You thought we wouldn’t have to deal with another federal election for two years after Nov. 8, didn’t you? Sorry. Lawmakers were scooped up shortly after to fill spots in the Trump administration or take high-level state positions, so voters in five states get another run at the polling places.
Coming up fast on the calendar (April 4, next Tuesday) is one of California’s famous jungle primaries to replace Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, who was tapped to be California’s attorney general after former AG Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate. Becerra served in Congress for more than two decades.
In a jungle primary, all candidates compete, regardless of party; the top two advance to the general, unless one candidate gets more than half the vote, in which case he or she wins the seat.
And a jungle is it. There are 23 contenders vying for the seat, 19 of them Democrats. Just one is Republican, and three third-party candidates fill out the rest of the ballot.
So far, the seven best fundraisers have gathered more than $1.3 million combined. From 2000 to 2016, the winner raised a median of $579,000 in a two-year election cycle — though Becerra brought in around $1.8 million in each of the last three cycles.
One candidate — Robert Lee Ahn, the son of Korean immigrants and a former city planning commissioner — has topped the median, but that includes a hefty loan he made to his campaign: He has raised $339,000, mostly from large contributions, and borrowed $295,000. That dip into his own bank account brings his total to $634,000, about two-and-a-half times as much as the next-biggest fundraiser. Ahn is fighting to represent a district that includes most of L.A.'s Koreatown.
California’s early voting laws have allowed nearly 12,000 voters to turn in their ballots already, out of 300,000 registered in the district. “[M]ore Asian voters turned out than what would be expected, especially Koreans,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc. “Asians are 16 percent of the electorate, but so far to date they’ve been about 30 percent or more of the ballots turned in. That’s been unexpected and remarkable.” Looks like Ahn’s push to engage the Korean American population may be working. (For more on the voting returns so far, visit Political Data’s Tableau analysis here.)
The runner-up, in terms of fundraising to date, is state assemblyman Jimmy Gomez. He seems to be leading on the endorsement front, with the backing of former officeholder Becerra, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and major unions. He’s raised $245,000 so far, with about half coming from other candidate committees and PACs (such as AFSCME, Amgen, and AT&T) and 40 percent from large donations of more than $200.
Sara Hernandez, executive director for civic training center Coro Southern California, took on Trump in her ads. “How do you stand up to a bully?,” the voiceover asks, overlaying video footage of Trump. “It takes a teacher.” Hernandez had raised $225,000 as of March 15.
Democrat Alejandra Campoverdi took a personal approach to saving Obamacare in one of her campaign videos.
“As an aide in the Obama White House, I proudly worked to help pass Obamacare because I knew it would save lives,” Campoverdi said to the camera. “I never imagined one of those lives might be my own.” She went on to describe she carries a gene that gives her an 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer, which killed her grandmother and almost her mother.
The only outside spending reported since Jan. 1 comes from two health unions, the National Union of Healthcare Workers PAC and National Nurses United, both supporting Democrat Arturo Carmona. The Healthcare Workers PAC gave him $5,000 directly and spent $9,000 on a pro-Carmona ad, urging viewers to “fight Trump in California” and emphasizing his connection to Sen. Bernie Sanders, as he was the deputy political director for Sanders’ presidential run. National Nurses United also spent $35,000 on his behalf for a digital ad buy and production costs; the nurses’ group spent big money supporting Sanders.
Though the independent expenditures add up to just $44,000 or so thus far, that’s still more than what’s normally spent for this seat.
Of the seven candidates who raised more than $100,000, Carmona wins the small donor award (not surprising given his ties to Bernie), pulling in 52 percent of his haul from people giving $200 or less.
The only Republican in the running, William Morrison, hasn’t filed with the FEC.
No further campaign finance reports will be filed by the candidates till after the election; if none of them pulls in more than 50 percent of the vote, the general election will be held June 6.
Other specials on the horizon
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked with House GOP leadership, has taken the reins this special season, pouring $1.1 million into ads opposing Democrat and former congressional aide Jon Ossoff in the race for Tom Price‘s old seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. It has also invested $700,000 against local musician Rob Quist in Montana; Quist is trying for the seat formerly occupied by Ryan Zinke, now Interior secretary.
Price vacated his seat to become Health and Human Services secretary, and this special election is being viewed as something of a test of Trumpism. Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and first-time candidate, said he has raised more than $3 million in under three months (with the liberal Daily Kos site reporting raising almost $1.5 million on his behalf), and is up against 13 Republicans who could split the GOP vote and give him a win. Fundraising reports won’t be available until April. But for reference, the most Price ever raised for his re-election was $2.4 million in the 2014 cycle.
The Congressional Leadership Fund attack ad included footage of Ossoff pretending to be Han Solo from Star Wars and singing in his Georgetown a capella group.
“Jon Ossoff really wants you to think he’s ready to be in Congress,” the voiceover said. “There’s just one problem. Ossoff wasn’t exactly fighting against terrorism. Ossoff was fighting against restrictions on keg parties.”
While former Secretary of State Karen Handel has been viewed as the GOP frontrunner in the campaign, the Club for Growth was set the week to unleash a $250,000 ad buy on Atlanta cable channels attacking her. This less establishment wing of the party favors technology executive Bob Gray.
The jungle primary for the seat is April 18, and if no one wins a majority of the votes, the general takes place June 20.
Kansas’ general election to fill now-CIA director Mike Pompeo‘s seat in District 4 is April 11. Republican state treasurer Ron Estes will face Democrat James Thompson and Libertarian Chris Rockhold. (A bit of snarky infighting reported by The Witchita Eagle: Thompson called the Democratic state party out for “sitting on the sidelines” after it denied the campaign’s request for $20,000.)
Montana holds its general election May 25.
And candidates will vie in a May 2 primary and June 20 general to fill South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District seat, empty since Mick Mulvaney left to lead Trump’s Office of Management and Budget.