Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Nyanza Moore

The repeat Congressional candidates

The Trib looks at how the key 2020 Democratic Congressional campaigns are shaping up. Short answer: There are a number of repeat candidates from 2018.

Mike Siegel

The situation in the 24th District is emblematic of a broader trend across the state. As national Democrats zero in on Texas as the linchpin of their 2020 strategy, the primaries are filling up with a mix of candidates who ran last time and new entrants encouraged by the post-2018 political landscape.

In four of the six targeted districts, the Democratic nominees from last time are already running again. In a fifth district, the runner up from the Democratic primary is pursuing a rematch.

The primary fields are still taking shape, but one of the early choices they are presenting to primary voters is crystallizing: Should voters stick with the candidate who helped move the needle last cycle or go with someone new to finish the job?

The candidates who are running again seem cognizant of the dynamic. Mike Siegel is making a second bid for the 10th District after coming within 5 percentage points of U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, last year. He said it is a “fair question” for primary voters to ask whether he is ready for the higher stakes this time around.

“I hear that potential criticism, and I’m taking action to show that this campaign is going to fulfill the requirements for a campaign that is a national battleground, that will be tightly contested, where you’re going up against a very well-funded incumbent,” Siegel said.

Siegel entered the 2020 primary in January, 11 months earlier than when he got in the race last time — and he quit his job days later. He raised more in the first quarter this year than he did during the entire 2018 primary. And he said he is working to professionalize his campaign in ways that he was unable to during the last election cycle, when he could not find a campaign manager.

The newcomers in the 10th District include Austin doctor Pritesh Gandhi and Austin lawyer Shannon Hutcheson. Both quickly proved their seriousness, with Gandhi raising about $161,000 within the first month of his candidacy and Hutcheson raking in over $165,000 after just two days as a candidate.

In Marchant’s district, the Democratic field numbered at least half a dozen candidates earlier this year — one has since dropped out. Those remaining include [2018 candidate Jan] McDowell; Kim Olson, the 2018 nominee for agriculture commissioner; John Biggan, the runner-up to McDowell in the 2018 primary for the seat; and Candace Valenzuela, a Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member.

[…]

There is one targeted primary that bucks the trend — sort of. In the 21st District, where national Democrats are hoping to knock out U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, 2018 Democratic nominee Joseph Kopser made clear early on this cycle that he would not run again. But a 2018 candidate from another congressional district, Jennie Lou Leeder, is running for the 21st District this time, and another not-so-newcomer is considering a campaign: Davis, the 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

A lot of this we already know, but there are a few new bits. My first thought in reading this was “wait, what is that fifth district and who is the candidate?” I emailed author Patrick Svitekl and was informed that it’s CD31, where primary runnerup Christine Eady Mann has officially entered the race. We didn’t get much of an impression of Dr. Mann in 2018 as MJ Hegar kind of dominated the coverage from the beginning, but she raised a few bucks in her short campaign and has a good profile for this race. As with all the other targeted districts I can’t imagine she’ll have the primary to herself, but we’ll see how she does. Assuming MJ Hegar is at the top of the statewide ticket, whoever does run in CD31 ought to get a bit of a turnout bonus, so hopefully she can capitalize on that.

I skipped over paragraphs about CDs 22 and 23, where the former is Sri Kulkarni and Nyanza Moore, and the latter is Gina Ortiz Jones and no others that I know about at this time. I’d seen an announcement on Facebook about Shannon Hutcheson but don’t know anything more about her than what you can find there. John Biggan was the runnerup in the CD24 primary, but as Jan McDowell won it without a runoff that doesn’t mean much. He raised about as much as Christine Mann in a slightly shorter period of time. The really new name for me is Jennie Lou Leeder, who had been the Democratic candidate in CD11 in 2018. The southeast end of CD11 abuts CD21, and Leeder grew up in Llano, which is one of the adjacent counties (she now lives in Austin), so this makes some sense. For sure, CD21 is a very different district, as Beto O’Rourke got all of 21.5% in the deep red CD11. That said, Leeder, a former Chair of the Llano County Democratic Party, raised $85K in this impossible district (basically what Christine Mann and John Biggan raised in their primary races), which in context is pretty amazing. Until and unless Wendy Davis jumps in, she’s the biggest name in that race. And of course, with all these races, one or (probably) more others will enter. In 2018, some topflight challengers entered during Q3. I have a feeling that will be less likely this time, but we’ll see.

This is where I pipe up and note that while they are not currently on the DCCC target list, CDs 02, 03, 06, and 25 are all worth watching and should be competitive based on 2018 results. CD03 (Lorie Burch) and CD25 (Julie Oliver) also feature return candidates; CD02 (Elisa Cardnell) and CD06 (no one that I know of yet) will have new faces. Of the four, CD06 is most likely to slip onto a target list if 2020 is going well, but that first requires a strong candidate, and the other three won’t be far behind. In a really good year, all four will be on the radar if not on an official list. I can’t wait to see what the various models will be saying.

Ortiz Jones 2.0

Gina Ortiz Jones is back for another go at CD23.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat who narrowly lost last year to U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is running again.

Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, launched her long-anticipated 2020 bid Tuesday morning, setting the stage for a rematch in Texas’ most competitive congressional district.

“Last November, I came up a little bit short in my run for Congress — 926 votes — but I’ve never been one to back down because the promise of our country is worth fighting for,” Jones said in a brief video posted to Twitter.

Jones had been expected to run again after her razor-thin loss in November, when she declined to concede for nearly two weeks while all outstanding ballots were counted. Within several weeks of accepting defeat, she informed supporters that she was “very likely” to pursue a rematch.

She is the first major candidate to enter the 2020 Democratic primary in the massive 23rd District, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and covers hundreds of miles of Texas-Mexico border. The field already includes Liz Wahl, the former U.S. anchor for Russia Today who quit live on-air in 2014.

This was expected – she kind of never stopped running after her close loss in 2018. The main question I have is how big the primary field will be this time around. In 2018, she had two opponents with establishment backing and fundraising chops, and wound up in the runoff with a Bernie type. Ortiz Jones starts out as the frontrunner, and she was a prodigious fundraiser in the last cycle, but this is a very winnable seat and there will be plenty of support available to whoever the nominee is, so I can’t imagine that Liz Wahl, who hasn’t raised anything yet, will be her main competition. Ortiz Jones herself didn’t get into the CD23 race till Q3 of 2017, so there’s still plenty of time for someone else to emerge. I’ll be very interested to see if she gets a relatively free shot at it.

To recap for the other races of interest:

CD02 – Elisa Cardnell is in.
CD03 – 2018 candidate Lorie Burch is in.
CD06 – I’m not aware of anyone yet. Jana Sanchez hasn’t given any indication she’s running. Ruby Woolridge made an unsuccessful run for Mayor of Arlington this year, which doesn’t mean she can’t or won’t try for this seat again, but does indicate she might have moved on.
CD10 – Mike Siegel and Pritesh Gandhi are in.
CD21 – Joseph Kopser is out, Wendy Davis is thinking about it, I’m not aware of anyone else.
CD22 – Sri Kulkarni and Nyanza Moore are in. Letitia Plummer, who lost the primary runoff to Kulkarni in 2018, is running for Houston City Council this fall. As with Ruby Woolridge, this doesn’t mean she couldn’t shift gears if that doesn’t work out, but she’d be on a tighter turnaround in that case, with the filing deadline in December.
CD24 – Kim Olson, Candace Valenzuela, and Jan McDowell are in.
CD25 – 2018 nominee Julie Oliver is in.
CD31 – MJ Hegar is running for Senate, and I am not aware of anyone else running for this at this time.

If you know of a candidate that I don’t know of, please leave a comment.

Add CD10 to the contested primaries list

It has been that way for awhile now, but I’m only just noticing that there is a second candidate for the Democratic nomination in CD10. This Statesman story, which is about the multiple Congressional districts being targeted by Democrats for 2020, has the scoop.

Mike Siegel

There is perhaps no better example of the changed political landscape in Texas than the 10th Congressional District, stretching from West Austin to the Houston suburbs, where Democrats are already lining up to challenge incumbent Michael McCaul, the Austin Republican once considered invincible.

Mike Siegel, who ran an underfunded campaign in 2018 and lost to McCaul by just 4.3 points, will face political newcomer Pritesh Gandhi, an Austin primary care physician for the underserved, in the 2020 Democratic primary, possibly among others considering candidacies.

Gandhi, 36, a former Fulbright scholar and Schweitzer fellow, has the poise and bearing of someone who has been preparing all his life for this opportunity, and thinks he’s got what it takes to do what Siegel, 41, was unable to.

“What a lot of folks are asking, ‘Mike did a great job last year, why are you running?’” said Gandhi, who was born and raised in the Houston area and is the associate chief medical officer for People’s Community Clinic in Austin. “It is important for the party to have an open and honest discussion around what the issues are and the kind of candidate we can nominate that can beat McCaul.”

Siegel, meanwhile, left his job as a former assistant city attorney in Austin to run full-time. He has hired a campaign manager and is spending 20 to 30 hours a week calling potential contributors.

[…]

Pritesh Gandhi

Siegel said if he had lost by 10 points, he would not be making another go at McCaul.

But he recalled, on “election night, we were on the CNN board until late at night when the rural county Republican surge came in.”

“The fact that we came so close without money really made me wonder, if I did everything the DCCC tells me to,” Seigel said. “I had a grassroots, progressive coalition helping me, which is key. That’s a huge advantage in this primary for 2020. That is a big part of the foundation I’m building on, so what I’m hoping to add to that is the full-fledged D.C.-approved campaign structure.”

Gandhi said he and his wife on Nov. 6 were watching the election.

“We saw the outcome, and right then and there we knew that this was going to be in the cards,” he said.

“It’s really not about Mike McCaul,” Gandhi said. “It’s about the Mike McCauls of the world and it’s about holding the Mike McCauls of the world accountable for the votes they take in office and for the party they support and for the president they support,” Gandhi said. “So I had to run. It was no choice for me.”

On Tuesday, a week after his third daughter was born, Gandhi was at the monthly meeting of the Austin Tejano Democrats at Casa Maria restaurant on South First Street in South Austin, introducing himself.

“I’ve spent my career fighting for people in this region, fighting for paid sick leave. I was on the border last year in Tornillo fighting for families and I do that every day in my job and so I’m happy to be here,” Gandhi said. “I’m sure in the next year I will get to know a whole bunch of you.”

“I think Mike (Siegel) is a great guy, a great dad. He’s a good lawyer. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about him,” Gandhi said after the meeting. “But I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think the campaign we are building is the one that’s going to beat Mike McCaul, and I think part of the story here is that I have been fighting for these issues my whole life, all day and all night and every weekend long before I thought about politics.”

CD10 joins CD24 and CD22, and in the end probably all of the interesting districts and most of the not-as-interesting districts, inn attracting multiple viable candidates. That’s an encouraging sign. As it happens, I agree with both the proposition that Siegel did a great job in 2018, and that the voters in the Democratic primary should get the chance to decide whether Siegel or Gandhi or someone else represents the best choice to defeat the incumbent. Let’s talk it out – Gandhi is certainly modeling a good way to do it – and make a decision. And in the meantime, let’s be reaching out to all those voters.

As noted, the story is about multiple districts, all of which we are familiar with. Nothing to add for CD21, where Wendy Davis is still thinking about it, or CD31, where MJ Hegar still has a decision to make. As I discussed before, we’re about on par with where we were in 2018 for candidate announcements. By the time of the Q2 finance reports in 2017, many of the serious contenders were in, but there are quite a few names that hadn’t shown up (at least in time to raise some money) by then, including Mike Siegel, Sri Kulkarni, Gina Ortiz Jones, and MJ Hegar. So don’t panic if your district doesn’t have a candidate yet. There’s still plenty of time.

Two for CD22

I expect the primary season for the other competitive Republican-held Congress districts to be busy, and so it begins.

Nyanza Moore

Lawyer Nyanza Moore plans to officially announce her candidacy Sunday for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, where she plans to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“My personal story is rooted in faith, guided by progressive values, and fueled by the will to overcome tragedy,” Moore said in a statement.

In a news release, Moore focused heavily on health care, recalling financial challenges when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer, and when her sister once went into a coma. She connected the topic to Olson, contending he has “repeatedly voted to take away health care” from constituents.

Moore’s announcement comes the weekend after Democrat Sri Kulkarni launched his second campaign for the seat. Kulkarni was the district’s Democratic nominee last cycle and came within five points of unseating Olson.

See here for Kulkarni’s announcement, which notes that there is also a third potential contender out there as well. CD22 drew five Dem hopefuls in 2018, when it was an interesting but more remote possibility that wasn’t on the national radar. It’s very much on the radar now, which I suspect will increase the level of interest, even with Kulkarni showing himself to have been a strong candidate and good fundraiser. This is as good an opportunity as you’re likely to get and you miss all the shots you don’t take, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, why not give it a go? Nyanza Moore’s webpage is here and her Facebook page is here. As always, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the campaign finance reports.

Kulkarni 2.0

Glad to see this.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Kulkarni, an ex-foreign service officer who last year came within five points of unseating U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, announced Thursday he is challenging the Sugar Land Republican anew in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.

Making his first run for office in 2018, Kulkarni drew attention by repeatedly out fundraising Olson and forming a multilingual campaign team to take aim at the district’s highly diverse population. He ultimately lost by more than 14,000 votes, or about 4.9 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, Kulkarni said his efforts will largely revolve around registering new voters in the district, where he has identified roughly 70,000 unregistered residents who are eligible to vote. Kulkarni also intends to reach more low-propensity voters this cycle, he said, and harness lingering energy from his prior campaign by jumping in only five months after the November midterms.

“We have people who are pumped up to come out and knock on doors right now, and we’re a year and a half away from the election,” Kulkarni said. “People wanted change in this district, and since we’ve built all that infrastructure, it would be a waste to start from scratch.”

Before he can set his sights on Olson, however, Kulkarni must first get past the Democratic primary, where he already faces two opponents. Nyanza Moore, a Fox 26 political commentator, and Joe Walz, an Army veteran, each are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Whoever emerges to face the Republican nominee will likely begin with better odds than Kulkarni did in 2018. Viewed for years as a longshot for Democrats, the district has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 battleground map, an early indication that national Democrats are willing to put resources into flipping the seat.

There’s definitely room to grow in a district that wasn’t at all on the national radar last year, but got more attention as the situation in Texas became clearer. I suspect that the promise of DCCC support for CD22 is contingent on Kulkarni winning the primary, as he has proven himself to be a strong candidate, though if one of the other two beats him I’m sure they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well. With all due respect, I’d prefer Kulkarni, as would a number of elected officials and other party figures who have endorsed him. I’m looking forward to reviewing the FEC reports for Congressional candidates again.