LaHood Wins; GOP Coalition Building

Sept. 14, 2015 — The last US House vacancy was officially filled last night when Illinois state Sen. Darin LaHood (R) easily won the special election in the Peoria-anchored district left vacant when then-Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL-18) resigned over improper expenses.

LaHood, the son of former representative and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, had an easy run from the beginning of the special election cycle. With no strong opponents filing in either the Republican primary or for the general election, the Peoria state senator’s pre-candidate filing operation positioned him as a consensus candidate virtually from the beginning.

LaHood garnered 69 percent of the vote against educator Rob Mellon (D), sweeping an 18th District that travels around and among the cities of Peoria, Springfield, and Normal before encompassing the rural region to the Missouri border.

The final turnout of 50,747 voters is a little more than half the average total of what we generally see for a special congressional election. The fact that this low-key campaign produced virtually no competition left no doubt about the final conclusion, hence the low voter participation rate.

Democrats never made an effort to convert this seat, which the party hasn’t won in more than a century. There was no outside campaign, and Mellon expended less than $22,000 on his political effort. The LaHood campaign spent more than $1.2 million.

The Republican victory brings the partisan division back to the 247R-188D split that was established on Election Night 2014. Two other Republican vacancies were filled earlier in the year, that of former Rep. Michael Grimm on Staten Island, New York, and the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee’s northern Mississippi district. There are now 20 open seats, 10 from each party, headed toward the 2016 election.

Outsiders Up

A new CNN/ORC International poll (Sept. 4-8; 1,012 adults; 930 registered voters; 474 self-identified Republican or Lean Republican voters) was released late last week and it confirmed other surveys that find the Republican candidates who have never been elected to any office comprising a clear majority of supporters.

According to the results, Donald Trump attracts 32 percent followed by Dr. Ben Carson at 19 percent. In the second tier is businesswoman Carly Fiorina, whose three percent standing gives the three non-elected, or formerly elected, officials a combined 54 percent majority. The strongest contender previously elected to office is ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who, at nine percent, doesn’t even break into double-digits. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz fares best in the presidential field of those who are currently in office, but his support total is only seven percent.

Though the sample size of 474 Republican and lean Republican voters is small for a national poll, it is an improvement over previous CNN/ORC efforts. And, since the results are consistent with other recent public data, this poll appears to be relatively reliable.

That being the case, the Republicans may be facing a new situation where voters are not only falling in behind Trump, but the preponderance of those attracting support are non-office holders. Should Trump recede, as all of the other candidates hope, those regular politicians who believe they will benefit from the Trump fallout may continue to trail even if the current front-runner does come back to the pack.

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