Special Elections set in Arizona and Michigan and Alabama Senate Race Turnout Examined

December 15, 2017

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

Key Takeaways:

  • Doug Jones wins Alabama US Senate Seat with superior turnout
  • Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) to be appointed US Senator to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Al Franken (D)
  • Lea Marquez Peterson (R) to run for AZ-2
  • With Rep. Trent Franks (R) resigning Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey set the special election for April 24th and the primary for February 27th
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27) will be retiring at the end of the current Congress due to sexual harassment claims



Yellowhammer State voters went to the polls this week and chose Democrat Doug Jones as the state's new Senator.  He defeated Republican former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore by a 49.9 - 48.4% margin, a spread of 20,715 votes.  The result defied most of the polling, though the final pre-election Survey Monkey study that forecasted a 49-47% Democratic split proved most accurate.  Judge Moore failed to solidify enough of the Republican vote, unable to attract normal GOP margins in key suburban counties around Alabama's most populous metropolitan areas.  In comparing this race to last year's presidential results, Moore could only attract 49.3% of President Trump's total while Jones garnered 92.0% of Hillary Clinton's Alabama total vote.  Turnout was very high, exceeding 1.34 million voters.  To put this special election vote into context, the last statewide vote for Governor (2014) drew 1.18 million participants.  The 2016 general election recorded over 2.123 million votes. 

Mr. Jones will serve through 2020, and is eligible to run for a full six-year term at that time.  The Senate partisan division now drops to 51R-49D.   The outcome here serves as a gateway to the 2018 election and gives the Democrats a path to obtaining the Senate majority, something that didn't exist before Alabamians voted.


Gov. Mark Dayton (D) this week announced that Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) will replace resigning Sen. Al Franken (D) when the latter man leaves the Senate sometime in January.  When Ms. Smith was first mentioned as the likely appointment, it appeared that she would serve as a caretaker but her acceptance statement quickly refuted this supposition.  Not only did Ms. Smith enthusiastically accept the US Senate appointment, she simultaneously declared herself a candidate for the 2018 special election.  

A day after accepting Gov. Dayton's appointment, the five individuals comprising the Minnesota Democratic congressional delegation all endorsed Ms. Smith's political efforts.  Since Minnesota is an unofficial convention state, and few candidates ever challenge the state party nominating results through a primary, the entire partisan congressional delegation already being on board to support the new Senator goes a long way to her easily securing the Democratic nomination in next April's state convention.

Among Republicans who might be interested in entering the 2018 special election, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is reportedly not completely ruling out such a move.  US Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) and Tom Emmer (R-Delano), House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), and state Sens. Karin Housley (R-St. Mary's Point/Lake St. Croix Beach) and Deputy Majority Leader Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake/Andover) are the more prominent individuals being mentioned as possible special election candidates.


AZ-2:  Republican Lea Marquez Peterson, the President and chief executive officer of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says she will announce her congressional candidacy shortly in anticipation of incumbent Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) departing to run for the Senate.  Ms. Marquez Peterson says she has no intention of running against Rep. McSally, however, an office holder whom she supports.  In an open seat configuration, this seat will be highly competitive.  Eight Democrats, including former 1st District US Representative and 2016 US Senate nominee Ann Kirkpatrick, are in the race.  Former state Rep. Matt Heinz, the 2016 congressional nominee who fell to Rep. McSally, 43-57%, and ex-state Rep. Bruce Wheeler are also among the candidates vying for the party nomination.

AZ-8:  Gov. Doug Ducey (R) just scheduled the special election to replace resigned Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria).  The special primary is scheduled for February 27th with the associated general on for April 24th.  Candidates are beginning to announce their intentions for the upcoming congressional race.  State Sen. Steve Montenegro (R-Avondale), though from a legislative district that only partially overlaps the congressional seat, is in the race.  He is a former staff member to Rep. Franks and claims to have Mr. Franks' endorsement.  State Senate President Pro Tempore Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) is expected to soon announce her candidacy.  Former state Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump (R), who is not related to the late 13-term US Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ), is also an announced candidate.

MI-13:  Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has issued the special election calendar to fill resigned Rep. John Conyers' (D-Detroit) seat.  The 13th District special election will run concurrently with the regular election schedule, meaning the primary will be August 7th, with the special and regular general elections occurring on the same date, November 6, 2018.  Hence, the Governor's decision means the seat will be vacant for almost the entire year.  State Sens. Ian Conyers (D-Detroit), the former Congressman's nephew, and Coleman Young II (D-Detroit), son of former Mayor Coleman Young, are both announced candidates.  The latter man is fresh from being destroyed in the 2017 Detroit Mayor's race, losing to incumbent Mike Duggan, 72-27%. 

NY-22:  One of the most vulnerable Republican freshmen seeking re-election in 2018 is Upstate New York's Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford).  With a win percentage of just 44% in a three-way race, Rep. Tenney has already drawn a substantial opponent in state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica).  Yesterday, however, Ms. Tenney caught a break when Republican primary opponent Nicholas Wan, who hails from the Trump wing of the NY GOP, announced he is withdrawing from the race due to fundraising problems.  Having a unified Republican base is critical for Rep. Tenney to defend herself against what will prove to be a difficult Democratic challenge.

Texas:  In a state with a large delegation that normally sees little in the way of congressional competition, candidates have come out in droves to run next year.  With seven open seats (5R-2D) in the 36-member delegation, Monday's filing deadline produced a record number of 213 federal political contenders (100 major party candidates in the open seat category alone).  Of the 28 incumbents seeking re-election to the House, 26 have opposition.  Only two House members, Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), have no opponent in either the primary or general election.   Just eight incumbents are unopposed in their respective nomination election (5R-3D), meaning 21 have at least nominal primary opposition (15R-6D).  It remains to be seen how many of these many candidates develop strong campaigns, but it is a sure bet that 2018 will be a more active political year in the Lone Star State.

TX-27:  Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) announced on Thursday that he will end his re-election campaign amid continuing sexual harassment claims.  Mr. Farenthold had previously filed for a fifth term, but will instead retire from the House at the end of the current term.  The 27th District that stretches from Corpus Christi all the way to the outskirts of Austin is safely Republican.  President Trump won the district in a 60-36% margin.  Four years earlier, Mitt Romney carried the seat, 60-38%.  Mr. Farenthold's retirement means that 42 seats are now either open or vacant.

WI-1:  The Politico publication ran a story on Thursday that quoted unnamed aides and confidants as saying that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) would very likely leave his leadership position after the 2018 election, and speculated that he would also leave the House.  It is important to note that Speaker Ryan, himself, has made no such public claim.  Therefore, it is unclear at this time whether he will seek re-election to the House.  If he does not, Wisconsin's 1st District could become the site of a highly competitive open seat.  Though President Trump carried the district by ten percentage points, the 2012 Republican ticket, with Mr. Ryan as the Vice Presidential nominee, scored only a four-point victory margin.  Already, Democratic candidate Randy Bryce has amassed more than $1 million in his effort to oppose Speaker Ryan in his home district.