Jan.-Feb. 2018: Are You Ready for Some Midterms?

2018 midterms, January 2018, February 2018, Al Franken, Ed Royce, Darrell Issa, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Trey Gowdy, Republican retirements, Andrew Cuomo, DCCC, Laura Moser, California Democratic Party convention
Al Franken, Ed Royce, Darrell Issa, Rodney Frelinghuysen, and Trey Gowdy all announced their retirements in January 2018.

Before the midterms began, the Republican party was still grappling with retirements in Congress and Sen Al Franken, a Democrat, said goodbye to his colleagues. How much happened January and February 2018? The first two months of the year were busier than you might think, primary-wise.


January 2018

February 2018

Looking Ahead

See Related Posts

January 2018

This month saw a string of retirements in Congress. Of course, one of the most notable retirements was Al Franken’s. There were also some notable Republican retirements in the House of Representatives.

Overall, more congressional Republicans announced their retirements. This presents a prime opportunity for Democrats but meddling by the Democratic Congressional Committee threatens to dampen voter enthusiasm.

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01.02.2018: Al Franken Officially Retired.

On January 2, 2018, Al Franken made his resignation official, as he was replaced by another Democrat, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. Sen. Smith plans to run in a special election this year to finish out Franken’s term.

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01.04.2018: David Yancey Was Declared the Winner in Virginia’s 94th House District.

On January 4, 2018, election officials settled the election for the 94th House of Delegates District in Newport News, Virginia. In December 2017, the race between incumbent Del. David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simmonds was declared tied by a court, so the election would have to be settled by a drawing according to state law. In the drawing, Yancey’s name was the first to be pulled from a film canister, meaning he won the election. The election official pulled Simmonds’ name from the canister to prove that both names were placed in it.

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01.08.2018: Ed Joyce and Darrell Issa Announced Their Retirements.

On Monday, January 8, Ed Joyce, a Republican congressman from California, announced that he would not seek reelection. He shared his announcement on Twitter.

Joyce represented his state’s 39th Congressional District (which includes Orange County) for close to 26 years. He also had served as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and he had reached term limits on that committee.

Two days later, Darrell Issa, another Republican congressman from California, made a similar announcement. Issa represented California’s 49th Congressional District.

While Issa struggled to win reelection in 2016 (he only beat Democrat Douglass Applegate by 1 point). However, Issa indicated in November 2017 that he would seek reelection. This announcement was a sharp reversal.

It should be noted that these retirements changed the landscape of the midterms in California. After those two announced their retirements, the Cook Political Report shifted their districts to “lean Democratic.” Also, Issa was one of four Republicans who represented a district won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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01.23.2018: What About Democratic Newcomers?

Newcomers who want to help the Democrats talk the House and Senate will have a steep hill to climb, but they will also be fighting on two fronts. Not only will they have to contend with any Republicans who stand in their way, but they will have to fight the Democratic establishment.

On January 23, 2018, The Intercept published a longform report by Lee Fang and Ryan Grim about the DCCC (or “D-Trip”) and how it treated progressive candidates. According to the report, the DCCC was reviving the strategy of Rahm Emanuel (when he was committee chair during the George W. Bush years) of only supporting centrist candidates and withholding support from progressives in the party, even if those progressives were to win their primaries or run unopposed in them. The DCCC was in large part helped by Democratically-aligned groups, like Emily’s List.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there was a premium being put on fundraising and candidates were being pushed toward using the services of consultants. Those consultants often had deep ties to the DNC and DCCC beforehand and many were retired politicians.

The bottom line: Progressives not only have to deal with the task of ousting corrupt Republicans, but they must also fight against corrupt Democratic incumbents and the party’s entrenched leadership in order to make any headway. While upstarts enjoyed moderate success 12 years ago, the current political environment will make things even harder for them.

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01.29.2018: Rodney Frelinghuysen Announced His Retirement.

On Monday, Jan. 29, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen announced that he was retiring. The district Frelinghuysen represented was competitive, but one key reason for his departure may be the ire of other Republicans for his vote against the bloated tax bill. With his retirement, Frelinghuysen became the ninth GOP committee chairperson to step down.

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01.31.2018: Trey Gowdy Announced His Own Retirement.

Two days after Frelinghuysen’s announcement, Trey Gowdy, the Chairman of the of the House Oversight Committee, made one of his own. On Wednesday, Jan. 31, Gowdy announced that he would not seek a fifth term.

Gowdy began his chairmanship of the Oversight Committee in June 2016, after Jason Chaffetz announced he would retire. Both were best known for their role in the Benghazi probe.

Gowdy’s retirement brought the total number of congressional Republican lawmakers seeking retirement or otherwise running for other offices to 41 and the total number of GOP Congressional chairpersons who announced their retirements to 8 (9 if you count Rep. Diane Black, who’s running for governor in Tennessee). Of, course there would be more moves to follow.

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February 2018

In the month leading up to the first primaries in Texas, there was some troubling news in one House race in the state. However, incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz recognized the energy of left.

In California, the state Democratic Party held its convention, but delegates failed to give an endorsement in a few key races.

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02.09.2018: Even Ted Cruz Is Worried About a Possible Blue Wave.

On Friday, February 9, 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was speaking at the Lincoln Reagan Dinner held by Fort Bend County GOP. During his keynote speech, Cruz said that the “left is going to show up” in order to vote during the 2018 midterm elections. Although Cruz took some typical jabs (calling liberals “the extreme left” with no irony, since he himself is an extremist), he noticed how the type of energy on the American left was fomented by the anti-Trump movement and the types of victories the Democratic Party picked up near the end of 2017.

Cruz was easily elected in 2012, garnering 56% of the vote, but he has stiffer competition this time. The front-runner on the Democratic side is Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who outraised Cruz in the last quarter of 2017. According to a poll released in January, Cruz only led O’Rourke by single digits.

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02.22.2018: The DCCC’s Sabotage Never Ends.

About a month after The Intercept published the longform article about the DCCC’s meddling (discussed above), it published another report by Lee Fang, Ryan Grim, and David Dayen about how the DCCC was meddling in the race in Texas’ 7th Congressional District, which includes Houston. This time, the committee published opposition research on Laura Moser, who in 2017 created Daily Action, a text-messaging app that directed resisters to Trump to take one act of activism per day.

What Was in the Dossier?

In short, Moser was accused of being a corrupt, Washington, D.C. insider who held a certain disdain for Texas.

The dossier twisted Moser’s comments about Paris, TX she made in a 2014 op-ed for the Washingtonian to make it seem like she hated the whole state.

On my pathetic writer’s salary, I could live large in Paris, Texas, where my grandparents’ plantation-style house recently sold for $129,000. Oh, but wait—my income would be a fraction of what it is here and I’d have very few opportunities to increase it. (Plus I’d sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia, but that’s a story for another day.) Living in a city, especially one with as many big-money job possibilities as this one, comes with a heavy surcharge—that’s just the way it goes.

However, the op-ed had more to do with Moser answering the criticism she faced for living in Washington, D.C. She spent more time talking about how she preferred Washington to other big cities, like San Francisco and New York.

Another thing the dossier did was make it seem like Moser and her husband were circumventing campaign finance laws, or something close to it.

While it is true that Moser’s campaign paid for the services of Revolution Messaging, a consulting firm where her husband, Arun Chardhury is a partner — and there was also a financial relationship between that firm and Daily Action — the dossier purposely left out quite a bit of context. For one thing, most of the $50,000 that went to Revolution Massaging was spent on ad buys. Also, there are similar relationships among DCCC members. Several staffers and board members at the DCCC are married to consultants and others in the elections industry.

Why Was the DCCC Making an Unprecedented Move to Post Opposition Research on a Democrat?

Those in the know said that the party felt that Moser stood no chance of winning against John Culbertson (the Republican incumbent) in November, but it was clear that the committee had a skin in the game. The DCCC was openly working to help Lizzie Pannell Fletcher, it’s chosen candidate and Moser’s top competitor, who also had the backing of Emily’s List. The DCCC may have been against Moser because her husband’s firm did work for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and Moser criticized the DCCC in 2017 for making the statement that there would be no “litmus test” against anti-choice candidates.

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Emily’s List Has Come into Question.

As mentioned above, Emily’s List, a group founded to help (Democratic) women get elected to office, supported Lizzie Pannell Fletcher over Laura Moser in the race for the seat in Texas’ 7th Congressional District. That decision was jarring because both candidates were women, and both were pro-choice. That wasn’t the only controversial decision the group made during this election cycle, though.

As Ryan Grim pointed out for The Intercept, Emily’s List decided to refrain from making an endorsement in a few other races, even though pro-choice women were running against anti-choice men. This was the case for the primary race between Marie Newman and Democratic incumbent Daniel Lipinski in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District, until the Service Employees International Union broke with him. Emily’s List also refused to make an endorsement for Kara Eastman (who was running against Brad Ashford) in Nebraska and Lupe Valdez (who was running in the Democratic primary for governor against Andrew White) in Texas.

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02.23-25.2018: Dianne Feinstein Failed to Receive to California Democratic Party’s Endorsement.

On the weekend of February 23-25, 2018, the California Democratic Party held its convention in San Diego. During the convention, no one vying for the Class-1 U.S. Senate seat received an endorsement. Dianne Feinstein, the incumbent who has held her seat for 25 years, only received 37% of the vote from delegates. Meanwhile, Feinstein’s top Democratic challenger, State. Sen. Kevin de León (Los Angeles), received 57% of the votes from delegates. A candidate for a particular seat needs to receive at least 60% of votes from delegates in order to receive a party endorsement.

While this development sent a clear message to Feinstein that lefties in the state were dissatisfied with Feinstein and her reaction to Donald Trump, the lack of an endorsement in this race was not indicative of the results in June or November. However, it is more important for candidates in down-ballot races to receive the party’s endorsement because that could really boost those campaigns in terms of visibility and fundraising. On that note, a progressive running for Duncan Hunter’s House seat in California’s 50th Congressional District won the party’s endorsement in that race. That progressive, 28-year-old Ammar Campa-Najjar, received 97% of the votes from delegates.

Campa-Najjar won despite the controversy surrounding his lineage. Days before the California Democratic Party convention, the Israeli press pointed out that his grandfather, Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, was a senior member of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group that carried out the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics. Najjar has since condemned the actions of his grandfather, but his focus has been more on domestic issues, which include gun safety, health care, immigration, and jobs.

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02.27.2018: Arizona Held Primaries for a Special Election in the State’s 8th Congressional District.

On February 27, 2018, Arizona held primaries for the seat vacated by Rep. Trent Franks in the state’s 8th Congressional District. On the Democratic side, Hiral Tipirneni defeated Brianna Westbrook in their primary. Debbie Lesko won 35.8% of the vote in the Republican primary to capture that party’s nomination. Both women advanced to the April 24 special election.

Looking Ahead

Before heading into primary season, there were some big stories that might determine the fate of a Democratic takeover of Congress and the progressive takeover of the Democratic Party.

Does the Amount of Republican Retirements Signal a Prime Opportunity for Democrats?

Even before Frelinghuysen and Gowdy announced their retirements, CNN’s Erick Bradner looked at 10 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that were likely to flip in 2018 due to Republican retirements, plus the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District set to be held in March.

Here are the seats, ranked from 1 to 10:

  1. Ed Royce (California’s 39th)
  2. Dave Reichert (Washington’s 8th)
  3. Frank LoBiondo (New Jersey’s 2nd)
  4. Darrell Issa (California’s 49th)
  5. Martha McSally (Arizona’s 2nd)
  6. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida’s 27th)
  7. Dave Trott (Michigan’s 11th)
  8. Charlie Dent (Pennsylvania’s 15th)
  9. Lynn Jenkins (Kansas’ 2nd)
  10. Steve Pearce (New Mexico’s 2nd)

Some of the seats mentioned were won by Trump in 2016, but the incumbency was removed, so it was a matter of name recognition. Also, there were opportunities in California due to trends that suggested that those districts were moving more to the left. The opportunities for Democrats in each district were even greater due to the amount of enthusiasm among candidates and the level of participation reflected that.

In Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former federal prosecutor, was taking on state Rep. Rick Saccone for the chance to finish out Tim Murphy’s term. Murphy had been forced to resign after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair and pushed his mistress to get an abortion. The race was notable because the seat was important for Republicans, thus it was a huge test for Democrats. Also, Lamb had said that he would not support Nancy Pelosi as the leader.

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There Are Also Marquee Matchups to Watch in New York.

In what might be the biggest statewide races in the country, progressives looked to oust turncoat New York Democrats, whose seats were up for election. In 2017, many people first learned about the Independent Democratic Council (IDC), a group of eight Democrats in the state Senate who caucused with Republicans. The IDC, which was formed in 2011 by four Democrats, allowed the turncoats to receive kickbacks, committee positions, and donations from large donors. In turn, the IDC empowered the Republican caucus and allowed it to block progressive legislation, like the Medicare for All bill that passed the state Assembly in 2017.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who enabled the IDC, was also up for re-election. By late January, he faced no credible Democratic challengers. Cuomo, once the son of a New York governor (Mario Cuomo), has tried to position himself as a leader of the #Resistance against Donald Trump. However, the governor is essentially a moderate Republican posing as a progressive Democrat who has left many New York residents vulnerable to Trump’s worst policies.

These are some of the things Cuomo has done:

  • He formed the Mooreland Commission in 2013 but quickly disbanded when it became clear that the commission was focusing on him and was finding proof of his corruption.
  • He signed a watered-down Excelsior Scholarship, so students who want debt relief must meet stringent qualifications to receive help.
  • He instituted a program of austerity and blocked tax increases on the wealthy to appease his donors.

By the end of January, Cuomo already had $30 million in his war chest, and most of that money came from large donors. The average donation was $4,850, but corporations and real estate interests gave him donations that each totaled over $100,000. Only 0.2% of his donations came from grassroots donors.

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