Category Archives: Senate

Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Retirement Could Create a Domino Effect of 0pen Seats

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D)

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 17, 2021 — Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), the Senate President Pro Tempore and fifth longest-serving senator in American history, announced Monday that he would not seek a ninth term next year.

The decision was a surprise in that few expected the senator to do anything but run despite some cryptic comments he made earlier in the year. Sen. Leahy will retire as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee after previously heading both the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees. He came to national prominence as the 10-year Judiciary Committee chairman.

As the Chittendon County State’s Attorney, Leahy first ran for the Senate as a little known underdog and was able to win a close general election in the Watergate year of 1974. In those days, Vermont was a Republican state. He was then re-elected in 1980, ’86, ’92, ’98, 2004, ’10, and ’16. Over his long electoral career, he averaged 60.6 percent of the vote over the eight elections.

During all of that time, he had one close call after his original victory, beating Republican Stewart Ledbetter by 2,755 votes in his first re-election during the 1980 campaign cycle. After that, in only one contest did he drop below 60 percent.

In his first election, with a combined vote on the Democratic and Independent Vermonters ballot lines, he was able to defeat Republican Richard Mallary and Bernie Sanders, the latter of whom drew 4.1 percent of the vote on the Liberty Union Party ticket.

After a string of Republican senators exiting, five in all with two more — Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and John Thune (R-SD) — not yet revealing their 2022 political plans, Sen. Leahy becomes the first in-cycle Democrat not to seek re-election. The five departing Republicans are Richard Shelby (AL), Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA).

Vermont, however, is unlikely to become a competitive open seat. Eight-term at-large Rep. Peter Welch (D-Norwich), who has the same constituency as a senator, is well positioned to succeed Sen. Leahy and is expected to soon announce his candidacy.

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The “Fail Up” Senate Candidates

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 16, 2021 — There is an interesting phenomenon developing in the 2022 US Senate races, and that is the number of currently leading primary nomination candidates who have lost their last race. No less than five current US Senate contenders, all topping the latest polling, were defeated the last time they were on the ballot, some even in political campaigns for offices with less prominence.

In recent election years, we’ve seen a number of candidates lose a race and then attempt to “fail up” in the next campaign year. Most of the time, the same result occurs. The seemingly lone exception to the rule is Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff (D), who lost a special election for the US House in 2017 only to run for the Senate in 2020 and be elected.

Turning to 2022 and the unusually high number of such “fail up” candidates allows us to see if this pattern can reverse itself, or if the vast majority of these contenders will again find themselves on the short end of the vote totals when their election cycle ends either in the nomination contest or general election.

The 2022 “fail up” Senate candidates are Abby Finkenauer (D) in Iowa, Adam Laxalt (R) from Nevada, Pat McCrory (R) and Cheri Beasley (D) in North Carolina, and Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell (R). Dr. Al Gross, who lost the 2020 Senate race in Alaska is a possibility to enter the 2022 race in the Last Frontier, but so far has not announced his candidacy.

Finkenauer, a Democrat, is a former state representative and congresswoman from Dubuque, Iowa. She was elected to the House in 2018, only to lose her seat after one term, 50-47 percent, to current US Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion/Cedar Rapids).

Finkenauer is leading in early polling for the Senate Democratic nomination as she and retired Navy admiral and defeated 2020 US Senate candidate Mike Franken battle to challenge venerable Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) who has won seven US Senate elections. Early polling finds Finkenauer trailing by close to 20 points.

Laxalt was elected Nevada’s attorney general in 2014, but with only 46 percent of the vote in a place where his party swept all of the statewide offices in that election year with his being the lowest victory percentage. Laxalt then entered the open 2018 governor’s race but lost to current incumbent Steve Sisolak (D), 49-45 percent. The latest polling (September) finds him trailing Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) by five points in a Mellman Group survey but holding a two-point lead in a study from WPA Intelligence.

North Carolina actually features candidates in both parties leading in nomination polling after losing their last race. McCrory is the former governor who lost his 2016 re-election campaign, even while Donald Trump and seven other Republicans were winning their statewide elections.

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Sununu Won’t Take Senate Plunge

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) will not run for the Senate.

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 11, 2021 — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) held a long awaited news conference this week to announce his political plans for 2022. The governor had been the Republicans’ top recruitment prospect to challenge vulnerable Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, but the three-term state chief executive has chosen to eschew a tough Senate challenge and will instead run for a fourth gubernatorial term.

Though Sununu, like his father before him, has been elected three times as governor, he is still only in his fifth year of service. New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states that have two-year gubernatorial terms. In fact, for a 146-year period, no one had served more than one term as the state’s top office holder. The only governor in New Hampshire history to serve four terms is Democrat John Lynch, who was in office from 2005-2013.

Gov. Sununu’s decision certainly changes the New Hampshire political landscape and will cause potential candidates to begin assessing their chances both in a Senate race against Hassan and as a gubernatorial contender opposite Sununu. Attention now may turn to two-term US Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester).

The Republicans, with trifecta control of the New Hampshire political system in that they hold the governor’s office and have majorities in both houses of the legislature, are looking to change the marginal 1st Congressional District, the seat that has defeated more incumbents than any CD in the country since 2004, into a Republican domain. Doing so would concede the politically marginal 2nd District to incumbent Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster (D-Hopkinton/Concord).

Pappas, aware that a significant change in his district could make him an underdog for re-election, was likely headed into an open governor’s race if Sununu decided to run for Senate. Now that he would have to take on a popular incumbent, his next political move may be less clear.

Turning back to the Senate picture, incumbent Hassan still remains as the most vulnerable Democrat seeking re-election in 2022; so where do Republicans go now? Looking at the crowded 1st District race, two contenders stand out as potential statewide candidates.

Gail Huff Brown, a long time New England television news reporter, is the wife of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, and she has already announced her congressional candidacy. Former Sen. Brown, himself, would also be a possibility since he has already run for the Senate once in New Hampshire. Matt Mowers is the 2020 1st District nominee who held Rep. Pappas to a 51-46 percent re-election victory. He, too, is an announced congressional candidate but it appears possible that at least one of the aforementioned could instead enter the Senate race.

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Is the McCrory Lead a Mirage
In North Carolina Senate Race?

By Jim Ellis

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory

Oct. 28, 2021 — Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign did something rather strange this week.

They released their internal Pubic Opinion Strategies poll, which in and of itself is not unusual, and extolled how well McCrory was running, but they did not publish the ballot test numbers in the polling synopsis. Why? Because the figures aren’t as good as meets the eye.

Once found, the ballot test shows McCrory leading Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance), 40-25 percent, a 15-point edge, which was truthfully cast as a double-digit lead. The underlying story, however, is that the ballot test actually represents a net gain of 20 percentage points for Budd.

In April, POS released their first public poll of the GOP primary and it showed McCrory leading Rep. Budd, 48-13 percent. Comparing the latest 40-25 percent result shows some sustained momentum for Rep. Budd in that McCrory’s support has dropped eight points while his own climbed a dozen.

A third candidate, former Rep. Mark Walker, only registered eight percent in this poll, but it is possible that he will not even file for the Senate at the Dec. 17 deadline. If the legislature moves forward with a version of the redistricting plan that puts the Greensboro area seat back in play for Republicans – a court decision robbed Walker of the House seat he held for three terms with their ruling changing the state’s congressional map before the 2020 election – it is quite possible that Walker would have the option of returning to a winnable House contest.

If Walker were to abandon the Senate race, it would be another plus for Rep. Budd. It is likely that more Walker voters will gravitate toward Budd than McCrory since they clearly are familiar with the former governor but chose not to back him in the three-way contest.

Pat McCrory was elected governor in 2012, but lost to then-Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) on the same night that Donald Trump claimed North Carolina against Hillary Clinton. In fact, Republicans won eight of 12 statewide elections that evening, with McCrory being the only GOP incumbent to fall.

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New Hampshire Senate:
Toss-up Results

By Jim Ellis

New Hampshire first-term incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D)

Oct. 25, 2021 — Only needing to gain a net one seat to claim the Senate majority, Republicans face a frustrating in-cycle map that yields few 2022 Democratic targets. One of those scarce opportunities, however, lies in the Granite State of New Hampshire.

Arguably, the New Hampshire race is the party’s best conversion opportunity and becomes a Republican prerequisite toward building a winning coalition of states. The latest University of New Hampshire poll, released late last week, suggests the GOP is well positioned to compete in the “Live Free or Die” region of New England.

The regular UNH Granite State poll (Oct. 14-18; 1,061 New Hampshire panel members, 979 likely New Hampshire voters, online) tested first-term incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) against several potential Republican opponents … and she falls into an early toss-up result against all.

First, a word about the UNH polling operation. Several years ago it was among the most inaccurate of pollsters, largely because they utilized long sampling periods sometimes lasting three weeks, and small respondent universes. They have improved since that time, though their online format chosen for this poll is typically not optimal.

The FiveThirtyEight statistical organization, in their latest pollster rankings, rates the UNH operation as their 112th best pollster, with a B- rating. They assign a 2.4 percent Democratic bias factor to the organization’s polling results over 122 tested surveys.

That being said, yesterday’s survey release finds Gov. Chris Sununu (R) again leading Sen. Hassan in a hypothetical ballot test pairing. There is no doubt Republican leaders are trying to persuade Gov. Sununu to run, but so far he has not committed to the race. He has the opportunity of running for a fourth gubernatorial term – New Hampshire has two-year terms for their governors – or pursing opportunities in the private sector.

This poll finds the Sununu advantage at three percentage points, 45-42 percent, which is of course in toss-up range, but seeing an incumbent well below 50 percent does not bode well for Sen. Hassan.

UNH also tested the senator against the woman she defeated by a tenth of a percentage point in 2016, or just over 1,000 votes statewide, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). The new poll virtually replays that result, posting Sen. Hassan to a bare 44-43 percent edge.

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