May 1, 2018 — Just when we thought the number of special elections was lessening when Debbie Lesko won the AZ-8 election last week to replace resigned Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria), new vacancies are popping up.
Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford), abruptly resigned Friday.
On Friday, Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford), who had previously announced his retirement for term’s end, abruptly resigned when learning the House Ethics Committee was going to launch an investigation into the severance payment awarded to one of his staff employees. The source of this particular recompense was the special taxpayer funded congressional account found to cover members’ special staff settlements.
Meehan also pledged to repay the $39,000 payment that is the investigation’s basis within the next 30 days. Now that Meehan has exited the House, the Ethics Committee no longer has jurisdiction. He joins former Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) who resigned in early April also to avoid a congressional investigation.
Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) resigned his seat in late April to accept his position in the Trump Administration as the new NASA Administrator. Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Allentown) says he will resign his seat at an unspecified date in early May, presumably because he will be accepting a position in the private sector. As we know, the late New York Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Rochester) passed away on March 16.
April 26, 2018 — Arizona Republican former state Senate President Debbie Lesko defeated physician Hiral Tipirneni (D) last night, 53-47 percent, to win the vacant 8th District seat that former Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria) resigned in January.
Lesko held the seat for Republicans with a high turnout of 173,708 voters, but her six-point win is being cast in the media as an under-performance. Dr. Tipirneni, however, ran a significant campaign and will spend a projected financial number in the $1 million range. Therefore, it’s not particularly surprising that a credible candidate spending significant resources would place in the mid-high 40s despite her opponent’s party being dominant in the region. Lesko will likely spend a bit less than Dr. Tipirneni but received stronger outside support, particularly from the national Republican Party apparatus.
Though Rep. Franks averaged 69.2 percent during his three terms with the district in its present configuration, he did so against candidates who spent virtually no money. In 2014, when he drew 75 percent of the vote, he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. When Franks first won in open configuration back in 2002, his initial win percentage was 59 percent against a candidate who spent only $40,000.
The most recent polls correctly forecast the outcome. Emerson College, the pollster conducting the only two publicly released polls during the period immediately preceding the election (April 19-23; 400 likely AZ-8 special election voters: Lesko 49 percent, Tipirneni 43 percent), correctly predicted a Lesko six-point victory. A week earlier the same pollster (Emerson College; April 12-15; 400 likely special election voters) actually found Dr. Tipirneni forging a small one-point lead.
Jan. 19, 2018 — Considering the large number of House retirements that came swiftly late last year and just as 2018 began, it is a good time to review the 49 seats that will have no incumbent running in the next election.
Three of the current vacancies are in special elections that do not run concurrently with the regular election calendar, and will operate under the following schedules:
• AZ-8: (Rep. Trent Franks-R) – Primary: February 27 | General: April 24 • PA-18: (Rep. Tim Murphy-R) – One election: March 13 • OH-12: (Rep. Pat Tiberi-R) – Primary: May 8 (concurrent with state primary) | General: August 7
Republicans are expected to hold all three seats.
While the GOP is risking 34 of the 49 open seats, most should easily remain in the Republican column. Eighteen of the 34 are considered safely Republican, while another six reside in the “Likely Republican” category. An additional five are in the “lean Republican” category The remaining five are clear political battlegrounds and are “Toss Ups,” several of which are ripe for Democratic conversion.
But seeing that only five of 34 open Republican seats rest in the highly competitive category, it will not be enough for Democrats to create the wave election that they are already expecting. Therefore, they will have to build serious and expensive campaigns in the five “Lean R” seats, and further expand their resources into the Likely Republican category in order to score long-shot upsets.
Democratic candidate Ron Barber, the former district director to resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) won the right to serve the balance of his ex-boss’ term as he upended GOP nominee Jesse Kelly 52-45 percent in an election that saw a voter participation rate of more than 200,000. The Barber victory was an impressive one in what has proven to be a marginal southeastern Arizona district. Barber also was wounded in the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six and left Ms. Giffords with debilitating wounds, a condition that eventually forced her to leave the House.
Though Barber won last night, he likely has not seen the last of Kelly. The two will now face competition for their respective party nominations in the Aug. 28 primary election for new District 2. Martha McSally, who like Kelly is an Iraq War veteran, placed second in the special election primary and figures to be the former nominee’s toughest challenger. Barber faces state Rep. Matt Heinz in what could be an interesting primary for the newly elected representative. The winners will advance to the general election in a district that is slightly more Democratic than the current District 8, but still very winnable for a Republican candidate. On the eve of his first election, Barber has to be viewed as a decided favorite certainly in the Democratic primary, and also for the general election.
The race to fill the congressional seat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8-D) resigned earlier in the year will be decided today. The two major party candidates in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District are Giffords’ former district director, Ron Barber (D) – who was shot along with the congresswoman during the January 2011 rampage that killed six people – and Republican former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly. Kelly finished just two points behind Giffords as her 2010 general election opponent.
By most accounts tonight’s finish will be close, although Public Policy Polling has just released a survey (June 9-10; 1,058 registered AZ-8 voters via automated interviews) that gives Barber a rather large 53-41 percent advantage. The poll, however, does not accurately reflect the voting populace. The polling sample is comprised of 42 percent Democratic voters, 36 percent Republican, and 22 percent Independent. According to the Arizona 8th District voter registration statistics, Republicans have 37.6 percent of the registered voters, Democrats only 31.5 percent, and Independents 30.2 percent. Therefore, this poll over-represents Democrats by a whopping 10.5 percentage points, understates Republican strength by 1.6 points, and Independents by a large 7.8 percentage deficit. Therefore, the partisan complexion is almost a full 20 points away from the actual totals, making the results suspect.
Tonight’s winner serves the balance of Ms. Giffords’ current term. Both men have filed to run in the new District 2 regular election, and each will face opposition on Aug. 28 in their respective partisan primaries. The eventual nominees will then, obviously, be elected for the new full term on the Nov. 6 national general election voting day.