Georgia Special Election Headed for June Runoff

Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old upstart making a run for Tom Price’s former congressional seat representing the Atlanta suburbs, will finish tonight’s jungle primary with approximately 48.6 percent of the vote – 1.4 percent shy of the 50 percent threshold needed to win the seat outright.  He will face off against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in a head-to-head runoff election on June 20.

Democrats in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District had coalesced around Ossoff, while the Republican voters were divided among 11 other candidates, with Handel emerging as the leading Republican with 19.5 percent of the vote.

The race was the focus of intense outside spending and activism, particularly on the Democratic side. Outside groups spent a combined $8.2 million in this race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The organization also reported that a staggering 95 percent of Ossoff’s campaign donations came from outside of the district.

This is the second special election for a congressional seat since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Last week, Democrat James Thompson overperformed by 20 points in an ultimately losing effort to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Mike Pompeo. Ossoff, unlike Thompson, was running in a much more competitive district. Donald Trump won the district by 1.5 points, despite the fact that incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Price won reelection by 24 points, as well as the fact that the district has not had a Democratic congressman since 1979.  Though it was viewed as a more winnable seat than the Kansas counterpart up for grabs a week earlier, the concern now for Democrats is if Ossoff can still maintain or even increase his support in a race against a single Republican candidate with unified party support. It was for that reason that Ossoff and Democrats were trying to deliver a knockout punch today by clearing the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election.

The race continues for another two months.

Ron Estes Wins Kansas Special Election

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Democratic candidate James Thompson addressed reporters at his campaign’s election watch party shortly after losing the race. Thompson had the best performance of any Democrat in this district since 1996. (Photo credit: David de Sola)

WICHITA, Kan. – State treasurer Ron Estes was elected to the House of Representatives, despite a close race by his opponent, civil rights attorney and political novice James Thompson, who had the best performance of any Democratic candidate in this district in 21 years. In a district where Republicans enjoy a 2-1 party registration advantage that President Donald Trump and Rep. Mike Pompeo won by 27 and 31 points last fall, Thompson lost by just shy of seven points. This marks a 24-point shift in the Democrats’ favor in the same race from last November.

“What’s hard to get my head around is that the last time we elected a Democrat from this district was in 1992. The last time a Democrat candidate broke 40 percent of the vote was 1996, and the guy who ran five months ago got 31 percent more of the vote than the Democrat did. It’s huge momentum,” Kansas House minority leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said in an interview.

Though Thompson lost the race, the mood of the candidate and his supporters at the election watch party on Tuesday night was far from defeated. Thompson told reporters that Estes didn’t win the race, attributing the victory to the last-minute interventions of President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the National Republican Congressional Committee.  Thompson also called Estes “a weak candidate” and declared his candidacy for the same seat for the 2018 midterm elections, adding, “Mr. Estes won the battle, but he didn’t win the war.”

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FILE PHOTO: Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes speaking to supporters at a rally the day before the election. (Photo credit: David de Sola)

During his victory speech, Estes took a shot at the skeptics who thought he was going to lose the race. From the Wichita Eagle’s report:

“We heard a lot from the national media and from people outside the state that we weren’t going to be able to win this race. We showed tonight that we were,” Estes said. “We’re still a Republican seat. … We sent a message across the country that we’re still Republican. That message should echo.

“For far too long, Washington hasn’t worked for us. We need to make sure that changes,” Estes said. “Tonight is a symbol of that.”

He dismissed “angst against the president” and that the election “was a chance for the Democrats.”

“We really showed the pundits tonight, didn’t we?” he asked, to applause and cheers.

Thompson started the night with strong numbers out of Sedgwick County – the most populous of the district’s 17 counties, which includes Wichita – in part because of early voting.  Estes was able to make up an initial deficit of nearly 6,000 votes in Sedgwick County in more rural counties in the district as well as voters who turned out on Election Day.  Thompson wound up winning Sedgwick County by 1,874 votes, but lost every other county in the district.

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Voters at a Wichita area polling place on Election Day. (Photo credit: David de Sola)

Emily Percival, a registered nurse who works at a local hospital in Wichita, said she voted for Thompson because “I tend to care more about social issues than big business. Because of my profession, I frequently deal with the most vulnerable in our population,” and noted Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s recent veto of Medicaid expansion which passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Susan, a paraeducator and registered Republican, said she voted for Estes in part because of the national attention on the race. “The rest of the nation is looking at this election to see if we are supportive of Donald Trump’s initiatives,” she said, while also noting her pro-life position.  She added that she had some issues with the negativity of Estes’s campaign commercial attacking Thompson on abortion, but noted “There’s never a perfect candidate.”

Mike, a retiree and registered Democrat, said he voted for Thompson because, “I’m not satisfied with the state government, which is run by Republicans. We need a change of everything, from the president on down.”

Greg Gourley, a registered Republican who works in the aerospace industry, said he crossed party lines and voted for Thompson. “Estes would support Brownback. I don’t agree with the policies of the current administration.” He also noted that he had voted for some Democratic candidates in the past, adding, “I tend to vote the issues, not the party.”

Barbara, a retiree, said “[Estes] is the best man for the job. He’s against late-term abortions. He’s a Republican, and I’d like to replace [Mike Pompeo] with another Republican.”

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman told the Wichita Eagle that turnout could potentially double the expected 20 percent, though final numbers were still not available.

Although Republicans managed to avoid what would have been a shocking upset in this race, now they must focus their attention on the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District scheduled for next week.  President Trump won that district by one point in 2016, and the Cook Political Report recently ranked the race as a toss up.

“The Democratic Party needs to remember there are more than just a few states that are in play. We need to make sure that they step up and help out and not wait until the last minute,” Thompson told reporters. “The national party was concentrating on Georgia. It’s a close race, and they should take that. We’ve shown that it’s possible. People didn’t give us credit here, didn’t think it was possible, but they came in at the last minute and tried to help out and we appreciate it. We need to make sure that we have a true 50-state strategy in place to make all races competitive.”

Though Thompson lost the election, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard noted the significance of the result: “A 20-point swing towards Democrats in KS-4 during Trump’s first 100 days — a.k.a. his honeymoon — is a political earthquake.”

According to Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, “[A Thompson win] would be a national event, interpreted as huge Trump loss. [A Thompson loss] under 10 point [margin] would be significant,” he wrote in an e-mail, noting this might make both national parties focus more attention on congressional races in the Second and Third Congressional Districts for the 2018 midterms.

Down to the Wire in Kansas

I’m traveling to Wichita tomorrow to cover the final days of the special election in the Fourth Congressional District, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.  Recent developments indicate a much closer race than predicted in a district Donald Trump won by 27 points last November. There are no public poll numbers available for this race, but recent actions taken by national Republicans to lock down this race speak volumes:

NOTE: I am told by the Sedgwick County Election Office that the early voting numbers are updated after the polls close at the end of each day, so more numbers will be coming today and in the days ahead. According to state law, early voting ends at noon on Monday.

Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky. Senator Pat Roberts and Governor Sam Brownback both won their respective races in 2014 despite showing abysmal early poll numbers and running less-than-stellar campaigns.

Kansas Democrat Faces Uphill Battle to Win Congressional Seat

The first congressional election of Donald Trump’s presidency is one week away. Although Republicans are strongly favored to retain the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Pompeo, the race is seen as the Democrats’ first test of candidates, messages, strategies, and tactics in an effort to win a series of special elections over the course of the next three months, and to prepare for midterm elections in 2018. Kansas Democrats chose James Thompson, a civil rights attorney from Wichita, as their standard bearer to run against state treasurer Ron Estes. Can a Democrat win in a solidly Republican state representing a district that includes Koch Industries? The answer is yes, though it will be an uphill battle based on historical trends and more recent developments in the state. If elected, Thompson would be the first Democrat to hold the seat in more than two decades, and would be the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.

Continue reading “Kansas Democrat Faces Uphill Battle to Win Congressional Seat”

Beto O’Rourke Will Run Against Ted Cruz in Texas 2018 Senate Race

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will announce on Friday plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. From the Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat and ex-punk rocker who pulled a stunning upset to win his House seat six years ago, plans to declare his candidacy on Friday for the Senate seat held by Ted Cruz, according to Democratic sources in Texas.

O’Rourke’s fledgling campaign has scheduled an announcement on Friday in El Paso, his hometown. He has traveled heavily in Texas over the last three months making contacts, barely concealing his political plans.

“I’m very moved to do it,” O’Rourke, 44, said in an interview earlier this month, adding that he had reached the “emotional decision” about his candidacy.

Campaign aides declined to confirm that he will enter the 2018 Senate race.

The article also points out that Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) is still thinking about whether or not to get in this race, though the article notes that Castro has climbed the ladder in the Democratic House caucus farther and faster than O’Rourke, implying that Castro would have more to lose if his Senate run fell short. Most of the Texas Democrats I’ve spoken to in the past several weeks and months mentioned Castro as a probable candidate for 2018 and possibly their best (albeit longshot) chance at unseating Ted Cruz.

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.

Special Election Voter Registration Deadlines Approaching

There are five special elections to fill vacant congressional seats over the course of the next three months.

  • Kansas: (21 days before the election: March 21, 2017). Election Day: April 11
  • Georgia: March 20. Election Day: April 18, June 20 (if necessary)
  • Montana: (30 days before the election: April 25, 2017) Election Day: May 25
  • South Carolina: April 2 for primary, May 21 for general) Election Day: June 20
  • California: (March 20 for primary, May 21 for runoff) Election Day: April 4, June 5 (if necessary).