At the Races: Just super

Posted February 27, 2020 at 2:30pm

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

Are youuuu ready for SUPER TUESDAY?! Yes, this is a BIG day in the presidential primary, with scores of delegates on the line in 14 states and one territory. Just as important: Alabama, Arakansas, Texas, California and North Carolina are also holding their congressional primaries, so we’ll be closely watching those states to see how the battle for Congress is shaping up.

One caveat: In many competitive primaries, we won’t know the winners for some time. California takes a notoriously long time to count votes because mail-in ballots can be postmarked on Election Day. Texas and Alabama have runoff provisions, so if no candidate gets a majority of the primary vote, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff (which would be March 31 in Alabama and May 26 in Texas).

Bridget and photojournalist Bill Clark were on the ground in Texas recently to get a lay of the land ahead of the primary. Why Texas? The Lone Star State is going to be a top House battleground. It could have a competitive Senate race. And it’s where two sitting House members could be brought down by primary challengers Tuesday. Republican Kay Granger is facing a competitive race, while Democrat Henry Cuellar is facing a primary challenge from a young immigration lawyer — who once worked for him. Both races have attracted outside spending, with the Club for Growth spending against Granger and EMILY’s List spending against Cuellar. Check out their reports from Texas below.

If you want to catch up on what else to watch on Tuesday besides the presidential race, stay tuned to RollCall.com for a breakdown of the top dynamics to watch in congressional contests. And be sure to check back with us Tuesday night for the results.

Starting gate

Party like it’s 2010: Granger is facing a tea party-style primary challenge from former tech executive Chris Putnam on Tuesday. The question for Putnam is whether an insurgent bid focused on government spending still works when President Donald Trump signs the bills.

Early test: It’s no secret that there are only 13 GOP women in the House. Republicans looking to boost that number are closely watching primaries in California, Texas and Alabama on Super Tuesday, which feature several female candidates who are backed by party leadership and GOP women’s groups.

Dems divided: The debate happening in the presidential primary is also playing out in Texas, where a dozen Democrats are competing to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn. Democrats are making different cases for how best to win a changing state like Texas, but only two will advance to the runoff in May if, as expected, no one takes a majority Tuesday.

Battle for the ’burbs: The Lone Star State will be a top House battleground in 2020, especially in suburban districts like Texas’ 24th. The race in the growing and diversifying district between Dallas and Fort Worth is already taking shape. It features a competitive primary on the Democratic side and a former Trump administration official favored on the Republican side, setting up a test of whether the president is an asset or liability in competitive House races.

Hear it here: Bridget sat down with CQ Roll Call’s Jason Dick for the Political Theater podcast about her Texas trip and all the other races coming Tuesday.

Not Biden his time: Most vulnerable House Democrats still haven’t taken sides in the presidential primary. But Texas Democrat Colin Allred is making no secret about his support for Vice President Joe Biden, and he’s encouraging his fellow House freshmen in competitive districts to weigh in.

Funny business: Political humorists have had a lot of fun with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s high-energy performance defending Trump during impeachment hearings. So we thought it was interesting that professional comedian Mike Larsen is one of the three Democrats vying in the March 17 primary for the chance to take on Jordan in November. Beyond the potential for an entertaining matchup in a district Democrats have traditionally written off, there’s the prospect of exponentially increasing the number of professional comedians in Congress, where humorists have traditionally been poorly represented.

Faith in advertising: Republicans took credit for a $3 million ad campaign that touted the progressive credentials of a Senate candidate in the Democratic primary in North Carolina. The Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the TV ads forced presumed Democratic front-runner Cal Cunningham and his supporters to spend money they would have rather saved for the general election against Republican Sen. Thom Tillis. Guess how Democrats felt about that?

Pelosi keeping her cool: Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw some cold water Thursday on media reports, and campaign spin from opposing candidates like Mike Bloomberg, that down-ballot Democrats are freaking out about sharing a 2020 ticket with Bernie Sanders. “We are all unified,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “Whoever the nominee is of our party, we will wholeheartedly support.” See below for Nathan’s take on why Pelosi may be so relaxed about this.

Pelosi said Democrats will win the House with an agenda that’s mainstream and “non-menacing” and that’s not meant to cause any division with the eventual Democratic nominee’s platform.

“If you make a decision to win, you have to make every subsequent decision to win. No friction,” she said.

ICYMI

Palmetto State primary: House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn this week became the highest ranking House Democrat to take sides in the presidential race, announcing days before Saturday’s South Carolina primary that he was backing Biden. But other top caucus leaders are staying out of the presidential fracas, CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports.

Another Republican retirement: Hill staffers should keep a closer eye on their office pets next Congress following Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham’s announcement this week that he will retire from his safe GOP seat. Abraham’s many former professions include veterinarian. He put that expertise to use when Rep. Mark Meadows’ toy poodle suffered a concussion after jumping out of someone’s arms. (Abraham has also been a farmer, a physician, a member of the Mississippi National Guard, a pilot and a failed 2019 gubernatorial candidate.)

But don’t count these two out: Two other Republicans on retirement watch lists have been in the news in the last week. Michigan Rep. Fred Upton officially announced he will seek reelection. And Oklahoma Rep. Jim Inhofe, 85, said he will make his plans public next week. Inhofe, an aviation enthusiast, has said for years that he will try to hold on to his seat as long as he can fly a plane upside down.

The Buzz: California’s 21st District could be the GOP’s best pickup opportunity in the Golden State, mostly because former Rep. David Valadao is running again and his successor, Democrat TJ Cox, has been dogged by negative headlines surrounding his finances. The Fresno Bee endorsed Valadao this week, and he told the paper’s editorial board that his vote to repeal much of the 2010 health care law known as the Affordable Care Act cost him his seat. The paper did not endorse Valadao in 2018 because he didn’t sit down with the editorial board.

Close race in the Bay State: A University of Massachusetts Lowell poll released last week found that incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III are neck-and-neck in the state’s Democratic Senate primary. With Massachusetts congressional primaries not until September, though, there are still eons left to go in this contest.

#AZ01: A Republican vying to take on Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran suspended his campaign this week after overdosing on heroin. Safford city Council Member Chris Taylor said he has suffered from an opioid addiction since high school. O’Halleran is one of 30 Democrats running for reelection in a district Trump carried in 2016.

What we’re reading

Fall in: Which state gets the last seat in Congress during reapportionment next year could well come down a difference of a few thousand — or a few hundred — people. In a story and explanatory video, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone explains how the Census Bureau has changed how it counts some U.S. troops abroad. That could affect how much power states have in the House, and how much federal funding they get, for the coming decade.

#CA25: Cenk Uygur, who is one of the Democrats running to replace former California Rep. Katie Hill, drew some negative headlines this week. HuffPost details how the host and co-founder of the liberal online talk show “The Young Turks” urged his staff not to unionize, despite supporting unions himself.

Not alone in the Lone Star State: The New York Times and Politico were also on the ground in Texas ahead of the March 3 primary. The Times has a piece on how Trump’s former White House physician, Ronny Jackson, is struggling in the open 13th District. And Politico dives into Pierce Bush, the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, and the challenge facing a Bush running for Congress in the Trump era.

The count: 3,000

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC made its first round of endorsements Friday, directing small-dollar donors to a handful of Democrats. Texan Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the only Senate candidate endorsed by the PAC, saw 3,000 new donors give to her campaign after the endorsement, totaling more than $20,000.

Ocasio-Cortez took sides in three primaries for safe open Democratic House seats, backing community organizer Samelys Lopez in New York’s 15th, lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez in New Mexico’s 3rd, and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez in California’s 53rd. Ocasio-Cortez’s PAC also endorsed Kara Eastman, who’s running again in Nebraska’s 2nd after losing to GOP Rep. Don Bacon in 2018. The PAC also backed two primary challengers to sitting Democrats that Ocasio-Cortez had already endorsed herself: Marie Newman, who is challenging Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, and Jessica Cisneros, who is challenging Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Nathan’s notes

The headline over the weekend was that Nathan L. Gonzales changed his ratings of more than a dozen House races, moving some that feature Democrats in Trump districts off the playing field entirely with new ratings of Solid Democratic. But what really got some notice was his conclusion that a district-by-district analysis means the odds of a Republican takeover are getting longer “even if the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders for president.”

Candidate confessions

Women in Congress looking to recruit for the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game might be eyeing Republican businesswoman Genevieve Collins, who’s running against Texas Democratic Rep. Colin Allred. (She, of course, first needs to win the March 3 primary, or a May 26 runoff, to take on the freshman congressman.) Collins helped found her high school rowing team and rowed in college at the University of Tennessee. Though a collegiate athlete, Collins admitted in an interview that she might not be skilled in softball. But she said she’s too competitive to sit on the sidelines and would likely play in the game. The women of Congress have struggled in recent years to defeat their arch rivals, the Bad News Babes.

Reader’s race: Texas’ 22nd

You might have heard that everything’s bigger in Texas, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the primary in the 22nd District in the Houston suburbs. The race features a whopping 19 candidates — 15 Republicans and four Democrats. The 22nd is an open-seat race because GOP Rep. Pete Olson is retiring, and it’s among the suburban seats in Texas that Democrats think they can flip. Trump carried the district by 8 points in 2016. But two years later, Olson won reelection by 5 points and Beto O’Rourke only lost the district by 1 point when he ran against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

On the Republican side, the top three contenders appear to be Pierce Bush, grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, former Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls and GOP donor Kathaleen Wall. Wall has spent more than $3.2 million on the race, nearly six times as much as Bush, the next biggest spender. Most of her campaign funds come from a $3.2 million donation she made to her own campaign. But she also spent nearly $3 million on her 2018 campaign for the nearby 2nd District and didn’t even make the runoff. Nehls, who had considered challenging Olson in a primary, grabbed national headlines in 2017 for arresting a woman with a profane anti-Trump sticker on her car.

In the Democratic primary, Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former foreign service officer who ran against Olson in 2018, is running again. The question for Kulkarni is whether he can avoid a runoff with three other Democrats on the ballot. He has led the Democratic field in fundraising, bringing in a total of $1.2 million so far. His campaign had nearly $504,000 in the bank as of Feb. 12. The next closest Democrat in terms of campaign cash was Pearland City Councilman Derrick Reed, who had just $22,000 on hand. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Illinois’ 14th District or Ohio’s 1st. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Before the presidential hopefuls get to Super Tuesday, the votes will be counted in Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, and we’ll know if the brawling debate in Charleston earlier this week had any impact.

Photo finish

Roll Call and carbs. What else do you need? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team, plus key stories and data that will keep you informed about 2020 races.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.