It's Everybody Run For Congress Week
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria’s campaign to unseat Blue Dog Jim Costa is ramping up. She just held her campaign kickoff and first fundraiser, and inched closer to actually attacking Costa, saying “These times require more than a Blue Dog Democrat”. Negative campaigning may not be well liked, but it works, and Costa is a man built of negatives. We hope she’ll eventually decide to criticize him directly.
At that event, she was introduced by Santos Garcia, a local labor leader and city councilor in Madera (pop. 66,000, although he only represents ⅙ of it.) . Interestingly, an attendee of the fundraiser was Fresno County Democratic Party Chair Michael Evans, who stressed his neutrality. Yesterday Soria also gave a speech at a Dolores Huerta-led labor protest in Fresno, which was very much appreciated by labor leaders. While any challenger is inherently an outsider to an extent, Soria is attempting to court some of the political establishment in her race, and she’s doing well so far.
Joseph P. Kennedy III would be an unremarkable House Democratic backbencher were it not for his last name. He hasn’t been around long (first elected in 2012), he’s only on one committee (the powerful but generally low-profile Energy and Commerce Committee), and he’s nothing special, ideologically (he was extremely anti-marijuana until pretty recently.) However, being a scion of Massachusetts’s (and America’s) most revered political family has gotten him far. He gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union in 2018 (a speech most memorable for the fact that Kennedy apparently missed his lips when applying lip balm, giving the appearance of drool on his face), and now he’s openly mulling a primary challenge to progressive Sen. Ed Markey, without any apparent rationale for his candidacy besides his last name. (We should note that the last time a Kennedy won a seriously contested primary election in Massachusetts, at any level, was 1992.)
This would shake up Massachusetts politics in a big way, and force every notable Massachusetts Democrat to choose sides. Markey has preemptively corralled endorsements because of his other primary challengers, including a majority of Massachusetts’s nine members of the House of Representatives. The four holdouts are Ayanna Pressley, Seth Moulton, Katherine Clark, and, of course, Joe Kennedy III. Markey had previously gotten the endorsement of fellow senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who then made a full video endorsement for him after the news came out that Kennedy was considering running. Markey also has allies in the environmental community both for his overall record and his recent sponsorship of the Green New Deal. Still, Kennedy is probably starting in a good position. His open contemplation comes only after he ran a poll of the potential race, which allegedly shows him up.
Markey already faces two challengers, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan and businessman Steve Pemberton. Both are running on a message of generational change; Markey is more than 20 years older than either one of them. Liss-Riordan is working to put herself to Markey’s left on some hot-button issues, most notably by calling to repeal the Second Amendment, while Pemberton, whose background as a corporate executive makes it hard for him to credibly position himself to Markey’s left, is leaning into his biography as a mixed-race man who survived the worst of the foster care system as a child. Liss-Riordan has self-funded $1 million, while Pemberton has hired respected Massachusetts political operatives who’ve worked for politicians such as Ayanna Pressley and Elizabeth Warren.
Markey, the chief Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal and a reliable progressive vote throughout his decades in Congress, hasn’t done much to earn a primary from anyone, much less someone running on his famous last name. While anything can happen in a campaign, if Kennedy enters the race, it probably becomes a race between him and Markey, relegating both Liss-Riordan and Pemberton to spoiler status. If that does happen, Markey would be the better choice, if for no other reason than that he didn’t just come to hold half his progressive issue positions in the last few months.
New Mexico’s 3rd went quiet for a couple months, and we, the utter fools that we are, assumed that meant that the field had mostly settled. Nope! In the last few days there have been four changes to the field: three entries and one exit.
First, the one who left. Rob Apodaca, a local political operative and ex-Obama administration official, suspended his campaign on Thursday following the passing of his brother. Apodaca was set to be a serious contender for the nomination, but because he entered the race unknown to most voters and had little time to campaign, it’s hard to say how his exit will affect the race. We wish him the best in this difficult time.
The first candidate to enter the race this week was Kyle Tisdel, late Wednesday. Tisdel is an environmental attorney who has been on the staff of the Western Environmental Law Center since 2011. He’s no backbench employee - the lawsuits he’s been a part of have kept his name in the news, including one extended fight with the Trump administration this year over blocking their leasing public lands for drilling, an issue which is one of the most important environmental court cases in years and is ongoing. He is the second Anglo candidate in the field, along with Valerie Plame.
Tisdel’s website is already up, and his issues page is promising on green topics, calling for 100% clean energy by 2045 (not early enough, but better than most politicians will call for) and adopting the “leave it in the group” slogan. Looking back to 2017, you can catch some lightly ecosocialist language from a Medium post he wrote naming capitalism as a force helping to destroy the earth.
Capitalism is premised on ever increasing growth, the basis of which has been the exploitation of the natural world, and in particular our energy resources. This has been accomplished through unsustainable levels of consumer and government debt, which, in turn, assume future growth as a prerequisite to avoid a collapse of the whole system.
The next candidate announcement came on Thursday, when Harry Montoya filed. Montoya is perhaps best known for his stint as a Santa Fe County Commissioner, first elected in 2002 and termed out in 2010. Montoya has had little electoral success elsewhere. He’s run for NM-03 twice before: in 2008 when the seat was open, and 2012 as a challenger to then-incumbent Ben Ray Luján. He finished fourth with 11% in 2008, and quietly dropped out of the 2012 contest. In between the two races, Montoya ran for Land Commissioner and lost the primary 40-36. He did best in the rural Hispanic counties of the north.
In his private life, Montoya serves as director of Hands Across Cultures, a nonprofit founded in 1992 which aims to promote the Hispanic and Native American cultures of Northern New Mexico. Normally a positive biography item for a candidate, his tenure is tainted by allegations in 2010 from a retiring board president who spoke of gross nepotism and abuse of company finances by Montoya. Montoya also had a brief tiff in 2006 with then-governor Democrat Bill Richardson over the state’s medical marijuana policy, which Montoya was strongly opposed to. Not great, Harry. During his 2008 run he only raised $100,000 before the primaries, and his 2012 campaign raised less than $5,000 before he dropped out. He may not have much political relevance left considering his decade out of the game, and we’re certainly not pining for his candidacy.
Monday brought this week’s final new entrant to the race: John Blair. Blair has spent years in New Mexico politics working for many of its big names, including now-Attorney General Hector Balderas, ex-Governor Bill Richardson, ex-Senator Jeff Bingaman, and Senator Martin Heinrich. His most recent post was three years working as Deputy Secretary of State under current Senate candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver. He handled elections and led an attempt to keep then-NM-02 Rep. Steve Pearce from transferring federal money to run for governor. Blair ran for office himself once, in 2008. He was the more liberal candidate for SD-15 (in Albuquerque, which is part of NM-01), and had union backing. He lost that primary 59-41. Blair has struck a similarly progressive note in this campaign by pledging to refuse corporate PAC money. Blair is gay, and would be the state’s first LGBTQ member of Congress. He also brings the number of Anglo candidates up to three, along with Plame and Tisdel.
Speaking of growing fields, NY-15 has been busy this week. After months of a fairly stable three way contest between City Councilman Ritchie Torres, Assemblyman Michael Blake, and ultra-bigot City Councilor Rubén Díaz Sr., that status quo was broken two weeks ago by the entry of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, which was followed up by Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation President Marlene Cintron announcing that she was still considering a run last week. This week, we find ourselves with not one but two new candidates.
Well, the first isn’t really a new candidate. We’ve talked about Eric Stevenson before in June, when he was first floating the possibility of running. In summary: he held the Assembly district Michael Blake now does, until he was hauled off to prison after only four years for corruption in 2014. How embarrassing - it’s New York and he couldn’t even get away with it for a couple decades? He’s a free man now, and this week he’s put out material for an October fundraiser he’s holding for his Congressional bid. There’s not much more to say about his bid besides that he appears to be in, for some reason.
The second candidate is new to this newsletter. The City reports that Samelys Lopez “is expected to soon toss her hat into the crowded ring”. Lopez is a community activist and Sanders organizer who previously ran for a role in the borough party. We’ll give a more thorough accounting of her career if/when she does announce. Also notable from that article is the long accounting of the friendship between Marlene Cintron and Bronx Democratic Party leader Rubén Díaz Jr., who also happens to be the son of Rubén Díaz Sr. Last week we said that Cintron didn’t have a clear path to victory. If Díaz Jr. got the Bronx Democratic Party machinery behind her, that would be a very clear path, even if the machines aren’t what they used to be.
Arizona’s 1st Congressional district is an odd beast, mixing most of the state’s Native American reservations, small idiosyncratic cities, and rural mining communities together. It voted 50-48 for Romney and 48-47 for Trump; still, it’s had a Democratic representative its entire existence (since 2012), even if its results have always been close. Tom O’Halleran currently represents the district after his first election in 2016. He’s a retired Chicago cop and ex-Repubulican state senator, and you can tell from his voting record, which is to the right of the House median.
This has rankled some feathers, and earned him a challenge from Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova, who announced against him months ago. This week, he got another challenge, from an unlikely source. Barbara McGuire might be the only Democrat in Arizona with a record to the right of O’Halleran’s. She spent four years in the State House (2007-2011) and another four in the state senate (2013-2017). Her district, LD-07, leans to the right, and so did she. Her survival in a Romney+9 district in 2012 and 2014 may very well be chalked up to her conservative stances: extremely pro-gun, and very mixed on abortion and immigrant rights. Her impressive electoral streak came to an end in 2016, where, after flirting with running for the AZ-01 nomination that eventually went to O’Halleran, she eventually opted to run for re-election and lost 53-47 as Trump was carrying the district 55-40.
This week, she announced a bid to unseat Tom O’Halleran...from the left? Her exact words on the matter are “I am a centrist consensus-building lifelong Democrat where, in my opinion, he is and has become far-right leaning”, which are pretty unambiguous, even if it doesn’t quite jibe with her past image. Her website, which is still up (and appears to have been designed by a middle schooler in 2003) proudly refers to her as a “conservative Democrat” and leaves her NRA and FOP endorsements up for all to see. Since AZ-01 is a swing district, we’re not going to be taking sides here, but this is certainly one of the more puzzling contests of the cycle.
The news that Joe Kennedy III was considering forgoing re-election to run for senate has set off a stampede of local interest in his seat. The Boston Globe has names--a lot of them:
Ihssane Leckey, a local DSA member, activist, and immigrant from Morocco, is already challenging Kennedy.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is making calls behind the scenes to set up a run. She is personally wealthy as a member of the family that founded Stop & Shop, but her politics have been pretty good. She supports a state bank, for instance, and when tens of thousands of Stop & Shop workers went on strike this spring, she wrote op-eds and attended rallies supporting the strike.
State Sen. Paul Feeney is considering. He was the surprise nominee for a special election to the Senate in 2017, and won with the help of Our Revolution and has since been a very progressive member of the body.
State Sen. Marc Pacheco won’t rule it out. He’s the state’s longest serving senator and previously ran for Congress in 2001, in what was then MA-09. He ran in a conservative lane similar to eventual winner Stephen Lynch.
State Sen. Becca Rausch is considering. She’s a freshman who beat a Republican in 2018 on a fairly standard Democratic platform.
State Rep. Tommy Vitolo is expressing interest. He’s been pretty good overall ideologically.
Former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang is open to running, but leaning against it since he doesn’t live in the district. We’ve previously covered why he sucks, when he was first considering running for Senate.
Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss expressed interest to the Globe, saying: “We need a voice for the exhausted majority, the people who are tired of the ‘us-versus-them,’ far-left, far-right populism’”, or in other words
Newton City Councilor Becky Walker Grossman also expressed interest.
Jesse Mermell, president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, is interested. Despite the bland, corporate-sounding name, the Alliance for Business Leadership is a progressive advocacy organization, and Mermell is friends with Ayanna Pressley.
Ex-Newton mayor Setti Warren and 2018 Democratic governor nominee Jay Gonzales have both been name-dropped.
Additionally, we’ll note that Senate candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan lives in Brookline, and could transfer her Senate campaign’s funds to a House campaign if she were to decide to switch to the House race.
Longtime incumbent Rick Larsen may have to fight for his job for the first time in a while. On Sunday, Jason Call, a teacher and local Democratic activist who briefly challenged Washington Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski from the left after the 2018 elections, filed to run against Larsen. Call’s candidacy for state party chair was pretty hard to explain; Podlodowski won her job as party chair thanks to the backing of Bernie Sanders supporters in 2016 (including Call himself), and she made no high-profile ideological missteps. As chair, she oversaw major successes for the state party, too: Washington Democrats retook the state senate thanks to a 2017 special election victory, then expanded their majorities in both houses of the legislature in the regularly-scheduled 2018 elections and flipped the 8th Congressional District from red to blue.
Call’s gripe with Podlodowski was supposedly her failure to reach out to conservative rural areas of the state (which is a silly critique, because all three of the state’s competitive US House districts in 2018 included significant amounts of conservative, rural turf.) He also criticized Podlodowski for not doing enough to keep legislators in line with progressive policies, which is a more subjective criticism (but equally strange as the first one, because Washington’s state legislature has passed a staggering amount of good legislation since Democrats took control.) Call dropped out of the race for party chair not long after he entered it, which is the only part of this saga that makes sense to us.
Call’s challenge to Larsen makes more sense. Larsen is a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, which is ridiculous in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 22 points in 2016. We don’t know how serious Call is, but he was (until recently) a member of the Washington Democratic Party’s central committee. He has also served on the board of the local teachers’ union and is active within his local Democratic organization. Considered together, that resume indicates that he could have the connections to run a serious campaign. We may not know for a while, though, as he hasn’t officially launched his campaign yet.