The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● TX-22, TX-07: Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls and Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star CEO Pierce Bush each announced over the weekend that they would run in the Republican primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Pete Olson in this competitive seat in the southern Houston suburbs, which lurched from voting 62-37 for Mitt Romney in 2012 to just 52-44 for Trump in 2016.
Nehls’ Fort Bend County constituency makes up 63% of this seat, but it’s not clear how popular he still is at home. Nehls was last on the ballot in 2016 when he won re-election just 52-48 as Hillary Clinton was carrying this ancestrally red county 51-45. Nehls still ran well ahead of Donald Trump, but Clinton was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Fort Bend County since Lyndon Johnson took it in his 1964 landslide.
Nehls toyed with challenging Olson in the primary the next year, but he didn’t end up running. Nehls then announced this summer that he would retire from his current post in 2020, and he again didn’t rule out taking on Olson. We’ll never know if he would have gone through with it, though, since Olson retired weeks later.
Several other Republicans entered the race to succeed Olson in the following months, but Nehls may have gained one advantage from waiting this long. Texas’ resign-to-run law automatically forces elected officials to quit their posts if they announce a run for another office while they have more than a year and 30 days left on their terms. However, by waiting this long, Nehls can remain sheriff through the election. Trever Nehls, who is the candidate’s twin brother, also announced Saturday that he would run for sheriff.
The other new candidate is Pierce Bush, who hails from Texas’ most prominent political family. The Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star CEO is the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, and his uncles include the noted Dallas-based painter George W. Bush.
Pierce Bush currently lives outside the seat but says he’ll move there, telling the Texas Tribune, “What I realized is the 22nd District in almost every single way represents what's best about our state and our country.” However, it took Bush quite some time to reach this revelation. Back in April, Bush expressed interest in running against freshman Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the 7th District, which includes much of the turf that his grandfather represented from 1967 to 1971.
● GA-Sen-B: While there was some speculation that retiring GOP Rep. Tom Graves could enter next year's special election for the Senate, he responded to the chatter on Friday by tweeting, "No need for speculation. I'm really retiring (for real)."
● ME-Sen: The outside group Maine Momentum has announced that they'll spend $540,000 over the next three weeks on an ad buy against GOP Sen. Susan Collins. Their spot features a lobsterman explaining that, while he's voted for Collins in the past, he's angry that she supported the GOP tax bill that aided her corporate allies but "didn't help regular Mainers."
● California: Candidate filing closed Friday for California's March 3 top-two primary, which will be held on the same day as the state's presidential primary. However, the state automatically extends the filing deadline to five days in contests where the incumbent chooses not to file for re-election, so the field won't be set for several more races until Wednesday. The secretary of state will publish an official candidate list in the coming weeks, though several counties and media organizations have unofficial lists available.
California's top-two primary rules require all the candidates running for Congress and for state office to compete on one ballot rather than in separate party primaries. The two contenders with the most votes, regardless of party, will then advance to the Nov. 3 general election. Candidates cannot win outright in March by taking a majority of the vote except in some nonpartisan elections for local offices, which we'll discuss in separate sections.
● CA-01: Democrat Audrey Denney narrowly outraised GOP Rep. Doug LaMalfa last year and held him to a 55-45 win, and she's seeking a rematch this cycle. Denney ended September with a $379,000 to $342,000 cash-on-hand advantage, but she'll need a lot to go right to win in this 56-37 Trump seat in northeastern California.
● CA-04: Last year, GOP Rep. Tom McClintock won re-election by a modest 54-46 in a seat that Donald Trump carried 54-39. McClintock's only Democratic opponent this time appears to be businesswoman Brynne Kennedy (another Democrat we'd previously mentioned, Placerville Union School Board member Sean Frame, dropped out in September).
McClintock held a $549,000 to $330,000 cash-on-hand lead over Kennedy at the end of September for this seat, which includes the northern Sacramento suburbs and the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains.
● CA-10: Democrat Josh Harder unseated GOP incumbent Jeff Denham 52-48 in an expensive contest last year, but he looks likely to have an easier time this cycle in this 49-46 Clinton seat.
The Republican with by far the most money is former Tracy City Councilor Ted Howze, who ran in the 2018 top-two primary and came unexpectedly close to denying Harder a spot in the general election for this Modesto area seat. Howze ended September with just over $700,000 in the bank, though most of that was self-funded. For his part, Harder had $2 million to spend.
The only current elected official on the GOP side is San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott, who entered the race in May but had only about $200,000 in the bank at the end of September. The third Republican in the race is Marla Livengood, who challenged Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney last year in the neighboring 9th District and lost 56-44. Livengood had $81,000 in the bank after the most recent fundraising quarter.
● CA-16: Rep. Jim Costa has long been one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus, and he faces a challenge from the left from Fresno City Councilor Esmeralda Soria, a fellow Democrat. However, it will be difficult for Soria to get through the top-two primary unless the incumbent somehow manages to take third place or worse.
That's because only one Republican, real estate agent Kevin Cookingham, ended up filing, while former Foreign Service diplomat Kim Williams is also running as a Democrat. This seat, which includes Merced and part of Fresno, backed Clinton 58-36, so Cookingham will have a good chance to advance to November if he can just consolidate the conservative vote. However, Cookingham has raised very little money, and he's unlikely to put this seat in play in the fall if he makes it that far.
● CA-21: Democrat TJ Cox pulled off a shocking 50.4-49.6 victory last year against GOP incumbent David Valadao, and the two will face off again this year. This seat, which includes the southern Central Valley and part of Bakersfield, backed Clinton 55-40, but Valadao decisively won three terms here before his 2018 loss. However, while Valadao is a strong fundraiser, he may have a difficult time winning over the crossover voters he's depended on now that Cox is the incumbent.
● CA-22: Last year, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes won a very expensive contest 53-47 in a Central Valley seat that Trump carried 52-43, and three Democrats are competing to face him this time. Financial advisor Phil Arballo has the support of 2018 nominee Andrew Janz, who is currently running for mayor of Fresno, while former healthcare administrator Bobby Bliatout has the state party endorsement. A third candidate, accountant Dary Rezvani, hasn't attracted much attention or donations yet.
Nunes has infuriated progressives for years with his many attempts to shield Trump from investigations, and he's only gotten worse over the last few months. However, conservative donors have eagerly opened up their wallets for him, and at the close of September, the incumbent had just shy of $7 million to spend. Arballo and Bliatout had $236,000 and $188,000 available, respectively, though they each say their fundraising has spiked over the following months.
● CA-25: Democrat Katie Hill resigned from the House last month after she was victimized by revenge porn that she accused her estranged husband and "hateful political operatives" of circulating, and the first round of the special election to succeed her and the top-two primary for the regular term will both be on March 3. This northern Los Angeles County seat backed Clinton 50-44 after supporting Romney 50-48 four years earlier.
However, while filing closed Friday for the regularly scheduled election, candidates have until Jan. 9 to run in the special, so the two contests may have slightly different lists of candidates. It's also worth noting that the special election will operate under slightly different rules: Candidates can win the first round in March by taking a majority of the vote, though that's unlikely to happen in such a crowded contest. The second round of the special would take place May 21.
A total of seven Democrats, five Republicans, and two candidates who don't identify with a party filed to run for the regular two-year term. On the Democratic side, Assemblywoman Christy Smith has the support of the state party establishment, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. The other notable Democrat running is political commentator Cenk Uygur, who has long been a vocal opponent of national party leaders.
On the GOP side, the best-known contender is former Rep. Steve Knight, who lost this seat to Hill 54-46 last year. However, Navy veteran Mike Garcia spent months running against Hill, which gave him a fundraising head start over the entire field. The other notable Republican is former Trump aide George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to two weeks in prison last year after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with the Russian government as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
● CA-39: Democrat Gil Cisneros won last year's open seat race by beating Republican Young Kim 52-48, and the two will face off again next year. This is likely to be another expensive contest, and Cisneros ended September with a small $658,000 to $638,000 cash-on-hand lead. This seat, which includes the San Gabriel Valley and northern Orange County, swung from 51-47 Romney to 51-43 Clinton.
● CA-45: Democrat Katie Porter unseated GOP incumbent Mimi Walters in this ancestrally Republican Orange County seat last year, and several Republicans are running to try and take it back.
The GOP candidate with the most money at the end of September was Laguna Hills Mayor Don Sedgwick, who posted a $548,000 to $326,000 cash-on-hand lead over Orange County Board of Education member Lisa Sparks. Mission Viejo Mayor Greg Raths, who unsuccessfully ran here in 2014 and 2016, had $201,000 in the bank, while Yorba Linda City Councilor Peggy Huang had $121,000 to spend. A few other Republicans are also in, but they haven't attracted much attention yet.
Porter has been one of the strongest fundraisers in a freshman Democratic class full of strong fundraisers, and she had close to $2 million to spend at the end of September. This seat, which includes Irvine, swung from 55-43 Romney to 50-44 Clinton.
● CA-48: Democrat Harley Rouda beat GOP incumbent Dana Rohrabacher last year in a district that swung from 55-43 Romney to 48-46 Clinton, and he faces an expensive re-election contest for this coastal Orange County seat. Several Republicans are running but the only one who has raised a notable amount of money is Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel. Rouda ended September with a $1.5 million to $1 million cash-on-hand lead over Steel, who has done some self-funding.
● CA-49: Democrat Mike Levin decisively won last year's open seat race for a seat that swung from 52-46 Romney to 51-43 Clinton, and the GOP seems to be focusing their efforts elsewhere.
Levin's only GOP opponent in this seat, which includes southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, appears to be San Juan Capistrano Mayor Brian Maryott. Maryott, who took just 3% of the vote in last year's top-two primary, has self-funded a portion of his campaign, but he trailed the incumbent $1.2 million to $361,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of September.
● CA-50, CA-53: Former Rep. Darrell Issa, who is one of several GOP candidates competing to succeed outgoing Rep. Duncan Hunter, recently picked up an endorsement from the convicted congressman's father, namesake, and predecessor, former Rep. Duncan Hunter. The elder Hunter was elected to a previous version of this conservative San Diego County seat back in 1980, and he retired in 2008 to mount a presidential bid that went absolutely nowhere (though that campaign has a surprisingly detailed Wikipedia page.)
Another GOP candidate, former conservative radio host Carl DeMaio, quickly tried to turn the endorsement around by arguing, "It's no surprise the Hunter dynasty is backing Darrell Issa―it's a quid pro quo for Issa shamelessly defending Duncan Hunter Jr.'s behavior." DeMaio appears to be alluding to Issa's recent argument that if the younger Hunter, who pleaded guilty last week to a single charge of conspiracy to convert campaign funds to personal use, is sentenced to prison in March, Donald Trump should commute his punishment.
Issa, who largely refrained from criticizing Hunter even as he was running against him, asked, "Are we better off spending $60,000 a year to put him behind bars or are we better off with him doing community service and going on with his life with the likelihood of him committing a crime in the future being pretty low?"
DeMaio quickly spoke out against the idea, though, while another GOP candidate, state Sen. Brian Jones, merely said it was up to Trump and, "I wouldn't advocate for or against it." Even Hunter didn't seem to think clemency was in the cards, though. Last week, right before he pleaded guilty, the congressman said, "Whatever my time in custody will be, I will take that hit."
Meanwhile, a new Democratic candidate unexpectedly joined the contest for this 55-40 Trump seat just ahead of Wednesday's filing deadline. National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals executive director Marisa Calderon had filed with the FEC last month for the open and safely blue 53rd District, but she announced Saturday that she'd campaign to succeed Hunter.
The other notable Democratic candidate is 2018 nominee Ammar Campa-Najjar, who held Hunter to a 52-48 win last year. It's not clear yet if there will be a special election to replace Hunter, who says he'll resign "[s]hortly after the Holidays."
● CO-03: Lauren Boebert, who runs a restaurant called Shooters Grill in Rifle where staffers openly carry firearms, announced Sunday that she would challenge Rep. Scott Tipton for the GOP nod. Boebert has never sought elected office before, though she's earned attention for her restaurant and for her anti-gun safety stances. Tipton has been a reliably conservative vote during his five terms in Congress, but Boebert argued he wasn't vocal enough about the gun-safety bills that the Democratic-led state legislature passed earlier this year.
● FL-19: Businessman Ford O'Connell, a frequent Fox News guest who is known for his pro-Trump commentary, has joined what's turning into a crowded GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. Francis Rooney in this this safely red seat.
● GA-14, GA-06: GOP Rep. Tom Graves' Thursday retirement announcement came as a big surprise, but there is no shortage of Republicans in this extremely red northwest Georgia district who could campaign to succeed him. So far, though, the only notable Republican we've heard express interest in running is someone who is currently campaigning for a seat two districts away from Graves' 14th District.
Marjorie Greene, a wealthy construction company owner who has a habit of spreading far-right conspiracy theories about the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, is currently seeking the GOP nod to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in the 6th District. However, Greene said over the weekend that after Graves retired, she "started getting phone calls from the most conservative members in the House Freedom Caucus" about switching to the 14th District. Several days later, Greene's campaign manager said she planned to decide soon whether to swap races.
However, the 14th and 6th Districts not only don't border one another, they're also very different seats. While McBath's constituency is a seat is located in Atlanta's affluent northern suburbs, Graves' district is very rural turf. Greene is based in Alpharetta, which is located about 20 miles from the nearest community in the 14th District, though her team says she'd move if she ran to succeed Graves.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Rome News-Tribune also name-drop some other Republicans who could run in the 14th District:
- Paulding County school board member Jason Anavitarte
- State Rep. Katie Dempsey
- State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler
- State House Majority Whip Trey Kelley
- State Rep. Eddie Lumsden
- State Sen. Jeff Mullis
- State Rep. Steve Tarvin
We haven't heard anything from any of these politicians about their interest as of late Monday.
● NC-05: GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx could face a notable primary challenger in March for the newly drawn 5th District in the state's western foothills, a constituency that includes just 28% of the seat she currently represents.
Gaston County Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck, whose county was redistricted from the old 10th District into the new 5th District, said last week he was considering running here. Gaston County makes up 28% of the new safely red seat, which is identical to the percentage of the district that Foxx currently represents. However, the incumbent ended September with $2.9 million in the bank, so she'll have the resources to defend herself if need be.
North Carolina's filing deadline is Dec. 20 so the playing field will be set here soon, but Foxx isn't waiting around until then. Politico reports that the incumbent went up with cable TV spots starting on Saturday, though there is no copy of the ads or word on the size of the buy.
● NJ-02: The New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein reported just before Thanksgiving that Democratic leaders in New Jersey's competitive 2nd Congressional District had warned freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew that he could lose important support from county parties in next year's primary if he opposes impeaching Donald Trump, and one prominent party leader is now making his displeasure with the incumbent known.
Wildstein published a letter sent to Van Drew by Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman, whose county is by far the largest in this South Jersey seat, and Suleiman did not pull any punches. Suleiman told the congressman that "a majority of my (county committee) members were very upset" with him for opposing the impeachment inquiry just before last month's state elections, adding, "Candidly, it was a big distraction for my candidates and municipal leaders in Atlantic County during the tail end of the general election cycle."
Suleiman continued by urging Van Drew to support impeachment, saying, "Next year, as we are defending two freeholder seats, a constitutional officer, and Democratic majorities in two municipalities, a 'no' vote on impeachment will suppress Democratic turnout down-ballot, which my organization cannot sustain."
Suleiman acknowledged that the 2nd District, which voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, was "moderate at best," but he told Van Drew "I find it hard to believe that voters that have known you for decades will ditch you over one vote." It doesn't sound like Suleiman's arguments have swayed Van Drew at all, though. On Thursday, three days after the letter was dated, Van Drew publicly reaffirmed his opposition to impeachment.
County party endorsements are a big deal in New Jersey primaries, and if Suleiman's Atlantic County ends up backing another candidate over Van Drew, that would be very bad news for the incumbent. Notably, Atlantic County made up 41% of the total vote in last year's Democratic primary for the 2nd District, considerably more than any of the district's other seven counties.
Wildstein reports that party leaders in Cumberland County are also displeased with Van Drew. Cumberland County contains some of Van Drew's old 1st Legislative District, where all three Democratic incumbents lost their seats in last month's legislative elections, and Wildstein says that local leaders partially blame the congressman for the defeat. Cumberland County made up another 16% of the total primary vote here last year.
It doesn't sound like there any many party leaders in the remaining six counties that are rushing to back Van Drew, either. Wildstein writes that the congressman asked county chairmen to sign a letter supporting him, but he scrapped the idea after too many of them told him no.
Van Drew currently doesn't face a serious primary opponent, but both Montclair State University professor Brigid Callahan Harrison and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis are publicly considering challenging him, while Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency is also reportedly thinking it over. Wildstein writes that, if Van Drew did lose renomination, he'd be the first sitting House member to do so "for non-redistricting reasons" since 1958.
There's also been some speculation that Van Drew could switch parties and join the GOP, though the congressman himself hasn't shown any signs that he's looking to bail. If Van Drew did join Team Red, though, he likely still would be in for a competitive primary. Wealthy businessman David Richter, who is the frontrunner for the GOP nod, responded to the chatter by saying, "Hypothetically, if he switches and becomes Republican, I'm in the race, and I'm going to beat him in the primary."
Cape May County Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan, whose county cast just under a quarter of the vote in the 2018 GOP primary, also said Van Drew should stay a Democrat.
● NY-02: Last week, GOP Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino filed paperwork with the FEC for a possible bid for this competitive open seat.
● TX-13: Former White House chief physician Ronny Jackson and Wichita County Commissioner Lee Harvey each entered the March GOP primary for this safely red seat in the Texas Panhandle just before filing closed on Monday.
Jackson, who retired as a Navy rear admiral earlier this month, was appointed by Barack Obama to serve as his personal physician, and Donald Trump kept him on after moving into the White House. Trump nominated Jackson last year to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, but Jackson withdrew from consideration after whistleblowers accused him of drinking to excess while on the job and overprescribing medications.
Trump continued to publicly defend Jackson, and Roll Call reported last month that he's still "well-liked by Trump." Trump even nominated his former physician for a promotion in the Navy as recently as this year, though the Senate did not approve him.
Jackson, who argued that the allegations against him were “completely false and fabricated,” retired from the Navy earlier in December even though the Defense Department's inspector general was still investigating claims that he was often intoxicated and that he mishandled medications. The inspector general’s office told CNN last week that the investigation remains open.
While Jackson still appears to have a friend in the White House, it’s not clear if he has many local ties to the 13th District. The Texas Tribune writes that he’s from Levelland, which is located firmly in the neighboring 19th District and is about 90 miles away from the nearest point in this open seat.
The other new contender is Lee Harvey, a Wichita County commissioner who, for better or worse, has earned nothing like the type of attention that Jackson has. Wichita County, which is home to Wichita Falls, is the largest county in the seat, but it still makes up just under 20% of the total population of this sprawling rural district.
● VA-02, VA-Sen: Unnamed sources tell The Hill’s Reid Wilson that former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor will drop his longshot Senate bid against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and will instead seek a rematch with freshman Rep. Elaine Luria in the 2nd District. Taylor, who lost to Luria 51-49 last year, has not said anything publicly about his plans as of Monday night.
● GA Supreme Court: Former Democratic Rep. John Barrow previously announced that he would run to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham in next May's contest, but the race now won't be happening this cycle because Benham is leaving early.
Benham, whose 1989 appointment made him the first African American on the court and who is the court's last remaining justice appointed by a Democratic governor, had previously announced that he would leave the bench when his term expired at the close of 2020. However, Benham said last week that he'd now be stepping down this March, a decision he did not explain.
This early departure allows GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to pick a new justice, and Georgia law allows a newly appointed judge to spend at least six months in office before they have to face the voters. Because judicial elections take place at the same time as the statewide primary rather than in November, Kemp's appointee will only have been in office for about two-and-a-half months by the time that Supreme Court race would have occurred. Kemp's pick will finally be on the ballot in 2022 when Georgians go to the polls for that year's primary.
● Houston, TX Mayor: Democratic incumbent Sylvester Turner and wealthy independent Tony Buzbee will face off Saturday in the mayoral runoff, but the second round of the contest has been a considerably more quiet affair than the Nov. 5 nonpartisan primary was.
Buzbee flooded the zone with TV spots months before primary, but he only began airing his first runoff ads just before early voting began on Nov. 27. Buzbee did self-fund another $2.3 million between Oct. 27 and Dec. 4, but that's also well short of the $10 million he threw down in the months before that. Buzbee also outspent Turner $3.1 million to $1.7 million during this period, though that includes ads purchased before the early November primary.
Turner led Buzbee 47-29 on Nov. 5, while conservative independent Bill King took third with 14%. While King narrowly lost to Turner in 2015, he's refrained from taking sides in the runoff.
● San Diego, CA Mayor: Republicans hoping to hold this seat finally got a noteworthy candidate just before Friday's filing deadline when City Councilman Scott Sherman announced he would run to succeed termed-out Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Sherman will face two notable Democrats, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, in the March 3 nonpartisan primary. The two candidates with the most votes will advance to the Nov. 5 general election. (Note: This item previously and incorrectly said that a candidate could win the race for mayor of San Diego outright in the primary if they take a majority of the vote. However, while that used to be the case in local elections, voters approved Measure K in 2016 that now requires the top-two vote-getters from the primary to advance to the November general election. This rule applies to candidates for mayor, city attorney, and for the City Council.)
While Republicans have held this post with only a few brief interruptions since 1992, Sherman will have a difficult time prevailing next year in an area that has turned hard against the GOP during the Trump era. It doesn't help that the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, a prominent group led by former GOP Mayor Jerry Sanders that usually backs Republicans, is supporting Gloria.
Gloria also has Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and several labor organizations in his corner, and he looks like the frontrunner at this point in the race. Gloria, who is a former City Council president, also served as mayor for six months after incumbent Bob Filner resigned in disgrace in the summer of 2013, so he may benefit from some lingering name recognition. Gloria would be the city's first elected mayor of color, as well as its first elected gay mayor.
● Los Angeles County, CA District Attorney: Incumbent Jackie Lacey faces a high-profile challenge in the March nonpartisan primary from former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a fellow Democrat. Two other candidates, prosecutor Richard Ceballos and public defender Rachel Rossi, are also in. If no one takes a majority of the vote, the top-two contenders would face off in November.