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At the Races: Breaking Into Congress With a Nail File

Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns


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


Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, seen here during a markup on the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill in 2003, recently became the longest-serving woman in House history. Turns out she understood things the first female presidential nominee of a major party did not. “Trump did very well here by sounding a lot like Marcy Kaptur on trade,” Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said this week. More about Kaptur’s relevance to 2018 below. (CQ/Roll Call file photo).
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, seen here during a markup on the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill in 2003, recently became the longest-serving woman in House history. Turns out she understood things the first female presidential nominee of a major party did not. “Trump did very well here by sounding a lot like Marcy Kaptur on trade,” Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said this week. More about Kaptur’s relevance to 2018 below. (CQ/Roll Call file photo).

Starting Gate

“Marcy is for Marcy”: That was the slogan Kaptur’s campaign came up with in the spring of 2012, when it had to encourage her supporters to turn out for her in a March primary against another member of Congress who was drawn into the same district. Throughout her 18 terms in Congress, Kaptur’s re-elections have only really attracted attention because of the people she’s defeated. She prevailed over former Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich in that 2012 primary, and in the general election that year, she beat “Joe the Plumber.” But Kaptur could be much more relevant to electoral politics than you think.

No, she’s not one of the women with fancy ads whose congressional campaigns are gaining so much attention this year. Many things about her — from her harpsichord ringtone and concerns about women’s attire on Capitol Hill — evoke another era. Her message hasn’t changed since she unseated a one-term Republican in 1982 with no help from the national party. But that economic message might just be the key to House Democrats having a future in the majority. Not to mention, she was sounding the alarm about the coastal dominance of Democratic leadership long before it was cool. Read much more about Kaptur — including how she used nail files to help her win that first race — in this profile of Ohio’s 9th District congresswoman.

*BOOKMARK* Did you know the South Carolina filing deadline is tomorrow? We’re not clowning around. Do yourself a favor and bookmark this midterm guide, which lists every filing deadline and primary date coming up.

As Messy as a Philly Cheesesteak: GOP Rep. Ryan A. Costello’s decision not to run for re-election has put Pennsylvania Republicans in a tough spot. He filed to run, but then withdrew his name from consideration after the filing deadline, meaning it’s too late for Republicans to draft another candidate. They do have tax attorney Greg McCauley, who had filed to run against Costello, but Pennsylvania Republicans are deciding whether to back him. For now the NRCC is saying it’s going to work hard to hold on to the seat, and the Congressional Leadership Fund is keeping its office in the district open.

This district became tougher terrain for Republicans after redistricting, and without an incumbent, it’s likely going to be even more difficult for the GOP to hold this seat. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales shifted the race rating from Tilts Democratic to Likely Democratic following Costello’s retirement announcement.

Learn more about this race, and other campaign news from the week, in our three-minute video.

Getting Crabby About Maps: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a partisan gerrymandering case out of Maryland. It’s the second time this session that the high court has heard a case on partisan map-drawing, which is a big deal since the court has never ruled on the issue. So what’s going on with the Maryland case? Legal affairs reporter Todd Ruger breaks it down.

2016 Will Never End, Part 2,461: For the first time this campaign cycle, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched ads linking red-state Senate Democrats to Hillary Clinton. (Yes, it actually is the first time this has happened this cycle — we double-checked.) But it will probably not be the last time we hear about the former presidential nominee in some of the most competitive Senate races. (As if on cue, here’s West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins making his second TV ad, released this afternoon, all about Clinton.) For now Republicans are tying these Democrats to recent comments from Clinton that Trump’s agenda was “looking backwards.”

Democratic Drama: Uncertainty has hung over the Democratic primary in Iowa’s 3rd District for the last two weeks, with questions about whether Theresa Greenfield would make it onto the ballot. After discovering her campaign manager forged signatures the night before the filing deadline, she made a mad dash to collect all new signatures, but fell short. Greenfield dropped out of the race Wednesday night and is off to make banana bread. More on how this shakes up the race to take on GOP Rep. David Younghere.

The Count: 7

BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, endorsed seven more candidates this week, six of whom are not Hispanic. The group is looking to play in several races this cycle, and with an endorsement comes a check and access to the PAC as a resource. Find out who the new candidates are here.

Nathan’s Notes

California, Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois could host some of the most competitive House contests this cycle. Democrats have at least 20 takeover opportunities in their quest to flip the House in these four states alone. Nathan breaks down how a lack of competitive races at the top of the ticket in these states could boost Democrats in these House races.

Candidate Confessions

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar is hoping to replace GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter in California’s 50th District, but the public affairs consultant and Hunter do have one thing in common. Both attended San Diego State University. Hunter studied business administration and graduated in 2001. Campa-Najjar studied philosophy and graduated in 2012. Campa-Najjar said some of his professors also had Hunter as a student. One philosophy professor has also held a fundraiser for Campa-Najjar, who is competing in the June 5 primary. The top two vote-getters will advance, regardless of party affiliation. Democrat Josh Butner, a former Navy SEAL, is also running.

Reader’s Race

New Hampshire’s 1st District, you say? Oh, it must be Frank C. Guinta versus Carol Shea-Porter. Wrong! For the first time in four cycles, these two won’t be running against each other. Shea-Porter, a Democrat who unseated Guinta for the second time in 2016, is retiring at the end of this session. And as far as we know — the filing deadline isn’t until June — Guinta isn’t running. He recently joined a lobbying shop in Washington, D.C. (In 2016, he achieved the unthinkable for a Republican whose campaign finance violations had alienated him from much of the state GOP establishment: he won his primary.)

So now that we’re wiping the (granite) slate clean, here’s what to watch for in this swingy district. Remember that Shea-Porter was never a favorite of national Democrats. In fact, they tried to recruit someone else to run last cycle. This year, that someone, executive councilor and restaurant owner Chris Pappas, is running. But so are a bunch of other Democrats, including Marine veteran and former Obama administration official Maura Sullivan, who’d originally considered running for Congress in Illinois. She recently picked up the endorsement of EMILY’s List. Also in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ son Levi. There’s talk of Shea-Porter’s chief of staff entering the already crowded mix too. On the Republican side, state Sen. Andy Sanborn and Navy veteran and retired police chief Eddie Edwards have raised the most money.

Given the national environment, Inside Elections moved this race to Tilts Democratic in February. But this is one of 12 Democrat-held districts that Trump carried. Former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte also carried the seat, despite losing statewide in 2016, as did GOP Gov. Chris Sununu.

New Hampshire has one of the latest primaries in the country, on Sept. 11, which means whoever wins has to have enough money in the bank for the sprint to November. We’ll be watching this race closely as the fields thin, and hopefully, returning to Scamman Farm, where GOP leaders hope to be made and where one of your newsletter authors had the first chili she’s ever enjoyed.

For next week, email us at and let us know which race you want to know more about: UT-04 or IN-04.

Photo Finish

Mike Braun, the self-funding businessman in Indiana’s GOP Senate primary, had a little fun at his opponents’ expense this week. Simone and Roll Call photog Tom Williams are headed out to the Hoosier State next week to catch up with the real candidates (not their cardboard cutouts), so tweet them all of your food recommendations.


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