In addition to the presidential primaries Super Tuesday, 120 congressional districts will also be holding primaries on Super Tuesday, and about three-quarters of these are in the delegate-rich states of Texas and California. One race features a progressive upstart in Laredo, Texas, taking on her former boss, and another, in California, has a Republican primary that’s turned hostile. Here’s what’s happening with those and other House races to watch on Tuesday.
There’s a lot of national attention on Texas’ 28th District Democratic primary, where Jessica Cisneros is looking to replace incumbent Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar.
Cuellar has held this seat for 15 years and has not had a competitive primary challenger until now. He’s getting some high-profile help, though — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to the Laredo area for to support Cuellar at a campaign event last week.
“We want this to be not only a victory, but a resounding victory for Henry Cuellar,” Pelosi said. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which protects incumbents, has also backed Cuellar.
“We support House Democrats, and Henry Cuellar is a House Democrat. It’s not any different for Henry Cuellar than it is for anybody else,” DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos told reporters in January.
Cisneros aligns with a lot of progressive ideals, including Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and is painting Cuellar, who she once interned for, as out of touch with the district. Her closing argument centers around his votes on immigration and the border wall, and she derides him as “Trump’s favorite Democrat.” She also points to his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, and the financial support he’s received from the Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC funded by billionaire Charles Koch.
“He cares more about their money than our dreams,” Cisneros says in an ad released last Thursday.
Almost $5 million in total has been poured into this primary and the clear link with the presidential race begins with Cisneros. She has been endorsed by former presidential candidate Julián Castro and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It’s a lot of outside attention that strategists say hasn’t been seen in this district much.
And it is this outside attention that is putting a spotlight on the sway of the progressive movement powered by Sanders’ 2016 presidential run, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset of New York Congressman Joe Crowley in 2018 — though Cisneros’ Texas district is far more moderate.
Cuellar’s campaign manager Colin Strother looks at the outside attention and talked about how Cisneros’ socialist ideals (i.e. Medicare for All, the Green New Deal) and agenda represent an intra-party conflict.
“[Cuellar’s] not out there trying to purify the party in his own vision. He’s out there trying to expand the party. And he understands that that means it’s a big tent. And what we have are a bunch of people including many of the people endorsing our opponent, who they’re not Democrats. They’re socialists,” he said. “They’ve never been involved in the party before, they see it as a vehicle to advance their agenda, and they’ve now parachuted in trying to tell people who’s a good Democrat and who’s not.”
In Dallas, the crowded Democratic race for the 24th District is looking at three main contenders. Jan McDowell is running for the third time in this district, after having her closest margin yet in 2018 with a 3-point loss to Republican Congressman Kenny Marchant, who announced his retirement last summer.
Kim Olson has been the fundraising leader in the pack with almost $1 million in total raised, and represents the more moderate Democrat option when it comes to gun control and climate. Trailing her in fundraising is Candace Valenzuela, a Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member who has been endorsed by Senator Warren.
In an interview in September, Olson said she’s expecting to spend about $3 million throughout this race in order to win convincingly.
“You have to do the work because money begets money. And if you’re not willing to do the work, if you aren’t willing to get on the horn and call donors, if you’re not willing to invest in your own team in order to drop funds into Texas, then you probably ought not to be in this kind of race,” she said.
Whoever comes out of this primary, which could extend into a May runoff, will likely face Republican front-runner Beth Van Duyne. Democrats have been pointing to this district as one they can flip, hoping the changing demographics will help them in this historically red suburban district.
In another nearby district, Texas’ 12th, a hardline Trump supporter is looking to get an establishment GOP Congresswoman out of office. Former City Council member Chris Putnam has attacked Representative Kay Granger for being a “Never Trumper” and her past pro-choice stance on abortion. Granger, who endorsed Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential race, received the endorsement from Trump in December.
Southeast of the 12th District is the 17th, where former Representative Pete Sessions is eyeing a return to Congress. Sessions previously represented the state’s 32nd District before being beat by Democrat Colin Allred in 2018. The seat opened up after Republican Congressman Bill Flores announced last year that he would retire. Flores has backed business owner Renee Swann
In Houston, Pierce Bush is looking to see if he can continue his family’s political fortune in the race for Texas’ 22nd District. To do that, he’ll have to get past candidates like Greg Hill, Kathleen Wall and Troy Nehls, all unapologetic supporters of the president who have questioned Bush’s commitment to Mr. Trump.
Wall has raised and spent close to $3.2 million for this race, but Bush is a heavy Republican establishment favorite and was listed on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” list alongside Hill. After he received the endorsement of the district’s Representative Pete Olson, another retirement heading of this election cycle, Hill immediately looked to tie Bush to the “swamp.”
“The D.C. establishment is trying to manipulate this race by throwing their full support behind a celebrity candidate who doesn’t live in our district and who even marched in the streets of New York City in protest of President Trump,” he said in January. “I pledge to stand with President Trump to drain the swamp, not become part of the problem.”
The two most competitive primaries in California are also the state’s impromptu special elections.
In California’s 25th District, formerly represented by Katie Hill, who resigned amid allegations of affairs with her staff, polls show that Democrat state assemblywoman Christy Smith is poised to box out progressive talk show host Cenk Uygur in the state’s jungle primary, where the top two candidates move on to the general election regardless of party.
The ideological contrasts in this Democratic race mirror those of the presidential primary race. Smith is pitching herself as a centrist moderate who can work across the aisle, while Uygur has fully taken the progressive lane, though not without some controversy. Uygur was briefly endorsed by Sanders, but he backtracked within 24 hours, after criticism over Uygur’s past sexist comments. Those degrading remarks about women also led him to be ousted in 2017 from the progressive group Justice Democrats that he helped found.
Smith has racked up endorsements from California Democratic figures like Governor Gavin Newsom, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Pelosi. But the two are pretty evenly matched in fundraising, with Smith bringing in $1.15 million and Uygur raising $1.04 million.
On the Republican side, Steve Knight is running to reclaim his typically Republican Los Angeles county seat after being beat out by Hill in 2018. To do that, he’ll have to get enough votes to get past veteran Mike Garcia. Garcia has received the endorsement of the state’s Republican party, and leads all candidates in the field in fundraising.
Down in San Diego, two Republicans have been engaged in a vicious primary for Representative Duncan Hunter’s old seat. Hunter officially resigned in January, after pleading guilty to misuse of campaign finance funds.
Darrell Issa, who previously represented the neighboring 49th District before deciding to leave Congress in 2018, is hoping to keep conservative talk show host Carl DeMaio off the final ballot. The race has taken a common dynamic of Republican House elections this cycle, as the two men look to “out-Trump” each other and show that their support of the president is stronger.
Issa’s campaign has been pointing to polls that show the gap between him and DeMaio growing, and said in a statement that voters have a clear choice between Issa and DeMaio, “a Never-Trumper” and a “liberal who will undermine his agenda at every possible turn.”
DeMaio has been running ads attacking Issa for “betraying” Trump due to his previous comments about calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian involvement in 2016’s elections. In an interview with CBS News, DeMaio said that while “nobody likes negative ads,” Issa’s decision to leave in 2018 shows that he’s not as much of a “fighter.”
“I am a fighter. I don’t sell out. I don’t back down from a tough fight. And I think the president needs more fighters on his side to advance the agenda that the American people support. Issa quit in 2018. Like a little schoolboy or girl, he went running from a fight when the President needed Republicans to run for re-election in 2018, many of them like Darrell Issa cut and run and gave up. And that’s why I think it was easier for House Democrats to take the majority,” he said.
Whoever comes out of this will likely face Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who narrowly lost to Hunter in 2018.
Stephen Goggin, a political science lecturer at San Diego State University, said this district is historically Republican and that either Issa and DeMaio will likely win the seat in November.
“It’s pretty overwhelmingly Republican, and I think these types of attacks probably resonate quite well with the base there. Even Hunter while he was under indictment, beat Campa-Najjar in 2018 by like four points. So, being the most Republican, being the most Trump is something pretty strategic for this district,” he said.
Both of these races are special elections with a special election runoff set in May. This also means that candidates will be on the ballot twice, one for the May runoff to finish out the current term and one for the November general election.
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