Robert Emmons Jr., a gun violence prevention activist, has only raised a paltry $25,000 for his primary challenge to longtime Rep. Bobby Rush--who once fended off a primary challenge from a little-known state senator named Barack Obama in this same congressional district. However, while $25,000 might be weak for a campaign, Rush’s $83,000 raised this election cycle--and his similarly weak $91,000 cash on hand--indicate that he may be caught napping. A longtime incumbent who’s taking their reelection seriously would normally raise more than $83,000 in a quarter, but that’s all Rush raised in the first half of 2019. To beat Rush, Emmons might be able to get away with weaker fundraising than most primary challengers, because Rush’s fundraising is characteristic of an incumbent who’s mailing it in.
Emmons’s longshot bid recently got featured in Teen Vogue, the teen fashion magazine that now has better politics coverage than most legacy media outlets. (That’s not a knock on Teen Vogue--you should read their work, they’re good at what they do.) Emmons is 26 years old; Rush has been in Congress for 26 years. This generational contrast is central to Emmons’s campaign. Rush’s left-wing bona fides are impeccable; he was a civil rights activist and a cofounder of Chicago’s Black Panther Party before coming to Congress, where he has had a consistently progressive voting record. In Emmons’s telling, that’s not enough. Echoing Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 message, he argues that “proximity” to the district’s most urgent issues is necessary--the district, a majority-black swath of Chicago’s South Side, is suffering acutely from Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence; in 2015, Emmons lost his best friend, who he met in high school and roomed with in his freshman year at the University of Illinois, to gun violence.
Emmons notes that several issues which have become left-wing rallying cries disproportionately affect black men under the age of 35, among them gun violence and disparities in the criminal justice system; he also notes that not a single sitting member of Congress is a black man under 35. (Lauren Underwood, a 32-year-old who defeated Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren in IL-14 in 2018, is the only black member of Congress under 35. There are three more black members of Congress under the age of 40: CO-02’s Joe Neguse, at 35; TX-32’s Colin Allred, at 36; and MN-05’s Ilhan Omar, also 36. All were first elected in 2018.) He also makes the argument that gun violence cannot be addressed solely through traditional gun control policies; instead, he says, it’s necessary to address the root causes of gun violence, including underfunded schools and intergenerational poverty.
These are all good things to hear from a candidate for any office, and Emmons is right that Congress is too old. With the attention that could come from a Teen Vogue profile, Emmons might be able to raise enough to compete with an opponent who’s taking the election for granted.
Marie Newman has already picked up endorsements from three (at the time) presidential contenders: Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Jay Inslee. Elizabeth Warren occupies a similar progressive lane to those three and has weighed in for progressives in primaries before, so her not being on that list has so far been a bit of an oddity. On Monday, however, Elizabeth Warren announced her endorsement of Marie Newman. In her endorsement, Warren noted Newman’s “unwavering commitment to fighting for reproductive health care,” perhaps the biggest contrast between the two candidates.
Lipinski hit back at Warren, telling Politico that the Newman endorsement “lamentably proves the point of Washington pundits that Warren has moved from independent fact-based thinking to ideological orthodoxy.” He, however, seems to have taken Warren’s endorsement of his opponent better than a certain other incumbent we could name, and in fact did if you’ll scroll down a few items.
Brand New Congress, which helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, decided this week to jump into the MD-05 race and endorse Mckayla Wilkes. BNC has a similar goal to Justice Democrats: replace sitting Congress Members with regular people rejecting corporate PAC money. The two groups worked together a fair amount in 2018 (case in point: AOC), but so far their only endorsed 2020 candidates in common are AOC and Cori Bush, who is running in MO-01. We’ve said before that Wilkes likely needed national groups directing attention to her campaign so she could distinguish herself and raise more money before the summer ended and most of her staff went back to school, so this is very welcome news.
Ed Markey picked up two notable endorsements this week: Rep. Ro Khanna and AFSCME Council 93. Khanna has a national progressive profile, and AFSCME 93 is a big New England union. Just in Massachusetts, AFSCME Council 93 represents over 35,000 workers, so this endorsement carries a decent amount of weight. We can see why this big union might want to endorse Markey, who has at least some history of standing up for workers rights, over Joe Kennedy III, whose main argument for himself...well, it isn’t “Joe” or “III”. It is interesting that they would choose to endorse Markey over opponent Shannon Liss-Riordan, who is an actual labor attorney with some labor support. Guess they really like that Markey is experienced at being a senator, or perhaps more likely that they see this race as being a two person contest between Markey and Kennedy.
The Massachusetts Senate race also got a new poll this week. In a five-person poll, Kennedy has 35 percent to Markey’s 26 percent (with 36 percent undecided), which is down from the 42-25 lead Kennedy had in the poll from last week, but when put head-to-head, Kennedy gets back his 42 percent while Markey bumps up a couple points to 28 percent (with 29 percent undecided).
Crime Guy Eric Stevenson, who used to represent fellow NY-15 candidate Michael Blake’s Assembly district before going to prison for corruption, announced the end to his odd NY-15 campaign, one that was so brief it’s unclear if he ever officially said he was running. Regardless, he’s dropped down to run for the Assembly seat he had to leave when he went to prison, and that Blake is now leaving as well to run for Congress. Considering the nightmare scenario of a Ruben Díaz Sr. victory and the danger of split fields, we hope a few other candidates take Stevenson’s lead (on the running-for-other-offices thing, not the crimes). It is also imperative that progressive organizations begin vetting and endorsing in this race, in order to ensure that Diaz Sr. does not benefit from a split field.
The other congressional endorsement Elizabeth Warren made on Monday was Jessica Cisneros. This is huge news for Cisneros. Unlike Marie Newman, her campaign had not drawn the support of issues-based interest groups like Newman has seen from pro-choice organizations. Nor has she gotten support from progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders or Kirsten Gillibrand, who have weighed in for Newman. Really, it wouldn’t be surprising if everyone besides progressive primary orgs had stayed out of her race. Presidential candidates usually don’t weigh in for primary challengers, so it was possible that people viewed IL-03 as unique because of Lipinski’s extremism on a few particular issues. Warren’s endorsement on Monday—and her decision to bring Cisneros on stage at a town hall the next day—not only directs attention (and money) to Cisneros, but also helps legitimize primary challenges in general.
Cuellar’s camp did not react well to the news. All in the same day, they:
called Elizabeth Warren a "special interest" who was coming to “take away local jobs”
mocked her for polling under 10% in Texas (she isn’t)
Sounds like they’re not mad at all about the endorsement. That last point is a blatant lie, and easily checkable. Warren is polling well above 10% in the Texas Democratic primary. She got 16%, 14%, and 15% in the last 3 polls before the campaign’s statement. It’s also not a particularly good talking point, so why say it? We have a theory - pure speculation of course, but it fits well.
Let’s say you’re running the Cuellar campaign on June 13, and a challenger suddenly announces against you. You see that she’s a progressive backed by a left-wing group. You probably spend a couple days putting together talking points you might need for the race. You might notice that fellow Blue Dog Dan Lipinski’s opponent, Marie Newman, got a few national endorsements, so you also quickly throw together a few talking points against a few potential Cisneros endorsers, one of whom is Elizabeth Warren. You check RCP, the easiest to use polling aggregator, and notice that there are only two polls out of her in Texas - one with her at 7% and one with her at 11%, averaging out to 8%. Because RCP doesn’t accept Change Polls, you don’t notice their poll that has her at 14%, and because you’re doing this right after Cisneros announces, the Texas Tribune poll also showing her at 14% isn’t going to be out for a couple days. So you jot down that she’s under 10% and move on.
Three months later, when Warren endorses Cisneros and Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel asks you for your thoughts, you open up Cisneros_Reponses.docx, scroll down to the “Elizabeth Warren” heading, copy+paste the bullets you have, and email them without really looking over them, meaning you don’t catch that you just said a candidate polling at 15% isn’t “higher than 10%” and hasn’t polled that low since April. We of course don’t know whether that’s what happened, but it fits really well with the timeline, and the Cuellar campaign’s pattern of slapdash and lazy talking point generation.
Side note, Danny Diaz, Jessica Cisneros’s campaign manager, said he talked to the Warren campaign over the weekend and he believes Warren will be endorsing more Congressional candidates. Yes, please.
Last week, Susan Davis inconsiderately retired 5 minutes before we planned to send out the newsletter, so we didn’t have time to talk about the race that will be developing in her wake. It’s been a week and we already have several serious candidates involved.
Sara Jacobs is in. Jacobs spent a couple years in the State Department, but she’s best known for her 2018 congressional campaign...in CA-49, a few miles over from CA-53. CA-49 was a left-leaning but Republican-held district that was open in 2018, setting off a deluge of Democratic candidates, of which Jacobs was one. Her campaign was most notable for the incredible amount of support EMILY’s List gave her, to the tune of $2.4 million, a truly astounding sum. It becomes a bit less astounding when you realize her grandfather, Irwin Jacobs, donated $2.5 million to the group during that election cycle. Similarly, she raised over $2.2 million for that election, which again is impressive until you notice that $1.6 million of that is from herself. In other words, she’s a self-funder whose family sunk over $4 million into the race. She lost that primary to now-Congressman Mike Levin with 31.1% of the Democratic vote to his 34.4%.
There are a couple ways of looking at how that race might translate into her success or failure here. For one thing, she did respectably, and nearly even won. On the other hand, she was the only woman running in a 4 way race in a year where data suggests women had a leg up in primaries. Still, it’s not like Democrats haven’t had a rich guy try to buy a seat, get defeated by a progessive local party figure, then successfully buy the seat next door two years later. David Trone just did that last year in MD-06 after losing MD-08 in 2016. Sara Jacobs isn’t entirely a Trone-esque figure - she at least has a little experience in government, and her politics are more mainstream Democrat than rich asshole, but the parallels are there.
Also in is San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez. Gómez, a queer Latina and daughter of immigrants, has both run and governed as an unabashased progressive. Her 2016 campaign for District 9 of the Council saw her receive support from a lot of San Diego’s activist community, and since then she’s become especially known for her affordable housing advocacy, a big issue in San Diego. Gómez would be a pretty great in Congress, a staunch progressive who’s lived through many of the biggest issues people are facing right now, while still being able to build coalitions once in office.
Another progressive in the race is Jose Caballero, who ran for San Diego City Council District 7 in 2016. He finished third, with 17% of the vote. Unlike Gómez and Jacobs, Caballero has been running for months, originally with the intent to challenge incumbent Susan Davis. Maybe an open race will change his campaign’s course, but as of his last FEC filing, he’d raised almost no money for a fairly expensive seat, and it’s hard to see him really competing with Jacobs and Gómez.
The final announced candidate is Joaquín Vázquez, who, like Gómez, is the child of Mexican immigrants, and like Jacobs spent a couple years in the Obama administration. Vázquez is running as a progressive as well, supporting issues like single payer healthcare, abolishing ICE, ending cash bail, and creating a jobs guarantee. Like Caballero, he also started running before Davis retired.
House Energy & Commerce Chair Frank Pallone, a former rival of Nancy Pelosi who’s now one of her top lieutenants in her war on the left wing of the Democratic Party, already faced rumblings of a primary challenge, as we’ve written before; New Jersey’s unique primary system, in which the local party committees can award powerful ballot designations to their preferred candidates, would make such a primary challenge exceedingly difficult unless a challenger were to have their own institutional might to counteract this built-in advantage. A bad sign for Pallone (and a good sign for us) recently presented itself, in the form of a major union local bashing the congressman and pointedly refusing to rule out backing a primary challenger.
The Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents more than 8,000 Rutgers faculty, graduate, and post-doctoral employees, is a member of the Central Jersey Climate Coalition, which issued a list of demands to Pallone on Friday. Among those demands are the return of $15,000 in fossil fuel campaign contributions and Energy & Commerce hearings on the Green New Deal. David Hughes, the union’s treasurer and the chair of its Green New Deal Committee, said the union has not thought about 2020 endorsements yet--normally something we’d ignore, but when coupled with a list of demands, that’s a sign that Pallone doesn’t have this union’s endorsement in the bag. Additionally, the chair of Our Revolution Monmouth County, another member of the Central Jersey Climate Coalition, flatly said that her organization would support a Pallone opponent if the coalition’s demands were not met.
Rutgers’s main campus is in New Brunswick, a very Democratic city of 57,000 located entirely within the 6th congressional district. The school also has campuses in Camden and Newark, which are far from the boundaries of the 6th; additionally, many Rutgers faculty commute, and some are bound to live outside the 6th district. However, the power of a union endorsement goes beyond the votes of its members. Having a union headquartered in your district knocking doors for your opponent is the nightmare of every Democrat skittish about getting a primary. In New Jersey, where you need an army to overcome the power of the machine, it’s a lifeline for a progressive primary challenger.