Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. We want to hear what you think. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, tips or candidate sightings and sign up for the newsletter here. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman
This week: Senate races were shaken up, two California Republicans called it quits and the courts introduced lots of uncertainty into North Carolina House races.
Renacci switched from the gubernatorial race to the Senate race after meeting with the White House. He railed against career politicians when he announced his gubernatorial bid last March, and he said Thursday his “strong distaste for Washington and the political establishment is as fervent as ever.” He’s likely hoping President Donald Trump’s blessing will give him cover for his political about-face. Republicans are excited about Renacci — besides his ties to Trump, he’s close to state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken and can afford to self-fund a campaign. Meanwhile, Washington keeps buzzing about J.D. Vance, who has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But some Ohio Republicans dismiss the fascination with the “Hillbilly Elegy” author as a beltway phenomenon and question whether he can introduce himself to voters before the May 8 primary. “It’s not like Hemingway stepping up to run,” one Republican in the state said.
Despite pressure from Trump, Cramer is passing on a challenge to Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and will run for re-election to the House. He had recently said he was leaning toward a bid. There was some concern about Cramer’s penchant for off-color remarks, but national Republicans had mostly come around and thought he’d be their strongest candidate. State Sen. Tom Campbell, a wealthy businessman, is already in the race and on the air. But that means Heitkamp doesn’t have a challenger who’s run statewide before. Democrats believe Heitkamp has a strong personal brand in the state that could help her win (and she recently touted her North Dakota bona fides by refusing to wear a coat in frigid temperatures).
But here’s a bonus for Senate Republicans: Rep. Martha McSally is expected to launch her long-awaited Senate campaign for the open Arizona seat on Friday. They’re excited that Joe Arpaio, who also announced a Senate bid this week, could split the hard-line vote with Kelli Ward in the primary.
*Bookmark* When are the competitive primary contests this year? Keep track with Roll Call’s interactive guide.
Primary Primer: With Josh Mandel’s surprise departure from the Ohio Senate race, the one Senate matchup that long looked like a foregone conclusion is no more. Ohio will share the limelight with Indiana and West Virginia on May 8, when voters go to the polls to decide some of this year’s most contentious GOP Senate primaries. Get up to speed on all the Senate primary drama and when it’s happening here.
Checking Out of Hotel California: This week, two California Republicans in competitive districts decided to retire, throwing some chaos into the battle for Orange County. On Wednesday, Issa, who topped our list of 10 most vulnerable incumbents, announced his retirement. Clinton carried his district in 2016 while Issa, who gained a national profile as head of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, barely won re-election. Nathan’s keeping his race rating for the 49th District at Toss-up.
In the 39th District, GOP Rep. Ed Royce is bowing out after 13 terms in the House. His exit means a GOP candidate with lower name recognition and less money will be jumping in the race, which could help Democratic chances. Nathan moved the race rating from Leans Republican to Toss-up.
Royce is the latest term-limited chairman to head for the exits. David Hawkings detailed how an unprecedented number of committee chairman won’t be returning next year. And we break down the political impact in this three-minute video.
Let’s Do This Again: On Tuesday, a federal three-judge panel struck down North Carolina’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered the General Assembly to come up with a new map by Jan. 24. Nothing like cutting it close. The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 28, and the primary is May 8.
If the state appeals, as is widely expected, the Supreme Court could stay the decision, meaning the 2016 maps would still be in place.
This isn’t the first time a lower court has struck down the Tar Heel State’s map during an election year. This map came into being only after the state’s 2011 districts were tossed out as a racial gerrymander. The adoption of this new plan forced the state to delay its 2016 House primaries and pitted two incumbents against each other in the same district (remember Renee Ellmers?).
Bottom line: Buckle up. We could be in for a bumpy ride along the I-85 corridor.
Lucky 7: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named seven more recruits to its Red to Blue program Wednesday, bringing the total number of challengers in the program to 18. Braggadocious fundraising emails coming to an inbox near you.
The Count: 12
The number of open House seats that are competitive in 2018 (as of this second). Check our Election Guide to see if that’s changed between the time this newsletter hits your inbox and you actually read this far.
Tim Kaine (not to be confused with Hoover Institution economist Tim Kane, who’s considering running in the OH-12 special election) just got a little more comfortable. Nathan changed the rating for the Virginian’s Senate re-election bid from Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic. The best Virginia Republicans have been able to come up with are underwhelming and/or controversial candidates who wouldn’t fare well in the suburbs in a general election.
Republican Lea Márquez Peterson is running in the 2nd District in Arizona, which will be open after McSally announces her Senate run. As president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Márquez Peterson is well-known in the business community. She started out in business opening a handful of gas stations in southern Arizona with her husband. But a robbery prompted them to sell the gas stations, and they ended up filing bankruptcy relating to one of them. While the issue could come up in the campaign, Márquez Peterson said she learned valuable lessons from the experience and has had success in business since then.
Last week you chose to hear more about Pennsylvania’s 17th District (also, shoutout to the reader from across the pond who was interested in this race!). This is one of the districts where Republicans are actually on offense. Trump took the northeastern Pennsylvania district by 10 points in 2016, but Obama carried it by 12 points in 2012 and 15 points in 2008. Democrat Matt Cartwright, who won re-election in 2016 by nearly 8 points, is running for a third term. Cartwright is one of the NRCC’s 36 targets this year, and the only offensive GOP target in Pennsylvania.
Former investment banker John Chrin announced in May that he would run on the Republican side. Chrin has the ability to self-fund his campaign and has so far loaned his campaign $500,000. But he’s faced residency questions. When Chrin announced his bid, Morning Call reported that he actually lives in the very affluent Short Hills, New Jersey. Chrin does own a home in Fountain Hill, just outside the district in Pennsylvania, where he was born and raised. A source with Chrin’s campaign said Thursday that he has moved into the district.
Two other Republicans have filed in the race, though neither has come close to Chrin or Cartwright’s fundraising numbers. The latest numbers are from the end of September, but Cartwright had $1.2 million in cash on hand, while Chrin had more that $623,000. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Democratic.
For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: Kansas’ 3rd District or West Virginia’s 3rd District.
Issa was criticized for turning off Oversight ranking member Elijah E. Cummings’ mic during a heated hearing in 2014. Issa later apologized and the Maryland Democrat accepted.