Slew of GOP retirements set up spending showdown in 2020

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Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) is one of nine House Republicans to retire rather than seek reelection in 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nine Republicans in the House of Representatives have already announced they will retire rather than seek reelection in 2020, opening up a handful of competitive seats in suburban districts across the country.

The trend portends a number of expensive House races as Republicans fight to hold onto suburban districts that have turned purple under President Donald Trump’s tenure and Democrats look to field serious candidates in conservative districts.

The latest Republican to announce a retirement was Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), whose district spans the outskirts of Dallas and Fort Worth. The former mayor of Carrollton, Texas, went most of his career without facing a serious electoral challenge. From his first congressional race in 2004 through the 2016 cycle, none of Marchant’s opponents raised more than $24,000, and he won every race by at least 15 points.

During the 2018 midterm cycle, however, Democratic nominee Jan McDowell broke that trend. She raised $108,671 and finished just 3 points behind Marchant, even though the Republican incumbent outspent her by a ratio of 11-to-1.

McDowell has declared her intention to run again, and her strong performance may attract support from the Democratic establishment this time around. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which never had to give Marchant money nor spend on his behalf, might end up tapping into its own funds to support the eventual Republican nominee.

“We will do everything in our power to keep (McDowell) from getting anywhere near Congress,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the NRCC, in a statement on Marchant’s retirement. “Simply put, this is a Republican seat and will remain a Republican seat in 2020.” 

Two other Texas Republicans in competitive districts, Reps. Will Hurd and Pete Olson, also decided not to seek reelection.

Hurd narrowly beat out Army veteran Gina Ortiz Jones in an expensive race in 2018. Jones outraised Hurd, $6.2 million to $5.1 million, but the incumbent Republican got a boost from outside spending. The NRCC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely tied to House Republican leaders, together spent more than $4 million attacking Jones.

The largest outside spender supportive of Jones was the Emily’s List-affiliated super PAC Women Vote, which spent $1.5 million on her behalf. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent comparatively less to support Jones, dishing out $220,000 in independent expenditures on her behalf.

Jones plans to run again in 2020 and has already raised more than $500,000. With Hurd’s retirement potentially tilting the purple district in her favor, conservative groups will likely have to up their spending in order to keep the seat in Republican hands.

Olson had an easier time than Hurd during last year’s midterm cycle but will be stepping down nonetheless. The Republican incumbent won the 22nd Congressional District, which includes the suburbs south of Houston, by 5 points in 2018.

Still, that election was Olson’s first competitive race since he won the seat in 2008. Both the Republican incumbent and his Democratic opponent, former diplomat Sri Kulkarni, raised about $1.5 million during their campaigns. Outside spending was not a significant factor in the race.

In a statement on Olson’s retirement, DCCC spokesperson Avery Jaffe said the organization will continue to invest in Texas. The organization opened an office in the state in April.

Kulkarni, who is running again, has already raised more than $400,000. It’s not yet clear who the Republican nominee will be, as Olson only announced his retirement two weeks ago.

A fourth competitive — and expensive — race is likely to take place in the suburbs of Atlanta, where Rep. Rob Woodall is stepping down after edging out Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 433 votes in 2018, the closest margin of any congressional race that year.

Bourdeaux outraised Woodall during that election cycle, garnering $2.9 million to the incumbent’s $1.2 million. She was further aided by outside spending, with more than $1 million in support coming from the Independence USA PAC, a super PAC affiliated with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The group has traditionally backed both Democratic and Republican candidates, though it exclusively supported Democrats during the 2018 cycle.

Woodall won without the aid of outside spending. But the eventual Republican nominee to succeed him won’t have the advantage of incumbency.

There has been no shortage of candidates lining up to take Woodall’s place. Five candidates vying for the district’s Republican nomination have already raised at least $100,000, though three of the five have done so largely through self-financing.

Bourdeaux is also running again, and has already raised more than $500,000. She is not the only potential Democratic candidate, however. Six Democrats have declared to run, including progressive activist Nabilah Islam, who has raised more than $200,000.

In total, the dozen candidates who have filed to run for Woodall’s seat have cumulatively raised more than $2.7 million. The primary will take place in May.

The remaining House Republicans who are retiring — Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) — reside in districts considered safely Republican. It is unclear who the nominee for either party will be in each of their districts.

The nine Republican retirements come on the heels of the party’s 33-seat loss in 2018. Eight of those losses came in districts where Republican incumbents retired and were replaced by moderate Democrats. Fifteen other Republicans retired but were replaced by members of their own party.

Only two House Democrats have announced their retirements so far: Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), whose district went for Hillary Clinton by 89 points in 2016, and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), whose D+1 district will likely be a target for Republicans in 2020.

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