Politics

At the Races: Big Sky Test(er)

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

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Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter by subscribing here. We want to hear what you think. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé, Bridget Bowman and Stephanie Akin

#TBT

“Don’t walk. Dance. Dance.” Those were the orders two weeks ago at Crow Fair in Montana, where GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, center left, and his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Kathleen Williams marched in the grand entry together. Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman was just along for the ride. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
“Don’t walk. Dance. Dance.” Those were the orders two weeks ago at Crow Fair in Montana, where GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, center left, and his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Kathleen Williams marched in the grand entry together. Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman was just along for the ride. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Starting Gate

Flattop Fight: The Trump campaign announced Wednesday the president is heading back next week to Montana (to Billings), where he’ll stump for Republican Matt Rosendale. That’s welcome news for the GOP Senate candidate, who’ll get some fresh ad material from the rally. (His latest two TV spots are entirely of footage from Trump’s July rally in Great Falls.) In a state Trump carried by 21 points, Rosendale is trying to turn the Senate race into a referendum on the president. New Republican polling suggests that nationalizing the race is working for him. But Democrats are seeing very different numbers, and are optimistic that incumbent Sen. Jon Tester’s brand (how many fingers does he have?) can transcend the state’s Republican lean against a Maryland transplant. Still, neither side is writing this one off. Read more in Simone’s Big Sky dispatch, which took her and photographer Tom Williams all the way from Glendive 400 miles west to Helena.

*Bookmark* Who’s the wealthiest member of Congress running for re-election this year? Explore Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress Index, and if you want to know how that lawmaker is faring in 2018, please keep reading!

*Bonus Bookmark* Can’t get enough of At the Races? We’re doing it live! Roll Call is hosting a live At the Races event on Wednesday, Sept. 26! GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will give us her thoughts on the midterms. And Nathan, Bridget and Simone will talk through the election dynamics in a discussion with Fox News’ Ed Henry (also a Roll Call alum). Register here.

Breaking the Spell? Despite electing Democrats at the Senate and gubernatorial level, it’s been 24 years since Montanans sent a Democrat to the House. Why can’t they crack the at-large House seat? And could that change this year with former state Rep. Kathleen Williams? She’s trying to unseat Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Republican who physically assaulted a reporter on the eve of his election last year.

Side note: This story became the latest installment in an unintentional series: What happens when opponents unexpectedly meet face to face (or sometimes back to back)? Simone’s had the pleasure of witnessing the awkwardness in West Virginia and North Dakota and now Montana.

If It’s Tuesday: You might have your Tuesday nights back soon, with the last of the multi-state primaries behind us! That means we’re very close to the election so BRB going to stock up on coffee. … We had four takeaways from the primary results in Arizona and Florida, and for a deeper dive, check out the stories below.

In Florida, some Democratic members fended off primary challengers, and one former Cabinet secretary won her primary in a top pickup opportunity. Oklahoma Republicans selected a likely new House member. And GOP Rep. Martha McSally won her Senate primary, setting up a historic year for Arizona. Speaking of the Grand Canyon State, one former congresswoman is looking to make a comeback.

Paul’s Pelosi Problem: On the surface, Kansas’ 2nd District might not look like a great opportunity for Democrats, but they’re optimistic they have a strong candidate in former state Rep. Paul Davis. The former minority leader in the state House was among the first Democratic candidates to say he wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi for leader. But that hasn’t stopped attacks tying him to the California Democrat.

Wait, What? North Carolina could be forced to redraw its congressional map before the election. (Yeah, the one that’s two months away.) A three-judge panel on Monday struck down the state’s map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. These are the 2016 lines the General Assembly redrew to remedy a racial gerrymander — the same lines that drew Rep. George Holding, right, and a fellow GOP member into the same district. For now, the state is in limbo with campaigns proceeding as normal. However, the court introduced a couple of wild potential scenarios, like having new primaries under new lines on Nov. 6 and then a general election sometime before January 2019. That’d be fun.

The Count: 10

The number of House districts that the pro-Trump America First Action is investing in so far this cycle. Guess which race the super PAC has committed the most money to? (Hint: think northern and ferrous.)

Nathan’s Notes

If you’re a congressional candidate on video playing a sport while wearing jeans, Nathan has some questions for you. Nathan’s knowledge of politics and beer-league softball collide in his analysis of one Democratic candidate’s ad set on the softball diamond.

Candidate Confessions

While a political race is a new experience for Steve Watkins, the GOP nominee in Kansas’ 2nd District, he is used to racing of another sort. Watkins has twice raced in the Iditarod, a dogsled race across more than 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome in Alaska. He requested to be stationed with the Army in Alaska after graduating from West Point because he loves the outdoors. “The Iditarod is described as the last great race and it is. It is. It's incredible,” he said in a recent interview in Kansas City, Mo. “It's indescribable.” Inside Elections rates his race against Democrat Paul Davis Tilts Republican.

Reader’s Race

We had an overwhelming response to our reader’s race this week! Lots of you wanted to hear more about the Democratic fight in Massachusetts 1st District, so here you go. Fifteen-term incumbent Richard Neal is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. He won his Springfield-anchored district with 73 percent of the vote in 2016. In any other election year, Neal, 69, probably wouldn’t be pinpointed as a primary target. But his opponent,Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, is the type of candidate who is challenging such assumptions in a year when progressive hopefuls are rocking Democratic primaries.

Amatul-Wadud, a 44-year-old civil rights lawyer and political newcomer, has raised only $72,000 — a fraction of Neal’s $2.5 million. But she has generated national buzz, and she told WBUR that she got a big boost of cash and volunteers after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off her zeitgeist-grabbing win in New York in June. The mother-of-seven’s run has drawn comparisons to Ocasio-Cortez’s. As a black, Muslim woman who wears a hijab, her profile appeals to progressives hungry for more congressional diversity. She is also a tireless campaigner who has galvanized grass-roots support that even Neal acknowledged, in a WBUR interview, deserves to be taken seriously. She has racked up endorsements from Indivisible, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Progressive Democrats of America, among other progressive groups. Neal has said an Ocasio-Cortez-style upset couldn’t happen in his district, which is sprawling, rural and mostly white. We’ll see who is right when they face off Tuesday.

For next week, email us at attheraces@cqrolllcall.com and let us know which race you want to know more about: Ohio’s 14th District or Pennsylvania’s 16th District.

Photo Finish

Reach for it! Having never won more than 50 percent of the vote in his previous Senate races, Tester says he isn’t taking any vote for granted this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call).
Reach for it! Having never won more than 50 percent of the vote in his previous Senate races, Tester says he isn’t taking any vote for granted this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call).

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