In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Just weeks ago, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) told TPM that he thought two Republicans would make it into the runoff election for his seat, locking out Democrats and costing them one of their top pickup opportunities. But this week, he said he thinks that isn’t going to happen.

“The Democratic turnout is exceeding Republican in the absentee [mail vote],” Issa, who is retiring at the end of this term, told TPM on Tuesday. “The Democrats have a machine turning out Democratic votes and that’s probably going to make a difference on June 5 … what they’re doing is designed to make what would otherwise be a failure into a success.”

According to new early vote numbers, Issa is right that that’s less likely to happen in his district. But the numbers suggest Democrats may be in a precarious spot in a few other California districts they’ve been worried about.

Those numbers are compiled by data guru Paul Mitchell, whose team reaches out to each county to get daily vote updates. He said the early data suggested that the electorate is looking a lot more like a normal midterm electorate in the state than one where Democrats are flocking to the polls — a sign that it might be harder to flip these traditionally Republican but Democratic-trending seats in the fall than some Democrats have hoped.

It’s all bad signs,” he said. “I don’t think these early vote numbers suggest a big blue wave in the primary.”

California’s “jungle” primary system allows the top two vote-winners to advance to the general election, regardless of party. That’s led to concerns among Democrats that their candidates could split the Democratic vote, allowing Republicans to finish in the top two spots in some congressional races.

In Issa’s seat, where four serious Democratic candidates are vying against three Republicans, Democrats are outpacing Republicans in early mail ballots returned — a big factor in the race as California strategists say at least two thirds of the election’s votes will be cast by mail. Registered Democrats make up 32 percent of the district’s vote-by-mail population but have returned 36 percent of its votes, while Republicans’ returned ballots have matched their 37 percent share of the electorate.

That’s not the case in another key race where Democrats are concerned they might get shut out — a Democratic-leaning district held by retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) where three Democrats including two front-runners are squaring off against a trio of Republicans. And while Democratic strategists who have seen internal polling say this district isn’t at the top of their worry list, the numbers suggest there’s reason for concern here as well, as Republicans are voting at faster numbers than Democrats.

In Royce’s district, registered Democrats make up 34 percent of the vote-by-mail population, the same percentage that have returned ballots. But Republicans, who make up 37 percent of the vote-by-mail population, have returned 46 percent of the ballots received so far.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s GOP-leaning seat more closely mirrors the registered vote population. Democrats make up 30 percent of vote-by-mail registrants and 35 percent of those ballots returned, while Republicans make up for 42 percent of the district’s mail voters and 46 percent of those who have returned ballots.

It’s still relatively early in the election — ballots were sent out in early May, voters have until the June 5 primary to return them. Since there are more competitive Democratic than Republican primaries (including all-party races for governor and senator) Democrats may be more likely to sit on ballots for longer. Different campaigns have different vote-gathering strategies as well, so one shouldn’t over-read these results. But they can be instructive.

Mitchell is a Democrat but his clients include both the California Democratic and Republican parties. He thinks the likelihood of Democrats getting locked out in any particular district remains low — but says there’s a good chance they’ll blow one race, a costly mistake in a year where every seat counts as Democrats try to win back the House majority.

I believe it’s an unlikely event for this to happen in any one district but if you take five unlikely events you end up with one fairly likely event,” he told TPM.

Democrats are doing everything they can to avoid that situation, pouring millions of dollars into a number of districts to tear down some Republicans and boost some Democrats. Republicans have been surprisingly quiet in those races, considering how with some effort now they could guarantee victory in a few key House battles — as well as save themselves a lot of money down the line (though there have been some last-minute efforts by GOP outside groups).

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A Republican super PAC is launching a last-minute effort to boost a handful of House GOP candidates in southern California. The goal is to block Democrats from getting a candidate into the general election in some key House races.

The American Future Fund, an Iowa-based GOP group, has dropped almost $700,000 to boost four GOP candidates in three districts, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday.

Their goals are to elevate some flagging Republicans and try to help them make the November ballot in districts that are key to Democrats’ hopes of winning the House this fall.

California’s “jungle” primary system allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party. That’s led to concerns among Democrats that their candidates could split the Democratic vote, allowing Republicans to finish in the top two spots in some congressional races and immediately costing them chances at a handful of winnable seats in the state.

National Democrats have been spending heavily to try to avoid that scenario.

Republicans had been surprisingly quiet in their response, considering how with some effort now they could guarantee victory in a few key House battles — as well as save themselves a lot of money in November in the expensive districts. But this buy suggests things may be starting to shift.

The GOP super-PAC’s buy includes almost $500,000 on advertising, direct mail and door-to-door voter outreach to boost Rocky Chavez and Diane Harkey, a pair of Republican candidates running for the seat currently held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is retiring. That race is one in which both parties worry they might get shut out and fail to get a candidate through to the November election, though Democrats are more alarmed at the prospect.

The group is also spending $100,000 to boost Scott Baugh, a Republican running against controversial Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). That district is the one where Democratic concerns about being shut out, given their own crowded field, are most acute.

The GOP group is also chipping in about $100,000 to boost Young Kim, the GOP front-runner in the crowded race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA).

The efforts for Kim and Harkey began last week, but this is the first evidence that the group’s push is to block Democrats out in some of these districts, rather than help out particular GOP candidates. The group didn’t respond to requests for an explanation of their strategy.

Republicans had expressed growing frustration that their party wasn’t doing more to meddle in these primaries to ensure the best results. Democrats already have spent millions on the races.

Issa told TPM on Tuesday, before these ads had become public, that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats were doing a better job organizing in the state, even in traditionally conservative enclaves like his district.

“Pelosi naturally gets us better. That’s not to say anything against Steve,” Issa said, referring to National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH). “It’s just that the observation in my district is the Democrats are playing a game that could well get one of their candidates in that otherwise wouldn’t if both sides were playing.”

Other Republicans have also griped about the lack of national intervention to help them.

“You wish the party would recognize this opportunity and lift us up,” GOP strategist John Thomas, who’s working with candidate Shawn Nelson in Royce’s district, told TPM. “They just don’t understand the top-two dynamic.”

Democrats have been spending heavily against Nelson and Bob Huff to avoid them getting into the runoff with Kim, the GOP front-runner, and Republicans still have done little in response to help them.

But the American Future Fund’s late intervention could help move the ball back in Republicans’ direction in these key seats.

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In his first testimony before Congress as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was pressed by Democratic House members about allegations that career civil servants at the State Department were targeted for reassignment because of their work under the Obama administration — a possible violation of federal law.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, came out swinging in his opening statement, citing “whistleblowers who have reported to this committee that the Administration has targeted career employees because of their perceived political beliefs.”

When Engel asked Pompeo why the agency has yet to respond to the lawmakers’ request for documents related to these alleged incidents of retaliation, the Secretary of State promised to check on the request, and by the end of this week give them a timeline for obtaining the documents. Pompeo added that if anyone at the Department did engage in such targeting, they should not be employed at State.

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A Georgia Republican who pointed his gun at a teenager in a campaign ad and joked about personally rounding up undocumented immigrants will advance to the runoff in the state’s gubernatorial primary.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp earned 25.6 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, placing second behind Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who earned 39 percent.

Left behind are even more extreme candidates like State Sen. Michael Williams, who received plenty of earned media in the final weeks of the race by touring the state in a “deportation bus” but scored only 4.9 percent of the vote.

Kemp, who is vying for the Trump base of rural, deeply conservative voters, will continue to paint Cagle as a moderate. The GOP official honed this message in recent controversial ads, including one where he pointed a gun at a teenager who was asking permission to date his daughter and another in which he pledged to hunt down “criminal illegals” in his “big truck” and personally remove them from the country.

“Yep, I just said that,” seems to be Kemp’s new self-consciously anti-politically correct tagline.

He used it in the “So Conservative” ad on immigration, and repeated it at a Tuesday election night party in Athens, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“He’s not a leader. He’s a puppet,” Kemp said of Cagle. “Yeah, I just said that. He’s not fighting for us. He’s fighting for those with deep pockets whose interests are not ours.”

As Georgia’s top elections officials, Kemp has supported a restrictive approach to voting and registration, drawing the ire of voting rights advocates.

Whoever wins the July 24 runoff will face off against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who won her own primary in a landslide. If Abrams wins, she will become the country’s first black female governor.

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When the Trump administration set about chipping away at the Affordable Care Act immediately upon taking office, it was widely predicted that the policy changes and outreach cuts would create the biggest hurdles for the groups most likely to vote Democratic — including young people, people of color, and the poor. Many months later, new reports on the national uninsured rate suggest the opposite may be true: the Trump administration’s health care agenda is whacking red states hardest.

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An anti-establishment progressive who emerged as a bête noire of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has fallen far short in her runoff bid for Congress.

Democratic activist and writer Laura Moser has lost her primary runoff in a key House district in suburban Houston, Texas to attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D). Fletcher led Moser by 68 percent to 32 percent with 63 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called the race.

Moser drew national headlines when she was the target of aggressive attacks from the DCCC, who before the March primary highlighted controversial statements she’d made about her home state.

The attack is the only time the committee has taken a public swipe at one of their own candidates this election cycle — and in any recent cycle — and it seemed to backfire, helping Moser pull in some big dollars from national Democratic groups and possibly cementing her position in the runoff.

Tuesday’s results let national Democrats breathe a sigh of relief; groups like the DCCC had made clear that they saw Moser as a fatally flawed candidate who would have taken a winnable race against Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) off the map. Culberson’s district is historically very Republican but Hillary Clinton narrowly won it last election cycle, and Democrats are hopeful they can beat him with the more moderate Fletcher as their nominee.

“Born and raised in Houston, Lizzie Fletcher has dedicated her life to service and protecting economic opportunity for the people of this community,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said in a statement. “Lizzie is in a very strong position for the general election, and her inclusive message will strike a powerful contrast with her Republican opponent’s record of undermining investment in critical infrastructure and disaster preparedness, and raising the cost of health care for thousands of families across Texas.”

Moser essentially conceded the race in a Tuesday night speech, urging her supporters to back Fletcher if the results held.

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This post has been updated.

Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) has won her state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, making her the first black woman to win a major-party gubernatorial nomination in U.S. history as she seeks to become the first black female governor in the U.S.

Abrams led former state Rep. Stacey Evans (D) by 74 percent to 26 percent of the vote with 31 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called the race.

Abrams, a Democratic rising star who’s long been talked up by party leaders, has spent years working to expand Georgia’s electorate by pushing to register more young and minority voters in the quickly diversifying state.

She easily bested Evans in this race after getting heavy support from the pro-choice EMILY’s List as well as a bevy of top surrogates including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“We proved that an unmuted voice can shake the foundations of an ‘immutable’ status quo. We showed the nation that there is power in our voices, and there is power in our feet,” Abrams said in a Facebook post after her victory was declared, nodding to the historic nature of her campaign. “Tonight’s victory was only the beginning. The road to November will be long and tough, but the next step is one we take together.”

The race pitted two competing visions for the future of the Democratic Party against each other; Abrams called for the Party to lean into a progressive vision and to excite new voters while Evans, who is white, stressed a more moderate message aimed at winning back the state’s long-dead Democratic coalition that was rooted in moderate white voters.

Abrams faces an uphill battle in her race for governor in the Republican-leaning state — but it’s one that national Democrats are excited to see take place.

Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (R) led the GOP field by a double-digit margin in the primary but won far below the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. He will face Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), a hardline Republican who’s run some controversial culture war ads and is a longtime foe of Abrams’ in her battle to expand the voting rolls in the state.

Georgia’s population has trended younger and more diverse in recent decades, and isn’t as solidly Republican as some might think — Hillary Clinton lost it by just five percentage points, the same margin President Obama lost the state by in 2008, and better than his eight-point loss in 2012. But those final five points have proven elusive for Democrats, whose most recent top statewide candidates have been white. It will be interesting to see if Abrams can combine what’s shaping up to be a good year for Democrats and her own appeal to base progressives to make this a tight race in the fall.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Abrams called for a progressive vision, while Evans pitched a more moderate message to voters.

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Marine veteran Amy McGrath (D) has upset Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) in a key House race primary, becoming the latest female political neophyte to knock off a more established male politician in a Democratic primary this year.

McGrath led Gray by 49 percent to 41 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called the race.

She’ll face Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) in a GOP-leaning district centered on Lexington that national Democrats are bullish about winning this November.

McGrath made a big splash when she jumped into the race with an impressive campaign video highlighting her experience as a fighter pilot that kickstarted her fundraising in a big way. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had long dreamed of convincing the well-liked Gray to run for the seat, and kept recruiting him to run even though McGrath’s campaign was already underway.

The race definitely pitted a more establishment candidate against an outsider — Gray had been his party’s nominee against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in 2016, and carried the district in that race, while McGrath has never run for office before. But neither candidate ran particularly hard to the left, as has happened in some other establishment-versus-outsider Democratic primaries this year.

And while national Democrats had begun the race preferring Gray, they’d become increasingly impressed with McGrath’s campaign — enough so that the DCCC stayed officially neutral in the race.

“She’s shown she can mount quite a campaign,” Rep. Jim Yarmuth (D-KY), who sources say helped talk Gray into the race, told TPM late last week. “People are taking her a lot more seriously than they did early on.”

Republicans sought to paint her as a hardline progressive in the wake of her victory.

“Despite their best efforts, national Democrats were unable to stop radical liberal Amy McGrath from squeaking her way through the primary,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. “When even the DCCC thinks you’re too liberal for the District, that’s an insurmountable problem. The NRCC looks forward to Andy Barr’s reelection.”

But national Democrats were less concerned about her liberal views as her being an untested candidate — a concern she’s allayed in this primary win. And they will likely invest heavily to help her campaign this fall.

“Battle-tested in more ways than one, Amy McGrath ran a tremendous race to win this competitive primary and could not be in a stronger position to win in November,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a Tuesday evening statement. “Amy has built a formidable campaign, and voters across the district have responded to her message of leadership and standing up for affordable health care. With her inspiring record of service and all of the momentum at her back, there is no question that Amy McGrath is ready to flip this key district.”

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House Democrats’ main super PAC is quietly attempting to boost a hardline Republican candidate in a key House race, the latest attempt by national Democrats to avoid disaster in California.

The House Majority PAC has sent out mail pieces to Republican and independent voters in retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-CA) district tying Phil Liberatore to President Trump, a clear move to raise the underfunded Liberatore’s name recognition in the district and try to siphon off votes from other GOP candidates to him. Images of the mail pieces were obtained by TPM from a source in-district.

The mailers advertise that Liberatore and Trump “want a bigger border wall,” oppose sanctuary cities (a major flashpoint in California, where Republicans are outraged Democratic lawmakers have declared it a sanctuary state), and tout his endorsement from controversial former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R), a hero on the anti-immigrant right. While the ad is framed as an attack, it’s clear the goal is to boost him at other Republicans’ expense.

The effort is just one of many efforts from Democrats to avoid the disastrous scenario of failing to get a single candidate into the general election in a state where they have a number of key pickup opportunities.

The Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC’s mail piece on Phil Liberatore.

Because of California’s unusual jungle primary system, the top two candidates in the state’s June 5 primary will advance to the November general election regardless of party. In the past, that’s occasionally led to Democrats being locked out as two Republicans advance in some key races — and it’s an even bigger risk this year given how many competitive races there are and how many Democrats are running for the seats.

In this race, Democrats have six candidates including three spending real money, and are concerned that they’re splitting up the Democratic share of the vote enough that two Republicans could sneak through to the general election, guaranteeing a GOP congressman in a district Hillary Clinton won by nine percentage points in 2016.

“Southern Californians have a right to know the facts about the Republican candidates running in these critical Congressional races particularly given the complicated jungle primaries and crowded fields of candidates,” House Majority PAC spokesman Jeb Fain told TPM. “We’re making sure a broad range of voters know the facts about several Republicans in CA-39, including Phil Liberatore, who is far too conservative for California, and we’re working to ensure people in these important districts have the opportunity to vote for a Democrat in November.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already been spending heavily on TV ads to try to knock down Shawn Nelson and Bob Huff, two of the other Republicans in the race, in order to make sure only GOP front-runner Young Kim makes it through. This HMP mail piece is a further effort to make sure that Huff and Nelson don’t join her in the general election by trying to subtly move voters from them to the lesser-known Liberatore.

Democrats are hopeful they can get one of their candidates through, with self-funding Gil Cisneros (D) and Andy Thorburn (D) leading the pack but in danger of falling behind Huff or Nelson.

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Michel Grimm, the ex-felon running for his old congressional seat in New York City, has earned plenty of support among the president’s allies for his unabashedly pro-Trump campaign.

But there’s one notable exception: Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani, who has been serving as Trump’s personal lawyer, announced over the weekend that he’s endorsing Grimm’s opponent in the GOP primary, Rep. Dan Donovan, and plans to hit the stump on Donovan’s behalf. In an interview with the New York Post, Giuliani said that Grimm “should back off” and suggested that his checkered past made it more difficult for the GOP to retain control of the district.

“Dan would win re-election for sure,” Giuliani told the Post. “With Grimm as the nominee, it would be a battle to hold the seat. It would be a heavier lift.”

The comments from the former New York City mayor add further intrigue to the unexpectedly tight race for the seat Grimm was forced to give up in 2015 when he was sentenced on felony tax evasion charges.

Grimm is running hard as the #MAGA candidate, hiring former Trump aide Michael Caputo as a communications advisor, meeting last year with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and, on Saturday, hosting a fundraiser with short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. The Post reported that the event, where Scaramucci described Grimm as a “guy with a heart of gold and a backbone of steel,” pulled in some $20,000.

But Grimm’s devotion to the President’s agenda — and praise for his “massive hands” — has yet to secure him the backing of the Commander-in-Chief himself.

And Caputo acknowledged that Giuliani’s endorsement carries real weight in the district, which covers Staten Island and parts of south Brooklyn.

“The mayor goes way back with [those neighborhoods],” Caputo told TPM in a Monday phone interview. “His support for any candidate is a positive thing for them.”

Though Caputo said that he respected Giuliani “completely” and knew from the campaign’s early days that he would align himself with Donovan, a former Staten Island district attorney, because of their histories in the New York political world, he tossed a few light barbs Giuliani’s way.

“I’m not going to criticize his decision to support the wrong candidate,” Caputo said, adding that, “No matter how many times Donovan votes against the President, I’m sure that the mayor will be there for him.”

Donovan voted against both the GOP tax bill and the failed May 2017 effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Yet he, too, has sought to frame himself as an ally of the president — just a more serious, measured one than his opponent.

Grimm is arguably best known for getting in the face of a NY1 reporter who asked about his legal troubles, threatening to toss him over a Capitol Hill balcony and break him “like a boy.”

Neither that incident nor Grimm’s prison sentence seem to concern voters in the district, who actually re-elected him in 2014 while he was facing a 20-count indictment.

An April poll from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had Grimm ahead by 10 points, while Caputo said internal polling put him up by 8. (Donovan disputes those numbers).

All that Grimm needs to do to secure a win in the June 26 primary, Caputo said, is to continue to prove to local Republican voters that he is “the more solid and reliable ally of the President.”

Correction: This piece originally identified Caputo as Grimm’s campaign manager rather than communications advisor.

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