At the Races: We have 2020 vision

Posted December 5, 2019 at 2:00pm

By Stephanie Akin, Bridget Bowman and Simone Pathé

Welcome back to At the Races! We are relaunching just as the campaign cycle gets interesting. Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

This week, the House kicked off the next phase of its impeachment inquiry with Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing Thursday that the chamber would proceed with articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Will that matter for 2020? Hard to say.

“Most people have already made up their mind about impeachment,” CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales reminds us. “Democrats believe the president is guilty as charged, and Republicans have dismissed the entire thing as a partisan witch hunt. But for those few voters in the middle who may be open-minded, the end result matters.”

Still, much depends on how it unfolds. “If we get through a Senate trial and the only thing that’s clear is that Rudy Giuliani messed up, independent voters will be skeptical that it was worth the time and effort. But if Democrats clearly connect the dots about the president abusing his power, then I expect independent voters will be more sympathetic to the process,” Nathan says.

Democratic leaders insist they’re not concerned about the politics of impeachment, despite defending 31 districts Trump won in 2016. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos said it’s premature to know whether the majority of those the DCCC calls Frontline members will vote for impeachment, especially since the articles haven’t been crafted yet. But she added that Pelosi hasn’t asked individual members to vote one way or the other on anything to do with impeachment.

“If your conscience and the Constitution is your guide, I think we’ll all end up in the place that we’re supposed to end up,” Bustos told CQ Roll Call on Thursday.

Starting gate

Georgia (still) on our minds: Some Trump loyalists want another Georgia Republican — whether it’s Rep. Doug Collins or someone else — to run for Senate after Gov. Brian Kemp named financial executive Kelly Loeffler to replace departing Sen. Johnny Isakson. The threat of a primary would push Loeffler to the right in the Senate, where she’s unlikely to follow much of what Isakson said about bipartisanship in his farewell remarks. But given that all candidates will run together on the same ballot in the special election primary next November, having multiple Republicans on the ticket could backfire on Georgia Republicans, who will be waging two Senate races at the same time in a state Democrats are hoping to put in play, up and down the ballot.

#CA50: That sound you hear is California Republicans breathing a sigh of relief. Rep. Duncan Hunter indicated that he is likely to resign after pleading guilty to using campaign funds for personal use. Hunter narrowly won reelection in 2018, but without him on the ballot, Republicans are more confident they’ll hold on to his seat.

Civil war in Virginia GOP: Freshman Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman is facing an insurgency at home, where the 5th District Republican committee recently decided to hold a convention to name its 2020 nominee instead of a primary. The move was widely seen as a blow to Riggleman, who leans libertarian and made enemies among powerful social conservatives when he officiated a gay wedding last summer. It also represents a microcosm of a bigger struggle in Virginia, where Republicans seeking to maintain a foothold can’t agree on whether they should embrace culture-war issues or try to appeal to more moderate voters.

Holding on?: There’s not much of a path for North Carolina GOP Rep. George Holding to return to Congress in 2021 after a panel of state judges said Monday that the state should go forward with a new map for next year’s congressional elections. Holding has been here before, faced with a new district that doesn’t look like the one he currently represents. But unlike in 2016, his district got much more Democratic, and he’s said he won’t challenge another Republican incumbent. He’s got until Dec. 20 to file if he wants to run — for something, somewhere.

Tuckered out: Redistricting isn’t just a hassle for House lawmakers. It may also cause a big headache for GOP Sen. Thom Tillis if 6th District Rep. Mark Walker, whose district became more Democratic under the new map, decides to challenge him in a primary. Earlier in the week, self-funding businessman Garland Tucker suspended his primary campaign against Tillis, saying the impeachment proceedings had made it difficult to raise money and gain traction.

Three’s company: The Democratic presidential field got a little smaller this week. California Sen. Kamala Harris was the highest-profile candidate to exit the race, but Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak also ended their campaigns. Bullock dashed some Democratic hopes by saying he would not run for Senate.

Democratic waiting game: Harris had the second highest number of congressional endorsements, behind only former Vice President Joe Biden. Most Democrats in Congress still haven’t endorsed in the 2020 primary, but candidates could benefit from the endorsements they’ve amassed so far.


Show me (the money): Missouri state Sen. Jill Schupp raked in an eyebrow-raising $225,000 in the first 24 hours after launching her challenge to GOP Rep. Ann Wagner in a race that promises to attract a lot of national attention. Wagner’s seat, outside St. Louis, would be a top get for Democrats in 2020, partly because it has a lot in common with suburban districts where Democrats cleaned house in 2018. Wagner has a high profile as a prolific fundraiser and one of the few Republican women who has served in House leadership.

Remember Chris Collins?: The New York Republican resigned in late September after pleading guilty to insider trading. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to formally set a date for the special election to replace him, but he said this week his “inclination” is that it would coincide with the state’s presidential primary on April 28, The Buffalo News reported. That could help Democrats, given the expected high Democratic turnout due to the competitive presidential contest. But Democrats still face an uphill climb in the state’s most Republican district.

An interesting Schiff-t: House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff this week endorsed California Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who is running to replace former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill. Smith touted Schiff’s endorsement, which could be an early sign that being linked to Schiff (and impeachment) might not be a problem for Democrats in competitive seats. And it could help with fundraising. Schiff has raised the most of any House Democrat so far this cycle (not including the Democratic candidate in the North Carolina special election).

Clearing the runway: Kentucky state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins took a pass this week on a U.S. Senate run against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when he accepted a post as senior adviser to Gov.-elect Andy Beshear. The announcement came shortly after talk radio host Matt Jones said he would also sit this one out. That was undoubtedly welcome news to retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who has already raised over $10 million for her campaign. Adkins and Jones could have posed primary threats because of their popularity within the state.

No, really, he’s not running [wink, wink]: Trump keeps stoking speculation about whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will run for the open Kansas Senate seat. Trump said in London on Tuesday that if it looked as though Kansas Republicans were going to lose that race, he would “have to talk to Mike,” echoing a comment Trump made on “Fox & Friends” in November. National Republicans have urged Pompeo to run, believing he could knock out politically toxic ex-Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach in the primary. Pompeo insists he isn’t interested, but that hasn’t stopped him from talking to donors.

Illinois candidates lining up: The filing deadline for Illinois’ March 17 primary was this week, but Daily Kos Elections points out that the races are still not set in stone because challenges to nominating petitions are frequent there. But it looks like there will be races in most districts, with at least one Republican and one Democrat on the ballot everywhere but the 8th District. And Marie Newman, who is waging her second primary challenge against Democrat Daniel Lipinski in the solidly blue 3rd District, will have company: Two other Democrats have also filed.

What we’re reading

Moderate House Democrats (many of whom are in tough reelection races) are warning against a “kitchen sink” approach to impeachment, Politico reports. They’re encouraging the caucus to remain focused on Ukraine.

Want to know more about Georgia’s newest senator? Loeffler’s political beliefs might not be well-known, but this 2013 Atlanta Magazine interview with her and husband, Jeff Sprecher, is filled with interesting tidbits about, among other things, which of them is more conservative and why they donated to Mitt Romney. Oh, and don’t miss the description of their 15,000-square-foot mansion, “Descante.”

Billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer invested in some humorous headlines when he bought the “Keep America Great” web domain. Anyone googling the Trump 2020 campaign slogan will get a page selling “Trump is a fraud and a failure” bumper stickers.

Andrew Yang’s improbable 2020 presidential campaign provides a lesson about American politics today, the Boston Globe’s James Pindell writes. And it’s not just that people like a candidate who promises to give them money.

Rep. Steve Watkins, a master of unforced errors, finds himself in another pickle in Kansas. Topeka Capital Journal discovered the Republican freshman entered a UPS store address as his residence on election forms, raising allegations of voter fraud and perjury. Watkins’ 2018 campaign was marred by allegations that he had lied about his personal biography and committed sexual misconduct. And in September, after a bizarre series of news reports about rumors that Watkins would resign, state Treasurer Jake LaTurner dropped his Senate bid to challenge Watkins in the primary.

Local news matters, part 384. Hunter’s guilty plea this week began with a 384-word story in the San Diego Union-Tribune about his campaign paying for video games. The Times of San Diego looks at how a local reporter broke the story.

The count: 23

Six Democrats and 17 Republicans in the House have announced their retirements so far, with the latest being Georgia GOP Rep. Tom Graves, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. His announcement Thursday came a day after Washington Democratic Rep. Denny Heck said he was calling it quits. Heck cited the impeachment proceedings as part of the reason will not run for reelection. Neither lawmaker is in a competitive district.

Nathan’s notes

CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales shifted a dozen House race ratings in the Democrats’ favor, while one moved toward the Republicans. Why? Nathan doesn’t see much evidence that Trump will do better in competitive House districts next year than he did in 2016.

Candidate confessions

Andrew Yang isn’t the only candidate talking about universal basic income. Yang’s unorthodox idea of giving every American adult a $1,000 check each month is based partly on a similar program in Alaska. But Alyse Galvin, an independent making a second run to unseat Republican Don Young in the state’s at-large congressional district, is hoping that Alaskan voters are upset enough about problems with the state’s program that they will take out their anger on the Republican administration by voting for her. Of course, there are lots of reasons why the comparison between the Alaskan program and Yang’s proposals isn’t perfect. Here’s a good primer from Vox, if you want to read more.

Reader’s race

New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik’s potential Democratic opponent, former county legislator Tedra Cobb, is out with a new digital ad this week, knocking Stefanik for taking campaign money from corporate interest groups. The ad makes a thinly veiled reference to Stefanik’s stint in the national spotlight during the first public impeachment hearings as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “We’ve all heard about Stefanik’s national meltdown, but in Northern New York, the headlines are even worse,” the narrator says in the ad.

Both Cobb and Stefanik used the impeachment spotlight to rake in campaign money, but Cobb’s ad shows the tightrope she has to walk in the right-leaning district that backed Trump by 14 points in 2016. Cobb lost to Stefanik by a similar margin in 2018, but this time, she does have the advantage of not having to win a crowded primary before taking on the three-term congresswoman. Still, this will be a difficult district for Democrats, especially as they’re focused on protecting vulnerable freshmen in more competitive seats. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Texas Senate race or Illinois’ 3rd District by emailing us at

Coming up

California’s filing deadline is tomorrow, Dec. 6, while Texas’ deadline is Dec. 9. The Texas deadline could finally put to rest any speculation that Beto O’Rourke might change his mind and run for Senate.

Photo finish

2020 vision?: A spectator uses binoculars Wednesday to watch the House Judiciary impeachment hearing. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
2020 vision?: A spectator uses binoculars Wednesday to watch the House Judiciary impeachment hearing. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)