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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The year’s biggest special election so far is on Saturday

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The numbers have all been extremely tight, however, and “undecided” has always remained the most popular choice, while several other candidates have trailed closely behind the frontrunners. On the Republican side, the more notable names include state Rep. Jake Ellzey, former Trump administration official Brian Harrison, and former WWE wrestler Dan Rodimer (who lost a bid for Congress in Nevada last year). For Democrats, also in the mix are educator Shawn Lassiter and businesswoman Lydia Bean, who unsuccessfully ran for a nearby state House district in 2020.

Campaign Action

Wright earned what’s typically the most important endorsement in GOP circles these days when Donald Trump gave her his blessing on Monday, which could be enough to propel her to the runoff on its own. However, early voting had already been underway for a week, potentially blunting the announcement’s effectiveness. What’s more, Wright’s top Republican rivals, led by Ellzey, have all outraised her. The top outside spender in the race, the Club for Growth, also seems to view Ellzey as a threat, since it’s put at least $260,000 into TV ads attacking him. Two other super PACs, meanwhile, have spent $350,000 to boost Ellzey.

There’s been less third-party activity on the Democratic side, with two groups spending about $100,000 on behalf of Sanchez, who raised $299,000 in the first quarter, compared to $322,000 for Lassiter and $214,000 for Bean. The biggest concern for Democrats right now may be making the runoff altogether, since there’s a chance two Republicans could advance. It’s theoretically possible the reverse could happen, but overall, Republicans have dominated in fundraising, collectively taking in $1.7 million to just $915,000 for Democrats.

That disparity may reflect the traditionally conservative lean of the 6th District, which covers much of the city of Arlington but juts out to take in rural areas south of Dallas. The area has always voted Republican, though in 2020, Trump’s 51-48 win was by far the closest result the district has produced in a presidential race in many years. Ron Wright, however, ran well ahead of the top of the ticket, defeating Democrat Stephen Daniel 53-44.

To have a chance at flipping this seat, Democrats will need the district’s overall trend to the left to continue, though first, of course, they’ll need to make sure one of their candidates gets to the runoff. Exactly when that second round might happen is unknown, though, because Texas law only permits runoffs to be scheduled after an initial election takes place.

Governors

FL-Gov, FL-Sen: An unnamed source tells Politico that Democratic Rep. Val Demings is “more likely than not” to seek statewide office next year, adding that “if she does, it’s almost definitely running for governor” against Republican Ron DeSantis rather than for Senate against Marco Rubio.

MD-Gov: Nonprofit head Wes Moore, who said in February that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has filed paperwork with state election officials to create a fundraising committee. Maryland Matters reports that Moore is likely to make an announcement “within the next few weeks.”

NJ-Gov: Though New Jersey’s primary is not until June, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is acting as though he already has the nomination in the bag, judging by his TV ads attacking Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. His latest slams Murphy for ordering a shutdown of businesses at the start of the coronavirus pandemic—without actually mentioning the pandemic, making it sound like Murphy just arbitrarily forced pizza places to close their doors. Perhaps this kind of messaging will work as the worst of the pandemic begins to fade, but voters are apt to recall just how terrifying the virus’ devastation was.

One person trying to remind voters of precisely this is none other than … Jack Ciattarelli. In an ad he released last month, he berated Murphy for nursing home deaths that happened on his watch, saying that 8,000 seniors and veterans died “scared and alone.”

VA-Gov: Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s campaign has announced that it’s spending $450,000 on a new TV buy in the Washington, D.C. media market, which is home to a little more than a third of the state’s residents, ahead of the June 8 Democratic primary.

Carroll Foy also has a new spot where she talks about how, after her grandmother had a stroke, “we were forced to choose between her mortgage and medicine.” She continues, “So when my babies were born early, I was grateful to have healthcare that saved their lives and mine.” Carroll Foy concludes, “I’ve been a foster mom, public defender, and delegate who expanded Medicaid. Now, I’m running for governor to bring affordable healthcare to all of us.”

House

MT-02: Former Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke has filed paperwork with the FEC to create a campaign committee that would allow him to run in Montana’s as-yet-undrawn—and entirely new—2nd Congressional District. (Yes, that was weird to type. We’re still writing “MT-AL” on our checks.) Zinke previously served as the state’s lone member of the House after winning an open-seat race in 2014 but resigned not long after securing a second term to serve as Donald Trump’s interior secretary.

It was a promotion that worked out very poorly. Like many Trump officials, Zinke was beset by corruption allegations, including charges that he’d spent tens of thousands in taxpayer funds on personal travel and used public resources to advance a private land deal with the chair of the oil services company Halliburton.

In all, he was the subject of at least 15 investigations, but what appears to have finally done him in was Democrats’ victory in the 2018 midterms, which would have exposed him to congressional subpoenas. The White House, the Washington Post reported, told Zinke “he had until the end of the year to leave or be fired.” He resigned in mid-December.

Zinke’s old seat is now occupied by Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, who won his first term last year after Zinke’s successor, Greg Gianforte, decided to run for governor. Fortunately for Zinke, he and Rosendale are from opposite ends of the state: Rosendale lives in the small town of Glendive, not far from the North Dakota border, while Zinke’s from Whitefish, another small town located in Montana’s northwestern corner. It’s impossible to say, of course, when the next map will look like, but these two burghs almost certainly won’t wind up in the same district.

We also don’t know if Zinke will in fact seek a comeback, since he hasn’t yet spoken publicly about his intentions (and as we like to remind folks, it’s easy to file some forms with the FEC—it’s a lot harder to actually run a campaign). But whether or not he does, it’s very likely that other ambitious Montana pols will also want to kick the tires on this brand-new district.

NC-13: The conservative site Carolina Journal reports that some Republicans have already begun to express interest in running for North Carolina’s 13th District, just a day after GOP Rep. Ted Budd kicked off a bid for Senate.

Former Davidson County Commissioner Zak Crotts, who’s also treasurer of the state Republican Party, says he’s “thinking about” the race, though he cautioned that “we have to see what the district looks like” following redistricting. Meanwhile, law student Bo Hines, who’s been challenging Rep. Virginia Foxx in the GOP primary in the 5th District (which doesn’t currently neighbor the 13th), didn’t rule out the possibility of switching races, saying he’s keeping “all options open.”

Mayors

Three of Texas’ 10 largest cities, Arlington, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, are holding mayoral races on Saturday, and we preview each of them below. All races are officially nonpartisan and all candidates compete on one ballot. In any contest where one candidate does not win a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held at a later date that has yet to be determined.

Arlington, TX Mayor: Arlington, home to Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers and the iconic Dallas Cowboys football team, is hosting an open-seat contest to replace termed-out Republican incumbent Jeff Williams. Business owner and former police officer Jim Ross has raised by far the most money of any candidate, having spent $311,000 so far, and has the support of Williams and former Mayor Richard Greene. Other prominent candidates include City Councilman Marvin Sutton and former City Councilman Michael Glaspie. Sutton is backed by former Mayor Elzie Odom, who was the first (and so far only) Black mayor in Arlington history.

Five other candidates are also on the ballot. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that most of the contenders are people of color, with one longtime observer, local columnist O.K. Carter, calling it the most diverse field he’s ever seen in the city.

One of the lesser-known candidates, talent purchasing agent Jerry Warden, was declared ineligible to run because of his status as a convicted sex offender. Due to Texas’ election laws, however, Warden will still appear on the ballot, which could have an unpredictable impact as his name will be listed first.

Economic issues, particularly those affecting small businesses, have dominated this contest. Ross has spoken about the need to focus on Black businesses, saying, “When we have a 23% African American community and 1% of our businesses are owned by African Americans, there’s a disparity there.” Sutton has also discussed equity issues and the need to address economic disparities, while Glaspie has focused on helping Arlington businesses recover from the pandemic.

Fort Worth, TX Mayor: This is another open-seat contest to replace outgoing Republican Mayor Betsy Price, who is retiring as the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history.

Eleven candidates have lined up to succeed Price, including her chief of staff, Mattie Parker, who has received the mayor’s backing along with the support of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Parker also sports the biggest fundraising haul in the field, with $1 million raised. Also on the GOP side is City Councilman Brian Byrd, who is endorsed by Rep. Kay Granger. Byrd has raised $324,00 for this race and injected an additional $310,000 into his campaign via a personal loan.

Fort Worth is one of the country’s largest cities with a Republican mayor, but Democrats are making a strong push to change that this year. Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples and City Councilwoman Ann Zadeh are Team Blue’s top contenders. Peoples has been endorsed by Dallas-area Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, and state Sen. Royce West. Additionally, Rep. Marc Veasey, whose district takes in part of Fort Worth, reportedly will endorse one of these two progressives if either wins a spot in the runoff. Neither Peoples nor Zadeh have been as prolific fundraisers as their GOP counterparts, with the candidates reporting hauls of $286,000 and $128,000, respectively.

Diversity and equality has also emerged as a top issue in this campaign, even among Republicans. Peoples has made focusing on the needs of people of color and improving relations between police and communities of color a central focus of her campaign. There have been multiple incidents of police violence targeting Black residents of Fort Worth in recent years, and even Price acknowledged this issue was among the most challenging to deal with during her time in office.

Byrd has also spoken on racial issues, kicking off his campaign in a historically Black neighborhood in the city. However, Byrd, who is white, has sent out mailers with racial overtones that emphasized his support for police and commitment to “public safety,” while another specifically targeted Peoples, who is Black.

San Antonio, TX Mayor: Incumbent Ron Nirenberg is seeking a second term as mayor of Texas’ second-largest city and faces a rematch against a familiar foe. Nirenberg, a progressive independent, won a 51-49 contest over conservative Greg Brockhouse in 2019. Brockhouse is back again, and the pair are the top contenders in a wide field of 15 candidates.

Nirenberg, who has been endorsed by former Mayor Julián Castro, has a wide advantage in fundraising over Brockhouse, beating him $218,000 to $14,000 in the last fundraising period. Additionally, local pollster Bexar Facts, polling on behalf of KSAT and San Antonio Report, released a survey earlier this month that showed Nirenberg leading Brockhouse 56-21. Nirenberg’s underlying numbers appeared strong in this poll as well, as he boasted a 67% approval rating.

Observers have noted this race has been a departure from the intense tone of 2019’s contest, though issues surrounding police and firefighters unions have remained contentious. Brockhouse, a former consultant for both the city’s police and firefighter unions, received strong support in his last bid from both labor groups, which deployed a combined $530,000 on Brockhouse’ behalf—more than twice what the candidate himself spent.

This time around, though, the two unions have stayed neutral, as Nirenberg has successfully managed to navigate thorny issues with them. Nirenberg and the city negotiated a new deal with the firefighters union while also sidestepping questions about Proposition B, a measure that would repeal the right of the police union to engage in collective bargaining. Nirenberg has not taken a stance on the proposition and claims his focus is on the current round of negotiations with the union.

Other Races

KS-AG: We thought we were done with Kris Kobach, but we thought wrong. The notorious voter suppression zealot and former Kansas secretary of state kicked off a campaign for state attorney general on Thursday, following a failed bid for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2020 and a disastrous turn as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee two years earlier that handed the governorship to the Democrats.

Team Blue would certainly love another shot at Kobach, since his too-many-to-mention failings could once again put a statewide race in play. There’s one we certainly have to note, though, since it directly impacts his qualifications to serve as Kansas’ top law enforcement official: that time three years ago when a federal judge found Kobach in contempt for failing to comply with her orders in a suit that struck down a law he championed requiring new voters to provide proof of citizenship, then made him take a remedial legal education class titled “Civil Trial: Everything You Need to Know.”

Of course, Republicans would like to avoid one more go-round with Kobach as much as Democrats would enjoy one. The GOP successfully kept Kobach at bay in last year’s Senate race (which Republican Roger Marshall went on to win), though so far, he’s the only notable candidate to announce a bid for the attorney general’s post, which is open because Republican incumbent Derek Schmidt is running for governor. The Kansas City Star says that state House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch and state Sen. Kellie Warren could run for Republicans, while no Democratic names have surfaced yet. With Kobach now in the mix, that will likely change.

VA-LG: EMILY’s List has endorsed Del. Hala Ayala, who also recently earned the backing of Gov. Ralph Northam, in the June 8 Democratic primary. The six-person field also includes another pro-choice woman, Norfolk City Council member Andria McClellan.



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