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At the Races: Is Lesko’s Win in the Desert a Mirage?

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

This week: One Republican won the Arizona special election, another might get kicked off the Colorado ballot, and Democrats are using new software to streamline campaign budgets.


Topical pics from the Roll Call archive

Could the midterms decimate the already dwindling numbers of GOP women in the House? GOP Reps. Jackie Walorski, left, and Ann Wagner are both Democratic targets. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Could the midterms decimate the already dwindling numbers of GOP women in the House? GOP Reps. Jackie Walorski, left, and Ann Wagner are both Democratic targets. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Starting Gate

Lesko to Congress: Former GOP state Sen. Debbie Lesko won the special election in Arizona’s deep red 8th District Tuesday night — but only by 6 points in a district President Donald Trump carried by 21 points in 2016. Lesko garnered 53 percent of the vote compared to Democrat Hiral Tipirneni’s 47 percent. That Tipirneni came within single digits had some Republicans sounding the alarm. “These election results ought to startle Republicans in Arizona and nationally out of bed!” GOP donor Dan Eberhart wrote in an email after Lesko won.

Other Arizona campaigns were watching Tuesday night’s election for potential signs for 2018, since the Grand Canyon State will host a hotly contested Senate race and a handful of competitive House races. Multiple Democrats said if the margin was single digits, that could be a bad sign for GOP Rep. David Schweikert, who represents the neighboring 6th District. Schweikert was added to the DCCC target list in May. 

What else did we learn from Tuesday’s election? Bridget joined Jason Dick and Inside Elections’ Nathan Gonzales to break down the results on Roll Call’s Political Theater podcast.

*BOOKMARK* Both Lesko and Tipirneni said they plan to run for a full term in the 8th District, but first they would have to win the Aug. 28 primaries. What other primaries are coming up? Keep track with Roll Call’s midterm guide.

Bracing for a Blue Wave? A few of the most vulnerable GOP House incumbents — the ones you’ve heard plenty about by now — are women: Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, New York’s Claudia Tenney and California’s Mimi Walters. But should a blue wave hit, at least eight other Republican women could be in trouble. And that’s a problem for a party that has only 16 women running for re-election. (A quarter of the women in the conference aren’t coming back to the House of their own volition.) It’s true that Republicans have female recruits around the country (one of them just won a special election this week), but it’s not yet clear outside groups will spend enough to get them through primaries, even in safe Republican seats, to mitigate the conference’s loss of women. Catch up on who could be vulnerable with this quick video.

Red State Airwaves: Senate Democrats running in states that Trump won in November have already started making their case to voters on the airwaves. This week Sen. Heidi Heitkamp launched her first television ad, featuring her four sisters and brother, in a race where Heitkamp is expected to tout her connection to the Sioux State. The TV spot was a repurposed digital ad from her 2012 race.

In Montana, a Democratic super PAC went on the air to defend Sen. Jon Tester against attacks from the right over his unwillingness to undo the 2010 health care law. There’ll be plenty more outside spending here attacking and defending Tester for his actions in Washington. On ThursdayTrump unleashed on Tester for his role in releasing allegations that Veterans Affairs nominee Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson passed out prescription drugs and abused alcohol while on the job as the presidential physician.

What’s in Your Warchest? Democratic campaigns and the DCCC are using a new campaign budgeting software. Money management is the most important job of a campaign manager, and up until recently, managers on the Democratic side relied on clunky Excel spreadsheets to keep track of (and lose) millions of dollars. The new software comes at a good time for campaigns trying to harness this year’s grass-roots energy. “In a cycle like this with so many candidates, managers are in their early twenties and are just getting used to paying rent,” said Warchest co-founder Josh Wolf.

Out on a Technicality? The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn could not qualify for the primary ballot because his petition gatherers were not Colorado residents, which violated state law. Lamborn is fighting back, taking his case to federal court on Wednesdayto challenge the residency requirement. Lamborn is facing a handful of primary challengers, notably state Sen. Owen Hill and El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn.

The Count: 10

Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports the “governing wing of the GOP,” is choosing favorites in GOP primaries in nine open seats and one Democrat-held seat that Republicans are hoping to flip. The 10 endorsed candidates have received the maximum primary contribution from the PAC.

Nathan’s Notes

Is getting someone to run for Congress like pulling teeth? Nathan takes a look at the candidates who could grow the cavity-fighting caucus on the Hill, as well as the re-election prospects of the dentists already serving in Congress.

Candidate Confessions

Practices for the 10th Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game have started, and the lawmakers’ team could gain some new players if the scores of female candidates are victorious in 2018. Democrat Kim Schrier, who is running in Washington’s 8th District, said she would be interested in joining the team (although she lowered expectations about her softball abilities). Schrier is running for the open seat vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Dave Reichert. Hillary Clinton carried the 8th by 3 points, making it a Democratic target. But Republicans believe they have a strong candidate in former state Sen. Dino Rossi. Schrier jumped in the race before Reichert announced his retirement, and she is one of the top Democratic candidates. She has led the Democratic field in fundraising, ending the first quarter of 2018 with $782,000 in the bank. Schrier is a pediatrician who has never run for office before, and has the backing of EMILY’s List.

Reader’s Race 

Among the Democratic challengers who outraised a Republican incumbent during the first quarter of the year was Gretchen Driskell, a Michigan Democrat making her second run at unseating GOP Rep. Tim Walberg. (This is the Republican who said God “will take care of” climate change last year.) Driskell raised $326,000 and ended the quarter with $620,000. Walberg raised $282,000 and ended with $971,000. It’s the second consecutive quarter she’s outraised him (but her fundraising edge in the fourth quarter of 2017 included a $50,000 personal donation).

Driskell, a former state representative and mayor, still has to get through an August primary and will have an uphill battle in the general election. Walberg defeated her by 15 points in 2016 to win a fifth term, and Trump carried the district by 17 points that year. Inside Elections rates his re-election race Solid Republican. Driskell came out in support of Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The DCCC added Driskell to Red to Blue in March. She’s also been backed by EMILY’s List and the Blue Dog PAC. All that will help connect her with the donors and infrastructure she’ll need to take advantage of a blue wave if one materializes.

For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: Pennsylvania’s 1st or Ohio’s 16th Districts. 

We want to hear from you! 

Talk to us. It’s easy. 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

Mitt Romney probably isn’t too jazzed that he’s going to face a primary in the Utah Senate race, after garnering only 49 percent of the vote at last weekend’s GOP convention. But he let loose at a Utah Jazz game, taunting Oklahoma City Thunder player Russell Westbrook after he earned a 4th foul.


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