Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. Sign up here. We want to hear what you think. Email us with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman
This week … Democrats fretted about primaries, Republicans were rethinking running for Senate, and some candidates got personal in ads.
Primary Predicament: Democrats in California are increasingly concerned that their funky primary system could squander their chances of flipping GOP seats in November. With the jungle primary, the top two vote getters in the primary advance to the general, regardless of party. So some Democrats, especially members of Congress, are concerned that crowded Democratic fields could split the vote, causing two Republicans to move on to the general election. So what are they doing about this? Check it out here.
*Bookmark* Are these GOP California seats in play? Check out their race ratings in Roll Call’s Election Guide, with ratings from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
Don’t Call It a Comeback (Yet): This week two Republicans who had ruled out Senate bids signaled they might be willing to reconsider. GOP Sen. Bob Corker said he was “listening” to those who were encouraging him not to retire after all. The Tennessee Republican has had an on-again, off-again relationship with President Trump. Corker’s spokeswoman said people had reached out to Corker with “concerns about the outcome of this election because they believe it could determine control of the Senate and the future of our agenda.” (CC: GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who had announced a Senate run after Corker said he was retiring. Blackburn’s campaign blasted anyone who doubted her general election viability as a “sexist peg.”)
Concern about holding onto the Senate has also caused some Republicans to push North Dakota GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer to reconsider his decision to run against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Cramer confirmed Tuesday that he was rethinking his decision, out of respect for people in D.C. and back home who were pushing him to run, and said he was the only candidate who could take on Heitkamp. Cramer has created a Facebook event for his “Senate announcement and rally” on Friday. A GOP strategist confirmed Thursday that Cramer is running for Senate.
Opening Up: Sexual assault has rocked Congress. And now congressional candidates are opening up about their own experiences in TV and digital ads. Sol Flores, an underdog in the Democratic primary for Illinois’ 4th District, shared her childhood story of abuse — and what she did about it — in a video released this week. But she’s not the first candidate to share her story. Florida Democrat Mary Barzee Flores (no relation) talked about being assaulted by a boss in a digital ad her campaign released last fall.
Watch these women’s ads and learn more about their races in this two-minute video.
She’s Back At It: Martha McKenna is returning to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as executive director of its independent expenditure arm. She was the first woman to head a Senate campaign committee’s IE program in 2012, and she held the job again for the 2014 cycle. The EMILY’s List veteran helped elect many of the Democratic women she’ll be charged with helping defend this year. Read much more about McKenna in this 2012 profile from Nathan Gonzales, and learn more about her deep roots in Baltimore in this 2015 Kyle Trygstad piece from our archives.
So You Want to Run for Congress? If you’re running a good campaign (or trying to), you’ll come into the Roll Call offices to sit down with the Inside Elections team to discuss your candidacy. Scared? Nervous? Don’t be. Or at least don’t act like it. We just want to meet you before your head is stuffed with talking points. In fact, Nathan’s here to help. Watch his new comedy sketch about what to expect when you get here.
The Count: 26
The special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District is 26 days away. Trump will travel to the district next week for a rally for the GOP candidate, state Rep. Rick Saccone. Outside Republican groups have spent several million dollars so far on television ads backing Saccone and attacking Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. The DCCC was briefly on air for Lamb, but Chairman Ben Ray Luján was noncommittal Wednesday about whether the committee would spend additional resources to help him.
The Case of the Mysterious PAC: Part 3. Nathan continues his investigation into who is really behind the Club for Conservatives PAC. His latest installment includes some answers, sibling sass and a bit about “people in their cubicles at other locations.”
Minnesota Republican Pete Stauber had the chance to try out for the U.S. Olympic hockey team several times. He never made the team, recalling vividly the moment the roster was posted and his name wasn’t on it. Now the former professional hockey player with the Detroit Red Wings operation is running for Congress. Republicans see him as one of their top recruits and think his chances have improved now that Minnesota’s 8th District is an open seat. Stauber’s brother, meanwhile, is in Pyeongchang coaching the U.S. women’s hockey team.
Democrats targeted Michigan’s 8th District in 2014 and 2016 but came up short. After landing “Little House on the Prairie” actress Melissa Gilbert last cycle, she dropped out. Macomb County assistant prosecutor Suzanna Shkreli got into the race in July of the on-year but ended up losing to GOP Rep. Mike Bishop by 17 points, while Trump carried the district by nearly 7 points.
This cycle, Democrats made Bishop an early target, and they’re excited about former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin’s chances. She outraised Bishop in the third and fourth quarters of 2017. She ended 2017 with $710,000 to Bishop’s $972,000. Inside Elections rates the race Leans Republican.
For next week, let us know which race you want to know more about: NM-02 or Maine Senate.
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Senators, they’re just like us — also really into the Olympics! Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner (who chairs the NRSC when he’s not practicing curling) and Michael Bennet teamed up for their own Olympic event. More on that from Heard on the Hill.