Category Archives: Senate

Wisconsin Primary Moving Forward

By Jim Ellis

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

April 8, 2020 — Whether or not the Wisconsin primary would be held as scheduled took rulings from two Supreme Courts to decide, but we will see voting today throughout the Wolverine State.

The Democratic presidential primary is interesting since the Wisconsin electorate will be the first to vote post-March 17, and so far, becomes the only group to cast ballots during the COVID-19 lockdown situation. How this affects today’s vote in terms of turnout and candidate loyalty will be interesting to analyze.

Whether or not this election would even happen today has been a point of discussion for the past two weeks. Many Democratic strategists were lobbying Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat, for several days to move the election, but he was slow to act. Late last week, Gov. Evers decided to ask the legislature to pass a bill changing the election date, but the Republican majority leadership in the two chambers refused. Gov. Evers then made a last-ditch effort to declare a state of emergency and attempted to move the election.

The latter action drew the Republican leadership’s ire, and they immediately petitioned the state Supreme Court arguing that the governor has no power to arbitrarily move an election. They also went to the US Supreme Court attempting to get a lower-court ruling to extend the absentee ballot return deadline past the original election schedule countermanded.

At the heart of the election date becoming a political football was not the presidential race, but rather an important state Supreme Court election. Though the race is ostensibly nonpartisan, it is clear that Democrats believe chances for the candidate they are backing improve in a later election, while Republicans think the appointed incumbent they support fares better in a quicker, and presumably lower turnout contest.

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Early Clues for Dems’ Early Targets

By Jim Ellis

April 1, 2020 — The Senate Majority PAC, one of the chief advocacy entities for Democratic candidates, has reserved media time totaling $69.2 million from August through the election, as reported on the Daily Kos Elections website. The expenditures provide us some clues into how the Democratic establishment and their progressive left allies view their strategic attack points in relation to the national political landscape.

The early media time reservations are invested in five states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina. This is certainly not the limit of the SMP planned expenditures, nor is the organization likely committed to fulfilling the entirety of this time buy without having negotiated an escape clause. All depends upon their agreements with the individual television outlets and does not include any future expenditure the group may make for radio and digital advertising.

Setting the stage, the five states are all clearly top-tier Republican-held targets of which the Democrats would have to convert nearly all in order to wrest Senate control away from the current majority. That number grows if they fail to defend their own vulnerable seats in either Alabama or Michigan, or both.

The largest time reservation is in North Carolina, where Democrats hope newly nominated Cal Cunningham, a former state senator and 2010 US Senate candidate (lost Democratic nomination to then-secretary of state Elaine Marshall who would lose the general election to GOP Sen. Richard Burr), can unseat first-term incumbent Thom Tillis (R) in a state that has defeated more senators than any other in the modern political era. Of the $69.2 million in national reservations the group made, $25.6 million is dedicated to North Carolina media markets.

Arizona gets the second largest share with $15.7 million dedicated toward helping retired astronaut Mark Kelly, already the consensus Democratic candidate, challenge appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R). Iowa, where Democrats will nominate a candidate on June 2 to challenge first-term Sen. Joni Ernst (R), will see $13.1 million of the SMP media buy. Maine gets $9.6 million to oppose Sen. Susan Collins (R), and Colorado $5.2 million largely for negative ads against first-term Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

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Graham Getting Close

(Former South Carolina state Democratic Party chairman, Jaime Harrison’s negative ad on opponent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R))

By Jim Ellis

March 27, 2020 — A new statewide South Carolina political survey finds Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) falling into a surprisingly close race with former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison. According to the Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies firm (March 3-11; 804 likely South Carolina general election voters), Sen. Graham’s lead over Harrison has dwindled to just 47-44 percent.

Several points about this survey. First, the Brilliant Corners operation is a relatively new firm, one that we are only seeing for the first time, and the entity doesn’t even have a reliability rating from the FiveThirtyEight statistical operation that evaluates all polling firms. Therefore, little exists with which to compare their work. Second, this poll is not in line with other published data and, third, the survey was already two weeks old before publishing.

The other two surveys released this year both give Sen. Graham double digit polling margins. East Carolina University went into the field in early February (Jan. 31-Feb. 2; 1,756 registered South Carolina voters) and projected the senator to be holding a 51-38 percent lead over Harrison. NBC News/Marist College followed a couple of weeks later (Feb. 18-21; 2,382 registered South Carolina voters) and found a similar ballot test result, 54-37 percent, in the senator’s favor.

On the other hand, the national Democrats believe this is a sleeper race for them, and based upon Harrison’s prolific fundraising, they might be right. At year’s end, Harrison had raised an impressive $7.6 million with no candidate investment. That amount cost a fair amount to raise, however, as he was left with $4.7 million in his account to begin the election year.

This is a far cry from the gross amount obtained, but is still more than enough to already run a credible campaign effort in a smaller state with inexpensive media markets. Accounting for likely outside spending and considerably more that Harrison will raise, the South Carolina Senate campaign could become an “A” level race in terms of competitive effort.

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Runoff Review – Part II

Map of US Congressional districts in Texas

By Jim Ellis

March 26, 2020 — With Gov. Greg Abbott (R) moving the Texas runoff election date, it has drastically changed the short-term Lone Star State political scene. At the end of last week, Abbott transferred the post-primary runoff election date from May 26 to July 14 in consideration of COVID-19 virus precautions.

Statewide, the US Senate Democratic primary is headed to a runoff election, as well as 15 different congressional campaigns.

In the Senate race, retired Army helicopter pilot M.J. Hegar, who held Rep. John Carter (R-Georgetown) to a 51-48 percent re-election victory in 2018, placed first in the Democratic primary with 22.4 percent of the vote, but a long way from the 50 percent plateau a candidate needs to claim a party nomination. She will face state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) who slipped into second place by just over a percentage point in the 12-candidate field. Sen. Royce scored 14.5 percent statewide.

The eventual nominee faces three-term Sen. John Cornyn (R), who easily secured re-nomination in his Republican primary (76 percent over four opponents). The longer runoff cycle should typically help the second place finisher, since the individual has more time to change the campaign’s flow. In this case, however, the Democratic nominee, who already starts as a severe underdog to Sen. Cornyn, would lose valuable general election time with the later runoff, thus making the task of overcoming the incumbent even more formidable.

Of the 15 House runoffs, nine are viable to some degree. The six that are not lie in districts that are safe for one party or the other. For example, it matters little which Democrat wins the 13th District runoff (Trump ’16: 79.9 percent), or who eventually becomes the victorious Republican in the 18th CD secondary vote (Clinton ’16: 76.5 percent).

Rep. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) north Texas seat is typically thought of as safely Republican, but his 54 percent win percentage in 2018 was considerably below the average GOP vote. Two attorneys, Sean McCaffity and Lulu Seikaly will now do battle until July 14 to see who faces Rep. Taylor in his first re-election bid. The two were virtually tied in the Democratic primary, 44.5 – 43.7 percent, with the slight edge going to McCaffity. Rep. Taylor will be the decided favorite in November.

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Runoff Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

March 25, 2020 — Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who moved the Texas run-off from May 26 to July 14 this past Friday night means that 16 federal contests – one Senate and 15 House races – will have a longer secondary campaign cycle. In Texas, if no candidate receives majority support in a partisan primary the top two finishers from the particular party advance to a runoff election.

Similar action has occurred in Alabama, where the Senate Republican runoff and secondary elections for both parties in open Congressional District 1 and for the GOP in open Congressional District 2 will now be held on July 14 instead of March 31.

In North Carolina, all federal nominations were decided in the March 3 primary except for the Republican race in Congressional District 11, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/ Buncombe County) western state open seat. The North Carolina runoff has been moved from May 12 to June 23.

Mississippi has an inconsequential runoff for the 2nd District Republican nomination in a district where Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton/Mississippi Delta) will be the prohibitive favorite in November. Yet, this election, too, has been postponed until June 23.

The schedule change could greatly affect the Alabama Senate race and may be just what former US attorney general and ex-senator Jeff Sessions needs to re-tool his campaign message and reverse his recent political fortunes. The primary yielded retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville placing ahead of Sessions, 33.4 – 31.6 percent. All post-primary polling gave Tuberville a discernible lead, but that trajectory could now change considering Sessions will soon have considerably more time to tell his political story. The July 14 winner faces Sen. Doug Jones (D) in November.

In the Mobile-anchored 1st District, both parties advanced to runoff elections. The eventual Republican nominee becomes a prohibitive favorite in the general election. Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former state senator Bill Hightower advanced to the runoff election and the winner of this runoff contest will become a heavy favorite in November. Carl placed first in the primary, nipping Hightower, 38.7 – 37.5 percent. Therefore, the runoff is anybody’s game.

For the Democrats, biologist Kiani Gardner and retired Marine Corps veteran James Averhart will battle for the party nomination. Gardner placed first with a 44.1 – 40.3 percent margin over Averhart. Almost twice as many people voted in the Republican primary within the 1st District race. The Democratic nominee will have little chance in the general election from this safely Republican seat.

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Montana’s Competitive Races

By Jim Ellis

Montana

March 23, 2020 — Today, Montana has the reputation of being a Republican state, and GOP candidates have won more races here than their Democratic counterparts of late, but the latter party is far from moribund in Big Sky Country. As an at-large political domain with a sizable number of statewide offices, Democrats have had plenty of opportunities to win.

Montana holds its major statewide races in the presidential election year as opposed to the mid-term. In the state’s seven major statewide offices, Republicans currently enjoy a 5-2 edge, though Democrats hold the governorship and a US Senate office. In the 2012 election, however, the outcome was completely reversed as Democrats took five of the same seven positions.

With this background, a just-released research survey from Public Policy Polling (March 12-13; 903 registered Montana voters) tested a newly formed US Senate race between first-term Sen. Steve Daines (R) and Gov. Steve Bullock (D), along with the open at-large congressional contest. Both parties have contested primaries for the House, but state auditor and former US Senate nominee Matt Rosendale (R) and former state representative and 2018 congressional nominee Kathleen Williams (D) appear to be the favorites to win their respective party nominations.

The state is also hosting an open governor’s race, but the PPP poll did not test that campaign. The progressive left group End Citizens United sponsored the Public Policy Polling survey, and they sampled a universe that contained 37 percent self-identified Republicans, 32 percent Democrats, and 31 percent who describe themselves as Independents. It’s difficult to compare this sampling universe with the actual state electorate because Montana does not have party registration and the state features an open primary system.

That being said, the ballot test finds Sen. Daines and Gov. Bullock locked in a 47-47 percent tie, with an almost identical conclusion for a hypothetical pairing between Rosendale and Williams (45-45 percent).

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The Primary Analysis

By Jim Ellis

March 19, 2020 — The COVID-19 virus is causing obvious problems worldwide, and it’s changing the United States’ electoral system. Several states all with primaries on or before June 23 have already moved their date or are discussing such an option.

First, a total of six states already have held primary events and three general election cards are set. On March 3, full state nominating elections were held in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas. Illinois followed suit on March 17. Ohio was also supposed to also vote on March 17 but halted their election at the last minute and moved to June 2. Four of the six early voting states hold runoffs, and three will host some significant secondary nominating elections.

With a 30-percent runoff law, North Carolina only has one congressional finalist election, the open 11th District Republican battle between former Haywood County Republican Party chair Lynda Bennett and investor Madison Cawthorn. Texas has a 50 percent runoff law, and the state will feature a Democratic runoff in the Senate race along with five Democratic congressional runoffs and seven on the Republican side. Though Arkansas requires 50 percent to win a party nomination outright, no federal runoff elections are necessary. Therefore, we have full sets of general election nominees for all regular 2020 races in Arkansas, California, and Illinois.

News came from Alabama yesterday when Gov. Kay Ivey (R) announced that the state is transferring the March 31 runoff all the way to July 14. The significantly longer cycle will potentially change outcomes, the Senate race in particular.

As you will remember, former US Attorney General and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions finished second in the March 3 primary, one point behind retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. Until yesterday, the two were heading for deciding the nomination at the end of the month. All polling was suggesting a Tuberville victory. Now, with almost four full months until the runoff, this contest has the potential of changing. Sessions will now have adequate time to alter his campaign message and has the opportunity to rebound and capture the nomination. The winner faces Sen. Doug Jones (D) in the general election.

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