Eye on 2018: Five special elections worth watching

Eye on 2018: Five special elections worth watching
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Five special elections are scheduled for the first months of President Trump’s new term, offering an early chance to see how the national political mood and the young administration could play into 2018’s midterms.

While a majority of the seats likely won’t change parties, Democrats are seeking to test if anti-Trump backlash helps them flip seats ahead of 2018. Republican candidates, meanwhile, will see whether tying themselves closely to Trump boosts their chances in general elections.

Here are the five open-seat House races to watch:



California’s 34th

The special elections will kick off in Los Angeles on April 4 in a 23-candidate, all-party primary to replace Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCalifornia to sue over new Trump student visa restrictions States say Education Department is illegally diverting pandemic relief to private schools Trump's use of Pentagon funds for US-Mexico border wall illegal, court rules MORE, who left the seat to become California’s attorney general.

The deep blue, heavily Latino district is expected to remain in Democratic hands. Candidates are playing up their progressive credentials in an area where Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic Biden lets Trump be Trump Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects MORE (I-Vt.) defeated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Wells Fargo tells employees to delete TikTok from work phones | Google, Facebook join legal challenge to ICE foreign students rule | House Republican introduces bills to bolster federal cybersecurity Biden lets Trump be Trump 4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch MORE by a few points in the Democratic presidential primary.

Of the 19 Democratic candidates, state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez has earned numerous endorsements from local elected officials, as well as Democratic heavyweights such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Becerra has also backed Gomez to fill his old seat.

But other contenders — including labor activist Wendy Carrillo, former Sanders deputy political director Arturo Carmona and Green Party candidate Kenneth Mejia — are touting their progressive bona fides and trying to paint Gomez as the establishment’s pick.

The race will test the Sanders movement’s ongoing challenge to the Democratic establishment. But Sanders himself has yet to endorse a candidate ahead of the primary.


Only one Republican has filed to run — William Rodriguez Morrison, a former candidate for city council, state Senate and mayor. The race also includes three third-party candidates. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff on June 6.


Kansas’ 4th District

The general election to fill now-CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s seat will be held on April 11. Both Democrats and Republicans selected their nominees through respective conventions last month.

Kansas state Treasurer Ron Estes (R) defeated former Trump adviser Alan Cobb and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) for the GOP nomination.

Estes earned the endorsement from the Kansas Farm Bureau, an advocacy group for the state’s farmers. He’s heavily favored to keep the seat in the GOP’s column. The seat has been represented by Republicans since 1995, and Trump won the district with 60 percent of the vote in the November election.

Democratic nominee James Thompson, a civil rights lawyer, goes into the race as an underdog. At his first news conference, he characterized the race as a referendum on Trump and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), and he has sought to tie Estes to Brownback, who ranked as the country’s least popular governor in a September 2016 poll.

Thompson and Estes will both attend a candidate forum on Thursday. Libertarian nominee Chris Rockhold is also running for the Wichita-area seat.


Georgia’s 6th District

Reeling from the 2016 elections, Democrats are looking to the Atlanta suburbs district to see if opposition to Trump can be leveraged into a House seat pickup.

Eighteen candidates are competing for the seat vacated by now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Regardless of party, all of the candidates will face off in an all-party primary on April 18. If no one reaches a majority, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff on June 20.

National Democrats and progressive groups have coalesced behind Jon Ossoff, an investigative filmmaker and former congressional aide, although four other Democratic candidates are running. House Democrats’ campaign arm has deployed staffers to the district to rally voters for Ossoff, while liberal groups have raised more than a million dollars for the 30-year-old rising star.

Democrats are feeling hopeful in a district that Trump only carried by 1 point. Still, the party has an uphill battle to flip a reliably conservative seat that has been easily won by Price in every one of his reelection races.

Eleven Republicans are vying for a spot in the likely runoff, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has emerged as an early front-runner. She has previously run for governor and Senate.

Other candidates include former state Sens. Dan Moody and Judson Hill as well as Bruce LeVell, who led Trump’s national diversity coalition, and former Johns Creek, Ga., councilman Bob Gray.

National Republicans aren’t weighing in on the primary, but the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, has run two TV spots targeting Ossoff in a $1.1 million ad campaign.

A primary poll released Monday showed Ossoff close to the 50 percent threshold required to make the runoff, with 41 percent of the vote. The two leading Republicans in the poll, Handel and Gray, polled at 16.1 percent and 15.6 percent, respectively. While those numbers could energize Democrats hoping Ossoff makes the runoff, the poll only included eight of the 18 candidates in the race.


South Carolina’s 5th District

The departure of fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney to become Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has opened up his South Carolina House seat.


Republicans and Democrats are holding their primaries on May 2. If no candidate reaches a majority, a runoff is tentatively scheduled for May 16 and the general election will be on June 20.

There are seven Republicans running, including leading contender state Rep. Tommy Pope. Other GOP candidates include a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman and Republican National Committee director of faith engagement Chad Connelly and former state Rep. Ralph Norman.

Connelly scored an endorsement from Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), who represents a neighboring district and was the first member of South Carolina’s congressional delegation to weigh in on the race.

The Republican candidates have sought to link themselves to Trump, a strategy that could serve them well in a district he carried by more than 18 points.

There are three Democratic candidates, all first-time office seekers: former Goldman Sachs senior adviser Archie Parnell, Army veteran and student Alexis Frank and Marine veteran Les Murphy. There are also five contenders who filed as third-party candidates.

Republicans are likely to hold onto the seat that Mulvaney has represented since 2011. Until Mulvaney won the seat, Democrats had held it for 128 years.

There’s also the question of whether one of the GOP candidates — if elected — will follow in Mulvaney’s footsteps and take his place in the conservative House Freedom Caucus.



Montana’s At-large District

Montana voters will vote May 25 in a special election to decide who will replace now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the state’s only House seat.

Earlier this month, Republicans and Democrats selected their nominees through conventions.

Republicans chose Greg Gianforte, a wealthy businessman who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2016. He lost by 4 points in the gubernatorial race. So far, Gianforte has tacked closely to Trump during his congressional campaign.

Meanwhile, Democrats tapped Rob Quist, a popular local musician, as their nominee. Quist, a political newcomer, has an uphill battle in the special election, but he added recent star-power to his campaign when Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings Senate confirms Trump's watchdog for coronavirus funds MORE (D-Mont.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) spoke on his behalf at the state Democratic Party’s dinner.

Libertarians nominated cattle rancher Mark Wicks.

So far, national Democrats have passed on pumping resources into the race, but Republicans aren’t taking any chances.

A day after Democrats tapped Quist as their nominee, the CLF spent $700,000 on a TV spot knocking the musician’s credentials as “out of tune” with the state’s politics.

Democrats targeted this seat in 2016, but it will likely remain in Republican hands.