Denny Heck and North Carolina are only part of the busiest primary week so far this cycle
We had a sneaking suspicion this was going to happen. After Dan Lipinski narrowly survived a contest that took him by surprise in 2018, it was almost inevitable that the Chicago machine or Lipinski himself would try something dirty, and one technique struck us as particularly likely: putting up a candidate who serves only to appear on the ballot and suck away anti-incumbent votes. While candidate filing was open this week the three candidates who had previously announced and were running active campaigns - Dan Lipinski, Marie Newman, and Rush Darwish - all filed. On the last day, someone else did too, Charles M. Hughes. Hughes used to work for Lipinski’s father, Bill Lipinski and was part of the party machine during the elder Lipinski’s term in Congress.
On the other hand, local newspaper the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark reached out to Hughes about his run, and Hughes actually claims he is running as a conservative alternative to Lipinski on fiscal issues. Normally, you’d expect a candidate intentionally placed in the race to draw votes away from a challenger to act more similar to the challenger than the incumbent, although he could be aiming for the niche of voters who find Lipinski’s social stances disqualifying and Marie Newman’s support for programs like Medicare for All merely off-putting. Additionally, in 2016 he ran for Democratic Committeeman of Ward 23 against Michael R. Zalewski, an erstwhile ally of Michael Madigan, supreme ruler of the Chicago machine. So is Hughes a plant? There are a lot of conflicting signals and it’s impossible to say for sure. Regardless, he’s run for office at least four times, and of those four has made the ballot once, so he may wind up a nonfactor after all.
Another candidate entered this week, growing the field to five declared candidates. Sabrina Haake is a lawyer who practices in Chicago, as well as a real estate agent who operates in the same city. Haake is running on an environmentalist platform and is the only LGBTQ candidate in the race. Her general policy outlook is decidedly mid-grade, favoring “Medicare for All who want it” and saying things like “I support strong Customs and Border Protection, because open borders are not sustainable or feasible.” She may run into carpetbagging allegations. For instance, a voter file analysis shows that in addition to working in Chicago, she voted there in 2018, instead of Indiana.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, aside from her aborted gubernatorial run in 2018, has had one major political leadership role, that of the Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, which she had from December of 2018 to only a few weeks ago. New reporting has cast doubt on her tenure, specifically on her spending choices. Cummings greatly expanded Party operations, staffing, and consulting without expanding their fundraising, leading to the party running a deficit during a year it would normally be building its reserves, and cut their cash on hand from $743,891.47 to $389,426.22. The interim chair, once he took over, immediately sounded the alarm about their finances and made cuts to staff.
Rockeymoore Cummings immediately pushed back against the story, defending her strategy as taking a longer view of elections by engaging voters year round, doing well in 2019 municipal elections, and pointing to fundraising numbers that she claims haven’t been reported yet.
Democratic socialist and former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey’s insurgent campaign for MA-04 got a major boost on Tuesday, with the endorsement of state Rep. Nika Elugardo. Leckey’s campaign originally began as a challenge to US Rep. Joe Kennedy III; the race is now wide open due to Kennedy’s primary challenge to progressive US Sen. Ed Markey.
Elugardo herself was an insurgent primary challenger in 2018, taking down a powerful member of the state House’s Democratic leadership team, Ways & Means Chairman Jeff Sánchez. (Among those who tried to save Sánchez in the final days of the campaign: Joe Kennedy III.) Elugardo lives in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, and MA-04 includes none of the city of Boston; however, her Boston-based state House district includes a small piece of Brookline, a deep-blue wealthy suburb entirely located within MA-04, so a small number of Elugardo’s constituents will actually be voting in the MA-04 race.
This race includes a staggering number of notable candidates besides Leckey, among them former Obama speechwriter Dave Cavell, rich dude Alan Khazei, centrist Newton Councilor Jake Auchincloss, Newton Councilor Becky Grossman, and former Brookline Selectwoman Jesse Mermell. Mermell has recently picked up the endorsements of Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley; Diane Patrick, wife of former governor and current presidential candidate Deval Patrick; and former state Rep. Frank Smizik, making her an early establishment favorite.
Progressive activist Melanie D’Arrigo has received the endorsement of Muslims for Progress, a progressive New York political group that formed in 2017 and that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez named as one of the most important groups for her 2018 victory. Incumbent Democrat Tom Suozzi is a pro-ICE conservative, and he deserves to be voted out. However, he faces a split field—and the other challenger is getting his own share of the headlines lately, although it’s not exactly good.
Meanwhile, the other challenger in the race, Michael Weinstock, has been engaged in a back-and-forth with the president of his former volunteer fire company Vigilant, who put out a statement saying that press should stop referring to Weinstock as a volunteer firefighter with Vigilant, since he quit the company September 30, 2001, and also that Weinstock was not involved in any of Vigilant’s 9/11 rescue efforts. Weinstock has always said that he flagged down an ambulance on 9/11, so the fact he wasn’t part of Viligant’s efforts is not surprising. Weinstock implied the letter was a political hit job and a Chief in the company who worked with Weinstock on 9/11 wrote a letter in response calling it a “falsehood”.
A source reached out to us with some information regarding a poll being run by Suraj Patel in NY-12. They said that most of the questions were repeated lines from the 2018 primary; however, Patel appears to be mixing in something new: Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Patel’s poll included questions about AOC, and then asked how likely respondents would be to support an “AOC Democrat” in the race. This is an interesting tactic from Patel, suggesting he’s planning on leaning in on his progressive platform. But it could also set up an awkward situation for him if he chooses to run as an “AOC Democrat” while the organizations that supported her in her 2018 run are either looking elsewhere in the race or not endorsing at all, as is AOC.
New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres had a good week. On Monday he received the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Bold PAC, beating out almost every other one of his opponents for the endorsement (all but one NY-15 candidate has Latinx roots). Then today, Torres received his eighth union endorsement from the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU, which has 8,500 members in New York City alone. Having the support of Bold PAC should help Torres with institutional and financial support (not that he actually needed financial help, but it can’t hurt), while his union endorsements will help him get more boots-on-the-ground support.
In a move that was completely in character, New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake used Giving Tuesday, a day that is supposed to be about charitable giving, as an excuse to solicit contributions for his own campaign. While there are definitely issues with the philanthropy that Giving Tuesday embodies (such as the rich using philanthropy as an excuse to dodge paying taxes and have outsized power over deciding what causes are deserving of resources), there are good causes and organizations out there that do more to improve people’s lives than a corrupt politician like Blake ever will. Anyone thinking of giving to Blake should instead consider donating to a small, New York-based progressive org like one of the ones on this list.
Since we’re talking about NY-15, this is your regularly scheduled reminder that Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr., a bad person who once compared being gay to having sex with animals, currently has a shot of actually making it to Congress, since he isn’t splitting the conservative Democratic vote with anyone. Bronx leftists need to join together and pick a single progressive candidate to all get behind before it’s too late.
Shitty Democrat-in-name-only David Carlucci has scored a major endorsement in his unfortunate run for NY-17. Carlucci, who for years caucused with a number of his fellow state senators to give Republicans control of the New York State Senate, was endorsed by IBEW Local 363 on Monday. The union local cites Carlucci’s support for labor as a reason for their endorsement; they conveniently fail to mention that he actively worked to give Republicans control of the state senate, likely preventing potential pro-labor legislation from ever being heard, much less enacted. Carlucci only stopped caucusing with Republicans when it became clear that all of the Republican-caucusing Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), would face primary challenges. In New York’s September Democratic primaries, six of the eight IDC members seeking renomination were unceremoniously thrown out of office, with only Carlucci and Staten Island state Sen. Diane Savino surviving. We hope the voters of Rockland and Westchester counties give Carlucci the same treatment voters from Queens to Syracuse gave his colleagues in 2018.
It’s been a really good week for Jessica Cisneros! A coalition of progressive groups including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn, and the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Cisneros earlier this week. As a reminder, Henry Cuellar has repeatedly voted to defund reproductive health services and block environmental protections, so it’s good to see that mainstream progressive groups are willing to support challengers to incumbent Democrats. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this - even as the DCCC is threatening to blacklist vendors for working with primary challengers, a wide range of progressive groups (many with close ties to the establishment) are backing a primary challenge against an incumbent Democrat. This shows a sea change in how the some more establishment organizations think about primary challenges.
Cisneros was also featured in this year’s Forbes 30 under 30, the only Congressional candidate on the list. If elected, Cisneros, who is 26, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (AOC was 29 when elected).
Al Lawson may not be in the Blue Dog Coalition, but he sure acts like he is, as we explained earlier this year when local pharmacist Albert Chester announced a run against him. Chester’s run doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere, but Lawson will not be able to go through 2020 without a serious primary. Lashonda “LJ” Holloway announced another bid for FL-05 this week. She previously ran in 2016 against scandal-ridden incumbent Corrine Brown after redistricting significantly changed her district. Her challenge was surpassed by former Tallahassee state senator Al Lawson, who won the election with 48% of the vote to Brown’s 39% and Holloway’s 13%. In that race, Lawson had the advantage of being the only candidate from the Tallahassee side of the district, while Holloway and Brown were both from Jacksonville. Holloway, while taken seriously by party figures, struggled in fundraising, pulling in barely more than $20,000 during the campaign. Holloway has remained civically activesince then and hopefully will be able to mount a serious challenge to Lawson.
A Brooklyn rapper by the name of Paperboy Prince (or “Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs”) has launched a campaign to challenge long-time Rep. Nydia Velazquez. Prince is 26 years old and an enthusiastic Andrew Yang supporter (so enthusiastic that he literally wrote a #YangGang anthem). Like Yang, Prince supports a universal basic income (he also lists Medicare for All as one of his first policies).
We don’t rate Prince’s chances too highly — after all, Velasquez is well-liked in the district and generally considered to be the second best member of the New York congressional delegation (after AOC, of course). She has also easily crushed every primary challenger she’s gotten since this district was drawn. Additionally, as a Latina, Velazquez is representative of this 40 percent hispanic district.
Velazquez has been in Congress since 1993, though, and even the best politicians, Velazquez included, have flaws. When it comes to long-time incumbents in deep blue seats, primaries are a good reminder to keep moving left.
On Monday, a federal court upheld North Carolina’s new congressional map. This is both good news and bad news; the bad news is that the map is a gerrymander, probably costing Democrats and voters of color a seat in southeastern North Carolina. The good news is it’s far less egregious a gerrymander, and all but guarantees Democrats will gain two congressional seats in North Carolina next year: the Raleigh-based NC-02, currently represented by Republican George Holding, and the Greensboro/Winston-Salem-based NC-06, currently represented by Republican Mark Walker. The new versions of NC-02 and NC-06 both went for Clinton by more than 20 percentage points, which puts us in the unique position of being able to cover Republican-held seats; normally we avoid that, because our mission statement is risk-free moves to the left, but there’s no way in hell that Republicans hold either district, even if Reps. Walker and Holding are foolish enough to try for reelection. So now we have to evaluate the fields for those two districts, as well as survey the alterations made to existing Democratic districts.
In NC-02, 2016 Democratic Senate nominee Deborah Ross is running. Ross, formerly a state representative and the head of the North Carolina ACLU, lost to Republican Sen. Richard Burr in 2016, but she acquitted herself well in that campaign, running fairly close with Hillary Clinton despite starting out with little name recognition and declining to make any major ideological concessions. (However, it was 2016, so a good Democrat in 2016 is not necessarily a good Democrat by the higher standards of 2020.) Additionally, an Andrew Terrell has filed with the FEC to run; Terrell is apparently the head of the British government’s office in Raleigh, which...why does the British government have an office in Raleigh? But anyway, he was raised in western North Carolina, per his official bio, so we assume he’s at least actually an American citizen, which is required to serve in Congress. However, working for the British government under Boris Johnson (and presumably Theresa May and possibly David Cameron, depending on how long he’s worked there) is a red flag. We’ll reserve judgment on this race as we wait for the field to develop; Raleigh has a deep bench of ambitious Democrats after state legislative Republicans in the area were wiped out by court-ordered redistricting and the 2018 Democratic wave. Ross is alright, but we don’t know who else is running.
In NC-06, 2018 NC-13 nominee Kathy Manning is running. A large part of the old NC-13, including most or all of the very Democratic cities of Greensboro and High Point, is included in the new NC-06, and Manning lives in that part. Manning, like most Democratic nominees for swing districts (the old NC-13 went for Trump by about 9 points), is fairly moderate, and while there’s a chance she’ll tack left to account for her new district’s lean, we can do better. One potential way we could do better comes in the form of 2018 NC-05 candidate and Winston-Salem City Councilmember Denise Darcel "DD" Adams. The old NC-05 is ⅓ of the new NC-06, and DD Adams ran a strong campaign in 2018, so she’ll have name recognition from that run, as well as the fundraising connections that got her to almost $400,000. She ran on a progressive platform, especially for a red district, for instance supporting single payer Medicare for All. Adams hasn’t expressed specific interest in the new NC-06, but expressed interest in running for Congress again after she lost in 2018.
Finally, alterations were made to existing districts. NC-01 Rep. G.K. Butterfield lost about 40% of his old district, but he won’t miss it--while his district is now significantly redder, it’s still safely Democratic, and it no longer includes the booming college town of Durham, exactly the kind of place that tends to provide a strong base for left-wing primary candidates. NC-12 Rep. Alma Adams also won’t notice the change much--Adams, originally a Greensboro politician, won a special election for NC-12 back when the district still included parts of that city, but she moved to Charlotte back when the district was redrawn in 2016 to include only Charlotte (90 miles south of Greensboro) and some suburbs. The district is seeing some slight changes, but nothing that will affect Adams’s chances at renomination.
NC-04, the last of the three Democratic districts existing under the old map, changed significantly. 71.5% of the old NC-04 is now located in the new NC-02; however, NC-04 Rep. David Price will presumably stay in NC-04, because he lives in Chapel Hill, which is part of the 28.5% of the old NC-04 that will continue to be part of NC-04. Unfortunately for Price, that means 71.5% of his territory will be new to him; that includes all of the Durham turf Butterfield lost, as well as some Raleigh suburbs and exurbs formerly represented by Walker and Holding. A challenger from Durham, which is by far the bluest and biggest part of the new district, could give Price the fight of his life.
In another surprise Wednesday retirement (no we’re not bitter at all about that time Susan Davis retired like 20 minutes before we were going to publish) Rep. Denny Heck, of WA-10 has announced he will not be running for reelection. Heck is a thoroughly mediocre congressman and represents a safe blue district anchored by Olympia, so this is a good opportunity for an upgrade. So far no new candidates have entered the freshly open race.
As of now, there’s just one candidate in the running: Joshua Collins. We’ve been meaning to mention him for a while now, and now seems like as good a time as any. Collins has been in the race for a while, and if you spend a lot of time on Left Twitter, you’ve definitely seen him pop up. Still, for the first few months of his candidacy he didn’t have a lot to suggest a strong campaign outside of Twitter - very low fundraising and few events or endorsements. Recently things have picked up - he’s raised over $30K in the past couple months and gotten endorsements from the Olympia chapters of DSA and Our Revolution. Collins’s platform is extensively detailed and universally left-wing.