BIPAC Election Insights - Georgia 6th Polling Tie and Virginia Governor Primary Surprises

June 14, 2017

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

Senate

Michigan former state Supreme Court Judge Robert Young (R) is now expected to announce a challenge to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) sometime next week. Judge Young was on the Republican recruitment list, so him getting into the race will move the state to a higher position on the GOP conversion target list.

Montana Republicans still do not have a top tier candidate to challenge two-term Sen. Jon Tester (D). This past week, Attorney General Tim Fox (R), a major Senate recruitment target, said he will not run. Montana is viewed as a top GOP conversion target but with Ryan Zinke now Interior Secretary, Greg Gianforte winning the replacement special election to the US House, and Mr. Fox declining to run, the Republicans are quickly running out of viable candidate options. Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg (R), however, may be making moves to enter the race. He is retiring from the bench, and says he will announce his federal political plans later in the year.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (R) stated during the week that running for Governor "does not interest" him. This should end speculation that he would eschew a third Senate term in order to run for the top state post. Though the Senator did not outright declare for re-election, his statement indicated that he will soon do so.

House

Survey USA, which previously reported Democrat Jon Ossoff leading the Georgia special congressional election, 51-44%, fielded a new poll (6/7-11; 700 GA-6 registered voters; 503 likely voters or those already casting an early ballot) that now finds Republican Karen Handel fighting back into a 47-47% tie with one week remaining. The contest, now the most expensive congressional race in our nation's history - the combined efforts will top $40 million in spending - will be decided on June 20th. It is clear that this campaign has evolved into a voter turnout battle. Whichever side does a better job getting their supporters to the polls will win the election. So far, well over 102,000 people have already cast their ballots. In the jungle primary, a huge 193,981 people voted, with just over 55,000 casting early ballots. The run-off totals are likely to exceed these previous high numbers.

Before this week, veteran Congressman and former two-term South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R-Charleston) had two 2018 Republican primary opponents. Now, he has none. Both former fighter pilot and businessman Ted Fienning and defense analyst Tom Perez exited the race for their own individual reasons. Mr. Fienning said that business and family commitments made him change his mind about running, and Mr. Perez received a job transfer that makes him re-locate overseas. Neither was viewed as a particularly serious challenger, but Mr. Sanford still carries high image negatives from his nationally publicized international extra-marital affair with an Argentinian woman.

Dan Kohl, nephew of former Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), announced that he will challenge two-term incumbent Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah/Fond du Lac) next year. Mr. Kohl is a former Assistant General Manager with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball club, a sports entity that former Senator Kohl owns. Dan Kohl has run for office before, but finished poorly in a Democratic primary for state Assembly. Mr. Grothman, succeeding 18-term veteran Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri in 2014, has twice won the 6th District seat with 57% of the vote. If the Democrats are going to make a serious move on the House majority, this is the type of opportunity that they will have to convert.

Governor

In our first bit of polling data coming from the Nevada open gubernatorial campaign, Remington Research released a survey (5/23; 1,021 NV likely voters) that finds Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) leading Democratic Clark County Commission chairman Steve Sisolak, 46-37%. Neither man has announced their candidacies, but both are expected to enter the race. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Virginia voters went to the polls to choose nominees for their open Governor's race. While former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie looked to be the prohibitive favorite to advance on the GOP side, he barely outpaced Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart to win the Republican nomination by just one percentage point.

The Democrats were believed embroiled in a toss-up contest, but this didn't prove true either. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam rather easily defeated former US Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville), 56-44%. The result was surprising in that Northam, and not the more liberal Perriello, scored better with Democratic base voters in vote-rich northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Tidewater region.

While Gillespie was thought to have the early advantage beginning the general election because his eventual opponent had moved so far left to win the nomination, it is he who now must now spend valuable time tacking right to secure the Republican base as this important fall campaign begins in earnest.

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