With Murphy Out in PA, Corker Out in TN, Who Will Fill the Vacancies?

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Tim Murphy  (R-Pittsburgh)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Oct. 9, 2017 — A new special US House election will soon be on tap, this time in southwestern Pennsylvania in PA-18. Beleaguered Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh) succumbed to the negative publicity leaking out about his extra-marital affairs, abortion hypocrisy, and internal relations with staff members to announce late last week that he will resign his congressional office effective Oct. 21. This, just a day after he made public his intention not to seek re-election but serve the balance of the current term.

Once the seat is vacant, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will call a special election to choose a replacement. Since the Nov. 7 municipal elections occur less than three full weeks after Rep. Murphy departs, that means holding a new special congressional contest concurrently with the regular off-year vote would be impossible. Therefore, it is probable a mid-December or post-January 1st election will be scheduled.

There will be no primary period. Under Pennsylvania law, the parties will meet in district conclaves and local delegates will select the respective nominees.

Since the voting history here is strongly Republican – President Trump carried the district 58-38 percent, Mitt Romney won 58-41 percent, and Rep. Murphy ran unopposed during the last two general election cycles, for example – the eventual GOP nominee will be the overwhelming favorite to keep the seat. The early conjecture settles around state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Bethel Park) who is making his interest in running clear. State Sen. Kim Ward (R-Greensburg) stated publicly already that she also intends to become a candidate.

Tennessee Senate

Sen. Bob Corker’s (R) retirement announcement has set in motion a series of political moves just completed. Late last week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) announced that she will compete for the seat, while term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam (R) declined to run for the federal post.

Blackburn’s fast move to establish position could make her the early front-runner. With Gov. Haslam now on the sidelines and no longer a threat to take advantage of a split among conservatives, Blackburn could conceivably become the bedrock right-of-center candidate.

At the end of June she held an impressive $3.1 million in the bank. With the September report due in 10 days, it is certain she will reveal considerably more. Additionally, clearly having the inside track to the important Club for Growth endorsement, Rep. Blackburn can solidify her conservative credentials and receive support from the Club’s national network of donors that would produce substantial future dollars.

Furthermore, the eight-term congresswoman represents a CD that lies between Nashville and Memphis, thereby making her a familiar figure in the state’s two largest population centers, and she has never dropped below 66 percent support in any general election. Thus, Blackburn begins in an enviable position for any statewide hopeful.

In addition to the veteran representative, former 8th District Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) is a potential Senate contender. So is ex-state Rep. Joe Carr, who held Sen. Lamar Alexander to a 50-41 percent Republican primary win in 2014. He then challenged Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) for re-nomination in the last election cycle, but was crushed, 63-32 percent. Andy Ogles, the Tennessee chairman of Americans for Prosperity, was already in the Senate race. Before Sen. Corker announced his retirement, Ogles entered the primary against him.

Though one might think this could be a tempting seat for the Democrats, their best potential candidates have already said no. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, all took themselves out of the running a day after Sen. Corker said he would not seek re-election. Soon after, wealthy businessman and former Nashville mayoral candidate Bill Freeman also said he would not enter the race.

At this very early stage and with a second-tier Democratic candidate at best, the Tennessee Senate seat, even without Sen. Corker running for re-election, appears to be a general election lock for the GOP.

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