At the Races: Will Texas keep Schumer’s streak alive?

Posted July 2, 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.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been aggressive in endorsing candidates in targeted races but, as Amy McGrath in Kentucky and John Hickenlooper in Colorado found out, that hasn’t stopped other Democrats from running. After some spirited challenges, McGrath and Hickenlooper still won their primaries this week. That came after the DSCC also saw its picks prevail in Iowa and North Carolina after contested primaries.

The next test for the committee’s preferred candidate is in Texas, where Air Force veteran MJ Hegar will take on state Sen. Royce West in a July 14 Democratic primary runoff. The race has some parallels to the Kentucky primary, where McGrath eked out a win against state Rep. Charles Booker. In both races, the DSCC endorsed women who narrowly lost 2018 House races, were military pilots, blockbuster fundraisers and had viral bio videos. Their primary opponents are Black men who are state legislators. Like Booker, West has sought to capitalize on recent protests against racism and police brutality, highlighting his work on criminal justice.

But the Texas race has one key difference: West is not significantly more liberal than Hegar. In Kentucky, the more liberal Booker won the backing of progressive leaders who helped boost his fundraising in the final stretch of the primary. In Texas, both West and Hegar support a public health care option and neither supports the Green New Deal. So the Texas primary has centered on contrasting experiences. 

During a debate Monday, West pitched himself as the candidate with legislative chops to get things done. “The question is: Does experience matter?” he said in his closing statement.

“Experience does matter,” Hegar responded. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of career politicians condescending to me that my 12 years in uniform bleeding for our Constitution on foreign soil, five years working in health care, or my experience as a mom of a three- and a five-year-old are not important enough to consider.” 

Starting gate

The race no one saw coming: Republican Lauren Boebert pulled off an upset primary victory against Rep. Scott Tipton on Tuesday in Colorado’s 3rd District. The gun rights activist cast herself as an anti-AOC candidate against the more low-key Tipton, and some operatives think the rural seat could now be more competitive in November.

Supreme treasure trove:  A roughly $4 million pot of earmarked contributions against Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins — and the money’s circuitous journey from donor to candidate and the conditions set out before the senator’s vote to confirm Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — add an interesting twist in one of the nation’s priciest and most pivotal Senate contests.

Close call: One week after the Kentucky primary, McGrath was declared the winner of the Democratic nonination to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The race was much closer than expected after Booker picked up steam in the final weeks of the primary.  

Rocky Mountain sigh (of relief): The matchup with GOP Sen. Cory Gardner that everyone expected was sealed when Hickenlooper coasted to a nearly 20-point victory over former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the Democratic primary.

Four more: The DCCC added four more candidates to its Red to Blue program, which helps challengers with fundraising and provides access to committee resources.  

Quorum shorum: The Federal Election Commission will lose another member this week, meaning its month of having a sufficient number to hold meetings and take actions comes to an end. The White House has offered a conservative nominee.  

Halftime’s over: Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams now knows that keeping the Utah seat he picked off from the GOP in 2018 means he’ll have to beat former NFL defensive back Burgess Owens, who won Tuesday’s primary with a comfortable plurality in a four-candidate field.

Still waiting: Oklahoma Democrat Kendra Horn, the No. 1 most vulnerable House member, will have to wait another eight weeks to find out who her challenger will be after no one in the nine-candidate GOP primary field got more than 50 percent. The top two finishers, businesswoman Terry Neese and state Sen. Stephanie Bice, will face off in an Aug. 25 runoff.

ICYMI

The $quad: The four-person “squad” of freshman House Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna S. Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are launching a joint fundraising committee to support other progressive candidates, Buzzfeed News reported.

Taking sides: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is jumping into the upcoming GOP runoff in Texas’ 23rd District, where Republican incumbent Will Hurd is retiring. The Texas Tribune reported that Cruz launched an ad buy to bolster Air Force veteran Raul Reyes, while Hurd and GOP leaders, including Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, are backing Navy veteran Tony Gonzales. The open seat is a top pickup opportunity for Democrats. Texas GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak tweeted that Cruz’s decision to play in the primary and endorse Reyes was “strategically indefensible.”

#ALSEN: Trump is scrapping plans to hold a campaign rally in Alabama for GOP Senate hopeful and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, according to CNN. Tuberville faces former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the primary runoff coming up on July 14. Although the president hasn’t hidden his disdain for Sessions, the former AG does have support from some of his former Senate colleaguesincluding one who encouraged him to run. Alabama’s senior senator, Republican Richard C. Shelby, told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday that he and everyone in his family have already voted for Sessions.

See you in court: Trump’s campaign, along with four GOP lawmakers, filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Pennsylvania arguing that “unmonitored by-mail voting,” or drop boxes for mail ballots that are not monitored by poll watchers, threatens free and fair elections. The four lawmakers who are also plaintiffs in the suit are Pennsylvania Reps. Glenn “GT” Thompson, John Joyce, Guy Reschenthaler, and Mike Kelly, who is a DCCC target.

Vote watch: Rep. Collin C. Peterson, who is seeking a 16th term in Minnesota’s 7th District, was the lone Democrat to reject the idea of statehood for Washington, D.C. Though the measure cleared the House, the Senate won’t move on it. Peterson also voted against the impeachment of Trump, who carried the deep-red, rural section of Minnesota by 31 points in 2016; that margin explains why Peterson is among our most vulnerable House incumbents this cycle.

Roger that: Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall got a break in his Senate race when the anti-tax Club for Growth announced that it would stop paying for ads attacking him and would not endorse in the state’s GOP primary. The group had spent millions on TV ads attacking Marshall for “betraying” President Donald Trump and attempting to tie him to Sen. Mitt Romney, a big problem for Marshall as he tries to peel primary votes from Trump loyalist Kris Kobach.

What we’re reading

Read Stu’s lips: You can’t compare Joe Biden’s lead over Trump in recent national and battleground state polls to the lead that disappeared for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, Stu Rothenberg writes.

Bow-mentum: Jamaal Bowman’s primary against Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel in New York’s 16th District hasn’t been called as yet (and absentee ballots won’t be counted until next week), but he holds a wide lead in initial results. HuffPost has a deep dive into how Bowman managed to pull off an apparent victory, and how progressives are embracing more traditional campaign tactics, including super PAC spending and polling. 

Gavel envy: Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Gregory W. Meeks of New York made it clear to CQ Roll Call’s Rachel Oswald that they’re not counting Engel out. Buuuuuut, if it does turn out Engel won’t be around next year, they are likely rivals for his position as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Time travel: Democrats have a lot of ideas about what they’d like to do if the party takes full control of this town in January. CQ Roll Call’s Peter Cohn looks at some of the ways they might try to pay for it and how moderates such as Arizona’s Mark Kelly — who would have to run again in two years if he beats GOP Sen. Martha McSally in November — might balk at going full steam ahead on tax increases during an economic downturn.

Registering the impact: FiveThirtyEight reports that voter registration is down amid the pandemic, since voters can no longer register in person at offices like the Department of Motor Vehicles or as part of in-person registration drives.

A second act: National Journal caught up with Democrat Christy Smith, who is revamping her campaign after losing a special election in California’s 25th District to Republican Mike Garcia in May. Smith and Garcia face off again in November.

After the fall: Sessions, a pariah to his old boss Trump, is running behind in the state’s GOP July 14 primary runoff, a loss that would be “tantamount to his final consignment to the political abyss,” writes The New York Times Magazine.

Who’s counting?: Along with making results harder to get on election night, the coronavirus-fueled drive to get more people to vote by mail will also make it tougher to get accurate exit polls, especially if Trump supporters disproportionately show up in person while Biden backers mail it in, Fortune reported.

Family ties: At least 14 members of Congress have paid family members more than $15,000 — each, from their reelection committees, according to reporting by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The count: $5,500

That’s what Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy has spent since 2014 on dues at the Penn Club in New York City, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports. FEC rules bar spending campaign funds on membership fees for places such as country clubs.

Nathan’s notes

Win or lose, emboldened progressives using primaries to challenge incumbents who aren’t liberal enough have put Democrats on the same path the Republicans were on as the tea party started pulling from the right, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. “The call for ideological purity will be particularly strong if Democrats sweep the White House, Senate and House this fall,” he writes.

Candidate confessions

“As a poor black kid growing up in the West End of Louisville, I spent a lot of my life feeling alone and invisible. I don’t feel alone anymore,” said Booker, the Kentucky state representative who lost a closer-than-expected primary race for the Democratic Senate nomination to Amy McGrath. Those comments were part of a lengthy statement the insurgent, progressive candidate issued this week in conceding to the retired Marine pilot who now takes on Mitch McConnell.

Booker said he’d heard from voters across the state who reported problems with voting or had trouble checking the status of mail-in ballots. Still, he said, “I accept the results of this election, and concede this race.” He added that he planned to continue to work against McConnell, who is heavily favored to win reelection in November, “so that we can get him out of the way.”

Reader’s race

Five candidates will be on the Democratic primary ballot Tuesday to take on New Jersey party-switcher Jeff Van Drew. But the race for the 2nd District, which covers all or part of seven South Jersey counties and includes Atlantic City, has really come down to political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison and educator and mental health advocate Amy Kennedy, who married into the political dynasty.

Kennedy has benefited from the wealth, power and name recognition of her husband, former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy (the youngest child of former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.) But she’s the one running as the outsider. 

That’s because Harrison, who has long been a voice in New Jersey politics, started shoring up support for a primary run against Van Drew before he voted against impeaching Trump and defected to the GOP. Harrison still has almost all of the state’s all-important power brokers in her corner, along with unions that wield influence over Atlantic City casino workers. And her name will have prime placement on the ballot thanks to the state’s practice of organizing its ballots around the list of candidates endorsed by their parties.

Kennedy, though, got the support of Atlantic City party boss Craig Calloway, a former city councilman who is known for his massive mail-in ballot operations — which might have even more impact this year than usual. Calloway has spent 42 months in prison for bribery and blackmail, which Harrison has pointed out.

Kennedy has portrayed herself as more progressive, attacking Harrison for an op-ed she wrote in 2011, before the Bridgegate scandal, encouraging Republican Gov. Chris Christie to launch a presidential campaign against Barack Obama. Kennedy says she is running against the New Jersey political machine that is backing Harrison.

Harrison says her moderate positions are better suited to the district, which Trump carried by 5 points in 2016. She also supports marijuana legalization, a potential wedge issue in a state where legalizing marijuna sales will be on the ballot in November. 

Harrison has also dinged Kennedy for speaking fees and board memberships that have contributed to her family’s personal wealth, for self-funding much of her campaign and taking donations from companies affiliated with the Kennedy foundation that she says have contributed to the opioid addiction epidemic. As a counter, Harrison offers her personal story of struggling with staggering medical bills after her first husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and died after four years of treatment. 

Harrison self-funded $160,000 of the $415,000 she raised for her campaign and had spent all but $10,000 by June 17. She also had $210,000 in support from an outside group called the General Majority PAC, which has only supported her campaign.  

Kennedy, who self-funded $500,000, had $1.4 million in receipts and $236,000 left in the bank. She has also benefited from two single-candidate PACs that have spent a combined $128,000 supporting her and opposing Harrison. 

Van Drew, who has a nominal primary challenger, had raised $2.5 million and had $1.1 million left on June 17. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilt Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Kansas’ 2nd District or Texas’ 2nd. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Primaries continue next week as voters head to the polls in New Jersey, where the matchups will be set in a handful of competitive House races. Delaware (home to Biden) is also holding its presidential primary.

Photo finish

Capito
Here’s a throwback to West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s first run for Senate six years ago, when Independence Day parades were a campaign trail staple. This year, as Capito runs for a second term, parades and mass gatherings are on hold due to the pandemic. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.