2017 State Race Results and House Retirements

November 10, 2017

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

Key Takeaways:

  • Judge Roy Moore Rocked by Scandal in Alabama Senate Race
  • 3rd Candidate Emerging in GOP nomination race for Indiana Senate seat
  • Jeff Bartos leaves Pennsylvania Senate race to run for Lt. Governor
  • Pennsylvania court could order redistricting sooner rather than later
  • Retirements announced in NJ 2, TX 2, TX 5, and VA 6
  • Democrats easily win Governorships in  New Jersey and Virginia
  • Virginia sees major Democratic wave in House of Delegates races


Alabama:  Sexual misconduct allegations involving a minor, reportedly occurring 38 years ago, are being levied against state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) as the special US Senate election moves toward the last 30 days before the December 12th vote.  Judge Moore denies the accusations and blames the Washington Post for spreading untruths about him for political gain.  Alabama Republicans appear to be standing behind Moore.  Washington Republicans are calling on him to step down if the allegations are true.  Since we are inside of 76 days before the election, and some absentee ballots have already been mailed, there is no legal way to remove Moore's name though some are suggesting that Sen. Luther Strange (R), who lost the Republican nomination earlier in the year, could run a write-in effort.

The Raycom News Network's new survey (Strategy Research; 11/8; 2,200 AL likely voters via automated telephonic device) again finds Judge Moore leading ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D), 51-40%.  This is the exact same result Raycom found in their October 19th survey. 

Arizona:  As predicted, things have already begun to turn against former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) now that Sen. Jeff Flake (R) won't seek re-election.  The HighGround Public Affairs Consultants tested the Arizona general election field (10/23-26; 500 AZ likely voters) and paired Ms. Ward with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix), the leading Democratic candidate.  According to the HighGround results, the Congresswoman posted a 34-27% lead over Ward, gaining from the 32-31% slight edge that she held in the group's August poll.  The latter survey was conducted before Sen. Flake made his political intentions clear.  We can soon expect other, and likely stronger, Republicans to join this new open seat campaign.

Indiana:  Former state Rep. Mike Braun is becoming a legitimate third candidate in the Indiana Senate race.  Loaning $850,000 to his campaign and having more than $1 million cash-on-hand, Mr. Braun just spent over $300,000 to finance a media buy featuring an introductory commercial in the state's key media markets.  He faces Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) and Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) in the Senate Republican primary.  The eventual winner of the May intra-party vote challenges vulnerable Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in the general election.

Nevada:  While others are announcing retirements around him, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) is taking the opposite approach.  The first-term Senator just launched his first ad buy of the new cycle, a one-minute commercial featuring him speaking to the audience, articulating his conservative ideology, and claiming that he is demanding the Senate stay in session until all judges are confirmed and tax reform passed.  Sen. Heller has drawn primary opposition from perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R), and looks to face freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) in the general election should he win re-nomination.  Both the primary and general election contests today appear as toss-ups.

Pennsylvania:  Real estate developer Jeff Bartos (R), who has been actively campaigning in the US Senate race, announced that he will leave the federal campaign in order to enter the Lt. Governor's race.  Mr. Bartos' exit certainly helps Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) cement his favorite's role at this point in the primary campaign.  The eventual GOP nominee faces Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) in the general election.


Pennsylvania:  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that it is giving the lower court considering the Democrats' political gerrymandering lawsuit only until the end of the year to rule.  The high court says it will take jurisdiction of the case, meaning the chances of a re-draw before the 2018 elections increase.  If the Republican legislature is forced to re-draw and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoes the plan, Democrats will almost surely gain a significant number of seats if the Democratic-majority court assigns a special master to create new congressional districts.  The Pennsylvania situation is an issue of great significance and could be a major factor in determining the balance of power in the next House of Representatives.

NJ-2:  Twelve-term veteran Republican Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor City) announced that he will not seek re-election next year, placing a marginally political district into competition for the 2018 election cycle.  Democrats had attempted to field strong candidates over the years against Mr. LoBiondo, but never came close to beating him.  His 2016 victory of 59% was a typical re-election percentage throughout his long career.  New Jersey's 2nd District occupies the southernmost section of the state, anchored in Atlantic City and stretching from Long Beach Island in the northeast down to the Cape May peninsula, and all the way back across the state to the Delaware River opposite Wilmington. 

TN-7:  The Nashville Songwriters Association International's president, Lee Thomas Miller (R), filed an exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission, which allows him to raise money for a purported congressional campaign.  Mr. Miller is a well-known country songwriter and joins the race for the seat being vacated by veteran Rep. Marsha Blackburn's (R-Brentwood) run for the Senate.  The 7th District is safely Republican, occupying the rural and suburban areas west and south of Nashville, encompassing all or parts of 17 counties.  So far, only state Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) has officially declared his candidacy.

TX-2:  With a December 11th candidate filing deadline for next year's election looming on the political horizon, members and potential contenders are being forced to make career decisions.  This explains the Texas retirement announcements that include Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas), Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), and Houston area Congressman Ted Poe (R-Atascocita/Humble).  Mr. Poe, this week, made public his intention that he would not seek re-election to an eighth term.  He was originally elected in 2004, and has had little opposition in six re-election bids.  The 2nd District is safely Republican.  The Poe decision should lead to a crowded Republican primary field.

TX-5:  Rep. Jeb Hensarling's (R-Dallas) surprise retirement announcement has sent the north Texas political establishment scrambling.  No Republican has yet declared his or her candidacy, but one key potential contender has said no.  Wealthy state Senate candidate Phillip Huffines (R) said he will not alter his political plans in order to switch to the open congressional race.  On the other hand, east Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) reportedly is moving closer to entering the congressional race.  Sen. Hughes was initially elected to a four-year term in 2016 after spending seven terms in the state House, so he would not have to risk his current position to run. 

UT-3:  While votes in Utah's 3rd District are still being counted as a result of the all-mail format, Provo Mayor John Curtis (R) has already been declared the winner of Tuesday's special election to replace resigned Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy).  Though almost 40% of the precincts remained to be counted after the initial posting, more than 108,000 votes have been tabulated and Mr. Curtis has attracted 58% of the vote compared to Democrat Kathryn Allen's 27%.  Four independent and minor party candidates account for the remainder.  Mr. Curtis will now serve the balance of the current term and is a virtual certainty to seek a full term next November.

VA-6:  Veteran Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that he will not seek re-election next year.  Mr. Goodlatte's term as the panel's chairman will also expire at the end of this Congress.  He was first elected in 1992 and has had little in the way of challenges over his long career from the safely Republican western Virginia district.  In addition to chairing the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Goodlatte previously led the House Agriculture Committee.  He becomes the 34th regular cycle member and 24th Republican to retire from the House when the current term ends, with one more (PA-18; former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)) in special election mode to be filled on March 13th.  


Colorado:  First-term Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R), wife of US Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora), announced that she is joining the open Governor's campaign.  The move is a bit of a surprise.  Ms. Coffman is always mentioned as a candidate, but the prevailing political wisdom suggested that she would ultimately seek re-election to her current position.  Possibly former US Representative and 2008 presidential candidate Tom Tancredo's (R-Littleton) entry into the race changes the picture to the degree that Ms. Coffman believes the primary electorate would turn to her as the alternative candidate instead of Arapahoe region District Attorney George Brauchler (R).  With Coffman now in the Governor's race, Mr. Brauchler may switch to the open Attorney General's campaign.  Democrats will likely have a primary battle between US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne.  The general election is expected to be highly competitive.

New Jersey:  As predicted, former US Ambassador to Germany and Wall Street executive Phil Murphy (D) easily defeated Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno (R), 55-43%.  Polling for months had forecast such an outcome, and the electorate deviated very little during the entire general election.  Democrats held their large majorities in both houses of the state legislature.  Mr. Murphy succeeds outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who leaves office with historically poor approval ratings.

Virginia:  Democrats, riding a tidal wave of votes from northern Virginia, swept all three statewide Virginia elections, and may have captured the House of Delegates.  Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam easily defeated former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, 54-45%, with a turnout of more than 2.61 million voters - an increase of about 16% when compared to the 2013 election.  Democrats scored convincing but slightly smaller wins for Lt. Governor and Attorney General.  The Northam victory margin was much larger than polling had forecast. 

The Party also scored major gains in the House of Delegates, recording a net gain of at least 15 seats with as many as five races potentially headed to re-counts.  It will likely take several days and maybe weeks to sort out, but the chamber majority is definitely undecided as Republicans are clinging to a scant 51-49 majority on the back of one district in Newport News where their incumbent appears to have won by only twelve votes.