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Scouting the opposition in CD07

Not impressed so far.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Facing a roomful of conservative voters at a meet-and-greet earlier this month, Republican Wesley Hunt laid out the stakes for his party’s primary in Texas’ 7th Congressional District.

“This is about putting the best candidate forward who can beat Lizzie Fletcher. Period.” Hunt said.

Republican voters still are smarting from their 2018 loss in this suburban west Houston district, where Fletcher, a Democratic Houston energy lawyer, toppled nine-term GOP incumbent John Culberson. Her five-point win flipped the seat blue for the first time since the 1960s, prompting Republicans to take aim at the district almost as soon as Fletcher took office.

The GOP primary field already has come into focus, setting up a clash between Hunt, an Army veteran who works for Perry Homes, and Cindy Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor and METRO board member. Battle lines are sharpening, but not around the two candidates’ conservative bona fides or the strength of their policy proposals. The early contours of the race instead have centered on the question: Who is best positioned to snatch the seat from Fletcher?

Threatening to upend the primary is the potential candidacy of Pierce Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston affiliate and grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, who once represented the district.

Bush in an email earlier this month said he still is mulling a run for the seat and has been “flattered by people who are encouraging me to consider running,” though he did not lay out a deadline for a decision.

Meanwhile, both declared Republicans have their electability pitches ready to go. Hunt, 37, contends the party could use a “new generation of leadership,” and he peppers his stump speech with references to his time as a helicopter pilot in the Army, including his combat deployment to Iraq. Siegel, meanwhile, pitches her governing experience serving on Bellaire city council and as mayor, along with a number of boards and commissions.

Also, she contends that it will take a Republican woman to beat Fletcher.

“I feel that way strongly,” the 64-year-old Siegel said. “It’s coming as no surprise to anyone, on a national basis: Women have moved away from the Republican Party.”

[…]

In 2018, Trump’s name did not appear on the ballot, but scores of voters in Texas’ 7th said they viewed the election as a referendum on the president nonetheless. Now, the president’s down-ballot impact is set to become amplified, for better or worse, with his name likely atop the Republican ticket in 2020.

After the president lost the district to Clinton in 2016, 48 to 47 percent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took notice and weighed in heavily on Fletcher’s behalf, spending north of $3.5 million on the seat in 2018.

This time, House Democrats’ campaign arm again figures to play a heavy role, making early attempts to muddy the GOP waters. When Trump visited Houston in April, for instance, the group sent reporters a news release with the subject line: “With Trump in Houston, How Far Will Hunt and Siegel Go to Win Him Over?”

That last bit is more important than who wins this primary, because whoever it is will have Donald Trump as their running mate. Unless the national mood starts souring on Democrats, I think that’s going to be too big an obstacle to overcome.

Beyond that, it’s just too early to have any opinions about these two, or possibly three, candidates. I fully expect one or two other names to pop up, though whether the field expands like it did on the Democratic side in 2018 I couldn’t say. Given the need to raise funds for this race, time is starting to run out for any other wannabes.

Speaking of fundraising, here’s a data point to note for when Hunt and Siegel file their Q2 finance reports. The top four Dem contenders in CD07 raised $1.2 million combined as of July 2017. Fletcher had the second most, with $365K. The eye-popping early numbers all around the country were a leading indicator of Democratic enthusiasm for the 2018 election. I’ll be very interested to see how things look this time around.

One more thing. What happens to CD07 in the 2021 redistricting cycle. Before the 2018 election, when I figured John Culberson would still be the incumbent, my thinking was that Republicans were going to have to shift some of the district out of Harris County – maybe into Montgomery, maybe into western Fort Bend, maybe northwest into what’s now part of CD10 – to keep it red enough for him. At the very least, they’d have to take some of the bluer-and-bluer inner Harris parts out to keep things in their favor. What happens now if Fletcher wins again? Well, they could try this anyway, to take that seat back by other means. Redistricting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and with CDs 02, 10, and 22 all getting competitive it might be too much to save everyone, especially in a solidly blue Harris County and a much more balanced state as a whole. It would not shock me if the Republicans basically gave up on CD07 and used parts of it to shore up those other districts, especially CD02. That’s more or less what they did with the State House in 2011, making HD133 (which they had lost in 2008) redder while making HDs 137 and 149 bluer. Incumbent protection is still a thing that matters, and in a state with fewer safe Republicans, it may matter more than ever. Just a thought.

Where the Republicans think they’re vulnerable

Always good to get the opposing perspective on these things.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Eight House Republicans, including the three from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, have been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of incumbents expected to face tough re-elections.

Members of the Patriot Program typically benefit from fundraising and organizational assistance. The list can be a signal to donors to direct checks to members in need.

“While Democrats continue to call them ‘targets,’ the NRCC will be empowering these members to stay on offense and run aggressive, organized campaigns against their Democratic challengers,” New York Rep. John Katko, Patriot Program chairman, said in a statement Friday.

[…]

Half of the GOP’s Patriot Program designees are from Texas. Two on the list — Texas’ Will Hurd and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick — were on the initial list for the 2018 cycle. Six of the 10 Republicans on that list lost last fall.

The four from Texas are among those you’d expect:

CD10 – McCaul
CD22 – Olson
CD23 – Hurd
CD31 – Carter

It’s more interesting to me to see the two that the NRCC chose not to include up front, namely CDs 21 and 24. CD24 was carried by Beto O’Rourke and was the closest of the districts in 2016 that wasn’t carried by Hillary Clinton. I’d easily make CD24 more vulnerable than CD31 (and that’s without taking into account the fact that MJ Hegar is running for Senate and not taking another crack at this), so its omission is a curious one to me. Maybe the NRCC knows something we don’t, maybe they’re lowering the priority on CD24 on the theory that it’s likely to be toast, maybe they’re happier with Kenny Marchant’s fundraising and cash on hand so far than they are with these others, or maybe it just worked out this way. For sure, this is a list that will grow over time, and as it does we can reassess the NRCC’s apparent defensive priorities.

2020 is starting early

Example One:

The calendar just turned to 2019, but the 2020 race for Congressional seats in Texas is already on.

A few days after Christmas, San Antonio resident Liz Wahl, 33, a former cable television news anchor, filed papers in Washington, D.C. to run in the 23rd Congressional District held now by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Her filing came just 37 days after Hurd was declared the winner in his re-election by just 926 votes over Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones.

Jones told supporters in late December that she is also “very likely” to run again in 2020 for the seat.

That story makes Wahl seem like some boring nobody. Turns out, she’s a lot more interesting than that.

Former RT anchor Liz Wahl announced Thursday that she is planning to run as a Democrat against Texas Rep. Will Hurd (R), who won reelection in November to a third term.

[…]

Wahl made headlines in 2014 when she quit her hosting job at the Russian-owned news network on air, while denouncing Russia’s involvement in Crimea, which voted to secede from Ukraine and is currently occupied by Russian-aligned forces.

“I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning,” Wahl said during a March broadcast that year.

The news network, which was forced to register in 2017 as a foreign agent, denounced her resignation at the time as a PR stunt.

Definitely not what I had envisioned when I read “former cable TV new anchor”. Wahl’s Facebook page is here, and it includes a link to this Crowdpac post she wrote explaining her motivation for running. I feel confident saying that Wahl will have company in the primary if she does run. Getting an early start, and having such a distinctive background, will help her stand out if she follow through.

Closer to home, we have this post to Pantsuit Nation by Elisa Cardnell:

Happy New Year! This year, my resolution is a little bigger than usual. I’m exploring a run for the Democratic primary in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District (Houston, Texas). The primary is next spring, but fundraising is a huge hurdle, so I have to start now.

I’m a Navy veteran – I served on active duty for five years after college and then for six years in the Reserves. I just hung up my uniform for good last April due to health issues (some related to my time in the service, some not). I’m also a teacher and a single mom, and I’ve seen just how desperately we need ethical leadership in DC to serve as good role models.

Before 2016, I tried to stay out of politics, especially since as a member of the military I viewed my role as necessarily nonpartisan (at least in public life). But now I feel that I have to do something, and my entire career of serving my country and my community has led me to this point. In Houston, we have a chance to flip some more House seats in 2020, and my district will be a particularly tough race (against Dan Crenshaw) in the general election.

It’s going to be a long two years – but it starts now!

Elisa is a friend of mine and a fellow member of the Rice MOB. She had reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, so I knew she was thinking about this. Todd Litton is still out there, and CD02 will be an attractive target for others in Harris County, so don’t be surprised to hear other names along the way. But as above, and as I’ve been saying, if this is something you’re thinking about, there’s no reason not to start as soon as possible. The election may be a log way off, but the filing period begins this November, and if 2020 is anything like 2018, you’re going to see a lot of fundraising activity happen well before then. Don’t get left behind.

And just so we’re clear, incumbents are going to feel the same pressures.

Shortly after participating in the official group swearing-in for House members, [Rep. Colin] Allred got down to business and voted for Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. That’s all it took for the National Republican Congressional Committee to come after him with one of its first paid campaign ads of the 2020 election cycle.

“Immediately after the Speaker vote, voters in districts across the country received text messages, paid for by the NRCC, informing them that with their first vote as a member of Congress, their Democrat Representative has already sold them out to the radical left and voted to hand the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi,” the NRCC said in a press release. “Today’s vote sets the tone for what voters can expect from congressional Democrats as the party continues to follow their radical base and march to the left on everything from immigration to taxes to national security.”

The NRCC targeted 15 new House members with the ads, including Allred and fellow Texan Lizzie Fletcher, who knocked off longtime Houston-area Republican John Culberson in a district that, like Allred’s, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump despite a long history of favoring Republicans.

I don’t expect the usual misogynistic squawking about Nancy Pelosi will be more effective than it was in 2018, though of course that depends on how well this Congress follows through on its promises. The other team is still out there making noise about every little thing, though. Keep your eye on the ball, and remember that the offseason ain’t what it used to be.

Texas Congressional races on the radar

The Hill lists its Top 10 dark-horse Congressional races to keep an eye on for 2010. Two of them are in Texas.

1. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)

McCaul was technically a lower-tier Democratic target in 2008, but that was really only because his opponent, former TV judge Larry Joe Doherty (D), was raising money like gangbusters. Doherty really didn’t have the right profile, and he wound up losing by a pedestrian 11 points — the exact margin of the presidential tally in the district. Now, Democrats have another big-money candidate, with businessman Jack McDonald raising $300,000 in the first quarter. We’ll see if he has the right profile, but the fact that he is vice chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce suggests he might. The party has already put McCaul near the top of its target list.

[…]

4. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas)

Democrats tried to mount a late charge in 2006 against National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), and they could do it again in 2010 against current NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) only took this suburban Dallas district 53-46 in the 2008 presidential race, and the heavily Hispanic areas have grown at a faster pace than the white areas. Sessions’s district is actually probably more fertile ground than McCaul’s, but Democrats might not have as good a candidate. Attorney Grier Raggio (D) has an exploratory committee, but it’s not clear who else might emerge.

You know how I feel about Sessions’ CD32. Now that Dallas County is solid blue, there’s no reason at all to leave him untargeted. The DCCC is already inclined to help out. The rest is up to the locals. McDonald’s fundraising success will keep the CD10 race on the front burner. Now we need someone to copy that formula in CD32. Thanks to BOR for the link.

Big John versus El Rushbo and The Newt

There’s just not enough popcorn in the world.

As if to magnify what are already major differences between elected Republicans and conservative activists on the question of Sonia Sotomayor, check out what conservative senator (and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Judiciary Comittee member and former Texas State Supreme Court Justice) had to say on NPR yesterday.

“I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent.”

Republican leaders may not have as much sway over their own interest groups as Democratic leaders do over their, so don’t expect the attacks to stop. But it’s a bold statement. He even lashed out at Newt Gingrich and the unassailable Rush Limbaugh.

“Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials [and] I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.”

You can listen to the entire interview here.

Of course, any time a Republican official says anything unflattering about Rush, it’s worth asking a couple questions: Will he apologize for it? And how long will he wait?

You know you’ve gone completely round the bend when Big John tells you to dial it down a bit. Not that it matters, as neither Newtie nor the Round Mound of Sound is backing off. Oh, and now the DCCC is joining in the fun by calling out Rep. Pete Sessions, who as Cornyn’s counterpart in Congress has been silent so far. Who needs summer movies when you have this kind of entertainment?

UPDATE: Forgot to add that there’s video of Big John taking on his foes. And as we know, the Rushmeister was in town last night. Here’s a photo of him and some of his fanboys from that event. BOR has more.

White rakes it in for his Senate bid

Among other things, today is the deadline for federal candidates to report their campaign finance status. Of the many contenders for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, whenever that becomes available, I think it’s safe to say that Bill White had the best start to the year. From his press release:

Mayor Bill White reported contributions totaling more than $2.6 million in just over 100 days since launching his U.S. Senate campaign, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission today.

More than 1,400 Texans contributed through March 31st, the end of the filing period. The contributions for the filing period totaled more than $1.8 million.

Campaign Finance Chair Scott Atlas said, “The outpouring of support from donors and volunteers has been simply amazing. The energy around Mayor White’s campaign shows Texans believe in his ability to bring people together and get things done. People want their next senator to be a voice for our state’s future.”

So far, none of the Senate incumbents or hopefuls have their reports up on the FEC disclosure page, so I can’t give you the details yet. However, Gardner Selby has some information.

Democrat John Sharp topped five other candidates or prospective candidates for the U.S. Senate in cash on hand as of March 31, though his camp didn’t say this afternoon how much of the $2.4 million he piled up since Jan. 1 came from loans. His loan chunk—perhaps tapping Sharp’s personal wealth—may be left to show up when his report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, surfaces online.

Another Democrat, Houston Mayor Bill White, had $2.1 million cash on hand at the end of this year’s first quarter; he’d taken no loans.

Among Republicans, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams had $388,628 cash on hand; a haul fueled by $200,000 in loans he gave his exploratory committee. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, had $310,407. She was trailed in her bank balance by two members of the Texas Railroad Commission, Elizabeth Ames Jones with $164,663 and Michael Williams with $113,957.

As Selby notes, we can’t fully judge Sharp’s total till we know how much of it was loaned by himself to the campaign. It’s possible he did better than any of the Republicans and yet still fell well short of White, and it’s possible he outraised White, though to be honest if he’d really taken in $2 million or so, I’d have expected him to be shouting that from the rooftops. We’ll know soon enough. In any case, as BOR notes, the two Dems are way out in from of the Rs – heck, all of them put together can’t match either Dem. That may change if a David Dewhurst or a Greg Abbott jumps in, but for now, it’s a nice position for the Dems to be in.

Other reports of interest, all Congressional:

Pete Sessions, who has been in the crosshairs of the DCCC lately and whose district is trending strongly Democratic, had a good quarter with over $200K raised and almost $900K on hand. Sessions has always been an able fundraiser, no doubt why he’s chairing the NRCC this go-round.

– Mike McCaul doesn’t have a report yet. He already has a well-heeled challenger and a DCCC bulls-eye on his back, but he’s also filthy rich and will not be outgunned financially.

John Culberson had a decent quarter, with $100K raised, though only a modest $70K on hand. He didn’t leave anything in reserve after his expensive re-election fight last year, and though I think he’s likely to skate this time around, I’ll bet he invests some time in restocking his coffers.

Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t raise much, and spent more than she raised, but she starts the year with over $400K on hand, which may give pause to anyone looking to primary her.

– The benefits of running for President, having a national following, and being stalked by Borat not having an opponent in the last cycle: Ron Paul has over two million dollars on hand, despite raising almost nothing and spending nearly $250K.

– Randy Neugebauer in CD19 doesn’t have a report up yet, either, but according to the CREW crew, he wants to use his campaign funds to pay for the use of his yacht to fundraise for his campaign. Just click over and see for yourself. The yacht is anchored in DC, in case you were wondering (as I was) what the heck one would do with a yacht in Lubbock.

– Former Congressman Jim Turner, who was drawn out of his seat in the 2004 Tom DeLay re-redistricting, still has over a million bucks on hand. Which in theory he eventually needs to dispose of in some fashion, either on another campaign of his own or by giving it to other candidates.

That’s all for now. I’ll add to this as I see more reports.

DCCC targeting CD10

Good to hear.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will begin running radio ads next week in the districts of six Republicans, all of whom voted against the economic recovery package. One of the six targeted districts, though, sticks out from the rest.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), whose 10th District runs from the Houston suburbs west to include parts of Austin, is the only one of the six targeted members to represent a district won by John McCain in 2008. Both McCaul and McCain won the district by 11 points in November, which begs the question: Is the DCCC really targeting this seat?

Apparently they are, and in no small part because of an already well-funded candidate named Jack McDonald, whose exploratory committee announced yesterday that it had raised more than $300,000 in just five weeks. Should McDonald, a self-described “centrist Democrat” and “successful businessman,” officially jump in the race, he’ll face a Republican whose winning percentage has dropped significantly as his opponents have spent more money, but who held off a well-funded opponent last year.

BOR has more on McDonald. The D-Trip has also targeted Rep. Pete Sessions, who is also the NRCC Chair, in CD32. Nice to see national money flowing to Texas, instead of just the other way around. These two districts may be where all the action is this time around, especially if Rep. McCaul jumps into the race for Attorney General as has been speculated. That would require a few dominoes to fall first, and there’s already a stand-by waiting in the wings in the event that happens, so I wouldn’t consider that a likely event, but you never know. Regardless, I’m glad to see CD get some attention outside of Texas. I hope it can hold that attention for the duration.

Pete Sessions and the Taliban

Rep. Pete Sessions in CD32 is the chair of the NRCC this cycle. He’s also…well, see for yourself.

Frustrated by a lack of bipartisan outreach from House Democratic leaders, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said today that the GOP should look to the Taliban for guidance in conveying its position on the stimulus package and, more broadly, in working to make the party’s views on issues known. […]

“Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” Sessions said during a meeting with Hotline editors. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes.

“And these Taliban — I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.”

The quotes come from the National Journal, and they’ve now been picked up by the DMN, so you can expect some walking back Real Soon Now. I don’t often play the “can you imagine if a Democrat said that” game, but I don’t see how you can’t here. Seriously, imagine this was 2002 and some Congressional Democrat used this metaphor to describe opposition to President Bush. I can’t even wrap my mind around it. Both the Journal and First Read, which wonders what Drudge would do if a Dem had said this – I say imagine Fox News – go there. (Thanks to Sessions Watch for the links.)

What I really want to is if this will finally spur a well-funded challenge to Sessions this year. He’s already been targeted by the DCCC in radio ads for the GOP’s unanimous anti-stimulus vote, so that’s a good start. CD32 is a lot less Republican than it was in 2004 – John McCain took 53% of the vote there – and that trend isn’t going to stop. I thought Eric Roberson was a decent candidate last year, but he got nowhere in the fundraising department. Will Dallas and national Democrats finally get serious about taking Session on? I sure hope so.