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.

February 12, 2018 — Retirement Mode Returns

February 9, 2018 — Ohio Files

February 8, 2018 — A Florida Polling Bonanza

February 7, 2018 — A Consensus Forming

February 6, 2018 — An Open Review - Part 2

"Retirement Mode Returns" 
 February 12, 2018 
 by Jim Ellis 
After a respite from House retirements for a little more than a week, yet another announcement came on Friday. Veteran Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby/ Duluth) made public a decision not to seek a fourth term from his rural northeastern swing CD, becoming the 54th US Representative not to stand for re-election and the 17th Democrat in this category.
Mr. Nolan's retirement decision makes what was already a toss-up 2018 election campaign even more interesting. In the last two political contests, the Congressman barely defeated Republican businessman Stewart Mills, 48-47% and 50.1 - 49.6%, respectively in 2014 and '16, making MN-8 one of the most competitive districts in the country during that time span. 
The presidential vote gives us a clue into the district's transition. During the Obama years, the Democratic nominee/President, won here with 53-44 and 52-46% margins in 2008 (against John McCain) and 2012 (opposite Mitt Romney). But, in 2016, President Trump crushed Hillary Clinton with a 54-39% victory spread. 
The Nolan retirement move marks the second time he is leaving the House after serving three consecutive terms. Originally elected back in 1974 from the 6th District, which was then and is today, a more rural/suburban seat anchored in the northern Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the Congressman chose not to seek re-election in 1980. He was out of elective politics for thirty-two years, until returning to Congress in 2012 from the previously solid farm-labor Democratic district in Minnesota's upper northeastern sector. 
For decades, the 8th CD, known as the Iron Range District, has been anchored in the city of Duluth and St. Louis County. During a 36-year period, Mr. Nolan's Democratic colleague, Jim Oberstar, would represent the area until his upset defeat in 2010. In that year, Republican Chip Cravaack shocked the political establishment with his 48-47% ouster of the veteran lawmaker. Two years later, Mr. Nolan would return the district to the Democratic column, unseating Rep. Cravaack, 54-45%. 
Up until Friday, St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, a former professional hockey player, was becoming the consensus Republican candidate. Mr. Mills, despite coming frustratingly close to victory in the last two elections, declined to try a third time. Now, however, things may drastically change. The two-time congressional nominee said over the weekend that he would consider entering an open seat race. State House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Cambridge), who had been mentioned as a possible candidate in the new Senate special election sweepstakes, is also not ruling out jumping into this newly open House race.
For the Democrats, former FBI counter terrorism analyst Leah Phifer had already been challenging Rep. Nolan, and she is expected to remain in the race. State Sen. Tony Lourey (D-Kerrick) was quoted over the weekend as saying he is "seriously looking" at the congressional race. So is state Rep. Jason Metsa (D-Virginia) and former television news anchor Michelle Lee. 
The Minnesota political party endorsing conventions play a large role in determining nominees, and the local county conventions to choose delegates to the district meeting, and then the state conclave are beginning in the next several weeks. Democrats will hold county meetings starting in mid-April; Republicans in early May. Official endorsements will come at the state conventions in June. If one or more candidates choose to take their nomination fight to a primary, that electoral contest will occur on August 14th. 


We can expect the 8th District general election campaign to be in toss-up mode from now until Election Day. A Republican conversion here would go a long way to helping secure the GOP majority.

Ohio Files
February 9, 2018
by Jim Ellis

The candidate filing deadline passed late this week, becoming the fifth state to set its political contenders for the coming midterm election. All of the expected gubernatorial candidates filed, meaning we will see a crowded Democratic field of eight candidates, led by former Attorney General and recently resigned federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray. The remaining field features former Congressman, Cleveland Mayor, state legislator, and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, retired state Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, state Senator and former Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Mahoning Valley), and Cincinnati ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich.

The Republicans are set for a gubernatorial one-on-one match between Attorney General and former US Senator Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. The general election is expected to feature a DeWine-Cordray battle, which will be a re-match of the 2010 Attorney General's campaign, a contest where DeWine unseated Cordray in a close campaign.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) sees five Republicans battling for the right to challenge him in November. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) and investment banker Mike Gibbons are the two leading GOP candidates.

Though all fourteen congressional incumbents who are seeking re-election have opponents, and nine drew primary opposition, only one new contender is a sitting office holder of any type and just five of the 47 major party challenger candidates have ever served in an elected capacity.

The lone current elected official challenging a congressional incumbent is Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval (D), who was recruited to challenge veteran Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati), chairman of the House Small Business Committee. Therefore, if the Democrats are going to make a move on wresting the majority away from their Republican counterparts, the gains will come outside of Ohio because the challenger field here does not look strong enough to produce any net gains.

There are two open seats in the delegation, and both of those have drawn a large replacement field. Resigned Rep. Pat Tiberi's (R-Galena) central Ohio district that touches part of the Columbus metropolitan area will go to special election to fill the balance of the current term. Rep. Renacci is leaving his north-central congressional district to run for the Senate, switching to that race from the Governor's campaign after state Treasurer Josh Mandel decided not to run because of his wife's newly diagnosed health condition. Since Mr. Mandel is ineligible to seek another term as Treasurer, he will not be on the 2018 Ohio ballot.

Mr. Tiberi left the House on January 15th to accept a position in the private sector. The 12th District special primary will be held concurrently with the regular primary election on May 8th, with the special general coming on August 7th. It appears that all 20 Republican, Democrats, and minor party candidates filed for both the special election and the concurrent regular election campaign.

Of the 20 candidates jockeying to replace ex-Rep. Tiberi, eleven are Republicans while seven seek the Democratic nomination. Two state Senators, a county prosecutor, a former municipal official, and the son of a previous Lt. Governor largely comprise the GOP field. The Democrats feature a former county Sheriff, a local county recorder, and an ex-small town Mayor. The eventual Republican nominee is expected to hold the seat that supported the last three GOP presidential nominees with percentages ranging between 53 and 55 percent.

The open Renacci 16th District may feature the most interesting primary campaign. Here, former Indianapolis Colts and Ohio State University football player Anthony Gonzalez (R) is battling 29-year old state Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Marlboro Township) for the open GOP nomination. Mr. Gonzalez has already raised just north of $886,000, while Ms. Hagan is serving her fourth term in the state House despite being only 29 years old. Her political base, however, is not in the 16th District, but she has a strong chance of uniting regular conservative primary voters because she has developed political strength for being identified with various cutting social issues. She had raised just under $300,000 at the end of 2017. The eventual GOP nominee is expected to hold the seat.

All of the filed candidates are having their qualification requirements examined, so none are yet officially slotted on the primary ballot. Those certifications should be issued next week.

A Florida Polling Bonanza
February 8, 2018
by Jim Ellis

The 2018 Florida Senate race is on the cusp of becoming one of the top political campaigns in the country, but polling has been scarce...until yesterday.

Three different pollsters released data from their recent Florida electorate surveys, each testing the impending contest between Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R). Though the Governor has not announced his candidacy, a loosely affiliated Super PAC has been spending heavily touting his accomplishments through various substantial statewide media buys. Since no other Republican candidate is even contemplating running, few doubt that the Governor will make the race.

That being said, Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Florida, and Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy all released surveys yesterday. Though each arrived at different ballot test results, and all three have some methodological flaws, it is clear that the overall conclusion tells us that the Florida campaign is already in the toss-up realm.

Florida Atlantic University (2/1-4; 750 FL registered voters; 375 on-line; 375 via automated telephone system) finds the most surprising result. According to their sampling universe, Gov. Scott has a ten-point, 44-34% lead over Sen. Nelson. This seems far-fetched, especially in comparison with the two succeeding polls taken during the same time frame. Additionally, the polling sample contains too many Independents, and is a bit low for both Democrats and Republicans. This makes the ballot test response even more curious and suspect.

The University of Northern Florida (1/29-2/4; 619 FL registered voters via live telephone interview) sees the race much differently. According to their sample, it is Sen. Nelson who holds a 48-42% edge. The problem here is the likely voter contingent is too small for a state the size of Florida. Of the 619 people sampled, only 429 considered themselves likely voters. This would be a good sample size for a congressional district, but not of a state comprised of 27 CDs.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy (1/30-2/1; 625 FL registered voters) arrives at a conclusion that's about halfway between the other two, and consistent with the small number of earlier polls that were conducted last year. M-D reports a 45-44% ballot test in Sen. Nelson's favor, again forecasting a virtual tie between the two men. In October, their statewide Florida survey found the pair tied at 44%, meaning virtually nothing has changed since that time. A year ago, in February of 2017, the Mason-Dixon ballot test gave Sen. Nelson a stronger 46-41% advantage, which is still within a consistent result realm when compared to their next two future polls.

The Mason-Dixon flaw is in the sample's demographic split. According to the prospectus, the White/Caucasian number is eleven points higher than the Florida US Census count (66 to 55%). The Hispanic number is eight points low (17 to 25%), while African Americans appear to be three points under-sampled (14 to 17%). Additionally, females are two points over-sampled.

Aside from the last point, the demographic skew would seem to cut against Sen. Nelson, suggesting that his lead may be a bit bigger than the one point edge M-D finds.

Taking account the methodological flaws found in the three polls, and thinking that the FAU survey (Scott +10 points) is an outlier, the preponderance of data still points to a highly competitive and virtually even contest against two well known political figures, both with high positives. But, a razor thin statewide result is certainly nothing new to Florida voters.

Though this race so far has suffered from polling scarcity, we can be assured of seeing regular survey data coming from the Sunshine State throughout the rest of this year.

NJ-11: A Consensus Forming
February 7, 2018
by Jim Ellis

House Appropriations Committee chairman and New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen's (R-Morristown) surprise retirement announcement last week was initially met with cheers from the national Democratic establishment and local rank and file. As an open seat, they believed their conversion chances were growing even stronger. But, it appears that local Republican leaders are very quickly working to build support for a contender who may well become a consensus GOP candidate as soon as next week.

When Mr. Frelinghuysen decided not to seek a 13th term, state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) immediately indicated that he would become a congressional candidate. Almost as quickly, neighboring Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph) followed suit. But, Assemblyman Jay Webber (R- Parsippany), who also represents the 26th Legislative District (as does Sen. Pennacchio), is now coming to the forefront as the man to beat in the GOP primary.

Upon Assemblyman Webber, a former New Jersey Republican Party chairman, entering the race, Sen. Pennacchio quickly bowed out and Mr. Bucco is also emitting signals that he, too, will soon exit. This leaves only attorney and first-time candidate Martin Hewitt remaining as an opponent for Mr. Webber.

Democrats were targeting Mr. Frelinghuysen, pointing to the fact that President Trump only carried the 11th District - originally drawn to be a decidedly Republican seat - by just a single percentage point, 49-48%. The district has been trending a bit more Democratic since it was first drawn. Compare the Trump numbers to both Mitt Romney and John McCain's identical 52-47% showings. (The McCain numbers were re-configured into the territory comprising the current 11th CD, not the one existing in 2008. The previous seat was four points more Republican.)

On the other hand, Mr. Trump did win the district even though he lost the state by a considerable 55-41% spread. Therefore, while the electorate may be trending a bit more Democratic than its long history would suggest, NJ-11 is still more winnable than not for most Republican candidates.

Rep. Frelinghuysen was first elected in 1994. His father, Peter Frelinghuysen Jr., also represented northern New Jersey in the House, for 11 terms beginning in 1953. During his tenure in Congress, the current Rep. Frelinghuysen has averaged 65.3% of the vote over his twelve successful general election campaigns, though his 58% finish in 2016 was his career low water mark. Even so, these are strong numbers for any congressional incumbent over a long career.

The Democrats have four announced candidates, and all were running before Mr. Frelinghuysen decided not to seek re-election. But, two stand out. Attorney and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill, a first time candidate, has already raised $1.23 million for her campaign, and has over $820,000 in the bank. Businesswoman Tamara Harris, another candidate in her initial race, has obtained more than $566,000 with over $455,000 cash-on-hand, but $317,000 of this came from the candidate either through contribution or loan. Conversely, Ms. Sherrill contributed only $1,800 to her effort.

Though the fundraising is impressive, if both candidates stay in the race to fight in a Democratic primary, most of these resources will be spent by the time the general election begins in June.

The 11th District is a compact northern New Jersey seat, of which half the population resides in Morris County. The remaining constituency comes from parts of Essex, Passaic, and Sussex Counties. The district is 71% non-Hispanic white, with an 11.2% Hispanic population, a 10.8% Asian base, and an African American segment of just 3.2%. The last Democrat to represent this region was Rep. Joseph Minish who served from 1963 to 1985.

With the emergence of Assemblyman Webber as the potential consensus Republican candidate, the GOP is already in much better political shape than when Mr. Frelinghuysen made his retirement announcement. The race must be considered a toss-up in the early going, but the campaign has substantially changed in just its first week as an open seat contest.

An Open Review - Part 2
February 6, 2018
by Jim Ellis

Continuing our look at the 53 open seats, today we look at those in the Lean R & D categories. It is here where Democrats will have to score big if they are to claim the House majority.

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the Pennsylvania Republicans' arguments to move the live redistricting case to the federal level. To review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the current congressional map a political gerrymander, but without citing any election law statute violations. State Senate Republicans are refusing to provide the court with their requested data until the legislative bodies are informed about what is legally wrong with the current map.

In the meantime, the court has already appointed a special master from Stanford University to draw a new plan, and moved the congressional candidate filing deadline from March 6th to March 20th. Additionally, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is already saying he will veto the legislature's map, so all of these developments suggest that a new, Democrat-friendly map will likely be in place before the 2018 elections.

In our overview of the current House open seat configuration, two of the Pennsylvania seats are either in the Lean D category (PA-7; Rep. Pat Meehan-R) or Lean R (PA-15; Rep. Charlie Dent). With a new map likely to collapse most, if not all, of the four open Republican seats, it is likely that both of the aforementioned districts will find themselves in the Democratic column after the next election.

Currently, the Lean Democrat column consists only of Republican seats. In addition to PA-7, and probably adding at least PA-15 post-redistricting, retiring GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) are leaving seats that are also trending toward the Democratic side of the political ledger.

Republicans, however, may have recently recruited a credible candidate in the person of Grammy Award winning songwriter and charity organization fundraiser Angie Chirino, the daughter of singer Willy Chirino. Mr. Chirino and his parents escaped Castro's Cuba in the early 1960s. Six other Republicans are in the candidate field including Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Democrats have eight candidates including two sitting state legislators and two local officials. President Trump losing this district 58-39%, after the Florida state Supreme Court re-drew the seat before the election, makes this seat a prime Democratic conversion opportunity.

With Republicans still trying to find a highly competitive candidate to replace veteran Rep. LoBiondo, Democrats have the inside track to converting the southern New Jersey district in the person of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May). The Senator is quickly becoming the consensus Democratic candidate. The party leaders previously attempted to persuade Mr. Van Drew several times to challenge Rep. LoBiondo, but each time unsuccessfully. Once the seat opened, however, the Senator quickly declared his candidacy.

The Republicans have only five open seats currently in the Lean R category, and the Democrats need to run the table here in order to position themselves for a majority run. As described above, one of those is Rep. Charlie Dent's PA-15 seat, and that will likely become a Democratic seat once the new redistricting plan comes to fruition.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (KS-2) retiring leaves her Topeka anchored seat open. Republicans have seven announced candidates including three state legislators and a local official. Democrats are coalescing around former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis who was the party's 2014 gubernatorial nominee. Mr. Davis lost that campaign to Gov. Sam Brownback (R) by a close 50-46% margin. This congressional seat did flip in 2006, when Democrat Nancy Boyda upset veteran Rep. Jim Ryun, but came right back to the Republicans two years later when Ms. Jenkins defeated the freshman incumbent by almost five full percentage points.

In Michigan, two-term Rep. Dave Trott's (R-Birmingham) surprise retirement opens a Detroit suburban seat that appears politically marginal on paper but hasn't elected a Democrat since it was created in this configuration back in the 2001 redistricting plan. Republicans have seven announced candidates, and Democrats' five. The field includes a one-term Congressman, Kerry Bentivolio, four current or former state legislators, two former Administration officials, and a co-chair for the Trump campaign.

New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce's (R-Hobbs) run for Governor makes the second time he has vacated this seat for a statewide run. He ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2008. The Democrats captured his seat that year, but Mr. Pearce returned in 2010 to re-claim the district. Each party has four announced candidates, with the Republicans' having the two who appear strongest: ex-state Republican Party chairman Monty Newman, a former Hobbs Mayor, and state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo).

In Washington, Rep. Dave Reichert's (R-Auburn) retirement opens another district that looks marginal on paper, but hasn't ever elected a Democrat since its original creation in the 1981 redistricting plan. Republicans have recruited their first choice in former state legislator and gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi. In 2004, Mr. Rossi lost the closest gubernatorial campaign in modern American history, a 129-vote deficit from more than 2.8 million ballots cast. He would then return to lose again in 2008, this time by six percentage points in the first Obama year, and then would challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D) in 2010 and lost by four. But, in each of his statewide elections he carried the 8th District. Democrats are encouraged here because Hillary Clinton carried the seat by three percentage points, and President Obama won the district in both of his elections.