The "BIPAC Daily" Political Analysis Newsletter

The following political analysis is from Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) Political Analyst Jim Ellis. BIPAC is an independent, bipartisan organization.  It is provided solely as a membership benefit to the organization’s 300-plus member companies and trade associations. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of any particular member or the organization generally.

Please click on the links below to read our recent articles.

October 18, 2017 — Virginia Swaying 

October 17, 2017 — A Reversal?

October 16, 2017 — California On, Maine Off

October 13, 2017 — The Latest Alabama Data

October 12, 2017 — Could Bannon Cost the GOP

Virginia Swaying
October 18, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
It has been surmised for the past week that Republican Ed Gillespie is gaining momentum in his quest to become Governor of Virginia.  The emphasis on attacking Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) with a series of ads casting him as being weak on crime and illegal immigration was thought to be paying political dividends.  Now we have some independent data verifying that the race is significantly tightening. 
Three new polls came into the public domain yesterday, with one actually showing Gillespie forging into a slight lead, another finding him closing the gap, and a third from an entity with a history of inaccurate polling results that makes us want to discard their latest data.
New Jersey’s Monmouth University (10/12-16; 408 VA likely voters) now finds Gillespie taking a one-point lead over Northam, 48-47%.  The analysis segments the state into geographic divisions and compares their previous poll to the current data.  Though this is a small sample poll – likely too small for a state the size of Virginia – the geographic delineations appear believable.
As one knew would be inevitable, Monmouth projects that Democratic northern Virginia is becoming stronger for Northam, while Gillespie is now racking up big margins in the western part of the state.  According to the Monmouth analysis, the central part of the state continues to be a swing area.  This, too, provides good news for Gillespie as he now leads there 47-44% after trailing in the September Monmouth poll, 49-48%.
But the surprise area is the eastern part of the state, where Northam resides.  In September, the Lt. Governor recorded a 49-40% advantage.  Now, Mr. Gillespie has gained a net twelve points in the region to craft a lead, 48-45%. 
The crime issue is now definitively swinging Gillespie’s way, indicating his advertising theme is working.  He is now viewed as the better candidate to best handle the crime issue by 40% of the tested group versus 24% who say that Northam is the preferred candidate.  This represents a net eight-point gain for Gillespie on the issue since the September poll, coinciding with his strong media blitz on the subject.
Christopher Newport University again went into the field, for the third time since mid-September.  Their poll released yesterday (10/9-13; 642 VA likely voters) finds Northam on top, 48-44%.  But, the margins are improving for Gillespie, signaling positive momentum for his camp.
Last week, CNU released numbers from their 10/2-6 poll that projected a Northam advantage of 49-42%.  In their mid-September survey, the margin was 47-41%.  Therefore, Gillespie has reduced his deficit from beyond the polling margin of error to within.
The last poll comes from Roanoke University (10/8-13; 607 VA likely voters) and finds the best numbers for Northam, 50-44%.  Roanoke is consistently viewed as one of the least reliable pollsters, so it is not particularly surprising to see them project a different trend than the other pollsters.  As usual, we discount the Roanoke results.
It seems obvious that Ed Gillespie is making a legitimate move on Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and has, at the very least, cut the latter man’s lead.  The question arises as to whether this trend is a blip, or the beginning of a surge that could end in a Republican victory.  With 20 days remaining in the campaign, we are now entering the critical stretch drive.
It still appears that Lt. Gov. Northam has a slight advantage, but Mr. Gillespie has now positioned himself to perhaps score an upset win come November 7th.
A Reversal?
October 17, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Tennessee former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is obviously under intense pressure from Democrats to enter the newly open Senate race.  When Sen. Bob Corker (R) announced his retirement last week, Mr. Bredesen quickly announced he would not become a candidate for the newly open seat.  US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, and wealthy Democratic donor and businessman Bill Freeman all quickly followed suit.  Now, however, the former two-term Governor is not so quick to rule out a succeeding candidacy.
According to the Associated Press, Mr. Bredesen admits to be receiving calls encouraging him to run.  “In the days ahead, I’m going to do some research, talk with people and carefully think this through,” the former Governor stated in an interview with AP.  “I’ll make a decision quickly,” he was quoted as saying.
The Democrats are in a major bind regarding the 2018 Senate races because they have so few Republican targets to attack.  Even though they only need a net swing of three seats to change the balance of power in the legislative body, they simply don’t have that many vulnerable Republican incumbents to oppose.  At this time, it appears only Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are in seriously competitive re-election battles.  Therefore, the party is forced to contend for an open seat in solidly Republican Tennessee even if their victory chances are poor.
Mr. Bredesen is the last Democrat elected as Tennessee’s Governor.  He won both in 2002 (50.6% over then-Rep. Van Hilleary (R)) and 2006 (68.6% against then-state Sen. Jim Bryson (R)), after serving eight years as Mayor of Nashville.  So far, the only announced credible Democratic candidate is attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler. 
Though he would be the strongest candidate the Democrats could field, Mr. Bredesen would begin the 2018 cycle as a decided underdog despite his previous winning record.
There is likely additional movement coming on the Republican side this week, too.  Former US Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) is traveling the state on a “listening tour”, but is expected to enter the race quickly, possibly even today.  Mr. Fincher served three terms in the House but did not seek re-election last year because of a sibling’s illness that affected his family’s substantial agriculture enterprise. 
Should Mr. Fincher become a candidate, he will face Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Andy Ogles, the former Tennessee director of Americans for Prosperity.  The latter man had announced a primary challenge to Mr. Corker but remains in the race even after the Senator indicated that he won’t seek a third term. 

Though Mr. Fincher is no longer in the House, his campaign account maintains over $2.4 million, meaning he will have the resources to launch his Senate campaign.  On the other hand, Rep. Blackburn raised $1.24 for the campaign to-date and has an impressive $3.2 million in her federal account.
California On, Maine Off
October 16, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Last week we reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced her decision seek a fifth full term next year, and that state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) was considering launching a challenge against her from the ideological left.
Yesterday, Sen. de Leon made good on his threat.  He will risk his state Senate seat, and legislative leadership position, to enter the US Senate campaign.  This will be a prototypical example of the insurgent left attacking the Democratic establishment.
In his announcement address Sen. de Leon said the state "deserves a Senator that will not just fully resist the Trump presidency, but also understands the issues that most Californians face every day: that’s fighting for Medicare for all. That’s fighting for our Dreamers. That’s fighting against climate change."  This tells us that he plans to echo many of the Bernie Sanders’ themes forged against Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. 
In another post-Feinstein declaration announcement, three-term Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Pleasanton/East Bay Area) confirmed that he will not challenge the Senator, but went a step further and formally endorsed her.  Also publicly supporting Sen. Feinstein are freshman US Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D). 
If no other major candidates enter the race, it is probable that both Sen. Feinstein and Mr. de Leon will advance to the general election for another double-Democratic November contest.  We remember in 2016 that Sen. Harris defeated then-Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Anaheim) in a one-sided race, 62-38%.
Clearly, Sen. Feinstein’s strategy will be to isolate de Leon on the left, attempting to lure disaffected Republican and right-of-center non-affiliated voters, a combined group that still comprises about one-third of the California electorate even though a member of their coalition cannot win a statewide election.  The bigger challenge will be getting large numbers of these people to vote since they will not have a true candidate on the ballot in either the Governor’s or Senate race.
As President of the state Senate, de Leon will be able to attract significant resources to run a credible campaign, even in a place as large as California.  So, his chances of advancing to the general election are high if no stronger Democrat enters or the Republicans find a candidate around whom they can coalesce.  If the latter scenario occurs, which is doubtful, a lone Republican could attract enough votes to claim the second position, taking advantage of the split Democratic loyalties.  Regardless of the final general election scenario, Sen. Feinstein is a heavy favorite to win yet again.
For better than ten months, Sen. Susan Collins (R) had been debating whether she would enter the open Governor’s race.  Next year is favorable for Collins because her Senate seat does not come in-cycle until 2020.  Therefore, she could run for Governor without risking her current position, and then appoint her successor if she were to be elected.
Earlier in the cycle, polling surfaced suggesting that she would have trouble in the Republican primary in a one-on-one race with former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, a strongly conservative appointee of term-limited Gov. Paul LePage (R).  But, the situation has changed.  Two more strong conservatives, state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon) and state House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport), have entered the race.  This suggests that Sen. Collins nomination path is much more realistic because the three candidates would split the predominant conservative base vote.
All that being considered, however, did not entice the veteran Maine office holder to run for Governor.  On Friday, Sen. Collins made clear that she will remain in the Senate, saying this is the position where she can best serve her constituents. 
With crowded primaries in both parties and the Maine electorate always unpredictable and favorable toward Independent candidates, this open gubernatorial race will open as an early toss-up. 
Sen. Collins’ next big political test will likely be the 2020 Republican primary, if she decides to seek a fifth Senatorial term.  The Senator was originally elected in 1996.  
The Latest Alabama Data
October 13, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
The Cygnal polling firm just released the latest survey for the special Alabama Senate race (10/2-5; 497 AL likely special election voters), and it yields a spread between the two major political party nominees that is beyond the margin of polling error.  But, these results come with a qualification: the last Cygnal poll for this race, before the August 15th primary election and prior to the September run-off, badly missed the final outcome.
According to this small sample poll, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) leads ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D), 49-41%.  Some of the more interesting segmentation includes a significant gender gap.  Men prefer Moore 53-38%, while women give Jones a one-point edge, 46-45%.  Mr. Jones also leads with voters 49 years of age and younger (a five percentage point advantage), but Judge Moore has a twelve-point margin among those 50 and older.  This latter spread is a more important advantage for Moore because the oldest age group has the highest propensity to vote in low participation elections.
This latest Cygnal poll is the first the organization has conducted in Alabama since before the special primary.  They did not go into the field during the September 26th run-off cycle.
In late July (20-21st), just under four weeks from the August 15th primary, the firm released data that appears to badly miss the mark, but a closer analysis shows they correctly projected the strength of two of the top three candidates. 
The Cygnal ballot test put appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the lead with 33%, followed by Moore at 26%, and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) attracting 16% support.  Comparing these to the actual results, Strange actually did end the primary cycle with 33%, but he finished second.  Rep. Brooks polled 20% in the election, which is in range of Cygnal's pre-election projection.  But, the firm badly underestimated Moore, who placed first with 39 percent.  Therefore, if the Cygnal prediction model is again understating Moore's support, the former state Supreme Court Chief Justice could actually be sitting in much stronger position.
Geographically, the same patterns appear to be present among the general electorate as occurred in the primary and run-off.  According to the Cygnal poll, Moore leads 52-29% in the Huntsville region, which the pollsters estimate comprises 20% of the statewide Alabama vote, 50-39% in the Montgomery sector (25% of the statewide total), and 57-36% in Mobile, which represents 14% of the total special election vote.  In the Birmingham area, which has the largest vote share at 41%, Mr. Jones actually pulls ahead by a single point, 46-45%. 
These results are highly consistent with how Moore performed against Strange particularly in the run-off election.  For Moore to win, he will need to ensure a strong turnout in the areas outside of the Birmingham metropolitan area.  Conversely, for Jones to pull the upset he will need an exceedingly strong participation rate from Birmingham, his home, and the area he once represented as US Attorney.
Currently, Jones is trying to move to the center of the political spectrum while his Democratic allies are attacking Moore about inordinate compensation they allege he received (he denies) from a religious non-profit organization with which he was associated.  For his part, Judge Moore needs to refrain from making major mistakes, emphasize his support for President Trump within the GOP base, and maximize turnout in his strongest areas. 
The special general election is December 12th, so time remains for this race to veer in different directions.
Could Bannon Cost the GOP?
October 12, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Several articles are surfacing this week speculating that former presidential advisor Steve Bannon wanting to find and support challengers to Republican Senate incumbents could cost the GOP its majority.  It appears individuals making such a claim have forgotten how to count.
Keeping in mind that the Democrats must protect 25 of 33 in-cycle Senate seats, there are simply not enough legitimate targets available for the minority to change their status within the chamber, even though they need a net gain of only three seats.  Yes, the Dems are forcing Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) into toss-up situations, but the remaining six GOP incumbents are some of the safest in the Senate.  So, even if Mr. Bannon or other conservative insurgents recruit opposition to incumbents, the chances of the eventual Republican nominee losing the general election in these particular states are extremely low.
In addition to Sens. Heller and Flake, the six Republicans standing for election next year are: Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Barrasso (R-WY), and the open Tennessee seat (Sen. Bob Corker retiring).  Keep in mind, for the Democrats to assume the Senate majority they must convert at least one of these states, while winning all of their own most vulnerable incumbent seats – in other words, all ten that they risk in states where President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. 
Additionally, the Democrats are not yet fielding viable challengers in most of these places, and it doesn’t appear likely that they will.  Therefore, without Senatorial candidates possessing credibility, victories will not happen.
In Mississippi, Sen. Wicker may well be forced to fend off a strong primary challenge.  State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellis County), who came within an eyelash of unseating Sen. Thad Cochran (R) in 2014, may enter the primary race.  Regardless of the Republican nomination outcome, how do the Democrats win the general election here?  At this point, the only potential general election candidate is Bernie Sanders campaign activist Jensen Bohren, who will not prove credible.  The one Democrat who could be competitive, Attorney General Jim Hood (D), has shown no interest in becoming a Senate candidate.
Nebraska Sen. Fischer is in strong shape to secure her first re-election.  Though she may be on Bannon’s target list, so far no Republican has come forward to state an interest in battling her for the party nomination.  In the general, two Democrats have announced, the strongest being Lincoln City Councilwoman Jane Raybould, a candidate who has yet to even file a FEC financial disclosure report.
Sen. Cruz is the only in-cycle incumbent not on Bannon’s target list, and it does not appear he will draw a major primary challenger.  Mr. Cruz then faces a head-on campaign against three-term El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke who will have plenty of money to wage a credible campaign.  Despite the high Texas Hispanic population numbers, the state’s changing demographic model has failed to elect even one statewide Democrat, and will not do so in 2018.
Utah’s veteran Sen. Hatch continues to equivocate somewhat about seeking an eighth term and rumors persist that former presidential nominee Mitt Romney may be in the picture should the Senator decide to retire after 42 years of Senatorial service.  Even though the Democrats have a credible candidate in Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, no party change will occur here whether the eventual nominee is Sen. Hatch, Mr. Romney, one of Mr. Romney’s sons, Gov. Gary Herbert, or Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Farmington/Salt Lake City).  In any event, the GOP will have a candidate who will easily hold this safest of Republican seats.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is drawing some recent interest from the Bannon forces with Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater international security firm, being a possible candidate.  Additionally, long time GOP financial donor and investment guru Foster Friess has also been contemplating his own US Senate challenge to Mr. Barrasso.  Like in some of the other states, the Democrats have no viable candidate, so whichever individual eventually becomes the Republican nominee holds the seat in November of 2018.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker announcing his retirement has kicked off an edition of political musical chairs.  Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) is already in the race, and the Bannon group, along with the Club for Growth, looks favorably upon her candidacy.  Democrats have a problem here in that their top four potential candidates: former Gov. Phil Bredesen, US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, and financial donor and former Nashville mayoral candidate Bill Freeman, all immediately removed themselves from candidate speculation.  Thus, the Tennessee Democrats will field a lesser open seat candidate next year making a conversion here all the more unlikely.
Whether Steve Bannon and his supporters have an effect upon GOP primaries is undetermined at this early point in the election cycle, but regardless of how many, if any, Senate incumbents are denied re-nomination the mathematics dictate that the act of challenging, and possibly even defeating, them will not cost the Republicans their slim majority.