Morning Digest: Check out Daily Kos Elections' 1Q 2019 fundraising roundups for the House and Senate

Senate

AL-Sen: On behalf of WHNT, Mason-Dixon takes a look at a hypothetical GOP primary matchup:

  • 2017 Senate nominee Roy Moore: 27
  • Rep. Mo Brooks: 18
  • Rep. Bradley Byrne: 13
  • Rep. Gary Palmer: 11
  • State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh: 4
  • Businessman Tim James: 2

Of this group, only Byrne is currently running. The poll also did not include former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, who announced he was in earlier this month just before this poll went into the field.

This is also the first time we’ve heard James, the son of former Gov. Fob James, mentioned as a possible candidate. The younger James ran for governor in 2010 and took third place in the primary, losing the second spot in the runoff to then-state Rep. Robert Bentley by just 208 votes: Bentley then went on to defeat Byrne to win the GOP nod and later the governorship.

CO-Sen: This week, former diplomat Dan Baer and former U.S. Attorney John Walsh each announced that they were entering the Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. A number of candidates, including former state Sen. Mike Johnston and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, are already in.

Baer served as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during the Obama administration, and he sought elected office for the first time last cycle. Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter had announced he was giving up Colorado’s 7th District to run for governor, and Baer raised $350,000 during his first quarter in the race to succeed him. However, Perlmutter eventually decided to seek re-election, and Baer and the other major primary candidates dropped out.

The following year, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Baer to lead the state Department of Higher Education. If Baer wins this contest, he would be the state’s first gay senator.

Walsh’s only prior run for office was a 2004 Democratic primary for Denver County district attorney, a race he took third place in. Obama appointed him U.S. attorney in 2010, and he served until 2016.  

ME-Sen: While Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree hasn’t ruled out challenging GOP incumbent Susan Collins, she isn’t raising Senate-type money so far. Pingree, who holds a safely blue seat in the Portland area, brought in just $26,000 during the first three months of 2019, and she ended March with $232,000 in the bank.

NM-Sen, NM-02: This week, former Interior Department official Gavin Clarkson announced that he would seek the GOP nomination for Senate rather than for the 2nd Congressional District.

Clarkson is unlikely to intimidate anyone from either party, though. He campaigned for the 2nd District just a few months after he resigned from the Trump administration after a very brief and chaotic tenure, and Clarkson ended up taking just 12 percent of the vote in the primary. A few months later, he was subbed in as the Republican candidate for secretary of state after the party’s original nominee dropped out, and he lost the general election by a wide 58-37 margin.

Gubernatorial

LA-Gov: Campaign finance reports for the declared 2019 candidates are in covering the period of Jan. 1 to April 5. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards took in $2.6 million and had $10.2 million on-hand while his allied group, Gumbo PAC, raised $278,000 and had $2.25 million to spend.

On the GOP side, wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone raised $600,000 from donors and self-funded another $5 million, and he had $10.5 million in the bank. As Louisiana progressive writer Lamar White points out, Rispone has contributed 95% of the money his campaign has brought in since it launched last fall.

Rep. Ralph Abraham, the other major Republican in this year’s race, took in $800,000 during the first months of 2019 and had $1 million to spend. Abraham disappointed plenty of fellow Republicans last year when he raised just $357,000 during the final weeks of 2018, and we’ll see if this new haul is enough to appease his skeptics.

WV-Gov: On Tuesday, former West Virginia Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher announced that he would challenge his former boss, Gov. Jim Justice, in next year’s GOP primary. Thrasher joins former state Del. Mike Folk in the contest.

Thrasher declared in his kickoff that that state “deserve[s] a full-time governor who is ready, willing and able, around the clock, to bring us jobs, to fix our roads, and to preserve our conservative values” and blasted the incumbent for “lack of leadership.” Those are not-so-subtle references to rumors that Justice’s senior advisors are running much of the day-to-day operations in the state while the governor resides at his Greenbrier resort, which is 120 miles from the state capital in Charleston. Thrasher also said he’d use his personal funds to provide some “seed money” to his campaign, though he said he’d be raising cash from donors as well.

Thrasher ran a successful engineering firm until Justice appointed him in late 2016, and the two initially got along quite well. Justice said at the time that he’d always felt that if became governor “without any question, the number one guy I wanted to recruit was Woody Thrasher,” while Thrasher said in response, “I wouldn’t have done this for anyone other than Gov.-elect Jim Justice.”

Their mutual admiration had its limits, though. Thrasher remained in the Justice administration after the governor switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP at a Donald Trump rally, and he scored a high-profile win in 2017 when he announced that China Energy was making an $83 million investment in West Virginia natural gas projects as part of a deal he signed in China in front of Trump. However, Thrasher attracted some bad attention a few months later over his department’s handling of federal flood-relief money, and Justice forced him to resign over this in June of last year.

Justice’s campaign made it no secret that they plan to attack him over this, declaring that Thrasher “used his appointed position to travel all over the world on the taxpayers’ dime to promote the private companies of his friends” while “at the same time, forgot about the RISE flood relief program and all the West Virginians still recovering from the 2016 floods.” Thrasher defended himself and said in response that the program was managed well, and predicted, “Going forward we will have full and complete explanations of exactly what happened, which is very different from what was portrayed at the time.”

Like Justice, Thrasher was a Democrat until fairly recently. The former commerce secretary, who has never sought elected office before, finally switched his party registration to Republican in February. Thrasher argued on Tuesday, “Like most West Virginians, I was a Democrat, because if you wanted to vote in the primary, you had to be a Democrat.” Thrasher continued, “I’ve never been a strong political person, so I never really got around to changing my voter registration, even though (for) the last couple of decades I have voted predominately Republican.” We’ll see if Republican voters who are skeptical of the party-switching governor buy that excuse.

House

AL-01: On Tuesday, former state Sen. Bill Hightower announced that he would join the GOP primary for this safely red Gulf Coast seat. Hightower represented a seat in southern Mobile County from 2013 until he decided to join a crowded 2018 primary to take on Gov. Kay Ivey, who had been promoted from lieutenant governor the previous year after Robert Bentley resigned in disgrace.

Hightower raised a credible amount of money for his campaign, but his calls for a “simple, fair tax” and for term limits for legislators didn’t exactly electrify the electorate. Indeed, about the only impression his bid made on us was an otherwise-unremarkable ad where, for some reason, Hightower reminded us of Dr. Leon Spaceman from 30 Rock. Hightower ended up taking a distant fourth place with just 5% of the vote, though according to our calculations, he took 22% of the vote in the 1st District.

AL-05: Chris Lewis, a retired Navy commander, announced on Monday that he would challenge Rep. Mo Brooks in the GOP primary for this safely red northern Alabama seat.

It’s not clear what argument Lewis will use for why voters should oust Brooks, who has represented this area since the 2010 GOP wave. However, Brooks fended off a primary challenge from underfunded Army veteran Clayton Hinchman by an unimpressive 61-39 margin last cycle, so he might be vulnerable to an intra-party challenge if Lewis can run a credible campaign. It’s also possible that Lewis is running now to get a head start on any opponents in case Brooks leaves this seat next year to run for the Senate.

AZ-06: Republican Rep. David Schweikert faces a House ethics investigation into alleged misuse of congressional office resources and staff to benefit his campaigns, and it appears to have become a major fundraising headache for the five-term incumbent. Not only did Schweikert raise a weak $168,000 in the first quarter, he also racked up $229,000 debt in legal bills. Last spring, Schweikert brushed off the ethics investigation as a mere “bookkeeping issue,” but his campaign finances suggest otherwise.

CA-45: On Monday, Orange County prosecutor Ray Gennawey announced that he would challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Katie Porter. Three other Republicans are already running here: Yorba Linda City Council member Peggy Huang, Mission Viejo Mayor Greg Raths, and Laguna Hills City Council member Don Sedgwick.

One Republican whom unnamed political observers tell the Orange County Register we shouldn’t expect to see here, though, is former Rep. Mimi Walters. However, neither Walters nor her former campaign chair would respond to the Register’s questions about her 2020 plans last week, so she’s not taking her name out of the running yet.

Walters did file with the FEC to raise money for 2020 two days after Election Day, but at the time, she almost certainly thought she was going to be running for re-election: In fact, just the day before, Walters had begun calling colleagues to campaign for the NRCC chair position. However, more votes were counted and Walters slipped behind Porter, and it soon became clear that the Republican would not be running for re-election in 2020, much less leading the party’s House campaign arm. Walters’ campaign account took in less than $500 during the first three months of 2019, so for now at least, she doesn’t seem to be using it to prepare for a comeback bid.

IA-04: Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who serves as Trump’s ambassador to China, was among those Republicans donating to a primary opponent of white supremacist Rep. Steve King last quarter. Indeed, Branstad made a $1,000 donation to state Sen. Randy Feenstra, and it could be a sign that the GOP establishment may finally view King’s long history of open racism as too great of a political liability after he nearly lost his deeply conservative congressional seat to Democrat J.D. Scholten in 2018.

IL-03: On Tuesday, businesswoman Marie Newman announced she would seek a rematch with Rep. Dan Lipinski in the Democratic primary. Last cycle, Newman came within a 51-49 margin of ousting Lipinski, who remains stridently conservative on social issues even though he holds down a safely Democratic seat in the Chicago suburbs that could easily elect a more mainstream Democrat.

Last cycle, Lipinski’s opposition to abortion rights in particular played a central role in his near-defeat, but he isn’t letting go of his out-of-step socially conservative views. Earlier this year, Lipinski was the lone House Democrat not to cosponsor the Equality Act, which extends civil rights protections to LGBTQ people in housing, education, employment, and other public spheres.

Newman had already filed with the FEC to run so she could raise money before formally jumping into the race, and that she did: Newman outraised Lipinski by $211,000 to $129,000 in the first quarter. However, the incumbent still has a cash-on-hand advantage of $425,000 to $182,000.

Unfortunately for those hoping to replace Lipinski with a better Democrat, Newman isn’t the only challenger to join the race against him. Just a day earlier on Monday, attorney Abe Matthew kicked off his own primary challenge. Matthew has never run for office before, but said he had voted for Newman in 2018. However, having two more progressive challengers splitting the vote could enable Lipinski to win another term with just a simple plurality, since Illinois doesn’t hold primary runoffs.

NC-09: The political arm of the National Association of Realtors recently launched a massive ad buy in support of former NAR official Leigh Thomas Brown in the May 14 GOP primary, and we now have a copy of their TV spot. The narrator promotes Brown as someone with “real-world experience” and “not a politician,” and pledges she’ll “fight for policies that keep neighborhoods safe by promoting home ownership.”

NM-03: This week, First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna formed an exploratory committee for a possible bid for the Democratic nod in this open seat. Serna, who has jurisdiction over Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Santa Fe Counties, says he’ll make a final decision about whether or not to run in mid-May.

NY-18: Chele Farley, who was Team Red’s 2018 nominee against Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, announced on Monday that she had raised $200,000 from donors in the week since she kicked off a bid against Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. New York’s 18th District, which includes much of the Hudson Valley north of New York City, backed Trump 49-47, and a strong Republican nominee might be able to put the seat into play.

However, it remains to be seen if Farley, the founder of a private equity investment firm and a longtime party fundraiser, can give Maloney a scare. Last year, Farley lost to Gillibrand 67-33 in a contest that was universally seen as safe for Team Blue. Farley also only changed her voter registration from Manhattan to the Hudson Valley in February, which could make it easy for Democrats to portray her as a carpetbagger.

Maloney has also been a difficult target for Team Red in the past, and last year was no exception. Maloney used up much of his war chest unsuccessfully running for attorney general in the September state primary and had to quickly switch gears to win a fourth term. However, he still fended off a credible challenge from Orange County Legislator James O’Donnell 55-45 even as Republican Marc Molinaro beat Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo 49-48 here. (Hat-tip Greg Giroux.)

Still, there’s one other factor to consider here. While Maloney has always been a strong fundraiser, he took in only $218,000 during the first three months of 2019 and ended March with just $137,000 in the bank. By contrast, he hauled in a hefty $585,000 at this point in the 2018 cycle and had over $2 million in the bank. Maloney did just try to exit the House by running for statewide office, and it’s possible he’s tired of the chamber and not enthusiastic about another bid.

OR-02, MI-06: Despite uncertainty over whether they will seek re-election next year, Republican Reps. Greg Walden and Fred Upton are at least raising money like candidates who intend to seek another term. Indeed, Oregon’s Walden raised $327,000, while Michigan’s Upton took in a similar $324,000. In particular, Walden holds a safely red seat where he doesn’t need much cash to secure re-election, so the fact that he’s raising this much even though his party is in the minority suggests he has no intention of leaving office anytime soon.

TX-07: Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star CEO Pierce Bush, the grandson of former President George HW Bush and nephew of ex-President George W. Bush, tells the Texas Tribune that he’s considering a bid against freshman Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher. Bush would face a GOP primary with Army veteran Wesley Hunt, whom House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly recruited to run here, as well as Metropolitan Transit Authority board member Cindy Siegel.

VA-05: On Monday, 2018 Democratic nominee Leslie Cockburn announced that she would not seek a rematch against freshman Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman. Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler, whom Cockburn defeated at last year’s nominating convention, currently has the Democratic field to himself in this 53-42 Trump seat.

Mayoral

Tampa, FL Mayor: Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and wealthy retired banker David Straz face off on April 23 in the general election for mayor, and two new polls give Castor huge leads over her fellow Democrat. The University of North Florida finds Castor crushing Straz 64-28, while a St. Pete Polls survey for Florida Politics has her ahead 57-34. Castor led Straz 48-16 in the March 5 nonpartisan primary.

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