Primary Recap: TX, IL (Mar. 21)

Update 257 — Primary Recap: TX, IL

Key Candidates, Races, and Results

Last week’s primary elections in Texas and yesterday’s in Illinois mark a turning point in the year. Washington saw a major winter snowstorm on the first official day of spring. And there have been some surprises in the hinterland as primary season 2018 opens.

Our focus on post-primary days now and going forward on relevant Wednesdays this year (mostly in May, June, and August) will be on races in flippable R to D U.S. House districts and on candidates running on economic policy issues confronting voters, offering new ideas and solutions.  More below on the context of the first two primaries this far.



Texas Primary

The 2018 midterm primary election season kicked off in Texas on Tuesday, March 6. Democrats looking for an anti-Trump surge were heartened by a level of turnout not seen in decades.  Democratic vote totals were near one million, twice the level of the comparable 2014 midterms.  Still, Republican voters heavily outnumbered their Democrats in the state, surpassing 1.4 million votes.

SENATE:  O’Rourke vs. Cruz — The headline event of the Texas midterms was the fight between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, who will face off with the incumbent Republican Cruz’ for his Senate seat in the general election in November.

O’Rourke and Cruz easily won their respective primaries. Cruz got 85 percent of the Republican vote; O’Rourke fended off a surprise challenge from Sema Hernandez to claim 62 percent of Democrats.

While O’Rourke remains somewhat unknown to many Texans, an assertive fundraising and advertising campaign is underway to change that.  Those who know him this far like him.  Sen. Cruz is framing his opponent as too liberal for Texas, trying to him to the national party on immigration and gun control.

O’Rourke’s Economics

  • Consumers — Rep. O’Rourke has pledged to encourage companies to direct investments back to consumers, and has pushed for augmented consumer financial protections.
  • Job Training — O’Rourke is promoting an agenda to invest in training, certification, and registered apprenticeship programs to allow those without college degrees to keep pace with the specialization of the professional world.

HOUSE:  Seats in Contention

Although Texas remains a deeply red state, widespread discontent with President Trump has left a handful of sitting House Republicans in vulnerable positions.  These include Will Hurd in the 23rd district, Pete Sessions in the 32nd district, and John Culberson in 7th district.  One trend these races: big money went only so far in the Texas primaries. In all three cases belie, the most well-funded candidates fell.

TX-23: (D) Jones/Trevino v. (R) Rep. Hurd

  • 2016 Pres. Vote Clinton 50/Trump 46
  • 2012 Pres: Romney 51/Obama 48
  • 2016 House: Hurd (R) 48/Gallego 47
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+1

In a west Texas district stretching from the San Antonio suburbs to the Mexican border, GOP incumbent Will Hurd will have a fight on his hands in November.  The 23rd is seen as the foremost flippable district in the state of Texas. Rep. Hurd has not won 50 percent of the vote in his district in either of his two election victories.  He won his 2016 race 48.3 percent to 47 percent.  Hurd is expected to have a lucrative warchest and enjoys the reputation of doing good constituent service.

Hurd’s challenger could be one of two Democrats, both of whom failed to cross the 50 percent threshold in the March 6 Democratic primary, forcing a runoff on May 22.  While Jay Hulings was said to be the favored Democrat nationally, but he fell substantially short to a candidate that voters felt more connected to.  The two remaining Democrats competing for the nomination are:

  • Gina Ortiz Jones served in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative under Obama and as U.S. Air Force Intelligence officer.  She won over 41 percent of the Democratic vote. Jones is gay and Filipino with a Latino surname in a predominately Latino district, where voters are outraged about Donald Trump.
  • Rick Trevino, a local Democratic party leader and Bernie Sanders delegate, won 17 percent of the Democratic vote.

TX-32: (D) Allred v. (R) Rep. Sessions

  • 2016 Pres. Vote: Clinton 49/Trump 47
  • 2012 Pres: Romney 57/Obama 42
  • 2016 House: Sessions (R) 71/Rankin 19
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+7

Just outside of Dallas in the 32nd district, Rep. Pete Sessions will be challenged by one of two former Obama officials, Colin Allred or Lillian Salerno.  Allred, a lawyer and former NFL player who served as a special assistant at HUD, received 38 percent of the vote.  Allred, who ran a decidedly progressive campaign in support of a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and infrastructure development, appears to be the most likely candidate to challenge Rep. Sessions in November.  Salerno, also a lawyer, served as Deputy Undersecretary of Rural Development under President Obama, come in at a distant second with 18 percent of the vote.

TX-07: (D) Fletcher v. (R) Rep. Culberson

  • 2016 Pres. Vote: Clinton 49/Trump 47
  • 2012 Pres: Romney 60/Obama 39
  • 2016 House: Culberson (R) 56/Cargas 44
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+2

Many see the rapidly changing 7th district in southeast Texas as firmly in play for Democrats. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by one point.  Rep. Culberson trails a generic Democratic ballot 39-49 percent, according to recent polling. The district is a kind of canary in the mineshaft for Republicans stateside and will be watched by progressives who see a rising tide here and statewide.

Illinois Primary

IL-06: (D) Casten v. (R) Rep. Roskam

  • 2016 Pres. Vote: Clinton 50/Trump 43
  • 2012 Pres: Romney 53/Obama 45
  • 2016 House: Roskam 59/Howland 41
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+2

Held by Ways and Means Tax Subcommittee Chair Peter Roskam, IL 6 is a top target for Democrats. The two leading Democratic primary candidates were Sean Casten, a former green energy executive with a moderate tone, and Kelly Mazeski, a breast cancer survivor with the endorsements of EMILY’s List and Deputy Minority Whip Jan Schakowsky.  Yesterday, Illinoisans gave Casten a slim victory, 30 percent to Mazeski’s 27.

Casten will now hope that his stance on issues like infrastructure will allow him to take on Roskam who has represented the moderate suburban Chicago district since 2007. On his website Casten calls for a public-private infrastructure plan “that invests both federal dollars and private capital to build critical and necessary bridges, roads, power plants and industrial facilities that will provide decades of future value.”

Roskam carried the district in 2016, even while the top of the ticket went to Hillary Clinton by a seven-point margin. Casten looks to the moderate tone to replicate what Conor Lamb did in PA-18, flip moderate Republican voters disenchanted with the direction of their party under the President, while turning out the fired up base of Democrats.

IL-12: (D) Kelly v. (R) Rep. Bost

  • 2016 Pres. Vote: Trump 55/Clinton 40
  • 2012 Pres: Obama 50/Romney 48
  • 2016 House: Bost 54/Baricevic 39
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+5

Another strong pickup chance for Democrats to pick up a seat in Illinois, the 6th district may be the most comparable to PA-18. It contains Illinois side St. Louis suburbs and the rural counties that turned out heavily for President Trump in 2016. The district was a Democratic stronghold in the past voting for Gore, Kerry, and Obama before switching to Trump in 2016.

The primary highlighted the fact that Democrats are motivated to vote. In the 12th district Democrats turned out an astounding 49,000 voters, to the Republicans 38,000. These figures highlight that Illinois’ 12th district may be the best opportunity in the state for a Democratic pickup.

Democrat Brendan Kelly, and former prosecutor and navy veteran, will take on incumbent Republican Representative Mike Bost. Brendan Kelly has been combining a healthcare message of saving the Affordable Care Act, and making drug prices more affordable with strong language on improving America’s infrastructure and reinvigorating organized labor. Kelly is seen by local Democrats as a rockstar on the ground, gifted in retail politics.

IL-14: (D) Underwood v. (R) Rep. Hultgren

  • 2016 Pres. Vote: Trump 49/Clinton 45
  • 2012 Pres: Romney 54/Obama 44
  • 2016 House: Hultgren 59/Walz 40
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+5

IL 14 lies just west of Chicago in the 86 percent white suburbs with a median income just under $78,000. While Randy Hultgren, the incumbent Republican, defeated Jim Walz in 2016 by nearly 20 points Trump only held on to the district by four. Walz did run again in yesterday’s primary, but was handily defeated by the African American, former Obama HHS official, Lauren Underwood. Running with a strong focus on “21st century” job creation, Underwood secured nearly 58 percent of the Democratic primary votes in a six way race.

Trump may bring down Hultgren’s support this year as the incumbent votes with the president more than 95 percent of the time including the tax bill.  The fight will be a tough one against the savvy four-term Republican.

IL-13: (D) Londrigan v. (R) Rep. Davis

  • 2016 Pres. Vote: Trump 50/Clinton 44
  • 2012 Pres: Romney 49/Obama 49
  • 2016 House: Davis 59/Wicklund 40
  • Cook Performance District v Nation: R+3

More rural than the 14th, the 13th district voted for Trump (by six percent in this case) and supported it’s Republican Incumbent, Rodney Davis, by nearly 20 points in 2016. With a median income of only $44,000 that includes the East St. Louis these voters have been the prime targets of healthcare and entitlement cuts cooked up in Washington. Because of this, observers on the ground in Illinois see Rep. Davis as a potentially vulnerable target.

Betsy Londrigan, co-founder of Women Rising, an organization offering training and supporting female candidates for elected office, started her campaign last July focusing on healthcare, jobs, and women’s issues.  Davis has broken only rarely with the administration.  To the extent that district 13 voters are experiencing buyers remorse with Trump and Davis, Londrigan presents a strong chance to flip the seat.

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