Pennsylvania Republican resigns after his first two weeks in the House minority

Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino (R)

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

PA-12: On Thursday, after just two weeks of his first-ever taste of the House minority, GOP Rep. and failed drug czar nominee Tom Marino announced that he would resign effective Wednesday to take an unspecified job in the private sector. Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, a conservative seat in the central part of the state, backed Donald Trump 66-30, and the GOP nominee will be heavily favored to win the special election that will be called to fill this new vacancy. Under state law, there will not be a primary; instead, party leaders will select nominees.

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Marino, who had served as a U.S. attorney under George W. Bush, made his way to Congress during the 2010 GOP wave by defeating Democratic Rep. Chris Carney 55-45 for a seat (numbered the 10th District at the time) that John McCain had carried by a similar 54-45 margin two years before. Republicans then gerrymandered this district two years later, making it even redder, and Marino never again faced a competitive race.

Marino was a pretty low-key House member, though he appeared to earn some brownie points with Trump by co-chairing his successful Pennsylvania campaign. In early 2017, there were reports that Trump had chosen him to serve as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a post often referred to as the nation’s drug czar. However, in May of that year, Marino announced he was withdrawing his name because of “a critical illness in my family.” In September, though, Trump announced that his nominee for drug czar would indeed be none other than Marino.

Marino’s nomination seemed to be on track … for a few weeks. The next month, a devastating report from the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” revealed that Marino had pushed legislation through Congress at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry to deliberately hobble the DEA’s ability to crack down on the black market flood of prescription narcotics. Marino soon withdrew from consideration as drug czar nevertheless decided to seek re-election. But despite asking voters to send him back to Congress for another term just two months ago, Marino seems to have decided soon enough that life in the minority was no life for him.

As for what happens next, there’s no word yet on the timing of the special election to replace Marino. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will need to issue a writ of election within 10 days of when Marino steps down; the race can take place no fewer than 60 days after that proclamation. A GOP source tells Roll Call that state Rep. Jeff Wheeland is considering running, and it’s likely we’ll see many more Republicans eye this race, especially since they won’t need to go through a potentially expensive and bruising primary.


AZ-Sen: On Thursday, The Hill reported that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was trying to “recruit” Rep. Ruben Gallego to take on appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally, but there’s good reason to doubt that framing.

For one, the piece didn’t quote Schumer—or even an unnamed source—calling Gallego the senator’s preferred candidate; for another, it had already been reported that Schumer and DSCC chair Catherine Cortez Masto also recently met with former astronaut Mark Kelly and former GOP state Attorney General Grant Woods (who left the Republican Party last year). The Hill later updated its piece to include this fact, and to add a line in the very last paragraph saying that “it does not appear that Schumer is ready to clear the Arizona primary field for a favored pick.”

Gallego, for his part, has been mulling the race for a while and said on Thursday that he was “basically making the final decision and we’ll have that in the next couple weeks.” Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, had not said anything publicly about his plans, but on Wednesday, a spokesperson confirmed that he was indeed considering a bid.


IN-Gov: So far, Democrats don’t seem to be having much luck finding a viable opponent for GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is up for re-election in 2020. Indiana has been a tough state for Democrats, especially in recent years, and it doesn’t help that Holcomb seems pretty popular: A recent Morning Consult poll from the final quarter of 2018 gave the governor a 49-22 approval rating.

Former Rep. Baron Hill told the local political tip-sheet Howey Politics that he was “reaching out” to potential candidates, arguing that “we need to focus on a vibrant new name.” (Hill doesn’t seem interested in running himself.) However, he concedes the process hasn’t yielded much so far. Hill says he spoke to former Sen. Joe Donnelly, who lost re-election last year, over the holidays. While Donnelly would probably be Democrats’ dream candidate, “I didn’t get an indication he is ready to jump into another race,” reported Hill. “The subject of governor did come up but it was quickly dismissed.”

Hill also adds that he spoke last week to former state House Speaker John Gregg, who was Team Blue’s standard-bearer in both 2012 and 2016. Hill says that some Democrats want Gregg to try again while others aren’t so enthusiastic, but he doesn’t reveal what Gregg himself thinks about a third campaign. Back in 2012, Gregg held Republican Mike Pence (yeah, that guy) to an unexpectedly tight 50-47 win, but he lost to Holcomb by a larger 51-45 margin four years later.

However, while Howey says that some Democrats think Gregg would just be a “retread,” it’s not clear who else might step up. Former state Rep. Christina Hale, who was Gregg’s running mate in 2016, told the newsletter that she was keeping her options open for next year, but Howey says she’s “long expressed more interest in running in 2024 after a second theoretical Holcomb term,” when the incumbent would be term-limited.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who is seeking re-election this November, has regularly shown interest in running for higher office, but he would only say that he’s focused on his “normal municipal re-election.” That’s not a no, but it doesn’t sound like he’s especially excited. Howey adds that a trio of other local mayors up in 2019—Lafayette’s Tony Roswarski, Bloomington’s John Hamilton, and Fort Wayne’s Tom Henry—are all focusing on their re-elections, and there’s no indication if any of them are interested in taking on Holcomb afterwards.

Hill also mentioned former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel as a possibility, but there’s also no word if he’s interested. Democrats have touted Weinzapfel as a potential congressional or statewide candidate for a long time, but he’s never taken the bait. Last year, Weinzapfel eyed a bid against GOP Rep. Larry Bucshon, and some unnamed “leading Democrats” even told the media they expected him to run, but he passed. He also declined a bid for governor in 2012.

LA-Gov: Earlier this week, LaPolitics reported that former GOP Rep. John Fleming, who currently serves in Trump‘s Department of Health and Human Services, was considering leaving the administration to challenge Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards this year, but he may instead be hoping to stick around D.C. a bit longer. On Wednesday, the White House resubmitted Fleming’s nomination to the Senate for a post in the Commerce Department. Fleming was nominated for this job last year, but the Senate didn’t give him a final vote before the 115th Congress ended, so his name had to be put forth again. Louisiana’s filing deadline isn’t until August, so Fleming may just want to wait to see if the Senate acts this time before he makes a decision about a gubernatorial run.


AZ-01: This week, former Flagstaff City Councilor Eva Putzova announced that she would challenge Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the Democratic primary for this competitive northern Arizona seat.

Putzova, who was elected to the council in 2014 but didn’t seek re-election last year, said she wanted to be an advocate in D.C. for progressive policies like universal healthcare, free college tuition, and “real and meaningful climate action.” The Arizona Daily Sun writes that during her stint in local government, Putzova launched the campaign to gradually raise the city’s minimum wage until it reached $15.50 an hour by 2022, a proposal that voters approved in a 2016 referendum. Last year, Putzova also led a successful campaign to defeat a local ballot measure that would have overturned the new minimum wage law.

O’Halleran is a former Republican state legislator who has cast himself as a moderate in Congress, and he could very well be vulnerable to a primary challenge from the left. Putzova doesn’t seem inclined to attack him right now, though, saying that she didn’t see her campaign as a challenge to O’Halleran. The incumbent himself has not committed to seeking a third term, and in talking to the Arizona Daily Sun this week, his communications director said he “could not speak to whether or not the congressman would be seeking a third term.”

It’s unclear whether the sophomore congressman is actually considering retirement, or if O’Halleran just doesn’t want to look like he’s focusing on politics right now. This seat narrowly backed both Romney and Trump, though, and it could be a GOP target regardless of what O’Halleran decides.

IA-01: This week, NRCC chair Tom Emmer said that GOP state Rep. Ashley Hinson, a former news anchor with eastern Iowa’s ABC affiliate, was looking to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer. This is the first we’ve heard about Hinson’s interest in this contest, and she hasn’t spoken publicly about her plans yet. Last year, Finkenauer unseated GOP Rep. Rod Blum 51-46 in a seat that had swung from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump.

IA-04: On Thursday, state Sen. Randy Feenstra announced that he’d raised $100,000 during the first 10 days of his GOP primary bid against white supremacist Rep. Steve King. By contrast, former state Sen. Rick Bertrand, who badly lost his 2016 primary campaign to King and is considering running again, raised a total of $53,000 during his three-month campaign that year.

Campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2019 aren’t going to be available until mid-April. However, it’s common for contenders to announce early fundraising numbers well before the deadline to signal to potential allies that they’re viable candidates who are worth backing, as well as to try to convince opponents to drop out or not run in the first place.

IL-03: Businesswoman Marie Newman lost her bid to oust conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski by a tight 51-49 margin in last year’s Democratic primary, so it’s no surprise she now tells The Hill that she’s interested in another try in 2020. Meanwhile, NARAL says they’ll be meeting with potential candidates, though they didn’t name anyone in particular. (Lipinski’s anti-abortion activism was a central theme of Newman’s 2018 challenge.)

Lipinski himself says he’s running for an eighth term in this 55-40 Clinton seat in the Chicago area. He also whined to The Hill about his last campaign, saying he’d be “surprised if Marie Newman runs again after her angry, mean-spirited speech on TV on election night,” adding, “Especially in the age of Donald Trump, a lot of Democrats were turned off by that.” Yes Lipinski, who is addressing the anti-abortion March for Life on Friday and whom according to FiveThirtyEight voted with Trump a whopping 41 percent of the time in the last Congress, really thinks he has his pulse on what Democrats want.

NH-01: Republican Eddie Edwards lost last year’s open-seat contest to Democrat Chris Pappas by a wide 54-45 margin, but WMUR reports that he’s privately considering another bid. However, Team Red may prefer it if someone else steps up. Edwards was never an especially strong fundraiser for a candidate running in a swing seat, especially one located in the expensive Boston media market, and Pappas ended up outraising him $2.2 million to $1.2 million during the campaign.

This district, which includes Manchester, narrowly backed both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. It’s so competitive in large part to New Hampshire’s unusually high proportion of swing voters, which makes it more susceptible than most places to the national political climate. Last year, those swing voters were not inclined to send a Republican to the House, and national Republicans seemed to realize early in the cycle that this was not a good target, since they never ended up spending money here. However, if the political climate in 2020 is better for Team Red, the NRCC is unlikely to ignore Pappas a second time.

Programing Note: Both the Daily Kos Elections Live Digest and Morning Digest will be taking Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We’ll be back Tuesday.

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