Scanning the Country – Part V

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 10, 2017 — Completing our five-part political journey around America, we now look at the final nine states — Tennessee through Wyoming — examining whether certain members from the various federal delegations are looking to retire and/or seek a different office.

Tennessee: Like many states in 2018, Tennessee features an open governor’s race and a US Senate campaign. Sen. Bob Corker (R) will either run for a third term, or possibly take a shot at the governor’s office. Rumors had arisen earlier that Sen. Corker was considering opting for a governor’s contest, but less is being said about that now. Assuming the senator seeks re-election, he will likely draw little in the way of credible opposition.

The main focus will be on the battle to replace term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam (R). At this point, Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) appears to be the only House member from either party looking at the governor’s race. Many state officials and legislators are jockeying for statewide position, however. Democrats are looking toward either former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is also being mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Corker, or Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

All of the House incumbents appear secure, even Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg). After sex scandals with several of his former patients were revealed soon after his original election in 2010, DesJarlais survived two particularly tough Republican primary challenges. Still in office, the worst is clearly behind the now-four term congressman.

Texas: Sen. Ted Cruz (R) stands for his first re-election, and it appears he may draw a credible opponent in the general election. El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) is confirming that he is leaning toward challenging the former GOP presidential candidate. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) is another Democratic House member apparently considering such a race. Previous rumors that Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin) was contemplating a US Senate primary challenge seem to be dissipating. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will seek a second term, and except from a speculated challenge from conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), the governor appears in strong position to win a second term.

The 36-member House delegation (25R-11D) is stable from the Red River to the Rio Grande Valley. Should either O’Rourke or Castro run for the Senate, Democrats will easily retain those two seats. Veteran Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Plano) just announced that he will not seek a 14th term, which ignites a major GOP primary battle in north Dallas.

Republican Will Hurd (R-San Antonio), who survived a one-point re-election battle, will likely again face a tough campaign, though the mid-term turnout model should be more favorable to him. Hurd won his re-election campaign against former Rep. Pete Gallego (D), 48-47 percent, despite Hillary Clinton out-polling Donald Trump in this district, 50-46 percent.

Utah: When he ran for a seventh term in 2012, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) repeatedly said he would likely retire the next time he came before the electorate. Now, at age 82, Sen. Hatch is indicating that his career may not yet be over. Such a decision would put several Utah politicos’ plans on hold. For example, former governor, US Ambassador to China, and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman (R) along with Attorney General Sean Reyes (R) were both making noises about running for the Senate. Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin (R), who found his best showing in Utah (21.5 percent) is also a potential US Senate candidate. With Hatch potentially again in the picture, the 2018 Senate race could drastically change.

Sen. Mike Lee (R), just re-elected in November, continues to be mentioned as a possible Donald Trump Supreme Court appointee. Should such happen, we would see Gov. Gary Herbert (R) making an interim appointment to replace Lee, with the seat coming before the voters in 2018 for purposes of completing the present term.

The four-member Republican congressional delegation looks to remain in tact for the 2018 election, unless Hatch decides to retire or Lee is appointed to the Supreme Court. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine) is a likely gubernatorial contender in 2020 when Gov. Herbert is ineligible to seek re-election. Should the Senate seat(s) open in the current cycle, he would also be considered as a potential candidate. Rep. Mia Love (R-Saratoga Springs), who is the politically weakest of the House incumbents, scored an improved 54-41 percent victory in November and should be well positioned to run for a third term next year.

Vermont: Sen. Bernie Sanders, still running on the Independent ballot line, will likely seek a third term. Since the Democrats will not likely field a strong candidate, Sen. Sanders will run with very little opposition. Newly elected Gov. Phil Scott (R) will have to defend his chief executive position in one of only two states that feature two-year gubernatorial terms (neighboring New Hampshire is the other). Five-term at-large Rep. Peter Welch (D-Norwich) did not even draw a Republican opponent in 2016, and should again have little trouble winning another term.

Virginia: The state’s open governor’s race occurs this year, which should be a highly competitive campaign. Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appear to be the leading candidates for their respective party nominations. Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville) just hopped into the Democratic contest, a surprise entry. Sen. Tim Kaine (D), facing his home state voters after his national loss, will be heavily favored for a second term.

After new congressional lines were adopted in 2016, the 7R-4D congressional delegation should be secure in the next election. Northern Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean), winning an expensive re-election in a seat that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 percentage points, should have an easier run in 2018.

Washington: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) is in-cycle for a fourth term and must be considered a prohibitive favorite for re-election at least in the early going. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) just won a second term in November against credible Republican opposition. With all 10 House members just clinching re-election with at least 55 percent of the vote, the entire 6D-4R delegation is politically safe.

West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin (D) will seek a second full term, and could draw serious opposition considering the recent political voting tendencies the state’s electorate has exhibited (at 69 percent, West Virginia was Donald Trump’s second-strongest state). The three Republican congressional incumbents will be heavy favorites for re-election, though second-term Rep. Alex Mooney (R-Charles Town) represents a politically marginal 2nd District and could be potentially vulnerable under favorable Democratic circumstances.

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker (R) is reportedly preparing to seek a third term after his ill-fated presidential run, which will again be highly competitive. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) will run for a second term and already three potential Republican opponents are testing the political waters or are being recruited by others to run. The three are: Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau), and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Each could make the Senate contest one of the nation’s most watched campaigns. If Rep. Duffy runs for the Senate, his 7th District northwestern Wisconsin House seat would be competitive in both primaries and the general election.

Wyoming: Sen. John Barrasso (R) will seek a second full term, and the governor’s race comes open as incumbent Matt Mead (R) is ineligible to run for a third term. Newly elected at-large Rep. Lynn Cheney (R-Wilson) will be up for her first re-election. Both federal incumbents should have little trouble winning in 2018.

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