New House Members Facing Early Challengers

April 5, 2019

This article originally appeared on BIPAC's blog. Written by BIPAC Political Analyst Jim Ellis.

Key Takeaways

  • Sen. Michael Bennet: cancer treatment may prevent run for President
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (D): running for President
  • NM-Sen: Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D) announces Senate campaign
  • House: several new House incumbents draw early opposition
  • NH-Gov: Dem nominee Molly Kelly likely to return
  • UT-Gov: Ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) may re-enter Gov Race


Sen. Michael Bennet:  Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) did make an announcement regarding his impending presidential campaign late this week, but the message was surprising. Though the Senator is not yet ruling himself out of entering the national campaign, he did explain that he is battling prostate cancer and will soon undergo treatment. At the end of the medical process, Sen. Bennet says, he may still be able to enter the presidential contest if, he says, the long-term prognosis remains strong.

Rep. Tim Ryan:  Youngstown, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan announced his presidential effort yesterday as predicted, calling himself a progressive who supports free enterprise. He also says his campaign will be able to reach many of the rural and working class voters with whom Mr. Ryan claims his party has stopped communicating.

Joining the presidential contest may not immediately end his congressional career, however. Under Ohio election law, individuals can appear simultaneously on the ballot for more than one political office. Therefore, Rep. Ryan says, in addition to filing to compete in the Ohio Democratic presidential primary, currently scheduled for March 10, 2020, he will also re-file for his seat in the House of Representatives.

The Money Count:  According to the Federal Election Commission, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led all fundraising during the first part of 2019 with $18.2 million in receipts. Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-CA) campaign spokespeople are saying that their candidate will report over $12 million in funds raised. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg says his campaign has raised over $7 million, an impressive total from a previously unknown candidate. Most of the contributions to all of the candidates were small dollar and came in the form of online donations.


Kansas:  State Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), who has already confirmed that she is a likely open seat US Senate candidate, took a step this week to suggest she will soon enter the statewide campaign. Sen. Wagle announced that she will not run for the legislature in 2020 and promises a further political declaration after the legislative session ends in May.

The Republican field has been frozen waiting for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make a decision about running. Though he has made several public statements indicating that he will not be a Senate candidate, speculation among local and national politicos suggests something different.

New Mexico:  Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-Nambe/Santa Fe) announced his run for the state's newly open Senate race early in the week. Mr. Lujan becomes the first major candidate of either party to announce his candidacy after Sen. Tom Udall (D) made his retirement intentions public. Other Democrats, including Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and freshman Rep. Deb Haaland (D-Albuquerque) are also potential candidates.

The Republican side has been relatively quiet, but former Gov. Susana Martinez and ex-Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry would certainly be formidable statewide candidates, as would former Congressman Steve Pearce who is currently the New Mexico Republican Party chairman. Democrats will be favored to hold the seat, but the contest could potentially turn competitive.

Texas:  The latest political talk from Texas suggests that Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) will soon announce a challenge to Sen. John Cornyn (R) and quickly become a consensus Democratic candidate. But, such may not be the case. M.J. Hegar (D), a retired Army helicopter pilot who held veteran Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) to a 51-48% re-election victory, confirmed that she is still looking closely at running for the Senate and indicates Rep. Castro's candidate status will not influence her decision whether to run.

If both enter the race, it will cause a significant Democratic primary battle that purports to conclude on the same day as the Texas presidential primary: likely March 3, 2020.


AZ-6: Dr. Hiral Tipirneni (D), who twice ran for Congress during the last election cycle in Arizona's 8th District - once in the special election; once in the regular vote - announced that she is returning to the campaign trail but, this time, in a different venue. Dr. Tipirneni, who recorded just under 48% of the vote in the special and fell under 45% in the regular general against Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria), is now setting her sights on Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills) in the adjoining 6th District. The 6th, known as a Republican stronghold, is beginning to show trends of becoming more politically marginal. President Trump carried the seat 52-42% in 2016, but that was down substantially from Mitt Romney's 59-39% margin in 2012.

CA-45:  Yorba Linda City Councilwoman Peggy Huang (R) declared her congressional candidacy in the 45th District, but not for the district where most believed she would run. Because Yorba Linda lies wholly within the 39th Congressional District that freshman Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda) represents, it was presumed that Ms. Huang would run there. This is not the case, as she has now filed her committee for the neighboring Orange County 45th District of freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine). In November, Ms. Porter unseated Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine).

CA-48:  Former state Senator Janet Nguyen (R), another California Republican casualty in 2018, is reportedly looking to challenge freshman Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach). Ms. Nguyen lost her legislative seat by just under 3,000 votes but managed to carry the Orange County portion by two votes. With the 48th being fully contained within OC, the district configuration should be more to her political liking. This will likely be a campaign worth watching.

FL-26:  With former 26th District Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R) looking more toward the open Miami-Dade County Mayor's contest, Republicans are searching for a candidate to oppose freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Miami). Yesterday, restaurant owner and national Trump supporter Irina Vilarino (R) has come forward to initiate her candidacy.

The 26th District was drawn to elect a Democrat, which it did in 2018. Therefore, Ms. Vilarino, or any other Republican candidate will have a difficult time unseating Rep. Mucarsel-Powell. The party leadership believes it must contest the seat in the new incumbent's first re-election, however, before it is re-drawn as an even more Democratic district in 2021 should the Dems gain enough legislative power to implement such a move.

GA-7:  This week, state Rep. Pete Marin (D-Duluth) indicated that he will not run for Congress next year. The development is a major plus for 2018 Democratic nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux, who held retiring incumbent Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville) to a 419-vote victory. Several other Democrats are still considering running, however, including state Reps. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) and Brenda Lopez (D-Norcross).

MT-AL:  Coming from a 51-46% re-election victory, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman) may see a Democratic primary forming to challenge him in 2020. Early in the week, state Rep. Tom Winter (D-Missoula) declared his congressional candidacy. Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, the 2018 Democratic nominee, has not yet declared but said she is considering seeking a re-match.

NY-11:  In the past few days, former Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island) confirmed that he will not be seeking a re-match with freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island) after the 2018 election resulted in the former's defeat, 52-46%. But, ex-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island), who completed a seven-month term in prison after a tax evasion conviction and then lost soundly to Mr. Donovan in last year's Republican primary, is again sounding like a candidate.

Republican Party leaders have another idea, however. State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) has already announced her candidacy and his clearly favored over Mr. Grimm. Expect this seat, the only New York City district that has a Republican history, to be a major target in 2020.

NY-15:  Last week, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) announced that he would not be seeking re-election after what will be almost 30 years in the House once this congressional session concludes. Before the Congressman's announcement, New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres (D) had already announced his candidacy. Now, Elias Alcantara, a former Obama Administration official, is rumored to be considering entering the congressional contest. This is the safest of Democratic seats, so the succession battle will be settled in the party primary.

NC-2:  Four-term Rep. George Holding (R-Raleigh) defended himself against a serious challenge from ex-state Rep. Linda Coleman (D) in November, winning 51-46%. He may now be looking at a new opponent for 2020. This week, Marine Corps retired Lt. Col. Scott Cooper (D) publicly indicated that he will enter the Democratic primary for the right to challenge Mr. Holding in November of 2020. It is likely we will see others coming forward to run, as well, but at this point it does not appear that Ms. Coleman is making any moves to force a re-match.

NM-3:  Now that Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-Nambe/Santa Fe) has announced that he will run for the Senate, Democratic candidates for the open 3rd District House seat are coming forward. Freshman state Rep. Joe Sanchez (D-Alcalde) is the only elected official who has entered the race, but others are soon expected. Businessman and former state legislative candidate Mark McDonald is now in the race, as is 2018 state Representative candidate Cameron Chick, Sr. Republicans are not expected to make a major push in this northern New Mexico district considering its long history as a Democratic stronghold.

SC-2:  Ten-term House incumbent Joe Wilson (R-Springdale/Columbia) has had little trouble winning re-election in his Columbia/Lexington County anchored district, but he has already drawn an opponent for next year's general election. This week, Adair Boroughs, the Executive Director of Charleston Legal Aide an affiliated group of the South Carolina Legal Services Corporation, announced that she will challenge the Congressman. Rep. Wilson remains a heavy favorite to win again in 2020, but Ms. Boroughs likely has fundraising capability that could cause the Congressman to spend advertising money.

TX-7:  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been actively recruiting to find a strong Republican challenger to a new Democratic incumbent in the converted Texas 7th District. This week, he succeeded in getting his candidate of choice.

Iraq War veteran helicopter pilot Wesley Hunt (R) said that he will run for Congress next year, attempting to deny freshman Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (R-Houston) re-election and return what was a reliable Republican congressional seat to the GOP column. Regardless if Mr. Hunt becomes the nominee, we can expect the national GOP to bombard this district, which performed as a 60-39% Mitt Romney CD but one that Donald Trump dropped by a percentage point four years later.


New Hampshire:  Molly Kelly, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee who held Gov. Chris Sununu (R) to a 53-46% re-election victory, is reportedly looking to run again. Ms. Kelly made a statement indicating that she is considering declaring her candidacy for 2020. Again seeking the Governor's office makes even more sense should Mr. Sununu decide to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D). In any event, all of the New Hampshire races again figure to be close in a state that has swung more wildly between the two parties than any other American domain since the turn of the century.

Utah:  Jon Huntsman, the former Utah Governor, presidential candidate, and US Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration, is reportedly contemplating entering the open 2020 race for Governor. Currently, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R), though also unannounced, appears to be the leading candidate. Already, outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has headlined fundraisers the supporting Lt. Governor.