The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● TX-03: Republican Rep. Van Taylor shocked Texas politicos Wednesday by announcing that he was ending his re-election campaign because of an affair the married congressman had with a woman who had fled her ISIS terrorist husband years ago, a move that came hours after he was forced into a primary runoff against former Collin County Judge Keith Self. Taylor said he would be taking his name off the May runoff ballot, which will automatically make Self the GOP nominee. Self will now be the clear favorite to win the general election in a Plano-based seat the GOP legislature aggressively gerrymandered: While Trump took the old version just 50-49, the new 3rd District would have supported him 56-42.
In the primary that took place only the day before, Taylor took 49% of the vote―just below the majority he needed to win outright―while Self beat out businesswoman Suzanne Harp 27-21 for what turned out to be a very important second runoff spot. Self, who was badly outspent, used the campaign to bash Taylor for voting to accept Joe Biden's Electoral College victory in the hours after the attack on the Capitol and for supporting the creation of a Jan. 6 commission, but there was no talk from him about any personal scandal involving his opponent.
Taylor’s allies, including the Congressional Leadership Fund, also didn’t know what was about to come: The groups spent a combined $800,000 in the weeks after a new super PAC called Defeating Communism PAC dropped $435,000 against him, but surprisingly, their intervention wasn’t quite enough to get the not-yet-scandal-ridden incumbent a majority on Tuesday.
However, whispers about the story that would end the two-term congressman's career began to circulate on far-right sites two days before the March 1 primary when the National File posted audio of a Plano resident named Tania Joya, who escaped Syria with her children in 2013 weeks after her now-dead husband brought them there, talking about their affair. The white supremacist site Breitbart published its own account on Monday, but mainstream outlets didn't pick it up before the primary (the Texas Tribune says it wasn't able to independently verify the story).
On election eve, though, Harp insisted the allegations made it "dangerous to have compromised and corrupt representation in Washington," and this wasn't her first encounter with the story. That's because Harp, reports the Dallas Morning News, sent one of her supporters to do the interview with Joya that National File ran days later, after Joya contacted the candidate on Thursday. Joya, who lives in Plano and works to rehabilitate ex-terrorists, said she had met Taylor through her work and the two became "very close" before the relationship, which she said spanned October 2020 through June of last year, ended. Joya also said that, as the affair concluded, she asked Taylor to pay her $5,000 to pay off her bills. She declared, "For him, it was like, 'Okay, on the condition you don't tell anyone.' ... I didn't want to tell anybody anything."
Unfortunately for Taylor, things didn't remain amicable between the two. Joya said she didn't even know his primary was about to take place when she went to Harp, but she grew tired of seeing his face on billboards across her community. "All I wanted was for Suzanne Harp to just say, 'Hey, I know your little scandal with Tania Joya," she said, adding, "'Would you like to resign before we embarrass you?' But it didn't happen like that."
The story only became widely known Wednesday when Taylor emailed his supporters to tell them he was exiting the race. "About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world," he wrote, continuing, "I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life."
Taylor's admission concludes what had been a promising political career. The Republican, who is descended from the founder of the giant Humble Oil, served with the Marines in Iraq and first sought elected office in 2006 by taking on Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in the 17th District, a Waco-based seat located over 100 miles from Plano. Edwards, though, had survived a GOP gerrymander two years before by winning re-election even as George W. Bush was carrying his constituency in a 70-30 landslide, and Taylor struggled to gain traction in what was rapidly turning into an awful year for his party. Edwards went after his opponent for only recently moving to the district and won 58-40, but Taylor was far from done with politics.
Taylor soon relocated to Collin County and won a 2010 runoff against Mabrie Jackson to succeed state Rep. Brian McCall in a state House seat that Democrats weren't contesting. (Edwards that same year lost re-election to Republican Pete Flores.) In a strange set of circumstances, though, McCall resigned early to become chancellor of the Texas State University System, and Jackson beat Taylor in the special election for the final months of his term even though she'd already dropped out. But Taylor still won the special by default and any embarrassment was brief, as he won a promotion to the state Senate in 2014 without any serious opposition.
The same thing happened in 2018 when longtime Republican Rep. Sam Johnson retired and Taylor, who self-funded $3 million, easily prevailed in the primary and general elections for a historically red seat. The incumbent had a tougher fight in 2020 when Democratic attorney Lulu Seikaly ran a credible campaign against him at a time when Team Blue hoped that Trump's toxicity in the suburbs would drag down Republicans like Taylor. But it wasn't enough: While Trump's margin of victory crashed from 55-41 in 2016 to just 50-49, the congressman ran well ahead and prevailed 55-43. The GOP legislature didn't want to take any chances with that trend, however, which is why they implemented an even stronger gerrymander this cycle.
The beneficiary of that new map and Taylor's failure to claim a majority on Tuesday is Self, a hardline conservative who has his own long record in local politics. Self ran for Congress all the way back in 2002 for the 26th District, but physician Michael Burgess beat him 22.5-22.2 to claim the second spot in the runoff (Burgess won the nod in an upset and remains in the House). Self bounced back in 2006 by winning the race for Collin County judge, an executive post that's the rough equivalent of a county executive, and he quickly established a reputation for picking fights with other members of the local government.
Self faced a serious renomination fight in 2010 from Plano School Board member John Muns, who tried to portray himself as the true conservative in the race. The judge, who had his own ardent right-wing support, again made headlines during that campaign when he pushed back on a Muns attack by quoting the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels saying, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Self defended his actions by insisting that, while he wasn't linking Muns to the Nazis, "I said he was using the method. There's a huge difference. This is one of those things where the PC police immediately go crazy."
Self prevailed 58-42 ahead of an easy general election win (Muns himself was elected mayor of Plano last year), and while he considered running for the 3rd in 2018, he retired that year instead. He looked like a longshot when he announced his own primary bid against Taylor in October, whom he went after for accepting Biden's victory, and he still seemed to be the clear underdog after the incumbent only narrowly failed to win a majority on Tuesday. The congressman's self-destruction, though, now puts Self on a glide path to win a House seat 20 years after his first attempt.
● On the latest episode of The Downballot, David Nir and David Beard recap the action from Texas' Tuesday primaries, including the runoff between conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros; the demise of Louie Gohmert's political career; and the shocking developments in Texas' 3rd Congressional District, where a scandal derailed an unexpected runoff.
The co-hosts also embark on a deep dive into the world of Democratic open seats in the House, discussing the role of redistricting in prompting retirements and the many ways in which primaries this year have the chance to move the party in a more progressive direction and increase its diversity. You can listen to The Downballot on all major podcast platforms, and you can find a transcript right here.
● OH Redistricting: Ohio's Republican-dominated redistricting commission passed a new congressional map on a 5-2 party-line vote on Wednesday, but it still faces review by the state Supreme Court, which isn't apt to like it. The map contains 10 safely Republican seats and just three solidly Democratic districts, with two more nominally competitive seats that could easily go to the GOP given the likely midterm environment this year. The justices struck down the GOP's previous map as an illegal partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution for its excessive Republican skew.
● AZ-Sen: Wealthy businessman Jim Lamon's new spot for the August Republican primary rhetorically asks how Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, who has only been in office since December of 2020, can run "to solve the problems you've created?" The only mention of Lamon is his brief appearance at the beginning giving his required approval to his commercial.
● OH-Sen: NBC's Henry Gomez reports that former state party chair Jane Timken, who has mostly directed her TV ads at Fox News until now, is spending six figures on her first broadcast spot for the May Republican primary. The ad dubs Timken "the real Trump conservative" running against the "pretenders" and shows a long clip of Trump praising her. As Gomez notes, "If you didn't know any better, you might think Trump has endorsed her."
● OK-Sen-B: A former campaign manager for former Rep. J.C. Watts tells Read Oklahoma that his old boss is considering entering the June Republican primary to succeed outgoing Sen. Jim Inhofe. Watts, a one-time University of Oklahoma football star who was one of the most prominent African American Republicans in the nation during his eight years in Congress, retired in 2003, but he's remained an active media presence. That's not necessarily an asset, though, as Politico's Burgess Everett notes that Watts was a vocal Trump critic well into his administration.
Lee bests McMullin 34-24, with Democrat Kael Weston taking 12%. When former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt is substituted in as Team Blue's candidate, Lee's edge over McMullin grows to 36-23, with 11% going to the Democrat. Weston, who was the Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District last cycle, is running, while Schmidt, who left the GOP during the Trump era, hasn't shown any obvious interest in getting in since November of 2020. OH Predictive Insights also takes a look at the June GOP primary and shows Lee beating former state Rep. Becky Edwards in a 51-5 landslide.
McMullin, for his part, is going up with what appears to be the first campaign ad anywhere based around Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "As the world rallies around Ukraine, Mike Lee was only one of two senators to oppose sanctions on Putin," says the candidate, "then he flew to the Kremlin and discussed dropping sanctions." He continues, "Lee even opposed arming Ukrainians fighting for their lives." McMullin concludes by talking about his "decade protecting America from dictators and terrorists." Lee ended 2021 with a $2.17 million to $703,000 cash-on-hand lead over McMullin, who ran for president in 2016 as an anti-Trump conservative.
● WI-Sen, WI-Gov: Marquette University has released the first independent poll of either the August Democratic primary to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson or the GOP contest to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. In the Senate contest, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes outpaces Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry 23-13, with Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson at 5%; a recent Lasry internal from Normington Petts found him trailing Barnes 35-27.
Over in the GOP gubernatorial primary, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch leads businessman Kevin Nicholson 30-8, while state Rep. Timothy Ramthun grabs 5%. A January Kleefisch poll from the Tarrance Group, which was taken before either of her intra-party foes announced, showed her defeating Nicholson 61-8, while Ramthun was not tested.
● MN-Gov: Former TV and radio host Cory Hepola announced Tuesday that he would run for governor under the banner of the newly established Forward Party. Hepola avoided saying much about his actual political beliefs other than that he's pro-choice, though he volunteered that in 2018 he voted for the man he's now trying to unseat, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, as well as for Joe Biden two years later.
Democrats seem to think Hepola is more of a threat to Walz than to the eventual Republican nominee, as state party chair Ken Martin warned, "A vote for Cory Hepola is a vote to help the GOP cut taxes for the rich, defund public schools, and force their anti-choice agenda on Minnesotans." Republican operatives, by contrast, took to social media to celebrate his entrance.
● NY-Gov: Rep. Lee Zeldin earned the support of 85% of delegates at the state GOP convention on Tuesday, making him the only candidate to secure an automatic spot on the June 28 primary ballot. Because the other Republican hopefuls failed to win at least 25% of the vote, they'll all have to collect 15,000 signatures statewide in order to run in the primary. All of them, including businessman Harry Wilson, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and former Trump White House staffer Andrew Giuliani, have said they'll do so.
● CA-40: Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who currently represents almost two-thirds of California's new 40th Congressional District, has endorsed physician Asif Mahmood's bid against Republican Rep. Young Kim. Porter is seeking re-election in the neighboring 47th District.
● FL-22: Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says he's considering a bid for Florida's 22nd District, which recently became open after Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch announced he'd resign later this year. Jewish Insider also drops the name of another potential Democrat, former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, though there's no word on whether he's interested. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, former state Rep. George Moraitis says he too is thinking about the race.
● MI-13: Former Detroit General Counsel Sharon McPhail, a Democrat who served a single term on the City Council in the 2000s, tells MIRS News in a paywalled report that she's "going to be on the ballot" for the August primary in Michigan's safely blue 13th District. McPhail ran for mayor three times (in 1993, 2005, and 2009) but fared poorly on each occasion. However, a new poll from Target-Insyght taken for the state Democratic Party's Black Caucus shows that she'd start off in first place with 24% of the vote while state Rep. Shri Thanedar takes 12 and former Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee is at 11, with all other candidates in single digits and 31% undecided.
● NC-01: Democratic state Rep. James Gailliard, who had announced a bid for Congress in November after North Carolina Republicans passed their first gerrymander—which was since struck down by the courts and replaced with a much fairer map—has instead filed for re-election.
● NY-03: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has endorsed Jon Kaiman, one of his deputy executives, in the Democratic primary for New York's open 3rd Congressional District. Meanwhile, former Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, a former Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2016, says he won't run.
● OK-02: State Sen. Marty Quinn on Wednesday became the first notable candidate to announce a bid to succeed Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a fellow Republican who is giving up this safely red seat in eastern Oklahoma to run for the Senate. The filing deadline is April 15, so other potential contenders have about a month-and-a-half to mull over their options.
● PA-10: Carlisle School Board member Rick Coplen, a Democrat who had announced a state Senate bid last week, declared Tuesday that he would instead challenge Republican Rep. Scott Perry. Coplen, who is an Army veteran and professor at the U.S. Army War College, said he made his decision after 2020 nominee Eugene DePasquale said Monday that he wouldn't seek a rematch against Perry, who heads the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus. The redrawn version of this Harrisburg-based seat would have favored Trump 51-47.
● TX-AG: Land Commissioner George P. Bush spent the first hours of his Republican primary runoff campaign against scandal-plagued incumbent Ken Paxton by publicly appealing to Donald Trump to unendorse the attorney general ahead of the May 24 second round. The Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek relays that Bush, who is the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told conservative radio host Mark Davis that he wanted to "re-establish those lines of communication and say, 'Look, Mr. President, I believe you made a mistake on this one.'" The Land Commissioner continued, "There's great conservatives that have also won without the endorsement. I'm giving you a chance to reassess ... because there's a lot at stake here."
Bush tried hard last year to win Trump's support, a charm offensive that famously involved him creating beer koozies dissing his family: That merchandise depicted outlines of Bush and Trump shaking hands above a Trump quote reading, "This is the only Bush that likes me! This is the Bush that got it right. I like him." But Trump soon demonstrated that he liked Paxton, who spearheaded an unsuccessful lawsuit aimed at overturning Joe Biden's victory, a whole lot more by backing him for renomination.
CNN wrote all the way back in July that even Bush's allies correctly predicted this would happen and "warned him not to publicly play up to the former President because Trump would once again take glee in embarrassing the Bush family." One source even said then that "Trump endorsing Paxton is like Lucy and the football and Charlie Brown." Bush, though, seems to be quite content to take more kicks at the pigskin.
Paxton, for his part, also previewed his runoff strategy against Bush earlier on Wednesday by telling Davis, "If conservatives unite ... we can end the Bush dynasty." The attorney general added that his opponent "has got personal issues too that I can bring up that I've never brought up. ... I don't want to do that." Paxton didn't hint what he meant, though he predicted that Bush "knows it's gonna change the dynamic of the race."
Paxton outpaced Bush on Tuesday 43-23, with former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert taking 17% each. Neither defeated candidate, though, seems interested in helping Bush unite anti-Paxton voters right now: Gohmert also told Davis, "I see myself just completely staying out of" the runoff, while Guzman put out a statement that didn't mention either runoff contender.
On the Democratic side, former ACLU attorney Rochelle Garza took first place in the primary with 43%, while the second runoff spot has not yet been decided. With 989,000 votes counted, former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, who is the grandson of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, held a tiny 19.6-19.5 edge over civil rights attorney Lee Merritt.
● TX-Gov: Gov. Greg Abbott took 66% of the vote in Tuesday's Republican primary, while former state Sen. Don Huffines and former state party chair Allen West were far behind with 12% each. That huge win for the incumbent wasn't a surprise to anyone except maybe West, as the one-time Florida congressman released several polls from Paradigm Partners showing him in contention―including a late January survey that found him beating Abbott 43-34. The governor will face former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the 2018 Senate nominee who easily won his own Democratic primary, in November.
● TX-01: Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran won 63% of the vote in the Republican primary to succeed Rep. Louie Gohmert, who gave up this safely red seat in northeast Texas to wage a failed bid for attorney general. Far behind in second place with 24% was Joe McDaniel, who lives far from the 1st District in Dallas.
● TX-04: Republican Rep. Pat Fallon ended up defeating former TV anchor Dan Thomas by an unimpressive 59-30 in this safely red seat in east Texas, though that was more than enough for him to win the primary outright. Thomas, who was fired in October as News 12 anchor for refusing to get vaccinated for what he claimed were health reasons, may have benefited from his existing name recognition even though he raised little for his campaign.
Fallon himself also was waging his very first congressional primary because party leaders awarded him the nod in 2020 when incumbent John Ratcliffe resigned after securing the nomination in order to become Trump's director of national intelligence. The congressman only represents about 55% of this new seat, which may also explain why he didn't do better.
● TX-08: With 65,000 votes counted in the 11-way Republican primary to succeed retiring Rep. Kevin Brady, retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell is in first with 52%, a little over the majority he'd need to win this very expensive race outright, but the AP has not yet made a call. Political operative Christian Collins, who is a former Brady campaign manager, is well behind with 22%. This seat, which includes the northern Houston area and nearby rural counties, is safely red.
● TX-15: 2020 nominee Monica De La Cruz secured the Republican nod again with 57% of the vote in her bid to succeed Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who decided to run for the considerably safer 34th District rather than defend a redrawn Rio Grande Valley constituency that would have favored Trump 51-48. De La Cruz sported endorsements from Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and she enjoyed a big financial lead over Mauro Garza, a self-funder who was a distant second with 15%.
On the Democratic side, Army veteran Ruben Ramirez, who has Gonzalez's endorsement, took first with 28% of the vote. Businesswoman Michelle Vallejo edged out attorney John Rigney 20-19 for the second runoff spot, and Rigney conceded Wednesday afternoon.
● TX-23: Marine veteran John Lira beat social worker Priscilla Golden 56-44 in the Democratic primary, but national Democrats haven't signaled much interest yet in his campaign to challenge freshman Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales. The GOP legislature extended Trump's margin of victory in this west Texas seat from 50-48 to 53-46, and Lira so far has struggled with fundraising.
● TX-26: Rep. Michael Burgess took 67% in his latest Republican primary for a safely red seat in Fort Worth's northern exurbs, while self-funder Raven Harrison ended up taking last place in the five-way race with just 5%.
● TX-28: While the Democratic primary runoff between conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar and immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros will generate the most attention on May 24, the Republican contest will also be going into a second round. Cassy Garcia, a former Ted Cruz staffer who is campaigning with his support, took first with 23%. Her opponent will be 2020 nominee Sandra Whitten, who lost to Cuellar 58-39 last time; Whitten took 18% on Tuesday, which put her a few points ahead of four other contenders. None of the Republicans have brought in much money so far, but Team Red is hoping they'll have an opening in a Laredo seat that would have gone for Biden 53-46.
● TX-30: State Rep. Jasmine Crockett took first place in the nine-way Democratic primary with 48%, just below the majority she needed to win outright. Party operative Jane Hamilton secured second by defeating Cedar Hill Independent School District Trustee Keisha Lankford 17-8. Crockett has the backing of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who is retiring after 30 years representing a safely blue Dallas district, while two groups affiliated with the cryptocurrency industry together expended a massive $2.15 million to boost her. Hamilton, who didn't benefit from any major outside spending, has the support of neighboring Rep. Marc Veasey and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.
● TX-35: Former Austin City Council member Greg Casar took 61% of the vote in the Democratic primary for this open and safely blue seat, which the GOP once again gerrymandered to connect the Austin area with San Antonio by means of a pencil-thin corridor along Interstate 35; two other candidates, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and former San Antonio City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, were far behind with 16% each. Casar, who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, enjoyed the support of Mayor Steve Adler as well as a number of prominent national progressive organizations, and he also had a big financial edge over Rodriguez.
● TX-37: Rep. Lloyd Doggett had no trouble defeating Donna Imam, who lost to Republican Rep. John Carter in 2020 in the old 31st District, 79-18 in the Democratic primary for this safely blue seat centered around his longtime Austin base.
● TX-38: Army veteran Wesley Hunt beat former State Republican Executive Committee member Mark Ramsey 55-30 in the Republican primary for this new and reliably red seat in the Houston suburbs. The well-funded Hunt impressed Republican leaders last cycle with his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the 7th District, which helped make him the overwhelming frontrunner to prevail here.
● Tarrant County, TX District Attorney: Tarrant County Criminal Court Judge Phil Sorrells, who picked up Donald Trump's endorsement weeks ahead of the Republican primary for this GOP-held open seat, took first with 41%, while state Rep. Matt Krause edged out Criminal District Court Judge Mollee Westfall 31-29 for the second runoff spot. On the Democratic side, Tiffany Burks won the nomination outright by beating her fellow former prosecutor, Albert John Roberts, 61-29.