Category Archives: Election Analysis

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.

The Challenges Begin

By Jim Ellis

July 3, 2017 — Action late last week emanating from Massachusetts could be a harbinger of what we can expect in the coming months. The Boston Globe reported that Cambridge City Councilman Nadeem Mazen is not seeking re-election to instead launch a significant Democratic primary challenge to veteran 10-term congressman, Mike Capuano (D-Somerville).

Mazen has not yet announced his congressional candidacy, though he has previously made public his decision not to seek re-election to the Cambridge Council when he seat comes before the voters later this year. He did tell the Globe, however, that he is “beginning to focus on campaign plans for 2018” but wants to talk to community leaders, elected officials, and “potential allies” before making public statements about any future political plans.

Mazen, the first Muslim elected to office in Massachusetts, was originally elected to the council in 2009 and, at the time, pledged to only serve two four-year terms. He has worked to activate Muslims to join the political process and run for office. Professionally, Mazen founded a film company that produces animated content.

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Fake Analysis?

By Jim Ellis

June 30, 2017 — As we all know, one of President Trump’s favorite gambits is to call out reporters for what he terms their “fake news” stories, and we see an example this week of where he may be right. The New York Times is one of the president’s favorite whipping posts, and Nate Cohn’s analysis in the publication’s Political Calculus section about the Democrats’ chances in the 2018 election cycle is at least dangerously close to fitting into that category. While Cohn’s analysis may not be “fake”, he certainly omits a great many facts that don’t conveniently fit his premise.

Cohn is right in the early part of his article when he states that for Democrats to win the net 24 seats they need to capture at least a one-seat House majority they must expand the political playing field. He goes so far as to say they need to challenge perhaps as many as 70 Republican incumbents or nominees in open Republican seats in order to obtain that number, and his statement may well be correct.

But the “fake” part of the analysis again surrounds the special elections just completed. The author reiterates the common narrative that the Republicans under-performed in these seats, which, therefore, lays the foundation for a Democratic sweep in next year’s House races.

The premise of Republican under-performance in these campaigns simply isn’t accurate in three of the four GOP-held seats. While true President Trump recorded big percentages in the four districts, and House Republican incumbents previously racked up large victory margins against weak opponents, an “apples to apples” comparison puts the results into better perspective. In past open seat or challenger contests in these same seats, the Republican special election victors came within at least similar range with previous winning GOP candidates in like situations. The current analyses isolate the Trump numbers, which in many cases aren’t like other Republican totals, while adding landslide incumbent wins that skew the underlying vote history.

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