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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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Ossoff will now face an uphill climb in runoff against Republican Karen Handel
By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Jon Ossoff’s insurgent campaign to flip Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat in Atlanta’s northern suburbs fell short of securing a majority in an April 18 special election, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Republican Karen Handel in a June 20 runoff.
With all of the precincts in the district reporting, Ossoff had 48.1 percent of the vote, followed by Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, at 19.8 percent. Bob Gray, a technology executive who touted his work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, came in third with 10.8 percent.
Ossoff’s result was a surprisingly strong showing by a Democrat in what had been seen as a safe Republican seat. But his failure to clear an outright majority means he will now have to beat Handel in a head-to-head race.
Despite not clearing that hurdle, Ossoff told his supporters that the result was “a victory for the ages” and vowed to continue the fight.
“We have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world, and your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country,” said Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide with no previous political experience.
“There is no amount of dark money, Super PAC, negative advertising that can overcome real grassroots energy like this. So bring it on.”
Handel, who managed to fight off attacks from her fellow Republicans to come in second, told her supporters that “nine weeks from today, we have an opportunity and a real responsibility to elect a member of Congress who shares our values.”
Telegraphing how her campaign will frame the campaign ahead, Handel called herself “a proven, independent and conservative leader who has delivered for the people of this district.”
For Handel, 55, the second-place finish was a welcome political comeback after back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014. She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.
Trump was an overarching presence in the 6th District race. Ossoff used anti-Trump sentiment to whip up Democratic enthusiasm and raise a staggering $8.3 million, using the slogan “Make Trump Furious.”
That prompted the president to make a robocall to voters in the district, saying “Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care and flood our country with illegal immigrants.” However, Trump did not endorse anyone, and the four unabashedly pro-Trump candidates in the race fared poorly, taking only about 20 percent of the vote.
The June 20 runoff is likely to be a bruising affair with national implications, as Republicans try to hold on to what had been seen as a safe seat and Democrats try to embarrass Trump by snatching it away.
The first round results show the uphill climb Ossoff faces: Together, 11 Republican candidates captured 98,000 votes, besting the 93,900 votes captured by Ossoff and four other Democrats. And while Ossoff carried a majority in the part of the district that lies in DeKalb County, he failed to clear a majority in the larger slices in Cobb and Fulton counties.
The 6th District seat became vacant in February, when Tom Price left to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump cabinet. The all-party special election drew a crowded field of 18 candidates.
Price had won the district by 76,000 votes in November, but Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
The 6th District has been previously represented by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. It had been considered so unassailable that in 2016, the Democratic nomination for the seat went to a man who didn’t even bother to campaign.
Despite public insistence by Republican leaders that an Ossoff victory was nothing more than a liberal fantasy, the National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved resources into the district in anticipation of the runoff.
But polls shows Jon Ossoff may not avoid a runoff that could be fatal in metro Atlanta’s 6th District
ATLANTA (CFP) — On paper, the outcome of the April 18 special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House district should be an foregone conclusion.
This seat in Atlanta’s upscale, leafy northern suburbs has been previously held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. Last November, Tom Price, now secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, won it by more than 76,000 votes against a Democrat who didn’t even bother to campaign.
But after seeing the presidential results in the 6th District last November, Democrats smelled blood.
Donald Trump carried the district by a mere 1.5 percentage points, on his way to losing Cobb County, a GOP bastion that hadn’t gone Democratic since 1976. The eastern half of Cobb is in the 6th District, along with the northern portions of Fulton and DeKalb counties, which Hillary Clinton also carried.
When Trump put Price in his Cabinet, Democrats saw an opportunity in the all-party special election to fill this seat, if they could find a candidate who could make the race competitive.
Enter Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide who had never before run for anything. He galvanized Trump-disaffected Democrats with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” He raised a staggering $8.3 million in one just one quarter, including $1.25 in crowdfunding from the liberal website Daily Kos — a fundraising haul larger than all of his 11 Republican competitors combined.
Not only has Ossoff proven himself to be competitive, he has shot to a large lead in the polls, a full 20 points ahead of his nearest competitor. But he still may need the political equivalent of a Hail Mary to actually get to Congress.
For to win the seat outright, Ossoff has to clear 50 percent in the April 18 vote against a field with 17 competitors. If he doesn’t pull that off, he’ll face a June 20 runoff against the second-place finisher, who will almost certainly be a Republican.
Recent polls have put Ossoff as high as 43 percent, well short of what he would need to win outright. However, Democrats are hoping that their enthusiasm for Ossoff, along with the low voter turnout typical of special elections, can propel their man over the top.
The results of April 11 special election for a Republican-held congressional seat in Kansas have buoyed those hopes. The Republican in that race won, but there was a 20-point swing toward the Democrat from what Trump posted in November. Even a fraction of that swing could put Ossoff in Congress.
A recent poll by Fox 5 in Atlanta also contained good news for Democrats. In head-to-head match-ups with the four leading Republicans in the race, Ossoff was in a statistical dead heat with all of them, raising hopes he might be able to win even if forced into a runoff.
But Republicans aren’t buying that argument. Given the district’s historical tendencies, they are confident their candidate will prevail in a one-on-one race with Ossoff. One of the Republicans competing for second place, Bob Gray, has gone so far as to dismiss Democratic hopes of poaching the seat as a “fantasy.”
Yet, with Ossoff’s campaign in high gear and Republicans still tussling with each other for second place, the National Republican Congressional Committee began running ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved staffers into the district.
Another wild card in Ossoff’s ultimate success will be which Republican he faces in the runoff, who will emerge after an increasingly fractious battle for second place.
Polls show the chase for the second spot in the runoff appears to be between Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission, and Gray, a technology executive and former city councilman in Johns Creek, one of the cities in the district.
Handel, a political fixture in North Fulton for the past 15 years, has high name recognition after failed runs for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. She has received a slew of endorsements from city and county officials throughout the district, as well as the support of former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.
Gray has positioned himself as a business-oriented political outsider aligned with Trump, and he is also receiving support from the conservative Club for Growth.
Two other Republicans with an outside shot at the runoff slot are Dan Moody, a former state senator from Johns Creek, who has the backing of U.S .Senator David Perdue, and Judson Hill, a former state senator from East Cobb who has been endorsed by Gingrich and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who carried Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties over trump in Georgia’s 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Both Gray and Moody have turned their fire on Handel, with ads that criticize her as an opportunistic office seeker and a flip-flopper in the mode of John Kerry. Handel has responded with an ad touting her experience as county commission chair and secretary of state and criticizing her opponents for being more talk than action.
Oklahoma Republican calls Trump’s wiretap charge against Obama “reckless”
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Donald Trump may have carried U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s district by 38 points in November, but the Oklahoma Republican is mincing no words in calling for Trump to apologize to former President Barack Obama over claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol March 17, Cole said there is “no indication” that Trump’s allegation against Obama is true.
“It’s not a charge I would ever have made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think … President Obama is owed an apology,” said Cole.
“If (Obama) didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”
In a March 4 tweet, Trump claimed that Obama has his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower, his New York home. He followed that up with additional tweets comparing Obama’s conduct to the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.
Trump has so far offered no evidence to back that claim, but he has not retracted it. Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties have said the claim is unsubstantiated. Obama administration officials have also said the claim has no merit.
While other Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Trump’s wiretapping claim, none of them have gone as far as Cole in calling for an apology.
Cole has a place in the GOP leadership as a deputy whip to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. From 2006 to 2008, he served as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.
Cole, from Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th District, which stretches from the southern Oklahoma City suburbs south to the Texas border. He has held the seat since 2003.
A college history professor before entering politics, Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is one of only two Native Americans currently serving in Congress. The other is U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd District.
In the 2016 election, Trump carried 66 percent of the vote in the 4th District, to just 28 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton.