Nov. 15, 2017 — Though almost all of the weekend political media coverage focused on the Alabama Senate campaign and the sexual impropriety allegations against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), over 800 miles from the heart of Dixie another group of Republicans was choosing a nominee to fill a US House vacancy.
In late October, yet another sex scandal-tainted political figure, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh), succumbed to the pressure against him and announced that he would resign from the House. Quickly, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called the special election to fill the new vacancy for March 13. Each 18th District political party organization then had the responsibility of meeting in convention to choose their respective congressional nominee.
On Saturday, 215 Republican conferees from the CD’s four counties decided among three candidates, all members of the Pennsylvania legislature. An additional state representative, Jason Ortitay (R-Bridgeville), originally announced that he, too, would stand for nomination but decided the morning of the convention to withdraw.
Nov. 6, 2017 — Veteran Texas US Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) rather surprisingly announced late last week that he will not seek a 17th term in the House next year. Smith was first elected in 1986, and has averaged 81.5 percent of the vote during his 16 election campaigns. The lowest win percentage of his long career (57 percent) actually came last November.
Prior to his election to Congress, Smith served for a short time on the Bexar County Commission and in the Texas House of Representatives. In the US House, his current 31 years of service ranks him #14 in seniority. He is in his final term as chairman of the House Science Committee. Previously, he was chairman of both the Judiciary Committee and House Ethics Committee.
Rep. Smith is the second Texas Republican to announce his retirement this week and third overall. Earlier, Dallas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, also a committee chairman (Financial Services), made public his intention to retire. They join Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Plano) who announced his own retirement months ago. On the Democratic side, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is leaving his safe congressional seat to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz (R).
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.
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.
Aug. 22, 2017 — Currently, we see a low number of open US House seats during this 2018 election cycle, and the number is about to get even smaller. Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) is expected to announce that he has changed political course once again and now will seek re-election.
In April, the six-term congressman announced his candidacy for governor, only to withdraw two months later. At the time when ending his statewide bid, Perlmutter confirmed that he would not be seeking re-election to a seventh term in the House. Believing the 7th District, a likely Democratic seat, would be open in 2018, three state legislators and a former US Ambassador jumped into the party primary.
At the very least, each of the three legislators has previously indicated that they would end their congressional campaigns and defer to the returning incumbent should he decide to return. Therefore, it is likely Perlmutter’s re-entry into the congressional race will not spur a competitive primary campaign.
Assuming this predicted new course of action proves true, the number of open regular cycle House seats will temporarily drop to 20. At this point in time, the total open seat universe is half of what it was in the last two election cycles, and less than one-third the high water number of 64 we saw in 2012.
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.
March 31, 2017 — Reports coming from Texas, as reported in the Houston Chronicle, indicate that three-term Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will formally announce a challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R). Will O’Rourke be a viable challenger, or will his campaign be nothing more than a political suicide run?
It will be interesting to see what type of arguments the El Paso congressman and his Democratic allies use in attempting to convince the Texas electorate to choose a Senate Democratic contender for the first time since the late Lloyd Bentsen (D) was last re-elected in 1988. It has been 26 years since the Democrats won any major Texas statewide election, last occurring in 1990 when Ann Richards became governor. Other Democratic statewide candidates were also swept into constitutional office that year, as they had been for previous generations. George W. Bush unseated Gov. Richards in 1994, which actually began the period of Texas Republican dominance that continues to this day.
Beating Sen. Cruz may actually be more difficult than running against a typical Republican incumbent, meaning one who did not actively oppose President Trump. Democrats who hope to take advantage of what is typically a favorable wave for the out party in a president’s first mid-term election, may have a difficult time wrapping Cruz in such a surge, if it is to form, since he was the president’s chief electoral opponent for the GOP nomination.
Jan. 11, 2017 — Venerable Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX-3), one of the longest-held prisoners of war during the Vietnam War and a 32-year veteran of elective politics, has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2018. Counting all of the Trump cabinet appointees from the House and the two members who have already announced gubernatorial campaigns, we already have seven open House seats in coming elections.
Johnson will be 88 years old at the time of the next regular election and would retire after serving 14 terms in the House and another three in the Texas House of Representatives. He had been re-elected to a fourth term in the legislature just before winning a special election to replace outgoing Rep. Steve Bartlett (R), who had resigned after winning election as Mayor of Dallas.
The 3rd District is a safe Republican seat, though it dipped a bit in the presidential race. Though Donald Trump carried this north Texas CD, he did so with only a 55-41 percent margin. Mitt Romney carried the same district, 64-34 percent, four years ago.
TX-3 lies north to northeast of Dallas and contains the cities of Plano, McKinney, Frisco, and Allen. The Sam Rayburn Tollway borders the district on the north end and the President George Bush Turnpike nears the southern boundary. All of the overlapping state legislators are Republican in addition to the congressional representation.