At the Races: Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

Posted February 1, 2018 at 5:18pm

Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. Sign up here. We want to hear what you think. Email us at with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman

This week … Three more lawmakers retired, GOP women looked to boost their ranks and @IronStache made it to the House.


You? Yep, New Jersey Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, front row, left, is calling it quits after just one term as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
You? Yep, New Jersey Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, left, is calling it quits after just one term as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Starting Gate 

He’s Fre! Frelinghuysen was, until recently, a relatively obscure member. (He’s been here since 1995, and Roll Call has only 35 photos of him in our archives.) But at the beginning of the 115th Congress, he took the helm of the Appropriations Committee. It was, as CQ’s Ryan McCrimmon reported, his biggest moment in the spotlight since he held down a pickpocket in Georgetown.

Frelinghuysen’s the sixth member of his family to represent New Jersey. He’s never won re-election to the 11th District with less than an 18-point margin. But after President Donald Trump carried his affluent suburban district by just 1 point in 2016, Democrats were hoping to change that. The DCCC put him on its initial target list and recruited a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor to challenge him. Frelinghuysen had shifted to the right over the years — on Planned Parenthood and environmental regulation, for example — and his refusal to hold an in-person town hall wasn’t helping his cause. Mitchell Bross, a lifelong Republican who voted for Frelinghuysen in 2016, put it succinctly at an “empty chair” town hall in Livingston last winter: “I’m done now.”

Frelinghuysen’s been squeezed between leadership and his constituents over the past year. He took heat at home for voting for the GOP health care bill. When he raised just $157,000 during the third quarter — three times less than Democrat Mikie Sherrill, retirement rumors swirled. But then, late last year, he voted against the GOP tax overhaul because his constituents are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the state and local tax deduction, which the plan curtailed. His fundraising improved during the fourth quarter. It looked like perhaps he was running. Nope. He announced his retirement days after filing his FEC report.

Nathan moved the race from Likely Republican to Toss-up. Sherrill ended 2017 with $822,000 and will now have a head start. But depending on who Republicans land, she’ll be in for a tough fight in this traditionally Republican district.

*Bookmark* Frelinghuysen joins 27 other House members who are retiring from Congress (so those lawmakers who aren’t running for a higher office). That’s above the average of 22 retirements in a midterm. Who else is calling it quits? Keep track with Roll Call’s Departing Members List.

Judging His Exit … Yet another GOP committee chairman is leaving. (It’s an exodus.) South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who’s most famous for heading the Select Committee on Benghazi, took the helm of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee last June, after Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz decided to leave Congress. Gowdy’s decision to retire in pursuit of a judicial career isn’t unexpected. David Hawkings saw that coming in 2015. But it is unusual. As Hawkings pointed out, no member of Congress has become a federal judge in more than 30 years. Here’s who could run for his safe Republican seat.

@IronStache Meets #SOTU: Democrat Randy Bryce finally faced Speaker Paul Ryan — kind of. Except Ryan was sitting behind the president, and Bryce was somewhere in the crowded House gallery. Bryce is running against Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st District, and he attended Tuesday night’s State of the Union. Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the neighboring 2nd District, invited Bryce to the event. Bryce made a splash with his viral intro video depicting his mother’s struggle with illness and his job as an ironworker. Since then he has raised a lot of money (though Ryan has a lot more). Bryce discusses why he came to the State of the Union, his race against Ryan and his fashion statement for the evening.

Cha-Ching: It’s that time of year again, when your friendly campaign reporters squint at documents and remember they really don’t like math. That’s right! Another fundraising quarter! End of the year reports for 2017 were due Wednesday. What will be we looking for? We break it down in this three-minute video.

The Count: 7

Republicans are dominating retirements this cycle, but some Democrats are also leaving Congress. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Robert A. Brady this week became the seventh Democrat to announce he will not be running for re-election or for another office. He had already drawn primary challenges following allegations that he bribed a 2012 primary challenger to get out of the race. More on Brady’s retirement here.

Nathan’s Notes

Speaking of Pennsylvania, by now you know that GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan is retiring amid allegations of sexual harassment. Nathan shifted his race rating to Tilts Democratic, but with some caveats (such as, we don’t actually know what the district is going to look like). More on that here.

Candidate Confessions

The Club for Growth on Thursday endorsed Republican Dino Rossi, who is running for the open seat in Washington’s 8th District vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Dave Reichert. National Republicans believe Rossi is a strong candidate who can keep the seat in the GOP column. Rossi is a former state senator who’s run unsuccessfully for governor and Senate. His 2004 governor’s race made headlines since he was certified the winner, won the first recount, but lost the second. He has said the race was so close because of “Dinocrats,” or Democrats who supported him even though he was a Republican. Rossi has found success in commercial real estate, but he grew up in a poor family. He worked different jobs while attending college, including waxing the floors at Seattle’s Space Needle.

Reader’s Race

An incumbent hasn’t lost Maine’s 2nd District in more than 100 years. Democrats tried to change that in 2016, when Emily Cain ran in a rematch against GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who was first elected in 2014. But with Trump carrying the district, she lost — by an even bigger margin than in 2014. (How’d that happen? Reread Simone’s dispatch from Lewiston.)

Cain’s now the executive director of EMILY’s List, which has opened up the Democratic field to several Maine natives.

State House Assistant Majority Leader and Marine veteran Jared Golden raised $241,000 in the fourth quarter, ending 2017 with $182,000 in the bank. He has support from VoteVets PAC, and the leadership PACs of Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline and former DCCC chairman and New York Rep. Steve Israel.

Lucas St. Clair, an environmental activist who’s the son of the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, entered the race last fall as a potential self-funder. He was living in Portland but has since moved back to the 2nd District. He raised $207,000 during the fourth quarter — none of it his own money — and ended with $139,000 in cash on hand. He has donations from Ellen Malcolm (the founder of EMILY’s List), former Obama Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the leadership PAC of New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich. The League of Conservation Voters has endorsed him.

A handful of other Democrats are running but have less than $100,000 in the bank. The primary is June 12. The general election race is rated Likely Republican.

For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: TX-SEN or MI-08.

We want to hear from you!

Talk to us. It’s easy. Email us at 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

Who will fill the fashion void left by Trey Gowdy??? At least his bucket hat is immortalized on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Instagram post from the 2016 Congressional Women’s Softball Game (which the Bad News Babes won … but we digress #GoBabes)