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.
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.
Aug. 7, 2017 — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice made national news the other night at President Trump’s rally in Huntington, WV, when the Democratic state chief executive took the stage to announce that he is switching to the Republican Party.
When addressing the Trump rally, Justice said, “like it or not, but the Democrats walked away from me … West Virginia, I can’t help you anymore by being a Democratic governor.”
The move now gives Republicans control of the entire West Virginia governmental apparatus, owning both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office. Factoring Justice’s party change, the GOP holds the West Virginia chief executive post for the first time since Gov. Arch Moore (R) was defeated for re-election in 1988. There are now 26 states where Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office, including Nebraska where the legislature only has one ostensibly non-partisan legislative chamber but is clearly overwhelmingly Republican. In contrast, Democrats have full power in only five states.
The development means the Democrats drop to holding just 15 governors, an all-time low number for the party. Republicans, on the other hand, reach their historical apex with 34 governors as party members. The 50th governor, Bill Walker of Alaska, is an Independent.
By Jim Ellis
Aug. 3, 2017 — We now have our first major political poll for the important open Ohio governor’s race, a contest that features several current and former prominent office holders from both parties.
The Tarrance Group surveyed the Ohio Republican electorate (July 24-26; 800 likely Ohio GOP voters) for the American Freedom Builders conservative organization, testing next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary that includes three sitting statewide elected officials and a member of Congress.
According to the Tarrance results, attorney general and former US Sen. Mike DeWine leads the field both in support (42 percent) and name identification (96 percent). He enjoys a wide margin over Secretary of State Jon Husted who polls 18 percent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (11 percent), with US Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) now taking just five percent.
Name familiarity at this point has a great deal to do with ballot test standing. Husted’s name is recognized by 67 percent of the respondents, and Lt. Gov. Taylor just 44 percent, while Rep. Renacci is unknown to 71 percent of the statewide voters.
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.
July 27, 2017 — In looking at the Democrats’ US House prospects for next year, it appears their road to a prospective majority must travel through the Golden State of California. In a delegation of 39 Democrats and just 14 Republicans, it is the few GOP seats here that will be drawing an inordinate amount of attention from national party strategists.
The Dems must heavily target California because, with few open seats and their party forced to protect about half the small number of toss-up races, they must find a way to expand the target base if they are to seriously compete. The California campaigns, particularly when referencing Hillary Clinton’s strong presidential performance, become a natural political playing ground. But, as we saw during the House special elections earlier this year, often times the presidential margin, particularly as it relates to President Trump both in a positive and negative sense, and how individuals vote at the congressional level may not always yield the results one might expect.
That being said, seven Golden State Republican incumbents will become major conversion targets next year and, based upon the just-released second quarter financial disclosure reports, these GOP members are more than ready.
The seven, in geographic order from north to south, are: Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock/Modesto), David Valadao (R-Bakersfield), Steve Knight (R-Palmdale/Simi Valley), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton; Orange County), Mimi Walters (R-Irvine; Orange County), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa; Orange County), and Darrell Issa (R-Vista; Orange and San Diego Counties).
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.
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.
July 21, 2017 — Fox News this week released the results of their regular benchmark poll (Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research; July 16-18; 1,020 US registered voters) and find President Trump to be showing some weakness, but not to the degree that the Democrats and media would think and hope.
The polling sample tilts Democratic, and badly under polls Independents. This particular sample features 44 percent Democratic respondents, 37 percent Republican, with just 19 percent self-identifying as politically independent. According to the latest Gallup national party affiliation survey (July 5-9), 28 percent consider themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republican, with 45 percent declaring as Independents.
Overall, the president’s job approval rating is 41:53 percent favorable to unfavorable, which is a little lower than during most of his short tenure in office but still better than the 35:63 percent ratio Trump scored on the Fox pre-election poll (Oct. 10-12; 1,006 US registered voters). Therefore, his favorability index, though seriously upside down, is actually better today than when he won the 2016 election.
While his overall job approval is low, his management of various issue areas is better. In terms of handling the economy, 45 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove. This result represents a slight dip from Fox’s March, April, and June surveys. His best ratio during that time was 48:43 percent (June).
July 19, 2017 — The family feud between President Trump and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is back in high gear. Politico is reporting that Trump or key members of his internal staff have already met with or talked to three Grand Canyon State Republicans who are either opposing the Senator in the Republican primary or considering entering.
At this point, former state Sen. Kelli Ward is the announced primary challenger to Sen. Flake. She opposed Sen. John McCain in the 2016 Republican primary and held the veteran lawmaker to a 51-40 percent victory percentage. The closeness of the final total is likely a greater expression of GOP base vote dissatisfaction with McCain rather than a positive affirmation of Ward, however. Therefore, at this point, she may be over-rated as a viable 2018 challenger.
Former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, a finance sector entrepreneur, is also mentioned as a potential Flake competitor, an unusual juxtaposition in that a former state chairman would be opposing an incumbent who he had once vociferously supported.
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.
July 13, 2017 — Two major announcements occurred during the last few days resulted in one individual becoming an official statewide candidate and another withdrawing from a campaign that had already begun.
West Virginia Senate
As had been expected for some time, two-term West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) announced his campaign for the United States Senate. He will face two-term Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) in the Republican primary, with the winner drawing a difficult political match with Sen. Joe Manchin (D).
With average win percentages of 62 percent over two elections as governor (2004, ’08) in addition to a pair of Senate campaigns (2010 special election; 2012), Sen. Manchin appears to be in strong shape as he approaches his 2018 re-election. But, there are some cracks in his armor, hence the presence of two strong GOP opponents.
Though Sen. Manchin has attempted to cross the partisan line in his public relationship with President Trump and the Republican leadership on several issues, it is still a net negative for the senator to campaign on the same political landscape that proved to be the former’s second strongest state (69 percent).
July 12, 2017 — A major announcement was made in a western state governor’s race Monday, with an additional one from an adjacent domain coming later today. Both affect corresponding US House seats.
New Mexico Governor; NM-2
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) announced that he will enter the open New Mexico governor’s race next year, saying to the Albuquerque Journal that he’s “concerned about an exodus of young people leaving New Mexico,” going to other places for a more favorable job market. Pearce said his campaign will emphasize improving education, spurring economic growth, and reducing crime and poverty.
This will be the second time Pearce has left his House seat to pursue a statewide contest. In 2008, when serving his third term in Congress, he decided to challenge then-Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) for the US Senate nomination, and successfully upset her in the Republican primary. He would then go onto lose the general election to then-Rep. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe), 61-39 percent, in the Obama landslide year.
July 11, 2017 — Surprising political rumblings are being felt in two key western swing states, one highlighting what will be a major Republican primary battle, with a toss-up open seat and a potentially competitive challenger campaign in the other.
The former will feature a serious Colorado GOP primary between two of the most conservative candidates in that state, while two Nevada seats could see a pair of candidates swapping districts.
Republican former US Senate nominee Darryl Glenn says that, in the next several weeks, he will announce a formal GOP primary challenge to veteran Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs). Glenn received no national party support in his 2016 race against Sen. Michael Bennet (D) but still came within six points of him on election night, holding the incumbent below majority support. Just recently, state Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) announced his own primary challenge to Rep. Lamborn. Therefore, we are on the precipice of witnessing a major three-way intra-party confrontation before a Republican electorate very familiar with tough primary battles.
Rep. Lamborn was originally elected in 2006, coming through a difficult primary battle in that year. The same scenario occurred in his first re-election, and he has repelled several primary challenges in subsequent campaigns. But, in each of those situations he was the most conservative candidate. The difference here, at least when reflecting upon a Glenn candidacy, is that Rep. Lamborn may not be considered as such. This will be the first challenge where the congressman will actually have to defend himself from the right.
July 6, 2017 — A July announcement regarding the coming Missouri US Senate race had been expected for weeks, but the actual content featured a much different declaration than anticipated.
Just before the July 4th holiday, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County), who was thought to be announcing a campaign for the Senate, instead made public her decision not to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Rep. Wagner will seek a fourth term in the House, however. The congresswoman cited her desire to continue fully representing her home area as the driving force behind her ultimate political decision. In her statement, Wagner said that the 2nd District “ … is my home. It’s where I grew up, went to school, have worked and volunteered, raised my kids, and attend church every week—there is no greater honor than representing a place and people that I love.”
The Wagner turnabout was particularly surprising in that she had been raising money at a very strong clip, more than $800,000 in the first quarter with a projected similar amount for the quarter just ended but not yet publicly reported.
Democrats, of course, are saying that Wagner decided not to run statewide because she and another Republicans fear a bad political year. The Dems uniformly cite President Trump’s low approval ratings and what many perceive as a politically negative healthcare issue, things they believe will cause major electoral problems for GOP candidates.