Senate Overtime

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 19, 2016 — Most projections suggest that the 2016 US Senate election cycle will end in a partisan division close to a 50-50 tie between Democrats and Republicans. If true, a new political poll suggests that the final determining factor won’t occur until well beyond Nov. 8.

A new JMC Analytics and Polling survey of the Louisiana Senate race portends that this open seat contest will be headed to a Dec. 10 run-off election. Therefore, if one Republican and one Democrat advance from the field of 24 candidates, it will mean the country must wait a full month after the general election to determine whether the Senate is tied or one party reaches 51.

But, such a majority may only last for a year. Assuming Hillary Clinton is elected president, her vice presidential nominee, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, will have to resign his seat. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) will then make an appointment – sure to be another Democrat – but this person will only serve until the next statewide general election.

Because Virginia elects its governors in odd-numbered years, the special Senate election will subsequently take place in 2017. Therefore, if the Senate breaks 50-50, with that last seat being from Virginia, the majority will be at risk just one year later. This will make an Old Dominion statewide special election the nation’s political focal point, at least in terms of determining Senate control.

Additionally, the Kaine seat is in-cycle in 2018, meaning the new senator will have to run two expensive statewide campaigns in the course of two calendar years — not an easy task for anyone.

The JMC Louisiana poll (Oct. 11-15; 800 likely Louisiana voters conducted for the John Fleming campaign) projects a barn-burner on Nov. 8. The Bayou State holds its primaries concurrently with the general election in order to allow candidates the opportunity of securing an electoral majority in just one vote. In the current Senate race that features 24 candidates (9 Republicans, 7 Democrats, and 8 Independents and minor party members), going to a secondary run-off election is a virtual certainty.

The poll results find Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell leading the way with 23 percent as a byproduct of a trio of Republicans evenly splitting just over 44 percent of the candidate preference vote. State Treasurer John Kennedy (R) holds second place with 15.5 percent, followed closely by Reps. John Fleming (R-LA-4) and Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) with 14.5 and 14.4 percent, respectively. Democratic former lieutenant governor candidate Caroline Fayard comes in just under 10 percent on the first ballot test.

JMC then asked a follow-up question of those saying they have not fully made up their minds. Of the 16 percent who originally answered as “undecided”, almost 40 percent of this sub-group said they are leaning to a particular candidate.

On the secondary question, adding in the leaning undecided voters’ responses, Campbell improves to 25 percent, Fleming shoots ahead of Kennedy at 16.3 to the latter’s 15.9 percent, with Boustany again right behind at 15.8 percent. The results tell us that any of the three Republicans could qualify for second place, and that a Democrat-Republican run-off is the likely Nov. 8 conclusion.

The Republican candidate would begin as an early favorite, but the Democrats, fresh from their victory in the 2015 governor’s election, will expend the maximum effort on the run-off campaign particularly if this seat will determine the Senate majority.

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