Spotlight: A Texas Roundup

The election season is underway in Texas ahead of the March 1 primary. Our own Erin Covey and Mary Frances McGowan previewed the most consequential races.

Most of the action is on the House side, as redistricting and retirements have sparked ultra-competitive (and ultra-crowded) primaries. In South Texas, Democratic candidates are looking to offer the party a blueprint to win back Hispanic voters that broke for Republicans last cycle.   

“I am an old-school, Blue Dog Democrat, Ronald Reagan-era-type conservative Democrat that is in line with our values,” small business owner John Villareal Rigney (D) told Hotline. “So there's no need to abandon ship. All we’ve got to do is get a different captain.” 

Rigney is one of several candidates competing in the highly competitive 15th District, an open seat stretching from the Mexico border to San Antonio. Democrats like Rigney aren’t ready to abandon the district yet, and think they can run hyper-locally focused races in an increasingly nationalized electorate.  

In statewide races, Democrats feel overshadowed by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D) longshot challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Both are expected to sail through their primaries, but O’Rourke is getting the lion’s share of the attention from donors and activists, leaving Democrats running for positions toiling away in obscurity.  

For example, in the lieutenant governor’s race Mike Collier (D), despite being in the throes of his third statewide bid, is having trouble raising both his profile and the necessary resources to compete against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) in the general election. These struggles may portend a missed opportunity for Democrats, considering Patrick only narrowly took the office last cycle. 

On the GOP side, most incumbents are expected to dominate their primaries, with the exception of state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who Texas Republicans say is the most likely officeholder to be cornered into a runoff. Paxton is facing three credible challengers—state Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Rep. Louie Gohmert, and attorney Eva Guzman—all while facing a slew of ethics charges. 

The next primaries after Texas aren’t until May. 

Kirk A. Bado and Mary Frances McGowan

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Quote of the Day

“​​Ten years ago, we’d argue about who was more pro-gun, who was more pro-life. Now, my clients are going RINO hunting, which is a level of disdain that was not there before in our party.”

— GOP strategist John Thomas on Republicans’ contentious primary season, Politico, 2/17.


 
 

Top News

REPUBLICANS: I Dreamed a Dream
Party strategists believe that “self-hate” is at an all-time high in the party ahead of the primary season.

MISSOURI SENATE: The Confrontation
Republicans are worried that former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) will win the primary unless they consolidate around an alternative.

PRIMARY ROUNDUP: Master of the House 
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries’s PAC made its first incumbent endorsements.

GEORGIA GOVERNOR: On My Own
Former Sen. David Perdue (R) is struggling to find his footing in the race against Gov. Brian Kemp (R).
 
 

National
Curated by Zac Weisz

2024 CORNER: GOP Contenders Set for CPAC Straw Poll 

Potential 2024 Republican candidates are readying for the results of a straw poll that will take place at CPAC next week. Both former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will speak at the event. 

  • The poll will shed some light on how the two leading potential contenders are performing among Republicans. Trump finished with 55% of the vote in the corresponding CPAC poll last year, while DeSantis received 21%. (The Hill) Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the CPAC straw poll in 2014, the equivalent point in the last election cycle when there was an open GOP primary. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) won the poll in 2009, three years before he became the Republican presidential nominee. (Washington Post)
  • PROXY BATTLE. Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) endorsement of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) in the race to replace Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) puts him at odds with a fellow potential 2024 candidate, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who endorsed Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO 04). Trump hasn’t endorsed anyone in this race yet. (The Hill) See the Senate section for more.
  • TRUMP ENDORSEMENTS. Trump endorsed three House candidates in Texas yesterday: Reps. Troy Nehls (R-22), Jodey Arrington (R-19), Randy Weber (R-14), and Lance Gooden (R-05). He also endorsed 2020 nominee Monica De La Cruz (R) for Texas’ 15th District and former judge Phil Sorrells (R) for Tarrant County district attorney. (release) 

VOTING: Election Officials Appeal for Funding to Run Midterms

“Election officials and voting experts are now warning as the midterm elections get underway that new funding is needed to avoid significant problems in November.” State and local groups received vast sums of funding in the 2020 election to run an election during a pandemic.

  • “Lawmakers and the private donors who stepped up in 2020 appear increasingly likely to remain on the sidelines as election administration has evolved over the past two years into a fiercely partisan issue.” (Washington Post)
  • BIG LIE. Only 13 of the 143 Texas Republican candidates for federal office publicly agreed that President Biden won the 2020 election. (Houston Chronicle)

DEMOCRATS: Biden Warns of Invasion Knock-On Effects for Inflation, Midterms

President Biden “is warning that gas prices could get higher if Russian President Vladimir Putin chooses to invade” Ukraine, which could hurt Democrats in the midterm elections. Republicans have repeatedly used high inflation as a cudgel against Biden. 

  • Two vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year, Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ), have called for a gas tax holiday. (AP)
  • RURAL VOTE. As the Democrats’ vote share dwindles further in rural America, some blue voters in these areas are increasingly wary of revealing their political beliefs to the community. (AP)
  • BIDEN GETS OUT OF THE HOUSE. Biden will travel to Ohio today to promote the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (release)
  • TURN THE COVID CORNER. Biden “is hoping to use his upcoming State of the Union address to nudge the pandemic into the nation’s rear-view mirror,” despite that both Capitol Hill and the White House have maintained strict COVID regulations. (AP)
  • AD BUY. Building Back Together, a Democratic-aligned advocacy group, launched a $500,000 ad campaign aimed at Black voters in three swing states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia. The ad, which focuses on efforts to cut poverty and to provide clean water, will run on radio and digital platforms. (The New Republic)
  • POLL. A Berkeley IGS survey (Feb. 3-10; 8,937 adults; +/-2%) found that Vice President Kamala Harris’ approval ratings among California voters dropped from 49% to 38%. 
  • HOTLINE ANALYSIS. This poll makes for tough reading for the vice president. Not only is California a liberal heartland, it is also Harris’ home state. Her numbers again trail those of Biden, too. While we can only glean so much from a poll, Harris clearly has work to do if her ambitions stretch beyond her current position. (release)

REPUBLICANS: GOP Set For Big Internecine Fight

Starting with Texas on March 1, “fractious primaries will unfold across the electoral map in the coming months, cementing a more populist orientation for the GOP and Donald Trump’s status as the party’s lodestar, or setting a more traditionally conservative course.” 

  • “These aren’t simple match-ups between Trump and anti-Trump forces, or isolated intraparty feuds. Safely ensconced Republican officeholders are being bombarded by challengers from coast to coast, in many cases spurred on by Trump directly.” (Politico)
  • SCOTT. NRSC Chairman Rick Scott, a Trump ally who objected to the 2020 election results, said he will “absolutely” vote for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump critic, to remain as the Senate GOP leader. (CBS News)
  • APP TRIAL. “500 beta testers have begun using an early version of ‘Truth Social,’” former President Trump’s new social media platform. The platform “remains shrouded in secrecy and is regarded with skepticism by some in tech and media circles.” (Reuters)

JAN. 6: Oath Keepers’ Plot Went Beyond Jan. 6, Prosecutors Find

“Prosecutors revealed new evidence about” the Oath Keepers’ Jan. 6 insurrection plot “and how it extended beyond the U.S. Capitol attack.”

  • Stewart Rhodes, who founded Oath Keepers and faces charges of seditious conspiracy, “wrote in a group chat with other co-conspirators that Jan. 6 could be ‘final nail’ in the coffin of the United States.” A federal judge remains reluctant to release Rhodes on bail. (NBC News)
  • COMMUNITY SERVICE. “A Virginia man who pleaded guilty to joining the Jan. 6 insurrection notified a judge this week that he’d completed his court-ordered community service: He spent his 60 hours reviewing ‘educational’ materials on topics like 'American Government’ and ‘Civics’ through a website that offers online community service.” (BuzzFeed News)
 
 

Senate
Curated by Matt Holt

ALABAMA: Katie Britt Tells Washington to ‘Man Up’ in New Ad

Former Business Council of Alabama President Katie Britt (R) launched a TV ad where she tells “all those boys in Washington to man up, get our economy going, and get kids and God back in the classroom.” The ad will run on broadcast TV and digital platforms. (release) 

  • EYEBALL EMOJIS. Former President Trump met with Britt at Mar-a-Lago Tuesday. He “has been having buyer’s remorse after endorsing” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-05), “watching with frustration as Brooks has failed to catch fire with the MAGA base.” (Politico)

MISSOURI: Nobody Knows What To Do About Eric Greitens

“For months, many Republican operatives across the political spectrum … have privately whispered agreement on one thing when it comes to Missouri’s crowded Senate GOP primary: They’d welcome any nominee except” former Gov. Eric Greitens (R). 

  • Despite him resigning in disgrace and a strong field of contenders, “Greitens leads the pack in Missouri’s GOP primary. Party operatives know that if they want to stop him, they need to clear the field so that the anti-Greitens vote isn’t fragmented. But they’re at a loss over how to do that. None of the prominent candidates shows any sign of dropping out anytime soon.” 
  • TRUMP’S TAKE. Trump “​​​​doesn’t like Greitens. While Trump often sides with men accused of sexual misconduct over the women who accuse them—and has asked some associates if they thought Greitens’ past sexual exploits could have been consensual—he’s also shown contempt for him. ‘What kind of guy ties a woman up in the basement against her will?’ Trump recently asked one confidant.” (Politico

NEW HAMPSHIRE: In Milford, Voters are ‘Fatigued and Annoyed’

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) “​​is facing a difficult reelection contest given the nation’s sour mood over inflation and COVID-19. Those issues are also making it difficult for Hassan and Democrats to break through to voters in parts of the swing state the party is worried about.” 

  • BELLWETHER WATCH. “​​Milford is the kind of place you’d think might grow Biden voters. It’s working-class, pro-union, and has a Catholic church in the middle of town. Voters here chose President Trump over Hillary Clinton by some three dozen votes in 2016, but flipped to Biden by 6% in 2020. He promised to offer towns like this a boost.”
  • “Now, some voters feel fatigued and annoyed, saying they are concerned with the direction of the country and things that impact their daily lives more than the elections for control of Congress.” (The Hill

OHIO: Tim Ryan Agrees to Participate in March Debate 

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-13) will participate in the Ohio Debate Commission’s Senate debate on March 28. In April, he "will take part in a virtual town hall hosted by the Ohio Young Black Democrats and Ohio Young Democrats.” 

  • ROUND TWO. 2020 OH-03 candidate Morgan Harper (D) and former state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) agreed to a second debate at the City-God Baptist Fellowship Church in Cleveland. Both have criticized Ryan for not debating Harper yet. (release) 

PENNSYLVANIA: Lamb Runs Away from Manchin-Style Politics 

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-17) “has a message to Pennsylvania Democrats who wonder whether he is liberal enough to represent them in the U.S. Senate: He is no” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). “Manchin endorsed Lamb for his 2020 congressional bid and has helped him raise money.”

  • LAMB SAYS: “We're basically two votes away on that long list of priorities, and that's what the Senate campaign is really about.” (Reuters

WISCONSIN: Outside Group Hits Ron Johnson as 'Self-Serving'

Opportunity Wisconsin, a liberal advocacy group, launched a new TV ad calling Sen. Ron Johnson (R) “self-serving.” The new ad is part of an ongoing multimillion-dollar ad buy. Opportunity Wisconsin has spent $4 million since early 2021 on ads opposing Johnson. (release)

 
 

House
Curated by Kirk A. Bado and James Downs 

PRIMARY ROUNDUP: Jeffries’ PAC Makes First Incumbent Endorsements

​​Team Blue PAC, which is devoted to defending Democratic incumbents in primaries, made its first endorsements Wednesday, backing Reps. Shontel Brown (OH-11), Danny Davis (IL-07), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Donald Payne Jr. (NJ-10), and Dina Titus (NV-01). (release)

  • The PAC was formed by House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries to protect incumbents against progressive challengers. Noticeably absent from the list: Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28), who faces a rematch with 2020 TX-28 nominee Jessica Cisneros (D) on March 1. 
  • GA-10.  Former state Sen. Vernon Jones (R) dropped out of the gubernatorial race to receive former President Trump’s endorsement in a “district of mostly rural white voters.” Jones was a previously registered Democrat but switched affiliations on Jan. 6, 2021 while in Washington. Jones, who labels himself the “Black Donald Trump,” has a “long history of allegations of sexual assault that he has denied, along with accusations of harassing women.”
  • THE FIELD. Jones joins a crowded field featuring 2014 nominee Mike Collins (R), former Trump administration official Patrick Witt (R), former Rep. Paul Broun (R), state Rep. Timothy Barr (R), and former state revenue commissioner David Curry (R). Jones does not live in the district and will have to “spend heavily” for the race in which Collins is the current favorite. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

MONTANA 01: Investigation Finds Ryan Zinke Misused Position for Commercial Advances

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (R) “misused his position to advance a commercial development project that included a microbrewery in his Montana hometown and lied to an agency ethics official about his involvement.” 

  • An investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general found that Zinke “engaged in ‘repeated, ongoing substantive negotiations’ with developers.” His staff members arranged a meeting with project developers at his office in Washington, a “violation of rules against using subordinates to perform non-official duties.” 
  • ON THE TRAIL. Zinke, who is seeking reelection to the seat he held before joining Trump’s cabinet, called the investigation a “political hit job” and “denied any substantive involvement in the project.” Even amidst the investigations, Zinke finished the year with over $1.4 million on hand, over double his closest opponent. (AP)

TEXAS: Hotline Previews Texas’ Primaries

“It’s officially midterm season in the Lone Star State” and Hotline took a look at the most consequential races to watch in the March 1 primary. “With the addition of two new congressional seats from reapportionment, along with retirements on both sides of the aisle, several open House seats have emerged, creating crowded primaries.” 

  • Progressives are trying to bounce back after a disappointing 2021 special election showing, Republicans are jockeying to occupy the Trump lane, and Democrats are trying to hold on to the states’ two remaining swing districts. (Hotline reporting)
  • TX-15. 314 Action Fund endorsed Army veteran Ruben Ramirez (D) in the open-seat primary. The district is one of the few competitive general election races remaining in Texas. (Hotline reporting)

WASHINGTON 03: Poll Shows Brent Hennrich With Narrow Lead  

A new Trafalgar Group poll (Feb. 11-14; 697 LVs; +/-4%) showed movie technician Brent Hennrich (D) with a slight lead in the nonpartisan primary. Hennrich was at 33%, Army veteran Joe Kent (R) 26%, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) 22%, small business owner Heidi St. John (R) 12%, and state. Rep Vicki Kraft (R) at 5%. 3% were undecided. (release)

  • HOTLINE ANALYSIS. The top-two finishers in Washington’s jungle primary move on to the general, and this poll shows Herrera Beutler, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, on the outside looking in. Former President Trump endorsed Kent, but because this is the first public poll of the race, it’s too soon to draw any sweeping conclusions. 
 
 

States
Curated by Mary Frances McGowan

GEORGIA: Poll Shows Kemp Leading David Perdue  

A Trafalgar Group poll of GOP voters in Georgia (Feb. 11-13; 1,072 LVs; +/-3%) found Gov. Brian Kemp (R) leading former Sen. David Perdue (R) 49%-39%. All other candidates received less than 5%. (release)

  • HOTLINE ANALYSIS. The survey is consistent with other GOP primary polls, which have shown Kemp consistently leading Perdue. However, the most interesting aspect of this poll may be that a majority of those respondents—58%—were aware of Trump’s endorsement of Perdue, but that didn’t change the fact that Kemp led his opponent by double digits. 
  • SLOW START. “Since he launched his campaign in December, Perdue … has struggled to bring aboard the network of political donors and operatives that have supported him and his cousin,” former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) “in the past. … and although he raised more than $100 million in his Senate reelection campaign in 2020, this time, Perdue has not been able to translate Trump's endorsement into financial or political backing from Republican bigwigs in the state.” 
  • TRUMP FACTOR. “Perdue's lackluster start to his campaign illustrates the limits of Trump's ability to dictate the terms of intra-Republican fights.” (CNN)
  • FLEXING HIS MUSCLES. Meanwhile, Kemp “is using the broad authorities of his office to strengthen his conservative credentials.” Including overhauling “the Board of Regents to clear the way for Sonny Perdue to become the chancellor of the higher education system,” and elevating “Appeals Court Judge Andrew Pinson to the Georgia Supreme Court, winning applause from some GOP activists even though the speedy decision alienated critics upset Kemp short-circuited the traditional vetting process. The moves are designed to turn up the pressure on” Perdue, “whose campaign hinges on his argument that only he can unite the conservative base.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

ILLINOIS: Megadonor Richard Uihlein Pumps $1M Into Darren Bailey’s GOV Bid 

“Megadonor Richard Uihlein has donated $1 million to” state Sen. Darren Bailey’s (R) “bid for governor yesterday, according to State Board of Elections filings. Uihlein and his wife, Liz, founded the Uline business supply empire just over the Illinois border in Wisconsin. They are among the biggest Republican donors in the country.”

  • “The campaign contribution to Bailey comes on the heels of Ken Griffin donating $20 million to another GOP gubernatorial competitor,” Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin's (R), “adding fuel for a competitive Republican race.” (Politico)

MAINE: Paul LePage Formally Files Campaign Paperwork

Former Gov. Paul LePage (R) “turned in nomination papers for a third term” to the Secretary of State on Wednesday, formally launching his challenge to Gov. Janet Mills (D).

  • “LePage was joined by dozens of supporters carrying campaign signs and American flags as he submitted his papers in hopes of becoming the first person to serve a third nonconsecutive term in the Blaine House.”
  • LAYING THE SCENE. “LePage, who served two terms from 2011-19, is trying to make the case that Mills has not been a good steward of the state economy, despite the projected surplus fueled by federal funding and increased revenue from sales and income taxes. Mills has noted the state’s gross domestic product now exceeds pre-pandemic levels.” (Portland Press Herald)

NEW YORK: Kathy Hochul Transforms from Accidental Governor to Formidable Front Runner

“Many in Gotham’s tight-knit political class immediately assigned an asterisk to her name and predicted that” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), “a moderate from Buffalo with a penchant for making friends but not headlines, would struggle in a pitched primary battle to hold onto the job. Six months later, they could scarcely look more wrong. “

  • “Instead, Ms. Hochul set out on a brisk campaign to corner party leaders and crowd out potential rivals that was as ruthlessly efficient as it was exceedingly congenial. Leveraging the powers of her office as well as her own self-effacing style, she put a new face on a state government mired in scandal and built a campaign juggernaut that had amassed $21 million by January, more than any of her rivals combined.”
  • CONVENTION. “The transformation from accidental governor to unquestioned front-runner will culminate on Thursday when” Hochul “is poised to win the Democratic Party’s endorsement for a full term ahead of its June primary.” (New York Times)
  • FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH. While “Hochul is widely expected to become the party’s designee for governor, it remains possible one of the other candidates … could garner enough support from state committee members to get a spot on the primary ballot without having to go through the costly and time-consuming petitioning process.” (Gothamist)
  • RUNNING MATE. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-03) named former Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna (D) as his running mate. (WAMC)

OREGON: Oregon Supreme Court Officially Ends Nick Kristof’s Gubernatorial Bid

“The Oregon Supreme Court says” former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof (D) “who quit his newspaper job to run for Oregon governor, cannot appear on the state’s May primary ballot.”

  • “The justices’ decision, anticipated for the past several weeks, will fundamentally change the dynamics of the race to replace” Gov. Kate Brown (D). “Kristof has far outpaced the other two best-known Democratic primary candidates,” former House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) and State Treasurer Tobias Read (D). “Poll after poll has shown Oregonians frustrated with the current state of their state.” (Oregon Public Broadcasting)

TEXAS: No Surprises Expected in the Lone Star State GOV Primaries 

“It’s officially midterm season in the Lone Star State. Early voting started this week in Texas. … At the statewide level, Texans will participate in primaries for six offices: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, and comptroller.”

  • “At the gubernatorial level, both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial primaries aren’t expected to produce many surprises.”
  • GOP. “In the GOP contest,” Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) “strength will be tested as he defends his seat against seven primary challengers, most notably” former state Sen. Don Huffines (R) and former state GOP Chair Allen West. “Barring a profound shift in the race, Abbott is expected to avoid a runoff.”
  • DEMS. “The same is true in the Democratic primary, where” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) “is the presumed nominee. While polling has been limited, the available surveys have shown O’Rourke dominating the field.” (Hotline reporting)
 
 

Overlooked: Have State Funds, Will Travel

With early voting in Texas beginning this week, lingering ethics questions hanging over a few incumbents are coming under scrutiny. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s (R) controversies have made headlines and caught the attention of the FBI, but Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) has a few skeletons of his own. Miller used state resources to take two out of state trips, including a visit to Mississippi to attend the National Dixie Rodeo (he is a champion calf roper) and to Oklahoma to receive a "Jesus Shot." Miller has paid back the state for these excursions. 

 
 

Inside National Journal Daily

Hotline's Texas-sized primary preview
The Lone Star State will kick off the primary season on March 1. Here’s what to watch.

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New leader, new vision for crop-insurance program
Marcia Bunger is the first woman to lead RMA, one of the Agriculture Department's most popular programs. She looks to expand its benefits to smaller producers and minority farmers.

Senate Dems search for small, bipartisan wins
With much of their agenda stalled, Democrats have queued up a raft of bipartisan bills in hopes of scoring legislative victories ahead of midterm season.

Lawmakers urge release of 'Hotel Rwanda' hero charged with terrorism
A resolution by Rep. Joaquin Castro calls for "Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina to be released on humanitarian grounds and for the U.S. government to raise the case in all interactions with the Rwandan government.

Watch as our Hotline correspondents discuss the latest redistricting news, their takeaway from the year-end fundraising reports, and the Senate races most likely to flip from Hotline's Senate Power Rankings.
 
 

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Managing Editor: Kirk A. Bado
Digital News Producer: Taameen Mohammad
Staff Writers: Matt Holt, Mary Frances McGowan, Erin Covey, Mini Racker, Zac Weisz
Intern: James Downs

 

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