Issue #36

Seats are opening up all at once

New Developments


American International Group, or AIG, helped wreck the economy in 2008 through recklessly risky derivatives trades. Congress coughed up nearly $200 billion to prevent AIG from going under, but not without controversy; basically nobody was happy to be giving AIG money, but Washington’s distaste for actually punishing the wealthy executives who ruined the world prevailed. AIG got the money without serious restrictions or penalties. Of course, after this deal, Washington was highly wary of dealing with AIG, knowing how unethical, greedy, and reckless the company wa--nvm lol of course their standing in Washington was untouched. AIG just celebrated its 100th anniversary with a well-attended cocktail party in the hearing room of the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Neal. Neal lavished the economy-destroying behemoth with praise, and bragged about his committee’s status as a “career opportunity” for members, presumably because members of the committee overseeing the tax code can expect to be flush with cash from bad actors like AIG in their campaign accounts.

Neal faces a primary challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, running to his left; Morse pounced as soon as word of the party leaked, telling Mother Jones that the party was “a slap in the face” to the millions hurt by AIG’s greed in the Great Recession. (It’s not the only greedy corporate empire Neal has thrown a bone to lately, either: he used his chairmanship to block an attempt by Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett to strengthen a bill to control prescription drug prices. Bad for patients, but good for pharmaceutical companies that get rich by price-gouging the sick.) Neal’s voter-imposed retirement is long, long overdue.


Rep. Lori Trahan’s legal troubles stemming from her 2018 campaign continue to follow her, in the form of roughly $300,000 in loans she took out shortly before the election, loans that she still hasn’t been able to adequately explain. The Boston Globe now reports on a detail buried in her October campaign finance report. She not only spent $10,900 on legal fees related to that potential violation, but accrued another $155,752 that she has yet to pay, bringing her total to roughly $186,000 this year. This is an extremely high amount of money for a House member to spend on legal fees, and suggests she thinks she could be in real trouble. Trahan’s current cash on hand totaling roughly $918,000 is propped up by about $406,000 in loans and unpaid bills: that $156,000 legal bill, and $250,000 she loaned her campaign from personal funds, most of which is left over from her questionable loan in 2018. 2018 primary runner up Dan Koh has been mulling a rematch for months, and this can’t be dissauding him.

Trahan did get a spot of good news this week, with the endorsement of Representative Ayanna Pressley.


It wasn’t just Trahan. Rep. Ayanna Pressley rolled out a number of endorsements this week, including one for Jesse Mermell, a former gubernatorial aide and Brookline selectwoman. The two women are longtime friends, and this endorsement was expected by Boston politicos. Pressley’s boost should help Mermell stand out to progressive voters in the midst of a crowded open-seat primary.


A couple weeks ago, when we saw the dire state of Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s fundraising, we made the observation that “This race might be over before the primary”. Unfortunately, that wound up being predictive. Toulouse Oliver dropped out of the race yesterday. In the statement she released to accompany the announcement, she mostly demurred on her reasoning for leaving the race, saying only that “I’ve realized that this is not my time.” It’s rough to see the DSCC shove a capable progressive woman out of the Senate race in a safely blue seat in favor of a well-connected congressman, which is effectively what happened here. She does note that she forced now-unopposed candidate Ben Ray Luján left, pushing him to support Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and impeachment.


The LGBTQ Victory Fund has endorsed Mondaire Jones in this race. While not shocking that they’d favor him (all the other candidates are cishet), Mondaire began his campaign challenging an incumbent, so odds are the DCCC still does not like him. Notably, Victory Fund also endorsed John Blair in NM-03 and Richtie Torres in NY-15, but not Alex Morse in MA-01. Morse is, of course, challenging an incumbent Democrat and is at this point by far the most high-profile queer candidate they haven’t endorsed, outside of CA-53 where two are running.

Another potential candidate announced her interest in the race this week, Jo-Anna Rodriguez-Wheeler. Rodriguez-Wheeler, a small business owner, said that she believes she’ll need to raise $3 million to be competitive in this race. That’s probably correct, but the big question is whether she can do that. She probably wouldn’t be setting a goal she doesn’t think she could get close to reaching, so we’ll be interested to see how she does. If she enters, she’ll become the only woman running in this election, which could entail support from EMILY’s List and other similar organizations if she seems serious.


Rep. Ayanna Pressley also endorsed Jessica Cisneros this week. Pressley’s endorsement for Cisneros joins those of fellow squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (not Bernie Sanders, though…Bernie if you’re reading this, please endorse Jessica). Pressley’s endorsement in this race is great, though not unexpected since Cuellar sucks and has alienated more than a few people, and Pressley was a progressive primary challenger herself just last cycle.

New Primaries

Allegheny County, PA District Attorney

Allegheny County, home to over a million residents (including the entire city of Pittsburgh), is solidly Democratic. It also has a deeply terrible “Democratic” District Attorney, Stephen Zappala, who we covered back in May, when he easily won renomination against a damaged progressive challenger. Zappala, who does shit like prosecute Pittsburgh residents (mostly black ones) for marijuana possession despite the city having decriminalized the drug, is the nominee of both the Democratic and Republican parties (having won the Republican nomination through write-in votes). Thankfully, he faces a serious challenger despite that. 

Lisa Middleman, a public defender, is running as a progressive, reformist independent, and recent fundraising reports have demonstrated that her campaign is viable. She’s received the endorsement of a powerful local union, and enough Democratic officials have backed her that Zappala’s allies in the local establishment have threatened to retaliate against anyone who supports her. (Pennsylvania Democratic Party bylaws technically prohibit Democratic committeepersons from backing non-Democratic candidates, and while Middleman is essentially a Democrat, she is running as an independent.) Those Democratic backers include democratic socialist state Rep. Summer Lee, an Allegheny County Councilor, two Pittsburgh city councilors, and Allegheny County At-Large Councilor nominee Bethany Hallam. Lee and Hallam defeated conservative machine incumbents in Democratic primaries in 2018 and 2019, respectively. 

Pittsburgh’s impressively organized activist left has notched a series of wins in Democratic primaries in 2018 and 2019, but repeating the magic in a general election is a different game. This has been pulled off before in Pittsburgh. In 2017, DSA-backed Mik Pappas won a magisterial (judicial) election as an independent candidate against conservative Democratic Ronald Costa, who had both the Democratic and Republican ballot lines. This was, however, and race covering only three wards of Pittsburgh, not the entire county of Allegheny. If you live in Allegheny County, we can’t overstate how important it is that you vote for Middleman.


California Rep. Katie Hill flipped this Romney-Clinton district north of Los Angeles in 2018. However, her career has been cut short in truly disgusting fashion: her soon-to-be-ex-husband has reportedly been sending revenge porn—nude photos sent without consent of the individual in the photos—to Republican operatives, including the NRCC itself. The photos got picked up by the Daily Mail, an awful British tabloid, and by RedState, a Republican propaganda outlet masquerading as a conservative news website. Hill subsequently announced her resignation on Sunday night. The scandal started out as a controversy over an improper relationship Hill admitted she had with a female staffer. (Dear politicians: please, do not fuck your staffers. It is never okay.) But that’s not why Hill quit. She quit because of the revenge porn, and the ensuing barrage of right-wing harassment. Revenge porn is a crime in most of the United States, and for good reason. We hope Hill sues anyone and everyone who published those photos.

The Democratic field in the special election to replace her already seems settled. Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who in 2018 flipped a legislative district that overlaps heavily with CA-25, is in, and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is out. This will be a competitive race, but Smith (or, in the unlikely scenario a different Democrat gets more votes than her, another Democrat) should be the favorite. California’s top-two system means all candidates run on one ballot, regardless of party, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. In special elections, a candidate can win outright in the first round if they get a majority of the vote. (This is not true of regularly scheduled elections, where the top two candidates advance regardless of whether one achieves a majority.) With the GOP field appearing somewhat crowded at the moment, the only person who could realistically get 50% in the first round is Smith, but we wouldn’t bet on it—this district isn’t that blue, and Democratic turnout could be lower in a special election. We’ll keep an eye out for new developments, especially on the Democratic side, but it doesn’t look like there’ll be multiple Democrats competing on the special election ballot at this time.


Tulsi Gabbard, as with motivations as inscrutable as ever, has announced she will not be running for re-election, and will instead be focusing on her presidential campaign. This is, needless to say, going to completely upend the race for this district. Kahele has gained a lot of support this year, but nearly all of that is in contrast to Gabbard. Without her in the race, the field can and likely will, get quite large quite fast. We normally respond to the news of an open seat by going through a list of all the potential candidates, but Hawaii primaries are something else. It’s rare to see an open primary for a high profile seat with fewer than five serious candidates, and the list of potential candidates is massive: basically every elected official in the state is a Democrat, and there’s little to no electoral penalty for running in a district you don’t live in. We’re in an interesting situation right now where it’s pretty much all speculation, and talking about everyone who could potentially run would be a list of half the electeds in the state. So we’ll discuss people as they express interest, not before.


Indiana’s First sits in the northwestern corner of the state, combining industrial cities on the shore of Lake Michigan with Chicago suburbs. It’s fairly diverse as far as Indiana goes, with the eligible voting population 18% Black and 12% Latinx, and it has been represented since 1985 by Peter Visclosky, an old school Rust Belt labor Democrat who has gradually moved left on social issues. Not a bad target for a primary challenge, in other words. He now potentially has one, in the form of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. who is considering running anti-impeachment platform?

Hammond abuts Chicago and is the largest city in the district, with a population of 76,000. Thomas McDermott Jr has been its mayor since 2004, when he defeated the incumbent Republican mayor. He’s currently running for his 5th term unopposed. While he’s not truly odious, McDermott couldn’t be described as a progressive. Early into his tenure as major, he closed the city’s health department, in 2008 he backed Clinton in the presidential primary and accused high school officials of “giving [students] a day off and telling them to vote for Obama” because they gave students bus rides to the polls, and in 2015 he took a very pro-cop stance during protests over police brutality, during which he came close to claiming racism didn’t exist in the city. Then, of course, there’s his current stance than Democrats shouldn’t pursue impeachment since it’s a distraction, saying that "The moderates are the ones that need to take control of the situation."

McDermott says he’s focused right now on the City Council elections happening in a couple weeks, but he has expressed a desire to “move up the ladder” one day, and he’s specifically mentioned interest in challenging Visclosky. There’s little love lost between the two. McDermott has accused Visclosky of being uncaring about both him and his city, while Visclosky responded to the news of McDermott congressional interest by using the state’s open records law to request a large volume of documents concerning McDermott’s mayoral tenure.


Since Rep. Elijah Cummings passed away on Oct. 17th, there’s been great speculation about which Democrat will fill the former House Oversight and Reform Committee chair and civil rights champion’s big shoes in MD-07. Well, now we’ve got some special election dates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the primary will be Feb. 4th, and the general will be Apr. 28th, which is the same day as Maryland’s regular 2020 primary election.

Last week, we mentioned that there were rumors about Cummings’ widow Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings jumping into the race. There hasn’t been new info about her potential candidacy, but it’s important to remember that her name is being floated here because other potential candidates are likely to drop out and defer to Rockeymoore Cummings should she throw her hat in the ring. Another person whose name was being floated as a potential candidate here was the 2018 Democratic nominee for Maryland Governor and former national NAACP President Ben Jealous, but he has since said that he will not be running.

Here’s a rundown of everyone else considering running:

  • State Sen. Jill P. Carter has formed an exploratory committee for the seat. Carter has been a strong advocate for civil rights and criminal justice reform, but she did also vote against a bill this year that would have eliminated the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers, a vote that singularly killed the bill in the Senate.

  • Del. Vanessa Atterbeary is considering running. She represents Howard County, so she would need to work on winning over the Baltimore voters in this congressional district.

  • State Sen. Cory McCray is giving a run “serious consideration.” McCray seems to have a worrying punitive criminal justice attitude for our taste, and he also was found to be in violation of conduct standards last year by an ethics committee for losing his temper and basically threatening an activist.

  • Del. Charles Sydnor says he’s honored to be considered a potential candidate. He’s done some good work, including being the primary sponsor of a 2015 bill to allow police to wear body cameras.

  • Del. Jay Jalisi, who has faced allegations of mistreating his staff, is thinking about running and will come to a decision in the next couple of weeks.

  • Former national NAACP President Kweisi Mfume is rumored to be a potential candidate (although he has not yet said anything about it). Mfume held this seat before Cummings, from 1987 to 1997. He made a bid for the Senate in 2006, losing the primary to now-Senator Ben Cardin. His age, 71, could be an issue. Fun fact: his son wrote, directed, and starred in Ax ‘Em, currently the worst rated horror film on imdb, and Kweisi gets a shout-out in the credits.

  • State Sen. Antonio Hayes is also considering running. He’s pretty new to the state legislature, but he’s already sponsored an important opioid crisis bill.

  • Del. Talmadge Branch replied, “I can’t say I haven’t thought about it” when asked about running for Cummings’ seat. Branch has been in the House of Delegates since 1995 and is the House majority whip.

  • Del. Keith Haynes is thinking about running. He’s a generally decent legislator, except for his stubborn opposition to legalizing marijuana.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Del. Nick Mosby are both rumored to be in the mix, though both were good friends of the Cummingses and are in the please-don’t-bother-me-while-I’m-mourning camp. The Mosbys are a famed Baltimore power couple. Normally, we are skeptical of prosecutors, but Marilyn Mosby has used her position to go after the cops who were involved in Freddie Gray’s death, so she could definitely be a worse candidate.

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