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.
● FL-03: On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Ted Yoho announced he would retire in 2020, holding true to his long-running pledge not to serve more than four terms. Yoho has never had any trouble holding onto this district in north-central Florida, which Daily Kos Elections has calculated as backing Trump by 56-40 in 2016, and Republicans should be heavily favored to keep the open seat next year.
Formerly a large animal veterinarian, Yoho was first elected to the House in 2012 when he pulled off an upset primary challenge against longtime GOP Rep. Cliff Stearns, prevailing by a slim 34-33 margin. Yoho ran as a tea partying insurgent and benefited considerably from redistricting, which had seen Republican lawmakers give Sterns a district where more than one-third of the population was new to him. Yoho dominated in those new parts of the district in the primary, and it's possible that being a large animal vet was a potent asset in rural communities.
Once in Congress, Yoho was a reliable member of the radical-right House Freedom Caucus, compiling one of the most right-wing voting records in the House. True to form for the modern right flank of the GOP, Yoho once infamously said, "I've had some radical ideas about voting and it's probably not a good time to tell them. But you used to have to be a property owner to vote," and he furthermore called voting a "privilege" for those who deserved it even though federal law defines it as a fundamental right.
Yoho attained further notoriety back in 2013 when he suggested that not raising the debt ceiling and thus the U.S. defaulting on its debts "would bring stability to the world markets." Republicans repeatedly took the debt ceiling hostage after they flipped the House in 2010, and analysts had widely warned that not raising the limit and defaulting would likely trigger a global financial crisis and economic downturn.
A few Republicans were already running for Yoho's seat before he confirmed he would retire, including 2018 primary challenger Judson Sapp and businesswoman Amy Pope Wells. However, the filing deadline for the August primary is not until April 24, so there's still plenty of time for more candidates to join the race for this decidedly red seat.
● AL-Sen: Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has released a GOP primary poll from OnMessage that finds him holding a large but not overwhelming lead over his same-party rivals. Sessions takes first with 44%, followed by former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville at 21%, Rep. Bradley Byrne at 14%, and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore at 7%. Sessions would need to take a majority to avoid a runoff, and it's notable that he isn't clearing that threshold despite running for his former seat.
● TX-Sen: Candidate filing closed Monday for Texas' March 3 statewide primary, which will take place on the same day as the Lone Star State's presidential primary, and the Texas Tribune has a list of candidates here. Runoffs will be held on May 26 in contests where no one takes a majority of the vote.
The last time Democrats won any statewide races in Texas was 1994, but Beto O'Rourke's narrow 51-48 defeat against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last year was unwelcome news for John Cornyn, the state's other Republican senator. Cornyn has been preparing for a competitive race in this very expensive state, and he ended September with close to $11 million in the bank.
Cornyn faces four primary foes, but it's unlikely he'll have much to worry about from any of them. The senator's only notable intra-party opponent is investor Mark Yancey, who is a former co-owner of the Women's National Basketball Association team the Dallas Wings. Yancey identifies as a "moderate Republican," though, so he'll probably have a tough time gaining traction with conservative primary voters.
There's a crowded field on the Democratic side, and early polls show that most voters are undecided. The best-funded primary candidate at the end of September was Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who ran a strong campaign last year against GOP Rep. John Carter in the ancestrally red 31st Congressional District and held him to a narrow 51-48 victory. Hegar ended September with close to $900,000 on-hand, while none of her primary foes had more than $400,000 to spend at the time.
The other noteworthy Democratic candidates are former Rep. Chris Bell, who lost the 2006 gubernatorial race to GOP Gov. Rick Perry 39-30; Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards; nonprofit director Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez; and state Sen. Royce West. Edwards and West would be the state's first black senator, while Tzintzún Ramirez would be the first Latina to represent Texas in the upper chamber. Sema Hernandez, who lost the 2018 Senate primary to O'Rourke 62-24, is also running, but she's raised very little money.
● CA-25: EMILY's List has endorsed Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who has also won the lion's share of endorsements from California Democrats.
● FL-19: Republican state Rep. Bob Rommel has announced that he won't run in the increasingly crowded primary for this safely red open seat and will seek re-election instead.
● GA-07: VoteVets has endorsed state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, who is an Air Force veteran, in the crowded primary for the Democratic nomination.
● NC-02: Retired Marine Lt. Col. Scott Cooper announced on Tuesday that he was effectively dropping out of the Democratic primary for the dramatically redrawn 2nd District by suspending his campaign.
Cooper cited how he had been drawn into Democratic Rep. David Price's new 4th District and didn't want to run against him (of course, congressional candidates don't have to live in the district they're running for). Cooper furthermore noted that a new map will be drawn after the 2020 elections, and with North Carolina almost certain to gain a district in reapportionment, that could present him with a new seat to run for in the fast-growing Triangle area.
The remaining Democratic field includes 2016 Senate nominee Deborah Ross and Wake County School Board member Monika Johnson-Hostler, and it's possible more candidates could enter the race for this safely Democratic district ahead of the Dec. 20 filing deadline.
● NJ-07: Assemblyman Erik Peterson says he'll decide "over the next few weeks" whether to join the primary for the Republican nomination to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski.
● NY-22: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has endorsed former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney in her bid for a rematch against the Democrat who defeated her in 2018, freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi.
● TX-02: Democrats are hoping to give freshman GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw a tough fight in a northern Houston seat that Donald Trump carried 52-43 and GOP Sen. Ted Cruz took by a narrow 50-49 spread, and one more candidate joined the race just before Monday's deadline. Attorney Sima Ladjevardian is a prominent Democratic fundraiser and activist, and she advised Beto O'Rourke during his 2018 Senate bid. O'Rourke endorsed Ladjevardian's bid the day she announced.
Two other Democrats, Navy veteran Elisa Cardnell and former Homeland Security Department employee Travis Olsen, were already running. Cardnell had just $62,000 to spend at the end of September, while Olsen opened up his fundraising committee last month. Crenshaw has been one of the more high-profile GOP freshmen, and he had a hefty $1.6 million to spend.
● TX-03: Freshman GOP Rep. Van Taylor had no trouble last year winning what was an open seat, but he has a few notable Democratic opponents this cycle. Attorney Sean McCaffity began raising money before he entered the race, and he launched his campaign in October with just shy of $150,000 in the bank. Fellow attorney Lulu Seikaly, who fights against employment discrimination, entered the race in October as well, while a few other Democrats also filed.
This suburban Dallas-Fort Worth seat, which is entirely located in Collin County, has been safely GOP turf for decades, but that may finally be changing. The district moved from 64-34 Romney to a smaller 55-41 Trump, and GOP Sen. Ted Cruz only carried it 51-48 last year. Taylor ended September with $766,000 available to defend the seat.
● TX-06: Freshman GOP Rep. Ron Wright faces a challenge this cycle from attorney Stephen Daniel, a Democrat who is business partners with a powerful local elected official, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Daniel outraised Wright $111,000 to $106,000 during his opening quarter, while the incumbent held a $112,000 to $41,000 cash-on-hand lead at the end of September.
This seat, which includes much of Arlington as well as a portion of Fort Worth, backed Trump 54-42, but last cycle, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried it just 51-48. Wright won his first term last year 53-45 in a contest that attracted very little outside attention.
● TX-07: Democrat Lizzie Fletcher unseated longtime GOP incumbent John Culberson last year 52.5-47.5 in a very expensive race for this ancestrally red West Houston seat, and Republicans are looking to take it back. This district swung from 60-39 Romney to 48.5-47.1 Clinton, and Beto O'Rourke beat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz here 53-46 last year.
The national GOP establishment quickly consolidated behind Army veteran Wesley Hunt, and he's raised more money than most of the GOP's House challengers. Fletcher ended September with a $1.4 million to $666,000 cash-on-hand lead over Hunt.
Hunt's main primary foe looks like Cindy Siegel, a former member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County board of directors who previously served as mayor of Bellaire. Siegel has been self-funding a large portion of her campaign, but she had a modest $124,000 in the bank at the end of September. A few other Republicans are running, so it's possible that no one will be able to take a majority in the March primary.
● TX-10: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund is out with a poll from the GOP firm Remington Research that gives veteran GOP Rep. Michael McCaul a 50-41 lead over attorney Shannon Hutcheson in a hypothetical general election. The release did not include any results testing McCaul against either of the other two Democratic primary candidates, 2018 nominee Mike Siegel or medical school professor Pritesh Gandhi. This is also the first poll we've seen here.
McCaul had been accustomed to easy re-elections in a gerrymandered seat that stretches from Austin east into the Houston area, but he only defeated Siegel 51-47 last year in a contest that attracted very little outside attention. However, that shockingly close result was no isolated incident: Donald Trump's 53-42 win in 2016 was a noticeable drop from Mitt Romney's 59-39 performance four years before, and Beto O'Rourke narrowly carried this district 49.6-49.5 against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
● TX-11: Rep. Mike Conaway is one of the six members of the GOP's 23-member delegation who is retiring this cycle (they don't call it the Texodus for nothing), and 10 Republicans are competing to succeed him in a safely red seat that includes Midland and San Angelo.
The best-funded Republican by far is Air Force veteran August Pfluger, who previously served as a National Security Council adviser to Donald Trump. Pfluger announced he was running in September and went on to raise $705,000 in less than three weeks without doing any self-funding, and he ended the third quarter with $700,000 to spend.
A few other notable Republicans are in including former Conaway staffer Brandon Batch, Midland City Councilman J.Ross Lacy, and former Midland Mayor J.D. Faircloth, who left office in the 1990s. Lacy had $134,000 in the bank at the end of September, while Batch and Faircloth both entered the race the following month.
● TX-12: Incumbent Kay Granger, who is the top Republican on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, has never had trouble winning renomination in her more than two decades representing this safely red suburban Fort Worth seat, but she faces a well-funded primary challenge from businessman Chris Putnam. Granger ended September with a modest $563,000 to $448,000 cash-on-hand lead over Putnam, who self-funded the majority of his campaign. Putnam is Granger's only primary foe, so this contest will be settled in the first round in March.
Putnam is arguing that Granger hasn't been loyal enough to the White House, though Donald Trump recently praised the incumbent. However, Putnam may have more success connecting Granger to problems at an expensive development project in Fort Worth called Panther Island that was being spearheaded by J.D. Granger, who happens to be the congresswoman's son.
Panther Island was started in 2003 as a flood control project with a projected $360 million price tag, but NBC 5 wrote in October that the "estimated cost has ballooned to nearly $1.2 billion―with no end in sight." An independent review released over the summer argued that leadership changes needed to be made, and the younger Granger was replaced months later.
However, J.D. Granger isn't the only member of the family linked to the initiative that Putnam has labeled "a boondoggle." NBC 5 said that Rep. Granger "is credited with creating the project, first labeled Trinity Vision, and she is nearly solely responsible for securing federal dollars for its creation."
● TX-13: Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry is retiring from this safely red seat in the Texas Panhandle, and well over a dozen Republicans are competing in the contest to succeed him. Thornberry announced his departure at the very end of the last quarter, so no one has reported their fundraising numbers for this race yet.
The candidate who has attracted the most national attention is former White House chief physician Ronny Jackson, who was Donald Trump's nominee to become secretary of veterans affairs last year. Jackson withdrew from consideration after whistleblowers accused him of drinking to excess while on the job and overprescribing medications, but Trump reportedly still thinks well of him. Jackson is originally from the Lubbock area, which is about 90 miles outside of this seat.
Another notable candidate is businessman Chris Ekstrom, who began running ads a month ago. Ekstrom only recently relocated to this seat from the Dallas area, though, and one of his would-be constituents doesn't seem happy to see him running here. Last month, Thornberry put out a statement saying, "Whether these outside candidates are from the DFW Metroplex or the Lubbock region or elsewhere, I appreciate their desire to serve but believe they should run in their own districts." The congressman didn't name anyone, but local observers took this as a shot at Ekstrom and perhaps Jackson.
The field also includes two local elected officials, Amarillo City Councilwoman Elaine Hays and Wichita County Commissioner Lee Harvey; Texas Cattle Feeders Association government relations director Josh Winegarner; and Asusena Reséndiz, who stepped down last year as head of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Of course, it's always possible that other candidates will catch fire in this very crowded race.
● TX-17: GOP Rep. Bill Flores is retiring from a conservative seat that includes College Station and Waco, and 12 Republicans are running to succeed him. The candidate with the most name recognition in D.C., though not necessarily in this district, is former 32nd District Rep. Pete Sessions. Sessions relocated to his childhood home of Waco in the fall, a move that came less than a year after he lost his 2018 bid for a 12th term over 80 miles away in Dallas.
Flores loudly made his displeasure at Sessions' carpetbagging known, but it's not clear which of the many other contenders has the connections and resources to run a serious campaign. The only contender who has held elected office in this district (other than Sessions, who represented a very small slice of what's now the 17th District until 2003), is former College Station City Council member Elianor Vessali.
The field picked up one last candidate just before filing closed Monday when defense consultant and Army veteran Jeff Oppenheim jumped in. Already in the running for Team Red were construction company owner Scott Bland; rocket scientist George Hindman, who began airing ads here last month; college administrator Todd Kent; real estate agent Kristen Alamo Rowin; Marine veteran Trent Sutton; and businesswoman Renee Swann. Three other candidates are also in, but none of them appear to even have active campaign websites up yet.
Three Democrats are competing here: Marine veteran David Anthony Jaramillo; retired teacher William Foster; and 2018 nominee Rick Kennedy, who lost to Flores 57-41. This seat backed Trump by a wide 56-39 margin, but Republican Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Beto O'Rourke here last year by a narrower 54-45 spread.
● TX-21: Freshman GOP Rep. Chip Roy faces a well-funded challenge from 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis. Davis raised $939,000 during her opening fundraising quarter to Roy's $573,000, though the incumbent still ended September with a $1.1 million to $604,000 cash-on-hand lead.
This seat, which includes parts of Austin and San Antonio as well as the Texas Hill Country, was safely red at the start of the decade: The district backed Mitt Romney 60-38, and Davis lost it two years later 59-39 as she was losing statewide to Republican Greg Abbott by that same margin in that year's race for governor. However, the seat went for Trump by a smaller 52-42 spread in 2016, and it supported GOP Sen. Ted Cruz just 49.6-49.5 last year. Roy, who is Cruz's former chief of staff, himself only won his first term 50-48.
● TX-22: GOP Rep. Pete Olson is leaving behind another once safely red seat that's become competitive in recent years, and 18 Republicans are competing to succeed him. The field for this seat in the southern Houston suburbs was even larger until just before the deadline, but former Pearland City Council member Felicia Harris announced that she was dropping out.
This is already a very expensive GOP primary thanks to party fundraiser Kathaleen Wall, who self-funded $600,000 before the end of September and began running ads in early November. However, she found out the hard way last year that a massive spending spree hardly guarantees a good performance. Wall campaigned for the nearby 2nd District and spent $6.2 million of her own money on the primary, but she surprisingly and narrowly missed the runoff.
Another candidate who is likely to have access to plenty of cash is Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star CEO Pierce Bush, who is a grandson of former President George HW Bush. The field also includes two people who have won elected office in this area: Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, whose constituency covers about 63% of the seat, and former Brazoria County Judge Greg Hill, whose county makes up another 23% of the district. Also in the running are retired Marine Maj. Jon Camarillo and former president of India Culture Center of Houston Bangar Reddy.
The Democratic frontrunner is 2018 nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni, who held Olson to a surprisingly close 51-46 win and ended September with $546,000 on-hand. Pearland City Councilman Derrick Reed and political TV commentator Nyanza Moore are also in, but neither of them had much money at the end of the last quarter. This seat moved from 62-37 for Romney to just 52-44 Trump, and GOP Sen. Ted Cruz took it only 50-49 last year.
● TX-23: GOP Rep. Will Hurd decided to retire months after defeating Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones 49.2-48.7 in a very expensive race, and outside of North Carolina, this 50-46 Clinton district is arguably Team Blue's best pickup opportunity in the whole country. Ortiz Jones is running again, and she had a massive $1.4 million war chest at the end of September. A few other Democrats are competing, but none of them appear to have the connections to mount a serious race.
Republicans, by contrast, have had a very tough time finding a formidable candidate to replace Hurd. The incumbent is supporting Navy veteran Tony Gonzales, but his opening fundraising quarter was quite disappointing for Team Red. Attorney Sharon Thomas, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 to serve on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, entered the race in November, and it remains to be seen if she'll be able to raise the type of money needed to defend this seat. Four other Republicans are also in, but none of them look notable.
● TX-24: GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring from another seat that started the decade as safely red turf but has become much more competitive over time. The district, which includes the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth, moved from 60-36 Romney to 51-45 Trump, and Marchant himself only won re-election 51-48 against Jan McDowell as Democratic Senate nominee Beto O'Rourke was carrying the seat by the same margin.
The GOP frontrunner is former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who had $319,000 in the bank at the end of September. Four other Republicans are running, including businessman Desi Maes, but it remains to be seen if any will have the resources to seriously challenge Van Duyne.
McDowell is running again for the Democratic nod, but she's struggled to raise cash for her second bid. The candidate with the most money at the end of September was 2018 state agriculture secretary nominee Kim Olson, an Air Force veteran who narrowly lost the 24th District 49-48 as she was losing statewide by a larger 51-46.
Attorney Crystal Fletcher had $109,000 in the bank compared to the $87,000 that local school board member Candace Valenzuela had. However, EMILY's List endorsed Valenzuela after the fundraising quarter ended, which could help her bring in more money.
● TX-28: Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is one of the worst Democrats in the House, faces a primary challenge from the left from immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros ended September with a credible $292,000 in the bank, and she soon picked up an endorsement from EMILY’s List. However, Cuellar has been stockpiling money for a long time, and he had a massive $3.2 million to spend. No other Democrats filed for this Laredo district, so the nomination for this 58-38 Clinton seat will be decided in March.
● TX-31: Last year, GOP Rep. John Carter won the first general election of his career by beating Air Force veteran MJ Hegar 51-48 in a very expensive race. This seat backed Trump 54-41 but supported GOP Sen. Ted Cruz by a small 51-48 margin, and Carter could be vulnerable if he faces another strong candidate.
Several Democrats, including tech businesswoman Donna Imam, 2018 candidate Christine Mann, and Dan Janjigian, an actor from the legendary bad movie The Room, were running before September, but none of them had much money at the end of September. Another candidate, Round Rock City Councilor Tammy Young, entered the contest a month later. Carter had $726,000 in the bank in the early fall to defend the seat, which includes Williamson and Bell Counties in the Austin area.
● TX-32: Freshman Democratic Rep. Colin Allred won this ancestrally red suburban north Dallas seat last year by unseating longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions 52-46, and Republicans are hoping to take it back.
The GOP frontrunner appears to be businesswoman Genevieve Collins, who had $446,000 in the bank at the end of September. Four other Republicans, including retired Navy SEAL Floyd McLendon, are also running, but none of them have attracted much attention or money.
Allred is a strong fundraiser, and he had $1.45 million in the bank to defend himself. This seat swung from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke beat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz 55-44 here last year.
● VA-02, VA-Sen: Following a report that he could switch from his longshot bid against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to seeking his former seat against first-term Democratic rep. Elaine Luria, former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor didn't officially commit to making the switch, but his team said there's been a "groundswell of support" for running for the House again.
However, even if Taylor chooses to run for his old seat again, he won't have an uncontested path to the GOP nomination. Businessman Ben Loyola said he would stay in the race, and he blasted Taylor for taking contributions for a Senate campaign that he could then use for another House bid.
● WA-10: Politico reports that former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a Democrat who now runs the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, is likely to run for this newly open seat, although there's no word directly from her yet. However, Strickland would be starting at a bit of a disadvantage, since only around 39,000 of Tacoma's 198,000 residents are located in the 10th District, with most of them residing in Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer's neighboring 6th District instead.