● MN-Sen: The Star Tribune name drops former Rep. Jason Lewis, a former far-right radio host who lost his bid for a second term last year to Democrat Angie Craig 53-47, as a potential GOP candidate against Democratic Sen. Tina Smith. There isn't any other information about Lewis' interest in this race.
● NE-Sen: GOP Sen. Ben Sasse has occasionally ruffled Donald Trump's feathers by criticizing #BothSides, but he doesn't seem to be in much danger of losing his primary. The National Journal's Zach Cohen takes a look at Sasse's 2020 contest and finds no major Republicans are contemplating taking on Sasse, who has always loyally voted with the Trump administration.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has repeatedly said he won't run, while Trump donor Charles Herbster, who has mulled seeking statewide office before, also said through a spokesperson that he was supporting Sasse. Banker Sid Dinsdale, who lost the 2014 open seat primary to Sasse 49-22, said he was "not really active anymore" in politics and doubted anyone could wage a tough campaign against the incumbent, whom he dubbed a "pretty good guy." The senator's spokesperson said that the senator "won't make their formal announcement until after the family meeting this summer," but that he was laying the groundwork to run again.
● TX-Sen: While the Texas Monthly reported a few weeks ago that Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro was "all but certain" to run against GOP Sen. John Cornyn, retired Air Force pilot MJ Hegar doesn't seem willing to defer to him.
Hegar, who lost to GOP Rep. John Carter 51-48 last year in an ancestrally red seat, tweeted on Tuesday, "We need someone to get to work for Texans in the US Senate—someone who will actually fight for our families. I'm taking a very close look at running," and she concluded, "Stay tuned." Hegar raised over $5 million last cycle thanks in large part to a strong web video that recounted her military service, and she could be a formidable primary foe for the well-connected Castro should both run.
● AZ-06: Physician Hiral Tipirneni announced on Tuesday that she would seek the Democratic nod to challenge GOP Rep. David Schweikert in this suburban Phoenix seat. Tipirneni was Team Blue's nominee for the neighboring 8th District last year in both the special election and regular contest, and she lives close to the 6th District in Glendale.
Last year, Tipirneni ran in the April special election to succeed scandal-tarred Republican Trent Franks. The 8th District had backed Romney 62-37 and Trump 58-37, so this was hardly friendly territory for Democrats. However, Tipirneni ended up holding Republican Debbie Lesko to a 52-48 win in a race that attracted little outside spending. The two faced off again in November, but Tipirneni lost by a wider 55-45. Still, this was hardly a bad result for this historically red seat. According to analyst Drew Savicki, Republican Martha McSally carried the 8th District 55-43 in last year's Senate race.
Tipirneni may not have the primary to herself, though. Businesswoman Anita Malik lost to Schweikert 55-45 in a contest that didn't get much attention, and she reaffirmed on Tuesday that she was still considering and plans to decide by the end of the month. However, while Malik said in February that she was "most likely in," she wasn't as sure this week. She said that her husband is still recovering from an illness, and that Tipirneni's bid "has made it more challenging of a decision."
The 6th District also has been safely red for most of the decade, but that may be changing. This seat, which includes a portion of Phoenix and most of Scottsdale, moved from 60-39 Romney to just 52-42 Trump. According to Savicki, McSally also carried it by an even-smaller 51-47 margin. The House Ethics Committee is also investigating multiple allegations against Schweikert, including whether he pressured his congressional staff to do political activities for him.
● MT-AL: On Tuesday, Democratic state Rep. Tom Winter announced that he would run for Montana's sole House district. The seat is currently held by GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, a potential 2020 candidate for governor.
Last year, Winter unseated a GOP incumbent by 39 votes to win a Missoula County seat that had backed Trump 51-40. Winter, who owns an in-home care service provider business, declared that healthcare access would be a major issue in his congressional campaign, saying, "I have a pre-existing condition. I have a sister, she's had a life-threatening chronic condition her whole life."
Winters will likely face some competition in the Democratic primary. Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, who lost to Gianforte 51-46 last year, has been mulling another bid, and she has a 2020 “kickoff” rally scheduled for Friday.
● NC-02: On Tuesday, retired Marine Lt. Col. Scott Cooper became the first notable Democrat to announce a bid against GOP Rep. George Holding. This greater Raleigh area seat backed Trump 53-44, and last year, Holding won a fourth term 51-46.
● NC-06, NC-Sen: On Tuesday, federal prosecutors indicted North Carolina Republican Party Chair Robin Hayes as well as GOP donor Greg Lindberg and two of his associates for their part in an alleged bribery scheme—and the story could have repercussions for Republican Rep. Mark Walker as well. Walker was not named in the indictment, but Politico identified him as “Public Official A,” whom Lindberg’s associates said had been “trying to help us move the ball forward.” Hayes, Walker, and Lindberg have all denied any wrongdoing.
The day began when prosecutors accused Hayes, Lindberg, and two others named John Palermo and John Gray with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bribery. Prosecutors allege that Lindberg made large donations to the state party that Hayes then used to forward $250,000 to the 2020 re-election campaign of GOP state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey last year. They also say Lindberg promised Causey he’d set up a committee to make “independent” expenditures on the commissioner’s behalf, which he then seeded with $1.5 million.
According to the indictment, these activities were all meant as a bribe for Causey, “in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg’s business interests.” Chief among Lindberg’s desires was the removal a senior deputy insurance commissioner “who was responsible for overseeing regulation and the periodic examination” of one of Lindberg’s companies. Lindberg and Gray asked that Causey replace the deputy commissioner with Palermo, but it doesn’t appear any firing or hiring actually took place. (Causey cooperated with federal authorities in the investigation and was not charged.)
The story snowballed from there. Later on Tuesday, Politico reported that, relying on public FEC records, they’d matched the person identified as “Public Official A” in the indictment to Walker, a congressman from the Greensboro area and the House Republican caucus’ vice chair.
A February 2018 email to Lindberg from Palermo informed him, “Just between the three of us … [Public Official A] has already made two calls on our behalf and is trying to help us move the ball forward” in their efforts to connect with Causey. The email continued, “I was also told that the $150,000 will be going to [Public Official A].” That same day, a Walker political committee set up just four days earlier received $150,000 from Lindberg, its very first donation.
Walker represents North Carolina’s 6th District, a seat that backed Trump 56-41, and he won re-election 57-43 last year in a contest that didn’t attract much attention. Last month, Walker did not rule out a primary bid against Sen. Thom Tillis, though he seems far more interested in running for the Senate in 2022 when GOP incumbent Richard Burr says he’ll retire. However, though he hasn’t so far been charged with any crimes, he may now have more immediate concerns.
Tuesday’s news was far worse for Hayes, who represented a House seat in the Charlotte area from 1999 until his 2008 defeat at the hands of Democrat Larry Kissell. Hayes served as party chair from 2011 until 2013, then returned to that role in 2016. In a fitting irony, Hayes was one of the many Republicans who ardently defended Mark Harris even as a torrent of damning evidence surfaced about the election fraud committed on the latter's behalf in last year’s race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Hayes even alleged that the former chair of the state Board of Elections was conspiring with Democrats to steal the seat.
Even after the Board ordered a new election in February hours after Harris himself called for one, Hayes put out a statement addressed to 2018 Democratic nominee "Dan McCready and his Democrat [sic] allies," that declared, “You did not get more legal votes and there are no free lunches in politics.” Hayes went on, “You will be held responsible for the extreme positions your party has taken and your role to erase more than 283,000 legal votes by citizens of the 9th Congressional District.”
On Monday, one day before he was indicted, Hayes announced that he would not seek another term as party chair due to health reasons. As sociologist Dave Strong noted, “[T]here is free lunch in prison!”
● TX-07: Army veteran Wesley Hunt, who served as a combat helicopter pilot in Iraq, announced on Tuesday that he would challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, making him the first noteworthy Republican to enter the race. The Hill reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recruited Hunt to run for this suburban Houston seat, and McCarthy publicly praised him after he launched his campaign.
This seat was safe GOP turf for many decades until 2016, when Hillary Clinton narrowly carried it 48.5-47.1, and it continued to swing to the left last year. Fletcher unseated longtime Rep. John Culberson 52.5-47.5, and according to the Texas Legislative Council, Democrat Beto O'Rourke beat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz 53-46 here. However, the GOP is very much hoping that this seat will snap back even with Trump on the ballot next year.
● VA-05: On Tuesday, Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler announced a second bid for Virginia's 5th Congressional District, a seat that last year was witness to an extremely unusual race for all sorts of reasons.
One of those irregularities wound up badly costing Huffstetler, and quite unfairly so. A perverse provision of Virginia law allows local party leaders each election cycle to choose whether to hold a primary, or whether to select nominees at a convention. In 2018, Democrats throughout the state, sensing intense progressive energy ahead of the midterms, opted for the former, allowing as many voters as possible to participate. The lone exception on the congressional level was in the 5th District, where the party went with a convention, even though several candidates were competing for the nod.
As a result, the nomination was decided by just 250 convention delegates rather than the tens of thousands who would have turned out for a proper primary. That benefitted journalist Leslie Cockburn, who was outspoken in her support of a convention, and undermined Huffstetler, who'd campaigned in favor of a primary on the grounds that it would (rightly) give Democrats "an opportunity to engage with a broader set of voters who will be critical to our success in November."
Cockburn did not, in fact, meet with success in November. After a freakish series of twists and turns—Republican Rep. Tom Garrett belatedly dropped out in bizarre fashion, only to be replaced on the ballot by businessman Denver Riggleman, who turned out to be an aficionado of Bigfoot porn—Cockburn wound up losing 53-47. That outcome likely had as much to do with the district's conservative lean as anything else, though: It voted for Donald Trump 53-42 and Mitt Romney 53-46.
That backdrop gives Huffstetler long odds of unseating Riggleman, but hopefully 5th District Democrats won't make the same mistake they did last year and instead pick a nominee in a way that'll give candidates the incentive to talk to as many voters as possible.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Chicago held its general election for mayor on Tuesday to succeed retiring incumbent Rahm Emanuel, and as all signs predicted, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot easily defeated Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a fellow Democrat, by a dominant 74-26 margin. Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle are black women, so a win for either of them would have made Chicago the largest city in America to ever elect a woman of color as mayor. Additionally, Lightfoot’s victory means that the Windy City is also the biggest city to ever be led by a gay mayor.
But while Lightfoot’s win looked easy, she was anything but the favorite for most of the race. After Emanuel’s surprise retirement, a number of prominent Chicago politicians, including Preckwinkle, entered the Feb. 26 nonpartisan primary. Lightfoot, a first time-candidate for public office, was not among this crowd: She started with considerably less name recognition than most of her opponents, and until February, not a single publicly released poll showed her taking more than 5% of the vote. Preckwinkle, by contrast, almost always led.
However, as the nominal frontrunner, Preckwinkle found herself on the receiving end of widespread attacks and withering scrutiny for months. Rivals focused on her connections to Alderman Ed Burke, who was indicted for corruption in January, as well as a bitterly unpopular 2017 soda tax she passed but then had to repeal after it had been in effect for just two months.
Lightfoot, by contrast, appeared to surge in the final weeks of the primary by positioning herself as a political outsider and arguing that her opponents were "all tied to the same Chicago machine"—the machine personified by Burke (who nevertheless went on to win re-election). Lightfoot also picked up some important endorsements late in the race, including from the Chicago Sun-Times and Rep. Robin Kelly, which may have helped her stand out in an incredibly crowded field.
Lightfoot ended up leading Preckwinkle by a narrow 18-16 spread in the primary, but despite that close showing, she began the general as the favorite. Preckwinkle had made many enemies during her time in local politics while Lightfoot, a comparative fresh face, could appeal to diverse blocs of voters who were each unhappy with the county board president for their own reasons. Lightfoot, by contrast, won over several candidates she’d defeated in the primary, while Preckwinkle’s allies and major donors appeared to have decided that she was no longer a good investment and ceased pouring in funds.
From the moment the second round of voting began, polls showed Lightfoot far ahead and never wavered. Preckwinkle, beset by financial woes, almost completely stopped airing ads during the final weeks of the contest, a very glum sign for the former frontrunner. All of these factors contributed to Lightfoot’s come-from-behind victory to lead the country’s third-largest city.
● Deaths: Former Newark Mayor Ken Gibson, whose 1970 win made him the first black chief executive of a major Northeastern city, died Friday at the age of 86. Daily Kos Elections has put together an obituary looking over his career in office during a tough time for cities all over the country, which included two unsuccessful runs for governor of New Jersey during the 1980s and culminated in his 1986 defeat.