Open Seat News – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 13, 2017 — Continuing our review of the eight known open House districts, today’s update concludes with the final four seats either headed to a special election or whose electorate will choose a new incumbent in the regular 2018 cycle.

NM-1: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) has already announced that she will enter the open 2018 governor’s campaign. Incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez (R) is ineligible to seek a third term in office. The 1st District houses the city of Albuquerque and 95 percent of the state’s dominant county, Bernalillo. So far, no one has yet come forward to declare an official congressional candidacy, but many Democratic state and local officials would be well positioned to run. For Republicans, should they choose not to run for governor, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and outgoing Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry would become prospective congressional contenders.

SC-5: President-Elect Donald Trump’s choice of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) as Director of the Office of Management & Budget yields a special election in the north-central section of the state soon after the confirmation process concludes. The Palmetto State is very clear in terms of the special election schedule, thus leaving Gov. Nikki Haley (R) with no wiggle room pertaining to the campaign calendar. The primary contests will occur on the 11th Tuesday following an official declaration of the vacant seat. The run-offs, if necessary, will come on the 13th Tuesday after an official vacancy, with the general election transpiring on the 18th succeeding Tuesday. This means the special election cycle will consume just over four months. Therefore, if Mulvaney is confirmed sometime in February, we can expect a new 5th District Representative at a point in June.

As in the open Montana district, this special election could become somewhat competitive. The most prominent Democrat potentially waiting in the wings is former gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen, a local state senator. He held Haley to a close 51-47 percent victory in 2010. Sheheen has not yet committed to running for Congress, however. For the Republicans, state Rep. Ralph Norman, who lost his initial congressional bid to incumbent John Spratt (D) back in 2006, has already announced for the special election. Former South Carolina Republican Party chairman John King is a potential candidate, as well as several other state legislators. Should Sheheen not run, this district will become prohibitively Republican.

SD-AL: Rep. Kristi Noem (R-At-Large) has already become an official 2018 gubernatorial candidate under South Dakota election law. She is vying to replace term-limited Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R). Because this is a single-member congressional district state, literally every elected official in South Dakota could run for this open seat. We can expect a multi-candidate primary process from both parties, but the eventual Republican nominee will be the odds-on favorite to capture the seat in the next regular election. So far, only former state Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson (R) has declared himself as a congressional candidate.

TX-3: Rep. Sam Johnson’s (R-Plano) retirement will open his north Texas seat that includes the cities of Plano, McKinney, and Frisco, for the first time since 1991 when the congressman won a special election. The Texas cycle is one of the earliest in the nation, meaning the 2018 primary will occur in early March of that year. State Sen. Van Taylor looks to be a strong candidate should he choose to run. Indications are that he will, but will not address any future campaign until after the legislative session ends, mid-year. Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis (R) is another individual often mentioned as a possible Johnson successor.

Though this district performed better for Hillary Clinton than any recent Democrat, she still lost the seat to President-Elect Trump, 55-41 percent. By contrast, Mitt Romney carried the same district 64-34 percent over President Obama in 2012. The Democrats have little chance here under a mid-term turnout model, and will not likely field a credible candidate.

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