At the Races: Jonesing for Another Special Election Yet?

Doug Jones pulled off an upset in Alabama, giving Democrats hope for 2018 wave

Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:53pm

Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races by subscribing to this weekly newsletter here. We want to hear what you think. Email us at with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget BowmanThis week … A Democrat won in deep-red Alabama, Minnesota’s getting a new female senator and another Texas Republican isn’t coming back in 2019.


Throwback to Tuesday, when Democrat Doug Jones and his wife celebrated his victory over Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Throwback to Tuesday, when Democrat Doug Jones and his wife celebrated his victory over Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Starting Gate

Holding on: We’ll get back to Alabama in a second, but first … embattled Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold is retiring, GOP sources confirmed Thursday. But he says he’s not going anywhere yet. The four-term Republican will serve out the remainder of his term, which means an ethics probe into allegations of his misconduct will continue. Some of his fellow Texas members were already ready to show him the door. Just last night, Roger Williams endorsed one of Farenthold’s primary challengers. The filing deadline for Texas congressional races was Monday.

And Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., still has not said whether he’s running for re-election after facing sexual harassment allegations and calls from top leaders to resign. He could face more pressure to make a decision after a second accuser came forward late Wednesday night.

Reality check: Democrats celebrated Doug Jones’ victory this week, with some hopeful southern candidates sending out fundraising emails saying things like “NOTHING is off limits.” DNC Chairman Tom Perez added his own bit of hyperbole: “I firmly believe Democrats can win everywhere.”

Reality check: Alabama was a unique situation, and Jones only narrowly defeated an alleged sexual predator. But Democratic strategists say there are tactical lessons to be learned and reasons to be hopeful ahead of 2018.

Alabama may be over, but there are still more special elections to come. Simone broke down the next ones in this video.

*Bookmark* Jones’ victory changes Democrats’ Senate math in 2018. Get smart about the landscape with our race ratings map for House, Senate and governors races.

What’s next: It’s not yet clear when Jones will be coming to the Senate. The election results still need to be certified, and Roy Moore hasn’t even conceded yet. But the Democrat wasted no time speaking with top Republicans Wednesday, including President Donald Trump. Senate Republicans are relieved they won’t have Senator Moore hanging around the neck of all their candidates next year. But Democrats are already attacking GOP Senate candidates for more warmly embracing Moore (or less forcefully rejecting him) than Senate leadership did.

“Help is on the way!” Terri Sewell has been the only Democrat in the Alabama delegation since she was elected in 2010. But now — as she shouted out at Tuesday’s victory party — she’s getting some help. The lawmaker played an important role in get-out-the-vote efforts for Jones, helping to convince the national party to get involved on the ground and bringing other African-American surrogates to the state for Jones. She hosted and attended more than 20 events for the Democratic nominee. Many events were in churches, which played a key role in this race on both sides. Read more about the six degrees of Sewell in this Abby Livingston gem from the 2014 archives.

Ms. Smith Goes to Washington: Sen. Al Franken still hasn’t set a date for his resignation. But as widely expected, Gov. Mark Dayton went ahead on Wednesday and announced he’ll appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, his former chief of staff, to Franken’s seat. Smith plans to run in next fall’s special election to fill out the remainder of Franken’s term, which is up in 2021. The election is rated Likely Democratic.

The Count: 8

The number of Texas lawmakers not returning in 2019. (See all of them here.) That’s more than 20 percent of the Lone Star State’s House delegation.

Nathan’s Notes

What to make of the craziest special election of the year? (Sorry, Georgia 6, you were wild but not this wild.) Catch up with 10 takeaways from Nathan Gonzales.

Candidate Confessions 

Dave Richardson knows all about what it means to be at the races. His parents owned 100 greyhounds when he was growing up in Orlando. And the Florida Democrat, who’s running for the open 27th District, got his trainer’s license when he was 18. He’s hoping to outpace the other eight Democrats vying for the nomination in the Aug. 28 primary.

Reader’s Race

Remember to keep those emails coming. We want to know what races you want to read about. This week, you asked for a deeper dive into North Carolina’s 9th District. Three-term Republican Robert Pittengerbarely survived his primary last year, winning by only 134 votes in a recount.

The same primary challenger, former pastor Mark Harris, is back for a rematch and potentially running with the support of Steve Bannon, whose allies have cast the race as an opportunity to strike against GOP strategist Karl Rove (a Pittenger backer). The congressman is already on the air (“putting Christ back in Christmas”), trying to get out in front of Harris. Since last year’s close finish, the FBI has closed an investigation into whether Pittenger transferred money from his former real estate company to his 2012 campaign.

Pittenger is also facing a Democratic challenger, who outraised both him and Harris and has more money in the bank. Marine veteran and businessman Dan McCready raised $416,000 during the third quarter, ending September with $700,000. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: North Dakota Senate or Indiana’s 6th District.

We want to hear from you! 

Talk to us. It’s easy. Reply to this email and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. As always, send us any race you think we should pay more attention to, and we’ll look into it.

Photo Finish 

“He’s so unattractive. It’s unbelievable,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins said on a hot mic earlier this year. “Did you see that picture of him in his pajamas?”