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At the Races: The Ugliest Primaries Are Almost Over

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 … candidates geared up for next week’s primaries, caucus endorsements got complicated, and Doug Lamborn held on (for now).


A Democratic super PAC is spending in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary against Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins, seen above touring Warwood Tools outside of Wheeling on Wednesday. But it’s Jenkins who’s been the target of the brunt of the last-minute spending. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A Democratic super PAC is spending in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary against Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins, seen above touring Warwood Tools outside of Wheeling on Wednesday. But it’s Jenkins who’s been the target of the brunt of the last-minute spending. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Starting Gate

What a Difference Two Years Makes: Remember “Tennessee Trey”? The first-time candidate moved from the Volunteer State to Indiana in the fall of 2015 and quickly filed to run for Indiana’s 9th District. When Simone went looking for him in his new hometown of Jeffersonville in 2016, residents said they’d never seen him. He was universally attacked, by Republicans and Democrats, for trying to buy the seat (with some help from his dad’s super PAC.) Now, he’s a congressman — the 12th-wealthiest, in fact. And remarkably, he doesn’t even face a primary in this Solid Republican race. What’s he doing right?

*Bookmark* Where are the competitive House and Senate races? Keep track with Roll Call’s Election Guide, featuring ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

Bring Out the Popcorn: Tuesday is one of the first big primary days of the year. Most of the drama is on the GOP side. If you’ve been reading this newsletter, you know Indiana and West Virginia have long been the nastiest GOP Senate primaries in the country. Both feature three-way races between white male hopefuls. Each has a self-funding businessman who has altered the dynamics. And interestingly, both include Republican candidates accused of having been Democrats in the past. It remains to be seen how much those attacks will resonate though. Conventional wisdom is that former Indiana state Rep. Mike Braun, despite having voted in Democratic primaries in the past, is in a very strong position heading into Tuesday. And especially in a state like West Virginia where even the governor recently switched parties, Jenkins isn’t concerned about attacks targeting him for switching parties (several times.)

The bigger factor in both races comes down to who would be a stronger ally of President Donald Trump’s. Simone and photographer Tom Williams are in West Virginia, so follow along on Twitter for updates. And in the meantime, get to know the Indiana candidates up close and personal in Simone’s dispatch from the road (and from Todd Rokita’s surplus police vehicle).

Two other things to watch in Indiana: the 6th District is likely to nominate the vice president’s brother, Greg Pence. And since it’s a safe Republican seat, he’s likely coming to Congress in January. The bad news for Pence, though, is that reporters roam the Capitol pretty freely — and there are lots of us. That could come as a shock since the GOP candidate has mostly refused to talk to the press during his campaign. First, it seemed like a bias against the national press. But a local paper recently picked up on Roll Call’s efforts to track him down in Indiana and discovered they, too, were denied access to Pence.

There’s also a fairly significant chance that Indiana nominates not one, but two Braun brothers for Congress on Tuesday. Mike’s brother Steve is running for the GOP nomination in the open 4th District in a crowded field. There’s a slight physical resemblance, but these brothers have little to do with each other.

OK, enough about Republican men. Will Tuesday see a woman make it through a primary in a safe GOP seat? Winning for Women, a new outside group dedicated to supporting Republican women, made its first independent expenditure this week for West Virginia state Del. Carol Miller in the 3rd District. She’s running in a crowded primary against the former state party chairman, who’s got the backing of another Washington group.

Not to be forgotten, North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger could become the first incumbent of the cycle to lose Tuesday. He’s facing off against former pastor Mark Harris, whom he defeated by just 134 votes in a recount in 2016. Pittenger’s thought to be taking his primary more seriously this year (remember this Christmas ad he launched last year?) and isn’t facing all the headaches of a new district and FBI investigation that dogged him two years ago.

Catch up on all the exciting Tuesday primaries (including a sleepier Senate primary in Ohio) in this video.

Awk Cauc(us): Democratic primaries could cause some headaches for the party, but they might not have seen this one coming: When congressional caucuses back certain candidates in crowded fields, not every member of the caucus may agree with the endorsement. That dilemma played out in Pennsylvania this week, when two candidates in two separate races listed the support of Rep. Lois Frankel while touting the endorsement of the Progressive Caucus. Only problem is she’s backing their opponents. That caused the Progressive Caucus to issue a new guidance to candidates. Frankel said she flagged it as an issue on principle, not because she thought falsely touting her endorsement would actually sway the race. “It’s not like I’m Michelle Obama, let’s put it that way,” she said.

Dem Drama: Some Democratic groups are making a last-ditch effort to make sure a Pennsylvania candidate doesn’t win the May 15 primary. Groups including EMILY’s List and NextGen America (backed by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer) are launching ads against Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli for his anti-abortion position and immigration stances, which include opposition to so-called sanctuary cities. Morganelli has a good chance of winning the crowded primary, say operatives watching the race, because of his high name recognition. But other candidates say he’ll need more than that. More on the crowded primary here.

This Won’t Be Confusing: The special election to replace GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan, who resigned last week, will take place in conjunction with the general election on Nov. 6. Pennsylvania has a new congressional map, so the general election will take place under the new district lines, but the special election to fill the last two months of Meehan’s term will use the old map.

The Count: 1,000

The legal battle over whether GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn properly collected the 1,000 signatures needed to get on the primary ballot in Colorado ended this week. He originally got kicked off because one of his petition circulators was not a Colorado resident, violating state law. But Lamborn is back on the ballot after a federal judge ruled this week that the residency requirement is likely unconstitutional. The original plaintiffs asked the 10th Circuit for an emergency stay, which was denied, and they said Wednesday they had exhausted all legal options. So Lamborn survives — for now. He still faces primary challengers.

Nathan’s Notes

Stu Rothenberg is pinch-hitting for Nathan this week with his analysis of the Senate map. Republicans started the cycle with a slew of targets, but some of them are slipping away. Stu dives into which targets are fading, and why.

Candidate Confessions

In the Republican Senate primary in Utah, it turns out both candidates were actually born in Michigan. State Rep. Mike Kennedy was born in Lansing while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was born in Detroit. But Kennedy says the similarities stop there. He grew up in a poor household and went on to medical school and law school. He’s worked as a family physician in Utah before running for the state House in 2012. Kennedy narrowly bested Romney at the GOP convention last month, garnering 51 percent of the vote to the former GOP presidential nominee’s 49 percent — and that means the two will face off in a primary next month.

Reader’s Race

The Pennsylvania primaries are just over a week away, on May 15. One race we’ll be watching is the 1st District (previously known as the 8th District before new lines were imposed by the state Supreme Court), where freshman GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is running for re-election. The new 1st District, based in Bucks County, leans slightly more Democratic under the new lines. It shifted from a district Trump narrowly carried to one that backed Clinton by 2 points.

Fitzpatrick faces a primary challenge from former Bucks County prosecutor Dean Malik, who says Fitzpatrick is not conservative enough and does not support Trump’s agenda. They met at a debate this week and differed on approaches to Russia, immigration and gun control. Malik reported no cash on hand at the end the first fundraising quarter, compared to Fitzpatrick’s $1.4 million in the bank.

Navy veteran and lawyer Rachel Reddick, philanthropist Scott Wallace and activist Steve Bacher are facing off on the Democratic side. Wallace raised more than $1 million (after loaning himself $900,000) and had $691,000 on hand at the end of March. Reddick, who has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, VoteVets and some members of Congress, has raised a total of $307,000 and had $134,000 on hand. The NRCC has already been criticizing Wallace for moving back to the district to run for Congress (something a number of candidates have done this cycle). Wallace and Reddick were already targeting each other in negative campaign ads last month. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.

For next week, email us at and let us know which race you want to know more about: Alabama’s 2nd District or Georgia’s 6th District.

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

With the North Carolina primaries next week, here’s a reminder that running for office there means eating a lot of pork. GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, the NRSC vice chairman, dished to Heard on the Hill’s Alex Gangitano about how pork dominates the campaign trail in the Tar Heel state, and how the “freshman 15” is real in the Senate too.


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