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Commentary By Geoffrey Skelley

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August 9, 2018

A Failure to Launch? Kansas’ Republican Gubernatorial Contest and the History of Incumbent Governor Primary Performance By Geoffrey Skelley

The Kansas Republican primary for governor remains too close to call. As of Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Jeff Colyer (R-KS) trailed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) 40.6%-40.5% — a raw margin of just 191 votes — but thousands of provisional ballots still have to be counted, which could alter the outcome. However, if Colyer’s deficit holds, it would be notable because it would mark the first primary loss for an incumbent governor in 2018. Granted, Colyer is a “successor incumbent,” having moved from the lieutenant governorship to the governorship.

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August 2, 2018

Senate Observations: Placing 2018 In the Context Of Upper Chamber Elections Since 1913 By Geoffrey Skelley

From 1914 to 2016, presidential cycles featured a higher rate of straight-ticket outcomes than midterm elections, with 74% of presidential-Senate results going for the same party in presidential years. Midterm cycles showed more splits, with just 61% of presidential-Senate results won by the same party. In 21 of 25 midterm cycles that followed a presidential election in the 1913-2016 period, the share of split-ticket presidential-Senate results increased compared to the share in the previous presidential cycle.

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July 19, 2018

Three Republican Governors Face Increasingly Tough Election Contests By Geoffrey Skelley

Arizona and Iowa have few obvious things in common, but they do both have incumbent Republican governors seeking election in November. Another commonality is that the Crystal Ball now views both states’ gubernatorial contests as increasingly competitive, prompting ratings changes that move the Arizona race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican and the Iowa race from Leans Republican to Toss-up. In addition to these two changes, we are also shifting Illinois’ gubernatorial contest from Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic, another downgrade for Republicans.

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June 21, 2018

Never Say Die Senate Candidates: Don Blankenship Lost His Primary But Plans To Run In November Anyway By Geoffery Skelley

If he does, the former coal magnate will be just the latest in a long line of Senate primary losers to run in a general election.

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June 7, 2018

Virginia’s Busiest Federal Primary Day in Modern History By Geoffrey Skelley

As in other Republican primaries around the country, the Virginia primary for Senate features candidates racing to show the most support for President Donald Trump. All three entrants — Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R), state Del. Nick Freitas (R), and minister E.W. Jackson (R) — back the president, but offer contrasts in intensity of support and style. Stewart has claimed in the past that he was “Trump before Trump,” and served for a time as chair of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Virginia (he was later fired). Jackson rivals Stewart in the earnestness of his stated support for the president, including in an ad where Jackson says, “Unlike Tim Kaine, I’ll be a senator who stands with President Trump instead of against him.” Freitas has been a less vocal Trump backer, though a review of Freitas’ social media and media appearances suggests that he does back Trump. But Freitas’ campaign principally emphasizes his commitment to limited government (e.g. his campaign hashtag is #LibertyRising) and his overall conservatism. Understandably, Freitas has drawn endorsements from more libertarian-minded, small-government Republicans such as Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) as well as the libertarian-conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks.

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March 22, 2018

Exit Stage Left or Right: Midterm Retirements and Open Seats in the House From 1974 to 2018 By Geoffrey Skelley

In the aftermath of now-Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D) special election victory on March 13, a constant refrain has been the stated fear among Republicans that the result would precipitate more retirements among GOP members in the U.S. House. As the Crystal Ball has noted in the past, open seats held by the president’s party in midterm elections have typically seen large average swings toward the opposition, making retirements a serious concern for the party in the White House. Because of the strength of incumbency, political parties have a more difficult time retaining a seat it controls when its incumbent does not seek reelection. That is, “seat maintenance” becomes harder for the incumbent party, in part because it now has to defend an exposed seat. Looking ahead to this November, the number of additional Republican retirements could be a critical factor in determining whether the GOP maintains its majority in the House. As a result, we wondered the following: How bad is the GOP retirement picture compared to past midterm cycles going back to 1974, and how many additional Republican retirements might occur this cycle?

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January 25, 2018

Mixed Signals: Analyzing Elections Since Trump Won the Presidency By Geoffrey Skelley

This past Tuesday marked the 75th time a Democrat and a Republican faced off in a special election for a state or federal office since President Donald Trump won the 2016 election. The result in District 35 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a solidly Democratic seat in the Pittsburgh area won easily by a Democrat, did not tell us much on its own. Yet taken as a whole, the 75 special elections and the regular elections in New Jersey and Virginia in November 2017 may offer some clues as to how the political environment is developing as we head toward November 2018.

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January 4, 2018

For New Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith, a Lesser Form of Incumbency By Geoffrey Skelley

On Tuesday, now-former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) officially resigned from the U.S. Senate following allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women. As we discussed in our last newsletter for 2017, Franken’s resignation means that Minnesota will hold a special election for Senate this coming November, which will take place at the same time as the regular election for the state’s other Senate seat (a “double-barrel” election).

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December 21, 2017

The Minnesota Twins: A Complete History of Double-Barrel Senate Elections By Geoffrey Skelley

Sen. Al Franken’s (D) impending resignation due to sexual harassment allegations will create a vacancy in Minnesota’s Class II Senate seat, precipitating a special election in the North Star State next November. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced last week that he would name Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) to the post, and Smith said that she intends to run in the 2018 special election for the remainder of Franken’s term (the seat is due to be regularly contested in 2020). Because Franken did not immediately resign, there was some speculation that he might reconsider leaving office — among others, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants Franken to remain in the Senate — but his spokesman said on Wednesday that Franken intends to resign on Jan. 2, 2018, and that Smith will be sworn into office on Jan. 3. This article is based on the assumption that Franken will indeed resign.

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October 19, 2017

Underneath It All: Elections for the Virginia House of Delegates By Geoffrey Skelley

While November’s political spotlight will shine brightest on the gubernatorial contest at the top of the Virginia ticket between former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), there will also be many interesting races down-ballot in the Old Dominion on Election Day. Not only will there be elections for the commonwealth’s two other statewide offices — lieutenant governor and attorney general — but all 100 House of Delegates seats will also be up for grabs. The General Assembly’s lower house will probably look a little different after Nov. 7, but the question is, how different?

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October 12, 2017

Virginia’s Gubernatorial Race: Where Things Stand With Less Than a Month to Go By Geoffrey Skelley

The November of the year following a presidential election is always relatively quiet on the electoral front, with only regularly-scheduled statewide races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia. With the Garden State’s contest looking like a safe Democratic pickup and Alabama’s special election for the U.S. Senate not happening until December, coverage of the competitive Virginia race seems to be accelerating as it enters the final month before Election Day. This is only natural: gubernatorial elections in the Old Dominion traditionally ramp up around Labor Day, and now that the election is less than four weeks away, the candidates are beginning to go all-in on television ads, which attracts more notice inside and outside of the commonwealth.

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September 21, 2017

Unsweet Home Alabama By Geoffrey Skelley

In the midst of a grueling campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, Alabama’s political sweet tea has acquired a distinctly sour taste. Appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange (R) finds himself in a vulnerable position against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) in the party’s primary runoff election, which will take place on Tuesday (Sept. 26).

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September 7, 2017

Senate Sequels: The History of Upper Chamber Rematches By Geoffrey Skelley

About one month after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) announced a long-expected 2018 U.S. Senate bid against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who defeated Mandel 51%-45% in Ohio’s 2012 Senate contest. Should both politicians win their party nominations — at present, each appears favored to do so — the Buckeye State will likely see a rollicking rematch with millions upon millions of dollars spent on behalf of or against the populist-liberal Brown and Trumpish-conservative Mandel.

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August 10, 2017

Alabama’s Long History With Senate Special Elections By Geoffrey Skelley

The 2017 Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate kicks off with party primaries this coming Tuesday (Aug. 15). Should one or both parties have no candidate win a majority that day, a primary runoff will take place on Sept. 26. Both sides have crowded fields, but given the dark red hue of the state, most expect the eventual Republican nominee to hold the seat for the GOP. The appointed incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange (R), appears somewhat vulnerable, at least in the Republican primary.

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July 13, 2017

The New Dominion: Virginia’s Ever-Changing Electoral Map By Geoffrey Skelley

In 2008 Barack Obama carried Virginia’s 13 electoral votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to win the Old Dominion. Obama’s victory broke a run of 10 consecutive Republican victories in the commonwealth, and 13 of 14 going back to 1952. The 2008 presidential election started a new Democratic streak, which has now seen the party carry Virginia three consecutive times, with Hillary Clinton winning it by 5.3 percentage points in 2016.

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June 15, 2017

Democrats Start With Edge in Virginia Gubernatorial Race By Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

There was one close race and one not-so close race in the gubernatorial primaries in Virginia on Tuesday, but the margins were the opposite of what most expected: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) beat former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D) by about a dozen points in the closely-watched Democratic primary. Meanwhile, 2014 Senate nominee and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) just squeaked by Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R) in the not-as-closely watched GOP primary.

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June 1, 2017

Just How Many Obama 2012-Trump 2016 Voters Were There? By Geoffrey Skelley

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, many observers understandably focused on the numerous places that swung from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. Because many of these areas congregated in swing states within the Rust Belt and Midwest, they played a pivotal role in Trump’s victory, as shown by the movement toward the GOP in Map 1 below. But how many total voters really switched from Obama to Trump in 2016? Different data sources tell a different story, but the answer is certainly in the millions.

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April 20, 2017

Initial 2018 Gubernatorial Ratings By Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik

Those looking for electoral drama in the 2018 cycle should pay attention to the 38 gubernatorial races being held this year and next. In our initial ratings of these contests, more than half of them — 20 of 38 — start in the competitive Toss-up or Leans Republican/Democratic categories. That includes a whopping 10 Toss-ups: five of those are currently controlled by Republicans, four by Democrats, and one by an independent (Bill Walker of Alaska).

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March 23, 2017

Another Look Back at 2016 by Geoffrey Skelley

On election night in November, exit polls provided the first insight into how different demographic groups voted. But months later, other richer data sets are being released, and they provide researchers with new information about the election and the voters that participated in it. One such tool is the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which is a large-sample national survey. The preliminary 2016 post-election version of the CCES study came out in early March, and it provides a treasure trove of information.

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February 23, 2017

2018 Governors: The Battle Lines for Drawing the Lines By Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik

Given the Democrats’ poor down-ballot performances in the Obama years, and the Republican dominance of redistricting following the GOP’s success in the 2010 midterm, it’s somewhat fitting that arguably the Democrats’ most marquee victory in 2016 will not help them in the redistricting battles to come after the 2020 census.