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Senator Rubio Draws First Democratic Challenger & Herschel Walker Weighing Options

May 21, 2021

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

Key Takeaways

  • FL-Sen: Course Change: Rep. Val Demings (D) to Run
  • OH-Sen: Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) Won’t Run
  • IL-18: Rep. Darin LaHood (R) Considering State Supreme Court Race
  • SC-7; WY-AL: More Primary Challengers
  • AZ-Gov: State Treasurer Kimberly Yee (R) to Run for Governor
  • NY-Gov: Andrew Giuliani (R) Joins Gov Race
  • Pittsburgh: Mayor Bill Peduto (D) Loses Dem Primary


Florida: Last week, reports surfaced that Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) was set to announce a US Senate challenge to incumbent Marco Rubio (R), but the Congresswoman’s spokespeople quickly denied that any such decision had been made. It appears the latter information was correct.

Politico reported that Rep. Val Demings (D-Orlando) now appears on the threshold of declaring her Senate candidacy. Which runs contrary to the Axios report last week that she would soon announce her run for Governor. If true, then it becomes probable that Rep. Murphy will seek re-election

GeorgiaUS Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler/ Savannah) tweeted that he has spoken to former Georgia football star Herschel Walker, who still lives in Texas after ending his professional career in 1997 with the Dallas Cowboys, about the latter man’s intentions regarding the 2022 Georgia Senate race. Rep. Carter, who says he will run statewide if Mr. Walker doesn’t, reports that the former University of Georgia football legend “will make up his mind by summer.” 

Ohio: Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who was openly considering entering the open US Senate race, instead announced this week that he will seek re-election to his current position. Mr. LaRose was first elected to his statewide office in 2018 after serving two four-year terms in the Ohio Senate. 


AZ-6: Elijah Norton, a financial executive who is a strong Republican campaign donor, announced that he will challenge Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills) for the party nomination next year. Mr. Norton says he will make the Congressman’s admitted ethical and campaign finance violations an issue in the race. Before the 2020 election, Rep. Schweikert agreed to eleven House ethics violations. This was a general election campaign issue but did not deter the Congressman from winning a sixth term in office. He defeated physician Hiral Tipirneni (D), 52-48%. 

IL-18: Reports coming from Illinois suggest that four-term US Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) is contemplating running statewide for a seat on the Illinois State Supreme Court. If he were to vacate his western Illinois congressional seat, it would be highly likely that this would be the seat collapsed in redistricting. Reapportionment is causing Illinois to lose one congressional seat for the 2021 redistricting process because the state actually has fewer people today than in 2010.

OH-15: Candidate filing for the special election to replace resigned Rep. Steve Stivers (R) in Ohio’s south-central 15th Congressional District concluded during the week. Twelve Republicans are now vying for the party nomination, including four sitting members of the Ohio state legislature and one local official. Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo (D-Columbus) appears to be the party's consensus candidate. The partisan primary election is scheduled for August 3rd with a special general on November 2nd.

OR-5: Retired Army officer Nate Sandvig recently declared his congressional candidacy for the Republican nomination in hopes of challenging seven-term Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Canby/ Salem) next year in a western Oregon contest that could draw more attention than what we have typically seen. With reapportionment adding another Oregon seat, and both Reps. Schrader and bordering Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield/Eugene) desiring to have more Democrats added to their districts, which may be difficult to achieve without creating at least one competitive district, the ensuing Oregon congressional campaigns are likely to become a key 2022 political focal point.

SC-7: Former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride is now the 12th Republican to announce his candidacy against Rep. Tom Rice (R-Myrtle Beach). The large primary field would normally help a challenged incumbent win with just a plurality, but South Carolina is a runoff state. Therefore, if Rep. Rice can’t obtain majority support in the initial election, the Congressman will have to face one of these challengers in a head-to-head two-week electoral contest.

TX-23: Marine Corps veteran John Lira became the first credible Democrat to announce his congressional candidacy with the hope of squaring off in the general election against freshman Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio). CD-23 is a politically marginal district that stretches from San Antonio all the way to El Paso. This was a 2020 open Republican district where Democrats were confident of victory, yet they lost in a bigger margin than in previous years. Expect this seat to significantly improve for Rep. Gonzales in redistricting.

WY-AL: While Wyoming at-large Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson/Jackson) continues to make national news, her cadre of Republican primary opponents also grows. Yesterday, Sheridan County Republican Party chairman and two-time failed US Senate candidate Bryan Miller announced his congressional candidacy. 

Mr. Miller is now the eighth GOP contender attempting to deny Rep. Cheney re-nomination, which plays into the incumbent’s hand. The large field in a state that does not have a runoff system will help an embattled incumbent because even a political base that’s only a quarter the size of the voting universe could be strong enough to win a plurality election.


Arizona: Republican State Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced yesterday, as expected, that she will enter the open Arizona Governor’s race. Prior to her statewide election in 2018, Ms. Yee served in the state Senate, where she became Majority Leader, and in the Arizona House of Representatives. Former Congressman and 2002 gubernatorial nominee Matt Salmon (R) is another potential gubernatorial contender who reportedly may soon announce his candidacy. Former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez (D is the only officially declared Democratic candidate. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.

Idaho: Idaho Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin (R), a business owner and former state Representative from Idaho Falls, announced that she will launch a Republican primary campaign against Gov. Brad Little (R) as he mounts an effort for a second term. Ms. McGeachin won a 60-40% victory in the 2018 general election after winning a five-way plurality Republican primary with just 29% of the GOP vote.

Michigan: Target-Insyght, polling for the MIRS News organization (5/9-11; 800 MI registered voters; live interview), finds retiring Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R) coming within range of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) in an early ballot test. According to the results, Gov. Whitmer would lead Chief Craig, 48-42%. 

She would top former GOP Senate nominee John James by a larger 49-39%, but the latter man would have the advantage in the Republican primary. TI reports that Mr. James would hold a 36-21% lead over Chief Craig among GOP voters. It is not clear whether Mr. James is moving toward another statewide bid after running a pair of close losing US Senate campaigns.

Nevada: Two-term North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a Republican who had served in both houses of the state legislature as a Democrat, this week officially announced his campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination as expected. Mr. Lee is the first significant Republican to come forward for the 2022 statewide campaign. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) is expected to seek a second term. We can count on seeing a competitive contest in what is again becoming a highly competitive battleground state.

New York: Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, declared his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Last month, Mr. Giuliani confirmed he was considering entering the race, and now he has formally announced.

Because of incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) political troubles, the 2022 NY Governor’s race is drawing much more interest than usual in such a strongly Democratic state. In addition to Mr. Giuliani, US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley/East Long Island) is in the race and has already clinched the official New York Republican Party endorsement with primary support from a majority of Republican county organizations. Former two-term Westchester County Executive and 2014 GOP gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino also announced his intention to run. 

Pennsylvania: Former US Representative Lou Barletta (R), who served four terms in the House before running unsuccessfully for the US Senate three years ago, announced that he is making a political comeback in the state’s 2022 open Governor’s race. Prior to winning his congressional seat, Mr. Barletta was elected three times as Mayor of Hazelton where he attracted national notoriety for his tough immigration stance.

All are expecting Attorney General Josh Shapiro to soon announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Shapiro, at the present, is favored for both the party nomination and keeping the Governor’s office in the Democratic column come November of 2022. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is ineligible to seek a third term.


Georgia: Late this week, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who was at the focal point of the 2020 election controversy in the state, announced that he will run for re-election next year. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R), now a vocal critic of former President Trump, is taking the opposite course after announcing his retirement. The Secretary of State’s race will likely attract national attention considering the controversy that erupted. US Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro) announced his Republican primary opposition to Mr. Raffensperger some weeks ago and has earned Mr. Trump’s endorsement. 

Democracy Corps: They just completed one of their regular battleground states polls through Greenberg Research (4/27-5/3; 1,000 registered voters in identified battleground states with a 500-person Republican oversample; live interview). This survey was designed to mainly test the Trump loyalty factor within the GOP and to examine voter intensity for the midterm elections. 

Not surprisingly, the survey showed that the Republican coalition, particularly the Trump loyalists, are more intense about the next election than their Democratic counterparts. The Republican coalition recorded 68% in the current most enthusiastic category, down from 84% before the 2020 election, while Democrats registered only 57% from their high of 85%.

It is typical that the party scoring a big victory in the previous election tends to be less politically focused about future voting opportunities. This is a major contributing reason why the party winning the White House almost always loses congressional seats in the succeeding midterm election. 


New York City: For the first time in a publicly released poll, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has not finished first on a New York City mayoral ballot test. Change Research conducted a poll of the New York City Democratic electorate (released 5/13; 1,422 likely NYC Democratic primary voters; online) and found Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams taking a slight 19-16% Democratic primary lead in the open mayoral contest. 

No other candidate reached double-digits, though the undecided factor is 22% as we move closer to the June 22nd nomination election. Winning the Democratic primary will be tantamount to succeeding term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio (D).

Pittsburgh: State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Pittsburgh) upset Mayor Bill Peduto with a 46-39% margin to win the Democratic Mayoral primary on Tuesday. This election is tantamount to victory in November because the Republicans did not field a candidate. Mr. Peduto is the first Mayor to lose re-election since World War II, and Mr. Gainey will become the city’s first Black chief executive.