It's FEC Week, Baby!
|Opinion Haver||Apr 17, 2019|
Campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2019 (1/1-3/31) were due to the Federal Election Commission on April 15th, so we finally have out first look at the fundraising status of Congressional challengers.
AZ-01: We haven’t covered Eva Putzova before, as she announced before the newsletter launched and hasn’t made much news since. She’s a progressive Flagstaff City Councilor and immigrant running to unseat Blue Dog Democrat Tom O’Halleran in AZ-01. AZ-01 is a long time swing district that Trump won 48-47, so it’s not really in our wheelhouse. That $30K is a decent start, but AZ-01 is a sprawling district with multiple cities and media markets, so her campaign will need to pick it up at some point.
CA-18: We covered Kumar way back in our first issue, and at the time speculated that he’d be able to tap into some high dollar donor pools. That appears to have been the case. Kumar focusing on fundraising at this point could also explain why we haven’t heard much from this race.
CO-01: Well, this is a disappointing quarter for Duran. A former state house speaker with Ken Salazar and Federico Peña in their corner should have some fundraising connections, and $71K is just not good. Meanwhile, DeGette isn’t lighting it up either. Any dedicated incumbent could do far better than what she got. Fortunately for DeGette, a low-dollar race usually means the challenger can’t get her name out, benefitting DeGette.
FL-05: Al Lawson is raising what could generously be described as peanuts, and he has barely any money on hand. This could be a great opening for a challenger, but the only entrant to the race so far is Albert Chester, who has speculated that his campaign will be fairly low-budget, and who unfortunately didn’t file his quarterly report on time for us to look over.
HI-02: See HI-02, below
IL-03: See IL-03, below
MD-05: Wilkes only had a week to fundraise, so that $6K isn't as bad as it looks, but it's not a lot either. We didn't mention her when she announced because she didn't seem like a terribly serious candidate, and this FEC report didn't change things. Still, she has over a year to build up her operation.
NJ-09: Self-funding is fine if you want to put a few million into a campaign, but otherwise you're going to need actual donor money at some point. Spezakis’s $2K in non-self funded money for the entire month of March is a red flag.
Shortly after California Rep. Eric Swalwell announced his futile entry into the presidential race, running on a platform of bringing Trump acolytes into his Cabinet, the first serious contender to succeed him in Congress officially jumped into the race. Hayward City Councilor Aisha Wahab announced she was in on Friday. Wahab is one of the first Afghan-Americans elected to public office in the United States; she shares the distinction with New Hampshire state Rep. Safiya Wazir (D-Concord), elected on the same day. According to the Center for American-Islamic Relations, Wahab is also one of only a handful of Muslim elected officials in the Bay Area. Wahab, like all of Hayward’s city councilors, was elected at-large, meaning she represents the entire city instead of a specific district within the city. Hayward has a population of over 150,000 and is located entirely within the district. Wahab thus represents one fifth of the district, a decent base to start with.
While her website is light on specifics at the moment, it’s unlikely that Wahab would be running on anything but a progressive platform. She ran as an outsider, eschewing the major establishment groups at the time, and local media said she “might be the most progressive candidate ever elected to the council.” During her tenure in the City Council, she’s been known for her outspokenness, describing herself as “a strong and unrelenting voice”. Her voice wound up so strong and unrelenting that the old guard City Manager attempted to change meeting rules to limit it. She’s earned notice for her activism, and she has flatly rejected the idea that she should change that once she entered office, saying, "Once you're elected every single person will tell you you're no longer allowed to be an organizer or activist ... That's really not where I'm at otherwise I wouldn't have brought up half of the topics that I brought up in the first couple weeks being in office.”
At only 31 years old, Wahab would help shift Congress away from its current state, with both parties dominated by Boomers. She would also be its first Afghan-American, and, unusual for the generally upper class Congress, a renter. California’s 15th district is a dark-blue seat located in the East Bay; along with Hayward, it contains Dublin, Pleasanton, and most of eastern Alameda County.
Yesterday, Marie Newman announced that she was exiting her exploratory stage and would become a full-fledged candidate for the Democratic nomination in IL-03, running against incumbent Dan Lipinski, a social arch-conservative whose existence as Democratic Congressman often feels like some sort of cosmic rounding error. If you’re unfamiliar with his particular brand of regressive insanity, he’s the anti-gay March for Life speaker who voted against Obamacare.
For the most part, there is little practical difference between an exploratory committee and a campaign, but candidates often transition from the former to the latter because they had been quietly fundraising and now want to begin active campaigning. This seems to be the case with Newman, who spent early 2019 making use of the connections she made during her 2018 campaign, and Marie killed it. She raised roughly $210,000, more than some incumbent Democrats running for a competitive reelection, and a fantastic start for a primary challenger. Lipinski only raised about $128,000, meaning he was outraised by a serious amount. He also isn’t sitting on a huge stack of cash, so it’s not like he can just run on reserves. Newman’s haul is bigger than what she got her first quarter last time around ($143,000), and she started raising money in the second quarter of 2017--meaning at this point in the 2018 cycle, she hadn’t even filed to run for Congress. She also came out of the gate swinging with an endorsement: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is currently running for president. The only other 2020 candidate to endorse Newman in 2018 was Bernie Sanders, who has yet to endorse her this time; however, it’s barely been 24 hours since she announced.
Last cycle, Newman struggled to be seen as a serious candidate until late. Notably, EMILY’s List didn’t endorse her until the month before the primary. Another endorsement that could soon be coming can be found in FEC filings. Congressman Ro Khanna (CA-17) donated $1,000 to Newman’s campaign. Khanna is an outspoken lefty in Congress and also endorsed her 2018 campaign, so don’t be surprised to see that endorsement happen sometime soon. On the Lipinski side of things, he got two congressmen to donate to him: Henry Cuellar, whose awful three-decade career we profiled here (open to all readers), and Cheri Bustos. Bustos, of course, is the architect of the DCCC’s new policy to blacklist all vendors that work with primary challengers, a policy which nearly intimidated Newman out of the race. Bustos also recently said of the man who voted against the most important Democratic legislative accomplishment of the last half century: "Dan Lipinski is pro-life, but he's also a longtime member of the House of Representatives, and he's been a reliable vote on the vast majority of our issues." So don’t be shocked if she comes out with a formal endorsement soon.
Newman wasn’t the only candidate announcing this week. We also saw the entry of lawyer Abraham Thomas Matthew. “Lawyer”, by the way, is the only information we can find on him. Is he a serious candidate? Is he a gadfly? Is he a stalking horse put on the ballot to draw away votes from Newman, a technique that Chicago boss and Lipinski ally Mike Madigan has been known to use? Your guess is as good as ours. Actually, if you’re from the Chicago area and know a divorce attorney named Abraham Matthew, would you call him up and ask him for us? Another candidate filed with the FEC, but has yet to announce if he’s in or not: Rush Darwish, a local photographer who sits on the board of AMVOTE PAC, a Chicago-area advocacy PAC for Middle Eastern Americans. Other individuals connected to AMVOTE PAC include Sanders-aligned DNC member James Zogby, so Darwish may have connections.
Illinois has no runoffs or majority requirements for Congressional elections, so the more challengers on the ballot, the better chance Lipinski likely has. Honestly, we’re hoping someone sits Newman, Matthew, and Darwish down and refuses to let them leave the room until two of them drop out of the race.
Kai Kahele gets the challenger fundraising crown, pulling in over $250,000 in the approximately two months he’s been a candidate. Kahele is in the state senate leadership and has three of the four living Democratic ex-governors of Hawaii in his corner, giving him connections, which he’s obviously using. Tulsi, of course, is swimming in presidential race money, so in the very unlikely event that she somehow doesn't win the presidential nomination and decides to run for reelection to the House, fundraising like this is what he’ll need to go toe to toe with her. She can, of course, transfer most of the presidential race money to her House campaign if she wants, and with somewhere near three million in the tank, Kahele is unlikely to ever match her in funding. Also good news for him is the vast majority of his money came in state, suggesting local support.
Another wrinkle is that Gabbard has put her house campaign into inactive status, naturally without informing the FEC until later. Practically, what this means in that Gabbard cannot actively campaign explicitly for her House reelection. But this doesn’t prevent her from, for instance, using her presidential campaign to run positive ads about herself.
After profiling the massive 13 candidate field last week, we knew that NM-03 wasn’t going to stay quiet after an initial candidate explosion that large.
Santa Fe City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, first elected last year, who is now openly considering entering the race. At this point, she’s mostly known for getting a small park removed, so it’s not clear how she’s planning on standing out in a field this crowded, but that’s true for more than just her.
District Attorney Marco Serna has taken the next step from considering and has now opened an exploratory committee. He also said that he’s planning on deciding whether or not to run by mid-May, but as we noted last week, he’s not known for being great with deadlines.
The between incumbent Dominion stooge and Senate Democratic leader Dick Salsaw and human rights lawyer Yasmine Taeb continues to heat up. This week’s campaign finance reports show that she raised $58,389 in the quarter, to Salsaw’s $185,665, and has $89,906 cash on hand, to his $900,066. While she is currently trailing him in funds, challengers generally don’t need to match incumbents dollar for dollar, they only need enough to compete. Taeb is more or less there, although we’d be breathing a bit easier if she had hit six figures. For much of the first quarter, the legislature is in session, so incumbents can’t fundraise. Now that the session is wrapped up, Saslaw will have the opportunity to throw himself into building up his warchest.
Money isn’t everything of course, so to get a better sense of what’s happening on the ground, we’ve obtained exclusive polling from Change Research. The polling memo can be found here. The polling was conducted April 4th-9th and 11th-12th. Looking at 296 respondents in SD-35 who see themselves as more likely to vote in the Democratic primary than not, Change finds Dick Saslaw leading with 53 percent of the vote to Taeb’s 23 percent. Nine percent choose Karen Torrent, a minor candidate in this race, and another 16 percent would not vote in the election. After a variety of issues testing, including Saslaw’s connections with Dominion and payday lenders, as well as his handling of the Northam/Fairfax scandals, Taeb leads 36 to 32 percent. Of course, an informed ballot takes place in a world where one candidate gets to choose what all voters hear, so take that with a grain of salt.
One notable detail from this message testing is that while voters react very negatively to many aspects of Dick Saslaw’s career, they feel pretty neutrally about his support of Northam during the blackface scandal. When asked their reactions to the statement “Dick Saslaw has said that Gov. Northam should not resign after a photo of Northam wearing blackface was discovered”, 24 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for Saslaw, 27 percent said less likely, and the largest category, 43 percent, said it would make no difference. Tensions obviously remain high over the Northam scandal, but it looks like it’s simply not a motivating voting issue.
The small sample size of this poll means that the margin of error is 6 percent. Change Research has a C+ from 538.
Richard Neal has served as a congressman from liberal western Massachusetts since the 80s. His long tenure, institutionalism, and mediocre ideological bent have created an appetite from the left for a new congressman from MA-01. In 2018, local activist Tahirah Amatul-Wadud ran a low-budget campaign in the primary and took 29% of the vote, winning several towns, although Neal’s Springfield base held firm. He’s also attracted the ire of political rich guy without much direction Tom Steyer, who actually took the step of running ads against Neal for Neal’s refusal to request Trump’s taxes.
Recently, it was reported that Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse had a meeting with Tom Steyer, and when pressed about it, Morse said that Steyer wasn’t recruiting him for a primary challenge, but also that he wouldn’t rule it out. Holyoke is a small city of 40,000 that sits just a few miles north of Springfield. Neal won it by 30% in the 2018 primary. Morse has been mayor since 2011 and has been focused on revitalizing the once-prosperous mill town which has fallen on hard times. He has earned notice for his youth (he was first elected at only 22 years old) and sexuality (he is openly gay). Morse’s tenure has not been entirely smooth. The city is still in debt and Morse recently took heat for purchasing a $10,000 Christmas tree for the town, which is exactly the kind of action that’s not too meaningful by itself but can easily become a symbol of poor management. Morse has stayed popular enough to be elected again and again, and has put himself out there for progressive causes. Neal is 40 years older than Morse, and has been in Congress for Morse’s whole life; if Morse is looking to make a generational change argument, he has plenty of fodder.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, the man who would oversee potential impeachment proceedings, drew two challengers in the past week. While neither has officially declared her candidacy, Lindsey Boylan and Amanda Frankel both filed with the FEC to run for this New York City district, which covers most of Manhattan’s West Side and a chunk of Brooklyn, including most of the borough’s Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Boylan, a former economic adviser to Andrew Cuomo from Manhattan, filed this morning; her candidacy has been rumored since February. Frankel, a cryptocurrency enthusiast and tech entrepreneur from Brooklyn, filed on Friday.
It’s hard to get a read on the ideological leanings of either candidate. Boylan supported the Amazon giveaway and worked for Cuomo, but is publicly supportive of climate action such as youth climate strikes; Frankel, aside from some critical tweets about the DCCC blacklist, gives no clues about her ideology. This is worth watching, even if it’s unclear where Nadler, Frankel, and Boylan sit ideologically relative to each other.