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Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, CALIF. — As Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) delivered a somber tribute to fallen soldiers at a local Memorial Day event Monday, his old political ally turned primary foe fidgeted in his seat just 20 feet away, applauding as appropriate for the troops. Rohrabacher and former Orange County Chairman Scott Baugh (R), a onetime Rohrabacher acolyte, failed to greet one another at the small gathering, ignoring each other like estranged brothers at a family funeral.
Baugh’s late entrance into the “jungle primary,” where the top two primary candidates face off in the general election regardless of party, upended both Rohrabacher’s reelection plans and Democrats’ hopes to take Rohrabacher down. If Baugh makes it to the general election runoff against Rohrabacher, that ends Democrats’ hopes of flipping a seat that’s key to seizing a House majority — and puts Rohrabacher in even more danger of losing reelection. Both sides are pulling out all the stops to block Baugh, and things have grown steadily more acrimonious ahead of next week’s June 5 primary.
“Ambition beat out gratitude in terms of Scott Baugh’s decision-making,” Rohrabacher groused to TPM as he exited the VFW event, attacking Baugh as a lobbyist who holds “skewed values where gratitude means nothing.”
The bad blood comes after decades of coziness between the two men. Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and surfing-loving right-wing hardliner, played a role in helping Baugh win his state assembly seat in the mid-1990s. They also worked closely together for the decade that Baugh spent as the Orange County GOP chairman.
Baugh downplays their friendship. “It’s probably more accurate to say Dana and I were political allies in the same political family … we were never close friends,” he told TPM during a Wednesday interview at his Newport Beach law office.
But others who know the two men well say that’s an understatement.
“They were very, very close friends,” former Huntington Beach Mayor Joe Carchio (R), who’s backing Baugh, told TPM at Huntington Beach’s Memorial Day ceremony.
Baugh insists that Rohrabacher told him in early 2016 that he wouldn’t run in 2018 in a meeting at that same office to hash out both of their future plans — claims that two other local Republicans who attended and now back Baugh corroborate, including one who published an account of that meeting long before the two men came into conflict. Rohrabacher said he was much less definitive during the meeting and told Baugh soon after that he had plans to run again, something Baugh denies.
Whatever the case may be, Baugh’s last-minute entrance into the race in early March scrambled both Rohrabacher’s and Democrats’ plans. A number of Democrats were already months into campaigns for the seat, seeing an opening in a historically conservative upscale district of beach communities that Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016 given Rohrabacher’s ties to Russia (they run so deep that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) famously joked behind closed doors that “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump”).
Because of California’s unusual jungle primary system, Baugh is a real threat to push past the crowded field of Democrats and face Rohrabacher in the fall.
If he does so, Democrats are already down one district in their fight for 218 House seats — and Rohrabacher likely faces an even stiffer uphill battle for reelection since Baugh likely has more appeal to independents than the idiosyncratic three-decade incumbent. The district is one of four potentially winnable California seats where Democrats have serious fears they won’t get a single candidate in the general election — and the one they’re most worried about heading into Tuesday.
“It is a concern. The jungle primary here has so many machinations that go into the calculus,” Harley Rouda, one of the three Democrats in the race and the one most strategists think has the best chance of getting through to the general election, told TPM. “The challenge is, the more Baugh takes from Rohrabacher the more we need to consolidate the Democratic vote behind us.”
Polling from the campaigns show Baugh and Rouda are neck-and-neck, with medical scientist Hans Keirstead (D) not too far behind. Rohrabacher is well ahead of the field — but bleeding significant support from Republicans, a rarity for an incumbent that shows potential weakness for the general election.
Democrats know how much of a threat a Rohrabacher-Baugh matchup is. Two candidates dropped out shortly after Baugh jumped in and threw their support to Rouda to try to avoid that exact scenario. The local Indivisible group and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have backed him as well, though Keirstead got the California Democratic Party’s endorsement early on in the race.
Republicans would obviously love to see Democrats get shut out in the key district. But they worry that the nasty ongoing fight between the two men could hurt Rohrabacher this fall if a Democrat does get through.
“Baugh’s challenge to a Republican Party-endorsed candidate … has damaged the incumbent, and I’m very disappointed,” California state Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R), a Rohrabacher supporter, told TPM.
Baugh and Rohrabacher have been closely linked ever since Baugh’s first foray into politics, which Rohrabacher strongly encouraged. Baugh was accused of recruiting a dummy Democratic candidate to split the Democratic vote with a better-liked opponent in that 1995 race. Top local GOP activist Rhonda Carmony pleaded guilty to two felony counts in relation to that scandal (they were immediately downgraded to misdemeanors) — shortly after marrying Rohrabacher (she’s currently her husband’s campaign manager as well). Baugh eventually agreed to pay a civil fine of almost $50,000 for nine violations of the state Political Reform Act, after a four-year investigation into a political misconduct case (earlier perjury and campaign finance reporting charges against him were dismissed).
Democrats have jumped on that scandal. The House Majority PAC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have made a huge investment in the race’s closing weeks. Panicked about being shut out in the general election, they have spent nearly $3 million combined against Baugh, including TV ads and mailers using the scandal to paint him as a crook.
Baugh pushed back against those ads, calling them “smear attacks that lack any kind of context” and saying he’d been the victim of a “witch hunt.”
Rohrabacher’s team has also gone hard after Baugh in campaign mailers, painting him as soft on immigration and slamming his work advising a chain of sober living facilities, potentially effective attacks in a district where anti-immigration sentiment and NIMBYism are potent forces with GOP voters (the types parodied in Arrested Development — the original banana stands are in the district on Balboa Island, not far from a statue of Ronald Reagan that sits on private property).
Baugh has responded with attacks on Rohrabacher, painting him as an absentee congressman. And while he’s questioned Rohrabacher’s focus on Russia, he argued it’s more because Rohrabacher has chosen to focus on those issues than those important to the district.
“It’s not so much his views of Russia, it’s his preoccupation of it to the exclusion of the issues that matter in the district. He’s taken 172 trips in his 30 years, that’s 5-6 trips a year for each year in office,” he said. “The people may or may not care about Russia. They do care about the airplane noise, they do care about the sober living homes.”
For his part, Rohrabacher dismissed questions about his Russia views as “fake news.”
“Even my detractors in this race don’t mention Russia too much. Scott said ‘Moscow and marijuana’ in one of his ads. But my people know I’m a patriot and they know everything I do is based on what’s good for the United States of America and while we face radical Islam my advocacy that we could cooperate with Russia to defeat radical Islam is very well understood by these people,” he said.
Democrats are hopeful they can get through a candidate. But they admit they’re worried it might not happen.
“In regards to the jungle primary, I’m absolutely concerned,” Dennis Bress, a local Indivisible activist and early Rouda backer, told TPM. “I’m scared shitless.”
Correction: Rhonda Carmony was not Baugh’s campaign manager during his 1995 campaign, as the original version of this story mistakenly reported.
NEWPORT BEACH, CA — House Democrats’ main super-PAC is making a last-ditch effort to tear down a top Republican running in a key House district.
The House Majority PAC is out with a new ad, shared first with TPM, that attacks former California Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R) for past legal troubles.
“Baugh took illegal campaign cash and was fined nearly $50,000. Career politician Scott Baugh: A lawbreaker we should never send to Washington,” the ad says.
The attack, backed by $650,000 worth of reservations on cable and broadcast TV, looks to knock him down so Democrats can make sure to get a candidate through in next Tuesday’s all-party primary to face Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in the fall.
To do so, Democrats are keying in on a fewoldscandals they believe could infuriate voters of all partisan stripes.
In 1999, Baugh agreed to pay a civil fine of almost $50,000 for nine violations of the state Political Reform Act, after a four-year investigation into a political misconduct case that began with his 1995 election, after earlier perjury and campaign finance reporting charges against him were dismissed.
Democrats are worried that Baugh’s strength with Republicans unhappy with Rohrabacher could mean the two Republicans could finish ahead of all the Democrats running and guarantee a GOP victory in the fall. That would put Democrats one seat further from winning the House majority. It’s the seat that Democrats are worried they might get locked out of, though they have varying degrees of worry about four other districts as well.
“With so much at stake, Southern Californians need to know the facts about Republican Scott Baugh,” House Majority PAC Executive Director Charlie Kelly said in a statement. “We’re working to ensure voters know about Baugh’s real record before going to the polls on June 5 and voting in such a critical election.”
When a local radio host asked Montana Senate candidate Matt Rosendale what differentiated him from the other GOP candidates earlier this year, he had a quick response.
“Piece of cake. Rancher,” he told radio host Aaron Flint in January. “I’m a businessman. I’m a former legislator, and I’m an executive. And I’ve been very effective in each one of those positions.”
But his rancher claim appears to be all hat, no cattle.
Rosendale, the 57-year-old GOP frontrunner to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), has made ranching a central part of his image as he looks to win his June 5 primary and unseat the two-term senator. He regularly peppers his campaign pitch with folksy references to his work on the ranch as a way to prove his authentic connections to the state and inoculate himself against attacks that the Maryland native is a carpetbagger.
But public records and his own past statements indicate the longtime real estate developer never actually ranched his land himself, instead renting it out for others to farm and run their cattle on. And the higher the office he’s run for, the more he’s talked up his supposed ranching experience.
That could be a problem for Rosendale as he looks to hang on for a primary victory next week, as his top primary opponent, former Judge Russ Fagg (R), has repeatedly questioned his roots in the state.
“Matt Rosendale may describe himself as a rancher, but I haven’t met many ranchers who were wealthy east coast real-estate developers until they were 40 years old,” Fagg said in a statement to TPM when asked about Rosendale’s ranching credentials.
Rosendale is expected to win the race. He has big-name support from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), and he has had a lot of help in the race from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, which has been running ads for him and against Fagg.
But his ranching credentials could be an issue if he squares off against Tester in the fall. Tester has long banked on his own homespun credentials including his still-working farm and the fingers he lost in a childhood meat grinder accident to put distance between himself and national Democrats in the Republican-leaning state.
Parts of Montana have experienced rapid growth in recent years as people move in from other states, to the consternation of many native Montanans, and being a developer could prove problematic for some voters. Montana Democrats have already attacked “Maryland Matt” Rosendale as a carpet-bagger — charges similar to those Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and others leveled against him during their 2014 House primary.
Rosendale moved from Maryland to a Glendive, Montana ranch in 2002 after a successful career in real estate, and still speaks in a heavy Maryland accent. Not too long after he moved to the state he began running for office, winning a statehouse seat in 2010, moving up to the state Senate in 2013 and becoming state auditor and insurance commissioner at the beginning of 2017 after losing a 2014 primary for the U.S. House.
During that time and especially in his latest campaign, he’s leaned hard into his rancher persona — while at times avoiding mention of his years as an elected official or discussing his decades in real estate. That includes in his paid advertising, when his time in public office is almost never mentioned. His first Senate campaign ad and website both describe him as a “rancher, businessman, proven leader” — a verbal construction he’s used throughout the campaign.
Rosendale has always talked up his Montana ranch connections as a candidate, but he’s done so with increasing force as he’s run for higher office.
That includes his own job description on official campaign paperwork. In 2010 and 2012, Rosendale listed himself as “real estate developer” on his official candidate disclosure forms. In 2016, he listed “ranching and real estate development.”
According to an open records report from the Montana Department Of Revenue conducted for the liberal group American Bridge, Rosendale hasn’t registered ownership of any livestock since 2011 — and before then it was limited to a few horses. It appears that he’s never owned any cattle. He similarly received a registered livestock brand when he bought his $2.2 million ranch in 2002, but let that lapse when it expired in 2011, and it doesn’t appear that he ever used it.
That makes sense if Rosendale hasn’t worked the land much himself.
“Right now my neighbors are leasing the property,” he said in late 2017 when asked in a radio show interview how many cattle he had. “I don’t get back as often, nearly as often as I would like. Serving here in Helena for the state, that is six and a half hours away from where the ranch is.”
(In that same interview he complained that Tester “gets away with trying to pull off this ‘I’m a good old farmer’ act that he does and then he goes back to Washington, D.C. and he votes with the hard left.”)
It seems like leasing out his land been a longstanding arrangement.
“There’s a bunch of irrigated ground and I lease it to one of my neighbors and he grows crops on it, and then there’s dry farmland and I lease that to another neighbor, and then I’ve got all the native pasture and I lease that to another guy who runs cattle,” Rosendale told a local newspaper in his native Eastern Shore of Maryland originally founded by his parents in 2011. “I fix fence, I repair corrals, and I ride my horse and check things out and then when hunting season comes, I probably have 50 to 70 people that I allow to come through my property to hunt.”
“The Trump tax cuts mean business,” he says in the ad as his campaign slogan, “Matt means business,” is branded onto the screen.
Often, his campaign press releases simplydescribehim as a “Glendive rancher,” leaving out mention of his main jobs.
Rosendale has also repeatedly used an almost identical story to describe his work on the ranch.
“I’ve worked the ranch. I’ve hauled sugar beets from the field. I’ve PG’d cows in the fall. And I literally have driven T-Posts into the parched each to help my neighbors rebuild their fences after a prairie fire came through and destroyed everything that they had,” he said during the last GOP primary debate last month, an almost verbatim repetition of a line he’s used elsewhere on the stump including in all four of the Republican debates and candidate forums during the campaign.
It’s unclear whether Rosendale shot his latest ad on his property or elsewhere, or whose cows appear in the ad. His campaign refused to respond to a series of questions about that, whether he’s owned any livestock, why he started describing himself as a rancher in official paperwork after leaving that off in earlier years, and which cows he “PG’d,” an apparent reference to giving cows the hormone prostaglandin for breeding purposes.
“Your ridiculous questions make it pretty clear that you’ve never been to Matt’s ranch in Glendive and you don’t know a cow from a cantaloupe,” Rosendale campaign manager Kendall Cotton told TPM in an email.
On the stump, Rosendale hasn’t hid his work as a real estate developer — “I’ve made my career, made money in real estate and real estate development,” he said in one campaign speech last fall.
But time and again throughout his campaign, he refers to himself as a rancher first before mentioning his real estate background — or goes with the vaguer “rancher and businessman.”
This campaign isn’t the first time people have questioned whether he’s an authentic rancher:
Tester didn’t directly respond when TPM asked if he thought Rosendale was an authentic rancher.
“There’s a lot of retired ranchers that don’t farm anymore that are still ranchers,” he said when asked about Rosendale and if he considered someone is a rancher if they own the land but doesn’t work it. “I haven’t studied his business, but it’s tough to be a rancher when you’re insurance commissioner. But what the heck? I mean, I make this work because we make it work.”
Tester told TPM that he had about 100 acres left to plant on his farm as of Thursday because of the late spring — alfalfa, grains, peas, and safflower for oil.
Rosendale he opened a recent op-ed with a long anecdote about what Washington can learn from rancher values — while going the entire piece without mentioning his real estate work or that he grew up just hours from D.C.
“Like many Montana ranchers, I know the importance of having good neighbors,” he wrote. “When you’re ranching and people are counting on you, you don’t put up with nonsense. You have to get things done. It’s about time Washington D.C. work[s] that way.”
It will be interesting to see if Montana voters decide he’s authentically one of their own.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Don Blankenship isn’t done being a thorn in the side of the GOP.
The ex-con former coal baron announced Monday morning that he plans to run as the Constitution Party’s nominee for Senate, a move that could damage his former party’s chances at defeating Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) if he’s able to actually get on the ballot.
That’s a big if, however, as West Virginia has a “sore loser” law that prevents candidates who lose primaries for a race to switch parties and run in the general election for the same seat.
“It is especially appropriate for me to be nominated by the Constitution Party given its staunch and uncompromising commitment to upholding the United States Constitution. My First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights were violated when I was falsely charged and politically imprisoned following the unfortunate mining accident at Upper Big Branch — a tragedy wholly caused by the actions of the establishment and the federal government,” Blankenship claimed in a statement.
Blankenship’s bid has been long on braggadocio and short on actual results, as evidenced by his poor showing in the GOP primary. But if he pushes a legal challenge and successfully gets on the ballot this fall — or mounts a write-in bid — he could cost Morrisey votes from the right and help Manchin stay in office, boosting Democrats’ chances in the battle for the Senate. Getting on the ballot appears to be an uphill fight, but not an impossible one for a man with seemingly unlimited resources and a deep grudge against seemingly everyone in the state political establishment.
He’s kept up his attacks against Morrisey since his loss, while further fueling his feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). And he’s seemed to have added President Trump to his enemies list following Trump’s last-minute intervention into the race to encourage voters to back another candidate.
“This time we won’t get surprised by the lying establishment. We were assured by White House political staff that they would not interfere in the primary election. Obviously, that turned out not to be true. Now that we know that the establishment will lie and resort to anything else necessary to defeat me, we are better prepared than before,” he declared.