Author Archives: Jim Ellis

One In, One Out

By Jim Ellis

July 13, 2017 — Two major announcements occurred during the last few days resulted in one individual becoming an official statewide candidate and another withdrawing from a campaign that had already begun.

West Virginia Senate

As had been expected for some time, two-term West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) announced his campaign for the United States Senate. He will face two-term Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) in the Republican primary, with the winner drawing a difficult political match with Sen. Joe Manchin (D).

With average win percentages of 62 percent over two elections as governor (2004, ’08) in addition to a pair of Senate campaigns (2010 special election; 2012), Sen. Manchin appears to be in strong shape as he approaches his 2018 re-election. But, there are some cracks in his armor, hence the presence of two strong GOP opponents.

Though Sen. Manchin has attempted to cross the partisan line in his public relationship with President Trump and the Republican leadership on several issues, it is still a net negative for the senator to campaign on the same political landscape that proved to be the former’s second strongest state (69 percent).

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Big Governor News

By Jim Ellis

July 12, 2017 — A major announcement was made in a western state governor’s race Monday, with an additional one from an adjacent domain coming later today. Both affect corresponding US House seats.

New Mexico Governor; NM-2

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) announced that he will enter the open New Mexico governor’s race next year, saying to the Albuquerque Journal that he’s “concerned about an exodus of young people leaving New Mexico,” going to other places for a more favorable job market. Pearce said his campaign will emphasize improving education, spurring economic growth, and reducing crime and poverty.

This will be the second time Pearce has left his House seat to pursue a statewide contest. In 2008, when serving his third term in Congress, he decided to challenge then-Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) for the US Senate nomination, and successfully upset her in the Republican primary. He would then go onto lose the general election to then-Rep. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe), 61-39 percent, in the Obama landslide year.

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The Wild West

By Jim Ellis

July 11, 2017 — Surprising political rumblings are being felt in two key western swing states, one highlighting what will be a major Republican primary battle, with a toss-up open seat and a potentially competitive challenger campaign in the other.

The former will feature a serious Colorado GOP primary between two of the most conservative candidates in that state, while two Nevada seats could see a pair of candidates swapping districts.

CO-5

Republican former US Senate nominee Darryl Glenn says that, in the next several weeks, he will announce a formal GOP primary challenge to veteran Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs). Glenn received no national party support in his 2016 race against Sen. Michael Bennet (D) but still came within six points of him on election night, holding the incumbent below majority support. Just recently, state Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) announced his own primary challenge to Rep. Lamborn. Therefore, we are on the precipice of witnessing a major three-way intra-party confrontation before a Republican electorate very familiar with tough primary battles.

Rep. Lamborn was originally elected in 2006, coming through a difficult primary battle in that year. The same scenario occurred in his first re-election, and he has repelled several primary challenges in subsequent campaigns. But, in each of those situations he was the most conservative candidate. The difference here, at least when reflecting upon a Glenn candidacy, is that Rep. Lamborn may not be considered as such. This will be the first challenge where the congressman will actually have to defend himself from the right.

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More on Missouri

By Jim Ellis

July 10, 2017 — The Missouri Senate race transformed itself earlier this week when Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County) announced that she would not challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), and there is an update as to what may happen next.

The congresswoman had been expected to make a July campaign announcement, but her statement contained a twist that none had anticipated. With a political fire drill now underway to respond to a new campaign sans Wagner, the early spotlight focuses on at least two viable GOP options.

Attorney General Josh Hawley is the most talked about potential candidate. Several prominent Show Me State Republicans initiated a move, which former US Sen. John Danforth, ex-Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, and major campaign donor and former US Ambassador Sam Fox led, that openly encouraged Hawley to run even when it was thought that Wagner would become a candidate.

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Reviewing the Senate

By Jim Ellis

July 7, 2017
— Considering Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-MO) surprise decision not to challenge Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and last week’s Arizona maneuverings among Democrats vis-à-vis a challenge to Sen. Jeff Flake (R), it’s become a good time to examine the various competitive US Senate situations in order to review the campaigns most likely to be competitive.

The status listed below reflects the candidates and potential candidates who appear to be credible contenders at this time:

• Alabama: Appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R)
Special election schedule: Aug. 15 primary; Sept. 26 run-off; Dec. 12 general
Sen. Strange (R) – Announced
Rep. Mo Brooks (R) – Announced
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) – Announced
Dr. Randy Brinson (R) – Announced
Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D) – Announced

• Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (R)
Sen. Flake (R) – Confirmed
Former State Sen. Kelli Ward (R) – Announced
State Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R) – Possible
State Rep. Randy Friese, MD (D) – Possible
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) – Possible
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) – Possible

• Florida: Sen. Bill Nelson (D)
Sen. Nelson (D) – Announced
Gov. Rick Scott (R) – Probable

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A Surprising Announcement

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County)

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County)

July 6, 2017 — A July announcement regarding the coming Missouri US Senate race had been expected for weeks, but the actual content featured a much different declaration than anticipated.

Just before the July 4th holiday, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-St. Louis County), who was thought to be announcing a campaign for the Senate, instead made public her decision not to challenge Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Rep. Wagner will seek a fourth term in the House, however. The congresswoman cited her desire to continue fully representing her home area as the driving force behind her ultimate political decision. In her statement, Wagner said that the 2nd District “ … is my home. It’s where I grew up, went to school, have worked and volunteered, raised my kids, and attend church every week—there is no greater honor than representing a place and people that I love.”

The Wagner turnabout was particularly surprising in that she had been raising money at a very strong clip, more than $800,000 in the first quarter with a projected similar amount for the quarter just ended but not yet publicly reported.

Democrats, of course, are saying that Wagner decided not to run statewide because she and another Republicans fear a bad political year. The Dems uniformly cite President Trump’s low approval ratings and what many perceive as a politically negative healthcare issue, things they believe will cause major electoral problems for GOP candidates.

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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.