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Congressional Election Decisions and Gubernatorial Races Shaping Up

June 4, 2021

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

Key Takeaways

  • OH-Sen: New Republican Primary Poll
  • UT-Sen: Sen. Mike Lee (R) Draws Primary Challenge
  • FL-13: St. Petersburg Mayor Won’t Run for Congress
  • NM-1: St. Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D) Wins Special Election
  • AL-Gov: Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to Seek Re-election
  • MD-Gov: Three Dem County Execs Decline Gov Bid
  • States: Nevada Changes from Caucus to Presidential Primary Format

Senate

Missouri: Six-term Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville/Columbia) has scheduled an announcement for next Thursday, which is presumed to be a declaration of her US Senate candidacy. She will join an open seat Republican field that includes former Governor Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and attorney Mark McCloskey with Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin), Billy Long (R-Springfield), and Jason Smith (R-Salem/Bootheel region) remaining as possible entrants.

Ohio: Former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken has released her new US Senate poll that shows her gaining support. The survey, from Moore Information for the Timken campaign (5/26; 600 OH likely Republican primary voters; live interview), still projects former state Treasurer and 2012 US Senate nominee Josh Mandel as leading the race, but Ms. Timken has drawn closer to him. 

According to the numbers, Mandel has a 24-19% edge over Timken, down from the 20-5% spread the survey research firm found in February. This nomination contest has a long way to go, as the Ohio primary won’t occur until next April.

Utah: An unusual Republican primary challenge was launched over the holiday weekend in Utah. In this case, opposition to Sen. Mike Lee (R), who will be on the ballot for a third term next year, is developing because former state Rep. Becky Edwards (R) says he is too close to former President Donald Trump. In her announcement statement, Ms. Edwards was quoted as wanting to “prioritize the values of respect, honesty, civility and faith in the people of Utah." 

House

AZ-9: Chandler City Councilman Rene Lopez (R) announced that he will enter the Republican congressional primary, but does the move provide us a signal as to future political plans for the Democratic incumbent? The 9th District has become safely Democratic, so Mr. Lopez’s move against an incumbent would be a considerable long shot but less so if the seat were open. 

Rumors have persisted that Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Phoenix), a former Phoenix Mayor, is looking to potentially either become a candidate in the open Governor’s race or for the open Attorney General’s position. Both statewide positions feature Republican incumbents who are ineligible to seek re-election. Now seeing a credible early general election challenger come forward, the odds of Rep. Stanton running statewide appear to be increasing.

FL-13: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (D), who is ineligible to seek re-election later this year, says he will not enter the open seat race for the 13th District US House seat that Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) is vacating to run for Governor. Mr. Kriseman said he has not yet made any future political plans but running for Congress is not on his agenda. 

The announced open seat Democratic candidates are state Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) and Ex-US Defense Department official and former state House nominee Eric Lynn. Anna Paulina Luna, the 2020 Republican nominee who held Rep. Crist to a 53-47% re-election victory, is again running on the GOP side.

NM-1: As expected, Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-Albuquerque) scored a special congressional election victory over state Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) earlier this week with a 60-36% victory. Ms. Stansbury will now replace former Rep. Deb Haaland (D) who resigned to accept her appointment as Interior Secretary in the Biden Administration, and serve the balance of the current term.

According to the Albuquerque Journal newspaper, 92,745 people cast their ballot through the early voting process, just under 20% of the registered voter universe. The total turnout was 28.2%, meaning that only an additional 38,703 people actually voted in person on election day. The Stansbury victory increases the House Democratic conference to 220 members as compared to 211 Republicans. Four vacancies remain, two from each party.

TX-7: Wesley Hunt, the Iraq War veteran who held Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D-Houston) to a 51-47% victory in November, said he will become a congressional candidate again in 2022 but wants to see how redistricting will affect the Houston area before making a final decision about where to run. It is possible that one of the state’s two new congressional districts will be placed in the Houston area, meaning there may be an open seat for which he could compete. 

TX-8: Retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell, the twin brother of Marcus Luttrell who was the principal portrayed in the book and movie, “Lone Survivor” about his harrowing escape from Afghanistan, announced his candidacy for the open congressional seat in the area immediately north of Houston. Veteran Rep. Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) announced that this, his 13th term, will mark the end of his long congressional career. 

Mr. Luttrell becomes the eighth Republican candidate in the open seat contest. Redistricting will likely again craft this seat as one of the safest Republican seats in Texas. Mr. Brady’s successor will almost assuredly be determined from the GOP nomination battle. At this point, there is no elected official among the eight announced contenders, but that is expected to soon change.

Governor

Alabama: Both Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R) announced this week that they will each seek re-election next year. Gov. Ivey, who will be 78 years of age at the time of the 2022 election, had been coy about her future political plans but has now made her intentions clear. Both she and Mr. Ainsworth are heavy favorites to win next year in this safely Republican state.

Arizona: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs this week became the first statewide Democratic official to announce her candidacy for the open Governor’s position. The only other Democratic candidate with electoral experience is former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez.

Local Phoenix news anchor Kari Lake, who said she is part of “the growing ranks of journalists who have walked away from the mainstream media market peddling fake news,” officially joined the Republican field. In that gubernatorial primary, state Treasurer Kimberly Yee, appears to be the candidate establishing an early lead. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Florida: As expected, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) officially entered the Governor’s race this week. In anticipation of her entering the statewide Democratic primary, St. Pete Polls (5/24-26; 2,752 FL Democratic Party registered voters; automated response system) conducted a survey to test she and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg), who will be her chief opponent for the party nomination. The polling result found Rep. Crist leading Ms. Fried by a substantial 56-21% margin. 

Maryland: Continuing a trend, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) announced this week that he will not enter the open Governor’s race but will seek re-election to his current position. He is the third such key local Democratic official expected to enter the Governor’s race to instead forego running statewide. The other two are Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Prince Georges County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, who President Biden replaced with South Carolina US Senate nominee Jaime Harrison despite the party winning the national election, confirms that he is considering becoming a gubernatorial candidate. 

Democrats are favored to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. State Comptroller Peter Franchot, ex-Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker, former Attorney General Doug Gansler, and ex-US Education Secretary John King appear to be the leading Dem candidates. State Commerce Secretary Kelly Schultz is the early leading Republican.

South Carolina: Palmetto State Sen. Mia McLeod (D-Columbia) announced her gubernatorial candidacy late this week thus pitting her against former US Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-Charleston) in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The eventual winner faces an uphill battle against GOP incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster in the fall of 2022. Sen. McLeod, who was first elected to the legislature in 2016, will be the first Black woman to run for Governor in South Carolina history.

Texas: In a rather surprising move, former President Donald Trump this week announced his endorsement for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as the GOP Governor begins to launch his campaign for a third term. Last month, former state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) launched a primary challenge to the Governor from the political right. The early Abbott moves suggest that the Governor is taking the Huffines’ challenge seriously. Previously, President Trump had been critical of Mr. Abbott over some of his COVID-19 restrictions, but apparently any rift between the two men has been repaired.

States

Nevada: The Nevada legislature sent Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) a bill that would change the state’s presidential caucus to a primary election for both Democrats and Republicans. This part of the bill will likely become law. 

A provision to move a new Nevada primary ahead of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary to make it the first voting entity of the 2024 presidential election calendar, however, is unlikely to survive. Such a move must be approved by the two national parties and the chances of such consent being granted is minimal at best. 

In the case of New Hampshire, the legislature has empowered Secretary of State Bill Gardiner to move the primary date at will to ensure that no state can usurp the state’s first-in-the-nation primary status. Therefore, it is difficult to see any scenario where Nevada moves ahead of the Granite State at least through the 2024 presidential election.

Texas: Lone Star State Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush, and grandson of the late former President George H.W. Bush, announced a Republican primary challenge to embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton. In 2015, Mr. Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges, but nothing has occurred after he pleaded not guilty. Former members of his staff have since accused Mr. Paxton of abusing his office and accepting bribes.

Redistricting: Commissioners and legislators in Colorado, Illinois, and Oklahoma have all taken action on redistricting, but their moves are virtually certain to land them in court. The moves provide a preview of the likely forthcoming chaos destined for the 2020 redistricting cycle.

The states are attempting to move various district maps through the legislature, and commission process in Colorado’s case, in order to meet their state redistricting calendar deadlines. To do so, they are using Census Bureau estimates because they won’t have their specific redistricting data prior to August 15th. 

The action, however, flies in the face of previous US Supreme Court rulings that forbade such action. Therefore, count on seeing multiple lawsuits soon forthcoming here and in other places, as action from the three states is only the beginning of what promises to be a very litigious redistricting cycle.