South Carolina Special

By Jim Ellis

May 3, 2017 — Voters in north-central South Carolina’s 5th District cast ballots yesterday in partisan primaries as the people voted to choose a replacement for ex-Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill), now director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Unlike the four previous special elections in California, Kansas, Montana, and Georgia, the Palmetto State neither holds a jungle primary nor a nominating convention. Just as in the regular election cycle, candidates first run in partisan primaries. If no one secures a majority in the first vote, partisan run-offs occur in a short two-week time frame under South Carolina election law. The eventual nominees then advance to the general election.

In a district that voted 57-39 percent for President Trump, and elected Rep. Mulvaney four times by an average of 57.6 percent of the vote, including his initial percentage when defeating veteran incumbent Rep. John Spratt (D) in 2010, the Republicans were heavy favorites to hold the seat in the current special election process.

Seven Republicans are on the ballot, and most observers agree that former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman and state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope were the two leading candidates. With five others on the ballot, it appeared unlikely that either Norman or Pope would command a majority of the primary vote, hence a May 16 GOP run-off was viewed as the likely outcome of yesterday’s voting.

Norman had the most in the way of funding, securing almost $600,000 according to the pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing report through the period ending April 12. Half of that amount was from a candidate loan, however. State Rep. Pope, who was planning to run for governor had not Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) become the incumbent state chief executive when Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations, had only banked $226,002 during the same period, which was a surprisingly low amount.

Both of these candidates have cut television ads, but more airings have been through the digital medium rather than the airwaves. (See below samples)

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Why Trump Is Right on the Polls

By Jim Ellis

May 2, 2017 — President Trump’s retaliatory attacks against the latest major media polls may actually be more correct than even he alludes. The nation’s chief executive predictably came out swinging against ABC and NBC News regarding their newly released polls that found just over 40 percent of their sampling groups approve of his job performance, the worst of any president after 100 days in office.

Trump reminded his audience that those two particular polls were wrong in their election predictions, but the survey representatives quickly shot back to point out that their pre-election projection of Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote was in fact accurate. These pollsters are correct in this particular assertion, but we all know that the individual state polling, particularly in the key Great Lakes states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, was badly flawed and completely missed the mark.

Digging deeper into the current and past election polls does produce a little known factoid, however, and one that the president should find comforting. While the ABC and NBC representatives say their data find Trump to be the most unpopular short-term president, they fail to draw upon a critical comparison factor from their own previous polls.

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Missouri Taking Shape

By Jim Ellis

May 1, 2017 — Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) stands for a third term, and could arguably be the Republicans’ top national conversion target. The senator obviously had a successful first re-election run in 2012 despite Mitt Romney carrying Missouri, a race that was made easier after actively worked to influence Republicans to nominate then-Rep. Todd Akin, a man she was confident of defeating.

Sen. Claire McKaskill (Facebook photo)

Sen. Claire McKaskill (Facebook photo)

Even with a calamitous succeeding Republican campaign, the combined GOP and minor party opposition to McCaskill still netted over 45 percent of the vote. Therefore, adding the more defined Missouri Republican vote trend present since 2012, it is reasonable to project that the eventual GOP nominee likely starts a campaign against McCaskill with a base in the 47-48 percent range.

For a long while, the Missouri electorate proved a reliable bellwether in presidential elections. For 76 years, covering 19 elections (dating back to Franklin Roosevelt’s first election in 1932), Show Me State voters had sided with the winning presidential candidate in every election but one. In 1956, the state went to Adlai Stevenson in the Eisenhower re-election year.

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Another Says No

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

April 28, 2017 — Democrats face a major problem in the 2018 Senate races that they have no ability to solve. Forced to defend 25 of the 33 in-cycle seats, not counting the new 2017 Alabama special election, there simply aren’t enough viable Republican conversion targets to yield a legitimate run for the majority.

Even in what should be their top conversion target, the Nevada race where GOP Sen. Dean Heller is seeking his second term, the Democrats do not yet have a viable candidate. This week, businessman Steve Cloobeck, who has the ability to self-fund a Silver State campaign, announced that he would not run.

And then, in a move that perplexed the Democratic leadership, Cloobeck went a step further and publicly endorsed Sen. Heller for re-election. While professing not to agree with Heller on core issues, Cloobeck says he appreciates “his (Heller’s) businesslike approach to politics and legislation.”

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Finally, a Montana Poll

By Jim Ellis

April 27, 2017 — While the Montana at-large special election has been heating up with both major party candidates approaching the $2 million mark in campaign receipts and each heavily spending on media, we had surprisingly not seen any polling data … until yesterday.

The lack of polling led some analysts to believe the race was trending toward Republican Greg Gianforte. Democrats, normally quick to release survey numbers that favor their candidate, had been unusually quiet about nominee Rob Quist’s ballot test status. GOP strategists typically tend to play their polling cards closer to the vest, but often publicize survey data in response to what they see as embellished numbers for the opponent.

It’s possible that such an argument scenario has some validity in this instance. The Emerson College Polling Society made public their recent survey totals that post Gianforte to a major advantage over country rock singer Rob Quist (D).

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Dems: Targeting Trouble

By Jim Ellis

April 26, 2017 — Democrats appear encouraged by their early House special election performance, which has spurred some talk about the party’s possibilities of re-claiming the House majority next year.

While the open special election Democratic candidates are of high quality in California, Georgia, and Montana, the early regular cycle contenders are lacking, finding themselves already embroiled in multi-candidate primaries, or not even in existence.

Of the 10 already announced regular cycle open seats six are in Republican districts. All are either categorized as safe or likely Republican, so the prospects for Democratic gains in this important sector appear non-existent at least within the current configuration.

Turning to the challenger races, Democrats are active on the recruiting front but it appears the party leadership efforts, combined with individuals declaring candidacies of their own accord, are resulting in either feast or famine. In each of 36 districts, for example, against Republican incumbents not even considered especially vulnerable, Democrats already have multiple announced candidates.

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Updating the Four Specials

By Jim Ellis

April 25, 2017 — Coming through the highly publicized GA-6 special election, the political overtime campaign season is hitting its stride as we approach May voting. In Georgia, South Carolina, Montana, and California, political action is now in full swing.

The GA-6 contest has eliminated all but finalists Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R) in a race well on its way to becoming the most expensive congressional special election in American history. Right after last Tuesday’s vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sponsored an initial post-primary $450,000 flash media buy, which was quickly followed by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $250,000 airtime purchase.

While the two sides exceeded $16 million in pre-primary fundraising, it appears the special general spending pattern is already following suit to no one’s surprise. We can count on seeing very active campaigning here all the way to the June 20th special general vote.

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More Chaffetz Intrigue

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)

April 24, 2017 — House Oversight & Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) made a great deal of news over the past week. He surprisingly announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018; Chaffetz said he’s been away from his family in Utah too long during his four-plus terms in Congress, and desires to return to the private sector, yet he left the door wide open about running for governor in 2020.

Then, Rep. Chaffetz indicated that he was considering resigning before the term ends. In fact, late last week, rumors were circulating through media outlets that the congressman was going to leave the House as early as Friday.

Then Rep. Chaffetz somewhat clarified the situation saying that while he would not likely serve the remaining 20 months of the current term, he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon and certainly not within days. The representative told the Salt Lake City Tribune that, “if I do it, it’s going to be months from now.” Chaffetz also disclosed that he is in discussions with an unidentified company about a private-sector position.

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Chaffetz to Retire; Cruz Down

By Jim Ellis

April 21, 2017 — Five-term Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy) announced Wednesday that he will surprisingly retire from the House at the end of the current term. Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, says he wants to return to the private sector and devote the rest of this time in Congress to completing his open investigations. The congressman said he may well run for public office again, but not in 2018. When asked about him entering the impending open 2020 gubernatorial race, Chaffetz joked that he is a “definite maybe.”

Rep. Chaffetz becomes the 14th House incumbent who will not be on the ballot for the next election, including the four remaining special congressional elections. At least another 15 members are reportedly considering seeking a different elective office, or outright retirement. Nine of the previously mentioned 14 are Republicans.

Utah’s 3rd Congressional District is safely Republican. President Trump took the district with 47.2 percent of the vote, while Hillary Clinton actually placed third, just behind Independent Evan McMullin at 23.3 percent. The 3rd was one of Mitt Romney’s strongest districts in the entire country. In 2012, he defeated President Obama, 78-19 percent, in this CD. Reviewing the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain won here with a 68-30 percent margin.

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GA-6: Ossoff vs. Handel

By Jim Ellis

April 20, 2017
— Democrat Jon Ossoff came within a relative whisker of capturing the 6th District special election contest last night against 17 other candidates. In an election night that featured a laboriously slow count from Fulton County, Georgia, which experienced technical problems throughout the day, Ossoff tallied 48.1 percent of the vote, just two points away from winning the seat.

Turnout was unusually high for a special election, and the 6th will likely have the highest participation factor of the five special congressional contests occurring throughout the early summer. With the vote totals still a bit sketchy because of the Fulton County problems, and final tallies potentially changing, it appears that just over 192,000 voters will have cast ballots. Compare this to the 28,731 who voted in the California special congressional election on April 4, and the 120,897 participants in the Kansas special held last week. In the regular 2016 general election, 326,005 individuals voted in the congressional election.

Karen Handel, the Republican former Secretary of State placed a solid second and advances to the June 20 run-off election with Ossoff. Her percentage of just about 20 percent almost doubled the vote of the third place finisher, businessman and local city councilman Bob Gray.

Most of the polls released before the special jungle primary appeared flawed because they were not listing all of the candidates. Thus, there was some potential that the surveys over-stated Ossoff’s strength, but such was not the case. They also consistently showed the four competitive Republicans are closely bunched together in low double-digits, but Handel distinctly out-performed most of those estimates.

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House Financials as Predictors

By Jim Ellis

April 19, 2017
— As we all know, actions speak louder than words. The US House first quarter campaign finance reports (through March 31, 2017) were publicized Monday and, tracking those members who have publicly indicated at least some interest in declaring a Senate challenge, we now have some tangible information to gauge which individuals might be serious about making a statewide run. A look below at the Senate incumbent and House challenger(s):

Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (R)
• Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix)
   $677,542 raised; $136,496 spent; $2,804,679 cash-on-hand; $0 debt
Rep. Sinema has failed to confirm rumors that she is planning to run for Senate or governor. Considering that incumbent Sen. Flake is appearing in a more vulnerable state than Gov. Doug Ducey (R), it is more reasonable to think that a Sinema Senate challenge is the more likely. The congresswoman’s aggressive early campaign fundraising and already reaching just short of the $3 million mark in cash-on-hand makes her a very serious potential challenger.

Florida: Sen. Bill Nelson (D)
• Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Okeechobee)
   $73,552 raised; $59,359 spent; $84,848 cash-on-hand; $0 debt
Rep. Rooney indicated several times that he has not closed the door on challenging Sen. Nelson. With little fundraising effort in the first quarter and Gov. Rick Scott (R) positioning himself for a Senate challenge, the financial numbers confirm that Rep. Rooney will not enter the statewide race.

Indiana: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D)
• Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg)
   $706,414 raised; $136,418 spent; $1,620,394 cash-on-hand; $0 debt
• Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg)
   $321,166 raised; $88,501 spent; $1,548,229 cash-on-hand; $0 debt
Both congressmen Messer and Rokita have impressive campaign accounts and are well positioned financially to launch a challenge against Sen. Donnelly. Messer has been the more aggressive early fundraiser, but it is conceivable that both could enter the Senate race.

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GA-6 Today

By Jim Ellis

April 18, 2017 — Voters in the northern Atlanta suburbs go to the polls today, and if a new Opinion Savvy survey is correct, Democrat Jon Ossoff will easily claim the first run-off position but will fall well short of claiming an outright victory in Georgia.

Since Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) was nominated as President Trump’s Secretary of Health & Human Services, the Democrats have been investing heavily into the replacement special election, believing that they have a shot to convert this historically reliable Republican district. Their hopes were buoyed in finding that President Trump scored only a 1.5 percentage point win over Hillary Clinton within the 6th District boundaries.

Though five Democrats are on tomorrow’s ballot, the party has coalesced around investigative filmmaker and former congressional aide Ossoff. It is apparent that he is the strongest individual candidate, but the combined Republican number still outpaces him.

The new Opinion Savvy data (April 13; 437 GA-6-weighted likely voters) is very similar to one they conducted over the March 22-23 period. The OS surveys likely provide our best glimpse into the race because the firm is the only polling operation that has included the names of all 18 candidates on their survey questionnaire. Because the entire field is so large, the other pollsters have given their sampling group members only an abbreviated list of individuals from which to choose.

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New GA-6 Data

By Jim Ellis

April 17, 2017 — With the KS-4 special election just concluding last week, we now turn our attention to the imminent Georgia congressional primary. Voters in the northern Atlanta suburbs head to the polls for next week’s much-anticipated electoral contest scheduled for Tuesday, April 18.

While the hot early polling pace has seemingly dissipated for an election that will eventually produce a replacement for Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price in his vacated congressional district, the RHH Elections firm just released a fresh set of numbers.

Once more, however, we are examining a methodologically flawed survey, but the polling conclusion again proves consistent with other previously released data.

RHH Elections – identified as a group of eight unnamed lobbyists who are conducting an independent poll for this race – uses a combination of survey methods, neither of which included personal interviews with the individual respondents. The RHH survey (April 5-10; 321 likely GA-6 voters; 75 percent IVR; 25 percent online respondents) was conducted questioning participants through an interactive voice response system supplemented with online responses. Therefore, the sample’s error factor is a serious issue, and likely greater than the 5 percent estimated in the pollsters’ analysis.

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More Alabama Drama

By Jim Ellis

April 14, 2017 — In office now just a few days, new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is reportedly contemplating a major electoral decision that will add to Alabama’s considerable political intrigue. According to a spokesperson for Ivey, the governor is considering changing the special election schedule as it relates to appointed US Sen. Luther Strange’s (R) situation.

In a controversial decision, former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) appointed then-Attorney General Strange to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) immediately after the latter was confirmed as US attorney general. The move was controversial since Strange was reportedly investigating the governor regarding the situation for which he resigned earlier this week, but during the appointment process said that no such inquiry was underway. After the Senate appointment was made and a new state attorney general installed, it was confirmed that a Bentley investigation was in fact quickly progressing.

In addition to choosing Strange to replace Sen. Sessions, Gov. Bentley scheduled the special election to fill the balance of the current Senate term to run concurrently with the regular 2018 election schedule. Some argued that Bentley exceeded his authority because the state’s special election law indicates the vote should be called “forthwith.” Bentley and his legal team argued that the “forthwith” reference in the Alabama statute referred to officially calling the election, but not necessarily to conducting the vote. Bentley also argued it is more cost effective to hold the special concurrently with the regular general election rather than incur the expense of running a stand-alone statewide vote.

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Alabama Governor

By Jim Ellis

April 12, 2017 — Gov. Robert Bentley’s (R) resignation from office Monday, and his reported plea bargain agreement relating to charges that he squandered public and campaign funds in connection with maintaining and then covering up an extra-marital affair with a state employee changes the current Alabama political picture.

Bentley was ineligible to seek a third term, and his resignation comes ahead of what looked to be a sure impeachment. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) ascended to the governor’s office immediately upon Bentley’s resignation becoming official. Though she had not announced a campaign for governor next year, it was widely believed that Ivey would become a candidate.

Now that she is governor, it remains to be seen if the long line of potential gubernatorial candidates will move forward with their own campaigns, remain on the sidelines if it looks like she will become a strong incumbent, or look toward appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) who must stand for election in 2018 to serve the balance of the current term.

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