What to Look for in the Alabama, Maine and Texas House Primaries

House elections on Tuesday will set November contests in three states, including a primary in a rural Maine district held by a Democratic freshman and a second round of voting in three Texas districts Democrats are seeking to capture from retiring Republicans.

It’s also primary runoff day in Alabama, where the winners of Republican runoffs in two districts that overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump in 2016 will be shoo-ins to prevail in November.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Ronny Jackson, a former physician for President Donald Trump, is running for Congress from Texas.

The Maine primary and the Alabama and Texas primary runoffs were rescheduled from earlier in the year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The states are also holding Senate primaries, which are covered in a separate article.

Here’s what you need to know about the key House races:

Alabama

1st District (Mobile; Trump won 63%-34%): Jerry Carl, a businessman and Mobile County commissioner, and Bill Hightower, a former state senator, are seeking the Republican nomination in the southern Alabama district of Rep. Bradley Byrne (R), who gave up the seat to pursue an unsuccessful Senate bid.

The runoff divided the party’s business and activist wings. Byrne, Alabama Republican Reps. Martha Roby and Mike Rogers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are supporting Carl. The Club for Growth, a free-market activist group with an anti-establishment bent, backs Hightower.

Carl and Hightower ran pro-Trump television ads that said they would hold China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic.

Carl led Hightower 38.7% to 37.5% in the first-round primary in March. The winner of the runoff will be overwhelmingly favored to succeed Byrne.

2nd District (Dothan, part of Montgomery; Trump 65%-33%): In another Republican bastion, wealthy businessman Jeff Coleman and former state representative Barry Moore are vying to succeed Roby, who’s not seeking re-election. Coleman won 38% of the vote in the March primary compared with 20% for Moore.

Coleman, a first-time candidate, ran against “career politicians” and touted his business experience running his family’s moving company. “I’m a businessman, just like President Trump,” Coleman said at a candidate debate last week.

Moore, a self-described “Trump Republican,” highlighted his military experience and farm roots and said he was the first elected official to endorse Trump for president in August 2015. “I’ve never wavered; I’ve always supported him,” Moore said.

The super political action committees of the Club for Growth and House Freedom Caucus aided Moore. A Club for Growth ad attacked Coleman for a campaign contribution to a Hawaii Democrat.

A Coleman TV ad attacked the Club for Growth for spending millions against Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential campaign.

A pro-Coleman super PAC, The Patriots Fund, called attention to Moore’s indictment in 2014 on charges of perjury and making false statements. Moore was acquitted.

Maine

2nd District (Lewiston, Bangor, rural Maine; Trump 51%-41%): Three Republicans are seeking to oppose first-term Rep. Jared Golden (D) in one of the most pro-Trump districts held by a Democrat.

The best-funded Republican is Eric Brakey, a former state senator with libertarian leanings who’s supported by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and a super PAC, Protect Freedom PAC, that has ties to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Brakey touted his work on the 2015 Maine law that authorized the carrying of concealed handguns without a permit. He sided with Massie’s controversial decision to object to the House advancing a $2 trillion stimulus package in March without a formal vote.

“I don’t follow party leadership. I don’t follow the special interests. I follow the Constitution, which I swore an oath to uphold,” Brakey said at a candidate debate.

Adrienne Bennett, who was press secretary to Republican Paul LePage when he was governor, is backed by some Republican women in Congress including Reps. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Susan Brooks (Ind.), who have focused on recruiting and funding GOP women.

“I’m the only candidate in this race who has had the president’s back since Day One. I worked for him in 2016 on his campaign,” Bennett said at the debate.

Dale Crafts, a businessman and former state representative, is LePage’s preferred candidate. LePage said his ex-aide Bennett lacked the requisite experience to serve in Congress and that Brakey took too much credit for legislative initiatives.

Maine elections with three or more candidates are conducted using the state’s ranked-choice voting system, under which voters rank their candidates in order of preference. If no candidate initially receives a majority of the vote, the ranked-choice votes of the lower-performing candidates are redistributed to the front-running candidates in a series of rounds until there’s a winner.

Golden in 2018 became the first person ever elected to Congress through ranked-choice balloting. He unseated Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) 50.6%-49.4% after trailing Poliquin on the initial ballot with two independent candidates.

Golden voted against Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for speaker and opposed the party’s gun background-check bills. He voted to impeach Trump for the article charging abuse of power but opposed the article alleging obstruction of Congress

For More: Unique Voting System, Convergence of Campaigns Muddle Swing Seat

Texas

10th District (parts of Austin and Houston; Trump 52%-43%): Mike Siegel, a former teacher and civil rights lawyer, and Pritesh Gandhi, a physician at a community health clinic, are seeking to oppose Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Siegel led Gandhi 44%-33% in the first-round primary in March.

Siegel was the 2018 Democratic nominee against McCaul, losing 51%-47%. He received donations from labor unions, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), and Jessica Cisneros, a progressive south Texas lawyer who almost unseated moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) in the March primary.

Gandhi’s donors include Giffords PAC, which advocates for gun-control measures, and Planned Parenthood PAC. Gandhi founded the group Doctors Against Gun Violence after a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

13th District (Amarillo, Wichita Falls; Trump 80%-17%): Ronny Jackson, a retired Navy admiral who was Trump’s White House physician and has the president’s endorsement, is opposed in the Republican runoff by Josh Winegarner, a former Senate aide and lobbyist for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R), the former Armed Services Committee chairman retiring after 26 years, is supporting Winegarner, who outran Jackson in the the March primary by 39% to 20%.

Jackson said the race was between “a leader and a lobbyist” and that the district would benefit from his personal relationship with Trump.

“I will be, if I’m blessed enough to represent this district, the only freshman congressman who can walk into the Oval Office unannounced and tell the president of the United States, ‘Sir, I’ve got something that I’ve got to make you aware of,’ and he’ll stop what he’s doing and he’ll see me,” Jackson said at a candidate debate.

Winegarner touted his work to reduce regulatory burdens and to support trade agreements to open up more markets for Texas beef.

“I’ve actually worked on policy issues that are important to this district,” Winegarner said.

In 2018, Trump nominated Jackson to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, but Jackson withdrew from consideration after the Pentagon opened an investigation into his alleged behavior.

In one of the nation’s most Republican districts, winning the GOP nomination is tantamount to victory in November.

17th District (Waco, Bryan, College Station; Trump 56%-39%): Ex-Rep. Pete Sessions (R) is seeking a political comeback in the Waco district where he was born and raised, after a 22-year tenure representing a Dallas-area district ended in defeat in 2018.

Sessions, who served as Rules Committee chairman from 2013 to 2019, is opposed by Renee Swann, a Waco businesswoman. Sessions led Swann by 32%-19% in the March primary. The winner will be strongly favored to succeed retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R), who endorsed Swann over his former House colleague.

Sessions brandished his past House service and said he’d help Republicans win back the House majority in November. He led the National Republican Congressional Committee when the GOP won a majority in the 2010 election.

“I will take back 22 years’ worth of experience where I will be a senior member of the Financial Services Committee,” Sessions said at a candidate debate.

Swann, a first-time candidate, campaigned against “career politicians” and supported congressional term limits and a lifetime lobbying ban for former members of Congress.

“I think that what qualifies me most is that I am a small business owner,” she said.

22nd District (Pearland, Sugar Land, part of Houston; Trump 52%-44%): Kathaleen Wall, a Republican businesswoman and donor, has spent more than $8 million of her own money to win the party nomination.

Wall’s opponent is Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, who topped Wall by 40%-19% in the March primary on the strength of his showing in his home county, the district’s dominant population center. Wall’s ads showed her with Trump and accused Nehls of ignoring human trafficking in the district.

The district, once the political base of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, leans Republican but continues to diversify. Texas’ 22nd District is more than 27% Hispanic, 19% Asian, and 14% Black. The Democratic nominee is Sri Kulkarni, a former diplomat who lost 51%-46% to Rep. Pete Olson (R) in 2018.

23rd District (parts of San Antonio & El Paso, Del Rio; Hillary Clinton 50%-46%): Republicans Tony Gonzales and Raul Reyes are seeking the nomination in a competitive border district Rep. Will Hurd, the House’s only Black Republican, is giving up after three terms.

Trump and Hurd are backing Gonzales, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R) supports Reyes. Gonzales led Reyes by 28%-23% in the March primary.

Gonzales highlighted his 20 years of service in the Navy, starting at age 18 and including stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has a background in cryptology and is a self-described “cyber guy.” Gonzales raised more than three times as much as Reyes.

Reyes, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, called Gonzales the “establishment candidate” and said he will provide Trump “some much needed help to drain the establishment swamp.”

Awaiting the Republican nominee is Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, a military veteran who came within one-half of one percentage point of unseating Hurd in 2018.

Texas’ 23rd is a majority-Hispanic district that hugs the U.S.-Mexico border as it stretches from San Antonio hundreds of miles west to El Paso. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as “Lean Democratic.”

24th District (Carrollton, Euless, parts of Dallas & Irving; Trump 51%-44%): The Democratic runoff pits Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, against Candace Valenzuela, who formerly served on the board of trustees for a local school district. Olson led Valenzuela 41%-30% in the March primary.

Olson highlighted her 28 years in uniform. “Military experience is probably the best proving ground to raise leaders and to raise people who put mission before themselves,” she told Dallas-Fort Worth’s CBS affiliate during the campaign.

Valenzuela often spoke of being homeless as a child and becoming the first person in her family to go to college. “I found that the best return on investment came from public education,” she said.

Valenzuela’s backers include the Congressional Black Caucus, Latino Victory Fund, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Emily’s List. Valenzuela is Latina and Black.

Texas’ 24th District is racially and ethnically diverse, at about 25% Hispanic, 14% Asian, and 13% Black.

The Democratic nominee will face Republican Beth Van Duyne, a former Irving mayor who’s one of the party’s most highly touted candidates. Eight-term Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) isn’t seeking re-election after winning 51%-48% in 2018.

31st District (northern Austin suburbs, most of Killeen; Trump 54%-41%): Christine Mann, a physician, and Donna Imam, a computer engineer, are seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Rep. John Carter (R). Mann led Imam 35% to 31% in the March primary.

Mann said health care is the top issue on the minds of voters and the pandemic has underscored deficiencies in the delivery of care.

“The experiences that I have had, both as a health care provider, as a physician, and as the owner of a medical practice for 11 years, give me the skills and the experiences that are going to be needed in Congress to overhaul this system and make sure that we are going to care for all of our citizens,” she told a group of local Democrats last month.

Mann’s campaign accepted a $28,600 Paycheck Protection Program loan May 5 that it paid back June 23, according to Federal Election Commission filings. She acknowledged difficulty in fundraising during the pandemic.

Imam’s backers include some labor unions, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and most of the other Democrats who competed in the March primary. Imam entered the final three weeks of the runoff with $161,000 in her campaign account compared with $4,300 for Mann.

In a TV ad, Imam said she would “protect women’s rights, get health care that covers everyone, and serve Texans, not Trump.”

Carter is seeking a 10th term. He was re-elected 51%-48% in 2018 over Democrat MJ Hegar, who’s running for the Senate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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