Attention Turns to 2020 Election Cycle

December 21, 2018

This article originally appeared on BIPAC's blog. Written by BIPAC Political Analyst Jim Ellis.

All of the best for a wonderful holiday season. BIPAC Election Insights will return in the new year on January 4th.

Key Takeaways

  • President: Democratic Party debate plans in 2019 and 2020 feature a dozen candidate debates
  • Tennessee: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) will retire
  • ME-2: Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) will appeal federal court ruling in effort to strike down Maine's Ranked Choice Voting system
  • NC-9: 116th Congress will begin with NC-9 as a vacant seat pending a new election
  • KY-Gov: Gov. Matt Bevin (R) trails in first polling


Debates:  The Democratic National Committee has already announced their plan for the presidential debate series coming in 2019 and 2020. The program will feature a dozen candidate debates, six in mid to late 2019, with the remaining forums to be scheduled before the key 2020 primaries.

Changing the Republicans' approach of 2016 where they divided a large candidate field by poll standing, relegating the weakest candidates to their own debate that quickly was coined a "junior varsity" assembly, DNC chairman Tom Perez said that the "double-header" term would be a better description of their format. Each city hosting a debate will have programs on successive nights. The fields will be determined through drawing lots to determine which candidates will appear on the first night, and who would participate on the second evening.

The 2019 debates will precede the early primaries and caucuses and could possibly include California because the state's early voting process will begin simultaneously with the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary.

South Carolina:  Though South Carolina hosts one of the first four nominating events within the presidential cycle, commonly known as the "First in the South" primary, the Republicans may not schedule a 2020 version.

Doing so would not be unprecedented. The state Republican Party followed a similar course in 2004 to ensure that President George W. Bush had no impediment to obtaining unified support from the South Carolina delegation. Because of President Trump's demonstrated strength in this state, party leaders are considering again following such a course. In any event, the Democratic primary will definitely be held and likely scheduled for February 29th.

Pete Buttigieg:  South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) announced that he will not seek re-election to a third term and is expected to join the presidential campaign sometime early next year. Mr. Buttigieg, who is openly gay, will bank on strong support from the LGBT community and its allies as he builds a base within the Democratic Party. Though officially mum about running for President, he is already heading to Iowa for speaking appearances this coming weekend.

Bernie Sanders:  The Democracy for Action organization surveyed what they claim are 94,000 self-identified progressives asking their preference for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. As was the case in 2016, the most liberal faction of the Democratic Party is again lining up behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In this new survey, he captured 36% support.

Again falling far behind, as she has already done in other polls, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren attracts only 8%, falling to single digits even within a group where she should draw strong support. In second position is former Vice President Joe Biden followed by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX). The two captured 15 and 12%, respectively.


Colorado:  Sen. Cory Gardner (R), possibly the most vulnerable Republican Senator standing for election in 2020 because of his state's recent leftward electoral lurch, has drawn a second Democratic challenger. Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff filed a 2020 US Senate campaign committee late last week, indicating that he intends to become a candidate. Previously, the executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, Lorena Garcia, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

Others, such as Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden), former state Treasurer and ex-gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy, and ex-state Senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston are all viewed as possible Democratic Senatorial candidates.

Iowa:  Democratic leaders nationally and in Iowa are making it clear that they would like to recruit former Governor and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (D) into the Senate race in order to challenge first-term incumbent Joni Ernst (R). The former Governor and cabinet secretary, however, was vague when asked about his intentions, if not incomprehensible. As reported in many places, Mr. Vilsack responded that, "the door's not open, closed, shut. I don't even know where the door is." It appears apparent that Mr. Vilsack, who was last on the Iowa ballot in 2002, is less than committed to making another statewide run.

Kansas:  Sen. Pat Roberts (R), at 82 years of age and a clear retirement prospect particularly after a difficult 2014 re-election campaign, is already drawing a probable 2020 Democratic challenger. Former US Attorney Barry Grissom (D) again reiterated that he is seriously considering entering the Senate campaign in the next cycle. Sen. Roberts has not yet committed to seeking re-election.

Tennessee:  Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) released a statement this week announcing that he does not intend to seek re-election to a fourth term in 2020. Prior to being elected in 2002, Mr. Alexander had served as US Education Secretary under President George H.W. Bush, and as Tennessee Governor for two terms. He is the only person in Tennessee history who served as both Governor and US Senator.

The Senate opening will ignite a large field of candidates seeking the office, particularly on the Republican side. Moves will soon be made, so this story will continue to develop. The Tennessee nominating primaries won't be held until the first week of August in 2020.


CA-52:  Four-term Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) has officially formed an exploratory committee to test his viability in the open 2020 Mayor's race. Before being elected to Congress, Mr. Peters was President of the San Diego City Council. The Congressman said he will decide about running for the city post in the "next few months." He can expect major competition from both Republicans and Democrats as a number of strong candidates are expected to vie for the office. Incumbent Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

ME-2:  After losing his constitutional federal lawsuit to strike down Maine's instant run-off system, known as Ranked Choice Voting, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Oakland/Bangor) has ended the full recount he requested of last month's vote. The recount process was about half complete, and no significant change was discovered.

Mr. Poliquin lost his initial attempt at overturning Maine's Ranked Choice Voting system in federal court but has now decided to appeal the lower court decision. He argues that the RCV, which gives more votes to people whose original candidates finish in the second tier, is unconstitutional. The Maine state Supreme Court has already ruled the system as unconstitutional for state races, but they have no jurisdiction over federal elections.

NE-2:  2018 Democratic nominee Kara Eastman, who held Rep. Don Bacon (R-Papillon/Omaha) to a 51-49% victory margin, says she will run again in the next election cycle. Ms. Eastman upset former US Representative and ex-state Senator Brad Ashford (D-Omaha) in the 2018 Democratic primary to advance into the general election.

Though Mr. Ashford is an unlikely 2020 candidate, his wife, Ann Ferlic Ashford, confirms that she is seriously considering entering the race. Should this occur, a re-match of sorts would be decided before the main rerun is even held. Nebraska's 2nd District is politically marginal, so we can expect this contest to again be competitive.

NM-2:  New Mexico state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo) looks to be taking steps to seek a re-match against the woman who defeated her 51-49% in November, attorney and now Rep-Elect Xochitl Torres-Small (D). Though Ms. Herrell is still considering filing a lawsuit over potential voting irregularities in Dona Ana County, she is "not ruling out" another congressional run in 2020.

Outgoing Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs), who just lost the Governor's race but was subsequently elected as the New Mexico Republican Party chairman, is also not closing the door on a second comeback for the seat he vacated to run statewide in both 2008 and 2018.

NC-9:  It is now a virtual certainty that North Carolina's 9th District will begin the new Congress as a vacant seat pending a new election. The North Carolina State Board of Elections postponed their December 21st meeting to January 11th, meaning the issue of officially certifying Republican Mark Harris' apparent 905 vote victory will not be finally decided until almost two weeks after the new congressional session begins.

The meeting, however, is basically a formality. All sides are calling for a new election, which will almost certainly be ordered at the next BoE meeting. A new law is likely to be enacted that will open the impending special primary election to all individuals meaning Mr. Harris may not even be re-nominated. The accusations of voter fraud surrounding his lead have severely damaged his image, therefore he would have a very difficult time of winning the seat in the special. Republicans will likely move forward with a new candidate, while Democrats are almost certain to coalesce behind their 2018 nominee, businessman Dan McCready.

The special election will likely be scheduled sometime in March. A run-off will occur if a leading party primary candidate falls under 40%.

SC-1:  Late this week, Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert (R) confirmed that he is considering running for the 1st Congressional District seat that Democrat Joe Cunningham (D-Charleston) wrestled away from the Republicans last month.

State Rep. Katie Arrington (R), who lost to Cunningham after denying Rep. Mark Sanford (R-Charleston) re-nomination and was then involved in a serious automobile accident that landed her in the hospital for an extended stay, is likely to run again and Mr. Covert was already drawing a distinction between he and the 2018 nominee over the important off-shore oil drilling issue that was a large reason for Cunningham's upset victory. Additionally, Rep. Sanford has yet to confirm or deny any interest in running again.

TN-5:  Immediately quelling some very early retirement rumors, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) announced that he is definitely running for re-election in 2020. Mr. Cooper was elected to the 5th District in 2002, when then-incumbent Bob Clement (D-Nashville) ran unsuccessfully for Senate.


Kentucky:  Another Democrat is soon expected to enter the campaign against first-term Gov. Matt Bevin (R). Former state Auditor Adam Edelen has formed an exploratory committee. If he moves forward, Mr. Edelen will join Attorney General Andy Beshear and state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) as official candidates.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategies released the first Kentucky gubernatorial election poll for the coming cycle, and it does not provide Gov. Matt Bevin (R) with good news. The poll was taken over the December 12-15 period, and interviewed 625 Kentucky likely gubernatorial campaign voters.

According to the results, Gov. Bevin would trail Attorney General Andy Beshear, 48-40%, and even falls one point behind little known state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook), 42-41%. Though many incumbents have rebounded from numbers such as these, it appears Mr. Bevin has his work cut out for him if he is to win a second term next year.

Louisiana:  Speculation is becoming rampant about the 2019 gubernatorial elections. Two new names have surfaced as potential Louisiana candidates, former US Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Lafayette) and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta (R).

The field begun taking shape once US Sen. John Kennedy (R) announced that he would not challenge Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) next year. Currently in the race are US Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Alto/Monroe) and GOP developer Eddie Rispone. Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) is another potential candidate. Plenty of time for decisions remains, however. The candidate filing deadline is not until August 8th for the October 12th jungle primary, followed by a November 16th run-off if no one obtains majority support.