Author Archives: Jim Ellis

With Sen. Johnson Set to Retire, What’s Next in South Dakota?

Sen. Tim Johnson

Sen. Tim Johnson

As expected, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) officially announced yesterday that he will not seek a fourth term in the upcoming 2014 election. The senator, accompanied by his wife, Barbara, addressed members of the media in a Sioux Falls news conference saying, “I will be 68 years old at the end of this term and it is time for me to say good-bye.”

He indicated after 36 consecutive years in elective office — including service in the state legislature, and combined time in the US House and Senate — that he and his wife are looking forward to returning to life in South Dakota and “doing other things.” When asked if had he decided to run again, would he have won, the senator quipped that he “has never been beaten.” He did concede that the brain hemorrhage he suffered in 2006 has made life more difficult, but emphasized that he never stopped working hard for the people who repeatedly elected him as their representative.

Without Sen. Johnson on the ballot, the Republicans have a strong opportunity to convert the South Dakota Senate seat to their column and must be considered the early favorites to do so. Former governor Mike Rounds (R) announced his candidacy just after the November election and began running full speed ahead and appeared unconcerned about Sen. Johnson’s political intentions.
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The “Sweet” Sixteen Governors

Continuing our sector review of the 16 most competitive political campaigns reflective of the spirit of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, we today turn to the gubernatorial campaigns:

Arizona: Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is ineligible to seek re-election, so we can expect a tight open seat contest in the Grand Canyon State. So far little action is occurred, however. Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) says he will run; so does former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, also a Republican. No Democrats have yet stepped forward. Richard Carmona, the Democratic senatorial nominee who held freshman Sen. Jeff Flake (R) to a three-point win last November, publicly announced that he will not run for governor.

Arkansas: This is another state where the incumbent, in this case Democrat Mike Beebe, has reached the limit of his allowed service. Thus, a tough open-seat battle is already commencing. Republicans appear to be headed for a consensus candidate in the person of former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR-3). Democrats could be headed to a primary between former lieutenant governor Bill Halter and ex-representative Mike Ross (D-AR-4).

Connecticut: Gov. Dan Malloy (D) won his seat with only a statewide margin of just 7,604 votes, and thus is expected to again face tough competition. The 2010 GOP nominee, former Ambassador Tom Foley, says he wants to run again. Chances are this race won’t be as close as last time. Gov. Malloy has to be rated the early favorite.

Florida: The Sunshine State gubernatorial campaign could become the most interesting in the nation. GOP Gov. Rick Scott is politically weak and former governor Charlie Crist, this time representing a new political party as he as switched from the Republicans to the Democrats, will be his likely opponent.

Hawaii: Incumbent Neil Abercrombie should cruise to re-election against any Republican, but his angering of Rep. Colleen  Continue reading >

The Senate “Sweet” Sixteen

In the spirit of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament that has proceeded to the quarter-final round that they commonly call “the Sweet Sixteen,” it’s a good time to review the 16 most competitive 2014 Senate, House and gubernatorial races. Today, we start with the Senate:

Alaska: Sen. Mark Begich (D) defends his seat in what could become a must-win campaign for the GOP, if they are to have any chance of wresting the Senate majority away from the Democrats. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) is an announced candidate. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan (R) is a possible candidate. Begich has the clear, early edge.

Arkansas: Sen. Mark Pryor (D) was unopposed in the 2008 election cycle, but already he has at least one opponent and maybe two. Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) is in the race. Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) is seriously considering becoming a candidate. This will likely be a competitive campaign, particularly if Cotton is the Republican nominee. Pryor must be favored, however.

Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ (R) retirement has led to what will be a major Republican primary battle. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA-10) is already in the race. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA-11) will likely join him toward the end of this week. Reps. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1) and Tom Price (R-GA-6) are possible candidates. Democratic Reps. John Barrow (D-GA-12) and Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2) are potential candidates. It is unlikely that both will run, however. The eventual Republican nominee will be rated as at least a slight favorite in the general election, but this is one race that could lead to a Democratic upset. Rep. Barrow, in particular, is a good fit statewide and could make the general election highly competitive.

Hawaii: This seat will likely remain in Democratic hands, but an ensuing party primary fight is a distinct possibility. Appointed Sen. Brian Schatz could be facing a Democratic primary challenge from Rep.  Continue reading >

Rounds Starting Strong in South Dakota Senate Race

Gov. Mike Rounds

Gov. Mike Rounds

With former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) just completing a series of Washington, DC visits to the PAC community drumming up support for his already announced US Senate run, Public Policy Polling released a survey (March 18-19; 1,069 registered South Dakota voters; 501 Republican primary voters; 390 Democratic primary voters) of the state’s electorate that shows early signs of a GOP conversion race.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D) has promised to soon make clear whether he will seek re-election, originally saying he would do so “at the end of March.” Most local and national political observers believe that he will retire for health reasons.

In a hypothetical ballot test between the senator and Rounds, it is the Republican who already holds the strong early lead. According to PPP, Rounds would defeat Sen. Johnson 52-41 percent in a current contest. If Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD-AL) were the Republican senatorial nominee, she would outpace the incumbent by four points, 49-45 percent.

Should the senator retire, two Democrats are most often mentioned as potential candidates: former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and US Attorney Brendan Johnson, the senator’s son. Herseth Sandlin, who held the at-large House seat for three full terms  Continue reading >

Mark Sanford: Anything but Conventional

Disgraced former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford successfully cleared the initial obstacle on his political comeback trail earlier this week, but how will he fare in the fast-approaching Republican run-off?

On the heels of his first-place finish in the special 1st Congressional District Republican primary election, the ex-governor and congressman, who is trying to rehabilitate himself politically from his international extra-marital affair that ended his marriage and soured his final year in office, must now win over a significant segment of Republican voters who supported another candidate.

Curtis Bostic, the former two-term Charleston County councilman who placed a distant second to Sanford, is tasked with converting an even larger portion of that same group. Though both man’s message is identical — each claims to be the strongest candidate in relation to cutting government spending — their campaign strategic and tactical challenges are much different.

On Tuesday, 53,657 Republicans participated in the special primary election. From that group, 19,812 individuals, or 36.9 percent voted for Sanford. Bostic attracted 7,149 votes (13.3 percent). Though placing second by less than one percent over third-place finisher Larry Grooms caused the triggering of an automatic recount under South Carolina election law, the latter conceded defeat, hence the original vote tallies will stand. The remaining 26,696 people, or 49.8 percent, chose a Republican candidate other than the first- and second-place finishers. It is the members of this group who will likely determine the run-off result.

As is the case in all run-off elections, the secondary turnout will be smaller than the original primary voting universe. In South Carolina, the typical drop-off from primary to secondary election tends to only be in the 15 percent range, however. In fact, the last time a run-off occurred in the 1st Congressional District (2010) the drop-off  Continue reading >

What Sanford’s First-Place Finish Means

Mark Sanford (R)

Mark Sanford (R)

Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R) easily claimed the top position in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District’s special primary last night, capturing 37 percent of the vote within a huge field of sixteen Republican candidates. He will advance to the April 2 run-off election against former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic, who nipped state Sen. Larry Grooms for second place.

The former governor and three-term congressman broke 40 percent in his home of Charleston County, the district’s most populous region. But, in terms of the fast approaching run-off election, even his 41 percent finish in Charleston is light years away from scoring a 50 percent plus one majority vote. District-wide, 63 percent of the Republicans who went to the polls chose a candidate other than Sanford, even though the former governor has universal name identification. Still, considering the hardened negative image after his extra-marital affair with an Argentine mistress became international news, Sanford’s showing last night does indicate that he retains a base of residual support.

Bostic, the man the ex-governor will face in the run-off election, claimed 13 percent of the vote, edging state Sen. Grooms’ 12 percent. Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, finished fourth with 8 percent. It was a disappointing night for the  Continue reading >

Sanford’s First Step in S.C. Comeback Attempt

The preponderance of political opinion suggests that disgraced former Gov. Mark Sanford (R) will advance into the second round of voting as a result of today’s special primary election in South Carolina. Sanford is among 16 Republicans vying to become the party nominee for the right to replace former Rep. Tim Scott (R), who is now an appointed US senator.

The ex-two-term governor, who spent three terms in the House during the 90s (1995-2001), ended his tenure in statewide public office with revelations of a wild extra-marital affair with a South American mistress. The associated events became national news and ended up costing the governor his marriage as well as a great deal of personal credibility. Now, he’s looking for a political comeback and, if local predictions prove accurate, he may be taking the first step to achieving his goal tonight.

Even if he advances, Sanford will be a decided underdog in the run-off regardless of who becomes the other qualifier. For a person with universal name ID to finish more than 15 points away from majority support in a first election normally dooms said candidate to defeat in the succeeding run-off. In this case, noting South Carolina’s traditionally short run-off periods, the second election is scheduled for April 2.

The strongest candidates, other than Sanford, appear to be state Sen. Larry Grooms, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, former state Sen. John Kuhn, and Teddy Turner, son of media magnate Ted Turner. State Rep. Peter McCoy and Rep. Andy Patrick are also in the field of candidates but neither has made any impact on the fundraising circuit, gathering less than $65,000 apiece.

The Democratic side is also drawing some attention. Though their eventual nominee will be a decided underdog in the May 7 special general election, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, sister of Comedy Central TV personality Stephen Colbert, is poised to capture her party’s nomination. Like the top  Continue reading >