2012, won the special Republican nominating convention to replace outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy). Herrod advances to the Aug. 15 Republican primary to face Provo Mayor John Curtis and businessman Tanner Ainge, who both qualified for the ballot via petition signature.

Once Rep. Chaffetz announced he would leave the House without completing his current term, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) scheduled the replacement special election to include an Aug. 15 primary and a Nov. 7 general election. The political parties had the option of holding a nominating convention, which the Republicans quickly scheduled for this past Saturday, June 17. They changed the normal party rules to select one candidate for advancement rather than two if no candidate received 60 percent of the delegate vote.

Almost 800 Republican precinct delegates gathered in Provo for the special election vote. Eleven candidates were on the ballot, and it took five rounds of voting before Herrod emerged with a majority vote. On the final ballot, he defeated state Sen. Deidre Henderson, 415-338, for 55.1 percent of those present and voting, thus exceeding the majority mark and clinching the official party endorsement.

In regular Utah convention politics, candidates are required to receive 60 percent of the delegate vote to, if no candidates qualify by petition signature, clinch the actual party nomination. Because this is a special congressional election, the first held in Utah since 1930, the party leaders altered the convention rules to produce only one winner once 50 percent support was obtained. The fact that at least one other candidate would apparently qualify via signature -– an onerous requirement of 7,000 valid signatures gathered exclusively with circulators from the 3rd District -– factored heavily in the leaders’ decision to change the convention rules. This way, they could limit the number of primary participants.

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The Aftermath

By Jim Ellis

June 22, 2017 — Much was written and discussed yesterday about Tuesday’s surprising special election results in GA-6 and SC-5. Democrats, in particular, had raised victory expectations to unrealistically high levels for the Georgia race while spending record sums of money there, yet still suffered another crushing defeat.

Northeast from the Atlanta district some 200 miles away on Interstate 85, South Carolina Democratic candidate Archie Parnell, who the national party leadership basically considered politically dead even before he won the party nomination, lost by only two percentage points. He actually came closer to his Republican opponent than GA-6 candidate Jon Ossoff did while having 97 percent less in the way of campaign financial resources.

Predictably, Democratic congressional members, activists, and donors from around the country are not happy with the party leadership over the losses, but talk inside and outside the House of deposing the leadership team of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC) will soon dissipate.

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Handel and Norman

By Jim Ellis

June 21, 2017 — It’s difficult to characterize a Republican candidate winning a Republican congressional district as an “upset”, but Karen Handel’s victory in the north Atlanta suburbs last night, at least in terms of the money spent, polling, and how the media covered the campaign, seems to qualify for such a description.

From a huge turnout of 259,622 voters, just about 58 percent of the entire registered 6th district universe and almost 50,000 more than participated in the last regular mid-term election, Handel, a former Georgia Secretary of State, topped Democratic filmmaker and ex-congressional aide Jon Ossoff by a 52-48 percent margin, a spread of 9,702 votes when all of the ballots were counted. She retains for the Republicans Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s former congressional seat.

Simultaneously, over 200 miles away via Interstate 85 northeast of Atlanta in central South Carolina, Republican Ralph Norman claimed the evening’s other special congressional election with a surprisingly close 51-49 percent win over Democrat Archie Parnell from a small turnout of 87,840 voters. Office of Management & Budget Director Mick Mulvaney left open this seat to assume his national position.

The GA-6 contest, which became a national election because of the record amounts of money spent — an aggregate total that will likely exceed $50 million when the final accounting is published, and where the Democratic leadership virtually invested their entire special election season budget and emphasis — is now a crushing defeat for the party and what is termed the “anti-Trump resistance.”

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Election Day Today

By Jim Ellis

June 20, 2017 — Voters in Georgia and South Carolina complete their special election processes today, with Republicans protecting both vacant US House seats and Democrats trying to make one of them a major national gain. The GA-6 and SC-5 seats of Trump Administration appointees Tom Price of Georgia and Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina have been vacant for months, but will have new representatives as tonight draws to a close.

GA-6

This is the big one. More than $40 million will be spent in the aggregate for this campaign, more money than ever expended for a single congressional contest. Democrats went “all in” on this contest at the beginning of the special election cycle, using President Trump’s 1.5 percentage point victory performance as a harbinger of a changing Republican district.

Polling shows the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel as being a dead heat. Ossoff has maintained a slight lead for most of the post-primary period, but the polling sample selections have often over-emphasized the 2016 presidential campaign, which has led to a greater number of Democratic respondents. This, plus the Republicans tending to under-poll in the South could give Handel a better chance than the pure numbers indicate.

Democrats are using this race as proof that they can sweep the mid-term elections, but GA-6 isn’t representative of their coming campaigns. First, they won’t be able to raise and spend $25 million for every congressional race in the 2018 cycle, so the financial aspect skews the outcome. Second, the Democratic spokespeople will make this result, should Ossoff win, a statement suggesting that the voting public is rejecting President Trump. This is only a surface argument because Ossoff’s public positions don’t often mention the chief executive, nor do they espouse liberal economic principles. Therefore, it is likely their post-election victory analysis won’t reflect Ossoff’s actual reasons for winning.

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Gillespie Digging Out

By Jim Ellis

June 19, 2017 — As has been discussed since the Virginia gubernatorial primary votes were counted last Tuesday, the election’s end result was much different for both parties than expected even though the favored candidates won. For Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, the primary vote distribution could have only been worse if he had lost.

At week’s end, GOP second-place finisher Corey Stewart announced that he would not challenge the vote totals –- it is unlikely that a recount would have produced enough to overcome his 4,320 statewide vote deficit -– but he stopped short of formally endorsing the new party nominee; though Stewart did indicate that he would vote for Gillespie.

The breadth of his former opponent’s comments indicates that Gillespie has quite a gap to fill in order to attract the Stewart vote base for the general election. These are people Gillespie must have if he is to seriously compete with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in surprisingly easy fashion.

“The real question is, will [Gillespie] support my supporters? Unless he stands up and takes clear positions on defending our heritage and our history, supporting the president, cracking down on illegal immigration, those who supported me are not going to go with him. This isn’t old-style politics anymore. I just can’t tell 155,000 folks to go ahead and vote for Ed despite the fact that he’s not a fighter,” Stewart said in a post-election Washington Post interview.

Gillespie had hoped to be in the opposite position that he now faces. Forecasts suggested he would easily win the party nomination, while it appeared that the Democrats were in the closer contest. Possibly the best case Gillespie scenario was seeing a close Northam win after strongly securing his own nomination. Since the lieutenant governor moved far to the left to counter the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren-supported Tom Perriello, Gillespie wanted maneuvering room to move closer to the center while Northam was trapped on the far left perch of his party.

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GA-6 – Dead Even

By Jim Ellis

June 15, 2017 — The long Georgia special election cycle is mercifully almost over, as this most expensive-ever congressional race draws to a close next Tuesday. Looking at the aggregate spending, this one House campaign will easily exceed $40 million in combined expenditures, probably topping $25 million for Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign committee alone when the financial books close at the reporting cycle’s end.

The polls have forecast a close race between Ossoff and former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) immediately upon both advancing from the April 18 jungle primary. The most recent study, from Survey USA polling for WXIA-TV in Atlanta (June 7-11, 700 registered GA-6 voters; 503 either likely June 20 participants or those who have voted early), finds the two again tied at 47 percent. This is a marked improvement for Handel in comparison to both S-USA’s previous poll and last week’s Abt Associates survey for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, both of which found Ossoff holding a 51-44 percent advantage.

All three of these polls, however, are apparently understating Republican strength. In party segmentation, the GOP/lean GOP cell has only small advantages over the Democrat/Lean Democrat grouping. This is largely due to over-emphasizing the close 2016 presidential race when constructing the respondent pool. Since Georgia does not register voters by political party affiliation, it becomes more difficult to determine an accurate party sample for polling purposes.

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Virginia Opposite Than Predicted

By Jim Ellis

June 14, 2017 — The Virginia governor primaries actually produced the expected winners for both sides last night, but the margins and the candidates’ points of geographical strength turned the pre-election predictions upside down.

Going into yesterday’s vote, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was generally favored to prevail in a close Democratic contest over former US Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville). The tangible result, however, provided Northam a substantial 56-44 percent win, a performance that saw him easily carrying the areas where Perriello had to make major inroads if the latter was to construct a winning statewide bid.

Specifically, vote-rich northern Virginia, where Perriello was making a strong campaign effort and went as far left as possible in an attempt to attract the region’s Democratic primary voters, failed to come through for him. Northam took the city of Alexandria, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties with percentages of 61, 62, and 60 percent, respectively, far above his projected vote performance.

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Another House Opening;
Puerto Rico Vote

By Jim Ellis

June 13, 2017 — Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) announced his campaign for governor Sunday, making the open seat Democratic primary even more crowded. Polis’ move sets up a major primary confrontation with fellow Colorado congressional colleague Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden), who announced his own candidacy in early April. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Rep. Polis becomes the ninth Democrat to enter the governor’s race, but clearly he and Perlmutter are the heavyweight candidates. Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver), and plastics company CEO Noel Ginsburg are also substantial players. Seven Republicans are in the race, the most prominent of whom is George Brauchler, the Aurora County District Attorney who prosecuted James Holmes, known as the “Joker”, a mass murderer who killed a dozen people and wounded 70 more in a rampage outside a local movie theatre in July of 2012.

The Colorado governor’s race will be one of the most interesting and competitive of the 2018 election cycle. Democrats will be favored to claim the statewide race, but a strong Republican effort could position the GOP candidate for an upset victory, similar to how Sen. Cory Gardner (R) won here in 2014.

The Democratic primary here will likely yield another example of how the party is becoming at odds within itself. Rep. Polis may be in strong position to attract the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren most liberal faction, while Perlmutter is likely to be the establishment wing’s preferred contender. With at least seven other Democrats vying for the nomination in varying degrees of strength, this June 2018 Dem primary will be among the most hard fought, and potentially divisive in the nation.

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Virginia Primary Today

By Jim Ellis

June 13, 2017 — The Virginia governor’s campaign is becoming a national race in relation to prognosticating political trends, and we will be able to glean some partial answers this evening.

Initially, the eventual Virginia general election winner earns the redistricting veto pen for the 2021 redraw, and becomes the first newly elected governor to have such authority. All other states where redistricting is handled through the normal legislative process will elect their commensurate governors in 2018, 2019, and/or 2020.

Second, the Commonwealth’s Democratic primary race has evolved into an early microcosm of what Democrats may be experiencing throughout the country this year and next, and quite possibly beyond.

The split between the party’s more extreme Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren faction and the traditional liberal Hillary Clinton segment is portrayed in the Tom Perriello/Ralph Northam gubernatorial primary. Though former US Rep. Perriello is wrapping himself in the Sanders/Warren mantra, going so far as having them star in his ads along with film clips of President Obama extolling his virtue when he was a member of the House, Perriello’s initiative has driven Lt. Gov. Northam to adopt more leftward ideological positions, as well.

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