Tag Archives: Tennessee

US Senate Candidate Ratings

By Jim Ellis

daily-kos-fox-news-pollingJune 19, 2018 — Two organizations just released 2018 US Senate race ratings, and though the differences are few it is worth analyzing the aggregate comparison.

Fox News and the Daily Kos Elections site published their updated ratings at the end of last week. Fox is a bit different in that they do not distinguish a “safe” race from one where the current favorite is a “likely” winner. Therefore, they have only five categories instead of the traditional seven.

While both organizations place eight Senate races in their Toss-up category, there are differences. The most glaring variance appears to be the Nevada race featuring Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson). The other is the Tennessee open campaign that finds Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and former governor, Phil Bredesen (D), vying to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R). The Tennessee primary is not scheduled until Aug. 2, but there is no doubt that both will advance into the general election.

Daily Kos rates the Nevada race a toss-up, but Fox favors Rep. Rosen as it puts the campaign into the Lean Democratic column. The Fox rating is curious in that current polling is tight, Sen. Heller is the incumbent, winning in 2012 even though President Obama scored a 52-46 percent victory in the state over Mitt Romney, and he also has three other statewide conquests to his credit, as secretary of state, dating back as far as 1994.

Furthermore, though Hillary Clinton carried the Silver State in 2016, her win percentage was only 47.9 – 45.5 percent. In 2014, Republicans, taking advantage of a very low Democratic turnout, swept the state from top to bottom as Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) racked up a 71 percent landslide and setting the tone for the down ballot contests. Therefore, it is difficult to see any current piece of numerical or historical evidence that suggests this race is anything but a toss-up.

The Tennessee campaign finds Fox rating the race as a Toss-up, while Daily Kos assigns a Likely Republican ranking.

Considering Tennessee’s strong Republican bent since Gov. Bredesen was last on the ballot in 2006, and Blackburn’s strong early fundraising (she already had just a shade under $6 million in her campaign account at the end of March), the Daly Kos “Likely Republican” outlook appears to be the more accurate of the two despite the fact that Democrats were successful in recruiting their strongest possible candidate in Bredesen. But this may go too far. One can see justification for favoring Rep. Blackburn, but a current “Lean Republican” forecast might be more precise.

The two organizations are consistent when looking at the remainder of the Toss-up category: Arizona, (Rep. Jeff Flake (R) retiring; Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) vs. Gov. Rick Scott (R); Indiana, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) opposite former state Rep. Mike Braun (R); Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) vs. AG Josh Hawley (R); Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D) against State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R); North Dakota, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) vs. at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck); and West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin (D) opposite AG Patrick Morrisey (R).

Both polls find Montana Sen. Jon Tester in a toss-up situation, and while this race may evolve that way as we move deeper into the election cycle, such doesn’t appear to be the case right now. Polling, fundraising, Sen. Tester’s previous electoral performance, and his stronger favorability index all suggest that a “Lean Democrat” ranking is more reflective of the contest’s current status.

Other differences worth mentioning occur in Minnesota, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.

While both polls place appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) in the Likely Democratic category, a “Lean D” rating could be considered since Sen. Smith has never run statewide in her own right, likely Republican nominee Karin Housley, a two-term state senator, has the potential of evolving into a credible candidate, and Minnesota is becoming a more competitive state.

Likewise, the rating appointed to Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) as “Likely Republican” might also be too generous. She faces a special jungle primary on Nov. 6, and a likely run-off three weeks later with former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy, assuming she outpaces Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) to qualify. Much will happen in this race between now and November, suggesting the situation may be more tenuous than placing it beyond “Lean Republican” status at this particular time.

Finally, while Fox rates Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) prospects in the Likely/Safe Democratic category, Daily Kos sees it as trending Lean Democrat. Considering Wisconsin’s voting history, and that the state features close races, the Daily Kos ranking may be the more accurate. Though it is clear that Sen. Baldwin is the favorite to win in November, once the Republicans choose a nominee in August the general election campaign is likely to close.

Senate Match-Ups Forming

By Jim Ellis

April 2, 2018
— Only two primaries are in the books, but already we appear to have clear Senate match-ups forming in as many as 14 statewide races.

2018-elections-open-seatsBelow are the races that look set as general election campaigns. Those headed for serious primary battles are not included on this list.

In alphabetical order, the following are the impending general election contests:

Arizona: Assuming Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) repels her primary challenge from the right, the Grand Canyon State general election will feature McSally and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) in what will be one of the premier Senate contests in the country this year.

California: It appears we are again headed for a double-Democratic general election in the Golden State. Sen. Dianne Feinstein should have little trouble dispensing with state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

Florida: With Gov. Rick Scott (R) scheduling an announcement for April 9, it looks like the long-anticipated contest between the two-term governor and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will come to fruition.

Minnesota: Appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D) will be running to fill the remaining two years of resigned Sen. Al Franken’s (D) term. State Sen. Karen Housley (R-St. Mary’s County) immediately declared her candidacy and, so far, she appears headed for the Republican nomination. Neither woman has run statewide before, so this campaign has the prospect of turning highly competitive especially with Minnesota moving rightward in the past few elections.

Mississippi: Developments within the past two weeks are yielding a second Mississippi Senate race for the 2018 election cycle. With Agriculture & Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) already being designated to replace retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R) when he leaves office in April, she will draw serious opposition from state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville). If no candidate obtains majority support in the Nov. 6th vote, the top two finishers will run-off three weeks later.

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The Tennessee Backtrack

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)

Feb. 20, 2018 — In late September, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) announced that he would not seek a third term in 2018, saying he wanted to work “thoughtfully and independently” for the months remaining in his senatorial tenure. For the past several days, it has been widely reported that he is in a period of reconsideration, however.

At one time, Sen. Corker was considered as a potential nominee for secretary of state, and had a strong relationship with President Trump. In the succeeding months, their friendship cratered into an abyss. Understanding that the president is still highly popular within the Volunteer State Republican voting base, Corker is beginning to make overtures toward making amends with the president, thus signaling that he is at least contemplating running again, after all.

If Sen. Corker is listening to individuals telling him that leading GOP senatorial candidate Marsha Blackburn could be vulnerable in either a primary or the general election, empirical data suggests that such counsel is erroneous. In fact, polling and fundraising data should lead any observer to conclude that the congresswoman is actually one of the strongest Republican statewide candidates not only for Tennessee, but also across the national political spectrum.

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Senate Candidates 2018 – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 18, 2018 — We continue with our two-part series reviewing the announced candidate status in each state. Yesterday, Minnesota former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) announced that he would not enter the special election against appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D). Therefore, the second Minnesota seat will be re-stated:

Minnesota: Appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D) – seeking election
Candidate Filing Deadline: June 5, 2018
State Primary: Aug. 14, 2018
• Karin Housley (R) – State Senator; Attorney
• Tom Emmer (R) – US Representative; 6th District; 2010 Governor nominee – possible candidate
• Michele Bachmann (R) – Former congresswoman; former presidential candidate – possible candidate

New Jersey: Sen. Bob Menendez (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: April 2, 2018
State Primary: June 5, 2018
• Bob Hugin (R) – Pharmaceutical company CEO – possible candidate
2 Minor Democratic candidates
2 Minor Republican candidates
1 Independent candidate

New Mexico: Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: Feb. 6, 2018
State Primary: June 5, 2018
• Mick Rich (R) – State Labor Commissioner

New York: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Process Ends: April 19, 2018
State Primary: June 26, 2018
1 Minor Democratic candidates
3 Minor Republican candidates

North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: April 9, 2018
State Primary: June 12, 2018
• Tom Campbell (R) – State Senator; agri-business owner
• Rick Berg (R) – Former at-large US Representative
• Gary Emineth (R) – Former ND Republican Party chairman

Ohio: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: Feb. 7, 2018
State Primary: May 8, 2018
Michael Gibbons (R) – Venture capitalist
• Jim Renacci (R) – US Representative; 16th District
• Jim Tressel (R) – Youngstown State U President; former football coach, Ohio State University – possible candidate
• J.D. Vance (R) – Venture capitalist; author – possible candidate

Pennsylvania: Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: March 6, 2018
State Primary: May 15, 2018
• Paul Addis (R) – Energy company executive
• Cynthia Ayers (R) – Former National Security Agency staff member
• Lou Barletta (R) – US Representative; 11th District
• Jim Christiana (R) – State Representative
3 Minor Democratic candidates
3 Minor Republican candidates
1 Independent candidate

Rhode Island: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: June 27, 2018
State Primary: Sept. 12, 2018
• Bob Flanders (R) – Former state Supreme Court justice
• Bobby Nardolillo (R) – State representative
1 Independent candidate

Tennessee: Sen. Bob Corker (R) – Retiring – Open Seat
Candidate Filing Deadline: April 5, 2018
State Primary: Aug. 2, 2018
• Marsha Blackburn (R) – US Representative; 7th District
• Stephen Fincher (R) – Former US Representative; 8th District
• Phil Bredesen (D) – Former governor; former Nashville mayor
4 Minor Republican candidates
1 Minor Democratic candidate

Texas: Sen. Ted Cruz (R) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: Completed December 11, 2018
State Primary: March 6, 2018
Run-off Election: May 22, 2018
• Beto O’Rourke (D) – US Representative; 16th District
• Bruce Jacobson (R) – Evangelical Cable TV executive
2 Minor Democratic candidates
3 Minor Republican candidates
5 Libertarian candidates

Utah: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) – Retiring – Open Seat
Candidate Filing Deadline: March 15, 2018
State Primary: June 26, 2018
• Dan McCay (R) – State representative – possible candidate
• Evan McMullin (R) – Former Independent presidential candidate – possible candidate
• Mitt Romney (R) – Former GOP presidential nominee; ex-MA governor – possible candidate
• Chris Stewart (R) – US Representative; 2nd District – possible candidate
• Jenny Wilson (D) – Salt Lake County councilwoman
1 Minor Republican candidate
2 Minor Democratic candidates
1 Libertarian candidate

Virginia: Sen. Tim Kaine (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: March 29, 2018
State Primary: June 12, 2018
• Nick Freitas (D) – State Delegate
• E.W. Jackson Sr. (R) – Minister; former lieutenant governor nominee
• Corey Stewart (R) – Pince William Co Bd Chairman; 2017 Governor candidate
• Jim Gilmore (R) – Former governor; ex-Senate & presidential candidate – possible candidate
1 Minor Republican candidate

Vermont: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: May 31, 2018
State Primary: Aug. 14, 2018
1 Minor Democratic Candidate
1 Independent Candidate

Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: May 18, 2018
State Primary: Aug. 7, 2018
1 Minor Democratic candidate
1 Libertarian candidate
3 Independent candidates

West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin (D) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: Jan. 27, 2018
State Primary: May 8, 2018
• Don Blankenship (R) – Former coal company CEO; convicted felon
• Evan Jenkins (R) – US Representative; 3rd District
• Patrick Morrisey (R) – Attorney General
• Paula Jean Swearingen (D) – Environmental activist
6 Minor Republican candidates
2 Minor Democratic candidates

Wisconsin: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) – seeking election
Candidate Filing Deadline: June 1, 2018
State Primary: Aug. 14, 2018
• Kevin Nicholson (R) – Businessman
• Leah Vukmir (R) – State Senator
• Eric Hovde (R) – Venture capitalist; 2012 Senate candidate – possible candidate
4 Minor Republican candidates
1 Constitution Party candidate
1 Veterans Party candidate
1 Independent candidate

Wyoming: Sen. John Barrasso (R) – seeking re-election
Candidate Filing Deadline: June 1, 2018
State Primary: Aug. 21, 2018
• Gary Trauner (D) – Former Teton County School Board Chair; ex-congressional nominee (2006; ’08)
• Foster Freiss (R) – Mutual Fund founder; GOP donor – possible candidate
• Erik Prince (R) – Security firm founder – possible candidate


Major Sources:
• Politics1.com political blog
• Ballotpedia.com website
• State Elections offices

New Year Senate Preview – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 4, 2018 — Now that we are officially in election year 2018, it is a good time to set the stage for the coming campaign season. With Democrat Doug Jones converting the Alabama special election last month, and new Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) standing for a concurrent special election this November, a different picture exists for the coming Senate election campaigns.

THE REPUBLICANS

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Before Alabama, it was a virtual mathematical certainty that the Republicans would retain Senate control after the 2018 vote because the Democrats had too few viable conversion targets. The Jones’ special election victory to permanently replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate in order to accept his Trump Administration position, now gives the Democrats a path to attaining the majority but they still must overcome the GOP’s strong defensive wall.

Only forced to defend eight of the now 34 in-cycle seats, the Republicans are most at risk in Nevada and Arizona.

In the Silver State, first-term Sen. Dean Heller (R) currently defends his statewide position against two known opponents, only one of which is a Democrat.

Perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, who has lost campaigns for five different offices (state Senate, Secretary of State, US Senate, Congressional District 4, and Congressional District 3), is nevertheless 4-1 in Republican primaries. Therefore, Sen. Heller’s first task is to secure the GOP nomination in June. Already we have seen erratic polling, with the Tarkanian camp and some national pollsters posting him ahead of Heller, but the senator and other independent research firms countering with the opposite result.

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Southern Polls

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 22, 2017 — If the Democrats are going to make a concerted run at the Senate majority, they must protect all 10, and possibly 11, of their vulnerable states, and then convert both the Arizona and Nevada Republican seats. Or, they must score at least one major upset in what should be a safe Republican domain if they don’t succeed in achieving all of the aforementioned.

democrat-conversion-opportunities-mississippi-tennesseeAlabama Senator-Elect Doug Jones’ (D) victory earlier this month makes attaining a Democratic majority mathematically possible even though the party must now defend 26 of 34 in-cycle seats next year when adding the new Minnesota special election to the calendar.

Wednesday, two polls were reported in 2018 southern Republican states: Tennessee and Mississippi.

The Democrats’ chances in the Volunteer State, though still in the long-shot sphere, have improved since former Gov. Phil Bredesen agreed to run for the Senate.

WPA Intelligence, polling for the Super PAC, Defend the President, a group supporting Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) in her battle for the open Senate seat (Dec. 13,14,17; 500 likely Tennessee general election voters) found the congresswoman leading former Gov. Bredesen by a healthy 43-34 percent margin. If ex-Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) were the Republican nominee, however, the race flips. Here, Bredesen would hold a 42-30 percent advantage.

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Jones!

Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones' campaign image.

Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones’ campaign image.


By Jim Ellis

Dec. 14, 2017 — With the final polling covering all possibilities — from Democrat Doug Jones leading by 10 points, to Republican Roy Moore ahead by nine, to a straight tie — Tuesday’s Alabama special Senate election carried a great deal of uncertainty as voters cast their ballots.

Republicans were badly split between those party leaders publicly repulsed by the allegations of sexual impropriety against Moore, to those who felt that holding the seat and preventing the Democrats from having any path to obtaining the Senate majority in 2018 was most important.

The split was enough to allow Democrat Jones, a former Birmingham region US Attorney, to slip past Judge Moore and secure what previously had been a safely Republican seat for the next three years. Jones will replace appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) who fell to Moore in the Republican run-off in late September.

The unofficial final totals give Jones 49.9 percent of the vote as compared to Moore’s 48.4 percent. Election Day’s final turnout figure showed 1,344,406 individuals having cast ballot, a total that will increase when all absentee and provisional ballots are finally added to the mix. In comparison, the last gubernatorial election (2014) drew 1,180,413. The 2016 presidential campaign saw 2,123,372 votes cast. Therefore, this special election, as did others earlier in the cycle (MT-AL; GA-6), actually produced a higher voter turnout than the state’s last regular midterm election.

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The Senate Picture – Re-cap

34-in-cycle-us-senate-seats

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 28, 2017 — During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we previewed all 34 current Senate races. Today, we wrap-up with the often-described 30,000-foot national overview perspective.

The Alabama special Senate election scheduled for Dec. 12 will tell us a great deal about the coming regular cycle. While the Roy Moore-Doug Jones race is not likely to provide a voting trend preview since the contest has been tainted with scandal, it will signal whether or not the Democrats own a path to the Senate majority.

If Democrat Jones wins the Alabama special, it would give his party 49 seats, thus making their two primary Republican conversion targets in Arizona and Nevada enough to claim majority status, assuming all 25 of their defense seats are held, which, of course, is no easy task. If Republican Moore can hold Alabama, despite being jettisoned by the national GOP leadership, that would secure the Republican majority because such an outcome relegates Democrats’ chances of netting the three GOP seats they need within the regular cycle as highly unlikely.

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The Senate Picture – Part III (Of III)

34-in-cycle-us-senate-seats-3-of-3

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 27, 2017 — Wrapping up our holiday recap of the 2018 Senate races — we finish our coverage with Ohio through Wyoming.

• Ohio: State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who held Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) to a 51-45 percent win in 2012 during the same election when President Obama led the ticket in Ohio, returns for a re-match next year. Mandel must first get past wealthy investment banker Michael Gibbons in the Republican primary, but appears well positioned to do so. A Brown-Mandel race could again develop into a major campaign, as the Republican’s ability to run a strong statewide race has improved during the last six years. In 2014, Mandel was re-elected state Treasurer with 59 percent of the vote.
Rating: Lean D

• Pennsylvania: Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) runs for a third term after seeing President Trump and fellow Sen. Pat Toomey (R) win close Keystone State contests last year. It is conceivable that Sen. Casey will be in a tighter re-election campaign cycle than five years ago when he scored a 54-45 percent victory. Since Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) entered the race, the GOP Senate candidate field has decreased with two contenders, state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth/Jefferson Hills) and businessman Jeff Bartos, departing to run for other offices. The general election could be competitive, but Rep. Barletta may have a difficult time re-constructing President Trump’s winning coalition. The congressman may find a very rough going in the Philadelphia suburbs as did President Trump, which means developing a winning statewide base becomes highly challenging. Like the president posted, Rep. Barletta will need a record rural turnout in order to win.
Rating: Likely/Lean D

• Rhode Island: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) appears poised for an easy re-election run next year, particularly with Republican attention focused upon a much more competitive governor’s race.
Rating: Safe D

• Tennessee: Sen. Bob Corker (R) is retiring after two terms, but Republicans are still in strong position to hold the seat. Democrats are attempting to recruit former Gov. Phil Bredesen, but he is not likely to become a candidate even though saying a decision about running will be made shortly. Republicans will likely feature a GOP primary between Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and former two-term Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) that will be very competitive in early August, but sure to produce a strong general election contender.
Rating: Likely R, and Safe R if Bredesen does not run.

• Texas: Though eventual Democratic nominee Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will be able to raise a large amount of national money, he will be no match for Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who is seeking his second term. O’Rourke is a capable candidate who can wage a respectable campaign, but Texas voting history and Cruz’s strength within the Republican base will still yield him a victory at least in high single-digits.
Rating: Likely R

• Utah: Two major questions dominate this campaign: will Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) seek an eighth term, and if not, does former presidential nominee Mitt Romney come forward to replace him. Sen. Hatch continues to say he plans on running, but always leaves the retirement door open particularly if Romney says he will run. Either way, the seat remains in the Republican column, as Utah Democrats are too weak to field a strong statewide candidate. It is probable that the GOP dynamic will not crystallize until well after the first of next year.
Rating: Safe R

• Vermont: Sen. Bernie Sanders will again appear on the Vermont ballot as an Independent even though he was a major contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Regardless of his party designation, he is safe for re-election in his small state, which likely features the most liberal constituency in the country.
Rating: Safe I

• Virginia: Particularly after the Democrats’ strong showing in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Sen. Tim Kaine (D) is a heavy favorite for re-election as he seeks a second term on the heels of losing as the Democrats’ Vice Presidential nominee. At this point, controversial Republican Corey Stewart, the Prince William County Board chairman who ran strongly in the GOP gubernatorial primary, is Sen. Kaine’s leading opponent but Republicans desire a more viable candidate. Speculation is increasing that Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) might run especially with the Democrats turning in such a strong performance in her Northern Virginia district earlier this month. So far, there is no indication that Rep. Comstock will reverse course to enter the statewide contest, however.
Rating: Likely/Safe D

• Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) has yet to even draw an opponent as she prepares a run for a fourth term.
Rating: Safe D

• West Virginia: A major Republican primary is brewing between Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington), with the winner facing Sen. Joe Manchin (D) next fall. Though West Virginia has moved decidedly to the right since the turn of the century and President Trump posted 69 percent here last November, Sen. Manchin remains at least a slight favorite for re-election. A minor Democratic primary challenge from the left should help the senator continue better craft his centrist image.
Rating: Lean D

• Wisconsin: Though Republicans have seen their fortunes greatly increase here during the past seven years, the field challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) has been slow to develop. Businessman Kevin Nicholson (R) is active and receiving heavy support from outside financial sources, but the Republican conservative base is looking elsewhere. State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) is in the race and figures to be a significant candidate. With the Wisconsin primary not occurring until August, Sen. Baldwin has the luxury of having a long time to prepare for what should be an active general election campaign cycle.
Rating: Lean D

• Wyoming: The big question surrounds whether Sen. John Barrasso draws a GOP primary challenge from Blackwater Security firm founder and international businessman Erik Prince, brother of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, or mega-conservative donor Foster Friess. Chances are neither will run, meaning Sen. Barrasso has little trouble in securing a second full term.
Rating: Safe R

Turbulent Senate Politics

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Leeann Tweeden

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Leeann Tweeden

Nov. 20, 2017 — Currently, the near-term and long-range Senate outlook seems to fluctuate by the hour. Last week we repeatedly detailed the Republicans’ problem with Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore and the effect the Dec. 12 special election will have upon the 2018 Senate cycle. But, yesterday became a day for the Democrats’ to receive similar bad news, albeit along with some good news.

While the Republicans languish in Alabama, Democrats were becoming increasingly concerned about Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) corruption trial when a verdict appeared imminent, and what might happen should he be convicted. Last week, seeing the trial judge declare a mistrial, may mean that the senator’s legal hurdles have been cleared since it seems unlikely that the government would again pursue the case when prosecutors obviously had too little evidence to completely convince a jury that any crime had been committed.

But the positive Menendez result for the Dems was negated by the unfolding sexual harassment debacle involving Sen. Al Franken. Interestingly, though seemingly unrelated to the Alabama situation, both of these Democratic developments could influence the campaign’s course and help determine whether Judge Moore will be allowed to serve in the Senate if he rebounds to win the special election.

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The Alabama Debacle

By Jim Ellis

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Nov. 14, 2017 — Senate Republicans have a major advantage in the current election cycle, but may be on the precipice of giving it away.

Looking at the 2018 Senate map, Republicans have only to defend eight of the 33 in-cycle seats. Considering that six of the eight are the safe Republican states of Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming and the Democrats need a net gain of three conversion seats to claim the majority, it appears unattainable even if the latter party converts legitimate targets in politically marginal Nevada and now open Arizona.

But the mathematics change if Democrats score an unlikely upset in the Alabama special election on Dec. 12, and the latest unfolding events there suggest that such an outcome is far more likely to happen.

As we know, Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, the twice removed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice, has been accused of sexual impropriety with at least one teenage girl when he was 32 years old in 1979. Washington, DC Republicans, who appear to be taking the Washington Post story and the woman’s allegations at face value, are urging Moore to remove himself from the race. Alabama Republicans are still standing firm for Moore, refusing to accept the story without proof. For his part, Judge Moore denies the incident happened.

Three polls have already surfaced telling us that Moore has suffered a major hit. Earlier surveys found him leading in low double-digits, but Opinion Savvy, Gravis Marketing, and JMC Analytics & Polling immediately went into the field to test the Alabama electorate’s reaction.

Opinion Savvy (Nov. 10; 515 likely Alabama special election voters) conducted their survey just hours after the Moore story broke. Their results find that Moore’s lead has evaporated into a 46-46 percent tie with Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former US Attorney.

Gravis Marketing launched their poll just as quickly (Nov. 10; 478 likely Alabama voters) and finds a similar ballot test tally: 48-46 percent in Moore’s favor.

JMC Analytics (Nov. 9-11; 575 registered Alabama voters) sees Jones pulling into a 46-42 percent lead (48-44 percent when leaners to both candidates are added), but an over-sampling of female voters could account for the Democratic advantage. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents were female and they break for Jones, 46-40 percent. Men favor the Democrat 46-45 percent.

Considering these polls were taken immediately as the story was breaking and the questionnaires included an explanation of what was being said about him, the results for Moore are not devastating. For the most part, Republican voters are taking Moore’s side while Democrats believe the accuser. The fact that the division is roughly even suggests that Moore has a chance to rebound if he can effectively tell his story.

While Republican leaders may be calling upon Judge Moore to remove himself from the ticket, realistically and legally, he cannot. Under Alabama election law, the ballot cannot be changed within 76 days of the election. That period began Sept. 28. Now comes talk that Gov. Kay Ivey (R) could be approached to postpone the election, or call a special session of the legislature to pass a new emergency election statute. The governor says she is not inclined to even think about such an option.

Additionally, some absentee packets containing Moore’s name have already mailed, thus making it logistically difficult, if not illegal, to inject a new ballot into the campaign. Therefore, the outlook is virtually certain that the election will proceed as scheduled on Dec. 12.

Another idea suggests that the Senate refuse to seat Moore if he wins the election. Should all Democrats vote against Moore, only three Republicans would need to break ranks to keep the seat in abeyance. Presumably, the state could then call a new election, but there would be nothing preventing Moore from running again. Should that be the case, Gov. Ivey then could appoint another interim senator or even keep Sen. Luther Strange (R) in the position. Also, a new election would allow him to run again, too.

For their part, Democrats are remaining publicly quiet. They are likely doing so for two reasons. First, they are adopting the old axiom, “if one’s political opponents are in process of destroying themselves don’t stop them.” Second, they may soon be faced with another vote to eject a senator. Should New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez be found guilty in his corruption trial, there will likely be a move to expel him. Democrats would find themselves in a bind if they make a public spectacle of denying entry to Moore, and then quickly pivot to do the opposite in order to save Menendez.

The Roy Moore saga is far from over but at the outset, the situation appears perilous for Republicans. Since losing this seat would endanger their majority standing in 2018, the stakes for how the majority leadership chooses to handle the Alabama situation becomes even more challenging.

The Emerging Senate Cycle

By Jim Ellis

Tennessee state flag

Tennessee state flag

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.

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Yes, She Will

By Jim Ellis

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

Oct. 11, 2017 — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced this week that she will seek a fifth full term next year despite, at 84 years of age, being the Senate’s oldest member. Curiously, her recent comments about President Trump and gun control have created some problems for the senator within the far left of her California Democratic Party. Thus, Feinstein’s decision to run again has engendered possible opposition from at least one prominent Democratic elected official.

Sen. Feinstein was first elected in 1992, when she defeated appointed Sen. John Seymour (R) after Gov. Pete Wilson (R) selected him to fill the Senate vacancy. Then-Sen. Wilson was elected governor in 1990, thus creating the vacancy. Two years later, Sen. Feinstein nipped then-Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara) 47-45 percent in the 1994 general election, the last close California Senate race. She would go onto win easy re-elections in 2000, 2006, and 2012.

A few weeks ago, Sen. Feinstein made the public comment that Donald Trump actually “can be a good president,” which drew the ire of many of his ardent Golden State opponents including state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who seemingly has become the chief anti-Trump spokesman in California. After the Las Vegas shooting, Sen. Feinstein made the further statement that “no gun laws could have prevented the Las Vegas massacre.” Predictably, this comment was also met with derision from the far left, including Sen. de Leon.

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With Murphy Out in PA, Corker Out in TN, Who Will Fill the Vacancies?

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Tim Murphy  (R-Pittsburgh)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Oct. 9, 2017 — A new special US House election will soon be on tap, this time in southwestern Pennsylvania in PA-18. Beleaguered Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh) succumbed to the negative publicity leaking out about his extra-marital affairs, abortion hypocrisy, and internal relations with staff members to announce late last week that he will resign his congressional office effective Oct. 21. This, just a day after he made public his intention not to seek re-election but serve the balance of the current term.

Once the seat is vacant, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will call a special election to choose a replacement. Since the Nov. 7 municipal elections occur less than three full weeks after Rep. Murphy departs, that means holding a new special congressional contest concurrently with the regular off-year vote would be impossible. Therefore, it is probable a mid-December or post-January 1st election will be scheduled.

There will be no primary period. Under Pennsylvania law, the parties will meet in district conclaves and local delegates will select the respective nominees.

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Bannon: How Much a Factor?

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Steve Bannon (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 5, 2017 — Several articles have appeared in the past few days contemplating former presidential advisor Steve Bannon’s perceived political strength, most specifically regarding his actions involving recruiting Republican primary challengers against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) loyalists.

While Bannon appears in good stead vis-à-vis financial backers — with the billionaire Mercer family serving as his monetary base — those running the McConnell-aligned outside political operation downplay just how strong the insurgents might be opposite 2018 Senate GOP incumbents standing for re-election.

Valid points resonate with both sides. Buoyed by Alabama former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s victory over appointed Sen. Luther Strange in last week’s special Republican run-off election, the Bannon forces, who heaped attack ads on the interim incumbent, were naturally taking a great deal of credit for the victory. And, without doubt, anyone thinking of challenging a sitting senator is greatly encouraged after seeing the Alabama outcome.

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