Morning Digest: Texodus becomes a stampede as third vulnerable House Republican flees in two weeks

No matter what happens, it’s almost a certainty that this will be a more competitive and expensive general election than this area has seen in a long time. However, it was no accident that, until 2018, Marchant, a founder of the Tea Party Caucus, never faced a tight race.

Marchant, who held a seat in the state House, had planned to run for Congress in 2002 in the newly drawn up 32nd District, a seat Roll Call described as “tailor-made for him.” However, his plans were delayed when GOP Rep. Pete Sessions unexpectedly decided to run there instead, and Marchant remained in the legislature. Those extra two years, though, may have benefited Marchant, since he was the chair of the Texas House’s congressional redistricting committee in 2003 when the legislature passed the infamous DeLaymander that redrew the state’s congressional districts.

The new map targeted Rep. Martin Frost, a former chair of the DCCC and the House Democratic Caucus, by splitting up his old Dallas seat among several new conservative districts. Frost ended up unsuccessfully running against Sessions in the new 32nd District, while Marchant won his primary for the safely red 24th District with 73% of the vote.

Marchant spent most of his tenure as one of the more low-profile members of Congress: Roll Call even featured him in a 2009 article titled, “The Obscure Caucus: Privileges for Members — Anonymity, Longevity.” Marchant had little to worry about at home after the 2012 round of redistricting, either (though he did take the time to make sure that the private school where his “grand babies go” would be in his seat), at least for most of the decade. That year he did face a primary challenge from former local TV reporter Grant Stinchfield, who had more name recognition than any of his previous foes, but Marchant won 68-32.

However, things gradually began to change at home in Marchant’s once reliably red seat after Trump only carried it by a modest 6-point margin. The congressman still didn’t look at all vulnerable heading into 2018 against McDowell, who had badly lost in 2016 and once again had little money or outside support, so it was a huge surprise when she held him to such a tight 51-48 victory. After that close shave, though, it quickly became clear that Marchant would be in for a much-tougher 2020 race―if he ran.

Rumors quickly began circulating before the year was over that Marchant could retire, but the congressman immediately pushed back by saying in December that he was “absolutely” running again. However, he didn’t really seem to realize just how much tougher a 2020 re-election campaign would be than anything he’d gone through before because in that same interview, he blithely dismissed his weak showing as an “anomaly.”

Unsurprisingly, chatter continued throughout the year that Marchant could hang it up, but he still sounded likely to run again. As recently as this Friday, Roll Call wrote that unnamed sources close to Marchant said he was seeking a ninth term. Either Marchant abruptly changed his mind or those sources were out of the loop, though, because the congressman soon decided to join the growing exodus of Republicans leaving the House.

Gubernatorial

KY-Gov: Andy Beshear is going up with his first TV spot since the late May Democratic primary, and his campaign says it will air as a “six figure ad buy.”

Beshear begins by saying how his grandfather and great-grandfather were Baptist preachers in western Kentucky. The candidate then says, “Their faith guided them—just as it guides my work today in helping the lost, the lonely and the left behind. The victims of rape, human trafficking, and child abuse, and families worried about losing their health care.” Beshear doesn’t mention GOP Gov. Matt Bevin by name, but instead declares, “I’ll treat all Kentucky families with dignity and respect,” values he says he’ll bring back to the state capitol.

LA-Gov: Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ newest commercial stars Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards, who praises her husband’s work increasing education funding and teacher pay.

House

CA-50: On Monday, conservative radio host Carl DeMaio announced that he would challenge indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter. Days before he kicked off his campaign, DeMaio declared that an unreleased poll showed that Hunter, who is scheduled to stand trial next month, could cost the Republicans this conservative seat at a time when they only hold seven of California’s 53 congressional districts, asking his listeners, “How pathetic is that?”

DeMaio is a former city councilor in San Diego, which is entirely located outside of this seat, and he lost two high-profile races there earlier in the decade. DeMaio ran for mayor of San Diego in 2012 and lost the officially nonpartisan general election to Democratic Rep. Bob Filner 51.5-48.5.

DeMaio soon launched a campaign against freshman Democratic Rep. Scott Peters in the 52nd District, and he quickly became one of the GOP’s few high-profile gay candidates. The race against Peters for this 52-46 Obama seat was an expensive and nasty affair, especially after a fired DeMaio staffer named Todd Bosnich publicly claimed he’d received threatening emails from the Republican. Peters ended up hanging on to win 51.6-49.4; a few months later, Bosnich pleaded guilty to a federal charge of obstruction of justice for forging those emails, and he was sentenced to five years probation in November of 2015.

DeMaio became a conservative radio host in the San Diego area, and he was the face of the effort to both repeal a gas tax the legislature passed in 2017 to fund highway improvements and to recall state Sen. Josh Newman for voting for the bill. Newman did lose the recall campaign in June, but the gas tax repeal went down in flames in November 57-43. Republicans hoped that the repeal campaign would at least help them rally voters in competitive congressional races, but Team Red ended up losing all seven GOP-held Clinton seats that year.

GA-13: On Friday, former East Point Mayor Jannquell Peters filed an exploratory committee with FEC for a possible Democratic primary bid against Rep. David Scott. Peters led this 35,000-person suburban Atlanta community until early 2018, and she went on to serve in Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration as chief service officer.

Scott, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, has a history of siding against his party on key issues and publicly supporting Republican candidates, but he’s never had trouble winning renomination in this safely blue seat. Scott already faces a primary against former Cobb County party chair Michael Owens, who lost by a lopsided 82-18 margin in 2014 and raised just $20,000 for his new campaign during the most recent fundraising quarter. Georgia requires a runoff if no one takes a majority in the first round of the primary, so Scott’s detractors don’t need to worry about too many challengers splitting the anti-incumbent vote.

IA-04: On Monday, 2018 Democratic nominee J. D. Scholten announced that he would seek a rematch against white supremacist Rep. Steve King. Iowa’s 4th District, which includes the northwestern part of the state, is usually reliably red turf at 61-34 Trump, but last year, Scholten held King to a 50-47 victory.

Scholten, a former baseball player with the semi-pro Sioux City Explorers, launched his second campaign with a well-produced video narrated by “Field of Dreams” star Kevin Costner. That’s quite a contrast from Scholten’s first bid, which didn’t attract much national attention until just before Election Day.

That race did generate more interest in October when Scholten was able to go on TV thanks to contributions from King-hating donors from across the country. King, by contrast, ran a very complacent campaign and ceded the airwaves to Scholten for weeks. The incumbent only began running his first TV ad about a week-and-a-half before Election Day―a spot that was lazily recycled from his 2014 campaign. Still, it looked very unlikely that King could lose a seat this conservative.

However, the contest got a whole lot more media coverage about a week before Election Day when voters learned that King was rubbing shoulders with international white supremacist candidates and hate groups. This included an August meeting with the far-right Austrian Freedom Party—which has historical ties to the Nazi Party and more modern ones to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s party—that King took during a trip to eastern Europe. Gallingly, that junket was paid for by a Holocaust memorial group.

During this same trip, King also gave an interview to a website allied with the Freedom Party where he asked what diversity brings to America “that we don’t have that is worth the price?” adding, “We have a lot of diversity within the U.S. already.” King also used that same interview to call Jewish philanthropist George Soros a force behind the so-called “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory prevalent on the far-right that white Europeans are being deliberately “replaced” by people of color in a scheme fomented by Jews.

King had been a powerful force in Iowa politics for years, and national party leaders and donors had largely ignored his racism or issued at most just minor rebukes, but they finally went a bit further than usual this time. Even NRCC chair Steve Stivers, who just a day after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre defended the anti-Semitic ads his committee had been running elsewhere, tweeted out a condemnation.

While King’s dalliances with the David Duke set might not ordinarily have turned off voters in this very conservative district, they unquestionably did him harm, perhaps because he gained a reputation as a showboater more concerned with his international standing among fascists than with the folks back home in western Iowa. Ultimately, while GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds carried this seat by a wide 59-39 margin, King only narrowly scraped by against Scholten.

King’s situation has only gotten worse since then. In January when he asked a New York Times reporter, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?'” Congressional GOP leaders, perhaps sensing that King was much more of a liability than an asset after 2018, proceeded to at last strip him of all of his committee assignments. The incumbent also picked up a few foes in next June’s primary, with state Sen. Randy Feenstra quickly emerging as the main anti-King candidate.

King remains committee-less seven months later, and he’s also nearly cash-less. The incumbent has been a weak fundraiser for years, but the $18,000 war chest he had at the end of June was terrible even for him. Feenstra, by contrast, had $337,000 to spend. Two other candidates, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor and Army veteran Bret Richards each had less than $50,000 to spend, though they both still had more cash-on-hand than King.

However, Scholten seems convinced that King will still be his opponent next year. The Democrat told The Storm Lake Times’ Art Cullen in late July that he believed Feenstra wasn’t raising enough money to overtake the well-known King, and he predicted that the incumbent would have enough support to win the four-way primary. In Iowa, a candidate needs to win at least 35% of the vote to win the primary outright or else the nomination is decided at a party convention, and Scholten said he believed King would clear this threshold.

It’s unlikely that another Republican nominee could lose a seat this red. However, if King does prevail in the June primary, he may finally be weak enough to cost his party this seat.

ME-02: On Sunday, former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced that he would not seek a rematch against freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Golden. Poliquin acknowledged that he was “itching to run again,” but said he had to skip this cycle to care for his elderly parents. We may not have heard the last from Poliquin, though, and he added “we’ll see what the future holds for 2022.”

No notable Republicans have announced a bid yet against Golden in this 51-41 Trump seat, but 2018 Senate nominee Eric Brakey has been raising money and says he’ll decide next month. Brakey challenged independent Sen. Angus King last year and lost this seat 50-41 as he was losing statewide by a larger 54-35 margin. It’s possible that other Republicans will express interest in this race now that Poliquin has taken his name out of contention, though we haven’t heard any other names yet.

For his part, Golden raised $274,000 during the last quarter, a haul that’s on the lower side among freshman House Democrats, though TV time doesn’t tend to be too pricey in this northern Maine seat. Golden had a stronger $495,000 on-hand.

MI-06: GOP Rep. Fred Upton has been on the 2020 retirement watch list for a while, and the New York Times wrote on Friday that speculation was “swirling” that he’d leave. The story did not single out any other potential retiree. This seat, which includes Kalamazoo, backed Trump 51-43, and Upton won last year by a small 50-46 margin.

NJ-04: One Republican who doesn’t seem at all inclined to go anywhere next year is Rep. Chris Smith, who said Monday that he would “enthusiastically” seek a 21st term. Smith, who was elected to Congress in 1980 at the age of 27, is now New Jersey’s only Republican member, but he’ll be very tough to oust from his 56-41 Trump seat.

NY-15: The New York Daily News reported on Friday that former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has decided to seek this safely blue open seat and would enter the race “in the coming days.” Mark-Viverito was on the ballot in February for the extremely crowded special election for New York City public advocate, and she ended up taking a distant third with 11% of the vote. (City Councilor Jumaane Williams, a fellow Democrat, won with 33%.)

Mark-Viverito was also in the news last month after messages were released from now-former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his allies. Rosselló hurled misogynist insults at Mark-Viverito, who is originally from the island. Mark-Viverito responded by calling the governor’s words “an attack on all women and the people of Puerto Rico in general.”

A number of Democrats are already running for this Bronx seat including New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who recently picked up an endorsement from Laborers’ International Union of North America.

NY-27: While Assemblyman Stephen Hawley didn’t rule out challenging indicted GOP Rep. Chris Collins in the GOP primary back in May, the Buffalo News’ Robert McCarthy writes that Hawley is waiting for the incumbent to announce his plans. Hawley himself confirmed that he was still eyeing this seat, though he didn’t reveal how Collins’ decision would factor into his calculations.

TN-09: On Friday, former Shelby County Democratic Party chair Corey Strong announced that he would challenge Rep. Steve Cohen in the primary for this safely blue Memphis seat. Strong argued that, while Cohen has done “great things for this community,” the congressman hasn’t spent enough time on local issues or done enough to bring jobs to the district.

Strong further argued that the incumbent wasn’t focused enough on Memphis by criticizing Cohen for eating from a bucket of KFC fried chicken to protest U.S. Attorney General William Barr for being too “chicken” to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Strong said he was fine with Cohen mocking Barr with poultry, but, “What I have a problem with is that we’ve got all kinds of local fried-chicken enterprises here in Memphis, and he could have made his point with them if he wanted. But he didn’t.”

Strong also played up his record leading the Shelby County Democratic Party. He took over in 2017 just a year after the state party decertified them after years of infighting: The reformed party had a considerably better 2018, and they won control of the county mayor’s office and many other important posts in the August local elections.

Cohen, who is white, first won this predominantly black district in a crowded 2006 primary. During his first two re-election campaigns he faced opponents who argued that this district needed a black representative, and Cohen’s 2008 foe even employed anti-Semitic language against the Jewish incumbent. Cohen won those two races with close to 80% of the vote, though, and his next batch of primaries were much more low-key affairs. The closest Cohen has ever come to losing re-election was in 2014, when he prevailed 66-33, but he had no trouble winning during the next two cycles.

If Strong won, he’d be the state’s first black member of Congress since Harold Ford left the previous version of this seat in 2006 to unsuccessfully run for the Senate. However, it will be difficult for him to unseat the well-funded incumbent. While Cohen raised just shy of $100,000 during the last quarter, he had a strong $1.1 million war chest at the end of June.

UT-01: The Deseret News plays Great Mentioner for the GOP primary for this safely red northern Utah seat, and state Sen. Scott Sandall is a name we hadn’t heard before. There’s no word about Sandall’s interest in the contest to succeed retiring Rep. Rob Bishop.

Other Races

Oakland County, MI Executive: L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican who served as county executive of Oakland County since 1993, died Saturday at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Patterson, who already had announced that he would not run for another term in 2020, was a powerful force for decades in this large suburban Detroit county, but he never was able to win statewide. Brooks lost primaries for the Senate and for governor in 1978 and 1982, respectively, and his 1982 campaign against longtime Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelley ended in a 58-42 defeat.

Patterson also clashed with other Michigan Republicans. In 2013, he infamously compared state House Speaker Jase Bolger to Adolf Hitler and emphasized his point by using a comb as a pretend mustache and raising his hand in a mock-Nazi salute.

Brooks said he wasn’t going to apologize, though he also said he’d sent Bolger some mail that contained a “lukewarm apology” that had “the best I could come up with.” Brooks did admit that he’d gone too far by comparing the speaker to Hitler, so he was researching other dictators to use instead. Patterson said that if he’d invoked Kim Jong-Un, “Nobody would’ve taken offense except maybe some North Koreans, and I don’t have that vote anyway.”

Patterson was succeeded by Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson. The Democratic-led county board of commissioners has about a month to select a replacement to serve the rest of Patterson’s term; if they fail to appoint a new executive, there will be a special election.

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