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.
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As had been expected for some time, two-term West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) announced his campaign for the United States Senate. He will face two-term Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) in the Republican primary, with the winner drawing a difficult political match with Sen. Joe Manchin (D).
With average win percentages of 62% over two elections as Governor (2004, ’08) in addition to a pair of Senate campaigns (2010 special election; 2012), Sen. Manchin appears to be in strong shape as he approaches his 2018 re-election. But, there are some cracks in his armor, hence the presence of two strong GOP opponents.
Though Sen. Manchin has attempted to cross the partisan line in his public relationship with President Trump and the Republican leadership on several issues, it is still a net negative for the Senator to campaign on the same political landscape that proved to be the former’s second strongest state (69%).
Additionally, rumors are still floating that the Senator hasn’t fully committed to seeking re-election, and his first quarter fundraising wasn’t particularly stellar for an in-cycle Senator: $552,000 for the period ending with $2.17 million in the bank, though these are still credible financial numbers for a small state. It will be interesting to note the Manchin fundraising activity level once the second quarter numbers are reported on or before July 15th. Those figures will tell us a great deal about the Senator’s future political plans.
Finally, the Mr. Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch the CEO of the Mylan pharmaceutical company, was caught in the eye of controversy toward the end of 2016 over raising prices of the EpiPen prescriptions by more than 500% for those who have severe and, under certain circumstances, life-threatening allergies. Questions about conflicts of interest surrounded the Senator over this situation, and we are sure to hear about this subject matter often during next year’s campaign.
Mr. Morrisey enters the Senate contest with two statewide victories under his belt, originally winning his office in 2012 by unseating the incumbent with a 51-49% victory margin. The outcome made Mr. Morrisey the first Republican West Virginia Attorney General since the 1928 election. He went onto win re-election last November with a 52-42% spread.
Though there was much fanfare surrounding Rep. Jenkins Senatorial announcement in early May, the Congressman’s campaign kick-off video has left him open to primary attack, and Morrisey plans to exploit the weakness. His video message excoriated Sen. Manchin for twice supporting President Obama’s election campaigns but, in fact, Mr. Jenkins did the same as a Democratic member of the state legislature. It was only in 2013, when preparing to run for the 3rd District Congressional seat, that he changed political parties. Therefore, Jenkins will have more than 16 years of votes as a Democratic member that will certainly open him to criticism in a statewide Republican primary.
It appears that the West Virginia Senate race will attract its share of attention in both the primary and general elections, and the campaign is poised to become a top tier Republican challenge campaign despite Sen. Manchin’s overall popularity.
Two days ago, speculation was rampant in Colorado that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) was planning to withdraw from the Governor’s race and would announce such at an impending public news conference. Yesterday, the Congressman not only officially withdrew from the statewide campaign, but also said he will not return to seek re-election to the US House.
It appears Mr. Perlmutter may have reached the end of his public political life, publicly lamenting in his announcement address that he “thought I could do it all. I'm telling you, in front of all of you, I can't.” Aides indicated that the Congressman was not relishing running against his congressional colleague, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), and others said that Perlmutter feels he has lost the joy of campaigning. Rather than continue a race without any heart, he decided to withdraw. Rep. Perlmutter will serve the balance of the current congressional term, but will then retire once the session concludes at the end of next year.
In addition to Rep. Polis, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, ex-state Sen. Mike Johnston, manufacturing company CEO Noel Ginsburg, and agri-businessman Adam Garrity are the announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates of note. Regional District Attorney George Brauchler is the most notable Republican. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is ineligible to seek a third term. Mr. Perlmutter’s open 7th Congressional District is expected to remain in Democratic hands.
Yesterday, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) announced that he will enter the open New Mexico Governor’s race next year, saying to the Albuquerque Journal that he’s “concerned about an exodus of young people leaving New Mexico,” going to other places for a more favorable job market. Pearce said his campaign will emphasize improving education, spurring economic growth, and reducing crime and poverty.
This will be the second time Mr. Pearce has left his House seat to pursue a statewide contest. In 2008, when serving his third term in Congress, he decided to challenge then-Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) for the US Senate nomination, and successfully upset her in the Republican primary. He would then go onto lose the general election to then-Rep. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe), 61-39%, in the Obama landslide year.
In the 2nd Congressional District, a seat that has encompassed the entire southern half of New Mexico through several redistricting periods, Democratic candidate Harry Teague ran a successful conversion campaign and won the 2008 open seat election with a 56% vote share.
After his statewide defeat, however, Mr. Pearce returned to the 2nd District two years later and rather easily unseated Mr. Teague (55-45%) in the latter’s first re-election effort. Despite a 54% Hispanic population, Rep. Pearce has won re-election victories between 59 and 64% since returning to the House. President Trump carried NM-2 by ten percentage points last November even while losing the state, 40-48%.
The Pearce move is not particularly surprising. Rumors had abounded for some time that the 69-year old Congressman would hop into the statewide campaign especially since neither Lt. Gov. John Sanchez nor Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has so far done so, though both still say they are considering the race.
Democrats recently saw a spate of activity here, with five candidates announcing for the congressional seat, most doing so because they believed the seat would open. None of the five are elected officials, so we should see several more Democrats enter the race now that the district will officially be incumbent-less for the coming campaign.
We can also expect obvious movement on the Republican side, and are virtually assured of seeing several state legislators and/or local officials throughout the district now stepping up to run for Congress.
Though Mr. Pearce made this seat safe for himself, Harry Teague’s election the last time District 2 was open means we can expect an ensuing highly competitive battle. This new open seat will become a major target for both parties.
It is being widely reported that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden), who declared his gubernatorial candidacy three months ago, will withdraw from the race at an announcement news conference in his hometown of Golden later this morning. The campaign source is also saying that the Congressman will continue with his plan to retire from the House despite leaving the statewide campaign.
Speculation explaining his action centers around Mr. Perlmutter finding the competition for scare primary campaign dollars much too difficult in a state with more stringent campaign finance laws than even the federal government. With fellow Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) now a gubernatorial candidate and having the ability to spend millions of his personal funds on his campaign, having adequate resources to compete may well be the main political reason that Perlmutter has decided to drop his statewide bid.
Since the Representative is apparently staying the course to leave Congress, the 7th District open campaign will go largely unchanged. All of the key action will be on the Democratic side since this seat has become safe for the current incumbent’s party. President Trump lost here, 39-51%, for example, and Rep. Perlmutter hasn’t had a serious challenge since 2012. Three Democratic state legislators, two Senators and one Representative, have been campaigning during the period since Rep. Perlmutter announced his gubernatorial campaign and each will continue to move forward with their federal political efforts.
The Congresswoman had been expected to make a July campaign announcement, but her statement contained a twist that none had anticipated. With a political fire drill now underway to respond to a new campaign sans Wagner, the early spotlight focuses on at least two viable GOP options.
Attorney General Josh Hawley is the most talked about potential candidate. Several prominent Show Me State Republicans initiated a move, which former US Sen. John Danforth, ex-Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, and major campaign donor and former US Ambassador Sam Fox led, that openly encouraged Hawley to run even when it was thought that Ms. Wagner would become a candidate.
Mr. Hawley burst upon the political scene with his run for Attorney General last year. Then at 36 years of age, he had never run for office prior to his statewide bid, but had previously founded and directed the Missouri Liberty Project, is a former clerk to US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, and, as an attorney, participated in several key Supreme Court cases including the landmark Hobby Lobby case that allows closely held corporations to object to certain government regulations on religious grounds.
Josh Hawley won the 2016 Republican primary with an impressive 64-36% victory margin over state Senator Kurt Schaefer, and then trounced Democratic former prosecutor Teresa Hensley, 61-39%, to succeed Chris Koster (D) who had vacated the position to run unsuccessfully for Governor. Hawley’s quick rise to political prominence and his demonstrated vote-getting ability are the primary reasons he is attractive to many GOP leaders.
But, he would have some obstacles to overcome. Part of his 2016 campaign approach included attacking the “professional politicians” who jump from one office to another. So quickly running for Senate after being elected AG would open himself up to severe criticism from Sen. McCaskill and her well-funded political allies…with an argument that may well strike a chord with voters.
For his part, Mr. Hawley has been cagey. He still maintains he wants to do the job for which the people just elected him, but simultaneously never closes the door upon entering the Senate campaign. Though the timing may not be to his liking, the political set-up may never get better. Sen. McCaskill, who is a reliable liberal vote, is vulnerable before a state electorate that is turning ever more conservative, and, fresh from a landslide electoral victory, his political position may well be at its apex. If Hawley perceives he has a united Republican/right-of-center base from which to move forward into a tough race against the two-term Senator, it may be difficult to find a time and situation that would better suit him for such a run.
Four-term Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville/Columbia) says that she, too, is considering jumping into the Senate campaign now that Rep. Wagner is no longer a presumed statewide candidate. Ms. Hartzler came to the House in the Republican wave year of 2010, defeating 34-year incumbent and former House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton (D), 50-45%, despite being outspent 2:1. Previously, she had served three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Sen. McCaskill came to national campaign notoriety during her 2012 re-election run when she and political allies ran an estimated $1.7 million in ads designed to help Republican primary candidate Todd Akin; casting the St. Louis suburban congressman as the most conservative candidate in the race – a winning strategy for a multi-candidate Midwest Republican primary. McCaskill knew that Rep. Akin would be her easiest opponent and wanted him in the general election. Despite never leading in any poll, Akin, largely on the backs of the McCaskill and aligned PAC ads since he had little funding of his own, scored a six point win over two prominent GOP opponents.
When the Congressman subsequently made ridiculous statements in post-primary interviews, her unique-at-the-time involvement in the opposite party’s primary proved prescient. The final general election result saw Sen. McCaskill scoring a commanding 55-39% victory margin.
Ms. McCaskill may again want to take a page from her own playbook in the coming Republican primary, but she will have to be even more clever this time. Since such involvement is no longer a new tactic, and neither Hawley nor Hartzler will be so easily prone to fall into her trap, next year’s contest will strike a very different tone.
We can expect much more during the coming weeks to unfold about this race, likely one of the most competitive wire-to-wire contests that we will see in 2018.