Morning Digest: Democrats go big on key special election that could help them win Texas’ state House

Gates’ team responded to the ad by saying, “This basic attack has been refuted by the people who did the investigation … The people that researched this closely think Gates has done a tremendous job as a parent.” The candidate also released his own TV ad a few weeks before Forward Majority’s spot went up that included a testimonial from one of his daughters, who said that the candidate “adopted me and takes such good care of our family, no matter what.”

The 28th District, which is located in the Houston suburbs, backed Donald Trump 53-43 but supported GOP Sen. Ted Cruz by a smaller 51-48 spread last year, and if Democrats flip it this month, Team Blue would need to net just eight seats in the fall to take control of the state House for the first time in ages. The district hosted an all-party primary on Nov. 5 and Markowitz, the lone Democrat in the race, took first with 39%, while Gates earned second with 28%, though the six Republican candidates collectively outpaced Markowitz 61-39.

However, Markowitz recently released a mid-December poll from HIT Strategies that showed her tied with Gates 42-42 to argue that this contest is winnable, and Republicans haven’t responded with contrary data. This high-stakes race has attracted attention from national Democrats, with former Vice President Joe Biden endorsing Markowitz this week.

4Q Fundraising

KS-Sen: Barbara Bollier (D): $1.05 million raised, additional $50,000 self-funded

MI-Sen: Gary Peters (D-inc): $2.5 million raised, $8 million cash-on-hand; John James (R): $3.5 million raised

MN-Sen: Tina Smith (D-inc): $1.7 million raised, $3.6 million cash-on-hand

NC-Sen: Cal Cunningham (D): $1.6 million raised, $1.7 million cash-on-hand

FL-26: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-inc): $575,000 raised, $1.6 million cash-on-hand

GA-07: Carolyn Bourdeaux (D): $310,000 raised, $860,000 cash-on-hand

IA-03: David Young (R): $340,000 raised

IL-13: Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D): $530,000 raised, $1.1 million cash-on-hand

MA-04: Jesse Mermell (D): $351,000 raised

MO-02: Jill Schupp (D): $475,000 raised (in one month), $450,000 cash-on-hand

NY-24: Francis Conole (D): $150,000 raised, $250,000 cash-on-hand

UT-04: Ben McAdams (D-inc): $900,000 raised, $1.8 million cash-on-hand

VA-02: Elaine Luria (D-inc): $620,000 raised, $1.5 million cash-on-hand


KS-Sen: Multiple media outlets reported on Monday evening that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would not seek the GOP nomination for Kansas’ open Senate seat, and it seems he’s serious this time.

While almost no one believed Pompeo back in July when he publicly said that a Senate run was “off the table,” McConnell seems to have decided that this time is different. The majority leader, who spent a year trying to recruit Pompeo, said Tuesday, “He’s made a decision that I think clearly under the circumstances is best for the country to continue to to serve in that role.” Pompeo himself also confirmed the story Tuesday.

Kansas’ filing deadline isn’t until June, so it’s possible that Republicans will still try to convince Pompeo to change his mind. However, the New York Times writes that “administration officials who have spoken with him in recent days said he seemed adamant about not entering the race.”

Several Republicans are already competing in the August GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts, and to the consternation of national Republicans, one of those contenders is former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. While the Sunflower State hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1932—the longest such streak in the country—Republicans are worried that Kobach, who lost the 2018 governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly, could put this seat in play.

Pompeo likely would have scared off many of the non-Kobach candidates if he’d run, but a crowded primary looks assured now. That could be very good news for Kobach, who needs to take just a plurality of the vote to win. However, McConnell and his allies have made it clear that they’re willing to spend plenty of money to beat Kobach.

It remains to be seen, though, if national Republicans will consolidate around another candidate. In addition to Kobach, the field includes Kansas Turnpike Authority chair Dave Lindstrom, Rep. Roger Marshall, state Board of Education member Steve Roberts, and state Senate President Susan Wagle. The clear frontrunner on the Democratic side is state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who raised over $1 million during her first three months in the race.

ME-Sen: The Democratic group Majority Forward is out with what they say is a six-figure TV and digital buy that goes after GOP Sen. Susan Collins on drug prices. The spot argues that the incumbent “voted against measures that would have lowered the cost of prescription drugs while raking in $1.4 million from the drug and insurance industries.”

NM-Sen: Former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti, whom the Associated Press calls “one of New Mexico’s most popular television figures,” announced Tuesday that he would seek the GOP nod for this open seat. Ronchetti served as chief meteorologist for Albuquerque’s CBS affiliate from 2006 until he stepped down on Monday ahead of his campaign launch.

Ronchetti will face a few other Republicans, including 2018 nominee Mick Rich and 2018 House candidate Gavin Clarkson, in the June primary. New Mexico has become a very unfriendly state for Republicans especially over the last few years, and Team Red will need a lot to go right if they want to give Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján a serious fight in the fall.


IN-Gov: State Sen. Eddie Melton announced Monday evening that he was dropping out of the May Democratic primary to take on GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb. The most notable candidate still in the race is former Indiana State Health Commissioner Woody Myers.

MD-Gov: On Monday, Democrats got their first declared candidate for the 2022 contest to succeed GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, who cannot run again that year due to term limits. The Maryland political blog A Miner Detail‏ reports that state Comptroller Peter Franchot told a room full of people, “I’ve done everything I could do as comptroller in 16 years. I’m running for governor.”

Franchot was first elected to his current post in 2006, and he won his fourth term in 2018 in a 72-28 landslide. However, the Washington Post’s Erin Cox noted in her lengthy profile of Franchot last year that he has a bad relationship with much of the party establishment going back to his 1986 victory in a primary for a spot in the state House. The Democratic-dominated legislature has limited Franchot’s authority twice, actions his chief of staff labeled “prepubescent cat slaps.”

By contrast, Franchot has developed close ties with Hogan, and he chose to remain neutral during the governor’s 2018 re-election fight. Franchot has continued to portray himself as above party lines, and Cox wrote last year that he “delivered what sounded like a stump speech on marrying liberal ideas with fiscal conservatism” at a fundraiser.

MT-Gov: Quarterly fundraising reports were due Monday for the June primaries to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, and there was one clear fundraising leader on each side.

Businesswoman Whitney Williams entered the Democratic primary in early October and took in $439,000 during her opening quarter, and she ended the year with $250,000 in the bank. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who has Bullock’s endorsement, raised $200,000 during this period and had $180,000 left to spend. Far behind was state House Minority Casey Schreiner, who took in just $15,000 and had $20,000 on-hand.

On the GOP side, Rep. Greg Gianforte raised $345,000 and had a hefty $780,000 available at the end of December. Attorney General Tim Fox was far behind with $106,000 raised and $200,000 on-hand, while former state Sen. Al Olszewski took in $50,000 and had $69,000 left to spend.

VT-Gov: VTDigger reports that Progressive Party Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman has decided to seek the Democratic nomination (Vermont allows candidates to be nominated by multiple parties) to take on GOP Gov. Phil Scott and will announce his campaign on Monday. Zuckerman said in response that he didn’t want to say anything now that would distract attention from the first week of the legislative session, but he acknowledged that he had made up his mind on what to do and would announce his plans Monday.

Zuckerman would face former state Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe in the August primary, but another notable Democrat is reportedly unlikely to run. Attorney General TJ Donovan has been eyeing this race for a while, but the site writes that Democratic sources believe he’s “cooled off on the idea.” Donovan said Tuesday that he hadn’t made up his mind yet, though, and continued, “I know I’ve got to make a decision one way or another in the next couple weeks, and I will.”

WA-Gov: Conservative activist Tim Eyman recently told supporters in an email that he would decide this week if he would run as a Republican rather than as an independent. Eyman entered the race in November without a party affiliation and said that both Democrats and Republicans had frustrated him equally.

WV-Gov: On Thursday, attorneys for GOP Gov. Jim Justice announced that a federal investigation into his businesses has ended without any charges being filed.


AL-02: The political arm of the Alabama Farmers Federation endorsed businessman Jeff Coleman this week in the March GOP primary for this safely red open seat.

CA-50: On Tuesday, convicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter officially notified Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom that his resignation would take effect on Jan. 13.

Hunter pleaded guilty in early December to a single charge of conspiracy to convert campaign funds to personal use and soon announced that he would quit Congress sometime “[s]hortly after the Holidays,” but he never specified when that would be until this week. However, by waiting this long to resign, Hunter has likely ensured that Newsom can’t consolidate a special election with the state’s March 3 presidential primary. The soon-to-be-former congressman is scheduled to be sentenced in March.

GA-07: Former Gov. Roy Barnes announced Tuesday that he was switching his Democratic primary endorsement from 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux to state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, a decision that came about a week after former Sen. Max Cleland made the same move. Karinshak served as Barnes’ legal counsel when he successfully fought to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Georgia’s state flag in the early 2000s, and Barnes said he was backing her because of the “conviction, fearlessness and fighting spirit” she displayed.

NJ-02: Donald Trump will hold a rally on Jan. 28 in Wildwood, which is located in party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s South Jersey congressional district. The invitations did not mention Van Drew, but the GOP congressman says he will speak at the event and that Trump “will be also expressing his support for me.” Van Drew faces a challenge in the June primary from wealthy businessman David Richter.

TN-01: GOP state Sen. Rusty Crowe confirmed on Monday that he was considering a bid for this safely red open seat in East Tennessee. However, two other Republicans legislators, state Sen. Jon Lundberg and state Rep. Jeremy Faison, have both said that they will stay out of the race.

TX-11: Air Force veteran August Pfluger is going up with his first TV spot ahead of the March GOP primary for this safely red seat. Pfluger tells the audience that his family has been working in the area as farmers and ranchers for over 150 years, and that he worked as an advisor to Donald Trump. (That line is accompanied by a picture of the candidate with Mike Pence.) Pfluger then pledges to “defend our conservative values” and “defeat the radical socialist agenda.”

UT-04: While GOP Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie didn’t quite rule out a congressional bid over the summer, he has filed paperwork to collect signatures for his re-election bid.

WI-07: Army veteran Jason Church is out with another TV spot ahead of his Feb. 18 GOP special election primary against state Sen. Tom Tiffany. Church’s political director told the Associated Press she did not know the size of the buy.

Church tells the audience, “In high school, I played hockey, in college, football and lacrosse,” and the camera shows laces being tied on the accompanying footwear. “Then I laced up my boots in the Army,” Church continues, and the audience sees a full body shot of Church with both of his prosthetic legs. The candidate goes on to argue that Donald Trump “needs people who come from outside politics, people who don’t owe anything to anyone, people who just want to do things right.”


Baltimore, MD Mayor: Former Mayor Sheila Dixon announced last month that she was joining the April Democratic primary for her old post, and former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller also entered the contest on Tuesday.

Dixon was elevated from City Council president to mayor in early 2007 after Martin O’Malley resigned to become governor, and she was elected in her own right later that year. However, Dixon resigned in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, and she spent four years on probation.

Dixon ran for mayor again in 2016 and narrowly lost the primary to then-state Sen. Catherine Pugh 37-35. Dixon launched a write-in campaign just a month ahead of the competitive general election and took second place with 52,000 votes, which was good for a 58-22 loss. Pugh went on to resign herself last year in the midst of a scandal involving her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s book series, and she pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy and tax evasion charges.

Dixon began her second comeback campaign in December by apologizing “for the mistakes I made that brought my term to an end.” She continued, “It is because I had to leave office that I will work three times as hard … it is because I had to leave office that I will greet each day with a sense of urgency, holding myself and others accountable.”

Miller, by contrast, is running for office for the first time, but she has plenty of connections. Miller is a former executive at the asset management company T. Rowe Price, where the Baltimore Sun writes she “managed a $55 billion investment fund that’s 18 times larger than Baltimore’s budget.” Miller also served as an undersecretary in the Department of the Treasury during the Obama administration and on the Urban Institute, where she said she studied why some cities succeed and others don’t.

The Democratic field already includes incumbent Jack Young, who was elevated from City Council president to mayor in May after Pugh resigned; City Council President Brandon Scott; former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith; former state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah; and state Sen. Mary Washington. It only takes a simple plurality to win the primary, and the Democratic nominee should have no trouble in the general election.

Grab Bag

Demographics: Last month, the Census Bureau released new population estimates for the years 2014-2018 from its American Community Survey statistical sample, and we’ve consequently compiled updated data on educational attainment and income levels in each congressional district, including our own calculations for North Carolina’s newly redrawn districts. Our spreadsheet indicates the share of the population aged 25 and up with a bachelor’s degree or higher and the median household income, and both stats are broken down for the total population and for whites only.

The white education divide has become an important political factor in the Trump era, with college-educated whites trending Democratic and non-college whites trending GOP, and these stats help inform us where districts could be trending Democratic in states such as Texas. For reference, we’ve also included our calculations of the 2012 and 2016 presidential results by district.