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6 Republicans Who Could Primary Trump (And Why They Won’t)

Mormons. Cubans. College-educated suburbanites. Beltway publications and think tanks.

Many Republicans opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016, but they failed to amount to more than pockets of resistance. Instead, the party faithful rallied around Republican nominee Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Since his upset victory, Trump has only continued consolidating his party’s support. A recent NBC/WSJ poll found his approval rating at 82%-13%, while a Harvard/Harris poll found a similar job approval rating at 86%-14%. Republicans, by and large, support their party’s president.

This article is not written for your standard Republican.

Instead, it is a place for the intra-party opposition to imagine a viable primary challenge to their own party’s incumbent president. Nevertheless, there is little place for fantasy either (until the end). Ignore some of the biggest fish, the senators and others who sounded Never Trump during the 2016 primaries and suddenly rallied around their party’s nominee from the general election to the present day. Cruz, Rubio, Paul– they’re digging in, accommodating the president to win specific policy battles and survive future primaries.

Instead, we are looking for something above a “Some Dude,” a candidacy strong enough to register if not seriously derail a sitting president by scoring significant electoral victory. Think Sen. Ted Kennedy challenging Carter, or Pat Buchanan in 1992. None of these candidates will win; however, by injecting their voice into the primary process, they may shape the Republican Party in the years and political cycles to come.

Here are six potential Republican challengers to Donald Trump.

1. John Kasich

Background: In the 1990s, John Kasich was a conservative congressman from Ohio. Now serving his second term as governor of Ohio, he ran in the 2016 presidential election as a decidedly moderate version of himself.  He accomplished little in that campaign, claiming second in New Hamsphire and winning only his home state after being advised by the infamous John Weaver, known for the eminently successful  presidential runs of Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Why he will run: Kasich stayed in the presidential race long enough to split the vote with other non-Trump options like Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and fantasize about winning a contested convention. Unlike his rivals, the Ohio governor continued his criticism of Trump long after he lost the presidential nomination. Mimicking Jon Hunstman’s prior role, Kasich now serves as a “respectable” Republican voice in the media (“Even John Kasich thinks…”). With his gubernatorial term ending in 2018, a primary campaign against Trump could give Kasich a platform to extend his relevance to national politics. For example, Kasich’s latest pitch is delighting the media as a Republican supporting Medicaid expansion again and writing a book about uniting the country.

Meanwhile, with every month Kasich and his backers tease ambiguous statements regarding his future plans. Somehow he lands himself gushing profiles, like this one from CNN on pop culture. The steady drumbeat points in one direction- Kasich has never entirely stopped campaigning for president in the background.

Why he won’t run or win: Of all the candidates on this list, Kasich acts the closest to pulling the trigger on a presidential bid. This is less a question of likelihood than effectiveness. Kasich is the latest moderate-ish Republican presidential candidate. Nevertheless, we’ve seen how this brand plays in Republican presidential primaries. It’s why John McCain fired John Weaver in his own presidential campaign, why Jon Huntsman never won a presidential primary, and why Kasich only won his home state. Trump will easily run to Kasich’s right, with incumbency to boot. In Harold Stassen-like fashion, the only poll Kasich will lead is a straw poll of reporters covering his campaign.

Justin Amash

Biography: A fourth-term US Congressman from Michigan’s 3rd congressional disrict, centered on Grand Rapids. An avowed libertarian, Amash is a Freedom Caucus member with close ties to former Congressman Ron Paul’s political network.

Why he will run: Unlike most House members, Justin Amash has been willing to criticize Trump on a wide variety of issues. His criticism is wide-ranging, from Trump’s travel ban to proposed Mexican tariffs to potential enforcement of federal laws concerning marijuana. His current pinned tweet is even a quote from George Washington criticizing political parties. “Let me now…warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.” Amash even bragged about being one of the first Republicans to suggest impeachment for President Trump (which prompted a curious “No I was first” reaction from Rep. Carlos Curbelo in FL-26).

After Sen. Rand Paul’s lackluster presidential campaign, the libertarian movement needs a standardbearer. The buzz has centered around Rep. Justin Amash as the next candidate. While I previously thought that rumor-mongering meant Amash would run in 2024, now I wonder if it could be a primary in 2020.

Amash certainly has some strong traits. He comes off as less curmudegonly than Rand, effectively redirecting hostile crowds during the recent wave of belligerent town hall meetings. And his hardline libertarianism has the potential to resurrect the enthusiasm and small donors that fueled Paul’s rise in the first place.

Why he won’t run or win: When Ron Paul ran, he actually managed to put up solid performances in a number of states, including Iowa. The calculus for Rand’s campaign was that the Kentucky Senator would claim all those voters (15-20% depending on the state) and more with a friendlier libertarian message. However, the opposite occurred; the brash “truth-teller” Trump took the elder Paul’s mantle and won the voters who liked Paul’s style but not necessarily substance. Instead, reliable  libertarian voters are something like 5% of your presidential primary electorate. Amash will have to deal with that same problem, without the massive Paul fundraising operation to back him.

Amash also has a similar problem as Kasich, since Trump can outflank him on longstanding Republican stances on issues like immigration and national security. Add on incumbency, and it’s hard to see how a majority of Republicans defect for a niche ideological candidate. Still, this would be an easy way for Amash to expand his fundraising and national persona.

Evan McMullin

Biography: A former operations director at the CIA and a former Hill policy and national security staffer, McMullin ran for President in 2016 after several other potential Never Trump figures passed on their own protest candidacies. He took half a percent in that campaign nationally and 20% in Utah (he is a Mormon). Since the presidential election, McMullin has continued his unrelenting criticism of President Trump in various media in an almost Kasich-like fashion.

Why he will run: While he is known to national media, McMullin is relatively unknown to American voters. A primary challenge to Trump from a moderately qualified candidate will generate renewed media coverage for McMullin and his criticism of the president. Of course, as someone who volunteered for a suicide run in 2016, he could probably run just because of his animus for Trump.

Why he won’t run or win: Who cares? Until recently, McMullin was just a high-level Capitol staffer. He has no real constituency besides young Mormons, which was reinforced by his paltry vote totals outside of Utah during the 2016 presidential election. Picture a Mormon John Kasich running with less campaign experience and donors, and that’s what we have here. McMullin probably recognizes that, and he is considering either the open UT-3 or a primary against Sen. Orrin Hatch. Luckily for McMullin, he pulls relatively well in the unique environment of Utah, boasting a 42%-28% approval rating statewide– that’s a lot of name recognition for someone with no previous elected experience and a very poorly funded campaign last cycle. Nationally, McMullin is stuck in the awkward place of being loved by none, left or right. Utah, on the other hand- why not take the path of, if not least, less resistance?

Mark Sanford

Biography: Once a potential conservative consensus choice for president in 2012, former South Carolina congressman and governor Mark Sanford fell from grace by lying about hiking the Appalachian Trail to instead visit his mistress in Argentina. Several years and a divorce later, Sanford came back from obscurity to run for and win his suddenly open former seat in SC-1 in 2013. Now Sanford has regained a perch in national politics and a shot at redemption.

Why he will run: A libertarian-flavored anti-establishment Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus, Sanford has made no qualms about his dislike for President Trump. He called the president the “antithesis, or the undoing, of everything I thought I knew about politics, preparation and life.”  Even after the congressional baseball shooting, Sanford called Trump’s rhetoric violent and “a problem.” Trump has certainly reciprocated, using former Freedom Caucus member and now OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to relay a direct primary threat. Unlike other potential presidential candidates, however, Sanford has nothing to lose. After winning his seat back, establishment Republicans don’t really have leverage on him. After all, Sanford was abandoned by many of his previous allies over the Appalachian Trail scandal. Now back from the political dead, Sanford can play a less dashing Count of Monte Cristo to those who have wronged him and the conservative movement at large as an (ironic) truth-teller. As one longtime friend told Politico,

Why he won’t run or win: Sanford may have nothing to lose, but he may have other fights to pick. For starters, a lengthy Politico profile said that self-funding businessman and veteran, Ted Fienning, plans to challenge him in 2018 after a lackluster 2016 primary where Sanford spent lose change to win by less than 10 points. Second, Sanford and his $1 million+ warchest may be pointed more towards a primary with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) than any kind of presidential race, according to the same lengthy Politico profile. Sanford himself threw cold water on at least a gubernatorial bid, but he certainly didn’t close the door on running somewhere besides SC-1.

Sanford gets points for chutzpah, earned after becoming a party pariah and winning a stunning comeback. Nevertheless, he walked the presidential gauntlet once, and it led to the unraveling of his career and personal life. Something tells me the congressman is much more likely to look towards a statewide bid on familiar turf than a presidential windmill at which to tilt.

Jason Chaffetz

Biography: A former chief of staff to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, Chaffetz burst into elected office in 2008 with a successful convention and primary challenge to a sitting Republican incumbent. Since then he worked up the ranks of House leadership, reaching the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight.

Why he will run: Chaffetz suddenly has a lot more time on his hands after announcing his retirement from the House in April and formally resigning yesterday. His lack of a job also frees him up from carrying water for the administration, requesting whatever number of FBI documents exist related to Jim Comey and Michael Flynn in the closing month of his chairmanship. Even further, Chaffetz declared the Trump administration no different than -gasp- President Obama’s:

“The reality is, sadly, I don’t see much difference between the Trump administration and the Obama administration. I thought there would be this, these floodgates would open up with all the documents we wanted from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Pentagon,” Chaffetz said.

“In many ways, it’s almost worse because we’re getting nothing, and that’s terribly frustrating and, with all due respect, the attorney general has not changed at all. I find him to be worse than what I saw with [former Attorney General] Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available. I just, that’s my experience, and that’s not what I expected,” he said.

Even during the presidential campaign, Chaffetz withdrew support from Trump, although he ultimately voted for him.

Why he won’t run or win: Much like Sanford, Chaffetz has little love for Trump, but he may have other fish to fry. Chaffetz is reportedly interested in a 2020 gubernatorial bid. Some conspiratorially suggest the resignation and anti-Trump comments is just Chaffetz attempting to thread the strange needle of anti-Trumpism prevalent among his Mormon Utah base and the support of a sitting Republican president most Republicans expect. From that perspective, Chaffetz has no interest in a potentially suicidal presidential primary, instead talking about spending more time with his family as a way of emphasizing his Utah roots to win his next office.

Ben Sasse

Biography: Ben Sasse presents a curious character (see this surprisingly detailed bio from... Mother Jones? I know). An intellectual and academic who worked in a variety of federal roles and served as a liberal arts college president, somehow Sasse found himself as one of a number of Tea Party insurgents in Senate primaries in 2014. Sasse publicly opposed Trump throughout the 2016 presidential primaries, but he broke with his Republican colleagues (sans Lee) in an important way: after Trump secured the Republican nomination, Sasse publicly encouraged the idea of an independent or third party presidential candidate to present an alternative to Hillary or Donald.

Why he will run: I saved the most fantastic candidate for last. Since the election, Sasse has received gushing coverage from the mainstream media over his recent and somewhat apolitical book, The Vanishing American Adult, which  argues rising American adolescents are being raised without preparation for adulthood and its responsibilities. However, the most appealing aspect of Sasse may be his ability to intrigue interest without polarizing in the manner of the typical Tea Party conservatives one might find in the Senate, such as Rand, Cruz, or even Lee to a certain extent. Sasse represents a blank slate, one that could be theoretically amenable to various factions of the party, even the Majority Leader he criticized to win his primary.

Why he won’t run or win: When it comes down to it, the approval ratings at the top of this article are the reason most of these candidates are unlikely to run. Sasse’s promise as a candidate means that, much like he chose not to run in 2016, the Nebraska senator does not plan to impale himself upon the pike of a presidential primary. Senator Ben Sasse has the most promise of any candidate on this list, coupling a positive media profile and conservative credibility right at the outset of his political career. If you are a younger candidate like Sasse or Amash (or even the triangulating Rubio, Cruz, and Rand), the  smart play is to wait your turn for 2024 and prepare for that . If you are a lesser-tier candidate like Sanford or McMullin, lower races offer more promise. A presidential primary is a gamble, and one that a candidate is likely to lose.

Ultimately, standard Republicans already have their 2020 candidate. For the rest of us, it is hard to find a gambling man.

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Weekend Open Thread for June 23-25, 2017

Please check back for a special post evaluating possible Trump primary challengers in 2020 at Noon ET tomorrow. But first there are some international elections to discuss:

Albania is going to the polls on Sunday. It is a nation of about 3M in the Balkans northwest of Greece, roughly the size of Maryland in area. Albania is still shaped by its history with communism, as it saw a brutal and irrational form of Stalinism under Enver Hoxha. For example, though Albania is about 70% Muslim by heritage, two generations of strictly enforced atheism made it an extremely secular nation even by European standards. The economic damage is far from undone as well; Albania is still among Europe’s poorest nations, though towards the higher end of the middle-income range globally. Albania’s 140-member parliament is elected by proportional representation in the nation’s 12 counties with a threshhold of 3%. In partisan terms, the landscape takes the form of a two-and-a-half-party system; though like in many developing nations, personalities and transactional politics can be as important as ideology in sorting out partisanship. The Socialists, who currently hold government, are the former Communist party that has evolved into a mainstream center-left party. The opposition Democrats are a center-right party of a fairly standard pro-European nature. The nation’s third party, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) is a transactional centrist party that has been in government for 8 years, first with Democrats and then with Socialists, by winning just enough seats to hold the balance of power and get itself a lot of goodies in return. However, this year both parties have become fed up with the LSI’s pound-of-flesh demands. Socialists are leading in the polls, and are trying to beat the LSI down to get a majority. But if the Socialists fall short of a majority, there is a possibility they and the Democrats form some sort of Grand Coalition rather than let the LSI back in again.

Mongolia has its Presidential election on Monday (late Sunday US time). Despite being a relatively poor desert nation of 3M sandwiched between two powerful dictatorships, Russia and China, Mongolia has a remarkably free democracy (albeit one with endemic corruption) and is generally pro-Western in its policies. Resource extraction (particularly metal mining, but also oil and gas) is the backbone of the economy. Mongolia largely has a two-party system of the center-left post-communist Mongolian People’s Party and the center-right Democratic Party. The DP incumbent is term-limited this year, and the MPP candidate, former prime minister Miyegombyn Enkhbold, is heavily favored to take over after the MPP won a landslide victory in legislative elections last year. Here is an interesting more in-depth take on the race from a Canadian professor specializing in Mongolia if you’re interested.

Now this week’s questions –

1. What do this week’s House election results mean for 2018?

2. Who is your favorite current mayor or other local official?

And because it’s the weekend…. we give you the New Yorker’s view of redistricting HERE

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Political Roundup for June 23, 2017

Congress:

MO-Sen: Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) is far from announcing he plans to run for US Senate, but he isn’t ruling it out either. There is pressure for him to run-prominent GOP fundraiser Sam Fox this week said that potential donors should hold off donating to other candidates until they can convince Hawley to run. The persistent talk of Hawley possibly running is a problem for Rep. Ann Wagner (R) who has long been seen as a likely candidate. There may be something of the intraparty feud which contributed to State Auditor Tom Schweich (R) committing suicide in 2015 at play here too. Former Sen. John Danforth (R) has publicly announced his support for Hawley running-Danforth and Fox were both supporters of Schweich’s campaign for governor while Wagner was a supporter of former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, whose campaign was blamed by some for attacks which led to Schweich’s suicide. Both Danforth and Fox however have said they have nothing against Wagner, just that they think Hawley would be a better candidate.

AZ-2: Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is planning to form an exploratory committee to run for Congress next year. Kirkpatrick would be moving districts as she previously represented AZ-1. She has moved to Tucson and is no stranger to the area as she graduated from the University of Arizona and worked in the Pima County Attorney’s office. She would potentially be joining a very crowded Democratic primary however-7 other Democrats have announced they plan to run or are considering running.

FL-7: State Rep. Mike Miller (R) is considering running for Congress next year against Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D). Miller, who is considered a moderate, may have competition for the Republican nomination. State Sen. David Simmons (R) has said before he is 98% sure he would run, but has not yet entered the race. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs (R) is said to be interested in running too. Miller however also says there are legislative priorities he is working on that may make him decide to stay in the Legislature-which is similar to what led state Rep. Bob Cortes (R) to consider running and then decide against it.

FL-23: Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein (D) does not plan to join the Democratic primary between Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) and Tim Canova. Finkelstein, who also hosts a popular segment on Miami local TV called “Help me Howard” was mentioned on a website devoted to Broward County politics yesterday as possibly joining the race but he says he never thought about running. He says Wasserman Schultz and Canova represent two camps of the Democratic Party well.

GA-6 and the expectations game: Some Democrats are blaming a failure to manage expectations for their loss in GA-6 being seen as a failure for them. While it could have been painted as them doing well in a traditionally strong red seat, the incredible fundraising haul by Jon Ossoff and the intense desire to hand President Trump and the GOP a defeat raised the hype and expectations for the GA-6 so much that anything less than a win was going to be seen as a failure. The GOP on the other hand seems to have played the expectations game well going into this and other special elections-raising the alarm for KS-4 by saying that Ron Estes was only ahead by a point in internal polling, saying that MT-AL was “closer than it should be” and saying that Karen Handel was “trending downward” in internal polling last week.

NH-2: Former state Rep. Jack Flanagan (R) is running again for Congress. Flanagan also ran in 2016, finishing 2nd in the GOP primary to former state Rep. Jim Lawrence (R). Lawrence went on to lose to Rep. Ann Kuster (D) by 5 points. Flanagan is the first candidate to announce a run-state Rep. Steve Negron (R) and former state Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker (R) are considering running.

NM-2: State Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R) is considering running for Congress as Rep. Steve Pearce (R) considers running for governor. Pirtle as a 24 year old political novice took only 15% of the vote against Pearce for the Republican nomination for this seat in 2010 as Pearce was running again for the seat he gave up for an unsuccessful run for US Senate in 2008. Pirtle then ran for state Senate in 2012, winning the Republican nomination for a seat by just 10 votes and then upset a 34 year Democratic incumbent in November. As he is not up for re-election until 2020, he could run without giving up his state Senate seat. Pirtle is the first Republican to explore a race for the seat as Pearce decides whether to run for governor.

SD-AL: Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether will not run for Congress next year. Huether is a former Democrat who became an independent in December, and many speculated at the time he made the move in order to plan for a statewide race, recognizing that he would have a hard time getting elected as a Democrat. He is still considering running for governor next year or possibly for US Senate in 2020 when Sen. Mike Rounds (R) will be up for re-election. Huether’s current term as mayor of the state’s largest city ends in May 2018.

UT-3: Jim Bennett, son of former Sen. Robert Bennett (R) is suing the state in order to get a new party on the ballot for the UT-3 special election. He is affiliated with the United Utah Party, which is trying to be a centrist alternative to the Republican Party and was planning to launch soon, but moved up its launch to get on the ballot for the election. He attempted to get the party on the ballot through signatures, but the state said it wouldn’t be able to verify the signatures in enough time for the election. Bennett could have appeared on the ballot as an independent or unaffiliated, but he said he did not want to pretend he was unaffiliated when he had a party he was affiliated with.

Governor:

CA-Gov: Assemblyman Travis Allen (R) is entering the governor’s race. Allen is a conservative from Orange County who is also controversial and has a large social media following. He joins businessman John Cox as Republicans in the all-party primary. Polls indicate that if the party doesn’t coalesce around one candidate, there could be a D vs. D general election, but Allen says he isn’t worried about that.

ID-Gov: 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee A.J. Balukoff is considering getting into the race again next year. At this point, he would essentially have the nomination to himself-the only other Democrat currently in the race is Troy Minton, a homeless man, and no other Democrats have indicated interest in running. Balukoff ran a respectable race against Gov. Butch Otter (R) in 2014, losing by 15 points, although the race was thought to be a possible upset possibility that never materialized. He wants to run again, but his wife is unsure whether he should run again and he says he will not do it without the support of his wife. He plans to make a final decision this fall.

MD-Gov: Rep. John Delaney (D), who previously said he would decide by the end of June whether to run for governor, is delaying his decision until the end of July. It is unclear what Delaney will ultimately decide-although he has indicated interest in the race, he also has held fundraisers for his federal campaign account-funds that he can’t use for a state race. Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and state Sen. Richard Madaleno are all running for governor in the Democratic primary while Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has indicated he is interested in running.

NV-Gov: Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak (D) announced yesterday that he is running for governor. Sisolak is the first high profile candidate to announce a bid, Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) is expected to run, but has not yet made an announcement. Businessman and political newcomer Jared Fisher (R) has already launched a campaign. Wealthy Las Vegas businessman Stephen Cloobeck (D) is also considering joining the race.

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Political Roundup for June 22nd, 2017

Good morning from Chicago, where Fearless Leader Mike Madigan has reportedly slaughtered the golden goose to feed golden pâté to his union boss friends.

President:

2020: Last night, POTUS held a campaign rally in reddening Eastern Iowa (Cedar Rapids to be precise).

Senate:

NV-Sen: Jon Ralston, arguably the country’s best state political reporter, hesitates to categorize US Rep. and newly-minted Dean Heller challenger Jacky Rosen (D) as an A-list candidate. Yet, he calls the freshman Congresswoman “disciplined” and “perhaps the most impressive first-time candidate for Congress” he has seen. Ruh roh.

House:

Democratic Soul Searching (or is that too religious?): This money quote came from a Democratic operative: “We no longer have a party caucus capable of riding this wave. We have 80-year-old leaders and 90-year-old ranking members. This isn’t a party. It’s a giant assisted living center. Complete with field trips, gym, dining room and attendants.” No further commentary is necessary.

GA-06: Alleged human and talking points machine Jon Ossoff (D), who outspent Congresswoman-elect Karen Handel (R) 6:1 in his failed bid for GA-06, bemoaned the influence of money in politics from his high horse. Overall, Ossoff raised $24M and Handel hauled in $4.5M; however, outside groups favored Handel $18M to $8.2M. If only the Democrats have spent another $32M on this race, they could have engineered a hologram who actually seemed like he had been to a Waffle House.

LA-01: In wonderful news, GOP Whip Steve Scalise’s condition after the Congressional Baseball Shooting has been upgraded to fair.

Governor:

IA-Gov: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will challenge incumbent Kim Reynolds in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary in the country’s official ethanol fiefdom. While Reynolds has been elected twice statewide as Lieutenant Governor, Reynolds assumed the governorship this year when then-Governor Terry Branstad was confirmed as US Ambassador to China. Corbett would seem a long shot, but the former State House Speaker likely has strong institutional connections. His election in a blue city also suggests that his political skills are sharp.

KS-Gov: Lt. Gov and Dr. Jeff Colyer (R), second in command to a man less popular to Kansans than is neighboring Missouri, seems to think that a gubernatorial bid would be well-received. Rose-colored corneas must be nice to have. However, Colyer may end up leading the Sunflower State before 2018 if Governor Sam Brownback is given a rumored Trump Administration position.

MD-Gov: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) will challenge Governor Larry Hogan (R) for re-election next year. While Hogan is probably only second in popularity to Old Bay in the Old Line State, POTUS is anything but beloved.

VA-Gov: In another state where POTUS is as underwater as climate scientists think Mar-a-Lago will be in a few decades, Lt. Gov Ralph Northam (D) leads former RNC Chairman and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie (R) 47%-39%. Troubingly, college-educated voters favor Northam 50%-40%.

Other:

The Sunbelt: In a trend that will affect our political geography, with the exception of the Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Diego metropolitan areas, Sunbelt suburbs continue to collectively grow much faster than their core cities.

 

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Political Roundup for June 21st, 2017

In case you missed it yesterday, Republican Karen Handel worked out an unexpectedly strong win in GA-6, and Republican Ralph Norman had an unexpectedly close win in SC-5. Republicans and Democrats each held a seat in the SC State House as well. What does it say about politics that the Democrats did better in the seat Clinton lost by close to 20 points that they basically ignored than the one she lost by 1 that they poured over $30 Million in? Maybe that going all-in on a political nobody who looks like he’s just finishing up his freshman year of college isn’t a good idea? Or perhaps,(more seriously) that the higher the special election turnout, the worse the result for the already-fired-up Democrats, as SC-5 saw something like 1/3rd as many votes as GA-6 did. Regardless, expect a day of Democrats spinning about how GA-6 didn’t really matter and Republicans spinning about how GA-6 meant everything.

Now, on to the news:

President:

CBS-Poll: A CBS poll has Trump down to his lowest numbers yet at 36% approval. His handling of the Russia probe seems to be his weakest point so far, as he’s not doing too bad on the other major issues tested. Also, Americans believe Comey over Trump by about 2:1, and slightly favor believing that the probe is a grave matter of national security over it being a political hatchet job.

2020: Morning Consultant did a poll of the favorability #s of just about every candidate seriously suggested for the 2020-Dem Nomination. The vast majority of them are unknown right now, with the exceptions being Warren (Slightly Positive) and Biden (Very positive). The only notable exceptions here are Sanders and of course Clinton 2020, because as they say the third time’s the charm!

Holder: Eric Holder, probably best remembered as the AG Obama replaced with Loretta Lynch, is apparently “re-entering the political fray” and is talking about running for President in 2020. Because at this point I think the Democrats saw the 17-candidate pileup of the 2016-GOP race and said “Hold my kale-smoothie–watch this”.

Congress:

MI-Sen: Former Michigan Chief SC Justice Bob Young all but formally announced his intent to run against Debbie Stabenow for Senate in 2018 at a local Republican event. Young, who is Black, sounded off on a very Constitutional-originalist note, and stressed his record of reducing the size of the judiciary in Michigan. He joins fellow Republican Lana Epstein in the GOP primary for this 2nd-tier GOP Senate target next year.

NV-3: GOP State Senator Scott Hammond has announced that he is running for this Suburban Vegas district that the GOP lost last year. The current freshman Democratic Incumbent Jackie Rosen is already running for Senate (Because the early bird gets the Senate Seat I guess?), and the seat was narrowly carried by Trump, making it a top GOP target for 2018. Hammond was a famous advocate for Nevada’s charter school bills, and gets a free shot at this seat since his State Senate seat isn’t up until 2020.

Other:

CO-alot: Mike and Cynthia Coffman, probably the closest thing the county has had to a political power couple since the Clintons limped off the national stage last year, are getting a divorce. While it’s not quite known why they are getting divorced (and kind of rude to pry), the couple was widely seen as the GOP’s best potential candidates for statewide office. We’ve got no idea what this means for Cynthia’s rumored Governor bid, or Coffman’s house seat, but we’ll hopefully find out relatively soon.

HI-St-House: In what has become commonplace for America’s weakest political party, the Hawaii GOP has lost another one of its members to the Democrats, this time former State House Minority Leader Beth Fukomoto, who was ousted from her leadership post for calling Trump racist and a Bully at the Hawaii Women’s March back in January. This is amazingly not the first time the GOP has lost its chamber leader to the Democrats, but since the state house is now 76D-5R, let’s hope we can manage to hold onto our 6% of the seats there.

Immigration: The Atlantic of all places has a good article detailing how the Democrats went from being sort of pro-immigration with major reservations to being absolutely 100% no-exceptions pro-immigration, and how it probably cost them the presidency. Remember a time when Obama felt a “Flush of patriotic resentment” at the idea of Mexican immigrants waving around Mexican flags at demonstrations?

Political Division: Here’s some interesting, if arguably flawed data. The voter study group commissioned a poll detailing the political ideology of the average Trump & Clinton voter. To summarize, Clinton’s supporters are pretty ideologically homogeneous Liberals, whereas Trump’s were split between Economic Conservatives and Populists. Notably, this poll also suggests that Libertarianism as an ideology is basically dead in the water in the US right now, which will come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the political trends of both parties in the last 2.5 years or so.

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GA-6 and SC-5 Liveblog #1

10:15 ET: AP has given Handel the check as well. Jon Ossoff joins New Coke and the Falcons’ 28-3 lead in Atlanta’s Hall of Busts.

10:10 ET: CNN has joined in with calling GA-6 for Handel (R).

10:02 ET- For what it’s worth, Ossoff took 73% of the mail-in (absentee) ballots in DeKalb.

9:56 ET: DDHQ just gave the check to former SoS Karen Handel (R) in GA-6 over former congressional staffer Jon Ossoff (D) after a big absentee mail-in dump from KeKalb still left Ossoff trailing Handel 52.5%-47.5%.

9:55 ET: All of SC-5 is in, and the margin stayed 51%-48% Norman (R).

9:49 ET: Meanwhile, Handel up to 53.4% in the DDHQ count with over 205k votes in. Ossoff now down to 58% in DeKalb with only 1 precinct outstanding, while Handel is up to 61% in Cobb with 11 left. That doesn’t even mention Fulton, with a good deal outstanding and the edge for Handel.

9:47 ET: Wasserman says Ossoff would probably need “80%+” of the 27,138 mail ballots accepted as of yesterday.

9:34 ET: With a decisive turn toward Handel in the returns in GA-6, Democratic strategists are pinning their hopes on mail ballots. However, as longtime GOP operative Brad Dayspring put it,

Very hard – if not unprecedented- to make up >2% based on mail in a district with these demographics.

Basically, we’re still here and watching, but things are getting tough for Ossoff.

9:29 ET: DDHQ has almost 200k votes in, and they have Handel (R) crossing 53% in GA-6 with a new batch of Cobb County votes.

9:28 ET: The AP gives Norman (R) the check as well in SC-5. With 12 precincts left in York County, Norman leads Parnell 51%-48%.

9:17 ET: And DDHQ makes the call in SC-5 for former State Rep. Ralph Norman (R). We still have 26 precincts left in York County, where Parnell has slightly improved, but Norman still leads 51%-48%.

9:12 ET: While I was prepping dinner we had a few batches drop that were great for Handel in GA-6. First Ossoff has dropped to only 59% in DeKalb (he needs a hair better than 60%). Now Handel is also over-performing her benchmarks by about 3 points in both Fulton and Cobb Counties. We’re talking about 63 precincts here, and it all brings Handel up to almost 53% right now.

9:04 ET: Got so busy chasing SC-5 counties that I missed a drop of e-day votes from Cobb County in GA-6. Handel is hitting what she needs here at about 57%, but we are still dealing with a pretty small number of precincts thus far. Overall 51.4%-48.6% Handel.

8:58 ET: As soon as I type, we’re now up to 88% in. Norman only up 51%-48%, but Parnell’s last stronghold left in Lee County s fully in. Those 42 precincts left in York should keep Norman over the top.

8:54 ET: With almost 3/4th of the e-day vote in for SC-5, Norman is now leading 52%-47%. I’ll try to break down the counties more as we get to the end, but there is still a lot to report for Norman in York and another batch waiting for Parnell in Lee.

8:43 ET: A new batch of DeKalb County votes (5 whole precincts!) keeps Ossoff around 60% in that county. He probably needs to be doing better than that though to pull out a victory, based on the benchmarks floating around.

8:38 ET: 42% in in SC-5. Parnell now leads Norman by less than 700 votes, and much of what’s outstanding is GOP friendly (York, Cherokee, and Spartanburg stick out).

8:30 ET: In GA-6, we’re now at 51%-49% Handel (R) with a small batch of Fulton County precincts coming in.

8:26 ET: A quick tweetstorm on Democratic consultants.

8:18 ET: Back in SC-5, Dave Wasserman throws cold water on Parnell’s (D) overperformance:

To be clear, still not convinced Archie Parnell (D) will win #SC05. Race very close now, but tons of GOP-heavy areas yet to report.

Parnell does look set to over-perform Hillary Clinton at least, who lost by 19 here. With 30% reporting, he leads Norman (R) 52%-47% with strong results out of Fairfield and Lee Counties.

8:16 ET: AP still isn’t showing E-day votes. However, DDHQ’s count has Handel up narrowly again.

8:06 ET: Another vote dump in GA-6. First DeKalb results are unsurprisingly friendly to Ossoff, with DDHQ telling us that Ossoff won the early vote there by 20%. However, Handel leads in Cobb early votes (again, as expected). Ossoff now leads 50.3%-49.7% over Handel. Now gives us some election day precincts!!!

8:01 ET: As we continue the long wait for Georgia, SC-5 is now up to 8% reporting, with more from Sumter County and a new batch from Kershaw. Kershaw is much friendlier to Norman (R), narrowing the margin to 56%-43% Parnell (D) over Norman.

7:52 PM ET: Alright, now our trackers are converging a bit. AP has 9 precincts in now with Parnell at 61%, with all e-day votes from Sumter County.

7:44 PM ET: SC-5 is definitely coming in faster than GA-6. With a couple precincts and a few counties’ early votes in, Norman (R) maintains his lead 52%-47.5%. DDHQ is ahead of AP here, which makes it look like Parnell (D) is crushing with 70%.

7:38 PM ET: Alright, DDHQ is hooking us up with early votes out of Fulton County, where Ossoff hit 48% in the first round. In this batch, Handel is up 51.4%-48.6%. We expected Handel to do better in early votes though than Republicans did in the 1st round.

7:36 PM ET: The first substantive results come in from SC-5, where Parnell (D) leads Norman (R) 58%-41% with just under 600 early votes in.

7:29 PM ET: First results incoming from DDHQ in GA-6. OMG! 9 WHOLE VOTES!!!! (Ok, I’ll settle down).

7:21 PM ET: Two things to read while we wait (besides the preview, which you should have read already). 1) Greg Giroux’s 1st round breakdown and GA-6 summary. 2) Ryan Struyk’s suggested benchmarks by county for an Ossoff or Handel victory.

7:11 PM ET: Remember, a few polling places remain open until 7:30 thanks to an issue earlier in the day that limited those locations to paper ballots for a brief period of time.

7:05 PM ET: Obligatory link to our preview, if you have been living under a rock or something and didn’t read it yet.

7:01 PM ET: Welcome to tonight’s liveblog! Polls have just closed in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, the most expensive congressional election in United States history, and the less dramatic SC-5. Will former congressional staffer Jon Ossoff ride a wave of intense Democratic disgust with President Trump in this affluent, typically Republican Georgia seat? Stay tuned.

Results:

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Political Roundup for June 20, 2017

T’was the morn before specials,
And all through the districts,
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a – shoot, I didn’t think this one through for something to rhyme.

Anyway, it is special election day in the over-hyped GA-6 and likely snoozefest SC-5. Join us for our liveblog at 7 PM ET, and make sure to check our earlier preview here.

Senate

NV-Sen: By now you should have seen the news that freshman Rep. Jackie Rosen (D) will run for Senate against Sen. Dean Heller, one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents this cycle. Read through our post to find some Great Mentioner action.

Yesterday before this news a PPP (D) poll dropped showing generic D leading Heller 46%-39% (for context, this sample voted Hillary over Trump and Johnson 46%-43%-3%).

Governor

MN-Gov, St Paul Mayor: The Philando Castile verdict threw a monkey wrench into local DFL politics. Literally the morning after the verdict dropped, Democrats held the St Paul city convention. That meant some activists were out late occupying I-94 and showed up the next morning for some electioneering. The two Democratic candidates for governor with the closest ties to St Paul, State Rep. Erin Murphy and St Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, each dropped press releases on the subject. Murphy’s was more straight-forward, calling for changes in “use of force” laws, while Coleman’s was more political-speakish.

The decision also reverberates in the mayoral race, where candidates all condemned the verdict and one, embattled council member Dai Thao, actually brought a friend of Castile to speak for him. FWIW, no endorsement for mayor was dropped at the convention, with council member Melvin Carter leading the pack in balloting and a primary now on its way.

VA-Gov, VA-10: Our friend Miles Coleman at DDHQ explains why Corey Stewart’s Confederate revival campaign won in VA-10 in NoVa of all places with his trademark pretty maps. Stewart managed to consolidate some anti-Trump voters and benefited from low Republican primary turnout and a third wheel candidate sucking some of Gillespie’s oxygen from the room. For more on Stewart’s almost-upset, see this article in The Atlantic.

House

GA-6: A sampling of articles to read as E-day hits.

SC-5: Roll Call reminds us not to forget about today’s other special election, where a few national Dem leaders parachuted in but no money or real support for poor Archie Parnell (D). The article even catches one member of DCCC leadership not even knowing his name!

MN-3: Tonka Bay (pop. 1500) councilman Adam Jennings is the latest Democrat to file against Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) in this affluent seat in the historically Republican southwest suburbs of Minneapolis. Of course, if former State Sen. Terri Bonoff couldn’t do it riding a strong performance here from Hillary last cycle, hard to see how things change now.

WI-1: Ironworker Randy Bryce (D), who ran for local office in 2012, 2013, and 2014, is now running against Speaker Paul Ryan. While supporting candidates against the Speaker here is not as foolhardy as the hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown at Nancy Pelosi’s seat the last few years (see Dennis, John), Ryan still won with 55% in has last close-ish race in 2012, and he took over 60% the last two cycles. Still, credit where credit is due for this great web ad from Bryce. It opens with Ryan discussing tough options on health care and Bryce’s own mom’s struggles, and ends with Bryce offering to trade jobs with Ryan. Bravo for a good hit, though it’s only a web ad with his announcement.

NY-14: Rep. Joe Crowley (D) has a primary from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former Sanders organizer affiliated with Brand New Congress. I mainly linked this for the great reminder about how much Crowley’s career has been built through local party machines, which is worth a read if you have forgotten the details. The primary challenger herself seems over-hyped, but I always like to see good Democratic primaries and all that money pouring down the drain.

FL-18: 2016 Senate candidate (who lost to heir force Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary) Pam Keith is now going to run against freshman Rep. Brian Mast in this central Florida district. She had a nice resume last time around, but Murphy’s path was well-cleared by his dad’s large donations to Democratic candidates and committees.

Redistricting

WI-Redistrict: Not only did the Supreme Court take on the long-winding Democratic challenge to Republican state legislative redistricting, but they stayed the previous order to change the seats before the 2018 midterms. This means we get to see SCOTUS watch a parade of lawyers try to define gerrymandering for them, which should be fun since Wisconsin is not really the most egregious case to pick out. While it’s not unheard of for the court to issue a stay and then rule against it later, issuing such an order does make it that much more likely SCOTUS will uphold the current maps for Wisconsin. For more detail, see this article.

Miscellaneous

UT-Dem: Your rival party within your state hates their sitting president and has large numbers of defectors briefly willing to consider another candidate. Of course I talk about how Democrats should see the state of the GOP in Utah, where many young and devout Mormons couldn’t stomach President Trump. What is the Democratic response? Double-down of course, electing a Sanderista named Daisy Thomas as their new chairwoman. Apparently sexual harassment allegations were buzzing during the proceedings regarding a former candidate for the job.

TX-SD-10: A really neat analysis of straight ticket voting in Texas’ only real swing state senate district, formerly held by 2014 gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis (D) and now held by state Sen. Konni Burton (R). The article notes that the random selection of SD-10 for off-year elections markedly changed its electorate from a tossup presidential one to something closer to lean D in gubernatorial years.

 

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NV-Sen: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) Will Run for Senate

Democrats have gotten a top-tier candidate to challenge one of Republicans’ two vulnerable Senate incumbents, as first-term NV-3 Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) will run for the Senate against Sen. Dean Heller (R). Rosen was one of the more unlikely winners of the 2016 cycle; as a little-known synagogue administrator, she only won Democratic backing after multiple more prominent Democrats decided against bids for the open seat. In the general, she beat perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R), who helpfully beat a stronger Republican in the primary. Despite having only one election victory against weak opposition, Rosen was able to carry a Trump district, so her candidate skills should not be underestimated. Rosen may still face a primary for the right to take on Heller, however, as fellow Reps. Ruben Kihuen (D) and Dina Titus (D) have not closed the door. Ex-State Treasurer Kate Marshall (D) has also been considering a bid, but is considered a weaker candidate and unlikely to get much establishment support with Rosen in the race. Overall it seems more likely than not that Nevada’s Democratic machine will attempt to clear the field for Rosen. The general will likely be a hotly-contested race; Sen. Dean Heller (R) is generally thought to be popular despite the light-blue nature of his state, but much in this race will depend on the overall national climate next year.

As for NV-3, the NRCC will obviously have one name at the top of its speed-dial tonight, ex-Rep. Joe Heck (R). Heck held this R+2 district covering the southern suburbs of Las Vegas (and the sparsely-populated southern tip of the state) easily for three terms before giving it up in an unsuccessful 2016 Senate bid. Heck has indicated he is cashing out and previously declined a run in 2018, but an open seat may very well change his plans, as Heck likely stands head and shoulders above any other candidate (on either side) for this seat. It would be hard not to consider him the front-runner should he seek to get the seat back. If Heck declines, possible other GOP contenders could include two 2016 candidates: State Sen. Michael Roberson (R), a strong general candidate whose weak performance in last year’s primary underscores his problems with the GOP base, and Las Vegas councilwoman Michele Fiore (R), who has the opposite problem as a polarizing firebrand libertarian-conservative. SoS Barbara Cegavske (R) and Treasurer Dan Schwartz (R) ran for NV-4 on the other side of the metro area in 2012 and could carpetbag here, as could ex-NV-4 Rep. Cresent Hardy (R).  LG Mark Hutchinson (R) is also potentially worth a mention, though he also lives outside the seat in the deeply Democratic NV-1. State Sens. Becky Harris (R) and Joe Hardy (R) and State Reps. Keith Pickard (R) and Melissa Woodbury (R) live in the seat as well.

Democrats have a similarly deep bench in the seat. One of the first names is probably 2016 NV-4 candidate and wealthy charity exec Susie Lee (D), who was recruited to run for this seat in 2016 but foolishly chose to go for a hotly-contested primary in the bluer NV-4 instead. Other erstwhile 2016 recruits who may be tempted to give it another go include ex-SoS Ross Miller (D), State Senate President Aaron Ford (D), and ex-State House Speaker and 2012 nominee John Oceguera (D), though his 2012 campaign against Heck was considered lackluster. Democrats also have State Sens. Joyce Woodhouse (D) and David Parks (D), along with R-turned-D-caucusing I State Sen. Pat Farley in the seat. From the State House, there is State House Speaker Jason Frierson (D) and about half a dozen other rank-and-file State Reps. Democrats also have all 7 Clark County commissioners, who could all be possibilities. Overall as an open seat this promises to be one of the most competitive House races of the cycle.

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GA-6 & SC-5 Special Elections Preview

As you’re most likely aware, tomorrow is the runoff for two key House elections. Polls close at 7p ET in both Georgia and South Carolina and our liveblog will start at that time.

GA-6: By far the most hotly-contested special election of the year is for this R+2 (2016) seat in the northern Atlanta suburbs. The seat covers the wealthy eastern quarter of Cobb County east of I-75, wealthy suburbs of Fulton County north of the Perimeter (which also have some isolated lower-middle-class minority pockets) and the northern quarter of DeKalb County, which is a mixture of upper-middle-class suburbs bisected by a corridor of poor, heavily Hispanic slumburbs along I-85. This was once Newt’s seat and the most Republican in Georgia (a prior version of this seat was a GOP vote sink as recently as the 90s) but it trended hard-left last year, and that has led Democrats to go all-in on this race in looking for a way to defeat Trump. Spending on this race has reached astronomical levels on both sides.

Jon Ossoff

Former congressional staffer Jon Ossoff (D) took 48% in the first round. Ossoff quickly coalesced national liberal support and raised a ridiculous amount for this race from national liberal donors. In the first round, he ran a stridently anti-Trump campaign and sought to cast himself as the vanguard of the bold progressive “Resistance.” However, his incredibly thin resume, which consists of a low-level staffing job with five months of security clearance and running a small video production company, and his stridently anti-Trump liberal campaign limited his ability to take crossover support. Many Democrats saw his failure to win in the first round, despite coming closer than expected to 50%, as something of a disappointment. As Republicans took a majority of the first-round vote, Ossoff has made a quiet but significant change in tone for the second round, toning down his anti-Trump rhetoric and trying to strike a less partisan tone. Some commentators have gone as far as saying his most recent TV ads and debate appearances would have rhetoric more fitting of a moderate Republican.

Karen Handel

Ossoff’s rival in this contest is ex-SoS Karen Handel (R), who came in second in the primary, taking just shy of 20%. Handel is well-known from a long political career, including as Fulton County Exec, a term as SoS in the 2000s, and runs for Governor in 2010 and Senate in 2014. Handel is a fairly typical suburban conservative on both social and fiscal matters. While Democrats were firmly behind Ossoff in the first round, the GOP field was split, leading to the possibility that sour grapes among her rivals might prevent Handel, who is far from a hardcore Trumpist, from coalescing the GOP base. However, those predictions have not panned out, and Handel seems to be enjoying near-unanimous GOP support and a massive amount of outside cash. In a district that looks increasingly purple, polls have shown the two very close, though more have tilted toward Ossoff. To say that this race has become a partisan slugfest and nationally-watched test of partisan strength is an understatement, and it would be a shock if either Ossoff or Handel won by more than a 5-point margin. However, we at RRH feel obliged to take a firm stand on races as they approach their general election, and we have ever-so-slightly come down on the side of predicting an Ossoff victory. Thus, RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean D.

SC-5: The other special election today has gotten significantly less attention and money. SC-5 is the former seat of OMB director Mick Mulvaney (R) and covers the north-central part of the state. The biggest bulk of the population is in the Charlotte suburbs, but the seat also contains a swath of rural areas from Sumter to the outskirts of the Columbia and Spartanburg metros. The seat has a PVI of R+10 (2016).

Ralph Norman

The clear front-runner for the seat is State Rep. Ralph Norman (R), who narrowly prevailed in a closely-contested GOP primary and runoff. The 2006 nominee for this seat, Norman has high name recognition from his prior run against then-Rep. John Spratt (D), and self-funding ability from his construction business. Norman is a relatively generic Chamber-of-Commerce conservative, with some slight antiestablishment tendencies (he has said he may join the Freedom Caucus if elected). The strongly conservative and inelastic nature of the district and Norman’s mainstream Republican profile should be enough for him to prevail tomorrow barring a very unexpected event.

Archie Parnell

Former Goldman Sachs tax attorney Archie Parnell (D) is Norman’s rival. Parnell has received some minor buzz from national Democrats, but ultimately was a “C” list choice here when bigger names such as State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) decided not to run. Parnell has released an internal with him down by 10 points, which was enough to prompt some minor investments from the DCCC. However, Democrats have basically always seen this race as a far longer-shot than GA-6 or even last month’s Montana race, and Parnell seems unlikely to win or even make the race particularly close barring a seriously unexpected surge of liberal enthusiasm. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.

There are also two legislative specials today in South Carolina, but they look unexciting. SC-LD-48 is an R+13 (2016) seat around Tega Cay in the Charlotte suburbs, left open by the previously mentioned Ralph Norman, who is the nominee for SC-5. Ex-York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant (R) is favored over retired nonprofit exec Bebs Barron-Chorak (D), though there may be a tiny chance of an upset with abnormal turnout patterns. SC-LD-70 is a D+20 (2016) majority-black seat covering rural areas between Columbia and Sumter and a small piece of southeastern Columbia proper. School board member and 2016 State Senate candidate Wendy Brawley (D) is heavily favored over a GOP Some Dude.