Republicans Make Last-Minute Push to Defend Kansas Seat

 

 

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes mingle with voters after a campaign rally at a Wichita airport hangar. (Photo Credit: David de Sola)

WICHITA, Kan. – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warned hundreds of local Republicans of the dangers of complacency as part of a last-minute push to turn out voters for state treasurer Ron Estes, the Republican candidate in tomorrow’s special congressional election.

“The eyes of the whole country are on Kansas,” Cruz said.

Tomorrow’s election is the first of Donald Trump’s presidency. It is also the first test of Democrats’ candidates, messages, strategies, and tactics since the presidential election. The seat previously held by Rep. Mike Pompeo had been safely Republican since the 1994 midterm elections. Though the political history and culture of the district and state at large favor Republicans, anecdotal evidence indicates that state and national Republicans are worried about losing the seat in a district that Donald Trump won by 27 points last November.  Republicans have tried to nationalize the race by tying Democratic candidate James Thompson to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who Thompson has openly cited as his inspiration for running for office. [Sanders’s post-election organization Our Revolution has endorsed Thompson.]

Besides Cruz’s last-minute campaign rally, the National Republican Congressional Committee made a $92,000 expenditure in this race. [According to the New York Times, the NRCC received a poll last week showing Estes ahead only by single digits.] House Speaker Paul Ryan sent out a fundraising email and donated $5,000. Vice President Mike Pence’s robocall, it was revealed today that President Trump himself recorded a robocall on Estes’s behalf.  The Cook Political Report shifted its assessment of the race from Likely Republican to Lean Republican. From their analysis:

Republicans familiar with recent polling describe extremely high Democratic intensity and very low GOP enthusiasm in what is likely to be a very low turnout special. More than that, Estes appears to be swept up in a last-minute vortex of factors outside his control: Democrats’ anger towards Trump, independents’ anger towards Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP dissatisfaction with early administration failures.

Estes himself was optimistic about the race entering the final stretch. “There’s been a lot of enthusiasm the last couple of weeks.  People are now starting to focus on April 11 and really going to turn out,” he said during a brief interview after the rally. “There’s a lot of people, a couple of weeks ago they were doing other things, maybe the basketball tournament. But now they’re focusing on the election and really want to have a representative.”

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State Treasurer Ron Estes addressing a campaign rally one day before Wichita area voters elect their new congressman. (Photo Credit: David de Sola)

The people at the rally were of all ages and walks of life. One local father took his two middle school-aged children out of class early so they could attend the rally on Monday afternoon, which he described as “a civics lesson.”

“I hope it turns out good,” Robert Pell, a Republican committeeman from Wichita said. He noted he had seen more yard signs for Thompson than Estes, who had not put out as many. He cited the Second Amendment and repealing Obamacare as his two major issues in this race.

Melissa Stout said this was her first campaign event, and she came to hear from both Cruz and Estes.  She ranked her issues in the election as “standing behind our president,” opposition to abortion, and support for the Second Amendment.

In his speech, Cruz mentioned four “big things” Republicans had on their plate for 2017: the Supreme Court, repealing Obamacare, regulatory reform, and tax reform.  “We have a Republican president, a Republican House and a Republican Senate. How about we act like it?” Cruz asked rhetorically, to applause from the audience. “If we accomplish all four things, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. If we fail, 2017 will be a heartbreaking year.”

A Thompson victory in the Fourth Congressional District would probably draw comparisons to Scott Brown’s improbable U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts in 2010, though Thompson’s would not be as consequential to the balance of power in Congress. The special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District scheduled for April 18 is another worry for national Republicans. The Cook Political Report recently rated the Georgia race as a toss up.

When viewed individually, the Kansas and Georgia races might be dismissed as a fluke.  Taken into conjunction, happening in two different regions of the country within the span of a week, both in districts considered safely Republican, these two races would cause alarm among Republicans. Less than one hundred days into the Trump presidency, they would be indicators of the volatility of the electorate going into 2018, particularly for Republican chances of retaining control of the House of Representatives.

Bernie Sanders Group Endorses Democratic Candidates in Kansas and Montana

Our Revolution, the political organization that emerged in the aftermath of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, endorsed James Thompson and Rob Quist, the Democratic candidates in the upcoming special elections in Kansas and Montana.

This will be an early test on whether the movement Bernie Sanders inspired in 2016 will turn out to elect other candidates in elections where he is not on the ballot. President Obama found out in 2010, 2014 and 2016 that it wasn’t a sure thing to turn out his supporters during elections when he wasn’t a candidate.  Quist supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, and Thompson said he was inspired to run for office by Sanders. Sanders won both states in the 2016 Democratic primaries. If Quist or Thompson can win these seats in red states, Sanders would probably become an even bigger kingmaker in Democratic politics, especially if he is getting political and ideological allies elected to Congress. Wins or narrow losses in these races would also hit the brakes on any fears of #DemExit becoming anything more serious than a social media hashtag, because progressives would show signs of being committed to staying within (and, perhaps in the long term, taking over) the Democratic Party.

Our Revolution has not endorsed candidates in the Georgia, South Carolina, or California special elections presumably because all three races are in the middle of ongoing primaries.  Quist and Thompson have already locked up their respective parties’ nominations. The Kansas general election is the first special election of the year, scheduled for April 11. The Montana general election is set for May 25.

Tom Perez Elected DNC Chairman, Deputizes Keith Ellison

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ATLANTA – Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was elected to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, beating Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) 235-200 in the second round of voting, easily clearing the 218-ballot threshold for victory. Ellison supporters were initially furious at the outcome, shouting “Party for the people, not big money!” after the outcome was announced. Those emotions quickly changed to joy after Perez, in his first official act as chairman, introduced a motion appointing Ellison as deputy chairman. The motion was quickly approved by thrilled DNC members who supported both candidates.

“Allow me to congratulate our chair for successfully passing his first motion,” Ellison facetiously said after the announcement. He urged members and the party to unite behind the new chairman, saying, “We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided.”

It was the culmination of the chaotic final hours of the race which began in the weeks after last November’s presidential election. During the first round of voting, the Ellison campaign sent text messages to DNC members claiming South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg had endorsed him, a claim Buttigieg refuted on Twitter. Perez finished half a vote short of the 214 votes necessary to win on the first ballot. Ellison supporters sent out a subsequent text message during the second ballot announcing a last-minute endorsement from Governor Howard Dean, with a note assuring them that it was real. Perez was able to pick up 22 additional votes on the second ballot, which secured his victory.

Asked to account for where these additional votes might have come from, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison – who also ran for the chairmanship and endorsed Perez after dropping out of the race – said, “I think in the end, sometimes people had thoughts on what they were doing in the first ballot and that strategy might change on the second ballot. It was always important, when I was in the race, to have a second and third ballot strategy. The Perez team had a second ballot strategy where they were going to go after people who couldn’t be with him for the first ballot but made commitments for the second.”

Perez and Ellison held a joint press conference after the election, each wearing the other’s campaign pin on his lapel to emphasize their unity as they prepare to take over leadership of the Democratic National Committee.

“For everybody that supported me in this race, I want to say thank you,” Ellison told reporters. “But I want you to support Tom Perez. I want you to put your energy and time and resources behind making this the best Democratic National Committee it can possibly be.”

Perez did acknowledge that he and Ellison had previously discussed the possibility of working together as chairman and deputy chairman before the election.

Both Perez and Ellison mentioned that the DNC would focus on down-ballot state and local races in their immediate and long-term efforts to rebuild the party. “We’ve got to make sure that we are implementing our shared vision of culture change, so that we are no longer the committee that helps elect the president,” Perez said, in reference to the party’s previous focus on presidential races at the expense of others down the ballot. “We’re the committee that helps to ensure that we are electing people up and down the Democratic ticket. Because if we want to take back the House of Representatives, we got to take back state houses, we got to take back governor’s mansions.”

Though Ellison had previously pledged to resign from Congress if elected chairman, he told reporters he would remain in the House of Representatives while serving as deputy chairman.

“Congratulations to my friend Tom Perez on his election to lead the Democratic Party, and on his choice of Keith Ellison to help him lead it,” former president Barack Obama said in a statement. “I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much.”

“I congratulate Tom Perez on his election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and look forward to working with him,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an Ellison supporter, said in a statement. “It’s imperative Tom understands that the same-old, same-old isn’t working and that we must bring in working and young people in a new way. The Democratic Party must make clear it will stand up to the 1% and lead in the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice.”

President Donald Trump responded to the election outcome via Twitter: “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!” He sent out a subsequent tweet calling the race for DNC chairman “rigged.”

“By selecting a D.C. insider, Democrats only create deeper divisions within their own party by pushing a far left agenda that rejects a majority of their base outside Washington,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “The DNC would be well-served to learn from two straight election cycle losses, encourage the leaders in their party to listen to what the voters want, and get to work with Republicans to fix the mess they created.”

WikiLeaks tweeted a link to search results where Perez’s name came up in its collection of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account.

Top Sanders Aide Running for California Congressional Seat

Arturo Carmona – the former national deputy political director to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign – announced that he is running for the seat in California’s 34th congressional district recently vacated by Xavier Becerra:

He’ll be running against former California Assembly speaker John Perez, who announced his candidacy for the seat the day Becerra accepted the state attorney general nomination from Jerry Brown.

Ellison Rolls Out 35 Endorsements for DNC Chair

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released a list of 35 endorsements for his DNC chairmanship candidacy from elected officials and organizations on Friday.  Among those who signed on: Senator-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), United Steelworkers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This follows early endorsements from outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Ellison is clearly trying to build on his early momentum in an effort to lock down early front runner status. It is unclear as of right now which of the many potential candidates will emerge as his chief challenger(s).

Update: Ellison’s opponents (including former DNC chairman Howard Dean and South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison) and other Democrats are pushing back on his candidacy, arguing that his responsibilities as a member of Congress (votes, oversight, and constituents) would undercut his ability to do the DNC chairman job effectively. Their argument is that being the DNC chairman is a full-time job, especially now when the party is rebuilding.  They point out Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was a member of the House of Representatives in addition to being the DNC chair during most of Obama’s presidency, who wound up having to resign from the job in the aftermath of a WikiLeaks email dump last summer.