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Donald Trump’s former White House doctor Ronny Jackson wins U.S. House runoff in Panhandle; Pete Sessions makes a comeback
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
AUSTIN (CFP) — Former Air Force combat pilot MJ Hegar has won the Democratic nomination to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn for a seat that Democrats have hopes of flipping in November.
Hegar, who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, defeated State Senator Royce West of Dallas by a margin of 52% to 48% in Tuesday’s runoff and now faces the task of pulling off something no Democrat has done in 32 years — win a Senate race in the Lone Star State.
In a victory statement, Hegar vowed to run “a Texas-sized winning campaign that will take down Sen. Cornyn and deliver real results on health care, racial justice, economic opportunity, climate change, immigration and gun violence.”
The Cornyn campaign responded with a statement calling her “Hollywood Hegar,” because of her out-of-state support, and noting that she barely beat West even though she and her allies outspent him on advertising by a margin of 100 to 1.
“Senator Cornyn is prepared to face whatever comes his way,” his campaign said.
In other Texas runoff races, Ronny Jackson — the former White House doctor whom President Trump tried and failed to install as Veterans’ Affairs secretary in 2018 — won a Republican runoff for a U.S. House seat in the Panhandle, making him the favorite to win in November in the Republican leaning 13th District.
Jackson now faces the winner of the Democratic runoff, Gus Trujillo, who works for a Latino business group in Amarillo.
In the Waco-based 17th District, Pete Sessions, a former House Republican leader who lost his Dallas-area seat in 2018, made a comeback by winning a runoff in a new district. He will face Rick Kennedy, a software developer from Round Rock, in November; the Republican lean of this district will also make Sessions the favorite.
In other Texas U.S. House runoffs Tuesday:
In the 10th District (East Texas between Austin and Houston), Mike Siegel won the Democratic runoff for the right to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul in a race that Democrats have targeted as a pickup opportunity.
In the 22nd District (Southern Houston suburbs), Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls won the Republican runoff and will face Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni in a race that Democrats have also targeted. The winner will replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson.
In the 23rd District (West Texas between San Antonio and El Paso), the Republican runoff may be headed into overtime after Tony Gonzales ended election night with a scant seven vote lead over Raul Reyes in a race fill the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd.
The runoff pitted U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, who endorsed Reyes, against Trump, who endorsed Gonzales. In the closing days of the race, Trump’s campaign sent Reyes a cease-and-desist order over a mailer that implied he had the president’s endorsement.
The winner will face Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who nearly defeated Hurd in 2018 in the state’s most competitive House district.
In the 24th District (Metro Dallas-Ft. Worth), Candace Valenzuela, a school board member in Carrollton-Farmers Branch, won the Democratic nomination and will face the Republican nominee, former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, in the race to succeed incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, which Democrats are also targeting.
In the 31st District (Northern Austin suburbs), Donna Imam, an Austin computer engineer, won the Democratic runoff to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter, who is also on the Democrats’ target list.
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Departures follow exits of 8 Texas House Republicans in 2018
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — With a sixth U.S. House Republican from Texas opting not to run for re-election in 2020, the pending departures have earned a new nickname in Washington — a “Texodus.”
U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry — one of the few Republicans left who rolled into Washington in the party’s “Contract with America” sweep in 1994 — announced his retirement September 30, joining five home-state colleagues who had earlier announced they would not see re-election.
“It has been a great honor to serve the people of the 13th District of Texas as their congressman for the last 25 years,” Thornberry said in a statement announcing his retirement. “We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change.”
While Thornberry’s district, which sprawls from the Dallas Metroplex to the Panhandle, is heavily Republican and unlikely to fall into Democratic hands, his departure is the latest in a string of retirements that have reshaped the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation.
Thornberry and the five other Texas House Republicans who have announced their retirements this year have, together, more than 80 years of seniority. And of the 25 Republicans elected to the state’s delegation in 2016, only 11 will be left standing after 2020 — if no one else retires or loses. Eight retired or lost their seats in 2018.
Thornberry had chaired the House Armed Services Committee before Republicans lost their majority in 2018 and currently serves as ranking member. However, term limits imposed by the Republican conference would have forced him out of that role after 2020, which means he would not have reclaimed his chairmanship even if Republicans took back the House.
Conway faced the same situation on the House Agriculture Committee.
Of the six seats being vacated, Conaway and Thornberry’s are safely Republican, and the next occupant will be decided in the GOP primary next March. But the other four are on the target list for Democrats, who hope to build on the two-seat gain they made in Texas in 2018.
Two other Texas House Republicans, both representing Austin-area districts, are on the retirement watch list — Michael McCaul and John Carter, who are also being targeted by Democrats. However, both men have been raising money for their re-election campaigns.
Candidates have until December 9 to decide whether to run for re-election — or ride off into the Texas sunset.
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Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump districts post strong fundraising numbers for 2020 re-election bids
Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats show more fundraising success so far than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democratic freshmen who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016 have posted strong fundraising numbers during the first half of 2019, stocking up their war chests ahead of expected stiff re-election challenges from Republicans in 2020, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Topping the list was Joe Cunningham of South Carolina at $1.28 million, followed by Lucy McBath of Georgia at $1.15 million and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia at $1.12 million. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma raised $961,500, while in Virginia, Elaine Luria raised $865,400.
All five hold significant leads in fundraising over their Republican rivals, although McBath’s GOP challengers have, together, raised more money than she has. So far, Spanberger and Luria are getting a free ride against GOP challengers who have raised very little money, with 17 months to go before election day.
The new numbers also show that across the South, Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats have had somewhat more fundraising success to date than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats, with no significant fundraising to this point from Republican challengers in five of the 10 seats Democrats flipped in 2018.
However, the lone Southern Republican who represents a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 — Will Hurd in West Texas’s 23rd District — raised $1.23 million, more than twice as much as Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, whom he beat in 2018.
The race that has drawn the most money so far is the contest in Georgia’s 7th District, a GOP-held seat in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs where Rob Woodall is retiring. Seven Republicans and five Democrats have together raised nearly $2.9 million, with Republican State Senator Renee Unterman and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who nearly unseated Woodall in 2018, leading the pack.
In 2018, five Democrats won Clinton districts that had been held by Republicans — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Texas; and Jennifer Wexton in Virginia. Powell, Allred and Fletcher have all raised more than $1 million for 2020; Wexton, $932,400; and Shalala, $691,500.
Shalala, Allred and Wexton have yet to draw challengers who have raised significant amounts of money. Mucarsel-Powell and Fletcher have, although both hold a significant fundraising advantage over their nearest Republican rival at this point in the campaign cycle.
The Democrats’ House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is targeting 11 Southern seats currently held by Republicans, and Democratic challengers have raised at least $300,000 in six of those districts, including four seats in Texas, where Democrats hope to build on gains made in 2018.
The Republicans’ House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is targeting 12 Southern seats currently held by Democrats, and Republican challengers have raised at least $300,000 in just three of those districts, held by Horn, McBath and Fletcher.
GOP challengers have topped the $200,000 mark in the race against Cunningham and in two other Democrat-held seats in Florida, now held by Mucarsel-Powell in South Florida and Charlie Crist in Pinellas County.
The most glaring absence for Republicans is in Virginia, where all three Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 — Spanberger, Luria and Wexton — are, to this point, getting a free ride.
Based on the latest fundraising numbers, here are the 2020 races to keep an eye on:
Texas: Democratic challengers have raised substantial money in four districts where Republican incumbents won narrow victories in 2018: Hurd in West Texas; Pete Olson in suburban Houston; Kenny Marchant in Dallas-Ft. Worth; and Michael McCaul, whose district runs from the suburbs of Austin to the suburbs of Houston. All four incumbents still hold a fundraising advantage, although Olson has only raised $230,000 more than Democrat Sri Kulkarni, whom he beat by just 5 points in 2018, and two Democrats running against McCaul have together raised nearly $670,000, compared to his $875,500. Given that Democrats are staying competitive financially, all four of these races will likely be close in 2020.
Georgia 6/Atlanta’s Northwest Suburbs: McBath shocked the political world in 2018 when she defeated Republican Karen Handel, a former statewide officeholder with a long political pedigree. Handel is trying a comeback in 2020, and the Republican race has already turned into a food fight between her and former State Senator Brandon Beech. But the surprise so far in fundraising has come from Republican Marjorie Greene, a Milton businesswoman making her first run for political office who has already raised $523,400, eclipsing both Handel and Beech. And while Republicans will need to spend money slugging it out in a primary, McBath has what appears to be an unobstructed path to the Democratic nomination.
Georgia 7/Atlanta’s Northeast Suburbs: After winning by a scant 420 votes in 2018, Woodall decided to retire. Bourdeaux, the woman who nearly toppled him, is running again and currently holds a large fundraising lead over her Democratic rivals at $654,200. On the Republican side, Unterman — best known in the legislature as the author of a controversial law outlawing abortions once a child’s heartbeat has been detected — has raised $677,500, followed by Lynne Hormich, a former Home Depot executive making her political debut, at $500,300. This race, which could feature two Republican women in a runoff, will closely watched by GOP leaders looking to add to the thin ranks of Republican women in Congress.
Oklahoma 5/Metro Oklahoma City: Horn may arguably be the nation’s most vulnerable Democrat, in ruby red Oklahoma. And while she has posted strong fundraising numbers so far, two Republican rivals have together raised more than $710,000 to her $961,500. One key to her ultimate survival is how much money her GOP rivals will spend in a primary; right now, businesswoman Terry Neese has outraised the other Republican in the race, State Senator Stephanie Bice, by a 3-to-1 margin. The less competitive the Republican primary is, the more Horn will need to worry — but she’ll need to worry quite a bit in any case.
South Carolina 1/Charleston and the Lowcountry: Cunningham, too, faces an uphill battle for re-election in a traditionally Republican district. But his fundraising has been strong — only two Southern incumbents in either party have raised more money — and he has been trying to carve out a moderate voting record. Three Republicans running against him have, together, raised just a little more than $540,000, less than half of his total. Cunningham is to this point running a textbook campaign for someone trying to survive tough political terrain.
Two Seats To Watch: In Florida’s 13th District, Republican Amanda Makki, a former congressional aide, raised $220,000 is less than a month in her quest to unseat Crist, a former Florida governor who at various times in his career has been a Republican, an independent and now a Democrat. In North Carolina’s 2nd District, in and around Raleigh, Democrat Scott Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran, has raised more than $300,000 in his challenge against Republican incumbent George Holding for a seat that could be the top pick-up prospect for Democrats in the Tar Heel State next year.
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Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.
Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.
The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.
Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.
Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.
And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.
Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give
Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.
The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)
Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.
Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.
He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.
Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.
One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.
However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.
McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.
Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.
Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.
Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.
The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.
Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.
All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.
Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.
Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.
Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.
Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.
Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.
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Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.
In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.
Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.
The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.
All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.
Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.
But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.
The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.
Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.
Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.
Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.
Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.
In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.