Tag Archives: Sen. John McCain

Hensarling Retirement:
Open Seat Effect

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (TX-5)

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (TX-5)

Nov. 2, 2017 — House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas) announced Tuesday that he will not seek a ninth term in Congress next year to represent Texas, the timing coinciding with his internal term limit as the major committee’s leader. Hensarling was first elected in 2002 when then-incumbent Pete Sessions (R-Dallas) decided to jump to a new safe north Dallas Republican district leaving open this south Dallas-anchored seat, which, at the time, was politically marginal.

In that redistricting year, Hensarling, a former aide to Sen. Phil Gramm (R) before taking positions in the private sector with financial and energy producing companies, won the Republican nomination outright against four other GOP candidates, scoring 53 percent of the vote. He went on to record a 58-40 percent November victory, and would then average 73 percent over his seven re-election campaigns without ever being seriously challenged.

Texas’ 5th Congressional District now encompasses a substantial part of east Dallas County, including the city of Mesquite, before stretching southeast to annex five full counties and a partial one. After Dallas and Mesquite, the district’s largest population centers are the cities of Palestine, Jacksonville, and Athens.

President Trump tallied a 63-34 percent victory over Hillary Clinton here in 2016, following Mitt Romney’s similar 64-34 percent margin four years earlier. Even Sen. John McCain in President Obama’s first winning election posted a 62-37 percent spread within the TX-5 confines. Therefore, the district is solidly Republican and should not be hotly contested in next year’s general election campaign.

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Two Polls; One Interesting, One Bad

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 1, 2017
— Two political polls were released into the public domain yesterday. The first survey is of interest because it already examines a budding open seat Arizona Senate Republican primary, and becomes the first gauge of how former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who had been challenging Sen. Jeff Flake (R), performs in a new situation.

Another in a series of Virginia gubernatorial polls was also published Monday as we begin the last week of the election contest. Here, we question the results’ accuracy.

Arizona Senate

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Speculation has been hot and heavy during the past few days, the first time interval since Sen. Flake announced he would not seek a second term largely because of dismal re-election prospects. Culminating the early conjecture are Phoenix-based Data Orbital’s (DO) new conclusions (Oct. 26-28; 500 likely Arizona GOP primary voters) finding former state Sen. Ward leading a pack of potential Senate candidates, but with a margin that suggests the impending Republican primary is anybody’s game.

Looking at the DO results, Ward places first with 26 percent, followed by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) at 19 percent, and former Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Mesa) coming next at 10 percent, while ex-Rep. John Shadegg (R-Scottsdale), Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills/Scottsdale), and Arizona University Regent Jay Heiler score 6, 5, and 1 percent, respectively.

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Fast Action in Arizona

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Oct. 30, 2017 — Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) announcement Wednesday that he will not run for re-election has ignited a flurry of political activity in Arizona about who now might enter the newly open 2018 Senate race. Decisions are already being made, with many quickly saying they won’t run for the seat.

A great deal of attention surrounds 2nd District US Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) for obvious reasons, because she is likely the best Republican candidate on paper, but the congresswoman has yet to make a public statement about running for the Senate. Published reports, however, quote sources close to her as saying she is being “inundated” with supporters urging that she run.

Winning her first congressional election in 2014, a 161-vote victory over then-Rep. Ron Barber (D-Tucson) that proved to be the closest congressional result in the country that year, and then racking up 57 percent support over former state Rep. Matt Heinz (D) last year even though Hillary Clinton was scoring a five-percentage point win in her southeastern Arizona congressional district makes Rep. McSally a proven political commodity. As a freshman House member, she raised an eye-popping $7.7 million for her first re-election effort. This year, ranking high on Democratic target lists and drawing eight announced opponents including former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) who moved to Tucson right after losing to Sen. John McCain (R) in the 2016 election, Rep. McSally already has accumulated over $1.45 million for her next campaign.

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The New Arizona Senate Race

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 26, 2017 — Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) surprised most in the political world during a speech a couple days ago from the Senate floor, and thereby to the nation, that he will not seek re-election for a second term.

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

With the text of his retirement address devoted mostly to his long-enduring battle with President Trump, Sen. Flake admits to having “regrets” about leaving elected politics and over the nation’s current state of affairs. But, the more salient reason hastening his departure is likely the polling data that shows his standing among Republicans is worse than the Arizona electorate as a whole, and that he would likely lose to both GOP challenger Kelli Ward, a former state senator who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent victory in the 2016 Republican primary, and US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) in the general election.

Contrary to media and Democratic Party analyses, the Republicans’ chances of holding this Senate seat actually improve with Sen. Flake’s departure. It was clear that his presidential sparring with Trump had left him worse for wear, and the GOP will likely be able to nominate a less encumbered, and thereby stronger, general election candidate.

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Pence In, Tiberi Out


Greg Pence, brother of VP Mike Pence, announces he is running for Indiana’s open 6th District.


By Jim Ellis

Oct. 23, 2017 — Greg Pence, brother of Vice President Mike Pence, is now a congressional candidate in Indiana. Greg Pence made public late last week his intention to run for the open 6th District, the seat his brother held for 12 years before being elected governor (see video above). He is attempting to replace Rep. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie), who is running for Senate. Before he entered the congressional race, Greg Pence was serving as Messer’s finance chairman for the Senate campaign.

The 6th District is safely Republican, voting 68-27 percent for the Trump-Pence ticket, after supporting Mitt Romney with a 60-37 percent split. Back in 2008 when then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) won Indiana in the year that he was first elected president, Sen. John McCain still carried the 6th with a substantial 55-44 percent spread.

Under this backdrop, the vice president’s brother begins his congressional quest in a campaign where he will very likely only need to win the Republican nomination to secure his seat in the US House. And, with the VP’s help, particularly with his national finance network, it will be very difficult for any Republican candidate to keep Greg Pence from winning the primary.

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The Missouri Move


By Jim Ellis

Oct. 12, 2017 — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) officially announced his long-awaited challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) on Tuesday this week. The move had been expected since even before he formed a senatorial exploratory committee at the beginning of August. Hawley then found himself encouraged to run for the Senate literally from the first few days after his election as the state’s AG in November.

Saying Sen. McCaskill has turned her back on many key Show Me State constituencies and industries, that she has been in Washington “forever”, and simply “doesn’t represent Missouri” anymore, Hawley declared his new US Senate candidacy via campaign video featuring he, his wife, and two young sons (above).

Already, a McCaskill-Hawley general election race is being viewed as the Republicans’ top conversion opportunity. Though Hawley must get past several lesser GOP primary candidates, including state Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific/Franklin County), he is the prohibitive favorite to become the party nominee next August.

The McCaskill Campaign and the national Democratic political apparatus has been readying a defense plan against a Hawley offensive for several months. In his campaign for attorney general, Hawley used ladders as props in his ads to symbolize politicians who win one office and then immediately turnaround and jump to another. Now, doing exactly what he campaigned against, we can expect a steady barrage of attacks over what McCaskill and the Democrats will claim is Hawley’s “hypocrisy.”

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Arizona Shock Poll: Down 27

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 15, 2017 — GBA Strategies, polling for the Democratic leadership’s Senate Majority PAC (Aug. 30-Sept. 7; 600 likely Arizona general election voters and 500 Arizona Republican primary voters), just produced stunningly poor numbers for first-term Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) from their new Grand Canyon State survey.

What makes matters even worse for the senator is that the 27-point deficit referenced in the title is from the Republican primary voter sample segment. The GBA ballot test finds former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent re-nomination victory in 2016, leading Flake by an incredible 58-31 percent margin. While other polls have found Flake in difficult political shape within his own Republican Party base, almost exclusively attributable to his national public feud with President Trump, none have detected anything close to this spread.

On the other hand, GBA is a Democratic pollster and not known for testing a Republican primary sample. Therefore, doubt exists regarding this survey’s reliability because the pollsters may not have the necessary experience to understand the nuances within this particular voter segment. But, the margin is so large that few if any findings exist to conclude anything other than Flake is today likely trailing badly in the fledgling Republican primary contest.

The other results don’t give the Flake team much reason for optimism, either. Among Republicans, his personal favorability is a poor 25:56 percent while his job approval ratio is a slightly better, but still an abysmal 34:58 percent positive to negative. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in even worse shape within the party base. Only 17 percent rate Sen. McConnell in a favorable light, with 42 percent of Republicans expressing disapproval of the national party leader. But, that is of little solace to Sen. Flake since McConnell doesn’t face the Arizona electorate.

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Another Republican Retirement

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 13, 2017 — For the third time in a week, a Republican House member announced that he will not seek re-election next year. This time, it’s a junior member who is retiring. Second-term Michigan Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham/Livonia) announced that he will return to the private sector after the current Congress ends in early 2019. The congressman had built a highly successful real estate and foreclosure legal practice before coming to the House in 2015.

The move is certainly a surprise, and leaves another marginal Republican district up for grabs. Though races can get close here, the GOP congressional nominee has won in every election since the 11th District was originally created.

The seat was drawn in its near present form during the 2001 redistricting process as a result of then-Reps. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Lynn Rivers (D-Ann Arbor) being paired in the former 15th District. This, after national reapportionment reduced the Michigan delegation by one seat.

In 2002, then-state Sen. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) won the new 11th District after having a hand in drawing the congressional map as a member of the Senate redistricting committee. McCotter would serve five terms, leaving because of ballot qualification problems in 2012.

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Retirement Brings a Toss-Up

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 8, 2017 — Washington Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn) announced earlier this week that he will not seek an eighth term next year. The congressman was first elected in 2004, succeeding veteran Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R), which proved to be only two-plus years before her untimely death.

In 2005, Reichert came to Washington after serving 33 years in the King County Sheriff’s office, his last eight as the county’s top law enforcement officer. It was in this position where Sheriff Dave Reichert gained national notoriety through apprehending the Green River serial killer. After conviction, Gary Ridgway confessed to committing 71 murders, 49 of which were confirmed. Some investigators believe his actual victim number may exceed 90. The totals make Ridgway the most prolific serial killer in American history.

Riding his local positive image, Sheriff Reichert was able to bridge the partisan gap in his first congressional race and won election to the increasingly Democratic 8th District. He would clinch three re-elections in the seat before the district lines were made more Republican. In his trio of difficult campaigns prior to redistricting, the congressman averaged 52.1 percent of the vote. Post 2011 redistricting, his average victory margin increased to 61.0 percent.

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Flake Way Down; Data Questionable

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Aug. 28, 2017 — A new poll was released late last week showing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) in very poor re-election position, but the polling methodology yields serious flaws. An earlier poll with greater reliability also shows him trending badly, but brandishing upside-down favorability indexes for political subjects is a seemingly routine occurrence for the second pollster.

The Highground Public Affairs consulting firm surveyed the Arizona electorate (Aug. 18-19; 400 registered Arizona voters; 273 self-identified Republicans) and found Sen. Flake to be trailing in both the primary and general elections. Against former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent Republican primary win in 2016, Sen. Flake is down by a wide margin, 42-28 percent.

‘Is Flake trailing by a large double-digit margin? It’s hard to argue such solely based upon this poll. Is it reasonable to believe that the senator is behind, however? That answer is yes.’

It is here, however, where the Highground data reveals serious problems. With a statewide sample of only 273 respondents, it is statistically too small to draw any sound reliable conclusions. And, projecting an incumbent Senator with only 28 percent support among poll responders from his own party certainly brings the result into question.

While Flake has also fared poorly in other earlier primary polls, this is the first one where he trails Ward by a significant margin. Because the sample size is a major cause for concern, the larger 14-point support gap between Ward and Flake should be questioned but still must be viewed as at least somewhat relevant. Is Flake trailing by a large double-digit margin? It’s hard to argue such solely based upon this poll. Is it reasonable to believe that the senator is behind, however? That answer is yes.

For the general election, Highground pairs Sen. Flake only with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix). After originally saying she would seek re-election to the House, the congresswoman is now admitting that she is seriously considering running for Senate and several Democratic sources believe she is close to announcing her statewide run. According to the Highground poll, Sinema would lead Sen. Flake in a hypothetical head-to-head contest, 40-32 percent. But, an incumbent in any poll barely breaking 30 percent when the statewide polling sample is the size one usually sees for a lone congressional district has to be viewed with a wary eye.

Public Policy Polling completed their Arizona survey in early August (July 31-Aug. 1; 704 registered Arizona voters) and also found Sen. Flake lagging. Though they asked no head-to-head ballot test questions, Flake scored extremely low in his approval rating index. An elected official of either party tallying an upside down favorability rating in a PPP poll is nothing unusual, however. In fact, almost everyone scores in such a manner.

The Flake numbers, however, exceed even some of the more unpopular previously tested elected officials. According to this PPP survey, his approval index is 18:63 percent positive to negative. His problem is exacerbated in that the polling segmentation crosstabs vary little.

Perhaps the senator’s biggest problem is his standing within his own Republican Party. Here, his index is just 22:57 percent, which is of course a horrific intra-party total for an incumbent. Among Independents and Democrats, the numbers are even worse: 17:65 percent, and 15:67 percent, respectively.

There is little difference in how women and men view Sen. Flake. Among women, his favorability is 18:60 percent; men: 18:65 percent. In segmenting by race, the pollsters divided the respondent universe into just three categories: Hispanics (15:49 percent), whites (19:65 percent), and others (21:71 percent).

Though the PPP polls typically skew negative on the approval rating questions, the Flake numbers signal trouble well beyond any likely methodology flaw. Coupled with what can be reasonably drawn from the Highground survey, the clear conclusion is that Sen. Flake has major political problems and is even in danger of losing his re-nomination battle.

This race will continue to attract attention, but it is clear that we are likely headed for both a highly competitive primary and general election campaign in the desert all through next year.

Sinema’s Changing Stance

By Jim Ellis

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.

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Tarkanian to Challenge Heller

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 10, 2017 — Perennial Nevada candidate Danny Tarkanian yesterday announced a US Senate Republican primary challenge to incumbent Dean Heller, creating more chaos in what is the Democrats’ best national conversion opportunity for next year.

Tarkanian released an announcement statement early Tuesday morning declaring himself a candidate. “I am running for United States Senate because Nevada deserves a senator who will keep his word and vote in Washington DC the same way he campaigns here in Nevada,” he wrote, presumably referencing Sen. Heller’s statements about the failed Republican healthcare bill.

But, the senator did vote in favor of the rule bringing the bill for a vote and, in the end, supported what was termed the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare. Though he expressed concern about the bill, Sen. Heller did not ultimately join Republican Sens. John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME) who formally opposed the legislation.

Published a day before the Tarkanian announcement was a Strategic National political survey (Aug. 1-2; 500 likely Nevada Republican primary voters) that found Tarkanian trailing the senator only 34-38 percent in a proposed GOP primary pairing. Interestingly, the same poll showed 2nd District Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City/Reno), who holds Sen. Heller’s former congressional seat, actually leading the incumbent 27-26 percent among the likely Republican primary voters tested. There is no indication that Amodei is considering entering the Senate race, however.

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Arizona: Kirkpatrick In;
Hawaii: Gabbard Out

By Jim Ellis

July 25, 2017 — Arizona former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) has completed her political transition to Tucson. Over the weekend, the former congresswoman and US Senate candidate announced that she will enter the very crowded Democratic primary in the AZ-2 Congressional District.

The move had been anticipated since Kirkpatrick had re-located from her home in Flagstaff to Arizona’s second largest population center and never ruled out entering the 2nd District race when questioned about doing so. Yet, even her path to the Democratic nomination is a difficult one, not to mention facing GOP Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson). Rep. McSally scored an impressive 57-43 percent re-election victory last November even though Hillary Clinton carried the district, 50-45 percent.

Already in the 2018 Democratic field are former state Rep. Matt Heinz, who lost to McSally as last year’s party nominee, ex-state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, former Assistant US Army Secretary Mary Matiella, businessmen Billy Kovacs, Charlie Verdin and Jeff Latas, and retired Air Force colonel, Lou Jordan.

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More Drama in the Desert

By Jim Ellis

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.

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Flake Opposition Mounting

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

By Jim Ellis

July 5, 2017 — With the Republican healthcare overhaul bill remaining in a controversial state, and Democrats already trying to use it as a rallying point for potential 2018 candidates, the Arizona Senate field is beginning to form. Currently, three potential challenger candidates continue to weigh their options on the political sidelines.

Because Democrats have so few targets in the present election cycle – Republicans must only protect eight of the 33 states holding Senate elections, and six of those are in arguably their strongest political domains: Mississippi (Wicker), Nebraska (Fischer), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso) – they have no choice but to go hard after the two GOP incumbents entwined in more marginal political situations: Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Though Arizona voters routinely elect many more Republicans than Democrats, despite many campaigns ending in relatively close fashion, the Dems are forced to make a major play against Sen. Flake because they simply have no other secondary place with as much 2018 competitive potential. On defense in 25 states, Senate Democrats will not win the majority because a net gain of two, including defeating Sen. Flake, would yield only a 50-50 tie. Such a division would allow Vice President Mike Pence to ensure that the GOP majority continues in his role as the body’s tiebreaker.

Last week, both Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) and state Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson), the latter man coming to notoriety as the doctor who saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-Tucson) life when an insane gunman tragically shot her, brought forth public attacks on the current healthcare legislation and began sounding like candidates.

Mayor Stanton and Dr. Friese confirm they are considering entering the Senate race, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one or both men could announce their candidacy on the heels of the Senate healthcare vote, particularly if Sen. Flake supports the legislation. Both would be credible candidates and it is unclear at this writing if one would step aside in favor of the other.

Another individual hovering in the background of this Grand Canyon State political picture is Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix). She has been on a fundraising tear, and though already announcing her intention to seek a fourth term in the House, Sinema does admit to be considering a Senate bid if the circumstances are favorable. By that, she means Sen. Flake drawing a strong Republican primary challenger. It is also unclear if Rep. Sinema will risk her now safe Maricopa County House seat to join what could be a crowded Democratic primary against potentially top-tier candidates even if she perceives Flake to be politically weak.

As we will remember from the last campaign cycle, Sen. Flake became embroiled in a public feud with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and relations between the two men remain less than cordial. After the election, Flake’s internal Republican polling standing suffered greatly as a result, thus making him potentially vulnerable in next year’s Republican primary. Already, former state Sen. Kelli Ward is an announced GOP challenger, but she is not typically regarded as a heavyweight candidate even though she held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent re-nomination percentage in the 2016 Republican primary.

At the end of last year, state Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R) was polling strongly against Flake, actually leading him in some internal polls, but has yet to come forward to announce a Senate challenge. He has said he will not seek re-election to his current position, however.

The Arizona race will clearly be an interesting one. Republicans still maintain a 1.259 million to 1.102 million voter registration edge over Democrats with 1.235 million categorized as Independents. Though the party registration figures are at virtual parity, the GOP electoral resume is strong.

The only Democrat to win a US Senate seat here since 1962 is Dennis DeConcini, who served three terms before retiring in the 1994 election cycle. The Dems have fared better in governors’ races during that same 55-year time span, electing six of the 13 state chief executives who have occupied the office. Currently, the US House delegation stands at 5R-4D, while the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature.