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At the Races: Take Me Home, Country Roads

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 … West Virginia candidates took to the parade route, Feinstein declined to seek her party’s endorsement, and Republicans held on to Farenthold’s House seat.


Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., holds Ava Lott, this year’s Ripley 4th of July Wee Miss, before the start of the July Fourth parade in Ripley, West Virginia, on Wednesday. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., holds Ava Lott, this year’s Ripley 4th of July Wee Miss, before the start of the July Fourth parade in Ripley, West Virginia, on Wednesday. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Starting Gate

A Handshake & Melted Tootsie Rolls: West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III shared a momentary truce Wednesday with Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is trying to unseat him in November. The pair were attending the self-described “largest small town Independence Day celebration” in the country in Ripley, and Simone was there as they briefly shook hands before the parade. They then parted ways to glad-hand with voters as the two battle it out in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. Simone breaks down the contest in her dispatch from West Virginia.*Bookmark* The West Virginia race is one of seven Toss-Up Senate contests this year, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Check out his ratings for other Senate races in Roll Call’s Election Guide.

Trump on the Trail: President Donald Trump has also been hitting the road, and bringing out midterm messaging, especially on immigration. He lambasted Democrats at a charity event in West Virginia on Tuesday, our White House correspondent John T. Bennett reported. Trump is also traveling Thursday to Montana, where he is expected to take aim at vulnerable Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. Bennett previews the event, which could re-up the personal grudge between Trump and Tester. 

Party People: California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is facing a fellow Democrat in her bid for a fifth full term in November, thanks to the state’s top-two primary system. But she decided this week not to seek the state party’s post-primary endorsement. Instead, she’s encouraging party leaders to promote party unity by making no endorsement between her and state Sen. Kevin de Léon. 

Behind the Lens: We couldn’t cover campaigns without Roll Call’s ace staff photogs, Bill Clark and Tom Williams, and intern Sarah Silbiger, who’s on the road in West Virginia this week. They’re denizens of the Capitol for much of the year, and road warriors over recesses and weekends. Take a listen to Bill and Tom on this week’s Political Theater Podcast with Jason Dick. And check out some of Bill and Sarah’s July Fourth photos from the campaign trail.

ICYMI: Republican Michael Cloud won a special election last Saturday (yes, special elections are still happening) to replace former Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold, who resigned after revelations that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. Cloud will also be running for a full term in November. 

The Count: 19

We’re more than halfway through primary season, and 19 states still have primaries ahead (not including primary runoffs or special elections). The primaries pick up again in August, so catch up on the states that have yet to decide their general election contenders with Roll Call’s midterm guide.

Nathan’s Notes

After all of the hot dogs have been eaten, and fireworks set off, this Independence Day is also a good time to reflect on our republic and political divisions. In his latest column, political analyst Stu Rothenberg asks, “Where do we go from here?”

Candidate Confessions

Real estate developer Harley Rouda won a *very* close primary to take on longtime Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher in Southern California. And he might be able to connect with GOP voters in the district since he’s also a former Republican. He said in an interview before the primary that he left the GOP two decades ago. Rouda was registered as a “no party preference” voter until 2016 when he switched to Democrat. He said he grew up in a Republican household, and his wife Kaira was instrumental in his conversion to the Democratic Party. (Kaira was nearby for the interview and interjected, “The good guys.”). Rouda said he was more aligned with Democratic values, and said the party should be welcoming of new people into its ranks. “The Democratic Party should never have a litmus test that you have to be a Democrat your whole life, otherwise you’ll never grow your party,” he said.

Reader’s Race

West Virginia’s 2nd District is Trump country. He carried the district by 36 points. So does a former Hillary Clinton staffer stand any chance here? Talley Sergent’s about to find out. The former State Department official and state director for Clinton’s 2016 campaign won the Democratic nomination in May to take on two-term GOP Rep. Alex X. Mooney, another resounding primary victory for a Democratic woman this year. Sergent beat Army veteran Aaron Scheinberg, who was backed by VoteVets and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, 62 percent to 38 percent. She’s vowed not to support Nancy Pelosi for leader, and has cast her primary victory as an upset over the national party’s preferred candidate.

But to unseat Mooney, who was first elected in 2014, she’ll need to successfully prosecute a case against him that hasn’t worked before: namely, that the Freedom Caucus member doesn’t look out for West Virginia because, as the former chairman of the Maryland GOP, he’s a carpetbagger. Stay tuned for much more about Sergent’s candidacy and the race for the 2nd District in a dispatch from Ripley coming next week.

For next week, email us at and let us know which race you want to know more about: Missouri Senate race or Massachusetts’s 7th District.

Photo Finish

Just a few more days until lawmakers are back in Washington. But for now, they’re in the eyes of voters (or future voters). Here, Mooney greets a youngster Wednesday at the July Fourth parade in Ripley. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

UNITED STATES - July 4: Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., greets a young girl and offers her a balloon with his name on it before the start the Ripley 4th of July Grand Parade in Ripley, West Virginia Wednesday July 4, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

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