House: The Latest Moves from East to West

By Jim Ellis

July 28, 2017 — News and speculation that affect a series of US House seats broke in rampant fashion over the past week.

One congressman tweeted his US Senate announcement, while another, the former’s potential opponent, released a poll to draw attention away from his new rival. A Nevada member may defy her home state political machine and jump into a Senate race, while across the country a different congressman may either run for governor or completely retire from elective politics. Lastly, a California House member may soon be forced to repel a challenge from a credible fellow Democratic candidate.

For the past several weeks it has been assumed that both Indiana Reps. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) and Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) would oppose each other for the Republican US Senate nomination. The winner, whether it be one of these two or another candidate, would earn the right to challenge vulnerable Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in the 2018 general election.

Earlier this week, Rep. Messer tweeted to supporters and reporters that he is in the Senate race, with his formal announcement scheduled for Aug. 12. Immediately, Rep. Rokita countered by releasing his GS Strategy Group poll (July 16-18; 500 likely Indiana Republican primary voters) that shows Rep. Messer trailing. According to the data, Rokita would maintain a 21-14 percent lead over Messer, with 11 percent going to candidates placed in the “others” category. If the race winnowed down to just the two congressmen, Rokita would lead, 28-20 percent.

Moving to the west, Nevada Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) again made a public statement to remind political observers that she is still considering her own Senate campaign. This, despite the Harry Reid political machine already recruiting into the race and firmly supporting fellow Rep. Jacky Rosen’s (D-Henderson) move to challenge Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

Titus has actually enjoyed past success in opposition to the former Senate Democratic leader and his allies. She won the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination when the Reid team was fully invested in another candidate. But she would then go on to lose the general election to a Republican who became embroiled in a minor scandal the week before the vote even though Democrats were riding a wave election.

Six years later, Sen. Reid and his forces clearly wanted then-state senator and now current 4th District congressman, Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas), to run when the 1st District came open, but the latter decided not to enter the race and Titus again overcame Reid’s support for another candidate.

To underscore her pending interest in the Senate race, the congresswoman released an Anzalone Liszt Grove Research poll (June 23-29; 602 likely Nevada voters) that places her only two points behind Republican incumbent Heller, 45-47 percent. While Titus’ fundraising is still lagging, her financial situation has improved. She now maintains just under $324,000 cash-on-hand.

Returning to the east, three-term Maryland congressman John Delaney (D-Potomac) is scheduling an announcement news conference for Saturday. The prevailing wisdom is he will declare his intention to enter the gubernatorial race, but a local blogger is reporting that the event’s true purpose is for the congressman to announce his retirement from elective politics. It does appear, however, that regardless of what Delaney is planning to unveil on Saturday we will be able to add Maryland’s 6th Congressional District to the open seat list.

Finally, former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez (D) may be making a return to congressional candidate status. In 2012, he ran against then-state Sen. Jeff Denham (R) for an open Central Valley California congressional seat and lost 53-47 percent. Democrats are hoping that he will seek a re-match with Rep. Denham in 2018, and Hernandez signaled his interest yesterday via Twitter. His message, however, proved surprising.

Instead of talking about again facing the 10th District Republican incumbent, the former Space Shuttle crew member indicated his preference to run in District 9, a place more central to his home community. But Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) already represents that district. This means that Hernandez could be angling for a double-Democratic general election, a race that will consume almost all of 2018.

California’s top-two jungle primary system allows members of the same party to advance to the general election. If Hernandez is able to run a strong race, or pre-empt District 9 Republicans from fielding a viable candidate, he would find himself easily advancing to the general election irrespective of the vote percentage he attracts. Therefore, a Hernandez challenge to Democratic Rep. McNerney could very quickly become stark reality.

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