Senate Anti-Harassment Bill Could See Fast Action

By Katherine Tully-McManus
12,000

Marine veteran Amy McGrath won the Democratic nomination in Kentucky’s 6th District on Tuesday and will take on Republican Rep. Andy Barr in November. 

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, McGrath led Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, 49 percent to 40 percent, when The Associated Press called the race. 

National Democrats increasingly view the 6th District seat as a top pickup opportunity. 

McGrath painted Gray, the 2016 Democratic nominee for Senate, as the establishment candidate in the race and argued that she’d bring a new generation of leadership to Congress. 

Her candidacy earned early national attention last summer, but earlier in the race, she was running significantly behind Gray, who had strong local ties. That began to change this spring. Polling released by McGrath’s campaign in April showed her closing a large gap since December and taking the lead. 

McGrath burst on to the national scene with an introductory video in which she talked about writing letters to members of Congress asking them to allow women to fly in combat. The video went viral and helped her raise early money. 

Despite raising more than twice what Barr did during her first quarter in the race, McGrath’s candidacy still gave national Democrats pause. Gray entered the primary four months later with encouragement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Gray started with a hefty name recognition advantage, the ability to pour personal resources into his campaign (although he did not, as of his latest Federal Election Commission filing) and strong local support. 

Although he lost statewide two years earlier to GOP Sen. Rand Paul — when he could have become the first openly gay member of the Senate — Gray carried the 6th District by 4 points in that race. For his bid for the 6th, he secured the endorsement of the Lexington Herald-Leader and the United Steelworkers.

McGrath’s campaign used that background to paint Gray as the establishment candidate. Despite supporting abortion rights, McGrath did not seek the endorsement of EMILY’s List, further distancing herself from national Democrats.

McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas said not being the candidate the DCCC at first wanted allowed her campaign to experiment with an early field effort. 

“Actually, not having the DCCC was liberating in some ways. [There was] nobody to crack down us,” Nickolas said last week.

Still, the DCCC never put Gray on its Red to Blue list of strong recruits, showing some openness to either candidate even if Gray was the early favorite. Late donations to McGrath from the leadership PAC of Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos — a member of House Democratic leadership — and Florida Rep. Lois Frankel — a member of DCCC leadership — suggested the national party had come around to her. 

Late last week, Gray launched the first negative ad of the race, going after McGrath for only recently moving to the district. She’d faced that attack before from other candidates in debates, which gave her an opportunity to highlight her military service. She was the first female Marine pilot to fly into combat in an F-18.

McGrath grew up on northern Kentucky, then attended the Naval Academy. After serving three combat tours, she worked on Capitol Hill as a fellow in the office of California Democratic Rep. Susan A. Davis. She then worked at the Pentagon and later taught at her alma mater before returning to the Bluegrass State in 2017.

McGrath also had the backing of VoteVets and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and his joint fundraising committee. 

But another knock of McGrath was that she raised a lot of her money from out of state. In the primary, her campaign argued that was because Gray had locked up all the local donors. But attacks on McGrath for ties outside of the 6th District will likely continue to dog her in the general election. 

Unlike Gray, who committed to not voting for Nancy Pelosi for Democratic leader, McGrath left the door open to supporting Pelosi in a debate last week. 

She ended the pre-primary reporting period with $302,000 in the bank — far short of the $2.3 million in Barr’s coffers.

But this race has already attracted outside attention. Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC backed by House GOP leadership, has already reserved $1.8 million in fall airtime for the district. Its Democratic counterpart, House Majority PAC, made a smaller half-million-dollar initial reservation in the Lexington media market. 

President Donald Trump carried the 6th District by 15 points in 2016, while  Barr won a third term by 22 points. But national Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their chances in this area, and expect to run against the incumbent’s vote to repeal the 2010 health care law. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Leans Republican

Watch: Which House Races Are the Parties Targeting? Look to the Money, the TV Ad Money

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

A number of general election matchups in Texas were set following Tuesday’s runoff elections, including a few expected to be competitive in the fall. 

Democrats saw new opportunities in the Lone Star state after Hillary Clinton carried three Republican-held seats in 2016. Each of those races on the Democratic side went to a runoff after no one took more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 6 primary. A slew of Republican retirements sparked crowded GOP primaries, which led to runoffs in five open seats. The winners of most of these contests are likely to come to Congress from the Republican-leaning districts.

Check back for updates as the runoffs are called. 

Democrats are targeting three districts represented by Republican lawmakers that Clinton carried in 2016.

The 7th District contest captured headlines after national Democrats dropped opposition research on activist and writer Laura Moser ahead of the March 6 primary. Although Moser made it to the runoff, she was defeated by lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher on Tuesday.

With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Fletcher led Moser, 68 percent to 32 percent, according to The Associated Press.

During the campaign, Fletcher stressed reaching out to GOP voters to flip the district. She had the backing of EMILY’s List and a number of local Democrats. She will next face nine-term GOP Rep. John Culberson in the Houston-area district that Clinton carried by 1 point in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.

Former Air Force intelligence officer and Iraq War veteran Gina Ortiz Jones won the Democratic runoff in the 23rd District, defeating former high school teacher Rick Treviño. She will face two-term GOP Rep. Will Hurd in November.

With 46 percent of precincts reporting, Jones had 67 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Treviño when The Associated Press called the race. 

Democrats have unsuccessfully targeted the seat the past two cycles, but believe Jones’ military service can help counter Hurd’s experience as a CIA officer.

Jones was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program for promising challengers after she finished first in the March primary. If elected, she would be the first Filipina-American to serve in Congress and the first openly gay woman to represent Texas in Washington.

Clinton carried the district by 3 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race a Toss-up.

Former NFL player Colin Allred won the Democratic runoff in the 32nd District on Tuesday, defeating fellow Obama administration alum Lillian Salerno, who was backed by EMILY’s List.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, Allred led Salerno, 70 percent to 30 percent, according to the AP.

The DCCC added Allred to its Red to Blue program in late March, signaling it considered Allred the stronger challenger to Republican incumbent Pete Sessions. Clinton carried the Dallas-area district by 2 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

Five open seats are hosting GOP runoffs Tuesday. In four of them, the winners will be strongly favored for November in the Republican-leaning districts.

The races attracted attention from outside groups. The political arm of the conservative Club for Growth spent nearly $1.5 million in four of the contests. The political arm of the House Freedom Caucus backed candidates in two of the runoffs.

Navy veteran Dan Crenshaw won the GOP runoff for Texas’ 2nd District over state Rep. Kevin Roberts. GOP incumbent Ted Poe is not running for an eighth term.

With 22 percent of precincts reporting, Crenshaw led Roberts, 68 percent to 32 percent when the AP called the race. 

He next faces Democrat Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive, in November. 

President Donald Trump carried the Houston-area seat by 9 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solidly Republican.

Ron Wright won the GOP runoff for the open 6th District seat that his onetime boss, GOP Rep. Joe L. Barton, is vacating after a sexting scandal.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Wright, a former Tarrant County tax assessor-collector, defeated Navy veteran Jake Ellzey, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Wright had Barton’s support and was backed by Club for Growth Action. He will next face public relations consultant Jana Lynne Sanchez, who won the Democratic runoff over Ruby Faye Woolridge on Tuesday. 

Trump carried the district by 13 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election race Solid Republican.

Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, won the the GOP runoff in the 21st District, defeating businessman Mike McCall in the race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Lamar Smith. Club for Growth Action had spent more than $454,000 backing Roy in the primary.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Roy led McCall, 53 percent to 47 percent, according to the AP. 

Awaiting Roy in November will be Army veteran and entrepreneur Joseph Kopser, who won the Democratic runoff Tuesday. Democrats are targeting the 21st District and see Kopser as a strong candidate. 

With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Kopser led pastor and former teacher Mary Street Wilson, 59 percent to 41 percent, according to the AP. 

Trump carried the district by 10 points in 2016 and Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

Michael Cloud won the GOP nomination in Texas’ 27th District, which opened up after GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment.

With 88 percent of precincts reporting, Cloud, a former Victoria County GOP chairman, had 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for former state Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun.

Bruun had been endorsed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry while Cloud was backed by the political arms of the House Freedom Caucus and the Club for Growth, as well as former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Cloud will be heavily favored to win the general election against former congressional aide Eric Holguin, who won the Democratic runoff Tuesday. Trump carried the district by 24 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

The Democratic nominees in a few Solid Republican races were also decided Tuesday. 

Sri Preston Kulkarni won the Democratic runoff in the Houston-area 22nd District on Tuesday, defeating dentist Letitia Plummer, 62 percent to 38 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting. 

Kulkarni, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, will be an underdog in the general election against five-term GOP Rep. Pete Olson. Trump carried the district by 8 points in 2016.

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar won the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Rep. John Carter in the 31st District in November.

With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Hegar led Christine Mann, 62 percent to 38 percent, according to the AP.

During a 2009 tour of Afghanistan as a search-and-rescue pilot, Hegar saved three of her passengers after her helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, which earned her a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device and a Purple Heart.

Democrats have been cautiously optimistic about the seat though the DCCC has not yet added it to its target list. 

“From surviving against all the odds when her helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, to her work opening up jobs for women in the military, MJ Hegar has never backed down from a challenge. MJ’s unparalleled commitment to serving her country and the tireless work she has done to build a strong, Texas-first campaign makes this race one to watch in November,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement after the race was called.

Trump carried the 31st District by  13 points in 2016. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

State Rep. Clarke Tucker won the Democratic primary in Arkansas’ 2nd District on Tuesday, to face Republican Rep. French Hill in November.

Tucker was one of four Democrats vying for the nomination, and he comfortably averted a June 19 runoff.

With 67 percent of precincts reporting, he had 57 percent of the vote to 21 percent for his nearest challenger, public school teacher Gwen Combs, according to The Associated Press. 

His outright victory means he can now focus on the general election. National Democrats had signaled they believed he was the strongest contender against Hill. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Tucker to its Red to Blue program for promising challengers in April, granting him access to additional committee resources.

Tucker has spent $363,000 on his campaign so far — airing two television ads ahead of Tuesday’s primary. He had $2400,00 in the bank as of May 2, the pre-primary reporting date, according to Federal Election Commission documents, the most of any Democrat in the race. Hill, who is in his second term in Congress, ended the period with $1.6 million in cash on hand.

Democrats are targeting the 2nd District even though President Donald Trump carried the seat by 10 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Democrats and Republicans struck drastically different tones about their confidence in federal agencies’ efforts to secure voting systems and stamp out foreign state-sponsored influence campaigns ahead of the 2018 midterms after a classified meeting on the subject for House members Tuesday.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, and FBI Director Christopher Wray were among the officials who briefed lawmakers and answered their questions about what their agencies are doing to combat potential Russian, Iranian, Chinese, and other nations’ attempts to undermine the midterms.

Roughly 40 to 50 lawmakers showed up to the meeting, which House Speaker Paul D. Ryan organized for all House members.

Democrats who attended left largely unsatisfied.

“Coming out of that briefing I just feel kind of a pit in my stomach,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said. The Illinois Democrat serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology.

“I think we got to really work with the states. I don’t think they’re ready for 2018 yet,” he said.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, fielding questions alongside Nielsen, was less grave about the U.S.’s ability to shield its elections from foreign influence and meddling. The U.S. was “caught off guard last time,” McCaul said.

But he has “every confidence the secretary and the department ... through its cyber operations will be able to protect the voting machines” in 2018, he said.

Democrats renewed calls for more federal oversight over the election administration process, which is run at the state and local level — even if they’re unsure how exactly that takeover of some vital security operations would work.

“We got to exercise a lot more oversight at this point,” Krishnamoorthi said. “Now that we know — at least in my mind — that we may be unprepared, I think we have to ask a lot more questions about what we’re going to do to get prepared at this point.”

Republicans, on the other hand, did not signal a desire to increase the federal presence in elections administration beyond the ancillary role some intelligence community agencies play providing security information to local election officials.

“The DHS and the federal government can’t take over state elections,” McCaul said. “But we can provide the assistance and the grant funding and make sure they’re as protected as possible.”

Intelligence agencies have performed joint exercises with local officials on security matters and are working on obtaining higher-grade security clearances for secretaries of state so they can be fully informed about threats to the elections they’re in charge of administering.

“That’s really important,” GOP Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana said on her way out of the meeting Tuesday.

In the appropriations bill signed in March, lawmakers forked over $380 million to states to bolster their security, staff new IT departments, and purchase new voting booths that leave an auditable paper trail while scrapping paperless voting booths. States must request that money in order to access it.

But some state leaders, such as Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, have had trouble tapping into those funds because they require permission from state legislatures whose partisan factions have been unwilling so far to compromise and grant governors access to the funds. Just 29 states are expected to have filed paperwork requesting access to their federally approved grants by the end of May, The Washington Post reported.

Federal lawmakers are hopeful state officials will hurdle the barriers to receiving their money — it was set aside for a reason.

“I really hope all 50 states request assistance from DHS,” McCaul said. “But it’s really up to the state and locals to make that request.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher won the Democratic runoff in Texas’ 7th District on Tuesday, defeating activist and writer Laura Moser, whom the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee considered a weak general election candidate.

With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Fletcher led Moser, 68 percent to 32 percent, according to The Associated Press. 

The battle for nine-term Republican Rep. John Culberson’s Houston-area seat gained national attention earlier this year when the DCCC dropped opposition research against Moser ahead of the March 6 primary.

Moser, nevertheless, finished second to Fletcher in that race and both advanced to Tuesday’s runoff since neither took more than 50 percent of the vote. Moser sought to capitalize on the intervention from the national party by staking out a position as the anti-establishment candidate.

But it was not enough to beat Fletcher, who touted her ties to the district. The national party intervention may have faded from voters’ minds, but it did raise questions about whether Democratic activists’ energy would be dampened heading into November.

The runoff had become a contest over competing party strategies to win GOP-leaning districts. Fletcher, who was backed by EMILY’s List and local Democratic leaders, stressed reaching out beyond the party core and appealing to voters of all political affiliations. Moser said Democrats should turn out their base and reach out to new voters.

Hillary Clinton carried by the 7thd District by 1 point in 2016. Democrats have already signaled they will target the seat, with House Majority PAC reserving $1.9 million in television airtime in the Houston media market. 

Although some Republicans had raised concerns about Culberson’s re-election effort earlier in the cycle, he has since upped his fundraising game, ending the first quarter with $971,000 in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Fletcher had $360,000 in cash on hand.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican.

ICYMI: Democrats Have At Least 20 House Takeover Opportunities in These 4 States

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000
Heard on the Hill

Take Five: Tom Garrett

By Alex Gangitano
Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: What’s Buzzing on Capitol Hill?

By Alex Gangitano

3 Ways Nancy Pelosi Won’t Be Speaker Next Year

By Nathan L. Gonzales