Heart of the Primaries 2022, Democrats-Issue 9

February 10, 2022

In this issue: Ocasio-Cortez, Our Revolution get involved in Texas and a former Lt. Gov. seeks old office in Vermont 

Ocasio-Cortez holding rally with Cisneros and Casar in Texas

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she will travel to San Antonio on Feb. 12 for a rally to support Democratic congressional primary candidates Jessica Cisneros and Greg Casar.

Cisneros is running in the Democratic primary for Texas’ 28th Congressional District against Tannya Benavides and incumbent Henry Cuellar. Cuellar defeated Cisneros 51.8% to 48.2% in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Cuellar, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, was first elected to Congress in 2004. Cisneros, an immigration attorney, cited her criticism of Cuellar’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as a key reason she is running again. Cisneros has also criticized Cuellar for opposing legalized abortion and his votes on federal immigration bills. 

Casar is running in the Democratic primary for Texas’ 35th Congressional District against Eddie Rodriguez, Carla-Joy Sisco, and Rebecca Viagran. Incumbent Lloyd Doggett (D) is running for re-election in the 37th District, leaving the 35th District open for the first time since its creation following the 2010 census. 

Casar was a member of the Austin City Council from 2015 to 2022. The San Antonio Express-News‘ Cayla Harris wrote: “Casar is undoubtedly the farthest-left candidate of the group, but Rodriguez’s record is similar: He is ranked among the most liberal members of the state House.”

Early voting in Texas begins Feb. 14.

Checking in on U.S. House incumbent-vs.-incumbent primaries 

There are five primaries with incumbents running against one another so far. Three are Democratic primaries. 

With congressional redistricting unsettled in several states, there could be more incumbent-vs.-incumbent races on the horizon. That could happen if incumbents’ home addresses or political bases of support are redrawn into the same district, or if multiple incumbents determine that the characteristics of a particular district are more favorable to their re-election.

Today, we’re looking at how much money competing incumbents raised in 2021. The following data is from the Federal Election Commission.

Georgia’s 7th (May 24 primary)

  • Carolyn Bourdeaux: $2.4 million
  • Lucy McBath: $3.2 million
  • Donna McLeod (non-incumbent): $23,000

Illinois’ 6th (June 28 primary)

  • Sean Casten: $1.9 million
  • Marie Newman: $1.0 million

Michigan’s 11th (August 2 primary)

  • Andy Levin: $1.3 million
  • Haley Stevens: $2.5 million

There were 11 incumbent-versus-incumbent U.S. House primaries in 2012—five Democratic, three Republican, and three in which candidates of all affiliations competed together. In the three districts where it was possible for candidates of the same party to advance to the general election (two using California’s top-two primary system and one using Louisiana’s majority-vote system), incumbents of the same party also competed in generals. Two additional races featured a general election contest between incumbents of different parties. 

As of Feb. 9, 10 states hadn’t adopted congressional redistricting plans yet and two states had adopted maps that courts then blocked. Thirty-one states had adopted congressional district maps. One state approved boundaries that hadn’t yet taken effect. Six states have a single U.S. House district each, so no congressional redistricting is required.

Arkoosh exits Senate primary in Pennsylvania

Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh suspended her U.S. Senate primary campaign in Pennsylvania. 

As we wrote last week, the state Democratic Party recently held an endorsement meeting where no candidate reached the two-thirds vote threshold for an endorsement. Arkoosh received less than 15% support on the first ballot, disqualifying her from the second round of voting. Arkoosh had raised the third-highest amount in the primary at $2.7 million through Dec. 31.

Conor Lamb and John Fetterman received the highest and second-highest vote percentages from state party members at the endorsement meeting. Fetterman raised $12 million and Lamb, $4 million through Dec. 31.

Former Lt. Gov. Zuckerman joins Democratic primary in VT

Former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman joined the 2022 Democratic primary for his old position. Zuckerman served in the state House and Senate before serving as lieutenant governor from 2017 to 2021. He has been elected on both the Democratic Party’s and the Vermont Progressive Party’s tickets. Zuckerman lost the 2020 gubernatorial election to incumbent Phil Scott (R), 69% to 27%. Vermont holds state executive elections every two years.

Current Lt. Gov. Molly Gray (D) is running for the state’s open at-large congressional district.

Zuckerman said, “In these uncertain times, by returning me to the office of lieutenant governor, you’ll get experience and stability in our government’s leadership, and you’ll get a fighter who has successfully made positive change happen. … [I]f we work together, we can create a state where all people are welcome, where our rural communities are vibrant and thriving, where people feel safe, and where no family has to struggle to have their basic needs met.”

Charlie Kimbell, Patricia Preston, and Kitty Toll are also running.

Kimbell has been in the state House since 2017 and co-chairs the Rural Economic Development Working Group. His campaign says he believes “in the Vermont political tradition that blends self reliance, social justice, Yankee frugality and environmental stewardship” and that he “is a moderate democrat who believes in a State that supports working Vermonters through affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and good career opportunities.”

Preston, executive director of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, said, “We all know someone who can’t afford to buy a house. Our workforce is shrinking, our infrastructure is aging, and the divisiveness we see in politics today threatens Vermont’s civic life, which I have always treasured. … And … [f]rom our state schools to the climate crisis, we need to take serious action.”

Toll served in the state House from 2009 to 2021. VTDigger‘s Lola Duffort said Toll is “socially liberal and fiscally moderate.” Toll said, “As a former Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, I have extensive experience balancing and managing budgets. … From pandemic recovery, workforce and housing shortages, to climate action, I will bring people together, and listen to Vermonters across the state to get the job done.” 

The primary is set for Aug. 9.

Our Revolution endorses in Travis County (TX) Commission race

On Feb. 7, Our Revolution endorsed Susanna Ledesma-Woody in the Democratic primary for Travis County Commissioners Court Precinct 4. Ledesma-Woody faces incumbent Margaret Gómez in the March 1 primary. Gómez became a commissioner in 1995.

This is the group’s second Travis County Commission endorsement this cycle and its third endorsement in the Austin area. Our Revolution endorsed Bob Libal, who is challenging incumbent Brigid Shea (in office since 2015) in Precinct 2. The group also endorsed Jose Vela in a January special election for Austin City Council, which Vela won.

The group’s political director, Aaron Chappell, told Axios, “This is our vision and something Bernie [Sanders] talked about, about getting progressives to run for office, from dog-catcher on up. You can’t get to a congressional race and hope candidates just come out of the woodwork.” Chappell called the local race strategy “building a bench.”

Our Revolution also endorsed in three Texas congressional races: TX-28 (Jessica Cisneros), TX-30 (Jasmine Crockett), and TX-35 (Greg Casar).

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) launched Our Revolution, a 501(c)4 organization, following his 2016 presidential primary campaign. The group says his goal was “to empower everyday Americans to stand up to corporate interests that seek to manipulate our government for personal gain.”

Texans for Better Dems Coalition supports primary challenges to House incumbents

The Texans for Better Dems Coalition, a group formed in October 2021, is supporting two candidates challenging incumbent members of the Texas House of Representatives. According to The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, “Campaign fundraising has been light across the two primaries, so the coalition’s involvement could be significant.” Svitek reported that the Coalition plans to spend $250,000 in these two state legislative races as well as a Harris County judicial primary.

In El Paso-area District 79, the Coalition is supporting Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez over Rep. Art Fierro. Ordaz Perez currently represents District 76, which was moved across the state during redistricting. Svitek wrote that Ordaz Perez criticized Fierro for being among the first Democrats to return to the House floor during a quorum break last year. Fierro said he returned after Democrats achieved the goals they set out to achieve. 

In July 2021, enough members of the Democratic caucus left the state during consideration of voting-related legislation to break quorum. The walkout ended in August.

In District 142, a Houston district, the Coalition is supporting Aldine American Federation of Teachers president Candis Houston against incumbent Rep. Harold Dutton. Svitek said, “Dutton is well known as an occasional outlier in his party,” including Dutton’s support for more charter schools as an example.

The Coalition’s website says the following:

[N]ot all Democratic legislators reflect the values and beliefs of what we have fought for. In response to this need and the recent fight to reach quorum on the House floor as the catalyst, Working Families Party, Communications Workers of America, and Texas Organizing Project have formed the Texans for Better Dems Coalition with the Working Families Party PAC.

Texas election competitiveness data

With the first primaries coming up on March 1, here’s a look at congressional and state legislative election competitiveness data for Texas over the past three cycles.