Last night 3 important congressional races ended. Nancy Pelosi, Cheri Bustos and their DCCC need to think closely about what happened. One contest was a primary in Omaha and two were special elections to fill seats in Wisconsin and California where members had retired, respectively one Republican and one Democrat. In each special election, the victor will fill the seat until January, at which point the winner of the regular November election will take the seat.
Let’s start, though, with the primary in Nebraska. Kara Eastman, a community activist and outspoken progressive, beat Ann Ashford the wife of the former (defeated) Blue Dog congressman, Brad Ashford, in a two-to-one landslide. The DCCC was less overt in their support for Ann Ashford than they had been in their over-the-top backing for Brad in the 2018 primary. In 2018, Kara beat Brad Ashford 21,357 (51.6%) to 19,998 (48.4%). The DCCC was so incensed that Kara beat their pet Blue Dog that they removed NE-02 from their priority list and refused to help Kara win. She only lost by a 2 point margin against GOP incumbent Don Bacon– 126,715 (51.0%) to 121,770 (49.0%).
Let’s not allow that to happen again this coming November. Please write to Cheri Bustos and Nancy Pelosi and demand they support Kara Eastman this cycle– and contribute to her here or by clicking on the 2020 congressional thermometer up on the right.
Yesterday’s primary showed Kara with a great deal or– and much more– support, despite the Ashfords pouring over $350,000 of their own money into her campaign.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that Kara “earned her chance for a rematch against the two-term Republican incumbent Tuesday night by topping two other rivals in her party’s primary. She immediately took aim at Bacon, saying his record of reliable votes for President Donald Trump and his party don’t fit in a swing district like the Omaha-area 2nd. ‘People are looking for leadership and for representation that actually represents the district, and not just somebody who’s going to align himself with his party,’ Eastman said.”
Two years after a fired-up base of progressives helped upstart Eastman upset former congressman Brad Ashford in the Democratic primary, she easily outpolled his wife, Ann Ashford, and Omaha restaurateur Gladys Harrison in Tuesday’s vote.
That gave her a second chance against Bacon, who beat her by just fewer than 5,000 votes– about 2% of all cast– in the 2018 general election. She said she thinks it will be a different race this time.
“It’s already very different in the direction this country has moved,” she said.
…A centrist former Republican, Ashford echoed Bacon from two years earlier in arguing that Eastman’s policies are too extreme for most voters in a district that includes Douglas County and western Sarpy County.
The key example both Ashford and Bacon cite is Eastman’s support for “Medicare for All,” the single-player, universal health care system that would do away with private health insurance.
But the 48-year-old Eastman hasn’t backed down from her support for the health care plan championed by liberal firebrand Bernie Sanders, noting the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the pitfalls of a system that mostly relies on people getting their health insurance through their employer.
Eastman offered herself as “an authentic Democrat.” And much like two years ago, she benefited from an army of grassroots progressive volunteers, who shifted this spring from going door to door to making thousands of calls from phone banks.
…Eastman and Bacon now enter a fall campaign that will likely be heavily influenced by the top-of-ticket battle between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. While the two congressional candidates competed two years ago, the presidential race is sure to change the dynamics.
Bacon on Tuesday night said he wished the president were at times more diplomatic. But on issues from abortion to taxes to trade, he said, the president’s positions align well with the district.
“I want that conservative philosophy in the White House,” he said.
Bacon also believes Trump’s supporters will be highly motivated in November. The Republican wave that Trump created in 2016 helped Bacon to his 1-point victory over then-incumbent Brad Ashford.
…But Democrats are heavily motivated to oust Trump, which could drive Democratic turnout in the swing district. And this time Eastman will have the support of the national Democratic establishment, which failed to jump in with both feet to help her when she lost narrowly two years ago.
In charging she is too extreme, Eastman said, Bacon is just “following the Republican playbook” in a race he knows he’s in danger of losing.
“He’ll say that I’m too extreme when he has voted 95% of the time with Donald Trump, and even signed a pledge to not disagree with the president, which is crazy,” Eastman said. “He is the definition of extreme.”
No one expected the Wisconsin special election to switch the 7th district from red to blue. The PVI is R+8 and when Sean Duffy was reelected in 2018 against Democrat Margaret Engebretson, it was a 60.1% to 38.5% wipeout, Duffy winning 23 of the 26 counties, including the 3 big ones, Marathon, St. Croix and Oneida. Although Obama won the district in 2008, he lost to Romney in 2012 and Trump beat Hillary decisively– 57.7% to 37.3%.
Last night Tom Tiffany was an easy winner over Democrat Tricia Zunker, 109,592 (57.22%) to 81,928 (42.78%). Zunker, president of the Wausau School Board and an associate justice for the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court, did better than either Margaret Engebretson did in 2018 or then Hillary had done in 2016. But not better enough. They will face off again in November. Zunker addressed her supporters last night on Facebook Live, noting that “we laid the groundwork for a Democratic win in November. This isn’t the result we were hoping for, but we did something incredible here. We did something that no one thought a Democrat in this district could do, in spite of a global pandemic. We did something incredible despite the fact that legislators refused to switch to mail-in voting to protect the health and safety of Wisconsinites.” Tiffany outraised her by over a million dollars. Their debates were about issues like abortion and gun control.
The other special election– in CA-25 (Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley and Simi Valley– was more of a contest. Although the district has a Democratic registration advantage, Republican Mike Garcia, a Trump loyalist, beat Christy Smith, a centrist Democrat. As of this month, the voter registration numbers were very much favorable to the Democrats:
• Democrats- 161,693 (38.41%)
• Republicans- 133,771 (31.78%)
• No party preference- 98,717 (23.45%)
Although Christy Smith was offering nothing but another centrist nothing– with lots of meaningless partisan endorsements and a meaningless platform– I predicted she would win anyway, albeit narrowly (and she well may in November). At the time, I noted that her only chance to win would be to reach out to the 6.5% of primary voters who had cast primary ballots for progressive Cenk Uygur and consolidate the Democratic vote. She chose to reach out to Republicans instead and ignore progressives. That proved our “Anonymous Strategist” correct this past Sunday when he predicted she would lose, unable to inspire Democrats to vote.
This morning I reached out to Cenk and asked him why he thought she lost. He was kind:
Republicans vote more. It was a low turnout election and they almost always win those. Probably any Democratic candidate would have lost but the Democratic Party’s insistence on picking the least dynamic or populist candidate doesn’t help. Mike Garcia was more populist than Steve Knight and the whole Republican Party supported him and helped him win the primary. On the Democratic side, the party despises populism so they all went in very aggressively for the establishment candidate. In primaries, especially very short ones like this, party endorsements make a huge difference and the establishment rules the day. In general elections, undecided voters have the opposite motivation– they don’t like the establishment.
The Republican Party gives their candidates the trappings of outsiders and the Democratic Party gives their candidates the appearance of being insiders. Independent voters don’t like insiders. They’re independents– by definition they’re outsiders. It also doesn’t help that the Democratic Party leaders are lions against progressives in primaries and lambs against Republicans in the general. How much more vitriolic were they against me than Mike Garcia? If they fought him half as hard as they fought me, they might have had a chance.
This is what happens when the Democratic Party establishment backs candidates with nothing to offer but someone they imagine is the lesser of two evils. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time didn’t. This one wasn’t even close: