Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Kansas Rep. Watkins’ Legal Woes

By Jim Ellis

July 16, 2020 — On Tuesday night, within an hour of him stepping onto a congressional debate stage in Kansas, freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka) was indicted in state court. He is charged with interference with law enforcement, providing false information, voting without being qualified, unlawful advance voting, and failing to notify the DMV of change of address according to the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office as reported in The Hill newspaper.

Freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka)

Immediately Rep. Watkins claimed the timing of the indictments was politically motivated, though Republican District Attorney Mike Kagay naturally denied that was the case. Still, being charged three weeks before the primary election on what should be considered a minor activity that is treated as a felony, i.e., where a person declares his residence and whether he voted in a different city council district race that didn’t comply with his stated residence, arguably opens the DA’s actions to legitimate criticism.

The base controversy surrounds Watkins registering to vote at a UPS postal center in 2018. The congressman claims he made a mistake on the voter registration form by listing his mailing address rather than his street address. In a 2019 Topeka municipal election, Watkins apparently voted in the district race that housed the UPS store location he used as his mailing address, which is different from that of his stated residence; hence, the vote fraud charge.

Questions surrounding Watkins’ residence have been raised since he returned to Kansas to run for the open 2nd District seat. He re-located to Topeka after spending time in the military and living for most of the past few years in Alaska where he participates in the annual Iditarod races.

Attacking the residence issue, Rep. Watkins’ principal Republican primary opponent, Kansas state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, was already running an ad about the congressman registering to vote at the UPS store and owning two homes in Alaska “but none in Topeka” before the indictments came down, and now such residency issues will likely be at the forefront of the remaining three weeks in the primary cycle.

The Watkins controversy, however, does not end with the freshman congressman. His father, Dr. Steve Watkins Sr., a local Topeka physician, is reportedly under a Federal Election Commission investigation for allegedly making contributions in the name of another that combined exceeded his maximum individual limits. According to a Politico news story, Dr. Watkins confirms he is under investigation for giving money to his family members and associates in order for them to contribute to the congressional campaign. This is would be a serious charge that normally carries prison time. To date, no charges have been filed against Dr. Watkins.

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Tuberville, Sessions & Sessions;
Moore, Hegar & Valenzuela

By Jim Ellis

Former Auburn Football coach Tommy Tuberville (center) overwhelms Jeff Sessions in Alabama.

July 15, 2020 — The Texas and Alabama runoffs were held yesterday along with the postponed Maine primary, and we have some winners and cliff hangers.

In Alabama, retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, as expected, pretty much demolished former US attorney general and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions last night with the margin of victory being larger than expected. Though earlier polls had predicted spreads as large as 22 points, a 61-39 percent Tuberville victory margin was not forecast even though every pollster found the former coach leading the race. The Tuberville victory was so complete that Sessions, a man who ran unopposed in his previous Senate re-election campaign (2014), was limited to winning only three counties.

Tuberville advances into the general election to face incumbent Democrat, Sen. Doug Jones, who won a special election in 2017 ironically to replace Sessions after he was appointed to his Trump Administration position. Early polling suggests Tuberville will open the general election with a discernible lead over Sen. Jones in what will likely be a top-three state for President Trump.

Alabama hosted two significant Republican runoff elections last night, both of which almost assuredly identified a pair of new congressmen. In the Mobile-anchored 1st District, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl topped former state senator Bill Hightower, 52-48 percent, and will easily win the general election in November. In the adjoining 2nd District, despite being outspent by a 5:1 ratio, former state Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) easily defeated moving company owner Jeff Coleman who finished first in the regular primary.

Moore scored a 60-40 percent win over Coleman who dropped more than $1 million of his own money into his campaign and earned retiring Rep. Martha Roby’s (R-Montgomery) endorsement. Moore ran as a Trump Republican and mixed his campaign message with attacks on DC and clever issue targeting. He did not run a negative race against Coleman who had been attacked in the primary. Coleman attracted 38 percent on March 3 but could only expand his runoff vote to 40 percent. Moore, on the other hand, who barely qualified for the runoff – just 591 votes ahead of third place finisher Jessica Taylor – was able to build a winning runoff coalition of 60 percent as compared to his 20 percent in the primary.

Turning to the Texas Senate Democratic runoff, retired Army helicopter pilot M.J. Hegar defeated state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) by only about 40,000 votes statewide with further precincts to count. Hegar was mathematically projected the winner, but her margin could continue to shrink once the final tabulations are calculated and reported. She will now challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R) in a race that should break the incumbent’s way by a comfortable margin in November.

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Alabama Runoff Today

By Jim Ellis

Former US attorney general and Alabama senator, Jeff Sessions (R), faces off today against retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

July 14, 2020 — The long-awaited Alabama US Senate Republican runoff between retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and former US attorney general and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions will be decided today, and polls are suggesting we will see a clear winner relatively early tonight.

The primary election was held way back on March 3 with the original runoff scheduled for March 31. Shortly after the primary, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) postponed the runoff in response to COVID-19 suggested precautions. The primary election ended with Sessions trailing Tuberville, 33.4 – 31.6 percent, a spread of 12,528 votes from over 717,000 ballots cast.

Originally, it appeared the four-month voting delay might be a break for Sessions, giving him time to rebound from a rather poor performance in the primary election. It doesn’t appear he has been able to turn the tide. Since the primary, nine polls have been conducted and released from six different pollsters. Eight of the surveys post Tuberville to a lead, while one showed the race a tie.

The latest survey, conducted over the July 2-9 period from Auburn University at Montgomery, finds Tuberville expanding his lead to 47-31 percent. The polling methodology poses questions, however. The Auburn pollsters list 558 respondents, but this is their general election sample. They do not indicate how many people comprised the Republican runoff likely voter cell, so it is difficult to judge reliability.

It is possible, however, that Tuberville holds such a large lead heading into the election because he is averaging a 12.3 percent advantage in the eight other polls conducted during the post-primary period. In two of the polls, both taken in May by independent pollsters, the Tuberville advantage expanded to 22 and 23 points, respectively.

Sessions’ political problems took hold when he resigned as attorney general under a barrage of criticism from President Trump. Tuberville capitalized with a wave of advertising featuring a commercial that began with a NBC interview clip between Trump and Chuck Todd where the president said his biggest regret since taking office was appointing Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

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Texas Runoff Tomorrow

By Jim Ellis

Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R)

July 13, 2020 — The general election is finally getting underway in Texas. The long-awaited Lone Star State runoff elections are tomorrow, postponed from May 26. At the federal level, 16 nominations will be decided, one for the Senate and 15 more in US House races.

In Texas, if no candidate secures a 50 percent majority in the primary, which, in 2020, was all the way back on Super Tuesday, March 3, a runoff election between the top two finishers is then conducted within 12 weeks. Because of COVID-19 precautions, the extended runoff cycle has consumed 19 weeks.

Sen. John Cornyn (R) will learn the identity of his general election opponent tomorrow night, and the incumbent’s campaign has seemingly involved itself in the Democratic runoff. The Cornyn team released a poll at the end of last week that contained ballot test results for the Democratic runoff, a race that seemingly favored original first-place finisher M.J. Hegar, but closer examination leads one to believe that the Cornyn forces would prefer to run against state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).

The TargetPoint survey identified Hegar as a 33-29 percent leader but points out that among those respondents who claim to have already voted, the two candidates were tied at 50 percent apiece. They further used the poll to identify Sen. West as the most “liberal” candidate in the race as an apparent way to influence Democratic voters that he is closer to them than Hegar.

We have seen this type of tactic used in other states. In New Mexico, the EMILY’s List organization was running ads against former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, saying she was the “true Trump candidate” in the Republican primary. This was done to convince Republican voters to support Herrell, a candidate the progressive left organization, and many others, believed to be the weaker opponent for incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces).

Regardless of who wins the Texas Senate Democratic runoff tomorrow night, Sen. Cornyn will be a clear favorite for re-election on Nov. 3.

In the House, six districts host runoffs in seats that will result in a substantial incumbent victory this Fall. Therefore, runoff winners in the 3rd (Rep. Van Taylor-R), 15th (Rep. Vicente Gonzalez-D), 16th (Rep. Veronica Escobar-D), 18th (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee-D), 20th (Rep. Joaquin Castro-D), and 35th Districts (Rep. Lloyd Doggett-D) will become largely inconsequential in November.

The 2nd District originally was advancing to a secondary election, but candidate Elisa Cardnell barely qualified for the Democratic runoff and decided to concede the race to attorney and former Beto O’Rourke advisor Sima Ladjevardian. Therefore, Ladjevardian became the party nominee against freshman Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston) without having to face a second election. The congressman is a strong favorite for re-election, but Ladjevardian had already raised will over $1 million for just her primary election.

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Alaska: Polling Uncertainty

By Jim Ellis

Anchorage, Alaska

July 10, 2020 — Public Policy Polling, the most prolific national pollster of late, just released a new survey of the upcoming Alaska elections from what could be the most difficult state in America to poll.

The PPP data find close races for president, Senate and US House, which isn’t particularly surprising when comparing today’s numbers to the previous Alaska polling ratio. Past actual results, however, reveal a relatively consistent Republican under-poll.

To begin, the PPP survey tested 1,081 “voters” via automated response device during the July 7-8 period. This firm is recently using the “voters” term to describe their sample. It is clear the respondents are not likely voters, but there is no associated definition that clearly identifies the “voters” universe.

The fact that the individuals are not identified as registered voters could mean they are eligible voters, which would translate into adults. Such a sample would substantially increase the polling error rate. Therefore, it is not surprising to see the poll producing some unusual totals.

The presidential race finds President Donald Trump holding a mere 48-45 percent edge over former vice president Joe Biden in a state that he won by 15 points in 2016. Additionally, the spread seems rather inconsistent with the results produced from the favorability questions. The President’s job approval was 46:49 percent positive to negative, which, despite being upside down, is far better than Trump’s national approval average. The more surprising number, however, was Biden’s poor 36:53 percent favorability index. Overlaying these numbers with the ballot test provides a seemingly inconsistent response pattern.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), standing for his first re-election, holds only a 39-34 percent lead over likely Democratic nominee, surgeon Al Gross. Looking back at the 2014 polling records when Sen. Sullivan was challenging then-incumbent Mark Begich (D), July polling of that year found Begich holding leads of 46-35 percent (CBS News/New York Times), and 44-37 percent (Harstad Strategic Services). Sullivan would then turn the race around and win 48-46 percent in that election year.

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