At the Races: Everything's Bigger In Texas

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

Life comes at you fast. GOP Rep. John Culberson is one of the Democratic targets in Texas. Here Culberson embraces new technology at President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2009. The photo caption in our archives said the congressman was using “an internet-enabled camera to stream live video” and he “was also sending updates to twitter.com from the House floor." (CQ Roll Call File Photo) 

You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. Sign up here. We want to hear what you think. Email us with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman 

This week: Missouri Republicans started to question their GOP Senate candidate, Greg Gianforte reneged on a campaign pledge, and we broke down what to watch in the Texas primaries.

Starting Gate

Lone Star Showdown: The first primaries of 2018 are less than a month away (you read that right — we’re almost to the midterms, time to stock up on all the coffee). Texas hosts the first primaries on March 6, but with crowded fields in many districts, the intraparty fun won’t end there. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the top two contenders head to a May 22 runoff.

 For Democrats looking to take back the House, Texas is home to a classic battleground district, and two targets in the suburbs. There are also a number of solidly Democratic and Republican districts with open-seat races and lots of candidates have jumped in. (We’re not kidding here. One race has 18 GOP candidates.) Is your head already spinning starting to think about Texas? We have you covered with a breakdown of what to watch in the top races.

 Can’t get enough of Texas? Bridget joined Jason Dick’s Political Theater podcast to talk about the upcoming elections. And take a few minutes to watch this video on three things to keep an eye on in the Lone Star State. 

 *BOOKMARK* Where are the next primaries after Texas? Keep track with Roll Call’s handy midterm guide with primary dates, filing deadlines, and candidates.

A Reel Challenge? Democrat Matt Reel is running for Congress. But he can’t campaign until June — two months before Tennessee’s August primary. Even if his staff knew where he is — which they don’t — and even if he had time while deployed overseas with Special Forces, Reel can’t legally communicate with them about campaign strategy for his 7th District race while he’s on active duty. Plenty of other candidates and members of Congress have had reserve duty or training, but strategists on both sides of the aisle were hard-pressed to think of other candidates facing overseas deployment that takes them away from the campaign for an extended period of time.

What’s a Campaign Promise? GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte campaigned on a pledge not to accept corporate PAC money during 2017’s special election for Montana’s at-large House seat. He made a similar pledge during his 2016 gubernatorial campaign. Now that he’s in Congress, Gianforte’s accepted nearly $20,000 in corporate PAC money and almost $30,000 more from special interest PACs. Caught in a hallway off the House floor Tuesday, Gianforte admitted his change of heart, but didn’t stick around to discuss it.

Show Me Something: Missouri was supposed to be the Senate race where the GOP got its dream candidate and didn’t have to worry about a primary. But some Republicans in the Show-Me State are starting to get nervous. Last week, their Senate front-runner, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, faced criticism (and some Democrat-driven comparisons to 2012 nominee Todd Akin) over comments about sex trafficking. Then Politico reported some people had approached 2nd District Rep. Ann Wagner, asking her to reconsider her decision not to run.

So what’s going on in Missouri? Some Republicans are concerned that Hawley has not been active in the four months since launching his campaign, and that his fundraising numbers weren’t as stellar as expected. Hawley’s team argues he’s raised more than other challengers, and his campaign is gearing up. More on the Senate race here.

New PA Map? The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by Pennsylvania state GOP legislators o halt a decision by the state Supreme Court that ordered new boundaries for the state’s congressional map (this could cause some headaches for folks like GOP Rep. Ryan A. Costello, who’s in a competitive re-election race). The GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor have until Feb. 15 to agree on a new map (which is unlikely). Stay tuned to Roll Call for further developments and catch up on the SCOTUS decision here.

The Count: 9 

House committee chairmen — nine of them so far — have been running for the exits. And earlier this week, it looked like there might have been a tenth. Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe was undecided about running for a sixth term on Monday, citing family considerations. But he announced Thursday afternoon he'll run for re-election after all. When campaigning against an incumbent in 2008, Roe said he wouldn't serve more than eight to ten years in the House. 

Nathan's Notes

Stay tuned for an upcoming race rating change from Nathan in PA-18. In the meantime, check out Stu Rothenberg’s latest Roll Call column, where he dives into the Catch-22 confronting Republicans when it comes to how to handle President Donald Trump.

Candidate Confessions

Young Kim is a Republican running to replace her former boss, GOP Rep. Ed Royce, in California’s 39th District. She worked for Royce for two decades, and has his endorsement in the crowded jungle primary (that’s where the top two vote-getters advance to the runoff, regardless of party affiliation). Kim was born in Seoul and emigrated to Guam as a child with her family. Her family eventually moved to Hawaii and she went to college in California. After working for Royce, she served in the state Assembly, but lost her re-election race in 2016. Her work in the district might not be the only reason she’s a familiar face to voters. She has also hosted various television programs since the late 1990s.

Reader's Race

You all wanted to hear more about the Texas Senate race this week, so here goes. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is running for a second term, and his likely Democratic opponent is Rep. Beto O’Rourke (there are a handful of other primary contenders on both sides). O’Rourke outraised Cruz in the most recent fundraising quarter. According to FEC documents, he took in $2.4 million compared to Cruz’s $1.8 million. O’Rourke has also sworn off accepting money from corporate PACs. Cruz does have a cash on hand advantage — $6.4 million to O’Rourke’s $4.6 million.

 O’Rourke announced his fundraising haul during a recent 24-hour Facebook livestream of his campaign travels from Houston to Austin. The day-long video is just one example of how the Democrat is not running a typical Senate campaign in a red state. O’Rourke, a former punk rocker, supports “Medicare for all”, legalizing marijuana, and congressional term limits. He has said he would not hire traditional consultants and pollsters (though there are exceptions to that, The Texas Tribune reported).

 O’Rourke’s fundraising numbers and unorthodox campaign have captured some attention, especially after Democrat Doug Jones’ win in deep-red Alabama renewed Democratic hopes for victories in unlikely places. “Next up, Texas,” was the subject line of an O’Rourke fundraising email sent the night of the Alabama election. But Texans have not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988, when Sen. Lloyd Bentsen won a fourth term. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: CA-25 or MI-08.

We’d Like to Hear From You!

Talk to us. It’s easy. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. As always, send us any race you think we should pay more attention to and we’ll look into it.

Photo Finish

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for over eight hours on the floor Wednesday, telling the stories of “Dreamers.” Her record-breaking speech overshadowed the opening day of the House Democrats’ annual retreat, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s advice to the caucus to “holler more loudly.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for over eight hours on the floor Wednesday, telling the stories of “Dreamers.” Her record-breaking speech overshadowed the opening day of the House Democrats’ annual retreat, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s advice to the caucus to “holler more loudly.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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