At the Races: Here We Go — 5 Days Until PA-18

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

Posted March 8, 2018 at 3:15pm

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 … Lamb and Saccone bring in the big guns, Texas primaries advance to May runoffs and Cochran plans to leave the Senate.


Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Nancy Reagan listen to a a speech by Ronald Reagan at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, during his 1980 presidential campaign. Cochran, who was elected to the Senate in 1978, announced this week he’s resigning effective April 1.
Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Nancy Reagan listen to a a speech by Ronald Reagan at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, during his 1980 presidential campaign. Cochran, who was elected to the Senate in 1978, announced this week he’s resigning effective April 1 (CQ/Roll Call file photo).

Starting Gate

A Labor of Lamb: (Area newsletter writer is disappointed she already used the ‘Will March Come in Like a Lamb?’ headline and wants to use it agai… okay, focus.) The March 13 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District is just a few days away, and it’s a close race, according to recent polling. Really close, considering Trump carried this southwestern PA district by 20 points in 2016. And the candidates are bringing in the big guns in the final week. Former Vice President Joe Biden joined Conor Lamb on the campaign trail this week to rally supporters and union workers. And President Donald Trump will headline a rally on Saturday for Rick Saccone.

It’s no accident that Biden rallied with organized labor. Unions have launched a coordinated ground game to back Lamb, knocking on doors and phoning union members to turn out their voters. Former GOP Rep. Tim Murphy (who resigned amid scandal) was able to cultivate a relationship with unions, which helped him. But unions see Saccone as anti-labor, and they argue Lamb will have their backs. (Saccone, meanwhile, says he has the support of rank-and-file union members.) What have unions been up to, and what can Democrats learn from this race as they try to bring union workers back into the fold? More on that here.

Catch up on three things you should know about this race with this three-minute video.

*BOOKMARK* Our new and improved Election Guide is live! You can check out race ratings, demographic information AND 2016 congressional and presidential results for each district and Senate race all in one place HERE.

There’s No Place Like Home: Democrat Laura Moser might have made it to the runoff in Texas after the DCCC attacked her as a “Washington insider.” But she’s not the only candidate whose ties to the nation’s capital could be an issue. Democrats in more than a dozen races across the country could face similar criticisms, and Republicans are gearing up to make some of these candidates out to be creatures of THE SWAMP. But not so fast, GOP ad-makers — the charge might not stick to every candidate with a past D.C. address. 

Sha-La-La Land: Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala announced she’s running for Florida’s 27th District this week — a late entry into a primary where there are already five Democrats who ended 2017 with at least $300,000. Some of her leading primary opponents attacked her record as too conservative, with state Rep. David Richardson calling her “Donna-come-lately.” She’s not the only bigger name who’s shaken up already crowded primary fields around the country.

What Will McDaniel Do Now? Cochran’s resignation will give way to a special election in November, when candidates from all parties will run together on one ballot. If no one clears 50 percent, there’ll be a runoff. In the interim, the governor will appoint a placeholder. Catch up on who that could be, and how the Appropriations Committee could be reorganized after Cochran’s departure, here. Since the filing deadline for the 2018 Senate race was last week, state Sen. Chris McDaniel already had to launch a primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker, but he hasn’t ruled out switching to the special election in November. McDaniel came close to defeating Cochran in the 2014 primary.


Meanwhile, Cochran’s colleagues had some nice words for the departing Appropriations chairman. Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick J. Leahy told CQ’s Jennifer Shutt he was “devastated.”

“I assumed we would serve out our time together here,” the Vermont Democrat said. “We’ve been like brothers when we traveled. We’ve never once had a partisan word between us. And he has always, always, always kept his word. And I wish to heck some other senators around here would learn to do that.”

Israel to Dems: FOCUS! Former DCCC chairman Steve Israel remembers what it felt like in 2012 to explain that Democrats did all they could, but could only pick up eight seats. It was not fun, and he believed GOP-drawn congressional maps were a major roadblock to Democratic success. Now he’s trying to change that (and he’s not too optimistic about picking up 24 seats this year).

The Count: 17

The first primaries of 2018 are behind us! *Record Scratch* Not quite. Seventeen Texas primary races will continue into a May 22 runoff, including the Democratic primaries in each of the four seats they’re targeting in 2018. What else went down in the Lone Star State primaries? Catch up with our roundup.

Nathan’s Notes

Tuesday’s primaries were the first reminder that not all of these Democratic candidates we’ve been hearing about this year are going to make it to the general election. As Nathan writes, some of the party’s most well-funded and publicized candidates didn’t even make the runoffs. Read more about where each Texas race stands now and check in on the race ratings.

Candidate Confessions

Talk about friends in strange places… Former Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott is running for the Democratic nod for the special election in Ohio’s 12th District. California businessman Harley Rouda, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is vying for a slot in the top two in his state’s 48th District. Turns out, the guys are buddies. Scott worked for Rouda’s father’s real estate business in Ohio and now runs a residential real estate business of his own. Scott is banking on his more moderate message cutting through a primary where he thinks his opponents are too liberal.

Reader’s Race

Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson surprised some folks when he told Simone in early 2017 — in definitive terms, for him — he was running for re-election this year. He’s probably the Democrat whose potential retirement gives his party the most heartburn every year. When he goes, so does the 7th District.

 The GOP spent millions trying to knock him off in 2014. But Peterson survived — by nearly 9 points. He’s maintained that being on the NRCC’s target list only emboldened him to keep running. And in the fall of 2016, at a fish fry in Brainerd weeks before the election, he said he was enjoying Congress more and joked about how little money his 2016 opponent raised. But that same Republican, who went into election day with just $3,000 and no support from the national party, came within 5 percentage points of defeating Peterson, while Trump won the district by 30 points.

 Now, national Republicans are taking a closer look at the 7th District again, and they’re excited about the possibility of businessman Scott Van Binsbergen actually running this time (he passed on the 2014 race). Van Binsbergen, a former staffer for retired Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, told Simone last week he’s close to making a decision. Inside Elections rates the race Leans Democratic.

For next week, reply to this email and let us know which race you want to know more about: Califronia’s 39th or Kentucky’s 6th Districts.  

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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

Biden rallied union workers supporting Lamb on Tuesday, telling them, “You said you want your piece of the sidewalk. Hell, you own the sidewalk … You built the damn sidewalk!”


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