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At the Races: The Wheels on McDaniel’s Bus Go ’Round and ’Round

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

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. Send us your questions, tips or candidate sightings at — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman

This week … Chris McDaniel launched another Senate primary run in Mississippi, voters picked their candidates in Arizona, and underdog Democrats used the gun debate to make their mark.


The last time Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel ran for Senate — in the 2014 primary and runoff — he used this 1996 bus. But it didn’t quite get him to where he wanted to go. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The last time Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel ran for Senate — in the 2014 primary and runoff — he used this 1996 bus. But it didn’t quite get him to where he wanted to go. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Starting Gate

Decision Time in the Desert: Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko won the GOP primary Tuesday in the special election to replace GOP Rep. Trent Franks (who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations). She’s in a strong position heading into the April 24 special election, since President Donald Trump carried the seat by 21 points. Lesko will face emergency room physician Hiral Tipirneni, whom Democrats see as a strong candidate. So Lesko might not want to get too confident. Nathan Gonzales shifted this race rating from Solid Republican to Likely Republican, because, well, special elections have been pretty crazy this cycle.

*Bookmark* Are you ready to ruuuuummmbbbllleeeee???? The first primaries of 2018 are upon us! Texas voters will head to the polls on Tuesday in a slew of crowded primary races (including one where the DCCC went nuclear on a Democratic candidate). Catch up on which races to watchwith our breakdown. And stay tuned to Roll Call for all the results on Tuesday night (spoiler alert: expect lots of runoffs).

He’s Baack! Just ahead of Thursday’s filing deadline, McDaniel launched his primary challenge to GOP Sen. Roger Wicker on Wednesday. He’d long been eyeing another Senate bid after narrowly losing to Sen. Thad Cochran in the 2014 primary runoff, but he was waiting to see whether Cochran called it quits first. Wicker, the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is generally seen as harder to beat than Cochran. That’s not deterring McDaniel. “We haven’t forgotten what they did in ’14,” he told the crowd at Jones County Junior College in his hometown of Ellisville. “We’re not walking away from this fight.”

And in other GOP Senate primary news, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker decided this week to stick to his original decision not to seek re-election in November. He announced his retirement last fall, but his team since admitted he’d been asked to reconsider and was “listening closely.” That was enough for Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s team to denounce “ego-driven, tired old men.” Blackburn’s a double winner here because not only is Corker not getting back into the race, but former Rep. Stephen Fincher had dropped out to make way for Corker, likely saving Blackburn some cash she’d rather not spend in a primary.

Underdog Dems Talk Guns: As a national debate rages on how to address gun violence, a handful of underdog Democratic primary candidates are using the issue to criticize their opponents. These candidates are charging an incumbent and two front-runners with being too conservative on gun policy, pointing to some of their ties to the NRA in the past. Where is this playing out, and could this be a problem? Find out here.

Hear more about this dynamic in our four-minute video.

A Dold Move: Former Illinois GOP Rep. Robert J. Doldknows what it’s like to buck his party. It didn’t save him in 2016. But now he’s launched a new 501(c)(4) to educate voters about the efforts of “center-right” Republicans who sometimes break ranks when it’s in the best interest of their districts. American Solutions Action Project is already running digital ads thanking California Rep. Mimi Walters and Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, two Republicans facing re-election in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Dem Divide: For the first time in nearly 30 years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein did not receive her party’s endorsement for re-election. Her reaction was basically ¯_(ツ)_/¯. But her primary opponent, state Sen. Kevin de León, said it was a big deal, and a sign that California Democrats are ready for a new senator. More on that here.

The Count: 14

Members of Congress are really, really wealthy. How wealthy? Intrepid researcher Paul Fontelo and the Roll Call team crunched the numbers so you don’t have to. You can explore the minimum net worth of every member of Congress, and how they got so rich, with this awesome interactive. And David Hawkings looks at the gap between lawmakers and the average American. (It’s getting wider.)

So what does it mean for the 2018 midterms? We broke down the 14 vulnerable incumbents who are worth at least $1 million. So far only one of them has spent money on his congressional race. More on the millionaires here.

Nathan’s Notes

Things are looking up for Democrats. Nathan had a few race ratings changes this week, including shifting the special election in Pennsylvania’s (old) 18th District to a Toss-up (this is a district that Trump carried by 20 points). Nathan also altered the ratings in 16 other races, with 15 shifting towards Democrats. More on which races moved here.

Candidate Confessions

Before officially jumping into the Senate race last fall, Montana GOP candidate Russ Fagg was a district court judge for 22 years. He said his hardest case involved a 17-year-old who robbed a convenience store and then shot the clerk. Eventually, he said, his judicial service got increasingly emotionally taxing and he was having trouble sleeping at night — which is why he would have been happy operating a small law practice if he didn’t run for Senate. As for the FEC complaint filed against him for allegedly campaigning while still only legally exploring a candidacy, he’s adamant it will be dismissed.

Reader’s Race

At first glance, it might appear that first-term Rep. Claudia Tenney is a safe bet for re-election, since Trump carried her upstate New York district by 16 points. But she still made our list of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents last fall. The district has been competitive in past presidential years. Mitt Romney carried the district by about 1,300 votes in 2012, and Sen. John McCain by about 160 votes.

This cycle Democrats believe they have a strong recruit in state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, whose legislative district overlaps with the congressional district, which includes Utica and Binghamton. Brindisi has outraised Tenney in the last two fundraising quarters of 2017, and he currently has an $8,000 advantage in cash on hand.

Democrats also believe Tenney’s controversial comments make her a vulnerable target. She recently suggested most people who commit mass murders tend to be Democrats. She later said that she was responding to a question about illegal gun crime and “we know the perpetrators of these atrocities have a wide variety of political views.” Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican.

For next week, email us at and let us know which race you want to know more about: CA-39 or MN-07.

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

Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Jon Testertook to the basketball court to make a point about net neutrality. And Tester, a former DSCC chairman who’s running for re-election, denied Booker a basket in a move that looks like a foul, but we’ll defer to the basketball experts on this one.


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