Category Archives: Senate

Beneath the Numbers

By Jim Ellis

Is Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) in trouble?

July 30, 2020 — Two Senate polls were released earlier this week, and though the ballot tests in Maine and South Carolina didn’t show us anything particularly new, the pollsters asked their respective sampling universes some interesting ancillary questions.

Colby College, a Waterville, Maine institution housing approximately 1,800 students, released its second political poll of 2020 in conjunction with the McVey Data Science Initiative. The questions touched upon the presidential and Senate ballot tests but delved deeper into the attitudes and perspectives of their 888-person sample over the July 18-24 period.

The presidential ballot test found former vice president Joe Biden leading President Trump statewide, 50-38 percent. The Senate ballot test was closer in that former state House speaker Sara Gideon (D) leads Sen. Susan Collins (R), 44-39 percent.

In looking deeper, it is probable that the actual race standings are likely a bit closer. There appears to be a Democratic skew in that all favorability indexes for Democratic public officials were positive and those of the tested Republican officials were decidedly negative. Additionally, 52 percent of the sampling universe comes from the state’s southern congressional district, the 1st, which is decidedly more liberal than the northern 2nd District. Together, these factors provide us the indication that the results are a few points more favorable for Democrats than what we might see in actual voting.

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Committee Continuity – Part I

By Jim Ellis

July 28, 2020 — Since elections always bring changes in the House and Senate committee structures, it is appropriate to begin looking at which key policy panels have the most known approaching changes.

In today’s Update, we begin to look at two anchor financial committees in each house and touch upon the internal political musical chairs. We look at the known committee vacancies due to retirement or primary defeat and identify the members who face competitive political situations. Obviously, a change in party control will fundamentally cause the greatest change, but we will look at those effects once we are closer to the election.


SENATE FINANCE

• Republicans – The GOP has a 15-13 majority on the Finance Committee under the leadership of veteran Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Two Republicans are retiring, Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), and one, Montana Sen. Steve Daines is in a highly competitive re-election contest against term-limited governor and former presidential candidate Steve Bullock (D). Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) will have a substantial amount of money spent against him, but he is considered a likely winner at this time. Of the committee’s 15 Republicans, only four are in-cycle this year.

• Democrats – This side is even more stable. None are retiring, and just one of their 13 members, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, is in-cycle. He is in a non-competitive situation. Should the Democrats gain the majority, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) would become the new Finance Committee chairman.


HOUSE WAYS & MEANS

• Democrats – On this important exclusive committee, the majority Democrats command a 25-17 advantage. They have only one sure vacancy, and that because of Rep. John Lewis’ (D-GA) recent death. Just two of the members have re-election races that can be considered competitive. Ironically, one of those is a Democratic primary challenge to committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA-2).

Though it is unlikely that Neal will be denied re-nomination in the Massachusetts primary on Sept. 1, his opponent, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, has managed to raise over $840,000 for his campaign at the June 30 second quarter financial reporting deadline. If Neal is upset in the primary, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35) would be the next most senior member since Rep. Lewis has passed.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV-4) has already lost this seat once as an incumbent. He faces former state assemblyman Jim Marchant in a northern Las Vegas-anchored district that has yet to re-elect an incumbent since its creation in the 2011 redistricting plan. Rep. Horsford is the clear favorite, but the contest merits attention.

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Longshot Candidate Close
In Open Tennessee Senate Race

By Jim Ellis

July 23, 2020 — The open Tennessee Senate race has not gotten much national attention, but we now seem to have a close race brewing in the final days leading up to the state’s Aug. 6 primary. The Volunteer State is the only one to host a Thursday primary.

Dr. Manny Sethi, original long-shot candidate and noted Nashville orthopedic surgeon, has become a viable contender in the Tennessee Senate Republican Primary race.

Once most of the state’s well-known politicos took their names out of consideration after three-term incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) announced his retirement at the end of 2018, former US ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty looked to be the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination. These days in Tennessee, becoming the GOP standard bearer is virtually tantamount to winning a general election.

As the candidates make a dash for the political finish line, original long-shot candidate Manny Sethi, a noted Nashville orthopedic surgeon, has become a viable contender. Three separate polls released last week all found the two candidates within two to four points of each other, with Hagerty, armed with President Trump’s endorsement, clinging to a dwindling lead.

Late Tuesday, JMC Analytics & Polling released their new independent Tennessee survey (July 18-19; 600 likely Tennessee Republican primary voters), which projects Hagerty to be holding a 36-32 percent edge over Dr. Sethi. Last week, both the Trafalgar Group (July 6-8; 1,062 likely Tennessee Republican primary voters) and Victory Phones, the latter for the Sethi campaign (June 30-July 1; 800 likely Tennessee Republican primary voters), released survey results.

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The Wild Kansas Senate Race

By Jim Ellis

July 21, 2020 — As we approach the Aug. 4 primaries, it’s clear that the Kansas Senate Republican primary will be the top attraction of that election day. An intra-party nomination clash in what should be a relatively safe open-seat campaign has devolved into a mixed-message political brawl.

Embattled Kansas Senate Republican candidate Kris Kobach

Just in the past month we’ve seen Democratic money coming into the Sunflower State in an attempt to influence the Republican primary, and national Republican money making an appearance trying to destroy the former GOP gubernatorial nominee. Furthermore, a well-healed third Republican candidate was being described as a multi-million dollar plumber who contributes more to Democrats. And, yesterday we saw a new ad with a candidate saying that it’s really “a badge of honor” that the Democrats are now attacking him because they’re afraid to face him in the general election.

When veteran Sen. Pat Roberts (R) announced his retirement last year, 2018 gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach, fresh from running the disastrous Presidential Commission on Election Integrity that yielded no results before being disbanded, jumped into the Senate race. Because Kobach ran such a poor gubernatorial campaign and virtually handed the office to then-Democratic state senator Laura Kelly two years ago, Republican leaders were fearful of him becoming the Senate nominee. Democrats were also seeing early polling numbers indicating that they could beat Kobach while other Republicans were faring much better in general election ballot test pairings.

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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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