Congressional Resignations and Retirements Continue with Candidates Lining up for Open and Challenger Races

December 8, 2017

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

Key Takeaways:

  • Alabama special election Tuesday comes down to the wire
  • Announced Gov. Rick Scott (R) polling ahead of Senator Bill Nelson (D) for Florida Senate in 2018
  • Candidates lining up to run for now open Minnesota special election in
  • Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) to run for Senate in Tennessee
  • Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ8) to resign his House seat for "inappropriate behavior"
  • Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY6) draws challenger in Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D)
  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R) draws two Democratic challengers in Texas


Alabama: The special election is fast approach next Tuesday, and the prevailing opinion now seems to suggest that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) will defeat ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D).  Two new surveys were released that produced split results.  The Washington Post/Schnar poll (11/27-30; 1,304 adults; 1,110 self-identified AL registered voters; 739 self-identified AL likely voters) reverses the trend of the previous six polls and finds Democratic leading former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), 50-47%.  But a further examination of the respondent universe suggests that this survey is likely within the same realm as the others.  The Post/Schnar poll undercuts the number of Republicans in the sampling universe, thus likely providing Mr. Jones with a false margin. 

Conversely, the CBS News/YouGov data (11/28-12/1; 1,067 AL registered voters, 68% of whom say they will "definitely" vote in the special Senate election) finds Moore leading 49-43%, which is more in line with the six polls published before the Post/Schnar effort.  In this survey, the party division is 51R-36D, and better aligned with Alabama voting history.  This state does not register voters by political party, so determining partisan division is relegated to estimation.  Mr. Jones maintains a wide lead in fundraising and airing ads, and the resignation climate in Washington, DC could certainly adversely affect Judge Moore's candidacy.  Therefore, it is still possible the Democrat could score an upset here on Tuesday night.

Florida:  A new St. Leo University poll (11/19-24; 500 FL "residents") finds Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), an unannounced US Senate candidate, taking a substantial lead over Sen. Bill Nelson (D), 42-32%.  The sample size is small, however, 500 respondents culled through a large number of online groups, and the methodology does not specifically indicate that all of the respondents are registered voters.  Several other September and October surveys, show a virtual tie.   This race is likely to become a top-three national campaign next year, and provides the Republicans with a serious conversion opportunity.

Minnesota: Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on Thursday from the Senate floor that he will resign "in the next several weeks."  Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is now tasked with appointing a successor.  Early speculation suggested that he would choose Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) and name her immediately upon Franken's resignation, but the Governor said yesterday that he would make the decision in the "next few days."  The seat will now come before the voters in 2018 to fill the remaining two years of the term Sen. Franken was elected to in 2014.  The special election winner will then be eligible to seek a full six-year term in 2020.  Early reports also suggested that if Ms. Smith is appointed, she would only serve as a caretaker, retiring after the electorate chooses a permanent replacement.  Both parties will effectively nominate their candidates in convention.  Already, Republicans are mentioning former Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a potential Senate candidate.

North Dakota:  State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt (R) stated publicly at the beginning of the week that she will not enter the US Senate race next year.  Currently, only state Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) is a declared candidate lining up to oppose Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D).  At-large US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) remains a potential contender, but says he will not make a decision until next year.  Former at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) also refuses to close the door on running. 

Tennessee: Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who is clearly the Democrats' best possible open seat Senate candidate, surprised many in the political world late this week by releasing an announcement video.  The 74-year old former Governor, Nashville Mayor, and CEO originally said he would not enter the open seat campaign, but then agreed to reconsider when the national party leadership asked him to do so.  Apparently, the recruitment pitch was persuasive because Mr. Bredesen is now in the race.  Republicans look to be heading to a race featuring Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and ex-Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County).  Though the eventual Republican nominee should still begin the general election as the favorite, a Bredesen candidacy is a critical development toward increasing Democratic majority prospects in the 2018 cycle.  Where this seat was safely Republican, we will now see legitimate competition developing in this race.


AZ-8:  Out of nowhere, eight-term US Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria) announced on Thursdaynight that he, too, will resign from Congress due to "inappropriate behavior."  Arizona's 8th District is a safe Republican seat, located just north of Phoenix, including part of the city of Glendale, along with the Peoria, Sun City, West Sun City, and Surprise communities.  The astonishing nature of this latest development will cause many people from both parties to begin considering their own congressional prospects.  Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will schedule the special election upon the seat becoming vacant.

IL-3:  The Democratic primary race against Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs/Chicago suburbs) looks to have the potential of becoming a serious contest.  Mr. Lipinski's nomination opponent is media consultant Marie Newman, a first-time candidate but one who has support from many liberal ideological groups particularly those on the social issues front.  Rep. Lipinski has a large resource advantage to begin the campaign.  Ms. Newman had already raised over $270,000 at the end of September, but had also spent well over half of her treasury.

KY-6:  Though his political intentions remained unclear for several months, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) announced this week that he will challenge three-term Rep. Andy Barr (R-Lexington).  Three other Democrats are already in the primary campaign, including state Sen. Reggie Thomas (D-Lexington) and Iraq/Afghanistan War veteran Amy McGrath, a retired Marine Lt. Colonel.  Mr. Gray challenged Sen. Rand Paul (R) in the 2016 Senate race and lost, 43-57%.  Rep. Barr unseated then-Rep. Ben Chandler (D) in 2012, by a 51-47% margin.  He then averaged 60.5% in his two re-election bids. 

MI-9:  Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak/Wayne County), who will complete his 18th term in the House at the end of this congressional session, announced he will not seek re-election next year.  The 86-year old Congressman's retirement will create what should be a crowded Democratic primary in a seat that supported Hillary Clinton with a 51-44% vote spread.  In 2012, this district's electorate gave President Obama a more substantial 57-42% victory margin.  The Congressman's son, attorney Andy Levin, and Democratic state Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) both immediately announced their candidacies. 

MI-13:  Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), the Dean of the US House elected in 1964, resigned his seat amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations and endorsed his son, John Conyers III, as his successor in a soon-to-be-called special election.  The younger Conyers, who was arrested earlier in the year for domestic violence but saw the charges dropped, said he has not fully decided to enter the contest.  Another Conyers relative, the Congressman's nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers (D-Detroit), also declared his own candidacy for the 13th District.  Former two-term Rep. Hansen Clarke (D) is also a potential candidate.  The seat's electorate, which voted 79% for Hillary Clinton and supported President Obama in 2012 with an 85.2 vote percentage, will remain in Democratic hands regardless if a Conyers family member or another future candidate secures the special election party nomination.

NV-4:  Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), also under attack for inappropriate sexual behavior, says he won't voluntarily leave Congress.  Mr. Kihuen, a Las Vegas area freshman House member after defeating Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Mesquite) in 2016, has seen Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) call for his resignation.  Should he remain and seek re-election, we can expect another competitive campaign in the Clark County/Central Nevada CD.  Now, former Rep. Hardy is said to be reconsidering his position not to seek a re-match next year.  Las Vegas City Councilman and former police captain Stavros Anthony (R) announced his congressional candidacy in July, and the latest developments certainly strengthen his challenge.

OH-12:  Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Galena/Franklin County) will resign his House seat by January 31stin order to accept a position in the private sector.  Therefore, candidates are beginning to come forward for what will be a special election, possibly one concurrent with the regular cycle.  Gov. John Kasich (R) will schedule the election once Mr. Tiberi officially leaves office.  This week, former Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott (D) declared his candidacy, joining four other Democrats who have done likewise.  Surprisingly, there is more action on the Democratic side in the early going, even though the 12th is a safe Republican district.  The only announced Republicans are Delaware County prosecutor Carol O'Brien and Iraq War veteran Brandon Grisez.  The Republican activity will increase once the vacancy date becomes more certain. 


Kansas:  Greg Orman was the Independent candidate who held Sen. Pat Roberts (R) to a 53-43% win in 2014.  Since the Democrats did not file a candidate in that race, Mr. Orman became the de facto opposition nominee.  Late this week, the ex-Senatorial candidate announced that he is forming a gubernatorial committee, and will again run as an Independent. 

Six Democrats have declared their intention to run - candidate filing isn't until June 1st, so much can still happen irrespective about what people say they are doing in the early going - including former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, ex-state Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty, and state House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita).  Seven significant Republicans have announced, including Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and several former state legislators.  Assuming Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is confirmed for the federal faith based position to which he has been nominated, Mr. Colyer will assume the Governorship, which will allow him to run as a quasi-incumbent. 

Ohio:  Previously, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray (D) was expected to announce his gubernatorial campaign last September, but postponed it until this week.  Mr. Cordray, a former Ohio Attorney General and Treasurer, officially joins the Democratic field that includes former US Rep. Betty Sutton, Dayton Mayor Nan Whatley, state Senator and former Minority Leader John Schiavoni (D-Mahoning County), and former state Rep. Connie Pillich.  The top Republican gubernatorial candidates are Attorney General and former US Senator Mike DeWine, who is now running as a team with Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and US Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth).  The seat is open because Gov. John Kasich (R) is ineligible to seek a third term.   The general election is expected to begin as a toss-up contest.

Rhode Island:  This week, former state Rep. Joe Trillo, the 2016 Rhode Island state chairman for President Trump, announced that he will enter next year's Governor's race as an Independent.  Immediately, Republican Party officials called on Trillo, a former Republican National Committee member, to change his mind arguing that such a three-way race would allow Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) to be re-elected without attracting a majority vote since the conservative/ Republican constituency would be split.  Gov. Raimondo's job approval ratings are upside down and former gubernatorial nominee and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R) was thought to have a legitimate chance of carrying the heavily Democratic state.  Expect further Republican efforts to convince Trillo to drop his newly announced campaign.

Texas:  With the Texas candidate filing deadline approaching on Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) now has two credible Democratic opponents.  Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and businessman Andrew White, son of the late former Gov. Mark White (D), both announced that they will run for Governor.  First-term incumbent Abbott will begin the race as a prohibitive favorite, but at least now will have some competition in the November general election.